The Kansas Jayhawks closed out their exhibition games with a 109-56 victory over the Division II Emporia State Hornets. The Jayhawks finished with eight players scoring in double figures in their final tune up before the beginning of the regular season on Friday. Kansas was also able to improve in a few key areas where they struggled a bit against Washburn.
1. Kansas’ perimeter defense impressed
A common complaint among Kansas fans last season related to the poor perimeter defense of point guard Naadir Tharpe. This season, the fears have shifted to the inside of the defense because the Jayhawks lack a dominant shot blocker similar to Jeff Withey or Joel Embiid. However, if Tuesday’s game is any guide, the Jayhawks may be able to improve their defense despite that fact. Kansas showcased an improved perimeter defense against the Hornets, forcing a turnover on 24.7 percent of Emporia State’s total possessions. The Jayhawks ended the game with 11 steals from 10 different players. The Kansas guards have been much more active with their hands and getting into passing lanes so far as you can see here in the following sequence from freshman Devonte’ Graham:
The Kansas defense wasn’t limited to generating steals. For example, Kelly Oubre showed off his quality defense on a number of occasions including here where he forces a travel with help from Frank Mason III:
And here, where Oubre creates a jump ball by aggressively going for the ball in the backcourt:
The Jayhawks were also able to generate offense from those turnovers, scoring 30 points off turnovers against ESU. Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital Journal highlighted the importance of generating turnovers in an article from August. In short, the more steals a team generates, the better their adjusted defensive efficiency. If Tuesday’s performance carries over to the regular season, Kansas will be in a much better position on the defensive end this year.
2. The ball wasn’t sticking as much
One player who impressed was freshman Sviatoslav Mykhuiliuk. In his first start in Allen Fieldhouse, the Ukrainian wing showcased very impressive basketball instincts, often making quick passes that would lead to good shots for Kansas. For example, Mykhuiliuk won’t receive an assist on the stat sheet for the following play, but his quick pass to Hunter Mickelson functions as the hockey assist leading to a Cliff Alexander dunk:
That play is a great example of the kind of ball movement that Self will look for out of his team, especially as they try to combat the zone defense of UC Santa Barbara. Alexander passes out of the 2-3 zone’s trap in the corner, Oubre makes a strong crosscourt pass, Mykhuiliuk kicks it to Mickelson, and Mickelson earns the assist with a quick pass to Alexander. This kind of passing is refreshing to see for Kansas fans who are aware that last year’s team struggled against zone defense. Good ball movement can break down defenses and will help generate the good shots that Self likes to see.
3. Jayhawk fans should get excited about Landen Lucas
Landen Lucas is only a redshirt sophomore, but it feels like he’s been in Lawrence for much longer. Lucas is a perfect example of a player who has waited for his turn in Lawrence and looks like he’ll be able to produce for the Jayhawks this season. Bill Self praised the big man in his postgame press conference, “He knows what we’re doing, he’s smart and he knows how to use his body and seal pretty well. He’s much improved.” Lucas showed off his ability to seal well early in the game against Emporia State. In the following clip, Lucas uses his strength to push his man towards the free throw line while gaining position and anticipating the ball reversal that ultimately leads to an entry pass and easy bucket.
Lucas also received compliments from a number of analysts on Twitter throughout the game for his footwork and improved conditioning. While Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander have received most of the attention coming into the 2014-15 season, the play of Lucas shows that Kansas will once against have tremendous depth in the front court.
The standard caveats about exhibition games are again relevant here. Emporia State is a much smaller team than Kansas and certainly the Jayhawks have more talent, but I’ve attempted to focus on concepts that are transferable across opponents. The Jayhawks can now get ready for their first true test against UC Santa Barbara on Friday knowing that their coach thought they “played a lot better tonight.”