Every time Kansas University men’s basketball coach Bill Self talks about the defensive role of one of his point guards, I flash back to a bloody scene from “The Godfather.”
The character who plays a movie producer urged by the Godfather to cast Johnny Fontane in the lead role of one of his films dragged his feet. Consequently, one morning when the producer dragged back his covers, he found the severed head of his prize horse. Shockingly, Fontane ended up landing the part.
“What I’d like to see happen as much as anything with our team, I’d like to see our point-guard play ... we’ve said it all along, you’ve got to cut the head off, and we haven’t always been able to do that at all,” Self said.
Make the opposing point guard pick up his dribble sooner than he intends and it’s difficult to run the offense efficiently.
“You take Tyshawn (Taylor) for granted,” Self said. “You take Sherron (Collins) for granted. You take Russell (Robinson) for granted and Mario (Chalmers) for granted sometimes.”
Robinson and Taylor were the best at it. A decline in that area has been the most noticeable reason KU hasn’t played up to its usual standard defensively, in addition to Perry Ellis having room to grow at that end of the court.
The Jayhawks’ point guards have encountered difficulty preventing several opposing point guards from going where they want to go with the play and from playing at the pace they desire.
Texas freshman Isaiah Taylor (23 points in the UT victory against KU in Austin) makes his Allen Fieldhouse debut Saturday.
“I thought he totally controlled the game,” Self said of Taylor’s last matchup with Kansas. “To me, he was the guy who controlled the game.”
Kansas survived with a 64-63 victory on Tuesday night at Texas Tech, but not without junior point guard Robert Turner (11) determining the pace of the game. In the loss at Kansas State, senior Will Spradling (15 points) made it to the paint far more often than he usually does against Kansas.
Juwan Staten wasn’t able to lead his West Virginia team to victory in Allen Fieldhouse, but gave Kansas all it could handle en route to 22 points.
Kansas junior point guard Naadir Tharpe has come a long way, but hasn’t yet figured out a way to overcome his physical limitations defensively.
“He’s probably our most consistent perimeter shooter,” Self said of Tharpe. “He is our best passer to get guys shots, you know, to create a shot off penetration and things like that. Naadir has had a good year. He’s been really solid. He doesn’t have to be great for us to be good, but he needs to be good for us to be great, and certainly he’s capable of doing that.”
At both ends, Tharpe has been an X-factor for KU. In KU’s six losses, he has averaged 6.0 points and shot .349 from the field, .300 from three. In the 19 of 20 victories in which he played, he has averaged 9.8 points, shot .508 overall and .441 from three.
“I’m pleased with Naadir,” Self said. “He’s had a good, solid year. Defensively, he, along with others, certainly can guard the ball better than what we have.”
Reserve point guards Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp also lack size. Wayne Selden is capable of checking bigger point guards, such as Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, but it’s the jets KU needs to figure out how to slow down.
“Even though, Naadir has a big challenge ahead of him because physically he’s not as big and things like that, but he’s the one to me — and Frank — that can do a better job of maybe making other teams play poorly because their point guard isn’t comfortable,” Self said. “I’m not just picking on them. It’s kind of the way we’re playing and also body type and physical ability and things like that. They’re just not very big.”
It will be interesting to see what KU does to try to keep Taylor from dictating the game the way he did in Austin. The crowd will help, but spectators aren’t allowed on the court during games and know enough to stay off it after games.