Editor’s note: During the 2017-18 season, Kentucky will play five non-conference games against Power 5 teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season — Kansas ( Nov. 14 in Chicago), Virginia Tech ( Dec. 16 at home), UCLA ( Dec. 23 in New Orleans), Louisville ( Dec. 29 at home) and West Virginia ( Jan. 27 in Morgantown) — meaning five opportunities to impress the selection committee come March. So in our Quality Wins series, we’ll be breaking down each of those matchups and making an early prediction on the outcome. Today, it’s Cats vs. Jayhawks.
Tale of the tape
Kentucky has zero returning starters and just 7 percent of last season’s points and 15 percent of its 2016-17 rebounds back. The top six scorers from last year’s squad — Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins — are gone. The Wildcats have eight freshmen, three sophomores and no juniors or seniors among their scholarship players.
Kansas lost its top two players in Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson, but guard Devonte’ Graham decided to stay for his senior season and will likely be one of the top returning players in college basketball. Graham, along with Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and a few others, gives the Jayhawks 39 percent of their points and 31 percent of their rebounds from last season. The Jayhawks went 31-5 (including a win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena) and reached the Elite Eight a year ago.
The Cats lost three NBA draft picks (No. 5 overall Fox, No. 11 Monk and No. 14 Adebayo), while Kansas lost two (No. 4 Jackson and No. 34 Mason). And somehow, Bill Self’s team is No. 3 and John Calipari’s is No. 7 in CBS Sports’ early preseason rankings.
What about the literal tale of the tape, though? Kentucky has seven players 6-foot-9 or taller on its current roster, while Kansas has four who are 6-8 or taller (excluding transfers who will sit out this season). So the Cats should have an edge in size, while the Jayhawks own an advantage in experience — but what about pure talent?
Kentucky signed Scout.com’s No. 1 recruiting class, including 5-stars Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards, while the Jayhawks landed one 5-star freshman (power forward Billy Preston) in the 20th-ranked class. But Self hit the transfer market hard.
Mississippi State defector and former McDonald’s All-American point guard Malik Newman is eligible to play for Kansas after sitting out last season. Lucky for the Cats, Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, California transfer Charlie Moore and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe will not be available when UK and KU collide.
Kansas will also have 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike back from injury. Azubuike played in 11 games and started six as a freshman last season before suffering a season-ending wrist injury on Dec. 21, 2016. Kansas was without Azubuike in its January win over Kentucky.
Kentucky is 22-8 against Kansas. Their last meeting was Jan. 28 at Rupp Arena and the Jayhawks won 79-73. They’ve taken two in a row after the Cats claimed three straight (including the 2012 national championship game). Up next, another Champions Classic showdown on Nov. 14 at the United Center in Chicago.
Our (way-too-early) prediction
Kansas 81, Kentucky 74
The early-season clash puts Kentucky at a disadvantage. The Wildcats will have a pair of tune-up games prior to playing Kansas, while the Jayhawks will have one. But Self will be able to rely on veterans like Graham, Mykhailiuk and Vick while Calipari’s lineup will mostly consist of untested freshmen on an enormous stage. The Cats might have more talent, but it’s asking a lot for all of it to come together by mid-November.
Next in the series: Virginia Tech visits Rupp Arena (publishing Aug. 30)
The post Quality Wins: How Kentucky basketball stacks up against Kansas appeared first on SEC Country.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.