1. If you’ve watched any game for Kansas this season, you know that the offense runs through junior and Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson. After starting his career in Memphis, it became clear that Lawson and Tubby Smith did not see eye to eye, so he and his brother KJ headed to Lawrence. In his first season actually suiting up for the Jayhawks, Lawson is a National Player of the Year candidate. Currently leading the team in points with 19.5, rebounds with 10.9, and blocks with 1.1, Lawson is one of the best players in the Big 12. In fact, he’s second in scoring by 0.3 and first in rebounding in the entire conference. As the biggest player in the starting lineup at 6’9″ and 235 pounds, Lawson probably will match up with Reid Travis to start the game. Although, I think for Kentucky, PJ Washington may be the better match up with Lawson’s versatility to step away from the basket and showcase his athleticism, but Travis may be the default due to the rest of the lineup for the Jayhawks.
2. I mentioned above that Lawson is the tallest starter for Bill Self right now, and that is due to the Jayhawks being down a few players. Junior Udoka Azubuike was the starting center at 7’1″ and 270 pounds, but his injury is keeping him out for the rest of the year, and his potential back up would’ve been 6’9″ and 245 pound Silvio De Souso who is still being held out in connection with the FBI-Adidas scandal. Down two big men for the year, Kansas starts Lawson at 6’9″, paired with four guards at this point in the year, 6’2″ Devon Dotson, 6’5″ Lagerald Vick, 6’5″ Quentin Grimes, and 6’5″ Marcus Garrett, giving Kentucky a size advantage at the 3 and 4 positions. Kentucky should realistically dominate the paint tonight. Whichever of Washington and Travis aren’t defended by Lawson should have a huge game on the offensive end. The trick for Kentucky will be defending that fourth starting guard. Kentucky starts two bigs, and one of the two will obviously defend Lawson, but Washington having to defend a smaller, quicker guard may cause issues on the defensive end. Outside of the starting five, Kansas has three other guys with some size, but none play significant minutes. 6’8″ Mitch Lightfoot plays just 8.1 minutes per game, while 6’10” David McCormack plays 6.6 minutes, and 6’8″ KJ Lawson plays 9.1 minutes but mostly as a wing player than a post player.
3. The two guards that have been providing the most for Kansas this year are Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett. Vick is the lone senior on this Jayhawk roster and is their biggest threat to go off scoring from the outside. Currently, Vick is averaging 15 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. His 45.7% from downtown ranks 14th in the country and he’s making over three 3’s on average every game. Vick has made five or more threes in five games this season and has made at least two long balls in 15 of Kansas’ 19 games this season. Sophomore Marcus Garrett hasn’t been starting all season, but has become the replacement for Udoka Azubuike in the starting lineup as of late. Garrett averages just 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists on the year, while shooting 25% from three. However, in the last three games, he’s become a more prominent figure in the scoring column and on defense for Bill Self, putting up 17 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals per game, while nearly 63% of his field goals and 50% of his threes. If Kentucky can shut down the shooting of these two guards, the chances of coming out victorious rise significantly.
4. When starting the year, Kansas was one of the favorites to win the National Championship. They had a veteran lineup, coupled with some really talented freshmen, which has been a combination that has worked for teams in the past. However, issues have come as of late, as Udoka Azubuike being out for the year and Silvio De Souso not being reinstated have created real cause for concern. Kansas’ only three losses have come within the last month. They have huge wins with a full roster, including over Michigan State, Tennessee, Villanova, and Marquette; however, their three losses have all been without Azubuike. To add insult to injury, their wins since losing the veteran big man haven’t been convincing either, with zero double digit wins in 2019. If Kansas wants to be a true title contender, they’l have to learn how to play without Azubuike, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen until after tonight.
5. Tonight, Kentucky hopes to get back to the winning way against Kansas, as the Cats have dropped three straight to the Jayhawks. In fact, UK has lost six of the last nine games they’ve played against Kansas dating back to 2005. On top of that, tonight’s game will be the first time in the Calipari era that Kentucky has played three straight regular season games against ranked opponents, and it is the first time since 2006 when the Cats ended their season with games against #24 LSU, #11 Tennessee, and #14 Florida. Tubby Smith and the Cats went 1-2 in those games, so the current Cats are already on pace to top that number with wins over Auburn and Mississippi State within the last week.
Go Cats. Beat Jayhawks.