Kansas coach Bill Self wasn’t particularly upset after his team’s 69-59 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Friday night. He wasn’t particularly enthused, either. There were no major points to hammer home, though there were some obvious areas of critique. In the moments after Kansas’ season opener on Friday night, Self sounded like a coach whose team had grinded out a perfectly fine and muddly victory over a perfectly average opponent.
From a statistical standpoint, the Gauchos were probably the toughest opponent that Kansas has played in a home opener in close to a decade. But still, this wasn’t a performance to get too excited about.
In four days, No. 5 Kansas will play No. 1 Kentucky at the Champions Classic, and Self will learn much more about his team. We will, too. But first, let’s start with the Jayhawks’ 69-59 victory over UCSB..
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How good (or bad) was Kansas’ offense on Friday? The Jayhawks shot 41.5 percent; they hit just two of 10 from three-point range; they did manage to go to the foul line 32 times — and they shot 71.9 percent from the stripe.
The Jayhawks averaged 0.97 points per possession, according to KenPom. Yes, this was about as average, or slightly below, as an offense can be. Which is to say, the Jayhawks will need to be a lot better on Tuesday against Kentucky.
Sophomore guard Wayne Selden (0.85 points per possession) was not at his best. He missed all three of his three-point attempts, and he had as many turnovers (two) as assists (two). Self praised junior forward Jamari Traylor, who pulled down 10 rebounds and was active on defense. But at times, the 6-foot-7 Traylor can be a nonfactor on the offensive end, especially when he’s pulled away from the basket.
So what’s one answer? For one, junior forward Perry Ellis probably needs to take more than seven shots. He finished with 13 points in 28 minutes. And freshman power forward Cliff Alexander probably needs more minutes. He had nine points in 12 minutes, and he keyed a second-half run with a couple of 15-foot jumpers. It’s easy to use the label “raw” to describe Alexander, but that’s not quite accurate. While his basketball aptitude and court awareness might need some refining, his skillset is certainly playable. Some of this is on Alexander, though. He picked up two fouls on Friday, and that limited his minutes.
Where was Kelly Oubre? OK. Somebody asked Bill Self this exact question Friday night — as in … “Where was Kelly tonight?”
“What do you mean?” Self answered.
“Why did he only play four minutes?”
“It was a coaches’ decision,” Self said. “We were just trying to do what was best for our team. It’s not a knock to Kelly, it’s just: he’s young.”
Oubre, a McDonald’s All-American wing, arrived on campus as a top-10 recruit, and as such, he comes with a set expectations — for better or worse. Earlier this month, though, Self described Oubre as being “comfort away” from really taking off. And the guard rotation, even after the departure of Conner Frankamp, is still crowded with bodies. Wayne Selden and Frank Mason appear locked into starting roles. On Friday, Oubre was clearly behind Devonte’ Graham, Brannen Greene, Svi Mykhailiuk.
In a blowout, Self surely would have liked to have given Oubre some minutes to gain some experience, to find that comfort. But in a close game, it’s hard to expand the guard rotation much more than five guys. Somebody had to be on the bench. On Friday, that was Oubre.
So what will the rotation look like against Kentucky? It’s November, so plenty of time for things to change. But on Tuesday night in Indianapolis, the guard rotation could look something like this: Mason, Selden and Graham all playing major minutes, with Svi perhaps as the first wing off the bench. Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis will continue to play major minutes inside. But against Kentucky’s assortment of 7-footers, you would expect Alexander to play as much as foul trouble and other factors allow.
Freshman guard Devonte’ Graham finished with 14 points in his Kansas debut, and for the moment, it could be tough to keep him off the floor. A brief aside: It was a decent night for former point guards at Brewster Academy. UMKC’s Martez Harrison, who played at Brewster in 2012-13, led the Kangaroos to a victory over Missouri in Columbia. Harrison’s replacement, Graham, did the same for Kansas.
“I thought Devonte' was the most ready to play of all the freshmen,” Self said afterward. “But he's played the most competition. He's a year older. He played at prep school, where they played a lot of big games. I thought he was the most ready to play as far as having an understanding. I'm not saying he's the most talented, but it didn't surprise me that he played well.”
Midway through the second half, Svi Mykhailiuk used a crossover to slalom into the lane and then dumped a perfect pass to Cliff Alexander for a dunk. Mykhailiuk is 17 years old, and he stands close to 6 feet 7, and 17-year-olds who stand 6-feet-7 aren’t supposed to make moves like that.
Like Ben McLemore and Joel Embiid before him, Mykhailiuk may be the best-kept secret, at least from a national perspective on this Kansas team.
0.83. UC Santa Barbara averaged 0.83 points per possession, a decent start on the defensive end for KU.