For shooters on Bill Self’s teams, there’s a five-letter word that’s just as bad as any four-letter swear word: “slump.”
“I don’t like it if a guy were ever — a shooter — to ever admit that he’s in a slump,” Self said Friday.
And to his credit, sophomore guard Christian Braun didn’t spew such coarse language as “slump” while speaking with reporters on a video call earlier in the day. Rather, he said he was “just missing shots right now.”
The topic of Braun’s 3-point shooting came up ahead of Saturday’s home matchup with Iowa State, because, well, Braun hasn’t connected on many of his looks from beyond the arc recently.
After Braun, a 6-foot-6 guard who graduated from nearby Blue Valley Northwest High, went 16 for 36 (44.4%) in seven nonconference games to open the year, many expected him to continue burning KU opponents from downtown in conference play.
But his 3-point mark against Big 12 foes is 10 for 34 (29.4%) in six games. And that number is buoyed by one game in particular, against West Virginia, where he caught fire and went 6 of 12 from long range. Since the start of 2021, KU has played four games, in which Braun is a combined 4 for 19 (21.1%).
In total, Braun is 26 for 70 (37.1%) from 3-point range so far this season. He went 32 for 72 (44.4%) as a freshman.
Braun said he hadn’t noticed anything that was consistently affecting his shooting during KU’s 10-3 start.
“I just think I need to hit shots, shoot the ball better,” Braun said. “All that takes is just to keep shooting. I can’t go away from that. I know I’m a good shooter, and they’re going to fall eventually. I’ve just got to keep putting them up.”
That’s the perfect approach for a reliable shooter like Braun to take. It’s also part of the mindset his coach wants to see from him.
“I don’t think he’s in a slump,” Self said. “I think he’s missed shots.”
There are plenty of other ways to impact the outcome of a basketball game, of course. Self said that’s one of the first lessons he ever learned from his father, Bill Self Sr.
If Braun were just a 3-point specialist and nothing else, he wouldn’t be a starter at KU averaging 30.2 minutes per game. Braun is averaging 8.3 points while shots aren’t dropping for him in Big 12 play, but he also contributes 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals. On the season, he has led or tied for the team lead twice in rebounds and three times each in assists and steals. He even led KU in blocks versus Kentucky with two.
Braun stands out by making hustle plays and winning plays. According to the numbers KU keeps, he has a team-high 17 floor burns this season.
Though Self always wants his players doing more on those fronts, the coach is not worried about Braun’s 3-point shooting.
“A guy that has a reputation of being a shooter, you should not base his good or poor play based on if the ball goes in the hole or not,” Self said. “There’s plenty of other things guys can do to bring value, to help a team win. And Christian’s certainly capable of doing that. And he knows that.”
Braun’s effort and execution in other aspects of the game, no doubt, have helped him remain composed about his 3-pointers.
“You know, a lot of them are going in and out,” Braun said. “I think I have (continued to be assertive). There’s been a couple of games where I went 1 for 5 or I’ve gotten enough up. I just need to hit the shots. And that’s on me.”
Even on days when those quality looks rim out, Braun is a valuable player for the Jayhawks. And when he is knocking down 3-pointers on top of everything else he does, it’s KU’s opponents who are doing the cursing.
Christian Braun’s 3-pointers through six Big 12 games
Dec. 17 at Texas Tech: 0-for-3, 2 points
Dec. 22 vs. West Virginia: 6-for-12, 22 points
Jan. 2 vs. Texas: 0-for-5, 4 points
Jan. 5 at TCU: 2-for-4, 10 points
Jan. 9 vs. Oklahoma: 1-for-6, 5 points
Jan. 12 at Oklahoma State: 1-for-4, 7 points
Texas outplayed Kansas in every way imaginable Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, where one of the biggest swings in the No. 8 Longhorns’ dominating 84-59 victory came behind the 3-point line.
The No. 3 Jayhawks were non-factors from long range, connecting on a season-low three 3-pointers. Their inability to match the Longhorns’ energy in the top-10 battle proved as costly in this category as everywhere else on a day that UT buried 12 of its 26 shots from deep.
KU (8-2 overall, 2-1 Big 12) finished 3-for-23 from downtown, and the Jayahwks’ usually reliable shooters were missing what few shots they could find before the visitors began pulling away and KU started hoisting them out of desperation down the stretch.
“They got out on shooters,” junior guard Ochai Agbaji said after he went 1-for-6 on 3-pointers, making KU’s first of the game in the final minute of the first half, before the Jayhawks went 2-for-16 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Agbaji credited the Longhorns (8-1, 2-0) with turning KU shooters into drivers. But the problem was UT effectively made them one-dimensional, as the drives didn’t lead to anything else.
“We didn’t make the right adjustments in this game to counteract (UT’s initial 3-point defense),” Agbaji said, “and get the ball moving on our offense then.”
Before the team’s winter break, KU caught fire, hitting 16 of 37 3-pointers while beating up West Virginia. The Jayhawks opened the new year looking far less comfortable as shooters, and that’s because of UT’s personnel and approach. KU’s previous season-low for 3-pointers came against North Dakota State (4-for-15). But what transpired Saturday looked much more like KU’s 5-for-21 3-point night against Kentucky.
Three-pointers don’t look so open when the defender closing out is taller and longer, and can reach farther into that shooting window more quickly. UT’s defenders made those shots appear far less inviting. And they executed defensively to boot.
“They pre-switched a lot of stuff,” Bill Self said during his postgame video press conference. “I thought they did a really good job. They defended us a lot like Baylor did the first time we played them last year (KU went 4-for-15 that day in a home loss), and we didn’t really have any answers for them.”
Added Self: “I thought Texas did a terrific job guarding us the entire game, regardless of if it was 3-point shooting or not.”
As Agbaji pointed out, though, there are ways KU could have countered Texas’ superior 3-point defense.
“We just have to keep staying aggressive, not going away from the three-ball. But also looking at different things — taking it inside, getting fouled,” Agbaji gave as some examples.
KU doesn’t have the type of perimeter players to consistently beat their Texas counterparts one-on-one. The Jayhawks tried that route too often. The better option would have been something Self has tried preaching to them lately.
“We didn’t drive to pass at all. No matter how much we’ve emphasized it,” Self lamented.
The Jayhawks, who entered the game averaging 9.2 made 3-pointers an outing, could have created more quality looks for their best shooters — Agbaji, Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson — if they had attacked closing out UT defenders by driving inside while looking to kick it out, as Self has stressed of late.
There was no juice to anything the Jayhawks did on either end of the court versus Texas, with their 3-point shooting failing to give them boosts throughout a challenging matchup with the lengthy Longhorns.
And while it’s true some bad luck led to a handful of open 3’s rimming out — for Braun (0-for-5) in particular — there were too many cases where the Jayhawks weren’t willing to match the Longhorns’ defensive intensity with some inspired offense.
This KU team isn’t going to beat high profile opponents scoring so infrequently from long distance. This may not be an elite 3-point shooting team, like Self so often has insisted this season, but the Jayhawks have to get their fair share of scoring from beyond the arc. They don’t have to rain down 3-pointers on opponents game in and game out, but they need to cash in enough to keep defenses honest and create the spacing that will benefit drivers, as well as bigs when they get their touches inside, near the rim.
David McCormack can’t carry this team offensively — particularly against long and athletic front lines. And while Marcus Garrett is as good as a defender as you could hope for at the college level and a solid distributor, the senior entered Saturday’s game averaging just 9.4 points per game this season. It’s not wise to hope for an offensive spark out of him.
KU’s offense almost always needs to revolve around some combination of attacking and 3-point shooting from Agbaji, Braun and Wilson.
There was little fight to be found in anything the Jayhawks did versus Texas, however, including in the way KU defended UT’s 3-point shooting.
“That was a game where as poor as we played,” Self said, “they outscored us by 27 from the arc. And we can’t let that happen.”
Bill Self knows this year’s Kansas basketball roster probably won’t match the long range fire power of the best 3-point shooting teams he has coached.
But in order for these Jayhawks to get the most out of their offense, Self would like to see them taking a few more shots from beyond the arc.
Given the way Kansas plays this year, either with just one big or with five perimeter players, and the skill sets of the rotation players, Self shared recently the Jayhawks need to take about 35% to 37% of their shot attempts from deep.
In five of KU’s first eight games of the season, the 3-pointers haven’t gone up with enough frequency.
Entering Tuesday’s Big 12 home opener versus No. 7 West Virginia, No. 3 KU has attempted 34.2% of its field goals so far from long distance.
But those numbers are a little skewed by two high volume days against two of the lesser opponents the Jayhawks have faced.
Here’s a rundown, by game, of the rate at which KU shot 3-pointers:
• Gonzaga - 29%
• St. Joseph’s - 32.3%
• Kentucky - 31.3%
• Washburn - 42.6%
• North Dakota State - 24.2%
• Creighton - 33.3%
• Omaha - 43.7%
• Texas Tech - 38.3%
As a team, KU is connecting on 39.2% of its 3-pointers so far, which ranks 37th nationally out of 327 teams that have played. And for the most part, the Jayhawks have three players to thank for that. Junior Ochai Agbaji is 21-for-44 (47.7%), sophomore Christian Braun is 16-for-39 (41%) and redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson is 12-for-32 (37.5%).
Obviously if the Jayhawks (7-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) are looking to take a few more shots from downtown, those are the preferred options.
“I actually think Ochai and Christian and Jalen need to shoot it whenever they’re open,” Self said.
Even so, Self doesn’t think this team is far off from consistently making good use of the arc and the shooters KU has spotting up behind it.
There are actions the Jayhawks can take, too, to make sure they’re attempting enough 3-pointers without forcing the issue.
“We’ve been terrible drivers to pass,” Self said of one fixable issue to address. “We’ve been trying to score in tight rather than looking to pitch. There’s some things that we can do within what we do to shoot three more threes a game. I think we can get there.”
KU’s top shooters and the offense in general should benefit from point guards Marcus Garrett and Dajuan Harris — and really any perimeter player who gets to the paint to draw in the defense — driving and kicking the ball out when there’s no path to the rim for a high-percentage finish. Per hoop-math.com, an assist set up every 3-pointer Wilson has made so far. A teammate assisted on 19 of Agbaji’s 21 made 3-pointers and 12 of Braun’s 16 3-pointers came off an assist.
There are Jayhawks who could improve as 3-point options as the season progresses, as well. Self thinks freshman Bryce Thompson (5-for-17) will be “a really good shooter,” and junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster (1-for-10) should “look to shoot more.”
Multiple times already this season Self has brought up KU’s 2018 Final Four team and the names of marksmen Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick just to point out that this year’s team doesn’t possess those types of 3-point shooters (KU took 41.2% of its shots from 3-point range that year). But Self does think the 2020-21 Jayhawks can be “pretty good” from outside and he wants those deep shots — and the threat of them being made — spreading the floor to make the offense more effective.
“We do have enough guys that I think that have to be guarded, that can stretch the defense,” Self said. “And guys that can drive to force help and things like that. I do think if we could just tighten some stuff up we would be much harder to guard.”
Jayhawks’ 3-point shooting through 8 games
Ochai Agbaji, 21-for-44 (47.7%)
Christain Braun, 16-for-39 (41%)
Jalen Wilson, 12-for-32 (37.5%)
Bryce Thompson, 5-for-17 (29.4%)
Marcus Garrett, 5-for-16 (31.3%)
Tyon Grant-Foster, 1-for-10 (10%)
Tristan Enaruna, 1-for-6 (16.7%)
Dajuan Harris, 2-for-3 (66.7%)
Latrell Jossell, 2-for-2 (100%)
Mitch Lightfoot, 1-for-1 (100%)
Chris Teahan, 1-for-1 (100%)
Only time will tell for certain which member of the 2020-21 Kansas basketball team will become the Jayhawks’ go-to 3-point shooter. But we don’t need to see one minute of Late Night or actual games to know who it should be.
One could argue pretty easily that Christian Braun even took on that role for at least a game or two during his freshman season, when it belonged to an upperclassman most of the time. Now it’s hard to envision anyone on the roster but Braun leading KU in 3-pointers.
Isaiah Moss made (49) and attempted (141) the most 3-pointers for KU this past season, while playing in 30 games as a graduate transfer. Now that Moss’ college career is done, there’s an obvious opportunity for Braun to not only fill those adidas, but burst them at the seams.
“I feel like I’ll be able to take a lot of those shots,” the 6-foot-6 sophomore said Thursday afternoon, when the loss of Moss came up during a video call with reporters.
The Jayhawks, despite all their success in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season, weren’t a great 3-point shooting team, averaging 6.4 makes from long range on 18.6 attempts (34.4%, which ranked 117th nationally).
Moss only averaged 1.6 made 3-pointers a game, on 4.7 attempts (34.8%) and both averages were the highest on the team.
Braun, who averaged 1.0 make from deep a game on just 2.3 attempts, proved to be KU’s most consistent shooter, percentage wise, draining 44.4% on the year (32-for-72). Even though Moss attempted nearly twice as many 3’s (141) as Braun (72), Moss only made 17 more — 49, compared to Braun’s 32.
It took a little while for Braun as a freshman to earn the consistent playing time that would allow him to showcase his marksmanship. Once he did, Braun drained three or more 3-pointers in seven different games. Braun only averaged 18.4 minutes as a freshman, but appears in line for a much larger role as a sophomore. If he’s not starting, he’ll play heavy minutes off the bench.
And if Braun can hit around 44% of his 3-pointers again in the coming season, he should be shooting way more often than Moss did anyway. Forget the 4.7 attempts Moss took a year ago. Look back to the 2017-18 season, when Svi Mykhailiuk got up 6.6 3-pointers an outing and averaged 2.9 makes (44.4%).
It seems unlikely this KU team will have three different players hoisting more than five times a game from beyond the arc, the way Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham (6.9) and Malik Newman (5.3) did for the 2018 Final Four squad, as all three of them shot at least 40% from downtown.
Braun had a long list of teammates, though, when asked to identify KU’s current best shooters. And he didn’t even include himself.
According to Braun, junior Ochai Agbaji (34.8% 3-point success last season) is shooting the ball “really well” during preseason practices, as is redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson. Braun called sophomore wing Tristan Enaruna (8-for-31 as a freshman) an improved shooter. Plus, Braun said junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster “can jump up and hit a shot” and implied everyone knows about freshman guard Bryce Thompson’s prowess from outside.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can take those shots and knock them down. So we’re not really worried about what we lost,” Braun said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with potential to hit those shots. And a lot of guys I’m confident in going forward that they can hit those.”
Just how much other Jayhawks can stretch defenses and open up the lane for drives and junior big David McCormack remains to be seen. But KU has a sharpshooter in Braun, and his light should be the brightest shade of green at all times to maximize his offensive potential.
Get Bill Self talking about his Kansas basketball team’s 3-point defense and his train of thought will eventually bring him to the arc on the opposite end of the floor.
Self obviously wants his Jayhawks to play smarter perimeter defense, so future opponents don’t torch them the way Dayton did (16-for-33 from deep) at the Maui Invitational.
Those 3-pointers surrendered won’t be accompanied by as much dismay if the Jayhawks can be less sporadic in their use of those same shots on offense.
“Part of the deal is we need to start scoring the ball more behind the arc ourself,” Self diverted earlier this week, during a discussion of KU’s defense.
Self considers KU’s victories over BYU and Dayton in Maui two of the team’s best games to date, and the Jayhawks shot 4-for-18 in the semifinal and 4-for-11 in an overtime title game. BYU outscored KU 27-12 on 3-pointers and Dayton nearly knocked off the Jayhawks by dominating in that category, 48-12.
“We need to obviously be more consistent beyond the arc,” Self said. “We can’t be outscored by 36 points consistently and have a chance to win.”
So where do the No. 2 Jayhawks (6-1) find that shooting stability? Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are not walking through that door. Fortunately for Self and his players, this roster has a shooter who would fit right in with that one-two perimeter attack.
The Jayhawks will tell you we haven’t yet seen the best of graduate transfer Isaiah Moss. Yet the ready-to-shoot reserve in six games played easily stands out as the best 3-point marksman on the roster. The 6-foot-5 senior from Chicago is 11-for-24 (45.8%) on a team that has combined to shoot 49-for-137 (35.8%) on 3-pointers.
As the Jayhawks aim to keep progressing in their return to action against No. 20 Colorado (7-0), getting Moss going will be a priority.
“I don’t think Isaiah’s himself yet,” Self said of Moss, who played 30 or more minutes in KU’s previous two wins but shot a combined 1-for-6 on 3-pointers against BYU and Dayton. “But I think he’s gaining on it. If you could get Isaiah shooting the ball and us doing a better job of knowing how to get him open, and the staff doing more things to get him open, then I think we can become better offensively.”
Moss is a spot-up, catch-and-shoot weapon if KU can just figure out how to use him. As great as Moss is at blending in and providing spacing when the Jayhawks play four guards around Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack or (occasionally) Silvio De Sousa, Moss can take this team to another level as a dependable shooter.
A right hamstring injury that forced Moss to miss KU’s lone loss, to Duke in New York, may be another reason the Jayhawks haven’t completely unlocked his abilities as a complementary threat. That’s Marcus Garrett’s theory, at least.
“I feel like we really haven’t got to see what he can really do yet,” Garrett said, after calling Moss a “great” 3-point shooter.
Of course, the Jayhawks can’t put all of their 3-point hopes on Moss. Self said starting guards Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Garrett will need to contribute, too, as the Jayhawks look for that steady outside offense.
“You look at our shooting statistics, Devon (10-for-32 on 3-pointers) hasn’t shot it well yet,” Self said. “Och (11-for-35) hasn’t shot it well yet. Marcus (4-for-12) has made a few, but he hasn’t exactly been on fire.”
Self doesn’t hide the fact that Moss’ production has been inconsistent, either. And he puts a lot of that on himself, the staff and the players.
“When he gets a look, he makes them,” Self said of Moss. “But when he doesn’t get a look, he doesn’t get them off. We’ve got to do a better job with that.”
And the Jayhawks need consistent contributions from Dotson and Agbaji in order to stretch the floor and get the most out of their 3-point shooting, while the coaches figure out how much they can rely on another possible floor spacer, freshman wing Christian Braun, who is only averaging 8.6 minutes a game at this point.
Dayton had the perfect type of personnel to test KU’s 3-point shooting defense. But in six other games, KU opponents are a combined 45-for-161 (28%) from long range.
As work continues on that end of the floor, it’s not realistic to expect the Jayhawks to become a great 3-point shooting team this season — even if they do get Moss going. At this early stage of the season, they’re averaging exactly seven makes a game on 19.6 attempts (35.8%).
“We’re not going to make 10 a game,” predicted Self, who knows the shooting abilities of his players better than anyone. “We might have some games where we make 10, but I still think we can average seven 3s a game — I think that’s basically what we’re averaging now. We’ve had two games where we’ve made 22 combined, so it’s a little misleading.”
KU also went 1-for-14 from distance in a win over East Tennessee State this season. So it’s hard to tell going into any contest what the Jayhawks will get out of the 3-point line.
It would seem many opponents this season will invite KU to try to beat them from outside as a tradeoff for taking away Azubuike inside. As Self referenced, the Jayhawks need to unleash Moss in those situations. Once he becomes a dependable scorer from outside, it will be easier for KU to play to its 3-point shooting ceiling — even if it’s one that isn’t too high.
The Kansas basketball team knocked down double-digit 3-pointers in a pair of early November victories. However, it doesn’t sound as though Bill Self is expecting the Jayhawks to have that type of output every time they take the floor.
They were nowhere near that territory in their third win of the season, when KU’s shooters combined to make just one of their 14 long-range looks in a win over East Tennessee State.
It was the worst 3-point shooting night for KU since March of 2015, when the Jayhawks went 0-for-8 in a Big 12 Tournament win over TCU.
So the combined 7.1% 3-point shooting from Devon Dotson (1-for-5), Ochai Agbaji (0-for-4), Marcus Garrett (0-for-2), Isaiah Moss (0-for-2) and Tristan Enaruna (0-for-1), might be a little concerning for Self, right?
“No, no. You know, guys, we’re going to be like this,” Self said after a 75-63 win. “That’s who we are. We’re not going to average making — what are we averaging making, more than 10 3’s a game? That’s not real. But making one’s not real either.”
Four games into their nonconference schedule, the Jayhawks (3-1) are 29-for-79 (36.7%) from long range. In a small sample size, they’re now averaging 7.3 3-pointers a game on 19.6 attempts.
The way Self described KU’s shooting, though, it would seem he doesn’t anticipate the 3-point arc becoming a source of consistent offense this season.
“We can be a team that can shoot 35 percent from 3, 36 or 37 if we shoot it well. But we can have some bad nights, because we’re streaky,” Self said. “Certainly those nights you need to throw it inside, and fortunately we were able to do that.”
Indeed, KU slobber-knocked ETSU in the paint, 54-24. But future opponents will play better transition defense and do a better job of keeping Udoka Azubuike from getting as many touches inside.
Then what? At some juncture of the season, KU will have to knock down 3-pointers to win a game, whether it’s those actual shots making the difference or their ability to connect opening up the floor by stretching the defense and giving Azubuike space to catch and finish.
A career 39.6% 3-point shooter, graduate transfer Isaiah Moss shouldn’t have many nights like his 0-for-2 outing versus ETSU. He had a great open look from the right wing that rimmed out near the 11-minute mark of the first half. Almost 10 minutes later he got an even better view of the hoop from the left corner but missed again.
Moss played too loose with the ball in the second half, with two poor turnovers, to stay on the floor. That’s something the 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago will have to rectify. KU needs him on the court, playing within the flow of the offense and taking the type of open looks he should keep getting off drive and kicks from Dotson, Garrett and Enaruna, or from defenders clogging the paint to limit Azubuike.
The season is too young to project what type of shooting years sophomores Dotson and Agbaji and freshman Enaruna will have. But banking on either Dotson or Agbaji to make a leap as an effective outside shooter would seem premature. Dotson shot 36.3% as a freshman, and Agbaji finished at 30.7%.
Meanwhile, Garrett, a junior, is a career 25.7% 3-point shooter.
If none of those three returning rotation players improve from long range, it may fall on Moss — and maybe Enaruna (3 for 6 this season) — to make defenses respect KU’s shooting.
Most of KU’s 3-point attempts versus ETSU could be charted as good offense. Percentages even indicate that more of those very same shots will fall on other nights.
Only one failed 3 designated as a truly bad decision. Agbaji forced one on the wing and had it promptly smothered by his defender, a rare blocked 3-pointer.
A few others were debatable to marginal. Dotson, who already had made one, took a higher degree of difficulty 3 off a ball screen, leaving a step-back attempt short. The sophomore point guard also dribbled into a missed 3 up top, late in the first half, with a defender sticking to him and 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
In the second half, with ETSU surging off of its 3-point makes, Dotson went for another 3 he could have easily passed up. Dotson hadn’t even used a dribble on a catch in the left corner but settled for a contested try with 17 seconds on the shot clock. Dotson’s fourth and final miss came at the top of the key, with 5 seconds on the shot clock and a little more than 2:00 to play. After using a ball screen from Garrett he settled for an NBA range 3 with a hand in his face instead of driving to create a better shot for himself or a teammate, or perhaps drawing a foul.
Every other KU 3-point try at least made sense within the offense and the moment. KU’s lone make was a quick catch-and-shoot for Dotson off a simple pass out to the perimeter from David McCormack at the foul line. And 8 other KU misfires looked similar, in that they wouldn’t qualify as a bad shot.
Though Garrett missed both of his tries, each came in rhythm and with the defense sagging off of him. They were good attempts he’ll need to continue to take with confidence. Even Enaruna’s air-balled 3 in the final minutes looked natural and open as he caught a pass and elevated. The execution was where he was lacking.
Once Agbaji (5-for-20 on 3’s this season) works his way out of his little funk, it’s easy to see KU’s shooting becoming presentable or better on most days. Three-pointers have a funny way of being contagious sometimes, whether they’re dropping or rimming out. If Moss is his normal self and one of the other guards knocks down a couple, KU could be just fine in a lot of games.
As Self referenced, the Jayhawks shouldn’t be this far off the mark again. Dotson said something similar.
“There’s going to be some nights like that. But we’re going to be fine. In practice we knock them down,” Dotson added. “We’ve got to bounce back.”
Topeka — Between Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot, manning the paint should be a non-issue for next season’s Kansas basketball team.
There’s no doubt the Jayhawks’ bulky frontline of 6-foot-8 to 7-footers will be one of the team’s substantial strengths.
But who among their KU teammates are capable of providing the team with reliable 3-point shooting in 2019-20?
It’s a question that might not totally be answered until some of the program’s newest members prove themselves worthy of playing time.
This past season, 3-point shooting was more of a mixed bag for Kansas than a dependable source of offense. KU shot 260-for-743 on 3-pointers (35%, ranking 143rd in the nation) over the course of its 26-10 campaign. What’s more, this coming season, with the 3-point line moving back to 22 feet, 1.75 inches for Division I play, KU will be without its three most productive shooters from the 2018-19 roster.
Lagerald Vick, who only played in 23 games before leaving KU in early February, made a team-best 66 3-pointers on 145 attempts (44.5%). Quentin Grimes shot 54-for-159 (34%) and Dedric Lawson was 35-for-89 (39.3%). Of course, Grimes, after testing the NBA Draft waters this spring, withdrew his name from professional consideration and entered it into the NCAA’s transfer portal, while Lawson, as expected, decided to stay in the draft following his redshirt junior season.
Taking a stab in June at which Jayhawks will be asked to carry the 3-point load in November through March, the list of candidates is both obvious and alarmingly succinct: Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji.
Dotson, who connected on 33 of 91 3’s (36.3%) as a freshman, becomes the de facto top returning shooter for the Jayhawks. Agabaji, who played in only 22 games in his debut season, wasn’t too far behind, knocking down 23 of 75 3’s (30.7%).
Kansas may need much more 3-point production from both guards during their upcoming sophomore seasons. Agbaji said while speaking with reporters at Brett Ballard’s Washburn University basketball camp this week that measures already are being taken with that in mind.
“Our coaches really emphasize how much we’re in the gym shooting,” Agbaji said. “And when we go to workouts later, that’s what we’ll be doing, just getting shots up — bigs, too — and all of that. Shooting’s definitely something we’re going to focus on in this offseason.”
Good thing, too. Beyond Dotson and Agbaji, the Jayhawks don’t have much proven fire power in place for the 2019-20 season. Dotson and Agbaji account for 56 of the combined 72 made 3-pointers among KU’s returning players.
This past season, Marcus Garrett shot 12-for-49 (24.5%), Lightfoot converted 2 of his 10 3-point tries (20%) and walk-on Chris Teahan went 2-for-5 (40%). Neither McCormack nor Azubuike as much as attempted a 3. Nor are those two bigs expected to transform into 3-point shooters between now and November.
So from whose hands might some additional 3-pointers originate?
“Right now it’s so early you can’t really tell,” Teahan admitted. “Everybody’s going to be working hard, and I think everybody’s going to be getting their shots up and we’ll continue to progress. But if I need be out there to shoot, then I’m going to be ready for it.”
All three incoming freshmen in KU’s 2019 recruiting class have a chance to contribute in this area of need. And while 6-9 forward Tristan Enaruna, 6-6 wing Christian Braun and 6-foot guard Issac McBride all arrived on campus earlier this week, they’re still miles away right now from demonstrating they can make up for KU’s dearth of shooters.
“I think they all can stroke it,” Teahan said of the trio of freshmen. “I think it just depends on whose day it is and if they can shoot consistently.”
Agbaji also pointed to Braun and McBride in particular as potential 3-point threats in the season ahead.
“I would hope to see that Marcus has developed a little bit some moving forward,” Agbaji added of Garrett, a career 25.5% 3-point shooter 69 games into his college career.
Even teams capable of dominating inside need some trustworthy shooters to space the floor. Perhaps Braun, McBride and/or Enaruna can emerge in that role. Or maybe head coach Bill Self and his staff will fill one or more of the team’s current three open scholarship spots with someone who can knock down shots on the perimeter.
At this stage of the offseason, though, only two Jayhawks could be considered sound options from downtown.
“You haven’t really seen any in-game competition stuff,” Teahan said, when asked to identify KU’s surefire shooters, “so that’s kind of hard to say. But I trust Devon and I trust Ochai, because I’ve seen them shoot the ball.”
Even so, will KU have enough shooting overall?
“Yeah, yeah, I think so,” Agbaji contended. “I’m confident in all my teammates to hit shots and all of that. I think we’ll improve and we’ll definitely be better.”
Ask Devon Dotson to identify the best 3-point shooter on the Kansas basketball team and he’ll preface his response by first telling you he doesn’t study the statistics.
Then Dotson will point to two of his teammates, Quentin Grimes and Ochai Agbaji.
The reply doubles as yet another reminder of the freshman point guard’s savvy, as well as his willingness to defer at exactly the right time.
Dotson isn’t the type to sit in front of a group of reporters and anoint himself as the Jayhawks’ top 3-point shooter. Nor does he have to.
Everyone who is paying attention knows that Dotson is KU’s most reliable threat from downtown now that Lagerald Vick is on a leave of absence. A 6-foot-2 point guard from Charlotte, N.C., Dotson’s 42.2-percent accuracy from beyond the arch leads all active members of the rotation.
The subject of KU’s 3-point shooting, and the team’s increased reliance on long-range jumpers came up earlier this week, ahead of the Jayhawks’ crucial road trip to Oklahoma State (10-18 overall, 3-12 Big 12). In the seven games since they dropped back-to-back road trips to Kentucky and Texas, the Jayhawks are averaging a shade under 25 3-point attempts an outing and making 9.3 a game.
Asked for his thoughts on the trend, head coach Bill Self, who had previously pointed to Dedric Lawson spending less time in the post as a primary factor in KU’s 3-pointer surge, shared another theory on his team’s tendency to hoist more from downtown.
"I think that teams are guarding us in a way that makes us shoot 3s, too,” Self said on Thursday during his weekly press conference. “I think teams are really trying to clog the lane and to do some different things. In order for us to get a good look, a lot of the possessions, I think that is our best opportunity.”
Since Lawson became more of a face-up forward in a tweaked offensive approach, Self also noted the Jayhawks seem to play with more “freedom.” He said that has benefited everyone from Quentin Grimes to Ochai Agbaji to Lawson.
But Lawson has clearly benefited from that shift the most. The redshirt junior forward went from posting up, playing inside and rarely taking a 3-pointer to averaging 3.9 attempts per game in KU’s previous seven contests, a stretch in which Lawson is shooting 12 for 27 (44.4 percent).
In the meantime, while Self described Agbaji (16 for 45 in 14 games) as “not bashful” from 3-point range, the coach called Dotson “pretty selective.”
It was neither a slight nor a challenge. Just an observation.
To the coach’s point, in the past seven games, while KU’s outside shots have gone up as a team, Dotson has only attempted one 3-pointer in three different games: losses at Kansas State and Texas Tech, and a home win over West Virginia.
Would Self like to see Dotson (27 for 64 from deep this season) be less selective as a shooter and more assertive?
"I think Devon is playing like a guard should play,” Self countered. “The way the game is meant to be played is you move it, you pass it and you shoot open shots. And I think he's doing about as good of a job as anybody doing that."
Self also is bullish on Dotson’s defense, labeling the first-year and ever-improving guard as one of the top perimeter defenders in the the conference.
Dotson, averaging 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists in Big 12 games, while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 43.2 percent on 3-pointers, said he plays the style of basketball that his coach appreciates because of his competitive nature.
“I just hate losing,” Dotson said, adding he does his best to play with fire and passion. “I try to give 110 percent each game.”
The young point guard’s emergence in the past several weeks has kept KU in the mix for a Big 12 title. Dotson averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds in February, as KU went 5-2. The Jayhawks couldn’t have won at TCU in overtime without him, for sure.
Dotson is KU’s best perimeter player, it’s top 3-point shooter and a worthy co-star to Lawson. And his unassuming basketball personality has made him an increasingly more effective point guard the deeper he gets into his freshman season.
With three games left in the regular season, one gets the sense that March may be Dotson’s best month yet. His trajectory is pointed in the right direction just in time for college basketball’s spotlight to turn up its intensity.
The Jayhawks (21-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12) need for that to be the case, too, if they want to finish the 2018-19 season with the types of accomplishments that are expected around Lawrence.
Dotson is the man for that job. Just don’t expect him to boast about himself when he’d rather tell you about the abilities of the teammates around him.
Wichita — In the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament it seemed that not one discussion of Kansas versus Penn could go by without someone referencing the success of the Quakers’ second-ranked 3-point defense.
Penn opponents, anybody who follows either team closely could surely recite, only made 29.2 percent of their shots from behind the arc before Thursday’s first-round game at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Jayhawks didn’t rely upon 3-pointers in defeating Penn, 76-60, but they did prove more effective with their long-range looks than most foes of the Ivy League champs.
In knocking down 7 of 17 from 3-point distance, Kansas (28-7) moved on to the second round having converted more 3s than 17 previous Penn opponents. Only six Quakers foes all season shot more accurately than the Jayhawks (41.2 percent).
KU’s first successful 3 came on its first attempt, off the fingertips of junior Lagerald Vick, less than three minutes in. But seven consecutive Kansas 3-point misses — from Malik Newman, Devonte’ Graham (3), Vick (2) and Svi Mykhailiuk — followed over the course of the next 10-plus minutes, contributing to a 21-11 Penn advantage on the scoreboard.
Nerves might have contributed to the 1-for-8 start, but senior Mykhailiuk credited the Quakers (24-9) for executing their game plan, as well.
“They wanted to run us off the 3-point line, and they did a pretty good job of that today,” Mykhailiuk said after hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers. “Sometimes when Devonte’s going downhill, or Malik or Lagerald or me, they’ve definitely got to help. And then if they help we’re just trying to find the open man.”
Amid KU’s string of misfires, Graham (29 points) told his teammates to keep the 3-pointers coming.
“We can't keep missing,” he figured.
A Mykhailiuk 3-pointer from the right corner 3:51 before halftime, when he baited Caleb Wood into the air and then took a hard step to his left to rise up and fire, seemed to put KU’s shooters back on track. Including that open make, the No. 1 seed made 6 of its final 9 from downtown.
Penn’s relative success in defending the arc came in not allowing KU guards to attempt as many 3-pointers as they’re used to. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks averaged 9.4 makes a game on 24.7 tries, and hit 38.2 percent.
KU coach Bill Self said his team bailed Penn out early by taking too many contested shots.
“Defensively, they don't pressure, but they make it hard to get all the way to the basket, and then they do do a good job of contesting the 3-point line,” Self said.
Only Mykhailiuk, Graham (3 of 8) and Vick (2 of 4) made 3-pointers against Penn. Newman missed both of his looks. Considering KU entered the tournament with a 40.3 percent 3-point shooting mark and averaging 10.1 makes a game, Quakers coach Steve Donahue actually applauded his players’ perimeter defense in defeat — pointing to the fact KU only led by eight with less than seven minutes to play in a pro-Kansas building.
“Defense was awesome,” Donahue said. “Got them to shoot 18 hard 2s, something we preach. Got seven 3s for a team that makes 10.”
Kansas connected on just 1 of 5 2-point jumpers outside of the paint in each half but found 28 points off layups and dunks in the victory.
“They pack it in so well,” Graham said, “it’s hard to actually get into the paint. And the bigs, they switch up how they guarded off the ball screens, so they keep you thinking and keep you on your toes. We was just trying to keep getting downhill and make plays.”
It took some effort, but the Jayhawks drove with persistence and eventually found the open looks — sometimes inside, sometimes outside — they needed to advance.
KU will face No. 8 seed Seton Hall on Saturday. The Pirates held North Carolina State to 11-for-30 3-point shooting in a 94-83 win. Seton Hall entered the tournament with a 33.4 percent 3-point defense (98th nationally).
Kansas City, Mo. — Perennial league champion Kansas improved to 13-6 all-time in the Big 12 tournament semifinals on Friday, with an 83-67 victory over rival Kansas State at Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks only shot 44% from the floor and allowed the Wildcats to hit 53.6% of their shots in the second half, but advanced to the conference championship game for the sixth time in nine seasons.
Here are five stats that stood out — four good for Kansas, one not — in the Jayhawks’ semifinal victory over K-State.
Offense recovers in crunch time
A better opening to the second half would’ve helped the Jayhawks avoid putting the game’s outcome in danger, but they did manage to close the game appropriately.
A key Marcus Garrett steal and layup made sure of that. The freshman’s timely bucket ignited the Jayhawks, who converted 8 of their final 13 shot attempts over the course of the final 10 minutes. Up to that point, Kansas had made just 3 of 12 from the floor in the final half.
Suddenly energized after a lethargic stretch, especially for postseason basketball, KU’s players finished off the win by following Garrett’s lay-in with more high-percentage looks:
- 2 putbacks by Silvio De Sousa
- 2 Malik Newman 3-pointers
- A Lagerald Vick dunk
- Another Vick bucket
- A Mitch Lightfoot jam
Those baskets turned a 2-point Kansas lead into 12 before the Jayhawks spent most of the game’s final 2:00 at the foul line, going 8 for 10.
Controlling the glass
For the fourth time in the past six games, Kansas out-rebounded its opponent. Not bad for a team that did the opposite in 15 of 16 games before that.
The Jayhawks won the battle of the boards, 37-30. Even more impressive, though, they only let K-State gather 5 offensive rebounds on 32 missed field goals. The Wildcats only managed 2 second-chance points.
Big 12 opponents averaged 14.3 second-chance points a game against Kansas in the regular season and each of KU’s past eight foes scored at least 10 points in that category.
De Sousa’s 8 defensive boards led the team, and Newman secured 5 on that end. Both Devonte’ Graham and Garrett added 4 defensive rebounds.
Power of the 3-ball
For the 16th time this season, KU made 10 or more 3-pointers.
By knocking down 11 of 28 (39%) versus K-State, the Jayhawks improved to 14-2 when scoring at least 30 points from beyond the arc. K-State, meanwhile, made just 2 of 13 from 3-point range (15%) — the fewest makes and worst percentage by a KU opponent this season.
Both Newman (5 of 8) and Svi Mykhailiuk (4 of 8) routinely exploited the Wildcats for leaving them open.
Bench (and former sub) scoring
Between KU’s four regular members of the starting five, each contributed double-digit points in Friday’s win.
But Kansas nearly had three more players join Newman (22), Graham (15), Mykhailiuk (12) and Vick (10) in double figures.
A starter in just 4 games this season, Lightfoot added 8 points for the Jayhawks, who also picked up 8 points apiece from backups Garrett and De Sousa.
Newman carried the load offensively, but every other member of the rotation found opportunities to score, too, giving Kansas some balance in its distribution, making the attack less predictable.
No resistance in the paint
KU typically fares well inside or at least goes toe to toe with opponents in terms of making baskets around the hoop.
The Jayhawks averaged a +7.5 points in the paint margin during the regular season (+2.2 vs. Big 12 foes) and even outscored Oklahoma State by 10 inside without Udoka Azubuike in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
However, the Jayhawks lost the battle for the paint against K-State. The Wildcats scored 42 points inside, matching the most by any KU opponent this season.
Confident in taking their chances against Kansas bigs Lightfoot and De Sousa, the Wildcats finished with a 42-28 advantage in points in the paint, stimulated by Makol Mawien’s 29-point explosion, 16 of which came at the rim.
You know West Virginia will try to inflict even more damage against KU’s interior defense in Saturday night’s Big 12 title game.