A closer look at Marcus Garrett's mid-February masterpiece vs. Texas Tech
Unless you’ve missed every single minute of Kansas basketball during the past four seasons, you’re probably keenly aware of just how talented and important Marcus Garrett is and has been to the KU program.
But even those fans who have watched every minute the Jayhawks have played during Garrett’s career still may overlook the Dallas senior’s greatness.
It’s easy to do because so much of it is subtle and also because many of the plays Garrett makes over and over for the Jayhawks have simply become a part of who he is as a basketball player and tend to be expected in the same way that other players are expected to dribble, jump or run.
“Him being here and giving everything he can every single game, no matter if it's scoring, rebounding, assisting, he does it all and he doesn't ask for anything else,” redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson said last weekend. “He just plays for us and we try to play for him. We look to him to give us confidence and lead our team.”
While many of these signature Garrett plays have come in highly visible moments and at crucial times, so many others tend to blend into the action and can get lost in the big picture.
Saturday’s 67-61 win over No. 15 Texas Tech offered a full-scale look at all of the things, big and small, that Garrett does and has done to help the Jayhawks compete at such a high level in recent years.
Here’s a look back at a few of them from what I would consider to be a true Garrett masterpiece in yet another big time Kansas victory.
• After throwing a lazy pass that led to a turnover with just under 8 minutes to play in the first half, Garrett immediately made up for his mistake, skying to get a finger on an over-the-top pass that looked destined to become an easy dunk for Texas Tech.
The deflection led to a mad scramble for a loose ball and possession went back to Kansas when Jamarius Burton lost it out of bounds on his way to the basket after catching a pass from teammate Mac McClung who caught Garrett’s deflection near midcourt.
Instead of seeing their lead trimmed to 21-18 on a momentum-sparking dunk from Texas Tech, the Jayhawks got a free throw from Wilson on the ensuing possession to go up 22-16 and maintain control of the game.
Yes, Garrett was responsible for the turnover in the first place. But that’s often just the trigger for him to dig even deeper to make a play to get it back.
• A few minutes later, Garrett showcased the off-the-ball defensive skills he possesses that make him so great on that end and aren’t always noticed by those watching the flow of the game.
While Garrett and Wilson were communicating about a switch on the left wing, Garrett noticed that David McCormack’s man got free in the paint after McCormack got hung up on a screen.
Instead of worrying too much about the two Tech players on the wing opposite the ball, Garrett slid into the paint to check McCormack’s man until the KU big man could recover. The Texas Tech ball handler looked inside and wanted to go there, but Garrett’s presence deterred him from throwing the entry pass and the Red Raiders turned the ball over.
On the other end, Garrett hit a sneaky floater in the lane to put the Jayhawks up 24-18 with 5:16 to play in the first half.
“Marcus is one of the most underrated players in the country because nobody looks at him and gives him near the credit that he should get defensively,” KU coach Bill Self said after the victory. “Because he guards everybody’s man. And his man never gets double figures. Never. Never.”
Plays like the one mentioned above happen all the time, all over the floor, and if you watch closely, you’ll see Garrett constantly coaching up his teammates, with both where to go during the play and also with what they did right or wrong during a stoppage in the action.
If you want to have some fun sometime and learn a ton about the game in the process, spend a game watching nothing but Garrett on the defensive end. Or at least do it while watching a KU replay. It’ll blow your mind how busy the guy is throughout every game.
• Moments later, as a sort of exclamation point on one of those stretches that Self likes to talk about where Garrett dominates the game, Garrett crossed his man over at the top of the key and then drove hard to the rim down the left side of the paint.
Rather than trying to get to the rim, Garrett feathered a perfect pass to McCormack, who hammered it with one hand for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop that put the Jayhawks up 26-18 with 4:46 to play.
“Marcus is a floor general, he's a leader, he does things that may not appear on the stat sheet but he knows how to dictate (that) people to go to certain spots on the floor, how to create driving lanes, how to create open looks, and he does that better than anybody else,” McCormack said after the victory.
Garrett’s crossover was wicked, one of those that you’ll see on highlight reels years from now. And his decision to throw the lob instead of trying to get his was the perfect example of his willingness to create for others so long as it’s the right play that helps the team.
“Marcus is the guy we feed off of,” Self said.
• It's important to point out that this performance by Garrett also featured the KU senior displaying his extraordinary feel for the floor and how to play the game.
This was on full display at around the 13:30 mark of the first half, when Garrett worked his way into the lane and showed off his footwork that often leads to uncontested buckets in tight. This time, however, instead of the hard pivot and pump fake to get his defender in the air, Garrett used the moves to get Ochai Agbaji open for a 3-pointer in front of the Texas Tech bench.
The play itself looked like it was headed toward being one of those Garrett hard drives to the rim or even some kind of lob or bounce pass to McCormack, who was in the paint near the rim with Garrett as he drove. But instead of dropping it off to the big fella, who had drawn extra attention from the wing, Garrett effortlessly floated a pass by McCormack's left shoulder and over the head of the defender who had helped off of Agbaji.
The play looked a lot like the lob to McCormack — who may have learned something in this sequence that helped him catch the lob later — in that it started with Garrett breaking his man down at the top of the key and him going left, driving hard to get his shoulders past his defender.
These plays have become a common part of Garrett's arsenal and they illustrate perfectly why Self believes in him as this team's point guard. Few have the kind of vision and confidence needed to make that pass, which hit Agbaji's waiting hands in perfect catch-and-shoot rhythm.
Agbaji buried the shot to put Kansas up 15-6 and keep KU's hot start going.
• Fast forward to Saturday’s second half for another one of those sequences that Garrett dominated, this time with the KU point guard keeping the ball and scoring six of his 10 points in a 4-minute span to keep Kansas comfortably in front.
The first came in the final 10 seconds of the shot clock with just over 8 minutes to play, after Garrett and the rest of the Jayhawks tried to get a couple of different looks but to no avail.
Recognizing KU needed someone to make a play, Garrett caught the ball on the left wing and went right to the rim, scoring a tough layup off the glass over/through two Red Raiders to put Kansas up 53-45.
The second bucket came after KU sophomore Christian Braun tracked down an offensive rebound and freshman Bryce Thompson wisely elected to run some clock instead of instantly attacking. Thompson flipped it to Garrett at the top of the key, the rest of the Jayhawks spread the floor and McCormack came to give Garrett a ball screen.
After initially going right off the screen, Garrett crossed up TTU big man Marcus Santos-Silva and came back into the paint for another soft floater in traffic. Kansas led 57-49 with 5:54 to play.
The last of Garrett’s five field goals came a minute later and again turned a six-point, two-possession Kansas lead into a more comfortable eight-point margin at 59-51 with 4:33 to play.
It’s certainly possible that someone in a KU uniform could have or even would have scored in those key moments had Garrett not been the one to do it.
But the fact that he was — both in the sense that they put the ball in his hands and he delivered — is telling of Garrett’s importance in providing confidence and a calming effect for this team in a number of different ways.
“He’s a ball handler, a stabilizer and if he had somebody back there to help him a little more with the ball handling responsibilities and things like that I think he'd be even more effective.”
From a numbers standpoint, that certainly seems possible. Garrett finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, with 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 turnovers in 27 minutes.
But from the standpoint of his impact on all aspects of the game, from offense to defense to leadership, toughness and intangibles, it’s hard to imagine Garrett playing a bigger role.
And Saturday’s game, perhaps better than any single game in his Kansas career, illustrated that perfectly.