LAWRENCE — Every Monday, The Star delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here's the fifth installment of the new series.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Kansas guard Ben McLemore has drawn all sorts of comparisons during his short time at KU. And just eight games into his redshirt freshman season, McLemore’s play has sparked a flood of others. Some see Brandon Rush. Some see a young Dominique Wilkins. Fortunately for us, we have stats for this.
At KenPom.com, the spreadsheets and formulas spit out similarity scores for nearly every player in college basketball. There are a couple rules, and here’s one important one: The comparisons can be made across years, but only among guys that are in the same class. Example: Junior season Thomas Robinson can’t be compared to sophomore Blake Griffin.
So what do the stats say? To whom does McLemore best compare?
How about the freshman version of former North Carolina swingman Harrison Barnes, who was drafted No. 7 overall by the Golden State Warriors in last summer’s NBA Draft. At first glance, it’s a little crude: Barnes was a 6-foot-8 small forward who was selected a preseason All-American before his freshman year and developed a rep — perhaps unfairly — for settling for jumpers and playing a little soft. McLemore, meanwhile, is a quick-twitch wing who (while also hoisting plenty of threes) seems determined to set the KU record for most highlight-worthy dunks.
But consider: Barnes did average 15.7 points (42.1 percent from the field) and 5.8 rebounds in his freshman season. And the advanced offensive numbers match up pretty well with McLemore, who is averaging 16.0 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from the floor. (Expectations and perception can be a funny thing.)
Here are the other “most similar” players, according to KenPom.com, for the rest of the KU starting lineup. But consider the sample size. The numbers for KU’s starters could look a lot different in February.
Jeff Withey, senior center, 7-0
Most similar: Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State, 2009-10
Varnado, the NCAA’s all-time leader in blocked shots, averaged 13.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks in his senior season.
Travis Releford, senior guard, 6-5
Most similar: Eric Hayes, Maryland, 2009-10
Hayes averaged 11.3 points 4.0 assists in his senior year at Maryland.
Kevin Young, senior forward, 6-8
Most similar: Alfred Aboya, UCLA, 2008-09
Aboya averaged 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in senior year at UCLA.
Elijah Johnson, senior guard, 6-4
Most similar: Josh Rivers, Western Illinois, guard, 2008-09 Rivers averaged 9.8 points, 2.8 assists and shot 41.5 percent from three-point range.
You may have noticed that Jeff Withey’s block-to-foul ratio has become a national curiosity. And for good reason.
Withey had five blocks and just one foul in KU’s 90-54 victory over Colorado on Saturday. A solid performance, sure, but one that actually hurt his blocks-per-foul numbers. (He had been averaging a hard-to-believe 6.7 blocks-per-foul.)
Withey, who now has 45 blocks and just seven fouls in eight games, had a more reasonable 1.44 blocks per foul last season, while National Player of the Year Anthony Davis totaled more than 2.3 blocks per foul.
Here are the leaders in blocks-per-foul from BCS schools, according to TeamRankings.com.
1 Jeff Withey, Kansas, 6.4
2 Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State, 3.3
3 Desmond Hubert, North Carolina, 1.8
4 Jared Berggren, Wisconsin, 1.6
Bachynski, a 7-foot-2 junior, had an Arizona State-record 12 blocks while posting a triple-double in a victory over Cal-State Northridge on Saturday in Tempe. The performance allowed Bachynski to overtake Withey in the national rankings; Bachynski has 50 blocks to Withey’s 45. But Withey (5.63) still edges Bachynski (5.56) in the blocks-per-game category. Let the best shot-swatter win.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks return to the floor at home against Belmont. Last week, some picked out Colorado as a potential upset pick as the Buffaloes traveled to Allen FIeldhouse. But based on the numbers, maybe those folks should have been looking ahead to Belmont.
The Bruins entered Monday 6-2 with a neutral-floor loss to Northeastern and a 10-point loss at VCU. OK, not that impressive. But they also average more than 78 points per game, the 38th best mark in the county, and shoot better than 48 percent from the floor as a team — 21st in the nation.
More important: Look at Ian Clark, Belmont's 6-3 senior guard:
For players that have used at least 20 percent of their team’s possessions, Clark ranks fourth in the country in offensive efficiency rating (133.5), according to KenPom.com. In most cases, anything better than a 110 efficiency mark is good. And for a player like Clark, who leads Belmont with 19.4 points per game, a number over 130 number is simply outstanding.
Clark entered Monday shooting 58.3 percent (35 for 60) from three-point range, a number that, along with his efficiency rating, will likely come back to earth. But if Kansas wants to avoid the mid-major upset bug, you can probably expect to see Travis Releford getting the assignment on Clark this Saturday.