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kansas basketball

Kansas basketball / A late-season report card

After the loss to A&M, I jot­ted down some notes that I titled "Resolved & Unre­solved." In the sub­se­quent five games, there has been a migra­tion of some items from one list to the oth­er, most­ly in the direc­tion of res­o­lu­tion, which is nice.

Resolved

  • Rota­tion. Coach Self seems like he's found the right starters, and his bench guys inject ener­gy almost every time. This was not the case last year, and even ear­li­er this year, when Kaun, Jack­son, Wright and Hawkins (last year) were in and out of his dog­house and the start­ing line­up. I'm not get­ting too excit­ed about this, because it's one of the more ele­men­tary require­ments for any deep advance­ment in the tour­na­ment.
  • Pace. Dur­ing Self's first year, it was clear that Miles, Lang­ford, and Simien all strug­gled with his insis­tence on cohe­sive half-court defense, which pre­vent­ed a lot of the sprint­ing out that char­ac­ter­ized Roy's offense (and prob­a­bly was a major part of why those guys came to KU). Lang­ford espe­cial­ly seemed to strug­gle when he wasn't get­ting mul­ti­ple oppor­tu­ni­ties for (rel­a­tive­ly) easy tran­si­tion bas­kets. This year's team seems to have ful­ly embraced Self's approach, while also run­ning a pret­ty mean fast break when they get the oppor­tu­ni­ty.
  • Defense. It's Coach Self's call­ing card, and it ensures that KU is com­pet­i­tive in every game. There isn't a team in the coun­try right now who has a defin­i­tive answer to it; I say this with con­fi­dence because Flori­da is real­ly the only team that would appear to be dom­i­nant, and we all know what hap­pened there.
  • Bench. A new­ly resolved mat­ter, thanks to both Sher­ron Collins and Shady (whose huge rebounds late in the K‑State game allowed KU to steadi­ly pull away). Dar­nell Jack­son is always sol­id, and occa­sion­al­ly he is a total badass. Watch­ing him tear­ing shit off the glass and kick­ing it out to Russ­Rob is a com­fort­ing sight, espe­cial­ly when Kaun and Shady seem to have so much trou­ble lay­ing down the law in the paint.

Unresolved

  • The go-to guy. Yes, Collins has emerged as a major late-game threat. Is he a true go-to guy yet, though? I'm not sure. Coach Self gave him the ball in last pos­ses­sion of the A&M game, rather than Chalmers, Rush, or Wright, so clear­ly the staff believes that Collins can do it. He's got the mox­ie, not to men­tion the game, for mak­ing big plays late in the game, but the rea­son that I think that this is still unre­solved is that, usu­al­ly, when you've got a go-to guy, the rest of the team seems relaxed and com­fort­able, and this com­fort trans­lates into wins in close games. Thus far, I seen very lit­tle com­fort dur­ing close games (a la Mis­souri, Iowa State, A&M, Texas Tech). I start­ed to see more of it dur­ing K‑State, but it still took some luck — Rush's three-point play after Julian's ter­ri­ble no-look some­how skit­tered through four K‑State defend­ers — and some K‑State mis­takes in order for KU to escape with a win. Nev­er­the­less, this is get­ting bet­ter, no ques­tion. What needs to hap­pen: Kansas needs to win an A&M‑style game, a down-to-the-wire game in which the oth­er team keeps bring­ing it (like Flori­da), and in that game the go-to guy needs to exe­cute on every pos­ses­sion, like Acie Law of A&M did.
  • Post play. If this team didn't rely on scor­ing in the post, I'd say that Sasha Kaun has been pret­ty sol­id. He rarely makes a bad pass; he picks up the occa­sion­al stu­pid foul (but seems to be get­ting bet­ter in this regard); he estab­lish­es posi­tion well and draws defend­ers. Defen­sive­ly, he's rarely out of posi­tion. Lit­tle of this ever makes it on a stat sheet, and all of it con­tributes to open looks for oth­er play­ers on the offen­sive end, and few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for the oppo­nent on the defen­sive end. So he's sol­id, except for the fact that he becomes offen­sive­ly inept at real­ly inop­por­tune times. It's hard to ignore the many, many occa­sions when he has failed to fin­ish the bun­nies; if he gets fouled, we all know what we're in for. Shady, on the oth­er hand, sim­ply needs to get hun­gry. All of the tools are there; they just need to be brought to bear with a lit­tle pas­sion. Not that I'm going to make any Rudy Gay com­par­isons. There's no way that Self would ever allow Shady to con­duct him­self with the non­cha­lance that Gay rou­tine­ly brought to UConn. What needs to hap­pen: Shady needs to show more of what he showed against K‑State; Kaun needs to con­vert his easy bas­kets; Jack­son needs to keep doing what he does.
  • Easy bas­kets. Free throws fall into this cat­e­go­ry; so do layups. I've nev­er seen a team blow so many open, close range buck­ets, or brick as many FTs. Jack­son and Kaun are approach­ing Richard Scott-lev­el incom­pe­tence in this regard, and even Chalmers and Russ­Rob (admit­ted­ly, my favorite of the cur­rent Hawks, esp. after he got in Carti­er Martin's face dur­ing the K‑State game) isn't 100% reli­able down the stretch. And Rush missed the two FT's after Huggy's T, which could have put KU up by 7. (Good thing Collins hit a three in the ensu­ing pos­ses­sion). Any­way, one virtue of Roy's teams is that they seem to get 10–15 easy bas­kets every game: fast break layups and dunks; post guys who get sprung open by a back screen; open jumpers for the big guys trail­ing the fast break. Self's teams must get few­er of these looks, which may be okay since they seem to have trou­ble con­vert­ing them any­way. What needs to hap­pen: It may be impos­si­ble for this team to become a good FT-shoot­ing team, but it's emi­nent­ly pos­si­ble for them to make layups, espe­cial­ly Kaun.