Campus Corner

KU chalkboard: A closer look at the Kansas Jayhawks’ 9-1 start

Kansas’ Frank Mason III shot past Lafayette’s Nick Lindner in the second half of KU’s 96-69 win on Saturday in Lawrence.
Kansas’ Frank Mason III shot past Lafayette’s Nick Lindner in the second half of KU’s 96-69 win on Saturday in Lawrence. The Associated Press

For No. 10 Kansas, the task sets up like this: Beat Temple on Monday here at the Wells Fargo Center; beat Kent State back at Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 30; and then beat UNLV in the nonconference finale on Jan. 4 in Lawrence.

If the Jayhawks can procure three more wins — and the projections at KenPom.com suggests the odds are decent — they will finish the nonconference season with a 12-1 record, which is probably better than just about anyone anticipated after that now infamously ugly night in Indianapolis against Kentucky.

The Jayhawks still have their flaws, of course. The inside scoring production is inconsistent. They rank 291st in the country at forcing turnovers. They are 9-1 against the nation’s ninth-hardest schedule — the hardest any top 25 team has played — and still rank just ninth in KenPom’s efficiency rankings.

Freshman wing Kelly Oubre finally appears to be surging. Junior forward Hunter Mickelson is suddenly a pleasant surprise. Frank Mason is staking a claim as Kansas’ most valuable player.

And after Kansas’ 96-69 victory over Lafayette on Saturday, The Chalkboard has questions. Let’s get to them.

OK, can Kansas really continue to shoot this well from the outside? It’s been impressive, right? On Saturday, Kansas was 12 of 23 from three-point range. In the last three games, the Jayhawks have shot nearly 55 percent (28 of 51). For the season, KU is now making 39.5 percent of its three-point attempts, which ranks 33rd in the country. It would also be Kansas’ highest mark since shooting 40.4 percent in 2009-10, which is partially why The Chalkboard has previously discussed Kansas’ need to get up more three-pointers. On the season, for example, the Jayhawks’ 3PA% is 29.2, meaning they’re shooting threes at about the same rate as the last four seasons.

But can it last? Sophomore guard Frank Mason is shooting better than 52 percent; Brannen Greene is shooting 46 percent; Kelly Oubre is shooting 47 percent in a small sample (seven for 15); even Wayne Selden is shooting 37 percent after hitting just 33 percent last season. Some of these numbers will perhaps regress to the mean. But Svi Mykhailiuk (34 percent) and Perry Ellis (27 percent) both have room to improve.

Where does the frontcourt rotation go from here? Cliff Alexander was supposed to start on Saturday against Lafayette … and then he had a bad day at practice. Landen Lucas returned to the starting lineup and then played just six minutes. Hunter Mickelson broke out in a big way with eight points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes, and he was previously averaging around 3 minutes per game.

Bill Self makes it clear that he wants to play four big guys. Just like always. That insistence would suggest that if Mickelson is going to get more minutes, it would probably come at the expense of Lucas, who has started eight games but is averaging just 10.1 minutes per contest.

Here’s one stat that could provide some answers: Field-goal percentage at the rim.

The Jayhawks have been surprisingly bad at converting dunks and layups, and the big guys are as responsible as anyone. (Numbers via Hoop-Math.com)

Player

Field Goal percentage at the rim

Hunter Mickelson

75.0 percent

Cliff Alexander

60.0 percent

Perry Ellis

57.1 percent

Landen Lucas

52.4 percent

Jamari Traylor

44.8 percent

The numbers come with the usual caveats about sample size. Mickelson has taken just 13 field-goal attempts all year, and seven of them came against the smallish front line of Lafayette on Saturday. But they are worth tracking. The Jayhawks have a need for more points inside, and perhaps that means Self is more likely to go with the guys that can finish.

Are Kansas’ point guard issues a thing of the past? OK, this is really an excuse to throw in another link to this story about Frank Mason, and then point out a rather interesting Mason stat. We’ve been documenting Mason’s amazing three-point shooting — and his struggles at the rim — but after Saturday’s victory against Lafayette, the good people at Rock Chalk Talk pointed out that Mason is now nearly shooting better from three than he his at the rim. Mason is shooting 52.9 percent from three, while converting just 53.3 percent at the rim.

It’s a weird thing, and it probably won’t last. But for now, chuck away, Frank.

The player of the game.

Freshman Kelly Oubre was selected Big 12 freshman of the week after finishing with a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds against Lafayette. Oubre’s offensive rating was also a career-high 152.

The moment of the game.

Here’s another opportunity to point out that Frank Mason was pretty good against Lafayette. He finished with 14 points, nine assists, one turnover, and this dime to Cliff Alexander. (GIF via @cstonehoops)

The stat of the game.

12 of 23.

Kansas made 12 threes on Saturday. The Jayhawks also took a season-high 23 attempts.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @rustindodd.

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