Every Monday, The Star delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here’s the latest installment of the weekly feature.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
It’s not a question of whether Kansas’ offense has struggled during the last three weeks, but what exactly has happened? KU is averaging just 61.5 points per game over their last three games, and KU’s efficiency numbers have slipped during its four-game conference run.
It’s not exactly crisis-mode yet — KU still ranks 17th in the nation in offensive efficiency — but the issues have been persistent and clear. The Jayhawks are shooting worse, and scoring less, and, according to KenPom.com, they’ve been the fourth most efficient Big 12 offense* since the conference slate began.
*KU is averaging 102 points per 100 possessions in their four Big 12 games; they’re averaging 113.2 overall.
So what’s happened? Well, teams are devoting plenty of resources to center Jeff Withey, leaving forward Kevin Young (or the other forward) all alone. And in some cases — specifically Saturday’s victory against Texas — the extra defender has left Young and made sure freshman guard Ben McLemore couldn’t get comfortable.
It’s still a small Big 12 sample, of course, and Texas has been one of the best defensive teams in the country all season. But here’s a quick glance at KU’s overall offensive numbers versus its numbers in Big 12 play. (Point distribution stats via KenPom.com)
Three-point percentage: 36.5
Two-point percentage: 53.3
3PA/FGA: 29.1 (percentage of total shots from three-point range)
Kansas’ point distribution:
On three-pointers: 23.5%
On two-pointers: 55.7%
On free throws: 20.8%
Big 12 Conference play
Three-point percentage: 31.5
Two-point percentage: 47.2
Kansas’ point distribution:
On three-pointers: 18.1%
On two-pointers: 53.9%
On free throws: 28.0%
Here are a couple quick takeaways: Kansas, which doesn’t shoot a ton of three-pointers to begin with, has taken fewer in the last four games – and they’ve made fewer as well. In the last four games, just 18.1 percent of KU’s points are coming on three-pointers. So maybe Kansas is just experiencing the ebbs and flows of shooting; sometimes you make shots, sometimes you don’t. Take senior guard Elijah Johnson, who is shooting just 31 percent while averaging 3.8 turnovers per game in conference play.
“Elijah has played pretty well,” Self said Saturday after the Texas victory. “He just hasn’t made shots, like he did at the end of last year. And certainly, that will help us when he starts doing it.
KU is also shooting more free throws — perhaps because the games have been closer late, but also because teams have perhaps been more physical with KU over the last four games. (In addition, KU's guards have been more assertive in getting to the paint.) And as Self has said, the tracks have been muddy, and the Jayhawks haven’t been able to live off points in transition. (Fast break points per game: December: 13.2; January: 10.2)
Before the season — before Ben McLemore proved himself to be a Big 12 player-of-the-year candidate — Kansas profiled as a team that would have to grind out victories on defense. That narrative was flipped on its head when KU rolled through its schedule in December. But now teams are adjusting, the ball isn’t going in the basket, and KU will have to find a way to adjust to the adjustments.
“We definitely are in a little funk,” Withey said. “We need to just get in the gym and shoot more, I guess. We can definitely get out of it.”
Looking ahead to K-State
Here are two key questions heading into Tuesday night’s Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan, where Kansas (16-1 and 4-0) will face fellow Big 12 unbeaten K-State, 15-2 and 4-0.
1 Can Travis Releford slow Rodney McGruder?
McGruder is averaging a Big 12-leading 21.5 points per game in conference play, but Releford has proven himself to be an able defensive stopper. Further, McGruder was limited in two games against KU last season, averaging 13.5 points on 31 percent shooting in two Kansas victories.
2 Will Kansas play small?
The Jayhawks used a four-guard lineup in the final minutes against Texas, erasing a six-point deficit and finishing the game on a 17-6 run. And Kansas State is starting Shane Southwell, a 6-foot-6 swingman, at the four-spot. If KU coach Bill Self wants to experiment more with his smaller lineup, he may have some opportunities on Tuesday.