The word of the day for Kansas (9-2) was “exposed” after Temple (8-4) got the better of the Jayhawks on Monday in a crushing 77-52 defeat. “We’re exposed again, and it’s the same way we’ve been exposed in the past,” Bill Self said in his postgame comments. Freshman Kelly Oubre echoed Self’s sentiment, “This exposed the things we obviously need to work on.”
After their second loss by 25 points or more, Oubre sat at the postgame press conference and declared it was “back to reality” for the Jayhawks. Indeed, last night’s game was a let down. After losing to Kentucky, Kansas rattled off eight straight wins by an average margin of 13 points against a high standard of competition. However, those final scores obscured some of the problems that Kansas faced during that run.
A quick Google search defines the verb expose as to “make (something) visible, typically by uncovering it.” Therein lies the problem: last night’s game didn’t undercover anything new about this Kansas team. Last night merely magnified the issues that have troubled the Jayhawks during their eight game win streak. At this point in the season, Kansas is a flawed basketball team in the aspects of the game where Bill Self coached teams usually succeed.
While Self’s postgame comments focused on the defensive failures of Kansas against Temple, I want to start at the opposite end of the floor where Kansas continues to struggle with their 2-point offense. Against the Owls, Kansas shot 11-for-37 on 2-point field goal attempts. That’s a putrid 29.7 percent. The Jayhawks played five bigs against Temple. They combined for 11 points on 2-for-14 (14.2 percent) shooting inside the 3-point arc. The majority of those misses were accounted for by junior Perry Ellis who finished 1-for-9 on 2-point shots. The solution, according to Self, is execution. “We didn’t run our stuff very well, and we didn’t execute,” he would tell the media. At some point, however, the “stuff” may have to change. Kansas lacks the kind of post players that Self has grown accustomed to during his time in Lawrence.
The Jayhawks are shooting 42.7 percent on 2-point field goals this season. That number is over 10 percent worse than the average 2-point field goal percentage for Kansas in Self’s first 11 seasons. A major reason for the decline is an inability to finish at the rim. Kansas is now shooting 50.9 percent on layup and dunk attempts this season. For reference, Self’s teams shot 67.0, 64.2, and 64.4 percent from that range in the three prior seasons. Ellis, the team’s best post player, has seen his overall 2-point numbers drop from 55.3 percent to 43.3 percent this season. He’s taken just over 20 percent of the team’s shots at the rim, but is only converting on 53.2 percent of them. Last season, that number was 65.1 percent. This problem isn’t exclusively on Ellis. The rest of the team has to finish better as well. Still, Ellis was lauded before the season as a potential All-American candidate, and he’s just not delivering.
So, change the “stuff,” execute something different, and adjust to the personnel you’re putting on the floor. Kansas is shooting 39.2 percent on 3-point attempts this season. That number is the best mark for the Jayhawks since 2009-10. Self has raved about the quality of his shooters. Why not shoot more from behind the arc? Kansas is on pace to shoot a similar number of 3-point attempts to last season when they shot just 34.1 percent on 3-pointers. That’s ridiculous. It is imperative that Self implement additional offensive sets that focus on creating 3-point looks for his plethora of quality shooters. For one option, check out Jeff Haley’s examination of Iowa State’s spread pick and roll.
It’s easy to justify taking these kind of shots. Based on their field goal percentage, if Kansas took 100 2-point shots, they could expect to score approximately 86 points. If they took 100 3-point shots, that number goes up to 117 points. Kansas is also turning the ball over on 19.9 percent of their possessions. Getting up a quick, relatively high percentage shot is better than turning the ball over. Finally, Kansas rebounds 38.6 percent of their own misses. They’re a good offensive rebounding team. Even if they’re less likely to make the 3-point shot, their ability to offensive rebound will make up for those misses. It’s ok to change the stuff.
Defensively, Kansas fell from 19th to 39th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings after last night’s contest. Temple entered the game as one of the worst shooting offenses in the country, although the addition of transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman has improved the Owls’ shooting. Temple converted 75.0 percent of their 2-point field goals against the Jayhawks on Monday. The Owls began the game having shot 40.7 percent on 2-point shots this season, a number that ranked 325th in the country. Utah’s Delon Wright already showed it’s possible to beat Kansas off the dribble. He scored 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting against the Jayhawks ten days ago. Wright made all of his shots inside the 3-point arc including 5-of-6 at the rim. Temple’s guards were able to do the same, beating the Kansas defense off the dribble, penetrating into the defense, and resulting in easy shots.
The Kansas defense isn’t that bad. This is only the fourth team to score more than 1.00 points per possession against the Jayhawks this season, but for Kansas to be successful defensively, they have to stay in front of their man. The Jayhawks don’t turn teams over. Their 17.5 percent turnover rate ranks 292nd out of 351 teams. If you can’t end a team’s possession by forcing a turnover, then you have to end it with a missed shot. The fact that Temple knocked down shots didn’t expose anything about Kansas. It reinforced what we already knew–the Jayhawks must pressure their opponents, keep them out of the lane, and contest their shots.
Kansas is not yet a complete team. They have not put together a full 40 minute game. Rob Dauster explained the implications of that for the rest of the country well in this piece for NBC Sports. The Jayhawks have won five games against KenPom’s top 50 teams. The only other squad in the country to do that is Kentucky. Kansas is a good basketball team, but they have some problems. Offensively, the Jayhawks are too focused on moving the ball through their bigs in the post. They ought to open up and shoot more 3-points. Defensively, they haven’t been able to create turnovers, which creates only a small margin of error when playing a team that is hitting their shots. Kansas must stay locked in defensively in order to prevent teams from getting in that rhythm. They’ve got a week off to figure it out. To quote Self once more, “I hope that we come back with a renewed vigor or interest level in becoming a very competitive, aggressive basketball team.”
Play of the game:
It wasn’t a good one, but this early loose ball exemplified what was to come for Kansas. Jamari Traylor doesn’t get a time out. Brannen Greene doesn’t get on the floor to grab it. Mistakes abound, and the result is a thunderous dunk for the Owls.
Kansas returns to Allen Fieldhouse on December 30 to take on Kent St.