KU's New Year's resolution?

Perhaps it was a tryptophan hangover from all that holiday turkey I gobbled. Whether you blame a sleep-inducing amino acid or the Prozac-like effects of seeing Binghamton (Binghamton?) on the schedule, it was tough to stay tuned to Kansas' 78-46 blammo of the Bearcats Monday night before a packed but not precisely pulsating Allen Fieldhouse crowd.

I choose the words "stay tuned" carefully. Not because I caught the action on TV. Nope. I was courtside. But this was a grinder of a game, even for a 32-point blowout, enough at times to make you long for a remote control to change the channel.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. For the record, your humble columnist did remain conscious the whole game (thank you, Diet Coke), and there's plenty of good stuff to report on. Yawn. Excuse me.

No more digressions. After this cup of coffee, that is... There. Mmm! Caffiene. Better.

Actually, this was just the kind of contest the 12th-ranked Jayhawks required to rebound from that 75-61 loss eight days agao to Nevada in Reno, a debacle of a performance in which KU played more like a sleepwalking intramural C-team than a top-tier college basketball squad.

But enough about that nightmare before Christmas.

Yep, after that lump of coal, this was just the stocking stuffer KU needed—a Twinkie of a game that the Jayhawks, now 7-2, used to put some sugar back where a sour taste had settled for more than a week.

Though we all suspected as much, freshman J.R. Giddens confirmed afterwards that "those weren't the real Jayhawks out in Nevada. Tonight we showed the way the Jayhawks can play. The last game we played was horrible."

Giddens sure did his part to horrify the Bearcats, bagging a game-best 16 points on 5 for 9 shooting, including a couple of threes (he had at least two other triple tries that blinged out after going down most of the way).

So while slamming Binghamton (4-6) means about as much as beating EA Sports in the preseason—and yes, it felt like an exhibition game, frankly—it was good for a number of reasons. For one thing, the rout put an exclamation point on a series of outstanding post-Christmas practices. It was a good momentum builder, in other words.

As KU junior forward Wayne Simien noted, "It feels good because we've had some good practices since we came back from break, we played pretty well and we won. It's always good to practice well, then get a win."

As well, it offered an opportunity to rub some more defensive wrinkles into KU's defensive workshirt—the Jayhawks effectively employed a 1-2-2 zone press, often with the long-limbed Giddens on the front end, and though it was really a token application designed to slow down the other team and get Kansas into its defense earlier, it nonetheless created some problems for the Bearcats. You could see it ultimately becoming a nice curve ball to toss at teams later in the season.

"It was more a token press where we were putting some pressure up front," Simien explained. "We tried to slow them down a bit. It's something different to put in our arsenal. We tried it against Nevada, but it wasn't very effective."

Actually, the 1-2-2 zone press was just part of a very effective night overall for KU defensively. Kansas' pressure defense bullied Binghamton into one of 11 shooting to begin the game. Kansas led 21-2 after nine minutes, and that, essentially, was that. The Bearcats made just five of 28 shots in the first half and committed eight turnovers as KU harassed its way to a 33-14 halftime lead. The 14 points in a half were the fewest by a Kansas opponent since Feb. 20, 1999, when Oklahoma scored 14 in the first half of a game KU eventually won, 60-50.

That said, let's praise the defense and pass on the offense (for the most part), please.

Yet again, Kansas' high-low offense was essentially turned into the high-no offense. Binghamton, employing a strategy that every team from here on out is likely to try against KU, collapsed on the interior and dared the Jayhawks to make perimeter shots. Oh, yes, a few times Kansas did get the high-low action going, but all you have to do to understand that it's still a struggle, a work in progress, is glance at Simien's line. Kansas' junior All-America candidate attempted just four shots, making one, and hit five of six free throw tries for a seven-point, four-rebound night.

Hard to believe that we were watching the same guy who one month ago bleep-slapped Michigan State for 28 points and eight rebounds. Then again, the blueprint for slowing Simien—and to some extent, Kansas—hadn't yet been inked when the Spartans came calling.

There are signs of life in the high-low, to be certain. This is still—yeah, you're tired of reading it and I'm tired of writing it—a learning process for the players. Tuesday afternoon at his weekly press pow-wow, coach Bill Self addressed the situation with his typical candor.

Asked about KU's difficulties feeding the post, Self said, "I don't think we were confident enough to throw it in there without turning it over. It matters. We emphasize that as much as anything—they know that. To date, we haven't been a good shooting or passing team. I do think we can pass and shoot it better than we have and we will."

Self further confirmed that Simien is still somewhat slowed by a nagging groin injury, saying Big Dub was probably operating at 85 percent and noting that he had difficulty going two days in a row and might have to sit out of Tuesday's practice.

That established, Self said, "As a staff we can do a lot of things better. We can get (Wayne) more touches on the perimeter. The one thing he has done a great job of—he has not gotten frustrated to the point that some players would.

"Last night when we started the second half we did a great job of getting the ball to him but we had already wasted 20 minutes. I think we can all do a better job. He could probably post a little stronger. He is not the biggest target at 6-8, when you get a couple of guys around him then he may appear open on tape but it may not be that clear live. He can probably do a better job of posting and sealing. He is open and we have to get the ball to him."

In fact, the day after Kansas' romp, Self continued to focus on concerns in the Jayhawks' collective marksmanship.

How to make it better?

"You just have to practice," Self said. "The biggest thing is having confidence. My biggest concern is to get Wayne the ball. Knocking down shots will be a huge key in getting him the ball.

"We may not become a good shooting team overnight—we haven't yet. We can shoot better than we have been and last night our starters were five-of-13 from behind the arc, which is very acceptable. The negative was Wayne only got two shots in the first half and both of them were threes. We need to do a good job of making shots and we also need to run the offense so we score from the perimeter. The problem is when you don't make shots you don't run off a score. If you don't run off a score then you are really easy to guard."

You also are an easy target if you are rushing matters offensively in the half-court—something else the Jayhawks need to resolve, Self said.

"I think the thing that has been so good around here the last couple years is teams shot so quick," he said. "We are not going to shoot it quick—we can't shoot it quick. We can shoot it quick in a primary break situation or maybe if we do a better job in transition and secondary and get the ball inside early. It's not to our benefit to come down and shoot the first perimeter open shot.

"There are still guys that don't shoot the first one but still don't give the big guys a chance to break open. Our offense is all about our big guys sealing on the post and we haven't been as patient as we should be, so I think a lot of it is impatience. Nobody is trying to be impatient but we are shooting the ball quicker than we should at times."

And one thing's for certain: Villanova -- which invades the Phog on Friday night with an 8-2 record and no fear factor whatsoever -- will guard Kansas better than did Binghamton.

"We are just now starting to watch tape," Self said of the Big East bunch from Philly. "They play four perimeter players because (Curtis) Sumpter is a three playing the four spot.

"They are very, very, very athletic and they can all shoot it. They are great off the bounce from an offensive standpoint. They are really a talented team. They had one bad loss early when they had four starters out. They still don't have Jason Fraser yet—I don't know what the status is on him yet—he has been out with a stress fracture based on what I have been told. They are going to be a really good team when they get all of the pieces. Right now they are coming hard—I think they have won five in a row. They are really playing well.

Jay (Wright, coach) does a great job with these guys. They will be a team to reckon with in the Big East."

If Kansas is going to be a team to reckon with in the Big 12—and nationally—then the Jayhawks must continue to build on principles Self and his staff have been stressing from day one. Principles that, following the embarrassment in Nevada and subsequent post-Christmas practices, seem to be taking hold, Self said.

"I told them it takes 18 days of doing something in a row for it to become a habit," Self said. "We are up to five as far as attitudes and good practice days and great effort. I thought we played really hard last night. If you asked Wayne (Simien) he would tell you we are gaining on it."


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