University of Kansas

The Day After: Three thoughts on KU’s win over New Mexico

Updated: 2013-12-15T19:43:56Z

By RUSTIN DODD

The Kansas City Star

One day after No. 13 Kansas snapped a two-game skid with an 80-63 victory over New Mexico at the Sprint Center, we offer three thoughts on the Jayhawks:

1 This was much better from the Kansas offense. Mired in a mini-funk, the Jayhawks posted a resurgent performance on the offensive end, scoring 1.23 points per possession against New Mexico, according to KenPom.com. It was the third most efficient offensive performance of the season. And other than victories over Towson (1.26 points per possession) and Duke (1.25), this was the most consistent offense we’ve seen. As Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game, it wasn’t highlight offense — it was just efficient.

Of course, freshman center Joel Embiid’s “Dream Shake” was pretty impressive.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Kansas junior guard Naadir Tharpe has started and played a lot of minutes in each of KU’s most efficient games. Freshman guard Frank Mason has been a solid surprise during his first months on campus, and KU coach Bill Self appeared to fall in love with his toughness and play-making ability during the season’s opening weeks. But Mason does have some flaws — and they’ve been exposed over the last couple weeks. He’s struggled to shoot from the outside. hitting just 22.7 percent of his three-point attempts, and he’s not as smooth against a zone defense.

In the two games that Mason started — losses at Florida and Colorado — the KU offense posted just 1.05 and 1.07 points per possession, respectively. Before Saturday’s game against Florida, Self made it clear that Tharpe could hold the key to the Jayhawks’ season. Then Tharpe delivered with eight points and nine assists.

“Except for about three possessions the second half, he was great,” Self said. “And that’s what we have to have him be for us. Frank didn’t play as much, but it’s not a knock. Naadir is much better against a zone right now than Frank.”

2. So what is the guard rotation moving forward? Kansas also got 16 productive minutes from freshman wing Brannen Greene, who had five points and made one of three from three-point range.

Mason was limited to just six minutes off the bench as Tharpe performed well. And with sophomore wing Andrew White III sitting out with a hip pointer, freshman Conner Frankamp also didn’t get off the bench.

For the moment, it appears Tharpe, Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden are back into the starting spots in the backcourt, and Mason will continue to log minutes at the backup point spot. Self, meanwhile, has been clear that either Greene, White or Frankamp needs to step up to provide another outside shooting option, and it appears that Greene could be inching toward that role.

“Brannen can always play,” Self said. “Brannen and I just need to get on the same page. But Brannen Green is a good player. And I think he’s starting to value things we think are important. And he’s just a freshman trying to figure it out.”

3. Landen Lucas could be making a case for more playing time. Lucas, a redshirt freshman, has been used in small doses, but he’s shown an ability to be productive as a big body off the bench.

Lucas had two points and five rebounds in 10 minutes against New Mexico, and he’s one of the Jayhawks’ more physical post defenders. It was a career high in minutes for Lucas, who probably isn’t anywhere close to moving ahead of Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis or Jamari Traylor in the rotation. But on Saturday, Lucas played 10 minutes while senior transfer Tarik Black played just two.

Black has been plagued by foul issues all season. But the issues have been magnified the last three games: Black has committed six fouls while playing just 11 combined minutes the last three games.

“This is not a knock to Tarik,” Self said, “but Landen gets in there, and he doesn’t play much, but he gets five rebounds in nine minutes and he’s obviously a factor. So I think that’s going to be really good for our team moving forward. And he understands what we’re doing about as well anybody on the team.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to rdodd@kcstar.com.

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