The question came three weeks ago, in the moments after Kansas’ season opener against Northern Colorado. The Jayhawks had drilled 15 three-pointers in a 109-72 victory, beginning the year with an outside barrage that staggered an overmatched opponent. It was a lethal and efficient offensive display, and however premature, it begged the following question of Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self.
Could this be one of the best three-point shooting teams of your Kansas tenure?
“I think,” Self said, “that this is by far one of the better shooting teams that we’ve had.”
Six games into the season, Self’s words appear prophetic, at least to this point. The sample size is small, but the Jayhawks, 5-1, are making three-pointers at a clip unseen during Self’s 13 seasons at Kansas. Entering a non-conference game against Harvard at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, KU is shooting 45.7 percent from three-point range, which ranks fourth in the country. The Jayhawks have hit 59 of 129 from behind the arc, and this has come with one of their top marksmen — junior Brannen Greene — sitting the last four games while serving a six-game suspension.
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“It doesn’t mean we’re always going to make shots,” Self said. “But I think that we can score points in a hurry and run bad offense and come away with points. I think there’s a lot of years we haven’t been able to do that.”
At the heart of the blistering shooting in junior guard Wayne Selden, who is shooting 57 percent (20 of 35) from three-point range after shaking off a sluggish start. In a three-game surge at the Maui Invitational, Selden drained 12 of his 17 three-point attempts. He followed that up with three more treys in a victory over Loyola (Md.) on Tuesday. Basketball history says Selden — a 36.7 percent career three-point shooter — will not keep up this pace. Some regression will come. But he figures to get plenty of good looks in a Kansas offense that is playing faster and more open after the addition of sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham to the starting lineup. With Graham and Frank Mason in the backcourt, Selden is free to roam the perimeter and spot up. When the open shots have come, he hasn’t missed.
“Honestly, he’s got the easy job,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stalling said, after Selden finished with 25 points against his team in the Maui Invitational championship game. “He’s got Mason and Graham in there just penetrating and breaking down your defense, and he’s standing out there catching and shooting.”
In Self’s view, though, Selden is also the type of player that can bail out Kansas after a poor possession. There are some players, Self says, that can “jump up and make a shot” after a team runs bad offense. Selden is one of those guys.
“Maybe it’s just his time,” Self said. “I don’t know. But to me, he’s as big a key as we have on our team.”
The three-point trends, though, are not limited to just Selden. Mason is shooting 35 percent (6 of 17) from three, while Graham (9 of 23) and sophomore Svi Mykhailiuk (11 of 28) are each shooting better than 39 percent. Perry Ellis, meanwhile, has also been efficient in stretching the defense, hitting 4 of 9 from deep. Greene was also a perfect 5 of 5 before being suspended before the Maui trip.
“(It’s) a bonus,” Self said. “And of course, Wayne ... if he can be a 37- to 40-percent three-point shooter, and same with Devonte’ and Frank — hopefully those two guys can be above 40 (percent). I think Perry is going to be a good percentage three-point shooter.”
Self’s teams, of course, have never relied on outside shooting. In six games, the Jayhawks are taking just 31.8 percent of their field-goal attempts from behind the three-point line, a rate that ranks 250th in the country. That number, though, is the highest its been since the 2010-11 season, when the Jayhawks had Marcus and Markieff Morris and a lineup with three-point threats at every position.
In short: It’s probably safe to assume that Kansas ration its three-point output in similar fashion. Self will preach inside-out basketball, and the three-point attempts will come off penetration and ball movement. But if the Jayhawks continue to shoot 44 percent from deep, well, maybe it’s something Self will have to reconsider.
“We can’t live by the three, though,” Graham said, echoing his head coach. “That’s one of the things that Coach tells us.”