How often can a player get a block away (and had a foul called when it was a clean block) from a triple double and NOT be the story of the game? It happened on Saturday as Jeff Withey had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 9 blocks, but Ben McLemore stole the show again scoring 36 points on just 15 field goal attempts, breaking the Kansas Freshman record for points in a game. It was the third game of the season in which McLemore scored 30 or more on 15 or fewer shots.
The once maligned offense has come around as well. The competition has not been great, but since the three game losing streak Kansas is scoring 1.17 points per trip (for reference's sake, Iowa State leads the Big 12 scoring 1.12 points per possession in conference games). A big reason for that has been the three pointer: Kansas made 11 of their 18 threes, but they also turned it over on just 15% of their possessions, a big key for March. It is a lot to ask Kansas to shoot even 40% from three (although Elijah's turnaround helps a lot) but as long as they can avoid an Iowa State type of day beyond the arc I think they will be able to score enough to let their elite defense do the rest.
Lastly on the offense: Kansas assisted on 29 of their 34 field goals, and four Jayhawks had at least 4 assists. Everyone from the guards to the wings to the bigs was sharing the ball and, while it was only West Virginia, if they can do that consistently we will (probably) be watching Final Four games very nervously rather than just for fun.
- I think I said the words "Elijah Johnson is feeling it" 10 times in the game, but he really is. He is handling the ball well, making great passes, and not forcing his shot. He backed up his stellar Iowa State effort with 12 points (making 3 of his 4 threes), 5 rebounds and 10 assists. He didn't finish at the rim as well as he has been lately, but he got there at will and made excellent passes and finished an alley oop like he was Markel Brown.
- As I mentioned above, Withey had a near triple double, and is now just 19 blocks away from 300 for his career. He has a guaranteed 4 games left, and probably at least 6, so I would put it at pretty damn high odds that he gets there. Pretty tremendous for a kid who came to Lawrence as a string bean who made nearly everyone think he'd never play. How wrong we all were.
- I mostly covered McLemore above as well, but the next step for him is obviously doing this away from Allen Fieldhouse. There are no road games in the NCAA Tournament, but expect some analysis this or next week on his play away from home
- Naadir Tharpe had 6 assists and no turnovers, and also made both his threes. It's easy to see why college basketball is called a guard's game: for how important Withey and McLemore are, when Johnson and Tharpe play like this the team turns into an absolute machine on offense. Now if only we could count on it day in and day out.
- Is the bench becoming an issue? Kansas basically plays 6 guys, with Ellis and Traylor getting spot minutes, and while I don't think being tired during the tournament will be an issue, fouls might be.