WICHITA, Kan. — Here is a look at the Penn-Kansas game:
Coach Steve Donahue feels that the Quakers have to hit at least 10 three-pointers to have a chance at winning, and that makes sense. It would not only help the offense, but if Penn is successful this way, it would open the floor. The Quakers shoot 34.7 percent from three-point range. Look for senior Caleb Wood to be a key factor. He is shooting 38.2 percent from three-point range and is expected to provide instant offense off the bench. With Kansas coach Bill Self saying on Wednesday that 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike (knee) will be a game-time decision, if he doesn’t play, it will give Penn’s 6-8 AJ Brodeur more of a chance to operate down low. Brodeur has been comfortable taking his game away from the basket, especially during the second half of the season, but he is even more effective near the basket and is a strong finisher. He is the one player Penn can ill afford to lose to foul trouble.
Penn is second in the country in three-point field goal defense, while Kansas is 13th in the nation in three-point shooting (40.3 percent), so the Jayhawks have to shoot close to their percentage to win. Leading the way is Svi Mykhailiuk, who is 13th in the nation in three-point shooting (45.3 percent) and like Penn’s Wood, can fire from deep range. He was a second-team all-Big 12 selection. Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham should draw plenty of double teams and his ability to find teammates in these situations will be important. One of those teammates will be guard Malik Newman, who was named the Big 12 tournament’s most outstanding player after averaging 24 points in the three games.
Penn’s true defensive stopper is 6-1 junior Antonio Woods, who likely will have the assignment of guarding Graham. Another tenacious defender off the bench is sophomore Devon Goodman (Germantown Academy), who often replaces Woods. When the two are on the court together, it provides an excellent defensive backcourt.
As much as Penn has received praise for defending the three-point shot, Kansas is first in the Big 12 (but only tied for 51st nationally) in three-point defense (32.7 percent). In such an offensive-minded conference, that is a more than a respectable statistic. If Azubuike doesn’t play, he will be missed sorely on the defensive end. He is averaging 1.7 blocks per game, but he also alters shots. His absence would open the inside for the Quakers. A player who could be an interior defensive presence is 6-8 sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot, who is averaging 1.4 blocked shots per game despite averaging just 14.3 minutes.
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Penn’s leading scorer is 6-5 sophomore Ryan Betley (Downingtown West), who has deep three-point range. He is averaging 14.5 points and is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, which is best among the rotation players. Betley is also adept at drawing fouls and he is one who relishes taking the big shot. Brodeur averages 13.1 points after averaging 20.5 in the Ivy League tournament wins over Yale and Harvard.
Kansas’ Graham is dangerous driving to the basket, shooting from the perimeter and finding his teammates. He is averaging 17.3 points, 7.5 assists and is shooting 41.2 percent from three-point range. As the statistics indicate, teams can’t leave him open or he will drill the three, and if they play up on him, he is capable of blowing by a defender and driving to the basket.
One offensive area that both teams can improve on is foul shooting. Kansas shoots 70 percent from the foul line while Penn is shooting just 66.3 percent, but NCAA games often come down to the work at the free-throw line, so this area bears watching.
Penn’s biggest intangible is the play of senior point guard Darnell Foreman. His statistics (10.7 ppg., 3.6 apg.) don’t look eye-popping, but he has become a tremendous leader who has grown more comfortable taking and making big shots. His 19 first-half points kept the Quakers in the game Sunday in their 68-65 win over Harvard. There might not be a more respected player on the team, especially since for the last six weeks or so he hasn’t been able to practice due to a foot injury. Kansas’ biggest edge is its athletic ability. It will be interesting to see if Self tries to force an up-tempo game early to take advantage of the Jayhawks’ ability in the transition game.