Sports Editor Matt Zampini talked with Shane Jackson of the University Daily Kansan to talk about Saturday’s matchup between No. 9 UConn and No. 1 Kansas. Jackson is the Kansan’s Associate Sports Editor and has covered Kansas all season. Here’s what he had to say about the Jayhawks as they prepare for their second-round matchup with the Huskies.
Zampini: With so many talented players on Kansas’ roster, who would you say is the most important player on the team?
Jackson: You are right this team is ridiculously talented. Perry Ellis is certainly the go-to-option on the offensive end. Wayne Selden Jr. has to shoot well for this team to play well and even Devonte’ Graham is probably the leader of this team despite being just a sophomore.
But the most important player in my opinion is Frank Mason III. He is the one that directs the offense and this team depends on him playing well. In January, he shot around 30 percent from the floor and struggled to take care of the ball. As a result, Kansas lost three games during a five game stretch.
In the month of February, he shot 50 percent from the floor and has a very good assist-to-turnover ratio. He was the difference in the team turning it around and why they have won 15 games in a row.
Zampini: Which player on Kansas do you think presents the biggest challenge for UConn?
Jackson: More than likely Perry Ellis. He’s obviously the best option on the offensive end as he leads the team in scoring. UConn will struggle to defend him because he does several different things so well. I think Shonn Miller will be able to match up with him defensively but the problem is if Miller can stay on the court.
I was watching that game against Colorado, and Miller just struggled to stay on the floor because he was in foul trouble. If Miller can stay on the court he can certainly match up with Ellis but I’m not sure if that will be the case. I think the guards are fairly evenly matched for the most part, so if Miller is on the pine, I think Ellis can exploit the Huskies.
Zampini: What is one matchup that you are most looking forward to in this game?
Jackson: I love the guard matchups so much in this game for a lot of reasons. I think both teams’ guards are tremendously athletic. It will be interesting to see if the UConn guards can defend the three Kansas guards. Obviously, the Jayhawks are one of the best offensive teams in the country so this defense against offense matchup is really intriguing especially on the perimeter.
In addition, most of these guards know each other on a personal level. After talking to them in the locker room I can tell this is going to be fun one between familiar foes. Devonte’ Graham and Rodney Purvis both played on the same AAU team in Raleigh growing up even though Graham was a year younger.
Wayne Selden and Jalen Adams have a special bond with both growing up in Roxbury. The two played on the same sports teams growing up and both consider each one another a brother. So I think that will be fun to see, to see how the players interact on the court with one another.
Zampini: What is the biggest weakness Kansas has?
Jackson: It’s funny when you are considered the best teams in the nation people don’t think there are a lot of weaknesses. But the reality is that’s not the case. Kansas can struggle at times on the defensive end such as its opening round matchup against Austin Peay. Coach Bill Self was not pleased with their defensive effort and the players all agreed.
The perimeter can sometimes struggle with athletic guards who take them off the dribble. Kentucky absolutely shredded Kansas in the first half using this game plan before Self threw out a gimmick defense. The Jayhawks even struggle handling the press at times even though they have two point guards on the court at all times.
But for the most part this is the most complete team right now in the country and they can often cloud those few small holes with the things they do well, like score.
Zampini: Who is a player that kind of flies under the radar for the Jayhawks?
Jackson: Landen Lucas without question. After shuffling around the starting center position for much of the season, Lucas has manned that position for the last 17 games. Kansas has lost just once since he was inserted in the starting rotation.
He does a lot of little things well, which is why he flies under the radar. He rebounds better than anyone on the team. In fact, since he was a starter he was the second best rebounder in the Big 12. A lot of second chance points are the result of an offensive rebound by Lucas.
In addition, Lucas sets screens well and plays very well on the defensive end. He may not light up the stat sheet but Lucas is certainly one of the more valuable players on this team.
Zampini: What is your prediction for this game?
Jackson: This game is going to be a bit closer than many expect. I think I saw a Vegas line that had it at eight points and I would probably agree with that. UConn will hang around for much of the game but in the end Kansas will pull away a bit. This team is just too good in close games, as they are 13-1 in games decided by 10 points or less. That lone loss was to Michigan State. My official score prediction would be Kansas wins 74-65.