4391 combined total wins. 44 combined conference tournament championships. 31 combined Final Fours. 11 combined National Championships. 39 combined current NBA players. 2 of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball.
Well everyone, it is finally here. The Kansas Jayhawks and the Kentucky Wildcats square off tonight in front of 24,000+ people in Rupp Arena. If you haven’t been looking forward to this game since the college basketball schedule was released, then you probably have no emotion. Both teams come into the game ranked in the top 5 for only the second time in the history of this matchup.
Bill Self and the #2 Jayhawks bring an 18-2 record to Lexington following a rough loss to West Virginia in Morgantown. The #4 Wildcats are coming off the embarrassing loss to Tennessee down on Rocky Top on Tuesday. Both teams are going to come out angry and there’s no better way to put your team back on track than a win over a national powerhouse.
Tonight is the 30th time that these two storied programs have faced each other, with Kentucky winning the overall series 22-7. Recently though, Kansas has been the controller of the rivalry, winning 4 of the 7 games since 1999. Let’s take a look at the starting lineup for Rock Chalk Jayhawk.
#11 Josh Jackson, Freshman Forward, 6’8″
Josh Jackson was ranked in the top two of every recruiting site’s top players for the class of 2016. One of the best high school players in the country, Jackson has stepped into the spotlight at Kansas and has shown exactly why he was so highly-touted coming of of high school. He’s been competing for the USA in International play since 2012.
Jackson has been dynamite so far this season, being near the top of almost every statistical category for the Jayhawks. He’s averaging 15.5 points(2nd on the team), 6.6 rebounds (2nd), 3.1 assists (3rd), 1.3 blocks (1st), and 1.6 steals(T-1st). He’s also contributing behind the arc, hitting 32% of his 3’s on the season.
The freshman is a true matchup nightmare, given his outside shooting ability, speed with the ball in his hands, and size to body up in the post. He’s even more of a matchup nightmare when you remember Kentucky doesn’t have a true 3-man on this team. The most logical way for UK to defend Jackson is with Isaiah Briscoe. Briscoe isn’t a great matchup for the Cats, but Cal likes him guarding the bigger scorer, as has been the case for almost every game this season.
#0 Frank Mason III, Senior Guard, 5’11”
Frank Mason III is one of the most consistent performing guards in the country this season. Now his third season as a full-time starter, Mason has led the Jayhawk offense from the point guard position for what feels like forever. He’s a two-time All-Big 12 Second Team award winner as well.
While Josh Jackson may be near the top of most statistical categories for Kansas, Frank Mason is right there as well. He’s leading the team in points and assists, with 19.9 and 5.2 per game respectively, not to mention he’s getting 4.4 rebounds per game at only 5’11”. The most impressive thing about Mason’s game this season is his alarmingly high shooting percentages. The guy is shooting 52.8% from behind the 3-point line this season, on 47-89 shooting. This would be good for the best percentage in the country, but the NCAA only counts players who make an average of 2.5 threes per game. Mason is at 2.35 makes per game.
As you may have noticed already this season, the smaller guard who will play the point for the opposition is usually guarded by De’Aaron Fox. Fox’s speed is enough to stick with even the smallest of guards, and his length and athleticism should make him really tough to get around. Not to mention that Mason has to try to guard the speed of Fox in the open floor, something I’d wish on no person.
#4 Devonte’ Graham, Junior Guard, 6’2″
Devonte’ Graham started 36 of 38 games last year as a sophomore. His second year in Lawrence was full of accolades, including Big 12 Championship Most Outstanding Player, All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, and Big 12 All Defensive Team. He was also the leading shooter for the Jayhawks last season.
Graham is having another strong season in his third year for Bill Self. He’s putting up 13.7 points, 4.7 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. He’s shooting a solid 39.2% from 3-point land, and is tied with Josh Jackson in steals per game with 1.6. He scored 11 points and dished out 5 assists in Kansas’ overtime win over the Cats last season.
Everyone is talking about the Josh Jackson vs Malik Monk matchup tonight, but in reality, the two probably won’t be “matched up” for hardly any of the game. I’m just as interested in seeing how Graham and Monk guard each other. Monk isn’t known for great defense which could lead for a big night for Graham. On the other side of the ball, Graham has to attempt to stop the best scorer in the SEC.
#10 Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Junior Forward, 6’8″
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, or Svi for short, is in his third year for Kansas out of Cherkasy, Ukraine. He hasn’t been a huge contributor in his first two seasons for Bill Self, but keep in mind he was only 17 years old when he checked into his first collegiate game, the youngest player ever in the Big 12. He was poised for a breakout year this year, being named to the Julius Erving Award Watch List before the season started.
Despite his size at 6’8″, Svi plays more like a guard than a forward. More than 60% of his shots have come behind the 3-point line this season, and he’s making 42.3% of them. He’s scoring 10.8 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds, 1.65 assists, and 1 steal per game.
The Junior’s defensive assignment will really depend on how Coach Cal chooses to guard Josh Jackson. If Briscoe does in fact guard Jackson, then the two sets of guards will match up with each other, leaving Wenyen Gabriel/Derek Willis to defend Mykhailiuk. Svi plays a very perimeter oriented game, which is beneficial to having a lankier defender on him as the Cats will for the majority of the game. However, Svi’s ability to handle the ball on a drive to the basket could be problematic for Kentucky.
#33 Landen Lucas, Senior Center, 6’10”
Before this season, Landen Lucas had only started a total of 33 games in three combined seasons. He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of this season, but due to a season-ending injury to starting center Udoka Azubuike, Lucas is back in the starting 5. Last year, Lucas was a All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, as most of his starts came in conference play.
For being a backup turned into the fifth starter, Lucas is putting in a really solid season. He’s averaging 7.3 points and is leading the team in rebounds at 8 per game. While Lucas won’t look to shoot the ball often, when he does, it will assuredly be a high-percentage attempt. He’s shooting a team-leading 61.8% from the field this season.
The center position pits senior Landen Lucas against freshman Bam Adebayo. As previously mentioned, starting center Udoka Azubuike is out with injury for the season, and back up big man Carlton Bragg Jr was recently suspended for a “violation of team rules”, which is almost 100% having to do with the investigation of a sexual assault in the same dorm that the basketball players live in. None of the players were considered suspects, but it sounds like some of them may have known or even seen what happened and they didn’t do anything about it. That being said, Bam Adebayo should touch the ball almost every possession due to the extremely thin front line of the Jayhawks.
There’s not much more that hasn’t already been said about these two teams and these two programs. Everyone knows the story, because everyone has had this game circled on the schedule for months. I think if the Cats can contain Josh Jackson to an average game, without letting any other players go for career nights, then they’ll put themselves in a position to win. Guarding Josh Jackson will most likely be the toughest test the Cats have all season though. Enough talking, let’s get this game going.
Go Cats. Beat Jayhawks.