Prepare yourself for even more snarls and swagger from Kansas junior Christian Braun. He won’t be able to hold back. Not with that black and gold he knows all too well in his line of sight.
To say that Saturday’s Border Showdown revival means more to Braun than most current players on either side of the college basketball state line is an understatement. While the 6-foot-7 guard from Burlington, like all of his KU teammates, has never faced the Jayhawks’ old conference rivals, Braun has spent most of the 20 years of his life embedded in the rivalry.
Braun is the rare KU player who might actually look at Missouri with the same disdain as many of the Jayhawks’ crazed fans. So much so that Braun’s passion for the rivalry couldn’t be concealed when he spoke with reporters on Thursday.
“I’m proud to wear Kansas, and I’m going to be proud to get this win on Saturday,” Braun said.
Already playing the best basketball of his career (16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, 62.8% shooting), and doing so while successfully toeing the line between confidence and cockiness, that brazen approach will only intensify against the Tigers. And he has his family to thank for that.
His mother, Lisa, was a three-time All-Big Eight basketball player at Missouri. His uncle, Mike Sandbothe, played basketball for Mizzou. So did his aunt, Lori Sandbothe.
“They don’t really let me stop hearing about it, to be honest. My uncle Mike talks about himself all day,” a grinning Braun reported.
So when Braun says this particular game means “a lot” to him, he’s not overselling it.
He ended up on the crimson and blue side of the rivalry thanks to his dad, Donny, a former KU walk-on who would eventually transfer to Saint Louis.
“Me and my dad were always kind of on the other side. But I always tell people, I was always on the winning side,” Braun said. “So it feels good to be a winner. That’s why I chose here. I never really looked over in Mizzou’s direction, even though my brother was there.”
That’s right. Even his brother, Parker, wanted to play at Mizzou. At least for a few years. Parker, who was a walk-on with the Tigers, this past offseason transferred to Santa Clara. But Braun doesn’t think playing against his brother this year would have made the rivalry game more fun. He said he’s happy for Parker, now a starter with the Broncos, instead of a backup with the Tigers.
Braun said his brother learned a lot from Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin, and credited Martin with helping Parker grow as a person.
And then Braun’s inner Jayhawk got the best of him.
“They’re playing really good basketball over there (at Santa Clara), and that’s something (Parker) hasn’t seen,” a smirking Braun added, not missing an opportunity to take a jab at the Tigers. (Santa Clara is 7-3, and during the three years — one as a redshirt — Parker was at Mizzou, the Tigers were 15-17, 15-16 and 16-10.
Braun was asked if Parker will be cheering for his KU-loving brother in the rivalry game.
“Oh, absolutely,” he responded, almost appalled by the question.
In fact, Braun said all of his aunts and uncles and family members will be on his side of the border rivalry for this matchup.
“There’s no question. They’re all Kansas fans now that I’m here.”
He then suppressed a laugh, while adding: “We kind of give them something to cheer for.”
Though the KU-Mizzou rivalry disappeared for nine years for some, it didn’t for Braun.
“It never really died to me,” he said.
What can you learn about a powerhouse team playing its third game of the season — at home, against a team ranked No. 201 by Kenpom, no less?
Probably not a ton. But you can make some rash declarations about what transpired.
It’s still Overreaction SZN here at KUsports.com.
Suspended for getting a DUI, Jalen Wilson hasn’t even played for the Jayhawks yet. Remy Martin tweaked his back recently and only played 18 minutes in KU’s 88-59 win over Stony Brook. But the game still had moments worthy of disproportionate responses.
They are as follows:
Would KU have lost this type of game last year?
OK, maybe not. But it probably would’ve been a grinder that the Jayhawks eventually won by 10 or 12 because they showed up to the game with better players.
Point being: they didn’t have to ugly their way to a win after Stony Brook gave them a tough first half. And that’s because this season KU has an offensive player who can put a team on his back.
This year’s Ochai Agbaji is nothing like last year’s. And junior year Agbaji wasn’t that bad.
Senior year Agbaji (25 points vs. SBU) wills his way to the rim against weak opponents and strokes 3-pointers (4-for-11) anytime an open look comes his way.
Most importantly, even without Martin (0-for-2 in 18 minutes), the Jayhawks weren’t worrying about being able to weather whatever storm the Seawolves brought, because Agbaji’s playing at such a high level that it gives the whole team confidence.
Zach Clemence is going to start playing more
Shouldn’t a freshman big man’s minutes actually go down with Wilson about to return to the lineup?
Hey, what type of rational question is that?
Zach Clemence is too uniquely skilled to ignore or get buried on KU’s bench.
The 6-foot-10 modern big has made at least one 3-pointer in each of his first three games in a KU uniform, and he put up 11 points in just 12 minutes vs. SBU.
Clemence is playable, too, on both ends of the floor. He will need to get a lot stronger in years to come to be more impactful inside, but he was almost always in the right position defensively Thursday night. Plus, Clemence has the footwork to defend a big facing up or trying to take him off the bounce.
Then there’s the real reason KU needs to play him: that smooth stroke from behind the arc. Clemence fires away like he’s convinced the ball’s going in every time it leaves his hands. He went 2-for-4 against Stony Brook. He even looked like a veteran filling the lane on one fast break, and then spotting up on the left wing to knock down a 3.
Clemence is a stretch-5, and that makes him unique — even on this deep and talented roster.
Christian Braun should assert himself offensively
Obviously, Christian Braun could’ve gone scoreless and KU still would have had no problem winning this game.
But especially on a night when Martin wasn’t in the mix as a scoring threat, it was surprising to see Braun only took five shots — he went 4-for-5 and scored 11 points.
Braun, a junior who is going to play a ton of minutes this year because of his intangibles, is going to be needed offensively some nights in the near future. If there are games when Agbaji and/or Martin are in foul trouble or just don’t have it going for whatever reason, the Jayhawks will need someone on the perimeter to step up.
With 38 career starts and the ability to live up to Bill Self’s expectations on both ends of the court, Braun should be KU’s third-best scoring guard.
And he’s trusted enough — and knows how to play the right way — that no one is going to call him out for taking too many shots or anything like that.
Most of the men’s basketball teams in the Big 12 will be making up missed games next week. Not Kansas.
The Jayhawks proved to be the only program in the league fortunate enough amid a season marred by COVID protocols and even severe weather postponements to enter this week having already played 16 conference games — the exact number that every Big 12 team would have been at, if not for the pauses and rescheduling and general calendar chaos.
Quick. Knock on some wood or partake in your personal superstitious act of preference. We don’t want to jinx anything. We want to see Kansas play Baylor on Saturday.
OK, now that we’ve absolved ourselves of any wrongdoing, take a second to appreciate what KU’s players and staff have done (with some luck along the way). The No. 17 Jayhawks (17-7 overall, 11-5 Big 12) have made it to the final week of the regular season without having to “pause basketball activities” or miss a string of games because of positive COVID cases. KU had a meaningless nonconference game against Tarleton State wiped out during an already busy week in December because of issues with the opponent. Even better, the Jayhawks encountered just one Big 12 postponement (because of Iowa State’s protocols at the time), and they already played the makeup game and won it.
When this week’s slate of games began, Baylor — one of the two best teams in the country this season, but apparently one of the worst at managing pandemic life — had only played nine Big 12 games. Nine. Half the league schedule. In late February. As in March is almost here.
Kansas State got in 15 of its 16 league games ahead of this final stretch. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State all entered the week with 13 Big 12 games behind them. West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech each had played 12. And TCU got in 11.
Even though the past several weeks haven’t always been pretty for the Jayhawks on the court, they do have to consider it opportune that the schedule broke the way it did for them and they were able to keep working through their struggles.
Can you imagine how the season might be playing out if KU also had to stop playing or practicing in recent weeks, not getting the chance to grind their way out of a slump and come out on the other side?
Sophomore guard Christian Braun appreciates that the Jayhawks have reached this stage of the season without any major interruptions.
“I think there’s advantages to it. We went through a tough stretch,” Braun said, referencing KU’s 3-5 January. “So shutting down during that stretch would’ve been tough to come back from. But we’ve all done a really good job staying safe, staying away from everybody. And that’s really important for any team — especially now, this late in the season.”
If ever there was a time for the Jayhawks to become lax with health and safety guidelines, it was while stumbling through January, when even playing basketball on a national stage for a storied program wasn’t feeling especially fun for anyone.
As Braun said, though, they just kept isolating and working at getting back to what they came to Kansas for in the first place — winning basketball games. It paid off, too, and the Jayhawks’ arrow is pointing upward again with March and all of its accompanying Madness just around the corner.
Even so, KU is playing its final week of the regular season with NCAA Tournament seeding at stake. What if the Jayhawks also had to play two or three more games next week, and against the top teams in the Big 12, not the bottom feeders? That’s a scenario in which they could not only potentially suffer more losses and hurt their seed line, but also end up with further fatigued players heading into the postseason, with so many games on the schedule in such a small window.
It’s not likely for Baylor, even after going three full weeks without a game, to fall out of its position as a No. 1 seed in the next two weeks. BU and Gonzaga clearly have established themselves as the title favorites for 2021. But what’s ahead of the Bears, after some tinkering at the Big 12 offices, is five games in 13 days.
KU coach Bill Self, who like many of us thought BU would have to play three games both this week and next, said Monday during his video press conference that would be “a lot for anybody to play.”
Unlike KU, which will conclude its Big 12 slate on Saturday, when the Bears visit Lawrence (again, fingers and toes crossed and all of that), these teams that have more games unplayed than time to play them didn’t even know until Tuesday which opponents they would have waiting for them during the conference’s built-in makeup week.
Texas coach Shaka Smart said Monday during his video press conference that Big 12 decision makers told the Longhorns that league administrators planned to plug a formula into a computer to determine the makeup schedules for teams such as the Longhorns and Bears.
The Jayhawks don’t have to worry about any such headaches. All they have to do is play the games that were already on the schedule and keep taking the pandemic seriously during what has to seem like a never-ending cycle of mundane downtime.
Braun stressed it would be important for the Jayhawks to remain “locked in” — and he just as easily could’ve mean that literally about KU players in McCarthy Hall — and not have any setbacks in terms of COVID testing.
“No team can afford to get shut down,” Braun said of this late stage of the season. “The guys have done a great job.”
For shooters on Bill Self’s teams, there’s a five-letter word that’s just as bad as any four-letter swear word: “slump.”
“I don’t like it if a guy were ever — a shooter — to ever admit that he’s in a slump,” Self said Friday.
And to his credit, sophomore guard Christian Braun didn’t spew such coarse language as “slump” while speaking with reporters on a video call earlier in the day. Rather, he said he was “just missing shots right now.”
The topic of Braun’s 3-point shooting came up ahead of Saturday’s home matchup with Iowa State, because, well, Braun hasn’t connected on many of his looks from beyond the arc recently.
After Braun, a 6-foot-6 guard who graduated from nearby Blue Valley Northwest High, went 16 for 36 (44.4%) in seven nonconference games to open the year, many expected him to continue burning KU opponents from downtown in conference play.
But his 3-point mark against Big 12 foes is 10 for 34 (29.4%) in six games. And that number is buoyed by one game in particular, against West Virginia, where he caught fire and went 6 of 12 from long range. Since the start of 2021, KU has played four games, in which Braun is a combined 4 for 19 (21.1%).
In total, Braun is 26 for 70 (37.1%) from 3-point range so far this season. He went 32 for 72 (44.4%) as a freshman.
Braun said he hadn’t noticed anything that was consistently affecting his shooting during KU’s 10-3 start.
“I just think I need to hit shots, shoot the ball better,” Braun said. “All that takes is just to keep shooting. I can’t go away from that. I know I’m a good shooter, and they’re going to fall eventually. I’ve just got to keep putting them up.”
That’s the perfect approach for a reliable shooter like Braun to take. It’s also part of the mindset his coach wants to see from him.
“I don’t think he’s in a slump,” Self said. “I think he’s missed shots.”
There are plenty of other ways to impact the outcome of a basketball game, of course. Self said that’s one of the first lessons he ever learned from his father, Bill Self Sr.
If Braun were just a 3-point specialist and nothing else, he wouldn’t be a starter at KU averaging 30.2 minutes per game. Braun is averaging 8.3 points while shots aren’t dropping for him in Big 12 play, but he also contributes 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals. On the season, he has led or tied for the team lead twice in rebounds and three times each in assists and steals. He even led KU in blocks versus Kentucky with two.
Braun stands out by making hustle plays and winning plays. According to the numbers KU keeps, he has a team-high 17 floor burns this season.
Though Self always wants his players doing more on those fronts, the coach is not worried about Braun’s 3-point shooting.
“A guy that has a reputation of being a shooter, you should not base his good or poor play based on if the ball goes in the hole or not,” Self said. “There’s plenty of other things guys can do to bring value, to help a team win. And Christian’s certainly capable of doing that. And he knows that.”
Braun’s effort and execution in other aspects of the game, no doubt, have helped him remain composed about his 3-pointers.
“You know, a lot of them are going in and out,” Braun said. “I think I have (continued to be assertive). There’s been a couple of games where I went 1 for 5 or I’ve gotten enough up. I just need to hit the shots. And that’s on me.”
Even on days when those quality looks rim out, Braun is a valuable player for the Jayhawks. And when he is knocking down 3-pointers on top of everything else he does, it’s KU’s opponents who are doing the cursing.
Christian Braun’s 3-pointers through six Big 12 games
Dec. 17 at Texas Tech: 0-for-3, 2 points
Dec. 22 vs. West Virginia: 6-for-12, 22 points
Jan. 2 vs. Texas: 0-for-5, 4 points
Jan. 5 at TCU: 2-for-4, 10 points
Jan. 9 vs. Oklahoma: 1-for-6, 5 points
Jan. 12 at Oklahoma State: 1-for-4, 7 points
Bill Self knows this year’s Kansas basketball roster probably won’t match the long range fire power of the best 3-point shooting teams he has coached.
But in order for these Jayhawks to get the most out of their offense, Self would like to see them taking a few more shots from beyond the arc.
Given the way Kansas plays this year, either with just one big or with five perimeter players, and the skill sets of the rotation players, Self shared recently the Jayhawks need to take about 35% to 37% of their shot attempts from deep.
In five of KU’s first eight games of the season, the 3-pointers haven’t gone up with enough frequency.
Entering Tuesday’s Big 12 home opener versus No. 7 West Virginia, No. 3 KU has attempted 34.2% of its field goals so far from long distance.
But those numbers are a little skewed by two high volume days against two of the lesser opponents the Jayhawks have faced.
Here’s a rundown, by game, of the rate at which KU shot 3-pointers:
• Gonzaga - 29%
• St. Joseph’s - 32.3%
• Kentucky - 31.3%
• Washburn - 42.6%
• North Dakota State - 24.2%
• Creighton - 33.3%
• Omaha - 43.7%
• Texas Tech - 38.3%
As a team, KU is connecting on 39.2% of its 3-pointers so far, which ranks 37th nationally out of 327 teams that have played. And for the most part, the Jayhawks have three players to thank for that. Junior Ochai Agbaji is 21-for-44 (47.7%), sophomore Christian Braun is 16-for-39 (41%) and redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson is 12-for-32 (37.5%).
Obviously if the Jayhawks (7-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) are looking to take a few more shots from downtown, those are the preferred options.
“I actually think Ochai and Christian and Jalen need to shoot it whenever they’re open,” Self said.
Even so, Self doesn’t think this team is far off from consistently making good use of the arc and the shooters KU has spotting up behind it.
There are actions the Jayhawks can take, too, to make sure they’re attempting enough 3-pointers without forcing the issue.
“We’ve been terrible drivers to pass,” Self said of one fixable issue to address. “We’ve been trying to score in tight rather than looking to pitch. There’s some things that we can do within what we do to shoot three more threes a game. I think we can get there.”
KU’s top shooters and the offense in general should benefit from point guards Marcus Garrett and Dajuan Harris — and really any perimeter player who gets to the paint to draw in the defense — driving and kicking the ball out when there’s no path to the rim for a high-percentage finish. Per hoop-math.com, an assist set up every 3-pointer Wilson has made so far. A teammate assisted on 19 of Agbaji’s 21 made 3-pointers and 12 of Braun’s 16 3-pointers came off an assist.
There are Jayhawks who could improve as 3-point options as the season progresses, as well. Self thinks freshman Bryce Thompson (5-for-17) will be “a really good shooter,” and junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster (1-for-10) should “look to shoot more.”
Multiple times already this season Self has brought up KU’s 2018 Final Four team and the names of marksmen Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick just to point out that this year’s team doesn’t possess those types of 3-point shooters (KU took 41.2% of its shots from 3-point range that year). But Self does think the 2020-21 Jayhawks can be “pretty good” from outside and he wants those deep shots — and the threat of them being made — spreading the floor to make the offense more effective.
“We do have enough guys that I think that have to be guarded, that can stretch the defense,” Self said. “And guys that can drive to force help and things like that. I do think if we could just tighten some stuff up we would be much harder to guard.”
Jayhawks’ 3-point shooting through 8 games
Ochai Agbaji, 21-for-44 (47.7%)
Christain Braun, 16-for-39 (41%)
Jalen Wilson, 12-for-32 (37.5%)
Bryce Thompson, 5-for-17 (29.4%)
Marcus Garrett, 5-for-16 (31.3%)
Tyon Grant-Foster, 1-for-10 (10%)
Tristan Enaruna, 1-for-6 (16.7%)
Dajuan Harris, 2-for-3 (66.7%)
Latrell Jossell, 2-for-2 (100%)
Mitch Lightfoot, 1-for-1 (100%)
Chris Teahan, 1-for-1 (100%)
Only time will tell for certain which member of the 2020-21 Kansas basketball team will become the Jayhawks’ go-to 3-point shooter. But we don’t need to see one minute of Late Night or actual games to know who it should be.
One could argue pretty easily that Christian Braun even took on that role for at least a game or two during his freshman season, when it belonged to an upperclassman most of the time. Now it’s hard to envision anyone on the roster but Braun leading KU in 3-pointers.
Isaiah Moss made (49) and attempted (141) the most 3-pointers for KU this past season, while playing in 30 games as a graduate transfer. Now that Moss’ college career is done, there’s an obvious opportunity for Braun to not only fill those adidas, but burst them at the seams.
“I feel like I’ll be able to take a lot of those shots,” the 6-foot-6 sophomore said Thursday afternoon, when the loss of Moss came up during a video call with reporters.
The Jayhawks, despite all their success in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season, weren’t a great 3-point shooting team, averaging 6.4 makes from long range on 18.6 attempts (34.4%, which ranked 117th nationally).
Moss only averaged 1.6 made 3-pointers a game, on 4.7 attempts (34.8%) and both averages were the highest on the team.
Braun, who averaged 1.0 make from deep a game on just 2.3 attempts, proved to be KU’s most consistent shooter, percentage wise, draining 44.4% on the year (32-for-72). Even though Moss attempted nearly twice as many 3’s (141) as Braun (72), Moss only made 17 more — 49, compared to Braun’s 32.
It took a little while for Braun as a freshman to earn the consistent playing time that would allow him to showcase his marksmanship. Once he did, Braun drained three or more 3-pointers in seven different games. Braun only averaged 18.4 minutes as a freshman, but appears in line for a much larger role as a sophomore. If he’s not starting, he’ll play heavy minutes off the bench.
And if Braun can hit around 44% of his 3-pointers again in the coming season, he should be shooting way more often than Moss did anyway. Forget the 4.7 attempts Moss took a year ago. Look back to the 2017-18 season, when Svi Mykhailiuk got up 6.6 3-pointers an outing and averaged 2.9 makes (44.4%).
It seems unlikely this KU team will have three different players hoisting more than five times a game from beyond the arc, the way Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham (6.9) and Malik Newman (5.3) did for the 2018 Final Four squad, as all three of them shot at least 40% from downtown.
Braun had a long list of teammates, though, when asked to identify KU’s current best shooters. And he didn’t even include himself.
According to Braun, junior Ochai Agbaji (34.8% 3-point success last season) is shooting the ball “really well” during preseason practices, as is redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson. Braun called sophomore wing Tristan Enaruna (8-for-31 as a freshman) an improved shooter. Plus, Braun said junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster “can jump up and hit a shot” and implied everyone knows about freshman guard Bryce Thompson’s prowess from outside.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can take those shots and knock them down. So we’re not really worried about what we lost,” Braun said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with potential to hit those shots. And a lot of guys I’m confident in going forward that they can hit those.”
Just how much other Jayhawks can stretch defenses and open up the lane for drives and junior big David McCormack remains to be seen. But KU has a sharpshooter in Braun, and his light should be the brightest shade of green at all times to maximize his offensive potential.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 91-71 win over Iowa State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• KU’s two best offensive players made sure to torch their Iowa State defenders throughout the first half, setting the stage for a highlight factory.
What Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson spearheaded, their teammates made sure to imitate, and layups and dunks became the norm, as the Jayhawks spent most of the first 20 minutes shooting better than 60% from the floor.
They headed to halftime 20-for-33 with 24 points in the paint and a 50-40 lead.
• There really was no stopping the Jayhawks for ISU in the first half. The team that has struggled to connect from downtown most of this season was nowhere to be seen, and KU hit 7 of 14 3-pointers in the opening half of action.
• KU left its Big 12 home win with 57% field goal accuracy, as the Jayhawks shot 12-for-27 from long range and produced 38 points in the paint.
• The only problem for KU in the first half was the defense couldn’t seem to stop Iowa State from long range.
The Cyclones started the night on fire and refused to cool off, draining 9 of their first 11 attempts.
• ISU executed against the normally stingy KU defense to the tune of 55.6% shooting in the first half, when the visitors put up 40 points.
• The Cyclones didn’t find nearly as many 3-point opportunities in the opening minutes of the second half, though, and KU extended its double-digit lead as a result.
ISU’s shooters combined to go 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half, as KU put the Cyclones away.
• Azubuike’s energy in the first half, as ISU’s defense failed to take his touches away, gave KU a noticeable boost.
The Jayhawks’ dominating center went for 10 points in the first half, going to the rim with power every chance he got.
The senior 7-footer finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 swats in the win.
• Dotson was one of three Jayhawks in double figures by halftime as his blazing speed and relentlessness helped set the tone for as entertaining a half of offense as the fieldhouse has seen this season.
KU’s sophomore point guard had 15 points, with the help of 3-for-4 3-point shooting by the break.
He kept on burning ISU defenders in the second half, and not just with his attacks off the dribble. Dotson exploded for 29 points and knocked down 6 of 8 from behind the arc.
• Marcus Garrett tamed down on offense after his absurd Saturday versus Oklahoma. But you knew he would bring it defensively, and he did.
Garrett had 8 rebounds and 3 steals with his 5 points and 6 assists.
• Isaiah Moss never found his way into an offense-friendly type of night for KU.
Early on, Moss tried to attack off the bounce a couple of times and got to the paint, but that’s not his strength. He had a rough miss and a turnover to show for his efforts.
Moss only scored 2 points and went 0-for-4 on 3-pointers.
• Ochai Agbaji sought out some layups and open looks for 3 in a productive night versus ISU’s outmatched defense.
The sophomore guard put up 14 points and dished 3 assists while often looking right at home in the uptempo game.
• Christian Braun came out flying and firing, fitting in ideally in the first half.
The freshman turned a steal into a fast-break dunk as KU got rolling in the first half, and went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers, en route to 13 points.
• Thanks primarily to Braun and backup big David McCormack (10 points), KU’s subs outscored ISU’s 28-13.
There’s no question that Kansas coach Bill Self is happy with the recent play of his team’s 3-point specialist, Isaiah Moss.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Self said Friday, when asked about the surging senior marksman, who helped No. 3 Kansas stay unbeaten in Big 12 road games, with a 58-49 win at No. 14 West Virginia.
Self didn’t share his specific feelings about the recent 3-point accuracy — or lack thereof — from the rest of the Jayhawks. But KU’s coach did mention his team made exactly four 3-pointers in each of its two road wins this past week.
“He’s made six of them,” Self pointed out of Moss, a 38.8% career 3-point shooter over the course of three seasons at Iowa and 23 games at KU.
The past couple of games in particular, Moss has proven to be the exact version of himself KU needs offensively — 3-for-8 from long range at TCU and 3-for-5 at WVU.
He could clearly use some help. While Moss was fulfilling his role in two impressive, defense-first road victories for the Jayhawks, the rest of the team combined to shoot 2-for-14 in the past week.
In the two games prior to those, KU went 4-for-13 against Texas Tech and 2-for-12 versus Texas. No single Jayhawk made more than one 3-pointer in either of those home wins.
“It’s ridiculously poor how we’ve shot the ball beyond the arc,” Self remarked. “But also you can look at it like thank goodness we’ve got (Moss).”
With the end of the regular season now just three weeks away, KU is shooting 34.2% on 3-pointers as a team this year (131st nationally as of Friday). However, the Jayhawks are making only 31.9% of their 3-pointers in Big 12 play, placing them fifth in the conference entering this weekend’s slate of games.
KU’s lack of consistent shooting has been an ongoing discussion this season, and when those conversations are happening Moss isn’t the only player considered a reliable option. Freshman Christian Braun needs to be a good shooter for the Jayhawks, too, as Self doesn’t mind bringing up.
If Braun’s more assertive on catch-and-shoot chances, following Moss’s lead, it will bolster KU’s scoring and offensive spacing.
Braun didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in KU’s two wins at TCU and WVU, while playing a combined 36 minutes. He also went 0-for-2 against Texas and last connected on a 3-pointer during a game on Feb. 1, going 1-for-2 versus Texas Tech.
Yet Braun is responsible for some of KU’s most eye-popping 3-point displays this season, going 6-for-10 versus Kansas State and 4-for-8 at Oklahoma State.
So far during his freshman year, Braun can boast 41.8% 3-point accuracy. In Big 12 games, no Jayhawk has been as on the mark from long range as Braun, who is 14-for-29 (48.3%).
The Jayhawks need Moss and Braun firing because they’re easily the best shooters in the rotation.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson hasn’t hit more than one 3-pointer in a game since KU played at Iowa State on Jan. 8. WVU strategically left him open earlier this week, as Dotson went 1-for-5 while playing through some right knee soreness that had kept him out of practices the previous few days, Self shared.
In the nine games Dotson has played since going 2-for-5 on 3-pointers at ISU, he has shot 7-for-34 (20.6%) from deep. And he’s just a 27.7% 3-point shooter on the season.
Junior guard Marcus Garrett will take 3-pointers when the defense leaves him wide open and the shot makes sense in the moment. But he hasn’t buried a 3 since KU’s Jan. 14 win at Oklahoma. Garrett didn’t put up a single 3-pointer in four outings of that eight-game stretch, during which he was 0-for-7.
A 26.4% career 3-point shooter, Garrett has connected on 28.6% of his 35 tries during his junior season. He’s just 3-for-15 (20%) in Big 12 games this year.
Sophomore Ochai Agbaji gets hot from behind the arc occasionally. But since a 3-for-7 afternoon in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Tennessee on Jan. 25, Agbaji has gone 4-for-18 (22.2%) over his most recent five games.
Agbaji enters Saturday’s rematch with OU shooting 34.6% from downtown as a sophomore, but that number dips to 25.6% in KU’s 11 Big 12 games to date.
Moss is KU’s green-light shooter, and Self thinks the graduate transfer understands that. But the Jayhawks will need Braun to adopt a little bit of that same mentality and wait for Dotson and Agbaji to shoot their way out of their slumps before the offense is able to peak.
KU has gotten away with being a mediocre to poor 3-point shooting team this season because the Jayhawks are playing elite defense (No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com). But if they’re somehow able to pair that defense with some consistency from outside, they would become a dominant team.
The key will be confident shooting from Moss and Braun, paired with Dotson (a good free-throw shooter, at 80.6% this season) and Agbaji improving for the stretch run.
Stillwater, Okla. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 65-50 win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
• Sometimes the Jayhawks looked right at home in the first half against the Cowboys’ zone defense. But their 3-pointers (6-for-19 before intermission) weren’t always falling. And they could only find consistent good looks in the paint in transition.
• KU made only 34.5% of its field goal attempts in the first 20 minutes and turned the ball over 6 times.
• The Jayhawks improved to 4-0 in Big 12 road games by opening the second half with some more consistent 3-point shooting in the opening minutes after the break. A 3-for-4 start from deep helped KU quickly build a double-digit lead.
• KU shot 39% in the win, connecting on 11 of 33 3-pointers. The Jayhawks turned it over 10 times and were outscored in the paint, 24-16.
• The Cowboys hit just 26.7% of their shots in the first half and went 2-for-12 on 3-pointers.
• It didn’t get much better for the home team in the second half, when KU outscored the Cowboys, 36-26.
OSU hit only 28.1% of its shot attempts in defeat and only got 2 of 18 3-pointers to drop.
• With Udoka Azubuike able to stay on the floor and avoid a third personal foul in the second half, the Jayhawks, predictably, began to pull away with their best lineup on the court.
OSU’s zone aimed to take away Azubuike in the first half, and between that and his two fouls sending him to the bench for two stretches, he didn’t even attempt a shot before halftime.
But on this night, KU just needed the senior center on the court to make everything else function. Even when he wasn’t getting catches in position to score — he saw virtual triple teams on multiple occasions — his presence alone was enough to overwhelm OSU.
Azubuike finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks.
• In his first career start, freshman Christian Braun showed the assertive approach that has fueled his growth throughout the past month.
KU’s ball movement and patience against OSU’s defense often allowed Braun to shoot open 3-pointers or attack off the dribble.
Even better, Braun put in work on the glass, finishing with 9 rebounds to go with his 16 points and 4-for-8 3-point shooting.
• Junior guard Marcus Garrett was up to his do-everything tricks. Defense. Rebounding. Attacking the paint. Passing. A little scoring.
The versatile guard came away with a stat line worthy of his overall game: 7 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists.
• Ochai Agbaji’s up-and-down season in terms of offensive effectiveness continued.
The sophomore shot 2-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-7 on 3-pointers. But the Jayhawks are better off with him on the floor than not, thanks to his defense and athleticism.
Agbaji provided 9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
• Devon Dotson only played 25 minutes, keeping his production a little lower than what KU is used to getting out of the speedy point guard.
Some foul issues led to the dip, but the Jayhawks actually played well without him, surprisingly enough.
Dotson had 11 points and 3 assists.
• Isaiah Moss looked like a great sixth man option, coming in off the bench with some scoring punch.
After starting against Tennessee he looked better as a substitute specialist. Moss pourred in 13 points and went 3-for-8 on 3-pointers as KU rolled.
The KU bench outscored OSU, 16-11, even with its shortened rotation.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 81-60 win over rival Kansas State on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• A few unimpressive possessions in the game’s first couple of minutes wouldn’t become the trend. After three turnovers and two misses on long jumpers, Bill Self abandoned his two-big starting lineup.
What followed in the next 8 minutes amounted to a clinic, with the Jayhawks showing the assertive approach on offense Self has been looking for lately.
Smart passing and some patience in the half court led to both layups and 3-pointers, as KU sprinted to a 17-point lead.
• KU scored 20 points in the paint in the first half and went 5-for-13 on 3-pointers. The Jayhawks also kept active, with 8 offensive rebounds.
• The Jayhawks’ offense started to look a little sloppy early on in the second half, often as they were a little too eager to pull the trigger on 3-pointers.
• KU reached 70 points for just the second time in Big 12 play and shot 46% in the Sunflower Showdown victory. The Jayhawks were 9-for-26 on 3-pointers and scored 40 points in the paint.
• KU’s energy and effort was just as evident on defense in the first half, as they tried to bury their rivals in a hurry. K-State opened the game 4-for-13 from the floor, and also turned it over 8 times in that stretch. K-State also had two shot clock violations during that span.
The Wildcats ended up shooting 40% from the field in the first half, but their 11 turnovers led to 18 points for KU.
• The perimeter defense by KU kept K-State junior guard Cartier Diarra ineffective much of the night.
• The visitors from Manhattan, down 16 at the half, shot 39% in the final 20 minutes and 39% on the night. K-State definitely missed some open looks, though.
• Udoka Azubuike proved to be as crucial a player as KU had on the floor, even though he only scored one field goal in the first half. The Wildcats’ defenders spent so much time focusing on the 7-footer and collapsing on him when he caught the ball that it left plenty of space for the rest of the Jayhawks to operate in the half court.
KU outscored K-State by 20 when Azubuike was on the floor in the first half, and he scored 4 points.
The big man ended up controlling the glass, though, securing 14 rebounds to go with his 10 points and a double-double.
• David McCormack missed a long jumper from the baseline and turned the ball over in the game’s first couple of minutes, leading to him spending most of the first half on the bench and KU playing four guards.
Just like he did at Texas, McCormack opened the second half on the bench, with Christian Braun replacing him. McCormack finished with 2 points and 4 rebounds.
• Devon Dotson again relied on his speed on both ends of the court to help KU create separation early, coming up with steals, layups and trips to the foul line.
In his second game back since missing KU’s game at Oklahoma due to his hip pointer, Dotson finished with 18 points and 3 assists, plus 5 boards.
• Ochai Agbaji didn’t let some missed shots keep him from asserting himself on offense. Better yet, his activity led to 4 offensive rebounds.
As usual, it was Agbaji’s defensive work that kept him on the floor. The sophomore guard produced 6 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
• Marcus Garrett didn’t stand out quite as much as usual in the first half, and a lot of that had to do with KU’s other role players coming out eager show they could in fact chip in.
Garrett’s defensive awareness and ability to keep KU functioning on that end kept the Jayhawks comfortable most of the night.
Statistically, Garrett’s night picked up in the second half, as the spacing on the floor and his drives and all-around smart decisions helped him give KU 8 points and 5 assists in the win.
• When Isaiah Moss barely played more than one minute as the first sub of the night, before going right back to the bench, it was freshman Braun’s opportunity to shine.
Braun checked into the game ready to attack. His style of play was the exact opposite of the “timid” approach Self bemoaned regarding KU’s bench three days earlier, at Texas. With Braun as the fourth guard, the Jayhawks took off. He shot 3-for-4 from 3-point range and also showed off his finishing ability on a tough drive and finish over defenders, putting up 11 points in the first half.
On an impressive night for the freshman backup, Braun reminded everyone what great potential he has as a shooter (6-for-10 on 3-pointers) and often stole the show, putting up 20 points.
• Moss at least showed a willingness to catch-and-shoot on quality looks from 3-point range, even after missing his first couple tries early on. The Jayhawks need him taking those open looks from deep to space the floor, even if they’re not dropping.
Moss ended up 1-for-4 on 3-pointers, with 7 points.
• Thanks to Braun and Moss, KU outscored K-State’s bench, 37-8.