Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tom Keegan: Mason, Graham make life miserable for foes

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a smile during a run by the Jayhawks.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a smile during a run by the Jayhawks.


— The myriad responsibilities for guards in basketball can be boiled down to two jobs: 1. Make sure your team puts up a good shot every time down the floor; 2. Make sure the other team doesn’t get off good shots by pestering ball handlers so that they can’t get the ball where it needs to go.

Junior Frank Mason and sophomore Devonté Graham deserve mention in every discussion about college basketball’s best backcourts because they consistently do a terrific job of executing both responsibilities. Consequently, more than just superior skill has enabled Kansas to shoot so much better (.517 overall, .463 from three) than opponents (.393, .324).

It all starts with the guards and they have led Kansas to a 10-1 start and a No. 2 national ranking.

Both guards do a nice job of getting to the paint to break down defenses and set up teammates for easy buckets and open three-point shots. Both have shooting touches that make defenders guard them tight at the three-point line or pay for losing track of them. The stone-faced Mason is averaging 13.3 points and shooting .481 from three and the expressive Graham has hit an even 40 percent of his attempts and averages 10.2 points.

Remarkably, the guards have combined for 100 assists and just 23 turnovers, a 4.35-to-1 ratio. They have combined for 41 steals, meaning that for every turnover, they have 1.8 steals.

Mason has the nation’s seventh-best assists-turnover ratio (4.43), one spot ahead of Graham (4.22).

When it was noted to KU coach Bill Self that each guard turned it over just once in Tuesday’s 70-57 victory against San Diego State, he was quick to point out their imperfections in the game.

“Those guys didn’t make any floaters in the second half either and they’re good floater shooters,” Self said. “Frank wasn’t into it in the second half. He lost his mind there in the second half.”

Still, the coach loves the way Mason and Graham pressure defenses with penetration, play tidy basketball at high speeds in transition and take away options from opponents.

“There are not going to be too many teams who are going to press those two guys,” Self said.

Veteran San Diego State coach Steve Fisher likes to use full-court pressure, but did so just once in Tuesday’s game, quickly recognizing the futility of that strategy against such sure ball handlers.

— Tom Keegan appears on The Drive every Sunday night on WIBW-TV.


Suzi Marshall 6 years, 7 months ago

I've noticed that in every game the other guys can take better advantage of the press created by Mason/Graham. Far to often you can see those two little guys putting great pleasure to result in a desperation pass that could/should be picked off but our defender, not named Mason/Graham, is not awake or slaking off not playing the passing lane. Mason/Graham are doing a great job but the rest of the team can do a lot better taking advantage of the opportunities created, either better playing the passing lanes to pick off desperation passes or hustling downcourt to take advantage of the steal.

Kent Richardson 6 years, 7 months ago

Frank wasn't the only one who lost it in the second half. It was like we we doing a walk through and not recognizing there were defenders.

I recorded the game and was watching it about 2 AM. I kept thinking I must be spacing out. I know right?

It was bring the ball down and lazily pass it off around the perimeter. When you get the pass you dribble once, between your legs if you are cool, do the hokey pokey, and lazily flip it to the next guy. Then after three passes, wait a little, drive in the general direction of the rim and miss a bunny. Or instead of driving you can make a weird 25' floating pass across the floor.

Thankfully when SDSU was about to get within 2, Wayne, the foul, Selden came out of the trance. I think the fans downloaded an app that temporarily exerted mind control. What they didn't realize was that when they all turned on their smartphone flashlight function earlier in the game it depleted their battery life and as their connected devices failed the spell was broken.

Raymond Wright 6 years, 7 months ago

This has been my only complaint during the Self era. They never seem to have that "stomp them in the throat while they are down" mentality. It seems like they just get bored if they get out to a big lead. N.C. in 2007-08, should have won that game by 50 easily. Granted as that being my only complaint, I just deal with it quietly by myself. But man, it would be nice to see a stone cold beat down, say Jan 30th maybe.

Kent Richardson 6 years, 7 months ago

Merry Christmas Tom Keegan. Thanks for all your great writing this year.

Arthur Ankeney 6 years, 7 months ago

I'm looking forward to Jan 4. I think Oklahoma may have the only backcourt that can compete with KU in the Big 12 so it'll be interesting to see how they compare. They're scorers first at Oklahoma but Frank and Devonte are facilitators who can score. All of them can play great defense. And this includes the 3 slots on both sides too. It'll be a great competition.

Well Kent, I think Jamari must have left his phone in Kansas then because he had no trance. That spirit, energy, and play was the only thing keeping KU in the game for a while. Selden undoubtedly had some big shots, but it was all about Jamari's energy in the second half. He's got the same motor that we keep hearing about Diallo having. (PS. what were those shots by Diallo?!?!)

Kent Richardson 6 years, 7 months ago

I am also looking forward to the Jan 4 game. Hield is a mover on the wing and Wayne better not be in the same mode or he will be on the bench a lot again.

The game next Tuesday against UC Irvine can be a trap game for us. A lot of height that can score and rebound. Their 7'6" center scores 13.6 a game with about 9 boards and shoots over 60% from the field. Another 7 footer and a 6'10" play decent minutes and average a together 10 points 10 boards.

Not a great bunch of shooters but we will not be able to sleep walk through it.

It is at Allen so that may be a savior. We will have to be sharp on our passing around the perimeter to get open looks. Scoring inside will be tough again and we are so unsettled there

Perry's mid range game and more pep from Svi and Brannen without the ball can be a big factor in this one.

Stay in the game Wayne, please.

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