Kansas Basketball: Biggest Takeaways from Showdown vs. Oklahoma

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2015

Kansas Basketball: Biggest Takeaways from Showdown vs. Oklahoma

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Monday's battle against the Oklahoma Sooners caused Kansas Jayhawks fans to feel a complete season's worth of emotions.

    Kansas earned an 85-78 victory, but it didn't come easy despite a quick start. The Jayhawks went up 51-32 in the first half but completely collapsed in the second half to eventually trail 59-58. Just when it seemed like a second straight loss was coming, they found a way to bounce back to finish on top.

    The win moved the squad to 4-1 in the Big 12, as it remains a top contender to once again bring home a conference title. Of course, Iowa State, Kansas State and a long list of other teams remain in the way of an 11th straight championship.

    In order to remain competitive for the rest of the year, it is important for Kansas to learn as much as possible from both wins and losses. Fortunately, this past game was very telling for examining both positives and negatives with this group.

    Here is a look at the biggest takeaways from the latest win over Oklahoma.

This Team Has Heart

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    If the game ended the way it seemed like it was going to—a blown 19-point lead and a disappointing home loss—the story would have been the lack of leadership, with no one capable of stepping up when things were going wrong.

    However, Kansas proved the critics wrong by stepping up when needed and earning an impressive victory.

    Perry Ellis made some big baskets to keep Oklahoma from pulling away, and Kelly Oubre got the big points late to take the lead and then pull away. This type of performance showed a lot of character from this young team to not let a bad stretch ruin the game.

    ESPN's Jay Bilas believed it was more than heart that helped the team win, tweeting, "As Bill Raftery would say, Kansas has 'onions.' There's a reason the Jayhawks have won ten in a row. #respect."

    The Jayhawks had a similar win against Utah where they blew a 21-point lead in the second half before pulling out a win. They also earned a come-from-behind victory against Florida and a few other gritty wins this year.

    Although you never want to blow big leads or go behind, the fact this team showed it can still pull out wins should be very encouraging going forward.

Freshman Duo Finally Realizing Expectations

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    Earlier in the season, there were questions about whether Kelly Oubre would ever get consistent playing time. Just last game, Cliff Alexander was benched for almost the entire second half due to a lack of effort.

    However, the freshman duo came through Monday with the best combined showing we have seen all season.

    Oubre started the game hot, with a pair of three-pointers in the opening minutes, and kept up his effort throughout. When Kansas needed a shot late, the wing took it upon himself to make the necessary plays, and he finished some tough shots to help seal the win.

    As for Alexander, the effort was finally there, as he managed 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks off the bench.

    "It’s just an energy thing," he explained after the game, via Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal. "Me and (coach) both think I need to play with a high motor. I agree with it."

    If he can play every game with the same level of intensity, he will be almost unstoppable at this level.

    This tandem was expected to do big things before the start of the season, and we are finally seeing what the freshmen are capable of at just the right time.

Three-Point Shooting Can Come and Go

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kansas finished the game 10-of-19 from three-point range, helping improve the season total to 39.7 percent from behind the arc to rank among the best in the nation.

    With Brannen Greene, Devonte' Graham, Kelly Oubre and Frank Mason shooting lights-out from deep (all shooting at least 42 percent), and Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden also faring well, it's clear this has become a big part of the team's game plan.

    However, it's important to look at the Oklahoma game to see why it is not exactly reliable to only count on the three.

    The Jayhawks started an incredible 8-of-8 from outside to help build up a huge lead. Sure enough, they came back down to earth by hitting just two of the next 11 shots.

    While the overall percentage remained good, the reliance on deep shots became a problem early in the second half. Kansas came out of halftime firing a bunch of three-point attempts, missing all of them and helping kick off Oklahoma's 21-3 run to get back into the game.

    Eventually, the squad went back to driving the ball inside and scoring. This opened up the only made three of the second half by Greene, which ended up being the go-ahead bucket with three minutes remaining.

    Three-pointers are a valuable thing when they are falling, but this team has to remember not to get too reliant even when the net looks like a pool.

Defense Was Improved but Inconsistent

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Compared to the loss against Iowa State, Kansas' defense was miles better. The players got back in transition and did a much better job closing gaps on the perimeter.

    This was clearly seen in field-goal percentage from Iowa State's 50.8 percent to Oklahoma's 40 percent. The Sooners also hit just eight of 25 attempts from beyond the arc after the Cyclones drilled nine of 20 shots from three-point range.

    Still, it's too premature to simply say the problems are fixed.

    Oklahoma's great start to the second half was predicated on great penetration into the lane. From there, the guards could either finish in the paint over a frontcourt that didn't have anyone taller than 6'8" or simply dish to an open man on the perimeter.

    Although the Jayhawks pulled out a win, you can't ignore the bad moments that came from this game, because some of them were awful. A lot of that comes down to on-ball defense on the perimeter, a feature that is often missing when the team is struggling.

    If Kansas wants to compete for another Big 12 title and make a run in March, it will need to have better focus defensively for 40 minutes at a time.

Better Passing Leads to Better Offense

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kansas put on an incredible shooting display to start the game, mainly thanks to the fact almost every look was open. This came down to great spacing and excellent passing to find the open man.

    The squad finished the game with 17 assists on 29 made field goals, while all but one of the 10 three-pointers came off a pass. This type of ball movement helped lead to one of the most efficient offensive performances of the season.

    Even with all of this passing, the team remained below its season average with just 11 turnovers.

    Against Iowa State, Kansas had just 16 assists on 32 made field goals with 15 turnovers in a fast-paced game. While the 81 points scored seemed like a great offensive effort, it's not as good when you consider there were a season-high 80 possessions in the game.

    Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham led the way with their unselfish play Monday, and it caused a strong offensive output. Although the shots won't always go down, this type of game plan will lead to a lot more success over the course of the year.

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