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 KenPom.com.
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.
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.
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.