Evaluating the Kansas Backcourt a Month Into the Season

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 4th, 2014

It has now been 16 days since Kansas suffered its worst loss of the Bill Self era, a 72-40 clubbing at the hands of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. Luckily for Jayhawks fans, the team has rebounded about as nicely as you could expect, winning four straight, including an Orlando Classic title after a five-point victory of Michigan State on Sunday. Still, there are plenty of questions about this team. Will Perry Ellis continue his recent surge when faced with bigger frontcourts? Will Kelly Oubre impress Self enough to earn decent minutes? What exactly is wrong with Wayne Selden? There is one thing we know for certain, though: Sophomore point guard Frank Mason III looks like the guy who will lead this team going forward. Since a disastrous outing at the Champions Classic where he was 1-of-10 from the field and largely invisible in his 32 minutes, Mason has made a strong case to become Self’s starting point guard. He has a 134.5 offensive rating since the Kentucky game, a very good mark for someone who uses fewer than 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Frank Mason III looks like Bill Self’s man at point guard. (USATSI)

I don’t want to discount the night against Kentucky out of hand, though, because maybe it was indicative of how Mason will perform against the highest level of Division I competition. But Mason has been miles ahead of Devonte’ Graham, a player who many thought could supplant Mason in the starting lineup at some point this season. Self doesn’t appear to see it that way, as Graham has only played 13.4 MPG thus far and is no realistic threat to take Mason’s job from him anytime soon. In Orlando last week, Mason looked nothing like the player who went barreling into the lane with no apparent plan against the Wildcats. Instead, he picked his spots for aggressiveness, shooting 11-of-18 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range over three games. He also grabbed 10 rebounds in the match-up against Michigan State and averaged 5.6 APG.

Racking up those assists can look easy when you are dishing it to a shooter like Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the barely-17 year-old transplant from Ukraine who has transitioned to the college game better than anyone could have imagined. Mykhailiuk played 32 minutes against Michigan State, hitting three of his six three pointers on his way to a season-high 11 points. He is starting to get some national attention and has made it nearly impossible for Self to leave him on the bench for very long, especially given Selden’s struggles. Speaking of the incumbent, you can tell that the head coach knows that Selden needs to play great for his team to reach its potential, so he’s been reluctant to sit him. Nobody on the roster plays more often (almost 33 MPG), but his season numbers — 26.5 percent from the field, 68.2 percent from the free-throw line, 26.3 percent from three-point range, and seventh on the team with a 95.1 offensive rating — have a lot of room for improvement.

After a somewhat disappointing freshman season compared with All-America classmates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, we learned over the summer that Selden had played with knee problems all last year. This season he is supposed to be healthy and the team could use his experience and talent while the freshman Oubre figures things out in limited time (7.8 MPG). The rookie has struggled with turnovers, posting a 42.8 percent turnover rate during his few minutes on the floor. He will be drafted on potential but it’s hard to argue in favor of playing him while the game seems too fast for him. Self recently discussed his thinking on Oubre with the Kansas City Star‘s Rustin Dodd: “It’s a big transition from high school and AAU ball, where things aren’t really ball.”

The Kansas backcourt is oozing with potential, and you could say that a 5-1 record while Selden has played horribly and Oubre can’t find his way on to the court is still a positive sign. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. But eventually, Selden and Oubre will have to join Mason and Mykhailiuk as consistent contributors if Kansas really wants to win its 11th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

KoryCarpenter (150 Posts)

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