As always, feel free to download and use the photos.
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.
The Oklahoma Sooners (13-7, 3-5) travel to Lawrence tomorrow to play the Jayhawks (17-4, 7-1). Kansas is coming off of its first conference loss of the season after a 72-64 loss at Iowa State on Saturday. Bill Self and Co. will look to bounce back in Allen Fieldhouse in what some are calling a “trap game” leading up to the College Gameday match-up at Missouri.
Oklahoma is coming off one of its biggest victories of the season — a 63-60 victory at Kansas State. Lon Kruger’s Sooners are playing better basketball of late, led by junior guard, Steven Pledger (17.8 PPG). Forward Romero Osby has also picked up his play, posting a 16 point, 11 rebound game last week against Baylor’s front line.
The Jayhawks have won eight straight games against the Sooners and have not lost in Allen Fieldhouse to the crimson and cream since 1993. Oklahoma will seek to revenge a loss in Norman earlier this year, where the Jayhawks needed a career high 28 points from Travis Releford to pull away in the second half for a 72-61 victory.
Matchup of the game:
Steven Pledger scored 30 points in Manhattan last game. He is Oklahoma’s best perimeter threat as well, posting a .436 3-point shooting percentage. I have a feeling all three of our guards will have a shot to guard him tomorrow, and I think that will be the biggest defensive matchup of the game.
Keys to the game for Kansas:
Keys to the game for Oklahoma:
TV: ESPNU, 8:00 CST
Line: KU -16.5; O/U 138.5
Prediction: I think KU wins handedly. Final score: 83-68
Fantastic video from the great Micah Brown of KU Athletics Department (also the Micah Brown that was a hero in the Orange Bowl game). You might remember him from his Gridiron series over the last few years.
I think he did a great job capturing the gameday experience in Allen Fieldhouse. Please watch it if you haven’t!
The following post comes from @Pay_Heed, a guest blogger to Jayhawk-Talk:
For those of you fortunate enough to have attended a game in Allen Fieldhouse, this post will be nothing groundbreaking. It is a magical place, a place where the Jayhawks have won 86% of their games since the building opened in 1955. Bill Self has an astounding 95% win percentage in the hallowed halls. The numbers are just silly.
I wanted to provide a bit of an unscientific statistical illustration of just how good Kansas is on its home court. To start, I tried to rack my brain to remember a time during my life when Kansas wasn’t a Vegas favorite to win at home. My interest in this bit of trivia was piqued when #2 Ohio State woke up the morning of the December 10 game against Kansas as 1½-point favorites to win. So what were my findings?
Like a casino, the house always has the edge.
My research basically indicated that there aren’t any Internet archives with betting lines old enough to find the last time that KU was a home underdog. Let me preface my next few statements by saying I was not able to find every line. And since betting has only become less taboo in the new millennium, it was much easier to find lines from more recent years.
A review of archived box scores, game previews and betting lines revealed Kansas to be favored in every home matchup since 1994 (I couldn’t find much older than that). That means that there are freshmen on campus today that have not been alive since Kansas was last a home underdog. I’ll let that marinate for a minute…
Funny thing is, that statement is still true today. When the news of Jared Sullinger’s back issue spread through the betting world, the line moved considerably. Kansas went from being a 1½-point underdog to a 3-point favorite in a few short hours.
The foregoing numbers are astounding. They also help to provide some statistical support to back up what we already knew about the Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have an advantage that outpaces any home court in the country. I believe this is attributable to several factors:
While the Bears will show up with the higher ranking tomorrow, I predict that Kansas will open at -1.5 or -2.0. The line could move throughout the day, but I’d be shocked if Kansas ends up an underdog at tip-off.
The one thing that worries me about the matchup itself is 3-point shooting, on both sides. Baylor is a great 3-point shooting team at 41.5% (6th in the nation). Meanwhile, we have seen KU struggle to defend the 3-point line this season, although statistically the Hawks only allow 33.8% from three (167th). The Hawks have only shot 34.8% from three this season (149th), and against Baylor’s 2-3 zone that could be problematic. The Bears are giving up 32.2% (98th).
All that taken into account, I think that our home court advantage will be the deciding factor in the game, as it has so many times over the last two decades. I think KU will pull out a close victory.
Remember, if you’re planning on attending, be loud. You make the difference.
Through 13 non-conference basketball games, the Jayhawks are 10-3. With the exception of the Davidson loss, I think most would say this team has lived up to expectations. It has two statement wins against top 15 teams in Ohio State and Georgetown. It lost two games to potential #1 tourney seeds in Kentucky and Duke. And for the most part, there are reasons to be optimistic entering Big XII play.
Reasons for optimism
For starters, our power forward might be early favorite to win the 2012 Naismith Award. Robinson has been playing like a star. Not since Wayne Simien has Kansas had a big man that meant more to his team.
While KU’s point guard play has been inconsistent at best, there have been signs of late that Tyshawn Taylor is turning the corner. His overall season numbers have been good — 15 points and 5 assists per game — and he’s played great defense. But from mid-November to mid-December, he was averaging over 6 turnovers a game. The good news is that since the beginning of Christmas break, he has averaged 6 assists and only 2 turnovers. Hopefully this trend can continue.
T-Rob, Taylor, and…
One thing this team has been missing is a consistent third option. For the most part, the “third option” has been somewhat of a group effort. The three guys that have a chance to be a more consistent #3 are Elijah, Conner, and Travis.
Elijah Johnson is averaging 10 points per game, but he has really struggled from 3-point range. Despite shooting 82 three pointers on the season (an average of over 6 a game), he has only made 30% of them.
Conner, on the other hand, is shooting over 40% from 3. While he has shot the ball fairly well from behind the arc, he has been a liability on defense. That said, Self has had to play him with starter’s minutes thus far (4th on the team in minutes) because he has really had no other 3-point threat.
Travis has been phenomenal on defense, but has also struggled to score the basketball at times. He has a great mid-range game, and I’d like to see him use it more. If he starts to get those 10-12 foot jumpers open, I think it will help the entire offense.
From a talent perspective, Elijah makes the most sense as a guy that should be making a bigger impact on the game for this team. He is incredibly athletic, but sometimes I think he forgets it. While Taylor uses his speed and athleticism seemingly every time he touches the ball, Elijah has turned too much into a spot shooter. I’d really like to see him attack the rim more. If he makes a couple easy baskets, perhaps it will help open up better looks from 3-point range as well.
How opponents are going to play us
As a team, I’d like to see fewer 3-pointers taken. It is becoming more and more apparent that teams are willing to give us open shots from beyond the arc. They are crowding the paint to try to minimize Robinson’s impact, leaving our guards with a lot of room to operate. Unfortunately, we just have not made a team pay for this yet. As a team, KU is shooting .355 from deep, which ranks in the 120s in the NCAA. If some of those shots start going down, it will sure help free up some space for Robinson as opponents will have to respect the outside shot. Right now, they just don’t.
Improve the offense
This team struggles to score at times. I am sure Self is installing a lot of new plays over winter break to help jumpstart the team from an offensive perspective. Here are a couple of things I would focus on if I were coach:
Instead of settling for every open 3, it would be nice to design some set plays within the confines of the offense that are focused on ball screens and dribble penetration. Taylor is already so good at taking the ball off the dribble, I think the offense needs to start and end with him doing what he does best. I also like the idea of getting both Travis and Elijah a ball screen to let them get to the basket or pull up for that mid-range jumper.
Also, when Withey is playing strong and with a lot of energy, he can be a big part of the offense. He is actually one of the best passers on the team, and when the ball is moving on offense, he can be very useful dropping it to the post or kicking to the wing. He also gives you a few points from the offensive rebound position, which has been a struggle this year.
I would also like to see Kevin Young play a few more minutes per game. His biggest asset to this team is energy, and sometimes it can be contagious. He has shot the ball really well (currently .613 from the field), and what’s more, he’s taken good shots. It would be nice to see his average of 10 minutes per game get closer to 15.
Get that title
The team’s play has not deterred me from maintaining my position that KU will win the Big XII again this year. Likewise, I am not concerned with the hot starts from Baylor and Missouri. Both are very talented teams. But neither have been tested the way KU has so far. I also like our coaching advantage and home court advantage.
Speaking of home court advantage, while many have said KU has had it easy playing in the north division for so long, people fail to mention that those south teams have only had to come to Allen Fieldhouse once every few years. Now they will be forced to play in Allen every year, which should help even out the difficulty of schedule.
I still contend that KU will be a single-digit loss team this year. Barring injury, I think 14 Big XII victories is the worst this team will do.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pumped for Big XII play to begin. Bring on those wildcats and let’s get this party started.
“The Energizer Bunny”
His Community College coach, Reggie Howard, called him the “Quiet Assassin.” Loyola Marymount Head Coach Max Good called him the “Energizer Bunny.” Self called him “bouncy” and compared his skill set to Julian Wright.
So who exactly is Kevin Young?
You might remember him from the first game of the year. Against Towson, Young played 14 efficient minutes going 6-7 from the field with 13 points and 7 rebounds. A pretty impressive output for a guy playing his first official game in Allen Fieldhouse.
More likely, you might remember him from the Ohio State game where he had a similar stat line (6-8 from the field, 14 points, and 4 rebounds) in 24 minutes of play. He also took two impressive charges and made the best assist of the game – faking a three pointer and delivering a bullet pass to Robinson for a timely dunk that “energized” the crowd to the loudest it was all game.
Sandwiched in between the Towson and Ohio State games were seven modest performances, where Young averaged only five minutes of playing time and had no significant statistical impact on the game.
Through nine games, Young has shown that with additional minutes comes additional output. So why hasn’t Self played him more?
When a player is beyond the seventh spot on Self’s depth chart, he’ll often come in for a few minutes, and on the first mistake, get pulled not to play much again the rest of the game. Young only has five turnovers on the entire season. His defense has been solid. His energy has been a spark off the bench. And he looks like a guy KU fans will quickly get behind for doing all the little things.
You have to think Young proved to Self that he deserves a longer leash after Saturday’s game. As Self put it, “I haven’t seen that, or if I have seen it, then certainly we’ve made a mistake by not playing him…But that was something today like his coming-out game.”
Perris High, Loyola-Marymount, Barstow C.C.
When Young was a senior at Perris High School (Calif.), he logged three triple-doubles. He averaged a double-double for the season. He grabbed 31 rebounds in a game – twice. At Loyola-Marymount, Young broke the freshman record for rebounds (224) and rebounds per game (7.2). He also broke LMU freshman records for blocked shots and steals.
After his sophomore season at LMU, Young enrolled at Barstow Community College to focus on academics. Once he got those back in line, he signed a grant-in-aid agreement to play for San Diego State. Before he was able to get on the Aztecs campus, the opportunity to play for Kansas arose and Young decommitted to Bill Self.
Steve Fisher vs. Bill Self
Young’s decision to break his grant-in-aid with SDSU in favor of Kansas became somewhat of a national story when Aztecs Head Coach, Steve Fisher, went straight to the media to complain. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune:
I’m disappointed that a young man who I am very fond of would not feel an obligation to honor an eight-month commitment. And I’m equally disappointed in a program and coach I’m very fond of to pursue a player who made an eight-month commitment.
Young had every right to decommit from SDSU as the grant-in-aid he signed did not bind him to the school the way a national letter of intent does. A player is only allowed to sign one letter of intent during his career, and Young had already exhausted that signature with Loyola-Marymount.
Fisher continued, “Unfortunately, the only people who suffer in this situation is us because we passed over three or four very talented players because we did honor our commitment (to Young).”
Interestingly, Self responded to Fisher by telling the Lawrence Journal World:
“I don’t blame coach Fisher for being disappointed at all because Kevin did commit to them…but Kevin also told them he wasn’t going to San Diego State before we recruited him, so we didn’t steal him from San Diego State by any stretch.”
Whether Self and Co. contacted Young while he was “committed” to SDSU is up for debate. Young states that he spoke with Assistant Coach Kurtis Townsend and expressed interest in coming to Kansas in May. Young said that Townsend told him to talk to Fisher before he took a visit to KU. Once Young spoke with Fisher, he visited Kansas and committed. Whether Townsend contacted Young or Young contacted Townsend is unknown.
It also doesn’t matter.
The coaching fraternity is a tight knit group. Self certainly doesn’t want to make a habit of pissing off his brethren. At the same time, Fisher came off as desperate with his comments. The letter of intent is a powerful tool for small schools in small conferences. In this instance, he could not rely on it.
I’d also be remiss not to mention that Fisher was of course fired from Michigan in 1997 when he was the at the helm of one of the biggest college basketball scandals in history. Under his watch, booster Ed Martin allegedly paid Michigan players hundreds of thousands of dollars. In short, Fisher has very little room to be telling off other coaches.
Kevin Young has not said much this year. Perhaps he has made the effort to let his play do the talking. If that’s the case, his play was yelling as loud as the Allen Fieldhouse crowd was on Saturday. Self perhaps put it best when he said, “That’s the Kevin Young we thought we recruited. Maybe this will give him the confidence moving forward. We could use another weapon.”
Or an assassin.