Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Defensive struggles a real concern for third-ranked Kansas

Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes (3) lofts a shot over Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes (3) lofts a shot over Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Tuesday night, in thrilling fashion, a second consecutive Kansas basketball victory was overshadowed, at least to those within the program, by serious concerns about the Jayhawks’ defense.

“We’ve never had a team this poor on that end,” said KU coach Bill Self of his 14 seasons at Kansas. “This is without question the poorest defensive team we’ve ever had, and I thought we would be probably one of the better defensive teams we’ve had because we have quickness. But we don’t do anything to disrupt anybody. You play small, (you’re usually) scrappy, but we’re not very scrappy.”

For Self, KU’s defensive struggles are about a lot more than the numbers that show up on the stat sheet. But following Tuesday night’s 90-88 victory over Kansas State, even those left the KU leader lamenting his team’s defensive production.

Kansas State, which nearly won the game on a breakdown by the KU defense, shot .508 from the floor, .333 from three-point range (including 50 percent in the first half) and .826 from the free throw line.

Until Tuesday, the highest shooting percentage against the Jayhawks this season came from Duke, which shot .489 in the second game of the season. After that, only two of KU’s 12 other 2016-17 opponents had even topped 43 percent in a game.

But it’s not so much the percentages as it is the way the baskets are being scored. Too often, the Kansas defenders let their man drive right by them to the rim. Add to those the missed assignments or trouble following the points of emphasis on the scouting report, and you’ve got arguably the angriest leader of a third-ranked team on a 13-game winning streak in college basketball history.

“It took us a while to get this poor,” said Self when asked what he would emphasize between now and Saturday, when the Jayhawks play host to Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse. “You don’t just get this bad overnight, (and) it’s gonna take us a while to get better defensively, too.

“It’s hard to get better in two days ... Maybe I don’t understand the game well enough (and) you can just wave a magic wand and all of a sudden you get better. You get better by practicing the right way and paying attention to detail and putting yourself in game-like situations and taking pride in everything you’re doing. And you don’t just do that in one day and automatically get better. It takes a long time for things to become a habit.”

One of the first steps toward fixing any problem is admitting there is one. Self is clearly there. And his players seem to be, too. Although they all were thrilled to leave the floor with another victory over their in-state rival on Tuesday night, no one in the KU locker room let the outcome mask the issues this team is facing.

“It was terrible,” said KU senior Landen Lucas of the Jayhawks’ defense. “We know that. We know that we can only get so lucky night in and night out. We’ve gotta guard. We can’t leave it up to luck. We’ve gotta get better, and obviously you’d rather get better while winning. But we definitely know we’ve gotta guard better.”

Added Tuesday hero Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: “I don’t think we played really good defense. We stole the ball like two times the whole game, we let them score a lot of easy baskets, they scored 88 points. I think that’s terrible. ... We know we played bad and we know we need to get better, because it’s not gonna go that we’re winning without playing defense.”

While the players and coaches have tried to pinpoint exactly what is causing the Jayhawks (13-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12) to struggle on defense — from ball screens and transition to the absence of a true shot blocker in the lane — the whole epidemic really comes down to one thing for Self.

“It’s something where you’ve gotta have some pride in wanting to get better and, right now, we’re not a real prideful team on that end,” he said. “I’d like to see some marginal improvement, no question, from a competitive standpoint and a pride standpoint. I don’t know if we can change who we are in two days. But I do think we’ve got a lot more than we’re giving right now.”


Barry Weiss 4 years, 3 months ago

I have never seen a season start with the opponents driving on us, putting the ball on the floor, and just attacking the rim, like this year. Its a tough problem to solve given the refs seem to be calling it a bit closer. So the ability to pick up some quick fouls, coupled with our loss of Dok, a true rim protector that opponents would not drive on, and just having him in case Lucas gets in foul trouble puts our interior players in a bind. They are worried about picking up a foul at the expense of maybe playing tougher defense. Its a catch 22.

Jay Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Read the comments from last January........

Barry Weiss 4 years, 3 months ago

I don't know where to read the comments from last January, but I gather they must be either something at odds with what I posted, or else they are the same and you are insinuating there is no value to my post, or a wast of others time. Thank you for your input.

Jay Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

They kinda are Barry. Your posts are never, however a waste of time.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 3 months ago

ok thanks. who was the rim protector we lost last year similar to the Dok example I posted? My memory is not that great.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

I think Jay's point is simply that we are in the same situation as last year. The only real difference is the highly ranked recruit who isn't playing.

Different reasons but the same result. I really hope we aren't the #1 ranked team next week. For whatever reason, we seem incapable of putting together 2 strong halfs. Our front court is too thin and with our propensity for picking up fouls, neither Lucas or Bragg are much in the way of rim protectors.

Dok had been progressing as our best rim protector. He was still picking up too many fouls before his injury but at least with him available, we had 15 fouls between Bragg, Lucas and Dok before our skill rapidly diminished.

Noah Oone 4 years, 3 months ago

I know right! January was not a good month for KU basketball yet they persevered and were a few bad turnovers away from the final four and most likely the title game.

Herb Derpson 4 years, 3 months ago

The "rim protector" thing doesn't matter when the perimeter defense is so bad. Shore that up and we'll be okay. The other thing is in the short time Dok played he was a foul machine.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 3 months ago

Dok may have been a "foul machine" early, but I recall games he was getting that under control and improving, hard to argue with that. As to your rim protection not mattering, I would disagree. Yes, the best defense would be out on the perimeter that keeps an opponent out there, but if one should get by, which is a part of the game, what is wrong with having someone in the paint that can truly reject shots? I think a second line of defense makes a lot of sense.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

Dok was rapidly improving. At least his fouls were committed in the low post area whereas Lucas and Bragg commit fouls just about everywhere.

Noah Oone 4 years, 3 months ago

He was improving but he still had a ways to go. Landen is back to where he was last year and his production has been second team All Big 12 good. His fouling has actually been much better lately. I wish Dok could play also, but he can't so we will have to make what we have work.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm not big on Per 40 stats but in this case they have some use. Last season, Lucas's Per 40 for PF was 5,5. This year, he is averaging 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes. In real numbers, he averages 3,6 fouls per game and only plays 20 minutes per game.

His mpg are limited by being in foul trouble in almost every game. That isn't improvement.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 3 months ago

the announcer on the Iowa State v. Baylor game commented that although KU won, which is great, the fact we gave up 46 points to K-State in the paint could indicate a serious weakness for us. It does seem that the penetration and subsequent lack of rim protection will lead to losses. I never did expect an undefeated season, just pointing out what seems obvious to me although others get fairly cranky if you point out the obvious. Hey, I hope their view that all is great wins out.

Jay Scott 4 years, 3 months ago this your first year following Jayhawk basketball? EVERY year Coach Self laments how the team is awful defensively. Maybe the worst ever. Can't guard anyone.

Only the elite Chicken Littles and complete morons take him literally.

Could they be better? Of course. That's why they hold practices.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 3 months ago

Yes, Self says somewhat similar things every year, but anyone who watched the last two games could see that this year's defense is really bad right now. It's not just all the drives to the basket, it's the myriad wide-open threes, it's not getting a lot of steals, it's on and on.

There's no question that the loss of Dok has had a big impact, and heaven help us if Landen gets in foul trouble in a huge game. But the biggest disappointment is the poor defense from the veterans, who you would think would know better.

Dale Rogers 4 years, 3 months ago

My concern is that this time it appears Self is correct.

Rick Golden 4 years, 3 months ago

I think more effort is what people are expecting and what HCBS is going to require

Jay Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Ricky...please stop. That "They're not trying" is beyond idiotic. Who isn't trying? What play is an example?

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

I think Lucas not picking up his 2nd foul with 20 seconds left in the first half is where the improvement is needed. We don't need to play harder, we need to play smarter.

Brett McCabe 4 years, 3 months ago

Well, more kids will be back in town on Saturday because they'll be getting sick of their parents and their old high school friends, so AFH should have a little more rock to it on Saturday. And we may need it.

Reading between the lines, I think Self is challenging these guys to get better in two days - sort of a "they can't do it" - challenge. Getting passed by Baylor, then anticipating Baylor moving to the 1-spot after the NOVA loss, might be added motivation.

It's definitely gut-check time on Saturday. Every home game is a virtual must-win.

Jay Scott 4 years, 3 months ago

Great point! The kids bring more crowd energy.

Mike Riches 4 years, 3 months ago

I am surprised that our perimeter defense is sub-par considering the quality and experience of our backcourt. When it comes to disrupting offenses, how much of that is coaching vs. execution?

This is usually the time of year where were see marked improvement since there are no classes. I hope that's the case this year.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 3 months ago

Perhaps some of you saw this, too, Frank or Vick sometimes just stands and watches, literally. Are they tired? Kids got beat to the rim left and right. Bigs don't stick their butts out to seal. Rarely did I see they wrap their arms, spread their legs wide to block out. These are all basic defensive drills. If HCBS is really fond of man-D, this team is better be ready to give their 110% energy. They better know when to switch man against quicker players. Or, as others say, go zone!!

Bryce Landon 4 years, 3 months ago

The zone helped out a ton against UGA. But the zone is only effective against one-man teams or against teams that shoot poorly from 3. Kansas State is neither of those things. Nor is Texas Tech.

Bernard Gregory 4 years, 3 months ago

maybe I am wrong, but what I see is a lot of confusion when there is a screen who stays with the ball or who drops down. I may be wrong but sometimes it seems once the guard gets back to their man the big is still pursuing leaving the roller open and causing the weak side help to commit to far leaving the outside shooter open or the guard being stuck with a big in the paint.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 3 months ago

no, you're not wrong. Seen that, too. Who's in charge of disciplining these kids in D? coach Self? Whoever it is, he sure got a lot to drill them right..

Rick Golden 4 years, 3 months ago

Oh Scotty i never said they are not trying but more effert to get around screens to hedge and hustle back to their man get caught watching and give up back door layup just a few examples just more effort to lock down their man as HCBS stated

Kent Wells 4 years, 3 months ago

Also said Mykhailiuk: "I'm concerned about defense. We have to start playing great defense at home. That will translate to good defense on the road, where we well have to steal some wins this year to win the conference. As you know, we may have an off night offensively, but defense travels."

Kent Richardson 4 years, 3 months ago

Our offense is good. We can shoot and pass very well. It's up to the opponent to get stops against us. Looks like we can score with anybody. We practice running the same sets every day.

Defense changes every game. Opponents run different offenses than others so we need to defend what they do as it changes. We are playing catchup all year as a matter of course. In conference we are working with known entities and able to be more effective overall. Notice most of the 90/100 point games were 60/80 point games when conference games started.

We have quickness and a dedicated defensive minded coach and staff. We will get better all year. How quickly we catch on, or not, combined with the games when we can't hit shots will be posted in our loss column.

This team has not come together and is not at a peak yet. As Vick, Svi and Bragg's playing time accumulates they will have a more positive impact. And they will develop at different speeds.

Mike Greer 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm confused as to how with essentially the same players, all but one very talented freshman, we suddenly can't defend. Ellis was a presence in the paint, but not really known for his shot blocking and Selden was a good defender but never "the guy". Last season's defenders, Mason and Graham are back, as is Lucas. Svi got a fair amount of playing time the previous two years, so he's not new to the defensive end of the game and Jackson, appears at least, to be very active on the defensive end with steals and rebounds. Vick is new to this many minutes as is Bragg, but they still aren't on the floor for the entire game, so how can we be sooooo bad? Are we leaving guys open to try to help out in the middle with our large "small" guys? It seems sometimes Vick and Jackson are late to get back out to the perimeter to cover a shooter. Is this the down side to "small ball"? Was this an issue when Dok was in the line-up and we had 5 more fouls to give? Limited Lightfoot and no Colby the last couple of games, should these guys see some time to help out in the paint? If so, who comes out of the line-up? Hey, if I had the answers, I could be making the same money as Coach ;).

Noah Oone 4 years, 3 months ago

I think most of it is not having their heads in the game. Frank and Devonte get blown by a lot - looks to me like they are not putting as much effort into defense as they are on offense. Could be wrong but that is what the eye test tells me.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 3 months ago

Thoughts from Oakville:

1] Jay is correct. Bill would scream about defense even if the JHawks held an opponent under 70. Still...allowing 88 in Allen. WOW!!

2] If the defense truly does suck, then own it and zone it! JJ could be the ideal point man for a 1-2-2. With his size, length, quickness and intensity, he would play havoc with any backliner. The only down side is potential foul trouble.

3] This next statement will probably be declared heresy but maybe this year KU goes all in and just tries to outscore everybody. i know it's not in Bill's DNA but it is a thought.

4] TALL BALL vs SMALL BALL. As a varsity basketball player I couldn't shoot, jump, dribble or pass but I could sure block out and rebound. That's how small beats tall. Put your opponent on your butt and ram him out of the way. The Hawks need to get better at this and quick.

5] We are 14-1, and probably #2 in the country come Monday aren't we? Maybe we're doing something right after all.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 3 months ago

I'm not sure how best to interpret all your comments. However, I am sure I'd be sick to me stomach should Monday roll around only to find Kansas ranked second nationally .... behind BU. NO!!!!!!!!!!

Mike Greer 4 years, 3 months ago

As upsetting as that would be, they are 14/0 and have wins over teams currently ranked 9, 15, & 16 plus Mich State. They had just as close a game with ISU at home as we did with KSU, but it's not like they only played the little sisters of the poor. We have a loss to then #11 Indiana (now #25) and a win over #1 Duke (now #8) and 12 others. We're going to have to play our way up, if we want that top spot.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 3 months ago

Agree that we could go to the zone more often although not sure which zone defense would be best. Since we rarely play zone, maybe a simple 2/3?

As for #5 does anyone here really think this is the best team in the country right now? The skill is there but if we want to keep our home winning streak intact, we need to step up on the defensive end and put together 2 really good halfs. Could be wrong but I thought I heard the announcers say that Weber's KSU teams have been blown out by 20 points or more in the past while at AFH.

It was kind of strange game with a strange feel to it in my opinion. Not sure it was something to make too big a deal of but I was watching it from about 1400 miles away.


Noah Oone 4 years, 3 months ago

Please, never go zone unless there is an emergency situation.

Great point about small ball. I think watching the replays of UCOnn in 2014 and Villanova last year is in order. Those teams are a reminder that great guard play wins championships, which is why we will go as far as our perimeter players take us.

Glen Miller 4 years, 3 months ago

Two things that I am seeing about our defense that can be fixed. The first being the lack of determination on D at times. I feel like we don't put enough effort in on the defensive end. We look flat at times. Vick got taken many times by guys who are not as athletic or skilled as him. The second thing I see is our lone big man on the floor being drawn out of the lane to help defend, leaving the paint wide open. When all we have is Lucas or Bragg and they are playing on the perimeter, we do not have the size inside to defend well against bigger guys.

Two things about our defense that I am not sure we can fix. The first being rim protection. You can't make Lucas a great shot blocker, he never has been. You cant expect Jackson to be able to defend the perimeter and the paint with much success. Dok was able to help in that area and nobody on our roster will replace that part of his game. The second being fatigue... I can see it and I know that you guys can. With basically a 7 man rotation and limited bigs we just get tired down low and that's when they drive. As good as our cardio is, our depth is not as good as it usually is. Our first 6 are right there with the best in the country. After that... to rely on 7 on down on any kind of consistent basis is shaking hands with danger.

My question is why was Jackson settling for jumpers when he dominated the lane in the 1st half. So they were collapsing on you. Drive and kick. If they are sinking in on you, you may not snag the points but you can set up shooters. His pride got him a bit. They dared him to make jumpers and he tried to prove them wrong.

Brian Cathey 4 years, 3 months ago

While I agree that HCBS complains about toughness and defense every year, a look at the efficiency stats on show that this is the nearly the worst KU defense in the last 15 years, basically tied with the Wiggins / Embid year. That team couldn’t win on the road in February and was bumped by Stanford when the offense fell asleep. Typically the efficiency stats get closer together (fewer point/possession scored on offense, more points/possession yielded on defense) during conference play as the level of competition gets better suggesting the 0.94 ppr will get worse. Right now we look like a typical Duke team, can light it up from long range and score a lot, but if/when the shots don’t fall they lose. That will be this team’s downfall in the tourney. We won’t score close to 90 a game like we have been over the past 6 weeks for every game. My concern is the back-to-back at West Virginia and Kentucky could be VERY ugly, 15+ point losses. Another check shows that no title team in the last 15 years has a defensive efficiency worse than 0.91 ppr and most are 0.88 and better (even the 7 seed UConn team of 2014 who was the worst of the group). Typically we hear HCBS complain in early-December like this, hopefully it’s not too late to turn the defense around as history shows this level of defense doesn't go far in March.

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