Kansas University, which lost two lottery picks and four starters from last season, will appear somewhere in the top five when today’s national rankings are released.
But are the Jayhawks really that good?
How? In a nutshell, they play more sound basketball — at both ends and especially in transition — than opponents by having mentally stronger and physically quicker athletes play intensely and play together.
Basketball games aren’t often won by the team that has better shooters, rather the one that takes better shots, and few teams do a better job of consistently proving that than the one that faces Texas A&M tonight in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas doesn’t have a starter who counts shooting among his top two strengths. A look at KU’s free-throw accuracy (.655, seventh in the Big 12) indicates pure shooting touches don’t fill the Jayhawks’ roster. Yet, Kansas ranks third in the Big 12 in field-goal percentage (.487), behind Baylor (.500) and Missouri (.492).
Kansas obviously is at its best on the run, where numbers advantages lead to dunks and layups. But even in the halfcourt, KU gets good shots, either from Tyshawn Taylor driving to the hoop for buckets or to set up teammates when the defense breaks down, or by the players moving the ball so quickly with passes the defense can’t keep up.
Despite all the complaining about Taylor’s penchant for wild passes, he is the point guard for the team that leads the conference with a 1.37 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Elijah Johnson (1.92) ranks fifth, Taylor (1.3) ninth.
In an 18-point victory against Baylor in Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas showed superior offensive patience and typically waited to take three-pointers until they were wide-open shots. Baylor repeatedly jacked up threes early in the clock.
In Austin, where Kansas won by three points, J’Covan Brown launched 26 shots in his final 30 minutes on the court, a rate of nearly one per minute. In the game’s final 7:06, Brown took eight shots, the rest of the Longhorns two. Even on a Kansas team in which two players, Thomas Robinson and Taylor, clearly are the best scoring options, that sort of ball-hoggery just doesn’t take place.
Defensively, the quick and conditioned, long and strong, Kansas athletes have limited conference foes to .364 shooting, best in the conference, and .300 three-point shooting, tied with Kansas State for second behind Iowa State (.274). The Jayhawks lead the Big 12 with a plus-6.7 rebounding margin.
Bill Self’s team has become more confident and intense, winning nine in a row since the Davidson debacle. He knows how much his players can handle in terms of turning up the heat in practice and taking off the pressure during games. During a timeout with eight seconds left, KU up two on Texas, and Thomas Robinson set to head to the line for two shots, Self kept it simple.
“I think that’s hard to do when you give guys three scenarios, ‘OK, if we’re up two, if we’re up three, if we’re up four,’ I don’t think that would be smart,” Self said. “I think our guys could forget, or one guy messes up, or next thing you know, a guy clips off an open one.”
Kansas takes a lot more open ones than it allows.