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Jayhawks' troubles finishing inside made deep March Madness run unlikely

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Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) tries to shoot around a USC defender during the first half of a men's college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) tries to shoot around a USC defender during the first half of a men's college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) by Associated Press

The way the Jayhawks struggled to score inside this season, Kansas was going to need some good fortune in terms of March Madness matchups to make any kind of deep run in 2021.

In the NCAA Tournament’s 68-team field, there might not have been any team more perfectly suited to knock out Kansas than USC.

Considering how often the Jayhawks (21-9) had issues converting around the rim throughout the season, it was going to take an out of character or out of body experience Monday night in Indianapolis for them to turn a weakness into a strength.

So, of course, missed shots inside cost them in a second-round drubbing at the hands — attached to long, distracting, shot-altering arms — of the Trojans.

Bill Self knows this team better than anybody, and shortly after KU’s season ended a round shy of the Sweet 16, Self said during his postgame video press conference late Monday night that he knew USC was not an ideal matchup for the Jayhawks.

“I would never say this to our team, but I wouldn't have been disappointed if Drake had won the game against SC,” Self said of the first-round game that determined KU’s second-round opponent, “not because Drake is not good, just because it's hard for us to match up with length and athletic ability. That's been the downfall of our team all year long. I think that was probably as evident tonight as it has been in a long time.”

While 16 teams remain in the hunt for the 2021 NCAA championship, the Jayhawks’ season ended with them converting just five of their 13 layup attempts against a USC defense that Self had said the day before the loss reminded him a lot of the long arms of the Texas Longhorns, who swept KU in the regular season.

Per hoop-math.com, KU completed the 2020-21 schedule converting on only 58.1% of its shots at the rim. As of Tuesday, that percentage ranked 219th in the country, miles behind unbeaten Gonzaga (72.5%, first in the country), but also trailing the likes of Kansas City (62.9%, 65th) and Kansas State (61.5%, 101st).

It’s hard to build momentum in a high stakes March Madness game when you struggle to score right around the hoop, and before long USC was sprinting away to the next round, as the Jayhawks became more discouraged about their inability to go find easy baskets inside.

In what proved to be KU’s worst margin of defeat in an NCAA Tournament game, 85-51, the Jayhawks shot just 12-for-32 (37.5%) in the paint.

The Jayhawks’ issues finishing at a high rate inside were prevalent throughout the season. But it proved difficult to solve the problem. As Self said several times during the past few months, KU lacked “guys that play above the rim.”

Self said after USC exposed KU’s weaknesses that he hoped to address the team’s glaring need for length and athleticism through recruiting. This year’s roster had some solid players, but none of them would be considered strong finishers at the rim.

According to hoop-math.com, senior guard Marcus Garrett ended up leading KU in made baskets at the rim, with 73, just ahead of junior big man David McCormack’s 70. Garrett scored 58.9% of the time at the rim, while McCormack was only slightly better, at 60.9%. Among KU’s rotation players, senior Mitch Lightfoot had the best percentage, 66.7%. But as a reserve playing limited minutes, Lightfoot only contributed 20 buckets from point-blank range during the course of the year.

KU’s 58.1% field goal percentage around the rim was uncharacteristic of Self’s teams. In seven of the past 10 seasons, the Jayhawks have shot 64% or better around the rim.

With this KU roster, it was going to take a stellar defensive performance as well as a solid, if not spectacular, night from beyond the arc for the Jayhawks to give USC a fight. And the Jayhawks got neither.

Jayhawks’ FG% at the rim, 2020-21

• Marcus Garrett - 73-for-124, 58.9%

• David McCormack - 70-for-115, 60.9%

• Jalen Wilson - 56-for-110, 55.4%

• Ochai Agbaji - 54-for-85, 63.5%

• Christian Braun - 33-for-69, 47.8%

• Mitch Lightfoot - 20-for-30, 66.7%

• Tyon Grant-Foster - 19-for-28, 67.9%

• Tristan Enaruna - 15-for-25, 60%

• Dajuan Harris - 12-for-25, 48%

• Bryce Thompson - 11-for-23, 47.8%

• Latrell Jossell - 1-for-1, 100%

• Gethro Muscadin, 1-for-2, 50%

KU FG% at the rim, past 10 years

(Player with most made shots at rim listed)

• 2011-12 — 64.4% (Thomas Robinson, 163-for-253, 64.4%)

• 2012-13 — 64.2% (Jeff Withey, 138-for-201, 68.7%)

• 2013-14 — 67% (Perry Ellis, 112-for-172, 65.1%)

• 2014-15 — 56% (Perry Ellis, 90-for-155, 58.1%)

• 2015-16 — 64% (Perry Ellis, 124-for-200, 62%)

• 2016-17 — 65% (Josh Jackson, 127-for-184, 69%)

• 2017-18 — 64.7% (Udoka Azubuike, 176-for-214, 67.2%)

• 2018-19 — 62.9% (Dedric Lawson, 138-for-211, 65.4%)

• 2019-20 — 64% (Udoka Azubuike, 144-for-169, 85.2%)

• 2020-21 — 58.1% (Marcus Garrett, 73-for-124, 58.9%)

Comments

John Strayer 7 months ago

Recruiting ain't gonna fix this before October...so most likely another carbon copy of this season for next.

Steve Zimmerman 7 months ago

Unless... coach changes his coaching philosophy. We've got good recruits coming in terms of size. Athleticism is there in a couple of them, not super, but good enough to run a run & gun, speedy offense, with 3s, and perhaps a bit of low-post - a mix, depending on opponents. If we look at our current roster: Agbaji can fly & stuff the rim at ease, but how many times did he get to dunk? I'm pretty sure Wilson is pretty good 3pt shooter, but how many times per game did he even attempt to take those shots? HCBS is so caught up in the world of weaving & feed the big offense, and as long as the kids play stellar defense, he thinks he has a way to win. Confidence plays very important role in making baskets as we all know - but if the coach doesn't believe in 3pt shooting (fool's gold remark), do we expect all of a sudden, Wilson has 4-5 3pts in a critical game? Maybe... if he's lucky. Do we expect Wilson all of a sudden score 4-5 baskets from pull-up J? It takes each and every game to let the 3s fly, that's the way to win. It takes each and every game for the kids to find and pass each other, screen for each other, back cuts, give and go, pull up Js - that's the way to win without grinding it out. Not the lame weaving or drive to the baskets challenging 6'9'' or 7' blindly.. Defense can't win it all. You've seen many teams have players who make baskets from 15' pull up J, have you seen our kids do that in any game? Bryce is the only one, sometimes. David, Ochai occasionally. Driving to the basket - maaan.. I've said this too many times. We really need to hire the right professional to teach the kids how to make baskets in variety ways. But that depends on how open coach to mix his offense philosophy. Before it's too late.

Clarence Haynes 7 months ago

“it's hard for us to match up with length and athletic ability. That's been the downfall of our team all year long. I think that was probably as evident tonight as it has been in a long time.” It hurts when you lose the likes of Robinson-Earl and while I don’t know his rationale for selecting Villanova (a good school that is the alma mater of one of my best friends), I do sense that the “NCAA thing” hurts and until its resolved, KU will be challenged with signing impactful inside players.

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