As the nation's top-ranked team, Kansas often draws more attention for its lapses than its successes.
Take KU's 81-51 victory against Belmont on Tuesday. KU's defense ran roughshod over a Belmont team that had posted better-than-average points per possession totals in eight of its 11 games coming into the KU contest. But that's not memorable: KU shuts teams down routinely. This game will be remembered for the brief first-half stretch that left the Bruins up by one point with 9:41 to play before the half. It's unfortunate any negative usually becomes the focus with every great team. On the flip side, if trailing by one point to an underrated non-conference foe in the first game after Christmas is as bad as it gets, KU fans can't complain.
The game, stated graphically (kudos to StatSheet.com)
The strength of KU's defensive performance Tuesday would be tough to overstate.
• KU allowed Belmont a paltry 0.68 points per possession, approximately two-thirds of the national average.
• The Jayhawks turned 30 percent of the Bruins' possessions into turnovers, Belmont's worst mark of the season.
• Belmont attempted eight free throws. While KU can't take credit for the Bruins' 3-for-8 mark from the line, holding a team to single-digit tries and a 12.3 percent Free Throw Rate is outstanding.
• The Bruins shot terribly from everywhere. Belmont made 31.5 percent of its two-pointers, 29.6 percent of its three-pointers and 37.5 percent of its free throws. Combine that sort of shooting performance with the factors mentioned previously and its mildly surprising Belmont was able to top 50 points, even in a 75-possession game.
What KU did well (besides defend)
• Shared the ball
KU assisted 75 percent of its made field goals Tuesday, its third most "giving" performance of the season. Freshman guard Xavier Henry had a rough shooting night from the start, but he didn't force the issue after two early misfires from beyond the arc. Henry may have taken more shots than any other Jayhawk, but during his time on the floor he handed out 29 percent of KU's assists and took just 23 percent of the team's shots. His five assists sure make that 3-for-9 shooting night look a little better. Sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor was also noticeably generous, tossing 40 percent of KU's assists during his minutes. Taylor has posted an Assist Rate of 30 percent or better in each of his past five games. Last season, Taylor dished just 20.6 percent of KU's assists.
• Scored, despite unsteady performances from its stars
Henry went 3-for-9, junior center Cole Aldrich committed four turnovers and each contributed less than one point per possession used. Eh, no biggie. Taylor's 2-for-4 shooting and five assists in 18 minutes along with a 6-for-7 night from sophomore forward Marcus Morris stood as the bright spots for KU's offense. Morris did not have a strong rebounding night (nine percent Rebound Rate) but made up for it with an 85 percent Effective FG% mark.
What KU did poorly
• Crashed the boards
The raw numbers say KU out-rebounded Belmont, 40-39. The percentages say Belmont grabbed 31.6 percent of its possible offensive rebounds and 77.4 percent of its defensive boards. KU only hauled in 22.6 percent of its offensive rebounds and 68.8 percent of defensive loose balls (info on why rebound margin is not necessarily a good measure of rebounding effectiveness). In defense of the Jayhawks, two of Belmont's starters stood 6-foot-9. To shoot down that defense, Belmont hadn't shown much ability to rebound coming into Tuesday's game. According to BBState.com, the Bruins ranked 292nd nationally in total rebound percentage.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Dec/30/reb.jpg KU's Markieff Morris jockeys for position with two Belmont players. (Nick Krug/LJW Photo)
The Bottom Line:
Despite the vocal displeasure of coach Bill Self, KU did what it often does: Shut down a visiting team's defense to the point of overcoming any offensive or rebounding faults. KU did what it needed to do to against a respectable opponent to remain No. 1.