University of Kansas

KU basketball succeeding on the plays we usually forget

KU guards talk about season

University of Kansas guards Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk talk about the men's basketball season thus far.
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University of Kansas guards Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk talk about the men's basketball season thus far.

We are all often guilty of recency bias … sportswriters included.

We love to talk about the game-winning shot or the final defensive stand, fully knowing in the back of our minds that there were thousands of other moments that contributed to the final outcome.

It’s part of being human. But then again, it might keep us from recognizing other aspects that are important as well.

So what might we have missed if we only focused on the recent?

How about this: KU has scored on each of its six first possessions this season and also has had the first lead in each game.

It was only natural to wonder what KU coach Bill Self does in these situations. In football, there’s a lot of talk about offensive coordinators “scripting” out the first 10-15 plays of each game.

Does that happen with basketball coaches too?

Actually … yes. Self says for the last 10 years, his staff planned out the first five plays of each game.

That’s changed slightly this season.

“We script the first play, obviously, but after that, we haven’t really scripted much,” Self said. “I’ve found the best way to play with the guys that we presently play is to let them play, not to try to tell them how to play. I think that’s worked out better for us.”

The quote is interesting on many levels, Self once again showing flexibility this season that he might not have in past years. KU’s offense has relied more on dribble drives (rather than set plays) than any other point in Self’s career, and given the fact that Frank Mason, Devonté Graham and Josh Jackson all can create for themselves and others, it seems to be a change that has benefited the Jayhawks.

It still doesn’t answer the underlying question, though: How has KU been so good on first possessions this season?

Let’s take a quick look at what Self is drawing up.

Indiana: Offensive rebound, Graham 3

Sometimes, it’s nice when guys can simply go and make plays. Self ran one of his favorite sets “2 game” here, which is meant to isolate the big men in the post for a chance at an angle and easy basket. Thanks to solid Indiana defense, that never developed, and Mason was forced to shoot a tough jumper over 6-foot-8 O.G. Anunoby late in the shot clock.

Mason chases his own miss, though, and finds Graham, who made 250 NBA three-pointers each day in the summer.

Duke: Jackson isolated in post, Jackson jumper

This is a nice wrinkle by Self, as it appears to be a variation of his “neck” play (shown here against Indiana).

This time, though, Carlton Bragg (the big man) pops out to make the pass, while Jackson (a guard) goes to post up. That change creates a mismatch Duke probably didn’t prepare for, as Jackson is able to put up a shot over the shorter Luke Kennard.

Siena: Jackson drive, two free throws (one made)

This appears to be a set play to get Jackson going, as Bragg sets a ball screen and Jackson goes aggressively to the rim.

UAB: Jackson drive, dunk

Jackson is able to free himself out of the weave, getting all the way to the basket for the slam. The unofficial assist here goes to Graham, who throws an unintentional-intentional body block on Jackson’s defender to help clear space.

Georgia: Jackson drive, jumper

Starting to notice a pattern? The ball once again goes to Jackson, as he comes up to get the ball from Mason. Teammates space the floor to give him a driving lane, and again, he’s able to score over a smaller defender.

UNC Asheville: Jackson drive, Udoka Azubuike dunk

Once again, the first-possession offense is run through Jackson, who draws two defenders before throwing it up to Azubuike, who eventually gets the easy two.

This isn’t the first time Self has benefited from paying attention to small details. The Jayhawks have historically won more than their fair share of opening tips, and the coach also frequently preaches the importance of 50-50 balls.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the coach has gotten his team an early lead so often, as an .823 winning percentage comes from more than executing plays at the end.

Those ones we often forget two hours later? Yep, those count too.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell