Kansas Basketball: 5-Step Plan to Peaking Before the NCAA Tournament
Ask Butler, VCU or even Kansas what it means to peak at tournament time. The 30-plus game regular season is undoubtedly fun, but capturing success at the right time is everything. Gaining momentum going into March Madness is what hangs banners, creates legends and leads to improbably brilliant NCAA Tournament runs.
Following a roller coaster month, it appears Bill Self has stabilized a diverse roster as he prepares his team for KU's 24th consecutive tourney appearance.
Intense overtime road wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State appear to have flung the Jayhawks toward their ninth straight Big 12 title.
However, weaknesses remain, but improvements can be made to ensure Kansas peaks at the right time.
Kevin Young Must Be an Annoying Player
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Senior Kevin Young still receives little respect from opposing players, though he routinely capitalizes on hustle plays and advantageous defensive matchups.
Unquestionably the Jayhawks are loaded with talent and athleticism, but Young might be their most important player as they rely on him to be an obnoxious force inside the lane.
In addition, he is doing a much better job of taking care of the basketball, eliminating foolish offensive fouls and contributing off the glass with over seven rebounds in only 22 minutes per game.
Steady Point Guard Play
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Sure, 39-point games from Elijah Johnson certainly bring a new dimension to a Kansas offense that oftentimes struggles with consistency.
However, Bill Self only needs steady point guard play from Johnson and Naadir Tharpe for this team to thrive in March.
The Jayhawks must take advantage of under-assuming defenses, recognize holes in the suddenly popular zone schemes and pick up on defensive tendencies as the game progresses. Tharpe and Johnson contribute to an unsatisfactory team assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.1, largely due to poor decision-making early in the shot clock.
Kansas has too many playmakers in a perfect offensive system to be receiving unreliable play from its floor leaders this late in the season.
Find Effective Substitution Rotation
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It appears Bill Self is still juggling different rotations, which is rare for him in late February, as he looks for the perfect combination for a NCAA tournament run.
Versatile and well-balanced Big 12 rosters can cause headaches for opposing coaches, especially one who, until recently, lacked offensive rhythm from his starters.
Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Kevin Young have been successfully used to combat quick undersized teams, but a lack of routine effectiveness with Self's rotations have oftentimes caused the veteran coach to burn timeouts while experimenting.
Let Jeff Withey Touch the Ball on Every Possession
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Jeff Withey must touch the ball on every possession.
He creates mismatches both inside the paint and along the perimeter, as he regularly exploits over-aggressive defenders with his extremely underrated passing.
Withey is a unique offensive player with an ever-growing repertoire of slide-steps, sky hooks and nifty lay-ins.
A simple entry pass early in the possession can do wonders when reading defensive tendencies in an attempt to spread the floor for Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.
Defend the Perimeter
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Tyrus McGee and his Cyclones had a special night from beyond the arc on Monday, shooting 17-of-35 from three in regulation.
Granted, McGee and others hit impressive perimeter shots from 22 feet out and beyond, but Kansas must improve its in-game adjustments in defending those sharpshooters.
Jeff Withey is clearly uncomfortable rotating to the arc, but the responsibility lies primarily with the Jayhawk guards. They must do a better job of fighting through and around ball screens, keeping balance on step-back jumpers and adjusting to the competition.
If Tyrus McGee is going to continue firing away from no man's land, Ben McLemore and others must at least follow him to no man's land.