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The Recap: Kansas 57, Memphis 55
Welcome to the second installment of The Recap, a KUSports.com feature that hopes to enlighten and entertain throughout the basketball season. We'll be using a variety of possession-based statistics and good old observation of the game to brew up some hopefully interesting thoughts on KU and Big 12 Conference basketball.
If you missed the first edition, here is a comprehensive rundown of some popular possession-based metrics.
As always, please tell us in the comments section what you thought of the game, KU and this feature.
Kansas fans, take a deep breath. That one was close.
Memphis pushed KU to the brink Tuesday night in a neutral-court nail-biter that only the most optimistic of Tiger fans might have foreseen.
After a careful viewing of the game and some statistical digging, the two main reasons for KU's victory didn't need much work to unearth.
Cole Aldrich is really, really, really good.
The KU defense is — as usual under coach Bill Self's watch — an immovable object.
Both teams' offenses were terrible, on first glance a surprise given the ease with which these squads have scored in the past.
Memphis scored 0.81 points per possession Tuesday. As a frame of reference, only one team — The New Jersey Institute of Technology — posted a worse total than that for the balance of last season (0.79). That team finished 1-30 in 2009.
Kansas was better, but not by much. The Jayhawks scored 0.86 points per possession, which would have been good (or bad) for 334th of 343 teams last season. KU had worse offensive showings than Tuesday's just three times in 2008-09, in losses at Michigan State and Missouri and a NCAA Tournament victory against Dayton.
We'll address what went wrong later. For now, a look at the high points:
What KU did well
• Recruited Cole Aldrich, stuck him in the paint and let him do his thingKU center Cole Aldrich scoring two of his 18 points
Aldrich was very much a NBA Lottery Pick prospect Tuesday, grabbing 47 percent of KU's rebounds in the minutes he was on the floor, shooting 70 percent from the field and scoring on better than 80 percent of the possessions he used. On top of his offensive uber-efficiency, the big Minnesotan blocked five shots and committed just two fouls in 30 minutes.
• Treated Memphis' offense like an overwhelmed mid-major
Memphis was miserable on offense. If not for the grace bestowed on some of sophomore guard Elliot Williams' unsteady shots, KU might have run away with the game. Only one Tiger (junior forward Will Coleman) enjoyed a better-than-average performance, scoring 1.33 points per shot. The team's starting backcourt shot a combined 10-for-37, a mark that can be traced back to KU's tenacity. For all of the offensive struggles KU wings Tyshawn Taylor and Xavier Henry endured, they defended with gusto. Henry locked down the Tigers' most dangerous shooter, Roburt Sallie (47 percent on 3s last year), who scored five points on 10 field goal attempts Tuesday. One sign of how disjointed Memphis offense was: The team registered an assist on just 21.1 percent of its baskets. Last season the Tigers posted assists on 54 percent of their baskets.
• Got an efficient, if quiet, performance from Sherron Collins
KU's senior guard Sherron Collins somehow was labeled as an inefficient offensive player by fans and media at times last season. He shouldered the load offensively, but contrary to popular belief, didn't suffer much of a dip in his per-possession numbers (there is another blog coming in the near future devoted to the chronic underrating of Collins' offensive game). Tuesday night Collins showed his value. He battled through leg cramps to play 32 minutes, in which time he registered an offensive rating of 126 (average is 100) and scored 12 points on seven field goal attempts. The senior ended up KU's second-leading scorer despite using only shooting15 percent of the team's possessions during his playing time (20 percent is average, since five players are on the court at once).
What KU did poorly
• Ran any semblance of an offense, sans Collins
While Collins received treatment for cramps during stretches of the second half, the Jayhawks seemed out of sync. Sophomore guard Taylor and junior guard Tyrel Reed were the most egregious offenders, creating exactly zero made field goals and eight turnovers combined in 51 minutes. Outside the box score, the pair's offensive play wasn't any less offensive. Memphis' full-court press seemed to throw Reed off-kilter and slow KU to a standstill.
• Turned the ball over with alarming frequencySophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor, among others, caught the turnover bug Tuesday
KU struggled with turnovers all of last season and ended up with a 23 percent turnover rate. Tuesday night's showing made last season's team look prudent, coughing the ball up 31.8 percent of the time. At Tuesday night's pace of play, if KU would have stayed around the national average 20 percent turnover rate, it would have gained about seven possessions. Even at the Jayhawks' poor rate of 0.86 points per possession, that's six points KU missed out on.
• Survived a test from an extremely athletic early-season opponent
Memphis might not have all the pieces in place for a Final Four run, but there's no denying the Tigers' athleticism. Three of Memphis' top four guards are 6-foot-5 and its top reserve post, Coleman, is a 6-foot-9 leaper cut from the Joey Dorsey mold. With all that length and speed, Memphis played vice-tight defense and directly caused a good portion of the Jayhawks' offensive ills. KU will not see Memphis-level athletes until Jan. 10 at Tennessee, and Texas might be the only Big 12 Conference team to offer comparable team speed.
As Self suggested post-game, this was the kind of victory that could help build a team.