Casual Defense

Kansas had turned the energy dial to full blast and taken the lead with an 18-3 second-half run against Baylor on Friday night, and Tyshawn Taylor looked up at the clock.

“Damn,” Taylor thought. “We’ve still got 10 minutes to play.”

Taylor, who spent less than a minute on the bench, hid in the corner for several offensive possessions in the final 10 minutes. Bent over with his hands grasping his shorts, Taylor moved only when it was time for him to get the ball.

“We were fighting so hard to make that comeback — I can’t speak for everybody — but I know I was tired,” he said. “It’s hard to keep that energy up.”

As Taylor and his teammates watch Baylor play the game everyone thought the Jayhawks were destined to play today, there will not be any feeling of relief. Losing 81-72 to the Bears was frustrating and could cost Kansas a one seed. But just like losing to Davidson in December was an irritating reality check, so too could have been what happened Friday night.

The reality is that Kansas is a great offensive team in spurts. Thursday’s shooting display against A&M was fools gold, a prolonged spurt.

Energy and defense. Energy and defense. Those are the two words Self has repeated over and over again this year. He’s tried to ingrain them into his team’s muscle memory.

“We’re not a team that’s going to advance far unless we make other teams play poorly, and that’s always been our philosophy,” Self said. “This team has been decent with that for the most part this year, but certainly we weren’t good with that at all tonight.”

The Jayhawks were brilliant during their 18-3 run, and it was because of their energy and defense. They made the Bears play poorly.

The Bears weren’t just missing shots; they could smell the Jayhawks’ breath. Jeff Withey had four of his five blocks during the run. Hesitancy, for the first time, became a part of the Bears’ offense.

For those seven minutes, the Jayhawks took them out of their rhythm.

Brady Heslip changed all that when he buried a 3-pointer on a broken play to end the run. His back-to-back backbreaking 3s in the final minutes won Baylor the game, but KU losing Heslip on defense was not what lost it. If anything, in Self’s mind, the Jayhawks lost in the opening minutes.

“I thought we came out casual,” Self said. “Key players for us set the tone for everybody out, and that wasn’t necessarily a positive thing tonight.”

That brings us back to Davidson. Casual would have been a good description for how Kansas played that night.

The Jayhawks responded to the Davidson loss by playing impassioned. They played with intensity on the defensive end in the weeks that followed, only rivaled by how they played defense in the games that followed the loss to Missouri.

See a theme?

The next three tables show KU’s opponents points per possession and turnover percentage in the seven games that followed the Davidson loss, the five games after the Missouri loss, and then the last five games.

Post-Davidson

PPP

Turnover %

at USC

0.72

27.5

HOWARD

0.50

35.3

NORTH DAKOTA

0.83

22.9

KANSAS STATE

0.77

20.3

at Oklahoma

0.95

26.6

at TexasTech

0.73

19

IOWA STATE

0.94

20.5

Average

0.78

24.6

Post-Missouri

PPP

Turnover %

at Baylor

0.84

18.8

OKLAHOMA ST.

0.97

8.8

at Kansas State

0.85

17.7

TEXAS TECH

0.82

32.8

at Texas A&M

0.91

15.6

Average

0.88

18.7

Last 5 games

PPP

Turnover %

MISSOURI

1.19

13.9

at Oklahoma St.

0.97

18.3

TEXAS

0.93

17.6

vs. Texas A&M

1.02

16.9

vs. Baylor

1.19

13.2

Average

1.06

16.0

KU’s defensive numbers on the season are comparable to the three previous seasons when the defenses were good, but not great. Self’s teams have always been really good at holding teams to low shooting numbers, but they’ve never forced a lot of turnovers.

The two teams that did force more turnovers were the 2006-07 and 2007-08 teams, which led the country in defensive efficiency both seasons. Those are the two teams that have had the most tournament success. The 2007 team lost to UCLA in the Elite Eight in what was essentially a road game, and I think most remember the 2008 result.

What made those teams special was that their defensive intensity rarely wavered.

For these Jayhawks to have success in the tournament, the same will have to be said over the next couple week. Their defensive intensity can rarely waver. And when they really turn it up, they force more turnovers, as the tables show. In the last five games, they haven’t forced turnovers and I think that’s in correlation with their effort.

“We can do better defensively,” Self said. “The thing about it is, it’s unbelievable to me. The fact that we’ve been successful and the fact that we’ve gone, sometimes the natural tendency is to think that you’re good. You want kids to believe they’re good. I believe we’re good. I want them to think they’re great, but what makes us a good team is totally different than the way that we played tonight.

“When you make shots like we did (Thursday), maybe we think that now we’re clicking offensively. Just the mindset that maybe we can take the foot off the gas defensively.”

Not built for back-to-back

Self was not buying the fatigue excuse and it obviously wasn’t the reason Kansas came out lax in the first half. But it is fair to say that this team, which lacks depth, is not built for a consecutive-days tournament.

The Jayhawks have only had to play consecutive days in Maui and now in Kansas City. In those three games (against UCLA, Duke and Baylor), KU is 1-2. The good news is that you get a day of rest between games in the NCAA tournament, and this team has played really well playing on one day’s rest — KU went 5-0 in those games, including 4-0 on Big Mondays.

That’s not necessarily a reason to believe the Jayhawks will make the Final Four, but I don’t think their depth will be as big an issue as it was against Duke and Baylor. Taylor also played a lot of minutes against Duke and struggled down the stretch. He didn’t get sloppy with the ball against Baylor but he did miss his final three 3-pointers all short.

“They were questionable shots that I probably should have passed it or got to the rack, but those are shots I’ve been making,” Taylor said. “I took them confidently but I just didn’t have my legs with me.”

The Jayhawks will have their legs next week, and if they use their rest to get after it on defense for two weeks, they very well could go on a great run.

If they come out casual like they did against Baylor, they’ll go home early again.

About The Author

C.J. Moore is the Lead College Basketball Writer at Bleacher Report. He is a University of Kansas grad and a basketball nerd. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.

1 Comment

  1. MDHAWK says:

    Very disappointing game Friday night! After those rare losses, though, it’s always interesting, for me to get CJ’s insight into what went wrong. Great read! Bill Self ought to make your blog mandatory reading for the team.
    Thanks again, CJ! Keep up the great work!
    …MDHAWK