Sunday, December 11, 2016


Tom Keegan: Udoka, you block more shots, your team gets better

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) stuffs a shot by UMKC forward Duane Clark (22) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) stuffs a shot by UMKC forward Duane Clark (22) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Josh Jackson treats every defensive possession as if it’s a game of its own and the rules require him to figure out how to disrupt the other team’s ability to score. He ranks among Big 12 leaders in blocked shots and steals.

Devonte’ Graham defended last season’s national player of the year, Buddy Hield, so well that he scored more points than Hield in Norman.

Frank Mason guarded Duke’s Grayson Allen for 11 minutes and held him scoreless. Allen missed all five shots from the field when Mason checked him.

Landen Lucas worked his way into the starting lineup last season based on his defense and rebounding.

Freshman center Udoka Azubuike averages 13.5 minutes and leads the team with 1.8 blocked shots per game.

So the elements are there for Kansas to grow into a terrific defensive team, but when coach Bill Self looks at his squad on that end of the floor, he sees so much untapped potential.

“We've always been a lot better when guys kind of thought our identity would be a defensive presence, a toughness, making it hard for other people to score, taking pride that way,” Self said recently. “I don't quite see it with this team yet. I don’t.”

He explained what heading into the season he wanted to see from the Jayhawks.

“So my wishful thinking was we'd be tougher, we'd be harder, we'd be able to extend defensively,” Self said. “I think more of our identity is we have some athletes that can make plays off the bounce, and that's been good for us. But I'd love for us to be able to do both. We'd be able to do a lot of different things defensively which would create easy offensive opportunities, and I think we've been average in that way.”

Even falling short of Self’s expectations, the Jayhawks rank eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, as tracked on (The first seven: Louisville, Virginia, Kentucky, Wichita State, South Carolina, West Virginia, North Carolina). The stat calculates points allowed per 100 possessions and adjusts it to reflect the opponent for every game being average among college basketball schools. (KU ranks fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency, behind Duke, Villanova and UCLA.)

Azubuike developing a better feel for how to defend aggressively will help Kansas improve from eighth in defensive efficiency.

"I think he could be an unbelievable shot blocker and he’s not quite there yet," Self said of Azubuike. "I'm pleased with Dok. He's got a long ways to go, but he's gaining on it."


Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 4 months ago

The elements are there for defensive, but coach is right: we also have to be better offensively. We've got 3-4 guards who should be passing ball and make team score easy basket. We have yet to see 20 assists per game. We haven't seen our guys playing together like they should. Our assists number is so low, compared to UCLA - mostly 1-person doing all the passing. We need to utilize our guards to the fullest when they're on the floor. We've seen a lot of lobs being missed, passes too hard to handle or bigs aren't ready to catch.

Gerry Butler 4 years, 4 months ago

I think you might be just a little off base true UCLA is leading the nation asst wise, BUT our asst's per game is pretty decent and by far more then one player doing all the passing. Frank is averaging 5.5 assists per game that's pretty dam good, Devonte 4.7 and Josh 3.4 so that's nothing to sneeze at, we are averaging 18 asst's per game - -we rank 14th in the entire nation in terms of asst's and only 1 more asst per game to be ranked 8th, not the big of gap between 14th & 8th. Sooo I wouldn't be to quick to talk about how poorly we are in the asst's. - -You can't place all the blame on the guards for lack of assists - -you say bigs not ready to catch - -that falls partially on the bigs - -how many times have we seen perfect passes that our bigs flat out fumble away ? multiple - - or perfect pass to the big - -such as Landen great position to score - -he wants to bring the ball down and have it stripped instead of goin up for the flush or Udoka wanting to put it down and dribble after the pass instead of going up? - -A lot of possible assists wasted, in order to get the assist the player has to finish - -score off a direct pass from the guards to many easy missed shots - -not finishing after a great pass, so ya these guards we have are fine I'll match them against ANYBODY - -ANYBODY in the nation including Mr Ball.

Tom Keegan 4 years, 4 months ago

Actually, I attributed those rankings to, so I can't be off base. The computer can't be off base either because it's all hard data. Now, the ranking can be flawed, as are all computer rankings, but it doesn't claim to be perfect. It's just an attempt on the part of a stats guru to reflect efficiency.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 4 months ago

We haven't matched against athletic & fast team so far, well, except Hoosiers. I bet you any money, once they go zone, we'll be crumbling again. Mark my words. Our D is so so (only elements are there). I've seen a lot of uncontested drives, layups. Can we consistently produce 18 assists per game? I doubt it. One night Graham only got 1 assist. Another night, Mason only dished 3-5. Stats don't lie, but they do lie if you always take average. Look at our opponents when we have high # of assists. ANYBODY, sure, let's see how we fare against Baylor or WV before even talking about UK.

Gerry Butler 4 years, 4 months ago

ya get back with me on that, we HAVE been doing it all year, Indiana, Duke, can't wait for Baylor we have always picked Baylor's zone apart - -shredded it and now they play their zone with putting josh on the inside where he can do so many thing, has so many options - -ya holla. - -hope your rent or house pymt is made roflmao

Kent Richardson 4 years, 4 months ago

I agree Steve and it's a feeling from watching the games and a little info from the LJW writers during game chats. I notice that our guards are looking more for their shot than last year and with good success. When Frank was a sophomore often he would not pass on fast breaks. This year I have watched him pass up chances to hit Svi, and to a lesser degree Vick, open for three attempts to get to the hole, same as two years ago. I thought it was on orders from Self to "go inside." I have heard we are assisting on 50% of our makes which is considered "about average." This is Frank's year so far and we are 9-1 but if the Nebraska game is indicative then we were uninspired in the second half and Frank had 7 assists in the first half and zero in the second.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

Same argument while agreeing with the opposite commenter...

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

I agree w/Gerry. You seem to notice the mistakes far more than seeing how KU moves the ball around to the open man.

If I had any criticism about the offense, it would be that they pass up too many open shots. I'm not sure if it's a lack of confidence or just trying to get the ball to someone with a better shot. Vick, who had been playing so well, and Josh Jackson both try to make the extra pass which is where the play often breaks down.

Still, we rank 15th in the nation with assist per game:

RJ King 4 years, 4 months ago

"Mostly 1-person doing all the passing." Did you mean Lonzo Ball? Or were you saying just one KU guard is doing all the passing?

I'm pretty sure our guards would love to "make the team score easy basket." But, as you pointed out, assists are like receiving a grade for a group project. I think the guys are playing together pretty well. We typically have either two or three starters from last year on the floor, so they are still coming together.

Mason is balancing whether he drives and shoots, or drives and dishes off to keep the defense guessing. He's taken fewer 3's than the UCLA guards, and made over 50%. Graham has also shown a knack for a head fake or a no-look pass. All of our guards have frequently passed up a shot in an attempt to get a better one.

It's a little too early in the season to focus on just one stat category (OK, maybe free throws). I do like that because great defense creates scoring opportunities, we are a fast, athletic team that can easily be rewarded.

Jon Lynch 4 years, 4 months ago

@RJ King - Ugh. Free throws. Truth.

Leaving those points on the stripe is utterly maddening.

Robert Brock 4 years, 4 months ago

There are problems on defense that Bill Self needs to iron out. Our young and inexperienced players lack awareness and sometimes allow big gaps late in the shot clock etc. Vick sometimes over-guards and is easily back-doored requiring someone on the weak side to cover. When they don't rotate, Self rolls his eyes. It's still early December - and defense is Coach Self's specialty. Not to worry.

Bob Bailey 4 years, 4 months ago

Yes, it does seem part of the problem is on the receiving end. Perhaps we have under trained some of our bigs to be ready, in position to score, and keep the ball up. Self has complained about not enough practice times. Coming through finals and Christmas vacation, maybe we'll get time.

Mike Greer 4 years, 4 months ago

What I've noticed most is there are a number of times the bigs don't make a clean catch. Not sure why that is or to whom to assign blame, but when you don't catch the ball cleanly, you will either get stripped, have to dribble to regain control, or not get off a good shot. In all of those scenarios the guy making the pass doesn't get an assist. If you get hit with the ball between the 3 and the 8, you need to make a clean catch and go up for the shot. I would have thought by now they would have enough practice so the guards know how hard to throw and the bigs would be able to catch what comes their way.

Steve Corder 4 years, 4 months ago

Amazing! One of the best teams Self has had and critics abound.

Rarely does a group this well blended and talented arrive on any college campus.

Gerry Butler 4 years, 4 months ago

always gonna have critics, you might as well get used to that - -no perfect team

Benz Junque 4 years, 3 months ago

Once Dok learns to just stick his hands straight in the air and be tall instead of swinging his arms down trying to volleyball spike everyone, he will avoid dumb fouls and be able to stay on the court longer. Every good shot blocker starts their career needing to learn this. It's hard to be patient and learn that it is not a sign of lack of aggression; rather it's just smart basketball.

He'll get there.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

Especially when he is in the restricted zone underneath the basket. With his height and reach, he will disrupt more shots than not and maybe get a few more minutes while not committing so many fouls.

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