This was an ugly game. In many ways, it was an extension of the exhibition season where we saw Kansas struggle to score, but still maintain a solid margin of victory thanks in large part to its defense.
Just no offense.
By now you’ve probably heard that KU went a paltry 2 for 21 from three point range on Friday night. The Jayhawks weren’t much better from two point range either. Really the only nice thing you can take away from the box score is a nice 86% from the free throw line (24 of 28). If we continue to shoot the ball like we did tonight, we’ll certainly need all the free throw help we can get.
As I watched the game, I scribbled down some notes that I thought I’d share in bullet form. Most of them apply to this game, but are longterm concerns and/or observations. Many will be a part of the season preview blog post forthcoming. For now, here’s some thoughts:
1. Feeding the post. An underrated skill of any guard (or any player, really) is his ability to feed the ball to the post. Feeding the post requires two things. First, the post needs to have position. Whether that’s position on his defender or relative position to the basket, he must have position. Our posts weren’t great at that tonight, but there were more times than not where position was obtained and our guards could not feed them. There were turnovers, batted balls, just all around ugliness. I’ll give some of the new guys a pass (get it, pass?), but I will not give a pass to the veterans. This will undoubtedly be something we work on a lot in practice. It’s a vital part of Self’s offense (and another reason we’ll miss Tyshawn more than people think). It will start with ball movement and spacing, both of which are easily correctable. We’ll get better.
2. Jeff’s offensive gameplan. For those expecting T-Rob numbers from Withey this year, you’re going to be disappointed. Granted, tonight he put up nearly exactly T-Rob’s averages last year in 17 and 12. I don’t think it will be a regular occurrence. I love Jeff and I will sing his praises soon on defense, but his offensive game still needs some improvement. Just once, I’d love him to catch the ball on the block and without any hesitation, go up as strong as he can with it. Stop waiting for the double team. Attack. And if you get fouled, terrific. Just want to see a little more decisiveness in his offense. Teams are going to double him all year. And when they do, he will do a good job of kicking the ball to the open man. But sometimes, he should beat the double teamer to the basket. Haven’t seen it yet.
3. Ben McLemore. Near the end of the first half I wrote down the following: “Impressed by Ben’s rebounding. Getting every ball that leaves the block. Attacking rebound at highest point, almost like a football wide receiver.” He went on to gobble up 12 total rebounds, tying him with Withey for the team lead. This is a slight indictment on Perry, but I do think there’s a legitimate chance that Ben is our second leading rebounder this year. His combination of quickness, hops, and instinct could make him one of the best rebounding guards we’ve ever had at Kansas. We’re going to need those boards this year, too.
4. Post defense. It is incredible how much different KU’s defense is when Withey is off the court. Teams are fearless driving into the paint. Posting up Perry Ellis or Jamari Traylor all of a sudden doesn’t sound like a bad idea because that big palm from the weak side isn’t there to scare you away. Just his presence on the court changes the opposing team’s demeanor. Tonight, he played well on defensive end. Perry Ellis, on the other hand, did not. He was getting pushed around by SEMO’s big guys. Doesn’t bode well for him when he has to play against some serious size. Hopefully Withey can stay on the court because I’m afraid Perry will need that weak side defensive threat more often than not.
5. Perry’s offense. My goodness is he fun to watch when he catches the ball anywhere inside 7 feet from the basket. I don’t have a “Next Level” stat here, but my eyes sure told me that he scored or got fouled on nearly every single one of those possessions. If he keeps that up, teams are going to have to devote some help defense, which should free up lanes for guards to penetrate or pass to the opposite post. Perry may end up being the best thing that’s happened to Withey’s offensive game since Robinson. Little side note: I do think it’d be interesting to see how Perry would do if we ran more isolation to him. Clear out some space and let the man go to work. Going to be fun to watch him this year.
6. Attack attack attack. I’m sick of hearing about how athletic Elijah and Ben and all the other guards are. Prove it. Use that athleticism and attack the basket with some fire. I know they have it in them because I have seen it in flashes. Elijah’s aggressiveness carried us all tournament last year. I want to see it again. Penetration by the guards opens up the entire offensive game plan. Frees up the post as defenders have to slide off. Frees up the wing as defenders shift to the paint. Creates mismatches. All predicated on dribble drive. Let’s see some. And that means you too, Ben. You had two sick moves to the basket tonight ending in points. Don’t stop.
7. Duke (Light). If we’re going to be a soft team this year, we better start making some of those three pointers. Hate to say it, but this looks on paper like somewhat of a jump shooting team. Until we get some of the interior post game in place, we’re going to settle for open jumpers. Like Duke, if they’re not falling, you’re going to see games like you did tonight. The difference between us and Duke, though, is that we can still win games ugly because we can guard. Still, we’re going to have to be able to knock down open shots at a much better rate than we saw tonight.
8. Rotation. Only one game into the season, and I think we’re starting to get a pretty good idea what the rotation is going to be. Withey, Ellis, Releford, McLemore, and Elijah starting. First guard off the bench is Tharpe and first big off the bench is Traylor (I think Young splits this role with Traylor when he is fully healthy). That’s eight deep. Don’t see Self going much further than that. I think Rio Adams and Andrew White will get some time, but probably not a lot this year. Wesley played some minutes, but those will be divided among Traylor and Young. It also seems that Peters and Lucas could both be in line for red shirts this season.
9. Andrew White III. While I just stated I don’t think he gets more than a handful of minutes this season, I do think he could be a valuable player off the bench when his number is called. My hope for him this year was to be a “better Conner Teahan.” By that I mean a sharp shooter that you can bring off the bench for instant offense, but will hopefully be less of a liability on the defensive side of the ball. I think he’ll eventually get there and could play a key role in a few victories this season (much like Conner did last season).
10. Finally, wow. These guys are going to be maddening to watch at times. They’re going to drive you straight to crazy town with their lack of discipline and youthful boneheadedness. But my goodness they’ll be fun to watch. Take comfort in knowing that today is the worst this team will ever be. They’re literally going to improve daily as they get more comfortable playing together and get a few more wrinkles added to Self’s playbook. Despite tonight’s troubles, I do believe the framework is there. With some more practice and continued familiarity with one another, these guys will start to reach some of their potential. Just hang in there, because I promise this won’t be the last game like this.
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