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Archive for Sunday, January 12, 2014

Column: Defense will be tested by ISU

January 12, 2014

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In a baseball game played in front of a savvy crowd such as the one that packs Yankee Stadium, a triple triggers a much more interesting roar than does a home run.

The home run explosion happens all at once and then fades. With a triple, the volume of the crowd mounts throughout the play, peaking when the runner slides safely into third base.

Similarly, in Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas University always has a steady supply of quick-jumping athletes attacking the rim with a fury, dunks juice a crowd that reacts with an explosion that eventually fades.

But the dunk isn’t necessarily the play that gets the most interesting, longest-lasting rise from the 16,300 paying customers who manage to squeeze into the cozy venue.

Nothing in the fieldhouse beats the crescendo inspired by a defensive possession that ends with a shot-clock violation. As with the triple, the noise precedes the completion of the play. It doesn’t, as with the home run, start when the play ends.

And far more so than the triple, the crowd actually can play a significant role in making the play happen. The fan support fuels the defenders with adrenaline, staves off exhaustion and sharpens their focus. It incites them to hang tough until the horn hollers. Once it does, coach Bill Self punches the air, more pumped even than he becomes when a perfectly executed lob play draws an eruption.

K-State’s shot-clock violation Saturday seemed to trigger the mutually beneficial athlete-spectator energy exchange in a more noticeable way than any play this season. It was the seventh shot-clock violation forced by KU’s defense, compared to three 35-second Kansas possessions without a shot.

It’s dangerous to read too much into one play, but the shot-clock violation and how excited (proud) it seemed to make the players could be a sign the newcomers are beginning to appreciate why their coach puts such a premium on that end of the floor.

K-State coach Bruce Weber credited KU’s length with bothering star freshman Marcus Foster and said KU “stifled us.” He also offered a candid opinion of how this KU team that starts three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior stacks up defensively with last year’s Jayhawks, who started four seniors and a freshman.

“They’re good, there’s no doubt, but they’re nowhere near defensively what they were a year ago,” Weber said. “Those guys were so good defensively. So old, mature physically. We put sets in that they had never seen, and they would take them away.”

An argument could be made that Ben McLemore was the only starter last season who was better on offense than defense. Conversely, it could be said Andrew Wiggins is the only current starter who has been better on defense than offense. Considering Wiggins leads the team in scoring and erupted with 17 second-half points Saturday, even that’s debatable.

The two charges reserve center Tarik Black drew Saturday were the team’s first of the season, partly a function of the change in the way block-charge has been called this season — almost always a block — but also a hint at a need for a tougher edge.

With our without second-leading scorer DeAndre Kane, Iowa State, ranked sixth in the nation with 86.7 points per game, represents a monumental challenge for the young KU defenders tonight in Hilton Coliseum.

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