Friday, January 20, 2017

Kansas quietly improving on defensive end

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) watch a free throw during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) watch a free throw during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center.


Rowing upstream with a defense that gave up way too many easy baskets and routinely got beat off the dribble, Kansas coach Bill Self a few weeks ago challenged guards Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham to lead the charge to fix the KU defense.

While all three will tell you that there remains plenty of room for growth and improvement, Self believes things have gotten better.

“I think the boat is pointed in the correct direction now,” Self said. “But I don't know if I would say (we’ve turned it around). I think we're guarding a little bit better than we have. So much of guarding is finishing the possession. And we're rebounding it a little bit better.”

Now a third of the way through the conference schedule — with the second third beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday when Texas comes to Allen Fieldhouse — Self and the Jayhawks are looking to take the next step toward becoming a better defensive team.

For some, like Mason, that means improving your ability to play team defense. For others, like Graham, that means improving individual defense. And with those two leading the way, inspiring, pushing and challenging the five players in the rotation behind them, there is a sincere belief that better days are still ahead.

“If you look at our games so far in league play, we haven't played poorly,” Self said. “But we haven't played great either. So collectively, I do think that they're doing better, but I don't think we've reached our potential on that end by any stretch.... We certainly have got another gear that we can go to.”

So far, that improvement has come in the form of baby steps. After allowing 45.3 percent shooting and maintaining a plus-3 rebounding margin during the first three games in Big 12 play, the Jayhawks have responded during the next three by trimming the opponent’s field goal percentage to 42.6 percent and bumping their rebounding edge to plus-8.

Even with things trending in the right direction defensively, five of KU’s six conference wins have included noticeable flaws.

Wins over TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State came down to the final couple of minutes. Victories at Oklahoma and Iowa State featured rough first halves and strong second halves. Only the Texas Tech victory, Jan. 7 at home, came from the Jayhawks’ ability to put together back-to-back strong halves.

“I think we've had some stretches in each half where we've looked really good,” Self said. “And the other thing about this team, and I've said this about other teams, we can be pretty average, especially at home, and (then) have that four-minute period that creates enough separation where it can lead you to a win. I think that's happened several times.”

While the goal, night in and night out, remains to deliver quality play from start to finish, Self made it clear he realized that doing that often over the course of a 30-game season is quite a challenge. What’s more, Self also proved he’s fine with his team racking up victories by simply finding a way to win.

“You look across the country historically, and most teams that have pretty good records, they've had to win some games when they weren't their best,” he said. “I tell our guys all the time, if you want to divide the season up into 30 (games), there are going to be 10 games where you stink. How many of those 10 can you still win when you play bad? And there are going to be 10 games where you're average, and how many of those 10 are you going to win when you're average? And then there are going to be 10 games where you play really well, and if you play really well, and you have really good players, you can probably guess what the record would be.

“I think we're in that mix right now. I think we've played a lot of games where we're in that middle category, but somehow been good enough and figured out a way.”


Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 9 months ago

I think the most improved player on defense has been Vick. Vick has been energetic in creating turnovers and hustle plays. There are still times though where he completely loses sight of his man but it is a learning process.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 9 months ago

Absolutely. Vick has always been one that Coach Self sees as having great defensive potential.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 9 months ago

You can feel this team is about to explode to become crazy good. Our guys are far to talented, far too much desire, far to smart and have far too much talent to not pull it together. All our super games lie infant of us. Each of our guys will rotate putting up unbelievable numbers. Until it all comes together, the team is and has learned to fight and refuse to lose. This is going to be the best Kansas team ever.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 9 months ago

Seriously? The best ever? Without BigDok? With a super PG that does high scoring but low assists? A crazy good freshman but not a good shooter? With bigs who do not dunk? With defense that allows a lot of blow-bys and 2nd chances (don't see much improvement yet)? And inconsistent 3s? Just being a realistic here, but until we see those guys play their guts out, giving their 110%, play together like a team, might as well adjust your expectation this season.

Jay Scott 4 years, 9 months ago

Steve. Suzi is the queen of fan hyperbole. It's partly but not entirely tongue in cheek.... Suzi is no longer a youngster. A midnight post from her suggests that her thoughts are influenced by a fine Merlot and a need for sleep. The autocorrect induced spelling errors suggest she might have been posting from her mobile device, possibly at an inaugural event. The euphoria of the day might be a factor also. Give her a tiny break...

I'll assume the same about your comments regarding player effort levels. Only a moron would seriously believe that players dog it.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 9 months ago

You read that one pretty good. I was definitely in a euphoric mood not to mention the influence of certain beverages.

Nevertheless, I am a big fan of this team mostly because they play with a lot of pride refusing to lose...and they are a bunch of very smart team players.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 9 months ago

But other than Dok, everything else is moving into place. We are the 7th best three-point shooting team in the country. Mason could easily up his assist rate but with a 4 guard offense that is already unselfish, I think Mason is right where he should be.

Best team ever? Not without a solid rim protector and a deeper bench but this team still has enough parts to make a final 4 run. They do need to learn to put teams away but an 18 game winning streak shows they do enough to win.

Let's wait 3 games which should give us a realistic barometer in which to judge this team.

Rick Golden 4 years, 9 months ago

Only a moron would believe that these players are giving all the effort on the defensive end or dogging it or what ever you want to call it. but I do believe effort has improved

Jay Scott 4 years, 9 months ago

Rick. That tired rant of yours is beyond stupid. Now your comment argues with its own premise... perhaps expressing your thoughts in public isn't wise?

Andy Godwin 4 years, 9 months ago

It is all about match ups with this team. They will never be a great defensive team, maybe not even a good one, because they just don't have enough fouls to give with the 7 man rotation. They have made the opposing bigs look great at times and in many games allowed them to set season and/or career highs. Self has done a very good job with his chess pieces, but this team cannot withstand foul problems and fingers crossed, another injury. Colby was to help replace Jamari's minutes and that has not happened. Dok was to provide size and girth to backup Landen and that option is gone. Now Bragg is out of place most of the game since KU only has two players to fill in at center. As you recall the 4 guard lineup before the season was to mix it up to exploit Jackson's skills, not be their primarily line up. Now because of injuries and the slow development of the backup bigs, this team is walking a tight rope and must out score their oppenent not shut them down defensively. It will be interesting to see if KU can dominate at least one game in the Big XII. The first 6 have been close because they can't shut down the other team consistently. They are favored by 17 against Texas, but Texas is long and athletic and Laden can't be overly aggressive. Am concerned that Texas who does not score at a high clip will find success inside, which bodes for a closer game. Let's hope KU controls the game from the opening tip.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 9 months ago

6'11" freshman Jarrett Allen, over his last 5 games is a 15 and 9 performer. He has gained confidence and has smooth little moves and shots around the basket.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 9 months ago

The long and short of it is, offense may win games, but defense wins championships. KU is clearly trying to balance a strong defensive presence inside with staying out of foul trouble. The more that the guards can keep their opponents from driving to the basket, the better off we will be.

Regardless of the end result, this will always be one of my favorite KU teams, based upon their toughness and attitude if nothing else.

Doug Merrill 4 years, 9 months ago

Andy - well put. The lack of fouls to give and the frankly inconsistent manner in which conference games have been officiated so far has made Landen more reticent than he would have to be if Dok were sharing the time down the middle. I do feel sorry for Bragg that he has been forced to play more of a 5 than his game is aligned with.

Rick Golden 4 years, 9 months ago

Jay there is not a single person thats visits this site thats not sick of ur rants

Jeff Fugitt 4 years, 9 months ago

With Dorance Armstrong Jr. I think we've more than quietly improved on defensive end.

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