Entries from blogs tagged with “ku”

Travis Releford edges out Naadir Tharpe for No. 1 spot

Kansas guard Travis Releford celebrates a three by teammate Ben McLemore during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Travis Releford celebrates a three by teammate Ben McLemore during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

1. Travis Releford: It's going to be hard for any KU player to have a more efficient night than Releford did Saturday. The senior made seven of eight field goals, which included a 5-for-6 performance from three-point range. Releford posted 19 points, two rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in a 23-minute effort. In his last four games, he has gone 9-for-11 from beyond the arc (82 percent).

2. Naadir Tharpe: It was hard to keep him from the top spot after his breakout performance. The sophomore's 12 assists tied for the 10th-most in a game in KU history (assists were tallied starting in the 1973-74 season), and he registered those without a single turnover. He also went 3-for-4 from three to finish with nine points in 20 minutes with four rebounds. In his last four games, Tharpe has 22 assists and no turnovers.

3. Perry Ellis: KU coach Bill Self called this Ellis' best game, and that showed in the stat line. The freshman notched his first double-double, contributing 11 points (5-for-7 shooting) to go with a career-high 10 rebounds. He also had a pair of blocks and a three-pointer with no turnovers in 17 minutes.

4. Elijah Johnson: Coming into the game, Johnson had made just one of his last nine three-pointers. He broke that slump against the Eagles, knocking down four of five threes to finish with 12 points. He also added four assists to go with one turnover in 24 minutes.

5. Jeff Withey: Quiet night for Withey compared to his teammates, but that didn't stop him from racking up an efficient line himself. He went 5-for-7 from the floor for 11 points to go with four rebounds, four blocks and one turnover in 21 minutes. He also had the highlight of the night, posterizing AU's Tony Wroblicky with a one-handed jam in the first half.

6. Ben McLemore: Self commented after the game that McLemore never was able to get in the flow of the game, and part of the reason for that was the freshman picking up two quick fouls. McLemore had nine points on 2-for-4 shooting and made all four of his free throws in 20 minutes. His best play might have been a first-half assist to Releford, as McLemore passed up an open three to get Releford a wide-open one. You don't see many future lottery picks that unselfish in college.

7. Kevin Young: KU played so well that Young's six-point perfect shooting night (3-for-3 on field goals) places him seventh. Young also had four rebounds, one assist, one block, two steals and no turnovers in 17 minutes. The senior is now 8-for-8 from the floor in KU's last three games.

8. Rio Adams: Outside of a traveling violation, the freshman was solid in his 11 minutes. He had two points, an assist and a steal and provided good defensive pressure.

9. Jamari Traylor: Traylor showed the quickness to deny passes on the perimeter, but he struggled defensively in the lane, getting a little too aggressive with his block attempts. The freshman had three points, five rebounds, two steals and two turnovers and five fouls in his 21 minutes.

10. Andrew White III: Tough game for the freshman, who struggled with his ball-handling and decision-making. In 14 minutes, he had three of KU's 11 turnovers. White added four points on 2-for-5 shooting to go with one rebound.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (81 points)
2. Ben McLemore (80 points)
3. Travis Releford (79 points)
4. Elijah Johnson (70 points)
5. Naadir Tharpe (56 points)
6. Kevin Young (52 points)
7. Perry Ellis (48 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (38 points)
9. Andrew White III (21 points)
10. Rio Adams (16 points)
11. Justin Wesley (7 points)

Reply

Expect a snail’s pace offensively from American

Team: American
Record: 4-8
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 282

3 Strengths

Three-point shooting: American is almost exactly NCAA average when it comes to taking three-pointers (33 percent of its shots are threes), but it is well above average when it comes to making them. The Eagles have made 39.7 percent of their treys this year, which ranks 16th nationally. In addition, AU gets 33.1 percent of its points from the three-point line (56th-highest split nationally).

Foul avoidance defensively: American ranks 52nd nationally in defensive free throw rate, which compares the number of free throws shot by an opponent to its field goals. Teams are averaging just 14.5 free throws per game against the Eagles compared to 52.2 field goal attempts. AU also has had just two foulouts all season, with both coming from starting center Tony Wroblicky.

Slow pace: Pace would typically would not be considered a strength or a weakness, but if a team like American is playing a top-10 team in Kansas, it definitely wants to limit possessions to have the best chance at an upset. AU actually is the second-slowest team nationally when it comes to pace, posting an adjusted tempo of just 59.5 possessions per game (NCAA average is 67.1). Eight of the Eagles' 12 games have had 59 possessions or fewer; KU, meanwhile, has yet to have a game with fewer than 59 possessions (The Jayhawks' lowest total was 63 against Washington State.).

3 Weaknesses

Turnovers: American has been miserable on both ends when it comes to turnovers. The Eagles give it away on 23 percent of their possessions (273rd nationally) while forcing turnovers on just 17.7 percent of their defensive possessions (293rd nationally). AU is especially poor when it comes to steals, as opponents have doubled up the Eagles on steals this year (94-47).

• Three-point defense: American is the rare team that not only allows tons of threes but also surrenders a high percentage — perhaps a result of the change-up zone defenses it plays. The most striking number is that 41.5 percent of opponents' field goal attempts against the Eagles have been threes (ninth-highest split nationally). Teams have made 36.5 percent of their threes against AU (276th nationally) and have scored 38 percent of their points against American from the three-point line (second-highest split nationally).

• Shooting inside: The Eagles have made just 42 percent of their two-point shots this year, which ranks 314th nationally. A big problem has been blocked shots, as 13 percent of AU's two-pointers have been rejected this season (315th nationally). No Eagles player is shooting better than 50 percent from inside the arc; to compare, KU has six players in its rotation that have made 50 percent or more of their twos this year.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-8 senior Stephen Lumpkins (No. 32) takes on the biggest offensive load for American. He puts up a team-high 25.4 percent of AU's shots, and though he's just under 50 percent from two-point range (59 of 119, 49.6 percent), his best skill is getting to the free throw line. Lumpkins draws 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes and has the nation's 50th-best free throw rate, getting to the line 85 times while shooting just 120 field goal attempts. He make the shots when he gets to the line, too, posting a 73-percent free throw percentage this season. Lumpkins also is AU's best rebounder, grabbing 10.6 percent of his team's offensive boards (308th nationally) and 20.2 percent of his team's defensive caroms (206th nationally) when he's in.

• Six-foot-5 sophomore guard John Schoof (No. 22) has one of the most fascinating statistical lines I've seen from any player this season. Schoof has made 50 percent of his threes (24 of 48), 20 percent of his twos (four of 20) and, get this, 100 percent of his free throws (20 of 20). I guess the scouting report would be to guard him on the perimeter and let him do whatever he wants in the lane (while doing everything possible to not foul him). Schoof barely shoots, taking 13.8 percent of his team's shots, but his line was too weird to not bring up. He's also extremely turnover-prone for the limited role he has offensively.

• Though 6-foot senior guard Daniel Munoz (No. 2) is second on the team in scoring with 10.4 points per game, he's far from being an efficient player. Munoz is a good three-point shooter in a small sample size (17 of 36, 47.2 percent) and can make free throws when he gets to the line (22 of 24, 91.7 percent), but basically everything else about his offensive game is a mess. He's made just 37 percent of his two-pointers this year (26 of 71) while tying for second on the team in two-point attempts. Like Schoof, he also turns it over at an alarming rate, posting a team-high 39 giveaways in 12 games (that number looks even worse considering the slow pace AU plays at). The senior posts a decent assist rate, assisting on about a-fourth of his team's made baskets while he's in, but the overall offensive profile still doesn't look pretty for the high-usage guard.

Prediction

At No. 282 in KenPom's rankings, American figures to be the second-worst opponent KU plays all season. Having said that, Chattanooga was the worst (No. 293), and KU trailed by eight at half to the Mocs at Allen Fieldhouse before pulling away for a 14-point win.

I'm not expecting American to compete in this game, even with a slow tempo and a heavy reliance on three-point shots. The biggest reason is turnovers, as the Eagles figure to be "out-possessioned" in this one, getting up far fewer shots than the Jayhawks do.

KU should roll in a low-possession game, with American struggling to crack the 50-point barrier if it doesn't hit a large number of threes.

Kansas 74, American 47

Hawk to Rock

If a team ranks in the 300s in offensive block percentage, I'm almost automatically going to default to putting KU center Jeff Withey as my Hawk to Rock.

Some teams are good at getting shots around big men, while some teams just aren't. AU has not shown the ability to avoid blocks, and the Eagles haven't faced a shot-blocker of Withey's caliber yet this season.

Not only that, AU is an extremely poor offensive rebounding team, meaning Withey should be able to gather a high number of defensive rebounds.

Triple-doubles are extremely hard to get, but Withey's points and rebounds should easily get to double figures against American, and his block total should get to five at the least.

I'll go ahead and predict right now that Matt Tait's story on American after the game will begin with the Eagles talking about how great Withey is/was defensively.

Predictions tally
10-1 record, 169 points off (15.4 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
Average: 3.9th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

How well did KU defend three-pointers against Ohio State?

The most fascinating thing to me about this year's Kansas basketball team is its defensive profile.

With center Jeff Withey swatting shots inside, teams have gone exclusively to shooting three-pointers against KU. So far, this hasn't burned the Jayhawks.

According to KenPom.com, 39 percent of the field goals against KU this year have been three-pointers. Only 25 teams in Div. I (out of 347 total) have had a higher percentage of threes taken against them.

That's not a bad thing when teams don't shoot well from the outside, as the Jayhawks' last four opponents have made 15 percent, 21 percent, 28 percent and 26 percent of their three-point tries.

Of course, there's reason to believe this trend won't continue. Ken Pomeroy, for one, believes teams don't have much control of opponents' three-point percentages, saying teams should try their hardest to prevent threes rather than make opponents miss them.

It's still probably a bit extreme to say defenses have no control on three-point shots by opponents, as it would reason that closely guarded shots are made less often than wide-open ones.

With this in mind, I wanted to take a closer look at the last opponent that shot poorly from three against KU: Ohio State, which made eight of 31 threes (26 percent) for its second-worst three-point shooting game of the year.

Below, I posted a screenshot of each OSU three-point attempt with the shooter as close to the top of his release as I could get.

It's not scientific, but I'll break down the shots into four categories: "Closely guarded," "Somewhat guarded," "Barely guarded" and "Unguarded." I'll also include the shooters' three-point percentages coming into the game, which might help indicate if KU's scouting report said to let a certain player shoot from the outside.

It also might be fun to try to predict if a certain shot went in before scrolling down to see the result.

With that, let's take a look at the threes. We'll tally everything up at the end as well.

No. 1

No. 1 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Kevin Young closes out well to get a high hand, but he's still in recovery mode.
Result: Made three

No. 2

No. 2 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Ben McLemore closes with a high hand, but there's still plenty of room for Smith to get the shot off.
Result: Missed three

No. 3

No. 3 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. Kevin Young is right with Thomas as he attempts this shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 4

No. 4 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Barely guarded. Young does at least try to contest the shot from a few feet away.
Result: Made three

No. 5.

No. 5. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. McLemore is in Thomas' shorts here. That doesn't stop him from making the shot.
Result: Made three

No. 6.

No. 6. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: LaQuinton Ross
Three-point percentage: 31% (8 of 26)
Category: Barely guarded. The shot is contested, but Perry Ellis is a couple steps away. I will note that this three is a step or so behind the three-point line.
Result: Missed three

No. 7.

No. 7. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Barely guarded. Elijah Johnson extends a high hand towards Craft, but he's not close to him.
Result: Made three

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Travis Releford is there, but he doesn't elevate to challenge the shot.
Result: Made three

No. 9.

No. 9. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Shannon Scott
Three-point percentage: 46% (5 of 11)
Category: Barely guarded. Almost a carbon copy of Craft's shot above. Johnson is late getting out and doesn't elevate on the shot.
Result: Made three

No. 10.

No. 10. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Naadir Tharpe is within a couple of feet of Craft but doesn't jump on the shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 11.

No. 11. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Unguarded. Releford and Young don't communicate on a screen, and the result is Thompson getting an unblocked view of the rim.
Result: Missed three

No. 12.

No. 12. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Closely guarded. Young is close to Smith and elevates to get a high hand up on the shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 13.

No. 13. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Shannon Scott
Three-point percentage: 46% (5 of 11)
Category: Unguarded. This is where I draw the line. Yeah, Jeff Withey is coming, but he's so far away on the shot that Scott shouldn't be affected.
Result: Missed three

No. 14

No. 14 by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Barely guarded. Elijah Johnson is close to Smith, but he fails to get a hand up.
Result: Missed three

No. 15.

No. 15. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Closely guarded. Kevin Young once again is close to the shooter, jumping with his hand up.
Result: Missed three

No. 16.

No. 16. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Barely guarded. Elijah Johnson once again has neither hand up on the release.
Result: Missed three

No. 17.

No. 17. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Somewhat guarded. Travis Releford is there, but he doesn't jump on the challenge.
Result: Made three

No. 18.

No. 18. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Closely guarded. We've seen a lot of this from Young: high hand, elevating on the shot.
Result: Missed three

No. 19.

No. 19. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Sam Thompson
Three-point percentage: 27% (4 of 15)
Category: Barely guarded. McLemore has good leaping ability, but he's unlikely to change a shot from that far away.
Result: Missed three

No. 20.

No. 20. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. Thomas takes an ill-advised shot here, as Releford is right on him.
Result: Missed three

No. 21.

No. 21. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. Releford is not challenging this shot at all.
Result: Missed three

No. 22.

No. 22. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Shannon Scott
Three-point percentage: 46% (5 of 11)
Category: Unguarded. This is about as unguarded as you can get. Scott misses it.
Result: Missed three

No. 23.

No. 23. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. Johnson is chasing and doesn't challenge this three from Craft.
Result: Missed three

No. 24.

No. 24. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Somewhat guarded. McLemore is there but doesn't jump to contest.
Result: Missed three

No. 25.

No. 25. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: LaQuinton Ross
Three-point percentage: 31% (8 of 26)
Category: Barely guarded. Young closes out high, but he's not close enough to make much of an impact.
Result: Missed three

No. 26.

No. 26. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. Looks like Releford is content to let Craft have that shot. It's hard to know if that was part of the gameplan (Craft went 2-for-6 from three against KU).
Result: Missed three

No. 27.

No. 27. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Closely guarded. Releford is right with Thomas with a hand extended.
Result: Missed three

No. 28.

No. 28. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
Three-point percentage: 49% (19 of 39)
Category: Unguarded. Maybe fatigue played a role at this point, but I don't think you'd normally expect a shooter like Smith to miss this one.
Result: Missed three

No. 29.

No. 29. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Aaron Craft
Three-point percentage: 33% (10 of 30)
Category: Unguarded. You might argue for a "Barely guarded" here, but Young doesn't even commit to the shot by Craft while staying down defensively. Craft makes it.
Result: Made three

No. 30.

No. 30. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: Deshaun Thomas
Three-point percentage: 41% (27 of 66)
Category: Unguarded. This is one I'd expect a shooter like Thomas to make. Instead, he airballs it.
Result: Missed three

No. 31.

No. 31. by Jesse Newell

Shooter: LaQuinton Ross
Three-point percentage: 31% (8 of 26)
Category: Closely guarded. Desperation shot at the end, and Ross is hounded by Young.
Result: Missed three

A few things that stood out to me with this study before we get to the final tally.

We might not be giving Kevin Young enough credit for his perimeter defense. He had five of KU's "closely guarded" plays in the study above and appears to be the best Jayhawk at getting out to perimeter shooters with elevation and a hand up.

Elijah Johnson still looks like he could improve with his perimeter defense. He was defending on four of the seven "barely guarded" plays above and oftentimes was caught with his hands down while opponents were going up for a three.

KU's three-point defense wasn't as good late, as seven of OSU's unguarded threes came on the Buckeyes' final 11 three-point attempts.

All right, let's get to it. Based on my unscientific defensive grading, here are the final results:

OSU three-pointers vs. KU.

OSU three-pointers vs. KU. by Jesse Newell

This is only a one-game sample, but we can start to see where three-point shooting might be more random than we give it credit for.

KU's close guarding did appear to affect OSU, as the Buckeyes made just one of eight threes when tightly covered.

The rest doesn't make much sense. OSU shot even worse on unguarded jumpers (1-for-9) than it did in any other category. And though it's a small sample, the Buckeyes shot a little better when they were somewhat guarded (50 percent) than when they were barely guarded (38 percent).

If nothing else, this proves KU might have been a bit fortunate with its three-point defense against OSU. The Buckeyes, which came in shooting 39 percent on all threes, ended up making just 11 percent on those shots from the perimeter where they were completely unguarded.

KU coach Bill Self was asked Friday afternoon if he was OK with opponents shooting as many threes as they wanted to against the Jayhawks.

"I'm OK with teams shooting guarded threes," Self said. "I think in large part, our three-point percentage defense was one of the worst in the country the first seven or eight games of the season. It was awful. But the last few games it's gotten better, I think in large part because teams miss, not because we've bothered them as much. And when you're rushed, you don't shoot as good of a percentage.

"But I think the number is too high. I wish we pressured out a little bit more to try to reduce that number and force them into Jeff, which I think would probably be something that could key some fast breaks from time to time."

The study above is limited, but I think it somewhat confirms what Pomeroy claims regarding three-point attempts.

As long as KU continues to surrender a high number of three-point attempts, it will continue to be a bit at the mercy of luck, letting opponent three-point shooting — something that is not completely in the Jayhawks' control — dictate whether many defensive possessions are successful or not.

Reply

A closer look at why KU’s inbounds plays worked against Ohio State

Because it's hard to realize all that goes on during a basketball play while it's happening, I wanted to do a quick breakdown of what allowed Kansas' Ben McLemore to get five easy points (a three-point play and a dunk) against Ohio State on one particular sideline out-of-bounds play.

Here's the video of McLemore's layup/foul if you want to follow along.

We see that KU starts by putting its four players on the four corners of the lane. McLemore comes from the weak side and starts the play by setting a diagonal screen for Kevin Young, who is closest to the inbounder, Elijah Johnson.

Original positioning.

Original positioning. by Jesse Newell

Notice that McLemore does a good job of being physical against his defender, OSU's Shannon Scott. The sophomore guard tries to keep McLemore from crossing the lane by bodying him up, but McLemore is able to extend his arms through the contact (without drawing an offensive foul) to make it over to Young.

McLemore push.

McLemore push. by Jesse Newell

From here, Young cuts to the rim to clear out of the way (light blue arrow).

McLemore screen.

McLemore screen. by Jesse Newell

KU then "screens the screener," as McLemore — the original screener — backs up to receive a screen from teammate Perry Ellis.

McLemore, who has wowed with a lot of his talents so far, also shows great footwork here, quickly tapping his feet in a backpedal to accept the screen before turning it back up to full speed to attack the rim.

Ellis' screen isn't perfect — it's almost more like a post-up — but it's good enough to clear space for McLemore.

Ben footwork/loop.

Ben footwork/loop. by Jesse Newell

Another aspect that shouldn't be overlooked is Young selling the play on the baseline (blue bubble below). His defender, OSU's Deshaun Thomas, appears to be in a position to help guard the rim, but Young raises his hand as if he's about to receive the ball.

Young calls for ball.

Young calls for ball. by Jesse Newell

Thomas buys the fake, quickly recovering to defend Young while leaving his back towards the basket.

Young's deke, along with Ellis' screen, leaves a wide-open lane for McLemore to receive the lob from Johnson.

Open lane.

Open lane. by Jesse Newell

KU pulls off the same inbounds play 7 1/2 minutes later.

Even though Jeff Withey is in the game as the 5 with Kevin Young at the 4 (as opposed to Young being at the 5 and Ellis at the 4 in the first play), the movements and screens for each player are the exact same.

All arrows.

All arrows. by Jesse Newell

Young once again plays a significant role, as he sets a solid screen on McLemore's defender, Lenzelle Smith Jr., to completely open up the lane.

Young screen.

Young screen. by Jesse Newell

OSU doesn't communicate well on the screen, and Thomas, who was guarding Young on the play, chases the forward to the outside instead of staying inside to protect the rim (yellow arrow above).

Johnson throws the lob, and it doesn't hurt to have a guy like McLemore catching it, as his head is nearly even with the rim at the top of his leap.

McLemore alley-oop.

McLemore alley-oop. by Jesse Newell

McLemore jump.

McLemore jump. by Jesse Newell

During the game, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted, "Bill Self's inbounds play baskets vs. a well-coached OSU team one of many reasons he is worth salary. Has multitude of coaching strengths."

On the screen-the-screener play above, Self took advantage of McLemore's athleticism and Young's execution to get his team five easy points — a significant boost considering the Jayhawks beat the Buckeyes by eight.

Reply

Road environment no problem for Ben McLemore

Kansas guard Ben McLemore clenches his fists after a bucket and a foul against Ohio State during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore clenches his fists after a bucket and a foul against Ohio State during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio. by Nick Krug

1. Ben McLemore: Caught fire early and played with aggressiveness throughout. The freshman posted a game-high 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting, which included 3-for-6 shooting from three. He also had six rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal to go with four turnovers in 36 minutes. His admirers in the Ohio State postgame press conference included guard Aaron Craft and coach Thad Matta.

2. Jeff Withey: Posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. The sign of him being an elite player is that you can immediately tell when he's not in the game. The senior had just one block, but once again, he forced an inside team to play outside-in. Ohio State made just 12 of 34 two-pointers (35 percent), with a few of those makes coming in garbage time.

3. Travis Releford: Did a nice job chasing down Deshaun Thomas defensively, especially in the second half. Thomas finished with 16 points on 4-for-11 shooting (3-for-7 from three), but Releford should be given credit for the fact that Thomas didn't shoot more. The senior guard also was his normal efficient self offensively, posting 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting with a big three in the second half to give KU the momentum for good.

4. Elijah Johnson: Poor first half was followed by a strong second half where KU coach Bill Self said he controlled the game by setting the tempo. The senior finished with 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting (0-for-2 from three) while making it to the free throw line a season-high six times. He also had two assists and four turnovers in 32 minutes.

5. Kevin Young: Provided a big boost late in the first half by getting to the free throw line to break up an Ohio State run. He struggled from the line (4-for-10) but still made his only field goal attempt for six points with 10 rebounds, three assists and three turnovers in 33 minutes.

6. Naadir Tharpe: Provided great minutes in the first half, attacking Ohio State's aggressive defense off the dribble when Johnson wasn't. Tharpe made both of his field goals (including a three) to end with five points, three assists and no turnovers in 15 minutes. The only blemish on his stat line was four fouls.

7. Jamari Traylor: Gave KU some athleticism inside when Withey needed a breather. He notched three points, two rebounds, a block and a turnover in seven minutes.

8. Perry Ellis: Wasn't productive during his two stints in the game. He missed both shots he took, posting no points and three rebounds to go with an assist and a turnover in five minutes. Self still appears to be looking for Ellis' mean streak.

9. Rio Adams: Checked in to save KU's guards from foul trouble, Adams picked up a foul himself, which sent Self's fingers quickly up to massage his temples. Adams had no other statistic in his 0-plus minutes.

KUsports.com Season Standings
T1. Jeff Withey (75 points)
T1. Ben McLemore (75 points)
3. Travis Releford (69 points)
4. Elijah Johnson (63 points)
5. Kevin Young (48 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (47 points)
7. Perry Ellis (40 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (36 points)
9. Andrew White III (20 points)
10. Rio Adams (13 points)
11. Justin Wesley (7 points)

Reply

Will Ohio State limit KU’s easy baskets?

Team: Ohio State
Record: 9-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 9

Ohio State's Aaron Craft pursues Kevin Young in the first half of KU's semifinal game against Ohio State on Saturday, March 31, at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Ohio State's Aaron Craft pursues Kevin Young in the first half of KU's semifinal game against Ohio State on Saturday, March 31, at the Superdome in New Orleans. by Mike Yoder

3 Strengths

Taking care of the basketball: Ohio State gets a shot on almost every possession. The Buckeyes have turned it over on just 15.4 percent of their possessions, which is fifth nationally. This has been a staple of Thad Matta's teams at OSU, as the Buckeyes have ranked in the top 30 in offensive turnover percentage in each of their last three seasons. In addition, opponents have only registered steals on 5.6 percent of the Buckeyes' possessions (third nationally).

Rebounding: Ohio State isn't a huge team inside, ranking 102nd in KenPom's effective height measure that takes into account the top two players' heights on the floor, but the Buckeyes still have been dominant on the boards. OSU has grabbed 72.3 percent of the available defensive rebounds (38th nationally) and also 37.3 percent of the available offensive rebounds (52nd nationally). Six-foot-8 senior forward Evan Ravenel is OSU's best rebounder, ranking in the top 365 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He gets plenty of help, though, as even a guy like 6-2 point guard Aaron Craft averages 3.1 rebounds per game.

Interior defense: Much like KU, Ohio State's defense is strong in the paint, as opponents have made just 40.8 percent of their twos against the Buckeyes (24th nationally). Part of the reason for this is getting back on defense; according to Hoop-Math.com, only 27 percent of opponents' shots come on layups/dunks/tip-ins (NCAA average is 34 percent). OSU also forces a high number of two-point jump shots from opponents (36 percent; NCAA average is 33 percent) while limiting opponents to 30-percent shooting on those jumpers (NCAA average is 35 percent). The Buckeyes also thrive at blocking two-point jumpers, rejecting 11 percent of those shots. Six-foot-7 sophomore Sam Thompson and 6-11 reserve Amir Williams are OSU's two best shot-blockers inside.

3 Weaknesses

Three-point defense: If there's a weakness in Ohio State's defense, it's that the Buckeyes surrender too many three-pointers. So far, 35.7 percent of opponents' shots have been three-pointers, which is the 251st-lowest split nationally. Also, 30.4 percent of the points against OSU this year have come from threes (89th-highest split nationally). Teams haven't shot overwhelmingly well from three against OSU (30.7 percent) but that might be more of a product of the teams OSU has played.

Soft schedule: Through 10 games, Ohio State has only played one team in KenPom's top 100. To compare, seven of the 10 teams KU has played so far ranks in the KenPom top 100 (Michigan State, Washington State, Saint Louis, Oregon State, Colorado, Belmont, Richmond). Ohio State did lose its only game against a top-100 foe, but, to be fair, a 73-68 road loss at AP No. 1 Duke can definitely be forgiven. Take out that Duke game, and OSU has had no game that has been within single digits and only four games that it's won by a margin between 10-19 points. Give credit to the Buckeyes for dominating inferior opponents, but there still has to be some question about how the team will perform against upper-level competition.

Getting to the free throw line: Ohio State's free-throw rate (a team's rate of free throws shot compared to its field goals) is much lower than you'd expect for a team that has played a soft schedule. OSU ranks 143rd in the stat while averaging 21.7 free throws per game. That might sound like a lot of free throws, but remember, the Buckeyes get a lot of shots up. They don't turn the ball over much and are strong on the offensive glass, meaning that free throw count is relatively low compared to the field goals they have attempted (591).

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-7 junior Deshaun Thomas (No. 1) has become Ohio State's unquestioned go-to guy offensively and could be in line for All-America honors at the end of the year. He takes on a huge offensive load for the Buckeyes, attempting 34.2 percent of their shots when he's on the floor (12th nationally). He's efficient with those attempts as well, making 40.9 percent of his threes (27 of 66) and 49.5 percent of his twos (46 of 93). Thomas doesn't get to the free throw line often, but he helps his productivity by almost never turning it over. He has the 40th-best turnover rate in the nation, giving it away just 13 times all season. Thomas also is a solid rebounder, ranking second among OSU's rotation players in defensive rebounding percentage.

Thomas isn't without weaknesses, though. He's not a great defender, and some analysts believe a good way to slow him offensively is to make him work hard defensively. Thomas also has a tendency to fall in love with two-point jumpers even though that's not where he's at his best. According to Hoop-Math, 43 percent of his shots this year have been two-point jumpers, and while shooting 39 percent from that range is a good percentage (35 percent is NCAA average), it's not elite. To compare, former KU forward Marcus Morris shot 52 percent on two-point jumpers during his final college season in 2010-11.

• I love the 2012-13 College Basketball Prospectus description of six-foot-2 junior point guard Aaron Craft (No. 4), as the preseason magazine said he "is something of the Derek Jeter of college basketball, in that he’s the most overrated and underrated player in Division I." Your opinion of Craft likely is based on how closely you watch him, as his stats are nothing special, but his defense still appears from the eye test to be extremely valuable. Craft is probably the nation's best on-ball defender, always staying close to his man while also drawing plenty of offensive foul and illegal screen calls. His steal percentage is down this year after ranking in the top 35 nationally in each of the last two years, but recent charting by SI.com's Luke Winn still indicates he's forcing quite a few "uncredited" turnovers.

Offensively, Craft's best skill is passing; he's second on the team in assist rate and is especially dangerous on kickouts following drives. KU would be best to not help on his drives while daring him to shoot. He's made just 40 percent of his twos and 33 percent of his threes this year while only taking 16.9 percent of OSU's shots while he's in.

Six-foot-4 junior guard Lenzelle Smith (No. 32) is the other player, along with Thomas, that has the potential to beat KU on the perimeter. He's made 49 percent of his threes (19 of 39) while ranking in the top 130 nationally in effective field goal percentage. Like Thomas, he almost never turns it over, posting the nation's 32nd-best turnover rate. Even with his efficient numbers, Smith isn't always aggressive, attempting just 20.8 percent of his team's shots while he's on the floor.

Prediction

Here's what would scare me about this game if I was KU: I don't think the Jayhawks will get their normal easy points in transition.

As I mentioned in a blog earlier this week, KU has been thriving offensively by getting lots of easy baskets.

Game by game

Game by game by Jesse Newell

I don't expect Ohio State to give many of those up Saturday, partly because OSU doesn't allow teams to get steals, which is the best way for the Jayhawks to get out and run.

I like KU coach Bill Self deciding to put Travis Releford on Deshaun Thomas defensively. To me, this signifies that Self is going to force Thomas into guarded twos rather than open threes, which percentage-wise is the best way to go.

There's still reason for KU to worry because of Ohio State's quick guards. Craft and sophomore guard Shannon Scott (19th nationally in assist percentage) have been effective this year at driving then passing to open shooters. If KU overhelps defensively, Ohio State will have plenty of chances at shots from the perimeter (and away from the long reach of Withey).

In the end, this is two evenly matched teams playing at OSU's home gym. At Allen Fieldhouse, I'd take KU. On a neutral floor, I'd still like KU's chances.

In Columbus, I'll go with the Buckeyes pulling away late.

Ohio State 69, Kansas 63

Hawk to Rock

He's the only non-senior in KU's starting lineup, but I don't think the road atmosphere will affect the Jayhawks' Ben McLemore at all. The Jayhawks will need some half-court scoring against the Buckeyes, and I expect that McLemore will provide that on the interior and perimeter. Put me down for a 20-plus-point game from the future lottery pick.

Predictions tally
10-0 record, 155 points off (15.5 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 12/20/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Full audio has been posted.

• Weis met with some of the older returning players on the Sunday after the season. He talked to several of them about the direction of the program. He let them know, between them and strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple, that it was their responsibility to set the tone for the team. Weis has been pleased with how things have gone after the season ended. A lot of the guys have been working out with Holsopple on their own.

Weis says the guys on KU's defensive line — those here and those signed — have some inherent pass rush ability. Weis believes it will be important for KU to get more heat on the quarterback than it did in 2012. Weis has made a list of things that KU's defense did that would give him problems as an offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo does the same thing for Weis with the offense. KU is doing a big self-scout study. That's what a lot of the GAs — the guys that stay in-house during the recruiting time — are doing for KU: working on self-scout projects to help KU.

• When KU's coaching staff first got here, Weis said it was just taking bodies in recruiting. You do the best you can do at getting the guys you can. When you have a full cycle in recruiting, that's no longer the case. You have to fill the glaring holes, but you also have to fill those spots with guys you think will be an upgrade. There's going to be a great influx of good talent that will mix in with the guys that are already here. Some of the new signings will have to play catch-up, but Weis says KU has an opportunity to take what it did well this year and grow from that.

• Weis said if you don't have good offensive and defensive linemen, it doesn't matter what else you have. You could have the greatest skill guys in the world, but if you can't do well on the lines, it won't matter much. KU has added a couple of unique guys with unique skill sets on the lines.

• Weis said all he had to do to get defensive lineman Chris Martin was offer him a scholarship. That's all it took. His mom wouldn't let him go anywhere else. Weis and Martin didn't even talk about recruiting on his visit. Martin committed to Weis on signing day of his junior year. Then, when Weis got fired, he bailed out. Weis told Martin last year, if he toed the line, he'd offer him. That's what he did.

Weis helped quarterback Dayne Crist with the agent process. He's playing in a showcase bowl game in Tucson, Ariz., in January. They actually talk more about family than football. If his guys want to give the NFL a go, he talks to them about representation and workouts. But right now, he mostly talks to guys about family.

Weis wanted defensive lineman Ty McKinney to continue to take classes this semester to stay in a student state of mind. If you sit out academics a semester, it's much tougher to get back into the routine of doing it.

Weis says there's only way you measure success, and that's winning games. You can measure progress, but in the end, success is when you win games. KU won one game last year, and that's not what it's shooting for.

In all the good defenses he's gone against, Weis said there's always been a couple of good personalities — guys that the media can't wait to get to. Defensive lineman Marquel Combs is one of those players. Weis likes guys that have makeup, as long as they can back it up. Just like tight end Mike Ragone had a great personality last year, Combs is a "slam dunk" personality-wise, according to Weis. The coach calls him the "pied piper," as everyone wants to Facebook and message and Tweet him. Weis said he challenged a lot of the guys that signed to be a part of what turns KU from a 1-11 team to a successful program. Weis got in his face during a recruiting trip, asking him if he was afraid to come to KU. That was right up Combs' alley. Once he got on board, others believed they should jump too. Weis said these juco signees are like long-lost best friends through social media, and they're not even teammates yet.

• Weis says there's good and bad with technology. Everything you do can be out there five seconds after you post it on Twitter. If it's controversial enough, what you say will be on ESPN in 15 minutes. Everything is different now. You have to be very careful with technology today, because you're going to be held accountable.

The juco signees can talk whatever they want on social media — including having a "Dream Team" or potentially making a BCS bowl game ‚ until they get to campus. The rules are going to change for the guys once they get here. Weis said he won't put the clamps on Combs yet, at least not until Signing Day. Weis joked to Matt Tait if he hoped to have a new Twitter darling in Combs ... that might not be the case in the future.

KU cornerback Dexter McDonald originally didn't have any desire to come back to KU after he left. He met with KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell and KU's other coaches. He and his family agreed this new situation was different and one he wanted to be a part of this new program.

• Weis said there are a lot of things he can say positively about quarterback Jake Heaps. He was scout team player of the week each week. He performed at a high level. Weis has known Heaps for a long time. Heaps called Weis when he took the coach took the KU job to see if he'd be interested in having him. Heaps has been grinding and working hard since he got here. He might win a vote of the team's favorite player, and he hasn't even played yet. Weis is not going to anoint him as the second coming, but what he's done so far is a good start.

You can't fake leadership. Either you have it or you don't. When you try to make guys into leaders, it doesn't work well. Weis hopes some of the leaders aren't even here yet.

Weis said it's tough for a kid out of high school to be a significant contributor at defensive tackle or defensive end without being a great pass-rusher. A lot of high school kids you bring in are purely projections. You can get a better idea of what defensive linemen might be at the juco level because there has been a couple years of college evidence of what they might become.

KU has a number of candidates at safety. The coaching staff also has a few people it feels good about that will be joining the team.

Having good running backs helps KU recruit offensive linemen. Those guys look and see, "Hey, those guys can run the ball." The offensive line signees were interested that James Sims, Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox were coming back. Weis also jokingly asked them if they could pass block as well, saying KU will have to improve its passing game.

• Weis says you start with a high number of juco kids in Year One, then you work your way down. You want to blend it, but KU has holes now. Weis says he's too old to wait. He wants to win now. He hates hearing how many games KU was close in last year. KU lost those games. He wants guys that can play, and he wants to blend juco guys with high school guys that want to play at KU. With those guys, this whole thing has a chance to work out.

• If returning guys can't see they need to be driven because of added competition with the juco guys coming in, then they're never going to see it. Those guys should be motivated.

Weis says he tells current players, when they're talking to potential recruits, to simply tell the truth about Weis and the program. If they tell the truth, whatever they perceive that to be, Weis can live with that. That philosophy has worked out for KU, especially with quarterback Turner Baty, who helped bring in guys from his old juco, City College of San Francisco.

After 1-11, no coaching staff member is getting thrown under the bus by Weis. He anticipates having the same coaching staff in 2013. The coach did tell his staff that if he hears any of them looking for another job, he's looking for another coach.

Weis likes defensive back Cassius Sendish's size and ability. He's a very polished student and polished young man.

Reply

KU dominating opponents in dunks

It might sound simple, but a huge reason for the Kansas men's basketball team's success so far has been making close shots while allowing very few.

Hoop-Math.com's numbers list KU as the best layup/dunk/tip-in defensive team in the nation, with opponents only making 43 percent of those shots. In addition, KU leads the country by blocking 30 percent of those close tries.

On the other end, the Jayhawks have thrived at getting layups/dunks/tips, helped by strong transition play and good passing.

I wanted to dive a little further into the numbers to see just how much layups/dunks/tips are contributing to KU's success, so I went through the play-by-play of each box score to tally KU's close shots compared to its opponents.

Game by game

Game by game by Jesse Newell

Enlarge graph

As you can see, the Jayhawks have only been outperformed on close shots once this year, and that was during their 67-64 loss to Michigan State. KU has had double the easy baskets (or more) in nearly every other game this season.

The next graph shows how many points KU has gained each game on close shots over its opponent — a layup/dunk/tip margin if you will.

Close shot differential

Close shot differential by Jesse Newell

Enlarge graph

Through 10 games, KU has scored 176 more points on close shots than its opponents. That means the Jayhawks have averaged 17.6 more points per game than their opponents on layups, dunks and tips alone (For reference, KU's average margin of victory is 19.2 points.).

The Jayhawks' combined dunk and layup numbers are staggering as well (tips are excluded below).

Closer look at dunks/layups

Closer look at dunks/layups by Jesse Newell

Enlarge graph

The Jayhawks are outdunking opponents, 57-8. That means Jeff Withey has more than twice the number of dunks this year as all of KU's opponents combined (20). Ben McLemore can say the same thing (17).

Withey's presence also has made dunking difficult for opponents. According to the box scores, opposing players are just 8-for-13 on dunk attempts against KU. That means teams have had a better chance of making an attempted free throw against the Jayhawks (109 of 159, 69 percent) than making an attempted dunk (eight of 13, 62 percent).

Here's a look at all the close shot combined percentages for KU and its opponents this year. (Note: Hoop-Math's numbers slightly differ from mine.)

Close shot breakdown

Close shot breakdown by Jesse Newell

This will be a hard advantage to sustain as the competition picks up, but right now, KU is doubling up its opponents when it comes to easy twos.

By building a team that takes lots of the highest-percentage shots in basketball while not surrendering them, KU coach Bill Self appears to have found yet another formula for success — one that makes his team the heavy favorite to win the Big 12.

Reply

Jeff Withey paces KU against Spiders

Kansas center Jeff Withey defends against a shot from Richmond guard Cedrick Lindsay during the first half on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Jeff Withey defends against a shot from Richmond guard Cedrick Lindsay during the first half on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

1. Jeff Withey: Best player for KU in a landslide. The big man not only scored and blocked, he also showed his quickness, picking up his sixth and seventh steals of the year early in the second half near midcourt when anticipating passes. Withey posted 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting with 13 rebounds, four blocks and two assists to go with three turnovers.

2. Naadir Tharpe: The sophomore scored a career-high 11 points while taking just five shots, which included a 3-for-4 performance from three. KU coach Bill Self was more happy with his aggressiveness defensively, as he fought harder through ball screens and gave Elijah Johnson some much needed rest in the first half. Tharpe added three assists, three rebounds and two steals with no turnovers in 17 minutes.

3. Ben McLemore: Foul trouble halted what could have been a huge offensive night for the freshman, who once again was in double digits halfway through the first half. He finished with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting (2-for-3 from three) with two assists, two steals and a turnover.

4. Travis Releford: Another steady effort for the senior, who once again was at his best in transition. Releford had 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting while making his only three and his only two free throws. He had two assists and two steals to go with one turnover.

5. Kevin Young: Self was steaming a few times because of Young's laziness on getting out to three-point shooters, yet in the end, the box score showed the senior with eight points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting with nine rebounds. Self also said afterwards Young needs to do a better job of getting position early in defensive possessions to make up for his lack of size.

6. Elijah Johnson: Self wasn't happy with Johnson after the game, saying he was still too timid offensively. The coach pointed out a pair of examples in the first half when, after a ball screen, Johnson was matched up with Richmond post player Derrick Williams and didn't even try to drive by him. Johnson was better in the second half and finished with eight points on 3-for-9 shooting (0-for-3 from three) with seven assists and three turnovers.

7. Perry Ellis: Against a smaller lineup, the freshman made scoring in the paint look simple. He posted eight points on 4-for-5 shooting but did little else in his 16 minutes, grabbing no rebounds with no assists, blocks or steals.

8. Jamari Traylor: He tries hard, as evidenced by his hustle to leap into the stands to try to save a deflection from going out of bounds. Traylor's highlight play came on a weakside block, and he added two points, four rebounds and an assist to go with two turnovers and three fouls in 13 minutes.

9. Rio Adams: Still looks like a guy that needs to settle down a bit when he gets in. Adams had a highlight-reel pass and also an aggressive drive for a one-handed dunk, but it looks like he's trying to make something happen every single time he touches it, which might be a bit ambitious. He had four points on 2-for-4 shooting with one assist in six minutes.

10. Andrew White III: Missed all five of his shots — including four threes — in 11 minutes. The freshman still contributed some other ways, notching his third and fourth blocks of the season to go with three rebounds and a turnover in 11 minutes.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (66 points)
2. Ben McLemore (65 points)
3. Travis Releford (61 points)
4. Elijah Johnson (56 points)
T5. Kevin Young (42 points)
T5. Naadir Tharpe (42 points)
7. Perry Ellis (37 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (32 points)
9. Andrew White III (20 points)
10. Rio Adams (11 points)
11. Justin Wesley (7 points)

Reply

Richmond looks a lot like a team KU just played

Team: Richmond
Record: 9-2
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 66

Old Dominion's Donte Hill, right, defends Richmond's Darien Brothers during their game, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, in Norfolk, Va.

Old Dominion's Donte Hill, right, defends Richmond's Darien Brothers during their game, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, in Norfolk, Va.

3 Strengths

Shooting: Much like Belmont, Richmond enters Allen Fieldhouse as one of the top shooting teams in the country. The Spiders rank 19th in effective field goal percentage and also are in the nation's top 50 in two-point percentage (52.1 percent) and three-point percentage (38.8 percent). Richmond's three-point percentage is especially impressive considering 41 percent of their field-goal tries are three-pointers, which is the 23rd-highest split nationally.

Drawing free throws: Richmond ranks 29th nationally in free throw rate — a statistic used to show how often a team gets to the line compared to its field goal attempts. Despite playing at the nation's 299th-fastest pace, the Spiders still average more than 23 free throws per game. That's especially valuable with the way Richmond shoots freebies, as it has made 77 percent of its charity tries this year (21st nationally). Add it all up, and the Spiders get 24 percent of their offensive output from free throws, which is the 42nd-highest split nationally.

Forcing turnovers: Richmond thrives on taking the ball away, registering steals on 13.4 percent of their defensive possessions (30th nationally). Overall, opposing teams turn it over on 24.6 percent of possessions against Richmond (41st nationally). The team's best ball-swipers are on the perimeter, as starting guard Cedrick Lindsay (No. 2) and reserve guard Wayne Sparrow (No. 4) both rank in the nation's top 120 in steal percentage.

3 Weaknesses

Defensive rebounding: Richmond plays extremely small in the post, ranking 319th in KenPom's "effective height" measure (which takes into account only the two tallest players on the floor). Because of this, the Spiders have struggled corralling defensive rebounds, grabbing just 64.9 percent of their opponents' misses (260th nationally). Richmond only has two rotation players 6 foot 9 or taller, and both average fewer than 15 minutes per game.

Fouling too often: Though Richmond thrives in offensive free throw rate, it's not so great at defensive free throw rate, ranking 211th nationally in the stat. Opponents are averaging just over 20 free throws per game, which has ended up hurting the Spiders quite a bit. Those opponents have made 73.3 percent of their free throws against Richmond, which might suggest the Spiders have fouled too many good free throw shooters (read: guards) this season.

Getting shots rejected: Richmond is a team that has a lot of shots blocked, as 11.9 percent of its two-pointers are rejected (289th nationally). It's amazing, then, how accurate Richmond has been on close shots despite getting all those shots swatted. The Spiders are still shooting 66 percent on layups/dunks, which is still well above the NCAA average of 61 percent. Once again, this shows Richmond is very selective with the shots it takes inside the arc.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-6 junior Derrick Williams (No. 34) is Richmond's best player. Offensively, his greatest strength is getting to the free throw line, as he's third nationally in free throw rate (and also a 79-percent free throw shooter). The forward actually has shot more free throws this year (84) than field goals (78), something that's extremely rare this late into a season. Williams also ranks 75th in effective field goal percentage, helped by 65-percent accuracy from two-point range (44 of 68) and 80-percent shooting on layups/dunks.

Williams also is easily the Spiders' best rebounder, grabbing 12.3 percent of the available offensive boards (171st nationally) and 18.3 percent of the available defensive rebounds (343rd nationally). His one glaring weakness is carelessness, as he gives it away more than three times per game while leading the team with 34 turnovers.

• Six-foot-3 senior Darien Brothers (No. 3) is Richmond's biggest threat from the perimeter. He's made more than half of his threes this year (28 of 54) while posting the nation's 64th-best effective field goal percentage. The guard also is dangerous when he gets to the line, making 31 of 36 this year (86.1 percent). Brothers isn't a great passer and doesn't turn it over much, making him mostly a one-dimensional player ... though that dimension is very strong.

• Five-foot-8, 140-pound freshman guard Kendall Anthony (No. 0) is a bench player even though he doesn't play like one. The Jackson, Tenn., native isn't shy, putting up a team-high 29.7 percent of his team's shots when he's on the court (119th nationally). That's not a bad thing, either, as Anthony is an efficient player, rarely turning it over while making 42 percent of his threes (19 of 45) and getting to the free throw line often, drawing five fouls per 40 minutes. Like most of the Spiders, he doesn't miss free throws, connecting on 38 of 45 this year (84.4 percent). Though Anthony isn't much of a defender, he's definitely a player to be wary of on the offensive end.

Prediction

My score predictions have stunk lately (other than picking the correct winner), and this game once again looks like a tough score pick, as it could have a wide range of outcomes.

I'm not sure if you noticed, but five of the six strengths and weaknesses above are the exact same strengths and weaknesses that Belmont had last week. And that game turned into a 29-point drubbing.

Basically, Richmond is Belmont with slightly worse defense. Still, this is a hard game to predict because of one factor: three-point shots.

Richmond shoots a ton of them. KU's defense surrenders a ton of them (36.1 percent of opponents' shots against KU this year have been threes).

Much like Belmont, Richmond going to be content to play the lottery Tuesday night by shooting a lot of three-pointers. Almost every team should do this against KU, because any three-point attempt is better than a Jeff Withey-blocked two.

If Richmond makes eight of 38 threes like Belmont did, this one will be a rout.

If the Spiders are hot, though, this could be a close game. And yes, the Spiders could even repeat 2004 and come away with a victory at Allen Fieldhouse.

This will continue to be a scary-type team for KU to play as long as it continues to allow a high percentage of three-point attempts.

So my guess? Let's say Richmond makes just below its season average for threes at 35 percent, which would make this a close-but-not-too-close victory for the Jayhawks.

Kansas 71, Richmond 61

Hawk to Rock

This could potentially be a tough defensive matchup for KU center Jeff Withey, who will have to be alert on ball-screen defense while also getting out quickly to perimeter shooters, but there's a lot to like about this matchup for him otherwise. Much like the Belmont game, he should be able to get the ball deep against an undersized Richmond front line. He also should have a nice night on the glass and will have an opportunity for at least a handful of blocks. If he's focused in defensively and allows KU coach Bill Self to stay with a big lineup, the potential is there for a big game statistically.

Predictions tally
9-0 record, 127 points off (14.1 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Average: 4.6th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Ultra-efficient Elijah Johnson earns top billing

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson smiles after a dunk by teammate Travis Releford against Belmont during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson smiles after a dunk by teammate Travis Releford against Belmont during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

1. Elijah Johnson: Productive in every aspect of the game. Scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting. Dished nine assists. Grabbed five boards. And guarded the other team’s best player. Johnson was aggressive from the get-go in this one and it paid off with a frame-worthy stat line.

2. Travis Releford: Incredibly active on both ends of the floor from start to finish. Tied for the team lead with 17 points, most of which came off of breakaway dunks, including a reverse jam that people will remember.

3. Ben McLemore: Just your typical night for the red-shirt freshman. Knock down a few threes (4-of-5), toss in a couple of highlight dunks and lead the team in scoring. Yaaaawnnn. The amazing thing here was McLemore tied for the team lead with 17 points on just seven shots, six of which he drilled.

4. Andrew White III: Unfortunately for him, his best night of the season came on a night when three of his teammates were out-of-this world good. Still, White’s 15 points in 10 minutes was a real bright spot.

5. Jeff Withey: Delivered a couple of monster dunks off sweet feeds from teammates and blocked five shots.

6. Kevin Young: Received another start — his sixth of the season — and delivered eight points, a team-best six rebounds and his usual good energy all in just 16 minutes.

7. Naadir Tharpe: May have been his most steady game in a while as evident by Bill Self choosing to play him 19 minutes. Tharpe scored just two points but added four assists, three rebounds and a steal.

8. Perry Ellis: Scored a couple of nice buckets inside early and hit three of four free throws but still played just 13 minutes and shot 2-for-6.

9. Jamari Traylor: Ripped down five boards and a block in 12 minutes, most of it coming late.

10. Rio Adams: Missed the only shot he took and did not record another stat while playing just three minutes.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Ben McLemore (57 points)
2. Jeff Withey (56 points)
3. Travis Releford (54 points)
4. Elijah Johnson (51 points)
5. Kevin Young (36 points)
6. Perry Ellis (33 points)
6. Naadir Tharpe (33 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (29 points)
9. Andrew White III (19 points)
10. Rio Adams (9 points)
11. Justin Wesley (7 points)

Reply

Is Belmont the toughest team left on KU’s home schedule?

Team: Belmont
Record: 7-2
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 23
(All KenPom stats/rankings current as of Friday, Dec. 14)

3 Strengths

Shooting: Belmont has been a great shooting team inside and out so far, posting the 15th-best effective shooting percentage in the country. Despite being undersized, the Bruins attempt a lot of layups/dunks, as 39 percent of their shots come from close range (NCAA average is 34 percent). Belmont has made 54.4 percent of its twos (27th nationally) and 38.5 percent of its threes (33rd nationally) this year.

Forcing turnovers: Led by senior guard Kerron Johnson (3.9 percent steal percentage, 158th nationally), Belmont's pressure defense has created turnovers at an impressive rate. Opponents have turned it over on 25.1 percent of their possessions against the Bruins, which ranks 25th nationally. Belmont coach Rick Byrd had success with a turnover-forcing team two years ago as well, as BU ranked second nationally with a 27.5 defensive turnover percentage.

Shot defense: Belmont is pretty balanced defensively, ranking in the top 70 nationally in both two-point and three-point percentage against. The Bruins also don't give up many layups/dunks (29 percent of shots against; NCAA average is 34 percent) while forcing teams into taking a high number of two-point jumpshots (37 percent; NCAA average is 33 percent).

3 Weaknesses

Defensive rebounding: Belmont plays an undersized lineup at the two post positions, where its top two rotations players are 6 foot 7. Though the Bruins still are an above-average offensive rebounding team, they've been completely crushed on the defensive boards with their lack of size. Opponents have grabbed 41.9 percent of their misses this year, which is the seventh-highest percentage allowed by any team this year.

Fouling too often: Opposing teams have gotten 25.6 percent of their points against Belmont from the foul line, which is the 27th-highest split in the country. The Bruins are allowing 23.9 free throws per game; for comparison, KU's opponents average 15.8 free throws per contest. In BU's only other game against a BCS foe this year, it surrendered 35 free throws in a 70-62 victory at Stanford.

Getting blocked: Belmont has had an unusually high number of shots blocked this year, as 12.1 percent of their twos have been rejected (288th-best nationally). Once again, Stanford gave BU the most issues, as the Cardinal blocked 10 shots, with eight of those coming from 6-foot-7 forward Josh Huestis.

3 Players to Watch

Senior Ian Clark (No. 21) has a legitimate claim for being the nation's best shooter this season. The 6-3 guard has made 56 percent of his threes this year while attempting more than seven per game (38 of 68). That trey shooting isn't a fluke, either, as he's shot over 40 percent from long range in each of his previous three seasons. Clark ranks second in the nation in effective shooting percentage and first in true shooting percentage (a stat that takes into account both field goals and free throws). The preseason All-Ohio Valley selection has made 22 of 37 twos (60 percent) and 12 of 16 free throws (75 percent) while hitching up more than a-fourth of Belmont's shots while he's on the floor.

• As mentioned above, senior Kerron Johnson (No. 3) thrives on the defensive end of the floor by leading Belmont in steal percentage. The consensus preseason All-OVC player is also involved in nearly every Belmont offensive possession, though that's not always a good thing. His strengths are passing (dishing out 32.7 percent of his team's assists when he's in, which is 83rd nationally) and getting to the free throw line (drawing 7 fouls per game, which is 38th nationally). He's only an average free throw shooter, though (68 percent), and has an extremely high turnover rate, giving it away on 24.8 percent of the possessions he ends. His 29 turnovers are 12 more than any other Bruin.

Junior forward Blake Jenkins (No. 2) isn't a ballhog, but when he does shoot it, look out. The 6-foot-7 native of Knoxville, Tenn., has put in 32 of 43 two-pointers (74 percent), with most of those coming from point-blank range. Jenkins has made 83 percent of his layup/dunk tries this year, and like Johnson, he's a threat to get to the free throw line, drawing 4.8 fouls per game. He's also a top-350 offensive rebounder and standout shot-blocker, rejecting 8.8 percent of opponents' two-pointers (74th nationally).

Prediction

Let's get this out of the way first: As of right now, KenPom gives Belmont the best chance of any team this season of knocking off the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse (23 percent).

At No. 23 in the KenPom rankings, Belmont ranks ahead of every Big 12 team not ranked Kansas. That includes Oklahoma State (No. 24), Kansas State (No. 25) and Baylor (No. 37).

Belmont might not have a scary name, but make no mistake: This is a good basketball team.

There are also reasons to think Belmont could give KU real troubles:

1. Belmont plays undersized. KU hasn't always matched up well with these sorts of teams in the last two seasons, as this forces center Jeff Withey (and KU's other bigs) to the perimeter to help often on ball screens and shooters. This has often led to open perimeter shots for KU's opponents.

2. Belmont shoots a lot of threes. If you look, 39.5 percent of Belmont's field-goal attempts have been threes, which is the 53rd-highest split nationally. As an underdog, Belmont taking a lot of threes is advantageous, as a good shooting day can make up for a lot of other flaws over the course of a single game.

3. Belmont is experienced. The Bruins' top seven rotation players are all juniors or seniors, as BU ranks 24th in KenPom's "Experience" ranking. The Bruins also have made the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.

It also might not help that KU's main focus this week wasn't basketball because of finals.

The biggest key for KU will be offensive rebounding. It absolutely has to dominate that facet against a team that hasn't been able to keep teams off the glass.

I'm thinking this KU-Belmont game could have a similar feel to this game from 2010, which had lots of threes by an experienced opponent that took an early lead before a late KU rally.

I'll take the Jayhawks. Just barely, though.

Kansas 71, Belmont 69

Hawk to Rock

This will be a game where KU needs: 1. Offensive rebounding; 2. Energy; 3. A quicker post player to keep up with smaller guys defensively; and 4. More offensive rebounding.

KU has exactly that player. It's 6-8 senior Kevin Young, who should be in line for a big game against the Bruins.

Give me a double-double for Young (it would be his first at KU) along with a clutch play in the final minutes to help KU secure a win.

Predictions tally
8-0 record, 100 points off (12.5 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Average: 4.4th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Cliff’s Notes: Bill Self press conference, 12/13/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self's comments at his press conference today.

Full audio has been posted.

Self said this Belmont game is a good RPI game. It's picked to win its division of the Ohio Valley conference. KU schedules the tough teams in small conferences by design. Belmont plays small and can't stretch it from all spots. That can cause potential matchup situations if KU doesn't guard it right.

• This was a maintenance week for KU because of finals week. KU's players took Wednesday off. Beginning Sunday, practices and film sessions will be more intense because there are no limitations.

Guard Ben McLemore still hasn't played like he can play yet. Just wait till he gets comfortable, Self said. He's scoring better than Self thought he might this soon, because he wasn't sure if he'd be aggressive. McLemore's becoming a much better player. He's unselfish, and he's learning to be more aggressive while being unselfish. He's one of the premier players in the Big 12.

McLemore and KU forward Jamari Traylor learned how to compete going against Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson in practices last year. Also, McLemore and Traylor were stellar in the classroom last year.

SMU coach Larry Brown watches all the KU games he can. Brown called Self after one of the games that KU struggled, and he told Self how good his team was. Self jokingly asked him if he watched the same game that Self did. Brown likes his team at SMU.

• Self doesn't think this year's team is as good as last year's team at this time, because last year's team was more seasoned. It was more battle-tested with its schedule and was more tough. If you take out clips of this year when it plays well ... KU plays just as well at its best this year as other KU teams in the past have played at their best. KU has been an average this team except for spurts.

KU played better against Colorado because of energy level. Self said Travis Releford and Kevin Young keyed that. Young is the only guy with natural energy. Taylor and Robinson had that natural energy. The Morris twins had that. KU doesn't have those personalities this year, those guys that can naturally amp other players up. Releford and Young are the only ones that Self believes do that consistently.

Self said it's not tough to get up for a non-name school. Belmont can beat KU. It could take advantage of ball-screen matchups and have success scoring. Self said KU's players can't pass up any opportunities to play, especially because you only run out of the tunnel so many times.

Self said Belmont could compete in the Big 12 if it played in the conference.

Self said Perry Ellis has done some good things in practice. He played well against CU, but he didn't have much statistical production. His minutes will go up if he continues to be aggressive. He thinks too much still. A lot of KU's guys still think too much.

Reply

Who feeds Jeff Withey the best?

Kansas center Jeff Withey soars in for an alley-oop dunk against Saint Louis in the first half of the championship game of the CBE Classic, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas center Jeff Withey soars in for an alley-oop dunk against Saint Louis in the first half of the championship game of the CBE Classic, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

I'll admit it. I'm fascinated by how Kansas center Jeff Withey scores his field goals for KU.

This started last year when Ken Pomeroy, in one of his blogs, said Withey "was assisted on short 2s like few other post players."

The numbers in Hoop-Math.com back this up.

Last year, 78 percent of Withey's made field goals at the rim were assisted. Compare that to then-teammate Thomas Robinson, who had 60 percent of layups/dunks assisted.

I wondered if that might change for Withey this season. After all, without Robinson as a go-to scorer inside, one might think that Withey would have to try to create more offensively in the post.

Amazingly, Withey's point production has gone up (13.8 points a game from 9 points per game) though his assisted rate remains almost completely unchanged on close shots.

According to Hoop-Math, 74 percent of Withey's layups/dunks are assisted this year, only slightly down from 78 percent a year ago. (In case you're wondering, Withey makes 67 percent of his layups/dunks, which is well above the NCAA average of 53 percent).

I wanted to take an even closer look at Withey's baskets, giving us a better feel on how he scores on all his field goals (layups/dunks and jumpers).

Going through the box scores, I went charted each of Withey's made twos, taking a look at who assisted him on each of his field goals.

Here's the breakdown.

Jeff Withey

Jeff Withey by Jesse Newell

A few interesting things I found:

If you take out Withey's seven baskets that came after offensive rebounds, you're left with a crazy statistic.

Only three of Withey's 42 field goals this year have been unassisted. Three. That's only 7.1 percent of his made field goals.

This much is clear: The big man is almost entirely reliant on teammates (or his own offensive rebounding positioning) to get his points.

Withey posted one unassisted basket against Michigan State, San Jose State and Oregon State. In KU's other five games, he had none.

There seems to be a learning curve here when it comes to feeding Withey, as the chart above is dominated by returning players.

KU senior guard Elijah Johnson is the best, and that's not surprising, considering he's KU's best passer.

Outside of Ben McLemore, though (five assists), no other freshman has more than two assists to Withey. Some of that might be contributed to limited playing time for the newcomers, but there still seems to be a bit of a difference between the two groups (For example, Kevin Young has played one more minute than Perry Ellis this year but has two more assists to Withey).

KU sophomore Naadir Tharpe might be the biggest surprise player on the chart above.

In 135 minutes, Tharpe has only assisted Withey twice. That especially doesn't look good when you see that in 233 minutes, Johnson has assisted Withey 12 times.

In addition to keeping his turnovers down, Tharpe might have another way to help his chances of staying on the floor if he's able to better feed the Jayhawks' center.

Reply

Bouncy Kevin Young takes top spot

Kansas forward Kevin Young wrestles for the ball with Colorado defender Andre Roberson (21) teammate Jeff Withey and CU forward Josh Scott (40) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Kevin Young wrestles for the ball with Colorado defender Andre Roberson (21) teammate Jeff Withey and CU forward Josh Scott (40) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

1. Kevin Young: His energy was contagious, and the senior's hustle paid off as he posted a career-high for his KU tenure with 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting. He made the easy and smart plays, with the box score showing seven of his eight makes were either layups or dunks. He also was active on the boards, pulling down eight caroms in just 20 minutes.

2. Ben McLemore: His aggressiveness offensively was most evident in his free throw attempts, as he made 10 of 11 to finish with 24 points. Had a great start to the game, reaching double figures at the 11:15 mark of the first half. McLemore impacted the game in other ways too, grabbing five rebounds to go with two steals in 30 minutes. The only negative was his mid-range shooting, as made just 6 of 16 field goals, including 1 of 7 two-point jumpshots.

3. Travis Releford: Held CU's hobbled leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie to just four points on 1-for-4 shooting. The senior also posterized CU's Jeremy Adams on a dunk and continues to show an amazing ability to never get blocked on a layup in transition. Releford finished with 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting with six assists and no turnovers.

4. Elijah Johnson: The senior's knee looked much better after a week of working to strengthen it. His explosiveness looked to be back too, especially on the defensive end where he was able to slide quickly to keep his man in front of him. Offensively, he scored 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting and made 3 of 6 three-pointers. He contributed three assists and two steals to go with two turnovers in 25 minutes.

5. Jeff Withey: KU coach Bill Self said Withey "played great" afterwards, and one would have to assume that means the senior's ball-screen defense was much improved. Withey was efficient with his tries, posting eight points on 3-for-6 shooting. He also added seven rebounds, five blocks and two impressive assists in his 23 minutes.

6. Andrew White III: The freshman can shoot, nailing 2 of 3 three-pointers on his way to eight points in eight minutes. Had one turnover on a charge in transition.

7. Naadir Tharpe: Made two shots to beat the shot clock, but his turnover count (four) was too high considering he played only 17 minutes. He had five points, an assist and a steal and was generally a pest to CU's guards on the defensive end.

8. Jamari Traylor: Four points, three rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 11 minutes is good. Five fouls in those 11 minutes, though, is not so good.

9. Perry Ellis: Had an increase in minutes (17), but his stats wouldn't indicate that. The freshman had two points, one rebound, one assist, one block, one steal and one turnover.

10. Rio Adams: Self yanked him out for good late in the second half to sub in Evan Manning. Judging by Self's reaction, Adams wasn't doing what he was supposed to defensively. Adams did have two steals in five minutes, but he also had no points and a bad turnover after trying to dribble through too many defenders.

11. Justin Wesley: Had two rebounds in six minutes of garbage time.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (50 points)
2. Ben McLemore (49 points)
3. Travis Releford (45 points)
4. Elijah Johnson (41 points)
5. Kevin Young (31 points)
6. Perry Ellis (30 points)
7. Naadir Tharpe (29 points)
8. Jamari Traylor (27 points)
9. Andrew White III (12 points)
10. Rio Adams (8 points)
11. Justin Wesley (7 points)

— Compiled and written by Jesse Newell.

Reply

Tad Boyle’s offensive freedom a blessing and curse for Colorado

Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie, front, looks to pass the ball as Colorado State guard Wes Eikmeier covers in the second half of Colorado's 70-61 victor in Boulder, Colo., on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.

Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie, front, looks to pass the ball as Colorado State guard Wes Eikmeier covers in the second half of Colorado's 70-61 victor in Boulder, Colo., on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.

Team: Colorado
Record: 7-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 56

3 Strengths

Getting to the free throw line: The Buffaloes are averaging 29 free throws per game and also have the fourth-best free throw rate (a statistic used to measure how frequently a team gets to the line compared to its field goal attempts) in the country. CU has three players over 6 foot 5 that all have free throw rates in the nation's top 250, which means the Jayhawks' defense will be tested on dribble drives Saturday.

Three-point shooting: After making 34.6 percent of its threes a year ago, Colorado has made 41.2 percent of its treys this year (11th nationally). Sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie has been a big reason for this, as he's made an impressive 19 of 35 threes (54.3 percent) so far this season.

Blocked shots: With its length at the 2 and 3 positions, Colorado is the rare team that that blocks more of its opponents two-point jumpers (10 percent) than layups (9 percent). CU has three players in the nation's top 400 in block percentage, including Dinwiddie, Andre Robertson and Xavier Johnson. The Buffs have blocked 11.8 percent of opponents' twos so far this year (75th nationally).

3 Weaknesses

Forcing turnovers: Much like Oregon State, Colorado plays an extremely passive brand of defense. The Buffaloes force turnovers on just 17.7 percent of opponents' possessions (297th nationally) and come away with steals on just 8.8 percent of those possessions (250th nationally). This has traditionally been a weakness of coach Tad Boyle's teams at CU, as in his three years, the Buffaloes have never been above the NCAA average at forcing turnovers.

Three-point defense: Colorado allows opponents to shoot way too many threes, as 42.8 percent of the opposition's field goal attempts this year have been three-pointers (ninth-highest split nationally). Teams facing CU have scored 37.8 percent of their points from the three-point line (seventh-highest split nationally) even while shooting a slightly below-average mark from beyond the arc (32.5 percent).

Bench: Non-starters have played just 25.1 percent of Colorado's minutes, which ranks 293rd nationally (31.1 percent is average). The Buffaloes have done a good job of avoiding fouls this year, which has helped them keep their best players to remain on the floor. Still in a game at Allen Fieldhouse, Boyle might be a little scared to go deep on his bench with foul trouble when the top six guys all average more than 19 minutes per game and no one else averages more than 12.

3 Players to Watch

• Talent-wise, six-foot-7 forward Andre Roberson (No. 21) is Colorado's best player. Projected by some sites as a late first-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Roberson has shown himself to be a complete player defensively because of his athleticism. He was second in the nation last year in defensive rebounding percentage (I bet you know who was first) and ranks in the top 25 in the same stat this year. He also ranks 114th in steal percentage, 205th in block percentage and 270th in offensive rebounding percentage.

Offensively, he's best at getting to the free throw line, though he's made just 20 of 39 shots there this year (51.3 percent). KU should be just fine if it can force him into jumpshots, as he's made 78 percent of his layups so far but just 14 percent of his two-point jumpers.

• Six-foot-5 guard Spencer Dinwiddie (No. 25) has easily been CU's best player offensively this year (though surprisingly, he's only fourth on the team in shot percentage). As mentioned above, he's a great three-point shooter (54 percent), but even more than that, he puts pressure on a defense by driving and forcing whistles. He has posted the fifth-best free throw rate in the country, as he's actually shot more free throws this year (74) than field goals (66) ... something that doesn't happen often. He's a good free throw shooter (74 percent) and draws more than seven fouls per 40 minutes, making him a potentially tough matchup for KU's perimeter defenders.

• According to RSCIhoops.com's rankings, 6-foot-10 freshman Josh Scott (No. 40) is the top-ranked recruit to go to Colorado since David Harrison in 2001. The forward has produced like a highly ranked player offensively, getting to the free throw line often (106th in free throw rate) while making 77 percent of his shots there. Scott also is the least turnover-prone CU player, as he has just 10 giveaways in 226 minutes. Though not a great defensive rebounder yet, Scott has given the Buffaloes a nice boost on the offensive boards (223rd nationally).

Prediction

Boyle is known as a coach that gives his players a lot of freedom offensively. Statistically, this appears to give Colorado one distinct advantage and one distinct disadvantage.

The good news for Boyle is that the Buffaloes' players aggressiveness has resulted in opposing fouls and free throws, which is a good way to get reliable scoring.

The bad news is, his team has settled for way too many two-point jumpers (this does not include layups). According to Hoop-Math.com, 41 percent of CU's shots this year have been two-point jumpers, well above the NCAA average of 33 percent. And that's not a good thing, as the Buffs have made just 30 percent of those shots (NCAA average is 35 percent).

With that in mind, it looks like there will be three keys for KU: 1. Force CU into a becoming jump-shooting team from two-point range; 2. Keep turnovers down against a team that doesn't force many giveaways; 3. Avoid an ice-cold shooting night from three, as CU should allow open jumpers from the perimeter.

Though KU's perimeter defense makes this matchup a little scary, I don't see this is a game that will come down to the final minutes, especially if KU knocks down some threes.

Kansas 78, Colorado 62

Hawk to Rock

This just feels like a big game for Elijah Johnson. KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said Friday on 810 WHB that the KU senior was regaining some of his spring this week while recovering from a nagging knee injury. Roberts also said that Johnson had one of his best practices of the year this week and that KU coach Bill Self was pleased with what he saw. Look for Johnson to heed Self's words and try to create more for himself offensively. The threes should be there, and with a more aggressive mind-set, this seems like a game where he'll match or top his season high of 18 points.

Predictions tally
7-0 record, 80 points off (11.4 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Average: 4.4th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Cliff’s Notes: Bill Self press conference, 12/6/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self's comments at his press conference today.

Full audio has been posted.

Self said this year's Colorado team is probably the best one that coach Tad Boyle has had there. Andre Roberson has emerged as one the most elite 4 men in the country. Boyle has a really nice team.

Self said this home-and-home series with Colorado was set up mostly to help out those fans in western Kansas so they can get an opportunity to see KU play in Boulder. Self isn't mad at Colorado for leaving the conference, as it did what it had to do. With the league potentially breaking up, Colorado had to jump and take what was available.

• KU hasn't played with a true point guard for a while. Whoever got the ball in the past brought it up the court. This year, Elijah Johnson is having to bring it up. There's no complementary player with him. That's put pressure on him. He's played OK, but he hasn't played great yet. Self believes he will take the next step soon. Johnson is not as aggressive trying to score the ball because he's trying to get everyone else involved. That will come. Self says the big thing for Johnson is he has to increase his free throw attempts. Johnson took a hard fall last game and bruised his hand. Self didn't know about the hand bruise at the time. Johnson has played better the last two games.

Most teams don't score out of offense. They score out of loose balls or bad close outs or beating a man off the bounce or things similar to that. That's not designing anything. KU has suffered in that area this year without guys that can force help and create for others.

Self says bad teams can guard the first 15 seconds. Average ones can guard the first 22 seconds. Really good teams can defend the whole time. Like baseball, good pitching will beat good hitting. Good defense will beat good offense in basketball. But if a defense is really sound and can defend your actions, that's when you need someone to make a play.

KU practiced Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. KU has gotten a lot of stuff in, but it also should be well-rested. Self says practices have gone OK. The guys are trying hard, but they don't always bring the same intensity every day. Right now, KU's players go harder in practice than they do in games.

Jeff Withey's timing on blocking shots is unbelievable. It's unheard of that a guy could be that good at blocking shots without fouling. Withey's a pretty good rebounder, but he could be better. Self says he should be better at offensive rebounding. Self almost hopes his rebounding numbers on the defensive end go down a bit if that means other guys step up. Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis and Travis Releford need to be better defensive rebounders.

KU is not pressuring defensively with its guards and it's still getting beat off the dribble. Self thinks you can pressure more if you have a shot-blocker like Withey in the back.

• Self says the team is looking at options. Maybe Rio Adams can play, and to take pressure off, you put Travis Releford at the point. KU still hasn't found Johnson's backup. KU tried Kevin Young bringing it up in practice, though that only lasted about 10 minutes. The coaches are trying some things.

KU has looked at some different things defensively this week with zone defenses.

The Big 12 has not gotten off to a good start. If you don't play good in November and December, then the perception is your league isn't going to be looked at favorably. The Big 12 still has a chance to be a top-three RPI team, but it needs some big wins soon.

Self thinks Releford should be penciled in as a double-digit scorer. It does help KU when he makes shots. Self said Releford needs to become a better defender, and he'd be the first to tell you that. He needs to be a great lockdown defender. If Releford gets back to guarding like he did last year, KU's defense will be improved.

Reply

Layup defense and how it affects KU’s perimeter players

Kansas center Jeff Withey swats a shot from Washburn forward Zack Riggins during the first half on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Jeff Withey swats a shot from Washburn forward Zack Riggins during the first half on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

There have been a few good pieces lately on Kansas center Jeff Withey's impact defensively, but I wanted to point out another facet that KU coach Bill Self touched on briefly during his Hawk Talk radio show Monday night.

Almost entirely because of Withey, KU's opponents simply are not getting easy shots.

Here's a look at the top five teams in the nation this year in layup defense, according to the cool nerd site Hoop-Math.

Layup defense

Layup defense by Jesse Newell

The reason for KU being the best defensive layup team, of course, is blocked shots. Here's a look at the top five teams in the nation at blocking layups.

Block percentage on layups

Block percentage on layups by Jesse Newell

As you can imagine, eliminating an opponent's easy shots is a great way to build a defense ... and we can reflect that with some simple arithmetic.

Hoop-math's numbers say that 36 percent the shots KU has allowed this year have been layups (actually slightly above the NCAA average of 34 percent). That means, out of the 405 field-goal attempts KU has allowed this year, about 145 have been layup tries.

Here's how many points that would be produced by opponents with 145 layup attempts against the defenses above, based on those defenses' season percentages.

Points allowed on layups

Points allowed on layups by Jesse Newell

Obviously, this is a rough approximation, as missing a layup doesn't necessarily mean no points (a team could rebound it and hit a three, for example) and a made layup doesn't necessarily just mean two points (it could result in a three-point play).

But, at a base level, this analysis would suggest through seven games, KU is saving itself about 8.7 points per game over the average NCAA team on layups alone.

It turns out KU's shot-blockers are having an even bigger impact than that. KU's opponents have made just 29 percent of their two-point jumpers (NCAA average is 35 percent) with the Jayhawks blocking 12 percent of those shots (seven percent is NCAA average).

KU's two-point defense has been so good this year it's led to an extremely rare stat: So far, opponents are shooting better from three-point range against the Jayhawks (35.5 percent) than two-point range (35.2 percent).

That statistic is pretty remarkable if you think about it.

This all makes me believe that KU might want to rethink the way it plays defense this year.

Obviously, a lot has been made of KU's perimeter players getting beaten off the dribble by opposing guards.

The thing is, KU's defense hasn't been killed by those players getting to the lane for shots; it's been killed by those players kicking the ball out or finding openings on the perimeter to get shots up.

Here's the breakdown of opponents' shooting percentages against KU.

KU defensive breakdown

KU defensive breakdown by Jesse Newell

Looking at the field-goal percentages on the right, the three numbers aren't too far apart. The only difference is that teams are getting three points for the bottom row but only two points for the top two rows.

Let's look at this another way. If opposing teams got 100 of each of the above shots against KU, they would score 80 points in layups, 58 points on two-point jumpers and 108 points on three-pointers.

That means at this point — statistically — KU's defense is much better off daring teams to take their chances inside the arc. (And conversely, opposing teams are better off taking as many threes as possible).

So far, according to KenPom.com, 35.7 percent of opponents' points against KU have come from three-pointers (17th-highest split nationally), while only 45.6 percent of opponents' points have come on two-pointers (317th-highest split nationally).

KU has a unique defensive weapon this year in Withey, as not only is he an elite shot-blocker, he's also one that doesn't get into foul trouble (1.1 fouls per 40 minutes).

Though it would be a luxury for KU's guards to not get beaten off the dribble, the real goal should be to recover quickly and defend the three-point line at all costs.

If the early season is any indication, there aren't many teams that are going to find success scoring over KU's athletic big men, even if they get it all the way to the rim.

Reply

Table set for Dayne Crist to go out in style

Morgantown, W.Va. — West Virginia ranks last in the nation in pass defense, allowing 346.2 yards per game. The Mountaineers have allowed 36 touchdown passes and have just eight interceptions. What makes those numbers look even worse is they don’t have to face their own high-octane offense.

The Kansas pass offense ranks 117th out of 124 with 151.5 yards per game, seven touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.

This is Dayne Crist’s last college game. So, might Charlie Weis have a number of plays ready for Crist to come off the bench and finish a career that fell far short of expectations with one of his most productive days? It’s possible, but if Crist doesn’t show a hot hand right away, KU will return to its running offense.

Remarkably, Kansas wide receivers don’t have a single touchdown reception all season. The seven TD catches: Tony Pierson two, Jimmay Mundine two, one apiece from Brandon Bourbon, Mike Ragone and James Sims.

Today’s bold prediction: Kansas will have two wide receiver TD receptions, both thrown by Crist, who won’t have a single turnover in his career finale.

Reply

Travis Releford edges out other starters for top spot

1. Travis Releford: Was challenged to attack the rim by Kansas coach Bill Self at halftime, and he delivered. The senior was efficient, scoring 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting while posting a team-high seven rebounds. The guard has a natural gift of avoiding shot-blockers when taking layups to the rim. He also added five assists and two steals to go with two turnovers.

2. Jeff Withey: Made the most of a limited number of shot attempts, as he posted 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. He had only three blocks but still had an impact on Oregon State's shots inside, as the Beavers shot just 39 percent from two-point range (down from 52 percent season average). The senior also showed great conditioning in playing a career-high 37 minutes.

3. Ben McLemore: Had a stellar first half, which included a Jordan-like slam that we'll most likely be seeing on KU pregame videos for years to come. He was limited by foul trouble, though, and made a couple of bad decisions during possessions late in the second half before clinching the game with a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. He had a team-high 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting, which included 3-for-4 accuracy from three.

4. Kevin Young: The senior seemed to always find the openings on the baseline when his teammates drove to the rim, which led to easy buckets. He scored 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting with four rebounds and a turnover in 23 minutes. He also missed two critical free throws late that could have helped KU seal the game earlier.

5. Elijah Johnson: Had a rough start, turning it over three times in the first four minutes. He settled down some after that but still couldn't keep up with Ahmad Starks defensively, as the OSU guard poured in 25 points, which included a school-record seven three-pointers. Johnson finished with six points, four rebounds, nine assists and four turnovers in 28 minutes.

6. Andrew White III: Self called White his best bench player after the game. The freshman contributed energy off the bench in the form of four points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. White went just 1-for-5 from the floor and had two turnovers, but he seems to be getting more comfortable working within KU's offense.

7. Perry Ellis: He spent the whole night getting chewed by Self, who yelled at him to be more aggressive and get more rebounds. Self even tried to motivate Ellis once by telling him he wasn't providing anything while on the court. Once again, Ellis' numbers look OK (four points, three rebounds, no turnovers in 15 minutes), but Self continues to demand more from the talented freshman.

8. Jamari Traylor: The freshman started the second half, perhaps because he's one of the only guys that plays with the kind of toughness that Self desires. His night wasn't filled with much production, though, as he had no points, two rebounds, a block and a turnover in five minutes.

9. Rio Adams: Heeded his coach's message to attack, going behind his back on the dribble before putting in a bank shot over a defender. He finished with two points, one assist and one turnover in four minutes.

10. Naadir Tharpe: He had a few chances to get in, but because of his defense, he received the quick hook a few times by Self. In eight minutes, Tharpe didn't attempt a shot with one assist and two turnovers.

11. Justin Wesley Played zero-plus minutes in the box score without recording an official statistic.

KUsports.com Season Standings
1. Jeff Withey (53 points)
2. Ben McLemore (48 points)
3. Travis Releford (47 points)
4. Elijah Johnson (40 points)
5. Perry Ellis (32 points)
6. Kevin Young (28 points)
7. Jamari Traylor (27 points)
8. Naadir Tharpe (26 points)
9. Andrew White III (12 points)
10. Rio Adams (9 points)
11. Justin Wesley (7 points)

— Compiled by Jesse Newell and Gary Bedore. Written by Jesse Newell.

Reply