No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) vs. No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs (13-1 overall, 1-1 Big 12)
Time: 8:15 p.m. | Location: Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth, Texas
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Better rebounding
One of the biggest storylines from the Jayhawks’ double-digit home loss to Texas Tech on Tuesday night was the Red Raiders’ 44-29 rebounding advantage, which included an 18-8 edge on the offensive glass.
Said KU coach Bill Self of that gap following the team’s second loss at Allen Fieldhouse this season: “I don’t care how small you are, tough teams and competitive guys don’t allow that to happen.”
So answering their coach’s challenge will be the goal for the Jayhawks in this one. And it won’t be easy. TCU is yet another KU opponent with a big front line and the Horned Frogs are outrebounding their opponents by an average of eight a game so far this season.
While that puts the onus on defensive rebounding, Self said improved offensive rebounding would help both the team’s rebounding issues and its offense as a whole.
“We’re not doing it,” Self said. “The offensive rebounders have to make an effort to get there and, certainly, you have to make an effort to check your man every time the ball is shot. We have not done that very well.”
Added senior point guard Devonté Graham: “We just have to be tougher down there. We know we're small and we just have to play scrappier and do a way better job of rebounding.”
2. Better defense
Speaking of being better, the Jayhawks must improve their overall defensive effort if they want to transform into the team Self believes they can become.
That starts with the most simple defensive principle of all and has to be an emphasis at all five positions on the floor.
“We let guys drive it with their dominant hand, get where they want to go. We have to be able to guard the ball better,” Self said. “When you can’t guard the ball, it forces rotation, which forces rotation rebounding, all this stuff. Keep your man in front of you.”
Too many times in their home loss to Texas Tech the Jayhawks saw a decent first 25 seconds of defense completely wasted when a TTU guard simply blew by his man to the rim late in the shot clock and scored an easy basket.
While that not only produced easy points, it also did a number on KU’s psyche, leaving the Jayhawks with plenty of frustration and even a question of whether they even could get stops when they needed them.
Self has emphasized for years — but particularly this season — that a missed shot by the opponent does not equal good defense by Kansas. He wants to see his guys muck things up and force opponents to have the kind of difficulty offensively that the Jayhawks themselves already have had more times than expected so far this season.
3. Better effort and intensity
After Graham said following the Texas Tech loss that the Jayhawks simply have to “want it” more, he went on to explain that he and his teammates do have the kind of drive necessary to be the team they believe they can be, but that the intensity does not always show up on the court.
“It's definitely a surprise,” Graham said of that being an issue. “I feel like everybody wants it, but we just have to come out from the jump and jump on teams like (Texas Tech) jumped on us.”
There’s little doubt that TCU will have any issue with its intensity in this one. Not only are the Frogs just 2-14 all-time against KU, including a 1-5 mark in Fort Worth, but they also are in the middle of an impressive season that has the buzz around the program at an all-time high.
After ripping off 12 consecutive victories to start the season, TCU, like most in the conference, has already experienced epic highs and excruciating lows in Big 12 play. The one-point loss to Oklahoma last weekend to open conference play was one of the better games of the young season. And they followed that up with an impressive 81-78 overtime victory at Baylor.
Bringing KU to town only figures to make the frenzy grow, and Graham said he was well aware of that and would make sure that his teammates understood it, too.
“You've got to have guys who want to go out there and compete and know that everyone's going to shoot for us and (we) have a huge target on our chests,” he said. “It's just basically an effort thing.”
KU junior Lagerald Vick vs. TCU senior Kenrich Williams
After a complete no-show during the Jayhawks’ home loss to Texas Tech, junior guard Lagerald Vick figures to be motivated to bounce back against TCU.
Doing so, however, will not be easy and Vick will have his hands full on both ends of the floor throughout tonight’s showdown.
Williams enters this one as TCU’s leading scorer (14.8 ppg), rebounder (9.2 rpg) and defender (35 steals leads the team). Beyond that, he’s second on the team in assists (51, 3.6 per game) and plays, with the kind of athleticism and confidence that makes him tough to handle on both ends of the floor.
Williams shoots 50 percent from the floor, 47 percent from 3-point range and also gets to the free throw line more than any player in purple and white.
Playing at home will only add to Williams’ confidence and desire, so Vick is going to have to show up ready to match that effort and intensity — like the rest of his teammates — or it could be another long, frustrating night for KU’s second-leading scorer.
Remember, the last time these two teams were on the same floor together, TCU walked away with an early-round upset of Kansas in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo. In that one, Williams finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Finding an identity beyond being terrific shooters continues to be the theme of this Kansas basketball season. And it will remain that way until a.) one develops or b.) the season ends.
Throughout his career, and not just at Kansas, Self’s teams have played a brand of basketball that is built upon toughness, defensive grit and dictating the way games are played. So far this season, the Jayhawks have not been able to do that as much as they would have liked and often have had to conform to the way their opponent likes to play or try to adjust on the fly to play catch-up.
Because of that, it’s been a frustrating few weeks for the Jayhawks. But that does not mean Self is changing his standards.
“The whole thing is, when I say, '(We’re) not very good right now,' I'm talking about to be elite, OK,” Self explained. “So there's a lot of things we got to improve on in that area. But the exciting thing is, if you don't go through some crap — and this isn't a lot of crap, but it's enough crap — you don't want to go through a lot of it. If you don't go through something tough, how are you going to develop that toughness unless you go through it? I don't look at this as anything that is bad. I look at it like, ‘Yeah, wish we didn't lose.’ But the bottom line is, to get to where we want to go, some things have to be addressed and guys have to take ownership of (them). We got to do a better job coaching them to get them to the point where we want to be at the end.”
With that as the framework for what lies ahead, and with tough home losses to Arizona State and Texas Tech still fresh in their minds — and the promise of more to come if they don’t take care of business — the Jayhawks figure to step into every challenge the rest of the way with something to prove and a clear goal.
It’s not simply good enough to go out there and be Kansas for this team. The Jayhawks have to go out and be hungrier than their opponents and grittier than their opponents. And the sooner they can figure out how to do that, the sooner the season gets back on track.
“If we go through the season just by making shots, winning games, just by that, I promise you, it will be a flameout,” Self said. “You got to have something you can really hang your hat on besides that.”
No. 10 Kansas
G – Devonté Graham, 6-2, 185, Sr.
G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 180, Fr.
G – Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Sr.
G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Jr.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 280, Soph.
No. 16 TCU
G – Jaylen Fisher, 6-2, 200, Soph.
G – Desmond Bane, 6-5, 215, Soph.
G – Kenrich Williams, 6-7, 210, Sr.
F – JD Miller, 6-8, 235, Jr.
C – Vlad Brodziansky, 6-11, 230, Sr.