FORT WORTH, Texas — One year after an offensive fiasco here at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, No. 8 Kansas returns to TCU for an 8 p.m. tip (ESPNU) on Saturday night. If the Jayhawks can handle the Horned Frogs, they will hold onto a two-game lead in the Big 12 standings. So here’s five things to know as we wait for the late showdown:
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
1. Who’s turning it over?
If there’s one thing that’s keeping the KU offense from being elite, it’s turnovers. The Jayhawks entered Saturday ranked 13th in the country in offensive efficiency — and they’ve done that despite being the most turnover prone team in the Big 12.
“You guys look at the Ken Pomeroy offensive efficiency stuff,” coach Bill Self said this week. “I don't know where we rank or whatever, but we shoot a really high field-goal percentage, but I would bet we don't rank that high because our turnovers are so high.
“So I would rather shoot 48 percent and turn it over 12 times a game than shoot 51 percent and turn it over 16.”
Self is partially right. The Jayhawks still rank pretty high in offensive efficiency. But they would presumably rank higher if they stopped wasting so many possessions.
Kansas has turned it over 80 times during Big 12 play — 26 more times than their opponents. So it’s not surprising that they rank last in the Big 12 in turnover margin (-2.9 per game). For the season, the Jayhawks’ turnover percentage* (20.4) ranks 283rd nationally, according to KenPom.com.
*Turnover percentage is the estimated number of turnovers per 100 possessions.
Here’s why it’s not as bad as it sounds: Traditionally, Self’s teams have never been among the country’s best at limiting turnovers. Teams can only be good at so many things. And Self’s system seems to produce teams that turn it over at a decent clip. Right now, KU’s turnover percentage is right in line with last year’s mark (20.3). But the last KU team to turn the ball over like this was in 2008-09.
So what’s been the main problem? Here’s a breakdown of KU’s turnovers during Big 12 play:
|Player||Turnovers||Minutes per game||Percentage of TOs|
|Wayne Selden, Jr.||14||32.4||17.5%|
For all the deserved praise Joel Embiid has received in the last month, he’s been a turnover machine during Big 12 play. Now the turnover stat can be a little deceiving. Perry Ellis rarely turns it over, but if you watch him play, you also know that Ellis can be a bit of a black hole in the post. If the ball goes inside to Ellis, he’s generally going to try to score. If you’re always shooting, you’re not turning it over.
But if you look at Kansas’ starters, you can see some players that can improve in the turnover department, specifically Wayne Selden Jr. and Embiid.
Here are the individual turnover percentages of KU’s starters:
|Wayne Selden, Jr.||24.2|
Kansas had 16 turnovers in a victory over Baylor on Monday. Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal compiled video of all 16 turnovers. And the video is worth watching:
Some of the turnovers were the result of KU trying to make plays, but many more were unforced — bad passes, mental lapses, basically signs of youth. When Self went back and looked at the tape, he had a few thoughts:
“We're not the best ball handling and passing team that we've ever had here,” Self said. “We turn it over eight or ten times just by other teams getting in the way, so to speak. But I would say another six to eight were just totally unforced, just not being strong with the ball to catching the ball with one hand, trying to dribble fumbles instead of pick them up. Those are things that are correctable, but I would think by now we'd be better at it than what we are.”
2. Tharpe’s production: While junior point guard Naadir Tharpe has been more turnover prone at times during conference play, the numbers show that Tharpe has been a solid improvement over Elijah Johnson, last year’s primary point guard, in the assist and turnover departments. Johnson, of course, was playing out of position as a converted two-guard. But Tharpe’s numbers also compare favorably to other recent KU point guards.
*Turnover rate: Estimation of turnovers per 100 plays
*Assist rate: Estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor.
Based on the numbers, it looks like Sherron Collins was the best at limiting turnovers … and he was. But like we said, it’s hard to turn the ball over when you’re shooting more than passing — and that partially explains Collins’ line.
3. Joel Embiid, menace to penetrators: In his first 18 college games, Joel Embiid has recorded 50 blocked shots, just 12 shy of Eric Chenowith’s KU freshman record of 62. If Embiid can keep up the pace, he could become just the third KU player to record 100 blocks in a season — at least, since they started keeping blocks as a stat.
1 Jeff Withey, 146, 2012-13
2 Withey, 140, 2011-12
3 Cole Aldrich, 125, 2009-10
4. Early Big 12 success: As we noted last week, Kansas has started 6-0 in the Big 12 Conference for the past two seasons. If KU wins on Saturday, it would be the third straight 6-0 start and the sixth time KU has started 6-0 in the Self era.
5. Scoring trending up: After averaging better than 82 points per game in five Big 12 contests, KU is now averaging 78.9 points for the season. That’s the most since Kansas averaged 81.2 points per game in 2010-11.