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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Five key questions for Kansas entering postseason play

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle with little time remaining during the second half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle with little time remaining during the second half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

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Five key questions for the Kansas men’s basketball team entering the 2017 postseason, which begins next week in a to-be-determined location and ends whenever a team does to Kansas what only four squads were able to do all season or the Jayhawks cut down the nets in Arizona.

KU, which fell in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday, will learn its postseason path and fate during today’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 4:30 p.m. on CBS.

1 – Is KU’s free throw shooting good enough?

This question has lingered around the program all season and its answer sounds something like this: “When they matter most, we’ll make ’em.” While that confidence is both good and also helps keep the issue from growing, it’s worth pointing out that the Jayhawks have made progress.

“We’re not as poor a free throwing team as people make us out to be,” said KU coach Bill Self, noting that his team shot. 708 in Big 12 games, which is right in line with what opponents shot against the Jayhawks all season (.709). “I bet you we've had a lot of good teams that didn't shoot 71 percent from the line. I could be wrong. We're shooting 71 percent in league play, which is not awful. It's not awful. It's not good enough. But knowing if the other guys continue shooting at the same rate and Josh (Jackson, .559) just improves a little bit, that's a 75 percent free throw shooting team. I think he will.”

Outside of Jackson, the Jayhawks actually are set up fairly well for free throw shooting when it counts the most. Frank Mason III leads the starters at .776 and Devonte’ Graham is right behind him at .775. Lagerald Vick, another guy with the ball in his hands a lot, is shooting a team-best .821 from the stripe and Svi Mykhailiuk shoots .676.

2 – Can thin win?

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The Kansas bench applauds a three by Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk late in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

All season, KU has had to answer questions about its depth, particularly in the front court, where Landen Lucas has been the only truly reliable option.

Believe it or not, though, Self feels pretty good about his team’s depth entering the postseason.

“The thing that's been encouraging to me is our seventh man, and usually Carlton more so than Dwight, has played better of late,” Self said of reserve forwards Carlton Bragg Jr., and Dwight Coleby. “You look at it, we can definitely go eight, and we could go nine with (freshman forward) Mitch (Lightfoot), but we could definitely go eight depending on the situation. I feel pretty confident we can get seven guys out there all contributing in a positive way.”

If Bragg, Coleby and even Lightfoot continue to give Kansas the 10-15 minutes it needs to give Lucas a breather and account for any foul trouble up front, the five perimeter players who fill the four guard spots in the lineup should have plenty in the tank to lead this team where it wants to go.

3 – Any match-up nightmares out there?

We all know that KU’s guards, particularly the trio of Mason, Graham and Jackson, are a nightmare match-up for most teams. But what about when things go the other way?

Even though the Jayhawks have figured out how to handle bigger teams — most notably with Jackson’s length and versatility — KU still runs the risk of matching up with that one team that has dangerous size and could give the Jayhawks trouble.

A team like Purdue, with Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan and his supporting cast, is one such squad that could pose problems for Kansas simply because Lucas can offer only so much resistance and Purdue’s bulk and strength, much more than length, could be a problem for the rest of the Jayhawks. Louisville is another team in that same mold.

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Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets fired up as the Jayhawks close in on the West Virginia lead during the second half, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Part of the match-up equation, no matter who Kansas runs into, is Bill Self’s ability to adjust quickly and get his players to execute seldom-used defenses that alter the course of a game. We saw that some this season and have seen it plenty throughout the years during the do-or-die grind of March Madness. Expect more this postseason.

4 – Close games good or bad?

With all of those games decided by six points or fewer and KU’s stellar record in them, the question still begs, has playing those types of down-to-the-wire battles been good or bad for Kansas?

Team Good will tell you that the closely contested grinders are a great tune-up for the games you’ll experience in March.

Team Bad will tell you that fighting to the end every night, with so much weighing on so many possessions is exhausting and can take its toll on a team over time.

Self has said that he’s heard both arguments from all kinds of coaches past and present and it sounds as if he doesn’t really have a take on this. The bottom line is this factor is not black and white. It depends on the make-up of one’s roster, the experience and drive of the players in uniform and how much the team has learned from those close games.

It just takes one off day for this question to be answered clearly, but the guess here is that if Kansas falls before achieving its ultimate goal this season, it won’t be because the Jayhawks played too many close games along the way.

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Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gives a chest bump to Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) after a three pointer late in the second half, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33).

5 – Will junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk reemerge?

After a really nice mid-season run, the KU junior has fallen on hard times of late.

He shot the ball well in Thursday’s Big 12 tourney loss to TCU but did most of his damage early, made a couple of bad plays late and won’t get to play again for another week so we don’t really know if what he did in Kansas City truly brought Mykhailiuk back.

Self and the Jayhawks have done their best to keep the junior’s confidence up and help him through his struggles and that appears to be working as Mykhailiuk continues to look for his shot and has stayed aggressive.

Snapping out of his funk is about much more than making shots. Mykhailiuk needs to play better defensively and focus more on doing the little things right to build his confidence.

Being in the right spots in help defense, picking up deflections and loose balls, hitting the boards and getting others open are all things Mykhailiuk can do to positively impact KU’s outcomes whether his shots are falling or not.

Comments

Michael Sillman 4 years, 8 months ago

My concern about the close games is that many of them resulted from allowing an opponent to come back from a big deficit. Hopefully the Jayhawks learned from the TCU game that once you get a team down you need to rip their heart out. We have not seen much if any of that attitude from this group.

Greg Ledom 4 years, 8 months ago

I would contend that letting a team come back, give them hope and beat them because you know your better, is a bit like ripping their heart out. A different perspective. Rock Chalk!!

Bryce Landon 4 years, 8 months ago

Svi should come off the bench the rest of the way. He doesn't deserve to be a starter anymore.

Greg Ledom 4 years, 8 months ago

Where are we without SVi's 16-18 points Thursday? I don't care if he starts or not, but we will need Svi to play and play well to advance through the gauntlet they call March Madness. Rock Chalk!!

Bryce Landon 4 years, 8 months ago

Where are we if Svi doesn't turn the ball over or commit that horrific foul that allowed TCU to win the game with three free throws?

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 8 months ago

Well, if you want to use that (dumb) logic, we take away his 17 points and add 2-3 more for us (assuming we score without a turnover), then take away 3 points from TCU for the final foul, it appears we are down by 12-13 points without Svi...

Dirk Medema 4 years, 8 months ago

Svi continuing to start shows confidence in him, which is important. The start of post-season is not the time to bench a starter.

Svi starting also allows Vick to come off the bench, where he has been much more effective than starting (TCU).

The same scenario was common in 2008 regarding Sherron & RussRob. And Coach's response was the same as well.

Bryce Landon 4 years, 8 months ago

On the contrary, this is the best time to bench a starter. Benching a guy who is no longer performing in favor of someone who is will make a longer run in the postseason possible. As it is, Svi has gone from asset to liability.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 8 months ago

I get where you're coming from but at this point, I think it might do more harm than good. If Svi isn't getting the job done then Self can always put Vick into the game.

I can see valid arguments on both sides.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 8 months ago

Good insight, Michael. This has been an issue for KU in recent seasons.

Bryce Landon 4 years, 8 months ago

Seems like it has been that way since the game against scUM in the 2013 NCAA Sweet 16.

Rick Golden 4 years, 8 months ago

Bryce is right Vick should start, its not about getting someones confidence back its all bout putting players on the floor that can win games.

Greg Ledom 4 years, 8 months ago

And we'll need BOTH Vic and Svi to win those games.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 8 months ago

Bragg and Svi are the keys. Both have been pretty sketchy of late. If they can play solid minutes, we can be a final four team. But we need them. You can pretty much count on Frank, Devonte, Landon, Josh and even Vick of late. Svi has to stay in front of his man. I love his 6'8 height, but he seems to get beat quite a bit out front on the pick and roll and it puts stress on our interior. If he can bomb about 4 3's, all is forgiven..

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 8 months ago

I hope not. If we need Bragg to win then it might be a very short tournament. Svi on the other hand is just going through a prolonged slump which he might break out of in the very near future.

Svi also has other skills than simply shooting the 3 and his play will be one of the keys to our tournament success.

Robert Brock 4 years, 8 months ago

The Jayhawks have had several close games against inferior competition. That does not bode well in the Big Tournament.

Eliott Reeder 4 years, 8 months ago

Indeed, it does not bode well for the first weekend. On the flip side, if they can get through the first two rounds, they HAVE shown a penchant for stepping up in the big-time pressure games.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 8 months ago

If the game is even with 10 minutes to go and our starting 5 are not in foul trouble, Kansas can/will beat anyone. As far as I'm concerned, the KU starting 5 have an undefeated record this season. No doubt, we have the best starting 5 in the country.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 8 months ago

The negative of the close games isn't whether the team is worn out from them. Most were weeks ago, so the players have had plenty of time to recover. The negative is the thin line between confidence (good) and over confidence (bad).

Hopefully, TCU took care of the latter, so Coach won't need to scream at them with 4 minutes left to get them to give the effort to get the 50/50 balls and similar plays.

It was great that Frank in particular stepped up at the end of TCU, but what we need from him, what he needs from him (and Landen) even more is the leadership to get the others to step up throughout the entire game, each and every game as well as in prep for the games.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 8 months ago

I definitely don't want to see us matched with Purdue, unless it is the NC game, but they really aren't a bad match-up for us. Yes, they have Biggie and a 7'er, but Haas subs for Swanigan, so they rarely play together. Playing together means that Vince Edwards goes to the bench, and he is just a much better player than Haas. Dwight also has the bulk to match-up with Haas, though we're in trouble if we try to use Carlton there. Caleb will get his points, but our backcourt is much better than theirs.

There are other teams out there who use multiple bigs at the same time that might hurt us. The question then becomes whether we can make them pay more for our 4G mismatches.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 8 months ago

Hopefully, the team has spent a bunch of the past week in the gym shooting FT's. We need 10+% better from everyone for the next month.

Noel Backwards 4 years, 8 months ago

I'm guessing everyone saying Vick should start didn't pay attention to the TCU game. That was the smallest impact Vick has had on a game in a few weeks and it was because he started. He said himself a few weeks ago that coming off the bench allows him to see the weaknesses of the other team and he can come in and take advantage of them.

I think there are 3 players that will ultimately have the biggest impact on when the tournament ends for this team:

  1. Landen Lucas-It goes without saying that he is the most important post presence on this team. If he can avoid foul trouble and get 10 and 10 each game this team will be in good position to win each game.

  2. Devonte Graham-He is so talented and smart that I think he has been overthinking a lot of games. When we have needed scoring to come from somewhere this season he has delivered time and time again. I think we will be in much better shape if he is confident and aggressive from the beginning of games down the stretch. Need at least 12-16/game from here on out from him.

  3. Bragg/Coleby/Lightfoot-None of these guys have done enough to separate themselves as the clear-cut best option to get Landen rest. If one of them can seize the moment and come up Big down the stretch they will be forever remembered in the history of this program. It is inevitable that Landen will experience foul issues at least once over the next 6 games and one of these 3 will have to step up to be able to advance.

I believe that Vick will be effective in his role off the bench from here on out and he will offer a good option for Self is Svi is struggling defensively.

Mason and Jackson are so talented and multi-dimensional that you have to assume they show up and make an impact no matter what. Hopefully they get enough help to hang #6.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 8 months ago

Noel, if Mason, Jackson and Devante aren't playing their best then it doesn't matter what the rest of the team does. We just saw what happened without Jackson.

As for Bragg/Coleby/Lightfoot, it would be nice to get some good production from the 4 spot with these players but far from necessary.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 8 months ago

I'm siding with you, Dirk. You analyze things pretty thoroughly.

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