Whether it’s a serious problem is up for debate, but there is a common and persistent theme in college basketball this season: The pace is so very slow.
As of Thursday, teams were averaging 66.0 possessions per 40 minutes, which is on pace to be the slowest season in college basketball history. The all-time record for methodical (read: really slow) basketball was set during the 2012-13 season, with teams averaging 65.9 possessions per 40 minutes. But because the pace always slows even more as the season progresses — and teams get into conference play — those that follow such trends (read: Ken Pomeroy) expect the pace to be even more glacial by season’s end.
This trend probably isn’t a surprise to anyone who has watched Kansas this season. The Jayhawks are averaging 67.1 possessions per 40 minutes, which would be the second slowest pace of the Bill Self era. (Kansas averaged 67.0 possessions per 40 in 2011-12.) Compared to the rest of the nation, the Jayhawks aren’t exactly the Billy Butler of college basketball. They rank 118th in the country in adjusted tempo, which is pretty slow for a team with Kansas’ athletes, but not exactly Bo Ryan levels of slowness, either.
Still, Bill Self keeps talking about playing faster.
For Kansas, it makes sense. The Jayhawks lack the dominating big men of recent vintage. They don’t create many easy baskets. They don’t shoot a great percentage when they do. So they have to do something to manufacture some more buckets.
One answer: Run!
The Jayhawks showed some of that inclination for increased velocity against Kent State on Tuesday. Kansas finished with 19 points in transition, which was more transition scoring than the Jayhawks had recorded in their last four games combined.
How did they do it? A re-watch of Kansas’ 78-62 victory Kent State revealed a few things about the Jayhawks’ work in transition. For one, it was equal-opportunity pushing in transition, with wings Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre and even forward Perry Ellis leading the break at times. The other answer was simple: Cliff Alexander.
Alexander is different than any player on the KU roster, in that he can be a consistent rim-protector. No one will mistake him for Jeff Withey or Joel Embiid, but his presence increases the likelihood of a blocked or altered shot that might lead to a transition opportunity.
Let’s look at how Kansas got some of its looks in transition. To the GIFs!
1. The “Whoever Gets It, Brings it.” Bill Self loves using this line in terms of how he wants his team to push the ball in transition. No point guard? No worries. Just push. Here’s how it played out on one possession. Wayne Selden received an outlet pass and pushed up the right side, finding Perry Ellis, who had pinned his defender on the block and drew a foul.
2. The “Equal Opportunity Push.” Just 20 seconds later, freshman wing Kelly Oubre snatched a defensive rebound and found an opening to push the ball in transition. He ended up getting all the way to the rim.
3. The “Cliff Show.” Here’s an example of what Alexander can do. After going scoreless for the first 31 minutes, Alexander contested a shot, sprinted the length of the floor, and cleaned up an offensive rebound for a putback.
4. The “Cliff Show II.” Alexander wasn’t done. A few possessions later, he blocked a shot and caught an alley-oop in transition.
5. The “Cliff Show III.” OK. This isn’t really a transition bucket. But Alexander scored his eighth straight point on a short jumper from just outside the paint. It’s worth another look.
All year, the Jayhawks have struggled to force turnovers. They rank 289th in the country in defensive turnover percentage. The defensive struggles have limited their opportunities to get out in transition and get easy buckets. Kansas may never be elite at forcing turnovers; at some point, you are what you are. But if the Jayhawks can be more focused on running, they may pick up six or seven extra buckets a game.
Player of the game.
Sophomore Frank Mason has been so solid recently that his performance against Kent State was mostly overlooked. He finished with 14 points, five assists, five rebounds and one turnover. Mason is now shooting 53 percent from three-point range (17 of 32) and has scored in double figures in nine straight games. But his all-around game has improved as well. Mason has increased his assist rate to 26.6 (from 22.4 last season) and his steal percentage to 2.8 (from 1.9).
A look at Frank F. Mason
*Offensive rating, via KenPom.com, attempts to quantify the number of points produced by a player per hundred total individual possessions.
The moment of the game.
In the first 11 games of his career, Svi Mykhailiuk made 12 three-pointers and had zero dunks. Lest you think Mykhailiuk is some kind of three’s-only gunner, here is the 17-year-old showing off his hops in transition against Kent State. The reaction from the Kansas bench is one of, “Hey, Svi dunked!” But we’ll guess that Mykhailiuk puts down a few more dunks before his time at Kansas is over.
The stat of the game.
11 of 23.
That’s what freshman Kelly Oubre is now shooting from three-point range on the season. Oubre was four of seven from three-point range against Kent State. He may not shoot 48 percent for the season, but if he can continue to knock down threes, he could turn into an offensive weapon entering Big 12 play.