The basketball season continues Thursday afternoon when the Wake Forest Demon Deacons take a trip to Paradise Island to take on the Kansas Jayhawks in the opening round of The Battle for Atlantis. The Kansas Jayhawks, a member of the Big 12 Conference, come in as the #2 ranked team in the country. Kansas finished 31-6 last season before being knocked off in the Sweet 16 by Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines.
Bill Self returns for his 11th season as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. Last season, the Jayhawks averaged 75. 2 points per game and were one of the best defensive teams in the country, holding opponents to 0.87 points per possession. Kansas took away high percentage shots, resulting in the best defensive effective field goal percentage in all of college basketball (41.5%). Coach Self lost a majority of his production from last season, including his top 5 scorers. The most difficult to replace being Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey. McLemore was dominant as a freshmen, averaging 15.9 points per game and shooting 42% from behind the arc. Withey was the cog on defense as he average 8.5 rebounds and blocked shots on 13.7% of opponents possessions (5th). For most programs this would make for a crippling transition, but not for the Jayhawks.
Kansas started this season with a big win over Dook and haven't slowed down since. The Jayhawks are averaging 87 points per game and boast the 7th highest offensive efficiency rating in country (115.9). When it comes to star studded freshmen, Kansas is stacked with a pair that complement the Jayhawks epic twitter account. The most dynamic being Andrew Wiggins, who comes in as one of the most hyped college freshmen in 20 years. Wiggins has lived up to this hype, by averaging 16.8 points with an offensive efficiency rating of 134.2. Though Wiggins has produced the highlights, sophomore forward Perry Ellis may be the Jayhawks' most efficient player. Ellis is off to a monster start as he is averaging 16.8 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Ellis is also in the top 50 when it comes to offensive rating (144.0), effective field goal percentage (70.8%) and is 26th in true shooting percentage (73.6%). In the back court, Kansas runs a point guard by committee with Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason. Tharpe is more of a game manager that shows the ability to setup teammates (37.7%) despite a very low possession percentage (16.9%). While Mason is more of a scoring guard, possessing the ball 23.7% of the time and taking 20.6% of the shots.
After a win against The Citadel, Wake Forest is off to their first 5-0 start since 2009. Through 5 games we are seeing the identity of this Deacon team. The Deacs have improved in numerous aspects, but none more evident than the ability to take care of the basketball. The maturation of Codi Miller-McIntyre, Madison Jones and the addition of graduate transfer Coron Williams have the Deacons as the 10th best team in the country when it comes to turnover percntage (12.6%). The Deacs continue to look to Williams when it when it comes to shooting the 3 ball, as he is responsible for 46.6% of the teams makes despite taking only 36.9% of the attempts. Wake has also relied heavily on Miller-McIntyre's ability to stay on the court for long periods as he is playing in 78.7% of the minutes.
Keys to the Game
Thursday afternoon will mark the second phase of the Deacs season as the non-conference schedule really tightens up. The Battle for Atlantis provides some diverse and interesting competition, and it doesn't get much more daunting than having to take on Wiggins and the Jayhawks. Perhaps the toughest battle will take place in the paint between Devin Thomas and freshmen Joel Embiid. Embiid has had overwhelming success in gathering rebounds on the offensive (19.4%) and defensive (31.3%) ends of the court. This match up is going to be huge as Thomas is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country (33.1%) and Wake is the 10th best at keeping opponents off of the offensive glass (22.1%). Kansas runs a lot of man defense so it will be interesting to see whether Ellis or Wiggins will cover Travis McKie. Either way, McKie will need to use his experience to work over the young Kansas front court in hopes of converting buckets and drawing fouls. Overall, I think Kansas plays big and tries to take away the penetration of CMM and the post game of Thomas. Unless Wake can hit some shots from behind the arc and consistently finish at the free throw line I think Kansas runs away with this one.
Will be on AXS TV (Which you probably don't have) at 3:30 PM