First of all, let me start by saying it’s tough to pick at a team with KU’s talent and a record of 12-2, but hey, this is basketball and no team is perfect.
Let’s take a look at some numbers from Saturday night’s game against Rhode Island. KU shot a shade under 39 percent (38.7 percent) in the first half and held Jim Barron’s team to 20 percent shooting – it equated to an eight-point halftime lead. Why only eight points you ask? Well, Kansas got out-rebounded by 12 and gave up 17 offensive rebounds.
In the second half, the Jayhawks shot 54.8 percent, which was the good news. The bad news was that Bill Self’s team allowed the Rams to shoot better than 56 percent. KU’s second half field goal percentage was enough to make it a runaway but the inability to stop Rhode Island kept it close.
For the game, KU’s field goal percentage equated to 46.8 percent. Take away Darrell Arthur’s sub-par 2-11 performance and that percentage gets even better.
What I’m trying to say is that all of KU’s “struggles”, it’s tough to say the word “struggles” when a team is 12-2, are not about poor offense. The reasons blowouts of inferior opponents haven’t occurred more often is not about what offense this team is running.
Here’s the first thing all fans have to understand – any offense looks good if you make shots. Quite frankly, there have been plenty of quality looks that KU hasn’t cashed in on this season. That’s not to say there haven’t been some poor shots taken, but that offense sure looked good in the second half when Julian Wright found his form and Brandon Rush nailed some open looks. There have been times when the offense has freed a player up for a shot they “should” make. Sasha Kaun in the middle of the lane for a jump hook is a shot I would think that any coach would take. He’s gotta make it. Rush has certainly had his difficulties at times, and Mario Chalmers, for as good as he’s played, has been a bit streaky with his shot.
Secondly, let’s just dismiss the notion right now that Bill Self doesn’t want this team to run. No one would be happier than Self if the Jayhawks were to increase the amount of points amassed in transition because that would mean his team defended well and rebounded well – two things Self-coached teams have thrived on in the past. Self recruits players with athleticism and versatility and believe me, he’d love to see that ability showcased in the open floor. Transition baskets don’t just happen though– it starts with good defense, and solid rebounding. You don’t just decide, “hey, today we’re going to run.” You need to do one of two things to be able to run – create turnovers, or play good defense and rebound.
This brings me to one of the reasons I think KU sometimes finds it hard to get the engine running in the open floor – rebounding. Kansas rebounded much better in the second half of Saturday’s game against Rhode Island and it equated to 50 points (20 more points than in the first half) and a higher shooting percentage. The Rams had merely 11 rebounds in the entire second half to KU’s 22. It makes a difference.
Kansas does not a have a dominant rebounder. By dominant I mean a guy who gets you double-figures on the boards each game and a guy who when he does grab a rebound, grabs it cleanly. By that I mean, no fumbles, no one else gets a hand on it. He jumps up secures it, and outlets the ball. This is also another reason why you don’t see Kansas get more transition hoops. Rarely do you see a KU player grab a ball off the defensive glass cleanly.
How important is a quality rebounder to national championship success? I’ll give you an example of the unsung hero who was vital to his team’s national championship success. When Jake Voskuhl played at UConn, no one would’ve said he was the most important player on that 1999 that won the national championship -- except his coach and his teammates. Voskuhl was known as the “goaltender” inside and was a terrific rebounder who could really outlet the ball. He was critical to that national championship run and UConn’s ability to dominate a team and open up the transition game. Out of 14 games this season KU’s high-rebounder has only reached double-figures six times. As the competition gets stiffer in Big 12 play, this could be an area of concern. That’s on both ends of the floor, too. Offensive rebounding prowess carried Michigan State to the 2000 national championship. When they didn’t shoot the ball well, they made up for it with defense and rebounding. On the road, KU will not always shoot the ball well, it’s defense and rebounding that will be responsible for quality road wins.
The Jayhawks are as good as a team as I’ve seen getting their hands on balls and creating turnovers, but for KU, the question becomes if the Jayhawks cannot generate turnovers and easy transition hoops, where will the offense come from? A legitimate concern and one that seemed to catch up with Kansas during last year’s disappointing first round NCAA tournament loss to Bradley.
Ok, here I’ll admit not having a consistent post presence worries me. The offense looked much better early on this season when Darrell Arthur was firing on all cylinders. It was a balanced attack for Self’s team and the Jayhawks need to get that balance back to be successful in conference play. I’d like to see Sasha Kaun get more than two field goal attempts in Big 12 play that’s for sure. Bottom line, is it doesn’t matter which player provides some inside punch but relying on perimeter shooting is a scary proposition in Big 12 play.