Scouting the opponent: Kansas guards Mason III, Graham will test Duke's defense

<p>Senior Frank Mason III has blossomed into one of the best penetrating guards in the nation.&nbsp;</p>

Senior Frank Mason III has blossomed into one of the best penetrating guards in the nation. 

Coming off a 103-99 overtime loss to then-No. 11 Indiana Friday evening, No. 7 Kansas will make the journey to Madison Square Garden Tuesday night to battle No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic in New York. The teams have not played since 2013 at the same event—when Kansas pulled out a win led by Andrew Wiggins—so The Chronicle breaks down five aspects of the 12-time reigning Big 12 regular-season champions to get you ready for Tuesday's game. 

Kansas’ experienced backcourt

Even in defeat, senior Frank Mason III starred for the Jayhawks, posting a career-high 30 points in 40 minutes, along with nine assists and seven rebounds. Mason attacked the basket at will against the Hoosiers, frequently getting to the charity stripe—he went 13-of-15 from the line—and he ripped off Kansas’ final 11 points of regulation to tie the game at 89.

“In late-game situations, we want to see the ball in our guys’ hands and going downhill,” Jayhawk head coach Bill Self said on a teleconference call Sunday evening.

The 5-foot-11 guard emerged as a freshman when he put up 15 points against the Blue Devils in the 2013 Champions Classic, but is not the only starter in the Jayhawk backcourt returning from last year's team. Junior Devonte’ Graham racked up 16 points of his own in Kansas’ loss, nailing a pair of 3-pointers. The Raleigh, N.C., native was named Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 tournament as a sophomore and ranked third in the conference beyond the arc last year at 44.1 percent.

Shutting down the 3-ball

In the Jayhawks’ season opener, Indiana exploded for 103 points and had five different players in double figures. With the Blue Devils averaging 95.0 points through their first two games and ranking first in the nation in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency metric, the Jayhawk defense will need to tighten up to contain the likes of Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard.

"Indiana and Duke aren't teams you probably want to get into a H.O.R.S.E contest with," Self said. "Sometimes they can lull you into that. If they make a [3-pointer], you've got to match them on the other end—that's not the way we should play."

Kansas forced 18 Hoosier turnovers but allowed Indiana to nail 15 3-pointers, meaning the All-Big 12 Defensive Team guards will try to get back on track Tuesday. The Jayhawks allowed more than 90 points just once all of last season, when they ranked third in Pomeroy's defensive efficiency metric. 

Potential game-breaker

Although Duke's roster boasts Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the 2016 recruiting class, sandwiched right between them is swingman Josh Jackson. Despite scoring just nine points in Kansas’ season opener, the 6-foot-8 guard is expected to be a focal point of the Jayhawk offense going forward.

“He played out of foul trouble the other night and didn’t have a chance to get in rhythm,” Self said. “But I’m not worried about that. I want him to impact the game and he’s more than capable.”

Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American as a high school senior and played alongside the Blue Devils’ freshman duo for Team USA’s U-19 squad as they captured a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship last year. The Detroit native averaged 31.2 points and 17.6 rebounds two years ago and followed it up with another double-double campaign last year. If Jackson plays to his potential Tuesday night, he could pose problems for Duke, which lacks a healthy wing with the size and athleticism to match Jackson's jaw-dropping potential.

Similar depth concerns 

Like Duke, Kansas has very few options coming off its bench. In their season opener, the Jayhawks utilized essentially just a seven-man rotation with only guards Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick playing meaningful minutes as reserves. The duo combined for three triples and 19 points, but Kansas’ starting five dominated the scoring, putting up nearly 80 percent of the Jayhawk points.

Both Kansas and the Blue Devils have big-time talent, but the two sides have struggled with foul trouble—four of the Jayhawks' five starters were disqualified in their season opener. With Duke almost certainly playing without Giles, Tatum and Marques Bolden, it will likely be incumbent on both teams’ starters to carry their respective side to victory.

As is the case with the Blue Devils, the worries about depth focus on Kansas' frontcourt—starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg Jr. struggled against Indiana, and touted freshman Udoka Azubuike played sparingly. 

Another dominant program

Since taking over the Kansas program in 2003, Bill Self has been one of the most successful head coaches in college basketball, leading the Jayhawks to 12 straight regular-season conference titles and a national championship in 2008. The 53-year-old is closing in on 600 career wins and is 1-1 when facing Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.

Kansas nearly made a third Final Four under Self last season, falling in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion Villanova. He has turned out 10 NBA lottery picks, most recently Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, and the Jayhawks have made the NCAA tournament each of his 13 seasons at the helm. After traveling to Honolulu just four days ago, Kansas could have some tired legs when they take the floor Tuesday, but expect Self to be sure that his Jayhawks have no excuses against the nation’s top-ranked team.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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