Campus Corner

The Star's blog on college sports, featuring Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri

Breaking down how Joel Embiid's absence hurt Kansas against Iowa State

03/15/2014 4:16 PM

03/15/2014 4:28 PM

So the Kansas defense has been something like a piñata for the better part of 18 hours now, so much so that it might be starting to resemble Georges Niang’s face


Iowa State torched Kansas for 94 points on Friday, the most in regulation against KU since coach Bill Self arrived in Lawrence. The Jayhawks, playing without freshman center Joel Embiid, allowed the Cyclones to score 1.25 points per possession. That came just two games after West Virginia ripped KU for 1.28 points per possession.

Here’s some perspective: In the last five years, Kansas has given up more than 1.20 points per possession three times. Two have come in the last three games.

Here are the worst defensive performances of the last five years:

• West Virginia, 2014 1.28, Loss

• Baylor, 2013, 1.27, Loss

• Iowa State, 2014, 1.25, Loss

• Kansas State, 2011, 1.19, Loss

• Baylor, 2012, 1.19, Loss

• Colorado, 2011, 1.19, Win

• Oklahoma State, 2010, 1.19, Loss

There is, of course, a trend here. The Jayhawks have not been an elite defense all season. According to KenPom’s efficiency ratings, they’ve hovered around the 25- to 35-mark nationally before falling to No. 44 after Friday’s loss. But the loss of Embiid is a gut-punch for a defense that has struggled to contain penetration and defend ball screens.

We went to the film to find an example of how Embiid’s absence hurt Kansas on defense. There were a lot of them, of course. But here’s one:

Midway through the second half, with Iowa State leading by seven, point guard DeAndre Kane used a high ball-screen from Georges Niang, who was guarded by Tarik Black. The Cyclones were running a five-out offensive set, with all five players spread out on the perimeter.

Black hedged the ball screen, but it wasn’t strong enough to prevent Kane from dumping the ball off to a slipping Niang. This is where the absence of Embiid is most glaring.

Black hustled to recover, and Andrew Wiggins came in to provide some help from the weak side. But Black couldn’t do enough to alter or stop Niang’s shot. If that was Embiid, Iowa State may have executed the same play just as well. But that would be Niang shooting over a recovering 7-footer. Instead, it just looks like this:

Here’s one more example of how Embiid can help Kansas. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis had 21 points in the first half, and Iowa State really had no one that could stop him in the paint. But during the second half, Iowa State basically stopped guarding the Jayhawks’ other big man. In many cases, that was Jamari Traylor.

Here’s one example, with Niang playing way off Traylor with Ellis on the block.

Here’s another, with Niang still helping in the paint and DeAndre Kane shading onto Ellis while Frank Mason stands open on the wing.

Losing Embiid has hurt Kansas’ defense, of course, but it also appears to have hurt their offense as well.

“One way to defend (Iowa State),” Self said, “is to play a little bit better offensively and limit their possessions.”

In the second half, Kansas couldn’t do either.


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