In what will undoubtedly go down as one of the strangest stat lines of the season, Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk, a 21-time double-digit scorer this season, played 36 minutes against TCU earlier this week and only attempted two field goals.
One missed 3-pointer less than 5 minutes into the game. One missed layup before the midway mark of the first half. And not one more shot the rest of the way for a skilled 6-foot-8 scorer who, even after a 1-point performance, is averaging 16.4 points a game.
Sure, Mykhailiuk had experienced off shooting nights this season for the Jayhawks. He only hit 3 of 12 shots and scored 8 points in a loss to Washington. He was a 3-for-10 shooter on his way to 7 points in a home win against Baylor. But two field goal attempts? From a player that so often has played confidently while both draining 3-pointers and driving to the paint?
Maybe KU coach Bill Self got a better sense of what happened after reviewing the game footage, because he didn’t really know what to make of it immediately after the Jayhawks’ 71-64 victory Tuesday night.
“You know what, not really,” Self said Thursday afternoon. “Watching the tape, I don't know that he felt great. He did not look visibly himself. I don't know if anybody else noticed that. There was something. I’m not saying sick-sick. He just didn't seem quite energetic or talkative or himself. When other teams take you away like TCU did, then you’ve got to be able to work through that and adjust.”
Unlike so many previous KU opponents, TCU’s defenders didn’t experience numerous mental lapses and leave a 46.3-percent 3-point shooter open on the perimeter. Mykhailiuk surely would have fired away as usual if the Frogs had been so careless — even if he was a tad under the weather, an excuse Self said Mykhailiuk didn’t even consider admitting.
Defensively, TCU didn’t help much off of Mykhailiuk. In some instances coach Jamie Dixon called for his Frogs to focus so intently on KU’s typical high-volume shooter that the senior from Ukraine would find a man covering him immediately on the catch, sometimes with a second defender shading that way, too (as examined further in Scott Chasen’s 1-3-1 breakdown from the game).
Self credited TCU with making some “subtle” and “clever” adjustments to its perimeter defense to put Mykhailiuk through a more difficult night than most foes.
Mykhailiuk is averaging 13.3 shot attempts per game as a senior. His previous season-low for one outing was nine — twice, in 26 minutes versus Texas Southern, and in 38 minutes against Syracuse.
Even as a junior Mykhailiuk regularly took far more shots. Only once, amid a late-season slump, did he get off fewer than four attempts, when he went 1-for-2 at Oklahoma State while playing just 12 minutes.
From a production standpoint, Mykhailiuk relapsed back to his days as an underclassmen for one night. The lack of chances to get involved and contribute at times visibly frustrated the habitually buttoned-up guard.
But don’t count on this becoming any type of trend. Now 20 years old and far more confident than ever as a senior, Mykhailiuk is equipped to learn from the type of defense with which TCU challenged him, even if future Kansas opponents try and use it as a blueprint.
Now Self, his assistants, Mykhailiuk and his teammates all have seen an opponent take away one of the Jayhawks’ best offensive weapons. They will be able to learn from what went wrong and adjust if/when they run into a similar scheme.
Self, after re-watching the game, pointed out one very simple way Mykhailiuk and his teammates were held back in the quest to get the usually stable scorer at least a few more open looks.
“Think about this. How many shots do our perimeter get off of ball screens where help is forced? Half? Well, we didn't force help off ball screens, because of the way they pre-switched it and did some things,” Self said, while crediting TCU for its strategy.
Whether it was perfect defense, his teammates not actively setting him up, the effects of illness or a cocktail of all three, count on the 0-for-2 line going down as an aberration for Mykhailiuk. KU wouldn’t be 19-5 overall and 7-3 in the Big 12 if it weren’t for the guidance he and fellow senior Devonte’ Graham have brought to the team.
Averaging 15.7 points in league games, Mykhailiuk is the Big 12’s 10th-leading scorer. Against conference competition, only Oklahoma super-freshman Trae Young (4.4 3-pointers a game) does more damage from outside than KU’s fourth-year shooter from Cherkasy, Ukraine (3.5 3-pointers a game). He shoots. He attacks bad closeouts. He sets up his teammates (2.9 assists per game on the year, 3.1 in conference).
And unlike in past seasons, senior Svi is too driven to become bogged down by one subpar performance.
“I think Svi’s been absolutely terrific,” Self said. “He's had an unbelievable senior year. He's been aggressive. But for whatever reasons, (the Horned Frogs) were able to take him away. And I don't know if it was as much us or a combination of us and maybe him just not having that extra oomph to maybe fight through some stuff.”
Mykhailiuk, who averaged 21.8 points in his previous four games, gets a chance to rediscover his offensive impact Saturday at Baylor (1 p.m., CBS).
Norman, Okla. — When taking into consideration all that led to Kansas suffering a Tuesday night road loss at Oklahoma, certain factors loomed much larger than others.
The dawning of the Hack-a-Dok era notwithstanding, some numbers other than sophomore center Udoka Azubuike’s 1-for-8 free-throw shooting stood out in the defeat.
Here are five statistics that shaped an entertaining evening of Big 12 basketball that ultimately cost Kansas a game’s worth of cushion in the league standings.
Leading by 6 points on the road with 7:03 left in the second half, KU picked a bad time to hit an offensive funk.
After freshman Marcus Garrett drove in for a layup to give KU a 76-70 lead, the Jayhawks tailspun down the stretch, as Oklahoma implemented a Hack-A-Dok strategy that at the very least ravaged KU’s offensive flow.
From that point on Kansas made just 2 of 10 field-goal attempts, went 0-for-6 at the free-throw line — all six misfires by Azubuike — and turned the ball over once.
The Sooners finished the victory on a 15-4 run, as Trae Young went 6-for-8 at the foul line down the stretch and 3-pointers by Christian James and Brady Manek assured OU of a victory.
Off night for Graham
KU’s best player, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, wasn’t able to replicate his typical scoring production. Graham entered the anticipated matchup at OU averaging 20.4 points in Big 12 play, but matched his lowest output of conference action to date, with 11, equalling his total in a win over Iowa State.
Graham — a 42.7% shooter on the year — went 4-for-19 (21.1%) at Oklahoma. It was his second-lowest field goal percentage of year (1-for-8, 12.5 % in a loss to Washington).
A 41.7% 3-point shooter this season, Graham connected on just 1 of 9 (11.1%) against the Sooners. It was his least successful 3-point showing of his senior year.
Of course, Graham did plenty to help KU, too, with 9 assists and only 2 turnovers in nearly 40 minutes — not to mention the task of chasing around Young (26 points, 9 assists) much of the night.
Out-rebounded yet again
The Jayhawks’ losing streak on the battle of the boards continued in Norman.
Oklahoma’s 40 rebounds outnumbered KU’s 35, marking the ninth consecutive game KU has come up on the losing end in that category.
Indicative of the guard-heavy Jayhawks’ struggles on the glass, senior guard Graham (7 boards) led the team in rebounding for the second straight game.
KU has not had a double-digit rebounder since Azubuike grabbed 13 in the Big 12 opener at Texas.
For the second time this season Kansas didn’t even make half of its foul shots. Thanks in large part to OU fouling Azubuike and the big man going 1-for-8 on the night at the line, Kansas hit just 6 of 15 (40%).
KU actually fared even worse at the line at home against Iowa State two weeks earlier, when the Jayhawks shot 5-for-13 (38.5%) in a win. Azubuike wasn’t great that night either, going 1-for-4, but his teammates helped out — even Svi Mykhailiuk went 1-for-3.
At OU, though, only two other Jayhawks shot free throws: Graham went 2-for-4 and Malik Newman (20 points) made all three of his tries.
In the meantime, Oklahoma hit 20 of 25 in the win, led by Trae Young’s 10-for-12 night. The Sooners made 13 of 17 in the second half.
Svi’s second half
The Jayhawks might not have ever looked capable of winning at OU Tuesday night had it not been for Svi Mykhailiuk’s second-half scoring.
Mykhailiuk began cranking up his offense after intermission. The senior from Ukraine looked like one of the most experienced players on the floor nearly every time the ball reached his hands in the first portion of the second half, which he opened for KU with a 3-pointer, providing the Jayhawks their first lead since the midway point of the first.
Every spurt KU made during the opening 10 minutes of the second half featured either a Mykhailiuk drive and layup or 3-pointer, as he put up 13 of his 24 points during that post-halftime stretch.
Mykhailiuk accounted for five of KU’s first 13 second-half baskets, went 5-for-10 from the floor, made 3 of 7 shots and looked — per usual — like every shot that left his hands had a better shot of falling than rimming out. The 6-foot-8 shooter reached 20 points for the seventh time in his senior year.
He missed a potential go-ahead 3 with 0:52 to play and another that could’ve cut OU’s lead to 2 with 0:15 left, but Mykhailiuk was hardly to blame for the loss that snapped a five-game KU winning streak.
The idea of a Kansas basketball victory Monday night at West Virginia seemed somewhere in the realm of debatable to unfeasible during the Jayhawks’ unproductive first half.
Incredibly, KU emerged as an unlikely victor, 71-66, by withstanding the Mountaineers’ physical defense early on and eventually achieving the type of levelheaded play it needed to win at WVU Coliseum for the first time in five years.
Scouring through the final numbers, here are five statistics that stood out for Kansas, and made the improbable comeback from a 16-point first-half deficit possible.
Points off turnovers
Who would have thought Kansas would ever come out of a 40-minute battle with Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers having posted fewer turnovers and more points off turnovers than “Press Virginia”?
Three of KU’s previous four opponents won the points off turnovers battle against these same Jayhawks. Entering Monday’s game at West Virginia, Kansas was losing that category by an average of 4.4 points a game in Big 12 play.
Nevertheless, the Jayhawks beat WVU at what Huggins’ teams typically do best, turning 16 Mountaineers mistakes into 21 points. West Virginia scored 16 off of KU’s 13 turnovers. That’s only a five-point swing in KU’s favor, but it sure came in handy in a five-point road win.
Coming into the Big Monday showdown, West Virginia was out-scoring opponents in this category by an average of 23.4-12.1 a game.
Kansas made seven of its nine steals in the second half, with Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick coming away with two apiece. WVU totaled 11 turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
The visitors appeared bound for a disastrous night on the turnover front, with eight giveaways in the game’s first 10 minutes, but only committed five more turnovers in the final 30 minutes of play.
Kansas trailed by nine before it held West Virginia to just six points over the course of the game’s final 5:53.
Head coach Bill Self has been waiting all season to see this team make consistent stops and the Jayhawks couldn’t have picked a better time or place to show they had it in them.
WVU missed eight of its final 11 field-goal attempts and turned the ball over three times as Kansas turned up its defense and finished the night on a 20-6 run.
Speaking of KU’s defense, the Jayhawks provided enough hindrances beyond the arc that West Virginia converted just five 3-pointers all night — its second-lowest total of the season. Even better for Kansas, it held the Mountaineers to its lowest 3-point field goal percentage of the year: 18.5 percent, on 5-for-27 shooting.
That number also qualified as the lowest 3-point percentage by a KU opponent this season. Foes had made 32.8 percent from beyond the arc in the Jayhawks’ previous 17 games.
WVU really struggled from deep in the second half, making just 1 of 13 tries — a measly 7.7 percent.
The two KU players who had experienced more road losses at WVU than any of their teammates, seniors Devonte’ Graham and Mykhailiuk made sure they finally left The Mountain State victorious.
The duo basically traded scoring responsibilities for the final eight-and-a-half minutes to complete the comeback. Although Mykhailiuk struggled with three turnovers in that span, he tried to make up for it by going 3-for-3 from the floor and 4-for-4 on free throws, scoring 12 of his 17 points in that stretch.
Graham provided eight points for KU in the same span, which got rolling in the right direction with an and-one layup by the senior leader. Graham also nailed a 3 and made another lay-in in the final five minutes, finishing with 16 points in his first win at WVU Coliseum.
Mykhailiuk and Graham accounted for 20 of KU’s final 28 points.
Second-half second-chance points
Although WVU missed 18 field goals in the final 20 minutes and grabbed seven for offensive rebounds, the home team wasn’t able to feast on second-chance points down the stretch.
In the second half, that category, another staple of Huggins’ teams, only provided the Mountaineers with four points.
It was another key area Kansas had to address, after WVU scored 10 second-chance points in the first half.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia
- Mountain of a comeback: Jayhawks stun West Virginia, move atop Big 12 standings
- Tom Keegan: Jayhawks far more effective with Azubuike on the floor
- Notebook: WVU’s Harris earns start despite reprimand; Self wears Huggins’ pullover
- The Keegan Ratings: Graham leads comeback, tops ratings at West Virginia
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Pressing on: Jayhawks rally for rare victory at West Virginia
A domain so welcoming to the Kansas basketball team this season, the territory behind the 3-point line didn’t yield typical results for the Jayhawks in their Big 12 home opener Tuesday night.
KU experienced its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season — 6-for-26, 23.1 percent — in an 85-73 loss to Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse.
Shockingly, after opening the game 6-for-12 from long range, the home team’s final successful 3 of the game came 2:23 before the two teams left the court for halftime. The Jayhawks missed their final 14 3-point tries of the loss, which included an 0-for-12 second half.
Afterward, KU senior guard Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 2-for-8 on 3-pointers) was asked if going 0-for in the final 20 minutes had anything to do with the Red Raiders’ defense.
“Nah, just off shooting basically. I didn’t know we missed all 12, but, yeah, it was just an off shooting night,” Graham replied.
The team’s leader had reason to remain so self-assured. Even after the slump-filled night, Kansas remained ranked 21st nationally in 3-point accuracy (40.9 percent) on the season.
Still, considering No. 10 KU (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) has experienced such ruts before — 8 of 28 versus Kentucky, and 5 of 20 against Washington are the other sub-30 percent performances — and the team relies on 3-pointers as a weapon (see: the Jayhawks’ double-digit makes from downtown in eight games) it seemed worthwhile to look back at the 3-pointers that did and didn’t drop for Kansas in the loss to No. 18 Texas Tech (13-1, 2-0).
Below is a sequential recap of the long-distance misfires and hits (X = miss; √ = make).
X (19:03) — On KU’s opening possession Lagerald Vick settled for a contested step-back 3 from the left wing with the shot clock approaching 5 seconds.
√ (16:54) — Off a baseline out of bounds set, Graham drove into the paint and kicked out to the right corner for a wide-open Svi Mykhailiuk.
X (15:02) — Graham rose up early in the shot clock when given too much space, and just left it short.
X (14:15) — With the shot clock around seven, Graham opted to take a contested 3-pointer up top.
√ (9:58) — KU beat Tech’s transition defense as Graham threw ahead for Mykhailiuk on the right sideline, in front of the Red Raiders’ bench.
X (8:50) — Garrett kicked to Vick on the left half of the floor, but Keenan Evans was right there to outstretch his left arm and contest.
√ (8:32) — Another Graham push with Mykhailiuk out in front of him on the right wing provided an open look, yet again in front of the Tech bench.
√ (7:12) — Graham saw an open window up top when Niem Stevenson gambled, trying to swipe a Mitch Lightfoot pass, and Graham stepped into a 3-pointer
X (6:13) — Malik Newman caught a Graham pass on the right wing and tried to jab-step Justin Gray to create space for a step-back 3, but Gray stayed low, then got his hand in Newman’s face
√ (4:54) — Graham, whose feet stood on the beak of the giant mid-court Jayhawk logo, simply ball-faked on a catch to give himself room, took one dribble to his left and nailed a long 3 before Gray could recover.
X (4:09) — When Tech smothered Graham with a trap in the left corner, it left Vick wide open 10 feet away. Despite the extra space, Vick’s 3 rimmed out.
√ (2:23) — Azubuike caught an entry pass in the paint just below the free-throw line. When Tech’s defense shifted its focus toward the 7-footer, the center spotted backup wing Sam Cunliffe open in the left corner for as open a look as he’ll see all year.
X (1:18) — Following a timeout, Graham dribbled up the floor and Mykhailiuk set a ball screen for the point guard before popping open for a quality 3, which hit the back of the iron.
X (0:43) — Graham tried to exploit Tech’s retreating transition defense by pitching the ball to Mykhailiuk on the perimeter for a third time. When Tech closed out and forced him to drive, the senior from Ukraine kicked to Vick, who had a great look from the right side rim out.
X (16:59) — Mykhailiuk effectively slipped a ball screen for Graham and found an opening in the right corner. A pump fake sent Jarrett Culver flying by Mykhailiuk, who rose up and missed a high-percentage shot, leaving it short.
X (15:45) — A ball screen at the top of the key courtesy of Azubuike allowed Mykhailiuk to reach the apex of his jumper before his defender could recover. However, the 3 only made it as far as the front of the rim.
X (14:57) — Vick’s baseline drive gave him a lane to make a skip pass out to the right wing for Mykhailiuk, who missed his fourth 3 in a row.
X (10:04) — KU tried running Mykhailiuk off an Azubuike pick near the right block, and the 280-pounder gave the Ukrainian senior ample space for a right-corner 3, which refused to fall through the cylinder during a tough second-half stretch for Mykhailiuk.
X (7:03) — Thinking he might have caught Brandone Francis off guard as Marcus Garrett attempted to get open a few feet away, Graham pulled up with 21 seconds on the shot clock and misfired while fading away from Francis on a 3.
X (5:41) — Utilizing no action, Newman attempted to go one-on-one versus Francis on the left side of the floor, settled for a well-defended 3 with 17 left on the shot clock and missed to the left.
X (5:19) — A hard dribble and step-back gave Mykhailiuk the clearance he desired near the right corner momentarily, but Culver regrouped to get a hand in the shooter’s face.
X (5:17) — Mykhailiuk’s long offensive rebound of his own missed 3 allowed him to shovel a pass out to an open Graham at the top of the arc, but his fellow senior missed as a defender flew past him.
X (4:11) — Newman drove and passed to nearby Vick on the left wing. Though the junior from Memphis made a quick dribble to get more open, Francis’ extended arm obstructed Vick’s look at the 3.
X (1:54) — Down eight with less than two minutes to play, Graham tried to deliver a needed 3 from the right corner off a Newman pass. But he did so knowing Zhaire Smith was right there, and left the attempt short.
X (1:07) — With the Red Raiders’ lead up to 10, Vick dribbled into a pull-up 3 on the right side, but Culver went up to defend it and make sure KU got nothing easy.
X (0:11) — The game was all but over, and Graham raced up the floor and missed a 3 defended by Culver.
Unsurprisingly, KU fared far better when it found quality looks at 3-pointers (6-for-10 in the first half, 6-for-15 overall), as opposed to attempts that qualified as less-than-ideal (0-for-4 in the first, 0-for-11 overall).
Asked for his assessment of what his Red Raiders — now 14th nationally, with a 29.3 percent 3-point defense — did to take away one of KU’s strengths, Chris Beard said some good luck played a part in it.
“They got some good looks. We made some mistakes on some switches, so we were fortunate tonight,” Beard said. “But I think you’ve got to give our players credit. I do feel like there was an urgency to guard the 3-point line. With that came the opportunity for Kansas to drive the ball against us in the second half. But luckily we had a lead big enough to where we could sustain that.”
Bill Self, when discussing how Tech’s defense of the 3-point line might have differed from other opponents, cited how the Red Raiders defended ball screens. Beard’s players iced or downed in those situations at times — a strategy that, when successful, takes away the potential to even attempt a 3-pointer, because the defenders aren’t going under picks, gifting shooters with clear lines of vision.
“They are a pressure defensive team. Chris has done a great job of getting them up the floor and playing their man before he catches it and all that stuff. So I would say they did a good job of playing higher on the floor and not letting us get a lot of wide-open looks,” Self said.
“To me, the first half we made six 3’s and I thought three of them were awful shots, they just happened to go in,” KU’s coach added.
Mykhailiuk, who went 3-for-4 from 3-point distance in the first half and 0-for-5 in the second, said the Red Raiders’ defensive activity made them unique.
“Definitely. It started with denying the ball,” said Mykhailiuk, who is shooting 38-for-84 (45.2 percent) on 3’s this year. “They didn’t let us catch anything. It was breaking down everything.”
The Jayhawks will look to rediscover their 3-point touch Saturday at No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1). The Horned Frogs have held opponents to 33.3 percent 3-point shooting (128th in the country).
It’s safe to say Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk’s offense began to fall into a bit of a funk the past couple of games, with consecutive sub-30-percent shooting outings in the Jayhawks’ two defeats.
After a string of seven consecutive double-figure scoring performances to start his final year in a KU uniform, Mykhailiuk’s struggles began in KU’s loss to Washington, when he shot 3-for-12 from the field, made just two of eight 3-point tries and scored 8 points. Plus, the typically sure-handed guard, who entered the game averaging only 1.1 turnovers, gave the ball up three times.
Mykhailiuk couldn’t shake his turnover woes in the Jayhawks’ loss to Arizona State, either. All four of his miscues came in the second half of the setback — leading to 5 of ASU’s 25 points off turnovers.
And although the 6-foot-8 senior from Ukraine made three of his final five field-goal attempts in the final six-plus minutes versus the Sun Devils to finish with 14 points, the nine shots that left his hand prior to that run all misfired. In the loss, Mykhailiuk missed 11 of his 14 shot attempts overall and saw 3-pointers rim out or bounce off the rim eight different times (3-for-11).
It’s important to note, though, that the mini-slump doesn’t have Mykhailiuk’s coach, Bill Self, worried about the senior’s game moving forward.
“He hasn’t played well. He didn’t have a good game against Arizona State, but for the most part this year he’s been good,” Self said of KU’s third-leading scorer, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 turnovers, while shooting 30-for-65 on 3-pointers (40%), 44.3% from floor, and 10-for-14 on free throws (71.4%).
“And nobody tries harder than Svi, so he’ll be fine,” Self said. “He’ll be fine.”
Mykhailiuk’s consistent effort even showed up in the home loss to ASU. To the senior’s credit, during a volatile afternoon on the court, he at least facilitated the offense in the first 20 minutes, even though his shot wouldn’t fall. While going 0-for-5 in the opening half, Mykhailiuk also dished six assists — setting up a Malik Newman 3-pointer, a Lagerald Vick layup, a pair of Vick 3-pointers and back-to-back Vick dunks.
In KU’s consecutive losses to Pac-12 foes, Mykhailiuk’s averages read: 36 minutes, 11 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3.5 turnovers. He shot 6-for-26 from the field (23%), 5-for-19 on 3-pointers (26%) and 5-for-6 on free throws (83%, with no attempts vs. Washington).
While such a stretch might have unnerved him in past seasons, Mykhailiuk hasn’t appeared rattled of late. If anything, he shows some frustration after a costly turnover, then goes back to taking the same offensive approach that has made him more effective this season.
And even though he is still only 20 years old, the senior now is mature and confident enough to keep attacking and shooting when shots aren’t falling.
Following the loss to Washington, Mykhailiuk was asked whether there was more pressure to knock down open looks when the Huskies’ defense had set up so well to take the 3-point weapon away from Kansas.
“It’s the same mentality. When you’re open you’ve got to shoot it no matter what,” Mykhailiuk responded.
If his offensive arsenal is lacking anything at this point, with No. 13 Kansas inching closer to Big 12 play, it’s determined drives to the paint. Self said the previous season Frank Mason III used to go off the dribble, get into the lane and either force help or draw fouls.
“Svi can do a better job of that,” Self said, after identifying Devonte’ Graham and Vick as the only effective drivers for KU thus far.
Entering Saturday’s game at Nebraska (7-4), Mykhailiuk has attempted only 14 free throws and owns the lowest free-throw rate on the entire roster — a sign that he should seek out more opportunities to create offense off the bounce.
An even more dynamic Mykhailiuk who takes advantage of closing-out opponents with drives from the perimeter to draw defenders and fouls, would make his 3-point shot that much more difficult to defend.
Opportunities for the senior to put his recent funk behind him will present themselves at Nebraska, and every game going forward doubles as another chance for Mykhailiuk to further develop his overall game. The more versatility he shows as not just a shooter, but also a driver and passer, the more high-powered KU’s offense will become.
In a rare Allen Fieldhouse loss Sunday to surging Arizona State, no potential defect for the now 13th-ranked Kansas basketball team leapt off the court quite like the Jayhawks’ perimeter defense.
KU’s defenders uncovered no real solutions for hindering either the paint-bound drives or 3-point bombs of Sun Devils guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Remy Martin.
The trio accounted for 72 of ASU’s 95 points in a road victory that propelled the Pac-12 program to a No. 5 national ranking. Holder (29 points), a 6-foot-1 senior, shot 4-for-7 from long range and scored eight points in the paint. Evans, also a 6-1 senior, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and scored four points off layups. Martin, a 6-1 freshman, drained both of his attempts from beyond the arc and added 10 points at the rim.
Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham shined some light on the defensive conundrum he and his teammates faced while trying to stop Arizona State’s dynamic guards.
“They were really tough, because they were so quick and they could shoot the ball really well. It was hard to guard both,” Graham began. “You know, you wanted the short close-out because you were worried about the drive. And then they could shoot it. They did a great job knocking down shots.”
Especially in cases when Holder or Evans spotted up on the perimeter and waited for a kick-out, Kansas defenders found it hard to decide whether to fly at a shooter or close their ground under control to better limit an attack off the dribble.
At other points, ASU coach Bobby Hurley asked Holder to attack off ball screens, and those situations harmed the Jayhawks, as well, even if it wasn’t one of the guards finishing the play. Five of 6-8 freshman forward Romello White’s six buckets came at the rim. Improperly defending a White screen-and-roll with Holder meant an assist for the senior ball-handler and a layup for the young big man.
After Kansas dropped its second game in a row, 15th-year head coach Bill Self — without naming any specific culprit — deplored the way Graham, Lagerald Vick, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk guarded their ASU counterparts.
“(ASU) ran some actions to create switches and, you know, our ball-screen defense wasn’t any good today,” Self began. “But basically they were better with the ball, which they’ve been with everybody. They put it on Xavier pretty good, too. They’re good. And they were better with the ball than we were obviously, physically being able to stay in front of them.”
The defensive malfunctions throughout the second half allowed Arizona State (9-0) to put up 58 points in the final 20 minutes, on 58% shooting, as the visitors converted 11 layups or dunks and shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
The display is likely to become a favorite of the most talented guards remaining on KU’s schedule, who will watch the video evidence of how to attack the Jayhawks picturing themselves doing the same. The more quick-off-the-bounce drivers and shooters a team has on its roster, the better its coaches and players will feel about matching up with Kansas.
Even when KU’s offense finally rallied late in the second half, its defense couldn’t stop Evans during a critical stretch, when he nailed three 3-pointers in less than four minutes.
The Jayhawks either gave him too much space or flew right past him, allowing Evans to flourish and further embolden his teammates for crunch time.
Really, the only portion of the game in which Kansas played effective defensively came in the opening minutes, when the Jayhawks built a 13-point lead they couldn’t sustain.
“I thought the first half, early in the half we did a pretty good job,” Self said. “They’re going to score points. I don’t see how you keep them from scoring points, especially if they shoot the ball like that.”
Of course, that defensive success proved short-lived. Once KU’s breakdowns on the perimeter allowed ASU back in the game, its talented guards kept exposing their opponent’s weaknesses, paving the way for a 51% shooting performance from the field and 14-for-28 accuracy from 3-point range.
At times, it was simple as Holder, Evans or Martin blowing by the Jayhawk in front of him for a layup.
“They played take-em a lot in the second half,” Self said, “and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
By the end of a stressful afternoon for KU’s perimeter defenders, the Sun Devils had foisted the Jayhawks into so many missteps it seemed like every shot ASU put up was bound to drop through the net.
Even a Steph Curry-range dagger.
Avenues toward an improved KU defense obviously still exist, even as the team tries to maximize minutes from its starting five while incorporating just two rotation players, Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett, off the bench.
As a jumping off point, Self said his players need to learn how to defend in a fashion that makes their opponents uneasy on offense.
“A lot of it is toughness. When things aren’t going well you kind of grind through it a little bit, and we just don’t have that right now,” Self said. “That’s what we’ve got to get as much as anything else. We’ve got to get to the point where we can make others play bad. See, they could make us play bad because they could tell Remy Martin to go guard the ball and he’d get a deflection or a steal (five takeaways at KU) or what not. We don’t have people that can do that. So we’ve got to figure out a way to collectively not let people be comfortable as a team. That’s not working right now.”
KU’s senior leader and best player, Graham understands the Jayhawks must enhance their defense. They might have held Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern, Oakland and Syracuse below 37% shooting, but Washington converted 48% of its shots in an upset at Sprint Center, and Arizona State, the best team Kansas has faced so far, out-scored KU 93-70 in the final 36-plus minutes at the feildhouse.
“We’ve got to work on it a lot,” Graham said of KU’s defense. “We’re just not guarding the ball really well right now. We’ve got to get better, especially on that end of the court. We’ve got a whole week until our next game and we’re going to get better.”
Devonte’ Graham’s shooting display in Miami this past weekend was so impactful it wowed Heat president Pat Riley, who, according to Kansas coach Bill Self, said the senior guard “put on a show” in a victory over Syracuse.
That 35-point deluge alone — even coupled with Graham’s 35-point outburst versus Toledo that preceded it — won’t guarantee the 6-foot-2 Jayhawks veteran a spot in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft.
In a new mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (formerly of DraftExpress.com) released on Tuesday, neither Graham’s name nor the those of any of his teammates appear in the first round.
As of early December at least, with 24 regular-season games and an entire postseason in front of him, Graham is considered an early second-rounder. Givony projects KU’s current leading scorer (18.6 points per game, 46% field goals, 41% 3-pointers) as the 38th pick overall, a slot occupied for the moment by the Memphis Grizzlies.
The charismatic senior also has shown improvements in other areas of his game, with career-best averages of 4.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists at this early juncture of the non-conference schedule.
ESPN’s predictions consider another KU senior, 20-year-old shooting guard Svi Mykhailiuk, a second-round talent, as well.
Givony’s mock draft forecasts Mykhailiuk being taken eight picks after Graham, 46th overall, by Utah.
After testing out the draft process this past spring without signing on with an agent, Mykhailiuk’s final go-around with the Jayhawks is off to a promising start, with improved defense and a better-than-ever 3-point stroke.
The 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine enters Wednesday’s non-conference matchup with Washington in Kansas City, Mo., averaging 17.1 points, fueled by 25-for-46 accuracy (54.3%) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Mykhailiuk, while not as well-rounded as Graham, also has picked up his rebounding (4.0 a game) and passing (1.9 assists) with increased playing time as a senior.
The Kansas seniors are the only Jayhawks on ESPN’s mock draft in the first week of December. However, Givony’s list of top 100 prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft also includes junior Lagerald Vick, listed at No. 61, and sophomore Malik Newman, 92nd.
A great deal can change between now and the NCAA Tournament, let alone in the pre-draft workouts and interviews that follow the season. Graham and Mykhailiuk won’t soar into lottery status, but both appear to be on trajectories that could get them closer to — or maybe even into — the first round in the months ahead.
We all now recognize how flammable the shooting hand of Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham can get, in wake of his back-to-back 35-point performances this past week, spearheading victories over Toledo and Syracuse.
It’s safe to say any one of the Jayhawks’ starters, Graham confirmed, could put up 20 points and no one would experience an iota of astonishment. But which of his teammates is most capable of exploding for 30 or more points like the senior point guard has?
“There’s no telling,” Graham replied, when asked for his opinion. “It could be Lagerald, could be Svi, could be Malik. Udoka could go crazy one night. … Anybody could have a hot night any given night. If everybody’s being aggressive, somebody’s gonna probably get hot.”
Spoken tactfully, like a true veteran leader. Maybe junior wing Lagerald Vick could slash and shoot his way to 30. Or senior Svi Mykhailiuk might bombard an opponent with 3-pointers en route to a huge night. Perhaps sophomore guard Malik Newman gets hot, while also scoring in bunches in transition for a career performance. It’s conceivable 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could be so overpowering against a front line that he dunks, lay-ups and jump-hooks his way to a massive scoring total.
Who knows? Well, actually, KU head coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea.
Asked which of Graham’s running mates is most likely to go off in the fashion his senior point guard did, Self didn’t have to ponder the inquiry at all.
“Svi,” Self replied, even before the question was completed. “Svi. I think Svi’s shown that.”
As KU’s coach referenced, Mykhailiuk nearly reached 30 a few weeks ago, on a night he shot 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and put up 27 against South Dakota State. But that doesn’t mean Self determined the 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine is the only plausible candidate for the high-scoring, No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (91.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country).
“I think Lagerald can, too,” Self added of the 6-5 guard from Memphis, who produced 20 points against Syracuse while only hitting one 3-pointer.
“And Dok, I’m a little disappointed in Dok in the last game,” Self said of the mammoth post man from Nigeria, who is shooting 77% from the floor and already has finished 26 slams on the season, “because he never put himself in position to score — he never ducked in one time, he never posted up. It’s like the zone messed with his head. And he’s got to be able to play through that.”
Although Azubuike is averaging 14.6 points as a sophomore, Self expressed his dismay about the center’s season-low 6 points versus Syracuse’s 2-3 zone most likely because Kansas is about to face that type of defense again Wednesday night vs. Washington, in Kansas City, Mo.
The Jayhawks (7-0) also could use a bounce-back performance from Newman. The former Mississippi State guard registered his first single-digit scoring game at KU in Miami, going 1-for-8 with just 2 points.
“And Malik’s obviously a guy that can get 20 any night if he’s playing well,” Self added. “And, of course, that wasn’t one of his better games obviously.”
The key takeaway from the who-else-can-get-hot discussion, though, was what an enviable position this team is in from an offensive standpoint.
“The good thing about having five guys that are capable of doing that is you don’t have to have all five guys the same night,” Self said. “You can just have two or three have big nights.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach pointed out Graham, Vick and Mykhailiuk (11 points) combined to contribute 66 of KU’s 76 points in the win over the ACC’s Orange.
“And to be honest with you the other — I could be off on this — the other 10 points we scored, four of them were uncontested lob plays. Not baskets you have to earn,” Self said. “And Malik got an offensive rebound and a put-back on a layup. That’s it. To think we could beat Syracuse when we only have three guys contribute offensively statistically, I think that hopefully is a good sign.”
It seems most fans would agree with Self’s judgment that Mykhailiuk is the most likely Jayhawk to catch fire offensively. Fifty percent of those who voted on Twitter selected the senior marksman as most likely to join Graham as a 30-point scorer at some point this season.
Mykhailiuk definitely qualifies as the most probable to go off. But don’t rule out Newman. The 6-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., hasn’t even reached 20 points yet at Kansas, but he has the confidence and shooter’s mentality to erupt when he inevitably has a game where he’s feeling it.
Newman isn’t a gunner as a rule, but if there’s a matchup that favors him and his teammates aren’t at their offensive peak, he wouldn’t have any trouble becoming the go-to scorer when needed.
Here’s a further look at each of the candidates.
Season stats: 14.6 PPG, 77% FGs, 40% FTs
Career highs: 21 points, vs. Oakland (Nov. 21); 10 FGs, vs. Oakland; 4 FTs, vs. UMKC (Dec. 6, 2016)
Season stats: 17.1 PPG, 51% FGs, 54% 3s, 63% FTs
Career highs: 27 points, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17); 10 FGs, vs. South Dakota State; 6 3-pointers, vs. Chaminade (Nov. 23, 2015); 5 FTs, vs. Baylor (Jan. 2, 2016)
Season stats: 11.9 PPG, 46% FGs, 40% 3s, 100% FTs
Career highs: 25 points, vs. Ole Miss (while at Mississippi State, Jan. 23, 2016); 8 FGs, vs. Ole Miss; 7 3-pointers, vs. Ole Miss; 6 FTs, vs. Tulane (Dec. 18, 2015)
Season stats: 16.4 PPG, 54% FGs, 47% 3s, 71% FTs
Career highs: 23 points, vs. Tennessee State (Nov. 10); 9 FGs, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17) and Long Beach State (Nov. 29, 2016); 4 3-pointers, vs. Tennessee State and Long Beach State; 4 FTs, vs. West Virginia (Feb. 13, 2017) and TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)
While his Kansas basketball teammates trained in Lawrence the past couple of months for the program’s upcoming trip to Italy, senior wing Svi Mykyailiuk prepared in his own distinct way, by practicing with and playing for Ukraine’s U20 national team.
Mykhailiuk might have missed out on the continuity that comes with sticking around campus with his fellow Jayhawks, but it didn’t stop him from having a constructive summer. Among the 180 athletes competing at the FIBA 2017 U20 European Championships, none scored more points than Mykhailiuk.
Although Ukraine went 3-4 at the international event and finished 10th out of 16 teams, Mykhailiuk showcased his individual talent in Crete, Greece, over the last week-plus, averaging 20.4 points per game in seven outings. The KU senior didn’t look one-dimensional, though. He also averaged 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
In fact, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz reported Mykhailiuk dabbled as a point guard in his team’s Sunday finale versus Turkey, and racked up six assists in the first quarter alone, often pitching the ball ahead in transition for easy baskets. He finished the 85-82 loss against Philadelphia 2016 first-round pick Furkan Korkmaz and Turkey with a near-triple-double: 24 points, nine rebounds, nine assists.
“I’m a leader, so I have to do a little bit of everything,” Mykhailiuk said in an interview with Schmitz. “Every time I get the ball, I’m trying to score, trying to be aggressive, trying to involve my teammates in our offense. Just trying to create all the time, but just kill. Every possession just trying to kill with a pass or with a shot or with a rebound.”
The only player at the event to achieve a 20 points per game average, the 6-foot-8 Mykhailiuk told ESPN he is capable of contributing as a scorer, passer and rebounder, like he has this summer for Ukraine, at the college level and beyond.
“I think so, because here I’ve shown what I can do and I’m trying to do it next year at Kansas, because I’m going to be a senior,” Mykhailiuk said. “I’ve been in the program for three years, and I think coach trusts me. I trust him. And showing what I can do here is letting him know what I can do at Kansas, too.”
Back in Lawrence, KU coach Bill Self tracked Mykhailiuk’s progress, and shared with reporters the 20-year-old Ukraine star actually played in Greece with an injured wrist.
“It wasn’t bad. He didn’t miss any time,” Self said. “But he nicked his wrist up. But he’s scoring the ball.”
Mykhailiuk, who will join his coach and KU teammates next week in Italy for exhibitions in Rome and Milan, shot 49-for-124 (39.5 percent) from the floor for Ukraine. He connected on 16 of 49 (32.7 percent) 3-pointers and shot 80.6 percent (29-for-36) on free throws.
Self, though, admitted there could be one drawback to Mykhailiuk’s lengthy offseason European excursion.
“I’m a little nervous that when he comes back, maybe he’s played a lot of ball, but he’s gonna have to really commit in the weight room,” Self said. “I guarantee whatever they’ve done (with Ukraine team), he hasn’t done nearly what he’d be doing with Andrea (Hudy, KU’s strength coach) here. That put him behind last year, too.”
As Mykhailiuk’s KU coach referenced, he also played for Ukraine in summer of 2016, averaging 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. During his ensuing junior year with the Jayhawks, Mykhailiuk produced 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists, while shooting 44.3 percent overall and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers. Mykhailiuk initially entered his name in the 2017 NBA Draft, but decided to withdraw and finish his four-year college basketball career at Kansas.
“I’m happy he’s playing,” Self said of his pupil’s FIBA experience with Ukraine. “He needs to play, and he needs to see the ball go in the hole.”
Tulsa, Okla. — Kansas center Landen Lucas didn’t realize it at the time, but when he and his young teammates experienced early exits from the NCAA Tournament as underclassmen, the disappointment doubled as a valuable lesson about what it takes to win in March.
Now a fifth-year senior, Lucas played for KU teams that lost to Stanford (2014) and Wichita State (2015) at the very stage of The Big Dance that his Jayhawks find themselves in now, the Round of 32.
Much wiser and accomplished at this stage of his college career, when Lucas reflects on those seasons that came up short of a Sweet 16 berth, he realizes, at the time, the Jayhawks fell into the trap of assuming March Madness success. He said ahead of KU’s Sunday meeting with Michigan State this year’s veterans know it’s better to approach every tournament game as the most important one.
“I think it was obviously an important game, but it wasn’t the most important game,” Lucas shared of the approach that bit KU during his freshman and sophomore seasons. “I think last year put so much on us to make sure that we got past this game (second round) that we did whatever it took. We were meeting as a team outside of the coaches telling us to, just to make sure we had scouting report down, and we’ll do that again this year.”
Now that KU’s veterans know what it’s like to get as far as the Elite Eight, which Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk all accomplished a year ago, Lucas said they understand there is no harm in expending all the energy they have to advance.
“We’re treating this like it’s a championship — like it’s our very last game,” Lucas said of No. 1 seed KU’s showdown with No. 9 Michigan State (20-14). “Because then, as we know last year, you get a couple days, you can regroup, reset a little bit and then go into the next weekend. So we’ve got to treat this like it’s our last game and go out there and really not look ahead at all.”
Two years removed from KU’s second-round loss to Wichita State, Mykhailiuk and Mason said they both have forgotten about that game by now. Mykhailiuk, though, sees some similarities that should help Kansas (29-4) know what to expect at BOK Center versus the Spartans.
“But that (Wichita State group) was a pretty tough team, like Michigan State,” the junior from Ukraine said. “They were a low seed but really good, and that’s the main point about them. They can beat anyone.”
The elder Jayhawks know now what they didn’t when they were younger. Those second-round losses, Lucas said, taught them your mental approach during the NCAA Tournament is as important as anything.
“It’s really what helped us out last year,” Lucas said of KU coming one win away from a Final Four in 2016. “It’s what’s gonna help us out again this year, because we learned from that. At the time there was really nothing against those teams, because those teams didn’t have very many people who had done it before. It was a lot of young guys or transfers or different things. We were all learning together, and that’s the benefit that the guys who have been here for that long period of time have, because we did learn from those experiences.”