Judging by the response on Twitter, our live game blog and the comments section below the stories from last night's 73-51 victory over Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, we may have entered the point in the season where three-point lovers have separated themselves from three-point likers.
Tuesday night in its trouncing of Texas Tech, the Kansas University men's basketball team, once again, was red hot from three-point land, finishing with 11 makes in 20 attempts, including 6 of 7 in the second half.
The Jayhawks made 10 of 20 in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State and, for the season, now have made eight or more threes in a game 11 times in 24 tries and are shooting .409 from three-point range as a team. In case you're unaware, that's damn good.
The question that has popped up — and in some ways divided the KU fan base — is should KU shoot more three-pointers because the team has proven to be so effective from behind the arc? KU coach Bill Self doesn't think so, calling such a high percentage from three-point land “fool's gold.”
I happen to agree with Self and think it's risky business to become so reliant on the three-point shot, regardless of a team's percentage from deep or the fact that three is worth more than two.
Either way you slice it, this team appears, at least for now, to be most comfortable hanging out behind the line and firing away. Because the Jayhawks don't have a dominant (or even reliable) low post presence, this, to many, seems to be the best way for KU to run offense. But as Self pointed out in his postgame comments, there are plenty of ways to score outside of the post and inside of the three-point line. Transition buckets, 15-footers, drives to the basket that produce layups, dunks or free throws. All are viable options that well-rounded offensive teams routinely employ. This team has not consistently shown it understands that and until it does, it looks like it'll be a live-by-the-three-die-by-the-three scenario for the Jayhawks.
Time will tell how that works out, but at 20-4 on the season and 9-2 in Big 12 play, it's hard to argue too strongly against it, regardless of your basketball philosophies.
Cliff Alexander made just his second start of the season in this one and he looked much better against the Red Raiders than he has in a number of games. Alexander was active in the paint, both in protecting the rim and cleaning up the glass, and, although he proved over and over that he still has a long way to go in terms of playing fast and free and avoiding silly fouls or bad mistakes, what Alexander offered was much better than what Jamari Traylor has brought to the floor in recent games. Traylor still played 19 minutes and has a role on this team. But if the Jayhawks want to be true contenders, they need to bring Alexander along to the next level and Tuesday night was a good step toward that progress.
Three reasons to smile
1 – After firing up 13 three-pointers in the first half, the Jayhawks heeded their coach's words in the second half and put greater emphasis on scoring inside the arc. Fans don't have to like it, players don't have to like it, but if Self says they need to do it, they probably should find a way to do it. KU made 6 of 7 three-point shots in the second half but also scored 28 points inside the three-point line, one more than the Jayhawks scored in the entire first half. Nobody here is arguing against the three-point shot as an offensive weapon, but, at least to me, it's clear that this team is best when it finds balance.
2 – Even though it didn't last, I thought KU delivered a great response to a crappy start to Tuesday night's game. Credit two Cliff Alexander blocks and a pair of three-pointers, along with better overall urgency than we've seen of late, for putting the Jayhawks up 8-2 and eventually 15-4 when they easily could have been trailing during the first few minutes given the number of turnovers and missed shots they had in the initial stretch of the game.
3 – I already mentioned Alexander's solid game, but I think the one aspect of it that stood out the most was his defensive presence in the paint. Alexander finished with four of KU's seven blocks and each one of them brought back oh-so-subtle visions of Jeff Withey — dare we call it a Cliffy Block Party? — in that Alexander didn't just try to block the shot, he tried to humiliate the guy taking the shot. That kind of edge and presence could be huge for the Jayhawks down the stretch.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – As good as the Jayhawks were during that opening stretch of the game, they were equally as bad in allowing the Red Raiders to tie the game at 20 and be in the game at the half. I realize that no matter how good you are, you can't just blow everybody out, but had Wayne Selden not knocked down that three from the corner — which Frank Mason should get most of the credit for after making a tremendous play and pass to get him the ball — KU would have led by just two over a lousy team after jumping out to a 15-4 lead. The strong second half made that a mere afterthought, but it speaks further to this team's inconsistency.
2 – We've already talked a lot about three-pointers in this Day After and I don't want anyone to think that I'm anti-three-pointer by any means. But when you see a team get three three-pointers blocked in a single half, I think you're looking at a team that has fallen a little too in love with the long-range bomb. In at least two of the three situations where Tech blocked a KU trey, a simple shot fake followed by two dribbles and a pull-up would have produced a wide open 15-foot jumper. I know that sounds a little too Bob Knight for some of you, but doesn't it also sound better than getting a three-pointer blocked? I'm all for the three-pointers if they come within the flow of the offense, are a result of good ball movement and are open looks. Anything else, though, seems like lazy, selfish basketball.
3 – Piggy-backing on the three-point theme of this blog, I'd really like to see Kelly Oubre be one of the guys who attacks the rim more. I think his frame, length and general good size are all ideal for a guy who could slash to the rim and, at the very least, draw some more fouls. Oubre finished with just six points — on two made three-pointers and zero attempts from inside the arc — and has looked a little out of sorts offensively for the past few games. I know people didn't always think Andrew Wiggins was all he should have been offensively, but that guy knew how to attack the paint and get to the free throw line and KU would definitely benefit from someone on this team filling that role, as well.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' second rout of the Red Raiders this season...
• Marked the 26th year in a row that Kansas has tallied 20 or more wins, the longest active streak in the NCAA. (North Carolina holds the record with 31-consecutive 20 win seasons from 1970-71 to 2000-01).
• Guaranteed KU at least a .500 record in conference play, which is also the 26th-consecutive season that KU has posted a .500 or better record in league action (beginning in 1989-90), tying the third-longest active streak in the NCAA with Kentucky and behind only Xavier (32) and Murray State (27).
• Extended KU’s win streak against Texas Tech to 12 in a row and improved KU’s all-time series advantage against Texas Tech to 29-4, including a 22-4 mark in Big 12 games.
• Marked the fifth straight win for KU against TTU inside United Supermarkets Arena (formerly United Spirit Arena), and improved Kansas to 11-4 against Tech in Lubbock (7-3 in Tech's current arena).
• Improved Self to 345-73 while at Kansas, 16-6 against Texas Tech (15-3 at Kansas) and 552-178 overall.
• Made KU 2,146-826 all-time.
The Jayhawks return home Saturday, when they'll take on No. 21 Baylor at noon at Allen Fieldhouse. The last time these two faced each other,the Jayhawks beat the Bears 56-55 Jan. 7 in Waco, Texas, in a hard-fought Big 12 opener for Kansas.
There was not too much to like about KU's 34-21 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday, but also not too much to hate. It was just one of those sort of deliberate and drawn out games in which the Jayhawks' fell behind early, fought to get back in it and then just did not have enough left in the tank — be that juice or talent — to surge past the Red Raiders.
The players and interim head coach Clint Bowen both said they saw more small signs of progress, but they're not out there solely to progress. They want to win. And they're quickly running out of chances in 2014.
With just three road games remaining in 2014 — at Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State — the Jayhawks, all of a sudden, are staring at the very real possibility of taking that road losing streak, which now stands at 30, into the 2015 season. That's not to say they can't upset one of those perennial Big 12 powerhouses, but the odds that it will happen are slim. That's what made a loss like Saturday's so tough for these guys because they know they had the talent to play with Tech and let a couple of little things beat them.
The way I see it, Texas Tech is not a very good football team and they made plenty of mistakes that, against more talented teams, would have cost them. That's probably what hurt the most for the Jayhawks late Saturday night and into Sunday, when they, no doubt, thought back about the missed opportunity and wondered why they couldn't get it done in a winnable game. The biggest issue continues to be their slow starts and it's hard to say how that can be fixed on the fly. Like most things, it's probably as much of an attitude thing as anything, and if that's the case, KU should consider itself lucky because playing with good attitude and great passion is not at all a problem for these guys.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Ben frickin' Heeney, man. I've now covered more than two dozen college football games that the senior from Hutchinson factored into prominently and I now have an undisputed best game I've ever seen him play. Until now, there were so many 14- or 15-tackle outings that blended together that it made it tough for one of them to stand out above the others. But this one was a whole different level of Heeney. He looked as fast as I've ever seen him look, played with his signature attacking style from start to finish and just made play after play after play. Twenty-one tackles. Seventeen of them of the solo variety. And an interception that was arguably the biggest play of the game for the Jayhawks. I've said it before on a couple of occasions, but I don't think it can be said enough. We're in the midst of watching one of KU's all-time greats and the chance to watch Heeney be Heeney is worth the price of admission all by itself.
2 – The Jayhawks continued to show that, at least under Bowen, they're never out of it. Even after digging a 17-0 hole early in the game, nobody panicked, the Jayhawks stayed with the game plan and eventually began to make plays that got them back into it. A lot of the credit for this goes to quarterback Michael Cummings, who, other than a couple of forced deep balls, was pretty solid for the second week in a row. He finished with 235 yards, 2 passing TDs and a rushing TD, improved his completion percentage (from 54 to 63) and used his poise, confidence and leadership skills to keep the offense plugging away series after series.
3 – Kansas had just four penalties enforced against it during Saturday's loss in Lubbock. This represents marked improvement from the past two games, when KU finished with 11 against West Virginia and 8 more against Oklahoma State. With a team like this, when the margin for error is so small that the Jayhawks cannot get away with hardly any mistakes or mental lapses, eliminating those moments when they make life harder on themselves is absolutely critical in every aspect of the game. That means catching passes that are catchable, carrying out assignments and fundamentals all the way through the end of the play and, of course, avoiding those unforced errors that turn manageable situations into nasty ones. KU was not flawless in this department across the board against Texas Tech, but they did take care of business in the penalty department.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's 128 net rushing yards was nearly 150 fewer yards per game than the Red Raiders had given up to opponents on average this year. The total is not as big of a problem — though they still left a lot of yards out there by failing to convert on third downs — as the yards-per-carry average. Led by Corey Avery's 69 yards on 15 carries, Kansas averaged just 3.2 yards per rush in Saturday's loss, which again shows the number of yards they left on the field, which in turn led to missed first downs and ultimately missed points. KU has the horses to have a strong running game, but too often the blocking at the point of attack is breaking down making life miserable for Avery, De'Andre Mann and Michael Cummings.
2 – After carrying the ball for nine yards on the first two plays of the game, senior Tony Pierson missed the rest of the day with an undisclosed injury. There's been some talk that Pierson might have suffered some kind of injury to one of his hands but no official word has come from KU. Regardless of what it is or how long it keeps him out, it's pretty disheartening to see this happening to Pierson for two reasons — 1. It really puts the KU offense in a tough spot because he's a guy who can do so much and put so much pressure on defenses. 2. It's just a drag for Tony. He's been one of KU's best players during the past four years and been nothing but a model teammate and student and lead-by-example kind of guy. Good things are supposed to happen to guys like that, not injuries that keep them off the field.
3 – He recently missed a game because of injury, so that could still be a factor, but there's no question that senior cornerback Dexter McDonald is just not quite right. Unlike last season, when he made pretty much every play that was put in front of him, McDonald is having an up-and-down season so far. In his latest outing, he dropped an interception that he probably would've caught 99 times out of 100 and also was beat for a touchdown. To be fair, the ball was thrown perfectly, but McDonald still let his guy get behind him. These aren't catastrophic miscues and it's very possible that he'll bounce back, but the bar has been set so high for him because of his fantastic skills and incredible 2013 season that even the slightest off day makes it seem like something's wrong.
One for the road
KU's loss at Texas Tech...
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 578-594-58 all-time.
• Pushed Texas Tech's edge in the all-time series with Kansas to 15-1.
• Included KU's first points of the second quarter all season, a 16-yard touchdown pass from Cummings to Justin McCay with 31 seconds to play in the first half.
• Featured another failed fourth-down attempt, which made Kansas just 2-for-11 this season when electing to go for it on fourth down.
The Jayhawks (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big 12) will take their second and final bye of the 2014 season, which many players said comes at a perfect time. Not only will it give them some time to rest up and get healthy, but it also will give them a little more time to further absorb Bowen's coaching style and set the tone for the way they want to finish the season. After the bye, KU will travel to Waco, Texas, for a match-up with Baylor on Nov. 1.
The natives certainly became restless after Saturday's 54-16 slamming by 20th-ranked Texas Tech, and who could blame them?
What started in fantastic fashion and, at least for a bit, looked like it could bring an end to KU's 21-game Big 12 losing skid, quickly began to look a lot more like the embarrassments of the Turner Gill era than the handful of encouraging efforts Weis and the Jayhawks showed in 2012.
When thinking back about this game and, really, the entire season thus far, there are plenty of things that pop up in the suddenly stacked column of issues plaguing the Jayhawks.
But for my money, the one area of weakness that stands out above all others — and I don't think it's even close — is the sub-par play of the offensive line, which not only has struggled with to knock people off the ball but also can't seem to find any consistency both in terms of who's in the lineup and the performances they deliver from game to game, quarter to quarter, even play to play.
While talking to tight end Jimmay Mundine after Saturday's loss, I asked him if he thought we were all guilty of taking for granted just how good last year's line was. It's been well documented by now just how much experience Tanner Hawkinson, Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli had logged in their KU careers. But maybe we focused too much on their years of service and overlooked their ability.
I know I'm guilty of that. I thought, with the size of attitude of these new guys the Jayhawks had brought in, it was merely a matter of them learning the offense and getting comfortable with one another and then the KU ground game could pick up where it left off, perhaps even be better.
Oops. Way off.
Not only has the play of the O-Line dropped off from last year, but the ground game has suffered, too. And worse than KU no longer having complete confidence that it can run the ball against anybody is the fact that the Jayhawks' opponents now think they can't at the same time. Yikes.
So here's the million-dollar question: What can the Jayhawks do about their O-Line issue? The answer will not be easy to find, but somebody has to find it, and quick, or else the next eight Saturdays are going to look awfully similar to the last one.
I've had plenty of conversations with people about this since Saturday's game — even threw out a few thoughts on Twitter — and I stand by my theory: If the line can't perform any better than it has, the play-calling hardly matters. I mean, what plays can you call that work when the line doesn't block?
The only ones I can think of are the ones we saw early in Saturday's loss to Texas Tech and late in the victory over Louisiana Tech. The ones where quarterback Jake Heaps was throwing a pass just milliseconds after receiving the snap. That takes the pressure off of the line, which is good, but it puts the pressure on Heaps and his receivers to be perfect and in sync, which hasn't exactly gone swimmingly so far this season either. Still, if it's me making the decisions, I'd rather have the onus on Heaps to make plays than ask the line to hold up.
Weis said on this morning's Big 12 football coaches teleconference that some serious changes were coming to the depth chart this week — we'll get a copy Tuesday — and he also indicated that the O-Line could look drastically different.
From what I could gather, it sounds like IQ and understanding the looks from opposing defenses has as much to do with the line's struggles as anything. Therefore, it stands to reason that, at least for this week, Weis will be plugging in the smartest guys he has up front to see if that helps.
Of course, the possibility exists that these guys can and will improve. Guards Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi are new to the Big 12 and have had several good moments so far. Plus, they've got the mindset you're looking for — the kind that says, 'Yeah, I want to kick your butt and I don't care if I break my nose doing it.' KU needs more of that. KU needs more of that at every position, but the Jayhawks could especially use more of it in the trenches.
The opportunity is there for someone or some guys to step up. I don't care if your name is Gavin Howard or Riley Spencer and you're a senior who's been around a while and fallen down the depth chart, or if you're a true freshman like Joey Bloomfield, who ranks near the top of the roster on the list of guys who are excited to be here and would probably do anything for this program. The opportunity is there for guys to prove they can play mean, nasty, tough football. Heck, if I'm a defensive lineman who isn't playing much, I'd ask for a meeting with the coaches to see if I could switch positions. That worked out OK for Hawkinson.
Oops. There I go again, assuming anybody can do what Tanner did. That's my bad. I now know it's not that easy.
But getting angry, having some pride and playing a little pissed off is something anybody can do.
The question is, will they?
All season, as the Kansas University football team has piled tough loss on top of tough loss, people, both inside and outside of the program, have preached progress.
It’s one thing to see it in a 20-14 comeback loss against Oklahoma State in which the Jayhawks woke up after carving out a 20-0 hole through three quarters. It’s another to see it in a near victory against Texas, a game KU should have won. And it’s still another to see it in several first halves in which the Jayhawks remained within arm’s reach — down just six or seven points at the break — of quality opponents such as Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.
Even with all of those signs pointing in the right direction for a program desperate to shake its losing culture, never was this team’s evolution from flops to fighters as evident as last Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, where the Jayhawks (1-9 overall, 0-7 Big 12) went toe to toe with the 25th-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders before losing, 41-34, in double overtime.
We’re not talking about giving a nice effort and hanging in there against a better team. We’re talking about seeing a you-punch-we-punch, you-score-we-score, you-dig-we-dig-deeper mentality that has been building in the KU locker room slowly and steadily throughout the season.
It wasn’t just the final score or the fact that KU actually had a lead in the first overtime that showed yet more evidence of this team’s growth under first-year coach Charlie Weis. It was the way these guys played. Tough, physical, relentless football from the first quarter to the final extra period.
Were there mistakes? Sure. Plenty of them. But the Jayhawks overcame each one and refused to let the game get away from them despite trailing 21-7 early in the second quarter with Texas Tech driving for the knockout punch.
In the world of college football, winning is the name of the game. And no matter how much the Jayhawks have improved, they continue to fall short in the area it matters most. But one of the best things about progress is that it can inspire players to continue to work hard no matter what their record is because they can see and feel the improvements they’re making. This Kansas roster is full of players like that. Young and old. And it is coached by a group of men who know how to emphasize and celebrate those steps and learn from mistakes.
During the past two seasons we heard a lot about progress but saw very little evidence that any was being made. Anyone remember the net punting brag? The Jayhawks don’t have to grasp for straws like that any longer. They still have a ways to go before they can be considered a quality team with a shot at consistently winning in the Big 12. But they are competitive. And they are getting there. They are capable of preparing a gameplan that can deliver a victory against any team just about every week. And it seems safe to say that the rest of the conference now knows that.
Although this type of season and the promise of progress is not exactly what most of these guys were hoping for, it was and is a necessary step toward turning things around.
I think the players and coaches all realize that. But none of them are content with it.
“It puts a bad taste in our mouths,” said red-shirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings of the double-overtime loss to Tech. “We’re definitely more hungry going into next week.”
Added Weis, who spoke with pride about the toughness shown by his club last Saturday: “We were extremely motivated in this game. And I think we’ll be even more motivated for next Saturday.”
That’s when the Jayhawks will play host to Iowa State at 6 p.m. in the final home game for 23 seniors at Memorial Stadium.
Weis, on Sunday, made a plea for people to pack the house — not for him, but for those seniors who have given all they have for four or more seasons and got very little in return in terms of feel-good moments.
Filling Memorial Stadium and standing as they take the field would be a cool way to cap of their careers. Will you be there?
Before moving on to this week's examination of Iowa State, here’s one last look at everything the KU running game accomplished last weekend:
- As a team, Kansas rushed for 390 yards, the most its ever gained in a Big 12 game and the most since rushing for 418 against UAB in 1994.
- Sophomore HB Tony Pierson rushed for 202 yards in the game,
the most rushing yards by a Jayhawk since Reggie Duncan rushed for 227 yards against Texas Tech in 2001.
- Pierson’s 69-yard run was the longest of the season by a Jayhawk
and the longest since a 69-yard run by Cornish against Northwestern State in 2006.
- Pierson’s 206 yards marked his third game of rushing for at least 100 yards.
- Pierson rushed for 106 yards in the first half marking the third-straight week that a Jayhawk has broken 100 yards in the first half of play.
- Junior HB James Sims rushed for 127 yards in the game, marking his sixth-straight 100-yard game. Sims becomes the first Jayhawk to rush for 100-plus yards in sixth-straight contests.
- The two 100-yard rushers gives KU 10 games with a player rushing for at least 100 yards, which matches the school record. Kansas had two 100-yard rushers in the game for the first time since the South Dakota State game when Pierson and Taylor Cox both gained 100-plus yards.
- Sims rushed for 48 yards on KU’s 63-yard touchdown drive on its first possession. He scored his seventh rushing touchdown of the year.
- Sims scored two touchdowns in the game, giving him 26 in his career. It moves him within two scores of second place on KU’s all-time list (Tony Sands, 28).
- Sophomore HB Tony Pierson rushed for 202 yards in the game, the most rushing yards by a Jayhawk since Reggie Duncan rushed for 227 yards against Texas Tech in 2001.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-8 overall, 0-6 Big 12) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-3 overall, 3-3 Big 12) •
— 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas —
Opening Las Vegas Line: Texas Tech -24
Current Las Vegas Line: Texas Tech -25
Three and out, with Texas Tech...
After ripping off an impressive streak of victories and rising to 14th in the national polls, Texas Tech has dropped two straight, including a loss to Kansas State and last week’s late loss to Texas.
Although the Red Raiders have a 24-hour rule for how they can handle wins and losses, TTU quarterback Seth Doege said earlier this week that the loss to the Longhorns had lingered a little bit because it came down to the wire and it was the last chance for the seniors to top Texas.
“The fact that we were so close to winning the game,” Doege said when asked what hurt the most. “We had great opportunities to score touchdowns and we didn’t. We had to settle for field goals and that’s what hurt.”
Although the Red Raiders have dropped two straight, their triple-overtime victory over TCU three weeks ago made them bowl eligible for the second time in head coach Tommy Tuberville’s three seasons.
Tuberville, who was hired to replace the fired Mike Leach following the 2009 season led the Red Raiders to a bowl game victory in 2010, making him just the fifth head coach in NCAA history to win a bowl game at three different schools.
Tech had its Big 12 record 18-year bowl streak snapped last season after finishing 5-7.
When these two head coaches were at their previous schools, KU coach Charlie Weis and had the pleasure of traveling overseas with Tuberville and three other college football coaches to visit troops serving in the military.
In addition to getting a chance to see different parts of the world, Weis got the chance to get to know Tuberville on a personal level. The two hit it off and Weis still thinks very highly of the third-year Texas Tech coach to this day. Tuesday, at his regular news conference, Weis shared a story from the trip.
“He was the head coach at Auburn and they let him go, which was probably one of their biggest mistakes ever,” Weis said. “But their big game is Alabama. We ran into probably 15,000 troops in the time we were there and any time somebody was either an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan, he’d hold up the number six (six fingers), because it had been six times in a row that Auburn had beaten Alabama. So somebody says, ‘Roll Tide,’ and he’d sit there and put up the six. It was awesome. It was absolutely awesome. But the trip over there was awful. We were on one of those cargo planes that they threw some seats in that there was really no heat or no air conditioning, so it was either, 100 degrees, because they were piping in heat or it was 20 below zero. It was awful, but it was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life, because in that time there I saw more things, more spirit, more teamwork and more camaraderie than you ever could imagine. But I think that six with the Auburn-Alabama thing, that would crack me up every time I’d see him do it. And he probably did it about 1,000 times in the time we were there.”
Texas Tech leads the all-time series between these two, 12-1. That includes a stretch of five straight victories and a 5-1 advantage in games played in Lubbock.
Despite falling behind by double digits early, Tech topped KU, 45-34, during last season’s Homecoming game in Lawrence.
KU’s last and only victory in the series came in 2001, when KU prevailed 34-31 in an overtime game in Lubbock.
The Red Raiders are 8-1 against Kansas as members of the Big 12.