As the Kansas basketball team strives in the months ahead to replicate the kind of success it had in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season, the path to victories — and the math to get there — will look different.
More likely than not, the Jayhawks will take an egalitarian approach to scoring, rather than relying on one particular player to put the ball in the basket.
In the middle of discussing how KU might utilize sophomore guard Christian Braun offensively, Bill Self veered in another direction during a video press conference on Thursday, to highlight what looks to KU’s head coach like a balanced roster.
“I really could care less who scores on this team,” Self said.
That’s not an unfamiliar line of thinking for him. In Self’s 17 years at KU, it’s been rare for one player to dominate as a scorer. Only two have averaged more than 20 points per game over the course of a season: Frank Mason III (20.9 points in 2016-17) and Wayne Simien (20.3 in 2004-05).
Others have come close. Just two years back Dedric Lawson put up 19.4 points a game. In Sherron Collins’ junior season (2008-09) he averaged 18.9 points. And the what-if campaign that was last season concluded with Devon Dotson giving KU 18.1 points a night.
The Jayhawks won’t be able to rely on Dotson or Udoka Azubuike for scoring anymore. But that might not necessarily be an entirely bad thing if, in fact, KU can throw an assortment of scorers at opponents instead.
“You know what we’ve got to do? We’ve just got to play and let the open man basically take what he’s given,” Self said.
None of KU’s returning rotation players averaged more than 10 points per game this past year. Yet it doesn’t seem any of them will need to make a quantum leap as a scorer for the Jayhawks to play at the level Self wants.
Ochai Agbaji (10 PPG in 2019-20), Marcus Garrett (9.2 PPG), David McCormack (6.9 PPG), Braun (5.3 PPG) and Tristan Enaruna (2.4 PPG) all are basically locks to increase their scoring outputs. But none of them need to burden themselves with carrying the load.
“I see this being a team where, hey, some guys get eight a game, some guys get 12 a game and at the end of the game it adds up to 80,” Self said. “That’s what I’m kind of hoping for.”
The fewest points a leading scorer has averaged for a season under Self at KU is 13.3, and that came from Brandon Rush on a balanced team that won the 2008 national championship.
While it’s unclear at this point whether KU has that type of phenomenal run in it for the 2021 NCAA Tournament — fingers and toes crossed that March Madness actually happens this time around — it’s logical to look up and down the Jayhawks’ roster and forecast this year as one where Self has five players averaging somewhere between 9.0 and 13.0 or so points per game, just like he had with that championship squad.
Neither will need to be a primary scorer, but McCormack and Garrett look like the best bets to lead the team in points. Don’t be surprised if both of them average around 12 or 13 and Agbaji’s right in that range with them. Braun’s such a strong 3-point shooter, he could easily double his average from last year and provide another 10-plus points a game as a sophomore.
And if freshman guard Bryce Thompson comes in and adds another 9.0 or 10.0 points right off the bat, KU would find itself with some enviable balance, especially when considering the handful of other players who can chip in and/or have their own big nights from time to time: sophomore Enaruna, redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson, junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster, fifth-year senior Mitch Lightfoot and redshirt freshman guard Dajuan Harris.
“I think we have a really good team,” Wilson said of KU’s balance, “with a lot of good players, a lot of versatile players. Any game it could be anyone’s night and I think we’re all on board with that. No one’s going and trying to say this is who does this or this is who does that. We’re all just playing together and we all do the same thing that we need to do to win.”
Plus, with Garrett as KU’s unquestioned leader this season, his team-first approach should influence the players around him. If a senior who will have the ball in his hands more than anyone else in a KU uniform doesn’t care about his scoring numbers, why should any of the other Jayhawks?
That’s easier typed than put into practice, of course. But winning will make it easier for players to not become overly obsessed with their stats. And the Jayhawks seem to believe a few weeks before the season that they can thrive with a diversified offensive approach.
“I think it’s hard for one individual,” Enaruna said, “to be really good scoring wise, because I think this team has too much talent. We’ve got too many guys who can score the ball and make plays. And I think the way coach wants to play, it’s not too much focusing on ourselves, but kind of forging all of those aspects together. Getting each other shots.”
In the past, Self has coached teams where certain players have to get touches or shots for them to play well, and those types of teams can run into issues when a go-to scorer is being harassed or shut down.
However, if he’s right about this year’s roster, KU shouldn’t have to deal with that particular problem in the 2020-21 season.
“I see it by committee,” Self said of KU’s scoring approach. “I really do.”
You thought watching your favorite team get upset in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament was tough. Welcome to the truest form of March Sadness.
The idea of any basketball being played this weekend or in the weeks to come toppled, domino style, beginning Thursday morning. As conferences nationwide canceled their postseason tournaments, the trend reached the Big 12 and the Sprint Center less than an hour before a quarterfinal between Texas and Texas Tech was supposed to tip off.
By the afternoon, the NCAA and its board of governors went ahead and canceled the entire postseason. No Selection Sunday. No brackets to fill out. No buzzer-beaters. No Cinderellas. No Final Four. Not even “One Shining Moment.”
This is all, of course, for the greater good of society. Health experts far more knowledgeable about this novel coronavirus and how it spreads than those of us who wanted to watch more basketball advised against these games and the March traditions that we’ve come to know and love. It was a prudent move, reached with the well-being of people who could be fatally impacted by COVID-19 in mind. Even if it took the NBA, NHL and MLB all suspending their games for the NCAA to take a similar action, the people in charge of the March Madness moneymaker finally followed the ethical route.
But it’s OK to be disappointed in the result, sensible as it was. Imagine the sorrow college athletes throughout the country are still experiencing, and will continue to deal with, in the wake of this unprecedented measure.
It’s hard to dream up a more let down group of players than those on the Kansas basketball roster. The No. 1-ranked Jayhawks hadn’t lost a game since Jan. 11. They were in position to become the No. 1 overall seed in the national championship tournament, with the help of two potential all-Americans, Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, and a defensive guru, Marcus Garrett.
They had zero clue this past Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, when they beat the Red Raiders for an outright Big 12 title that it would be the last time they ever competed together. The Jayhawks looked like a team that could play nine more times — three in the Big 12 Tournament and six more in the NCAA Tournament — cutting down more nets and acquiring more postseason hardware along the way.
Instead, it’s all suddenly over.
For months, the lives of these players revolved around gearing up for this 2020 postseason. Now they’re no doubt left with a sense of emptiness, because the bizarre circumstances of these times meant they didn’t even get a chance to go validate their incredible regular season with some postseason glory.
For Azubuike, a senior, and Dotson, a likely early NBA draft entrant, this must be unfathomable. They were poised to write their own memorable chapters in KU’s storied program. Maybe even leave as legends. Like Danny Manning or Mario Chalmers. Now they and their teammates become an all-time what-if in KU lore.
Unfortunately for college athletes and fans everywhere, this unique brand of March Sadness extends to sports everywhere. President Mark Emmert and the board of governors determined the best way for the NCAA to prevent further spread of COVID-19 was to cancel all remaining winter and spring championships. That means no title runs for college athletes in basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, gymnastics, track and field, lacrosse, baseball, softball, golf and tennis, to name a few.
We’ve never seen anything like this. And hopefully we never will again.
As everyone continues to process this odd non-postseason, it’s OK to both appreciate that people involved in sports are doing everything they can to limit a pandemic, while also expressing regret over how March of 2020 came to an abrupt conclusion.
There are plenty of better scorers, shooters and rebounders in the Big 12 than Marcus Garrett. The numbers others have put up, though, don’t equal the impact Garrett makes for the league’s undisputed champ, No. 1-ranked Kansas.
That’s what made it so shocking on Sunday when the coaches’ all-conference selections came out and Garrett’s name didn’t appear until the third team.
The junior guard, who has to lead the Big 12 in intangibles such as court awareness, dedication to defense and scouting report knowledge — and, by the way, led all league players with 5.1 assists per game in conference action — warrants far more credit.
One would have figured the league’s coaches, who had to face KU twice and experienced firsthand the type of effect Garrett has on games with his dogged defense and playmaking on offense, would have viewed him as a first-team performer.
No, Garrett doesn’t blow anyone away with his numbers. Except when considering his 9.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals in Big 12 games, it’s necessary to also examine the numbers 17-1 (as in KU’s remarkable conference record) and two (the amount of games the Jayhawks finished ahead of Baylor in the standings). Of course, Garrett’s teammates Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson — both obvious first-team selections — also played crucial roles in that success. But take away Garrett from the lineup and KU doesn’t win the league so convincingly.
There are no mind-blowingly talented, surefire NBA lottery picks in the Big 12 this year, because a broken wrist robbed Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton of the rest of his season in early February. So why not just reward winning with the All-Big 12 team? The league’s coaches will tell you the top-heavy conference has competitive teams throughout. Well, that makes KU’s run through the round robin schedule all the more impressive.
A team that so clearly established itself as the best in the league is worthy of securing three spots on the first team. Garrett is just as important a contributor in what KU already has accomplished this season as Azubuike and Dotson.
Kansas and Baylor had the two best teams in the Big 12 all season and, really, were so much better than the rest of the pack that it would be completely fair to fill the entire first team with Jayhawks and Bears exclusively. This isn’t a deep league this year, and it’s obvious who the most important players are. Azubuike, Dotson, Garrett, Jared Butler and Freddie Gillespie represent best what this league was about in 2020.
Looking at it from another perspective, if the Big 12’s coaches had to put together a five-man lineup in order to battle the five best players from other conferences such as the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, you’d want Garrett on that Big 12 team if you cared at all about beating the best the rest of the country had to offer.
Clearly the coaches respect Garrett’s defense. He was a unanimous choice for the all-defensive team and was voted defensive player of the year. Maybe they thought that was enough of a way to honor his aptitude.
A lot will depend on what’s to come in the postseason for the Jayhawks, but if they play to their potential and make it to the Final Four, people will look back at Garrett’s spot on the third team and laugh. It’s not as egregious as when the Associated Press panel botched its All-Big 12 first team in 2008, failing to get even one Jayhawk on the team. But Garrett as a third-team choice is a misfire.
Garrett makes winning plays and can do so in almost every way imaginable — defensive stops, incredible steals, attacks off the bounce, setting up teammates for high-percentage shots. He’s not a good 3-point shooter (17-for-52, 10-for-32 against the Big 12). Fine. He gives KU everything else his coach, Bill Self, could possibly want out of a player, and when teams leave Garrett wide open behind the arc he’ll take that shot, because that’s the right play.
There aren’t 10 better college basketball players than Garrett in the Big 12, though his spot on the third team suggests otherwise. Nor are there five players better than him in this league. Garrett’s one of the most impactful players around. And he deserved a spot on the first team because he’s a critical component of what has made KU, the likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, great.
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 75-66 win over TCU on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks assured themselves of at least a share of the 2020 Big 12 title.
• The Jayhawks scored their first 12 points in the paint to establish their interior dominance versus the visitors from Fort Worth, Texas. That trend would continue throughout and become a critical component of KU’s early March win.
KU controlled the paint, outscoring TCU, 46-16, inside, and shooting 53.7% overall from the field.
• KU wasn’t as successful from long range, however, going 3-for-12 on 3-pointers.
• The No. 1 team in the nation benefited from 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 19 second-chance points.
• KU’s biggest defensive issue came in the first half, when it could not stop TCU from burying 3-pointer after 3-pointer. The Frogs went 9-for-15 in the first 20 minutes.
The defense tightened up down the stretch, though, as KU held TCU to 4-for-14 shooting from long range in the second half.
• TCU turned the ball over 7 times in each half, and KU racked up 9 steals in all in the home finale.
• The Frogs only connected on 10 of their 28 shots in the second half. They hit 42% overall in the game.
• Udoka Azubuike was unstoppable as ever, sore ankle be damned.
The Jayhawks knew the first time they faced TCU the Frogs struggled to handle the 7-foot senior, so they counted on a repeat performance once they figured out Azubuike’s ankle wasn’t bothering him too much to limit his impact.
Azubuike put up a career-high 31 points in his final home game, and, oh yeah, also secured 14 rebounds and blocked 5 shots.
A spectacular finish to an incredible run for the center from Nigeria.
• Point guard Devon Dotson got rolling later in the first half, and often sped his way to baskets and the foul line. He hurt his lower left leg later in the second half, or he would have been even more productive than he was, with 18 points on 5-for-12 shooting, with 6 boards and 2 assists, plus 4 steals.
• Marcus Garrett again looked to be playing through pain (sore foot), but powered through it at points to make key plays.
His assist to Azubuike inside followed by a steal and layup of his own came at a critical juncture of the second half, as KU took control.
Garrett finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, even if his defense was a little below his high standards on a couple of occasions.
• Ochai Agbaji threw a couple of bad passes for turnovers but flashed his athleticism and finished with 8 points.
• Isaiah Moss only got 1 of his 7 3-point attempts to drop, but he played 37 minutes, and looked good setting others up a few times (3 assists), while contributing 5 points and 4 rebounds.
• Christian Braun played the majority of the bench minutes, with 20, and scored all of the bench’s points (4).
• When David McCormack and Tristan Enaruna were in the game, KU wasn’t quite as effective.
College basketball awards season isn’t too far away now, and when it arrives, Kansas head coach Bill Self knows what he would be looking for in a Big 12 Player of the Year.
Self didn’t make a case Thursday during his weekly press conference for either of his team’s legit contenders, Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, but rather shared his thoughts on the criteria he would use in selecting a conference’s top performer.
It was during this mental exercise that Self explained why he doesn’t first look to statistics when considering candidates.
“In general terms, I think winning is obviously very important,” Self replied, when asked how to best gauge such awards. “I believe sometimes putting up numbers is overrated a little bit if you have a lot of balance on your team.”
Self knows that from firsthand experience, thanks to one All-Big 12 first team from a decade ago that looks laughable in retrospect.
“I remember when we won the national championship in ’07-’08, we had three guys that should’ve been on first team. And zero made it in the media poll,” Self recalled, “because our leading scorer averaged 13.”
Indeed, the Associated Press All-Big 12 first team in 2008 included not a single Jayhawk. No Darrell Arthur. No Brandon Rush (the aforementioned leading scorer). No Mario Chalmers. All landed on the second team, presumably because KU was so balanced that they split the vote. So the AP first team was comprised of Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, Texas’ D.J. Augustin, Baylor’s Curtis Jerrells, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin and Nebraska’s Aleks Maric.
While one could view this stroll down KU basketball memory lane as a lesson that voters should include Azubuike, Dotson and Marcus Garrett on this year’s All-Big 12 first team ballots, Self also pointed out that Baylor has “such good balance” this season, that the Bears’ individual numbers might go under-appreciated by some when it’s time to dole out postseason accolades.
“They’re not going to have a guy with the elite numbers as far as scoring output,” Self said of BU, led by Jared Butler’s 15.7 points per game and MaCio Teague’s 14.1.
When Self looks to identify the best players around, the hall of fame coach thinks about each man’s value to the team, and what that team would look like without a given player.
“To me those are all things that are somewhat intangibles,” Self said, “but I think they all would play a huge role in who would be a player of the year in every conference.”
Few would be surprised to see either Azubuike or Dotson take home the 2020 Big 12 Player of the Year. And Garrett has been so crucial to KU’s success this season that some would argue the junior guard and defensive savant is actually KU’s most valuable player.
Even Self admitted it can be difficult from week to week to identify which of KU’s three most important players is the team’s MVP. Not that he cares to choose one.
“We’ve had a pretty decent year up until this point, and we’ve had three guys play particularly well,” Self said of his No. 1-ranked Jayhawks. “But I think it will probably distinguish itself over the next three games, because guys have got to play in the biggest games, and these three are obviously pivotal if we’re going to have a chance to win the league.”
Regardless of how the awards and all-this-or-that teams shake out, KU has three team-first players in Azubuike, Dotson and Garrett, who are poised to take the Jayhawks on a deep run through the NCAA Tournament.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 87-70 win over Oklahoma on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• KU opened up the game by knocking down some 3-pointers for a change — a promising sign for a team that hadn’t connected on more than four in any of its previous four games.
Marcus Garrett, after turning down an open look early in the shot clock on one possession, didn’t mind taking a 3 in a better situation soon after, knocking down his first 3-pointer since the last KU-OU game. Ochai Agbaji was next to hit one from deep.
After the 2-for-2 start from downtown, KU went 6-for-11 (55%) on 3-pointers in the first half.
• Despite those early 3-pointers, high-percentage looks closer to the hoop didn’t exactly follow in the first half for Kansas. The Jayhawks were hovering around 30% shooting most of the opening 20 minutes, with shots inside the paint a bit of a rarity, unless they were coming in transition.
And they missed 7 layups before halftime, taking a 38% overall shooting percentage into the break.
• KU’s offense made a turn for the better in the second half, as the Jayhawks converted 59% of their shots.
• KU finished 49% from the floor and 11-for-22 on 3-pointers, with 10 turnovers.
• In the first matchup with Oklahoma a month earlier, the Sooners went 8-for-29 from deep but missed a lot of quality looks at the basket. The Jayhawks knew they would have to better defend the arc in the rematch.
KU mostly took care of business in the first half, as OU shot 4-for-10 from deep, with Kristian Doolittle knocking down 2 of them.
In the second half, OU’s 3-point shooting didn’t turn into a massive problem for KU. The Sooners finished their road loss 8-for-24 from long range.
• A few defensive lapses in the first half led to OU layups and a dunk, and the Sooners were outscoring KU inside much of the half. By intermission, OU led 16-14 in points in the paint.
• The team defense KU played in the second half — give the players who shared the floor with Garrett and Udoka Azubuike, too — led to the Sooners shooting 36% from the field in the loss.
• Udoka Azubuike brought an active approach to the early tip-off, even as OU’s defense surrounded him on touches and made it more difficult for him to get his typical great looks in the paint.
That really showed up on the offensive glass, where Azubuike had 5 boards in the first half alone.
The 7-footer secured 10 rebounds by halftime.
• The Sooners effectively limited Azubuike as a scorer in the paint much of the first half, making sure he didn’t catch the ball deep inside, and if he did they had two or three defenders in great position with arms held high to force him into a difficult jump-hook or pass out of the paint. He was 2-for-6 in his first 11 minutes of action, and OU was able to keep up with the Jayhawks as a result.
• In the game’s final 20 minutes, Azubuike couldn’t be so easily bottled up. The senior center opened the half scoring over Brady Manek in the paint. The first time he saw a double, he dished to Ochai Agbaji for a layup. And even when he turned into a double team, making the wrong read, he still gathered an offensive rebound of his own miss for a put-back, as KU padded its lead in the opening minutes of the second half, going up, 50-34.
KU’s dominant big man provided 15 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks.
• Garrett continued his defensive dominance against the Sooners, even while burying 3-pointers.
The mastermind defender stole the ball from OU 4 times in the first half and, per usual, didn’t suffer anything close to a defensive letdown as the Jayhawks took a 41-32 lead into halftime.
There’s always variety in Garrett’s stat lines, but this one was particularly impressive: 24 points, 6-for-9 on 3-pointers, 7 assists, 4 steals and 5 rebounds.
• Devon Dotson proved to be as assertive as anyone in a KU uniform, getting to the rim for layups both in the open floor and during half-court trips.
Dotson distributed, as well, making for a productive day for the sophomore point guard, who tallied 19 points and 5 assists, plus 8 rebounds.
• Back in the starting lineup, Moss gave KU that 3-point threat to space the floor offensively, even when he wasn’t taking shots.
But he looked confident and ready to shoot when given the opportunity, too. Moss scored 8 points, while going 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.
• Agbaji, who had a couple of fouls barely 6 minutes into the game, got off to a slower start.
His second half activity helped KU bury OU, though, and Agbaji produced 10 points, 6 boards and 3 assists.
• Christian Braun became the sixth man for this game, with Moss playing more minutes for the Jayhawks lately.
After failing even attempt a 3-pointer in KU’s road wins at TCU and West Virginia, Braun wasn’t so hesitant versus OU. He had been on the floor all of 2 minutes when he buried a 3 from the left wing.
But Braun didn’t try to force himself into a larger role as a result. The freshman guard mostly defended and fit in, giving KU 3 points.
• David McCormack had some moments for KU when it was his turn to man the paint. The best of those was an impressive post-up and finish inside, proving that he can do Azubuike-type things for the offense when the senior sits.
McCormack finished with 6 points and 3 rebounds.
There’s no question that Kansas coach Bill Self is happy with the recent play of his team’s 3-point specialist, Isaiah Moss.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Self said Friday, when asked about the surging senior marksman, who helped No. 3 Kansas stay unbeaten in Big 12 road games, with a 58-49 win at No. 14 West Virginia.
Self didn’t share his specific feelings about the recent 3-point accuracy — or lack thereof — from the rest of the Jayhawks. But KU’s coach did mention his team made exactly four 3-pointers in each of its two road wins this past week.
“He’s made six of them,” Self pointed out of Moss, a 38.8% career 3-point shooter over the course of three seasons at Iowa and 23 games at KU.
The past couple of games in particular, Moss has proven to be the exact version of himself KU needs offensively — 3-for-8 from long range at TCU and 3-for-5 at WVU.
He could clearly use some help. While Moss was fulfilling his role in two impressive, defense-first road victories for the Jayhawks, the rest of the team combined to shoot 2-for-14 in the past week.
In the two games prior to those, KU went 4-for-13 against Texas Tech and 2-for-12 versus Texas. No single Jayhawk made more than one 3-pointer in either of those home wins.
“It’s ridiculously poor how we’ve shot the ball beyond the arc,” Self remarked. “But also you can look at it like thank goodness we’ve got (Moss).”
With the end of the regular season now just three weeks away, KU is shooting 34.2% on 3-pointers as a team this year (131st nationally as of Friday). However, the Jayhawks are making only 31.9% of their 3-pointers in Big 12 play, placing them fifth in the conference entering this weekend’s slate of games.
KU’s lack of consistent shooting has been an ongoing discussion this season, and when those conversations are happening Moss isn’t the only player considered a reliable option. Freshman Christian Braun needs to be a good shooter for the Jayhawks, too, as Self doesn’t mind bringing up.
If Braun’s more assertive on catch-and-shoot chances, following Moss’s lead, it will bolster KU’s scoring and offensive spacing.
Braun didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in KU’s two wins at TCU and WVU, while playing a combined 36 minutes. He also went 0-for-2 against Texas and last connected on a 3-pointer during a game on Feb. 1, going 1-for-2 versus Texas Tech.
Yet Braun is responsible for some of KU’s most eye-popping 3-point displays this season, going 6-for-10 versus Kansas State and 4-for-8 at Oklahoma State.
So far during his freshman year, Braun can boast 41.8% 3-point accuracy. In Big 12 games, no Jayhawk has been as on the mark from long range as Braun, who is 14-for-29 (48.3%).
The Jayhawks need Moss and Braun firing because they’re easily the best shooters in the rotation.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson hasn’t hit more than one 3-pointer in a game since KU played at Iowa State on Jan. 8. WVU strategically left him open earlier this week, as Dotson went 1-for-5 while playing through some right knee soreness that had kept him out of practices the previous few days, Self shared.
In the nine games Dotson has played since going 2-for-5 on 3-pointers at ISU, he has shot 7-for-34 (20.6%) from deep. And he’s just a 27.7% 3-point shooter on the season.
Junior guard Marcus Garrett will take 3-pointers when the defense leaves him wide open and the shot makes sense in the moment. But he hasn’t buried a 3 since KU’s Jan. 14 win at Oklahoma. Garrett didn’t put up a single 3-pointer in four outings of that eight-game stretch, during which he was 0-for-7.
A 26.4% career 3-point shooter, Garrett has connected on 28.6% of his 35 tries during his junior season. He’s just 3-for-15 (20%) in Big 12 games this year.
Sophomore Ochai Agbaji gets hot from behind the arc occasionally. But since a 3-for-7 afternoon in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Tennessee on Jan. 25, Agbaji has gone 4-for-18 (22.2%) over his most recent five games.
Agbaji enters Saturday’s rematch with OU shooting 34.6% from downtown as a sophomore, but that number dips to 25.6% in KU’s 11 Big 12 games to date.
Moss is KU’s green-light shooter, and Self thinks the graduate transfer understands that. But the Jayhawks will need Braun to adopt a little bit of that same mentality and wait for Dotson and Agbaji to shoot their way out of their slumps before the offense is able to peak.
KU has gotten away with being a mediocre to poor 3-point shooting team this season because the Jayhawks are playing elite defense (No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com). But if they’re somehow able to pair that defense with some consistency from outside, they would become a dominant team.
The key will be confident shooting from Moss and Braun, paired with Dotson (a good free-throw shooter, at 80.6% this season) and Agbaji improving for the stretch run.
Morgantown, W.Va. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 58-49 win over West Virginia on Wednesday at WVU Coliseum.
• Even though WVU started two bigs, KU made point to get to the rim early versus the Mountaineers. The Jayhawks scored their first 12 points off layups and a dunk, with all but two of their first 10 shot attempts coming from point-blank range.
However, in the following 12-plus minutes leading up to halftime, KU only scored 6 more points in the paint. The Jayhawks shot 41.7% from the floor in the first 20 minutes, while turning it over 8 times.
• Those giveaways proved pivotal for WVU, too, as the Mountaineers scored 13 points off turnovers, setting them up for a 30-24 lead at the break
• No, it wasn’t pretty. But KU won a game that felt like a possible loss by shooting 48% in the second half. The Jayhawks left with the victory in points in the paint, no coincidence, 32-24.
• KU shot 44% in the win and only turned it over 13 times — not bad versus WVU.
• Although the Jayhawks were attacking the paint on offense from the get-go, they weren’t having much success stopping WVU from doing the same. The Mountaineers scored 12 of their first 15 points in the paint, with six layups or dunks of their own.
• WVU secured 8 offensive boards, leading to 8 second-chance points in the first half.
• KU held WVU to 35.5% shooting in the opening half, and WVU went 3-for-9 from 3-point distance.
• The Mountaineers only hit 32% of their shots and went 4-for-17 on 3-pointers. Plus, they turned it over 19 times in the home loss.
• Not one Jayhawk — not even the massive Udoka Azubuike — stood out for more than a sporadic play here or there in the first half.
Two first-half fouls kept KU’s senior center on the bench for 10 minutes, and Azubuike only had 2 points and 3 boards at halftime.
He looked much more like himself in the second half, though, playing a pivotal role in the road win. Azubuike gave KU 6 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks but was also responsible for negating the impact of Oscar Tshiebwe.
• Ochai Agbaji actually led KU in scoring in the first half, with all of 5 points in his 19 minutes of action.
Agbaji would finish with 9 points and his defense and athleticism kept him on the floor and making an impact.
• Devon Dotson found WVU leaving him open for 3-pointers throughout the first half, but went 0-for-3 on his long-range attempts and he turned it over a couple of times.
The sophomore’s left corner 3-pointer felt like a minor miracle past the midway mark of the second half with as poorly as KU was shooting it. A few minutes later the heady point guard made an incredible defensive play, swiping the ball from Miles McBride and then knocking it off of his foe out of bounds, giving KU possession in a tight game, with 7:52 to play.
Dotson shot 4-for-13, and finished with 15 points, 2 assists and 4 rebounds in 38 minutes.
• Marcus Garrett struggled with turnovers against the ever-gritty Mountaineers, committing 6.
But the Jayhawks were dead in the water before he spent much of crunch time just taking the ball away from WVU.
Garrett produced 5 steals in the win, to supplement his 9 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
• KU needed David McCormack as early as the first half, with Self a couple of times sitting Azubuike due to fouls and for another stretch playing the two bigs together.
In his 10 first-half minutes, McCormack provided 4 points, 1 rebound and one emphatic block, but the Jayhawks weren’t nearly as effective with him in the lineup as they were with Azubuike.
On a related note, McCormack didn’t play in the second half.
• Senior Isaiah Moss gave KU its only 3-pointer of the first half.
His second came during a crucial stretch of the second half, with KU chipping away at WVU’s lead.
Later, Moss would score some of the game’s most influential points, sinking two free throws after drawing a foul in transition — he pulled that off twice — and burying his third 3-pointer. A personal 7-1 run for Moss had KU up 54-49 at the final media break of the second half.
Moss finished with 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Kansas guard Marcus Garrett is known neither as a shooter nor a scorer.
Still, when the Jayhawks’ indispensable veteran didn’t put a single point on the board in their win at TCU this past weekend, it was out of character.
Garret’s averaging 9.2 points per game during his junior season on 7.3 field goal attempts, converting 46.2% of his tries. But against the Horned Frogs, the Dallas native only put up four shots in his close to 35 minutes on the court.
Of course, Garrett still contributed statistically, with three rebounds, four assists and three steals. Plus, he’s the type of player who won’t allow himself to step foot on the floor without playing the type of staunch defense that makes opponents pray he’ll be guarding one of their teammates.
And that’s why Garrett remained one of the most important players on the court, even while going scoreless for the first time since KU lost to Villanova at the 2018 Final Four, when he was a freshman.
Bill Self called Garrett’s performance in a 60-46 road victory as average a game as the starting guard has had in a while, offensively.
“But he was still terrific defensively,” Self emphasized. “I mean, you can say what you want to and you can look at numbers, but numbers never tell the story. And after watching the tape he was still pretty good, even though I didn't think it was his best at the offensive end.”
Garrett’s real impact was more discernible in his plus/minus numbers from KU’s most recent road win. The Jayhawks outscored TCU, 52-38, when Garrett was on the court, while they were an even 8-8 with the Frogs in the five-plus minutes Garrett spent on the bench. The junior guard’s plus-14 led the team, even as standouts Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson filled up other columns in the box score.
While Garrett’s ability to attack off the dribble and get to the rim has proven to be a real strength for the No. 3 Jayhawks (20-3 overall, 9-1 Big 12) this season, TCU’s guards, unlike most teams, did a nice job of taking those opportunities away from Garrett, who ended up going 0-for-4, all on shots taken from 15 feet and in.
But Garrett is the rarest of basketball players, who doesn’t actually care that much about his individual scoring totals. And in that way, Garrett reminds Self of a former KU great.
Self shared this story with his Jayhawks about Mario Chalmers, who is famous for his clutch 3-pointer in the 2008 national championship game, but also loved racking up steals and blending in.
“We’re beating somebody here in our league bad, eight minutes left in the game. And I run a play for Mario, and I said, ‘I want you to shoot it,’” Self recalled.
Chalmers replied, “Why?”
Self told the guard he hadn’t attempted a shot. But Chalmers countered, “‘I don’t need to take a shot. I don’t need to score.”
Which brought Self to his point: “I think Marcus has that same attitude, as well.”
Azubuike and Dotson are the Jayhawks who will most often be mentioned as candidates for Big 12 and national accolades this season, but Garrett is just as essential to KU’s success.
Freshman guard Christian Braun said Garrett always brings much more to the lineup than his scoring ability, and Braun saw the upperclassman impact KU’s win at TCU in a variety of other ways.
“You know, at the end of the game, he got a good steal, just kind of took the ball from the guy,” Braun began, referencing a takeaway by Garrett that allowed him to feed Dotson for a transition layup, the first play of what became a 12-0 run that all but wrapped up the win.
“That's what he does is affect the game on the other end. And you know you're going to get that from him every game. So you know he's always going to have steals and be in the right place,” Braun continued.
“He kind of takes their best player away almost every game, too. And even if, like I think (Desmond) Bane ended up with 20 (points), it's always a tough 20,” Braun said of Bane’s 8-for-19 day versus KU. “They don't always get their normal stats or it's not as efficient, and that's because of Marcus most of the time. So like I said, it doesn't really matter what he does on the offensive end, because you know what he's going to do on the defensive end.”
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 78-75 win over Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks looked poised to blow Texas Tech out in the game’s opening minutes, seeking out open shots and making sure to get the ball inside. The great start would be short-lived but needed.
• KU scored 18 points in the paint in the first half, even as Udoka Azubuike went without a made field goal inside.
• Kansas shot 55% from the floor in the first half, but four players combined to go just 9-for-15 on free throws.
• With Udoka Azubuike finding it hard to stay on the floor versus Tech, and the Red Raiders adjusting well at halftime, the KU offense began to unravel at times in the second half, allowing Tech to make it a one-possession game on a couple of occasions.
• Timely responses to Tech scores and runs made the difference down the stretch. KU shot 48% in the second half and 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. The Jayhawks scored 38 points in the paint.
• Texas Tech missed its first 7 attempts from the field as KU raced out to a 10-0 lead behind strong defense from its four-guard starting lineup, which happens to be anchored by the very large Azubuike. The Red Raiders fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half. But were able to go on a key spurt when Azubuike checked out of the game with two fouls.
KU limited the visitors to 38% shooting in the game’s first 20 minutes, when the Red Raiders were 2-for-9 on 3-pointers.
• Tech’s offense got comfortable from time to time in the second half, and the Jayhawks quite a few times let the visitors do that by giving up 3-point looks. The Red Raiders went 7-for-12 from deep in the final 20 minutes.
• KU’s only starting big man picked up his second foul at the midway point of the first half. A charge call and a third foul a couple minutes into the second half meant the most valuable man on the roster would spend even more time on the bench.
• The Jayhawks led, 53-48, when Azubuike finally came back in with 12:55 to play in the second half.
• KU needs Azubuike on the floor to overwhelm opponents and truly be great. This was not the big man’s day and the senior 7-footer had 5 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes.
• KU’s guards all brought an assertive offensive approach to the afternoon. And with the way Marcus Garrett remained intent on getting to the paint, Tech’s defense had to keep moving and reacting. Garrett kept the Red Raiders off balance and set himself and his teammates up for great shots in the game’s opening minutes.
The Jayhawks led by 15 less than 8 minutes in after Garrett made his way inside for his second layup. When he wasn’t scoring off drives, he was assisting for uncontested, high-percentage looks.
• Garrett fell hard on a drive inside late in the first half, appearing to bother his ankle or foot. He already had 7 points and 2 assists when he checked out with 4:25 left until halftime.
He’s Marcus Garrett, though. So he was fine. And by the end of the game he was blocking shots inside in a one-possession game to seal a KU win.
Garrett willed the Jayhawks to a win and gave them 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks.
• Devon Dotson proved just as impossible for Tech defenders to stay in front of, as the sophomore repeatedly blew by Red Raiders for layup, on his way to 13 first-half points.
After Tech made it a 2-point game with less than 9 minutes to go in the second half, Dotson seemed to take it personally. He sought out a layup, grabbed two defensive rebounds and threw a lob for a powerful David McCormack slam in the following minute-plus, as KU extended its lead to 8.
Dotson came through with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists.
• Ochai Agbaji came out hot for KU, nailing his first three shot attempts, all jumpers. Those quick 7 points would remain his total at halftime, but his quick start helped KU create some crucial separation against a strong Tech defense.
Agbaji finally scored again when the game was tight in the second half, and his defense, as always, was a must on the perimeter. Plus, taking his first free throws of the game with KU up 1 points with 14.3 seconds left, Agbaji made both on a 1-and-1.
The sophomore had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.
• Christian Braun wasn’t finding open looks from 3-point range early, but he didn’t force the issue, either. The freshman, inches second career start, took hard-nosed drives to the paint instead, seeking contact and getting to the foul line.
His first bucket of the day felt meaningful, though, as he cashed in an open 3-pointer to give KU a double-digit lead minutes after it was a 2-point game.
Tech defended Braun well, though, mostly, and he gave KU 6 points and 5 boards.
• When David McCormack made his return from his two-game suspension, the Red Raiders initially looked more effective on both ends when the sophomore was on the floor.
But McCormack eased his way back and eventually helped KU keep its head above water for a while in the second half, when Azubuike picked up his third foul early on.
His size and athleticism helped him erase a couple of Tech layups. And the sophomore even showed off his passing with one bounce pass assist and another feed on an Isaiah Moss cut.
McCormack provided 6 points and 6 boards, plus 3 rejections.
• Moss missed his first 3-point try and turned the ball over before he did anything productive, but didn’t let a rough beginning to his afternoon deter him.
The senior guard really tok off in the second half, and even put up points in bunches without getting them from deep as one might expect.
Moss finished with 12 points and looked perfectly suited for his 6th man scorer role.
• The KU rotation now has two starting level players coming off the bench in McCormack and Moss, and the Jayhawks’ subs outscored Texas Tech’s, 20-5.