Editor’s Note: The following comes from Jayhawk Talk contributor, and good friend, @HailToOldKU (give him a follow). Glad to welcome him back and look forward to his contributions over the course of the season.
Here’s the good news: it’s November. This loss really doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things. It’s not going to keep Kansas out of the NCAA Tournament. It won’t affect the Jayhawks’ run at a ninth consecutive conference title. It won’t matter, really, at all.
The bad news is that exposed a lot of holes in KU’s armor, confirming what most of us already suspected. This Kansas team, while talented and high on potential, is a flawed unit that’s not ready to compete with the best in the country.
The biggest hole Tuesday was the lack of production from Perry Ellis. Ellis was timid offensively and couldn’t hold his own on the defensive end. The latter issue we knew about. Ellis could stay for four years and I’d be willing to bet he would never be an all-conference defender. It’s not in his game.
But for Ellis to struggle like he did on the offensive end is a legitimate concern. He should and has feasted on the lower ranks of the college basketball world in the Jayhawks’ two exhibitions and season opener. You could make the argument he was Kansas’ best player in those games (although I’d have to give the nod to Ben McLemore). As soon as he faced top tier competition, though, Ellis completely vanished offensively, putting up just four points in 17 minutes and offering little on either side of the ball.
That’s an issue that can be solved, though. For one, Ellis has at least a few weeks before he’ll face that kind of frontcourt talent again. Colorado returns Andre Roberson, who’s a defensive stud, and Ellis will definitely be challenged when the Jayhawks visit Ohio State. That’s three weeks and five weeks away, though. Ellis is working with Bill Self. He will develop.
Self can also relegate Ellis to the bench. He’d provide great scoring punch as a sixth man, and there are options for the starting four that will likely be more steady. Jamari Traylor was impressive in relief. The statistics (six points, four rebounds) aren’t otherworldly, but if you watched the game, he just looked infinitely more comfortable. That’s no doubt a product of working against Thomas Robinson every day for a year in practice. Kevin Young can also start at the four. Young only played three minutes last night, he’s coming off an injury, but he’s a quality spark plug and Elijah Johnson’s on record as saying he hates not having Young out there.
The second concern for me was Jeff Withey’s total disappearance, and this sheds light on something I’ve been worried about since the offseason. Are we already seeing the effect that losing Danny Manning will have on the Jayhawks? This is an overreaction to a tiny sample size, but Kansas’ front court was seriously underwhelming for the first time in recent memory. It’s not fair to expect the same kind of jump from Withey as we’ve seen in the Morris twins and Cole Aldrich (and Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur), but we Kansas fans have gotten spoiled. There was no ceiling to what Manning was able to do with a big man, and every guy I just mentioned both flourished and completely overachieved under Manning’s watch. Withey did as well, last year. If he’s not ready to be the focal point of Self’s high-low offense, and if Perry Ellis is struggling against top-flight competition, is it because the Jayhawks lost Manning? It’s too soon to say yes, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
There are issues in the backcourt as well. Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore and Travis Releford combined for just eight assists – the only eight assists Kansas had all night, which accounted for just 33 percent of their baskets – and had nine turnovers among them. To be totally fair, that’s not just on them. Watching the game last night it became apparent that the Jayhawks problems getting the ball into the paint are maybe as much a product of the posts failing to seal off their man as it is the guards making weak entry passes. But for those three guards – and Naadir Tharpe, who had zero assists and one turnover in his 13 minutes – to be so unsuccessful at distributing the ball and generating offense, is disheartening.
As much as I love Elijah Johnson (and it’s a lot) he’s not playing point guard. There was a moment last night when he jacked up a three from NBA range with 10 seconds on the shot clock, and it was like he reverted to what he was able to do last year. He can’t afford to be a gunner this year, not when he’s a senior and the primary ball handler. He needs to be aggressive, but in the form of getting into the paint and either drawing contact or finding an open teammate. Even though some fans couldn’t stand Tyshawn Taylor – they were crazy anyways – he’s exactly what the Jayhawks need right now. They need a point guard. And a four. And better production from the five.
But hey, here’s the good news: It’s November.#kubball, Basketball, Bill Self, Champions Classic, Jayhawks, Kansas, KU, Michigan State, Perry Ellis