Observations from Kansas' first-round win over Howard

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, March 16, 2023
Kansas's Jalen Wilson tries to get past Howard's Bryce Harris during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Kansas's Jalen Wilson tries to get past Howard's Bryce Harris during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

DES MOINES, Iowa — A handful of thoughts and observations on top-seeded Kansas’ top players from their 96-68 first-round NCAA Tournament victory over 16th-seeded Howard on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.

With Arkansas’ 73-63 win over Illinois on Thursday, the Razorbacks will play the Jayhawks in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Jalen Wilson

Wilson is one of the toughest covers in college basketball.

At 6-8 and 225 pounds, he has terrific size and is just as comfortable stepping out several feet beyond the three-point line and letting a shot fly as he is being physical and trying to score out of a post-up. Wilson finished with 20 points against Howard on 8 of 16 from the field and 7 rebounds.

Wilson is a national player of the year candidate and has one of the ultimate green lights in the sport. He is a good shot taker as well as a tough shot maker.

More from WholeHogSports: How to watch, listen to Arkansas-Kansas game

Wilson’s 20 points on Thursday were easy. There was never any real game pressure put on Kansas, but he played with great poise and pace. It is really difficult to speed him up or rattle him offensively.

Wilson has scored 20-plus points in six consecutive games. He is not necessarily a black hole offensively once the ball touches his hands.

But he is wired to score first, evidenced by zero assists in the last three games.

Gradey Dick

Dick did not have the greatest start to Thursday’s game. He gave up a couple of scores as a primary defender, but it did not take too long for him to settle in and maybe make the greatest impact for the Jayhawks during the runaway win.

The 6-8 freshman obviously impressed as a scorer with 19 points. But he shined in punishing Howard on the backboards on both ends.

Dick grabbed 11 rebounds, including 5 offensive, and he was 3 of 4 from the field immediately after corralling a Kansas miss. He also had an assist moments after an offensive board.

Dick is often stationed in a corner on offense. When a teammate puts a shot up, Arkansas has to be aware of his weak-side crashes. His ability to leap and tip balls in or back out to a teammate for second-chance opportunities is incredibly valuable.

The wing is a better defender now than he was at the beginning of the season, but he is still susceptible to lapses both allowing cutters to cross his face for easy buckets in Kansas’ switch-everything defense and as an on-ball defender.

Dick also made a number of high-level skip passes in the game, setting up clean looks for others. He had five assists, which matched a season high.

Kevin McCullar

McCullar may be the best defender on a team littered with defensive talent.

The 6-6 wing/forward — like Illinois guard Terrence Shannon — was a member of the Texas Tech team that fell to Arkansas in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. He has grown his game in a number of ways since.

McCullar jumped out during Thursday’s game because of his defensive discipline. He did not bite on shot fakes around the rim and had a number of aggressive contests on the interior.

McCullar turned in a solid all-around game with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists to go with 1 block and 2 steals. He did have some head-scratching turnovers, but he made up for them by creating shots for others.

In Big 12 play, McCullar was in the top 10 in steal rate and top 20 in block percentage. He is a defensive stopper first and sometimes a third or fourth scoring option.

Above all else, teammates say, he makes winning plays and is the kind of piece that can help a team make a deep tournament run.

“He's obsessed with coverages and defense and knows how to get in certain areas a lot of people don't think about,” Kansas forward KJ Adams said. “He's always on top of that stuff. He's just a floor general when he's on the floor.

“He makes everybody better and helps everybody know their assignments more clearly.”

KJ Adams

The 6-7 forward is built like an SEC linebacker, leaps like a wing and stands his ground against bigger interior players.

Put all of those things together and you have a player who can lend a hand in a variety of ways. Adams finished with 13 points on 5 of 10 from the floor, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal.

He is another somewhat-undersized front-line piece for the Jayhawks who more than holds his own and plays with great physicality.

On defense, he does a great job contesting shots with verticality and altering or blocking other attempts. He was No. 11 in the Big 12 in block percentage, per KenPom.

And on the other end, he sets solid ball screens and rolls with purpose. Adams is a lob threat as well and can elevate in a flash.

Dajuan Harris

Howard gave the Jayhawks a game for roughly 15 minutes Thursday, but the Bison could not go blow for blow with Kansas from an offensive standpoint.

The Jayhawks put up 50 points in the first half and Harris accounted for 16 points, including 12 through 5 assists to 4 different teammates. Harris, who had 11 points and seven assists, keeps the Kansas offense on track and humming.

It appeared Thursday that he was perfectly fine setting up others then looking for his own offense once the game was in hand. The Jayhawks were plus-25 when he was in the lineup.

Not only is he a table-setter-type guard, Harris is a pest on the defensive end. The guard has recorded at least 2 steals in 11 of the last 13 games, including 5 with 4 or more takeaways.

The 6-1 guard has good quickness, but his savvy and defensive anticipation stand out. In some ways, he is the head of the snake for Kansas.

Ernest Udeh

The 6-11, 250-pound center brings a different element to the table relative to Kansas’ other front-court players.

Udeh, as expected, overwhelmed Howard’s big men and was a presence on both ends. He finished with 8 points on 4 of 4 from the field and 1 block in 10 minutes.

Udeh’s first shift, which came roughly midway through the first half, featured a pair of dunks. His first stretch of play in the second half included a block, and he added two more dunks in his final two runs.

According to KenPom data, Udeh has played only 17.2% of Kansas’ available minutes this season, so he is not a piece that is heavily relied on. 

But, as he showed Thursday — granted against less-than-stellar competition — he can be imposing and impact a game in the minutes he does receive.


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