Kansas Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from Win over K-State
Kansas entered Monday's rivalry showdown with Kansas State on the verge of their first four-game losing streak in 25 years.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Kansas re-established themselves as the Big 12 favorite with renewed fundamentals, decision-making and energy.
"I thought we played with great energy. We acted like were having a lot of fun out there. A lot of enthusiasm," Bill Self said following their 83-62 victory.
Self appeared happy but not surprised. He understands how good the 20-4 Jayhawks can be and understands how important a few factors from Monday's win are in deciding the success or failure of this year's Kansas team.
Naadir Tharpe and Elijah Johnson Can Co-Exist
We all know Elijah Johnson is out of position, and his struggles have been well-documented, but the potential solutions have been oversimplified, as you cannot simply pick Johnson or Naadir Tharpe.
The two guards played a combined 55 minutes in Monday's win, with Tharpe arguably recording the best "point guard" performance of his career in 27 minutes.
Both players are in the midst of horrific shooting slumps. In KU's last 11 games, Tharpe is shooting 27 percent from the floor, with Johnson a shade better at 29 percent. While Monday's game did not reveal a sudden shooting stroke from either player, both looked significantly more comfortable in their roles.
Improved defense from Tharpe suggests he may play alongside the 2-guard Johnson more often.
Perimeter Defense Is Suspect
Kansas is the 78th-best team in the country in defending the three-point shot at 31.4 percent, but that number does not reflect their effectiveness along the arc.
Opponents are receiving far too many open looks from the perimeter, with KU failing to effectively fight around ball screens and identify ball reversals.
Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford have routinely guessed wrong in going under/over screens, specifically allowing Will Spradling and Shane Southwell to hit 42 percent from three.
Transition Game Must Be Efficient
Poor offensive execution has led to poor defensive matchups on transition outlet passes by the opposition. Those poor defensive matchups have been too often exploited in the past six-plus weeks, oftentimes giving Kansas opponents the advantage in transition buckets.
The Jayhawks straddle the 12-14 turnover mark each game, and despite an improved transition game against Kansas State, Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore turned the ball over a combined seven times.
Those two guards can run with anyone in the country and must capitalize on lazy passes in order to outweigh poor ball-handling and decision-making, leading to outnumbered breaks.
Jeff Withey Is Dominant When in Good Position
Jeff Withey is a large man. His 7'0" frame allows him to maximize his assets of excellent footwork and versatility in the paint.
Consistently battling opposing, usually undersized, big men has been an issue for the fifth-year senior. He briefly fell into an unnerving one-and-done habit of jockeying inside for a few moments before aimlessly drifting in and out of the paint as the KU guards improvised.
Monday was a different story as he dominated Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson down low, easily forcing his defender to the elbow for an inside shot or underneath the bucket for a thunderous dunk.
And Effective Even When in Poor Position
Three K-State big men (Jordan Henriquez, Thomas Gipson and Adrian Diaz) tallied nine total fouls in only 36 minutes played. However, many of those fouls were committed when the Wildcats' trio had good position on the seven-footer Withey.
He was triple-teamed on entry passes twice, but managed to draw fouls in both instances, proving the Kansas guards must not overlook Withey early in the shot clock even if he is out of position.
Naadir Tharpe Should Not Be Taking 9 Shots Per Game
As Bill Self pointed out to ESPN's Holly Rowe at halftime, Naadir Tharpe must take advantage of slower defenders with relentless penetration.
Tharpe too often pulls up for an 18-footer or heaves a three-pointer early in the shot clock without allowing the Jayhawk offense to properly rotate, thus bailing out the defense.
His numbers are poor (33.8 shooting percentage, 32.9 from three), and assuming Elijah Johnson transitions back into a combo guard role, Tharpe cannot be an efficient floor leader when taking nine questionable shots per game.
Second-Chance Points Are Imperative
KU is 29th in the nation in rebounding margin but 178th in offensive rebounds at 11 per game.
The Jayhawks pulled down 13 offensive boards Monday, leading to 19 second-chance points, giving them a 19-to-2 advantage over the Wildcats.
Despite the 83-point offensive outburst, their offensive efficiency remains clouded, and second-chance points from Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and others are imperative.
Ben McLemore Must Take Control
Ben McLemore's offensive numbers are beyond impressive (51.3 from field, 43.5 from three, and 87.6 from the line). His body control, versatility and ability to face-up any defender makes him the most dangerous scorer in the Big 12.
"He attacked the goal better. He handled the ball better. He did a lot of things better tonight," Bill Self said following the victory.
He might be the lone freshman in a veteran-laden lineup, but this is his team. He is the most important player on an oftentimes offensively challenged team and must take control like he did against the star-struck Wildcats.
Good Free-Throw Shooting Makes the Jayhawks Impossible to Defeat
A perfectly run high-low offense allows the Jayhawks to abuse out-of-position defenders, subsequently earning them trips to the charity stripe.
They are shooting 72.2 percent as a team from the free-throw line. It is good, not great.
An 19-of-22 performance Monday proved they can convert at the line, but have not done so consistently, evident by a 55 percent outing in the loss to Oklahoma.
Improvements specifically from Jeff Withey (69 percent), Kevin Young (58), Perry Ellis (65) and Jamari Traylor (48) would maximize their offensive potential.
Rankings and Seeding Are Irrelevant
The Jayhawks clearly were not intimidated by the No. 10 Wildcats nor were they concerned about their plunge in the polls.
Is Kansas the 15th-best team in the country? No, and any coherent hoops fan would agree. Do they still have a shot at a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament? Yes, but does it matter?
Bill Self's squad has been exposed over the last two months as an inconsistent, turnover-prone bunch with vulnerabilities to zone defense, hot perimeter shooting and transition buckets.
His 2008-09 Jayhawks were unranked for eight of 18 polls that season, but managed to blow out an 11th-ranked Missouri team on March 1 on their way to a fifth straight Big 12 title.