Thursday, December 20, 2012


Opinion: KU’s fast break is as good as it gets


In the early years of the transition from Roy Williams to Bill Self, one complaint centered on Self coming from the Henry Iba coaching tree, which requires a defense-first, pound-it-inside mentality. Some missed the off-to-the-races style preferred by Williams, the most prominent branch to sprout from the Dean Smith tree.

It didn’t take long for those voices of discontent to fade away, and this year’s team has a chance to become Self’s best transition squad yet. He still preaches defense first and believes that in the half court the way to go is inside-out, but there’s nothing he likes more than the buckets that come from numbers advantages. His current team has the athletes to gain those advantages and cash in on them consistently.

“I don’t think our secondary break is very good at all,” Self said. “We don’t emphasize it as much as some other people do. But I think our primary’s real good.”

For one thing, Self has front-court players who run the court well, but that’s always the case. It’s the perimeter players, point guard Elijah Johnson and wings Ben McLemore and Travis Releford, who make this team pop in transition.

“I think if we can get numbers and are able to get the ball ahead in transition, there are few people who probably do it a lot better than us,” Self said. “Of course, we have two wing runners who are probably as good as anyone in the country and they’re great finishers. Trav has a nose for doing it and Ben, of course, he’s a gazelle.”

If McLemore and Releford are to college basketball what West Virginia wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are to college football, then it’s Johnson who plays the part of Geno Smith.

“Elijah does a great job of pitching ahead,” Self said. “One thing Elijah doesn’t do a great job of is attacking himself to create for others, but he’s an unbelievable pitch-ahead point guard, and when you pitch ahead to fast guys and they’ve got an angle, you know they’re hard to catch.”

No. 7 Ohio State, of course, is far better equipped to choke the break than Colorado, Belmont and Richmond, KU’s three most recent victims in Allen Fieldhouse by an average of 31 points.

“The better the competition, the less easy baskets you get,” Self said. “I’d be really disappointed if somebody were to play us and they say, ‘Yeah, they’re easy to get out and run on.’ That would be bad. I will tell you this, they’re not going to be easy to run on.”

That fact makes Self put all the more emphasis on making plays that lead to fast breaks.

“If you look at the game last year in New Orleans, we didn’t play very well at all, but they guarded us,” Self said. “And they didn’t play great, but we guarded them. The difference was for us in the second half, we were able to get some three-on-twos and two-on-ones and were able to make six or eight easy baskets or easy points that we didn’t have to go against half-court defense. That’s always a huge key, just stealing some points any way you can. And on the flip side, you just can’t give up easy points.”

For McLemore and freshman reserves Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Andrew White III, the game represents the first taste of playing on another school’s home court.

“It’s a new experience for me,” McLemore said. “I just have to play aggressive, play as a team and give it all I’ve got.”

New environment, same approach. The location of the game doesn’t make it any easier to stop Releford and McLemore when they get ahead of the defense and Johnson has the ball in his hands, ready to thread the needle, the start to an explosive finish.


Scott MacWilliams 9 years, 9 months ago

This will be a great game, no doubt. I can hardly wait, and the OSU crowd will be rocking. For the freshman, it will be a schocker, to hear that many yelling against them instead of cheering for them.

I'm ready for the Hawks to step it up, show us the growth that has happened in the last few weeks. Now comes the BIG test, finals are over, and your real test is about to begin. You are ready.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawks!!!

Ashwin Rao 9 years, 9 months ago

Did you mean BIG or B1G? :) This will be an exciting game! I am looking forward to it! RCJH!

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

Why state "the Dean Smith tree"? Keegan you KNOW that it is the Phog Allen tree if you are going to initially connect Self to Iba. You state it in the same paragraph–in the lead even. "Self played for Sutton who played for Iba. Williams played for Smith who played for Allen." That is an entry level basic if you are going to write for Let alone be the Sports Editor.

I do agree that the substance of the observation has a lot of content. There were plenty of KU fans that had trouble with the transition of style that Williams created with the Miles, Boschee, Hinrich, Gooden, Collison era. The romp over Oregon in the Elite Eight is my favorite example of that style of play.

Williams versus Sutton in the mid 90's, well before Keegan took over for Woodling, were filled with defensive battles. KU fans might have been frustrated with Ostertag's ability to drop in the bunnies, though Ostertag was a supreme defensive force which made his match ups with Big Country epic battles in the paint. The first half of the #1 Jayhawks vs #8 Cowboys in the 1996-1997 year was an epic defensive battle. KU's team D averaged 66 pts a game and the Pokes held their opponents to 69. Both teams played ferocious D during that period.

Stan Unruh 9 years, 9 months ago

KJD... good stuff. Thought the same thing about the coaching tree. With all they do, they swing and miss sometimes. Still a good column.

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

I generally appreciate Keegan's articles, especially a few of them in that last ten days, this one though hit my KU history funny bone. I really tried to write a solid statement that related to the emotion/thoughts that he invoked in that first paragraph. As a college basketball fan and a KU alumni who loves our history, I personally would hope that would be a place that strongly articulated our place in hoops history unlike so many other media outlets on the coasts.

9 years, 9 months ago

"Self played for Sutton who played for Iba. Williams played for Smith who played for Allen."

Is this how the article initially read? They must have done some editing. Paul Hansen was Bill Self’s coach at OSU.

Eddie Sutton didn’t arrive until 1990, taking Leonard Hamilton’s place.

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

Correct. Thanks.

I remember when Sutton was leaving Oklahoma State and Self's comment about Sutton's departure included Bill referring to Eddie as "Coach". It was respect. His quotes were quite important at that time because Self is the shiniest apple from that tree. "Self worked for Sutton, Sutton played for Iba". That would be more concise (and I do appreciate that Keegan has to pound out copy 24/7/365 year in and year out on fairly restricted subjects). Self also played in "Gallagher-Iba Arena" which is key in what I meant to convey in relationship to how this article is currently written.

Self also is part of the Phog Allen tree due to that 1986 Final Four team (Allen>Smith>Brown>Self). Yes they had Danny playing Power Forward, though there was also 7' 1" Greg Dreiling roaming the paint on the defensive end. I would love to throw the question about Self's impressions of Dreiling back in the 80's as compared to Aldrich and Withey along with what Self picked up from Brown in those days in how to utilize a long, athletic big man over 7 feet on the D end.

Also when I wrote "Brown>Self" you can't forget "Brown>Ed Manning" plus "Self>Danny Manning" which is a ton of Kansas history along with shadows of North Carolina and Okie State.

Jeremy Paul 9 years, 9 months ago

I was at that elite eight game vs. Oregon. In Madison, Wi. What a day. Thanks for bringing back that memory.

mejayhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

Great points on HCRW's vs HCBS's breaks. And lest we forget, as we have the joy of watching a couple of great shooters of the next few? years: many, many of Boschee's threes were wide open, secondary break shots.

KGphoto 9 years, 9 months ago

Williams transition of style happened in 1989 with Pritchard, Newton and Randall et al. This is when KU started scoring 90 points/game instead of 74. The 150-95 romp over Kentucky in December 1989 is MY favorite example of that style of play.

You are referring to the resurgence of offense that happened two years after we lost LaFrentz, Pierce and Thomas in '98. Roy Williams had his ONLY two seasons averaging less than 80/game, and restored order with those guys you listed in 2000. The "defensive battles" you remember against Oklahoma St. were usually into the 70s. In '96-'97 we beat the pokes 104-72 and 74-59. Hardly epic defensive battles.

I don't think anybody had any problems with the Williams transition. In fact we all immediately fell in love with Williams the first year. Roy had better defensive teams during the mid 90's but his up tempo offense did not start with Boschee, Miles and Hinrich. It happened 11 years earlier Mr. History teacher : )

Suzi Marshall 9 years, 9 months ago

Hard to beat the KU-UK game as an all time favorite, short of a Nat. Championship game.KJD you are correct about the coaching tree. Keegan should know his audience better.

KGphoto 9 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, the coaching tree thing was kind of weak. He knows better too, so I'm not sure why he would post that.

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

I was about 10 rows back of the KU bench during the KU v UK game when the 'Hawks put a historical thrashing on the Wildcats. The deep jumper was draining, the crowd howling and Randal plus the gang were getting easy transition lay ups due to KENTUCKY's STYLE OF PLAY. The game is famous for the lore that tells of Williams sending a runner down to Pitino asking him "What kind of Defenese would you like us to play?"'and Pitino yells back to Williams "F¥<€" Your Defense" then Williams sends his starters back onto the floor to continue the whipping for the entire 40. There was a Kentucky player who had a mustache named Farmer who tried hard though he was out of his league. He had several gaffs and the students would chant "Farmer, Farmer, Farmer...". I think Pitino was in his first year, if that's right he was in his first weeks of games at Kentucky, and he was going to play a style of play for 40 minutes no matter who he was up against, no matter where they played, no matter the fact that Pitino didn't have a bench nor time to recruit. It served him well, and Tubby Smith, in the end.

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

To make my point more precise, Williams emphasized Defense and coached Defense at a high level throughout his tenure at KU, long before he was known for his fast break/secondary break system that he has perfected over the last 10 years.

The 1991 national runner up team had a key Defensive stopper in Alonzo Jamison, especially in shutting down offensive threats in the Sweet 16 against Indiana and the Elite 8 against Arkansas. Jerod Haase went from being a 15 point a game scorer his Sophomore year to being able to concentrate his energies on being Mr Floor Burn his last two years because KU had plenty of offensive firepower at the Forward spots along with Billy Thomas coming off of the bench. Kirch Hinrich was a defensive genius for the Final Four teams of 02 and 03 and he is also in the Jayhawk all time top ten career scoring list at #9 while regularly guarding, rebounding, stealing, and handling the ball. These are just a few more examples of Defensive greats under Williams to include with Ostertag.

Williams didn't 'prefer off to the races basketball' at the neglect of playing defense. Williams was not an inferior Defensive coach as compared to anything that is on the Iba tree.

Williams was an excellent Defensive coach, especially when it came to preaching Defensive effort every game and every possession just like Bill Self does now. Williams also happens to be an offensive coaching legend.

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

As for the #8 Oklahoma State vs #1 Kansas game I mentioned, I'm thinking of the second match up in Allen Field house because the defensive effort from both teams in the mid 90's was impressive. I remember those games often being a grind in the first half. Outstanding Defensive efforts for the entire 40 are not so common. Last years national championship game is a good example of one team playing great D in the first half while the other team was superior in the second half.

No, I'm NOT thinking of the 70's. That second 1997 game Kansas held a top 10 team under 60 for the entire game. That IS impressive. On March 8 the following year KU held #25 Okie State to 26 in the first half. From that era I DO remember the sheer effort those teams exerted on the Defensive end. In my opinion those are classic Big 8/Big XII Defensive programs. I can't even begin to try to count the number of times KU visited Stillwater then felt the wrath of their Defense–plus their great, on top of you crowd.

In the 104-72 game you mention KU held the Cowboys to 28 in the first half. My feelings from years of observation on College Basketball is that when a team holds their opponent under 30 in the first half and creates a 16 point lead the ability for college kids to concentrate and sustain the Defensive effort tends to wain quite a lot in the second half. When it came to point differential in that same 104-72 1997 game the KU D/KU O enjoyed a 16 point spread in both halves which says a lot about that 1997 KU team.

KJD 9 years, 9 months ago

The late season KU 2002 fast break featured Collison typically grabbing the opposing teams made shot out of the net, quickly stepping back and inbounding to Miles. Miles then received, handled, speed, read and fed to Gooden (2002 National Player of the Year Runner-up), Hinrich (KU's all time Mr Everything), or Boschee (KU all time three point leader). The pressure that those 5 put on the opposing teams need to get back on Defense is as good as it gets.

Miles was incredible distributing the ball in full court play. Pritchard, Jordan, Vaughn were good fast break points though no Williams KU team ever compared to that 2002 team. Vaughn was a one man full court press wrecking machine though the organization of the Williams fast break/secondary break in 2002 was a different animal. A big part of that was the duel threat skill set of Gooden and Collison in the post. Collison could post up with a vast array of post moves, though both of them played well facing the basket-particularly the supreme hops of Gooden who added a whole new dimension with his ability to pogo stich around the rim.

The last 10 years of Williams fast break offense is still keyed on a superior college basketball point guard who has outstanding speed, read, feed skills while pushing the ball up court. The number 1 reason why NC fans felt they lost last year in the Elite 8 is due to the fact that they lost their Lottery Pick point guard who made their explosive Offense go.

I compare that offensive style to the '93 Final Four team that featured in my mind Rex Walters stroking jump shots out of set pieces or dribble driving to score or pass. Rex hit 6 straight threes to close out the first round game in the NCAA tourney then followed that up with a career high 28 in a tight second round game. Walters outplayed Jason Kidd in the third round. Those teams featured a style that depended on waves of fresh subs coming off of the bench. Here is what Indiana's coach Knight said after their Elite 8 game: "Their defense was exceptional." Knight said. "Mostly what we did was hang in. Their depth is part of their strength. We've got to score 80 against a team like Kansas."

kellerman411 9 years, 9 months ago

Coming out party for Ben on national television.

28 Points 7 Rebounds

Jeremy Paul 9 years, 9 months ago

I agree. After Saturday, there's going to be a new leader in the clubhouse for the Naismith award. I can't remember a more complete player they've had. Sure, there have been plenty of great players and NBA talent, but McLemore is a Superstar.

Sam Constance 9 years, 9 months ago

Holy crap, you aren't serious are you?

The only kind of performance that would put Ben McLemore in the lead for the Naismith Award (since he isn't really on anyone's POY radar right now) would be some kind of ridiculous offensive explosion--like 40 points or so.

Right now, most people are saying he isn't even the best freshman, because of Anthony Bennett at UNLV.

Suzi Marshall 9 years, 9 months ago

I'm with you on this. Let's hope for a big BMac intro on the National stage. I'm pulling for 30!

ccarp 9 years, 9 months ago

Coach Williams' teams would beat a team down court after a made basket....TV crews had to stop focusing on the pose after baskets b/c the hawks were already down court. The breaks for Coach Self seem to come from defense. Steals, block shots, and turnovers late in the shot clock. I loved the way Coach Williams' teams got at it, but the squad from last year seemed the fastest I can recall. I am really excited to see how this team gets at it, especially if they maintain the full court press! Rock Chalk!

jhox 9 years, 9 months ago

There is little question Self's philosophy has evolved at KU. His first couple of seasons here he tried to turn great athletes into plodders and it definitely held us back. Around year 3 or 4 he seemed to start trusting guys more to make plays and push the ball. The rest is history.

Steve Klein 9 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure that Self changed. Watching his last Illinois team in '03, they were almost out of control with their pace led by freshmen Dee Brown and Deron Williams (with very little inside help). When he got to KU, he based his philosophy on his best player, Wayne Simien. While Simien was terrific and a legitimate All-American, he was not exactly a speed demon. While Langford and Miles would clearly have thrived more under Self with a more wide open style, that wouldn't have played to Simien's strength. Something had to give.

You can definitely argue that KU would have been more successful basing their team around the talents of Miles and Langford rather than Simien, but I'm not convinced that Self wouldn't make the same decision today that he made then.

In other words, his players changed and he adapted to what he thought best suited them. That's the same thing he did at Illinois. He inherited Lon Kruger's bruisers and he played that style with them (as we painfully remember from 2001). He recruited his athletes and they sped up. At KU, he inherited Simien (and Graves) and then when he got his guys up front (Julian, Arthur, the twins, T-Rob, etc.), the team sped up considerably.

And it's not like KU really struggled early on. They had a new coach coming in after losing 2 All-Americans and still were a Top 10 type team that went to overtime in the regional final in Self's first year and then won the conference in his second year and would not have lost to Bucknell with a healthy Langford. And after that, they were off to the races.

FearlessJayhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

The thing I love about this team is that I get the impression that they love to play defense almost as much as offense. What I love to see is how they harass the opponent which usually leads often to a turnover, breakaway dunk. That is what really gets them juiced!

Jeremy Wilhelm 9 years, 9 months ago

in my recollection, that team threw away a break far too often with a careless or too-fancy pass. This team seems much more likely to convert. Perhaps it's just proximity biasing my perspective.

RJ King 9 years, 9 months ago

"as good as it gets" = they are creating or taking advantage of fast break opportunities as well as can be expected from any college team.

"chance to become Self's best transition squad yet" = if they continue with this success, they could be better in transition than any of Self's previous Kansas teams.

I'm not saying I agree with Keegan, but I don't see any contradiction in these statements of his opinion.

LAJayhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

One is also the headline, which Keegs didn't write.

yates33333 9 years, 9 months ago

Young and Withey aren't exactly slouches for big men getting down the court on a fast break. Young particularly is quick, clever, and fast.

Mick Allen 9 years, 9 months ago

Withey is excellent with the outlet pass off the rebound which kick starts the break. All of our starters pass the ball well. The goal for Self teams seem to be to get assists on 60% of made baskets. After having initial concerns about our ability to pass the ball i.e. feeding the post and in transition etc., the last 3 games has led me to believe this might be as good a passing team as HCBS has had.

Jack Wilson 9 years, 9 months ago

KJD, ccarp and Solomon -- bingo.

Dean Smith tree? Try again.

This team's fast break "as good as it gets" ? What sport have you been watching?

How a columnist in Lawrence, KS can refer to the Dean Smith coaching tree, a mere miles from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, I will never know.

And on the fast break topic, this is sheer delusion (I assume Keegan writes his own headline). Some (most) of Roy's teams and the 2008 squad were much better than this team on the break. For Roy's teams, it was just a different style of game -- an increase the number of possessions game. 2008 was in its own dimension.

One might characterize this team's fastbreak as "efficient" or "opportunistic." But this is not a fast break team at all. When you wait for the designated person to throw the ball in to the point guad after a made basket, you are never, ever, a fastbreak team.

Woody Cragg 9 years, 9 months ago

This game should be another huge classic. Road test, top 10 match, National tv coverage, & on a mission for another #1 seed. Yeaaaaaaah! Will be watching on a 10 ft tv in a private dining room at a local restaurant with family & friends. Some will drive over 1200 miles to be home. But since I've outgrown my KU DAD sweatshirt, it's now packed away with my Dad's letter sweater (no jackets in the 1920's), photos, & his track medals for the next generation. Dig it, my Dad would be quite proud that the "Kansas Jayhawks are the substance that wills are made of." Go Hawks!

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

REASONS TO REJOICE ON: KU has best big man in the country, the best frosh in the country, the team is on a roll, HCBS has Thad's number, HAWKS have rolled over opponents they were supposed to beat while OSU struggled against some inferior competition, we know we can beat these guys, did I mention Thad Matta??

REASONS TO REFLECT ON: KU and especially the freshmen are playing their first true away game this season, odds in OSU favor, the revenge factor, game is on CBS-not our best regular season venue, we're about due for an offensive clunker, so far, I am ten and zero in Kansas game predictions...and I have regretfully predicted an "L" tomorrow.

Woody Cragg 9 years, 9 months ago

No hockey Dad (Grandpa) here but I'm goin for the hat trick!

UncleMiltyN 9 years, 9 months ago

Self is my favorite basketball coach. I never missed Roy. It was obvious to me from the start that Bill was one of the best game coaches I'd ever seen and that if he could bring it some recruits, things were going to be great.

But, my "voice of discontent" hasn't faded. I get what he was trying to do when he came here, but I still say the biggest mistake Self has made at Kansas is squandering the strengths of Miles and Langford.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

Even David probably missed a few Philistines before he got the hang of his slingshot!!

yates33333 9 years, 9 months ago

Everyone is entitled to his favorites, but the best were Jacques Vaughn and Curt Hinrich, however you spell their names, in the most recent era. My favorite was Charley Black who hogged the ball and may not have been a guard. He attacked and shot from every angle possible. Jo Jo White was probably the best ever.

RJ King 9 years, 9 months ago

To add another layer, we should remember that Miles, Langford and Simien were all only 19-20 year old kids who had lost the coach who had recruited them. Whatever they expected over the next two years was now gone. That had to sting.

To add to their disappointment, Self must have seemed like the new, unfamiliar step-father/mother with a whole different set of rules and no history of nurturing or fun to provide a counter balance. That's a breeding ground for resentment. It's a credit to the character of all, that this transition went as smoothly as it did (Padgett's transfer not withstanding).

Classy of Miles, Langford and Simien to stay, and even classier to admit that they might have handled it differently being older, wiser, and in hindsight.

Sam Constance 9 years, 9 months ago

Dean Smith sure was a good coach. I wonder where he learned his craft...

jgkojak 9 years, 9 months ago

I don't care about #1 seed - give me a 2 seed and a favorable spot regionally (i.e. the midwest) that means we don't have to travel for hours and we have some fan support in the crowd.

In the end, you end up playing someone - in our case its probably Duke because 1) they like to pair us against Duke and 2) everyone wants to see the Withey/Plumlee matchup.

RJ King 9 years, 9 months ago

And the "random" ncaa pairings would have Misery as a #3?

Jim Jackson 9 years, 9 months ago

What about the mistake of of not full court pressing Northern Iowa?? Or playing Thomas Robinson and Elijah more against VCU?

Jim Roth 9 years, 9 months ago

We didn't even need our season-long FT% in 2003. We just needed 50% + 1. Painful.

Bville Hawk 9 years, 9 months ago

Roy William's teams utilizing Richard Scott and Mark Randall were excellent with the secondary break. They could make a training video of Richard Scott on the secondary break...

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago

“One thing Elijah doesn’t do a great job of is attacking himself to create for others, but he’s an unbelievable pitch-ahead point guard..."

--Bill Self on Elijah Johnson

Okay, this quote completely changes what I expect.

Elijah's going to iron for sure in this game. :-)

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago

Aaron Craft's Season Averages

Yr...........FG%.....3FG% 12-13....38%......33% 11-12....50%......36% 10-11.....46%.....38%

Craft has to have been injured lately.

Let's hope he still is.

AsadZ 9 years, 9 months ago


I have a feeling that his numbers going down are result of Sullinger not in the line up. In his 1st two year,s teams were focusing so much on stopping Sully that it was giving an opportunity for Craft to score more. This is not the case any more and he is getting exposed.

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