It felt like Kentucky, but it was really completely different. In a way, it was worse.
Thirty-four days after suffering a 72-40 loss at the Champions Classic, the Jayhawks were subject to the shame of another blowout, falling 77-52 to Temple on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Before we proceed with this shortened holiday edition of The Chalkboard, we’ll stop to acknowledge what has to be a crazy stat: We can’t imagine that any team has ever gone 9-2 against one of the nation’s 10 hardest schedules while losing those two games by a combined 57 points.
For the last 40 days or so, Kansas has been among nation’s best teams, winning eight straight against a schedule that included Michigan State, Utah, Florida and Tennessee. On two nights, though, the Jayhawks have just been totally worked.
As always, the chalkboard has questions. Let’s get to them.
OK, how bad was Kansas’ offense? Here are some of the ridiculous numbers from Monday night: The Jayhawks again shot just 29.7 percent from inside the three-point line. They averaged 0.80 points per possession, which was the second worst mark of the season behind the Kentucky performance (0.66 ppp). The Jayhawks’ big men made just two baskets on the night. In an alarming trend, freshman forward Cliff Alexander went without a field goal for the second time in three games.
For the moment, Kansas’ inability to convert easy baskets inside is unprecedented during the Bill Self era. After the Temple loss, the Jayhawks are now shooting just 48.7 percent on shots at the rim. To put that in perspective, the nation’s best three-point shooting team (Lafayette!) is shooting 43.5 percent from behind the arc. The Jayhawks, somehow, are shooting only measurably better on dunks and layups.
Was the offense even the worst part, though? As you might expect, Self was more concerned with his team’s defensive performance. This is where it was arguably worse than the Kentucky debacle. On Nov. 18, Kentucky averaged 1.18 points per possession while shooting 43 percent from the floor. On Monday, Temple shot 58 percent while averaging 1.18 points per possession. Just a fluky night? Maybe. But Temple is not Kentucky.
The Jayhawks forced some turnovers — Temple had 12 — but the Owls exposed the Jayhawks’ perimeter defense with an array of talented guards who continually beat KU’s perimeter defenders off the dribble.
So is Kansas missing reserve point guard Devonte’ Graham? Perhaps. When Graham went down with “turf toe” earlier this month, it seemed like the biggest effect could come on the offensive end. Sophomore guard Frank Mason, who was again tremendous on Monday, would be forced to handle a heavy work load as the Jayhawks’ only real point guard, and sophomore Wayne Selden would have to slide into a secondary ballhandling role — something that’s not always looked natural for him. But Monday night’s result spotlighted Graham’s defensive value.
With Kansas playing Selden, Svi Mykhailiuk, Brannen Greene and Kelly Oubre on the perimeter, they could be susceptible to teams with small and quick guards who can get their feet in the paint at will. Without a legitimate rim protector in the back, the issue becomes more glaring. For Kansas, then, perhaps that’s the worst development of all. Temple is not loaded with future pros, but the Owls did sketch out a simple blueprint for beating Kansas.
The Player of the game.
Temple guard Will Cummings finished with a game-high 19 points while posting an offensive rating of 140. He made two of three from three, three of five inside the three-point line, and managed to get to the free-throw line seven times.
The Moment of the game.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Monday’s game — at least from a Kansas perspective — came late in the second half. The Temple students had begun the usual “Overrated” chant (let’s save the debate on that chant for another day) and started preparations for a glorious floor-rushing. But a few sections away, a 20-something Kansas fan apparently took some issues with the “Overrated” chant.
The heroic KU fan leapt to his feet, started screaming (“We’re not Overrated!”) and then proceeded to go full wrestling heel for close to a minute, egging on a section of Temple fans with some theatrics before finally sitting down and cracking a sly smile. It was an impressive effort. Truly. The guy might have had more energy than the Kansas team combined.
The stat of the game.
Even after Monday’s loss, the Jayhawks still own five victories over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s rankings. That’s the most in the country. If you watched Monday’s game, it’s the kind of stat that makes you scratch your head. How was Kansas that terrible?
But it’s also a reminder: One-game samples can be weird. And Kansas probably isn’t as bad as it looked on Monday night.