The Kansas Jayhawks’ (9-3) brutal non conference schedule finally wraps up against the 21st ranked San Diego State Aztecs (12-1) Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. CST on CBS. The Aztecs are the 5th team Kansas has played that is presently in the top 25, and they have played two other teams that have made an appearance in the polls.
San Diego State is also ranked 30th in CBSSports.com’s RPI, with the 104th ranked Strength of Schedule. Kansas is the number one ranked team in RPI, with the second hardest schedule, which will likely move to number one after Sunday.
The Aztecs have beaten a couple of tough teams in Creighton and Marquette, and their only loss is to Arizona. They are an incredibly scrappy team on the defensive side of the ball as they only allow 49 points a game. They have kept 5 opponents under 42 points, albeit not the strongest competition in the world. Only Creighton has scored more than 70 points against San Diego State.
San Diego State only has 2 players that average in double figures, senior guard Xavier Thames, who nets 16.3 a game, and sophomore forward Winston Shepard, who scores 13.3 a contest. They are a balanced team in that seven players average more than 7 points a game. They also have 10 players who average 13 or more minutes a game.
The Aztecs do have a force in the middle in 6’8″ senior Josh Davis, who scores 8.8 points a game and 11.1 rebounds. He also is a good passer on the inside with 161 career assists. Davis is the key to San Diego State’s success on the glass. They average 40.9 rebounds a game, the 22nd best mark in the country.
The Jayhawks are led in scoring by Andrew Wiggins with 15.9 a game, followed by Perry Ellis with 13.9, and Joel Embiid with 10.8. Kansas has 3 others averaging over 7 points a game. As a team, they put up 79.4 points a game, the 50th highest mark in the nation.
Embiid is the top rebounder for Kansas at 6.9 caroms a contest, and Naadir Tharpe dishes out the most assists at 5.3 an outing. Embiid also leads the team in steals with 13 total, and blocked shots with 28.
Early in the season, the Jayhawks were one of the top shooting teams in the country. They actually led the country in field goal percentage after their first four games, a shooting slump ensued, which was a major cause in the Jayhawks losing 3 of 4 at one point (along with poor defense and a epidemic of turnovers), but Kansas has bounced back and are now the 5th best shooting team in the NCAA at 50.9%.
The Jayhawks have struggled with turnovers all season as they average nearly 14 a game. The Aztecs have forced 190 so far this season, 14.5 per game. Kansas has to take much better care of the ball against San Diego State if they hope to avoid the home upset.
Points are going to come at a premium against a stingy Aztec defense so the Jayhawks can’t afford the careless turnovers that have plagued them in several games this season.
Make no mistake about it. The Aztecs are good enough to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. San Diego State’s strengths play into the Jayhawks’ weaknesses, particularly in protecting possessions. If Kansas turns the ball over like they did against Toledo, they will lose.
The Jayhawks need to set the tone defensively and force the pace offensively. They can’t afford to let San Diego State to play a low scoring, defensive game. Kansas has to force the pace and get the Aztecs out of their comfort zone.
This will be a great test for Kansas going into conference play next week. They will need to play smart, disciplined basketball, something that will be new to them this season.
If they play strong defense, value each possession by not turning the ball over, and maintain their good field goal shooting percentage, then they should win the ball game. Turn the ball over and let the Aztecs dictate the pace of the game, and the Jayhawks will be in trouble.