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Roundtable: How Worried Should We Be About Kansas Basketball? An RCT Special Report

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Notkapowski: Greetings! And we’re back for another roundtable. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to make and share this, but no matter. Today it’s a notkapowski v. warden special as we try to figure out how worried about the 2013-14 Jayhawks we should be. Warden, the floor is yours:

Warden: You create this and I have to start it? You’re getting this job stuff figured out, come up with ideas and let everyone else get the ball rolling. Worried is a tough word to use for a team that is 8-5 against RPI top 50 teams and 8-1 in conference. It still feels off to me for some reason and that’s probably due to a combination of the defense and the turnover issue. Over the five games prior to Baylor, the opponent scored over a point per possession in every game. Just for reference, last year’s team allowed that to happen five times total in conference play. If I had to pick one aspect that’s troublesome, free throw rate. Tell me why that shouldn’t worry me.

And on offense, Tharpe has been awesome. He’s been better than even you could have hoped but what happens when he’s not as good? This won’t surprise anyone but his three worst games of the year by O-Rating were Villanova, Florida, and Texas. For some reason Statsheet doesn’t have stats for the San Diego State game but that would probably be the 4th considering he was 2-10 from the field and 1-5 from the three point line. Can the team survive a bad Tharpe game come tournament time?

Notkapowski: For the record it looks like it was 78 in the San Diego State game. I think it’s a fair point that the team probably wouldn’t survive a bad Tharpe game in the Sweet 16 and beyond, but I can’t think of many teams who would survive a bad game from their point guard in the Sweet 16 and beyond.

Free throw rate is definitely a big deal. If I had to play Devil’s Advocate, I’d point to it being the least important of the Four Factors by a pretty wide margin, and the fact that in the tournament, I would think (and I don’t know for sure, to be fair) that the refs tend to subconsciously even out the fouls a bit, so if both teams are getting to the line a ton I think that’s advantage Kansas.

My big thing is the lack of adjustments offensively. I don’t know if it’s Self not wanting to overwhelm such a young team or what, but Plan A is to throw it into the post and pass big to big to get a layup. That’s fine. But when that’s not there it seems like they keep going to it, or like in the Texas game they keep trying to ram it down the other team’s throat. They have good shooters; they should utilize them. I still think, though, that there are some wrinkles waiting to be unveiled, much like that triangle and 2 they threw out in the 2012 tournament.

Warden: Good points about the adjustments and that’s part of what’s causing the uneasy feeling for me so far with the offense. By the numbers, it has been excellent but I feel like that’s due in large part to Tharpe being excellent most nights. Probably a bit spoiled for me to worry about considering Selden had a couple great games early in conference play. Then Wiggins had some great games. In between Tharpe has been outstanding. Against Texas, nobody was good and it showed. The Baylor game must be what Self is hoping to happen with the lack of adjustments because by the end of the game, Baylor looked like they were just sick and tired of defending. Kansas attacked the basket and Baylor fouled instead of even attempting to play defense. They fouled 11 times in the last 15 minutes and it didn’t seem like they were fouling to extend the game, just sick of getting attacked. We know Bill Self is stubborn and it paid off against the Bears.

On the free throw rate, I noticed that because it’s not a good stat for this year and we’ve seen issues with fouls already. Looking back through the losses in the tournament, the free throw rate for the opponent has been higher than the season average. With it already starting high, that worries me.

What are your thoughts on the turnover issue?

Notkapowski: The biggest problem with the turnover issue is that one could read that question and not know which side of the ball you’re talking about. Kansas is currently turning it over on 19.9% of their possessions (264th nationally) and forcing turnovers on 16.1% of opponents’ possessions (305th nationally). Just for fun, though, let’s look at the last few champions and their turnover rates (national rank in parentheses)

Louisville: 18.3%/27% (77/2)

Kentucky: 17%/17.6% (21/301)

UConn: 17.1%/17.3% (26/314)

Duke: 16.4%/21.3% (15/116)

UNC: 16.5%/20.4% (10/156)

Kansas: 19.1%/21.9% (61/114)

I guess to take the optimist’s point of view, their offensive turnover rate isn’t terribly different from teams other than the North Carolina and Duke teams. Defensively they’re only really close to the Kentucky and UConn teams, but their steal rate has been near the national average over the last handful of games. Super small sample size, I know, but I have to hold on to something.

I agree it’s worrying, especially because it keeps us defending for long stretches (which is part of why I wanted to see more of a soft press to slow offenses down, or even create some more turnovers). I will say, though, that historically, great defenses don’t have to rely on turnovers because they don’t need to. Although, this isn’t a great defense so maybe they should push for more turnovers. Offensively, it puts more pressure on the team to score when they don’t turn it over. Turning it over just 4 or 5 fewer times per game would be an extra 4-15 (?) points per game, which is obviously a huge swing. One final point though, as I alluded to, is that the turnover differential, in a perverse sense, puts a lot of pressure on the opponent: they know they need to take care of the ball well and force turnovers, or else they’re going to be in trouble.

I have seen (and even made) some rumblings lately about Embiid and Ellis, as well as some on Wiggins. What’s your take on those three going forward, specifically offensively?

Warden: Quickly on the turnovers, I’m just hopeful the team can avoid the 25-30% turnover rate from here on out. They’ve been up there 5 times and somehow managed to win 4 of those games, scares me though when trying to score in a tournament atmosphere.

Who knows with those three guys offensively. Ellis is a good enough shooter that I think if he trusts his shot and asserts himself, he can be steady against most fours. I don’t trust him to bang and get points yet, Hudy still has a ways to go with him. Embiid has looked a little tired and he’s continually getting doubled, that seems to be pushing him away from the basket where he’s just not as effective. If he can regroup over the next couple of weeks and get his legs back under him, he’s not a worry. Plus facing teams that are scouting him on quick turnarounds isn’t particularly scary unless he’s facing big, athletic guys and there just aren’t many of them. Wiggins is and will be fine but he needs to quit settling for mid-range jumpers, either attack the rim or pass it around and wait for an open three.

Notkapowski: Agreed on all of those. Wiggins especially. He’s only taking 37% of his shots at the rum. Some of that is the spacing issues that TJFSports highlighted, and I think some of it is that he’s not getting some foul calls when he’s getting murdered at the rim. An additional benefit of maybe pressing a bit more and facing some turnovers would be that hopefully he’d get to take some shots at the rim

Alright, we’re going to call it. This wasn’t really a debate but the judges are unanimous that it is a victory for notkapowski. Great job by all but especially by you, notkapowski.