The Jimmy V Classic should be fantastic this year. It’s headlined by four teams in the top 15 and three in the top 10. Neither team has faced a team as good as the other. Kansas’ best win was a close one against Arizona (who in reality will probably find themselves in the top 25 as the season progresses), and Memphis’ best was probably Miami.
The Kansas story is the same. Josh Selby has two more games left on his suspension, so he’ll be watching from the sideline (but keep an eye out for an article soon about how much better he could make the Jayhawks). They haven’t showcased great interior defense, but the guard play has been phenomenal (and the Morris twins do a good job collectively rebounding and scoring inside).
A shocking (for me at least) statistical side note: Markieff, not Marcus, Morris is listed as Kansas’ lone go-to guy by Ken Pomeroy. Kansas is leading the nation in Pomeroy’s rankings, a hair ahead of Duke and Ohio State. Markieff is leading the nation in defensive rebounding percentage with a jaw-dropping 36.6%. That’s almost a 50% increase from his defensive rebounding production, and he’s playing more minutes. Another interesting statistical nugget I saw looking at the individual player stats (just released yesterday) is that Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar both account for more than 60% of Jayhawk minutes, but both are used on less than 15% of possessions (for comparison Tyshawn Taylor and Marcus Morris log similar minutes, but both sport possession usages around 24%). These usage statistics will be very interesting once Selby comes back.
But now onto Memphis. One of Kansas’ keys to victory will be containing Wesley Witherspoon in the post. Witherspoon is Memphis’ top scorer, and he may be called to an increased role if coach Josh Pastner senses a weakness inside. But Memphis’ true potential comes from its star freshmen: Joe Jackson, Will Barton and Chris Crawford. Joe Jackson and Will Barton especially are very, very good (Barton was ranked an average of 9th by recruiting services, while Jackson checked in at 19th). They are also both integral to the Memphis offense.
The good news for Kansas is Memphis hasn’t really played as well as they should on paper, yet. The Tigers are a very young team, and they have been prone to playing down to their competition (see the game where Arkansas State took them to OT). Memphis has had a couple of scares, and they look primed to lose. But the Tigers still have found a way to win, and they have the talent to beat almost anyone in the country.
To keep with the Ken Pomeroy theme, he predicts Kansas will win by 11. I feel like the stats make Kansas a little better than they have played and Memphis a little worse, so I’d feel safer saying Kansas by five. So far the Jayhawks have shown the ability to close out games, while Memphis has been prone to wasting leads. Neither team should be able to win having an off-night though. And don't forget: a worse Memphis team almost beat a better Kansas team last year. It should be a great game to watch, so tune into ESPN at 6:00 Central.