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Archive for Sunday, January 13, 2013

Opinion: Guard play crucial for KU

January 13, 2013

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Kansas University senior starting power forward Kevin Young, such an energizer when he’s in ultra-active mode, showed he can be an X-factor with his bad half/good half in the unimpressive victory against Texas Tech.

Ben McLemore, when he works his way into scoring opportunities, can carry the team, as he showed in the overtime triumph against Iowa State. When he’s not putting pressure on the defense, the Kansas offense stagnates.

Still, even more than Young and McLemore, this Kansas team that can count on consistently strong efforts from seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford swings in the direction of its point-guard play.

Senior Elijah Johnson’s move from shooting guard, where he rode shotgun to Tyshawn Taylor as a junior, to the point remains a work in progress with highs and lows that occur not so much from game to game as in spurts within games.

When Johnson and/or Naadir Tharpe put the defense into retreat mode, everything else seems to fall into place. When they don’t, the threat of a long field-goal drought looms.

In back-to-back games, KU stumbled through remarkably long stretches without any points from the field. The second-half, 8:19 drought against Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last Wednesday, was topped Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, when the Jayhawks went the final 11:13 of the first half without a field goal.

During that combined dry spell of 19:32, McLemore attempted one shot. Johnson attempted seven shots and committed five turnovers, four against Iowa State. Excluding the two droughts in which Kansas was outscored, 29-15, Johnson made six of nine field goals and totaled 14 assists and five turnovers, and Kansas won the other 59:28 by a margin of 142-106. Naturally, taking the worst stretches of any game tends to bring out the worst stats of just about any individual, but the contrast in Johnson’s numbers is quite interesting. When he is able to force help and sets up teammates, Kansas rolls. When he can’t, the offense stalls.

Self started with Johnson in listing the reasons Kansas was limited to 19 field goals against Texas Tech.

“Elijah never got in the paint to make plays for others,” Self said. “Naadir didn’t get in the paint to make plays for others. Ben and Travis didn’t drive it much. And they played us smart defensively.”

Johnson’s an even better point guard at the beginning of a fast break than predecessors Taylor and Sherron Collins, but the way Kansas and so many other teams now play in the halfcourt, much keys off the point guard’s breaking down a defense by penetrating into the lane. Johnson doesn’t do that as well as Taylor or Collins. Taylor’s wild forays into the lane might have kept KU’s most passionate fans in therapy. They also kept defenses in constant retreat mode. Taylor sometimes wore on coaches and fans, but it was worth the stress because of the way he wore out opponents.

No point in fretting over Taylor’s departure. He started four seasons for Kansas, which now has a different style point guard. Johnson’s inclination toward hitting the big shot and playing well in big games injects sizzle into tonight’s match-up with Baylor’s quick, strong Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Pierre Jackson.

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