Recap: After not knowing what to expect, Arizona game goes as expected
Note: Here is a listing of definitions for some terms used in this blog. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below if something doesn't make sense.
I know, what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I have to share the funny story (or, depending on who you are, a not funny story) that took place as time was winding down in Kansas' 87-79 victory over Arizona on Saturday night.
http://www2.kusports.com/photos/galle... After a missed free throw by KU's Marcus Morris, Arizona's Lamont Jones raced down the court and put in a meaningless layup with less than 10 seconds left.
Only this is Las Vegas, so there are rarely meaningless layups.
The shot had knocked KU's deficit down to eight, but also had pushed the Jayhawks' lead under the spread of 8.5 points.
Poor Tyrel Reed. Once he received the inbounds pass, simply wanting to run out the clock on a victory, he was screamed at by a few thousand of his own team's fans, who urged him to run down the court to take a shot to try to save their bets.
The guard took a few dribbles to finish out the time, no doubt wondering what had come over the Jayhawks fans that were begging him to run up the score.
If you have a friend here in Vegas for these games, it's likely he/she is a bit poorer today.
In the three years I've been covering the Jayhawks, it was the most awkward victory celebration by KU fans that I've seen.
Back on topic: What did we learn following KU's 87-79 victory over Arizona?
Well, a lot. And not much. If that makes any sense.
Neither KU nor Arizona had played a top-100 KenPom opponent coming into the game, so both teams' fanbases might have wondered a bit just how good their teams really were.
So after the Jayhawks and Wildcats played a back-and-forth, fast-paced, entertaining game on Saturday night, I came away thinking two things:
1. Kansas is pretty good against a good opponent.
2. Arizona is pretty good against a good opponent.
I'm going to sound a bit like everyone's mother here, but really, the result was what both teams needed.
Arizona showed, even after falling behind by 16 early, that it could hold its own (and, for most of the middle 20 minutes, outplay) one of the best teams in the nation. Even after losing by eight, don't you think UA coach Sean Miller feels better about his team today than he did 24 hours ago?
Forward Derrick Williams sounds like he does.
"We may not have won, but we played hard," Williams said after the game. "It was the closest game they had this year and will probably be one of their closest games all season."
The Wildcats, who were ranked 12th in KenPom's rankings before the game, actually moved up four spots to No. 8 after the close loss.
KU (which stayed in KenPom's top spot) received exactly what it needed, too: an early-season challenge, and a chance to see its previously untested players perform in high-pressure situations.
Because of Marcus Morris' foul trouble, KU was forced to steal minutes from a smaller lineup for most of the middle part of the second half.
The Jayhawks also saw Tyrel Reed, Mario Little, Travis Releford and Thomas Robinson make big plays at significant times.
Though there's a lot to work on, I'd have to think there's a good chance KU coach Bill Self also feels better about his own team than he did 24 hours ago.
Statistically, KU can thank good shooting and ball security for the final margin of victory. After making 11 of their first 14 shots, KU posted a 58.8 eFG% — 5.5-percent higher than Arizona's mark.
The Jayhawks also only turned it over on 16.4 percent of its possessions, while Arizona was much more careless, giving it away on 26 percent of its possessions.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
Good thing for KU he did. The Jayhawks might not have won otherwise.
Robinson beats out Marcus Morris for the M.O.J. after providing one of the most efficient efforts of his KU career. The 6-foot-9 sophomore posted an impressive 1.64 points per possession used while also using up a good chunk of KU's possessions when he was in there (20.1 percent).
Though Robinson doesn't have the reputation of being a good jump-shooter just yet, he did make almost all his mid-range shots on Saturday. He also had no turnovers, which might have been his best stat of the night.
Though it didn't show up in the box score, Robinson still could use some lowering of his trash-talk percentage, which remains awfully high for a player in a reserve role.
Room for Improvement
At one point in the first half, KU coach Bill Self yelled at his players from the bench: "Are you going to guard anybody?"
For a while, Self's question was valid.
KU couldn't stop Arizona's Derrick Williams in the post (though I'm not sure how many teams will this year) while also allowing penetration by guards which led to open looks on threes.
Not surprisingly, it was the first time all year KU allowed more than a point per possession (1.08, to be exact). Arizona's 53.3 eFG% was about five-percent higher than the NCAA average, while the Wildcats also made 10 of 27 three-pointers (37 percent).
I'm not going to get too down on KU's three-point defense, which still is No. 1 in the nation at 21.1 percent, but as a whole, the Jayhawks didn't do much to stop Arizona from putting the ball in the hoop. If Arizona had avoided turnovers just a little better, the game might have had a different outcome.
Though he had some big baskets late, KU forward Markieff Morris' statistical line was easily his worst of the season.
The junior, who battled foul trouble along with his brother Marcus, posted only 0.76 points per possession, and that's while using a whopping 38.3 percent of KU's possessions when he was in there.
Markieff's main problem was turnovers. He gave it away on 28.5 percent of the possessions he was in, finishing with four turnovers in just 20 minutes. His rebounding numbers also were low for his standards, as he had just three boards and pulled down only 5.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds while he was on the floor.
Though there were questions about both KU and Arizona entering Saturday's games, I'd have to say afterwards that both teams are who we thought they were.
Arizona is an up-and-coming team that is most likely deserving of a national ranking. Arizona forward Derrick Williams is a stud (he posted 1.17 points per possession while using up 34 percent of his team's possessions — superstar numbers) and should be a tough matchup for every team left on the Wildcats' schedule.
Meanwhile, KU's first five blowouts weren't a fluke, either.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks were tested against a good team away from home, lost all momentum, then responded to regain the lead for good with an untested lineup on the floor and their best player on the bench.
And all that happened with the final score somehow hitting just a half-point off the Vegas line.
In other words, though we didn't know exactly what to expect from either team Saturday night, the game ended up going, well, pretty much as expected.