The Kansas Jayhawks (6-2) travel south tonight to take on the Florida Gators (6-2) as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Both schools started the season ranked in the top 10 but a couple of losses by both schools has dropped them into the second tier of ranked teams. Kansas enters the game ranked 13th while Florida sits at 19th in the AP poll. Tip off is at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN.
Kansas has lost 2 of their last 3 games, dropping decisions to Villanova and Colorado. Florida’s losses have come at the hands of Wisconsin and Connecticut. While Florida has lost to higher ranked teams, the Jayhawks overall schedule has been much tougher. According to Rivals.com at Yahoo, Kansas has had the first overall hardest schedule while Florida’s ranks 82nd.
Kansas, which has played poorly over their past four games, is led in scoring by freshman Andrew Wiggins with 15.3 points a contest, followed by sophomore Perry Ellis at 14.5. Ellis also leads in rebounding with 6.8, followed closely by freshman Joel Embiid with 6.6 caroms a game. Junior Naadir Tharpe paces the Jayhawks with 4.6 assists a game, while Wiggins is tops in steals with 9 total, and Embiid has the most blocks with 17.
For the Gators, senior forward Casey Prather leads the way for Billy Donovan‘s team in scoring with 19.1 a game. Six other Florida players average in double figure scoring, topped by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II with 13.5. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith tops the team in rebounding, pulling down 8.2 a game. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who sprained his ankle last week in the loss to UConn, will play tonight. He leads the Gators with 5,7 assists a game. Three Gators have 10 steals and senior center Patric Young is the top shot blocker with 10.
Kansas, who averaged 87 points a game through their first five games, has only tallied 64 points a game over the last three outings. The Jayhawks are averaging 79.1 points a game for the season.
Florida has only scored over 80 points twice in their eight games, and average 72.4 points overall. The Gators are only giving up 61 points a contest, compared to the Jayhawks defense surrendering 69.
This promises to be a lower scoring affair as Florida plays tough defense, and Kansas can’t shoot outside 4 feet. It will be interesting to see if the Gators employ the tight zone that other Kansas opponents have been using against the Jayhawks to slow down their athletic players.
Donovan preaches man-to-man but Kansas has been able to play well when guarded straight up. Zones have been effective because they have cut off the driving lanes to the basket, and forced Kansas to shoot from 3-point range, where they are decidedly ineffective – making just 29.8% from long range.
Kansas also has had trouble playing man-to-man defense themselves. The perimeter players have been getting beat by opposing players attacking the rim, and fouls have been piling up on the Kansas big men who try to help. Luckily for the Jayhawks, they go 5 deep along the front line so they have 25 fouls to give.
The young Jayhawks players are not going to find much success until they discover some intensity and fire in their bellies. They have got to play defense much better, and return to being aggressive on the backboards.
Maybe playing a nationally successful team like Florida will fire the youngsters up. That statement all by itself is a sad one, and indicates just how far Kansas has to go before they are truly a good team worthy of the name emblazoned across the front on their jerseys. This team just hasn’t bought in wholeheartedly to what Coach Bill Self is trying to teach.
Until they do, this stretch of poor performances isn’t likely to end.