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To a Friend about the KU Basketball Team

March 20, 2018

3.  To A Friend about the KU Basketball Team

              I get the sense from a couple of e-mails that you have developed some passing, tournament-time interest in the Kansas University Jayhawks.   I have an abiding interest in the Jayhawks, and I thought I would try to explain them to you; I might perhaps publish this in a slightly different form, but I am writing it in response to your comments. 

              To explain the 2017-2018 Jayhawks briefly, we all have the sense that they are not as good this year as they have been in several other recent seasons, and this is not a year that they are likely to win the National Championship, although (1) they somehow did manage to salvage a #1 seed, and (2) they are still alive and in the Sweet Sixteen. 

              Early in the season the Jayhawks lost several games to teams that wouldn’t ordinarily beat them, and also lost several games in Allen Fieldhouse; I think it was three games.  That wasn’t quite the whole problem.  We also WON about ten games not by convincingly defeating the opposition, but because Bill Self has a near-miraculous ability to pull a win out of his ass after the game is nearly lost.  You know that in Allen Fieldhouse we do the slow, spooky version of the Rock Chalk chant in the last minute of the game, after the game has been won; it’s a kind of way of saying "Thanks for playing" to the defeated team.  

              Well, this year we had like six straight WINS in which we never got to do the Rock Chalk chant, because we never had the game won.  We’d be tied or 3 points behind with 20 seconds to play, although somehow the boys would pull it out.   Bill Self’s teams are amazing in that way—so much so that when you watch the NCAA tournament, you are kind of astonished at how bad other teams are at closing out a game.   These razor-thin wins didn’t hurt us with the NCAA seeding committee, because they are deeply committed to the philosophy that a 1-point win is the same as a 20-point win although a win against the 50th best team in the country is totally different than a win against the 51st best team, but it created a perception among Jayhawk fans that we’re really not that good this year.

              KU will close out a win if it is there for them, but you know. . . they’re not the only team in the country that is trained to do that.  One thing that happens in the NCAA tournament is that you run into somebody else who ALSO knows how to close out a win, and then you’re nine points behind with 3 minutes to play, you’re just going to lose. 

              To describe the KU team in four bullet points:

              1)  Probably all five starters are NBA players, but not one of them is likely an NBA starter, although a couple of them will got opportunities to be NBA starters,

              2)  Depth has been a problem all year,

              3)  The five players don’t fit the five roles that define a standard basketball team, however,

              4)  We’re playing better entering the tournament than we have played all year, which is very unusual for us. 


              It is pretty much the exact opposite of the 2013-2014 team, which had:

              1)  Two NBA All-Stars (Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid),

              2)  Phenomenal Depth,

              3)  At least one player who filled every one of the five traditional spots, but

              4)  Limped into the tournament banged up and not playing well. 

              Phenomenal depth.  . .we had Tarik Black, an NBA player, backing up Embiid, and Landen Lucas backing up Black.   We had six other very talented players, behind the two NBA stars and the two high-quality backup centers:  Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Andrew White, Brannen Greene, and Jamari Traylor.  We had Hunter Mickelson and Nadiir Tharpe, not that they were great but they would definitely get minutes for this team, the 2017-2018 team, and we had Connor Frankamp early in the season, before he left the team because he couldn’t get on the floor more than a couple of minutes a game.    But we limped into the post-season without Embiid and with three or four other guys banged up, and we went out in the second round.  

              This team doesn’t have the depth, doesn’t have the NBA All Stars, doesn’t have even NORMAL depth, but is playing its best ball of the season.   Our three best players are Udoke Azubuike, Devonte Graham and Malik Newman.   Devonte is basically the same player as Frank Mason, who was the NCAA Player of the Year a year ago; honestly, I have always thought that Graham was a tiny bit better than Frank, a little bit quicker and with more offensive moves, but Frank got here first and owned the point guard position until he graduated, and I loved Frank, too, but I think Devonte is better.  

              Udoke Azubuike is not Joel Embiid, but he is an NBA center. He is listed at 7 foot and looks taller, and he’s a BIG seven foot; he is wide and powerful.  His hands look too large for his body, which makes them REALLY large, and he has good hands.  It is basically impossible to stop him from scoring around the basket, since he is bigger and stronger than almost anyone he will play against, he has a few simple pivot moves, and he hits 75% of his shots. . .actually something more than 75%.  There are four things that limit his value:  1) he is not quick, 2) he gets into foul trouble, which often cost him minutes, 3) he can’t hit his foul shots, so he has to come out late in the game with a lead or the other team will foul him every possession, and 4) he has been prone to injuries.   (He is not quick or light on his feet, but he is also not slow or awkward.  He’s just not quick.)   But if he gets the ball within three feet of the basket, it’s over; there isn’t anyone in college who can stop him from scoring.  You might as well head down court.

              Malik Newman is a remarkable offensive player.  He is extremely quick, handles the ball well, and he’s a deadly shooter.   His scoring average, 13.4, doesn’t really reflect his offensive ability; all five of our guys share the offense, but Malik is the only one who could score 28 a game if the offense was geared to him like some teams are.   He can cut through the defense like a cat going through a garden, and he has moves. . .real moves.  He’ll leave laundry on the floor.  And he’s a hell of a shooter.

              Devonte, Malik and Svi Mykhailiuk all shoot over 40% from three-point range and over 80% from the foul line.   The theory is that if Doke (Udoke) forces the other team to sag on him to prevent him from scoring on every possession, then somebody has to be open on the perimeter, and this usually works.   Of course, if you live by the three, you die by the three, so. . .the odds are we’ll have a game somewhere in the tournament when we go 7-for-30 shooting threes, and we’ll lose.  

              Lagerald Vick has kind of been the lost man this year.   Coming into the season it was thought that he might be the team’s leading scorer, and that he might be the best NBA prospect on the roster.  He also is extremely quick and a pretty good shooter, but he’s not the shooter that the other three guys are, and can’t handle the ball on the dribble the way that Malik and Devonte can, although this is not a weakness, but he’s just not at their level.   Our lack of a power forward has put pressure on Lagerald to crash the boards, and this is not a natural role for him.   On another team there’d be a #4 to hit the boards and Lagerald could leak out and be a transition player, but because of the makeup of the team he just can’t do that, so he is kind of out of his natural role.  Also sometimes he gets defensive assignments that are three or four inches taller than he is.  

              We’re not a GREAT team, not as good as the 2013-2014 team, which lost in the second round, or the National Championship team in 2008 or the great team in the late 90s that lost to Arizona.   We will lose the rebounding battle to any and every good team, but will win the loose ball battle and the turnover battle most of the time, not because of hustle but because we’re just quicker than anybody else.  It’s a likeable team and it’s playing well, and we’ll win until we have a game when there is a lid on the basket or we have a game where we get outrebounded 39 to 22.  



COMMENTS (29 Comments, most recent shown first)

......Hey, there is!!
And it's even the highway that I had almost said in jest, not thinking for a second that it would actually be right, because it's the only highway in or anywhere near Kansas that I ever heard of (courtesy of the Royals-Cards World Series).

2:40 AM Mar 28th
I was too lazy to look up the highway that connects Lawrence and Manhattan -- i.e. that other Manhattan.

Of course I don't even know if there's a highway that connects them, so meanwhile I figured it was safer to say "subway series" because everybody would know that was ridiculous.

BTW I don't pretend that this makes sense, but it does make sense to me. :-)
2:36 AM Mar 28th
I know Manhattan has subways, but not Manhattan, Kansas. ;)

Also: Go Jayhawks! (My son's favorite team even though he never lived within 500 miles of Lawrence. Ever since he was 9 and decided Danny Manning was cool.)
12:41 PM Mar 27th
Congrats to Kansas, though.
(Why the "though"? I was all in for a subway series final game!)

Beat Duke, 85-81, OT.

What's left:
Michigan vs. Loyola-Chicago
(must root for Loyola-Chicago -- not allowed to root for Michigan)

Villanova vs. Kansas
(must root for Kansas, obviously) :-)
9:07 PM Mar 25th
Kansas State not gonna make it.
(Getting blown out by Loyola-Chicago.)
7:11 PM Mar 24th
......Did take care of business: 80-76
8:28 PM Mar 23rd
Kansas vs. Clemson:
The Jayhawks are risking not taking care of business.

They had a comfortable lead, up to 20 points, and it was staying right around there. But now, with 2 minutes left, Clemson has the lead down to 6.
8:14 PM Mar 23rd
..... K-State's next game: vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago.
Seems like a good break, playing a #11.
Although of course #11 has gotten there by beating some pretty good teams. (#6 Miami, #3 Tennessee, and #7 Nevada which famously had done that incredible comeback vs. #2 Cincinnati)
11:19 PM Mar 22nd
THEY DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Terrific game.
They wound up in MORE foul trouble than Kentucky, pretty quickly in the 2nd half, and survived it.
Great defense, never losing poise. Great job by K-State.
11:10 PM Mar 22nd
....Chris Webber just said, before the start of the second half, that this isn't K-State's usual game, but they're limited because they're not able to shoot over the Kentucky guys inside.
BTW Kentucky has more turnovers that FG's.
10:05 PM Mar 22nd
K-State holding their own vs. Kentucky -- up 33-29 at the half.

I've been watching especially about what Bill said about the K-State offense.
They opened by going off to a 7-0 lead, then 13-1, and you might have wondered, what ugly offense. But then -- and really, I don't know enough about the Kentucky defense to judge this (like nothing at all), but, before long you could see stuff that might be part of what Bill meant.

K-State was running nice, poised offensive sequences -- but, they rarely penetrated, and when they did, they like never finished the play.
Bill: Is that part of what you'd seen, and what you meant?

But still, K-State has been playing very good defense and getting their share of the rebounds. Kentucky kept roaring back, but K-State kept getting their groove back. Kentucky came back to within 1 right before the half; that's as close as they've been so far.

Also: K-State has Kentucky in a fair amount of foul trouble. One or two of their own guys are in modest trouble too, but Kentucky has it worse. That could matter a lot near the end.
Let's stay tuned.....

I'm really enjoying following this, and hoping for the Kansas/K-State final, however long of a shot that is.
9:50 PM Mar 22nd
Responding to Klamb. . ..right; I didn't know those numbers but that sounds right. But one reason we're a little bit stronger now is that, because of injuries, Silvio DeSousa had to play late in the season, and looked REALLY good at times. So our depth is a little bit better than it was for most of the season.
10:00 PM Mar 21st

Just came across a number showing just how bad is the depth that Bill worries about: KU's bench averaged 20.3 minutes in regular-season games, ranking 349th out of 351 D-I teams.

And Graham played all 40 minutes in 12 of the last 14 regular-season games. (Source: SI)

8:06 PM Mar 21st
@MarisFan61 - There are two play-in games involving the four lowest automatic qualifiers (16 seeds) and two play-in games involving the four lowest at-large teams (usually 11 seeds, but from 2011 to 2014 there were games involving 12, 13 or 14 seeds).
6:25 PM Mar 21st
.....speaking of which, who understands (or KNOWS) the rationale for making two of the play-in teams #11 seeds?
6:12 PM Mar 21st
Before the first game of the tourney, 538 had an article calling Penn the best #16 seed of all time and how this was the year that a #16 seed had the best chance to finally knock off a #1 since Kansas was a relatively weak #1. Well, they did get something right, sort of. This Penn grad thinks we got screwed on our seeding.
5:45 PM Mar 21st
Big Ten had that "least recent" rule in football until 1971 (like the Big Seven in early '50s basketball, as Bill said). Last applied in '69, when Ohio State & Michigan each were 6-1 in conference, with Ohio State better overall (8-1 vs. 8-2, ranked #4 vs. 7). Michigan went to the Rose Bowl NOT because it beat OSU, but because OSU had gone the previous year.

Then the conference scrapped that rule without improving it. In 1973, OSU and Michigan played a tie in 1973, so they both finished 7-0-1 (10-0-1 overall), and here's how they settled it: Conference ADs voted for Ohio State. This was when the Big Ten still allowed only one team to go to a bowl game.
3:55 PM Mar 21st
This reminds me of the 2006 Cardinals (St. Louis, not Louisville!). They had an 83-78 record but won the World Series. The previous two years, they had gone 105-57 and 100-62 without winning it all. That '06 team gelled at precisely the right time after going 25-32 from Aug. 1.
3:17 PM Mar 21st
(Correction: I mis-saw the bracket. I thought Kansas's next game, if you get past Clemson, would be against the winner of Villanova-West Virginia.
I see that actually it would be against Syracuse or Duke.)
1:06 PM Mar 21st
Bill: That means you feel more comfortable against Villanova (#1) than West Virginia (#5)?
(Pretty obviously I guess it does; just highlighting it. It's interesting.)

I'll be rooting for Kansas and K State the rest of the way, and particularly watching with interest the K State offense. If they suck, they must know it :-) and presumably they'll be trying to do something about it.​
12:40 PM Mar 21st
Great analysis of the offense. Can they play defense?
12:37 PM Mar 21st
Could have mentioned earlier. . . when Wilt was here (late 1950s) there was a period when KU and K State were the #1 and #2 teams in the country. . .this was after the '51-'52 period when both teams played for the National Championship. K State had a star named Bob Boozer, who I think was Carlos Boozer's father although I'm not sure of that. . .anyway he was a 6-8 guy who could really play.

K State has an ugly, ugly offense that almost certainly will wipe them out of the tournament at some point. . . .of course we could also wipe out at any moment. But the team we don't particularly want to play for a 4th time is West Virginia.

West Virginia uses this pressing defense. KU last year had two NBA guards, Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. . .they were both in the starting lineup for three years, so it was basically a waste of time to press against us. We haven't had ANY trouble with a full court press for four years, including against West Virginia. But West Virginia has had us down and beaten twice this year; once they were 19 points ahead of us with about 12 to play, and the other time they were 9 points ahead of us with about 5 to play. KU managed to pull out both games. But if we had a druthers, we would rather not play them again.
12:29 PM Mar 21st
BTW, you all may have known this; I didn't, had to check:

In order to get to play each other, Kansas and Kansas State have to win out to the "Final 2."
I'd love to see it happen (not being particularly a fan of any other team that's still in it -- would be fun, wouldn't it?) and maybe it's better this way, because it would be in the championship game.
Less likely to happen, but if it does, it's the biggie.
11:30 AM Mar 21st
I put the blame for K State's basketball drought on the karmic backfire from leaving Ahearn Fieldhouse for Bramlage Mausoleum. Ahearn, built in 1949, was very comparable to Allen Fieldhouse; a little bit smaller, but it had the same look and the same feel. I loved the old place, saw several games there. In the mid-1980s some rich twit gave the university a lot of money to build a shiny NEW basketball facility--which they no more needed than a monkey needs a cell phone--and of course the athletic department couldn't resist; they took the money and moved out of the old comfy home. . .which I think is still standing; at least it was a year or two ago. I just thought from the very beginning of this that it was Bad Karma.

The other thing was not Kruger leaving, which was not K State's decision and there was nothing they could do about it. . .the real thing was the lack of institutional support for Dana Altman, who followed Kruger. Altman was a damn fine coach, but he projected a wimpy image and a good portion of the K State followers did not like him, criticized him constantly and pushed for him to be fired. I don't think he was fired, but after maybe three good seasons he left and went to Creighton, where he coached very successfully for a long time. I think THAT really hurt them--that they didn't value what they had. They thought they could get a BETTER coach pretty easy. What they found out is, it ain't easy.
11:18 PM Mar 20th
K-State has still not really recovered from Lon Kreuger leaving.
10:39 PM Mar 20th
Yes, Bill, exactly -- I was wondering about the tone of the rivalry, and, kinda glad to hear that's how it is.

Very interesting that the rule in the early '50's when teams tied for a conference that the nod went to the team that hadn't been there the longest. Very very interesting.
Sounds like a sign of that being a kind time, doesn't it?? Not that it's nasty for it to be any other way, but, that sounds kind.
8:09 PM Mar 20th
Will just generally second what bhalbleib said.. that's all accurate. People don't know that in 1952, when KU won the National Title, K-State probably actually had a better team. K-State was ranked #1 in the country most of that season, and tied KU for the Big 7 title. THe rules of the time said that when there was a tie, the team which had not been to the tournament for a longer period of time would represent the conference. Since K State had been there in '51, KU moved into the tournament and won it. Also, in 1988, when KU won the title, K State was. . .well, 99% as good as KU,, at least. I remember that they beat us in Allen Fieldhouse; may have beaten us on their own floor as well.

The question was actually about the TONE of the relationship. It's a rivalry, but (at least on KU's part) not a nasty one. It's more of a friendly rivalry. We hate Missouri. We regard K State alternatively as a little brother, or as one of the teams that always beats us in football.
6:07 PM Mar 20th
MarisFan61. What's funny about the KSU/KU rivalry (my parents are K-staters, I grew up with this stuff) is that until March 27, 1988, they were nearly equal to each other as basketball powers (something that most people don't know), then Danny Manning and the Miracles beat Mitch Richmond's K-Staters to go to the Final Four and then on to win the National Championship and the paths of the 2 schools diverged from there on out. For instance: Post WWII through 1988, K-State had won 15 conference titles and had 18 NCAA tournament appearances with 15 Sweet Sixteens, 11 Final 8s, 4 Final 4s and one National Champion runnerup. KU in the same period had 14 conference titles, 18 NCAA tournament appearances with 12 Sweet Sixteens, 11 Final 8s, 7 Final 4s, 3 runner ups and one national championship. Pretty close rivalry. Then in the last 30 years, K-State has done next to nothing and KU has become of the top 3 programs in the country
2:40 PM Mar 20th
Just curious, especially since Kansas State has gotten a lot of attention (as the bad guys, for playing and beating the darlings of Univ. of Maryland-Baltimore County):

What's the feeling between Kansas and Kansas State?
Do you guys tend to have any feeling of kinship for them, or is it more like they're the arch enemies and they suck?

I know that such things can be either way, probably mostly the latter.
2:18 PM Mar 20th
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