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.
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.
Welcome to Overreaction SZN at KUsports.com.
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.
Sure, Kansas put an end to its un-blue blood like three-game losing streak Thursday night against TCU. But what transpired at Allen Fieldhouse didn’t come close to resembling the type of turning point in the season the Jayhawks needed.
Senior Marcus Garrett spoke earlier in the week of looking at the remainder of the schedule as a new season. And this matchup had all the elements to be the reboot game KU had been chasing. TCU hadn’t played in 16 days and arrived in Lawrence as one of the two worst teams in the Big 12.
For some reason, though, what should have been an easy A for the Jayhawks played out in the first half like they showed up to a final exam having never attended a lecture nor read any of the course materials.
Misfires multiplied — they were 5-for-23 and missed 11 in a row as the two teams traded woeful droughts — and the Jayhawks just got tighter with every clank and turnover.
College basketball is supposed to be fun, but that 18-point first half was the antithesis of that.
“Doubt definitely runs through every player’s mind,” KU junior David McCormack admitted following a predominantly ugly 59-51 victory.
The possibility of KU’s losing skid going from three to four felt very real in the first half, and the No. 15 Jayhawks played at times like that was the only thing on their minds.
“I don’t know if we played tight, per se,” McCormack said of the first half. “I think some people were just thinking too much or overthinking. We just told them to relax, play the game, but still be turned up at the same time. Once we got a well balanced mindset everything came natural.”
They weren’t just bad in the opening 20 minutes. They were abysmal. It was troubling. Any of the Big 12’s top teams could’ve buried KU by halftime. If this was an NCAA Tournament game in Indianapolis in March, even against a double-digit seed, the Jayhawks would’ve been packing their bags and headed home.
But this was a late-January game against a TCU team that entered the night ranked No. 93 in the nation at KenPom.com. So the Jayhawks won.
The result doesn’t mask this team’s issues. Inconsistencies continue to plague KU. The extreme fluctuations in the effectiveness of individual players from game to game or even half to half has kept the Jayhawks from achieving their typical elite status. Jalen Wilson went scoreless in 18 minutes against TCU. Christian Braun only attempted three shots in 27 minutes. Both have proven this season they are capable of far better.
For much of the year, the volatility in how KU plays defense has been at the front of head coach Bill Self’s mind.
After the Horned Frogs shot 35% from the floor and coughed up the ball 22 times, on this night at least, Self felt better about one of his team’s problems.
“We didn’t play great offensively the first half. We guarded for the most part for 40 minutes,” Self said. “Really proud of our guys for how they competed. I know they’re feeling some pressure. And they needed to enjoy this and I’m going to, too.”
It took an unexpected second half burst onto the scene from junior backup Tyon Grant-Foster (nine points and five rebounds in 17 minutes) and David McCormack playing to his potential — and even connecting on the first 3-pointer of his college career — in the final 20 minutes for the Jayhawks to recover at home and beat TCU.
But the Jayhawks have been in such a rut of late that they only focused on the positives afterward.
“A win is a win at the end of the day,” junior Ochai Agbaji replied, when asked whether the Jayhawks left less encouraged than they typically would following a victory. “Coming off of three straight losses, that’s what we just wanted to come in here and do, no matter what. You have to win games like those where things aren’t going our way offensively, and we’ve got to really lock in defensively and make them play bad. Those wins are always fun, and I think all the guys are enjoying this one, too.”
Self didn’t go as far as to call what happened fun. But he, too, surely while considering the psyches of his players, opted not to dwell on the negatives.
“It’s a good vibe,” Self said. “I’m not in any way shape or form going to leave here thinking it was an ugly --- win. I’m not going to do it.”
That’s what Self said because that’s what his Jayhawks needed to hear at this stage of a season that hasn’t lived up to his standards.
Even so, KU enters a challenging trip to Tennessee having merely survived against TCU. The Jayhawks didn’t look like they started a new season. They’ll have to put off hitting that reboot button yet again, as they hope to eventually evolve into a team that can make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Texas outplayed Kansas in every way imaginable Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, where one of the biggest swings in the No. 8 Longhorns’ dominating 84-59 victory came behind the 3-point line.
The No. 3 Jayhawks were non-factors from long range, connecting on a season-low three 3-pointers. Their inability to match the Longhorns’ energy in the top-10 battle proved as costly in this category as everywhere else on a day that UT buried 12 of its 26 shots from deep.
KU (8-2 overall, 2-1 Big 12) finished 3-for-23 from downtown, and the Jayahwks’ usually reliable shooters were missing what few shots they could find before the visitors began pulling away and KU started hoisting them out of desperation down the stretch.
“They got out on shooters,” junior guard Ochai Agbaji said after he went 1-for-6 on 3-pointers, making KU’s first of the game in the final minute of the first half, before the Jayhawks went 2-for-16 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Agbaji credited the Longhorns (8-1, 2-0) with turning KU shooters into drivers. But the problem was UT effectively made them one-dimensional, as the drives didn’t lead to anything else.
“We didn’t make the right adjustments in this game to counteract (UT’s initial 3-point defense),” Agbaji said, “and get the ball moving on our offense then.”
Before the team’s winter break, KU caught fire, hitting 16 of 37 3-pointers while beating up West Virginia. The Jayhawks opened the new year looking far less comfortable as shooters, and that’s because of UT’s personnel and approach. KU’s previous season-low for 3-pointers came against North Dakota State (4-for-15). But what transpired Saturday looked much more like KU’s 5-for-21 3-point night against Kentucky.
Three-pointers don’t look so open when the defender closing out is taller and longer, and can reach farther into that shooting window more quickly. UT’s defenders made those shots appear far less inviting. And they executed defensively to boot.
“They pre-switched a lot of stuff,” Bill Self said during his postgame video press conference. “I thought they did a really good job. They defended us a lot like Baylor did the first time we played them last year (KU went 4-for-15 that day in a home loss), and we didn’t really have any answers for them.”
Added Self: “I thought Texas did a terrific job guarding us the entire game, regardless of if it was 3-point shooting or not.”
As Agbaji pointed out, though, there are ways KU could have countered Texas’ superior 3-point defense.
“We just have to keep staying aggressive, not going away from the three-ball. But also looking at different things — taking it inside, getting fouled,” Agbaji gave as some examples.
KU doesn’t have the type of perimeter players to consistently beat their Texas counterparts one-on-one. The Jayhawks tried that route too often. The better option would have been something Self has tried preaching to them lately.
“We didn’t drive to pass at all. No matter how much we’ve emphasized it,” Self lamented.
The Jayhawks, who entered the game averaging 9.2 made 3-pointers an outing, could have created more quality looks for their best shooters — Agbaji, Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson — if they had attacked closing out UT defenders by driving inside while looking to kick it out, as Self has stressed of late.
There was no juice to anything the Jayhawks did on either end of the court versus Texas, with their 3-point shooting failing to give them boosts throughout a challenging matchup with the lengthy Longhorns.
And while it’s true some bad luck led to a handful of open 3’s rimming out — for Braun (0-for-5) in particular — there were too many cases where the Jayhawks weren’t willing to match the Longhorns’ defensive intensity with some inspired offense.
This KU team isn’t going to beat high profile opponents scoring so infrequently from long distance. This may not be an elite 3-point shooting team, like Self so often has insisted this season, but the Jayhawks have to get their fair share of scoring from beyond the arc. They don’t have to rain down 3-pointers on opponents game in and game out, but they need to cash in enough to keep defenses honest and create the spacing that will benefit drivers, as well as bigs when they get their touches inside, near the rim.
David McCormack can’t carry this team offensively — particularly against long and athletic front lines. And while Marcus Garrett is as good as a defender as you could hope for at the college level and a solid distributor, the senior entered Saturday’s game averaging just 9.4 points per game this season. It’s not wise to hope for an offensive spark out of him.
KU’s offense almost always needs to revolve around some combination of attacking and 3-point shooting from Agbaji, Braun and Wilson.
There was little fight to be found in anything the Jayhawks did versus Texas, however, including in the way KU defended UT’s 3-point shooting.
“That was a game where as poor as we played,” Self said, “they outscored us by 27 from the arc. And we can’t let that happen.”
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%)
Lubbock, Texas — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 66-62 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.
• The Jayhawks missed a lot of shots in the first half (39% shooting), but still headed to halftime up 32-24 versus the Red Raiders.
Points in the paint made that possible, as KU outscored Tech, 14-6, in the first 20 minutes.
That helped offset KU’s 3-point shooting, with the No. 1 team in the country going just 3-for-12 in the first half.
• Although the Jayhawks turned it over 7 times in the first half, Tech only scored 2 points off those miscues.
• A slow offensive start to the second half (2-for-11 shooting, 0-for-2 3-pointers, six minutes in) kept Tech right in the thick of it with KU.
• KU shot 43% in the second half and on the day outscored Tech, 38-16, in the paint. The Jayhawks shot 1-for-5 on second half 3-pointers.
• KU’s guards occasionally had trouble cutting off the long strides of Terrence Shannon Jr., when the 6-foot-6 freshman sought out driving lanes, but the visitors mostly proved effective at keeping Red Raiders out of the paint.
• The Jayhawks ran into even more trouble defending the arc. The Red Raiders opened 4-for-9 from 3-point range 12 minutes in, before KU only allowed 3 more attempts (all misses) before intermission.
• As has been on the case on the road all season long, it was KU’s defense that made a victory possible. Even without a gaudy amount of steals and blocks, the Jayhawks just made it difficult for the Red Raiders to score — a must in a hostile environment versus a well-coached team.
• Tech, after shooting 30.3% from the field in the first 20 minutes, however, came out guns blazing in the second half. Starting 4-for-5 from the floor, Tech, after trailing by as many as 8, tied the game at 37.
• The Red Raiders shot 37% on the day and went 8-for-26 on 3-pointers.
• Udoka Azubuike drew tons of attention from Tech defenders whenever KU could get him the ball in the paint, but the senior center mostly handled those situations well, even after a couple of potentially discouraging turnovers early on.
Azubuike scored 8 of his 15 points in the first half, and executed some nice passes out of the post to open shooters.
The big man played his final regular season game for KU, posted another double-double, with 11 rebounds.
• Devon Dotson came out attacking, scoring two of KU’s first four baskets off dribble attacks that got him layups.
In the midst of a terrific atmosphere and a tight game early on, Dotson’s pick and roll with Azubuike for a dunk, when the big man already had a couple turnovers in the paint, felt like an important moment for the offense.
Even better for the Jayhawks’ chances, Dotson often set up teammates for good looks at Tech, too, with 4 assists on KU’s first 10 field goals.
A surefire first-team All-Big 12 guard, Dotson didn’t let a stepback air-balled 3-pointer to open the second half ruin his day. The sophomore point guard was driving to finish at the rim over length a minute later.
Dotson on a 6-for-15 shooting day, ultimately was productive, putting up 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while struggling from time to time with turnovers (5).
• Marcus Garrett, always the glue guy, provided KU with stellar defense, great effort on the glass and leadership.
His perfect entry pass into Azubuike with 2-plus minutes left gave KU a crucial basket in crunch time. In the final minute, he drove in for a clutch layup that put KU up 4.
A junior guard, Garrett finished with 9 points,, 2 assists and 9 rebounds.
• Isaiah Moss hit his first 3-pointer with 6:38 left in the first half. And though he missed his next 2 attempts in the half, KU functioned well with him on the floor, because Tech defenders have to respect him as a long-range threat.
Moss put up 3 points and went 1-for-5 from deep
• Ochai Agbaji knocked down a right corner 3-pointer early on, and every time that someone other than Moss or Christian Braun connects from downtown, that’s a good sign for the Jayhawks’ offensive potential in the weeks ahead. However, his next three 3-point tries misfired.
What helped Agbaji stand out, though, was his willingness to keep making effort plays when his shots weren’t falling. His hustle in transition to follow a Dotson miss on a toughly contested layup paid off, as Agbaji fushed a follow jam.
He also hit a timely 3-pointer under the 10-minute mark of the second half, with the Red Raiders surging and the crowd giving them even more life.
The sophomore guard posted 12 points and 6 rebounds in the regular season finale.
• David McCormak harnessed his energy well in the first half when he came in to give Azubuike a breather. The backup big asserted himself to look for shots and hit the offensive glass. Even though he needs to finish some of the looks he got inside as a result of his approach, he gave KU more positives than negatives.
McCormack got on the floor to secure a key defensive rebound in the second half, with a little more than 7 minutes to go, leading to a transition layup for Dotson.
KU’s backup big provided 5 points and 6 rebounds.
• Braun delivered what was a rare basket for KU early on in the first half. Spotting up in the left corner, he attacked a closeout off the bounce to seek out a layup, and he drew a foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play.
The freshman guard gave KU 5 points and 4 rebounds, and finished a must-have fast-break layup — set up by his steal — smoothly with less than 1:30 left.
• Tech’s reserves were a bit more impactful, overall, than KU’s on a heated March afternoon, and Tech prevailed in bench points, 16-10.
A supporting starter for the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Ochai Agbaji often blends in more than he stands out.
That doesn’t mean his head coach, Bill Self, wants Agbaji playing passively on offense. With the attention Kansas opponents must give to the Jayhawks’ inside-outside duo of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, opportunities for Agbaji often materialize. And when they do, KU needs the agreeable Agbaji taking advantage.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard’s defense, athleticism and energy keep Agbaji on the court for Kansas (25-3 overall, 14-1 Big 12). That’s why he played 39 minutes in the Jayhawks’ vital win at Baylor, despite going scoreless for the first time this season and just the third time in his 44-game college career.
“I was definitely happy for my teammates, happy for the outcome of the game,” Agbaji said of his zero points in a crucial victory. “Our main goal was just go down there and win, no matter what. Any way we can do it. So, I mean, if it takes me not even scoring and us getting the ‘W,’ then I'll have that every single day.”
Even so, with just a handful of games left in the regular season, Monday night’s matchup with Oklahoma State was no time for Agbaji to fade into the background, on the heels of an 0-for-5 outing at Baylor.
So Self was pleased to see Agbaji produce 15 points, while going 5-for-9 from the field and 2-for-6 on 3-pointers versus the Cowboys.
“A lot better,” Self said of Agbaji’s offensive approach in an 83-58 KU win. “Aggressive. Shot a couple balls right off the bat.”
It all began for Agbaji with an assist from the Jayhawks’ dominating big man, Azubuike. Dotson had just thrown KU’s senior center an entry pass into the paint, and as Azubuike gathered inside, OSU took for an ultra-aggressive approach, sending four defenders at the 7-footer. Azubuike reacted by spotting Agbaji in the nearby left corner, and the sophomore side-stepped into a successful 3-pointer for KU’s first basket of the night.
That quick start had Agbaji confident enough to catch and fire quickly off a defensive stop on KU’s next possession. And although that 3 misfired, it didn’t put an end to his self-assured offensive mindset — which is exactly the attitude his head coach wants Agbaji to have.
He showed briefly he can do that as a playmaker, as well. At an early juncture of the first half, Agbaji dribbled hard toward the paint from the left wing, forcing the OSU defense to react. His decisive attack off the bounce created the opening Isaiah Moss needed to drain a wide-open 3-pointer and gave Agbaji an assist.
His most eye-popping moment, though, came above the rim. With a David McCormack block on defense serving as the catalyst for a fast break, Agbaji sprinted down the left side of the floor. His instincts and hustle led him to the rim, as Dotson served up a lob that Agbaji slammed.
Late in the first half, Agbaji again looked authoritative with the ball in his hands, driving right at OSU’s Lindy Waters III on a poor closeout, drawing a foul that led to two made free throws.
Even though Agbaji missed two well contested 3-pointers in the final seconds of the first half, with the clock influencing his decision to take those shots when he wouldn’t have to force them in most situations, he came right back out in the second half ready to help put OSU away.
A few minutes removed from the halftime break, Agbaji found a larger defender, Cameron McGriff, checking him on the perimeter. So Agbaji went into attack mode, crossing over the 6-foot-7 forward and finishing over McGriff with a runner off the glass while drawing a foul for a 3-point play.
Just more than a minute later, Agbaji caught a pass on the right wing with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Azubuike came up to set a screen for him and Agbaji used that opportunity to dribble into a 3-pointer that put KU up by 13 points.
Agbaji’s final points of his fifth double-digit scoring game in Big 12 play this season, once again, were the result of his firm response to a defensive opening.
When OSU opted to trap Marcus Garrett near mid-court, it left three defenders to cover four Jayhawks and a lot of space for Agbaji to operate once Garrett threw him a pass out on the right side. Agbaji wasted no time in determining a plan of action and dribbled into a rhythm jumper, which he buried from just behind the right elbow.
Self appreciated that Agbaji repeatedly sought out shots for himself.
“I don’t know football very well, but it seems like they’re playing nine in the box or whatever they call it,” Self said of defenses the Jayhawks have faced. “And it seems like to me you’ve got to throw long every now and then, even if it’s incomplete just to stretch the defense. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to shoot the ball to stretch the defense. When we do that, it opens up a lot more driving area and lanes.”
KU’s best and most used lineup versus OSU had Agbaji out on the court with Dotson, Azubuike, Garrett and Moss — KU’s starting five for the past four games. That unit played 15:09 versus OSU and outscored the Cowboys, 34-18.
What makes Agbaji (averaging 10.1 points a game this season, on 43% shooting and 34.1% 3-point accuracy) such a good fit as a third or fourth scoring option is KU doesn’t have to run actions for him for Agbaji to produce. Just as he showed versus OSU, reading and reacting can help him accumulate points effectively. Having an assertive approach in those moments brings out the best in Agbaji.
The Jayhawks don’t always need points from Agbaji, but his teammates and coaches do want him bringing an opportunistic attitude on offense.
“Defensively, he's been pretty solid and good, basically all year long,” Self said. “But tonight he was different. He was different offensively. Much more confident.”
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.
His name isn’t the first, second or even third to come up in most conversations about the No. 3-ranked Kansas basketball team.
Nevertheless, the underappreciated Ochai Agbaji has proven instrumental for the Jayhawks in their pursuit of No. 1 Baylor.
So gifted athletically, the sophomore guard seems to leave some wanting more. And now. More 3-pointers. More drives. More points. KU does have to grind through so many games, after all.
Just keep in mind Agbaji is KU’s third-leading scorer (10.2 points per game) on a roster with two potential All-Americans in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike providing most of the scoring. Agbaji isn’t going to transform into a go-to bucket-getter who suddenly puts up 15 to 20 points a game this season. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not going to get all of your guards pouring in points night in and night out — not in college basketball.
Every once in a while, Agbaji will catch fire from 3-point range and provide KU with a boost that makes winning go more smoothly for this defense-first KU roster.
But his 34.6% 3-point shooting is not something that should be counted on. Nor should anyone hold it against Agbaji when he’s blending in instead of firing at will.
The sophomore guard has only played in 46 career games, remember, because his would-be redshirt season a year ago disappeared once KU lost Azubuike due to injury. Agbaji won’t be two full seasons into his college career until January of 2021.
Give the still-young player some time to grow and he’ll be soaring over those high expectations some have for him eventually.
Agbaji obviously didn’t dominate offensively at West Virginia, where KU (21-3 overall, 10-1 Big 12) extended its current win streak to nine games and improved to a perfect 6-0 in Big 12 road contests. But he sure wasn’t passive, either. He blew through lanes to the basket when given the chance by the mostly staunch Mountaineers defense.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Kansas City, Mo., attacked the rim, creating a layup for himself a few minutes in, as KU set a promising tone offensively, with a variety of Jayhawks piling up points in the paint. Later in the first half, he took a steal the other direction for a fast-break layup.
When his 3-pointers weren’t dropping, he kept looking for other avenues, and opened up KU’s second half with another transition lay-in. He’d pull off a third fast-break hoop before long on a 4-for-7 night that produced 9 points. And over the course of the game he drew three fouls from WVU defenders.
The more Agbaji plays at KU, the better he’ll become at making the most of his athleticism, an area where he often has the advantage over the man across from him.
Right now there are times when he’ll go stretches without showing up in any statistical column. But there’s something about his presence — and how he fits with Azubuike, Dotson and Marcus Garrett — that helps this team meet its defensive potential. And that’s the end of the court where the Jayhawks are winning these games.
Agbaji rarely left the court at WVU, sitting for all of 53 seconds. Coincidence or not, when he took a breather, WVU rattled off 5 quick points. He didn’t sit at all in the second half. And, of course, Agbaji was a key part of the most effective KU lineup at WVU. Azubuike, Dotson, Garrett, Agbaji and Isaiah Moss played 16:12 together, and those five outscored the Mountaineers, 29-10.
His defense, effort and attitude keep him on the court. If he had any major failings as a player, he wouldn't be playing 33.9 minutes a game.
In a perfect world, yes, KU would take an offensive late-season metamorphosis from its starting sophomore shooting guard. But this is reality. For now, just give Agbaji some room to breathe and keep developing.
The scoring spike will come, probably when KU really needs that from him next season. Trying to force the issue with Agbaji at this point seems unwise anyway, with this team’s impressive chemistry.
KU plays through Azubuike in the half court whenever it can, capitalizes on transition opportunities with Dotson pushing the tempo or Garrett creating takeaways if possible, and otherwise gets most of its offense from Dotson’s and Garrett’s drives to score or pass. It’s not a formula that overwhelms opponents, but it’s working.
The Jayhawks could reach another level this season with some added scoring punch. But no one Jayhawk is going to change that on his own. KU will be better off if the seven regulars in Bill Self’s rotation do that collectively.
Agbaji could provide a scoring uptick by staying assertive. And so could the rest of his teammates.