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Posts tagged with Bill Self

Experience, preparation crucial for Bill Self’s Thursday & Friday NCAA dominance

The Kansas Jayhawks come in for a team huddle toward the beginning of practice on Thursday, March 22, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.

The Kansas Jayhawks come in for a team huddle toward the beginning of practice on Thursday, March 22, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. by Nick Krug

Omaha, Neb. — Bill Self has spoken about the NCAA Tournament differently than some of his peers. He often divides it into weekends, speaking as though it's three miniature tournaments rather than one big one.

The first weekend has the first two rounds. The next one has the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight. The elusive third weekend, at least for the last five tournaments, has the Final Four and National Championship games.

Since the Bucknell and Bradley upsets, though, one thing has remained a constant for Self. He doesn’t lose the first game of the mini two-game tournaments, almost completely without fail. As the higher seed, Self has only been defeated one time in the Round of 64, Sweet 16 or Final Four in a streak that dates all the way back to the 2007 tournament.

“Our preparation has always been detailed from strengths and weaknesses to player personnel,” said KU assistant Jerance Howard, who also played under Self while at Illinois. “For the guys, they have at least 24 hours to enjoy the win and rest, but for us we’re right back in the office, watching film and getting together a game plan — how we’re going to score, how we’re going to stop them.”

The preparation is evident. Self’s record as an equal or higher seed in Thursday and Friday NCAA Tournament games — since 2006 — is a whopping 20-1. He’s 12-0 in the first round, 6-1 in the Sweet 16 and 2-0 in the Final Four.

And Howard isn’t the only one on the staff to identify it.

Norm Roberts, a KU assistant in Self’s first season and again since 2012, is as well versed in Self’s path as any of his assistants.

“He’s experienced. He knows what it’s going to take to win,” said Roberts. “We’ve been at Oral Roberts, we’ve been at Tulsa when we were lower seeds. He tries to get our guys to understand that those are very, very good teams and they’re very, very excited about playing."

Self learned that the hard way early on.

In his second season at Kansas, Self’s No. 3 seed Jayhawks were bounced in the first round by Bucknell, 64-63. The next year, Self’s fourth-seeded squad lost to Bradley, 77-73.

Since then, Self’s teams — the non No. 1 seeds — have gone 4-0 in the opening game, winning by an average of nearly 14 points per contest. All four wins have been by double-digits, while his 1 seed teams have won by an average of 23 points.

Only once has a Self-led 1 seed won by fewer than 16 points in the first round of the tournament.

“I think he just makes sure his team is focused,” said Roberts. “Coming out of a league like the Big 12, you’re playing against the best teams in the country, different styles. So it really does prepare you for when you get to the NCAA tournament.

“There’s probably not things that we haven’t seen. Don’t mean that we can’t falter in going against them.”

Sure enough, the exception to Self’s opening-game dominance came in 2013. Taking on fourth-seeded Michigan, No. 1 seed KU led by 14 with 6-and-a-half minutes left and maintained a double-digit advantage with less than 2:30 to play.

KU was up 8 with 1:22 to play and then five with 20 seconds left. Trey Burke essentially willed the game into overtime, scoring eight points in the final 1:15, including two 3-pointers.

Again, that was the exception, not the rule.

Self had one other Thursday/Friday loss since the Bucknell and Bradley games, but he was the lower seed for that matchup. The No. 3 seed Jayhawks lost to No. 2 seed Michigan State in a season the Jayhawks had to replace all five starters.

That aspect may have had more to do with it than you might think.

Asked about the team’s focus level headed into a new weekend, Howard offered up an idea outside of the coaching staff.

“I think it starts with our older guys, with Devonte’ and Svi. They understand, they’ve been here, they’ve been in Elite Eight games, and they know how it works,” Howard said. “Everybody else falls in line. It’s just the way it is here. Our culture that we have set: Once we prepare, everybody needs to be locked in.”

Graham learned that lesson early. His instructors were past Bill Self favorites like Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis.

“Freshman year, definitely,” Graham said. “When you come in and it’s your first tournament and you just see how locked in the other guys and seniors are.”

As for the underclassmen on the team, it hasn’t taken long for them to get the message from the older players.

“We come out there and we prepare so well during the week,” said sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot. “We listen to the scouting report, we understand what (the coaches) want us to do, we understand the other team’s tendencies. I think we come out here and we play like we practice.”

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1-3-1 breakdown: Three under-the-radar moments from KU-Texas II

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) elevates for a dunk against the Texas defense during the first half on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) elevates for a dunk against the Texas defense during the first half on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Since coming to the Big 12, Shaka Smart has yet to earn a win against Bill Self — like he did as the coach of VCU. Today's 1-3-1 blog explores the coaching matchup between the two, plus a play by Malik Newman that brought back memories of another five years ago. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.

Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.


Play of the game: Hit the deck! —

The Jayhawks were never really in danger of dropping Monday's game against Texas, yet they weren't able to put it entirely out of reach until late.

For that, every time Texas crawled to within six or eight — or some similar score — the Jayhawks had an answer. Some of them were louder than others.

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In a game where coach Bill Self praised the energy of Udoka Azubuike, it was exactly that on display to start the sequence. With the Jayhawks unable to secure the rebound initally, the 7-foot, 280-pound Delta, Nigeria native dove on the floor to grab a loose ball.

Azubuike kept his composure and flipped the ball to Newman, who brought it up the court to begin the weave. Azubuike, who was late down the court, eventually caught the ball at the top of the key, becoming part of the weave as he took a dribble to his right.

Azubuike handed the ball off to Newman, who was initially guarded by Kerwin Roach. Roach was screened by Azubuike and wasn't able to fight through it.

Perhaps he was expecting to switch since Texas defended the initial action between the guards by switching, but he almost certainly wouldn't have been supposed to switch onto Azubuike. Teams will often defend the weave by switching either 1-through-3 or 1-through-4, meaning they'll switch at every position except with the big men on the floor.

Newman pulled up from 3 and knocked down the shot. KU, which had seen its lead cut to six less than 90 seconds earlier, went back up by 11.

It was that kind of game.


A trend: Creating a mismatch —

Shaka Smart does something that absolutely baffles me.

When the other team has the ball out of bounds on the baseline, he sticks the tallest player on the inbounder, creating a mismatch from the jump.

In an early Twitter thread — recapped in the 1-3-1 blog from the OSU game — I dissected how KU took advantage of that mismatch on three separate occasions in Austin.

  • The first time Texas tried it, KU got a layup.
  • The second time. Graham isolated big man Mo Bamba and KU missed a shot, but Texas wasn’t able to initially secure a rebound.
  • The third time, Graham pulled Bamba away from the hoop, drove by him and drew a foul.

Point being, KU took advantage — over and over and over.

The rematch was no different.

On the first instance, Graham was guarded by 6-9, 240-pound Texas big man Jericho Sims. Graham passed the ball to the corner and Sims doubled, which forced Texas’ other big in the game to rotate onto Graham.

The action left the two Texas big men — and one guard — guarding KU’s two smallest players. It looked as though Matt Coleman, the guard, should've stayed on Newman with the two bigs dropping back down into the paint, but that would've left Sims on Graham, which would have been a total mismatch.

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Regardless, the end result was a wide-open Azubuike under the hoop. Clay Young found him with a perfect chest pass and the rest was easy.

Things went a little differently the second time, but the result was the same.

Graham inbounded the ball and pulled 6-10, 240-pound James Banks away from the basket. He isolated him on the right wing and settled for a long jumper.

Objectively, you’d have to say Texas won the exchange. But it wasn't over.

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Because Banks had to turn and chase the rebound from the perimeter, he wasn’t able to box anyone out or get into position to haul in the board. In the meantime, Lagerald Vick was matched up with a smaller Jacob Young.

Vick sidestepped Young and grabbed the board. He kicked the ball out to the perimeter to Graham, who swung it to Mykhailiuk. The Texas defense was already scrambling at that point, and it was nothing but target practice for a wide-open Mykhailiuk.

The crazy thing is, it wasn’t even the last time KU scored off the Smart-inbound-defending strategy…

… in the first 10 minutes of the game.

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On the third instance, Graham pulled 6-9, 245-pound Dylan Osetkowski away from the hoop by simply running to the 3-point line. Osetkowski initially pointed for someone else to take Graham, but with no one in position to do so, he had to guard the KU senior.

Graham noticed the mismatch and called for an isolation.

Note how he waves away the potential Azubuike screen.

He blew by Osetkowski off the bounce, which forced Sims to help. Graham dropped the ball off to Azubuike, who collected it and threw down a dunk.

You'd think at some point the Longhorns might try something a little different. Maybe in the Big 12 tournament.


One that stood out: Ring a bell? —

It’d be difficult to imagine a more salivating opportunity for a guard.

Malik Newman caught the ball in the right corner with a Texas big closing out on him. Newman had to know that there was no chance of the defender staying with him if he put the ball on the floor, meaning he was essentially a dribble away from getting to throw down an emphatic slam.

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If you’re like me, the dunk made you think of one from about five years ago.

Late in the first half of a 2013 revenge game against TCU, Ben McLemore caught the ball on the wing. There was a TCU player closing out to him, but he had no chance to actually get a stop.

McLemore took two dribbles and exploded to the rim for a dunk. The basket gave him 11 points on the game. At that point, TCU had only nine, but I digress.

None by Scott Chasen

I didn’t just bring up that play to talk about the history. Rather, it felt worth noting how KU was able to get such an easy opportunity in the first place.

Off the Texas miss, Mitch Lightfoot executed on a boxout and Graham rebounded the ball. The sequence was similar to a strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder, where the big men would leave rebounds for Russell Westbrook, so he could start the break the other way upon catching the ball.

That wasn’t always the case for KU this year.

After the Iowa State game in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, I wrote about a sequence in which Newman actually boxed out an opposing big man so Azubuike could get an easy rebound. That didn't allow KU to break, since there were three KU players standing 90 feet from the hoop by the time Azubuike passed the ball ahead.

But this time, with Lightfoot doing the hard work, Graham was able to get the board and start the break immediately. That left the defense scrambling and set Newman up with the easiest two points of his career.

Perhaps the flashiest, too.


1-3-1 breakdown: KU 74, Tech 72

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 104, OU 74

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 77, WVU 69

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 83, ISU 77

1-3-1 breakdown: Baylor 80, KU 64

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64

1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68

1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67

Reply 2 comments from Surrealku Len Shaffer

1-3-1 breakdown: Three under-the-radar moments from KU-TTU II

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) talks with Kansas head coach Bill Self during a break in the second half on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at United Supermarkets Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) talks with Kansas head coach Bill Self during a break in the second half on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at United Supermarkets Arena. by Nick Krug

Devonte' Graham absolutely took over down in Lubbock. Today's 1-3-1 blog shows just how the senior did it — on both ends — as the Jayhawks clinched a record-setting 14th straight Big 12 title. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.

Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.


Play of the game: Break the tie —

Devonte’ Graham hit dagger after dagger in his quest to help the Jayhawks defeat Texas Tech.

With about eight minutes left, Graham hit some kind of a Marcus-Denmon-in-Allen-Fieldhouse-only-it-went-in 3-pointer. With less than 40 seconds left, he pulled off an improbable finish at the rim to put KU up two scores.

(Keep reading, because you’re going to see both of those plays.)

But it was another shot, a simple isolation pull-up jumper that KU needed — NEEDED — more than any other.

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KU led by eight with four-and-a-half minutes left. The Red Raiders then went on a 7-0 run in less than 90 seconds to cut the deficit to one. Thirty seconds after that, the game was tied. KU called timeout.

Out of the huddle, the ball went into the hands of Svi Mykhailiuk. He fired off a 3-pointer from the left wing late in the shot clock, and it missed. Mykhailiuk got his own miss — a worthy candidate for play of the game, too — and reset the offense.

KU’s next shot went to Graham. The senior cut to the hoop and went up for a two-handed layup. The shot was erased by Tech’s Zhaire Smith. Just 18 seconds on the shot clock remained.

Graham went and got the ball and then he dribbled — and dribbled and dribbled and dribbled some more.

Finally, with the clock down to seven seconds, he made his move. He crossed over at the top of the key and shook off Zach Smith. He pulled up for two and knocked down the shot that broke the tie.

You can’t win the game if you don’t take the lead.


A trend: #BIDG? —

I’ll admit, when the hashtag #BIDG appeared in my mentions I rolled my eyes. Some things — like the anthem that belonged to 2017 national player of the year Frank Mason — should probably stay with the player they were intended for.

None by David F

But for at least the second half of Saturday’s game, Devonte’ Graham was Frank Mason. He put KU on his back — on both ends — and would not let his team lose.

Let’s go to the film.

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This play was almost identical to the first part of one made by Mason last year — save for a broken chair or two.

Against K-State in his senior season, Mason made a save while diving out of bounds. He crashed into press row but was able to fling the ball in bounds and eventually come up with a steal on a play that KU coach Bill Self later described as season-defining.

The Graham version didn’t have the steal at the end, but it had just about everything else.

Niem Stevenson passed the ball to Norense Odiase, who had his back to the basket. Graham rotated from the weak side to help in the post. He knocked the ball away and then chased after it, lunging toward the sideline and flinging it back over his head as his momentum carried him out of bounds.

Zach Smith picked off the heave, but he was pressured instantly by Marcus Garrett. Smith tried to drop it off to Keenan Evans but Svi Mykhailiuk read the play and got into the passing lanes before sprinting down the court to draw a foul.

If that sequence didn’t make you think of a Mason-sparked run, though, it was hard to think of anything else on a play Graham made late in the contest — even if it involved a bit of luck.

via GIPHY

With the Jayhawks up two and less than a minute to play, a bucket wouldn’t quite seal the game, but it would start to make 14 straight feel a whole lot closer.

Graham dribbled at the top of the key to take valuable seconds off the clock for the Red Raiders. He crossed over on Jarrett Culver and began his drive to the rim with about seven on the shot clock once again.

As he drove, Graham carried the ball like a running back. He had the ball knocked down from his hands but he quickly regained control and launched up a prayer of a shot from his hip.

“That layup he made late was probably better lucky than good,” Self said.

For what it’s worth, Graham, a mere 44.2 percent finisher at the rim this season, agreed.

“The layup, it was a crazy wild layup,” Graham said. “That was definitely luck to go in.”

His next play? Not so much.

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Immediately following the Graham layup, the Jayhawks sprinted back down the floor on defense. They set up in a 2-3 zone and needed a stop to seal the win.

Evans dribbled the ball up the court and then passed it off to Culver. As he did so, Graham fought through a screen and helped swarm the Texas Tech guard, poking the ball away to create a chance at a turnover.

Culver, a freshman, stayed on his feet while trying to pick up the ball. Graham, a senior, dove onto the court and knocked it away to Lagerald Vick.

It was a final reminder of Mason, who made plays on the defensive end over and over at game point throughout his KU career. Most notably, the former Jayhawk came up with a clutch steal in the World University Games championship round against Germany and did so again in the triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma, poking the ball away from Buddy Hield while guarding the inbounds pass.


One that stood out: A role reversal —

Take a deep breath, KU fans.

I’m about to compare a shot by Graham to one of a Missouri player — a player who might have been the biggest reason for KU’s final loss to the Tigers.

There’s good news, though. The Missouri player missed the shot I’m talking about and it was in a game that KU won in Lawrence, not the one in Columbia.

None by Scott Chasen

Marcus Denmon could have buried the Jayhawks on Missouri’s way out of the Big 12. Up by three with less than 35 seconds left in Allen Fieldhouse, the guard dribbled against Travis Releford and launched a high-arching 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.

Denmon’s shot hit both sides of the rim and just narrowly missed. Thomas Robinson hauled in the board. The rest was history.

When Graham pulled up for a 3-pointer with eight-and-a-half minutes left, that was exactly the shot on my mind.

Only Graham made his.

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With the shot clock winding down and Vick aimlessly dribbling on the perimeter, Graham backed up to half court to receive the ball. Vick’s pass was deflected, giving Graham all of four seconds and 40 feet to the basket to traverse to make a play.

He didn’t disappoint.

Graham took one dribble with his left hand and pulled up while fading to his right. The shot swished through the net. And Graham was just getting started.


1-3-1 breakdown: KU 104, OU 74

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 77, WVU 69

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 83, ISU 77

1-3-1 breakdown: Baylor 80, KU 64

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64

1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68

1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Surrealku John Brazelton

1-3-1 breakdown: Three under-the-radar moments from KU-ISU II

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) swoops in for a bucket against Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) swoops in for a bucket against Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Lagerald Vick's best play on Tuesday didn't even show up on the stat sheet. Today’s 1-3-1 blog explains just how the junior guard got some of his mojo back in KU's 83-77 win in Hilton Coliseum, plus what Marcus Garrett did against Iowa State to excite KU coach Bill Self. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.

Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.


Play of the game: Just get a stop —

In the midst of a late-game meltdown-that-wasn't-really-a-meltdown that prompted KU coach Bill Self to say his team played like it had never been coached, the Jayhawks were still firmly in control of Iowa State.

Despite missing the front ends of two one-and-ones — and fouling twice the other way — KU led by five with less than 20 seconds remaining. The Jayhawks were a stop away from essentially putting the game on ice.

Here's how the ensuing sequence went down.

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Lindell Wigginton dribbled down the court and was picked up by Devonte' Graham. With no Iowa State players in the paint — and thus no KU players guarding them there — there wasn't any back-side help, so Graham had to keep Wigginton in front of him, something that has been a problem for KU guards this year.

Unable to get by Graham, Wigginton passed the ball off to Donovan Jackson, who popped off a Cameron Lard screen at the top of the key. Mitch Lightfoot switched onto Jackson, and Lard pulled Lagerald Vick away to make sure he couldn't help.

It was down to a one-on-one matchup and Lightfoot came out on top.

Lightfoot, who most likely played late-game because of his free throw shooting (82.4 percent on the year) as compared to Udoka Azubuike (41.7), stayed on his toes, bouncing around and taking a small hop back as Jackson faked like he was going to drive.

Jackson stepped back and pulled up for a 3. Lightfoot contested the shot, forcing him into an airball that was rebounded by Lagerald Vick, who passed it right out to Graham.

The Jayhawks were far from perfect in their late-game execution, but on the final sequence, just about everything worked to perfection. And considering some of the woes they've had this season, it certainly was a step in the right direction.


A trend: Bouncing back —

Vick's skid since the start of Big 12 play had been anything but under-the-radar. Yet the junior started to show signs of life against Iowa State that should give fans reason to be optimistic moving forward.

Vick, whose activity level on the court drew criticism from Self — and cost him a spot in the starting lineup — made one of the biggest plays of Tuesday's game being exactly that: active.

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With right around seven minutes left and KU up seven, Azubuike blocked a shot by Lard, but the ball bounced right to Wigginton. As the ball slid through Wigginton's hands, Vick pounced, breaking away from his box out of Zoran Talley Jr. and getting the tie up.

And what better way to follow up that play than with another on the other end?

The very next trip down the court, Graham dribbled the ball to his left and passed it off to Vick. Vick, who Self said earlier in the season should exploit mismatches and drive more, turned the corner on Nick Weiler-Babb and exploded to the rim, finishing with a tough lay in over Lard.

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While there were plenty of plays to choose from, the final one I've highlighted wasn't as flashy as a basket — or even a jump ball. It was simply the effort that Self has demanded of him all season.

With Weiler-Babb pushing the ball up the court in transition, the KU defense wasn't properly matched up. KU's wings were in the right spots, but Graham wasn't in great position and Lightfoot had to slide over to defend a potential shot at the rim.

With Vick's man, Soloman Young, still well beyond the 3-point line, Vick didn't have any guarding responsibilities. So as Weiler-Babb drove toward the hoop, Vick dropped down from the 3-point line and jumped to rebound the ball — above the rim, the way Self wants.

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Vick, who scored 16 points on the day, didn't get the board, but he kept Lard from hauling it in cleanly. The ball ended up in the hands of Malik Newman, and KU took it the other way.

Self was more complimentary of Vick's effort after the game, but he stopped short from a ringing endorsement.

"I actually thought they tried to guard," Self said of Vick and Newman, "and their energy level was better."

Regardless, Vick's play was a welcome sign to KU fans — and at least one former player, too.

"Guys are starting to play better," said guard Sherron Collins, whose jersey will be retired in Allen Fieldhouse next week. "Vick is coming back. He's coming along."


One that stood out: 'A play ... that nobody's made all year' —

Speaking of things that don't show up in the stat sheet, Marcus Garrett is the perfect example of a player who may not post big numbers, but can make a big difference on the court. The Iowa State game was in fact a perfect representation of that idea.

Garrett had only three points, one rebound and one assist against the Cyclones, yet he had a plus/minus of +18, more than three times as high as any other KU player.

(A score of +18 given the final score means the Jayhawks outscored their opponents by 18 points when he was on the floor and were outscored by 12 points when he was off it.)

"He made a play the other night that nobody's made all year," Self said, "nobody's made all year for us."

That play — coming late in the first half — showcased Garrett's high IQ.

Garrett was guarding Jackson on the perimeter. Jackson lobbed the ball to Lard (listed 6-9, 225 pounds) in the post, who started to back down the smaller Lightfoot (listed 6-8, 210).

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"(Garrett is) guarding a good offensive player, but he knows exactly how far he should dive," Self said. "He waited for him to bounce it, took it on the first bounce or second bounce."

Garrett watched the ball the whole way and swooped in and made a play on the ball. He wasn't finished, though, sprinting down to the other end of the court in transition in a sequence that eventually led to a Newman 3-pointer.

“He’s not scoring 25 points or getting 10 rebounds or anything like that,” said Graham. “Just the little plays.”

Not bad for a freshman.


1-3-1 breakdown: Baylor 80, KU 64

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64

1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68

1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67

Reply 2 comments from Len Shaffer Plasticjhawk

1-3-1 breakdown: Three under-the-radar moments from KU-TCU

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) turns for a shot over TCU forward Kouat Noi (12) during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) turns for a shot over TCU forward Kouat Noi (12) during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Svi Mykhailiuk was held to just two shot attempts by TCU. Today’s 1-3-1 blog explains how the Horned Frogs were able to smother the senior guard, plus a look into a pair of smart plays made by Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot in the Jayhawks' 71-64 win over TCU. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.

Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.


Play of the game: ‘You see what Dok just did?’ —

Udoka Azubuike had probably his best rebounding game of the season against TCU. He hit two huge free throws when TCU fouled him intentionally and made six of his 10 shots from the field.

Yet his biggest — or perhaps smartest — play, was what sparked a slew of compliments from ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla.

“You see what Dok just did on that rebound?” asked Fraschilla, calling the game on ESPN. “That’s a heads up a play. Smart play.”

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Ahead by just five points with 25 seconds left, the Jayhawks defended a TCU possession and forced a contested 3 by Kenrich Williams.

Azubuike showed good awareness, finding and boxing out TCU big man Vlad Brodziansky and leaping to rebound the ball — above the rim, the way Self likes. Still, it was just a five point game, and with KU shooting a 1-and-1 on the next TCU foul, things were far from over.

The 7-foot, 280-pound big man made sure he wouldn’t be the one deciding things at the line.

“He got the ball in the air,” Fraschilla said, “and he got rid of it before they could foul him.”

It certainly shows some growth.

Flash back to Dec. 16.

Azubuike, who erupted for 26 points and 10 rebounds — though only five defensive boards — recorded what should have been the game-ending block and board against Nebraska. However, after grabbing the ball with about five seconds left, he waited an additional 1.1 seconds to chuck it up the court.

None by Scott Chasen

For some reason, Nebraska's players did not immediately foul, a decision that ended the game. Even if Azubuike, improbably, made two free throws, Nebraska would’ve had at least four seconds left and a couple of timeouts to figure something out down three.

This time, Azubuike didn’t leave it up to the other team. He found Malik Newman and that was that.


A trend: How TCU frustrated a KU senior —

Svi Mykhailiuik’s dunk at the end of the above play carried with it some frustration. Yes, it earned him a bit of a talking-to from a nearby referee, but it was one of the only opportunities he even had to put up a shot in the second half.

After tabbing 70 shot attempts over his last four games, Mykhailiuk was held to just one point on 0-for-2 shooting on Tuesday, mostly due to how TCU chose to defend him.

Mykhailiuk, who scored 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting in Fort Worth, seemed to be targeted by the Horned Frogs. Seldom did he have the chance to break loose on Tuesday, and even when he did, it wasn't for long.

via GIPHY

On this play in the first half, Mykhailiuk slipped a screen and popped out behind the 3-point line. He was open for a split second, but then two TCU defenders quickly helped onto him, one of which actually left Devonte’ Graham wide open in the corner in the process.

With the TCU defenders guarding Mykhailiuk all the way out to the perimeter, it was a tough night for the 6-8 guard. Often times it was Williams who drew the primary assignment of guarding Mykhailiuk, but the Horned Frogs were quick to switch when he was involved in any action around the perimeter, keeping him from getting any space coming off a screen — although it did open Mykhailiuk up to drive past the bigger Brodziansky on occasion.

Sometimes it created other holes in the defense, too.

via GIPHY

With KU running a 1-5 pick-and-roll, Kouat Noi likely would’ve either switched onto Graham or at least come out for a hard hedge. Sensing that, Mitch Lightfoot never set the screen and instead slipped to the hoop for the easy lay-in.

Later, TCU completely lost sight of Mykhailiuk. Noi helped on Azubuike on the post, forcing Williams to slide over and guard Graham. It’s clear that Williams was expecting Noi to eventually switch onto Mykhailiuk, but he didn’t, leading to a moment where Mykhailiuk was running across the court completely unimpeded.

via GIPHY

Ultimately, the Jayhawks weren’t able to get Mykhailiuk the ball in a position to score on that play, which was often the case on Tuesday. Self noted afterward it was possible Mykhailiuk wasn’t feeling 100 percent, though he was quick to add the swingman wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I think TCU, they did a couple of subtle things that were really clever in defending us,” Self said. “We didn't force help off ball screens because of the way they switched it and did some things. There are some clever things they did that they deserve credit for.”


One that stood out: Just do your job

When Lightfoot scored his first basket as a starter, a layup after an offensive rebound, the Allen Fieldhouse crowd let out a roar. Lightfoot, who started the game at the four and moved to the five after Azubuike picked up his first foul, simply did his job, something that became a catch phrase of sorts for the player who held down the five-spot for KU last year.

Landen Lucas was never a specularly exciting player, but he did a number of things — positional defending, screen setting, sealing off defenders — that made KU as a team better on both ends of the floor when he was in the game. Lightfoot channeled one of those in his start on Tuesday, making an unspectacular play that led to an easy KU bucket.

via GIPHY

Graham skied for the rebound off the TCU miss and had his head up as he came down the floor. He threw a pass ahead to Malik Newman, who drove right to the rim and scored.

Simple as that, right?

Watch Lightfoot on the play. He started out by the perimeter, guarding a big man capable of shooting in Brodziansky. When Graham secured the board, Lightfoot ran down the floor and into the paint.

Newman caught the pass from Graham in the right corner and drove around Brodziansky to the hoop. There should’ve been help from TCU’s Alex Robinson on the drive, but Lightfoot positioned his body and stuck out his arms to seal off the defender and allow Newman an easy path to the rim.

It wasn't a flashy play — quite boring, actually — but it's exactly what KU needed.


1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, KSU 56

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68

1-3-1 breakdown: Oklahoma 85, KU 80

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

1-3-1 breakdown: Three under-the-radar moments from KU-KSU

Kansas head coach Bill Self looks for a call from an official during the second half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas head coach Bill Self looks for a call from an official during the second half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. by Nick Krug

The 1-3-1 breakdown from KU’s 70-56 win over K-State features a strategy employed by the Jayhawks, one not executed by the Wildcats and the defensive highlight of Svi Mykhailiuk's career. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.

Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.


Play of the game: A simple switch —

Bill Self said it helped give his players a rest and keep them out of foul trouble. Devonte’ Graham called it the strategy that won Kansas the game.

So how much time did K-State coach Bruce Weber spend preparing for KU's 2-3 zone?

“None,” Weber said following a loss to the Jayhawks in Bramlage Coliseum.

Weber, now in his sixth year with the Wildcats, was flustered by the switch Self made late in the first half and again in the second.

KU hadn’t played much zone on the season — something Weber pointed out after the game — but he still felt his team should have done better against it.

“The last time Baylor zoned us, I don’t know, we carved it apart,” Weber said. “Moved the basketball, was one of the best zone clinics I’ve ever been a part of.”

Monday's game — albeit against a 2-3 zone and not a 1-3-1 — was no such thing.

via GIPHY

K-State had a number of poor possessions against KU's zone, but that one showcased several of the issues.

There was some movement, but it almost felt like the Kansas State offense was operating in slow-motion. On the first ball-reversal, Levi Stockard — No. 34 — was slow getting to the short corner. Then when the ball came back to Dean Wade’s side, Stockard was slow getting to his spot once again.

The Wildcats did run other sets and found some success using a screener against the zone in the second half, but on that possession there was little-to-no execution of the things Weber said he wanted to see.

“Get it inside, move the basketball, misdirect, read the things,” Weber said. “Dean said, ‘(K-State had) no rhythm. I think that’s a great way to phrase (it). And I don’t know why.”


A trend: Gone but not forgotten —

For the second straight game, a KU opponent tried unsuccessfully to intentionally put KU center Udoka Azubuike on the line.

K-State waited to employ the infamous "Hack-a-Dok" strategy until the second half, but with the Wildcats one foul away from a one-and-one and KU flirting with putting the game out of reach, things were lining up for it to come into play.

“We talked about it at the timeout,” Weber said. “(The referees) warned us ahead of time that it had to be within the normal sequence of the game. I think Dean actually might of tried a couple times and just it didn’t happen.”

via GIPHY

The possession started simply enough. Azubuike stood outside the paint and didn’t even move until he positioned himself for a potential offensive rebound off a Lagerald Vick drive.

The ball was blocked out of bounds with 15 seconds on the shot clock. K-State had another chance to foul.

via GIPHY

This time, KU pretty much played right into K-State’s hands. Not only did Wade tug on Azubuike’s arm as he attempted to cut to receive the pass, Graham actually inbounded the ball right to the 7-foot, 280-pound big man.

Wade followed him out near the perimeter, guarding him closely and trying to knock the ball away, but there wasn’t anything deserving of a foul, so the play continued.

“(Wade) only had one foul,” Weber said of why he wanted to implement the strategy. “But he had to do it on some kind of play, like Oklahoma did.”

The third time around, KU made K-State pay.

via GIPHY

Watch the bottom-left corner of the GIF. You can actually see Weber shaking his head at Wade, and then there’s a closeup of the coach with his arms out, as if he’s saying not to foul.

Well…

“It was the shot clock. It went down to eight and they had the ball out of bounds,” Weber said,” At that point I said, ‘Don’t foul. Let’s get a stop.’”

Easier said than done, apparently.

And even if K-State had wanted to come back and foul the next time, Azubuike wasn't involved in the ensuing play. At the next stoppage, Self took him out of the game entirely, finishing things out with Mitch Lightfoot on the floor.


One that stood out: Left hand, anyone? —

Svi Mykhailiuk has had a handful of blocks at the rim over his four-year KU career, but none were anywhere close to the quality of the chase-down swat he pulled off on Xavier Sneed on Monday.

Really, he owes the K-State guard a thank-you note.

via GIPHY

Mykhailiuk’s block was impressive, but it probably shouldn’t have happened.

As Sneed broke down the court, he looked over his right shoulder twice — just like a wide receiver trying to gauge if anyone in the secondary might be able to catch him from behind.

Sneed undoubtedly saw Mykhailiuk, yet he took one more dribble and then tried to finish on the side of the rim Mykhailiuk was on.

If Sneed had adjusted and gone to the other side of the rim, not only would Mykhailiuk have not been able to reach the ball, he would’ve had to crash into Sneed and foul him to get the block.

Instead, Sneed didn’t opt to use his left hand. Well, someone did.


1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68

1-3-1 breakdown: Oklahoma 85, KU 80

1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67

Reply 1 comment from Rockn_chalkn_ku

How Malik Newman rebounded from a bad outing by, well, rebounding

Kansas head coach Bill Self brings in the Jayhawks during a timeout in the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self brings in the Jayhawks during a timeout in the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It isn’t often a player can score 27 points — a career-high at that — yet the most impressive part of his performance comes elsewhere.

Malik Newman’s outburst against Iowa State, an 83-78 Kansas win, was a welcome sign for KU fans. It was the same way for the redshirt sophomore, who knocked down 10 of his 21 field goal attempts in the win.

“It was a good one,” Newman said of his game. “Yeah, I can say (it was a breakout performance). Maybe.”

Some of Newman's struggles had been overstated. For instance, he had shot a respectable 17-for-35 in the four games leading up to the previous contest, against TCU, far from the numbers you'd expect going off some of the reactions on social media.

Other criticisms, however, were completely valid.

Newman shot 50 percent from 3 in his first six games, but saw his numbers tail off shortly after. In fact, after sustaining a head injury against Arizona State, Newman shot 4-for-19 from 3 over his next six contests. He was held without a made basket twice in that span.

The one thing he did consistently, though? Rebound.

Aside from the TCU game, arguably the worst of Newman’s collegiate career, the 6-foot-3 guard had snagged at least three rebounds in all but one of the Jayhawks' previous outings.

He grabbed four or more rebounds 11 times in KU's first 14 games and five or more rebounds seven times.

For reference, Udoka Azubuike, who is nine inches taller than Newman and outweighs him by nearly 100 pounds, has had the same number of games this year with two or fewer rebounds (two). In 16 games this season, Newman has actually grabbed more defensive rebounds than Azubuike four times, the same number of defensive rebounds twice and one or two fewer than Azubuike an additional five times.

“The reality of it is, Dok and Mitch (Lightfoot have) got to rebound better,” KU coach Bill Self said in a press conference leading up to the TCU game. “Dok gets four rebounds when there are 38 missed shots. That’s not good enough. He’s got to rebound the ball better.”

Said another way, KU has played 16 games this season. In five of them, Newman has posted an even or better defensive rebound rate than Azubuike — meaning he’s grabbed at least the same percentage of available defensive rebounds when he’s been on the court in about one-third of KU's games.

“The thing about it is, with Dok, there are so many more ways to impact the game (than scoring),” Self said after the win over Iowa State. “He’s got to rebound the ball. There were some possessions there in the first half where he never jumped. That doesn’t bode very well when you’re small and your team doesn’t rebound the ball very well.”

Still, if those numbers seem a little fishy to you, the last game provided plenty of visuals as to why they shape out that way.

No rebound illustrated KU’s woes in that area more than Azubuike’s board with 5:12 to play in the first half.

As a shot went up from the right wing, Newman put his body into Iowa State’s Hans Brase, who had a six-inch, 40-pound advantage.

Azubuike, with a decisive size advantage on his man — the 6-9, 225-pound Carmeron Lard — simply held his ground, reached up and grabbed the easy board.

via GIPHY

Such a sequence was the polar opposite of the strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, when the team's big men would go out of their way to shield off defenders so that Russell Westbrook, the eventual NBA MVP, could snag easy boards and bring the ball up the court in transition.

None by SB Nation

But what happened on the KU play wasn’t some kind of a strategy. It was more representative of Azubuike's struggles.

Earlier in the season, Self called Azubuike out for his rebounding, adding that KU doesn’t have enough players rebounding the ball above the rim, which should be a strength of the 7-footer.

If there’s one player who can — and does — rebound above the rim, though, it’s definitely Newman.

One of Newman’s more emphatic rebounds on Tuesday came with just under seven minutes to play in the first half.

After an Iowa State 3-point attempt, Azubuike was too far out of position to get a body on Solomon Young. Devonte’ Graham came off his man to knock Young back just a touch, but it would’ve been an easy Iowa State offensive rebound if not for Newman swooping in and collecting the ball over two big men.

via GIPHY

“I just wanted to try to get in there and rebound,” said Newman. “I notice that we’ve been struggling this season with rebounding, so I wanted to get in there and help the big fella’.”

Newman continued to fight for boards into the second half, even as he started to light up the scoresheet.

With just over 16 minutes to play, Lindell Wigginton took a shot from the right side of the key. Azubuike got back toward the hoop, but again just stood around rather than trying to put a body on his man, who ran back into the paint.

Newman, the only KU player to box out on the play, was shoved in the back, but still came up with the rebound.

via GIPHY

“He played great,” Graham said. “He was just active. That’s what coach has been asking of him.”

The final highlight rebound of Newman’s day was far more in the Oklahoma City-style.

Five minutes after Newman’s leaping snag, he stood at the top of the key while Lard took a jumper late in the shot clock. Newman ran back toward the hoop and grabbed an athletic, albeit easy, rebound, since Marcus Garrett did his job boxing out Brase.

via GIPHY

This time, things came together perfectly.

Newman sprinted down the court to the right wing. He took a step-back 3, perhaps an ill-advised shot given his shooting woes entering the game, but he shot it with plenty of confidence and it fell through the net.

via GIPHY

All in all, Newman snagged eight defensive boards, five of which came in the second half. Of those five, the Jayhawks scored on four of the following offensive possessions.

Newman's eight rebounds tied for the team lead against Iowa State and came up one short of a career-best total he notched in a win over Kentucky earlier this season. Yet he was hesitant to declare himself fully back based off just one performance.

“At the end of the day, you just have to keep grinding,” Newman said, “get yourself out of that hole.”

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Kevin Whelan Faustusku

How ‘bad offense’ earned Devonte’ Graham a compliment and a fan

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) goes to the bucket and is fouled hard by TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) late in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) goes to the bucket and is fouled hard by TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) late in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena. by Nick Krug

FORT WORTH, Texas — Before leaving Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth-native Clayton Orlie, 14, needed to pass along his message.

Waiting in lower bowl of the cozy venue, Orlie and his friend and fellow area-native Connor Hadley were able to get the attention of Devonte’ Graham and pose for a picture with the KU guard despite the TCU attire Hadley sported.

As Graham walked away, heading back into the tunnel after the Jayhawks’ 88-84 road win over the Horned Frogs, Orlie shouted out to him.

“Say hi to Frank Mason for me,” yelled Orlie, before dropping his voice to a whisper. “I love Frank Mason.”

The message didn't come from nowhere.

Last season, Orlie was able to make the trip out to Allen Fieldhouse for his birthday. He said his father, who attended college near KU, told him he just had to take in the experience.

Orlie, who says his favorite teams are KU and TCU, was paying attention, not only the season before, but to the current one as well.

“Lately, he’s been playing a lot more like Frank Mason,” Orlie said of Graham. “Frank did that his senior year.”

What Orlie and his friend saw in Graham is exactly what the senior has been trying to work on.

While Graham has shown the ability to play with the ball in his hands in the past, too often he’s only been a threat to score from the perimeter.

Graham, a 44-percent 3-point shooter two of the last three seasons, has had 11 career outings where all his field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. He’s played 20 career games where all his made field goals have been 3s, 10 of which came in his junior season.

While there’s nothing wrong with that model for a complementary piece, as a point guard logging heavy minutes, Graham has looked for a change.

“I’m trying to (drive more),” Graham said. “That’s really what I’ve been focusing on, just trying to get in the paint, get to the foul line, get easy baskets and make plays for others.”

The foul-line part of that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

In the seven games from Graham's sophomore season to now where all his field goal attempts were 3s, he shot a combined 13 free throws. In two of them, both coming last season, he got to the line 0 times.

Conversely, Mason had 0 games from his sophomore to junior seasons where he failed to log a 2-point attempt. As a senior, Mason averaged 6.6 free throw attempts per game, compared to 3.4 attempts by Graham going into the game against Texas Tech.

That was where the change began.

via GIPHY

Against the Red Raiders, Graham went 13 for 13 from the line. He was more aggressive driving the ball in the second half, and his coach wanted to see more, even if the way he described Graham's play wasn't the most appealing.

In the post-game press conference, Bill Self referred to the concept of "bad offense," speaking not to the quality of the results of each possession, but to the idea that those sequences involved only one player putting his head down and getting to the rim.

In that aspect, the "bad offense" was anything but that.

“He did great. He did great driving the ball,” Self said. “The thing that Devonte' did really good, and I think you cited the second half, are things he needs to do the entire game."

Message received.

Against TCU, Graham shot 15 free throws and made 13. He attempted five in the first half, more than he’d taken in nine of the Jayhawks 14 previous contests.

via GIPHY

(Now, three of those foul shots were the result of Graham being fouled on a jumper, but there were other instances, both in transition and in the half court, where Graham made an effort to get into the lane.)

via GIPHY

Ultimately, a pair of TCU intentional fouls helped inflate Graham’s game totals, but it wasn’t by chance he was the one holding the ball late.

“I feel like, if anything, the ball should be in my hands to make plays down the stretch,” Graham said. “And I was getting fouled and definitely wanted to be the one at the free throw line to try to ice the game.”

Other fouls, though, Graham earned — bruises and all.

With just over two minutes left, Graham poked the ball away from a TCU guard and sprinted the length of the court. He was crashed into as he attempted a layup and fell to the ground.

The thud of Graham hitting the court was audible all the way across the arena.

via GIPHY

“I just landed on my butt wrong,” Graham deadpanned.

After a beat, Graham got up and knocked down two free throws.

The toughness impressed his coach — “To me, Devonte’ just willed us to win,” Self said after the game, “he showed some (guts) tonight. Good God, he was good.” — and it even won over a new fan.

“I don’t watch a lot of Kansas, but I know about Kansas,” Hadley said. “Tell if I’m wrong on this, (but) since Frank Mason left, it looks like he’s stepped up as a leader — not only on the court, but as a person, making sure he got those dimes to all those people, crashing in with all those close free throws at the end to help secure the dub.”

Reply 2 comments from Surrealku Dirk Medema

How Svi Mykhailiuk, Sam Cunliffe and Marcus Garrett did what KU’s big men couldn’t

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) gets a hand on a shot from Stanford forward Reid Travis (22) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) gets a hand on a shot from Stanford forward Reid Travis (22) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

KU’s biggest issue with Stanford wasn’t going to be "the" matchup so much as it was "a" matchup.

Most KU fans were at least familiar with big man Reid Travis before Thursday’s game, a 75-54 KU win. It wasn’t long ago — just over a calendar year, in fact — the big man posted a career-best 29 points for the Cardinal in a 15-point KU win in Allen Fieldhouse.

It wasn’t just that he scored 29 points, it was how he scored those 29.

“We didn’t do anything with him,” said KU coach Bill Self immediately following the 2016 matchup. “That was a total beat-down by him on our big guys.

"Whenever one guy can set the all-time record for most free throws ever shot against Kansas and the most free throws ever made against Kansas, in the history of the school, home or away, (it) means that we probably didn’t guard. He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys."

Reid tallied 22 free throw attempts in the loss, knocking down 19.

Those numbers were in Self’s mind following the Jayhawks’ last game before the Stanford matchup this season, as both Self and senior Svi Mykhailiuk referenced them following a blowout win over Omaha.

That set the stage for Thursday. This time, things were different.

Going small

Rather than defend Travis straight-up and risk foul trouble to Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, Self attacked the big man with smaller players.

Svi Mykhailiuk drew the matchup first, defending Travis from the start of the game on.

The senior guard — listed at 6-foot-8 on the roster, though he gave a smaller number when asked about it at KU media day — was giving up some size in the matchup, with Travis outweighing him by about 40 pounds. However, Mykhailiuk more than held his own.

On the first defensive possession, Mykhailiuk denied the ball all the way out to the perimeter. He boxed out on the eventual shot attempt and KU came up with the ball.

The next possession, Mykhailiuk worked back in transition and was forced to help on a different man. After a missed Stanford layup and offensive rebound, though, the offense reset.

Mykhailiuk, who was still out of position, was late recovering to an open Travis at the 3-point line. Travis, who had made three 3-pointers in his last two games, missed what was a fairly open shot. It was arguably his best look of the half.

via GIPHY

The only other candidate came when he had a big on him.

After a variety of action at the top of the key, Lightfoot found himself guarding Travis.

Lightfoot, KU’s most aggressive defender at the rim — arguably to a fault — had the same problem the KU bigs had last year.

Travis barely even up-faked, but Lightfoot left his feet and had to contort his body to avoid a foul. With Lightfoot out of the picture, Travis laid the ball up and in.

via GIPHY

Travis scored six points in the first half. All six came with Lightfoot guarding him.

All-in-all, the Jayhawks primarily used multiple smaller defenders to guard the Stanford big man, which changed the way he was able to play.

The smaller KU guards were able to slide and stay in front of Travis, like a few minutes into the game, when Mykhailiuk — not known for his lateral quickness — slid into the lane and kept Travis from getting to the rim on a drive.

On another possession, Sam Cunliffe kept his footing and forced a travel. When tasked with boxing out the big on the ensuing possession, Cunliffe used his vertical leap to tip the ball away.

Other defenders had their moments too.

Just about everyone got their shot guarding the big man in the first half. With KU switching out on the perimeter, even Malik Newman ended up briefly guarding Travis.

At a significant size disadvantage, Newman fronted Travis in the post and relied on Azubuike to help had a pass come over the top.

Azubuike’s man eventually floated out behind the arc and was able to get a 3-point look, but the shot missed. KU survived the mismatch.

via GIPHY

Late in the first half, with Newman again switched onto Travis, the big man was able to post up and the pass came in over the top.

With the KU coaches barking “help him” from the sidelines, Marcus Garrett got the message and slid into position, leaping up and knocking the ball away.

via GIPHY

The KU guards also did their part in keeping Stanford from getting the angles to work the ball into the post, which Devonte’ Graham said after the game was a key emphasis.

And when Travis did catch the ball with a smaller defender on him, KU trapped almost immediately.

It was all part of the first-half effort that saw KU take control of the game and never look back.

Defensive positioning

The biggest problem for the Jayhawks in guarding Travis last time around was fairly simple. KU couldn’t keep him off his spot and lacked the ability to recover and wall up in the post.

After that game, Self gave Azubuike a pass, since he was just a freshman, but said he expected more from then-sophomore Carlton Bragg, redshirt-junior Dwight Coleby and redshirt-senior Landen Lucas.

That was clearly a bigger emphasis this time around, even when the ball was outside the perimeter.

Early on, most of Travis’ touches were on the outside. He caught passes at the top of the key and swung the ball to get Stanford into its offense.

Mykhailiuk, in turn, somewhat overplayed when Travis was one pass away from the action. With just over two minutes gone and Stanford with the ball on the perimeter, Mykhailiuk turned and faced Travis, extending all the way out beyond the 3-point line to deny the pass.

via GIPHY

The plan wasn’t for Mykhailiuk to face-guard Travis for a full 40 minutes, but it did seem like denying the pass to Travis in the first place was a key focus for the KU wings.

At the very least, they showed more focus and awareness out on the perimeter than had typically been the case this season.

Just watch Marcus Garrett (No. 0) on this possession...

via GIPHY

And Sam Cunliffe (No. 3) on this one…

via GIPHY

As for post defense — seen a little bit in the clip above — the Jayhawks primarily kept a man in front of Travis in the post, relying on help to come from the back-side.

Part of Self’s criticism in the last Stanford game had come from a lack of attention to the scouting report.

“You’ve got to play your man before he catches it,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go where he wanted to go."

Mykhailiuk did have some lapses in focus throughout the game, over-helping at points in the first half and allowing Travis to post up late, but the Stanford guards didn’t always find him.

Travis’ first 2-point shot attempt didn’t come until more than six minutes into the game. Once again, it was Mykhailiuk sliding his feet to get in front of Travis and forcing him into a mid-range attempt that fell off the mark.

That possession actually carried with it all of the principles described.

Mykhailiuk got in front of Travis in the post and denied the entry. He followed him out to the perimeter and forced the miss and then even came up with the rebound, although the play was blown dead due to a Stanford technical foul.

via GIPHY

Regardless, all of that played a role in the Jayhawks holding Travis to such a quiet outing.

The big man finished with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He got to the line for only three free throws, which marked his lowest since a February 22 matchup with Oregon State the year before.

And best of all, the effort earned a thumbs up from the coach.

“I thought,” Self said, “we did a great job defensively on him."

Reply 1 comment from Len Shaffer

One common thread in KU’s losses that has nothing to do with defense

Kansas head coach Bill Self shows his frustration during the second half, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self shows his frustration during the second half, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The KU defense — and its reputation — took a beating over the last week.

Some fans have gone as far as to long for the days of last season, lest we all forget that team was, at times, so poor on that end it prompted several rants from coach Bill Self.

After a game against TCU last season, Self proclaimed, “We don’t guard,” three times within the same answer. After a game against K-State, in which KU allowed 88 points and nearly gave up a game-winner on a blown switch, Self took it a step further.

“We’ve had stretches where we didn’t guard very well other times during our tenure here over 13 years, but we’ve never had a team this poor on that end,” Self said. “I mean this is without question probably — not probably — it is the poorest defensive team that we’ve ever had.

“It took us a while to get this poor. You just don’t get this bad overnight, defensively,”

So assuming KU’s defense right now is somewhere in between “the poorest defensive team” KU has had and actually fairly OK given it held its first eight opponents to 74 or fewer points and is only playing with seven scholarship players at the moment, it probably isn’t the worst idea to look all over the box score to find out why the last two games went the way they did.

One number jumps out in that regard.

Points off turnovers:

  • Dec. 6, 2017: Washington 16, KU 8
  • Dec. 10, 2017: Arizona State 25, KU 9

Compared with some of KU’s other wins, those margins are cause for concern.

In the gut-it-out win over Kentucky, 65-61, KU tabbed 17 points off 18 Kentucky turnovers. In the game against Syracuse, where Devonte’ Graham’s 35 points and seven 3-pointers led KU to a 16-point win, KU forced 17 turnovers and tabbed 16 points.

Doing some quick math, you can put KU down for about one point off each turnover per game. That makes sense, considering some turnovers result in easy runouts and others, like charges or passes that fall out-of-bounds, let the defense reset and are harder to score after.

In trying to separate those out, one category that helps is “fastbreak points.” I’d caution against gleaning too much from that statistic by itself, considering the definition of what is and isn’t a fastbreak is entirely arbitrary. But in context, it’s a pretty solid way to break things down.

Against Washington, KU forced 12 turnovers. Off those 12 turnovers, KU scored eight points. Only three of those were on fastbreaks. Let's dive a little deeper.

KU tabbed six steals against Washington, likely the best chances for easy fastbreak buckets. The first was with just a few seconds left in the first half when Marcus Garrett single handedly blew up the Huskies’ play.

That play shouldn’t have produced any KU points so we can remove it.

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The second-to-last steal was actually a jump ball and the last came in a 14-point game with less than a minute left, so those probably aren’t ones to dwell on. The remaining three, however, showcase a bit of a problem.

First, with 18:55 to play in the first half, Graham deflected a pass to start a fastbreak. Malik Newman came up with the ball and had Graham open for a split second, but instead held onto it and drove.

Graham, with nowhere to go, backtracked to the 3-point line. Newman put up a shot in traffic and was swatted at the rim.

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“I think if (Newman) would just worry about things that have an impact on us winning or not, I think he’d be better off,” Self said after that game. “Missed Devonte’ a couple times wide open in transition.”

The next instance was the opposite case of that, by all accounts.

With 12-and-a-half minutes left in the second half, Mykhailiuk knocked a ball away and Graham dove on the floor to get it. He bounced it back to Mykhailiuk, who pushed it up the floor.

Multiple Washington players stared at the ball on the play and made no attempt to get back on defense. That left Lagerald Vick running wide open to the hoop, but Mykhailiuk’s pass was off the mark and flew into the stands.

Vick took the blame for the play, patting his chest, but it wasn’t at all his fault.

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As for steal No. 3, it came with just over two minutes to play and the Jayhawks desperately trying to make the comeback.

Garrett poked the ball away into the hands of Vick, who tried to pitch it ahead to Newman.

Vick's pass traveled too far down the court. Garrett was actually credited for the turnover on the play, likely due to an error by the scorekeepers, but it was another opportunity KU couldn’t afford to waste.

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Now the Arizona State game was somewhat different. KU actually made the right play a few times early on.

The first instance was in fact so well executed that it’s worth watching the entire sequence.

KU’s defense — yes, that defense — first did an impeccable job swarming to the ball and helping and switching when necessary. Arizona State couldn't get anything going and the result was a turnover, as Graham easily intercepted a pass along the baseline.

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Graham started the break, taking three dribbles and firing the ball up the court to Mykhailiuk. Mykhailiuk dropped it backward for Newman, who drilled the 3-pointer in rhythm.

KU took a 10-2 lead. Arizona State called timeout.

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Every opportunity didn’t go that smoothly.

With 14-and-a-half minutes to play in the first and the Sun Devils on an 8-0 run, Newman poked a ball away and Graham recovered it to start a break. KU didn’t have numbers, so a basket was no guarantee, but Vick and Mykhailiuk essentially ended the opportunity by running to the exact same spot on the floor.

Graham passed the ball up the court, but Vick had to slow down to keep from colliding with Mykhailiuk. The KU offense had to reset.

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Instead of an easy bucket, KU settled for a Vick floater in traffic on the possession. The shot was swatted away, marking the fourth of six straight scoreless KU possessions.

That was a theme of the day.

The next steal came at the rim, so KU didn’t really have numbers. Even if they did, Graham was slow getting down the floor so KU couldn’t capitalize on a quick 5-on-4 break to create a mismatch somewhere.

That was less true on the next chance, as Newman poked a ball away and Mykhailiuk recovered it and dribbled into the frontcourt.

Udoka Azubuike put his hand up for the ball in the paint. Mykhailiuk didn’t pass and instead spun around at the top of the key.

On the wing, Arizona State’s Remy Martin saw Mykhailiuk dribbling and abandoned Graham, his original assignment. Mykhailiuk could’ve passed Graham the ball, only Martin was quick enough to poke it away.

KU should’ve ended up with an easy layup or 3-pointer. Instead it went down as a turnover.

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“They said every time Svi has the ball to crowd him, try to take his ball,” Self said. “His ball handling was very, very weak today.”

Perhaps the worst mishap of either game, though, wasn’t off a steal. It may have been a player trying to atone for a mistake the game before.

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With less than five minutes left, Newman grabbed a rebound off an Arizona State miss. He dribbled up the court and tried a 50-foot pass to Graham, but there was no real lane to do so.

After the game, Graham said the idea for the pass was OK, the execution was just lacking. Self’s description, coming in an unrelated answer, was a little less forgiving.

“(A) terrible, bone-head, full court pass that went out of bounds,” Self said.

By themselves, those opportunities weren’t what caused the two losses.

While KU only scored 65 against Washington, the offense was far more free flowing against a team that played exclusively man-to-man defense in Allen Fieldhouse

“You score 85 at home,” Self said. “You expect to win.”

And that’s certainly true. But KU can still do more a lot on that end.

Against Washington, the easiest way for KU to score against the adjusted zone would’ve been to avoid it all together — simply running down the floor before it could set up.

And against Arizona State, even if both teams wanted to run, the Jayhawks still could’ve done more of it on their own terms to break through dry spells and make things more difficult for the competition.

“It just unbelievable,” Self said. “Whenever you control tempo and control pace, the basket grows, and it shrinks on the other end.”

In the last two games, that’s one thing KU certainly hasn’t done. You can't forget about the other side of it, either.

The Jayhawks have allowed 41 points off 29 turnovers in the last two games, a rate (1.41 points per possession) far higher than the clip they've scored at. They've also been outscored in transition, 24-13, despite being a team that should be built to get out and run, even off misses and long rebounds.

Again it was Self, speaking to a different topic, who said it best.

"There's not that dog or competitive juice," Self said, "that guys need to have when the game's on the line."

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