Defense — not offense — killing Jayhawks


After the Kansas men's basketball team's loss Thursday to Baylor, KU coach Bill Self promised his team would practice as hard as it had all season this weekend, with two practices scheduled for today.

If I'm Self, I work on three things in practice: Defense, defense and defense.

The statistics don't lie: In the last three games, KU has had three of its worst defensive outings of the year*.

* — For this blog, I will be using offensive and defensive efficiencies. Though this sounds complicated, it's actually very simple. Offensive efficiency is the number of points a team scores per 100 offensive possessions. Defensive efficiency, then, is the number of points a team allows per 100 defensive possessions. All statistics come from

After the Baylor loss, there was a lot of talk about the Jayhawks' inability to break a zone, or Sherron Collins' shooting woes or KU's struggles getting the ball inside.

Guess what? The Jayhawks were better offensively on Thursday against Baylor than they were in the teams' first matchup in Waco on Feb. 2. And in the first game, KU won, 75-65.

Here are the offensive efficiency numbers for KU in the two games:

Feb. 2 at Baylor: 101.1
March 12 vs. Baylor: 101.3*

KU scored more points per possession in the second game than the first game. So what was the difference in the two contests? Why did the Jayhawks win one by 10 and lose the other by seven?

To put it simply: defense.

* — I will point out, 101.3 is not a great offensive efficiency, but KU is 25-2 this year when its offensive efficiency is 100 or better.

Let's take a look at the defensive efficiency numbers for KU in the two games:

Feb. 2 at Baylor: 87.7
March 12 vs. Baylor: 112.3

It's pretty easy, then, to see that many have missed the true reason KU struggled Thursday. It's because the Jayhawks didn't guard worth a lick.

Like I said earlier, this has been a troubling trend for KU in the last three games.

Statistically, the Jayhawks have been solid defensively all season. KU ranks 16th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (a figure adjusted to take into account the competition a team plays) with 89.6. The national average is 101.2.

Let's take a look at the Jayhawks' worst defensive efficiency numbers this season:

Nov. 25 vs. Syracuse: 106.5 (L 89-81)
Jan. 10 at Michigan State: 107.2 (L 75-62)
March 7 vs. Texas: 108.7 (W 83-73)
Jan. 3 vs. Tennessee: 109.0 (W 92-85)
March 12 vs. Baylor: 112.3 (L 71-64)
Jan. 6 vs. Siena: 114.0 (W 91-84)
March 4 at Texas Tech: 118.6 (L 84-65)
Dec. 23 at Arizona: 126.5 (L 84-67)

Two things should stand out right away.

  1. Three of the Jayhawks' worst six defensive performances have come in the last three games. Before the Texas Tech game, KU hadn't had a defensive efficiency of 108 or higher since playing Siena. Now the Jayhawks have allowed at least 1.08 points per possession in three straight games. That's not a good trend to have entering the NCAA Tournament.

  2. KU isn't very successful when its defensive efficiency is poor. Though this may seem somewhat obvious, it should discredit the belief that KU can simply outscore other teams when it is not playing well defensively.

Just for reference, the Jayhawks were No. 1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2007-08 (82.8) and 2006-07 (82.2) and No. 2 nationally in 2005-06 (84.7).

The Jayhawks need a quick fix in defensive efficiency this year, but the good news is, the statistic has been one of Self's strengths as a coach.

Let's hope he uses two practices today — and maybe a few more next week — to work on his team's biggest flaw and not its biggest perceived one.


actorman 9 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the info. This is fascinating; I would think the "efficiency" numbers are the best way to gauge how good a team is.

Matt Tait 9 years, 2 months ago

Wow, Newell.... This was amazing. Great work. Pretty much lays it all out. Nice job.

Kevin Sontag 9 years, 2 months ago

"Just for reference, the Jayhawks were No. 1 in the nation in defensive efficiency in 2007-08 (82.8) and 2006-07 (82.2) and No. 2 nationally in 2005-06 (84.7)."

I knew the 'Hawks were a great defensive team, but I didn't realize they were THAT great. I hope defense is the word of the day during these practices. My high school football coach had a mantra that I wish was used by every coach, in every sport, to stress how important defense is:

"They don't score? They don't win!"

mikehawk 9 years, 2 months ago

I hope you continue to use and post this rating game by game. May I suggest the use of an ongoing "dashboard" chart that allows us to track it game by game over a season. I find it much more interesting than Mr. Keegan's player ratings after each game that are focused on individual rather than team performance, and they are highly subjective. KU is about team and this rating is fascinating when you put it up against wins and losses. Thanks.

Scott Smetana 9 years, 2 months ago

Never heard of this stat, but it sounds awesome. I agree! A great defensive team can go far in the tourney. We need to shut down the hot guards consistently... we did do a good job on Abrams.

What do you think the most important traits are to go far in the tourney? Here's my list:

  1. Great Defense
  2. Luck (not running into team who plays Red Hot)
  3. Few Turnovers
  4. Rebounding
  5. Balanced Scoring attack.

I personally don't care if we end up in KC.. just don't put us in the bracket with UNC, Pitt, Michigan St., or any little team that starts with a B.

nocaljayhawk 9 years, 2 months ago

Good fact-based analysis. Number don't lie. Add in the several easy shots Baylor missed the other day, and KU's defensive stats would have been even worse for that game. Seeing Lomers spin around and then dunk on Cole and seeing Dunn repeatedly shoot un-guarded threes without Brady in his jersey indicated the team's defensive effort was lacking; these numbers prove it.

BTW, is there anyone whose shot sounds better going through the net than L. Dunn? That sweet "swak" his shot makes on the nylon is a thing of should be used as the sound effect for all "swish" sounds on video games and commercials in perpituity.

Jesse Newell 9 years, 2 months ago

mikehawk — Defensive efficiency for each KU game can be found here:

Just find Defense and Eff. on the right side.

PikesPeak — As far as things that are most important statistically in the tournament, offensive and defensive efficiency would be near the top for me (By the way, KU is 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency at 114.8).

I know you came to this blog for good news, so here you go: No Final Four team in the past five years has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency. And only two Elite Eight teams in the past five years have ranked outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

KU is 16th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Here are a list of teams that are not in the top 25: Pittsburgh, UCLA, Arizona State, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Villanova.

For more on adjusted defensive efficiency and this trend, check out Luke Winn's column here from SI:

Notice he wrote that on Jan. 7. Look at some of his "early warning teams" based simply on adjusted defensive efficiency. Almost every single one fell off the map (and, subsequently, out of the rankings).

Adjusted defensive efficiency seems to be a pretty decent predictor of a team's future successes (or failures).

Greg Lux 9 years, 2 months ago

Very informative .. although there is a little luck in any defense (aka a well defended hot shooter can cause problems on a given day ). The multiple games shows its not that but as you point out a lack of strong defensive presents. One more number I would be interested in is the Offensive rebounds given per game comparison, both for and against KU. I have said all year that we lack the basic fundamentals of good blocking out and its hurting us big time. Three things have to improve for us to advance far in the tournament. Turnovers per game, Rebound %, and points per possession offensively and defensively. The last has almost always improved by getting the ball into Cole. Lastly, although I love Sherron, he has to remember that there are others members of his team who can score at crunch time. His tendency to take control of the ball solely at the end of a close game has, IMHO, cost us more then helped us win close games. I am sure there are, but I cant remember a game winning shot he has taken that has gone in to give us a victory. Yes, before you yell at me his steal and shot in the NCG where HUGE but not the game winner. Chalmers has that distention.

DDSF 9 years, 2 months ago

I bet we get matched up against the North Dakota State Bison in the first round. You know CBS would have a field day with that. I think 3 seed and probably not in KC.

Jarod DeLozier 9 years, 2 months ago

This might be the best column ever written on this site.

bigjay83 9 years, 2 months ago


Excellent blog. I've said this before, but you really are doing fantastic work for the LJW. Love the fact that you base your writing in stats. Keep it up.

This goes right along with what I posted in Bedore's article: defense has been our biggest problem the last few games, especially perimeter defense. Against Tech 73% of the scoring came from the guards, and in each of the last three games the opposing guards have gotten to the paint at a remarkable rate. Add to that the failure of our help-side defense, and you get the poor defensive efficiency. It really seems like in all three games that our aggressiveness simply wasn't there. Hopefully this week can fix that.

Rian Ankerholz 9 years, 2 months ago

Good job, J.N. This is a better Newell Post than most master carpenters put on their own home stairway! But remember - with this young team, as Sherron's efficiency goes, so go the Jayhawks! He disappeared in the Baylor game. RCJH

Jesse Newell 9 years, 2 months ago

Jhawkerman — If you were wondering about offensive rebounds and how they affect the Jayhawks, look here.

Kenpom compiles offensive rebound percentage, which is compiled by taking offensive rebounds divided by (offensive rebounds+opposition's defensive rebounds). In essence, this stat calculates what percentage of potential offensive rebounds a team gets.

Here is KU's schedule, sorted by its best offensive rebounding percentage games:

And here is KU's schedule, sorted by its opponents' worst offensive rebounding percentage games:

Because the losses are scattered in both of these charts (with both high and low offensive rebound percentage numbers), I would say that offensive rebounding might not be as critical to winning for KU as some other stats would be.

For example, when KU's offensive rebound percentage is 33.3 percent or lower, the Jayhawks are 14-1. That doesn't make much sense, but perhaps it tells us that offensive rebounds are not critical to KU's success.

jsatt93 9 years, 2 months ago

defense is always a problem for a young team

WisconsinJayhawk 9 years, 2 months ago

The efficiency stat is interesting but, in my opinion, not very informative. Anybody who watched the TT game or the Baylor game could tell you the same thing as this stat: our defense was not good. What aspect of our defense is to blame would be more interesting to explore.

I see two major problems: 1) inability to defend the three point line and 2) allowing too many offensive rebounds. I don't know how many times I saw an opponent move the ball around until they got a virtually uncontested 3 point shot. Now, that's fine and well if the opponent is throwing bricks-- but I wouldn't count on that for 6 games of NCAA tournament play. Someone will shoot lights-out against you, guaranteed. TT was 15 0f 27 from 3-range; I don't know the overall numbers for Baylor but Dunn alone was 6 of 11. Why we can't seem to get through the screens or rotate fast enough to keep up with the ball movement, i don't know; perhaps Ken Pom can tell me that. As for the defensive rebounding problem, I don't have an explanation there either. Blocking out is fundamental. I even saw an opponent get an offensive rebound on a free throw in the TT game, which should NEVER happen.

Anyone who has a good explanation of what mechanical fault we have in the area of 3-point defense, and defensive rebounding, I'd love to hear it. The effeciency stat is OK, but narrows it down only form "everything" to 50% of everything -- defense-- which I could tell you without using a fancy stat.

Nevertheless, a good post, Jesse; but I would like to have seen it go somewhere after narrowing it down to defense.

optichawk 9 years, 2 months ago

With economic times the way they are, I wonder how much money KU saved in hotel rooms, meals and other expenses, with the loss in OKC?

Sparko 9 years, 2 months ago

This has been pretty obvious to me. There are times when playing ponderous big men can be advantageous, but against 3-ballers like Tech and Baylor? There were tons of easy looks. Kansas lost both of those games from beyond the arc. 45-points by Tech beyond the arc. This was the Oral Roberts formula, and Self needs to fix it. On the national stage though, few teams can live beyond the arc. (I do remember that Bradley game though--there was even a 45-footer before the half. Kansas conceded too many looks at long range.)

Kit Duncan 9 years, 2 months ago

Great post Jesse! The key here is, this is a GOOD team not a GREAT team. Only one of the starting positions has remained at the same level as last year's team (Cole vs Kaun). The other four positions are about 75-80% of last year's quality. The twins are not equal to DA or D-Block. Taylor doesn't quite fill his number 15's shoes. Little struggles compared to Rush. Sherron has stepped up, but compared to RussRob he still doesn't always get his teammates involved in the flow. Morningstar and Reed are very good role players, but neither has the ability to take over a game when other teammates struggle. Rush, Chalmers, Arthur all had nights where they carried the team on their shoulders either offensively or defensively. Even Darnell had a couple superman games.

When Sherron struggles, someone else needs to step up. If Sherron's having an off night it seems as though Cole has one too. I don't know if it's because the opposing team keys on Cole in that situation or if the rest of the Hawks don't do a good enough job getting the ball inside.

Also, as always, KU gets the other team's A game every night because of the bullseye placed on their chest due to Kansas' successes. Live by the three, die by the three and lately, opponents have gotten hot. (T-Tech)

Mike Ardis 9 years, 2 months ago

Statistics are great but you still have to outscore the other team. Based on quick calculations (no guarantees on the accuracy) since Bill Self has been at KU they are 140-9 when the Jayhawks score at least 70 (with three of those losses in OT!) and only 26-29 scoring less than 70. When watching the Jayhawks I look at if they are going to get to 70. Granted, while 70 wouldn't have beat Baylor, it could have won 16 of the 29 losses mentioned above. 70 isn't a cure all as there are a number of games KU has won when scoring just 70 wouldn't have lost but overall the more they pass 70 the more likely they are to win.

Jesse Newell 9 years, 2 months ago

I'll respectfully disagree with you, kufan83. That's exactly the type of thinking that would make you think the Jayhawks' 75 points against Baylor the first game means they played better offense than in the second game, when KU scored 64.

In the first game, KU had 74 possessions. In the second game, KU had 63 possessions.

While getting to 70 points each game is ideal (What team wouldn't want to score more than 70 each game?), it's going to be much easier in some games than others. KU putting up 75 points in 74 possessions is not better than putting up 64 points in 63 possessions.

Your 70-point argument doesn't hold up. If Princeton slows it down and KU gets just 40 possessions, but scores 60, the Jayhawks have played wonderful offense but are still 10 points below your goal.

If the Jayhawks play North Carolina and get 90 possessions, but score just 75 points, they have played horrible offense but are still five points over your goal.

See my point? Point total is all relative based on the pace of the game and how many possessions you get. That's why efficiency is important: It can tell us much more about a team's offensive and defensive performance than the final score can.

Rick Arnoldy 9 years, 2 months ago

Stats aside, I had the opportunity to watch about 2 minutes of the game early on. In those two minutes, I knew we were going to lose. I base my opinions on how well we pass the ball - no stats for that. We played tentative, threw soft lobs, and over-passed instead of being agressive. That's all I needed to see. Give me a stat that shows that. I knew early that we would lose that game.

Mike Ardis 9 years, 2 months ago

Not sure if I buy that defense is KU's problem. If you look at the efficiency stats of KU's 5 and 10 worst offensive performances of the year they are 0-5 and 3-7. However in their worst defensive games they are 2-3 in and 5-5. So it appears having a bad offensive day is more likely to lead to a KU loss than a bad defensive day. And too often not getting to 70 means they are having a bad offensive day.

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