LAWRENCE — Every Monday, The Star delves into Kansas basketball -- and the week ahead -- at KansasCity.com. Here's the sixth installment of the weekly series.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Before Kansas took down Belmont 89-60 on Saturday night, Kansas coach Bill Self was asked earlier in the week to compare this Kansas team to last year’s version — at least, to this point in the season.
The answer: This year’s team isn’t quite as seasoned. Not yet, anyway.
“Last year’s team,” Self said, “even though we didn’t perform great (early), you knew that they were battle-tested and tough. This year’s team hasn’t had THAT yet. But I would say … if you take out clips of this year’s team when we play well — compared to when we played well in the past — this year’s team ranks right up there.”
Last year’s KU team, of course, suffered early-season losses to Kentucky and Duke and faced UCLA and Georgetown in the Maui Invitational. This year’s schedule, meanwhile, has been a little lighter on the blue-bloods.
Kansas, 8-1, suffered its only loss thus far to Michigan State in the Champions Classic in Atlanta. And aside from that game, KU has yet to play a road game (or a neutral-floor game outside of Kansas City).
That will change this Saturday, when Kansas travels to Columbus to play No. 7 Ohio State. Still, Kansas’ strength-of-schedule — to this point — is a few ticks down from last year. According to KenPom.com, the Jayhawks have played the 132nd toughest schedule so far.
Here are the computer rankings, via KenPom, of KU’s remaining non-conference opponents:
Ohio State, 7
Additionally, here are the rankings of the Big 12’s top five teams (after KU):
Oklahoma State, 23
Kansas State, 38
Iowa State, 42
Kansas schedule will only improve, of course, especially after this weekend. But last year, KU also had the opportunity to play two top-10 teams (Missouri and Baylor) during conference play. And if the results of November and early December are any indication, the Big 12 schedule may offer few chances for signature victories.
In nine games, senior guard Travis Releford has been the Jayhawks’ most efficient offensive player. He’s averaging 13.2 points per game while shooting 56.6 percent from the floor. And here’s a stat that speaks to the high-percentage looks that Releford is taking. While hitting a respectable 33 percent from three, Releford is shooting 69 percent (34 for 49) on his two-point attempts.
So what's happened?
Releford’s larger contribution on offense appears to stem from a few factors: The departures of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left a large void; the continued development of Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore has left teams choosing Releford as the guy to slack off of; and while Releford has always been an effective slasher, he does appear more comfortable with the ball in his hands this year.
Releford is taking nearly two more shots per game on average, but his makes have increased by nearly the same ratio.
As a result, Releford’s offensive rating (ORtg), a measure of individual efficiency, has jumped from 118.5 last season to 127.2 this season, according to kenpom.com. That’s the highest on KU’s team, and the fifth-best mark in the Big 12.
Here’s the breakdown of Releford's last two seasons:
2011-12: 30.9 minutes / 8.5 ppg / 4.2 rebounds / 8.4 FGA / 49.8 FG% / 32.5 3P%
2012-13*: 32.7 minutes / 13.2 ppg / 3.4 rebounds / 6.1 FGA/ 56.6 FG% / 33.3 3P%
*through nine games
KU held Belmont to just 34.4 percent shooting on Saturday night. The performance included some even stingier defense on the perimeter; the Bruins connected on just eight of 38 three-pointers. In nine games, KU is holding opponents to 35.4 percent from the floor. While acknowledging that this percentage will likely go up during the conference season, here’s how that stacks up with year’s past:
Season, FG% Defense, NCAA Rank
2012-13*, 35.4 percent, 13
2011-12, 38.0 percent, 3rd
2010-11, 39.4 percent, 13th
2009-11, 37.9 percent, 4th
2008-09, 38.3 percent, 5th
2007-08, 37.9 percent, 3rd
2006-07, 37.6 percent, 4th
2005-06, 37.0 percent, 1st
*through nine games
By the numbers
15 … That’s how many dunks Ben McLemore has in nine games. Thomas Robinson led KU with 74 dunks in 39 games last season.
3 … That’s how many blocks Jeff Withey needs to equal Scot Pollard for fifth on KU’s all-time blocks list. Withey has 215 for his career.
6 … That’s how many charges Kevin Young has taken this season, five better than anybody else on the team.
To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.