Jayhawks will have to seek out paint to get out of K-State with rare road win
Recent history says this Kansas basketball team won’t fare too well Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum, likely the most hostile venue into which the Jayhawks will venture all season.
Though coming off arguably their most impressive victory since losing center Udoka Azubuike for the season, the No. 13 Jayhawks are just 1-5 on the road, with three consecutive defeats in opposing venues.
Kansas has lost at Arizona State, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kentucky and Texas. And none of those fan bases object to the mere sight of crimson and blue quite like the Kansas State zealots who will loudly and wildly back their Wildcats, currently tied for first with Baylor in the Big 12 standings, and vehemently boo the trailing-in-the-standings Jayhawks throughout this intriguing edition of the Sunflower Showdown.
KU (17-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12) looked so good in tossing aside Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse some minds may gloss over the fact that the Jayhawks have looked so bad in so many of their road games.
A repeat performance of their out-of-body 3-point shooting episode (season-highs of 13 makes and 30 attempts) against the Red Raiders can’t be counted on as the solution for winning at K-State (16-5, 6-2) and exorcising KU’s road demons.
So what did Bill Self and his coaching staff see in a Saturday home win that that’s more trustworthy and could translate to success away from KU’s killer home court?
“I thought the ball moved better,” Self said of a positive development from the weekend. “I thought we played downhill more than we have. I think we did some things maybe a little bit differently that didn’t encourage as much side-to-side dribbling as what we were getting before, where as last year’s team that was effective, but this year’s team it wasn’t near as good.”
With 19 assists on 27 field goals, KU’s offense flowed for a change against a Tech team renowned for its defense. And while 12 of those assists came on 3-point makes, the fluidity that came with relocating junior big Dedric Lawson away from the paint turned out to be a welcome move for the entire team.
“I think we did some things. But the reality of it is you’re not always going to make 13 3s,” Self admitted. “So you’ve got to be able to get the ball to the rim in some form or fashion a lot of times to try to score. That was something we didn’t do great against Tech — but we really didn’t try to do it against Tech.”
Kansas scored 26 points in the paint versus the Red Raiders, which registered as the team’s third-lowest total in that category in the nine games the Jayhawks have played since Azubuike suffered his season-ending wrist injury.
“I think against K-State we’ve got to be able to score in and out,” Self said.
Lawson (19.5 points per game this season), of course, can do just that. But he’ll need some help.
A couple days ahead of the Jayhawks’ home-game revival against Tech, Lawson said Self delivered a post-practice speech in which he implored his players to approach the game with energy and free minds.
“He got on guys like Lagerald (Vick) and Quentin (Grimes). He challenged those guys to be better,” Lawson shared.
The volume of that message had to be cranked up even louder once sophomore starting guard Marcus Garrett injured an ankle, making him unplayable both against Tech and K-State.
With a shortened rotation, KU needs even more out of every player who steps onto the floor. Lawson said Self included the team’s leading scorer in that demand.
“Guys got to step up,” Lawson added. “It’s about that time of the season. Everybody’s got to give five more percent, just to make us a better team. That’s what guys did (in the win over Tech).”
And it will take those same types of efforts, coming across the board, for the Jayhawks to defeat a veteran K-State team that ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (58.7 points allowed per game) and fifth in the country in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.
Tough shots may be the only ones KU can find against the Wildcats. With their newfound spacing, they’ll need to take as many of those attempts in the paint as possible to get out of Manhattan with a win.
They have a speedy driver in Devon Dotson who can help make that happen, and they’ve shown — at least in their most recent home win — that they’re capable of moving the ball to beat a defensive-minded opponent.
If they set their minds on getting to the paint — Self noted Grimes did so nine times off the bounce against Tech — KU’s perimeter players, Lawson included, should find life on the road a little easier to navigate.
Knocking down a reasonable number of 3-pointers off those paint touches sure would help, too.