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Kansas, Kentucky cap Tip-Off Marathon

After 21 consecutive hours of college basketball, the main course of the Tip-Off Marathon gets underway at 9 ET tonight, when the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats and 11th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks meet in the nightcap of the inaugural Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. This is a battle between the two winningest programs in Division I history.

Jayhawks look to stay efficient

Kansas was one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation last season, leading the Big 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency. However, the Jayhawks will be hard-pressed to repeat that feat this year, returning just one of their top five scorers.

Thomas Robinson averaged 14.6 minutes per game off the bench last year and is expected to be the go-to guy this season after dominating the boards both offensively and defensively during his sophomore campaign.

Highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Division I, 2010-11 Season

Robinson ranked third nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate while scoring nearly a third of his points on offensive rebound put-backs. He converted 74 percent of those put-back shots and ranked among the top 15 in points per play on put-backs (min. 50 plays).

Tyshawn Taylor is Bill Self’s lone returning starter and will likely be the focus of the backcourt this year as one of the most experienced players on the team. Last year, Taylor was a dependable ball-handler in the half-court offense with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7 which ranked in the top 10 percent of the country.

He’ll need to improve his accuracy on jump shots if he’s going to contribute offensively. His 26 percent shooting on jump shots inside 17 feet was fifth-worst in the Big 12 (min. 20 plays).

Wildcats boast experience, depth

With three of its top four scorers returning from last year’s squad that reached the Final Four joining the top-ranked recruiting class in the country, Kentucky sports one of the most talented rosters in the nation.

Last year’s edition of the Wildcats excelled in the half-court offense and were at their best on spot-up shots. They led the SEC in field-goal percentage (41 percent) and ranked second in points per play (1.05) on those shots.

Kentucky Wildcats Half-Court Offense
SEC Ranks, 2010-11 Season

Continuing that success will be a key part of the offense this year as Doron Lamb returns for his sophomore season. Lamb led the SEC with 173 points on spot-up plays while shooting a league-best 49 percent from the floor last season.

Terrence Jones also is back for his sophomore year, looking to rebound from a poor final month of the season. Jones’ scoring average dropped by more than six points per game during the final 10 games of the season, during which he shot below 40 percent from the field.

Jones was much less active in the paint in March, averaging only three shots per game around the basket compared to more than five the rest of the season. He was also less productive, averaging 0.90 points per shot around the basket in the final month, after averaging 1.12 during the first four months.