Kansas is back in the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament for the first time since 2013 when the Jayhawks finished third. In that carousel, KU beat Wake Forest and UTEP, but fell to Villanova in the second game on Thanksgiving.
This time around, the likes of Tennessee, Wisconsin, Dayton (KU always seems to travel to the same midseason tournament as the Flyers), USC, BYU and more make up the always-attractive field. But first, the Jayhawks will face NC State, who Kansas defeated in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament en route to the Final Four.
Team: NC state
Line: KU -8.5
As with many teams as late as November, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s helping the schedule with NC State. Although that could be said for this team even more than most. The Wolfpack are 4-0, but have only played one top-200 KenPom team (Campbell, No. 169) and all four games have come at home. And two of those four wins were by 11 points or less. KenPom has them 340th out of 363 teams for strength of schedule.
This is the first test outside of Raleigh and the first against a truly quality top-five opponent. Still, this is an experienced team with seven seniors on the roster. And, opponent aside, NC State has been solid offensively. The Wolfpack are shooting 61.1% (12th nationally) inside the arc while playing at one of the fastest tempos.
Players to watch
NC State has four players score in double figures so far this year, led by sophomore and former top-100 recruit Terquavion Smith, who is averaging 19 points and 5.5 assists per game. The 6-4 guard is 15-21 from 2-point range in four games so far and is also a threat on defense, averaging three steals per game.
The other three double-digit scorers are all senior guards — Jarkel Joiner (17 ppg and 5 rpg), Casey Morsell (14.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg) and Jack Clark (12 ppg and 6.8 rpg) — so it’s not just one player. The Jayhawks will need to contain on the perimeter. KU will also need an answer to 6-10, 230-pound senior Dusan Mahorcic, who leads the team in rebounds (7.5 per game) while also averaging 9.5 points.
Matches to watch
The Wolf Pack will have plenty of threes as they shoot from beyond the arc nearly 43% of the time. And while they’re not the Golden State Warriors, they’ve shot 37% in four games. As a result, NC State didn’t get to the free throw line at all, as free throws accounted for just under 14% of the Wolfpack’s points.
Kansas won’t have to worry about the Wolfpack being a pest on the offensive glass like Duke was. But the Wolfpack has found success in ending defensive possessions in steals. NC State had 10 or more steals in its first three games, and its worst mark was six, but again, the competition isn’t what they’ll face in ball handlers like Dajuan Harris and Bobby Pettiford.
Bill Self is back on the sidelines for the first game of the season, and KU is coming off a test by Southern Utah that was supposed to keep the team’s ego in check after a huge win over Duke. The three-point line will be what causes the most variation in potential outcomes. If NCSU gets hot from three early, KU could be in contention. Also, it can be hard to adjust to the strange environment that plays out in a giant ballroom.
The Jayhawks need someone other than Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick—who seem almost certain to hit their point game, matchup at this point—to step up on offense. And a combination of KJ Adams, Ernest Udeh Jr. and Zuby Ejiofor will have to protect the paint and fight Mahorcic on the glass.
I like a tested Jayhawks team to win, especially since NC State has held those four weaker opponents to nearly 47% shooting from 2-point range.
Kansas 82, NC State 71
Last Game – Prediction: 89-66 | Current: 82-76