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Overreaction SZN: Some possibly irrational observations from KU’s win over Michigan State

Kansas' Ochai Agbaji (30) gestures after making a three point shot during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Michigan State Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kansas' Ochai Agbaji (30) gestures after making a three point shot during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Michigan State Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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.

Reply 11 comments from Ted Hume Scott MacWilliams Dirk Medema Pius Waldman John Strayer Shannon Gustafson David Robinett Keithii Alan Dickey

Contrasting styles of Dajuan Harris, Remy Martin on display in KU exhibition

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris (3) knocks the ball away from Emporia State forward Adam Nance (23) during the first half on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris (3) knocks the ball away from Emporia State forward Adam Nance (23) during the first half on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The man most everybody inside Allen Fieldhouse came to see Wednesday night didn’t even start for No. 3-ranked Kansas. But basketball aficionados no doubt derived some entertainment out of watching a different style of lead guard, and one who actually started, while they were waiting for the main event.

No, not Chris Teahan, the sixth-year walk-on and student section favorite who replaced highly anticipated Arizona State transfer Remy Martin in KU’s starting five. Dajuan Harris, the redshirt sophomore who isn’t as likely to frequent the highlight reels on social media as the flashier Martin, but plays the type of basketball that coaches love.

Harris fits in so well on both ends of the court that head coach Bill Self might have even started the wiry point guard over Jalen Wilson (suspended) for the 86-60 preseason warmup versus Emporia State.

Martin (15 points on 7-for-10 shooting) proved to be electric with the ball in his hands from the moment he checked into the exhibition about six and a half minutes into the action.

But it was Harris who gave the Jayhawks their first spark of the night a few minutes earlier, diving onto the floor to give KU some defensive energy, which it had sorely lacked most of the opening minutes. Harris’ hustle turned into a KU steal and soon after a Christian Braun bucket in transition. It was one of those underrated moments that gets a team that should be dominating on track.

Harris, the quiet, 6-foot-1 guard from Columbia, Mo., had a low-key night in the box score, too, finishing with six points, two assists and one steal in 22 minutes. 

As Self said Harris told him after the exhibition, it was an “OK” performance. But that doesn’t mean Harris’ spot in the starting five will be in jeopardy. Harris attacks the game in a way that his coach appreciates.

“Juan has been as good a player as we’ve had,” Self said of what the Jayhawks have looked like during their preseason practices, “so Juan’s going to start. I don't know if that'll be for all season long or whatever. But for the foreseeable future, for sure, we’ve got to have Juan on the floor. Juan and Remy can play together, they can both start together. But Juan has been very consistent so far. He's got good hands.”

Self didn’t start Martin against Emporia State, but he did start Harris. Self said Martin coming off the bench had to do with the coach expecting his players to play a certain way. He mentioned Martin is quick, but doesn’t use that quickness on the defensive end of the court.

Harris and Martin are two very different types of guards, but there’s got to be some benefit to the more experienced scorer taking on some of the traits of the reserved sophomore. 

Martin is a shot-maker. A walking bucket, as the kids like to say. And no one with KU, including Self, wants that to change. When Martin checked in Wednesday night, the former All-Pac 12 guard saw defenders in front of him that he knew he could cook, so he did — even though his coach at least a couple of times in the first half would’ve preferred to see Martin move the ball and run the half-court offense instead of going one-on-whoever-was-in-front-of-him and scoring.

Harris is as old school a point guard as you’ll come across these days. He’s all about running KU’s sets, finding teammates, and getting to the right spots on the floor.

You could call the contrasting styles of Martin and Harris just a case of both players playing to their strengths. The thing is Martin could be even more crucial for the Jayhawks by adding some of those Harris attributes.

Self knows both guards go about their business in ways that benefit KU.

“I think Remy can just kind of understand ball and body movement gives the post guy a better touch than him just holding it, trying to get the ball to the post guy,” Self gave as one example of how Martin could emulate Harris.

This is the long game for Self: bring Martin off the bench now, in an exhibition that doesn’t matter and you’re obviously going to win anyway. Send a message about the type of basketball you want him to play. Not only do you get to see how he reacts, you also send a reminder to everyone on the roster that if you’re not willing to approach the game in a certain way — the way Self wants — then you could end up on the bench, whether you’re the 10th man in a deep rotation or the preseason Big 12 player of the year.

You can never tell much about KU from these lopsided exhibition blowouts in early November. But Self made it more interesting than expected with a bold move, bringing a star — the students showered Martin with chants of “Remy” moments after the exhibition as he did an on-court interview — off the bench.

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