We're fortunate to have the insights of Andy Mitts from RockChalkTalk.com. Mitts answers five burning questions regarding today's Top 15 clash between the No. 13 Runnin' Utes and the No. 10 Jayhawks of Kansas.
Our sister site, Rock Chalk Talk, provides unique insights from KU country.
1. Even while Kansas is a team that reloads, rather than rebuilds, how have the losses of NBA first rounders Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins impacted this season's Jayhawks?
The loss of Joel Embiid was probably a bigger deal, just because his rim protection ability is something you can't really replicate. However, Wiggins quickly became a leader of that team, and we haven't really see anyone step up on the court to take the game over like he used to do all the time. Many have tried, but none have been consistent enough to do it on their own.
2. This game is billed as a neutral site game, even while it's not far from the KU campus. But images taken yesterday by Fran Fraschilla, who'll be calling the game, show a Jayhawk at center court. What's up with that?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Utah Utes practicing @ Sprint Center. They thought this was neutral site game. Not with that Jayhawk logo in middle. <a href="http://t.co/a9Tqgt9Yja">
pic.twitter.com/a9Tqgt9Yja</a> </p>— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) <a href="https://twitter.com/fran fraschilla/status/543487326643 843072">December 12, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/wi dgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
While it's technically a neutral site game, they are only 45 minutes from campus in the closest major city where alums make up a large portion of the population. Plus they've put the Jayhawk in the middle of the floor for quite a while now, so it's not like it's that much of a surprise. And, to be honest, this is a home game for the Jayhawks. They play here often enough, and it's close enough that there is no use pretending this is a neutral site game.
3. What position group do you feel is the Jayhawks' strongest, the one that gives KU the advantage in this game? Which group do you think favors Utah?
I think that KU has the advantage down low, despite all the height that the Utes have down there. Looking back on the Utes' schedule, the teams that gave them problems were the ones with physical teams in the frontcourt. Alexander has dominated down low when given the chance, and I expect him to pretty much have his way down there.
While Kansas has a lot of players in the backcourt that can turn it on for any particular day, we don't have anyone consistent enough yet for me to feel confident. With Delon Wright lighting pretty much everyone up, I'm not expecting our guards to be able to keep him under wraps for the game. But I know that we need someone to limit him in order to be successful.
4. What are your keys to the game for Kansas? What do the Jayhawks have to do to get the W?
I think these are all going to be pretty obvious, but rebounding, staying out of foul trouble, and limiting turnovers. Kansas has been most successful when they are able to stay physical down low and prevent second chance points. This ability seems to leave them at crucial times during games, and they won't have the height advantage down low that they usually have. As for foul trouble, usually our big guys are able to get into the lane and cause problems against our opponent's fairly thin frontcourt, but Utah has a rotation just as deep as Kansas has down low. Lucas and Traylor have run into foul trouble multiple times this year, and we can't afford to have them sitting on the bench.
The last key has been a real problem for our guys this year. There are way too many times where our PGs (mainly Mason) drive into the lane, get double-teamed, but then don't have anyone available to take a pass. This leads to a bad shot, a jump-to-nowhere throw-away pass, or a horrible offensive foul. With Graham likely out with a toe injury, I'm expecting to yell at my TV quite a bit today.
5. What is your bold prediction? Who do you expect to be the player of the game?
I'm not sure how bold it is, but I'm going to say that Utah will fight foul trouble all day long, but stay in it with their 3-point shooting. Ultimately, I'm going to say that Cliff Alexander gets going down low early and often, and scores 20+ points to pace the Jayhawks to an 8-10 point win.