Kansas has been the Big 12 regular season champion 12 years in a row. Everyone knows it, and it seems like it is the only thing that is talked about.
Although “The Streak” is impressive, the Big 12 race looks like it will be much tougher than it was originally thought in 2017. Who you play is a big factor in a team’s performance, but the internal problems, the problems that go beyond a ranking, can be what breaks a team.
Carlton Bragg needs an improvement
Take Carlton Bragg, for example. My article on Bragg in the preseason reflected nothing like what we have seen as of late. I mentioned that this season would be the breakout year for Bragg, and his performance at Late Night solidified my prediction. Carlton is really struggling, and a look at his statistics tells the tale. Last Saturday in Lawrence, Carlton Bragg finished with three points, six rebounds, and three turnovers (not the sweet kind) on just 17 minutes of play. Backtrack to Kansas State and the three games before it, his point totals were 7, 5, 2, 7.
Scoring isn’t the only thing holding the heralded sophomore back. Bragg is averaging just 5.7 rebounds per game, which is less than Josh Jackson (6.6 rpg) Carlton’s PPG average is a modest 6.7, well below all of the other starters. On Tuesday in Norman versus Oklahoma, Bragg warmed the bench for most of the game, not even touching the score column. In fact, the Jayhawk bench just scored five points all night.
While you can find all of the little nit-picky things you want, there is not any room for major concern. Free throws: Yes, those definitely need to improve. Defense: It needs a bit of work, but the Jayhawks will get there. One thing that needs to happen consistently is defensive rebounding. Kansas was not granted with typical KU height this season, particularly after Udoka Azubuike got hurt, so you have to make up for the size differential. Get inside, box out, and grab the rebound to set your offense back up again. When the Jayhawks face off against big teams, Landen Lucas will need to be the factor, because he is the guy that can stop opposing big men.
Like all top programs, you have your weaknesses and your strengths. I have been outlining the weaknesses, so why not look at what Kansas has been doing well at. Carlton Bragg has not been on his A+ plus game, but bulldog Frank Mason sure has. The senior from Petersburg, Virginia contributed 28 points on the road at Oklahoma, adding to his player of the year pedigree. Devonte’ Graham has done his work silently, logging 11 points and five assists against OU. Josh Jackson packed yet another punch for Kansas, scoring 16 points and contributing three assists.
Small ball play might be the staple of 2017 Kansas basketball, but Landen Lucas is showing us why it’s not just the “guard show.” The big man scooped up his third double-double in the last five contests, going for 10 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma. Landen Lucas’ double-double string stemmed from the absence of freshman Udoka Azubuike, who is out for the year following a ligament injury in his hand. Bill Self is embracing the four guard lineup, but for it to run as we would like, Landen Lucas has to have all-star performances, or close to it, during a championship hunt.
Hot and cold
Games for the Jayhawks haven’t always started and finished well. Take the Kansas State or Oklahoma contests for example. Despite a comfortable lead at halftime for the Jayhawks, Kansas State came out in the second half and rattled the Jayhawks. As everyone in the entire world knows, Kansas took a lucky break on the final shot, as a Svi game winner was aided by the officiating crew missing a blatant travel. In Norman, the Jayhawks had possibly their worst half all season, giving the young and inexperienced Sooners a nine-point halftime lead. Kansas turned that around in the second half, most likely stemming from a heated halftime in the locker room where Bill Self likely shouted many expletives. The Jayhawks turned the second half into one of their better performances, scoring 54 points and running the Sooners out of the Lloyd Noble Center.
Soon to be No. 1
With the Baylor loss on Tuesday, KU is in good shape for a No. 1 ranking if they hold off Oklahoma State on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas has struggled on defense but has seen it get better, and ultimately as a whole, the Jayhawks will improve to be a team to heck with in March.