Night Line: Kansas’ Offensive Weaknesses Exposed in Surprise Loss to DavidsonPosted by EJacoby on December 20th, 2011
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
Despite having two losses, Kansas had earned the right to be ranked No. 13 this week, thanks to some great wins (Ohio State, Georgetown, Long Beach State to name a few) and a consistent effort that’s a staple of Bill Self‘s teams. But Monday night’s loss to Davidson at the Sprint Center in Kansas City exposed some major offensive flaws for this team that should be concerning as they head into Big 12 play. The Jayhawks saw just three players —Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, and Elijah Johnson — score in double figures, which is becoming a common theme for a team that doesn’t have much scoring prowess elsewhere. And with five more turnovers tonight, the senior point guard Taylor is up to 4.4 per game, a rate that is second worst in the entire country of qualifying players. This is not the same KU offensive juggernaut of old, and the Jayhawks’ run of consecutive Big 12 regular season championships (now at seven years) appears in jeopardy.
The Jayhawks lost 65.4% of their scoring from last year’s 35-win team, including three early-entry NBA draft picks. That cause for concern finally reared its ugly head in Monday’s 80-74 defeat against the Wildcats, a 6-3 team coming off a 23-point loss at Charlotte. The Jayhawks had trouble keeping up with Davidson’s efficient offense, a problem that KU will no doubt have again going forward. The trio of Robinson, Taylor, and Johnson are the only three players that average in double figures for Kansas, with Robinson leading the way at 18.1 points per night. Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the other two starters, are strong defensive players but each scores about eight points per game and have shown limited offensive games. Kansas teams are used to being loaded with dynamic young players off the bench, but that’s not the case this year. The Jayhawks managed just six bench points on Monday, all of them from Connor Teahan‘s pair of made three-point shots. Outside of his 7.4 points per game, which comes mainly from the outside, no other bench player scores more than 4.6 points per night or has any defined role in the offense.
Davidson head coach Bob McKillop is nationally respected as one of the great minds in coaching, and he designed a perfect game plan to cause Monday night’s upset. A methodical motion offense allowed the Wildcats to control the tempo of the game from the outset, and they were able to hit 11 of their 33 three-point shot attempts. They then used multiple defensive looks to keep the Jayhawks out of rhythm on their end. McKillop’s team played much of the night in a 1-3-1 zone and forced Kansas into shooting 23 three-pointers, converting only six. Breaking down a zone defense like that starts with the lead guard’s ability to penetrate and make good decisions. Taylor, as talented a scorer as he can be, just hasn’t been the consistently heady point guard that Kansas needs him to be. Similar to the Duke loss in Maui, he had two of his five turnovers in the last four minutes of this game; Davidson, on the other hand, did not turn the ball over once in the entire second half.
Before Monday, the Jayhawks had only been beaten by the dynamite top-10 duo of Duke and Kentucky, both on neutral floors by 10 points or less. Credit goes to the tremendous coaching ability of Self for the fact that the Jayhawks were even ranked this high and playing so well at this point of the season. The strong defense of their interior players, plus the dominant inside force on both ends of the floor that is Robinson still makes KU a very tough team to face. But when it comes to putting the ball in the basket, Kansas doesn’t have the offensive capabilities one would expect from the No. 13 team in America.
“That wasn’t an upset tonight,” said Self after tonight’s game, and perhaps he’s right in a way. Outside of Robinson, the Jayhawks aren’t loaded with the superior athletes and scorers that we’re used to seeing from his program. Tonight’s loss was a reminder that these Jayhawks are a clear third in the Big 12 pecking order, as far as offensive talent goes, behind the currently unbeaten Baylor and Missouri. It’s never smart to dismiss Kansas when discussing conference success, but the way things appear now, it will be rather difficult for this team to repeat as Big 12 regular season champs for the eighth straight season. Davidson has provided a road map that the rest of the talented teams in the Big 12 no doubt already have saved for further review.