The Kansas Jayhawks had arguably the best offensive performance of the season in their 93-83 victory over the Toledo Rockets last week, yet their defense was another story. Kansas found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum after their 61-57 loss to #21 San Diego State.
The defensive unit showed up with a bang, an aspect of the game that has been left to be desired by Jayhawk fans. Kansas rang up 13 blocked shots and 5 steals, forcing the Aztecs to turn the ball over 15 times. The Jayhawks limited their turnovers to 10 total, one of the season’s lowest amounts in that category.
What hadn’t been a problem for Kansas this season was field goal percentage. The Jayhawks came into Sunday’s game versus San Diego State with the 10th ranked field goal percentage in the nation, shooting better than 50%. SDSU, however, brought the nation’s number one field goal percentage defense to the table, which had a massive impact on the game.
G Xavier Thames was the high-man for the Aztecs, scoring 16 points on 5-16 shooting. Forwards Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis also scored in double-digits, Spencer with 13 and Davis with 10.
Kansas has been a favorite of mine for many years now, as long as I can remember enjoying college basketball. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more disappointing effort from a Jayhawk unit in my years.
Junior G Naadir Tharpe has been dubbed the leader of the team as of late. Tharpe, despite all the progress he has made through the Bill Self benching and his bounce back, regressed to a high-school level of play in the home loss, which snapped a 68-game home non-conference winning streak. Tharpe contributed with an array of errant three-point shots and poor decision making and looked like the Naadir of old, a Naadir that cannot lead this team to a National Championship. Tharpe finished the contest with 5 points on 2-10 shooting including 1-5 from beyond the arc, an area that the Jayhawks have no strength in. Tharpe also added 5 assists to 0 turnovers in the loss.
Freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins also took a step in the wrong direction despite scoring a team-high 14 points. Wiggins settled for outside shot after outside shot, an area of his game that isn’t much to write home about quite yet. Andrew is outstanding at getting to the rim, but there is still a softness that resides inside the Canadian-native. Wiggins lacks the killer mentality that is required from a star athlete such as himself. If Andrew is unable to find a jump shot in the next two months, I wouldn’t suggest an entry into the NBA just yet. Wiggins seems to be struggling with handling the college atmosphere and doesn’t produce like a top pick in the draft should. Wiggins shot 4-14 from the field and 6-7 from the free-throw line where he has been locked in, shooting nearly 77%.
Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, and the other Kansas big men struggled heavily with the vigorous double teams that San Diego State would send to the post, something that Aztec Head Coach Steve Fisher has been teaching his players since the beginning of his time. Embiid was unable to be a dominant force in the post as he usually is, but managed to come away with his third double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds as well as 5 blocked shots. Perry Ellis had a nightmarish outing, going scoreless clear up until the 8:14 mark of the second half. Ellis finished the game with 4 points on 1-8 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Freshman G Frank Mason made an impact coming off the bench, adding 14 points of his own on 4-8 shooting and helped keep the game within Kansas’ reach. Mason has shown his fair share of bright spots this season, though I still fully believe he makes some bad decisions with the basketball, primarily in his shot selection. The Point Guard position is a huge element in the Bill Self system, it would do the Jayhawks some good to have one of their point guard’s play at a consistent level night in and night out.
The Jayhawks finished the contest with a 17-57 shooting performance, a dismal 30%. The young Jayhawks also shot 4-16 from three-point land.
Kansas continues to show that they are unequipped to knock down the long ball on a consistent basis. I expect to see more teams use the double-team in the post and zone defenses, forcing Kansas to make a jump shot. Head Coach Bill Self should consider giving more minutes to long-range experts like Andrew White III, Brannen Greene, and even Connor Frankamp who hasn’t shown much in his small time on the floor. If Kansas cannot stretch the floor successfully, they are in for a long, tough road ahead.
Until the Jayhawks learn to play all 40 minutes as a unit, they will continue to struggle. Bill Self can only do so much for the young, talented guys that take the floor every game night for Kansas. The rest is up to the players. This unit has the talent of a championship team, yet they lack the discipline and on-court leadership that also comes with a championship caliber team.
On a positive note, Sunday’s game does leave me with high hopes in several facets. I am pleased to know that our Jayhawks can shoot so horribly from the field, yet still be in a position to win the basketball game. Games like this are colossal groundwork for the NCAA Tournament and simply watching the game gave you the feel of a second-round NCAA Tournament brawl.
With the Jayhawks plunging into their conference schedule starting Wednesday evening, they need to look to improve on the jump shooting and learn to minimize their panic. Kansas has a problem with turning the ball over, even when they aren’t being pressured in any way. Naadir Tharpe, or anybody at this point for that matter, needs to become the “pappy” of the youthful Jayhawks and steer them in the right direction both on and off the court. A huge key to the Jayhawk success will be how Tharpe handles his role. Kansas needs him to be a pass-first point guard, which he excels at when he takes that role. With guys like Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and others, Kansas has an arsenal of scoring and needs Tharpe to pick his spots carefully.
The Jayhawks have a plethora of next-level talent on their roster, though if the draft came today I wouldn’t expect any of the Kansas stars to be in it. These guys are struggling like a Kansas team shouldn’t and the pros seem a little far off at the moment. Much improvement is to be had in the coming months and the Kansas Jayhawks look to redeem themselves tomorrow evening in their conference opener on the road versus the Oklahoma Sooners.