DES MOINES, Iowa — No. 1 seed Kansas looks to head onto the Sweet 16 when it faces Arkansas in Des Moines.
The Jayhawks were a little nervy at the beginning of their first-round game against Howard but eventually pulled away to win, 96-68.
Kansas was once again without Bill Self, and he won’t be coaching on Saturday once again. Either way, Kansas is a deserving favorite to progress to the next round, but it’ll have to deal with a ton of athleticism from Arkansas.
The Razorbacks put up a great defensive performance against Illinois in the first round, holding the Illini to just 63 points and 0.81 PPP.
Arkansas has been great defensively all season long, but it’s the offensive end of the court that has let it down this season.
So, the question is: do the Razorbacks have enough firepower offensively to keep up with the Jayhawks?
The Jayhawks put up a good offensive performance against Howard, but the game before that, they put up a dismal offensive performance against Texas in the Big 12 Championship game.
Everything in Kansas’ offense starts with the pick-and-roll. The Jayhawks are the eighth-highest pick-and-roll frequency team in the country and are putting up 1.00 PPP on those sets.
It’s why Jalen Wilson has become one of the most dangerous weapons in college basketball. He has the ability to play as a smaller five who can also step out and knock down 3s.
It’s what makes Kansas’ offense, at times, unguardable.
However, when the shots aren’t falling, the Jayhawks can become a bit lost, especially if their opponent is good at defending pick-and-rolls, which Arkansas is.
The Jayhawks also live in transition. They are a top-25 frequency team there. That will be big against Arkansas, which has been very average at defending in transition.
Defensively, Kansas has been good this season. What the Jayhawks have done such a good job of is defending the 3-point line, but that isn’t really going to matter in this game since Arkansas rarely takes 3s.
Kansas was very good overall at defending at the rim this season, but if its first-round game against Howard was any indication, Arkansas will be able to score at the rim against it.
The biggest thing in this matchup is going to be Kansas’ ability to defend in transition. Arkansas is eighth in the country in PPP in transition, while Kansas is 130th defensively.
With both of these teams playing an above-average pace, this game may turn into a track meet.
Arkansas was really impressive in its first round against Illinois.
I know it only put up 0.94 PPP in what was a very fast-paced game that had 78 possessions, but it actually underperformed offensively, especially at the rim against the No. 1 rim defense in the country in terms of PPP allowed.
For Arkansas’ offense to be successful, it has to get the ball inside and into the mid-range. The Razorbacks have 64% of their field goal attempts coming from either at the rim or in the mid-range, so naturally, they have one of the lowest 3-point rates in the country.
They are top-20 in the nation in PPP at the rim, which will be a big key in this game. While Kansas is a top-60 team defending at the rim, Howard still scored 28 points at the rim in the first round after entering the game 323rd in the country in PPP at the rim.
Arkansas’ defense is what has carried it to this point in the season. The Razorbacks are 13th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, per KenPom, and they did a fantastic job against Illinois, allowing only 0.81 PPP. They defended inside the arc effectively, as the Illini only shot 46.7% from 2-point range.
The key in this game is going to be their ability to defend the 3-point line. They got away with giving Illinois way too many good looks from 3-point range, as eight of the Illini’s 22 3-pointers were classified as “open 3-point shots”.
Kansas is a streaky 3-point shooting team, but Arkansas also benefited from playing in the worst 3-point shooting conference in college basketball this season.
The pace of this game is likely going to be incredibly fast, with not only both teams playing at a 78-possession pace in the first round, but both also having advantages in transition.
“It’s going to be up and down,” Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts said. “It’s going to be an up-and-down game, and they’re always in attack mode. We want to be in that same mode throughout the game.”
The Jayhawks are a hit-or-miss 3-point shooting team, but Arkansas gave up way too many open looks in its first-round matchup against a really poor 3-point shooting team in Illinois.
It also benefited from playing in the SEC this season to achieve a top-25 3-point field goal percentage allowed ranking on the season.
Plus, if Kansas defends at the rim like it did against Howard, Arkansas is going to have its way with Jayhawks in the paint.
Not to mention, Arkansas gets to the free-throw line at a top-25 rate in the country, which is something Kansas is very average at defensively.
So, I love the value of over 143 points (DraftKings) in what should be a very back-and-forth type of game.
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