There are those placing college basketball picks who felt Kansas got a somewhat generous seed at No. 2. This has not warranted the torrent of disapproval like Georgetown and Big East entrants have.
The Jayhawks did finish the season with an unimpressive 5-4 with only two covers and each defeat had a familiar pattern, disappearing late in games. Will Bill Self’s squad be able to shake the lethargy and come out on fire against New Mexico State?
If you are putting together sports picks against the NCAA Tournament odds, here is what you need to know about this Midwest Region matchup on Friday.
This has not been your typical Bill Self team we are used to witnessing in Lawrence. Yes, Kansas still assembled a fine 26-8 record (17-16 ATS), won the Big 12 for the 50th time in a row (modest exaggeration) and just missed winning the conference tournament again.
While we hardily acknowledge this was the deepest Big 12 Conference ever in basketball, Kansas average margin of victory was 6.5 points per game, the lowest since 1999 (7.6) and the smallest differential we could find going back 18 years. Anyone from Jayhawks backers to college basketball handicappers could see Kansas was just not the same this season. The talent was there, but not the consistency. Forward Perry Ellis (14.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG) is Self’s best player and most reliable. In years past Ellis would vanish from time to time, letting his older teammates carry the load though he was more than capable, but not this season.
Players like point guard Frank Mason III (12.6 PPG, 4.1 APG), Kelly Oubre Jr. (9.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and Wayne Selden Jr. (9.1 PPG, 2.9 APG) are all tremendous talents but their choppy performances from game to game and even within certain contests have left the Jayhawks vulnerable.
As mentioned this has been true late in games when the opposing team made a run and took a late lead. Mason in particular has been a focal point about not running the offense, but he was the shining beacon in title game loss to Iowa State when everyone else looked they were with Penn and Teller on stage and just disappeared.
Kansas still has a myriad of ways to beat any team, but their main weakness is pressure defense and decision-making late in games. It probably will not be a factor against New Mexico State, but anyone reading through the betting odds should know the Jayhawks are 11-8 and 9- 10 ATS when leaving the comforts of Lawrence.
New Mexico State Report
Because the WAC was raided and rebuilt pretty much from scratch, not many people are as in tune with New Mexico State (23-10, 8-6 ATS) like before. The Aggies WAC regular season games are not lined, thus many bettors have to reacquaint themselves with this team as champions.
While everyone knows about the size and length of Kentucky, not everyone is aware coach Marvin Menzies has a penchant for recruiting big guys and New Mexico State will often have four players 6’8 or taller on the floor.
Center Tshilidzi Nephawe (10.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG) is a force at both ends of the floor in the paint and he’s a man at 6’10 and is unafraid to mix it up. The player who makes the Aggies a winner is freshman Pascal Siakam (13.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG), who can center when Nephawe needs a break or is foul trouble and be his tall teammate otherwise. Siakam leads the team in both rebounding and field goal percentage, converting more than 57 percent of his shots.
Guards Daniel Mullings (12.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG) and Ian Baker (9.5 PPG, 2.8 APG) are both a blessing and curse. New Mexico State averages only 12 assists a game on its average of 24 made shots because they dribble too much. This becomes a conundrum since they average a turnover just over 20 percent of the time per possession. When in control they are legit scoring threats. The Aggies are 8-8 and 4-5 ATS when not in southern New Mexico.
What Outcome to Expect in this 2 vs. 15 Confrontation
Sportsbooks made Kansas an 11.5-point favorite with a total of 131 and the Jayhawks have gone slightly backwards to -10.5.
If Kansas guards are successful in being pesky defenders, they should create easy scoring opportunities. What Kansas might lack in size against this opponent, they can make up for is quickness and speed and should play fast to speed up the Aggies.
New Mexico State has to play inside-out and if they slow the pace to their liking and make three’s while converting their usual percentage (46.5 percent), they could cover the spread. If their half court pressure defense causes hesitation by Kansas, now we have a close contest.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Look for Kansas to advance, but I would take the points with the Aggies for my NCAA Tournament picks.