It’s always fascinated me the different ways we view scoring in football and basketball.
In football, if a team stalls in the red zone, fans feel disappointment even if the field goal goes through. Three points are nice, but it could have been seven. The possession wasn’t as good as it could have been.
In basketball, though, every score seems to be considered equal. A dunk? That’s good. A three-pointer? That’s good too.
On the scoreboard, though, they’re not the same. One is worth three points and the other two, even if it’s tough sometimes to distinguish between the degrees of success.
I say all this to point out the biggest concern from Kansas’ 95-85 loss to Arizona State on Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse. It’s not just defense, which obviously was an issue considering the Jayhawks allowed 58 points in the second half.
The biggest problem is that KU doesn’t give the three-point line the respect it deserves.
It started early. The Jayhawks were leading 15-5 when both Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike decided to ignore Arizona State’s top shooter Tra Holder on a ball screen.
A little later, Malik Newman failed to get out to Holder on a deep three late in the shot clock. The Arizona State guard had made 45 percent of his outside shots entering the game.
“We did some things that weren’t very good,” KU coach Bill Self said of his team’s defense.
Arizona State made 14 of 28 three-pointers, and again, basketball possessions that end with three points basically can’t get any more successful. If we carry out the math, averaging 1.5 points per possession on those 28 attempts is a great start toward a road upset.
Three-point defense, though, probably isn’t what you think. It’s not about keeping down shooting percentages. It’s about keeping those threes from going up.
Ken Pomeroy has done extensive research on this, and he wrote about it in detail for The Athletic this month. Here’s the important point to take away, in his words: “Teams have much more control over how many threes their opponents shoot than how many they make.”
And KU, in the Self era, has never done a lousier job of discouraging opponents from three-pointers.
Let’s keep it simple. Over the last five seasons, here are the percentage of opponents’ shots that have been taken from three-point range against KU: 32, 32, 33, 34 and 42. The outlier is this year. KU ranks 295th in terms of limiting outside shots.
Though the Jayhawks were able to get away with this defensive characteristic early, they’ve now been burned by it now in consecutive games.
It’s a concern that goes beyond player effort. KU’s overall philosophy is built on strong help — Self wants to discourage close shots — and that sort of mind-set can lead to open threes as well.
One example from the second half: On an Arizona State drive, Vick lost track of Holder while trying to help. That’s not a good decision with Holder one pass away, and the Arizona State guard faded to the corner for a three.
It’s worth repeating: There is almost no worse shot KU’s defense could give up than an open corner three from Holder. Yet the Jayhawks’ lack of scouting-report focus and overemphasis on defending twos left the team vulnerable time and time again.
There will be lots of talk about KU’s guards not being able to stay in front of Arizona State’s quick guards, and obviously dribble penetration can lead to open attempts, both inside and out.
It’s still worth pointing out where these Jayhawks are actually struggling. KU ranks 27th nationally in two-point defense, which would be the second-best mark out of the last five seasons. Even with Azubuike laboring as a rim-protector, the interior defense has been fine.
KU instead is getting beaten from the outside in. It’s something that can be corrected with better concentration — and also more emphasis on the defensive aspect hurting the Jayhawks most.