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.
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.
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.