The first true road game of the season did not go well for Auburn, as the Tigers lost to NC State. It did not go well at all for UCLA in Cincinnati. Three teams play their first true road games of the season on a jam-packed college basketball card for Saturday and one of them is the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks make the long trip from Lawrence to Tempe to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in one of many strong matchups on the December 22 card.
Kansas goes into this game a little shorthanded as Udoka Azubuike is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. He has only played seven of the team’s games, but has been effective with 12.9 points and better than six rebounds per contest.
Arizona State is healthy.
Kansas is indeed Rock Chalk Jayhawk on the road for this one, as the visitors are favored by four in what will be a somewhat subdued environment in Tempe. Arizona State is definitely a tough place to play with a raucous and rowdy student body, but it is three days before Christmas and most kids are home on break.
The total on this game is certainly up there at 152.5. We’ve seen a little side movement to yo-yo between 3.5 and 4, but the total hasn’t really budged at most shops.
What’s At Stake?
Clearly a lot for Arizona State. The Sun Devils look like the sharpest tool in a dull Pac-12 toolbox and could very well be the conference’s best hope. Arizona State has played an above average schedule so far, as the Sun Devils are just outside the top 100 per KenPom, but they rank barely inside the top 50 in his rankings and 39th for Bart Torvik.
Kansas has played a top-15 schedule, but now plays in a hostile road environment for the first time. The Selection Committee likes to look at these road performances. There’s a chance that Arizona State winds up on the bubble in March. Kansas won’t, but these types of games could be the difference between a 1 seed and a 2 seed.
The spot is obviously not great for Kansas. The Jayhawks have played games away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but not a true road game as of yet. This is also a long trip out to Tempe. If the students show up, this will be a strong home court advantage. Parents and others with tickets will generate some energy, but it won’t be as hostile.
This is a big spot for Arizona State. The Sun Devils just came off of their first two true road games of the season. They narrowly beat Georgia by a bucket after a furious 18-point comeback and got crushed by Vanderbilt a couple days later. They have not played since.
Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson is averaging a double-double per game for Kansas and his presence on the interior has been huge with Udoka Azubuike sidelined with a bum ankle. Lagerald Vick has also morphed into a go-to scorer for the Jayhawks. Vick is shooting 54 percent on 63 three-point attempts, so we do need to watch for that to regress. That may make life a tad tougher for Kansas on the offensive end of the floor.
Arizona State has a young team, but a very talented team. Luguentz Dort, the 6-foot-4 freshman guard from Quebec, has been spectacular this season with 19.8 points per game, but he was kept in check on the road trip with only five made field goals on 23 attempts. He’ll have to get it going, otherwise ASU has no chance here.
Everything Arizona State does well, Kansas just does better. Kansas is 18th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency per Bart Torvik and 10th per KenPom. KP has the Jayhawks sixth in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and Torvik has them 20th. The Sun Devils rank 44th and 47th at Torvik, respectively, and 57th and 51st, respectively, at KenPom.
Arizona State has been a better rebounding team, but Kansas has played a much stiffer schedule and a lot more length.
This is certainly a unique and interesting spot for Kansas, and they would love to get the seven-footer Azubuike back in the lineup, but they should still hold serve as the favorite. Arizona State is a very solid team, but this is a step up in class and the Sun Devils don’t have an answer for Dedric Lawson.
Along with Kansas -4, the under appears to have a bit of value. Neither team runs up and down the floor and Arizona State is athletic enough to get back in transition if Kansas tries to run out. This is a different shooting backdrop for the Jayhawks and some of their better three-point shooters look like regression candidates.