Tonight, the two winningest programs in D-1 history will face off in a battle between No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. The game will feature plenty of NBA prospects, like Kentucky’s dynamic backcourt of sweet-shooting Malik Monk and cat-quick De’Aaron Fox and Kansas’ do everything forward Josh Jackson. All three are freshmen but I believe the game will come down to the more veteran players on the floor.
Kentucky’s backcourt gets the accolades and the NBA hype but it is Kansas’ backcourt that will determine the winner of this showdown. Frank Mason III is the diminutive star of this version of the Kansas Jayhawks. He is a Naismith Award contender averaging 20 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. Frank Mason III is pretty well known among college basketball fans, but his swaggy backcourt mate Devonte’ Graham is not. Graham has quick hands on the defensive end and deadly accuracy from deep. He is the X-Factor for the Jayhawks as they play their second of three pivotal games in a season defining stretch.
Kentucky has an X-Factor themselves. Isaiah Briscoe seemingly flirts with a triple double every time he steps on the court. Technically, he plays small forward but really he is just another guard for the ‘Cats. He will likely also be asked to use his defensive versatility to guard Josh Jackson on the less glamourous end of the floor. Jackson, while not proving to be much of a threat from 3 this season is an explosive athlete that also has passing chops way beyond his years. This could be the deciding factor in a game that figures to go deep into the second half.
In a game between two great coaches and programs it is the razor-sharp mental focus that will be the difference in avoiding a two-game losing streak as both programs are coming off tough Tuesday night road defeats. Kansas just can’t maintain that focus this week with news that Lawrence police are investigating the rape of a 16-year-old in the dormitory that houses the men’s basketball team. This on top of the fact coach Bill Self announced late Thursday night that sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr. is suspended indefinitely for violating team rules but that it has nothing to do with the investigation. ‘Cats win but ‘Hawks cover.
Prediction: Kentucky 88 Kansas 84