University of Kansas

What Saturday’s loss does — and doesn’t — tell us about this KU basketball team

Dedric Lawson explains defensive struggles in blowout loss at Texas Tech

Kansas Jayhawks forward Dedric Lawson explains his team's defensive struggles after a 91-62 loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019.
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Kansas Jayhawks forward Dedric Lawson explains his team's defensive struggles after a 91-62 loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019.

The world in which Bill Self and Chris Beard operate is one of constant overreaction to single-game samples.

Both signed up for this. They make millions of dollars while understanding that a silly tournament at the end of the season means more than the first four months. They are part of a college basketball universe where every loss is often interpreted as a character flaw instead of sometimes what it is: a weird, fluky result.

“We played about as well as you could possibly play,” Beard said after his team’s 91-62 victory over KU on Saturday.

“I just think we played bad, and I think they played great,” Self said. “They’d beat anybody in the country tonight.”

Look, there were reasons to worry about how KU would fare against Tech. The Jayhawks have stunk on the road this year. They’re prone to giveaways, which happens to be an area where the Red Raiders defense thrives.

KU’s defensive strategy also is susceptible against teams who aren’t afraid to attack their hedging style for open threes. Self likes to protect the lane while forcing the action outside, and Texas Tech took advantage of that for open shots in the first half.

“We played the percentages in some ways,” Self said, “and they burned us.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, though. Texas Tech didn’t just shoot well from three ... it made 16 of 26 for 62 percent. That might be hard to do in practice if there were no defenders on the court.

Also, Self did try different things defensively. KU switched five on screens most of the second half — it appeared point guard Devon Dotson might have suggested the change to Self in the post-halftime huddle — and while that slowed down some of the threes, it didn’t noticeably improve KU’s defense.

The final result? Texas Tech scored 1.49 points per possession — the highest total against a Self team during his 570 games in Lawrence. Not only that, the number easily outpaced No. 2 on the list, as Villanova put up 1.34 in last year’s Final Four.

“After we got discombobulated,” Self said, “it didn’t make any difference what we did.”

This is college basketball, so some craziness is likely coming next. Over the next 24 hours, many will ask questions like whether this is Self’s worst team or his softest or maybe even his least talented, based on the most recent result.

It’s sort of weird to do it this way considering how NBA teams are judged. As an example: On May 16 last year, the Golden State Warriors were blown out by the Houston Rockets on the road, 127-105, in the Western Conference Finals.

What did that result end up meaning? Not much. It was only Game 2 of a seven-game series, and less than a month later, the Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers while continuing a three-titles-in-four-years run that many consider a dynasty.

Weird stuff happens sometimes, even to talented teams. And even knowing that, it might be a good time for a reality check about what this KU team actually is.

The Jayhawks, most likely, are about the 15th- to 20th-best team in the nation, depending on the night. They’re also competing in one of the nation’s top two conferences, with a multitude of great teams even if it’s sometimes tough to pick out the best.

They’re also trying to continue a 14-year conference streak that borders on insanity. Winning the league has become an expectation more than an accomplishment, and that’s probably more a credit to the players that came before than an indictment of those on the roster now.

The bottom line: This is a good Kansas team, not a great one. It has strengths and flaws, and most of those are the same we knew even before Saturday’s 29-point blowout.

“It’s kind of like what happened in Lawrence (during Texas Tech’s 79-63 loss). They steamrolled us early,” Beard said. “So it’s kind of similar games.”

This all left a lingering thought on Beard’s mind Saturday.

In the Elite Eight last year, his team made 5 of 20 threes against Villanova. The Red Raiders lost, 71-59, and fans remember that game from last season most.

So what if Texas Tech had this shooting night switched with that one?

“We’d have been in San Antonio,” Beard said.

The coach doesn’t expect sympathy. He signed his contract knowing that some games matter more than others, and sometimes, the world can be a random place.

A one-game sample swung his way Saturday. It felt good in the moment, but Beard knows the feeling won’t last.

Tomorrow brings a new challenge. Shots might not go in the same way next week.

And Beard — like Self — would much rather see these magical nights during the most important games ahead.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.