Overreaction SZN: Some possibly irrational observations from KU's win over Michigan State
There’s no time like the season opener to overreact to what you witnessed out of one player or an entire team on a basketball court.
And, man, did the Kansas Jayhawks’ season-opening win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden provide opportunities to formulate some exaggerated assumptions.
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Not even head coach Bill Self has a great feel for this team quite yet, and it might be January or February — or even March — before we know what the 2021-22 KU roster is truly capable of.
For the time being, though, here are some potentially overly irrational takes, based on what we saw in one game from a team that played six newcomers in its opener.
Could Ochai Agbaji be one of the best 3-point shooters in the country this year?
The senior shooting guard’s 3-point numbers weren’t insane, but they were more than respectable. Agbaji went 3-for-6 from deep to open his final year in a KU uniform.
Even more promising than Agbaji’s production were those new and improved mechanics on his shot. The 6-foot-5 veteran now gets those 3’s off so quickly and so smoothly and at such a high release point that it seems like every attempt is going to fall through the net.
After going 78-for-207 (37.7%) last year, Agbaji looks like an even better 3-point shooter now. The catch-and-shoot opportunities he had looked automatic.
Actually … is Agbaji just one of the best wings in the country?
Agbaji proved to be anything but one-dimensional offensively, and lit the Spartans up for a career-best 29 points. The efficiency was something to behold, too: 9-for-17 from the field, 8-for-8 at the foul line, the aforementioned 3’s.
The variety involved getting to the rim, making a point to get to the free throw line, scoring in transition off of steals and showing off his ball handling by going behind the back on the fly after receiving an outlet pass.
Who is this man? Because he doesn’t look like the Agbaji that was advised to return to KU for one more year instead of entering the 2021 NBA Draft.
Now that Marcus Garrett is gone, is KU just going to have to outscore everyone?
In the 2020 NCAA Tournament that never was, KU was the favorite to win it all, in large part because of the trio of defenders Self could rely upon: Marcus Garrett and Devon Dotson on the perimeter, and Udoka Azubuike in the paint.
Last year, the Jayhawks still had Garrett and still had a top 15-ish defense (12th, per KenPom).
Now Garrett is doing Heat culture things in Miami, and the Jayhawks don’t have any one defender who can shut down one side of the floor — Self just last week likened Garrett to Deion Sanders.
There’s no lockdown perimeter defender, nor an intimidator or shot eraser at the rim on this KU team. A Michigan State team that didn’t look too overwhelming offensively shot 46% from the floor and scored 40 paint points, despite its 16 turnovers.
The most energetic and willing defender for KU looked to be freshman KJ Adams. But the 6-7 wing’s likely a year away from playing major minutes (he played 4 vs. MSU).
Will this team have a defensive identity? Will the Jayhawks be able to make stops in a one- or two-possession game in crunch time?
Is Remy Martin touching the ball enough?
Obviously this was more of a first-half problem for KU: Martin didn’t even attempt a shot in the first 20 minutes.
Even though Martin finished with 15 points, it was odd to see him playing off the ball almost exclusively in the first half.
Martin is faster than almost anyone he will encounter — even with the ball in his hands. And KU becomes far more dynamic offensively when Martin is involved.
Dajuan Harris is KU’s point guard, but that doesn’t mean Martin should ever be a 2-guard relying on others to set him up. You can tell that Martin always wants the ball in his hands, because he’s a natural and confident scorer.
His shoot/score-first mentality might not be exactly what Self wants from him, but the more Martin gets chances to attack from the wing or the top of the key, the better it will be for the offense and KU’s longterm ceiling — especially if Self can get Martin to set teammates up, too, when he draws the defense in.
Zach Clemence might be the efficient scoring big KU wants David McCormack to be
Who would’ve thought freshman big man Zach Clemence would be KU’s second-leading scorer in the first half?
The 6-foot-10 backup came in ready to produce, and put up 7 points on 2-for-3 shooting in just 4 minutes of playing time.
Clemence looked confident and comfortable offensively inside, scoring a layup and getting to the foul line (2-for-2).
Though Clemence did fire up and hit a 3-pointer during his limited minutes, he looked much better showing his good hands on a Bobby Pettiford drive and dish for a lay-in.
If you can score against Michigan State in Madison Square Garden in your college debut, you can score against anyone, anywhere.
McCormack scored 10 points, but he was 4-for-11 and forced too many of his attempts in the post. The Jayhawks are talented enough on the perimeter offensively this year, that they don’t need to try and play through McCormack nearly as much as they did last year.