The Jayhawks (7-1) have won six straight games and are coming off a gutty 75-70 victory at Georgetown on Dec. 10.
Utah (7-1) has also won six straight games and heads into the showdown after its 65-61 victory at BYU on Dec. 10. The Utes only loss this season came at then-No. 16 San Diego State (53-49) on Nov. 18. Utah, which received its signature win over then-No. 8 Wichita State (69-68 OT) on Dec. 3, has not been ranked this high by AP since the 2004-05 season.
The Utes average 78.6 points per game and have a whopping +21.3 scoring margin. They also dominate the glass averaging 39.0 with a +10.5 rebound margin.
Utah shoots 51.6 percent from the field and makes 7.0 threes per game. The Utes also average 6.8 blocks, 5.6 steals and 14.8 assists per game, while holding opponents to just 35.8 percent shooting and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Utah has great depth with 10 players averaging 11-plus minutes per game. Senior guard Delon Wright, a Sporting News Preseason All-American and Wooden Award candidate, leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game, in assists with 39 and steals with 14. Junior forward Jordan Loveridge, who has played in four of the eight games this season (all four starts) is next in scoring (11.5 ppg), followed by 7-foot freshman forward Jakob Poeltl (11.3 ppg, team-high 9.3 rpg and 23 blocks), while junior guard Brandon Taylor (10.3 ppg, team-best 14 three-pointers) rounds out the players in double figures.
Utah is coached by former NBA player Larry Krystkowiak, who is 49-56 in his fourth season at Utah and 91-76 in his sixth season overall.
KU coach Bill Self has great respect for the Utes.
“I’ve watched them play quite a bit, and our staff has watched them play probably more than me,” Self said. “But they’re good and they’re deep. They play a lot of people and they can stretch it at most every spot. Their big freshman (Poeltl), I haven’t heard a lot of great players coming from Vienna, Austria. I’ve actually visited there, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, but I didn’t know there were a lot of great players coming from there. But this cat is really good. He’s got great feet, he’s big, and of course, they have a pro at point (Wright) and they have really good players around him.
“They run a ton of stuff, and that’s kind of from Larry Krystkowiak’s NBA experiences, I would think. They’d be hard to guard, and they’ll guard us well. Certainly, it will be a tough game. I really believe this could be as tough a nonconference game we play other than obviously Kentucky.”
GREENE TO START; TRAYLOR TO PLAY; GRAHAM QUESTIONABLE
Self said Friday that sophomore guard Brannen Greene will replace Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk in the starting lineup Saturday. Greene, who will be making his second start this season, scored a career-high 19 points and ripped the nets making 5 of 5 threes against the Hoyas...Junior forward Jamari Traylor will play Saturday after being suspended from the Georgetown game following his arrest early Sunday morning with interfering with duties of a police officer outside The Cave nightclub at the Oread Hotel...Freshman guard Devonte’ Graham is “questionable at best” Saturday after suffering a sore toe against Georgetown.
Kansas won the only meeting with Utah, 79-68, on Nov. 25, 1995, at Kemper Arena in Kansas City in The Classic. The Jayhawks are 200-70 all time against current membership of the Pac-12 Conference and KU has faced all 12 teams in the league. In the Self era, Kansas has played at least one Pac-12 team in 10 of his 11 seasons; KU has a 12-4 record against the league.
A SECOND HOME IN KC
The Utah game will mark KU’s 289th contest played all time in Kansas City, and it’s 30th in Sprint Center. KU is 24-5 in Sprint Center, including winning the 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013 Big 12 Championships and the 2012 CBE Classic.
With this game against Utah, Kansas will have played at least one regular-season game in Kansas City in 25 of the last 27 seasons, including every year Sprint Center has existed.
MORE ON UTAH
This will be the first time a Utah team ranked in the top-15 plays an opponent in the top-10 since the 1998 national championship game versus Kentucky.
Wright ranks among the top-10 in the Pac-12 in scoring, assists, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and steals. Over the last two weeks, the 6-5 guard is averaging 18.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 69 percent from the field and leading the Utes to five wins.
Also, during the last two weeks, Poeltl is almost averaging a double-double (12.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg) to go along with 2.8 blocks per game and a scorching 80.6 field goal percentage (25 of 31).
Utah is trying to win its seventh game in a row, which would be the longest streak of Krystowiak’s tenure.