The Embiid watch is on

By Rustin Dodd

On Monday night in Ames, Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks (and seven turnovers) in 28 minutes. He dominated for stretches, altering shots and using his mix of size and finesse to finish nearly everything around the basket.

So let’s take a look:

In Kansas’ last seven games — against seven teams ranked in KenPom.com’s top 75 — Embiid is averaging 13.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes per game. He’s shooting 72 percent. He’s getting high percentage shots, too. For the season, more than 76 percent of his field-goal attempts have come at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. And when he catches inside, he’s nearly automatic — he’s finishing 78.9 percent of his shots at the rim.

So it wasn’t all that surprising to see Embiid move to No. 1 on ESPN Draft analyst Chad Ford’s latest Big Board, surpassing teammate Andrew Wiggins, who is now No. 2.

“Embiid is one of the few big-man prospects who passes both the eye test and the production test,” Ford noted. “There isn’t a player in this draft with a higher ceiling.”

Earlier this year, we compared Embiid’s freshman numbers (per 40 minutes) to some other recent college big men who have gone No. 1 in the draft. Here’s an updated look at those numbers:

Joel Embiid, Kansas, 2013-14

19.9 points / 13.8 rebounds / 4.7 blocks / 10.7 FGA / 67.7 FG%

Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2011-12

17.7 points / 13.0 rebounds / 5.8 blocks / 10.5 FGA / 62.3 FG%

Greg Oden, Ohio State, 2006-07

21.7 points / 13.2 rebounds / 4.5 blocks / 13.3 FGA / 61.6 FG%

Andrew Bogut, Utah, 2003-04

16.4 points / 13 rebounds / 1.8 blocks / 11.6 FGA / 57.7 FG%

Tim Duncan, Wake Forest, 1993-97

13.1 points / 13.7 rebounds / 5.0 blocks / 8.8 FGA / 54.3 FG%

Shaquille O’Neal, LSU, 1989-90

19.8 points / 17.1 rebounds / 5.1 blocks / 13.9 FGA / 57.3 FG%

2. How rare was Kansas’ 77-70 victory at Iowa State on Monday? Well, the Jayhawks have now won nine of 10 at Hilton Coliseum, so not that rare. But the formula probably shouldn’t be repeated that often. KU finished with a season-high 24 turnovers, the most since the beginning of last season. The Jayhawks made up for the turnovers by outrebounding Iowa State 53-36 — and of course it helped that Iowa State shot 22 of 70 (31 percent) from the field.

But strangely, Kansas is now 2-1 when committing 20-plus turnovers since the beginning of last season. The Jayhawks had 23 turnovers in the loss at Florida earlier this year. But the victory over Iowa State most clearly resembled Kansas’ win against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Remember? In the third NCAA tournament meeting between Bill Self and Roy Williams, KU turned the ball over 22 times in a 70-58 victory. One reason: North Carolina’s line was eerily similar to Iowa State. The Tar Heels were outrebounded 50-36 and shot just 22 of 73 (30 percent) from the floor.

3. Comparing freshmen: Here’s a little statistical evidence on why Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins’ offensive numbers are a little behind Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kentucky forward Julius Randle.

Wiggins is averaging 15.8 points after scoring 17 against Iowa State on Monday; that trails both Parker (18.8) and Randle (16.9). But according to an ESPN study that looked at isolation plays, post-ups and pick-and-rolls, it could be because Kansas isn’t running its offense through Wiggins as much as Duke is utilizing Parker or Kentucky is using Randle.

According to the study, both Parker and Randle average more than six isos, post-ups and pick-and-rolls per game, while Wiggins averages around 4 ½. Wiggins has had his struggles on offense — as have Parker and Randle — but his overall production could be more about usage than talent.

Self: Too early to know if Embiid will return for sophomore season

By Rustin Dodd

Kansas coach Bill Self has always left NBA Draft decisions up to his players, and that is not changing with freshman center Joel Embiid, who has zoomed up draft projections during his first season of college basketball.

“Joel could go anywhere this year from (No. 1 to No. 5) probably, I would say,” Self said Thursday night when the subject came up on his weekly radio show. “It would be hard for a staff member or myself to say, ‘Hey it’s best for you to come back.’ It’s really probably best for us if he comes back.”

As you might expect, Self says it’s too early to know if Embiid will be a one-and-done player, but he expects Embiid, a native of Cameroon, to make the right decision for he and his family. As with any player, Self will wait until after the season to provide any consultation or information on his players’ draft prospects. In addition to Embiid, KU freshman wing Andrew Wiggins has said he’ll likely enter the NBA Draft after one season at Kansas, while freshman guard Wayne Selden has appeared in first-round draft projections as well.

Embiid’s situation is a little different. After moving to the United State before his junior year of high school, he has played organized basketball for just parts of three seasons.

“He is a young man who is very, very young, not just in basketball… he is trying to figure it all out,” Self said. “I talked to him the other day. He said, ‘Well, shouldn’t I learn how to drive a car first?’ He can get a nice car, but he probably can get somebody to drive him so he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

Self added: “I’d say everybody on the outside would say he’s probably definitely going to go because everybody who could go that high goes,” Self said. “But the reality of it is, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel he should do what is best for he and his life.”

Does KU have an outside shooting problem?

By Rustin Dodd

In college basketball terms, Kansas freshman guard Frank Mason fits a pretty familiar archetype: An overlooked recruit. A little undersized. A young point guard armed with enough built-in confidence to start a few games in November.

But after 11 games, Mason has also proved himself to been keenly self-aware — most notably when it comes to his shooting numbers. In short: Mason is not shooting it well from three-point range, and he knows this.

“I know I’m capable of shooting way better than what I’m doing,” Mason said this past weekend. “But I know it’s going to take a little time.”

For a 5-foot-11 guard with the ability to penetrate and make plays, perhaps that’s about all you can hope for. Mason is shooting 22.7 percent (five of 22) from three-point range, a number that is partially responsible for keeping him behind junior guard Naadir Tharpe in the Jayhawks’ rotation. But Kansas coach Bill Self believes Mason is a better shooter than he has shown. And Mason says he always shot a better percentage from three during his high school days.

“In high school, I shot more of a set shot,” Mason said. “But now in college, I have to jump, so I’m adjusting to that.”

The same can be said for Kansas. While the fortunes of the Jayhawks, 8-3, certainly won’t rest on the outside shooting of their backup point guard, Mason’s struggles highlight an area that has curbed the Jayhawks’ offensive efficiency, taking a potentially great offense and making it merely above average.

In 11 games, the Jayhawks rank 10th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. That’s considerably better than last season, when the Jayhawks finished the season ranked 34th in offense. But it leads to a rather fascinating subplot.

The Jayhawks, to this point, have been one of the most efficient offenses in the country … and they’ve done it while being one of the worst three-point shooting teams of Self’s KU tenure.

Kansas is shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and while the number isn’t crippling, it still ranks 219th in the country. Even more alarming: Just 18.8 percent of KU’s points are coming from three-pointers, way below what Self has been accustomed to over the last six years. Since the 2007-08 season, the year the Jayhawks won the NCAA title, Self has never had a team score less than 23 percent of its points from three-point range.

If that sounds slightly confusing, let’s look at the following chart. The first number is the percentage of KU’s field-goal attempts that come from behind the three-point line. The second number is the percentage of KU’s points that are coming off three-pointers.

Year Percent of shots from 3 Percentage of points from 3s
2013-14* 28.7% 18.8%
2012-13 29.0% 23.3%
2011-12 29.6% 23.2%
2010-11 32.4% 26.4%
2009-10 30.7% 26.8%
2008-09 30.7% 25.0%
2007-08 29.3% 25.1%
*Through 11 games

In 11 games, KU is averaging 78.2 points per game — but just around 15 of those points are coming from three-point field goals.

While the three-point issues plagued Kansas in its three early losses, the Jayhawks’ overall offensive profile is still largely positive. They’ve been dominant in the post, shooting 57.5 percent on two-point field goals (the third best mark in the country). And freshman center Joel Embiid (68 percent from the floor) is rapidly evolving into an offensive weapon.

In Kansas’ last victory before Christmas, an 86-64 drubbing of Georgetown, the Jayhawks scored 1.26 points per possession. By efficiency measures, it equaled KU’s best offensive performance of the year (The Jayhawks had the same efficiency against Towson.) But a week later, Self was still believing the Jayhawks had more room to grow.

“We’re still just not lighting it up from the perimeter,” Self said this past weekend. “But I thought we were efficient. We played through our bigs, and we took better care of the basketball. We acted like we knew how we were going to score.”

So even after an offensive effort that any coach would go for, it still left one question:

Can Kansas be a true contender if it’s scoring only 18.8 percent of its points on threes?

History suggests no … but it’s close.

In the last five years, just one Final Four team has been less reliant on the three-pointer than Kansas has been. That was UConn in 2009, which scored just 17.6 percent of its points from the outside. Some other programs (think Ohio State and Louisville) have made runs while doing most of its scoring on the inside, but 19 of the last 20 Final Four teams have all scored at least 20 percent of their points from three.

So, yes, KU needs to make a few more outside jumpers. Here are KU’s three-point numbers from the last seven seasons:

Year Three-point percentage National rank
2013-14 32.1% 219
2012-13 36.4% 63
2011-12 34.5 149
2010-11 38.2% 24
2009-10 40.4% 7
2008-09 36.7% 63
2007-08 39.7% 14
If there’s a positive sign for Self, it’s that his starters are actually shooting relatively well. Tharpe (36.7 percent) and freshmen Wayne Selden (37 percent) and Andrew Wiggins (35.1 percent) have all shot above the 33 percent threshold from the outside. And the trio has shot a combined 41.8 percent in their last five games.

The real drag on the outside shooting has come from Mason and two other freshmen (Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene) expected to provide some shooting off the bench. All together, the reserve guards are shooting 23 percent from three. The hope for KU, perhaps, is that all three will shoot a little better after getting adjusted to the speed of the college game. (And, of course, Frankamp and Greene will likely see their minutes limited in conference play anyway.)

If the numbers hold, the solution seems pretty simple: Selden and Tharpe need to be taking a few more threes, and Mason needs to be a little more selective. But mostly, KU just needs to make a few more threes to take another step forward on offense.

“(Coach Self) just wants me to shoot the ball when I’m open,” Selden said. “so that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not really shooting more or less.”

Cliff Alexander update

By Rustin Dodd
Now this is some kind of stat line from Kansas basketball signee Cliff Alexander.
On Thursday night in Chicago, Alexander finished with 30 points, 24 rebounds, 15 blocked shots and three steals in Curie High’s victory over Dunbar. It’s the 15 blocks that really stand out for Alexander, a 6-foot-8 power forward who is ranked as the No. 4 overall recruit in the nation by Rivals.com.
It’s the kind of number makes you question whether Dunbar had any players above 6 feet tall — or whether they considered just trying to shoot from the outside after Alexander’s 10th or 11th block.
Anyway, it was a dominating triple-double from Alexander, who joins Findlay Prep swingman Kelly Oubre in the Jayhawks’ 2014 recruiting class. Alexander chose Kansas over in-state choices Illinois, DePaul and others in mid November.

Embiid expected to start vs. Florida

By Rustin Dodd

Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid is expected to make his first career start Tuesday when the Jayhawks tip off against No. 19 Florida at 6 p.m. at the O’Connell Center.

KU unveiled Embiid’s spot in the starting lineup on the program’s official Twitter account on Tuesday afternoon.

Embiid, a 7-foot native of Cameroon, is averaging 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds while playing 19 minutes per game off the bench. Senior forward Tarik Black, a transfer from Memphis, has started Kansas’ first eight games in the post alongside sophomore power forward Perry Ellis.

Embiid is no stranger to Gainesville. He played his final season of high school basketball at The Rock School, a Gainesville private school that also produced Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin.

It could make for the youngest Kansas starting lineup in years. If freshman point guard Frank Mason again starts in place of junior Naadir Tharpe in the backcourt, the Jayhawks probably will trot out a lineup of four freshmen and one sophomore against a ranked team.

The Jayhawks enter Tuesday having lost two of three since starting the season 5-0, including a buzzer-beater loss at Colorado on Saturday. Kansas is trying to avoid losing three games before Dec. 11 for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when the Jayhawks began the year 3-4 before rallying to win a share of the Big 12 regular-season crown.

Wayne Selden on Towson

By Rustin Dodd

LAWRENCE Kansas freshman Wayne Selden met with reporters on Thursday before the second-ranked Jayhawks’ game against Towson on Friday night.

Selden, who is averaging 10.0 points and 4.3 assists after three games, said KU coach Bill Self was putting more of an emphasis on being aggressive and physical on defense. The Jayhawks have recorded just 21 steals through three games.

An early look at Andrew Wiggins

By Rustin Dodd

Andrew Wiggins had 22 points and eight rebounds in Kansas’ 94-83 victory over Duke last week in the Champions Classic. It was a solid line, especially considering Wiggins had just six points while battling foul trouble in the first half.

But after two games — yeah , just two games— there are a couple of trends emerging that could be considered positive signs for Wiggins and Kansas.

1. Wiggins is taking 32 percent of KU’s shots while he’s been on the floor, according to KenPom.com. For comparison: That’s more than Kentucky freshman Julius Randle (25.2 percent), and a little less than Duke freshman Jabari Parker (36.4). And it’s also considerably more than former KU guard Ben McLemore (24.7 percent), who averaged 15.9 points per last season — but often struggled with his assertiveness.

If there were similar concerns about Wiggins — concerns that he might disappear on offense for stretches — the first two games have been promising. He floated a little bit during the first half of KU’s opener against Louisiana Monroe, and he’s battled foul trouble. But for the most part, he’s looked to attack when he’s been on the floor.

2. Wiggins is shooting 63 percent (12 of 19) on two-point field goals, and 41.7 percent of his shots have come at the rim, according to HoopMath.com. Small sample size, of course, but Wiggins has been better at getting shots at the rim than all of Kansas’ other wings and forwards. (Side note: Freshman point guard Frank Mason has taken 62.5 percent of his shots at the rim; if he can continue to get into the paint, he’s going to be a serious offensive weapon under the new rules.)

It’s too early to know how it will translate at the next level, but Wiggins’ combination of length, athleticism and quickness can make him nearly unguardable in the post — even against some bigger power forwards. If Wiggins can make enough three-pointers to keep defenders honest, well … his efficiency numbers could begin to look pretty scary.

3. Again, small-sample-size alert. But here’s one more positive trend: A 6-foot-8 wing, Wiggins is one of the biggest perimeter players in the country. But in two games, he hasn’t shown much tendency to turn it over. He has three turnovers in 59 minutes of court time — although he also has just two assists. For a player who will likely have the ball as much as Wiggins will this season, that’s a pretty good start.

Charlie Weis from Monday’s Big 12 teleconference

The endless search for more consistency on offense continues for Kansas coach Charlie Weis.

Two days after Saturday’s 35-13 loss to Texas in Austin, Weis said Monday that he’ll likely shake up the offensive line again in advance of this Saturday’s road game at Oklahoma State.

The Jayhawks have already played three players at center — senior Gavin Howard is the latest — and shuffled in multiple people at left tackle. The changes, for the most part, have served as a temporary bandage on a gaping wound.

Kansas has allowed 22 sacks in eight games this season, an average of 2.75 sacks allowed. That’s tied for 98th in the country in sacks allowed. Starting quarterback Jake Heaps took a beating against Texas, and the game turned when Heaps fumbled after absorbing a big hit midway through the third quarter. The Longhorns returned the fumble 40 yards for a touchdown, igniting a second-half rout.

“I think it all starts up front, to be perfectly honest with you,” Weis said on Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “You try to establish some chemistry, and get the same guys playing together all the time. But we have not been very efficient up front.”

Kansas, 2-6 and 0-5 in the Big 12, is 114th in the country in scoring offense, averaging just 17.1 points per game. The Jayhawks have failed to score 20 points against a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision.

For now, Kansas will continue to play two quarterbacks, Weis says, juggling junior Jake Heaps and freshman Montell Cozart.

Heaps completed 11 of 21 pass attempts for 160 yards against Texas, but Weis says he saw some improvement from a transfer quarterback who has struggled to find a rhythm in his first season at Kansas.

“He’s significantly improved over the last two weeks,” Weis said. “Sometimes stats are a little bit misleading, because you throw in a couple of throwaways and a couple of dropped balls … and all of a sudden, he could have been a 75-percent completion guy.”

Cozart, meanwhile, rushed four times for 34 yards and a touchdown while attempting just one pass. After the game, Weis said he was still confident in Cozart’s ability to throw the ball. But Cozart didn’t get many chances against Texas; his one completion came on a shovel pass.

“I think he was a little bit of a freshman this past week, to tell you the truth,” Weis said. “You’re playing there in Texas (in front of) 100 grand in the stadium. But I think that each week, Montell will continue to play. And I think that by the end of the season, we’ll have a guy that is really ready to blossom as he goes into his second year.”

Oklahoma State’s Patmon to face old team

Kansas will face a familiar face this week at Oklahoma State. Cowboys cornerback Tyler Patmon started parts of three seasons for Kansas before graduating last spring. With one year of eligibility remaining, he landed at Oklahoma State and was eligible immediately under the graduate-transfer rule.

Patmon, who started this past week in a victory against Texas Tech, will enter Saturday with 14 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups.

“Tyler was graduating from school,” Weis said, “and we both chatted, and when you graduate from college, you can move on and go somewhere else, and I let him.”

Sims moves up charts

Senior running back James Sims had 48 rushing yards against Texas, moving him into third place all-time at Kansas with 3,119 yards. Sims passed former KU running back Laverne Smith, who played from 1973-76.

Early start time for Kansas-West Virginia

It’s another early start time for Kansas, which will play host to West Virginia at 11 a.m. on Nov. 16. This week’s game at Oklahoma State is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start.

Pittsburg State exhibition aftermath

By Rustin Dodd

After Kansas’ 97-57 victory over Pittsburg State in its first exhibition game on Tuesday, here are three thoughts on the performance:

1. Andrew White III showed why, after a month of practice, he went from a redshirt candidate to KU’s first guard off the bench. White, a sophomore wing, finished with 12 points — two of three from three-point range – in 15 minutes. He added four rebounds and shot four-of-seven from the floor.

But White’s emergence goes beyond offense.

Last season, he struggled to find minutes on a team that already had two bigger guards in Ben McLemore and Travis Releford. White could always shoot, the result of some late-night workouts at the KU practice facility, and effort was never the issue. But as a 6-foot-6 wing, he always appeared a step slow and his lateral quickness was lacking.

“As soon as we lost to Michigan,” White said on Tuesday, “I just recommitted myself to working, trying to emphasize some things I’m not good at — ballhandling, I wanted to get my body a little better and faster … just doing whatever I have to do to help this team.”

One year later, White is stronger — and perhaps a little quicker — and the hustle is paying dividends. On a team with freshman starters Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, Bill Self will likely need a smart veteran to mix into the rotation — someone that can make shots and won’t make mistakes. So far, White appears to be capable of filling that role.

2. After one exhibition game, Bill Self wasn’t ready to make any decisions about redshirts. Not a surprise, of course. Self said on Monday that he was still thinking through the possibilities. Freshman wing Brannen Greene, who made three of four from three-point range against Pitt State, and Conner Frankamp, who went scoreless, appear to be the only candidates. On Tuesday, Self offered some more insight into the decision-making process.

“Brannen Greene can jump up and make a shot,” Self said. “Brannen Greene is talented; if he’d just bend his knees, he could probably move a little quicker. But I think he’s a good player. I think Brannen Green’s a good player, and he physically looks the part and can play the role. He’s just time away…

“But I thought everybody did fine. Conner is not making any shots because he’s thinking too much. We’ll make some decisions in the next week or so. And just because we make decisions doesn’t mean that’s the direction we’ll end up going, because maybe families don’t want to do it, or a kid doesn’t want to do it, or maybe we don’t want to do something. But certainly we’re not gonna be able to distribute the minutes evenly from this point forward.”

One thing to remember: The redshirt decisions don’t necessarily have to made by Kansas’ regular-season opener against Louisiana Monroe. The players in question could always lay out the first couple games and use more time to make the decision.

3. Considering that a heavyweight battle with Duke is looming on Nov. 12, it’s certainly not ideal that Naadir Tharpe has to sit out KU’s season opener for committing a minor NCAA violation last summer. (Tharpe played in a summer-league game in Chicago, a violation because he did not have prior permission, and it was not in his hometown.)

Freshman Frank Mason will start in place of Tharpe in the Jayhawks’ season opener against Louisiana Monroe, Self says. Of all of KU’s regulars, Tharpe is probably the most equipped to miss a game and still be ready to face Duke. But for Kansas’ young players, it could certainly hurt not having the extra game time to jell with Tharpe at the point.

Basketball is finally close

By Rustin Dodd

After more than a month of practice, Kansas will open its two-game exhibition schedule against Pitt State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The game will provide the next step in a maturation process for a six-man freshman class that includes No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins and probable starter Wayne Selden,

Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 swingman, and Selden, a 6-foot-4 guard, are expected to take two starting spots for Kansas, while junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, sophomore forward Perry Ellis and senior forward Tarik Black, a graduate transfer from Memphis, will fill out the starting lineup, KU coach Bill Self said on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, Ellis talked about the adjustment process for all of KU’s young players.

KU freshman point guard Frank Mason also talked about the nerves of the freshmen playing their first game inside Allen Fieldhouse.