Monthly Archives: February 2013

More on McLemore

By Rustin Dodd

LAWRENCE — Ben McLemore is the leading scorer on the ninth-ranked team in America. Last week, he became the first freshman in KU history to go for 30 points twice in conference play when he dropped in 30 in an 83-62 victory over Kansas State.

Shortly after, The Eagle profiled McLemore’s journey to Kansas and his transformation into one of the country’s best players. With a matchup with fellow freshman phenom Marcus Smart looming on Wednesday at Oklahoma State, here are five more facts about Kansas’ late-blooming, sharp-shooting and people-pleasing young star.

1 With 13 points in Kansas’ 73-47 victory over Texas on Saturday, McLemore moved in to fourth place on KU’s single-season freshmen scoring list. McLemore, who now has 417 points this season, passed Paul Pierce (404 in ‘95-96) and Kerry Boagni (408 in ‘82-83).

McLemore, averaging 16.7 points per game, is two points ahead of Danny Manning’s record for freshman scoring average (14.6); and with a strong finish, he’ll have a compelling case for the best freshman season in KU history.

McLemore is on pace to finish with the fifth-most rebounds by a KU freshman — ahead of Darrell Arthur, Pierce or Scott Pollard — and the third-most three-point buckets, behind only J.R. Giddens (74) and Jeff Boschee (79).

2 Here is the story of McLemore’s first flight. He was in the eighth grade at Curtis Bishop Middle School in Wellston, Mo. And one day, while shooting in the gym during lunch, McLemore decided to take another run at the rim. This would be his first dunk.

He’d tried for years, of course. Dreamed about finally flushing one like the pros. But he’d never been able to officially claim a dunk. He couldn’t quite get the ball over the rim. Finally, one day, McLemore set up his approach and got just enough lift to push the ball in the basket while his fingers scraped the rim.

McLemore felt a feeling of release … until his friends tried to claim it wasn’t a true dunk.

“Some people say it was like a hard layup,” McLemore says, smiling. “I called it a dunk. I just definitely said: ‘OK, I’m gonna try to do it. And I just ran up and dunked it.’ ”

3 For the better part of the last two months, McLemore has drawn comparisons to former UConn star Ray Allen, an All-Star shooting guard with an immaculate jumper. He’s not the only recent college shooting guard to garner the comp. Former Florida guard Bradley Beal — another St. Louis native who played one summer of AAU ball with McLemore — was compared to Allen while going through the NBA Draft process last summer. (Beal was taken third overall by the Washington Wizards.)

Last month, SI’s Luke Winn broke down the freshman statistics of all three players. McLemore, of course, has the advantage of a redshirt season, but here’s an updated look at how McLemore compares to Beal and Allen.

Ben McLemore

Year: 2012-13

Min/Game: 31.6

Pts/40 minutes: 21.1

Reb/40: 6.9

2FG%: 56.5

3FG%: 43.4

3PA/Total Shots: 113/274 (41 percent of his shots from three-point range)

Ray Allen

Year: 1993-94

Min/Game: 21.6

Pts/40: 23.3

Reb/40: 8.5

2FG%: 54.8

3FG%: 40.2

3PA/Total Shots: 82/310 (26%)

Bradley Beal

Year: 2011-12

Min/Game: 30.8

Pts/40: 17.2

Reb/40: 7.8

2FG%: 54.1

3FG%: 33.9

3PA/Total Shots: 186/393 (47%)

4 McLemore may be having one of the best shooting seasons by a freshman in recent history. According to College Basketball Reference’s “Play Index”, which keeps stats back to the 1998-99 season, McLemore could become the first freshman from a major (BCS-level) conference to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 85 percent from the free-throw line (minimum: 200 shots).

McLemore is currently shooting 43 percent from the floor, 51 percent from three and 87 percent from the free-throw line:

Here’s the list of BCS conference freshmen that have shot 40/50/80 during the same span: North Carolina’s Marvin Williams (’04-05); Georgetown’s Austin Freeman (’07-08); and Duke Kyrie Irving* (‘10-11). Williams and Freeman were far from the first option on their respective teams, while Irving was limited to just 11 games by injury.

5 Here is the nickname story. McLemore is not quite sure how it happened, but at some point last season, while he was redshirting in Lawrence, the Jayhawks’ upperclassmen bestowed a nickname on the coltish freshman: Young Sav … short for Young Savage.

“I got that nickname as soon as I got here,” McLemore says. “(They said) ‘You’re name is Young Sav. Just all the players from last year. ‘You a savage, man. You a Sav.’ To this day, I still don’t know what it means.

These days, McLemore is still trying to turn on the “Sav” as much as possible. He’s a freshman, starting alongside four upperclassmen, and he’s always been the type to let the game come to him. For now, he’s trying to embrace the nickname.

“I don’t know,” McLemore says. “You say a lion is a savage, because they go out there and just hunt and hunt and hunt … and get whatever they want. I think that’s pretty much why they call me Young Sav.”

 

The day after the demolition

 

BY RUSTIN DODD

LAWRENCE — Let’s start here: Kansas’ 62-55 loss at TCU on Wednesday was as historic as it was utterly stunning. There’s no denying that — no matter how you bend or twist the numbers.

Consider:

** According to Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings, TCU was ranked 270 spots below KU, the close equivalent of a No. 1 seed playing a middling 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

** Kansas had not lost back-to-back games in seven years, a nation-leading span of 264 games.

** The Jayhawks shot 29.5 percent, the worst by a KU team since Self arrived in Lawrence.

But there’s been plenty of analysis on the historical anomaly that was Wednesday’s loss. Now Kansas must move forward, with another road trip to Oklahoma awaiting on Saturday.

So what, exactly, is wrong with Kansas? Well…

1 It starts with guard play. When was the last time KU didn’t feature a guard on the roster that could get his feet in the lane and create plays when the offense broke down? Or, as Bill Self has frequently mentioned, when was the last time KU had a starting backcourt that featured just one primary ballhandler?

On Wednesday, the Jayhawks opened the game with a seven-minute scoring drought, a stretch that magnified KU’s deficiency in the backcourt. The Jayhawks’ top two scoring options — freshman wing Ben McLemore and senior center Jeff Withey — can both be one-dimensional offensive players. McLemore is too often limited to being a spot-up shooter, and Withey must catch in the right position to be effective.

Play against a team that is able to neutralize McLemore and Withey — or miss a few shots — and the Jayhawks’ offense sputters. It doesn’t help, of course, that guards Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe are both shooting worse than 38 percent from the field.

“We’re better players than what we’ve shown,” Self said on Wednesday. “But we’re still not great players. We could have a great team, but we’re not individually a ton of great players.

“We got one guy (McLemore) that’s super-talented. But we just got a bunch of nice players that, when they play well together, they’re pretty good. And right now, we’re not playing very well together.”

Here’s one example. According to an offensive breakdown shared by NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givoni, the Jayhawks’ half-court offense featured the following against TCU:

McLemore ran four isolation plays and zero pick-and-rolls all night, resulting in four of his 15 points. Meanwhile, Johnson and Tharpe ran a combined 12 pick-and-rolls and isolation plays, resulting in nine points.

(McLemore made six of his 16 shots, while Johnson and Tharpe combined for 19 points on five-of-27 shooting.)

Here’s where the offensive question becomes tricky. Does McLemore lack the requisite skills to make more plays with the ball in his hands — as opposed to catch-and-shoot jumpers — or do Johnson and Tharpe simply use too many of KU’s possessions?

2 Questions at the four-spot. It’s not easy to replace an All-American such as Thomas Robinson. But the Jayhawks entered conference play with a three-man power-forward committee that appeared to be getting the job done. Senior Kevin Young is an energy guy with great passing ability. Freshman Perry Ellis has some natural scoring skills and figured to improve. And redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor, at the very least, brings some toughness and athleticism.

But while Young has stayed consistent, Ellis and Traylor have made limited progress in the last few weeks. And Wednesday was a glaring sign.

Self inserted Ellis into the starting lineup for the first time since November, hoping to give Ellis a shot of confidence and get him going. The freshman responded by scoring zero points in 10 minutes. And after a defensive lapse in the opening minutes of the second half, Self yanked Ellis in favor of Young.

Ellis and Traylor are freshmen who will only get better. That said, the Jayhawks are getting very limited production from their bench and it’s hard to see how it gets much better in the immediate future.

“We’re not very tough,” Self said. “So when things don’t go well, we kind of doubt or quit being aggressive, and certainly there’s a lot of that going on with this team.

“We don’t have answers (where) you can go to the bench to get answers. That’s obviously the case. So we gotta figure out a way to help our guys have the right mind-set to play better.”

3 The Jayhawks have been pushed around — and now the secret is out. After Saturday’s loss against Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse, Self called this Kansas team one of the least physically tough teams he’s coached.

It’s easy to see the line as a challenge to his guys. And sure, it was. But it was also stated as a matter of fact. For the last three years, KU has had forwards — the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson — who brought a presence of rugged toughness. This year, Self starts Withey (220 pounds) and Young (190 pounds), and KU has struggled to be effective against teams that muck it up inside.

Kansas, of course, has nine Big 12 games left, plenty of time to right the ship and start making shots. But after an eight-year run of Big 12 titles — and a seven-year stretch without consecutive losses — Wednesday’s loss to TCU may have cost KU something more than another game in the Big 12 race.

“We can certainly evaluate ourselves differently than what we could a week ago,” Self said. “And hopefully that will help fix some things. But the reality is, we’ve allowed everybody the opportunity to believe that they can beat us. Everybody’s gonna think they can beat us. And they should. We’ve opened up that floodgate.”

 

Self defends Elijah Johnson

By Rustin Dodd

Kansas coach Bill Self is standing behind senior point guard Elijah Johnson.

Despite a rash of turnovers and sloppy performances from Johnson over the last month, Self said Monday during the Big 12 teleconference that he didn’t foresee any major changes in minutes or playing time in the guard rotation,

“Elijah’s my guy,” Self said. “He’s my guy, and we have the best chance to win with Elijah in the game. And he’s learning how to play a position, and he’s thinking too much instead of playing.

“But that is the horse that we are gonna ride. And I believe that will be the best for our team.”

Self’s statement of support comes two days after Johnson finished with four turnovers while shooting three of 14 from the field in an 85-80 loss against Oklahoma State, a defeat that snapped KU’s 18-game winning streak and 33-game run at Allen Fieldhouse.

“We don’t have a point guard,” Self said after the loss, bluntly addressing his team’s guard play.

In his first season as Kansas’ lead guard, Johnson is averaging 9.3 points while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three-point line. But he’s also struggled to become a consistent facilitator for a KU offense that struggled to score points for most of January.

And turnovers have been costly. Johnson has recorded 19 turnovers against 19 assists in KU’s last five games. While Self says the guard play must improve, he’s not ready to give up on Johnson.

“We are 19-2,” Self said, “and the players that have been playing the majority of the minutes have performed at a reasonably high-level … we’ve had some guys play unbelievably well in some situations, and some guys maybe haven’t.

“But we’ve found a way to kind of piece it together. And we haven’t got consistent guard play. We’ve got to do a better job of helping Naadir (Tharpe) and Elijah.”