Kansas Basketball

Kansas Rolls in First Exhibition: 3 Takeaways

The Kansas Jayhawks opened their 2014-15 season with an 85-53 exhibition victory over the Washburn Ichabods on Monday night in Lawrence. The game was the first opportunity for Kansas fans to see their beloved basketball team in action after a disappointing exit in the third round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

Kansas lost plenty of talent in the offseason, including freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the NBA, but as always, Bill Self has replenished the roster with a number of talented recruits to join the returning veterans for this season’s campaign.

The Jayhawks have been in a state of flux in recent days due to the announced transfer of sophomore guard Conner Frankamp. Monday’s exhibition provided the team with a chance to adjust to the departure of Frankamp who figured to have a prominent role with Kansas this season. While this game certainly wasn’t the type of test that Kansas will see when it plays Kentucky on November 18th, it did provide some takeaways for Kansas fans.

1. The point guard play may still be inconsistent

Kansas fans have been concerned about point guard play since Sherron Collins graduated and this season is no different. With the departure of Naadir Tharpe during the offseason, the Jayhawks will be limited to sophomore Frank Mason III and freshman Devonte’ Graham as the only true point guards on the roster.

Monday’s exhibition saw Mason post the kind of stat line that anyone in the country would like to see out of the point guard spot. In 24 minutes, Mason scored 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting including hitting 2 of 3 from behind the 3-point line. Mason also posted 7 assists and 6 rebounds while only committing 1 turnover in the contest. Mason offers the Jayhawks an aggressive playmaker who can get into the lane and draw fouls against opposing big men–something that will likely be important when Kansas plays Kentucky.

Mason put his driving ability on display early in the game, quickly attacking the rim after an offensive rebound by Jamari Traylor, and drawing a foul to get to the free throw line.

mason - early drive - gif

While Monday’s game provided a glimpse of what Mason could be, it’s important to remember that he struggled from behind the 3-point line last year, hitting only 32.7% of his attempts, and posted a slightly worse than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio in 16.1 minutes per game. If Mason can display the same kind of play against the quality opponents on Kansas’ non-conference slate, then Kansas fans will have something to be excited about.

Devonte’ Graham offers substantial potential at the point guard spot as well. Graham, a 6’2″ freshman, expressed the need for improvement in his postgame comments, “I don’t think we’re where we are capable of being, but we’re young, so we’ve got to grow and go through the freshmen pains and just keep our heads up.” One aspect of his game that will need improvement is his post entry passing. Graham struggled at times getting the ball inside, which is a staple of Bill Self’s offense. Graham will need to improve on his 3 turnovers as well. Graham did impress on the defensive end, constantly pressuring his man, and getting in the passing lanes while generating a pair of steals for the Jayhawks. Mason and Graham offer two potential quality point guards for Kansas, but they’re both young and still developing. Kansas fans should not expect perfection early in the season, but if both players improve throughout the season, the Jayhawks may be in a fine place come Big 12 play.

2. Kansas has a plethora of quality bigs

As usual, Bill Self will wield a strong frontcourt with a number of quality big men to fill various roles throughout the season. Perhaps the most impressive of the frontcourt players against Washburn was freshman Cliff Alexander. The 6’8″ forward from Chicago scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting. He pulled down 9 rebounds, including 4 offensive boards, and also provided the Jayhawks with much needed rim protection, finishing with 3 blocks. Alexander is obviously impressive when chasing down offensive rebounds, but will need to use his ability to get position on the offensive end when competing against the size of teams like Kentucky and Texas later in the season. Here, Alexander is able to create space behind the fronting player, opening up a passing lane for Landen Lucas. This play resulted in an easy layup for the Jayhawks.

alexander - post position

Another player that impressed on the offensive glass was junior forward Jamari Traylor. Bill Self called him the team’s “best offensive rebounder” during his postgame interview. Traylor exhibited his trademark hustle against Washburn, aggressively crashing the offensive glass during his 14 minutes on the floor. Early in the game, Traylor was able to pull down an offensive rebound and kick it out to Wayne Selden for an open 3-pointer.

traylor - or to selden 3 - gif

Traylor struggled a bit defensively, picking up 4 fouls during the game. With his foul trouble, Kansas fans were exposed more to Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. Those two players combined for 4 blocked shots during the game. This is perhaps the place where a caveat is most necessary. Washburn does not play through their big men with much frequency, as Self noted, “I don’t know if we can defend the block because they didn’t throw it inside very often.” So, while we know Kansas can block a few shots, we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions about their defensive prowess, yet. Mickelson looks unlikely to get a substantial amount of playing time given that he was the player on the floor with the walk-ons at the end of the game, but during his freshman year at Arkansas, he ranked 5th in the country in block percentage at 13.5%. Lucas is a player that offers interesting potential for the Jayhawks. His size will be welcome on the defensive end after the departure of Embiid and he showed flashes offensively, scoring 9 points on 4 for 4 shooting.

One player that did not impress much during the exhibition was junior forward Perry Ellis. Ellis has been described as a potential All-American candidate this season. Kansas will need Ellis to play well if it wants to compete for a Final Four birth come March, but Monday’s game showed his limitations. Ellis shot 2 for 6 from the field, which can certainly happen to anyone, but it was his shot selection that troubled me. While Ellis shot 8 for 17 from behind the arc last season, it’s unlikely that Bill Self wants to see the forward taking half of his shot attempts from there this season. Ellis is at his best when facing up against his opponent and beating them off the dribble, something we didn’t see a lot of against Washburn. On the defensive end, Ellis was slow in rotating on pick-and-roll defense. He was frequently unable to stay in front of his assignment and often didn’t contest shots well. Kansas will need more out of Ellis defensively now that he lacks the rim protection of Embiid behind him.

3. The Jayhawks may not miss Conner Frankamp too much

The transfer of Conner Frankamp created some issues for Kansas, but Monday’s game should give Kansas fans optimism that they’ll be able to handle the loss well. One major concern among commentators was the lack of point guard depth that the Jayhawks will face. The solution appears to be Wayne Selden as the 3rd point guard for Kansas. Bill Self utilized Selden as the point guard a few times throughout the game alongside players like Sviatoslav Mykailuik and Brannen Greene prior to his concussion. However, as Self noted, this is a lineup that the team hasn’t practice much and will need improvement, “I probably anticipated more situations where we’d play him at the 4 than we would at the 1, but now I see a lot of situations we’ll have to play him at the 1, at least for spot duty, so we need to get better at that.”

The other fear with the loss of Frankamp relates to 3-point shooting. Frankamp projected as a solid 3-point option for Kansas, but his loss leaves the Jayhawks looking for players to fill the void. Against Washburn, Kansas hit 9 of their 21 3-point attempts, good for 42.9% from behind the arc. Mykailuik hit 2 of his 5 attempts with Self noting that he could be a “really, really, really good shooter.” Greene connected on 1 of 2 before leaving the game. Freshman Kelly Oubre also made 1 of his 3 attempts. Oubre provided the most exciting moment of the game for Kansas fans throwing down a huge dunk in transition in the second half.

oubre - dunk - gif

As always, it’s important to remember not to draw too many conclusions from an exhibition game against a Division II school, especially because the Kansas bigs had such a size advantage against a Washburn team that didn’t pressure the Jayhawks in the paint. However, Monday’s showing provided a few insights into what Kansas fans can expect to see in the upcoming season.

Note: this post originally appeared on www.aintnoseats.com. 

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