Kansas Basketball: Ranking the Jayhawks' 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into March
After a three-game losing streak at the beginning of February, Kansas basketball has righted the ship, ripping off five consecutive victories.
Barring an upset, the Jayhawks are on their way toward their ninth consecutive regular-season Big 12 title, and they easily could make it back to the Final Four in Atlanta.
However, Kansas is not without its faults. The Jayhawks don’t have a deep rotation, and they have struggled to find consistent point-guard play.
Here are the Jayhawks’ five biggest concerns heading into March.
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Kansas does not have a deep bench. The Kansas bench only plays 22.4 percent of the available minutes. That ranks No. 329 nationally, according to KenPom.com.
Naadir Tharpe is the only non-starter who averages more than 15 minutes per game. Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor also come off the bench to play some minutes, but that is about it.
The Jayhawks are a sprained ankle or some serious foul trouble away from finding themselves relying on players who have not played major minutes throughout the course of the season.
4. Consistency of Elijah Johnson
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Elijah Johnson put on a show on Feb. 25 at Iowa State. Johnson had 39 points on 13-of-22 shooting as the Jayhawks pulled out a 108-96 overtime win on the road.
It left a lot of people wondering where that kind of performance has been all year. Until the game against the Cyclones, Johnson had not scored more than 13 points in a game since the third game of the season back on Nov. 15. During his team’s three game losing streak, Johnson shot just 24.3 percent from the field with 10 turnovers.
Last year, he turned it on in the NCAA tournament, scoring in double digits in all six games and shooting 50.8 percent from the floor. He won’t need to score 39 every game, but Johnson needs to play well for Kansas to reach its potential.
3. Offensive Droughts
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At times, Kansas can be tough to watch offensively. That was certainly the case in the loss at TCU on Feb. 6. In the first half of that game, the Jayhawks scored 13 points and made just three field goals.
It was a performance that prompted Bill Self to call his team after the game, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal, “the worst team that Kansas has ever put on the floor.”
The Jayhawks certainly have their issues whenever they have the ball. Four of their five starters can’t consistently create their own offense, and the players who often find themselves with the ball in their hands—Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe—can be up and down.
In a single elimination tournament, Kansas cannot afford a disastrous half like it had against TCU. It could cost the Jayhawks a shot at the national title.
2. The Aggression of Ben McLemore
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Ben McLemore could be the top pick in the next NBA draft. On one hand, that is not surprising given his talent. On the other, it is surprising because he has had a tendency to disappear over big stretches of games.
McLemore has been brilliant at times this season, scoring 33 points in an overtime win over Iowa State on Jan. 9 and 30 points in a victory over rival Kansas State on Feb. 11.
Then, there are games like the double-overtime win over Oklahoma State on Feb. 20 where McLemore scored just seven points in 49 minutes and was nowhere to be found down the stretch.
McLemore needs to be aggressive on a consistent basis, and if the Jayhawks hit an offensive lull, they should be able to count on him to come up with a big bucket.
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After his team lost to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2, Bill Self told the media, “We don’t have a point guard.”
That, of course, was a not-so-subtle shot at Elijah Johnson, who had eight points on 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers that night.
Lately, Self has turned to sophomore Naadir Tharpe to help take some of the ball-handling burden off of Johnson. The issue is that Tharpe’s problems somewhat mirror those of Johnson. He can take ill-advised shots and make some poor decisions.
Recently, Tharpe and Johnson have both had their moments. Tharpe hit the game-winner at Oklahoma State on Feb. 20, and Johnson poured in 39 to help pull out a win at Iowa State.
If Tharpe and Johnson make more positive plays than negative ones down the stretch, Kansas will be tough to beat.