Kansas Basketball

Kansas Fends Off Michigan State: Four Factors

Kansas completed its run in the 2014 Orlando Classic defeating Michigan State 61-56 in the championship game on Sunday afternoon. For the Jayhawks, a win over a top 25 opponent was very welcome, “Winning the tournament is OK, but beating a quality team is more important to me than winning the tournament,” Bill Self said. “Because we needed to beat a quality team, based on a couple of weeks ago.” After being trounced by Kentucky in the Champions Classic, Kansas fans were left wondering about the potential of Self’s latest squad. Sunday’s game perhaps provided some insight as the Jayhawks returned to the aggressive perimeter defense that characterized their play early in the season to limit a potent Michigan State attack to a 37.3 percent effective field goal percentage.

msu - four factors

Kansas is now the 18th ranked defense in the country according to KenPom based on its 89.8 adjusted defensive efficiency. That mark, if it holds, will likely be a top 10 number by the end of the year if past seasons are any guide. On Sunday, the Jayhawks held Michigan State to 0.86 points per possession, the Spartans’ lowest mark of the season. It is perhaps obvious to even the most casual basketball fan that the best way to win a game is to prevent your opponent from scoring. One way to do that is to force them out of their offensive comfort zone. Kansas was able to do that against a Michigan State team that came into the championship game with one of the top offenses in Division I. The Spartans entered the final shooting 40.2 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. Kansas worked to take away that strength, allowing Michigan State to shoot only 28.2 percent of their attempted field goals from there on Sunday.

The best stretch of defense that the Jayhawks played began at the 19:18 mark of the second half. The Spartans’ Branden Dawson hit a jump shot giving Michigan State a 38-35 lead. For the next six minutes and eight seconds, Kansas would hold its opponent scoreless while going on a 10-0 run. Throughout the game, the Jayhawks aggressively hedged against ball screens to prevent penetration and to provide defense against a potential 3-point shot. In the following clip, Cliff Alexander prevents the 3-point shot and allows Wayne Selden to recover to defend Denzel Valentine leading to a bad miss in the lane.

4_valentine airball


Kansas used this same defense to contest jump shots from Michigan State’s leading scorers. Travis Trice accounts for 24.9 percent of the Spartans possessions when he’s on the floor, but he struggled against the Jayhawks. Although Trice scored 14 points, he shot 3-for-14 from the field on Sunday. Kansas used its ball screen defense to contest Trice’s shots when he came off the screens as you can see here.

3_traylor contest trice

Many analysts have also spoken about Kansas’s lack of a rim protector. However, that problem may not be as dire as initially believed. The Jayhawks came into Sunday’s game allowing fewer shots at the rim than last years team while blocking a similar percentage of those shots according to hoop-math.com. A big part of Kansas’s 12.2 percent block percentage is freshman Cliff Alexander. While Alexander is not a 7-footer like Jeff Withey or Joel Embiid, he plays angles and rotates well in order to block shots. Alexander had four blocks against Michigan State including this one early in the game where he is able to cover up for Perry Ellis who is beat on the dribble.

1_alexander help block

One final defensive component worth noting relates to Michigan State’s offensive rebounding. The Spartans came into the game grabbing 35.6 percent of their own misses, which allowed them to create a substantial amount of opportunities for second chance points. Kansas was able to control the glass in this matchup; however, limiting Michigan State to a 24.4 percent offensive rebounding percentage. The Jayhawks are blessed to have one of the better rebounding point guards in the country in Frank Mason III. Mason pulled down nine defensive rebounds on his way to a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).

Overall, Kansas was able to control Michigan State’s offense, allowing them to overcome a less than stellar offensive outing of their own, and secure their first Thanksgiving weekend tournament championship since 1999.

In post-tournament news, Perry Ellis was named the tournament’s most valuable player and was joined by Mason on the all-tournament team. The Jayhawks will host Florida at 8pm CST on Friday night.

Be sure to check out Chris on Twitter. This post originally appears on www.aintnoseats.com

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