No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (18-2)
G: senior Frank Mason III | ★★★★★
Mason enters the game off another solid individual performance, posting 15 points in the loss to West Virginia. He has established himself as a strong contender for national player of the year awards, as he averages 19.9 points and 5.2 assists per game. With a strong performance, capped with a game-winner against Duke earlier this year, expect him to try and right the ship against another blue-blood opponent in Kentucky.
G: junior Devonte' Graham | ★★★★★
Graham has scored a total of 35 points in his last two games, although all but seven of those points have come in either game’s first half. He’s been unfathomably inconsistent, showing absolute dominance at times, but completely disappearing at others. If the Jayhawks want to bounce back against Kentucky, they’ll need Graham to keep his level of play consistently high all game.
G: junior Svi Mykhailiuk | ★★★
Mykhailiuk didn’t score the ball well against West Virginia, earning just six points on 2-of-9 shooting, but he did dish out seven assists. Kansas will need his strong shooting to return against the Wildcats, as his seven misses from three-point range against the Mountaineers led to serious problems in the team’s offense.
G: freshman Josh Jackson | ★★★★★
Jackson had a game-high 22 points against West Virginia, but also fouled out and had three turnovers. That’s kind of how the entire season has gone for Jackson thus far — high scoring and effective offense but sloppy play elsewhere. Against Kentucky, Jackson will find one of his first real tests in the national spotlight. If he can stay composed, he’ll likely fill out the stat sheet nicely, as he has all year.
C: senior Landen Lucas | ★★★★★
The only things certain in life nowadays are death, taxes and Landen Lucas getting double-digit rebounds. He’s only scored four points total in his last two games, but that’s much less of a concern when considering he’s grabbed 24 rebounds across those two games as well. Since regaining the starting job, he’s averaging 11.3 rebounds per game. He’ll likely be lined up against Kentucky forward Bam Adebayo, one of the best rebounders in his conference. They may not put up flashy numbers, but expect Lucas versus Adebayo to be one of the pivotal battles of this game.
No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats (15-4)
G: freshman De'Aaron Fox | ★★★★★
Fox was sidelined against South Carolina with an ankle injury, but returned against Tennessee to drop 17 points. Fox isn’t much of a threat from outside, but his 16.2 points per game is something that Kansas’ guards will need to limit. Fox is turnover prone at times and if his injury flares up again, Kentucky might need to rely on its other two guards.
G: sophomore Isaiah Briscoe | ★★★★★
Briscoe’s made a huge jump from his freshman year. Aside from some disappointing games against Mississippi State and South Carolina, Briscoe’s seen an uptick in scoring and efficiency, even with his minutes decreasing slightly. His biggest problem seems to come from inconsistency as highlighted by his seven turnover performance against South Carolina followed up by a 14 rebound game against Tennessee.
G: freshman Malik Monk | ★★★★★
Monk is one of the best scorers in college basketball, which obviously presents an issue to opposing teams. Against Kansas, however, his 15 shot attempts per game might be a little high considering how likely it is that Kentucky will be looking to feed its forwards. Monk is hard to keep in check from three-point range, but his 3-for-13 game against Tennessee shows that the key to pulling off the upset is making sure Monk doesn’t get going.
F: freshman Wenyen Gabriel | ★★★★
Gabriel isn’t a great scorer, but his ability to hit threes and not turn the ball over makes him a valuable asset on offense. Defensively, he averages 1.2 blocks per game and stays out of foul trouble, which gives Kentucky a decent defensive stopper when Adebayo is on the bench. At just 21 minutes per game, Gabriel has to split some time with senior forward Derek Willis, but Gabriel is a much better rebounder, which makes him a tougher matchup.
F: freshman Bam Adebayo | ★★★★★
Adebayo is a bigger, more physical and frankly, more talented forward than Gabriel. Adebayo uses his size and strength to easily score inside. His 62 percent shooting isn’t a fluke, and against a team without a true rim protector, the freshman will probably exceed his average of eight attempts per game. From a pure talent standpoint, Adebayo is the best forward the Jayhawks will have faced so far this season aside from Texas’ Jarrett Allen.
— Edited by Frank Weirich