In the days before the Big 12 Conference began, I wrote a story about Kansas’ chances to win an 11th straight Big 12 title. Would this finally be the year the Jayhawks’ ridiculous string of Big 12 dominance would come to an end?
It is, of course, not advised to pick against the Jayhawks in the Big 12. But the thrust of the story was that, yes, on that day in early January, the numbers suggested that Kansas was far from a sure thing to collect another conference crown. As Kansas prepared for its Big 12 opener at Baylor, the Jayhawks ranked just 45th in the country in defensive efficiency, an incredibly low number for a Bill Self team. At the same time, the Jayhawks were shooting just 43.9 inside the three-point line, the lowest mark of the Self era by a substantial margin (the previous low was 50.8) and hardly the kind of offense expected from a Big 12 champion.
As a result of the numbers — and a deep and strong Big 12 — the Jayhawks graded out poorly in the efficiency rankings at KenPom.com. Ken Pomeroy, college basketball’s omnipresent statistical wizard, projected Kansas to finish 10-8 in the Big 12.
So here’s something you might know: Kansas is not going to finish 10-8.
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After Tuesday night’s victory at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks are now 9-2 and hold a 1 1/2-game lead over second-place Oklahoma, 8-4. They also hold a fully two-game lead over Iowa State. More important, perhaps: they hold a two-game lead in the loss column over both teams.
In other words: Kansas’ magic number — the combination of wins and opponents’ losses needed to clinch at least a share of an 11th straight Big 12 title — is now at five. If the Kansas goes 5-2 over its last seven, it will clinch at least a share. If the Jayhawks go 4-3, and Oklahoma and Iowa State each drop at least one more, they will claim a share. And so on.
Here are the projections for the rest of the season for Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy and KenPom.com.
W, 71-66 (70%)
At West Virginia
W, 74-73 (51%)
W, 71-59 (88%)
At Kansas State
W, 68-62 (76%)
W, 71-63 (79%)
W, 78-69 (79%)
L, 72-67 (31%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 14-4
THE BREAKDOWN: Kansas is a favorite in six of its last seven games — though just a slight favorite at West Virginia. Add up the odds, and KenPom still projects two more losses. They key: Finding a way to win one of two at West Virginia and K-State … and avoiding any slip-ups at home.
At Kansas State
W, 67-60 (79%)
W, 70-61 (81%)
At Texas Tech
W, 68-56 (90%)
W, 69-57 (90%)
At Iowa State
W, 78-77 (52%)
W, 72-67 (69%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 13-5
THE BREAKDOWN: Oklahoma defeated Iowa State on Monday in Norman. It seemed like a good result for Kansas — Oklahoma already had four losses; Iowa State dropped two games back — but based on remaining schedules, maybe it wasn’t. Oklahoma looks like it could breeze through its next four games, before finishing at Iowa State and against Kansas at home. Oklahoma, though, has already lost to K-State at home, and if the Wildcats can complete the season sweep at Bramlage on Saturday, KU fans might want to send Bruce Weber some candy hearts for Valentine’s Day or something.
IOWA STATE (7-4)
W, 84-78 (69%)
At Oklahoma State
L, 76-72 (33%)
L, 76-73 (37%)
W, 76-74 (57%)
At Kansas State
W, 74-70 (65%)
L, 78-77 (48%)
W, 72-71 (54%)
FINAL PROJECTION: 11-7
THE BREAKDOWN: The Cyclones have been a little shaky on the road. And their finishing stretch is tough. Trips to Oklahoma State, Texas and K-State remain. They also have Oklahoma at home. KenPom.com projects three more losses, which could drop the Cyclones back into the second pack of contenders by season’s end.
STILL HANGING AROUND
OKLAHOMA STATE (7-5)
WEST VIRGINIA (6-4)
A brief look at KU’s three-point shooting
The game story in Wednesday’s newspaper and at KansasCity.com (go ahead and click) was all about Kansas’ use of three-point shooting and how it goes against Bill Self’s basic basketball philosophy. After hitting 11 of 20 from deep against Texas Tech, Kansas is now shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range, which ranks sixth in the country. Self, though, likes to call hot outside shooting “fool’s gold.” On Tuesday, KU took 20 of its 49 field-goal attempts from three-point range. Self said that was too many.
OK. I don’t want to spend too much time here. The Chalkboard has spent a lot of time dissecting KU’s three-point shooting. But let’s at least knock down one myth and present some facts.
▪ This is the worst inside scoring team of Self’s career. FACT.
KU is shooting 45.6 percent inside the three-point line this year. No Kansas team under Self has ever shot under 50 percent from two-point range.
▪ Kansas is shooting more threes this year than Self’s teams usually do. MYTH.
So, yes, the Jayhawks do lack inside scoring. But they aren’t really shoot any more threes than usual. After Tuesday’s game, the Jayhawks are shooting threes on 30.1 percent of their shots from the field. Last year, the number was 28.6. In 2013, it was 29.0. From 2008-09 to 2010-2011, the number was greater than 30.5 for three straight years, peaking at 32.4 in 2010-11. Historically, Self’s teams shoot threes on about 30 percent of their field-goal attempts. That’s what they’re doing this year.
▪ KU is more reliant on three-point offense this season. FACT … but with a caveat.
Nearly 29 percent of Kansas’ points have come off threes. Last year, that number was just 20.5. And why is more of KU’s offense coming from long distance? Well, the Jayhawks are shooting an incredible percentage. That’s one reason. The other: Their inside scoring has been woeful at times. KU’s field-goal percentage from inside the three-point line ranks 252nd in the country. Put another way: The Jayhawks’ three-point shooting has not really been a choice, but more of a necessity.
So consider this a public service: The next time somebody tells you this team is shooting more threes than ever, firing away, and forgetting about its inside offense, feel free to present these numbers.
Sophomore guard Brannen Greene might be the most confident shooter in the country, which is not a bad thing. When asked on Tuesday if hot shooting can be contagious, Greene just shrugged his shoulders and said: I’m confident all the time.
He was also asked if he was the best shooter in the country.
“I hope so,” Greene said. “I wouldn’t say I’m not the best shooter in the country. But I mean, that’s a big label. I just got to keep working, keep getting better.”
Is Greene the best shooter in the country? That’s hard to say. He hasn’t taken a great volume of shots this season. But he could be on his way to setting the KU single-season record for three-point percentage. After hitting two of three on Tuesday, Greene is now shooting 52.3 percent for the season.