Look, Frank Mason III is awesome. So was KU’s effort in the second half as the team surged past Oklahoma to win its 15th straight game. The Jayhawks scored twice as many points in the second half than they did in the first, outscoring Oklahoma 54-34 after halftime en route to an 81-70 win.
But Kansas has a major flaw, one that was apparent once again in the win on Tuesday night. KU’s starting five is fantastic and can go toe-to-toe with any team in college basketball. But the depth of the Jayhawks is nowhere near what anyone thought it would be. Against the Sooners, KU’s starters scored 76 of the team’s 81 points. In 35 minutes, Dwight Coleby, Carlton Bragg, Mitch Lightfoot, and Lagerald Vick combined to make one basket. The quartet of bench players had four turnovers, three rebounds, and zero assists as a unit.
On a night when Frank Mason is ballin’, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham are doing their thing, Landen Lucas is staying out of foul trouble, and Svi Mykhailiuk is making threes, it’s not an epic concern. But eventually, the Jayhawks are going to run into a game against a contender when Lucas has two fouls after seven minutes, and the bench has to step up and fill the void. Through 16 games, they haven’t shown that they’re capable of doing that.
Such was apparent in the last nine minutes of the first half. KU jumped to a 21-12 lead after 11 minutes of play, but the remainder of the half was one of the worst stretches in the Bill Self era. In the final 9:18 of the first half, the Jayhawks scored six points on 3-for-17 from the floor. Jackson picked up his second foul in the beginning of the stretch, and the Jayhawk offense completely shut down. Lucas got no help down low, and KU was subsequently buried on the glass. Oklahoma had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half. Overall, the Sooners outscored the Jayhawks 24-6 to close the half.
This was supposed to be a breakout season for Carlton Bragg, but he gets bullied on the glass more than anybody on the roster. The sophomore forward is struggling to get into any sort of rhythm every time he takes the floor. The talent is there, but if Bragg is unable to put it together before the tournament, KU’s fate will depend nearly entirely on Landen Lucas staying out of foul trouble. Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot both got first half action, but they were unproductive and couldn’t stop the bleeding. Udoka Azubuike isn’t missed most because of the points and rebounds he collected. KU misses Azubuike because it was another body to collect fouls and shore up depth. Without him, Lucas is the only proven big on the roster, and until Bragg develops, that’s how things will stay.
After a halftime speech that was surely full of f-words by Self, the Jayhawks opened the second half on a 13-0 run to grab the lead. They wouldn’t trail again. KU scored 23 points before the first TV timeout. Suddenly, threes started falling and the defensive effort dramatically improved.
Mason took over in the second half, scoring 18 points in the first 10 minutes after halftime. It was reminiscent of Devonte’ Graham’s hero game last year in Norman, or Sherron Collins’ breakout game in 2009. For some reason, the Lloyd Noble Center is where KU guards go to explode. As a result, the Jayhawks very rarely lose to Oklahoma, as Bill Self is now 17-3 in his tenure at Kansas against OU.
Mason finished with 28 points. Jackson added 16 after scoring just two in the first half. And Svi Mykhailiuk’s 3-for-11 field goal mark won’t win him any awards, but all three of his baskets were huge three-pointers that set the tone for the second half’s pace.
The Jayhawks are now 15-1, their best record through 16 games since 2012-13. Because of Baylor’s blowout loss at West Virginia earlier in the evening, KU is the only team to be undefeated in league play. The Jayhawks, 4-0, are a full game up on Baylor and West Virginia.
Kansas’ starting five is fantastic. Mason and the elite backcourt he leads may make KU the national championship favorites. But the red flag for this team is a desperately depleted bench, and as the vigorous Big 12 slate goes on, the Jayhawks will certainly need more production from their non-starters. If Kansas can start getting consistent contributions from Bragg, Coleby, and Lightfoot, there won’t be many unanswered questions about the team.
- Frank Mason: 28 points (11/20 FG, 5/6 from three) and five assists in 37 minutes. He’s having the best season by a guard in Bill Self’s tenure at KU. He is outstanding.
- Josh Jackson: 16 points (5/11 FG) in 30 minutes. He missed three dunks, so his point total could have been higher. Also, he went 6-for-8 from the free throw line, which has to be encouraging for KU fans.
- Devonte’ Graham: 13 points (4/11 FG) and five assists in 33 minutes. He’s been the quietest, really-really-good player in the Big 12 this year. I guess when Mason is going off, there’s going to be fewer shots to go around.
- Svi Mykhailiuk: nine points (3/11 FG, 3/8 from three) and nine rebounds in 34 minutes. That’s a career-high in rebounds, which makes up for his eight misses. After harping on Bragg for not developing, I’ll state that KU would be in a lot more trouble had Mykhailiuk not made the development he’s made this year.
- Landen Lucas: 10 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes. Good grief, where would KU be without him? All he’s done since Udoka Azubuike went down is get double-doubles.
- Lagerald Vick: five points (1/6 FG) in 22 minutes. He’s the only bench player who scored. Overall, he gives Kansas good minutes for the most part because of his defense, so KU’s bench troubles don’t apply to him.
- Carlton Bragg: no points and three blocks in 10 minutes. The blocks are nice. As a team, it seemed like the Jayhawks went for blocks a lot, which let Oklahoma get 15 offensive boards.
- Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot were both tried in the first half. Neither experiment worked. Also, Tyler Self played the final nine seconds.
- KU: 40% from the floor, 44% from three, and 84% from the line.
- OU: 38%, 26%, and 81%.
- Suddenly, the Jayhawks are hitting free throws, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
- OU out-rebounded KU, 44-42, but the Jayhawks won the turnover battle, 11-14.
- Bill Self won his 400th game as coach of Kansas.
- Up next for Kansas: Oklahoma State at home on Saturday afternoon. If KU wins, the Jayhawks will be No. 1 in the AP Poll on Monday.