Posts Tagged 2013

Ode to the 2012-2013 Jayhawks

Posted on: April 2nd, 2013 by jayhawktalk 6 Comments

A disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic season.

It’s a tough life being a college basketball fan of a high major program. Every year, only one team goes home satisfied. 68 enter and 1 leaves with the ‘ship. It’s almost mean if you think about it.

Football has all those bowl games. A great season can end in an Orange Bowl victory. Hell, a great season can end in an Insight Bowl victory. Neither one of those is a national championship, but it’s still pretty cool.

But not basketball. Not at Kansas.

Success is unfortunately judged in terms of banners — and not just any banners. Sweet 16 banners aren’t interesting to us. Neither are Elite 8 banners, while we’re at it. Final Four or bust seems to be gauge of a successful season, which, if you think about it, just isn’t very fair.

31-6. Regular Season Conference Title. Conference Tournament Title. Those are absolutely incredible feats, especially when you couple them with the story line of nine straight (the most impressive streak in college basketball).

Yet, here we are. Moping about and telling ourselves it should be Kansas in the Final Four. Playing the sequences over and over again in our heads. Arriving at the same result every time… “How did it happen?” 

I don’t want to talk too much about the game because I’m sure you’ve talked about and read about and heard about it enough. There is plenty of blame to go around for the loss, and Bill Self is certainly not immune to it.

That’s not the point of this piece.

The point is that Kansas had another incredible season. A season that will be remembered for Ben McLemore’s dunks. A season that will be remembered for Kevin Young’s fro. A season that will be remembered for Travis’ defense and Perry’s growth and the Harlem Shake. A season that will be remembered for the “McLemore” dance and Elijah’s heroics in Ames. A season that will be remembered for Tharpe’s emergence as a point guard and Rio’s tweets and Self’s 500th. A season that will be remembered for the Withey Block Party and all the coaches’ sons. A season that will be remembered because we lost to TCU. A season that will be remembered because we beat K-State…thrice. A season that will be remembered for a team that started four seniors in the modern age of college basketball.

And, unfortunately, it will be remembered for the “nut tap” game — the head-scratching collapse in the Sweet 16 against an overmatched Michigan team that woke up and grossly outplayed Kansas the last few minutes. It will be remembered for Elijah’s turnovers and lack of killer instinct at the end of the game. It will also be remembered as another far-too-early-exit from the tournament.

But hopefully we remember those other things too. Because this group of guys deserves that much.

Rock Chalk and a fond farewell, 2012-2013 Jayhawks. You’ll forever be remembered by this Jayhawk fan.



Releford, transition buckets key to KU’s offensive woes

Posted on: February 8th, 2013 by jayhawktalk No Comments

Editor’s Note: Following post brought to you by Taylor Erickson, new contributor to Jayhawk-Talk. Follow him @tc_erickson and find his work on his blog, Rock Chalk Thoughts. We’re excited for him to join the JHT team and look forward to reading more from him.

Let me begin by saying I’m not a college basketball coach.  I have no basketball coaching experience outside of a youth YMCA team.  I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  I have, however, played quite a bit of basketball in my life, and like probably everyone else reading this post, my mental stability relies heavily on the ability of KU to get their offensive woes straightened out.

This is my attempt to solve KU’s dreadful offense, and offer a solution for how this team can get back on track.

If you’ve read some of my previous ramblings, you know I’ve mentioned several times the correlation between Travis Releford’s point output and our team record.  Prior to last Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State, KU was 38-1 when Releford scored in double figures.  Against OSU, he scored eight points.  Wednesday night in that debacle against TCU, Releford scored one point.  Go back to mid-November & December, when we were playing really well.  During that nine game stretch beginning with Washington State at the Sprint Center, and ending with the game against American U on December 29th, Releford averaged 15.7 points per game.  KU’s average margin of victory during that stretch was 22.6 points.  During conference play, Releford has averaged 10.2 points per game, while our margin of victory has dropped to 6.0 points per game.  Obviously the level of competition has increased significantly during conference play, but there were difficult games during that November-December stretch, and the Big 12 isn’t exactly filled with good teams.  Colorado could beat several teams in the Big 12, Belmont is probably a tournament team (more than what TCU and Texas Tech can say), and that win at Ohio State continues to look better and better.

I put together the chart below to show Releford’s average points in relation to our average margin of victory throughout the course of the season.  I separated the season into three segments based on Releford’s point totals: 0-10 points scored, 10-15 points scored, and 15+ points scored.

From the graph you can see as Releford’s point production increases, our margin of victory increases accordingly.  Common sense says that conclusion is obvious. If we’re routing a team, everyone is going to score more.  I agree completely, however, I think there’s a different conclusion to be drawn.  When Releford is scoring at a higher rate, most of his points come in transition where he excels at finishing plays.  He doesn’t key our offense by knocking down a ton of jumpers in a half court game. Against TCU Wednesday night, KU had zero points in transition.

So what’s the conclusion I’m trying to draw?  KU has been awful at getting out into transition recently.  It feels like we haven’t seen a typical KU run fueled by easy transition buckets in weeks. I don’t recall seeing a dunk by McLemore or Releford for quite some time. The thing I’m struggling to wrap my head around is how a team that is so good defensively has such trouble generating steals and getting easy transition buckets. I’ve read a few columns this week that mention we get into trouble when we get sped up and try to play fast. In my opinion, I think that’s precisely what we need to do more of. Think back to most of Elijah’s turnovers. A good majority come while running our sets in the half court offense.  Elijah, McLemore, and Releford are all at their best in transition, so why not try to encourage more of that?

I find myself thinking back to December when we were a dominant basketball team, trying to figure out what we were doing then that seems to be lacking now. This is the best explanation I can come up with, and one I truly believe has a big influence on our success moving forward. There’s no better way to boost the confidence of this team than easy buckets and few dunks, and it’s apparent this team is struggling for confidence right now.

Listening to national media this week, you would think we’ve lost five or six games in a row.  I’ll be the first to admit, I was awfully down on this team Wednesday night.  It felt like the sky was falling in Lawrence, and we were doomed for the remainder of the season.  I’d love to see us get out and run on Saturday, and get back to how we know we can play.  If we take care of business in Norman, and smack K-State on Monday, ESPN will be preparing a segment for Gameday in a little over a week explaining how the TCU loss was a turning point in our season.  I’m looking forward to that.

Here’s to hoping for a great game tomorrow to get us back on track.

Rock Chalk.


What’s the matter with Kansas’ (offense)?

Posted on: January 20th, 2013 by jayhawktalk No Comments

CJ Online

“Bill Self is one of the best college basketball coaches of our generation.” – Everybody.

I’m not here to question Bill Self. I just want to get that out of the way now. You’ve all seen the message board posts where some brave soul attempts to say something like “I disagreed with Self’s game plan because of _____.” And then all the crimson and blue internet warriors attack the guy that even dared to disagree with him. “Well until you win 8 straight Big 12 championships, I think I’ll trust HCBS.”

It’s quite silly, to be honest.

Those that may “disagree” or even question a game plan or strategy aren’t doing so because they think they can outsmart Bill Self, but because they want to win so bad, they hold their team to a higher standard. I fall into that category. And to me, this offense has been pretty ugly to watch the last few games. I thought it was worth a little discussion.

Let’s start with some numbers. In four of the last five games, the Jayhawks have scored in the 60s. For some comparison, KU had only scored in the 60s twice over the first 12 games. Many of you might point to the quality of opponent increasing throughout the year, and I agree there is probably something to that. But three of of those four teams we recently played rank 105th (Temple), 135th (Baylor), and 266th (Texas Tech) in scoring defense this year.

Often the difference between scoring 65 and 75 in a game can come down to whether you make your open shots. Bill Self generally runs a motion offense that should, in theory, create open shots (more on that later), but he can’t put the ball in the basket. The Jayhawks have made 28% of their 3-point shots in those four games. The naked eye would also indicate quite a few misses around the basket as well — “missin’ bunnies” — as Self would say.

Perhaps that’s all it boils down to: temporary shooting slumps and missed layups. Those things can be fixed overnight.

I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it, though.

Weak-side hi-lo setup

Most casual basketball fans have heard of Bill Self’s patented “Hi-Low Motion” offense. It was an offense that he has used with great success all the way back to his Tulsa days, where he reportedly installed it in four days time. It is not an offense that any team can run, however. It works best with two quality post players and versatile perimeter wings that can penetrate, and more importantly, can shoot. The #1 goal of the hi-low motion is to get the ball deep into the paint for a high percentage basket. That said, it has a number of iterations that can create open looks for every person in the offense.

Self has used the hi-low to some degree ever since he’s been at Kansas, but he is not tied to it the way that some coaches are tied to their system. This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions about Self’s coaching out there on the AAU circuit — that he is only a hi-low guy. This misconception should theoretically bring in talented big men because it means they will get the ball a lot. Unfortunately, a silly percentage of big men (6’8+) think they should play the 3 and won’t accept “playing with their back to the basket” (See Padgett, D.).  More damning is recruiting the slashing guard. The biggest complaint about the hi-low is that it means you generally have four guys in the paint (O4, X4, O5, X5), making it difficult to find an angle from the top of the key.

I say all this because you can largely throw most of it out the window when you watch this year’s team. For one, the 2012-13 Jayhawks don’t have a dynamic post scoring threat. Withey is a phenomenal basketball player, but dynamic scorer will not be on the back of his basketball card. And the rest of our front court is either undersized or inexperienced.

Kevin Young had some success early with his post entry passes from the point forward position. However, Temple and Iowa State put the blueprint out there on how to stop this practice. Whenever Young would catch the ball near the top of the key, Young’s man would sag back to front Withey, giving Young a wide open look. Unfortunately, Kevin doesn’t have that shot, and, for the most part, doesn’t have much of an offensive game in general. He has been pretty ineffective during that stretch, overall.

Perhaps right on point, Perry Ellis is playing with a lot more aggressiveness of late (and he does have that 15-16 footer in his repertoire). I think we’ll start to see Young’s and Ellis’ minutes even out and perhaps even tilt in favor of Ellis over the second half of the Big 12 season.

LJ World

To counter the change in defensive strategy (sagging the X4), I think Self is starting to urge his guards to attack the basket from the top of the key. Against Baylor, the normal “weave” out front between the three guards turned into a weave and penetrate. The four man cleared out giving a look of a “dribble drive” offense. I personally think this is where we are going this year. Against Texas, I believe it was part of the game plan but Texas’ on-ball defenders were pretty effective (as Self would say “we couldn’t get our shoulders past them”).

Look for a continued emphasis going forward of Releford, Elijah, Ben, and Tharpe attacking the rim, often with all four on the floor at the same time (See: last six minutes of the Texas game). It won’t always be pretty because I don’t think any of those four would be considered natural slashing scorers. But this team needs them to be. It will create some open looks for the big guys, open looks for corner 3s, and a much higher percentage of second chance opportunities around the rim.

Also look for Ben to start averaging 15+ shots per game. If this team is going to make a run deep in the tournament, I think we can all agree it will come down to him. Self has to know this too. He needs Ben to understand that he is better than the guy trying to guard him. He needs to understand that his team wants him to shoot. I think he’ll get there. And when he does, watch out.

I think a greater emphasis on attacking the basket will do wonders for this offense. It will open up passing lanes, open up scoring angles, create mismatches, and at worst, cause the other team to foul (over that same 5-game stretch, we shot 95/123 from the free throw line, good for over 77%). This team has a great defense and fast break, which will need to continue at a high level. The half-court points will come too, and when they do, this team will be last standing on a lot of brackets.


2012-2013 KU basketball preview and predictions

Posted on: November 12th, 2012 by jayhawktalk 1 Comment

Time for one of my favorite times of the year: way too early predictions! Yes, I’m one of those guys that likes to speak his mind on the team at the beginning of the season so that I can take credit (rare) for such brilliant foresight (or, you know, ignore that I wrote such a terrible prediction piece).

I wrote this piece on November 12, 2011 last year. In that piece, I predicted KU to be a #2 seed in North Carolina’s bracket. Nailed that one. Also predicted we win the league (shocker) and that we’d finally have some good luck in the tourney. In the interest of full disclosure, I also predicted Oklahoma State would be good and that we’d see a lot of Tharpe, so what the hell do I know.

I do think predictions will be much tougher this year. We had a pretty good idea what we had in last year’s group. We knew T-Rob was a beast. We knew Tyshawn had all the talent in the world if he could keep his head on straight. This year there are so many unknowns.

Can Withey function absent Thomas drawing all the defense’s attention? Can Elijah run the offense? How will the freshmen react to playing huge roles right away? There are a million questions.

That’s what makes the predictions for the season all the more fun. Here we go:

(1) Big 12 Champs. Listen, there are challengers once again. But there have been challengers each of the last 8 seasons. Baylor looks phenomenal on paper. K-State will actually be really good. Once again, I’m a fan of Oklahoma State’s team. Texas and West Virginia both look legitimate. But I’m not looking through crimson and blue glasses here. I will not bet against Bill Self. Make it nine straight.

(2) Freshmen will lead. I believe a freshman will lead the Jayhawks in scoring this year. I think it will likely be Perry Ellis early (non-conference) and Ben McLemore late (conference). Perry will be 2nd team Big 12 by the end of the year and Ben will be Newcomer of the Year. They’re two very different players though. Perry is so polished. Ben has the crazy high ceiling. They’re going to be a blast to watch.

(3) Withey. I think KU fans might be expecting a little too much from Jeff this year. I think he’ll have a great year, but he may not meet the expectations some appear to be setting for him. He is a preseason first team all Big 12 selection and probably deserves to be. He can average 12.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game and be the best player on this team. What he brings to the defensive end cannot be overlooked or replicated. He is a true rim protector and if he rebounds and plays efficiently on offense, he’ll be perfect for this team. And he will be defensive player of the year in the Big 12.

(4) Rotation. We know the starting 5, and I expect it to remain the same all season: Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Perry Ellis, and Jeff Withey. I believe Kevin Young will be the first man off the bench and will average the most minutes outside the starters. Naadir Tharpe will likely be the first guard off the bench. That makes 7 and generally Self doesn’t go beyond an 8 man rotation. Traylor will certainly get minutes, and I think that leaves Andrew White III and Rio Adams somewhat on the outside in terms of playing time. I think they’ll both play roles, though. Just not regular rotation guys.

(5) Non-Conference Schedule. KU has a 13 game non-conference schedule with marquee games against Michigan State, Ohio State, and Colorado. There are certainly some potential losses in that bunch, and we all saw through the exhibition season that this team will struggle at times. The good news is that this team will improve with every week of practice and should be primed for a great conference season run. I predict the Jayhawks will be 12-1 when Big 12 play opens against Iowa State.

(6) Big 12 Season. I predict we’ll have 4 losses in Big 12 play and will once again win the regular season championship. The Big 12 is strange this year in that there are quite a few teams that are “good” but I’m not sure there are any “great” teams. But here’s the deal. KU has 18 conference games, 9 at home and 9 on the road. At worst, KU wins 8 games at home, and will likely win all 9. That leaves 9 road conference games of which the Jayhawks will be favored in at least 7. I believe 4 losses sounds about right. And it should be enough to at least grab a share of the Big 12, if not win it outright.

(7) Postseason. For all the math people out there, I have thus far predicted 5 losses in 31 tries, which would give the Jayhawks a 26-5 record going into the Big 12 tourney. I believe that will be good enough for a #2 seed in the Midwest bracket. It ought to also be enough to give the Jayhawks a great chance to make a run in the tourney. This is an Elite 8 caliber team and anything above that will be absolutely house money. If McLemore ends up reaching anywhere close to his ceiling, it could be a very special year.



(8) Defense. They Jayhawks will have the best defense in the nation when Withey is on the court. It may not be all that close. The only weak link is Ellis, but with Withey on his other side, the paint will be covered against most teams. This particular team seems far more advanced on the defensive end early in the season than on the offensive end. They’re only going to improve from here. As I mentioned in my last post, we’ll struggle to score at times this year, but we’ll always be in the game because of defense.

(9) Offensive strategy. The key to Bill Self’s offense is ball movement. When the ball is swinging and the offensive is going inside-out, there will always be a wide open jump shot available. The difference between this team and last year’s team will be whether we settle for that jump shot or attempt to feed the post. We don’t have a replacement for Thomas Robinson. It will have to be a combination of multiple guys that will all need to step up. I said before that I believe Perry could lead us in scoring early and Ben could lead late. Elijah will also be a big factor in scoring. Beyond that, I believe Kevin Young, Withey, and Releford will all be around that 7-13 point range every game. I think the offensive breakdown will actually mirror the 2008 championship team relatively closely, where a different guy will lead in scoring each game.

(10) Overview. As far as expectations, I am somewhat lower on this team than I was last year’s team. I think we’ll struggle at the point guard position and will routinely rely on jump shots. I think we’ll go through periods in games where we just can’t score. The good news is our defense will always keep us in games and Self will have the guys on the same page after the Christmas break.  This is definitely an Elite 8 caliber team with a whole lot of upside. It could be a fun run in 2013.

Enjoy the ride and rock chalk!