(2) Kansas v. (15) New Mexico State
Time: 12:15 PM ET, TV: CBS
Spread: KAN -10.5
Betting odds c/o Bovada
The No. 2 seeded Kansas Jayhawks are hoping for a better run this season. Last year, the team was without star center Joel Embiid, and it cost the Jayhawks badly, losing its second game of the tournament and putting an early end to an otherwise impressive season. This year, the Jayhawks finished 26-8, but it lost the Big 12 championship to Iowa State, who was just eliminated in opening day action. In fact, Kansas closed the season by losing two of its last four, though all but one was against a ranked opponent (which it won, vs. TCU).
In Friday afternoon’s action, the Jayhawks will be 10.5 point favorites over No. 15 seeded New Mexico State. A 10.5 point spread seems slightly hefty, but is actually showing some respect to NMS, a team whose talents greatly exceed that of the average No. 15 seed. Lastly, fans need only remember the Florida Gulf Coast saga of last tournament to realize that even a 15th seed is capable of making noise. The total is set at 131 for the contest, which will air on CBS.
Kansas is a tough rebounding team, and will likely be playing with an injured Perry Ellis. Ellis is dealing with knee issues but the seemingly aged youngster has led the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game, while also leading the way in boards with seven per contest. Ellis’ defensive stats are deceiving too. While he averages just 1.5 blocks/steals per game, he creates a lot more problems with his quick weak-side rotations. Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. are also big time talents for a loaded Jayhawks team. Fans need only remember the early season drubbing by Kentucky while Kansas was ranked No. 5 in AP polls to realize just how good the top team is in this tournament.
But it’s hard to bet against Bill Self. KU shoots 37.5 percent from three-point range while hauling in 38 rebounds per game. Mason led the way in assists per game with four, but the Jayhawks were good for just 13 assists per game despite having a plethora of players capable of putting it in the hole. The Jayhawks shoot 44 percent as a team and are pretty decent from the stripe at 72 percent. Ellis has extended his range and is one of six Jayhawks with at least 15 threes this season.
The New Mexico State Aggies are 23-10 and won the WAC with an 80-61 pouncing of the Seattle Redhawks. The Aggies rolled through Conference play with just one loss in 14 games, but it fared just 10-10 in non-conference play. The Aggies lost both of its matchups to AP Ranked opponents this season and didn’t score any quality victories to speak of. It’s hard to imagine the Aggies having any chance of winning this one, but covering the 10.5 point spread is not out of the realms of possibility at all. With how closely the games have been contested thus far this March, the Aggies need only keep it close and rely on its strong interior play to try to limit Kansas on the boards. New Mexico State is not a good rebounding team with just 35.5 per game, but the Aggies find a way to stay in games with both Remi Barry and Pascal Siakam averaging over 13 points per game. Siakam also leads the team in rebounding (7.6) and blocked shots (1.8). Between Siakam and Barry, the potential is here for a very entertaining game. It won’t appear as a typical 15 vs. 2, that is to say.