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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

— 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.