First-year Washington basketball coach Mike Hopkins worked the past 22 years as an assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.
What that means, of course, is Hopkins’ Huskies (6-2) will be using the same 2-3 zone defense against Kansas at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Sprint Center that Boeheim has used the last four decades with the Orange — and used exclusively Saturday against KU at the Hoophall Miami Classic in Florida.
“Watch Syracuse … they play a lot like Syracuse. Their zone is similar,” KU coach Bill Self of the Huskies of the Pac-12, who will meet KU in a game televised by ESPN2. “It’ll be a nice challenge to see if we can improve on how we attack the zone.”
Self’s No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (7-0) struggled at times, and clicked at other times against the zone during Saturday’s 76-60 victory over the Orange.
“The thing that is frustrating to me,” Self said of Saturday’s victory in which the Jayhawks committed 16 turnovers while hitting 49.1 percent of their shots, “is Udoka (Azubuike, six points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes) was totally taken out of the game. You can’t have one of your best players taken out of the game.
“I think he took himself out by not posting up strong, not being a target. That’s what that zone does to you sometimes. It gets you to be not aggressive, passive. I think Doke was that as much as anything,” Self added of the 7-foot sophomore.
Self pointed out that most of KU’s offense against the Syracuse zone came from three players: Devonté Graham scored 35 points, Lagerald Vick had 20 and Svi Mykhailiuk added 11.
“I was telling our guys (at practice) those three scored 66 of our 76 points. The other 10 were points we didn’t earn,” Self said. “Doke had three uncontested dunks, Mitch (Lightfoot) one uncontested dunk and Malik (Newman) a shot off an offensive rebound.
“Really we were pretty bad offensively except for those three guys. Everybody knew it was Devonté and Lagerald’s game Saturday. They (Orange) shaded Svi. He didn’t get looks against the zone.”
Self added, “It was my fault, too. The way I thought we’d attack it best was awful. I thought the best way to attack it was movement. We went to a stationary offense and it worked much better. We got the ball to the high post the second half. We got the ball in the middle and played behind that. That was effective except for careless turnovers, so I’m sure they’ll do some stuff to try to take that away. We need to have a couple of different ways to attack it.”
Washington, which has four starters who score in double figures, including freshman guard Jaylen Nowell with 17.9 points per game, “runs a few more things than Syracuse runs,” Self said. “One player (junior Matisse Thybulle) jumps off the stat sheet. He has 28 steals and 14 blocks and is a guard. He is just everywhere.
“Four guys average in double figures and 81 a game. We’ll be excited. We get a chance to play a Pac-12 team that’s off to a good start. Playing Syracuse the game before Washington hopefully will help us a bit. Mike obviously will do a lot of things they do at Syracuse.”
KU senior Graham, who has scored 35 points in each of the last two games, might be expected to fire up a batch of shots again Wednesday. He hit 10 of 17 versus Syracuse and 14 of 19 against Toledo to become the first player since Andrew Wiggins in 2014 to score 30 or more points in back-to-back games. The last player to score 30 three games in a row was Danny Manning (31 vs Duke, 30 vs Oklahoma and 37 vs Missouri in February 1988).
“When you run a 2-3 zone, you’ve got to leave somebody open. It’s usually the guy at the top,” said Graham, who has hit 12 of his last 21 three-pointers over two games. “They (Orange) were doing zone principles. I was trying to be aggressive shooting the ball.”
Graham averages 18.6 points, 8.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds a game.
“I’ve always been a pretty confident player. I’m confident now,” Graham said. “I feel real good from the last two games. The ball is going in. That’s a plus. My coaching staff and teammates do a good job of telling me to keep shooting the ball.”
The Jayhawks are hoping to improve to 8-0 Wednesday for the first time since the 2010-11 season, when KU opened 18-0.
“I think we’ve played about as well as I could have expected us playing against the competition we’re playing against,” Self said. “I didn’t think we played great Saturday by any stretch. If you told me before the game we’d beat Syracuse by 16, I’d say we’d had to have played great. If you say we’d beat Kentucky I’d say we’d have to had played great (a 65-61 victory on Nov. 14). Those have probably been our weakest performances we’ve had but the best competition.
“We need to get better in some areas. We need consistency from inside players. We need Malik (11.9 points per game but just two against Syracuse on 1-of-8 shooting) to be more of a factor in what is going on. I told the guys they are doing well. I won’t knock how we’ve done. I think there’s a lot of room to do better, which is exciting.”