Friday, February 21, 2014


Column: Kansas guards’ defense subpar


Every time Kansas University men’s basketball coach Bill Self talks about the defensive role of one of his point guards, I flash back to a bloody scene from “The Godfather.”

The character who plays a movie producer urged by the Godfather to cast Johnny Fontane in the lead role of one of his films dragged his feet. Consequently, one morning when the producer dragged back his covers, he found the severed head of his prize horse. Shockingly, Fontane ended up landing the part.

“What I’d like to see happen as much as anything with our team, I’d like to see our point-guard play ... we’ve said it all along, you’ve got to cut the head off, and we haven’t always been able to do that at all,” Self said.

Make the opposing point guard pick up his dribble sooner than he intends and it’s difficult to run the offense efficiently.

“You take Tyshawn (Taylor) for granted,” Self said. “You take Sherron (Collins) for granted. You take Russell (Robinson) for granted and Mario (Chalmers) for granted sometimes.”

Robinson and Taylor were the best at it. A decline in that area has been the most noticeable reason KU hasn’t played up to its usual standard defensively, in addition to Perry Ellis having room to grow at that end of the court.

The Jayhawks’ point guards have encountered difficulty preventing several opposing point guards from going where they want to go with the play and from playing at the pace they desire.

Texas freshman Isaiah Taylor (23 points in the UT victory against KU in Austin) makes his Allen Fieldhouse debut Saturday.

“I thought he totally controlled the game,” Self said of Taylor’s last matchup with Kansas. “To me, he was the guy who controlled the game.”

Kansas survived with a 64-63 victory on Tuesday night at Texas Tech, but not without junior point guard Robert Turner (11) determining the pace of the game. In the loss at Kansas State, senior Will Spradling (15 points) made it to the paint far more often than he usually does against Kansas.

Juwan Staten wasn’t able to lead his West Virginia team to victory in Allen Fieldhouse, but gave Kansas all it could handle en route to 22 points.

Kansas junior point guard Naadir Tharpe has come a long way, but hasn’t yet figured out a way to overcome his physical limitations defensively.

“He’s probably our most consistent perimeter shooter,” Self said of Tharpe. “He is our best passer to get guys shots, you know, to create a shot off penetration and things like that. Naadir has had a good year. He’s been really solid. He doesn’t have to be great for us to be good, but he needs to be good for us to be great, and certainly he’s capable of doing that.”

At both ends, Tharpe has been an X-factor for KU. In KU’s six losses, he has averaged 6.0 points and shot .349 from the field, .300 from three. In the 19 of 20 victories in which he played, he has averaged 9.8 points, shot .508 overall and .441 from three.

“I’m pleased with Naadir,” Self said. “He’s had a good, solid year. Defensively, he, along with others, certainly can guard the ball better than what we have.”

Reserve point guards Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp also lack size. Wayne Selden is capable of checking bigger point guards, such as Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, but it’s the jets KU needs to figure out how to slow down.

“Even though, Naadir has a big challenge ahead of him because physically he’s not as big and things like that, but he’s the one to me — and Frank — that can do a better job of maybe making other teams play poorly because their point guard isn’t comfortable,” Self said. “I’m not just picking on them. It’s kind of the way we’re playing and also body type and physical ability and things like that. They’re just not very big.”

It will be interesting to see what KU does to try to keep Taylor from dictating the game the way he did in Austin. The crowd will help, but spectators aren’t allowed on the court during games and know enough to stay off it after games.


Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

Great Column Tom. Every team has weaknesses, ours just happen to be perimeter guard defense. We get beat so bad by so many teams that we are forced to play Wiggins or Selden on their PG to stop the shooting or the penetration. This causes mismatches at other positions and the good teams exploit them. If they take it to us well, we can be in for a long night.

It is tough to watch Tharpe take the wrong path on a switch or be a step or two behind and get beat repeatedly. The 3 best PG's in our conference play for other teams. Tough to swallow that.

Bernard Gregory 8 years, 7 months ago

When you compare these guys to guys of the past you got take in account that the rules have changed, if allowed to guard the way they use to then I am positive that they also could do a better job.Its tough to defend when you can't even put your hands on the offensive player to measure them up.

Michael Leiker 8 years, 7 months ago

Exactly, it seems that 90% of the time this year, even if players have established guarding position and contact is initiated there is going to be a foul call on the defense. If a dribbler wants to go by you this year there is basically no stopping him. You just can't compare perimeter defense from this year forward with Self's players of the past. Wish Newell was still around because I think we would have seen many articles highlighting advanced stats on steals, jump shot defense, etc. comparing this year to the past.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

Not so sure, Tharpe is a step slow against the better PG in our conference, rules or not, his lack of size and his inability to defend using his feet cost us against a quick player. He does not measure up to PG's of the past here, or of the present in the conference. It is not the rules, he could cost us a critical game in the near future.

Ryan Michael 8 years, 7 months ago

Personally I think that's a cop-out... Frankamp has done a fine job the last few games in his limited minutes. He has a disadvantage in height, but he's still playing better on ball defense than any of our other 1PG's. Why is that? You can't claim it's a rule, and you can't claim it's "just a young team" when a true freshman comes in and plays better defense than your junior PG.

I'm really kind of confused as to why Frankamp hasn't seen more PT. He isn't going to be a super fast flashy PG. However he does stick to his man on defense, and he protects the ball and gets the offense running on the other end. Plus kid can shoot as well as Tharpe if not better if he was just given the time and the leash that Tharpe has been given.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

I agree, he is the best option right now. Maybe he does not run the offense as well? At least he is not a hole like Tharpe is.

Bernard Gregory 8 years, 7 months ago

I am constantly reading comments about how much better Frankamp defense is but I never see him on that island at the half court line defending those lightning quick guards the way Tharpe and Mason does so unless I am missing something while watching the games,I just feel there seems to be a biased opinion. I am not saying we don't need to do a better job but please enough with this how much better defender he is.

Scott Bonnet 8 years, 7 months ago

Biased how? Frankamp does a great job of denying his man the ball. His off-ball defense is outstanding. Mason is quick, but seems to lack the desire to play tight coverage. Tharpe just continues to make mistakes.

Ryan Michael 8 years, 7 months ago

I'm sorry how many points have we given up from the opposing teams PG at half court? What are you even talking about? Frankamp plays defense where it matters, from the arc and in. He fights through screens and sticks to his man... You would seriously prefer wide open 3's and open lanes to the rim because Tharpe is caught somewhere on the other side of the court looking for his man?

Eliott Reeder 8 years, 7 months ago

Newell is still putting in great work at the Topeka Capitol Journal...

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 7 months ago

He was responding to Michael Leiker who said that he wishes that Newell were still around. Letting Michael know that Newell is in fact still around, and the Newell Post is still producing commentary on KU Basketball using advanced statistics.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

Ahh. Newell is offering some nice data/info I agree to that.

Tony Bandle 8 years, 7 months ago


1] JaQuan Lyle...6'- 5" tall, a great shooter with strong defensive and balling skills......going to be at the game Saturday.....just sayin'.

2] Maybe Bill can mix in a little zone to man switch at mid-point of the oppponent's possession to help out ....Tech made it work pretty well.

3] QUESTION: If you were stuck on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific with Justin Bieber and the Kardashians, what would you do? ANSWER: Start swimming toward Hawaii.

4] Elliot, is that a not so subtle jab at Tom?

5] One solution I know Bill might a zone with tight coverage on the perimeter and if they get around the guards, Jo Jo is sitting there waiting for them.

6] What the IOC didn't tell us about was the new rule that, in the Sochi Women's Ice Skating Competiton, you get extra credit if you fall......if you are Russian!!!

Robert Brock 8 years, 7 months ago

I watched JaQuan Lyle play a few games at the EYBL tournament in Dallas last May. Smaller, quicker guards destroyed him. They took the ball away from him and easily drove past him. No contest. He may be skilled but he is slow.

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

Every team we face, our little PGs allow their PG to look like a first team All-American candidate. It's also the alertness our PG's lack on D. Far to often they are caught flat footed allowing for a cut or back screen, going under screens, not stepping up into the passing lanes even when they are in position to do so, not following their man through the lane resulting in being screened, and even knocking off ther own team mates while tracking their man though the lane, i.e. Mason bumped off Selden while he was on his tail allowing Hannahs hit an open 3. The list goes on and on...although Tharpe actually made a couplle of good D moves fighting through screens vs TTU but that was offset by scores of band plays.

Among all the PGs, Frankamp is playing the best D. Signing Lyle, a big PG, is shaping up to be a must sign.

Robert Brock 8 years, 7 months ago

Lyle is a good passer. No sign of great D from him. If he is willing to ride the pine for a couple of years, perhaps he can learn. Frankly, I look at Lyle as more of a 3...and we have plenty of guys who play the 3.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

LOL Suzi I say that at the beginning of the live blog before the game starts - "Who are we going make look like a first team All-American in this game". How many times do our PG's get caught looking the wrong way due to poor positioning and a pass zooms by them to an open back door for a dunk. Its at least 3-5 times a game. Pathetic.

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

I bet alot of Hawk fans think that. Like you, I've been saying that all year. There are about 40 really good PGs across the country and we couldn't get one of them. I'm at a loss to understand why elite PGs wouldn't be begging to come to Kansas with the our history of elite bigs.

Marcus Smart chosing OSU was a major mistake for Smart and Kansas.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 7 months ago

Marcus Smart has been making a lot of POOR decisions on the court. How many times did I see him jack up a brick 3 early in a possession (first 10sec). OSU suffered OADpossessions, and ended up losing to Faylor at home in Stillwater. And that was mostly on Smart. An astute PG/floor general would recognize that Marquel Brown and Phil Forte have better 3%!

Last year, Smart was a frosh that nobody had matched up with...this year people have studied film of him and FORCED him into low%situations.

Regarding Smart hypothetically coming to KU? Well, yes & no: Last year, Elijah Johnson would still have been the lead guard, as he knew our offense (if Marcus Smart came to KU), but having another big guard would have helped EJ down the stretch. Yes, I agree it could have been good for both KU and Smart for him to have chosen Self's program...but LESS of a loss for KU than it was for Smart. I still put the Michigan meltdown at the hands of about 5 KU players, not just EJ. Who knows what Smart may or may not have done in that game? I mean KU had a double digit lead with 3-4min, so honestly that is a team-fail. Water under bridge now.

One caution about "short" guards: I'd take Sherron Collins any day, any game, anywhere. I do think Mason will develop into another Sherron-type by next season...we will enjoy his play for the next 3yrs. And his pushing Tharpe isnt a bad thing. Tharpe's D is my only gripe with Naa.

Jason Flowers 8 years, 7 months ago

"The crowd will help, but spectators aren’t allowed on the court during games and know enough to stay off it after games."

I was thinking about this when the aggies stormed the court. When was the last time it happened at the Fieldhouse? Great line, by the way!

Tony Bandle 8 years, 7 months ago

Jason, we had the "storm the Allen Fieldhouse Court" question about a year ago..I'm sorry I can't remember exactly if it was that UCLA comeback game or the Kentucky massacre game but I do know it's been a long, long time and when it happened, there was a strong reaction from the crowd showing their disapproval....we always expect to win on our court.

Bryce Landon 8 years, 7 months ago

Actually, there was a court-storming on January 27, 2003 when Kansas beat Texas 90-87 - following back-to-back losses at Colorado and at home to Arizona.

Suzi Marshall 8 years, 7 months ago

We had a mini-storming of the court about '72. I think it was the KY game. I was amongst those ready to storm the court in '75 when we lost in tripple OT to Indiana. Donnie Von Moore missed a 12' baseline jumper as the clock expired that would have won the game. IU went undefeated that year for the NC.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 7 months ago

I was very surprised to see UNC storm the court after the win over Duke. I assumed that UNC was one of those programs where the fans don't storm the court, ever.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 7 months ago

They have had a rough year, up and down, but I was surprised to see that too. Maybe they just wanted to rub it in to Duke, I would understand that.

Michael Gentemann 8 years, 7 months ago

I guess we will truly know if UNC has sunk to new lows if they print t-shirts celebrating an in season victory over an instate rival.

Mark Lindrud 8 years, 7 months ago

I do believe we need a lock down defender at PG because it is lacking and our short perimeter isn't helping. At this moment let's assume Joel isn't leaving and no one transfers. If so, no new recruit is coming to solve the problem so we need to find a way for our PG's to make it happen.

If Tharpe is having a solid performance we are okay because we have enough defenders to clog the middle. Keep in mind KSU ran through us without a healthy Joel and Jamari sitting out.If Tharpe is getting eaten up and not producing on offense then play the guy who is playing the best D.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 7 months ago

I am a big proponent of strong defense. I agree that it is very important.

But this team has been defensively challenged since the beginning of the season, right?

The two biggest holes -- Tharpe and Ellis -- are no secrets. This just didn't develop. They are our defensive liabilities, right? Selden is ok. Wiggins pretty good. Embiid does his job. Traylor, while not good, is adequate. Black the same way. Personally, I think Mason is better than Tharpe by quite a ways, but let's say he's just average. Really, this is about Tharpe and Ellis. And a young team that has difficulty covering for them.

Did anyone really think Tharpe or Ellis would take a huge leap defensively?

My view is the same as it was back in November. We should have shifted aggressively to a zone defense team. Further, on a defensively challenged team, incorporating a 3/4 court zone press (like OSU used on us) say 30-40% of the time, with a full court press as a surprise say five possessions or so a game, is a nice twist.

But with coach Self, it's man D. He'll toss a gimmick D out there when needed. He has said repeatedly that you can't beat good man D. He has constantly been correct in his assessment.

Problem is, this isn't "good" man defense. This team is different than past teams. Defense is its Achilles' heel.

It's too late to switch to zone as a primary D. But not too late to incorporate pressing. Again, though, Self hates the risk of an easy basket. So he shies away from pressing. Heck, we were slowed down vs. TT and he still wouldn't do anything on D to speed it up a bit.

Self has always generally been the coach that runs his system, and players adapt. It has been obviously successful. I'm becoming more convinced that the failure to adapt to his talent level (or lack thereof on defense) has left us greatly exposed in a crucial phase of the game. He has had great success getting his teams to play good defense. It just appears that he has two significant holes that are high minutes guys, and their substitutes are just average at best.

There is still time, and stuff can click quickly. But the window is closing.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 7 months ago

We pressed 1 or 2 times vs. TxTech, and promptly gave up a layup. Absolutely the last thing Self wanted to see. You think he is going to try another "press" anytime soon? Only as a gimmick, if we are behind late, and then maybe its appropriate, as that specific scenario means the m2m D wasnt working all game.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 7 months ago

Problem is, quite obviously, we spend very little time practicing the press. Only so many minutes available, and when it's not a primary tool, we're not going to get good at it.

Vs. TCU, we ran two possessions in a row. Got a turnover and a bucket, and then gave up an easy bucket. Like zone defense, you can't be good at if you don't apply yourself to it.

Sam Burns 8 years, 7 months ago

Why blame every guard because of Tharpe's bad defense? I have to admit that I yelled at the tv many times while Nadir totally lost his man. I'm not talking about when he had to fight through a pick, just trying to guard in the open court. He would try to slide over and help someone else and totally lose track of his man resulting in an open shot. He seems to be resting on defense in stead of offense. He is playing the worst defense of any guard I've ever watched at KU and I've watched them all my life, and I'm 61. Nadir, if you have to rest, REST ON OFFENSE! Get down, move your feet, and work your butt off on defense.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 7 months ago

All this talk about Naa's defense...Hmm, makes me reminesce about Self's whole big-combo-guard concept again: (6'1-6'3 185-200lbs, and above the rim athleticism). We got to the Champ game in '08 with Chalmers, RussRob, Collins. We got to the Champ game in '12 with EJ plus Tyshawn. Point made. Point plank'n.

Self needs to stick to his big combo guard concept, AND having 2 on the floor at all times. Too bad Rio Adams' couldnt get his head on straight, we could have used him.

Michael Sillman 8 years, 7 months ago

Clearly Tharpe has not been as good defensively as our recent past point guards but I really don't think it is a physical issue. He busted up that double screen setup for the Texas Tech 3 point specialist beautifully at the end of the game.

Tharpe just needs the desire to be a good defensive player. When you watch him, he visibly relaxes unless his man has the ball. Even if his man is only one pass away, he still drops off and goes flat footed. He needs to be in deny mode all of the time.

The other option will be for him to always out score the other point guard. When he does that, the Jayhawks usually win easily.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 7 months ago

Notice already the big difference in defensive instincts between Frankamp and Tharpe. One gets steals, the other one rarely does.

If Self just called his PGs short and small, then maybe he needs to (philosophically speaking...) stick to his own combo-guard concept, as I posted above. Wasnt that the do-it-all size at 6'1-6'3 + above-rim-athleticism? A natural nose for the ball helps tremendously also...

Brian Wilson 8 years, 7 months ago

 It's too bad that the Jayhawks success is so dependent upon "Naa" and how strongly Bill committed to him in the media.  Connor and Frank should be starting.  Tharpe should come off the bench.  This year the Jayhawks only average 5.8 steals per game.  Last year it was over 7.  Tharpe plays with his hands down 10 feet from the ball.  We need to up and in the face of the opponent.  Also, I feel this size argument is just an excuse regarding Frank and Connor being too short to guard.  Players of all sizes can do things to make the man they are guarding to be out of there comfort zone. 
 I agree with everyone here that feels we need to add a full or 3/4 press to the defense.  This will help learning to be more aggressive guarding the ball and with getting a few more steals and points off transition.  I hope Bill begins to adjust to the talents of the starters he has chosen.  Last....I hate to say it. Unless he learns, gets his hands up, gets in the face of the opponent, and stops playing flat footed, I'm not looking forward to another year after this one of "Naa" playing the point.

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