West Virginia dared Udoka Azubuike to make a play, and it was exactly what he did — three times, no less. Today’s 1-3-1 blog explains just how the big man came through on defense in KU's 77-69 win over West Virginia, plus a pair of plays that show how the Mountaineers may have taken their foot off the gas late. 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: ‘We attacked them’ —
If you’re like me, when you watch a game there’s usually a play or two that — for whatever reason — feel exponentially bigger than they actually are.
That play, to me, came at the 4:23 mark in the second half. KU was still behind by six when it began and five when it ended, but when I saw it, I couldn’t help but think back to the words spoken by the Jayhawks following their comeback win in Morgantown.
“I told the guys that I felt like they had kind of relaxed and taken their foot off the pedal,” Devonte’ Graham said at the time. “So we attacked them.”
Let’s go to the film.
This play started with a mishap, as Graham hit the floor on the defensive end of the court and was late getting down the floor. West Virginia doubled Lagerald Vick as he brought the ball up, but Vick was able to get the ball to a wide-open Graham as he joined the Jayhawks on offense.
The defense had to rotate and Graham swung the ball to Malik Newman. Newman's open 3-pointer was just off the mark.
As Newman’s shot went up, Svi Mykhailiuk watched for about a half-second and then sprinted toward the rim. He jumped up from one side of the restricted area and caught the ball with one hand on the other. West Virginia had four players in the paint during that time.
Mykhailiuk was instantly swarmed by Jevon Carter, one of the top defenders in the nation, yet he kept his composure, took what the defense was giving him — in this case, the baseline — and then found Vick. The play resulted in a foul and free throws, of which Vick made one.
Oh, and the Jayhawks went on a 17-0 run starting on the next trip down the floor. Try telling me that was a coincidence.
A trend: Udoka the defensive back? —
For those that don’t know, a cross screen is an action that can occur by the basket. Two players — usually forwards — will stand on either side of the paint. One will set a screen, almost always directly in front of the hoop, while the other runs from one block to the other.
The action isn’t especially hard to defend and can usually be switched, but when dealing with two players as dramatically different as, say, 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike and 6-5 180-pound Marcus Garrett, switching isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. It'll create a pretty drastic mismatch.
West Virginia went to the action early and often against Kansas, but Azubuike almost singlehandedly disrupted it.
On one instance, just less than seven minutes into the game, Daxter Miles came off a cross screen from Sagaba Konate. Azubuike and Garrett switched, but Azubuike knew Garrett wouldn’t be able to handle the bigger Konate straight up.
As the pass came in, Azubuike jumped across the paint, grabbed the ball like a defensive back and was fouled.
“What an alert play by Udoka Azubuike,” said announcer Jay Bilas on the call for ESPN. “Playing the ball instead of playing his man.”
There was plenty more to come.
The next time the Mountaineers tried this play, they actually tried to disguise it a little better. Miles first faked like he was going to come off the screen and then faded back to the corner. Garrett, who was in good position to fight through the screen the first time, relaxed, and Miles sprung into action, coming off the screen and again forcing a switch.
This time, Miles kept running out to the corner with the hope of keeping Azubuike from being able to help on Konate, but Azubuike didn’t bite, reading the play the whole way and jumping to knock the ball out of bounds.
Oh, and he did it in the clutch, too.
Arguably the biggest defensive play of the game for KU came with about 25 seconds left. Miles, who had already hit six 3-pointers was wide open for 3, but he instead opted to sling a pass in toward Esa Ahmad in the paint.
Don’t get me wrong. This was an extremely ill advised pass, and one that should have never been made. However, Azubuike still had to have the awareness to come off Konate and knock the ball away to Graham.
And hey, if the whole basketball thing doesn’t work out, Azubuike could try his hand at another sport. After all, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid was watching in the stands. Maybe he could use an oversized free safety.
One that stood out: ‘Booooring’ —
If you go to enough high school games you’ll hear the same chant over and over when teams try to run down the clock and hold for the last shot of a quarter.
“Boooo-ring. Boooo-ring. Boooo-ring. Boooo-ring. Boooo-ring.”
Up by 10 in the second half, West Virginia employed a similar strategy on Saturday. The surprising thing was how early it started.
“Even when they were on offense, I felt like they were just holding the ball,” said Garrett. “I was very surprised when they were just holding it.”
With more than 8-and-a-half minutes to play, Carter was content to dribble out the clock. He waited until there were nine seconds left on the shot clock to even call for a screen. He started making his move with seven seconds left.
The eventual shot missed, but the Mountaineers got the rebound. Carter called for the ball and then dribbled back toward the top of the key, content to take 20 more seconds off the clock.
“I don’t know what the thinking was,” said KU coach Bill Self. “But I do think when you’re down double figures and the other team’s going to use 25-30 seconds every shot clock and they get 40 percent of their misses back, you would think you’re not going to have that many opportunities to come back.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins explained the thinking after the game, saying he told his team to take care of the ball — unlike the last meeting between the two teams in Allen Fieldhouse. He wasn’t totally on board with how things worked out, though, asking himself a rhetorical question to cement his point.
“Did i want them to run it down to nine seconds on the clock?” said an agitated Huggins after the game. “No.”
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
Make no mistake — close games are seldom decided by only one play, player or sequence.
Yes, Udoka Azubuike went 1 for 8 at the line, but the Jayhawks could’ve scored in other ways.
KU missed 22 3-pointers — one or two of those might’ve changed the situation entirely — while Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham shot a combined 15 for 44 (34.1 percent) from the field.
But once a close game gets to its final stages, every mistake is amplified, including one made by KU’s leader against the Sooners.
Devonte’ Graham was matched up on Trae Young for Oklahoma’s final possession of the 85-80 KU loss. Graham had done a decent job on Young, holding him to single-digit field-goal attempts for the first time this season and likely the first time in multiple years. (Young averaged better than 40 points per game in high school.)
So then it made sense for there to be extra attention on Young as Brady Manek came up to set a screen. But what happened was a lapse KU could not afford.
"The last one was on me," Graham said, admitting he and Svi Mykhailiuk were supposed to switch on the play.
Manek's screen was never set, as Mykhailiuk tipped his hand a little early and the OU forward sprung out behind the 3-point line, but KU had the right players in place to defend the play.
Mykhailiuk and Graham are more than familiar with each other, having played four years together and sharing a tight bond off the court.
It didn’t help them on Tuesday.
“We should’ve had the ball with a chance to tie or win,” Self said. “This happens a lot of time in sports. You know what you're supposed to do, but you think you can guard Trae better than the guy that you'd be switching with. And so you stay."
"That was a situation where they slipped the ball screen and obviously we didn't do a good job. ... And he's a great shooter."
So much of Tuesday’s game was centered on the strategy of Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger to have his team intentionally foul KU’s Udoka Azubuike, but various things around and during that time also went under the radar.
For example, if Self had deviated from his normal strategy, or if the referees had chosen to call a foul earlier in the game, Azubuike would’ve never been in that situation in the first place.
Kruger, who told his team to foul with about 3 minutes left, almost didn’t have to worry about the big man. Azubuike committed two fouls in the first half and was subsequently pulled, playing only five minutes.
Then he picked up two more — and nearly one on top of that — which might have revealed a way Self could get around the free throw issues altogether.
Azubuike crashed into Young chasing after an offensive rebound. The fans in Norman wanted a foul, but with Young having the ball and remaining upright, it probably was best for both teams if play continued.
Had Azubuike picked up a foul there and had Self stuck with him until he fouled out, the situation itself would’ve been avoided. That isn’t to say Self made a mistake in subbing in the first half to preserve his big man, but it certainly wasn’t the only time a foul call affected a strategy.
Moving into the actual intentional-foul part of the game, which started with KU up 2, Kruger tasked forward Matt Freeman with committing the fouls on Azubuike.
Freeman entered the game with 0 fouls, so there should have been five instances when Azubuike was at the line.
Instead, there were four. Here’s why:
Freeman stuck his shoulder out into Graham, and the KU guard did a good job selling the play. It took one of the five fouls from Freeman, and since Khadeem Lattin already had three fouls at that point, it meant one less possession where the Sooners would intentionally foul.
KU, though, didn’t seem so sure.
With the Jayhawks ahead by 1 after Azubuike’s final free throws and Young committing a turnover to give KU the ball back, Self pointed for Azubuike to go to the corner and then called a timeout.
KU came back out of the timeout and Self stuck with the alignment, opting to put Lagerald Vick in front of Azubuike to offer some protection in case someone tried to intentionally foul.
Kruger, though, was well prepared.
While Graham dribbled aimlessly, Kruger gestured for his players to sag off Vick and Azubuike, leaving nowhere for Graham — or anyone else — to drive.
Graham hoisted up a 3-pointer that missed. OU came back down the court and took the lead.
And on the other side
Since I began this story by talking about the defensive lapse by Graham, I think it’d only be fair to end on the play that preceded it.
After all, one play does not a game make.
With KU down 2 and Malik Newman with the ball, Young tried to go around an Azubuike screen, giving Newman an extra step as he drove toward the hoop.
The defense collapsed and Newman made the right play, dishing it to a wide open Mykhailiuik. The shot just didn't fall, and Newman couldn’t come up with the board.
Sometimes, that's the difference between a win and a loss.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
And Sam Cunliffe (No. 3) on this one…
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.
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."
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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."
When Devonte’ Graham lobbed the ball toward Udoka Azubuike, what the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse saw made them cheer. Bill Self had a different reaction.
The play he was stewing over came two trips earlier down the floor.
The sequence that started the fast break for Kansas actually originated from a KU mistake. Svi Mykhailiuk had the ball on the left wing. It was poked away and into the hands of a defender.
As Fort Hays State dribbled the other way, Mykhailiuk took a haphazard swipe at the ball, leaving KeShawn Wilson with a one-on-one shot to the hoop.
Malik Newman, who had already picked up a foul, defended the layup well and the shot missed. The ensuing break resulted in the lob, but Mykhailiuk still found himself on the bench.
"It's not that complicated to me. If you're going to make a mistake, at least make it going full speed," Self said. "When you try not to screw up, that's when you screw up the most. We just need those guys more aggressive, playing with more reckless abandon."
That was the way the first half went more often than not for Mykhailiuk. The film didn’t do him any favors.
Early in the first half, Fort Hays State had the ball out of bounds with just seven seconds on the shot clock. The inbounds was eventually redirected to Trey O'Neil, who Mykhailiuk pressured all the way out to half court.
O'Neil turned and dribbled back to his right, easily getting by Mykhailiuk and scoring on a layup. It was far from his only defensive lapse.
Mykhailiuk was a half-step slow reacting to an off-ball cut but still recovered well enough to make a play. Billy Preston, however, didn’t make enough of a path for Svi to step through on the handoff, and Mykhailiuk didn't fight through the traffic hard enough to prevent the layup.
In a later stint on the court, Mykhailiuk found himself matched up with the Tigers' Marcus Cooper. He tried to cheat on a screen and was burned by a simple left-to-right crossover, again for a layup.
"Defensively we were bad," Self said after the game. "We've certainly got to do a better job of guarding the ball."
Offensively, it wasn’t much better.
Mykhailiuk shot just 1 for 5 in the first half, missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Even so, it was an attempted layup that stuck in Self's craw.
Nearing the midway point in the half, Mykhailiuk executed on a backcut and MItch Lightfoot delivered a perfect pass to put him in at the hoop.
Mykhailiuk went up for the layup and, perhaps sensing potential contact, contorted his body to try and lay it in left-handed. The shot bounced off the rim.
“Guy comes to contest, he flinched,” Self said. "He's a senior. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."
To be fair, Mykhailiuk wasn’t the only one to draw the ire of Self.
Newman, who picked up a cheap foul early in the game, did himself no favors later in the half, as he drove into heavy traffic and nearly turned it over.
The Jayhawks got the ball back and worked it around to Mykhailiuk, who launched a contested 3. At the next stoppage, both returned to the bench.
"You don't play with activity and people minus Devonte' go 3 of 21 from 3," Self said. "That is a formula to get your butt handed to you."
Perhaps it all would’ve been forgivable, though, if the swingman found other ways to contribute.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with eight rebounds and five assists, with a majority of those numbers coming in the second frame.
As for the first half, he had the chance to thread an easy entry pass to Udoka Azubuike, but his pass sailed by the big man and out of bounds.
"When you're not making shots and you don't give us any activity, there's absolutely no reason to play," Self said.
So to start the second half for the second straight game, Self went with Marcus Garrett and Preston over Mykhailiuk and Newman.
He doubled down on the move after the game, noting that Garrett made plays neither of the other two older players could make. Self did, however, make an even stronger statement.
Just over five minutes into the second half, Self turned to his bench to put in a wing. He opted for walk on Clay Young, continuing to leave Mykhailiuk and Newman on the bench for some time.
If it wasn't obvious as to why, Self made it perfectly clear after the game.
"No, I really did think, 'Now Clay, we need you to play a certain way,' " Self joked, before shedding the sarcasm for a more serious tone. "I just didn't really think that Svi or Malik deserved to be out there, to be honest with you.
"I think they got the message."