LAWRENCE — Every Monday, The Star delves into Kansas basketball – and the week ahead. Here’s the eighth installment of the weekly feature.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Let’s start with three facts about KU senior guard Travis Releford — defensive stopper-turned-offensive weapon.
1 He's making everything. For a swingman, Releford’s shooting percentages are worthy of a little more investigation. After shooting just 34 percent from three-point range during his first three seasons at KU, Releford has transformed into an efficient threat from deep, hitting 47 percent (18-38) on his treys* this season.
*He’s certainly shooting with more confidence. Would sophomore or junior Releford fire away from three with KU leading by just four points in the final minute against Temple on Sunday?
Still, Releford’s efficiency from two-point range may be just as impressive: He’s hitting close to 74 percent (45 of 61) on his two-point tries. As a result, Releford ranks first in the nation in effective field-goal percentage, which takes into account the extra value of three-pointers.
Here’s the top five in effective FG%, according to KenPom.com:
1 Travis Releford, Kansas, 72.7
2 Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 71.8
3 T.J. Warren, North Carolina State, 71.4
4 Kyle Gaillard, Williams & Mary, 70.3
5 Marshall Bjorklund, North Dakota State, 69.6
2 He may prove Bill Self right after all. After his 14-point performance against Temple on Sunday, Releford sat right at 700 points for his career. Why is this worth mentioning? As former KU basketball scribe Tully Corcoran mentioned on Twitter, Self once proclaimed that Releford had the chance to be a 1,000-point scorer at Kansas. The statement came around the time Releford decided to sit out his sophomore season, redshirting while buried behind a collection of talented guards.
Even so, the milestone still seemed like a longshot before this season. Releford, a Kansas City native, entered his senior year with 526 career points and had never averaged more than 8.5 points in a single season. Now, he’s averaging 13.4 points for a top-six team, and has a decent shot at reaching 1,000. If he keeps up his current pace, he would need 22-plus games to surpass the mark — the 18-game Big 12 season, three games in the Big 12 tourney, and two NCAA tournament games.
3 His value was highlighted against Temple. During Sunday’s victory over Temple, Releford picked up his fourth foul with 15:32 left in the second half. He then took a seat, with KU leading 41-39. Temple would outscore Kansas 15-9 with Releford on the bench, taking a 54-50 lead. When Releford returned, with 6:53 left, KU finished the game on a 19-8 run.
Add it all up, and Releford has carved out a niche as KU’s fourth option. Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson have all taken more shots. But Releford's game was made to be efficient. He thrives in transition, can convert in traffic, and rarely forces anything on offense. All he needed was to be consistent from three-point range.
As KU enters Big 12 play, teams will be faced with an interesting dilemma. Pay more attention to Releford — and divert defensive resources away from McLemore and Withey — or leave a 63.6 percent shooter open to attack.
Kansas held Temple to a season-low 30 percent from the field on Sunday, a number that appears part of a growing trend. The Jayhawks are holding opponents to just 34.3 percent shooting for the year, which ranks second in the country behind Texas.
The numbers suggest that Kansas is playing some of the best defense in the country. But after forcing just four turnovers against Temple, KU coach Bill Self said the numbers had more to do with center Jeff Withey’s presence; not his team’s defensive skills, which were lacking on Sunday.
Withey finished with nine blocks against Temple. He altered even more.
“He bailed us out of everything,” Self said. "Even when he’s not blocking shots, he alters (many more). And we’re so overrated defensively, in large part because of him.
“Our field-goal percentage defense is off the charts. We might be No. 1 in the country now. But we make so many mistakes, and he makes up for our mistakes.”
Looking ahead: Iowa State
Kansas opens Big 12 play with Iowa State on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The Cyclones are 10-3 with a 21-point victory over BYU on its resume. And they’ve yet to suffer a terrible loss; they dropped games to Cincinnati, UNLV and at Iowa.
Senior guard Will Clyburn, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Utah, leads Iowa State with 14.1 points per game.