The Jayhawks are 3-0, but problems guarding the three-point line are apparent early in the season. How should Bill Self go about fixing the defensive issues for his team?
In the last two games, both of which coming against mid-majors, the Jayhawks have given up 21 three-pointers. Jayhawk fans are panicking, but the team is going through a stretch that all teams go through, and bad luck is a big part of it.
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This is a long, athletic team that should be better than they are defensively. Michigan State put up 87 points on Kansas in the Champions Classic, and even though the number is lower, giving up 76 points to a mediocre Louisiana team might be more troubling.
The point is simple: the Jayhawks go through a stretch like this every year. The defense will look poor, they’ll give up 75+ points a couple of games in a row, Bill Self will call the team horrible, and they’ll bounce back the next week. In 2016-17, KU opened up Big 12 play by allowing TCU and K-State to each hang 80+ points. Last year, it was that mid-February stretch with upset losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor when seemingly nobody could miss a three-point jumper, and fans melted down that the end was near.
If this really is that once-a-year swoon the Jayhawks typically go through defensively, fans should be happy that it’s taking place in November. Kansas was never in any real danger of losing to Vermont or Louisiana, and Bill Self utilized that leeway by using some experimental lineups to see what was and wasn’t effective.
This isn’t to say that the defense hasn’t had some issues. They still struggle with ball screens in ways that would make most middle school teams cringe. They haven’t looked anywhere near as athletic as they are when guarding the three-point line. Udoka Azubuike is being sucked out onto the perimeter like he was against Villanova in the Final Four, and we all know how that went. Quentin Grimes has brilliant defensive potential; in a month, he’ll get the positioning down and star as a potential lock down defender. But the most important factor is communication, and the only way to heal that woe is to collect experience. As this team plays more and more games together, the communication will improve, and so will the defensive output.
I haven’t seen anything out of KU’s defense that I didn’t expect to see at some point early in the season. This team is still learning how to play together, and they’ll eventually settle into a groove. With Marquette’s explosive offense on tap for Wednesday night, they don’t have a ton of time to suddenly become proficient in Bill Self’s defensive sets, but they do know what the Golden Eagles are going to hit them with: lots and lots of three-pointers.
There are several factors to Kansas’ slow defensive start, but all it takes is one game where the opponents miss a few shots and the defense gets the schemes to click. They eventually will, and when they do, one of Kansas’ few weaknesses will be no more.