Hunter Dickinson and Graham Ike should have a classic big man face-off in NCAA Tournament

Today's Kansas basketball game will feature a battle between two of the best big men in the country.
Mar 21, 2024; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Kansas Jayhawks center Hunter Dickinson (1) reacts after making a basket
Mar 21, 2024; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Kansas Jayhawks center Hunter Dickinson (1) reacts after making a basket / Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The outcome of a basketball game is usually not decided by the performance of one player, but the matchup between Kansas Jayhawks center Hunter Dickinson and Gonzaga Bulldogs big man Graham Ike will be worth watching during today’s Round of 32 matchup.

Ike was once a player that Bill Self recruited before he brought in the prized transfer from Michigan. Now, he will be looking to eliminate the Jayhawks in March Madness. In 33 games this season, Ike is averaging a team-high 16.5 points with 7.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks on 61.1% field goal shooting.

Like Dickinson, Ike is a left-handed big man who does the majority of his work offensively in the low-post. He is craftier than Dickinson but does not possess the same size, standing five inches shorter at 6-foot-9.

Even with the height advantage at the center position, Gonzaga still starts two forwards (6-foot-8 Anton Watson and 6-foot-10 Ben Gregg) alongside Ike. The Zags are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, and it does not help that Nick Timberlake (1.8 rebounds per game) is starting in place of the injured Kevin McCullar (6.0 rebounds per game).

While Dickinson will surely draw double teams when he receives the ball, Ike should see plenty of one-on-one opportunities against Dickinson. Gonzaga has a multitude of weapons to choose from, including athletic hybrid forward Anton Watson, who can put the ball on the floor or shoot the occasional 3-pointer.

Gonzaga runs tons of pick-and-rolls each game, with Ike and facilitating point guard Ryan Nembhard leading the charge on most of them. Many players also like to find Ike under the basket when they drive to the rack for an easy bucket.

One thing Kansas has an advantage in is a true rim protector in Dickinson. While he is not the most agile defender on the perimeter, the All-Big 12 First Team honoree is a formidable presence in the paint. He averages 1.5 blocks per game on the season, sending back four or more shots in three of KU's past four contests.

Coach Self must draw up plays that attack Ike at the rim. Not only is he not a strong shot-blocker, but he has struggled with foul trouble all season, recording at least four fouls in each of the Bulldogs' four games leading into the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Dickinson has not reached the four-foul mark in eight consecutive games despite being a much more effective paint defender.

Kansas will be more reliant on Dickinson than Gonzaga is on Ike, but the two star players should have an old-fashioned big-man duel when they square off this afternoon.