Kansas Basketball: One Improvement Each Jayhawk Must Make for Final Four Run
Five close wins in the last month suggested Kansas was tip-toeing on thin ice and needed significant improvements top-to-bottom in grinding out a ninth straight conference title.
That ice broke last weekend with a frustrating, mistake-filled loss to Oklahoma State. Head coach Bill Self was not shy in identifying his team's weaknesses.
"They were tougher than us. They beat us to loose balls and they just kicked our (butt) on the glass in the second half " Self said on Saturday. He continued, "When you don't play well, you have to defend and rebound, and we didn't do that worth a crap today."
Self's teams have never relied on one shooter, one lockdown defender or one big man and there is no exception this year. Improvements are necessary from every Jayhawk before a repeat title game appearance is possible.
Improvement: Free-throw percentage
Despite a huge improvement in his offensive game from a season ago, Kevin Young still receives little defensive respect, thus routinely leaving his defenders in poor position.
As a result, his hustle stats are impressive as he averages over 2 offensive rebounds per game, and while he converts most of those second-chance opportunities, improving his free throw percentage is imperative.
Surprisingly, he attempts the third most free throws on the team, but he only hits 61.3 percent of those.
Bill Self has not hid his frustration with the Kansas point guards and appears willing to let it ride with Tharpe, assuming he can relax.
His quickness is undeniable, keeping defenders off-balance, and he has learned to harness it, evident by his improving turnover numbers. Tharpe has committed more than one only once in his last five games.
However, his quick trigger and over-aggressive passes early in the shot clock destroys the Jayhawks' offensive efficiency.
Improvement: Slow down decision-making
Traylor has proven he is physical and quick enough to defend nearly anyone on the court, but he oftentimes ruins an excellent possession with poor decision-making on both ends.
He averages nearly two fouls and one turnover per game in only 10.7 minutes played. Traylor must constrain his athleticism and rely on instincts, as he too often commits lazy reach-ins and foolish offensive fouls.
Improvement: Seize the opportunity
Self is obviously frustrated with his guards and likely will quickly turn to alternative solutions if their offensive efficiency keeps up.
Granted, Rio Adams has played a total of 57 minutes on the season but is shooting sub-30 percent from the floor and never appears willing to attack a defender off the dribble. He is extremely quick but hasn't shown it and must prove that he can provide a spark when given the rare opportunities.
Improvement: Find ways to get the ball
Ben McLemore averages a team high 10.8 field goal attempts per game but should be taking closer to 15.
He has taken only seven shots in three of his last seven games, six of which Kansas failed to break the 70-point mark. The flawless jump-shooter is hitting 50.9 percent of those field goal attempts, a number that jumps to 56 percent in Big 12 games.
McLemore is easily the most talented offensive player on the team and the only one that can score consistently from all areas of the offensive zone. He must find the ball more, increase his physicality in creating space and punish off-balance defenders, all of whom will be overmatched in their remaining 10 conference games.
Improvement: Better offensive instincts
It is hard to knock a guy shooting 61 percent from the floor and 43.6 percent from three-point range, but despite a recent streak of 17 straight double-digit scoring games, Travis Releford must embrace his new shooting touch.
He appears lost on the perimeter at times and has not displayed great instincts in projecting his next two or three cuts.
The fifth-year senior does not have to relegate to spot-up duty and can win one-on-one penetration battles if he can anticipate defensive switches better.
Andrew White III
“I was real surprised, just because there was only 55 seconds left in the game," Andrew White said after getting the nod from Bill Self to enter a close game against Oklahoma State last week.
The talent is there and despite poor shooting numbers (38.5 percent from the field, 30.8 from three), White is fully capable of providing a scoring punch for 10-12 minutes per game.
A couple confidence-boosting games were quickly followed by stretches of DNPs and poor shooting performances. Unfortunately for the 6'6" 210-pound freshman, his confidence might rely on the KU point guards.
“To be real candid, if we were more consistent handling and passing the ball, Andrew White would be playing more," Bill Self said regarding his playing time.
Improvement: Win more position battles inside
Jeff Withey does not receive enough credit for his offensive mobility around the rim, oftentimes side-stepping defenders or dipping across the lane for a nifty hook shot.
However, with the exception of inside dump-offs from penetrating teammates, Withey rarely gains perfect position when the KU point guards are looking inside.
That running hook has become difficult to defend but he cannot become complacent.
This is easy.
The Jayhawks have obvious issues with ball-handling and passing, all of which starts at point guard.
Elijah Johnson has failed to bail out doubleteamed bigs, relieve pressure off their shooters and constantly pulls the trigger on the perimeter early in the shot clock, all of which a senior leader should not doing 20 games into the season.
Improvement: Consistent physicality
Perry Ellis certainly understands his role in the Kansas offense and has a tremendous basketball IQ but must consistently utilize his physical assets when battling inside.
At 6'8" with good feet, he can easily back down undersized forwards while also slipping past lazy big men, but has not done it dependably.
He is an extremely disciplined player, rarely finding himself in foul trouble, but he cannot be afraid to attack the bucket offensively or commit a hard foul when fighting for a defensive rebound.