No. 8 Kansas handled West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. Here are three day-after thoughts on the victory — and KU’s path moving forward:
1. Defensive progress?
Kansas coach Bill Self was pleased with his team’s defensive performance, and the advanced numbers illustrate a team that has guarded better in its last two games. KU held a team to fewer than one point per possession for the second straight game, holding the Mountaineers to 0.97 points per possession. Andrew Wiggins locked down West Virginia’s Eron Harris on the perimeter, holding him without a field goal in the second half. And Self also praised freshman Frank Mason’s effort in containing leading scorer Juwan Staten.
“For the second game in a row,” Self said, “we were better.”
At the risk of putting too much emphasis on a two-game sample, let’s go back to where KU ranks nationally in defensive efficiency. A week ago, KU was ranked 39th in the category, according to KenPom.com. We noted that no team in the last decade had won the NCAA title with a defense ranked that low. Seven days later, though, KU has climbed back to No. 22 in defensive efficiency. It’s a reminder that these numbers can fluctuate a lot in a matter of games, but it’s also positive trend for KU’s prospects in March.
Once again, here’s how the last 10 champions ranked in defensive efficiency.
2013: Louisville, 3rd
2012: Kentucky, 8th
2011: UConn, 13th
2010: Duke, 8th
2009: North Carolina, 21st
2008: Kansas, 1st
2007: Florida, 17th
2006: Florida, 6th
2005: North Carolina, 12th
2004: UConn, 5th
2. The highlight of the day:
Frank Mason pulled off a rather memorable move in transition against West Virginia’s Gary Browne. It was pretty solid, a little right-to-left crossover on the fast break, but it was still a little jarring to see Browne totally caught off balance — like a batter totally fooled on a decent curveball.
“It was a nice move,” Mason said, rather matter-of-factly.
3. The conference race:
The Jayhawks now face one of their two toughest remaining games, at least according to KenPom projections. Based on the KenPom system, KU is a 57 percent favorite to win on Monday; meanwhile, they’re still listed as just a 51 percent favorite to win at Oklahoma State. (Stay tuned for how any Marcus Smart suspension could affect those odds.)
Self continues to say that the league race is wide open — and not just a two-horse race between Kansas, 9-1, and Texas, 7-3.
For now, here’s a simple way to think about the league race. If Kansas beats Texas at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 22, that means the Longhorns would have to make up three games in the other remaining seven league games just to earn a share of the title. In other words: If KU beats Texas at home, the Jayhawks could lose three of their other seven games and still earn a share.
And if Kansas can scratch out a victory at Bramlage Coliseum on Monday, it becomes harder and harder to find out where those three losses might come from.