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Scouting takeaways from Kansas-Kentucky in the Champions Classic

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Here are some scouting takeaways from last night’s Kansas-Kentucky matchup in the Champions Classic in Chicago, which the Jayhawks won, 65-61:

Kentucky

Kevin Knox has a God-given knack for being able to put the ball in the basket. The 6-9 freshman from Tampa is a knock-down three-point shooter, shows great touch in traffic and around the rim, and make no mistake–will hurt you if you leave him open.

What we haven’t seen yet is his ability to score off the dribble. Kansas forced a turnover on one of his drives to the basket on Tuesday night, and we didn’t see many other hard takes from him.

Knox, who’s the son of former Florida State and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Kevin Knox Sr., has explosive athleticism, but has disappeared at times in his first three games at UK. He shot just 3-for-13 in his debut against Utah Valley, and 3-for-10 against Vermont, putting up just 12 and 11. Tuesday night was a much better performance, as he went 8-for-13 and 3-for-6 from 3, and finished with 20 points, 7 boards and a block (no assists though).

Still, we think Knox has the ability to be much more active, and should end up with a few 30-plus point nights before this season is over. His Wildcats teammates need to work a little bit harder to get him the ball.

Hamidou Diallo is the perfect prototype for an NBA wing. He’s extremely long and athletic, an excellent driver, and showed spectacular coordination on a couple of finishes around the rim (especially the one where he just guided the ball into the basket on a lob). He’s one of those players who is just active, and he’s going to fill the statsheet every night. He had 14, 4 assists, 5 rebounds and a steal on Tuesday.

Wenyen Gabriel is too good to only be getting 18 minutes and scoring 3 points. He’s 6-9, athletic, long, and has shooting touch. He’s also got the ability to become a great defender. We’re not sure why he’s not getting more run.

Kansas

Devonte’ Graham has the keys to the Kansas offense all to himself this year, and it’s going to take some time before he really learns how to handle the car.

The senior guard spent the last three years sharing backcourt duties with National Player of the Year Frank Mason, and he showed some shakiness in handling the offense by himself on Tuesday night.

Graham shot 3-for-14, including 1-of-6 from three-point range, and sometimes forced deep 3’s early in the shot clock. He finished with 11 points, 5 assists and 2 steals, and hit two free throws to seal the win for the Jayhawks in the closing seconds. He showed patience, made the right pass on plenty of occasions, and doesn’t lack for confidence.

The Jayhawks will be fine with Graham running the show, but this much is clear: they’ll still miss Frank Mason.

Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is raw, but he was powerful inside on Tuesday night and made a big difference in Kansas’ win.

The seven-foot, 280-pounder from Nigeria put up 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting (mostly dunks), grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in 34 minutes of action. It was ugly from the free throw line (3-of-8, and he had some real bricks), but if Azubuike can continue to improve and keep things simple, he can be a big difference-maker.

Malik Newman didn’t shoot it really well (4-for-14), but did knock down a couple of threes and showed a steady presence in the backcourt. John Calipari recruited the Mississippi State transfer hard, but KU fans will be happy he ended up in Lawrence.

Kels Dayton is a basketball writer whose work has appeared in SLAM Magazine. He’s also covered the NBA Finals for SheridanHoops.com, and seen his work referenced by ESPN and Deadspin.

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