University of Kansas

For a decade, KU basketball has been king of the rim. That wasn’t the case in 2018-19

Bill Self had just burned the redshirt, and now, it was time to put Ochai Agbaji’s skillset to good use.

The Kansas coach called a set play during Agbaji’s first possession in the Jayhawks’ Jan. 9 home win against TCU; Agbaji faked a ball screen, rolled to the rim and later finished an alley-oop pass from teammate Devon Dotson.

For Self, it was a welcome sight ... especially considering the team had just lost Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending injury.

“We have been so boring playing above the rim. At least we had some activity,” Self said after his team’s 77-68 win. “We had three lobs in the first half. Without Doke, I don’t know if we’ve caught three lobs all year long.”

Unfortunately for Self, the adding of Agbaji midseason didn’t completely change the team’s offensive dynamic.

And for the first time this decade, KU faced a dunking discrepancy.

Before we go further ... the Jayhawks weren’t actually outdunked last season. KU had 83 slams, compared to 80 for its opponents, meaning the team was able to come out slightly ahead when viewed through that prism.

Another way of looking at it, though — and the way that college basketball analyst Bart Torvik does on his site, — is by looking at what percentage of a team’s two-point tries were dunk attempts.

This is where things were especially amiss from past years. For the first time this decade (as far as Torvik’s numbers go back), KU’s opponents attempted a higher percentage of dunks on two-point shots than the Jayhawks did.

And before 2018-19, no year was particularly close.

KU’s % of 2s that were dunk attemptsKU opponents % of 2s that were dunk attemptsDifference

Looking at the last two seasons, the Udoka effect becomes especially clear. After KU made 224 dunks in 2017-18 — the second-most of any NCAA team this decade — the Jayhawks had those opportunities nearly cut in a third following the loss of Azubuike last season.

The raw dunk numbers also show a drastic change.

KU dunksKU opponent dunks

KU, in essence, followed up its best dunking year with its worst, helping to explain part of the reason the Jayhawks offense took a step back last season.

It’s only fair to point out that just because KU’s dunking was down doesn’t mean the team failed to get shots at the rim. Some of this can be attributed to the Jayhawks’ roster makeup last year, as efficient players like Dedric Lawson (two dunks) and Dotson (one dunk) were more likely to score via layups than slams because of their individual circumstances.

In the end, 40% of KU’s field-goal attempts last season were close shots, which ranked 69th nationally and also was the second-best mark of any Big 12 team.

Those attempts aren’t exactly like dunks, though. For one, they go in a lot less (KU made 94% of its dunk attempts last season, compared to 63% of all its shots at the rim), and Self has spoken before about believing that his team often gets an additional emotional lift when it’s able to throw down a slam.

So who were KU’s best dunkers in 2018-19? Here’s a look:

Udoka Azubuike33
Ochai Agbaji15
David McCormack10
Mitch Lightfoot8
Lagerald Vick7
Marcus Garrett4
Quentin Grimes3
Dedric Lawson2
Devon Dotson1

Perhaps KU was lucky to get the dunk total it did. Azubuike, while playing in just nine games, had more than double the slams of any other teammate. And Agbaji, who only played in the second semester, still managed to catch up to contribute the second most.

The bottom line: KU wasn’t itself for a season, failing to keep up its rim dominance during a year that failed to meet expectations.

It likely will be a short-term hiccup. Azubuike is returning next season, and based on that alone, it’s easy to think these numbers will bounce back next year.

Self, in other words, has reason to be optimistic about 2019-20.

If Azubuike is healthy — at the very least — the Jayhawks shouldn’t be boring at the rim.

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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.