The first number you notice is the blocks. Not just because Kentucky blocked Kansas’ shot 11 times on Tuesday night — and frankly, it felt like the official scorer missed a few — but because that was the number of field goals Kansas had finished with by the end of the night.
The Jayhawks were 11 of 56 from the floor during a 72-40 decimation in the Champions Classic.
Eleven for fifty-six.
There is one rather famous definition for insanity, cliché as it might be, and it goes like this: Doing the same thing over and over again ... and expecting a different result. On Tuesday night, that definition was personified by Kansas guard Frank Mason, who kept fearlessly attacking the lane against Kentucky’s 7-footers.
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Mason, sophomore guard from Petersburg, Va., is listed at 5 feet 11. He may be that. He is certainly no more. Kentucky’s starting lineup featured a 7-foot center, a 6 feet 11 power forward and a 6-foot-8 small forward.
Mason took seven shots in the first half; three were blocked. He finished one of 10 from the floor, and his only basket came in transition, after Svi Mykhailiuk forced a turnover and pitched the ball ahead. Mason, of course, was in that position because he’d just had a shot blocked seconds earlier.
Kansas coach Bill Self said KU’s guards were instructed to “drive to pass.” The Jayhawks thought they could use their quickness to exploit Kentucky’s guards, and that those driving lanes would open up the rest of the offense.
Instead, the Jayhawks kept slamming their heads against a brick wall — a 7-foot wall. Kansas shot 19.6 percent for the game, but the Jayhawks actually shot better from three (three of 15) than they did from two (eight of 41). It was a dominating performance from Kentucky, but it also leads to some questions.
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▪ So who are Kansas’ best players — the guys who could help avoid a game like this? Bill Self pondered this very question in the moments after the game. (“I don’t think anybody knows.”) Junior forward Perry Ellis, a former McDonald’s All-American, just like Kentucky’s stars, was one of six from the floor on Tuesday. He finished with four points. His offensive rating was 82, well below his season average last season. Once again, Ellis struggled against a bigger, longer frontcourt. Meanwhile, Wayne Selden’s offensive rating (71) was worse. He finished three of eight from the floor. He had two turnovers. The sample size is small, but Selden’s transition from complementary player to leading role is something to track.
▪ Kentucky was dominant, but why did Kansas’ offense look so inept? Part of it was Kentucky. Perhaps most of it. Kansas won’t play another team with that length or athleticism — although Texas could come close, a concern come Big 12 play.
Before the season, Self was open in saying his biggest concern was whether the Jayhawks could score at the rim. For so many years, the Jayhawks have had a primary low-post scoring option — somebody they could simply throw the ball to inside. Darrell Arthur. Cole Aldrich. The Morris Twins. Thomas Robinson. Joel Embiid. And so on.
Kansas has done it other ways, but Self desires an inside-out style. He wants easy buckets. He wants dunks.
So where do the easy buckets come from? Ellis is Kansas’ most natural scorer, but his size can limit his effectiveness against bigger teams. And for the moment, Cliff Alexander is still coming along slowly.
“Cliff has to learn how to score before he catches,” Self said on Tuesday. “He’s not tall enough — as it was very evident tonight with all our guys. He’s got to develop some things, and (we have to) do a good job of teaching him to where he can score before he catches it. Guys have to play to that.”
▪ Is Kansas’ three-point shooting a concern? Probably. During the preseason, Self said he believed Kansas would be a better outside shooting team than a year ago, when it shot 34.1 percent from three. So far, the Jayhawks have hit just five of 25 from three-point range in two games. In this area, the guard rotation presents a conundrum for Self. His two most experiences perimeter players (Mason and Selden) also project as Kansas’ worst three-point shooters in the backcourt.
This has become an increasingly common trend for Kansas. When the Jayhawks won the title in 2008, they ranked 14th in the country in three-point percentage (39.7) and second in offensive efficiency. Here are the numbers in each category since.
Offensive efficiency ranking
2013-14: 34.1 percent
2012-13: 36.4 percent
2011-12: 34.5 percent
2010-11: 38.2 percent
2009-10: 40.4 percent
2008-09: 36.7 percent
Perry Ellis will have better nights. But Kentucky’s length rendered Kansas’ best frontcourt option nearly useless. Ellis finished with four points, matching his season low from last season.
If there was one play that encapsulated Kansas’ 32-point loss, it was Alex Poythress’s chase-down block on Frank Mason.
It was the worst offensive output of the Bill Self era, but at least they managed to hit 40. Kansas hasn’t scored in the 30s since putting up 37 points against Oklahoma State in 1962.