Recap: Jayhawks' defense anything but a weakness in first two NCAA games
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I heard countless times earlier this year that the Kansas men's basketball team's defense was going to keep it from making a deep postseason run.
So far, unlikely as it might sound, KU's defense has been its biggest strength through its first two games of the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks had another impressive defensive effort against Illinois on Sunday, allowing just 0.89 points per possession — the Illini's fourth-lowest PPP number of the season.
Not only did KU force Illinois into a bad shooting night (43.3 eFG%, seventh-worst this year), it did so without fouling. Illinois' free-throw rate (FTs*100/FGs) of 15.0 was its sixth-lowest of the season, while its nine free throws attempted tied for its fifth-lowest of the year.
KU was especially good against Illinois' best offensive player Demetri McCamey, who posted just 0.78 points per possession used — his worst showing in his last nine games.
Here's the breakdown of the teams' points per possession by half:
KU — 1.03 PPP
Illinois — 0.88 PPP
KU — 1.18 PPP
Illinois — 0.88 PPP
While the Jayhawks' offense improved in the second half, KU's defense was consistently good throughout.
It just goes to show we probably shouldn't rush to conclusions about a team in December or January when it still has plenty of time to improve before March.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
Markieff Morris beats out Tyshawn Taylor to earn M.O.J. honors against Illinois.
The 6-foot-10 forward posted 1.13 points per possession used while a high number of possessions (27.3 percent). His effective field-goal percentage of 80.7 was the best on the team for players who shot more than once.
Markieff also posted a team-high floor percentage, as when he ended a KU possession, the Jayhawks scored at least one point 64.9 percent of the time.
The junior provided value on the glass as well, coming away with 29.7 percent of the available defensive rebounds and 13.8 percent of the available offensive rebounds during his 31 minutes.
Room for Improvement
The Jayhawks made up for an awful offensive rebounding day by grabbing four important ones in the final eight minutes.
Before that, KU had just three offensive rebounds in the first 32 minutes, which would have ranked Sunday's game as one of KU's worst offensive rebounding games all season.
As it was, the Jayhawks ended with a 25 percent offensive rebounding percentage — its fifth-lowest offensive rebounding percentage of the season.
The 25 percent offensive rebounding percentage was well below KU's season average (36.2 percent) and below the average offensive rebounding percentage that Illinois allowed over the course of the year (31.5 percent).
The good news for the Jayhawks is that they took full advantage of the offensive rebounds they did get. From seven offensive rebounds, the Jayhawks scored 12 second-half points, meaning KU scored a whopping 1.71 points per possession when it was able to pull down an offensive rebound.
Tyrel Reed's tough shooting day lands him in this spot.
Reed posted just 0.85 points per possession used while ending 13.2 percent of KU's possessions. His eFG% of 21.4 was lowest on the team; KU scored at least one point on just 35.9 percent of the possessions he used.
It actually wasn't a horrible game for Reed to go cold (1-for-5 from three), as KU was able to win by double digits even without him contributing much offensively.
Reed had made 7 of his last 15 three-pointers coming into Sunday's game (46.7 percent), so I wouldn't think Sunday's struggles will carry over into KU's next game against Richmond.
The last two years, KU's NCAA Tournament losses could be directly linked to unforced turnovers, and for awhile, Sunday's game looked like it might be heading down the same path.
In the first half, KU turned it over eight times in 32 possessions (25 percent), which was much higher than its season average (19.2 percent) and the season average of Illinois' opponents (19.2 percent).
The Jayhawks corrected the problem in the second half, turning it over just four times in its final 34 possessions (11.8 percent).
By securing the ball, the Jayhawks boosted their points per possession, which allowed them to pull away in the second half.
KU has gotten an unbelievable break in its bracket and now will be a heavy favorite to advance to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks have already faced their toughest roadblock on the way to Houston: KenPom gave KU a 69-percent chance to beat Illinois.
Now, according to KenPom, KU has a 66.3-percent chance of making the Final Four and a 42.8-percent chance of making the championship game — the best odds for both of those scenarios of any team left in the field.