At this point, we’ve caught a fair glimpse of the 2016-17 Kansas basketball team. There have definitely been highs and lows for the Jayhawk squad early in the season. Performances have fluctuated more dramatically than usual.
Following a 103-99 shootout loss in Honolulu, the Jayhawks have picked up steam, chugging through the non-conference schedule like it was a Kentucky Wildcat mascot strapped down on the railroad tracks. Starting 0-1 wasn’t ideal, but it gave the team a wakeup call: This will be no cupcake season. While Kentucky might be scheduling D-2 schools like Asbury, Kansas keeps its non-con moving with games against directional schools.
I’ve said this a lot, but I still feel adamant about it: Kansas’ bigs need to step up for a successful postseason run. This is one of the best teams in the nation, but it has had plenty of good and bad performances. While veterans Frank Mason and Devonte Graham have lifted the ‘Hawks, rookies and underclassmen in Josh Jackson and Lagerald Vick have added to the conversation. But the one thing all four of those players have in common is that they play on the perimeter. I think we all expect highly of Carlton Bragg. Even I did a Weippert Wednesday review on Bragg, claiming that he should, or will, have a breakout season.
On Friday night, Udoka Azubuike gave the Allen Fieldhouse crowd its first glimpse of a complete big-man performance. The Nigerian monster smothered the UNCA defense and jammed the ball into the hoop seven times, throwing down a career-high 17 points. “Dok” wasn’t the only player to have a big night. Underrated sophomore Lagerald Vick tallied 15 points while adding nine rebounds, both career-bests. Vick continued his hot hand during Tuesday’s game against Long Beach State as well, as he extended his career high to 23 points. Little talk circulated in the preseason about Vick. The sophomore was shadowed behind Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, and Josh Jackson. Svi Mykhailiuk also received more attention than Vick leading into the season, with some saying that he would fulfill his much anticipated breakout season. He’s responded by leading the team in three-point percentage.
Kansas’ guard play has been as good as advertised, and its presence is well noted, but what about its defense? The Jayhawks are allowing 68.3 points per game, a national rank of 120th. What is crazy is Kansas defensive efficiency. According to KenPom, they Jayhawks allow 89 points per 100 possessions, which is the fourth-best defensive efficiency rating in the nation. Kansas ranks 40th nationally in the rebounding category, averaging 29 defensive rebounds per game, plus an average of 12 offensive boards. KU’s defensive statistics look great, but I think that the ‘Hawks have allowed too many points to the directional schools.
But, don’t get me wrong. I know that Bill Self clears his bench at the end of the game, and that is where many of those excess allowed points comes from.
Now, let’s dive into the offensive statistics. The Jayhawks are averaging 116 points per 100 possessions, good for a national ranking of eight in that category. Kansas’ efficiency margin is +26.88, which gives them a number six ranking on KenPom. KU ranks 30th in points per game, averaging 85.1 per contest. The Jayhawks’ assist per game mark is slightly higher, ranking in at the 18th spot with 18.1 APG. Kansas has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.26, and, halfway comically, ranks 335th nationally in free throw shooting. Free throws can determine a game, so the Jayhawks need to maybe…shoot a few more free throws in practice.
Although the Jayhawks are playing really good basketball right now, rebounding and boxing out need to be improve drastically on defense. Second-chance points have always burned the Jayhawks. Long Beach State made a few shots that could have been prevented if the Jayhawks would have avoided allowing an offensive rebound. KU really has no troubles shooting the ball. If they keep knocking them down and finding the open man, this team will have no trouble getting a basket when needed. It’s what the Jayhawks need to do after the made basket. Kansas has had trouble getting back on defense at times, but that is easily corrected with a little more effort.
Kansas plays a tough team in Stanford on Saturday, and nothing can be overlooked with the Cardinal. It’s time for revenge. Oh, and by the way, why is their mascot a tree?