Will Defensive Issues Spell Doom for Kansas?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 19th, 2014

The biggest question surrounding Kansas as it begins the 2014 NCAA Tournament later this week is whether standout center Joel Embiid will be available sometime in the next few weeks, and if so, when his availability might occur. When news about the stress fracture in his lower back came to light early last week, Self indicated that the first weekend of the tournament was a “long shot” but the Jayhawks were hopeful he could return later in the tournament if they were fortunate enough to advance. While we continue to remain in the dark over Embiid’s status, the next biggest question now becomes what can keep Kansas from surviving this weekend’s trip to St. Louis?

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively.

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively. (Photo: KUSports.com)

If you’ve spent any time at all watching Kansas over the last few weeks without the services of their center from Cameroon, the answer to this question is the stark inability of Kansas to lock down the defensive end of the floor. Even typing that last sentence feels odd, given Self’s track record of defensive excellence throughout his tenure as the head coach in Lawrence. Consider that every year from 2006 to last season, the Jayhawks have finished #3, #1, #1, #9, #9, #11, #3, and #5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. This season, Kansas currently sits 45th in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings, illustrating just how much this team has struggled on that end of the floor.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Win Last Night at Baylor

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 5th, 2014

After taking a drubbing from a Texas team in Austin on Saturday in a game that frankly looked like Kansas wanted to be anywhere but the Erwin Center, head coach Bill Self said it was important for his team to not let one loss turn into two or three as a result. Just a year ago, Kansas jumped out to an identical 7-0 record in league play before dropping three straight and inviting everyone back into the Big 12 title race. For those reasons, among others, last night’s match-up with a difficult-to-understand Baylor team that had beaten Oklahoma State in Stillwater was important for the Jayhawks to maintain their separation from the rest of the pack. After a back-and-forth first half, Kansas took an eight-point lead into the locker room after an Andrew Wiggins three-pointer from 50 feet, and eventually cruised in the second half to a 69-52 win in Waco. Here’s three takeaway thoughts from Tuesday night’s game.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe had a huge game leading the Jayhawks with 22 points on a night that Kansas' big freshmen struggled.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe had a huge game leading the Jayhawks with 22 points on a night that Kansas’ big freshmen struggled. (KUSports.com)

  1. Has Naadir Tharpe been given enough credit for Kansas’ success in league play? The junior point guard has quietly operated under the radar while his freshman counterparts have generated most of the buzz in Lawrence this year. Before the season began, the biggest question surrounding the Jayhawks was whether they had the necessary point guard play to win six games in a row in March. After last night, Tharpe is now shooting 55 percent from behind the arc in Big 12 play while operating at a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s those statistics that suggests that he is certainly capable of leading Kansas to a national title. That said, consistency is still an aspect of Tharpe’s game that is the most maddening for Kansas fans. As a team leader, he has to find ways to bring a positive impact on the game when he’s not scoring — that is, getting talented teammates like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Perry Ellis involved in the offense. Tharpe’s development has followed a similar path of former Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who for three-plus seasons looked like he would never be able to put it all together, before flipping the switch and leading Kansas (along with Thomas Robinson) to the national title game in 2012. While the play of Wiggins and Embiid will be under the spotlight down the stretch, it’s likely that Tharpe’s play will have the biggest effect on Kansas’ ultimate success. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

What’s the Matter With Kansas? Some Historical Perspective

Posted by Taylor Erickson on December 11th, 2013

Kansas appears to be in a bit of a funk. After falling for a third time in four games at Florida on Tuesday night, it feels like the sky in Lawrence is falling for some KU fans. The point guard situation is a serious cause for concern; the offense is flat-out stymied by any type of zone defense; and any trace of veteran leadership looks as if it’s gone with the wind. Bill Self’s squad can’t defend; they turn the ball over at an incredibly high rate; and they constantly get beaten to every 50-50 ball out there.

Did I miss anything?

Good deal. Because as crazy as this may sound, we’ve seen this episode before in Self’s tenure at Kansas. Just 10 months ago, to be exact, Kansas was in the midst of a similar lackluster stretch after dropping three straight games to anything but the league’s elite. Elijah Johnson was sputtering at point guard for the Jayhawks; they couldn’t seem to score more than 65 points a game; and at the time, many KU fans were certain that last year’s team would be the one that failed to continue the conference title streak.

A lackluster performance at Florida leaves Bill Self searching for answers (Photo: KUSports.com).

A lackluster performance at Florida leaves Bill Self searching for answers (Photo: KUSports.com).

Two years ago included much of the same. On December 19 of that season, KU fell to Davidson at the Sprint Center, dropping its record to 7-3 after a pair of early losses to Kentucky and Duke. Tyshawn Taylor was the whipping boy for a team struggling with what appeared to be a lack of veteran leadership. Many felt that after a frustrating three-plus seasons, Taylor would never rise to the occasion. But we all know how that season ended – Taylor flipped a switch after Christmas break as he and Thomas Robinson led Kansas to the national title game before falling to that insanely talented Kentucky team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Spartans Find Their Offense, Rebound With Huge Win Over Kansas

Posted by EJacoby on November 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

With the departure of first team All-American and do-it-all superstar Draymond Green from this year’s Michigan State roster, the Spartans figured to take a new offensive approach this season away from the high post, Draymond-centric attack they featured last year. What they didn’t expect was a surprising season-opening loss to depleted Connecticut last Friday in which they shot just 37.5% from the field. Tuesday night presented another massive challenge in defending national runner-up Kansas, and Tom Izzo’s team found a way to change the narrative by converting 52.1% of their field goals and defeating the Jayhawks, 67-64, in the Champions Classic in Atlanta. In the process, Michigan State found a new go-to offensive player in Gary Harris and a clutch late-game playmaker with Keith Appling. Replacing the versatile Green isn’t an easy task, but this year’s Spartans team learned a lot about its potential to do so with the impressive offensive performance on Tuesday night.

Michigan State leaned on Keith Appling, left, down the stretch in Tuesday’s win over Kansas (AP Photo/D. Martin)

The Spartans couldn’t have looked any different in their first two tilts of a five-day stretch to open this season. A trip to Germany to play in an aircraft hangar might have something to do with that. A Hall of Fame head coach with an understanding of how to make quick adjustments might, too. Izzo understood that his team struggled to score in the 66-62 loss to Connecticut to open the season, and it needed better production from the players expected to carry this team offensively. The freshman Harris played tentatively with a “deer in the headlights” look in the season opener, according to Izzo, en route to a 4-for-13 shooting night for 11 points. Harris was much more assertive from the get-go on Tuesday, looking to score early and often with smooth moves to the hoop and a soft touch from the perimeter, and he finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Harris was aggressive and productive in attacking Kansas’ guards, so much so that the Jayhawks switched their top defensive player, Travis Releford, to guard Harris in the second half. Nonetheless the frosh still found ways to score without forcing the issue.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Summer Update: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by dnspewak on July 12th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list– Danny’s update on Kansas. 

Kansas Jayhawks

2011-12 Record: 32-7, 16-2 (1st place)

Fresh off a Final Four appearance and an eighth-straight season with a shared or outright Big 12 title, life is good for Bill Self. In June, he watched the Sacramento Kings draft his star forward Thomas Robinson with the fourth overall pick, and he saw Tyshawn Taylor selected in the second round. It was a banner night for his program. Plus, to help reload after the loss of those two stars and others, he made a few late additions to his 2012 freshman class by signing Milton Doyle and Anrio Adams. So all is great in Lawrence, Kansas — for the most part. There is a small developing scandal right now after prosecutors claimed an alleged drug deal gave pot to some members of the 2010-11 squad. Nobody’s talking yet, but this is a story that could drag out for awhile and may not have any immediate (or significant) effects. Still, it’s probably not the kind of thing Self envisioned himself talking about in the summer months after nearly winning a National Championship.

Jeff Withey Is Prepared To Wow People During His Senior Year

Summer Orientation: Self’s freshman class grew in numbers this summer after the signing of Doyle, a 6’4″ combo guard out of Chicago, and Adams, a 6’3″ guard from Seattle, Washington. They’re both solid additions to this six-man class, but everybody’s waiting to see how five-star stud Perry Ellis fares as a freshman. Ellis arrived in Lawrence in early June, and he’s already acclimating himself on campus by attending children’s camps and rooming with walk-on Evan Manning (Danny’s son, of course). Power forward Zach Peters is also getting used to life as a Jayhawk. He and Elijah Johnson attended a camp at nearby Washburn, and he was quoted as saying he’s already indoctrinated into the culture of Kansas basketball. The other guy in this class to keep an eye on is Andrew White, a big-time wing from Virginia. He accompanied teammates, too, at a camp for kids. If you haven’t noticed, camps are a theme for KU this summer. The fullest summer scouting report available belongs to another player in this freshman class– big man Landen Lucas. According to Jeff Withey, Lucas has already impressed him in workouts with his ability to run the floor and rebound. Also, stuck in that gray area between “newcomer” and “returnee” are two players: Jamari Traylor and Ben McLemore, who both sat out last year because of eligibility issues. McLemore has already made an impression on Bill Self this summer, whereas one writer says it’s “conceivable Traylor could have the biggest impact” of any KU newcomer. As he points out, though, closed practices haven’t allowed us to get a great glimpse just yet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

National Championship Game Showcases Rare Treat: The Nation’s Two Best Players

Posted by EJacoby on April 2nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

This year’s National Championship game not only features the two winningest programs in college basketball history, but from a more tangible matchup standpoint it also pits the two best players in the country against one another. After Kentucky dispatched of Louisville on Saturday and Kansas survived the physical battle against Ohio State, we now get that rare matchup – Anthony Davis against Thomas Robinson in the National Title game. Why hasn’t this pairing received a flood of media attention? When’s the last time the country’s two National Player of the Year frontrunners faced off in the finals? And will these two interior forces even guard each other during the game? We attempt to answer these questions to prepare you for one of the many great stories to track during tonight’s National Championship.

Thomas Robinson vs. Anthony Davis is the Headline Matchup, but Terrence Jones (Left) Must Check Robinson on Defense (US Presswire)

Think it’s a given that the National Title game produces stud players facing one another? Remember how difficult it is to advance this far in the NCAA Tournament, and history proves how rare the opportunity is. Monday’s game will mark just the fourth time since 1979 that two first team All-Americans face off in the National Championship, and that simply encompasses any of the five best players in any given season. With Davis and Robinson, we are talking about the two leading vote-getters for National Player of the Year; two players that have gone toe-to-toe all season to decide the best and most valuable player in all of college basketball. Magic Johnson (Michigan State) against Larry Bird (Indiana State) in the 1979 National Championship game is the benchmark example of the scenario, and that matchup is still famous as one of the great individual battles in college history. The most recent matchup between All-Americans came in 1999 between Elton Brand (Duke) and Richard Hamilton (Connecticut), which is another good one but certainly does not resonate as strongly as Magic vs. Bird, and Hamilton was not a consensus Player of the Year candidate. It’s still unknown what kind of legacy, if any, Davis vs. Robinson will leave, but both players are forwards that are likely to be drafted in the top five of the upcoming NBA Draft, with Davis a near-lock for the #1 pick. The narrative of comparison between these two players truly begins on Monday night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by EJacoby on March 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in St. Louis with with North Carolina vs. Ohio followed by Kansas vs. NC State. Our East Regional Reset and West Regional Reset published Tuesday, while our South Regional Reset will publish later today.Make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from St. Louis throughout the weekend.

New Favorite: #2 Kansas (29-6, 16-2 Big 12). How do the Jayhawks become the favorite in this region after nearly being upset last round by #10 Purdue, in a game they should have lost? First of all, the regional semifinals and finals are being played in St. Louis, a much closer destination for KU fans than any of the other teams, making for a solid home-court advantage for the #2 seed. But more importantly, the #1 seed just lost its point guard and floor leader to a broken wrist. Kendall Marshall is arguably the most indispensable player to his team in this entire tournament, and North Carolina has no backup for its star PG. This makes Kansas the favorite going forward in the wacky Midwest.

St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome Hosts the Midwest Regional Finals

Horse of Darkness: #11 NC State (24-12, 9-7 ACC). Don’t let the #11 fool you; NC State is an incredibly talented team from the ACC that has the talent, size, and coaching experience to compete with anyone it matches up against. Despite underachieving for much of the season and barely getting into this tournament, the Wolfpack found that perfect match of offensive firepower and collective defense to take down their first two opponents. It won’t be a shock if this team can give Kansas a game on Friday night. NC State used its size inside (Richard Howell, C.J. Leslie) to hold Henry Sims of Georgetown to just four points last round, and they will look to do the same against Thomas Robinson and Kansas this weekend. Should they advance, the Wolfpack are familiar with conference foe UNC and nearly beat the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, and that was with a healthy Kendall Marshall. NC State is a serious dark horse here, despite facing the regional favorite on Friday.

Biggest Surprise, 1st Weekend: #13 Ohio (29-7, 11-5 MAC). We thought that John Groce’s team had a great matchup in the round of 64 against #4 Michigan, a team that plays a similar perimeter style, but it’s still a huge surprise that the #13 seed took down the Big Ten co-champions in a game that it controlled almost the entire way. D.J. Cooper and company then outplayed #12 South Florida in the second half to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, becoming this year’s Cinderella story as the mid-major, double-digit seed to advance to the second weekend. Now Ohio has to match up with powerhouse #1 North Carolina on Friday, but the Bobcats are on a roll and will try to make magic happen once again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Jeff Withey’s Massive Improvement Keys Another Strong Kansas Season

Posted by EJacoby on February 14th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. 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 games.

KansasBill Self is making a strong push for National Coach of the Year recently, putting his Jayhawks in position for their eighth consecutive Big 12 regular season title despite arguably the least talented team he’s had during the streak. Monday night’s road victory over Kansas State, 59-53, improved KU to 21-5 and 11-2 in the Big 12 to keep pace with Missouri in the loss column of the conference standings. But this time the win wasn’t the result of a dominant Thomas Robinson night or the game strategy of Self. Instead, it was the powerful performance of center Jeff Withey that led the team to another victory. This new leading Jayhawk is playing out of his mind and has emerged as the major threat that has put KU back in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 race. As the season progresses, the 7’0” Withey is getting stronger in all facets of the game, turning Kansas into an even tougher matchup than before.

Jeff Withey is a Defensive Force With a Newly Found Offensive Game for KU (AP Photo)

Just 10 days ago, Kansas dropped a road game to Missouri to fall into a tie with the Tigers for first place in the Big 12, and it looked like the Jayhawks just might be missing something to propel them to another conference title. In that game, only Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor were able to score consistently and play at a high level offensively. Elijah Johnson had 11 points but wanted nothing to do with the ball on the final possession that could have tied the game. Withey played his usual strong defense, but failed to score and was a complete non-factor offensively. Even though Kansas nearly won that road game, the Tigers seemed to have more scoring options on that night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.04.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 4th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Huge games in the Big East and Big 12 highlight tonight’s action, along with Duke’s final non-conference test. Here’s your schedule for tonight:

#8 Duke at Temple – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

Will Dunphy Have His Owls Ready To Upset K's Devils? (Getty)

  • The Blue Devils have shockingly stayed out of the spotlight for the past few weeks, quietly handling their business in the non-conference. Perhaps the shellacking that Mike Krzyzewski’s team took in Ohio State in November was the wake-up call that this team needed, as Duke has won five straight in impressive fashion since that game. Coach K’s team is ranked 4th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rankings, boasting the nation’s third-best true shooting percentage (60.6%) and eighth-best points per possession statistic (1.16 PPP), amongst many other impressive offensive numbers. As Austin Rivers continues to improve his decision-making and efficiency offensively, Duke gets harder to defend. The freshman is now up to a team-leading 15.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three. If Rivers can penetrate the Owls’ defense to create good looks for the other Duke guards and himself, Duke will be in good shape.
  • Temple is an elite perimeter defensive team, where the Owls hold opponents to shoot 25.6% from three-point range, the fourth-best percentage in the country. Against a Duke team that loves to shoot the three, guarding the perimeter will again be priority number one in this game. In addition, Temple is strong with the ball and their 1.28 assist-to-turnover ratio is a top-30 national number, far better than Duke’s 1.02 ratio. By limiting their opponent’s long-range makes and winning the turnover battle, Temple will seek to gain an advantage at home. Their trio of guards Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt, all at 13.3 PPG or better, will look to neutralize Duke’s own trio in the scoring department. However, their best big man Michael Eric remains out with a knee injury, which could spell trouble against Duke’s 6’10” Plumlee brothers.
  • Duke is a seven-point favorite in this game and will be well-prepared in their final non-conference game. But the Blue Devils haven’t played a road game since their blowout loss at OSU, and Temple has the guards to match Duke. With Eric missing down low, Temple is without a key defensive cog, but they’ve been playing without him for over a month. Expect a hard fought game in Philly.

#17 Marquette at #9 Georgetown- 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU (****)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Kansas’ Offensive Weaknesses Exposed in Surprise Loss to Davidson

Posted 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 RobinsonTyshawn 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.

Davidson Controlled the Game Against Kansas on Monday (AP/O. Wagner)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story