After a 4-0 start which certainly drew interest at Kansas sportsbooks, the Jayhawks basketball team faces its second major test of the season as it begins play at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Wednesday.
Kansas has already defeated Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota State, Duke and Southern Utah but will now be tasked with three quality opponents in three days. Coach Bill Self also returns to the sidelines after serving a four-game suspension to open the year.
He will look to lead Kansas to its first early season tournament title since the 2019 Maui Invitational.
Kansas plays NC State at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the opening round and is an 8.5-point favorite at BetMGM Sportsbook Kansas.
Here is what Jayhawks fans should pay attention to when following the action this week.
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Does the reliance on inside the arc scoring continue?
Despite starting a smallball lineup with 6-foot-7 KJ Adams at center, Kansas currently ranks second nationally in percentage of points scored off two-pointers per KenPom.
Kansas is getting 68.3 percent of its scoring from inside as it attempts 3s at a bottom-25 rate (though their 3-point percentage is right around the national average) and draw and convert free throws at a bottom-10 rate.
The Jayhawks have one elite outside shooter in freshman Gradey Dick, and Jalen Wilson has significantly upped his volume from 3, but the rest of Kansas’ personnel is not necessarily suited for spacing the floor.
They have shared the ball well as a team, but the Jayhawks best passing has often come in transition or on cuts, pick and rolls and dump offs going downhill in the half court (the alley-oop game has been particularly impressive) rather than on the kinds of drive and kick looks that traditionally lead to open 3s. Do things start to open up as opponents adjust to their dominance down low?
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Can a consistent third scoring option emerge?
Kansas has had a different third leading scorer every game so far this season.
Wilson and Dick, the only two Jayhawks averaging double figures, have been the top two scorers in some combination each contest, but finding another reliable scorer would go a long way in raising Kansas’ ceiling.
Bobby Pettiford finished as the Jayhawks third leading scorer against Nebraska-Omaha, while MJ Rice (who has missed the last two games but will reportedly be available this week) filled that role against North Dakota State. In the Duke game it was Kevin McCullar’s turn, and Dajuan Harris stepped up to the task versus Southern Utah.
Long term, McCullar projects as the most natural candidate to assume the tertiary scoring role, given that matches the role he played last year at Texas Tech. But Harris has slightly outscored him so far this season. Given Kansas’ depth, this may stay a third scorer by committee offense.
What will their opponents look like?
Kansas opens with an NC State team, that while untested, has plenty of offensive firepower.
Wolfpack guard Terquavion Smith stands as maybe the top NBA Draft prospect among all college returnees and fellow backcourt mates Jarkel Joiner and Casey Morsell have had explosive starts as well.
Following the NC State game, the Jayhawks face either Dayton or Wisconsin. Both the Flyers and the Badgers want to slow the tempo down and have relied on strong defenses to carry them thus far.
The dream finals matchup would pit Kansas against Tennessee. The Volunteers are the only other top 25 team in the field and operate in an essentially opposite manner to the Jayhawks offensively. Tennessee ranks third to last nationally in percentage of points scored from two, while ranking in the top 20 in scoring off both 3s and free throws per KenPom.
USC, BYU and Butler round out the field.