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The Day After: Punked by the Purple People

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Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and guard Frank Mason III leave the floor following the Jayhawks' 70-63 loss to the Wildcats, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and guard Frank Mason III leave the floor following the Jayhawks' 70-63 loss to the Wildcats, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Leading up to Monday's game at Kansas State, I told anyone who would listen that the outcome of that game would tell me a lot about this Kansas basketball team.

Go into Manhattan and win and life is good and the Jayhawks would be well on their way toward wrapping up another Big 12 title and positioned well for the postseason. Go in and lose, though, — in any manner — and I think you'd come away hard-pressed to make a case for this being a team that can expect to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Nothing about what I saw Monday night, during a 70-63 loss to K-State in which KU had a half a dozen opportunities to take control of the game made me change my mind.

I get the whole K-State was a desperate team, playing with passion against a heated rival. But they were also a team that just lost to TCU by 15 and Baylor by 27 and had lost seven of its last eight games. If you're a contender, you beat those teams. Home or away. If you're a contender, you don't let those teams grab on to a glimmer of hope that they can get you. If you're a contender, you find a way to win, pretty, ugly or otherwise.

KU did none of that and now enters the final three games of the conference schedule in a real dog fight for consecutive Big 12 title No. 11.

The odds are still very high that Kansas, which plays two of those three games at home, will win at least a share of the title and all will be well in the world of KU basketball. But even if that happens, I'm not sure that all is well with the Jayhawks. This team lacks mental and physical toughness and seems to be finding new ways to struggle just about every night out.

It's never easy to be the top dog that other teams hunt with reckless abandon. But if there's any team that should be used to that it's Kansas, and these Jayhawks too often look anything but comfortable out there on the floor.

Quick takeaway

I'm going to excuse Perry Ellis from the following commentary and also point out that there are times — minutes, halves even games — when a couple of other Jayhawks are the exception, as well. But it seems to me, now 28 games into the 2014-15 season, that this is a KU basketball team that lacks the necessary competitive juice to be a real contender. They don't play like they hate to lose. They don't compete to the point of exhaustion. They don't always lay it all on the line with the idea that, in any given moment, nothing else matters but getting a stop, grabbing a rebound or getting to the rim. I've said all season that this team lacks on-the-floor leadership and that's a big part of their struggles right now. It's probably too late to hope that emerges out of nowhere though, so the Jayhawks, and specifically Bill Self, are going to have to find a way around it. Ellis was a man on Monday and not just because he scored 20 points, hit 10 of 16 shots and was KU's only real offensive threat for most of the night. But also because he battled for rebounds, put the team on his back in the first half and even showed a little fire by trash talking a time or two. KU needs more of that from Ellis and others need to follow his lead.

Three reasons to smile

1 – Speaking of Perry Ellis, I thought the first half of this one was by far the best example we've seen of this team understanding that it should run every offensive possession through the junior forward from Wichita. It did not matter which players were on the floor with him, whenever they caught it, they looked at Ellis. If he was open, they passed it to him. And when he caught it, he usually got off a good shot or scored. That's a great sign for the future because this team has needed an identity all season and playing through your most experienced and probably most talented guy, who also happens to be as versatile as they come, is a pretty good identity to have.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts a shot up against Kansas State forward Nino Williams (11) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts a shot up against Kansas State forward Nino Williams (11) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

2 – Props to Kelly Oubre for doing his best to compete. He didn't always score and it wasn't always pretty, but the freshman was aggressive when KU needed him to be and that's huge. There were times when it became way too easy for K-State to focus almost exclusively on guarding Ellis and dare other KU players to beat them. Oubre recognized that and went for it, he just wasn't quite as on as KU needed him to be. Still, he finished with 14 points, was aggressive in the half-court, took 13 shots (only two of which were three-pointers) and added seven boards in 28 minutes.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) pulls up for a shot against Kansas State forward Stephen Hurt (41) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) pulls up for a shot against Kansas State forward Stephen Hurt (41) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

3 – Kansas did what it needed to do on the boards, out-rebounding K-State 37-28, including 14-7 on the offensive glass. A big reason that didn't matter more was because K-State shot so well, particularly in the second half, when they hit 56 percent of their shots and nearly hung 40 points. But KU held down the rebounding advantage, which led to more free throw attempts and more shots than the Wildcats.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – It didn't take a highly trained basketball eye to see which team wanted it more last night. KU battled and fought at times but the Wildcats battled and fought all the time. Even when KU hit K-State with runs, the Wildcats dug in and fought their way back. A couple of smaller areas where K-State had a subtle edge which can be huge in a two- or three-possession game included: deflections (5-4), charges taken (2-0), five-second calls forced (1-0) and, the big one, bench points (30-14).

Kansas State forward Nino Williams (11) pulls a rebound away from Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is Kansas State guard Nigel Johnson (23).

Kansas State forward Nino Williams (11) pulls a rebound away from Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is Kansas State guard Nigel Johnson (23). by Nick Krug

2 – Not breaking any news here, but KU's on-the-ball defense was bad, particularly on Nigel Johnson, who played most of the second half with that look in his eye that told you he knew no one could guard him. K-State got way too many shots right at the rim and a good chunk of those were because of breakdowns in KU's man-to-man defense, which was so bad that Self even went to a box-and-one for a few possessions, something that K-State coach Bruce Weber said made him laugh because he thought his team was merely average offensively yet KU still struggled to stop them.

Frustrated, Kansas head coach Bill Self wipes his face after a late Kansas State bucket during the second half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Frustrated, Kansas head coach Bill Self wipes his face after a late Kansas State bucket during the second half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

3 – I gotta think there's a way to get Brannen Greene more than 11 minutes. Greene has now played fewer than 20 minutes in 10 of the past 14 games. He's too good of an offensive weapon to limit his minutes like that. And, going back to what I talked about above, he's one of the few guys on this roster who cuts through the all of the tough calls, unlucky bounces and bad breaks and tries to compete, especially on the offensive end. He showed that late in the game on Monday night and it almost helped bring KU back. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, he shot the ball from three-point range as badly as we've seen him shoot it, likely the product of either being too amped up or a little overwhelmed. Regardless, if it's me, I play him more not less.

One for the road

The Jayhawks' third road loss in the past four tries:

• Made KU 22-6 overall and 11-4 in Big 12 play.

• Dropped KU’s all-time edge in the series to 188-93, including a 23-4 mark in games played in Bramlage Coliseum and a 40-5 advantage in Big 12 games.

• Marked the first time that Kansas State has defeated Kansas in consecutive meetings in Manhattan since the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons (in Ahearn Fieldhouse).

• Made Self 347-75 while at Kansas, 24-5 against Kansas State (23-5 at Kansas) and 554-180 overall.

• Made KU 2,148-828 all-time.

A lone Kansas fan watches the scoreboard in the middle of a raucous sea of purple during the second half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum.

A lone Kansas fan watches the scoreboard in the middle of a raucous sea of purple during the second half, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Next up

The Jayhawks return home Saturday for another showdown with Texas at 4 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU played one of its best games of the season in topping Texas 75-62 Jan. 24 in Austin, Texas.

By the Numbers: Kansas State beats KU, 70-63

By the Numbers: Kansas State beats KU, 70-63

Comments

Cody Riedy 6 years, 8 months ago

One reason Greene might not play more is because he can't defend, dribble or pass (actually that's three). Sometimes he rebounds as a consequence of his height, but I wouldn't describe him as especially aggressive. That said, it does seem that overall he'd made some strides of late in terms of being more aggressive and more tuned in and I thought it would translate to more minutes too. Then again, as great as a shooter as he's been, I wouldn't be surprised if stats showed he gave up more points by his poor defense then he scored by his offense. Greene can change a game with his shooting, but play to play, night to night, I think Self probably feels like Oubre, Selden, and Graham are going to provide more in whatever combination backcourt is out there.

Matt Tait 6 years, 8 months ago

I agree with all of that. But I think you could and maybe even should look at going small and playing Greene more minutes than Lucas and Traylor… Just a thought. Thanks for the comment!

Cody Riedy 6 years, 8 months ago

Playing small ball with Greene or Oubre at the 4? That's probably not "the" answer, but that would be pretty interesting to see Self try out in spots in the next few games. The only problem is small-ball usually entails an uptempo offensive, aggressive man defense style and so far this team hasn't shown they could get it done on the defensive end.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

Matt - This sort of thing was used by Coach Self quite a bit in '07-'08 with Brandon, especially late in the game in order to get Sherron in with Mario and Russell for the extra ball handling. In this year's iteration though, the extra ball handler is Graham, so it doesn't fit quite as nicely.

Kristen Downing 6 years, 8 months ago

I would not pick this KU team in any dog fight.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 8 months ago

This is what happens when you don't have a leader. Also, if Brannen isn't making his 3's like last night, he's useless out there.

Joe Joseph 6 years, 8 months ago

All season long we've wanted Perry to play like a champ and take control. To be THAT guy.

In KU's last four losses, however, Perry has scored 19, 10, 19, and 24. By almost all accounts, Perry has been THE MAN the past several games. And yet, KU looks like it has almost regressed as a team.

How is that even possible?!?!

Lance Cheney 6 years, 8 months ago

As pointed out by one of my friends, it just goes to show how reliant this team is on Mason.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

So much of the O this year has been about Frank getting into the lane, causing defenses to collapse and leave shooters open at the arc or help and leave someone open under the basket. That wasn't happening as much last night.

I also noticed that when KU started their weave, which usually causes some movement/seam in the D that can be attacked, KSU instead was not moving much at all which created very little in the way of seams to attack. After 5 - 10 seconds of KU running back and forth around the top of the key, we then responded by stopping and running a more static O from one spot.

Ann Oneill 6 years, 8 months ago

Until Greene develops some quickness and some defensive skills, he should not be on the court. The dude can shoot, but it a TOTAL liability on the defensive end. I understand why his minutes are limited. He might be able to play within a zone, but in a man to man, he is lost.

Matt Tait 6 years, 8 months ago

Your point is solid, but Greene has come a long way in the defensive department since the beginning of the season. He not only moves better today than he did in October, but you can actually see him trying harder.

He's still far from a solid defender, but it's not as if he's a guy you can't play because of that. He has improved. And it seems to me that more time on the floor would help him continue to develop in that area.

Thomas Luxem 6 years, 8 months ago

Here we are at the end of February and Cliff is still absent. He should be a dominant force by now. To me, that's the one piece we're missing.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

The difference in the game was that KSU realized we had nothing other than Perry, so they smothered him in the 2nd half overtime he got the ball, and no one else stepped up enough to force KSU to respect the rest of the team.

Ben Kane 6 years, 8 months ago

completely agree with your assessments of Oubre and Green.

John Pritchett 6 years, 8 months ago

Come on. K-State was a team that got 20 points, most from 3 point range, from a guy who averages a few points per game. Basketball is a game of probabilities. Sometimes a team has a night where you're not going to beat them. Sometimes nothing goes right for you and everything goes right for the other team. That's what happened in this game. It was a freak game. It happens. KU had a bad night, played well below its ability, K-State played well above theirs, and it was a couple possession game.

I'm concerned that Mason, Green and Selden are all in a slump. We need them back on track by Oklahoma at the latest. If they play as well as they've played at times this year, we'll be fine.

I'd like to remind everyone that we always seem to have a stumble like this. I just hope this year we manage to turn it around in time to save the conference title. I don't hold any hope for an NCAA title this year, but I really hope they keep the conference streak alive.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

KSU also got those 20 pts from Nigel b/c we left him alone at the arc. There was even one possession when he was standing in front of our bench and Coach Self was 5' away imploring the defender to close out on him. Nope. Uncontested 3. Swish.

I think that is the big part of concern at this point. We give lesser opponents the opportunity to stay close enough to win. With the last game in Norman, and them fighting for a chance to tie us (5 losses?), I'm not optimistic about our chances.

You are definitely right about having the potential to win again. The '07-'08 team use to frustrate Coach Self b/c they thought they could just decide when they wanted to turn on the juices and win, so they relaxed and allowed OSU and a couple others to steal games. This team doesn't seem to have the same will to win lately. The will to win doesn't allow nobodies to light up the scoreboard all night.

Dale Koch 6 years, 8 months ago

It seems to me that if you look at when Cliff was most productive it was when he came off the bench. That's when he scored the most and rebounded the best. Starting is too much pressure and he is too amped up. The thing I don't understand is what has happened to Traylor? He comes off the bench now and never has very good body language. Doesn't perform well and then gets even worse body language. Losing your starting position can have that effect on someone. Start Traylor again and let him get his mojo going again and bring Cliff off the bench after he's seen the flow of the game. As for Oubre, I feel he is tying to perform for the scouts in the building and doesn't always give his best effort. Doesn't make me feel like he really cares about KU. JUST MY OPINION.

Walter Bridges 6 years, 8 months ago

So we should reward Traylor because of bad body language?

William Weissbeck 6 years, 8 months ago

We have "tweeners" on the front line. That includes Ellis. We could get by with this this short front line if we had two aggressive, physical bodies. Ellis is agile, but he doesn't muscle anyone. Alexander, Traylor, Lucas combo doesn't muscle as they could, and they don't show that much aggression. A friend of mine who oversees the HS refs in Illinois swore to me that Alexander was a better shooter than Okafor, though Okafor could create his shots at the rim. Self's offense doesn't seem to present opportunities for Alexander to shoot from 5 to 10 feet out.

Robert Brock 6 years, 8 months ago

The Hawks have a lot of problems and they are not limited to the bigs.

Bob Bailey 6 years, 8 months ago

Looks as if it's the coaches fault. They insist that offense go thru Ellis. They still don't get the 3 pt game. The way they handled it, our 3 pt guys were ONLY feeding Ellis, in effect destroying our 3 pt game, and letting their 3 pt game beat us.

You can NOT trade 2 pt goals for their three pt goals (that takes third grade mathematicians.) At the end of the game, you can not trade a 2 pt goal for two made free throws. Our logic, and a lot of coaches logic, does nothing except make the last two minutes take 10 minutes to play.

KU has 3-4 players making 3 pt shots. It appears that the coaching has thrown them off their game. So if you insist on the good old KUU way, you better have a couple of footers who can play.

Matt is right -- we'll be lucky to get to the second weekend of NCAA.

William Weissbeck 6 years, 8 months ago

I'd have to watch that further, but it seems to me that KSU defended our 3 pt game by sticking really close on the perimeter. It would seem at that point, you try to beat your man off the dribble. Most of these guys aren't good enough for consistent step back shots. Mason was driving early, but missing his shots and not dishing. Also, our bigs don't command double teams, which means there is sagging in the paint. It looked like KSU's game plan was to pick their poison, and the picked right - we couldn't score enough in the paint or draw the fouls.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

"destroying our 3 pt game, and letting their 3 pt game beat us"

Those aren't/shouldn't be connected. We fed Perry because he was having a monster game to start. They adjusted and smothered him every time he got the ball. No one else stepped up to support Perry - and you want us to believe Coach game planned for no one to provide an option when Perry was inevitably doubled?

Other than Perry, they just played much more aggressive D sticking with our 3 pt shooters; never giving us the space we have exploited.

On the other end, we consistently gave them room to be comfortable on O, Nigel in particular. Coach was even standing next to him at one point imploring the defender to close out - with no movement and the resulting open swish. That most definitely was not on Coach. 47% D is most definitely not something Coach teaches. That is an effort issue when it comes against your rival.

Yolanda Gay 6 years, 8 months ago

Yes, Perry has shown up the last few games; but where has he been the rest of the year. It seems to me the team has no chemistry. This late in the year, the line-up changes frequently.

Just like Ellis, Selden may or may not show up. If Ellis plays against a taller, athletic person, he's useless. Don't know what Selden's problem is. I also think Mason has shot his wad. He's reverting back to his freshmen years. I don't know if he's worn out or what.

Finally, is Hunter Mickelson really that bad that he can't get on the court. He can't be any worse than Cliff. Usually, by this time, you refer to freshmen as sophmores. Cliff is no where near a sophmore.

I just think we get these kids who look wonderful on paper because of their high school stats. They were probably playing against inferior players who made their stats look great. For me, I just need to not get my expectations too high from all the write-up of in-coming freshmen and wait until they play some college games to see if college play meets expectations.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 8 months ago

Hunter is really slow, and does not move well on D in particular. Yes, he unfortunately is not as good as Cliff, and has even less potential.

The last half of the season (since ISU there), Coach has adjusted how he uses Perry - pulling him off the block and letting him operate in space more where he can exploit bigger defenders.

As for line-up changes, there have only been a couple all year: Who's playing next to Perry? Who's starting at the 3?

KSU certainly figured out how to defend what we have shown to be effective at so far. For some reason, we had no counter-punch when they defend the first option.

In BB, the elite players we recruit play against one another a lot. It's not like KS HS FB players who don't play the same level of competition as TX.

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