It’s November, which means it is the month for college basketball overreactions. The season is nearly one week old, the sample sizes are small, and it’s hard, at least from a purely analytical standpoint, to make sweeping conclusions.
Example 1: In two games, Kansas has racked up 14 steals, resulting in a defensive turnover percentage of 23.6. If that number held up, it would be the highest by a Bill Self team since the 2006-07 season, which featured a backcourt of Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush. In most seasons, the Jayhawks rank among the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency, but they do it by making teams miss and cleaning up the defensive glass.
So is this really Kansas’ best theft team in years? Maybe. But we’ll know much more in a few weeks.
Example 2: In two games, the Jayhawks’ starting backcourt is shooting 27 percent (9 of 33) from inside the three-point line. OK, this number is going to rise. But here’s where November overreaction meets genuine concern.
In two games — a season-opening victory over Northern Colorado and a loss to Michigan State — Wayne Selden is shooting 25 percent (two of eight) from inside of three-point range. This comes after Selden shot 39.5 percent from inside of three-point range last season. And if you go all the way back to the NCAA Tournament his freshman year — which, yes, is an arbitrary end point — Selden is shooting just 37 percent (69 of 183) from two-point range in 40 games. This is not, of course, a small sample size.
During Bill Self’s tenure at Kansas, here is the list of rotation players who have shot worse than 40 percent from two-point range in a season.
Russell Robinson, 39.6 percent, 2005-06
Wayne Selden, 39.5 percent, 2014-15
Josh Selby, 38.4 percent, 2011-12
Naadir Tharpe, 35.8 percent, 2012-13
Selden was always going to be a key for Kansas this season. In the months after a disappointing sophomore season, he appeared to find something at the World University Games South Korea — not just in pure numbers, but in style of play. He attacked the basketball. He was a mainstay at the free-throw line. He shot close to 60 percent from two-point range during a 10-game stretch against international competition.
We wrote about this here in our College Basketball preview section. On a deep and veteran team, Selden’s rejuvenation could provide a spark, a genuine reason to believe this team could make a jump this season. Self echoed those sentiments during his radio show on Wednesday night, one night after the Michigan State loss.
“I think he’s as key to our team as anybody else is,” Self said.
Perhaps the production in South Korea was reflective of the competition, something akin to a late-summer mirage against some lesser competition. But perhaps it’s also too early to know for sure. The Jayhawks’ season is two games old. Selden has time to make these early conclusions look silly.
“To be honest, I’m not too worried about our team right now,” Selden said, after finishing with 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting against Michigan State. “Down the stretch, we know what we had to do. We know we had to make stops and stuff like that. Everything is correctable that we messed up on. So I’m not too worried (as) I was in other years.”
Selden, of course, was not the only Jayhawk who struggled against Michigan State. As a team, the Jayhawks shot just under 40 percent from inside the three-pointer line, and the individual lines were not pretty. Here’s a rundown of Kansas’ shooting from inside of three.
Perry Ellis, 8-16.
Frank Mason, 5-12.
Carlton Bragg, 2-2.
Jamari Traylor, 1-1.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 1-4.
Devonte’ Graham, 1-5.
Landen Lucas, 1-5.
Wayne Selden, 1-6.
With 4:48 left on Tuesday night, Denzel Valentine drilled a three-pointer that gave Michigan State at 65-64 lead. From that moment on, the Spartans did not miss another shot. For all the discussion of Kansas’ missed layups and Self’s rotation decisions, Perry Ellis pointed to the defense down the stretch.
The Jayhawks had trouble guarding Michigan State’s high ball screens, and the Spartans scored 17 points in the final five minutes, hitting five field goals — all five were jumpers — and four free throws.
Brannen Greene/Svi Mykhailiuk
In Kansas’ previous two games before the Champions Classic, including an exhibition game against Fort Hays State, Greene and Mykhailiuk had combined to go 11 of 15 from three-point range — and that was with Greene sitting out the final exhibition. On Tuesday, Greene and Mykhailiuk combined for zero three-point attempts in 21 combined minutes. Some of the credit goes to Michigan State, which spent much of the night shading the three-point line. Mykhailiuk also took some questionable shots in the first half, which didn’t do much to gain Self’s trust.
But this much was clear once again: When the Jayhawks are struggling to score inside — save for Perry Ellis — and the three-pointers aren’t falling, Kansas is predisposed to some long stretches of quiet on offense.
Three years ago, a veteran-laden Kansas team lost to Michigan State at the Champions Classic and promptly rolled off 18 straight games, winning a Big 12 title before claiming a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
From a scheduling perspective, the next month sets up in a similar manner. The Jayhawks will open the Maui Invitational against host school Chaminade on Monday. With a victory, they would play the winner of UCLA-UNLV, and a matchup with Indiana looms as a possibility in the championship game on Wednesday. Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and St. John’s are also on the other side of the bracket.
After the trip to Maui, the Jayhawks will play host to Loyola (Md.), Harvard and Holy Cross before facing Oregon State at the Sprint Center. If there are kinks to be worked out, the Jayhawks have a schedule that should allow for some margin for error.