With around 7 minutes left in the game, and Kansas holding a seemingly insurmountable 53-37 lead, I found myself thinking that A&M's games must be unfathomably bad to watch from a fan's perspective and all I wanted was a little excitement.
A&M of course stormed back and got it as close as four a few times, but through some combination of luck, talent, and the divine will of the basketball universe wanting perhaps the final regular season Border War to feature the added cache of presenting an opportunity for Kansas to clinch a share of its 8th straight Big 12 title Kansas was able to hold off the Aggies.
It wasn't pretty, but the stats look a hair (and just a hair) better than how it looked live as Kansas managed just 1.03 points per possession (a tick better than A&M's average), and allowed A&M .906 points per trip (a tick under their average).
KU's shooting deserted them for much of this one, as they had a 42.6% eFG (main culprit: 4-18 from three), but they made up for it by winning the other three factors, and dominating two of them:
KU turned it over on just 12.5% of its possessions, and while we could perhaps expect that given that the Aggies don't force turnovers very well, and remembering my post earlier this year where I demonstrated this year's team's turnovers are largely a function of how good the defense is, but it was a road environment and against a team who likes to muck it up a bit and play sloppy, so it was rather impressive.
It seems like Kansas does this all the time (or maybe it's just me) but A&M now has exactly a 30.8% offensive rebounds allowed in Big 12 play. Kansas's offensive rebound percentage last night? 30.8% of course. Weird. A&M, being the slowest team in the league, doesn't really try to offensive rebound much of course, but even so Kansas held them nearly 10% under their Big 12 average, allowing a rate of just 18.9%. Bad shooting night + bad offensive rebounding night = few points.
But it was at the line where this one had its biggest disparity: Kansas had a FT rate of 53.7, double A&M's 25.5 rate. Kansas took 29 FTs, making 20 of them (and that included a pair of Jeff Withey misses). Because of our seeming inability to take care of the ball late at times (and also score sometimes), free throw shooting is going to be at more of a premium than in previous years, which might not be a good sign given that our only two players over 70% are Teahan and Withey, and Self seemed unwilling to play Withey last night and Teahan is a non-entity (or worse) in every facet other than FT shooting. Should be a nerve wracking hopefully three weekends in the NCAA tournament.
Regardless of any uneasy feelings about this game, and there should be plenty, allow me a positive spin: it is human nature for young kids (and honestly probably coaches as well, though I am not saying they were) to look ahead to the biggest game on their schedule, especially when they were up big in the second half. Secondly, this gives the coaching staff some teaching lessons for practice and all but ensures that just over 16,000 people crammed into Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday will see the best the Jayhawks have to offer. As we've seen, Kansas can beat anyone when at its best, and this time it's for a championship.
- Might as well get this one out of the way early, as I imagine it will cause the most discussion: On one hand it is a testament to how far he has come that we can say unequivocally that Thomas Robinson had a bad game and yet look up at the scoreboard and see that he had a double double. Still, his 10 points came on just 3-10 shooting, and while he had 4 assists he also had 3 turnovers. Many fans, of course, will take issue with a couple other facets from last night: first, he seemed to go for the spectacular pass a bit more than usual (even going behind the back once) and had the most obvious case of looking ahead to missouri-itis. This is understandable, he doesn't want to get hurt nor expend too much energy, but perhaps a bit troubling. The other incident I have a far greater problem with: late in the game with four fouls and the score suddenly close he was grabbed/pushed in a pile after diving for a loose ball and responded by throwing an elbow, earning a technical and a disqualification. That a player would get a technical and allow his opponent the opportunity for two free points late is troubling enough, but that a team's best player would voluntarily remove himself from a game late by trying to show how tough he is is another matter entirely. I understand that Thomas Robinson plays with a lot of fire and passion, and that I appreciate. But every NCAA tournament opponent is going to try to frustrate him and then get him to throw an elbow or do something stupid and selfish. Unfortunately there is a mounting case that such a plan of attack may be successful.
- Back to actual basketball, Elijah Johnson had his best game of the season with a game high 21 points, and he did it making all 4 of his twos and 4 of his 7 threes (including one from NBA range). He also grabbed 3 rebounds and had 2 steals. I think everyone can see the athletic ability Johnson has every time he steps on the court, but what Kansas needs most is his outside shooting. He doesn't need to shoot 4-7 every game, but doing it a couple times in the tournament could be the difference between a dream end of the season and a nightmarish one.
- After the past couple weeks, 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks seems like a ho hum type game from Jeff Withey. Based on an admittedly small sample size he seems to have fallen a bit too much in love with his running hook shot going right, and missed a couple opportunities to spin left and have a free layup. Still, I still have the opinion that any offense other than 4-5 points from Withey is a bonus, so I'll certainly take 11.
- Conner Teahan actually had the second most rebounds on the team with 8, and blocked a shot (!), but 0-6 from three is unacceptable from him. Sorry if I sound like a broken record on this one (and I'm sure I do) but bad shooting nights are fine when you do other things, but when your role is three point shooter it can't happen.
- 12 points (3-7, 1-3, 3-5) from Tyshawn with 4 assists and 2 turnovers. He also hit a huge pair of FTs late and just as importantly drove the lane when Kansas needed points, unafraid to draw fouls and go to the line.