Kansas basketball aiming for improved 3-point defense against hot-shooting Wofford

Kansas coach Bill Self gestures during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kansas coach Bill Self gestures during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Bombs away.

That’s been the strategy of most of No. 2 Kansas’ opponents so far this season, with the Jayhawks surrendering 37.3 percent 3-point shooting on 70 more attempts during the first six games of the 2018-19 season.

Even teams not known for shooting a large number of 3-pointers — like Stanford last weekend — have relied on offense behind the arc to cause problems for the Jayhawks. And most of the time it has worked.

But Tuesday night, when Wofford comes to town for a 7 p.m. battle at Allen Fieldhouse, it will be an entirely different story altogether.

See, Wofford is known for shooting the heck out of the ball and the Terriers (6-2) enter Tuesday’s clash shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range, nearly making as many 3-pointers (88 of 224) as Kansas has taken (47 of 107).

Add to that the fact that four Wofford players averaging 25 minutes or more are shooting it at a 38 percent clip or better through the Terriers’ first eight games and it's easy to predict that the Terriers will test the Jayhawks' defense as much as any team to date.

“Not defending the arc is probably not a (recipe) for success playing Wofford,” KU coach Bill Self said Monday. “Because they’ll be probably the best 3-point shooting team we play all year.”

And it’s entirely possible that Fletcher Magee will be the best individual shooter the Jayhawks (6-0) face this season.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior from Orlando enters the game shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range. But it’s the volume, more than the percentage, that caught Self’s eye.

“Whenever one guy’s shot 11 3s a game,” began Self of Magee’s per-game average. “He’s shot 87 (3-pointers) and (KU senior) Lagerald (Vick has) been on fire and shot 49. Think about that. (Magee has) shot 40 more 3s than Lagerald and Lagerald’s been on fire.”

While stifling Magee certainly would go a long way toward helping the Jayhawks’ chances in this one, KU’s 3-point defense as a whole makes the rest of the Wofford roster even more of a concern.

Nathan Hoover is shooting 51 percent with 25 makes in eight games. Storm Murphy has hit 10 of 26 3-pointers so far this season. And four other Terriers have hit at least three triples to date, with Tray Holloway falling in line right behind Murphy with eight makes so far this season.

That depth could pose a problem for the Jayhawks, who have given up a number of open looks — to both statistically good and statistically bad shooters — throughout the season, and guards Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett said the topic of closing the gap between defender and shooter has come up on more than a few occasions during recent KU practices.

“Pretty much being more aggressive with everything, making the defense feel us on every possession,” said Dotson when asked what aspects of defense the KU coaching staff had emphasized of late.

Self elaborated on the concept not long after Dotson referenced it.

“It used to be in Allen Fieldhouse that the first five minutes were always the key for the opponents because we could put enough heat on people that it could kind of get away from teams in the first five minutes,” he said. “But we (started) the game the other day (vs. Stanford) and in the first five minutes they’re as comfortable as can be.”

After making fewer than six 3s on 19 attempts per game during their first seven contests of the season, Stanford drilled 12 of 34 against KU, with five coming from Isaac White, a sophomore guard who played 27 minutes against Kansas after playing a total of 23 minutes in Stanford’s previous seven games.

So much of making opposing offenses uncomfortable comes from putting pressure on opposing ball handlers well beyond where they want to initiate their offense. Self’s teams have always emphasized this as a way to lead to turnovers and easy baskets for Kansas, and the KU coach said his team had done a “terrible job of pressuring out” so far this season.

Self conceded that even though that philosophy might not be the saving grace against Wofford — “They’ll catch it five feet beyond the arc and they’ll shoot it and that’s a good shot,” he said. — it is something he would like to see the Jayhawks do more of on a regular basis.

“For most teams, if they catch it five feet beyond the arc, you eliminate them from being triple-threat,” Self explained. “They can just be dual threat and be a passer or driver. So the shot fake is eliminated. We haven’t defended the arc very well. … I’d say the 3-point line is a concern both ways.”

Jayhawks still 2nd despite losing votes

There was not nearly as much intrigue surrounding the release of Monday's Associated Press Top 25 college basketball rankings this week as there was a week ago. And with good reason.

No. 1 Gonzaga stayed in the top spot and actually put a little distance between itself and No. 2 Kansas.

After coming up one first-place vote (32-31) and six total points shy of the Zags a week ago, the Jayhawks fell behind by 39 points and 24 first-place votes in this week's poll.

Duke, Virginia and Michigan rounded out the Top 5, with the Blue Devils and Cavaliers holding onto their spots and Michigan sliding up two spots to jump ahead of Nevada and Tennessee.

Vick, Lawson honored by Big 12

Already gunning for a 15th consecutive Big 12 regular season title this season, the Jayhawks kept another Big 12 streak alive this week, when Lagerald Vick was named the conference's player of the week.

Vick and junior forward Dedric Lawson, who earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors on Monday, have now received the Player of the Week honor all four times it has been handed out this season.

The two-award sweep marked the seventh time the Jayhawks have swept the weekly honors since the 2008-09 season, with the most recent coming in Week 1 this season, when Lawson (POW) and Quentin Grimes (NOW) swept the honors. Before that, Devonte' Graham (POW) and Malik Newman (NOW) achieved the feat on Feb. 26, 2018.

Through games of Dec. 2, Vick leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.8 points per game. He also leads the league in 3-point field goal percentage at 59.6 and in 3-pointers made per game at 4.7.

Lawson is the only player in the Big 12 averaging a double-double. He leads the conference in rebounds at 11.2 per game and his 18.8 scoring average is fifth in the league.