With a good Nevada team coming to Lawrence tonight to face what I hope is a rapidly improving Kansas team, and having seen only one of four games so far this year (thanks to the limited availability of ESPNU and work responsibilities) I'm experiencing start-of-season levels of anticipation. The only prescription for that is, of course, a stat-heavy preview of the game.
As expected, Kansas has performed exceptionally well on the offensive glass (40.2%) and struggled on the defensive glass (61.7%). Nevada has made up for being a collective non-factor on the offensive glass in their three games (31.3%) by controlling the defensive glass to an extreme degree (71.3%).
The good news for Kansas fans is that despite the 1-2 record, the Jayhawks have shot a higher percentage from the field than have their opponents in each of the three games against Division 1 teams. Arizona did sneak their True Shooting Percentage (TS% = (PTS*50)/((FGA+(FT*.475)) a half-point ahead of Kansas by virtue of making 16 more free throws, but when Kansas hasn't turned the ball over, they've been more efficient shooting the ball than have their opponents. Nevada will test that record. The Wolfpack enter the game with an eFG% (which normalizes field goal percentage for the added value of making three-point shots) of 52.8% and a TS% of 57.6%. By comparison, the Jayhawks have an eFG% of 46.7% and a TS% of 49.7%.
Oh, but those turnovers. This early in the year a performance as extreme as Kansas had against Arizona will skew the season stats. It's very hard to turn the ball over on 37% of your possessions. Against Arkansas, Kansas demonstrated some improvement, turning the ball over on 23.7% of their possessions. Not a great performance by any means, but not out of line with expectations for a young team, currently short one good point guard. Nevada has struggled with turnovers as well, losing the ball on 24% of their possessions on the year. Unlike the Jayhawks, who have made attempts to mitigate their proclivities for giving the ball away by forcing turnovers on 24% of their opponents' possessions, the Wolfpack force turnovers only 20% of the time.
Just like last year, Nevada doesn't shoot many threes (only 21.1% of all field goal attempts), instead getting their extra points at the free throw line. The Wolfpack make 35 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts, almost twice the rate of the Jayhawks. Both teams' free throw rates are heavily influenced by their opening home games against weak opponents. Kansas ran a serious deficit at the free throw line against Arizona and Arkansas, making a mere 8 FT per 100 FGA while allowing their opponents 28 FTM per 100 FGA. Nevada's rates at Vermont and UNLV were 26 for and 14.5 against. It should be noted that Vermont and UNLV combined to shoot less than 50% from the free throw line against Nevada. Kansas is shooting 68.6% from the line this year, but that breaks down as 26-34 (76.5%) against Idaho St. and 9-17 (52.9%) in two games in Maui.
Nevada managed to win at Vegas despite turning the ball over 31% of the time and getting severely outrebounded. Their margin for error lies in their shooting and their field goal defense. Kansas haven't demonstrated that they have a margin for error this year. Unless they can force Nevada into an uncharacteristically poor shooting performance, the Jayhawks will need to improve either their shooting, both by making more shots and getting to the free throw line more often (Bill Self's stated desire to get the ball inside more could help. Despite making less than a quarter of their three-point shots, the Jayhawks are taking 27% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc.), or their defensive rebounding drastically to win tonight.
Prediction: Nevada 71 Kansas 65