If one game is any indication, the 2016-17 Kansas Jayhawks are in for a heck of a season.
No. 3 KU dropped its first season opener in 15 years on Friday evening, falling to No. 11 Indiana in overtime, 103-99.
A brilliant, high-paced matchup was interrupted by the presence of the officials at an alarming pace. A whopping 63 foul calls were made. Four starters for Kansas fouled out. Nine of the game’s 10 starters finished with at least four fouls. Both fanbases were left angry at the officiating, but pay no attention to fans who claim it directly cost KU this game. The Jayhawks lost on Friday night because they couldn’t rebound the basketball.
The Hoosiers, not known for elite rebounding, snagged 50 boards, overwhelming Kansas with countless second-chance opportunities. 18 of these rebounds came on the offensive end, as Indiana consistently nicked at KU by turning misses into high-percentage put-back shots. In all, Indiana out-rebounded Kansas by 12, 50-38.
For the entire 50 minutes, the game was a nail-biter. The Jayhawks led by four at halftime, and they immediately extended that lead to nine at 51-42. But Indiana quickly closed the gap, as just four minutes later, the contest was tied at 56.
At the 11-minute mark, the Jayhawks, leading 66-61, had the opportunity to push their lead out while Indiana was mired in a funk. But they were unable to do so, and Indiana nipped its way back. Neither team led by more than three until nearly eight minutes later, and by the time there was 1:24 left, the Hoosiers led by five with the ball.
It was then when Frank Mason III took over. The senior guard from Petersburg, Virginia had the game of his career, single-handily going on a 5-0 run to tie things at 87. But Mason missed a go-ahead free throw with 41 seconds left, and Indiana re-took the lead on free throws with 13 seconds left.
Needing a bucket to extend play, Bill Self once again called for his point guard to drive, and Mason once again was fouled. He sank both free throws to tie things up at 89 apiece, sending the night to overtime.
The Jayhawks never led in the extra period. James Blackmon Jr. and Curtis Jones made consecutive, enormous three-pointers. While Kansas was picking up two points on its end, the Hoosiers were landing knockout punches with deep threes. Mason made two free throws to close the gap to 97-95, but he was matched by two by De’Ron Davis. On KU’s next possession, Josh Jackson threw down a putback dunk, once again bringing the margin to two. But after two more made Indiana free throws, Mason fouled out, and the Jayhawks were out of time.
Mason poured in a career-best 30 points (8/20 FG) in a game-high 40 minutes. He also dished out nine assists and had seven rebounds, marking the best game of his career.
Devonte’ Graham, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas, and Mason all fouled out for the Jayhawks.
Blackmon led the Hoosiers with 26 points. As a team, Indiana hit 15 three-pointers.
As for the officials, they were horrendous. In the first half, Indiana was gifted two points after officials missed a blatant shot clock violation, as it was clear that the put-back shot came after the shot clock expired. Fouls were questionable all evening, including the call that fouled Graham out of the game when he was whistled for a reach with 13 seconds remaining in regulation.
However, the officiating did not cost the Jayhawks this game. It’s nearly impossible to win against a quality opponent when you’re out-rebounded by 12. Kansas let Indiana get way too many second-chance shot attempts, and it constantly let lethal three-point shooters get open on the perimeter. In the first half, the Jayhawks couldn’t slow center Thomas Bryant. Indiana coach Tom Crean used this to his advantage, as when Kansas came out after halftime with a bigger inside presence, the Hoosiers began to rain threes down on the Jayhawks.
Another area of concern is transition defense, which fans have seen burn Kansas repeatedly over the last few years. Indiana’s transition offense was its best method of scoring, particularly in the first half. Bill Self was seen screaming to Svi Mykhailiuk and others, “Get your ass back on defense.” This improved a bit in the second half, but it needs to be improved.
Kansas is a terrific team, and losing a dogfight with another elite squad won’t knock them far in the rankings. However, fans should have concerns about the ability of players other than Landen Lucas to rebound. Carlton Bragg Jr., the team’s starting power forward, managed just four rebounds in his 18 minutes. He was bullied by Bryant, and he couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. He was the first player in the game to foul out. Expectations are very high for Bragg this year, but if he can’t become a consistent rebounder, Kansas is going to struggle to limit teams to one shot.
As for Josh Jackson, he struggled, making just three baskets in 27 minutes. He finished with nine points and six rebounds. He quickly got into foul trouble, but it’s clear that the best part of his game is when he drives to the rim. His explosiveness was on display with a transition dunk in the first half. But when he settles for jump shots, he’s, at this point in his career, very average.
Up next: Kansas will fly thousands of miles to New York City for a date with the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils. Duke is a team that feasts on weak interior defenses, as its frountcourt thrives in getting physical baskets and tough rebounds. This isn’t ideal, but the Jayhawks should contend as long as they’re making three-pointers.
- Frank Mason III: 30 points (8/20 FG), nine assists, and seven rebounds in 40 minutes. He is the best player on this team.
- Devonte’ Graham: 16 points (3/11 FG, 8/9 FT) in 36 minutes. He struggled to find his shot, which will surely improve over the coming games. He also had multiple cramping episodes, the last of which left him face-up on the court for a few minutes before he ultimately walked off.
- Josh Jackson: nine points (3/11 FG), six rebounds, and 27 minutes. It wasn’t the debut most KU fans expected from the all-world freshmen. Drive the ball.
- Carlton Bragg: 12 points (6/7 FG) and four rebounds in 18 minutes. The shooting percentage is pretty, but he’s got to get more physical on the glass, or Kansas is in trouble.
- Landen Lucas: 11 points (3/4 FG) and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. He did exactly what Kansas wants him to do in every game.
- Svi Mykhailiuk: 12 points (2/5 from three) in 32 minutes. Forced into action due to the entire team being in foul trouble, Mykhailiuk was the team’s best three-point shooter on Friday night. He will likely be the first man off the bench for the Jayhawks this year.
- Lagerald Vick: seven points in 28 minutes. It was easily the most he’s played in his career. He’s poised for a nice season.
- Udoka Azubuike: 0 points and two rebounds in seven minutes. Mitch Lightfoot and Tyler Self were chosen to play over him in overtime. I don’t friggin’ know why.
- Mitch Lightfoot: two points, which came on a last-second putback.
- KU: 44% from the floor, 30% from three, 79% from the free-throw line.
- Indiana: 44%, 48%, 72%.
- Rebounds: Indiana 50, Kansas 38.
- Assists/turnovers: Indiana 15 to 18, Kansas 16 to 11. So there’s that.
- 63 fouls. 62 field goals. MAKE IT STOP.