Kansas Takes Control of the Big 12

February 9, 2012

Last night the Kansas Jayhawks walked in to Waco, Texas, and took pole position in the race for the Big 12 regular season title. Their 68-54 win over Baylor means that all Kansas has to do to secure their eight straight Big 12 title is win the rest of their games.

Now 9-2 in conference, Kansas will be the favorite in every game they play from now on, including February 25th against Missouri.

Now 8-3, Baylor needs a ton of help. If the Bears fall to Missouri on Saturday, it will officially become a two team race. Either way, Baylor sits without a single tiebreaker over the two teams in front of them in the standings.

Baylor started the game on a 7-0 run, including a great lob play to Perry Jones to start the night. It all went downhill from there for both Jones and the Bears. Jones was a missing man the rest of the night, struggling to set post position on offense, and once again drifting too far off the block. He finished the night with five points, three rebounds, and his only made field goal was the dunk to start the game. Pretty bad for a guy who is supposed to be the best player in the conference, or at least the most talented.

For Kansas it was all about the return of Jeff Withey. After speed basically took him out of the Missouri game, Withey looked like he was lacking confidence early in this game as well. That changed rather quickly though, and Withey finished with a career high 25 points. He was able to take advantage of the attention paid to Thomas Robinson, and slipped behind Baylor’s zone for easy layups and dunks. Withey was also 9-11 from the foul line. There is no denying that Kansas is at its best when Withey is active and involved on both offense and defense, mostly because it helps open up space for Thomas Robinson to operate.

So now we play the waiting game. The schedule sets up well for Kansas the rest of the way. If Missouri knocks off Baylor on Saturday (which seems likely), then the game on the 25th will be for the conference title. Trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State could prove troublesome for the Jayhawks, but it seems unlikely anyone besides Missouri has a shot to beat them right now. Thomas Robinson is cruising to the National Player of the Year award (and deserves to win it over Anthony Davis if Kansas wins the Big 12), Kansas weathered the toughest part of their schedule and still emerged the favorites to win the conference. Things are looking up in Lawrence right now.

For Baylor, there is still some hope. Winning the conference is probably not going to happen, unless Kansas suffers two major slip ups, but they are still in great position to have a memorable season. A win over Missouri on Saturday would be a great confidence builder. The talent and ability are still there for a long run in the NCAA tournament, and honestly, Baylor might be built more for the NCAAs than the Big 12 grind. There aren’t going to be many teams as tough inside as Kansas, or overall as tough as Missouri, in the field of 64. Sure Baylor had a weak non-conference schedule, but they still breezed through it. It is very possible that Scott Drew still ends up in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight.

Kansas returns home to face Oklahoma State on Saturday, Baylor plays Missouri in Columbia.


Kansas and Baylor Meet Again

February 8, 2012

A few weeks ago at Allen Fieldhouse, the Kansas Jayhawks made a loud statement. Their 92-74 win over previously unbeaten Baylor reminded the Big 12 who was boss. Since then, Missouri has taken charge of the conference race, with wins over both Kansas and Baylor, but tonight’s rematch in Waco will set one team up to take down the Tigers.

A Kansas win would give the Jayhawks the final tiebreaker over Baylor, and set them up well against Missouri as well, since the Tigers have to go to Lawrence in two weeks. A Baylor win sets them up to take complete control of the conference Saturday afternoon in Columbia.

Obviously, this game is important, which is why Perry Jones needs to show up tonight and play the best game of his season. In their first game, Jones reduced himself to a jump shooter, while Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey dominated inside. Jones remains the most talented player on the court nearly every night he plays (the exception probably being a hypothetical game against Kentucky). He doesn’t act like it though. Instead of attacking the basket and going hard after rebounds, Jones seems to take himself out of the game. Patrolling the outside and taking jumpers, leaving the hard inside work to Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller.

Like it or not, Jones and Thomas Robinson will be compared to one another all night long. On the surface, the comparison makes sense, as both are lottery bound big men who lead top 10 teams. In reality though, they couldn’t be more different. Robinson loves playing inside, thrives on contact, and just happens to have a decent outside shot. Jones relies on his shot first, and only drifts inside in the open court, or when set up by his teammates. If Jones can flip that script tonight, Baylor is going to have an excellent chance to win.

Kansas will continue to sink or swim with Tyshawn Taylor, who has been playing very well in conference play. He suffered a one man mental breakdown at the end of the Missouri game though, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. In years past, odds are Taylor would let his struggles carry over, should be interesting to see how much he’s matured. Also in need to a reclamation game, Jeff Withey.  Previously the Jayhawk’s secret weapon, Withey was completely useless against Missouri. Against Baylor, Withey will be playing against guys more his size, which should be a breath of fresh air. He pushed around the soft Baylor front line two weeks ago, and Bill Self is going to need him to do it against tonight.

Scott Drew is going to want to get Quincy Miller back on track, Miller has scored double-digit points just one time in the last two weeks. As long as Perry Jones continues to pussyfoot around the court, Miller has to be the Bear’s best player. He showed the ability to do it while Jones was suspended, and has shown flashes since. This would be a good night for him to get back on track.

Most important for Baylor, setting their defense from the start. Kansas shredded Drew’s zone early in the last game, and it proved useless. If Baylor starts in man defense from the start, and Drew keeps it going the whole game, they will have already improved their chances to win.

The game is in Waco, the Bears have revenge on their minds, and Kansas is coming off a tough, draining loss to their biggest rival. Still, Thomas Robinson is a monster inside, and nobody on Baylor seems willing to trade blows with him. I think Kansas gets the win, and sets up a conference title showdown with Missouri in two weeks.

Kansas 78 Baylor 69 


Baylor’s Undefeated Season Ends in Kansas

January 17, 2012

As we get deeper into the Big 12 season, one thing has become clear, it helps to be at home. It also helps to have Thomas Robinson. Kansas ended Baylor’s undefeated season in impressive fashion, using Robinson and the home crowd to win 92-74.

Robinson scored 27 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and spent most of the night frustrating a very good group of Baylor big men. He was helped on the outside by Tyshawn Taylor, who despite still having five turnovers, generally controlled the game. He finished with 28 points, including 4-6 shooting from three, and six assists. It was the kind of game Kansas needed from their point guard in order to beat the Bears.

Kansas got off to a hot start thanks to Baylor playing a weak zone defense. Robinson was able to do whatever he wanted inside, and didn’t show signs of being stoppable until Scott Drew finally switched to man defense. Switching to man helped Baylor get back into the game, and even take the lead for a few minutes. Bill Self responded by tightening up his defense, tempting Baylor’s big men into taking outside shots, and eventually Kansas pulled away.

This game is not at all a knock against Baylor though. Nothing I thought about them has changed based on last night. They are still a great team, they will still win a ton of games, they are still held back by their coach. Perry Jones is an incredible talent, though at times he seems to be hesitant to really bang inside. The same can be said for Quincy Miller, though he is at least more of a small forward than Jones. Still, the two of them combined for nine three point field goal attempts, which is too many.

Scott Drew will have to work on cleaning up his offense, and perhaps spend some time coaching man to man defense. His roster is stacked with guys that have defensive talent, he just needs to use it. He can play zone against Missouri on Saturday, but if the Tigers are shooting lights out from three, it will be another long day for the Bears.

For Kansas, there were things to be learned. Taylor’s continued development into a leader is crucial for the rest of the season. He’s been really good recently, not just as a player, but as a leader. He makes Kansas go from a one man show, to a legitimate threat to make the Final Four.

The play of Jeff Withey cannot go without mention either. He’s about as solid a defensive center as there is in college right now. His presence at the rim was part of the reason the Baylor big men were drifting outside all night, and his work on the offensive glass is stellar. He keeps possessions alive, which helps cover for the Jayhawks streaky shooting. His NBA future is questionable, but he is a great college center.

Kansas moves on to play at Texas this Saturday. Baylor goes home and will face Missouri.

Just remember, and this is important for fans of both teams, NCAA Tournament games are not played in Lawrence


Kansas is Fine, Thank You

January 5, 2012

Before last night’s game between Kansas and Kansas State, I tweeted that KU was a “sinking ship”. Clearly, I could not have been more wrong. The Jayhawks made a statement to their (many) doubters with a 67-49 thrashing of Kansas State at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Travis Releford led a balanced Jayhawk attack with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Thomas Robinson continued his brilliance with 15 and 14, while Jeff Withey just missed out on a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds.

The story of the game was rebounding. The Jayhawks managed to out-rebound the Wildcats 48-24 for the game, a shocking margin, especially considering that Frank Martin’s teams usually out-rebound their opponent. This season the Wildcats have had to generate a lot of offense off of rebounds, and that was nearly impossible last night. Without easy put backs and run outs off of defensive rebounds, the Wildcats were forced to run a rather ugly half court offense. The result was a lot of contested, long jump shots, and 31% shooting from the floor.

For a brief time in the second half, mostly as a result of Kansas turnovers, the game was close. A couple of Jamar Samuels three-pointers cut the Jayhawk lead to three, but K-State couldn’t defend well enough to ever get closer.

For Kansas, this game was a reminder that they are every bit the force in Big 12 play that they have always been. Winning at Allen Fieldhouse is the hardest thing to do in the Big 12, and a talent drop won’t change that. Kansas’ half court defense was great, contesting every shot, making passes difficult, and preventing offensive rebounds.

That defense made up for a pedestrian game on the offensive end, which Bill Self still needs to clean up. Thomas Robinson, who is considered by many to be the best player in the conference, goes long stretches without touching the ball. Considering that Robinson has solid range out to 15-18 feet, and is even capable of creating a jumper off the dribble, that is unacceptable. Robinson should be getting 15-20 shots a night.

While Travis Releford’s stat line looks nice, and Releford did hit some big shots, he is one of the main culprits of not getting Robinson the ball. Releford tends to over dribble and put himself in questionable positions, he was guilty of it a few times last night. Since the result was 6-11 shooting and 16 points, it can be ignored for once game.

Finally, Tyshawn Taylor. He’s incredibly good at driving to the basket, and does a good job creating for his teammates at times. He is also going to be the downfall of the Jayhawks this season. Last night Taylor had eight turnovers, and is averaging almost four a game. That has been the issue all season, and it might be too late to fix. Against teams with quick guards, like Baylor and Missouri, Taylor is going to be in for a long night.

Kansas and Kansas State are both really good teams. The Jayhawks used last night as a reminder that they are still the force of the conference, and that the Wildcats will have to wait their turn. I was ready to put the Wildcats in the top 3 of the conference, but that will have to wait until Frank Martin finds a better way to generate offense. I was ready to write off the Jayhawks, but that will have to wait too.

K-State hosts Missouri on Saturday, while Kansas travels to Oklahoma.


Kansas State – Kansas preview

January 4, 2012

You’ll have to go the Internet to find it, but there’s a really good basketball rivalry tonight in the Big 12.

No. 15 Kansas hosts No. 22 Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. It’s only on ESPN3, because bowl games are still being dragged out and hey, Duke is playing Temple. Hopefully you have a good connection and a sharp picture, because this is the top game of the year so far in the conference.

A lot has been said about how this year’s Kansas team (10-3) is “different” from Self’s other teams, a label that is clearly not a compliment. To be sure, there aren’t the obvious stars available to come off the bench like there were in 2008, when Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were fighting Russell Robinson and Sasha Kaun for playing time.

Everyone loved to talk about how “deep” those Kansas teams were, and certainly the depth isn’t quite there now. But that was extremely unusual – this is more normal. And yet forward Thomas Robinson is still an All-American – one of those players that is worth watching even for those who prefer the NBA to the college game.

You also hear a lot about the home gym in Lawrence. Allen Fieldhouse is a great place and the fans get very into these rivalry games – they will be very loud from the start of tonight’s game. But KU has won 82 out of 83 at home largely because of the teams they put on the floor – the fans help some, but the talent has been the primary factor in home success. People talk about K-State’s “curse” in Lawrence, but remember, Kansas has had the better team almost every year that said “curse” has been in place.

Certainly, home court advantage makes a big difference in college basketball. It might make the difference tonight. But don’t think that Allen Fieldhouse is winning this game for KU. If the Wildcats outplay the Jayhawks, I think K-State will win.

FOR KANSAS STATE, experience from previous seasons should help in the team’s second road game of the year. I think the Wildcats (11-1) are confident they can hang with KU and beyond that compete for a Big 12 title.

Why not? Jamar Samuels and Thomas Gipson are scoring and getting it done on the glass. Will Spradling is shooting a great percentage from both inside and outside the arc, and Rodney McGruder is reliable. Frank Martin’s team has a well-earned connection with physical toughness.

Kansas State might not have played in many road environments yet, but that’s not unusual for the first week of January. The Cats had an exciting game against West Virginia out in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. The double OT loss is the only mark against them this season. Wins over Alabama and Long Beach State suggest good things. I haven’t seen much of K-State this year, and I’m excited to see a big conference game for them.

They face Missouri on Saturday and Baylor next week, so we’ll see three big conference games straight away for the Wildcats.

PREDICTION

For all the talk about Kansas’ decreased talent this year, the Jayhawks have a nice win themselves over Georgetown. In previous years, they did a great job of working inside first (be it with Aldrich or the Morris twins) and kicking out for 3s on the wing. KU got a lot of quick early leads in conference play. K-State must contain Robinson without keying so much on him that other people get too much space, while KU’s Tyshawn Taylor needs to limit the turnovers and get his team comfortable in the halfcourt set in which the Jayhawks traditionally thrive.

Kansas 73, Kansas State 66


Kansas falls to Davidson

December 20, 2011

The Big 12 has taken a few (understandable) non-conference lumps the past couple of days. Texas A&M got waxed by Florida, which is a good team but shouldn’t be 20 points better than the Aggies. Oklahoma State lost a virtual home game in Oklahoma City to New Mexico, although the Lobos are projected to be one of the better teams in the Mountain West.

Then Kansas followed suit, losing a virtual home game in Kansas City to a Steph Curry-less Davidson team. Davidson had shown flashes this season, losing a close game against Vanderbilt and holding a lead over Duke at halftime.

But they had just come off a 20+ point loss to Charlotte and were a team the Jayhawks probably should have taken care of. Especially since basketball-reference.com has them at 209th in defensive rating. Davidson has also been a poor shooting team thus far. Kansas was probably the most forgivable 2-loss team in the country, with “good” losses to Duke and Kentucky. No more.

Although obviously this isn’t the end of the world. The Jayhawks have just lost so rarely over the past few seasons that it is strange to see, especially in a building they’ve looked so invincible in lately. Kansas did lose to UMass in the Sprint Center in 2008-2009, and things didn’t work so badly as they ended up in the Sweet Sixteen that year.

It’s not surprising the Jayhawks looked sloppy last night. They were just coming off a big win against #2 Ohio State and had 9-day layover between games, which may explain how rusty they looked. They turned the ball over too much (14 TO’s). Davidson also turned it over with 12 in the first half, but took care of the ball as they didn’t commit any in the second half.  The Jayhawks also didn’t shoot the ball well from three (6-23) or from the free throw line (18-31).

The three-point shot is an element the Jayhawks have been lacking a bit this year. Clearly their talent level has dropped with the loss of the Morris twins, and the only real NBA-prospect on the team being Thomas Robinson. But they are also feeling the loss of Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar in a few different areas.

One of them is their consistency from three. Both shot over 38 percent last season, and this year only Conner Teahan is shooting at that rate. As a team the Jayhawks are shooting 3 percent loss from deep. But then again Teahan really struggled Monday night, going 2-8 from three.

Here are some links from last night’s game:

Kansas City Star: Davidson topples KU 80-74 at the Sprint Center 

Rock Chalk Talk: A (semi) Statistical Recap of Davidson 

 


Kevin Young becomes key piece for KU

October 18, 2011

Bill Self has seemingly had a revolving door of NBA-level frontcout talent the last few years. It’s pretty darn incredible that the Jayhawks have gone from Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson to Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins to Thomas Robinson in the present.

Kevin Young will be thrown in the fire early on.

But since prospective freshman Braeden Anderson and Jamari Traylor have been declared ineligible, Kansas will find itself in unfamiliar territory this season: without a big man succession plan coming off the bench.

The loss of the highly-touted guard Ben McLemore will hurt too, but Self should be able to compete with his presumptive starting trio of Elijah Johnson-Tyshawn Taylor-Travis Releford. He should also be able to squeeze enough depth out of freshman Naadir Tharpe and even redshirt senior walk-on Conner Teahan.

But the frontcourt is more of an issue behind Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Kevin Young (6’8”), a junior transfer from Loyola Marymount, could find himself being leaned on heavily. In two seasons at Loyola Marymount, Young averaged 10 points per game on 45% shooting and 6.2 rebounds and 1.o blocks per game.

Young’s former coach at Loyola Marymount, rather uncharacteristically for a coach, seemed to be candid in saying that Young wouldn’t be an offensive threat in the half-court but could be a factor in the open floor.

If this is the case, the Jayhawks already explosive transition offense could get a bit better. But they wouldn’t seem to rely on Young for offense regardless, his contribution would have to come from playing defense and making an impact on the offensive glass.

In that vein, in his freshman season in 2009 Young (10.3 OR%, 15.9 DR%) put up rebounding numbers somewhat similar to what Marcus Morris did in 2010 (12.8 OR%, 14.1 DR%). The cause for concern is that those numbers slipped in 2010, and obviously the competition will be different in the Big 12. But for those looking for the glass-half-full take, perhaps those numbers indicate Young can grow into a contributor on the glass.

It is possible that walk-on redshirt sophomore Justin Wesley (6’8”) could see playing time if things get dire, but I am only saying that because of his size. Self could also shift to a four guard lineup at times and retain some size as Releford, Johnson and Teahan are all 6’4” or above.

Side note: Because I am a new to advanced stats (and math-challenged to be honest) and can’t stand when blogs keep dropping them into posts without explaining them, here is kenpom.com’s explanation of DR% and OR%.

Offensive rebounding percentage (OR%): This is the percentage of possible offensive rebounds a player gets and computed as PlayerOR / [%Min * (Team OR + Opp. DR)]. The denominator is scaled based on the percentage of a team’s minutes played by the player.
Defensive rebounding percentage (DR%): This is the percentage of possible defensive rebounds a player gets and computed as PlayerDR / [%Min * (Team DR + Opp. OR)]. It is generally believed that offensive rebounds are more attributable to individual effort than defensive rebounds. Due to its relative rarity, an offensive rebound is considered more valuable than a defensive rebound.