Recap: Despite rebounding woes, KU bests A&M
Rare is the basketball game that provides 40 minutes of excitement.* But when one of those comes along, it looks like this:
As is made apparent by StatSheet.com's nifty graphic above, Kansas and Texas A&M engaged in quite a tug-of-war Monday night.
The greatest gap between the two teams was found in their field goal percentages. KU posted a below-average 44.6 eFG% mark while the Aggies finished at a dismal 38.9 eFG%. A difference that substantial would usually lead to a more lopsided victory for the Jayhawks, but two components of Monday's game helped keep the margin of victory lean.
• The game was played at a plodding pace. The 61-possession pace was the slowest of the season for KU, a team that averages nearly 69 trips per game (122nd-fastest in the nation). The Aggies entered the game accustomed to slower-paced contests, averaging about 66 possessions per game (251st). KUSports.com Editor Jesse Newell has explored the connection between pace of play and KU's defensive efficiency in blogs past, coming to a tentative conclusion that opponents who slow things down enjoy more success against KU. That wasn't the case in College Station. Despite the Aggies' deliberate pace, KU's defense allowed just 0.89 points per possession, exactly its season average. The pace didn't necessarily harm the Jayhawks, but low-possession games tend to have smaller margins, in terms of raw point totals.
• Texas A&M dominated the glass. The Aggies gained scoring chances by crashing the offensive boards and negated KU's second-chance points by locking down the defensive glass. We'll tackle the stats in the 'Room For Improvement' section, but rebounding was a glaring issue for KU on Monday. Basketball 101: It's never good to give your opponent additional opportunities to score.
*There will be those who argue against calling a 59-54 game exciting. Those people — like those who favor a home run derby over a pitching duel — will be wrong. The game was close. Valuing possessions was of utmost importance. KU blocked 11.1 percent of Texas A&M's shots, and watching players block shots is really, really fun.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
On a per-minute basis, Marcus* and Markieff Morris may have been KU's most efficient players. The pair combined to shoot 6-for-10 from the field, 9-for-10 from the free-throw line, score 21 points and grab nine rebounds. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the twins also committed eight fouls and played just 37 total minutes.
Long story short, Cole Aldrich was KU's most valuable player against Texas A&M. Aldrich was effective and managed to stay out of foul trouble. The center posted a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double in 33 minutes of action, though three turnovers dragged his Offensive Rating down. The KU center also was responsible for Texas A&M center Brian Davis sputtering to a 2-for-9, six-turnover, four-point performance that ended in his fifth foul. According to StatSheet.com, Davis produced just 0.32 points per possession used. That's about one-third of the national average.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Feb/16/ku_bkc_am_09.jpg Cole Aldrich passed Greg Ostertag as KU's single-season blocks leader — Nick Krug/LJW Photo
*It should also be noted that pieces of Marcus Morris' impressive performance near the end of Monday's game would look nice on an All-Big 12 First Team highlight reel.
Room For Improvement
KU's offense was average at best, but no one offensive stat in particular stood out as ugly. KU's rebounding, on the other hand, looked bad all around. The Aggies corralled 44 percent of their missed shots, about 10 percent better than the national average. In stark contrast, KU grabbed just 27.6 percent of its available offensive rebounds, the team's worst performance of the conference season. KU actually entered the game as the better rebounding squad, but the Marcus Morris-David Loubeau matchup tilted far in Texas A&M's favor, as Morris grabbed 16 percent of available rebounds to Loubeau's 30 percent.
Hard Luck Line
One of Big Monday's main storylines was KU guard Sherron Collins' offensive struggle. The Jayhawks' floor leader missed and missed and missed until finally converting a field goal with just less than eight minutes remaining in the game. And not only did Collins miss shots, he committed five of KU's 11 turnovers. Collins finished with seven points on 2-for-9 shooting and generated 0.51 points per possession used.
Collins' poor performance might have been more troublesome had KU's complementary perimeter players not provided such solid games. Xavier Henry wasn't lights out (3-for-9) but he did grab six rebounds and commit just one turnover in 35 minutes. Brady Morningstar didn't make a shot, but he collected five assists to zero turnovers. Tyshawn Taylor* collected one block, one steal and four points, and Tyrel Reed made the Jayhawks' lone three-pointer.
*The comments to the Iowa State recap turned into a discussion of Tyshawn Taylor's merits, based on an anecdote I shared of a poor decision made by Taylor during KU's victory. Let it be known that this blog thinks highly of Taylor's contributions to KU's success. The sophomore is a great defender and an adequate offensive player, despite some turnover issues. Also, my personal impression from one season of covering him on a face-to-face basis last season: He's outgoing, friendly and undeserving of the bad rap constantly talked about by TV announcers.
The Bottom Line:
Speaking in "sportstalk," this game was exactly what KU needed: "A character-builder! A victory that helped teach KU to band together when the going got tough, etc.!"
In real terms, KU stared down a very good defensive team in a lively road environment and emerged 11-0 in conference play. This was exactly what KU needed: Another victory and another step toward the conference title.