The Kansas Jayhawks defeated Tennessee 82-67 in the second round of the 2014 Orlando Classic to advance to the tournament final against either Michigan State or Marquette pending the result of the other semifinal. After being in control for the majority of the game, Kansas stumbled in the second half as the Vols closed the gap, ultimately tying the game 62-62 with 6:49 remaining in the game. However, the Jayhawks would rally late ending the game on a 20-5 run in the closing minutes to pick up their fourth win of the season. The matchup against Tennessee was a great opportunity for Kansas fans to see Bill Self’s team play against a zone similar to what Baylor will run against them in the Big 12, so Friday’s game provided some nice takeaways for Jayhawk followers.
One of my biggest takeaways from the matchup against Tennessee’s 1-3-1 or 1-1-3 zone is that this Kansas team appeared to be much more comfortable passing around the zone while looking for a chance to create a good shoot. Admittedly, Kansas struggled for a chunk of the second half. We’ll discuss that in a moment, but let’s first take a look at a few of the ways the Jayhawks attacked the zone throughout the game.
Kansas relied for a substantial amount of the game on junior forward Perry Ellis to make decisions from inside of the zone. Ellis led the team with 24 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the field and 11-for-12 shooting from the foul line. The 6-foot-8 forward also grabbed 13 rebounds. One of the underrated aspects of Ellis’s game is his ability to pass from within the zone. On the first possession of the game, Ellis showcased his decision-making skills. The play begins with Ellis and Lucas setting a double screen on the baseline defender to try to create an open 3-point attempt for freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. When the wing defender prevents the pass, Lucas screens off the baseline defender again to create a lane for Wayne Selden to make an entry pass to Ellis. When the zone collapses, Ellis is able to find Frank Mason III for a wide open 3-pointer as he slides over to the weak side of the floor. Mason knocks it down and Kansas jumps out to an early 3-0 lead.
Ellis also created offense against the zone on his own, using his ability to dribble in space to create quality looks. It’s no surprise that the Kansas offense has improved over the past three games as Ellis has become more aggressive in looking for his shot. In the following clip, Ellis attacks from the free throw line after receiving an entry pass from Mason in space. While he misses the initial shot, he’s able to grab his own rebound and knock down the put back. Kansas frequently crashed the offensive boards against the Vols; grabbing 62.1 percent of their own misses.
Kansas also used dribble penetration to breakdown the Tennessee zone. Point guard Frank Mason III struggled against Kentucky and Bill Self criticized his players for driving to shoot rather than driving to pass. Over the past three games, Mason has showcased an improved passing ability with 16 assists and only four turnovers in games against Rider, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Nobody has questioned the aggression of Mason and his ability to penetrate into the lane puts pressure on defenses to make decisions as he does here. Mason receives the ball in transition and is able to attack the Vols’ zone before it’s set causing every player in orange to collapse to stop the ball. Mason elevates and finds an open Wayne Selden on the wing for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
When the ball moved well, Kansas was able to create open shot opportunities and knock them down. However, in the second half, the Jayhawks struggled. In particular, freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. and junior Jamari Traylor committed four turnovers over seven minutes while the Volunteers were able to claw back into the game. Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital Journal has documented Traylor’s struggles against the zone in the past. Oubre’s current troubles are well known to basketball fans who are still waiting for the potential lottery pick to live up to his billing.
Defensively, Kansas was able to limit Tennessee’s opportunities on the offensive glass. The Vols entered Friday’s game with the fourth best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, but Kansas held them to a humane 29.7 percent offensive rebounding percentage. That means that the Volunteers still pulled down nearly one of every three misses, but that is a much more normal number than the 41.5 percent they’re currently averaging. Perry Ellis led Kansas with 10 defensive rebounds, but the second leading defensive rebounder for the Jayhawks was point guard Frank Mason III. Mason’s rebounding ability is one of the more underrated aspects of his game.
Kansas is beginning to show that it has the ability to knock down open jump shots on the perimeter, which should open up the game for its bigs in the future. With freshman Cliff Alexander continuing to play well and the prolific offense of Perry Ellis, that should be a scary thought for future opponents. In only 20 minutes on Friday, Alexander managed 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He’ll likely play his way into Self’s starting lineup in the near future. The Jayhawks also showed an impressive ability to rebound against Tennessee and a better plan against the defense than last year’s team. However, the Jayhawks are still young and prone to turnovers at times, which will limit their ability to win close games. If they Jayhawks can reduce the number of turnovers they’ll certainly be a top 10 team throughout the season.
Kansas takes on the winner of Michigan State versus Marquette on Sunday.