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NC State aims for an early-season statement against Kansas

The Jayhawks are off to an excellent start.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Utah at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Keatts has brought his team back to Atlantis, as he once again hopes to fulfill the quests that will allow him to become the god king of the island. He must remember that to reach the throne room, he must fight through the goblins’ den and then make a LEFT at the giant-but-kindly-but-deadly spider after advancing through the Hall of Antiquities. He made a right turn at the spider last time, then fell into a booby trap and died.

Sorry, what was this about again? Ah yes. Basketball. Kansas. NC State. A big test but one with no negative consequences for the Wolfpack. A gravy game the day before Thanksgiving? Well don’t mind if we do!

The Jayhawks through four games.

KU in '23 Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG%
KU in '23 Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG%
Offense 111.4 (27) 54.0 (65) 15.9 (66) 31.8 (110) 55.8 (54) 32.9 (183)
Defense 88.4 (7) 42.2 (35) 19.7 (149) 29.8 (209) 44.8 (79) 25.5 (34)

Kansas is off to a 4-0 start that includes a neutral-site win over Duke, and the Jayhawks should prove a national title contender once again, despite losing several key contributors from last season.

The biggest reason for that is forward Jalen Wilson (6’8, 225), who is off to one of the best starts in the country. Wilson is averaging 24.5 points per game, as well as 9.3 boards and 4.3 assists. He has been an enormous part of the KU offense, attempting nearly 37% of the team’s shots while on the court. He’s taken 37 two-pointers alone over his last two games.

He’s a really difficult matchup inside the arc, he’s been an excellent passer while making few mistakes, and he’s shown an improved shooting touch from beyond the arc. A tough guy to slow down, but NC State will have to find a way.

Kansas has also gotten excellent play from freshman wing Grady Dick (6’8, 205), who is 10-20 from three and also shooting over 58% on twos. He’s only gotten to the free throw line five times, so getting the ball to the rim has not been a big part of his game.

An inability to get to the free throw line has been a team-wide issue, and when you throw in the fact that KU is only 350th in free throw shooting percentage, you have a team that is getting very little offense from the stripe. The lack of free throw attempts comes in spite of the fact that KU is near the bottom of D-I in three-point attempt rate; the Jayhawks are taking twos more often than most, but not finding a way to draw much contact in the process.

It’s an outstanding passing team, so perhaps the ball movement is leading to a lot more clean looks in the paint than your average team. Or they’re making a living in the mid-range. Whatever the case, it’s working just fine for them so far.

And this has the look of an elite defensive team, thanks to their ability to affect shots (fifth in block rate) without fouling. The Jayhawks’ defensive rebounding could be better, but as long as they’re forcing missed shots like they are, that’s not going to hurt too much.

I wanted to give a quick shout to freshman big Zuby Ejiofor (6’9, 240). He’s logged only 25 minutes this season, but in that time, he has 17 rebounds and five blocks. That dude is going to be a problem eventually.

Kansas has rolled out the same starting five in every game: Wilson and Dick, plus Dajuan Harris (6’1, 175), Kevin McCullar (6’6, 210), and KJ Adams (6’7, 225). The latter three have been excellent defensively; Adams leads the team in block rate. Their shot bothering has been a collective effort, with even Harris having five rejections in the early going.

Those three are more support players at the offensive end, as all three attempt shots at a below-average rate. Wilson and Dick are the drivers of the whole thing. If NC State’s offense shows up and it can force one of those two into an off day, then maybe the Pack will have a shot at an upset heading into crunch time.

KenPom likes the Jayhawks by nine.