Recap: Self rides defense to 'W' No. 400
After watching Kansas' 73-59 victory against Iowa State on Saturday night, I felt certain KU's defense was the main reason for the team's success. After taking a gander at the advanced box score, I was a bit less sure of my original impression.
KU's defense was sturdy, allowing 0.88 points per possession. At the same time, however, the Jayhawks scored 1.09 points per possession on offense. Essentially, the Jayhawks played a balanced game by scoring points and preventing points at about the same level.
The truth is probably somewhere between my eyes' opinion and the box score.
The Jayhawks scored often. But how many of those points were the product of either forcing a poor shot or a turnover? Quite a few, especially during a full-court press-spurred 21-3 run that put the game away. Saturday's game made a great argument for using both the eye test and advanced statistics to evaluate basketball. Stats help tell the pieces of the story the viewer might not catch over the course of 40 minutes, but its important to give numbers a bit of context.*
So just how good was KU's defense?
Pretty darn good.
• Despite forcing turnovers on just 13.4 percent of Iowa State's possessions, the Jayhawks held their fourth consecutive opponent to a below-average points-per-possession total. Most of the Cyclones' problems stemmed from atrocious two-point and free-throw shooting. Iowa State made 30.7 percent of its two-pointers and 55 percent of its free throws. The Cyclones' two most potent offensive threats, forwards Marques Gilstrap and Craig Brackins, went a combined 5-for-19 from inside the arc and center Justin Hamilton was the only Iowa State player to make 50 percent or more of his two-point attempts.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/14/brack.jpg KU's defense limited Iowa State's Craig "Brack Attack" Brackins (Yep, made that nickname up.) - Richard Gwin/LJW Photo
• KU kept Iowa State off the offensive boards, as the Cyclones grabbed just 24.4 percent of available offensive rebounds. Iowa State boasts three above-average rebounders in its starting lineup (Hamilton, Gilstrap and Brackins), making the Jayhawks' complete dominance even more surprising.
*How do you, the KUSports.com reader/commenter/message boarder, feel about the relationship between stats and the game? Do you trust your eyes or the numbers? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
This one could have gone to one of a few different Jayhawks on Saturday. Center Cole Aldrich went for 11 points and 12 rebounds in 23 minutes. Guard Tyrel Reed filled up the box score and played strong defense for 21 minutes. Forward Marcus Morris continued his All-Big 12 campaign with another double-double.
But guard Xavier Henry earned the honor.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/14/ku_bkc_isu_nk_02.jpg Xavier Henry seems to have ditched his slump - Nick Krug/LJW Photo
For the second consecutive game, Henry was assertive and efficient on offense. The freshman used 25.9 percent of KU's possessions for his shots and produced 1.15 points per possession used. His Turnover and Rebound rates were not stellar, but what stood out most about Henry's game was his willingness to attack the basket. The charging calls weren't positives, but Henry did earn four free throws and showed that he might have more to offer offensively than accurate three-point gunnery. Henry also was responsible for defending Gilstrap, who scored 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
Room for Improvement
KU entered Saturday's game shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc, sixth-best in the nation. The Jayhawks had converted 40 percent or more of their three-point attempts in four of their past five games and 14 of 24 games this season.
Given this information, calling KU's 7-for-27, 25.9 percent performance on threes against Iowa State an outlier wouldn't be outrageous. If KU would have converted threes at its average rate, it would have tallied 12 additional points and boosted its offensive efficiency to 1.26 points per possession. That total would have been the Jayhawks' best since KU's 1.35 points-per-possession showcase in the Big 12 opener at Nebraska.
Of course, KU's accuracy issues looked even worse because the Jayhawks hoisted so many three-pointers. KU attempted a three on 40.3 percent of its possessions, the team's second-highest rate of the season only after a particularly gung-ho 41.5 percent against Alcorn State in December. In my estimation,* Iowa State's defense seemed to create quite a few open three-point looks for KU. When the Jayhawks threw the ball anywhere inside the three-point line, Iowa State brought an additional defender and double-teamed the ballhandler. This actually seemed fairly foolhardy, given the passing ability of KU bigs such as Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. And it was — the KU posts, Aldrich especially made some great cross-court passes — until the Jayhawks started bricking open looks.
KU coach Bill Self said it best postgame: "We've got to be better than 7-of-27 from three when they trap the post like that."
*Another observation: KU might have struggled from deep because of shots like Tyshawn Taylor's "Well, we're up double digits with 6:43 to play, I better heave a running 23-footer six seconds into the shot clock," piece of work. Hoops: entertaining AND thought-provoking.
Hard Luck Line:
To be fair, Markieff Morris did seem to inject some energy into KU during his time on the floor Saturday. His numbers, however, didn't pass muster. The sophomore forward scored four points on 2-for-7 shooting and committed two turnovers.
The Bottom Line:
Games like Saturday's are the reason analysts say KU sometimes plays down to its competition. Iowa State, a decent-but-not-Tourney-bound opponent, hung around for about 20 minutes too long before KU sealed the deal with defense. If you're looking for a negative, there you go. If you're seeking positives, look no further than KU's stifling second-half defense and Xavier Henry's continued reemergence.