Sunday, February 15, 2015


Column: Greene’s toughness too often overlooked

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) tries to quiet the Texas crowd after a three during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) tries to quiet the Texas crowd after a three during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.


— Toughness, the No. 1 word uttered by 21st-century college basketball coaches, typically evokes images of a guy taking a charge, rebounding in traffic, successfully finishing a drive while getting hammered and then knocking down the free throw.

Depending on your role, toughness can take on different meanings. If your role is to stretch the defense by shooting so well from long distance that the defense can’t ever lose track of you, then toughness can mean hitting shots in big spots. Kansas University sophomore Brannen Greene does that with regularity, which makes him underrated in the toughness department.

Greene’s focus can drift in and out as a defensive rebounder. It’s getting better, but still isn’t where it needs to be for him to take advantage of his 6-foot-7, 215-pound frame. His focus finding the open spot on the floor, based on the location of the ball and defenders, never drifts. His focus on catching the ball shoulders squared to the hoop, eyes locked on the rim, never wanders.

As well as Greene has shot from long range without teammates looking for him all that often, it stands to reason he’ll shoot even better when they seek him out more regularly.

He ranks tied for sixth in the nation with a 50 percent three-point accuracy rate, second to Ohio State’s Marc Loving (.525) among top 25 schools. In conference games alone, Greene has made .568 from three, best in the Big 12, despite making just 1 of 5 threes in the comeback victory in Allen Fieldhouse vs. Baylor.

In the previous four games, Greene nailed an amazing 17 of 24 three-pointers.

He’ll test his three-point touch in a tough environment tonight against a West Virginia team that applies serious defensive pressure and a crowd intent on rattling the visitors.

Greene’s not the first name that comes to mind when thinking about players suited to handle such hostile surroundings, but he actually has been among the team’s best road performers.

In eight true road games, Greene has averaged 9.4 points in 18.5 minutes and has made 17 of 24 (.708) three-point shots and 14 of 16 free throws. Not surprisingly, Frank Mason has been the team’s best road performer, averaging 14.3 points, shooting .506 overall, .500 from the three), except at the free-throw line (.565).

Too often, it seems, this Kansas team settles for three-point jumpers. But in the case of Greene, it’s not settling. The more open threes teammates can deliver to him, the better for Kansas.


Joe Ross 7 years, 9 months ago

"Depending on your role, toughness can take on different meanings."

This is exactly the problem I have with the use of the word. Because it means everything, it really means nothing.

What it comes down to is a replacement word for "good". If you're good defensively then you're "tough". If you're a go-to guy as the clock is running down, you're "tough". Or it can mean everything from being smart about game situations to being a good hustler to being a prolific scoring threat to being a "gamer" (another nearly ambiguous word).

So yeah...Greene is "tough". Which is to say he's a great 3-point shooter.

Dave Miller 7 years, 9 months ago

Focus is another annoying term bandied about. Focus on defense... focus on offense... focus on execution... focus on rebounding the ball.... focus on this... focus on that... focus on the other.... focus on another.... don't lose your focus.... regain our focus... it just means play smart, play hard, play to win instead of not to lose...

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

I think the point that was being made in the story is how good he's been on the road and the timeliness of many of his makes. In Greene's role, it's pretty hard to disagree with Keegan's point.

Joe Ross 7 years, 9 months ago

For clarification, I wasnt arguing that Greene has not been timely or a huge lift on the road. Tom dedicates the first two paragraphs of this article addressing "toughness", and my comments were a response to that portion of the article alone. The issue as to whether or not Greene is underrated can be debated. Even if he is, opponents are becoming increasingly aware of his shooting ability and are mindful of where he is at all times on the court while at the same time we fans are growing in appreciation. That aside, the word "tough" is like nails on a chalkboard to me because as Tom admits the definition floats all over the place.

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

You would agree that mental toughness is a big deal for pure shooters like Greene, right? He forgets the shots that don't go down and he keeps taking the shots. Quite frankly, if he was tentative I would imagine that with your quality of being observant you might then argue that he isn't tough when he passes up shots that come within the flow of the offense.

There is more than one kind of toughness. There is the physical type of toughness in that a guy might be suffering some pain from a sprained ankle or a contusion somewhere and still play and play hard. Then there is the tough, physical style of play that plays through contact. Then there is the mental toughness. There are more types than that as well, and it doesn't dilute it unless we don't consider the context based on our own observations. I know for a fact that you've watched almost every single game and you've observed the same things I have. What's up with the semantics?

Joe Ross 7 years, 9 months ago

I do note the importance of shooting without regard to misses, yes. But my point addresses neither that nor any hypothetical tentativeness on the part of Brannen Greene. As far as my issue with the term, I refer you to the comments I made above.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 9 months ago

Greene is a very confident shooter. I find it hard to believe there is a reliable dictionary that equates confidence and toughness, and it is sad when someone whose business is words opines to misuse words.

It is a bit like societies obsession with engineering in recent decades. It's like "engineer" has to be added to everyone's job description (domestic engineer, ...) to somehow validate their contributions to society. It's not that I have anything against engineers, but let's stop bastardizing the english language, and learn to appreciate what each individual contributes.

John Randall 7 years, 9 months ago

Your contention that words are often misused is axiomatic (obviously true). In this discussion, confidence plus success combine to produce the particular kind of "toughness" Brannen displays on most occasions – much like a "bad" man in the Old West was one it was a bad idea to tangle with - aside from good or evil character traits.

Jerry Collins 7 years, 9 months ago

It's frustrating to continually hear "we settle" for 3 pointers". We've spent decades of forcing the ball inside and think we're not a real team if we don't. I realize the importance of an inside game, but this year we have not been able to finish as in the past.This year we are blessed to have perimeter shooters. We are a nightmare for opposing defenses. When we were down by 13 in the first half at BU, three 3 pointers put us back in the game. I understand the importance of a well rounded offense but even coach Self has come to terms with this team's outside threat. The proof of this is he doesn't immediately pull a player for a miss beyond the arc. This has allowed players like Wayne Selden to open up and shoot enough 3's to allow him to achieve the confidence in his stroke. I think the inside game is going to start opening up because we have the best perimeter game in college basketball. So boys, keep on putting them up when you're open. Even though I respect and enjoy both of the JW writers, I wish they would quit bashing our 3 point success.

Jim White 7 years, 9 months ago


I agree completely. While we have been too reliant on 3's this year, it is refreshing having a team that can actually make shots. Early upsets in the tourney have historically been by teams that cash in 3's against us.

Kit Duncan 7 years, 9 months ago

"Fools Gold" as Coach Self recently referred to relying on three point shooting. His "focus" is, and always will be, getting the ball inside.

Russ McCaig 7 years, 9 months ago which his 'focus' should be to get a 7footer...6'8" ain't cuttin' it...for that game plan, anyway

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

When he have gotten in trouble in the past, it is usually because a team succeeds in shutting us down in the paint. So many times we weren't able to knock down the outside shot. When we have been at our best, for example, against North Carolina and Memphis in 2008. What was the reason we got so far ahead of North Carolina? Our outside shot. We destroyed them with it, and it wasn't something we lived by either. It was something we had in the arsenal. Much of it did come in transition. Against Memphis we hit two big 3 pointers in the final minute. If we weren't able to do that we would not have been champions.

Sometimes we do get too reliant on it this year, and so far it hasn't really hurt us in terms of wins/losses, especially in conference play. Now if we use the shot fake when they're closing out on us and drive right by them and force someone else to help, we can get some easier buckets at the rim. That is the next step for us, and if we can get that going down the stretch here, then you can call off all the bets because we will have the ability to beat anyone, including Kentucky. There are three positive things that can happen when the other team closes out, especially when they jump in the air.

  1. We can draw the foul and get 3 free throws.
  2. We can take a dribble or two and get a wide open jumper from 15.
  3. We can drive it all the way to the paint for a score, a dish and a score, or a score and one opportunity.

When are spaced out, we pass with crispness, we move around without the ball, and we add the shot fake on the perimeter, we can be a scoring machine.

Joe Ross 7 years, 9 months ago

I like your point about the shot fake. An opposing team has to respect our outside shooting and if we pump often the defender will give up his feet. The end result of that outcome is a scoring opportunity.

But I have issues with other parts of your comment. To say we are capable of beating Kentucky may not be saying as much as you want to. Dare I say "lowly" Texas is capable of beating Kentucky, but the odds aren't good. Even playing our best game, we are likely to beat Kentucky less than 20 per cent of the time. They are in the conversation right now as the most dominant college basketball team ever, so it's not like our "capability" of beating Kentucky when we're at our best is 50/50 or anything close to it. People often point to close games they've had as a justification to make points about how beatable they are; but the close games have had more to do with Kentucky and less to do with the abilities of their opponents. You have to remember, Kentucky is still a very young team as is learning every day as it goes along. They are heavy laden with freshmen and sophomores (over 2/3 of their team are underclassmen). Come tournament time they may in fact be unbeatable.

The only other issue with the comment is the phrase, "...we pass with crispness." Those two words do not belong in the same sentence with regard to Kansas this year.

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago


Isn't saying we're likely to beat Kentucky less than 20% of the time inferring that we are capable?

Why would you just put into quotes "we pass with crispness", when it was clear that was a paralleled use of listing that follows that "When we are spaced out". We did pass it around with crispness in the past two games, against Texas, and against other teams. When we did that we were very difficult to defend because they have to defend our perimeter shooters. We have five or six guys that can knock down the perimeter jump shot.

Oubre Selden Mason Greene Graham Ellis Svi

At least try to keep it in context or ask for clarification if you're not sure what I meant, since I did clearly omit a word accidentally in the beginning of the sentence. But that should not have led you to presume I was saying something that wasn't even close to being implied any where my comment.

Joe Ross 7 years, 9 months ago

I'll forfeit any specific response in favor of expressing a desire to keep the conversation light-hearted. No personal insult is meant; we just happen to disagree. Both Jayhawks..."same team".

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

I didn't think any personal insult was implied. I was just wondering how you came to the conclusion that I said we've done it enough. There are games where we have done it and it has led to wide open shots on the perimeter and in our guys being in good position in the paint for some easy baskets. Thus, the "When we pass the ball with crispness".

Rodney Crain 7 years, 9 months ago

Agree with your post Joe.

I don't think even on our best day we can beat KY 20% of the time. Its like in Dumb and Dumber 1, "you have one chance in a million, so your saying we have a chance lol" I agree the only way KY loses is if they beat themselves. They might get beat in the SEC tournament, like us they do not get too excited about their conference tournament, they might overlook someone.

Agree on our passing, it has been identified as a weakness of this team actually.

John Randall 7 years, 9 months ago

Kentucky 'beating themselves' is bound to be a significant part of anyone's "chance to beat" Kentucky. So far this year, it seems no opponent can cash in even when UK plays significantly below potential. Not saying it won't happen, but it becomes less likely than it would have been earlier in the season. "Best chance" in the remainder of the year looks to be second weekend of the Big Dance, against some team with good-to-great talent hitting their stride at the right time. It is not beyond all credibility that KU is such a team – it may be only 10% or 20% likely, but certainly not impossible.

Benz Junque 7 years, 9 months ago

You go into the game with as many varied weapons that you can muster at your disposal. If they take one thing away you should be able to succeed with something else. KU is trying to score down low but have found that their bigs are only able to succeed at a high rate against certain match ups. When KU has run into those match ups and have had to go to a Plan B, their perimeter shots have been there to win games.

And honestly, the fact that no one can sag off KU shooters or leave them to double is helping the KU bigs do as well as they are. If there wasn't the threat of the three from every player on the perimeter then the KU bigs would be struggling to score easy buckets even more than they are.

I love Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander but they aren't match up proof. They cannot win the battles for post position against everyone. Perry struggles with big strong defenders and Cliff struggles with experienced defenders that know how to counter his limited post moves. To have lights out shooters at every position on the perimeter is vital for KU and those players need to have a little more of a green light to shoot when they have a good shot with players under the rim to get rebounds.

Self keeps hoping that Ellis and Cliff will win more of their battles down low and that easy buckets will be there but they simply aren't going to happen. Cliff will get better as he gains more experience (seriously Cliff, come back for another season) but Perry's ceiling in this department may be where he is right now. Unless he gains 6 inches on his vertical or a nasty mean streak from some unknown source he's just going to have to figure out more Niang-esque crafty ways to beak players that he cannot simply beat straight up.

Jay Reynolds 7 years, 9 months ago

When was the last time a KU player was fouled on a three-point attempt? Doesn't seem to happen very often.

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

It hasn't happened often because we haven't used the shot fake often on the perimeter. Just against Texas Tech we had 3 perimeter shots blocked in the first half that may have been fouls if we had used the shot fake. I think they ended up blocking four 3 point attempts altogether. With the shot fakes, that could have ended up in somewhere between 8 to 12 more points. It would have also stopped Tech from getting any momentum during that first half. There have been at least a half dozen other times where we could have used it and created a play for someone else or a higher percentage shot. When the defender is in the air, there is nothing he can do to control the guy he's defending on the perimeter. Drive right by him and the low post guy is going to have to defend that leaving someone open somewhere else on the perimeter or in the paint. We have so much we can do off that shot fake to offset our size issue down low. They're slowly getting it in other aspects, but not off that shot fake on the perimeter.

John Randall 7 years, 9 months ago

I guess Bill Self didn't spend enough seasons at the knee of Bobby Knight ???

Harlan Hobbs 7 years, 9 months ago

Keep up the good posts, Joe. You always raise good points to debate.

As for phrases that are like chalk on the blackboard, how about the statement "he lets the game come to him." What in the world does that mean?

Maybe we all should try to come up with our favorite meaningless statement. It would at least make for a few laughs.

Dale Koch 7 years, 9 months ago

I hate to say it again because it reminds of Bobby Knight, but even Greene had two 3's blocked against OSU that a "shot fake" could have prevented.

Rodney Crain 7 years, 9 months ago

Agreed. If he just held the ball on one of those the guy would have flew by him even.

Shot fake could be one of his best friends right now.

Cody Riedy 7 years, 9 months ago

Seems like some of the complaints about the complaints about over-relying on the 3-ball are missing Self's point. Getting the ball inside doesn't mean only taking inside shots and not shooting outside. Getting the ball inside means move the ball, move the defense, create open shots, if possible easy shots from the post, but also open shots from the perimeter. Statistically, this team isn't actually shooting that many more threes than past teams have. I think the concern is that the team is getting its threes just by hoisting them up rather than by creating them. There has been times where our perimeter players just passed the ball back and forth to each other like a hot potato and then just launched a three as the shot clock expired. That has worked for us at times, but several times this type of offense has resulted in 20-point halves. Self and the columnists express doubt that this is a recipe you can rely upon. Also, shot fakes only work if ball movement is causing defenders to have to cover ground to close out. If they are just standing there already because ball movement has not forced them to collapse or move side to side, they aren't going to have to leap at shooter on a shot fake.

Walter Bridges 7 years, 9 months ago

Good points, I agree. Plus it works both ways, success at the perimeter opens up the paint and vice versa. I wish we were able to get more points in transition but I have noticed since the Iowa State lost that we get back defensively much quicker.

Joe Ross 7 years, 9 months ago

Yes Walter! Falling back into transition defense is probably the single biggest reason we won the second game vs. Iowa State. The amount of points ISU scored running the secondary break the first game was unholy.

Micky Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

I haven't noticed a bunch of times where we launch a shot at the end of the shot clock. Where we have gotten into some trouble is when we launch a shot with only two or three passes into a possession and not even looking inside before we do it. We have guys that drive to the bucket too, and that should be tried before we launch early unless it is in transition and in rhythm and in the right guys' hands. Penetration is a good way to get the ball inside, but too often they go all the way to the hole instead of looking to dish to another guy slashing to the bucket or to Ellis or Alexander when their defender has to step up to defend.

The shot fake is one of the things we can get quite often because of our outside shooting and that it's pretty much anyone that plays on the perimeter with significant that poses a threat to knock it down. Those shot fakes can give us opportunities to get to the paint as well. Iowa State does that well regardless of the guy who ends up on the scoring end of the assist.

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