Three possible approaches for the Kansas defense against Indiana’s All-American candidate Trayce Jackson-Davis

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) shoots against Arizona during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)

Fresh off of the best offensive game of his Kansas career, it could be KJ Adams’ defense that matters most in the 8th-ranked Jayhawks’ Saturday showdown with No. 14 Indiana.

But whether Adams is the one Kansas will turn to to try to slow down Indiana big man Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is having a fantastic season to date, remains to be seen.

And his effectiveness against the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Hoosier is a whole other question.

Through nine games, Jackson-Davis is averaging 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. He’s shooting 64.5% from the field overall, has not taken a 3-point attempt all season and also has recorded 27 assists and 7 steals.

The Greenwood, Indiana, senior had a 3-game stretch earlier this season where he missed just five shots total in 34 attempts, and he’s getting his production in a highly efficient manner, averaging just nine field goal attempts per game and just under seven makes. recently had him ranked 10th nationally in his player of the year standings — KU’s Jalen Wilson is currently second — and his offensive rating of 130.9, effective field goal percentage (64.5%), offensive rebounding percentage (recording 13.5% of available misses by IU) and block percentage (blocking a shot on 7.6% of opponents’ possessions) all rank in the top 75 nationally.

He may very well be the best individual player the 8th-ranked Jayhawks have faced to date and he certainly will go down as one of the best players Kansas has to deal with all season when it’s all said and done.

With that in mind, here’s a look at three schools of thought on how to handle Jackson-Davis.

• Let Adams do his best and send a post trap every time he touches the ball.

We know this is how KU’s going to start the game and it certainly does not hurt that Adams’ confidence is as high as it’s ever been.

None of that changes the fact that he’s giving up serious height and experience to Davis, though.

That’s the reason for the idea of trapping the post. KU coach Bill Self has done this a lot of the years against ultra-talented big men — even when KU has had good bigs of its own — and it has proven to be pretty effective.

So I would expect this to at least be how Kansas starts out on him. If he figures out a way to beat it with ease and either scores through the double teams or finds others for wide open shots and they knock them down, KU will have to adjust.

If he doesn’t — or, better yet, if he forces up bad shots and looks frustrated by the approach — you clearly stick with it.

The whole key with this approach is discipline. It’s one thing for guards or wings to just run at a guy when he catches the ball. But there’s some timing involved here that’s critical. When to go, how aggressive to go and what happens when you leave your man are all critical elements of making this approach work.

If just one part of that breaks down, it can lead to easy buckets for the opponent and totally defeat the purpose of using this strategy.

There’s a lot to like about the idea of KU’s Wilson being the man who runs to double Jackson-Davis with Adams, because of his own size and strength, along with his experience.

Again, though, Self and company have to be certain that the other three on the floor can consistently handle this kind of game plan without breaking down.

• See if this is the game a player like Ernest Udeh Jr. or Zuby Ejiofor is ready to have a major impact and ride them if they are.

In their most recent game — a loss to Arizona in Las Vegas — Indiana watched the Wildcats use a tag team approach of 7-foot center Oumar Ballou and 6-11 big man Azoulas Tubelis to hold Jackson-Davis to 11 points and 5 rebounds before he fouled out.

The fact that Arizona used the two big men hardly came as a surprise, given the fact that they’re both veterans and they lead the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounding, having started every game this season.

But their effectiveness showed a bit of a blueprint for one way to combat Indiana’s national player of the year candidate. Big bodies, size and length and defensive intensity all kept TJD in check, holding him to just his second game without a double-double in his last six. The other came when he scored 11 points and grabbed 5 boards but played just 19 minutes in a win over Jackson State. Against UA, he played 32 minutes.

It’s hard to imagine KU’s young big men being quite as effective or getting the opportunity to do so because of their inexperience. But it’s certainly one way Self and his staff could at least try to keep Jackson-Davis from going nuts.

Even if they don’t use it as their primary plan of attack, it seems likely that the KU coaches will give the young bigs at least a few minutes to see if they’re up for the challenge. If they’re not, they can always revert to Plan A.

• Let Jackson-Davis get his and make sure the rest of the IU roster doesn’t beat you.

This philosophy might be the most interesting one and also the most difficult.

Because it would require Self being OK with a guy potentially going off on his defense.

Now, that’s certainly happened before. But not a ton and not ever to his liking. Still, though, sometimes when the matchup is one that’s not in your favor, it’s better to know where the blows are coming from rather than having the helpless feeling of knowing they could come from anywhere and everywhere.

To be clear, this approach is not designed to let Jackson-Davis go off. It is, however, designed to ensure that he’s the guy taking the shots and hoping that your defense on him can at least make it difficult or make him uncomfortable.

If he scores, he scores. All-American candidates tend to do that. But using this approach at least makes it so you don’t have to worry about him being such a factor and distraction that it opens up a guy on the perimeter to go off for 20 points on six made 3-pointers who is averaging 5.3 points per game.

That could certainly happen if Kansas gets careless.

While Jackson-Davis leads them in scoring by a wide margin, with the rest of the production behind him is pretty bunched up — eight IU players average between 5 and 10 points per game after him — the Hoosiers have five players shooting better than 38.5% from 3-point range.

Two of those are only limited attempts, but that kind of underscores the point. Don’t let those guys, who don’t shoot it a ton go off because you focused too much of your game plan on stopping one guy.


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