Monthly Archives: November 2012

The KU Chalkboard: Self wants Jayhawks to run

LAWRENCE — Every Monday, The Star delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here’s the third installment of the new series.

Before his team began practice on Sunday afternoon, Kansas coach Bill Self offered a few post-Thanksgiving thoughts on his team. High on his list of priorities: Speed.

The Jayhawks need to play faster, need to attack more, need to create more opportunities to score.

“It’s amazing to me,” Self said. “I tell these guys this all the time. Everybody wants to go to a place where they play fast, and they get there, and they don’t want to commit to playing fast. It takes energy to play fast.”

So how fast can Kansas play? Before we find the optimal speed, let’s look at how fast they’re playing through five games.

According to kenpom.com’s tempo statistics, Kansas is averaging 67.7 possessions per 40 minutes, a number that ranks 128th nationally, but is still tied for third among the Jayhawks’ Big 12 brethren. (Disclaimer: The sample size is still small.)

Team / adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes)

1 Iowa State / 70.1

2 Oklahoma / 68.0

3t Kansas / 67.7

3t K-State / 67.7

5 Baylor / 67.5

6 Texas Tech / 66.5

7 TCU / 66.4

8 Oklahoma St. / 66.2

9 Texas / 65.9

10 West Virginia / 65.3

For comparison: Kansas’ adjusted tempo was 67.0 last season, while the 2011 Jayhawks (69.2) struck a nice blend of speed and efficiency. In addition, KU is just off the pace (or slightly ahead) of the nation’s three most efficient offensive teams thus far: Indiana (68.3 possessions per 40 minutes); Duke (68.5) and Kentucky (67.2). So, no, Kansas isn’t exactly running Wisconsin’s snails-pace swing offense.

Still, KU’s offense has been a work in progress during the opening weeks — although the 50-point first half against Washington State was certainly a statement. The Jayhawks are averaging 71.6 points per game, down a shade from last season (73.5), and it’s mostly been an efficiency issue. KU is shooting 44 percent from the field (47.2 in 2011-12) and 31 percent from three-point range (34.5 percent in ’11-12).

For Self, some of the Jayhawks’ offensive issues fall on the defense. If KU gets more stops, they’ll be more opportunities to run. Before the CBE Classic, KU’s secondary break — its transition game off made baskets — wasn’t creating many opportunity. And some of this, Self says, falls on the Jayhawks’ guard play. Senior Elijah Johnson is still feeling his way around the point-guard spot, and as he becomes more comfortable running the offense, the pace may rise naturally.

“If you take it hard 10 possessions,” Self said, “you may get two free points that you didn’t have to earn. And we’re not taking it hard for 10 possessions. So it’s not that (Johnson isn’t) playing hard; his mindset is, I think, to get us into offense rather than go make a play.”

Tharpe’s turnover drought

Bill Self has made it pretty simple. For sophomore Naadir Tharpe to lock down reserve minutes in the guard rotation, he’ll need to make strides on the defensive end.

“It’s where he’s got to get better,” Self said on Sunday. “He can create havoc, he can do some things. But if you’re a little guard, and you don’t create havoc, people will pick on you eventually. He has to have that mindset…

“If I’m the littlest guy out there, I got make sure I’m the toughest guy out there.”

Tharpe’s size — he’s listed at 5-11 and 170 pounds — can be a liability on defense. But the sophomore guard has appeared to take a step in one area: turnovers. Tharpe has just three in 98 minutes this season — and his last turnover came against Michigan State on Nov. 13. It’s a stark contrast to last season, when Tharpe committed 22 turnovers and 21 assists while playing limited minutes as a freshman.

Withey watch

Here’s a prediction: Jeff Withey will set a new KU record with 11 blocks in a game, eclipsing the 10 blocks he recorded against NC State in the NCAA tourney last season.

The soft-spoken Withey appeared a tad disappointed last week when the box score showed he only had seven blocks against Saint Louis in the CBE title game. (“It’s not 10,” he said.) He’s also recorded at least five blocks in four of KU’s first five games.

He’s up to 190 blocks in his career after swatting 12 shots in two days last week in Kansas City. That leaves him 68 blocks short of Greg Ostertag’s KU career record of 258.

Atlantis shuffle

If next year’s Battle for Atlantis tournament is anything like this year’s, KU will likely find itself in perhaps the best early-season tournament next November.

This year’s event, which takes place at a resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas, included top-five teams Duke and Louisville, along with Missouri, VCU, Stanford and Minnesota. Next year’s field will include Villanova, Wake Forest, Tennessee, Southern California, UTEP and Xavier and a final team to be announced later. ESPN previously reported that Michigan State is a possibility for the event.

The buzz among some scribes and industry people is that Atlantis may have the combination of location and financial backing to overtake Maui as the most high-profile early-season tournament — at least, among those in exotic locales.

The Jayhawks are not eligible to return to Hawaii until 2015. But we’re guessing that will be just fine with Kansas’ players when they head to the Bahamas next season.

The KU Chalkboard: How will the defense develop?

Every Monday, The Eagle delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here’s the first installment of the new series.

ATLANTA — Is it safe to expect a November grinder? Probably.

Kansas coach Bill Self and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo have made careers — and fortunes — on the defensive end, both coaches indoctrinating their players with the sort of toughness that shows up in March. Izzo has led the Spartans to six Final Fours and one NCAA title (2000) in the last 14 years. The Jayhawks are fresh off their second Final Four appearance in Self’s nine seasons in Lawrence.

On Tuesday night, the two head coaches will lead their power programs into an early-season clash in the Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome, the first bout in a doubleheader that also includes a a heavyweight matchup between Duke and Kentucky.

So what to make of the latest showdown between Sparty and Self?

Well… No. 7 Kansas is coming off a blotchy, 74-55 season-opening victory over Southeast Missouri State on Friday, while No. 14 Michigan State was nicked by UConn 66-62 on Friday night in a choppy game in a beautiful setting — Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Self may have joked last week that Michigan State practices in football pads, while his young team wants to practice with pillows. But if early trends hold, it seems likely that this game could feature the offensive execution of an SEC football game.

For Kansas, a squad with seven scholarship freshmen, it’s not a bad formula. Defenses are generally a few paces ahead of offenses in the opening weeks, and the Jayhawks have the pieces to play some of the most suffocating defense since Self arrived in Lawrence. That’s saying something, of course.

In the last seven years, dating back to the time Self’s own recruits began making up the majority of the roster in Lawrence, the Jayhawks have been in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency every season. The advanced metric, tabulated by college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy, rates defenses by how many points they allow per 100 possessions.

In the last seven years, here are KU’s adjusted efficiency rankings, according to kenpom.com:

2006: 2

2007: 1

2008: 1

2009: 7

2010: 8

2011: 9

2012: 4

So can this year’s Kansas defense match up to those lofty expectations? Based upon readers’ emails and the early reactions from two exhibition games and the season opener, that seems to be a pretty good question. So, let’s start here, by looking at two of Self’s best defensive teams.

To most, the gold standard is still the 2008 squad, which rode the No. 1 ranked defense to a national title. That team, of course, had three strong perimeter defenders — Mario Chalmers*, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush — and center Sasha Kaun, a plus post defender in the paint.

*If you need more proof of Chalmers’ defensive abilities, a recent Sports Illustrated feature cited a Synergy Sports study that showed Chalmers was the best pick-and-roll defender in the NBA last season.

But, according to kenpom.com, the most efficient defensive squad during Self’s tenure was actually the 2007 team — by a hair, anyway — which fell to UCLA in the Elite Eight. One reason for the loss: the 2007 Kansas team ranked 17th in offensive efficiency, while the 2008 squad, a year older and sans Julian Wright, was the second-best offensive team in the nation. In fact, that 2007 KU team is the highest rated defensive team since 2003-04, the year Self took over in Lawrence.

Team; Points allowed per 100 possessions; How they finished

1. 2007 Kansas, 82.2 (Elite Eight)

2. 2009 Memphis, 82.5 (Sweet 16)

3. 2008 Kansas, 82.8 (NCAA title)

4t. 2004 Louisville, 83.9 (First round loss)

4t. 2008 UCLA, 83.9 (Final Four)

4t. 2008 Memphis 83.9 (NCAA title game)

Self has been hopeful about his team’s potential, particularly on the defensive end; last season, center Jeff Withey led the country in block percentage, rejecting 15.3 percent of opponents’ shots when he was on the floor. And the Jayhawks’ backcourt features three guards — Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore and Travis Releford —with the rare mix of length and above-average lateral quickness.

It will be interesting to see how KU matches up with smallish playmakers — think Baylor’s Pierre Jackson or K-State’s Angel Rodriguez — but Withey’s presence in the middle gives Kansas’ guards a 7-foot firewall in the paint. It’s still November, still too early for hard-and-fast projections. But with its offense still finding its way, Kansas will likely need to grind out a victory against Michigan State on the defensive end. In other words, they’ll need more pads… and fewer pillows.

Scouting Michigan State

While Bill Self was gritting his teeth through the Jayhawks’ victory over Southeast Missouri State on Friday, Tom Izzo was playing Clark W. Griswold as the Spartans lumbered through their season-opening European Vacation.

The result was a 66-62 loss to UConn in Germany. But here’s the bigger question: Will the transatlantic travel schedule have any residual effects when the Spartans take the floor at the Georgia Dome on Tuesday night?

The Spartans left Frankfurt, Germany, on Saturday morning. And the crash course on Kansas began.

“Plenty of film coming back,” MSU coach Tom Izzo told the Detroit Free Press. “(With) an eight- or nine-hour flight coming back we’ll have a lot of ability to watch film. We’ll have exhibition games, some games from last year, but going into it, (UConn was) just too big of a game.”

Michigan State lost All-America forward Draymond Green off last year’s squad, a team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Spartans return three starters, including point guard Keith Appling, swingman Branden Dawson and 6-foot-10 center Adreian Payne.

Appling finished with a team-high 17 points on seven-of-17 shooting against UConn, while freshman guard Gary Harris, a McDonald’s All-American, had 11 points in his debut.

Senior Derrick Nix, a 6-foot-9 forward, could also be a load for Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor or whichever KU power forward winds up with the matchup.

It appears likely, though, that Michigan State will play without reserve guard Travis Trice, who took a shot to the nose against UConn. On Monday, Izzo told the Detroit Free Press that Trice was a “triple question mark” for the KU game.

Manning, Brown win

Danny Manning picked up a victory in his first season-opener at Tulsa on Sunday, a 110-54 win over Louisiana Shreveport in Tulsa. Manning, who won titles at KU as a player and assistant coach, is embarking on his first season as a head coach.

Shaquille Harrison, a freshman from Lee’s Summit West, had nine points and seven steals in his Tulsa debut. Playing with an inexperienced squad, Manning faces a challenging schedule in his first season: During a seven-game stretch in November and December, Tulsa will play Wichita State, Missouri State, Creighton and Florida State.

Larry Brown, Manning’s former coach at Kansas, also scored a victory on Sunday as Southern Methodist topped Loyola Marymount 73-58 in Dallas. It was Brown’s first win as a collegiate head coach since the 1988 NCAA title game at Kemper Arena.