Kansas Basketball: Grading Jayhawks Through Round of 32 of NCAA Tournament
Kansas appeared to have turned a corner during a dominating second-half performance Sunday against North Carolina, catapulting the school into a Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan.
The Jayhawks' first three halves of basketball—the first two of which produced an agonizing ugly win over Western Kentucky in the round of 64—left plenty to be desired and only fueled critics.
As KU barrelled toward NCAA tournament records for most turnovers committed, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Naadir Tharpe immediately ignited a tired team looking to explode.
As Bill Self's Jayhawks prepare for a matchup with Michigan in Arlington, here is a look at their NCAA tournament grades thus far.
Ben McLemore's lack of offensive production has been widely publicized and criticized. While he aggressively penetrated the lane early against North Carolina, the freshman routinely appeared uncomfortable in one-on-one situations in both tournament games.
With a diverse starting five that greatly benefits from the strengths of one another, McLemore, along with Elijah Johnson, must do a better job of keeping the defense off balance, thus decreasing the likelihood of turnovers.
Kansas has 39 turnovers in two games.
Jeff Withey and Travis Releford abused a somehow under-assuming Tar Heels defense, combining for 38 points on 15-of-24 shooting. The two fifth-year seniors added near-flawless defensive efforts in holding James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock to 6-of-26 shooting.
Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis have combined for 65 minutes off the bench, while only one other KU bench player (Jamari Traylor) has recorded a meaningful minute.
Ellis found his groove in the Big 12 tournament and brought the newfound confidence back to the Sprint Center on Friday with an efficient nine-point, seven-rebound effort against Western Kentucky.
Tharpe's turnovers are still worrisome (five in two games), but not catastrophic, especially when he hits 3-of-6 three-point attempts in holding off North Carolina. He stabilized a Kansas offense committing loads of turnovers with a season-defining 26-minute performance Sunday.
The Kansas offense has been adequate, but certainly not attractive, in two tourney games.
The unattractive numbers include a 25 percent clip from three-point range, 39 turnovers contributing to a 0.56 assist-to-turnover ratio, and the inability for leading scorer Ben McLemore to create any offense.
The Jayhawks' 49-point second-half outburst against North Carolina overshadowed an anemic three halves of offense to open the tournament, one in which they only scored 85 total points.
Their ball movement has been sufficient, and while Jeff Withey is dominating inside the paint on both ends, Ben McLemore must find his shooting stroke if KU expects to reach Atlanta.
After finishing the regular season as the nation's top defense in opponents' field-goal percentage, Kansas has locked down the opposition both inside the paint and on the perimeter.
Perimeter-defense concerns floated around Lawrence for the last two-plus months of the regular season. Those questions were only magnified as Kansas welcomed a North Carolina team hitting over 37 percent of their three-point shots.
Travis Releford, Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson did an exceptional job of fighting over ball screens in holding the Tar Heels to 6-of-21 shooting from beyond the arc. It came on the heels of a 3-of-20 perimeter effort against Western Kentucky
Inside, Jeff Withey has continued his NCAA tournament reign of terror in recording 12 blocked shots in two games.
The Kansas defense has been dominant.
Credit Bill Self for yanking all ball-handling duties away from seasoned veteran Elijah Johnson in Sunday's win. Self plugged Naadir Tharpe in and received a near-impeccable performance from his sophomore point guard in 26 minutes.
Their offensive efficiency needs drastic improvement, beginning with a greater variety of ball and slip screens to get open looks for Ben McLemore. Unfortunately, this still begins with the KU point guards making not only a pass to start the play, but a pass to finish the play.
Self deserves the benefit of the doubt with player rotations and the inclusion, or lack thereof versus North Carolina, of Perry Ellis in the frontcourt offense.