It certainly was an inauspicious start to the season last night, as Kansas struggled down the stretch. With 4:47 left, Kansas was up 59-54 but scored just 5 more points the rest of the way, losing 67-64.
Despite the low scoring game, the offense wasn't completely the issue for Kansas. They scored only a point per possession, but they put up a 54.2% eFG, better than they posted last season, and shot 44.4% from three. The big problem was the ability to get shots up. Kansas turned it over on a fourth of their possessions and grabbed only a fourth of their misses. The former number will have to come down 5% or so, while the latter needs to go way up. It is understandable that they would struggle on the boards against a tough Michigan State team whose calling card is their toughness down low, but the team has a lot of growing up to do and a lot of toughness to accumulate.
Defensively the Jayhawks did some things well, namely forcing a lot of turnovers, but the Spartans got way too many good looks at the basket. Kansas played awful perimeter defense, and only Jeff Withey provided much resistance down low. Michigan State ended up shooting 55.2% from two, which absolutely cannot happen if Kansas is to do anything this season.
The good news is the team will get a lot better. Watching it on TV I wondered how they managed to lose, but after looking at the stats I am surprised they managed to stay in it. They played extremely hard, a far cry from how they've played so far this year, but they did not play very tough for large portions of the game.
Finally, I get why he goes to it a lot because it's an awesome play, but when we need a three late in the game can we just once go to something that isn't the same play we ran in the 2008 national title game? Maybe there is an awesome play that Self has up his sleeve for if we're down 3 in the tournament, but it's frustrating having everyone in the building know what is coming.
- Ben McLemore was fantastic. He shot 4-5 from two and 1-2 from three and had three assists. He played good defense at times, but he really struggled at other times. Overall though he showed the flashes of why he will be KU's go to guy late in games this year.
- Elijah Johnson led the team with 16 points, and shot 2-5 from three. His other misses were right there and his stroke looked great, so I am very confident as to how he will shoot from outside this year. He does need to make more of an effort to get into the lane however: there's no way someone as athletic as he is should only be taking three free throws.
- Perry Ellis looked OK at times but also looked pretty lost at other times. He had a nice patient post move score in the first half, but for the most part I saw a lot of non-explosiveness from him and a frame that needs to have some muscle put on. A season (and then an offseason) with Andrea Hudy should work wonders for him.
- Jeff Withey had 8 points, shot well from the field, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, but he got pushed around a lot inside. With how good of a free throw shooter he is he can't shy away from contact as much as he did last night.
- One player I was really impressed with was Jamari Traylor. He isn't polished at all, but he can jump out of the gym and runs extremely well for a big guy. (Speaking of which, I think we do need a tight end next year.) But Traylor was 3-5 from the field (including an amazing putback dunk) , had 3 blocks (including an awesome one of the chase down variety) and 2 steals, and didn't have any big defensive mishaps that I can remember. He needs to rebound better, but he earned a lot of playing time with his play last night.
- I'll end with this: the team did not look very good in large chunks of the game. But they need to develop toughness inside and need to defend on the perimeter better, and Michigan State was the best possible opponent to play there. Kansas is farther away from their ceiling than any other elite or near elite team in college basketball this year, and they're still pretty good. This game didn't make me feel worse about their chances in March, it made me feel better.