KU Basketball: Jayhawks Use Strong Half to Defeat Rebels

Dec 22, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) smiles towards his bench as he waits to get back into a game against the UNLV Runnin
Dec 22, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) smiles towards his bench as he waits to get back into a game against the UNLV Runnin /

After a hot first half, the Jayhawks played a sloppy second half en route to a 71-53 win. Here are three takeaways for KU basketball.

Self is going with a tight, seven man rotation.

This is no surprise, as Self played eight before the injury to Udoka Azubuike. Self has played a tighter rotation in the past, most notably during the 2012 NCAA Tournament run. In this case, the composition of the rotation is unique in the Self era. Only two big men (Bragg and Lucas) are playing meaningful minutes for KU basketball, while Self is playing five smalls.

It makes sense, because two of them (Jackson and Svi) have the size of most forwards at 6’8. Against UNLV, Kansas had the size advantage at almost every position, even playing “small.” If Svi continues to be in the starting lineup, this trend will continue. It provides KU a mismatch as well, as most forwards can’t defend either Jackson or Svi.

The limited rotation also clarifies roles somewhat. Lucas is now the main big that KU will use. He had a very good game last night, pulling down 12 rebounds in 27 minutes. Bragg returns to his role as first big off the bench. He struggled at times, including with shot selection, but played decent defense and got six rebounds.

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Svi is in the starting lineup to stay.

As we’ve said, Svi in the starting lineup provides a couple advantages. He’s bigger than Lagerald Vick, and a better ballhandler and passer. With Mason, Graham, Jackson, and Svi, KU has four plus passers on the floor at one time, making the Jayhawks nearly impossible to defend. I’m not reading too much into last night’s game (Svi always plays well against bad teams), but he was aggressive and hunted for his shot. He hit 4-6 from three, and 8-14 overall on his way to 20 points and six rebounds.

Opponents have to respect Svi’s outside shot, which can free up driving lanes for Jackson and Mason. For a lot of the night, UNLV played zone defense against the Jayhawks, a usually fatal mistake. Jackson plays in the middle of the zone better than anyone in recent memory, possibly other than the Morris twins. With his outstanding passing and driving ability, Jackson is able to collapse a zone and find open shooters. Jackson had some highlight reel plays as well off penetration.

With non-conference play over, KU still has work to do.

Bill Self would be the first to tell you that the Jayhawks aren’t where they need to be. They don’t rebound great yet, can’t shoot free throws, and at times struggle with shot selection and energy level. When the team comes back from Christmas, they have a little bit of time to get ready for TCU and the rest of Big 12 play. KU opens the conference with three softer games: at TCU, then Kansas State and Texas Tech at home.

The soft schedule should give the team opportunities to adjust to the absence of Azubuike, and work on some weaknesses. My hope is that Big 12 play brings a renewed energy to the team, which seems to almost get bored at times. More consistent effort will help in rebounding and playing complete games, which they did not do last night. UNLV actually outscored KU in the second half, when KU’s offensive efficiency tanked due to poor shot selection and lazy plays. Look for this to get remedied in conference play.

Bottom line

It’s difficult to look too much into this game, and KU took care of business. However, they played a horribly sloppy second half, possibly out of boredom. Hopefully they find renewed focus over break, and come back strong in Big 12 play starting December 30th at TCU.