Sunday, January 13, 2013


Opinion: Guard play crucial for KU


Kansas University senior starting power forward Kevin Young, such an energizer when he’s in ultra-active mode, showed he can be an X-factor with his bad half/good half in the unimpressive victory against Texas Tech.

Ben McLemore, when he works his way into scoring opportunities, can carry the team, as he showed in the overtime triumph against Iowa State. When he’s not putting pressure on the defense, the Kansas offense stagnates.

Still, even more than Young and McLemore, this Kansas team that can count on consistently strong efforts from seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford swings in the direction of its point-guard play.

Senior Elijah Johnson’s move from shooting guard, where he rode shotgun to Tyshawn Taylor as a junior, to the point remains a work in progress with highs and lows that occur not so much from game to game as in spurts within games.

When Johnson and/or Naadir Tharpe put the defense into retreat mode, everything else seems to fall into place. When they don’t, the threat of a long field-goal drought looms.

In back-to-back games, KU stumbled through remarkably long stretches without any points from the field. The second-half, 8:19 drought against Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last Wednesday, was topped Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, when the Jayhawks went the final 11:13 of the first half without a field goal.

During that combined dry spell of 19:32, McLemore attempted one shot. Johnson attempted seven shots and committed five turnovers, four against Iowa State. Excluding the two droughts in which Kansas was outscored, 29-15, Johnson made six of nine field goals and totaled 14 assists and five turnovers, and Kansas won the other 59:28 by a margin of 142-106. Naturally, taking the worst stretches of any game tends to bring out the worst stats of just about any individual, but the contrast in Johnson’s numbers is quite interesting. When he is able to force help and sets up teammates, Kansas rolls. When he can’t, the offense stalls.

Self started with Johnson in listing the reasons Kansas was limited to 19 field goals against Texas Tech.

“Elijah never got in the paint to make plays for others,” Self said. “Naadir didn’t get in the paint to make plays for others. Ben and Travis didn’t drive it much. And they played us smart defensively.”

Johnson’s an even better point guard at the beginning of a fast break than predecessors Taylor and Sherron Collins, but the way Kansas and so many other teams now play in the halfcourt, much keys off the point guard’s breaking down a defense by penetrating into the lane. Johnson doesn’t do that as well as Taylor or Collins. Taylor’s wild forays into the lane might have kept KU’s most passionate fans in therapy. They also kept defenses in constant retreat mode. Taylor sometimes wore on coaches and fans, but it was worth the stress because of the way he wore out opponents.

No point in fretting over Taylor’s departure. He started four seasons for Kansas, which now has a different style point guard. Johnson’s inclination toward hitting the big shot and playing well in big games injects sizzle into tonight’s match-up with Baylor’s quick, strong Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Pierre Jackson.


Jedhawk 5 years, 5 months ago

Do you even like any KU sports or just like to pessimistically analyze them?

amatxjayhawk 5 years, 5 months ago

Jedhawk, There is a third possibility. He/she is just a jerk and proud of it.

mhughes1 5 years, 5 months ago

I suppose that's true, in the sense that Bill Self recruits and trains guards to be interchangeable, thereby blurring the distinction between point and shooting roles.

Negativity aside, I think we can all agree it's been a pretty successful formula, with or without a stereotypical point guard.

Chris Shaw 5 years, 5 months ago

You're damn right about that! Stay away from my Big Man pipeline.

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

If Self can win a ring, 8 or 10 conference titles and 84% of his games without a point guard, then, by god, its time point guards were sent to the ash heap of history. :-)

Joe Ross 5 years, 5 months ago

My first thought when I read the headline was that Keegan's observation is true. Guard play IS critical. However, if Kansas is to win a National Championship this year, it MUST witness the development of two players: Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. A scenario of winning the title without their major contributions is unthinkable. While I heartily agree with the observations made about the guards/point position, etc., in a high-low offense both the high AND the low are crucial. But rather than to get in a comparison between which is more or less necessary, suffice it to say that both the guards and the bigs (all respect to Withey) need to play to a higher level if we are to have any chance at hanging another banner. It's the truth, y'all.

Phil Leister 5 years, 5 months ago

The scenario of winning the title without Ellis and Traylor is "unthinkable"? You're not thinking very hard then. I agree that if those two stepped their game up, it'd help drastically. But I don't see it as imperative. It's not unusual for Self to have a group of 7 that plays in the important games, and the seventh guy may only play 6-8 minutes. In this case, those 6-8 minutes will end up falling to either Ellis or Traylor presumably. So, yes it will help if they develop a bit, but it's not unthinkable that we can't get it done without major contributions from them.

Dirk Medema 5 years, 5 months ago

One needs to be the DJax and one needs to be the Cole v.08.

jhox 5 years, 5 months ago

Joss, I agree, especially in regard to Ellis. I commented on the other story about this very issue. It is time Self starts letting him play through his mistakes and gain some confidence. He's on a short leash and you can tell he's over thinking things. He's too talented offensively to be sitting so much. Want to make things easier for Withey? Then we need to get Perry more minutes opposite him so teams can't double him so much. I love Young's energy but he doesn't have the offensive arsenal that Perry has.

Andy Godwin 5 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, if Self had let Ellis play through his mistakes, KU would have likely lost the Temple and ISU games. The fall off, when Young (who would had imagined before the season) and Withey go to the bench for a breather, is too great. KU will not win the Big XII let along compete for the NC unless those two step up. The starters will be spent by the end of the season if the bench does not contribute productive minutes. Self has a short leash because he wants to win each and every game. The departure of Peters could turn out to be the biggest loss. Nevertheless, KU fans have to hope the light comes on and that Traylor and Ellis learn to play solid defense (Ellis' defense has been mediocre and Traylor fouls excessively) without fouling and contribute on the boards. The game plan TTU employed will likely be seen throughout the season. Make the 4 beat you inside, in this case because Perry is not playing well, that means Young. So no matter how sporadic Johnson might be at the point, the rest of the season depends on getting productive minutes from the bigs off the bench.

741hawk 5 years, 5 months ago

Oh, what could have been. "The departure of Peters could turn out to be the biggest loss."

Two years ago at the K-State game I sat across from the bench and swelled with anxious anticipation seeing Zac Peters sitting with his parents and Tczarxxxx (however you spell his name) sitting with his Dad (both from Massachusetts) sitting right behind the KU bench. Peters had committed a year earlier. I was sure he was helping recruit the "footer" Czar.

Peters gets concussions (two probably from football) and Czar chooses Arizona over KU at the last minute. Oh, what might have been!

actorman 5 years, 5 months ago

One of Keegan's better columns, I thought. Very well put together.

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

"The surprise is half the battle. Many things are half the battle, losing is half the battle. Let's think about what's the whole battle."

--David Mamet, U.S. screenwriter, and Brian DePalma. Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner), The Untouchables, said to a Canadian Mountie who believes surprising bootleggers is half the battle (1987).

Guard play is half the battle.

Big play is half the battle.

Let's think about what's the whole battle.

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

Note: I keep this quote pinned up by my computer screen always.

Reuben_J_Cogburn 5 years, 5 months ago

"A penny saved is a penny earned"

-Unkown Source

Guard play is saved.

The win is earned.

See....I can do it too.

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

Be careful. This is more tricky than it seems. To wit...

A penny saved is a penny earned.

(A saved) = (A earned)

Guard play is saved. The win is earned.

(A is saved) ≆ (B is earned)

These are not equal, or congruent.

⇒ you can't. :-)

But here's a freeby for trying.

"Thinking is often claimed but seldom proven."

— T. Merrill

And two related thoughts from the greatest modern philosopher of all.

You can observe a lot just by watching.—Yogi Berra

There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra

(Note: just having some fun here. Your epigram is as good as mine.)

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

"And they played us smart defensively.”

--Bill Self on TTech's defensive scheme

Here was TTech's defensive scheme: hold them.

They got it from watching Fran Dunphy's Owls hold them.

The got it from watching Fred Hoiberg's Hoiclones hold them.

The scout on KU is pretty simple.

When they try to slide off the spot, hold them.

Tony Bandle 5 years, 5 months ago

In my opinion, to win an NCAA CHampionship, all position's play is crucial for Kansas!!

In basketball, which I played for almost forty five years, no matter how well a postion plays in a game, the potential for defeat is always there if the other positions don't carry their load [Wilt Chamberlain's NBA career is a perfect example of that].

You basically have four oars in the water...front line, backline, coaching and bench. If all four aren't doing a least a minimal job, you may end up going in circles.

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

Only 45 years?!!!

Get back out there!!!!

You're just getting the hang of the game. :-)

Reuben_J_Cogburn 5 years, 5 months ago

It was good to see K. Young redeem himself with that reverse dunk. He should have had that ally-oop last time.

Young is one of the biggest surprises this year in my opinion. Not only does he do the dirty work, but the kid has proven he can throw down. Much more athletic than I believe we all originally thought.

Robert Brock 5 years, 5 months ago

I can see Pierre Jackson putting up 30+ points on the Hawks tonight. Who is going to stop him - Johnson? Releford? Tharpe?

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

Releford definitely.

But I think EJ may be ready to rise to the occasion.

Kevin Huffman 5 years, 5 months ago

So what. Didn't that Wyatt kid from Temple have 26?

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

Good point, huff.

Pierre might get 26 in a statistical anomaly, but he is shorter than Wyatt by 6 inches, so I'm going to bet he gets 18-20 on inefficient shooting.

Chris Shaw 5 years, 5 months ago

Poster have been saying that for weeks. I'll believe it when I see it considering EJ has looked uncomfortable at the point all season.

Reuben_J_Cogburn 5 years, 5 months ago

We need EJ to have a break-out game one of these nights.

The kid is due, and certainl capable.

Kevin Huffman 5 years, 5 months ago

I remember out in Hawaii last year when it looked like he was going to explode & be a star....and at pts. early on in the NCAA's last year he rescued us like in that Purdue game.

I thought we'd see more of that & even better this year, but (and maybe it's injuries), if anything he's regressed and looks only like something in between his Sophomore & Jr. Years. :(

jaybate 5 years, 5 months ago

After I read of Scott Drew's whopping two-game suspension (note: cheek-tongue--planted in) for what seems a kind of Kelvin Sampson/Frank Haith Syndrome (reputed excessive calling of recruits), I wondered what the heck kind of Baylor President Keeps a head coach with reputedly documented recruiting violations related to excessive phone calling?

The answer I found by googling is: Ken Starr. :-)

Photo Source: Ken Starr's wiki page says this picture is in the public domain, so I hope it its. I don't want Blackwater, or whatever its called now, making any house calls late at night. :-)

Photo Source: Ken Starr's wiki page says this picture is in the public domain, so I hope it its. I don't want Blackwater, or whatever its called now, making any house calls late at night. :-) by jaybate

DCLawHawk 5 years, 5 months ago

You're in luck. I'm pretty sure that's the portrait of Judge Starr hanging in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If so, then it's in the public domain for sure.

Robert Brock 5 years, 5 months ago

Meh. Jackson turned out to be no factor. Congratulations to The Committee who guarded him!

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