Champions Classic Provides Kansas With an Early Opportunity To ImprovePosted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2013
It’s very early in the college basketball season. Before you continue reading the rest of the preview for tonight’s showdown between Duke and Kansas, read that sentence again. Now read it again one more time, just for good for measure. I’ll wait here.
Now that we have that important housekeeping item out of the way, it’s now acceptable for everyone to lick their chops in anticipation of the nightcap of tonight’s Champions Classic in Chicago. It’s everything we could want in an early-season match-up: Two of the nation’s best programs, coaches and freshmen on a neutral court, with their biggest recruiting target in the house to take it all in. While both teams won their season openers Friday night, Kansas needs to change a couple of things if it wants to leave the United Center with arguably its biggest non-conference win since topping the defending champion Florida Gators in 2008:
- Work To Get Andrew Wiggins Open: In Friday’s victory over Louisiana-Monroe, the Jayhawks struggled at times to get their freshman sensation open looks. Wiggins eventually finished with 16 points on nine shot attempts, and while that was hardly a bad game for someone criticized as passive, it won’t fly against better competition. Naadir Tharpe, who will make his season debut after being suspended for Friday’s opener, isn’t an elite passer – at least not yet. For Kansas to avenge a 2011 loss to the Blue Devils, Wiggins has to either meet his floor general halfway and work harder to get open, or his big-bodied teammates need to free him up — ideally, some combination of the two would occur. While Wiggins has the athleticism to create his own shot off the bounce, odds are he’ll fare better if he makes his defender (likely Rodney Hood) keep up with him from one possession to the next.
- Defend Without Fouling: Over the last two seasons, Kansas fans were treated to the efficient paint presence of Jeff Withey, who not only blocked shots but did so in such a way as to allow his teammates to turn those blocks into transition opportunities rather than second chances for the opposition. The Jayhawks are learning what life without Withey is like and will need to adjust on the fly. That’s a big enough challenge without accounting for the new emphasis on calling fouls on defenders for hand-checking and bumping cutters. On Friday, Kansas sent the Warhawks to the charity stripe 29 times, a level of frequency that Kansas opponents surpassed just four times last season. Outside of graduate transfer Tarik Black, this is still an in experienced team that is still learning what it takes to defend efficiently at the college level. Bill Self has an outstanding reputation as a defensive coach, as his teams regularly place among the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency, but this year’s group is more of a work in progress than usual due to the Jayhawks fielding an exceptionally high number of new players. There may not be an optimal time to face off against the likes of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but if Kansas can keep Duke’s two biggest stars in check, and off the free throw line, it will bode very well for their chances tonight.
No team is a finished product in November, even one that shoots 13-of-21 on three-pointers in its first game, as Duke did in its win over Davidson four days ago. While that clip isn’t sustainable, Duke’s offense will be a thorn in the side of defenses throughout the season. After an underwhelming (but victorious) performance on Friday, Kansas has a huge opportunity to show some progress on both ends.