Kansas Jayhawks 16-4 (5-3)
By: Evan Riggs | @EvanRiggsUDK
G: Junior Frank Mason III – 5 stars
In what has been considered a down stretch for Mason, he’s still been one of the Jayhawks' most productive players. He’s scored in double figures in the Jayhawk’s last 10 games. Mason will have a tough challenge Saturday when he faces another elite point guard in Kentucky sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis. If Mason makes life tough for Ulis on both ends of the floor, it may be a long day for Kentucky.
G: Sophomore Devonte’ Graham – 4 stars
Since the start of Big 12 play, Graham has been up and down on offense and hasn’t played very well on defense. Graham has all the tools to be a consistent lockdown defender, and the Jayhawks certainly need him to do just that. After another road loss, it’s clear the Jayhawks need their most outspoken and emotional player to help set the tone Saturday.
G: Junior Wayne Selden Jr. – 4 stars
After a scorching-hot start behind the arc, Selden is shooting just 31 percent from three over the last six games. Even though Selden is a much better player than last season, he still doesn’t do much else offensively if he isn’t making three-pointers. The Jayhawks haven’t shot well from beyond the arc lately, and that was a big reason for their early success. That could change very quickly if Selden can find his stroke again.
F: Senior Perry Ellis – 5 stars
During the Jayhawks' inconsistent play, the one constant has been Ellis, who has played exceptionally on the offensive end of the court. He’s coming off a 23-point effort at Iowa State where he showed off his entire offensive repertoire. Teams in the Big 12 have taken notice of how well Ellis is playing, but if he can have a good game in front of a national audience Saturday night, he’ll start to receive the national recognition his play deserves.
F: Junior Landen Lucas – 3 stars.
It’s entirely possible that head coach Bill Self will opt to go with another player at this position, but it seems like it will likely be Lucas. He’s very limited on offense, but he’s given the Jayhawks a major boost on the glass by grabbing 19 rebounds in the last two games. Kentucky has one of the biggest front lines Kansas will see this year, so Lucas will be a big key on the glass.
At a glance:
This is the most anticipated game on the regular season schedule for both Kansas and Kentucky. It will also be a big opportunity for Kansas to bounce back after the road loss at Iowa State. Kentucky is a talented team, but like most of John Calipari’s teams, they are incredibly young. If the Jayhawks can jump out to a big lead, the atmosphere in Allen Fieldhouse may overwhelm the young Wildcats.
Player to watch: Carlton Bragg Jr.
In Kansas’ loss Monday at Iowa State, Bragg was the only player on the bench who didn’t looked shocked in the second half. Besides that, the freshman has played at a high level in his limited minutes in conference play. Lucas isn’t quick enough to deal with the Kentucky frontcourt, and senior forward Jamari Traylor isn’t big enough. Since it appears Self doesn’t trust freshman forward Cheick Diallo, Bragg is the likely candidate for Self to call upon.
Question: Will the backcourt show up?
Over the last six games, Ellis has been the lone consistent player on a team that needs its guards to be successful. There’s been so much attention on how Self has handled the big man rotation, the backcourt’s struggles have been a bit under the radar. Selden has struggled with his shot, Graham hasn’t played well on defense, and Mason’s assist to turnover ratio has taken a bit of a hit. The Jayhawks will need their backcourt to revert back to its early season form against Kentucky’s young but very talented backcourt.
By the numbers:
3 – Kansas has lost its last three meetings to Kentucky.
10-0 – The Jayhawk’s record when Selden scores 15 or more points.
1 – The amount of games Ellis has failed to score in double figures this season.
Big Jay will cheer if…
The Jayhawks can play like they did in the first half at Ames. The Jayhawks are almost impossible to stop on offense when they move the ball like they did Monday, and they will need that ball movement against the Wildcats, who hold their opponents to just 40 percent shooting. If the Jayhawks play with good movement and patience on offense, the Wildcats will have to be more disciplined on defense than they have all season.
Kentucky Wildcats 16-4 (6-2)
By: Scott Chasen | @SChasenKU
G: Sophomore Tyler Ulis — 5 stars
In his sophomore campaign, Ulis has emerged as one of the leaders on the team and as one of its best players. He has multiple 20-point outings this year, and he has been the driving force behind several key victories this year. Ulis is one of the nation's best free throw shooters, which should be noted as there are 120 different teams averaging less fouls per game than the Jayhawks this year.
G: Freshman Isaiah Briscoe — 4 stars
Briscoe is one of the best rebounding guards in the SEC, and he can also take over a game with his passing, which is an underrated aspect of how he plays. Similar to Selden, Briscoe is often crucial to Kentucky's success; in the team's four losses, he has scored in double figures just one time.
G: Freshman Jamal Murray — 5 stars
Coming into the year, most assumed Murray would be solid, but he has surprised everyone by being the real star freshman of this Kentucky team (instead of Skal Labissiere). Murray leads the team in points and field goal attempts, and he even has a 33-point game this year, albeit one that came in a loss.
F: Senior Alex Poythress — 4 stars
Like several players on Kentucky, Poythress has had his bouts with inconsistent play this year. Likewise, Kentucky is undefeated when he scores in double-figures. However, perhaps the most frustrating part of his game is his propensity to shoot threes despite shooting worse than eight percent on the year. He's averaging right around one attempt per game, which is essentially just a wasted possession.
F: Junior Derek Willis — 3 stars
Willis is the weak link in the starting five, and he probably won't play as many minutes as some of the guys on the bench. He's actually a pretty solid shooter from distance, and he hasn't missed a free throw since the second game of his college career.
At a glance:
The Wildcats have been relatively disappointing this year, coming into the season with top-five expectations. Freshman big man Skal Labissiere in particular has failed to live up to the hype, as post play continues to be an issue for the team. However, they're still dangerous and gunning for the upset, especially after dominating the Jayhawks last year on a neutral site.
Player to watch: Marcus Lee
Marcus Lee isn't going to blow anyone away with his numbers, but he's a presence inside, and he actually plays a fair amount. With Kansas' veteran big men in the game, the junior from California may be the team's best option, and he can probably exploit the lapses from the freshmen big men as well. It will be interesting, however, to see how much Calipari opts to use his freshman, Skal Labissiere, considering that the Jayhawks will almost certainly have a more experienced group on the floor at all times.
Question: Which Ulis shows up?
While Ulis has been impressive throughout the year, he's also had games where he's been fairly mediocre, which has left UK upset-prone. Against Ohio State, Ulis managed just 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting, with just four assists to three turnovers. Against UCLA, he was just 2-of-12 from the floor and bricked four of his five three-point attempts. If he's off his game, the Wildcats' chances in this one will be hurt.
By the numbers:
0 — Through 19 games, the Wildcats have scored more than more than 90 points in a game zero times.
283 — Kentucky is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation, ranking outside the top 280 and falling behind Eastern, Western and Northern Kentucky.
88 — Shooting over 88 percent from the free throw line, Tyler Ulis ranks in the top 25 in the nation in that stat.
Baby Jay will cry if...
The Wildcats rain down three-pointers and Tyler Ulis has a big day. Mason has struggled as of late, and he'll need to be locked in for Kansas to compete. This may also be a game where the freshmen big men match up, which should be a lot of fun for those watching at home.
— Edited by G.J. Melia
Beat Writer Predictions
Scott Chasen | @SChasenKU — Kansas, 85-79
Shane Jackson | @jacksonshane3 — Kansas, 82-74
Evan Riggs | @EvanRiggsUDK — Kansas, 79-67