Posts Tagged offense

KU offense must find identity

Posted on: December 2nd, 2013 by jayhawktalk No Comments

Kansas lost its first game of the season on Friday night to a Villanova team intent on testing how the young Jayhawks would respond to intense defensive pressure. On Saturday night, the ‘hawks struggled to establish an offense against several “junk” defensive sets from UTEP — including the box-and-one and triangle-and-two — which allowed the Miners to pack defenders in the paint to discourage penetration and still have someone available to chase Wiggins around the court.

The Jayhawks allowed ‘Nova and UTEP to control the pace in both games, resulting in just 59 and 67 points scored.

There are several reasons KU struggled to score in the Bahamas, including the fact that the games were played in the same space that will hold a convention on dentistry in a few months.

But there’s more to the offensive struggles than weird sight lines and cyber-bowling alley lighting.

The Jayhawks lack an identity on offense. At least so far.

You might say that some of this is nitpicking, considering KU averaged a solid 87 points through its first 5 games. That’s fair, I suppose. The difference is that if some early issues are not corrected, the defensive blueprints from ‘Nova and UTEP will continue to haunt the Jayhawks — and will be implemented and executed by better and more athletic opponents yet to come.

Bill Self has been extremely successful in his career with the 3-out/2-in high-low motion offense, which most KU fans will recognize from year to year. This offense is predicated on having a good low post scorer, which the Jayhawks have in Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid. In practice, the offense pulls one post player (and thus one defender) toward the top of the key, theoretically allowing the post player on the block to get a one-on-one matchup next to the basket. When the ball moves, it creates opportunities for the post player to establish position by sealing off his man in anticipation of an open passing lane.

The offense really hums when the ball moves from side to side, forcing the defense to react to the ball reversal, which eventually opens up lanes to pass or penetrate. So far this season, this has been one of the biggest problems. The ball has not moved (or as Self would say, “the ball sticks too much”). What’s more is there isn’t much movement from the players without the ball, either. There has been little motion in the motion offense. If the ball is passed inside, it seems like it’s generally going to be shot. If the ball is in a guard’s hands at the top of the key, it seems that the guard will take it off the dribble.

In short, we haven’t seen many assists this year.

Self is in a tough spot, because his best chance to score right now is to pound it inside to Perry and Joel. But he also has to feel like there’s no way KU reaches its ceiling this year without establishing the skills that Wiggins and Selden (and Mason) bring to the table. As a result, Self has incorporated more isolation sets, allowing his “playmakers to make plays.” This has included an increased amount of ball screens, giving KU guards an initial step on the dribble drive.

I have no issue with trying to establish penetration from the guards, but I would just like to see it happen as a greater part of the motion offense, not as a substitute for it.

After all, a penetrating guard is one of the best things a team can have, so long as he takes what the defense gives him. In other words, he should always (1) look to score, but if that isn’t there (2) look to dish underneath the basket, but if that isn’t there, (3) look to kick out to the corner 3. KU’s guards have not been successful at options 2 or 3 yet this year. This is especially the case with Frank Mason, who has no problem collapsing the defense, but has not yet done so to create for his teammates. This will come.

Another issue is that KU’s starters have not shot the ball very well from outside. This has allowed opposing defenses to pack as many bodies in the paint as possible, bothering our interior players and making penetration less attractive. Defenses have pretty much dared KU guards to shoot, and until they make defenses pay (or sub in new personnel with guys like White, Frankamp, or Greene), this will continue to be the case.

Over the next several weeks, I believe the KU offense will start to show more of an identity. The high-low motion as we know it will return, because it is becoming more and more apparent that Embiid may be the best mismatch KU has, and we all know that Perry is an assassin when he isn’t facing a double team. I’m hopeful that guard penetration occurs as a greater part of the offense. With better passing and ball reversal, there should be much wider lanes for penetration as the defense is forced to react instead of playing the role of aggressor.

On paper, Kansas should be a stellar offensive team. There is no excuse for allowing an opposing defense to control a game against them. As the young Jayhawks start reacting instead of thinking, the points will come.

Until then, we can take solace in the fact that the Jayhawks won’t have to play any more games inside a ballroom.




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.


Withey is a big distraction – in a good way

Posted on: January 19th, 2012 by jayhawktalk No Comments

Courtesy of Nick Krug -

Editor’s Note: Following is the first post by new Jayhawk-Talk contributing writer, Nico Roesler. Nico is a former UDK Sports Editor and current sports reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican. We’re very excited he’s joining the team. Follow him on twitter at @NicoRoesler.

Jeff Withey is more than the bloodied face staring back at you from your computer desktop or Twitter avatar.

Withey is a seven-foot distraction – in the best sense of the term. Without Withey, Thomas Robinson isn’t the double-double machine we all know him as. Without Withey, Kansas doesn’t defeat the tall, athletic Baylor Bears in Allen Fieldhouse. It’s hard, undoubtedly, to ignore a seven footer when game planning against the Jayhawks. It must be even harder, to think of him as an after-thought with the likes of Robinson standing next to him.

Withey is averaging 7.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game.  Defensively, Withey’s length cannot be overstated or underappreciated (56 blocks). On offense, however, his real strength is not in his numbers, it’s in his presence as it pertains to Robinson.

Robinson has proven he can take any defender in the country in a one-on-one situation. His jump shot has become reliable and his first step off the dribble is ludicrous. It’s no wonder we see Robinson in the repeated position to take advantage of both abilities.

Robinson receives the ball night after night at the top of the key and surveys the floor. Although he has proven that he can hit the long jumper, Bill Self puts him in that position to become the architect of one of the hardest plays to defend in basketball – the high-low pass. When Robinson has the ball at the top of the key, he reads what his defender is going to do. The defender has two options: a) get in Robinson’s face to take away the jumper or b) slow play it and protect the paint and the other threat simultaneously posting up – Jeff Withey.

Defenders in this scenario will almost always let Robinson have his shot, likely, because Robinson will miss the virtual three-pointer more often than Withey will miss a shot three feet from the basket. Withey is making 54 percent of his shots from the field. Give him a chance to play with his back to the basket, and there are few people in the country that can challenge his shot.

Without Withey’s presence in the post, Kansas’ offense could look a whole lot different. There is a reason Bill Self has called him the most improved player on the team. He has improved his game from his physicality to his touch, but the biggest thing Withey has done is improve the Kansas offense as a whole.

After the Baylor game, Elijah Johnson vocalized the importance of Withey. “When we get Jeff going, it really gets a lot of us going, and a lot of people don’t know that,” Johnson said. “Jeff is a key player to our team, especially with getting us started. When he is on track, it can be a long night for some teams.”

Baylor now knows that. Withey’s double-double distracted the Bears’ defense enough to allow Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to have career-high nights.

With Withey on the floor, defenses cannot double-team Robinson on every possession. With Withey, defenses cannot solely focus on Kansas’ deep threats while they buckle down on Robinson. And when they do, Withey is open. Open for a lob dunk or a simple entry pass to the post.

So you may love the lanky big man who proudly bleeds from his nose and whose feet need barely to lift off the ground for a jam. But remember that these moments not only distract the fan from the game with funny posters and fake Twitter accounts.

They distract defenses from the weapons that truly make Kansas the dangerous team it is.