Friday, January 2, 2015


Column: Kansas defense hardly feared

Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison (5) gets to the bucket between Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) and forward Perry Ellis (34) during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison (5) gets to the bucket between Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) and forward Perry Ellis (34) during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.


For all the attention paid to the Kansas University basketball team’s offensive failures, the truth is, the No. 1 reason KU is not the popular pick as the team to beat in the Big 12 lies elsewhere.

The Jayhawks used to know how to frustrate the confidence right out of opposing offenses. Now they can’t. Teams don’t dread trying to score on Kansas. They look forward to it.

Mind-blowing numbers illustrate KU’s recent decline from decade-long defensive dominance. The Jayhawks’ national rank in field-goal-percentage defense, starting with the 2003-04 season through this season: Eighth, fifth, first, fourth, third, fifth, fourth, 13th, third, first, 79th, 163rd. Opponents shot worse than 40 percent in each of those first 10 seasons, .416 last season, .420 so far this year. The numbers only confirm what watching games already made clear, that the lane has become a no-combat zone, a peaceful place where elevator music has replaced Jimmy Page shredding.

It’s not too late to make the necessary changes to make it possible for Kansas to contend to the end.

Four encouraging factors:

1 . The Big 12 has more depth than height. Ken Pomeroy, college basketball’s main metrics man, has a minutes-weighted formula known as “effective height.” Texas ranks atop the conference with the 21st-tallest team in the nation. TCU, second in the conference, is ranked 63rd in the nation. Kansas ranks 114th in the country, third in the Big 12.

2 . Devonté Graham might come back from a severe toe injury, and if he does, that gives KU a needed extra ballhandler and in some cases a defender who matches up better with schools that start small guards.

3 . KU has more McDonald’s All-Americans (four: Cliff Alexander, Perry Ellis, Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden) than the rest of the conference combined (three: Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner of Texas, Le’Bryan Nash of Oklahoma State).

Other than Oubre’s recent splash, KU’s burger All-Americans have underachieved. Instead of improving, junior Ellis and sophomore Selden have regressed. That can reverse itself.

4 . Alexander and Hunter Mickelson, the two post players with the highest ceilings in terms of becoming good complements to Ellis, haven’t played as many combined minutes (265) as Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas (342). Alexander has played one more minute than Traylor, Mickelson 78 fewer than Traylor. If Alexander and Mickelson play more, Traylor and Lucas less, Kansas improves at both ends.


Suzi Marshall 7 years, 9 months ago

  1. According to metrics, Kansas is the lone B12 school to muster a challenging schedule. That could be a contributing factor why our D looks so bad relative to the rest of the conference (or nation) since we are so young. However, no excuses can be made for Ellis, Greene, Traylor and Selden's continued poor D.

Robert Rauktis 7 years, 9 months ago

"If Alexander and Mickelson play more, Traylor and Lucas less, Kansas improves at both ends." : The unknown article always has more potential.

Joe Baker 7 years, 9 months ago

I was hoping Lucas would be a much bigger factor.

Bryce Landon 7 years, 9 months ago

Everybody repeat after me: Defense wins championships. Defense wins championships. Defense wins championships.

Michael Hansen 7 years, 9 months ago

Ever since the Temple game, the tone has been distinctly the glass is half empty. It's like they played a bunch of nobodys the first ten games. Where's the faith? We have HCBS and a bunch of very talented but young guys. The 05-06 team struggled during the preseason but ended up winning the post season tournament. Keep the faith! This team is going to get a lot better by the time March rolls around.

Robert Brown 7 years, 9 months ago

Nothing wrong in making realistic observations

Rodney Crain 7 years, 9 months ago

I agree with you Robert, but there are some on here who think anything that is said remotely negative about the beloved program deserves to be challanged, for no other reason than it is not unconditional support for KU. Kind of disturbing in a way.

Bryce Landon 7 years, 9 months ago

I think Bill Self is part of the problem. For whatever reason he has failed to instill the proper defensive mindset into his players, he doesn't make any adjustments (i.e., zone defense when man-to-man is getting shredded), he doesn't get his team primed for lower-tier opponents like Kent State, and his recruiting has left quite a bit to be desired.

Travis Clementsmith 7 years, 9 months ago

I just love basketball pop psychologists! I'm sure it has nothing to do that Self's last two teams have been the youngest and most inexperienced groups in his tenure. Unless, of course, you're saying that Self should be recruiting less talented players that will stick around longer to develop the maturity and confidence of understanding the system. If that's what you're saying, I sure hope I don't see you projecting the next Rivals superstar to immediately come in and establish the proper defensive tone.

Sae Thirtysix 7 years, 9 months ago

. . . . oh this is such a good call. defensive mindset = maturity

Rodney Crain 7 years, 9 months ago

Well, KY is one of the youngest teams and this year their defense is excellent. So not sure that is true, that young talented players due to inexperience cannot understand a defense and play it well early in a season. Maybe we just are not playing it well???

John Randall 7 years, 9 months ago

Hardly a revelation that improving techniques is better than the status quo. You are completely ignoring that the great majority of innovations are NOT improvements, but the opposite. The more numerous and larger the change(s), the less likely they are to succeed.

The ill-chosen WWII analogy ignores the fact that replacing the battleship fleet lost on Dec 7, 1941 was neither possible nor affordable – the cost of one battleship would produce and equip three carriers, their complement of aircraft (and replacements) plus accelerate gains in performance of the planes. The squadron which shot down Yamamoto was flying planes not even on drawing boards in 1941.

Titus Canby 7 years, 9 months ago

Adam, good point about guys who just won't let us lose. Remember Jerod Haase? With him in the game, I always felt we'd win. I still think the only reason we lost that game to Arizona in '96 is because Haase was injured.

And you're right on who those guys need to be this year - Traylor and Mason.

Len Shaffer 7 years, 9 months ago

Good call on Jerrod Haase, with the minor exception that we lost to Arizona in '97, not '96. '96 was Syracuse in the Elite 8.

Erich Hartmann 7 years, 9 months ago

Adam, overall good post, very heartfelt...and myself being old enough to be a WW2 buff, I understand your analogy about the Japanese (who thought bushido could overcome anything unanticipated).

But I will disagree slightly here and there a bit. Last year's team couldnt play D very well as a group for 2 reasons: personnel skill variations (Ellis and Tharpe struggled mightily on D, while frosh Wiggins excelled on D, with notable D efforts all season by Selden and Mason)...and overall team inexperience. After all, they werent in Self's system long enough to have the reps necessary to trust each other (as well as they would if they'd been playing together 2+ yrs). The 2008Champs had been playing together for 2-3yrs. Cole was the only contributing frosh, and that was very little overall, until the Final 4. And it plays out on offense also. I've always maintained that Tharpe seemed to play worse, as his new teammates often werent reading things the same way he was, hence the turnovers that looked inexplicable...but really, can be explained by the phrase "not on the same page". How could they be? Everybody knows Self's system takes 1-2yrs to learn. Russell Robinson didnt shine reliably until his junior season. EJ couldnt get minutes until his Jr season, and he was a 5star guard. Couldnt keep his man in front of him his frosh season (Self tried to play him).

This is nothing new. It all clicks in due time. Of course we hope some frosh kid just so happens to pick it all up quick, dont we? Lotsa talk about 4 MickeyD's, but 2 of them are babyfrosh, but both Oubre and Cliff are starting to show flashes...And maybe Selden is trying to be a bit more glue, as he thinks thats what the team needs? Check Selden's assists. And Self's own comment on Selden was that "he 'gets it' ".

Simply put, I'm content to sit back, analyze the games, and the execution on both ends of the floor, and see when it all comes together. Waiting game...


Christopher Hauser 7 years, 9 months ago

Is this the year that HCBS doesnt get it figured out by the time Big 12 play starts? Maybe, but I wouldn't put my money on that being the case. It is the same ole stuff year after year on this board. I inderstand the reservations for this team but the comments are just a mirror image of every year on this board and those comments usually end up being wrong. Anyway, just an observation. After tomorrow against UNLV, its a brand new season just like last year.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 9 months ago

On court leadership is the core issue for this team. Perry Ellis is viewed as the leader of this team in the locker room and he doesn't have the right personality for this team. Wayne Selden and Frank Mason need to step up in the locker room and take the leadership. I don't recall a single time in the past 1.5 seasons that a player has gotten on another player for not putting forth max effort. Selden showed flashes of that last year and for all of his on court issues this year, effort hasn't been one of them except for the Temple game. Frank Mason is who I really want to see step up and become the leader of this team. He has the Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor mentality of doing whatever it takes to win and being fearless on the court. His personality is what this team needs to get back to being a top level defensive team. This team was playing pretty good defense early on in the year. They were pressing and trapping and giving teams fits and then quit after the Graham injury. KU still has the depth to do that stuff and it may not make the opponents FG% go down much, but the turnover and transition numbers for KU will go back up.

John Randall 7 years, 9 months ago

When we recruit top-50 ranked players, they don't expect to stay even two years. Some of them already believe they are ready for The League while others only give lip service to their own need to improve year-to-year, game-to-game, day-to-day.

Read Kobe Bryant's scathing remarks about the AAU scene (where these prospects spend two or three years without gaining anything but larger egos. Especially, they don't come to understand the concept of TEAM !!

Titus Canby 7 years, 9 months ago

It's not just our interior defense that's lacking. Our perimeter defense both this year and last year sucks. Last year, we just let guys go inside hoping Embiid would stop them. This year it's the same, but without a shot blocker. Even in out blowout wins (Kent State and Lafayette), our perimeter defense looked horrible. We continually let the other team inside, and couldn't defend the three.

The good news is that we have the talent and athleticism to be a good defensive team. We just need the brains and heart to match.

Joe Joseph 7 years, 9 months ago

"If Alexander and Mickelson play more, Traylor and Lucas less, Kansas improves at both ends."


Brian Wilson 7 years, 9 months ago

Although not the defensive answer, the one guy that had the "refuse to lose attitude" left for Wichita State. I hate to second guess Bill, but I was saying this last spring. Signing a point guard along with more players at the 2 and 3 was a mistake. I know how good they are and all an how much potential they all have but I believe Mason and Frankamp with Selden helping was good enough. Even though Mason is doing a good job he still is out of control going to the basket and makes too many, I also think Frankamp would have been a better option at the point right now. We should have worked harder to retain White and Frankamp while adding size and we should have worried about those other type of players for next year. If we had we would have a better team today with a stronger plan moving forward. But with these 1 and doners it appears we will have nothing to show for it! Looks like a huge mistake in recruiting and planning.

Erich Hartmann 7 years, 9 months ago

First, I wish to thank Brian Wilson for bringing up the Frankamp-defection, as I know there is a segment of the KU fanbase that believes 6ft, 160lb Frankamp was an answer to our problem(s).

But, I dont believe in a player being the 'savior'...when he simply wasnt able to perform. The FrankampFactor is sooo easy to shoot down. It goes something like this:

1. The few plays last season off the bench where it was a designed feed for CF, he missed most of his 3att's. Last year's team-worst 3pt shooter.

2. Contrast that with Greene, who got equally scant mpg, but he hit more 3s, cold off the bench, than CF. And that trend continues this season. Greene is also 6'7. Consider the GreeneFactor in nullifying the FrankampFactor.

3. Defense. Frankamp was defensively challenged. Not quick feet. Short reach.

4. The GrahamFactor. Again, a quicker, more athletic, longer (6'2) guard, who is a better defender out of the box (compared to CF), as well as a better 3gunner out of the box (compared to CF--ouch!). And he has leadership qualities already, as evaluated by an outside agency (TheUnitedStatesMarines). And his playstyle is Tyshawn/Chalmers-esque...he can attack/slash to the rim. All qualities Self loves.

5. The FrankMasonFactor. CF ran smack into some Masonry. See Frank Mason, never quits. Occasionally gets beat on D, but never quits hustling. See Frank Mason shooting over 50% treys this season (double-ouch!! as 3pt% was supposed to be CF's claim to fame...but alas, everytime the natl TV announcers talked about CF, they mentioned his high-school reputation, as he hadnt proved anything in college (still hasnt proved anything positive). And you all know Frank Mason's attacking the rim is Sherron-esque/Tyshawn-esque, and is a different speed and style than CF. With Graham or Mason, the team-speed doesnt change much, like it would with CF running "point".


Erich Hartmann 7 years, 9 months ago


6. (oops...did I just say CF running 'point'?) CF is not a point guard. Let me say that again, as a quote from early Nov. directly from Bill Self: "Connor is NOT a point guard." CF = SG. Emphasis on 'shooting'. A scorer. With practice, he could certainly be a 6ft tall (shorter) version of Brady, who could certainly safely-feed-the-post, right? But 6'3 Brady was a far better defender than CF.

7. Scoring. What a nice segue for point 7: High-school vs. college offense. This point I'd like to jackhammer into some of my fellow Hawk fans', Connor's, and his dad's skulls: Connor was a VOLUME shooter in h.s., as his team's whole offense was built around him putting up a disproportionate number of shot att. I live in Wichita and saw his highschool games. It was mostly all Connor. Now tell me what college coach is going to design his whole offense around getting Connor that many touches. Wont happen. Especially for BalancedScoringBillSelf, who incidentally happens to be rather stubborn about feeding the bigs. Given very few shot att, we see Connor's efficiency actually sucked. He couldnt hit em cold, like Greene could/can.

8. The Stanford "Performance". This point goes to those few Jayhawks who's minds are stuck in that 'but, but, but...what about his showing vs. Stanford?' Hey, I'm still chuckling about some girl on this site who posted a few weeks ago that CF "saved us against Stanford". Here is how much Connor's miracle-3 x 3ptrs matters: Zero. Zilch. Nada. CF's 3pt performance matters about as much as Marcus Morris's 20pts vs VCU, or Black's superhuman effort vs. Stanford, or Wiggins 41pts @ WVU. Get it? Doesnt matter one iota if we still lost. Which means CF did squat all season.

9. QuitterFactor. Dont tell me this kid had "heart" once he himself chose to quit on his own team. 2 weeks ago, I talked to Perry Ellis's h.s. PG, who's known CF since grade school, and said he loved KU...but peculiar that he made a selfish choice over the KU team. And y'all want him runnin' PG? Why not be a scout team assassin, and help make "his" KU team that much better? Nope, chose to quit.

10. (For the final irony, I'll let CF's dad's own quote stand stark): "Connor's dream is to play in the NBA." Ok, so now a 6ft, 160lb kid with a college-proven 20-something-%-3gun, who couldnt even outcompete a few kids on his own Div.1 college now still dreaming about the NBA??! Sorry, I dont see it. I think its delusional. So the logic now is that maybe he can outcompete a MVC-level roster? Well, CF is no Ron Baker. Nor is he VanVleet. Nor is he Tekele Cotton...but at least Cotton graduates...

Rodney Crain 7 years, 9 months ago

Brian, Erich spells out for you in bullet points below why CF was not the answer, at point, leadership or defense. That you post this under a article about defense is even more off target. CF did not show he was able to hit contested shots, defend or run the point. When he turned tail and left at the beginning of the season he showed he did not have the moxie nor the leadership to compete for his minutes. I was looking forward to his play this year, but now I am glad he left.

Erich Hartmann 7 years, 9 months ago

Brian Wilson's post brings up another choice for us fans/alums: Do we 2nd guess Bill Self to the point we are second-guessing his whole recruiting planning/philosophy (instead of just the usual and expected Monday-morning-QB type comments about mpg or playcalls--which is a natural part of being a college/pro sports fan)? OR, to we stick more to analytics, and try to offer 'why' certain plays or defenses or players themselves are or arent working out? Especially after watching Self trying to hammer his winning philosophies into several different sets of KU players now over the last 11yrs...?

OK, so here's the CliffNotes version on Frankamp, and KU's current struggles: Mason got better in every category than CF, and has some physical attributes CF just doesnt have. Graham arrived and was better from Day 1, than CF, and has some physical attributes CF just doesnt have. And regarding the KU team's struggles: Due to a HUGE gap in experience compared to Self's best-ever KU teams ('08 (NC), '11(VCU), '12(RunnerUp)), this team has poor execution, poor positioning, mental lapses, and is also height-challenged. It must devise other ways (such as energy, use of depth) to overcome its deficiencies. Only with reps, reps, reps, will they become reliable...

The operative phrase in ALL of Bill Self's tenure here at KU: His teams get good in due time... (You all have seen this over and over and over). Maybe the only one deserving more critique could be Perry Ellis, as he has had the time. But also, we must remember that many of his teammates have changed from last year, so there is still a chemistry-curve for Ellis. Give them all the time they need...they will either get it together in time, or they wont.

Stay analytical, my friends...

Brian Wilson 7 years, 9 months ago

You guys missed my point and wasted time comparing nothing stats from Frankamp’s Freshman season to stats from Mason this year. Frankamp never played longer than 3 minutes until March. Using his stats mean nothing. So, bashing Frankamp is moot, only time will tell when he plays for Wichita State. So dig a little deeper, stop assuming that someone is arguing the obvious.

I am very excited about Graham being on the team as well as all the other players and certainly feel that some of them will be better players than what we lost down the road. But, that is not the point. I am concerned with KU having the best team in March and I am perplexed with the way things have gone since not benching Tharpe in February of last year. Bill Self said several times this past year that having a true PG in our system is not really necessary so if that is true then why all the fuss. right?

So Frankamp aside, let's go back even further. I am not a big fan of Tharpe and not that it matters now, but, had we not been so stubborn and had we benched him back in February, Tharpe may have been able to work hard and resurrect his KU career. Riding a player’s poor performance to the end of the year seems to have been detrimental in more ways than one. Looking back, Mason may have been a good option going into March, and had Frankamp played more than 3 minutes a game his performance could now be fairly evaluated, and he may have provided a solution as well. But instead of an early benching, instead of encouraging Tharpe to get his degree and graduate, instead of playing off the bench and maybe earn another shot, we instead let him play poorly all spring without giving others the opportunity and forced him into in the D league for what is probably little more than minimum wage so we can give his scholarship away to the next highly rated recruit.

I don’t blame Graham, but Graham did sign with KU almost immediately upon Tharpe’s announcement of not returning. Hopefully, KU would do what is best for Tharpe, so I have to think Tharpe made the decision not to go to the bench and leave. To think otherwise is shady speculation. But, he might not have been in this position had he been coming off the bench last February and he might have been more comfortable in staying. I am however happy not seeing him as the starter this year. I wanted Tharpe benched, but our approach in handling Tharpe out the door still does not feel right to me.

Brian Wilson 7 years, 9 months ago

To go further, why when we lost the number #1 Center “Miles” did we not at least have another developing center on our list as well as a true big 6”10”, 6”11” power forward to go with Alexander instead of Svi or even Oubre. White, Frankamp, were already in the fold. Then when White announces he is leaving, why replace White when you were already keeping Selden and Frankamp and you also have Mason and Graham at he point? It would appear that getting any one and done players with potential is more important than filling the positions the team needs and more important than our commitment to developing players we have.

Had Selden been benched for White for a few games we might have been able to determine if White wasn’t a better option while Selden gets his act together coming off the bench. Instead we will never know how good we might have been with White. We also will never know how good KU might have played with Connor. If either or both had panned out why accept recruits at those positions when you have other needs.

So, I question our direction since Tharpe became starter and a symptom of pressure or panic to keep up with UK. So I am pondering the following:

  1. Recruiting the Point Guard – How many and how often?
  2. Recruiting OADs and it's affect on experienced starters.
  3. The length of time players stay and develop in the system.
  4. Can OADs consistently develop fast enough for March.
  5. How do we provide opportunity for players that stick around while recruiting OADs.

With respect to what I have written in previous posts:

When is the last time you ever saw a Point Guard that is one and done? IMO, almost every Point Guard you recruit will be with your team for four years. I know there must be some PG OADs, but I can’t name any without spending the time to research. You can only have so many designated for Point Guard. I would think two scholarships, and hopefully you have Shooting Guard that play the point for a minutes as well. Players like Selden or Frankamp.

Also, this past recruiting class, moving players down to their respective NBA spots and recruiting big may have made better sense. That would mean Selden would play the point a little bit more, Ellis moves to the 3 (small forward), and Alexander would play at Power, his true position.

What I can conclude is the following: having watched Kentucky and Calipari, is by announcing and starting his players in two groups and giving 10 players 20 minutes a game Calipari has avoided the issues of playing time between those with experience and the OADs and he avoids a lot of these issues. By announcing it to everyone the players know what to expect and it's their minutes to lose if they don't play well. Everyone knew the team had the talent but there was a lot of laughter anyway. I'm not laughing now. And, if you don't play well, you should ride pine, and then your probably not one and done either!

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