Though I might think of it primarily as Comcast's first chance to screw up the essential portion of the Full Court package, the Western Illinois game provides the young Kansas squad with two valuable opportunities.
1) Defeat a Division 1 team.
2) Gain confidence by making some shots and/or corralling a reasonable number of defensive rebounds.
A brief perspective on defensive rebounding numbers: I've got offensive and defensive rebounds differentiated for each Kansas team since 1994. The worst defensive rebounding teams (1994, 1995, 1999) got 66% of the potential defensive rebounds. The best teams (1997, 2003) got 69- and 70-percent of the defensive rebounds respectively. Through four games against Division 1 opponents, the 2005-6 Jayhawks are managing to get 60.5% of potential defensive rebounds.
I've seen two dunks missed against Arizona in Maui, five (approximately--my notes get sloppy when the game gets tense) lay-ups missed against Nevada, and countless open three-pointers missed this year. I'm in no position to place the blame for those misses on nerves or a lack of confidence, but I can say with all certainty that Western Illinois didn't guard anybody in either of the road losses. Utah Valley State scored 1.26 points per possession when the Leathernecks visited Orem and Indiana managed to top that, scoring 1.31 points per possession in Bloomington. On the year Western Illinois is allowing opponents to shoot 53.3% on two-point field goals, 47.6% on three-point field goals, and make 30 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (a rate that would even make the Jayhawks blush). The Jayhawks should have every opportunity to feel better about their offensive selves come Sunday morning.
The undersized Leathernecks (only 13% of their minutes have gone to players over 6-8) rely on the three-point shot. Four of the ten Leathernecks who have played significant minutes (including Rick Mahorn's nephew Marlon and another Okeson from Weskan, KS) have taken at least half their shots from beyond the arc. Thirty-five percent of their field goal attempts are from long distance and they've converted on 43% of their tries. Which is a nice performance, albeit undermined by their 41.5% shooting inside the arc. Giles and Kaun should control the paint on the both ends of the court.
For the second time in a week, the Jayhawks will attempt to control the defensive glass against a mediocre offensive rebound team. Nevada obliterated their previous season high offensive rebound rate. With all the long rebounds likely to result from Western Illinois' missed three-pointers, all the Jayhawks will have to work to take the first step in the transition from defense to offense.
Prediction: Kansas 87 Western Illinois 71