Kansas coach Bill Self tells the story about Danny Manning often, and it might be a good starting point to explain what happened during KU’s 79-67 victory over Texas on Saturday.
Self was on staff at KU when Manning was Big Eight player of the year in 1985-86. And while the big man’s ability to score impressed Self, something else did as well.
When KU needed points — or it was a close game — Manning was always the guy who would take the ball and deliver. In other words, when he had to score 30 points, he would score 30.
In other instances though, when KU pulled away from an opponent, Manning wouldn’t shoot as much. Instead, he’d find teammates a few extra times, making sure those guys felt good about how they’d played.
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This simple act left an impression on Self. Manning was a great player — one of the best in the nation — yet he was unselfish enough to realize when it was best for the team that he didn’t score.
And maybe this helps to explain guard Devonté Graham’s words Saturday afternoon.
Five days after KU force-fed the ball inside against Iowa State’s overwhelmed small lineup in a road win, the Jayhawks often tried the same thing against a Texas team with a much taller front line.
So why keep going to Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg and Josh Jackson in the post, when that hasn’t been the Jayhawks’ strength this year?
“We just want to give them confidence,” Graham said. “We play four guards, so everything is real guard-oriented with us. Sometimes, we can not realize they haven’t gotten a touch in a little while.
“So we’re all about trying to draw plays for them to get easy baskets just to get that confidence going. If they score an easy basket, then they’ll defend even more. I think that’s what our focus is.”
It’s a nice gesture, for sure. And if the Jayhawks were going to do that, the best time would be Saturday during the easiest game left on the schedule.
Having said that ... it wasn’t effective. KU built a 14-2 lead running its fun-to-watch, always-weaving offense to get two open threes, and after that, the efficiency took a step back when the Jayhawks went down low.
The final offensive stat lines for KU’s big men weren’t pretty. Lucas had two points on 0-for-4 shooting. Bragg had eight points while making 3 of 5 field goals.
“Our big guys were no factor inside offensively,” Self said. “... For the most part, we didn’t throw it to our post and get any baskets with our backs to the basket. I would say that we didn’t do that very well.”
The worse part, though, was that in trying to get those low-percentage shots, KU also turned it over. Lucas and Bragg both traveled during first-half moves in the lane, while Lucas also threw an errant second-half pass while trying to feed Jackson in the post.
After going back through every possession, my unofficial tally for KU when it played through its big men in post scenarios was this: Eleven possessions (that ended with a shot, free throw or turnover), 1-for-6 shooting, three turnovers, two blocked shots and four combined points, which included free throws. KU was able to draw five Texas fouls as well, but that’s obviously not enough to make up for so many wasted possessions.
The good news? KU doesn’t have to rely on this. The Jayhawks are elite in transition, and their guards’ ability to drive for layups in the half-court more than make up for any back-to-the-bucket deficiency.
KU doesn’t appear to have selfish guys either. Each player seems to understand his role, and Lucas and Bragg aren’t likely to be offended if they’re asked by Self to mostly guard and rebound, as they’ve accepted that call already this year.
The Jayhawks tried to do the right thing Saturday. They tried to feed their big men, keeping them happy after building a lead in a game that wasn’t likely to be in doubt.
The toughest eight-game stretch of the regular season is up next, though. Manning would know this would be his time to deliver.
KU’s guards, I’m guessing, will be quick to understand the same.