The Kansas Jayhawks had their way with the Montana Grizzlies on Saturday, defeating them by a score of 88-46. Here are my 5 Observations from this weekend's game.
1) Perry Ellis Looked 100%
I know I know, it's just the Montana Grizzlies, but Perry has struggled in these last few games against lesser competition, and I was excited to see him get back on track. It was reported that Perry tweaked his hip against UCLA, and since then just looked a little bit off. On Saturday however, he looked to have more explosiveness and to be a half step quicker around the rim and on the glass.
The first play the Jayhawks ran was a lob to Ellis, and while it wasn't executed, it proved that Bill had the confidence that Perry could go up and get the ball. While many Jayhawks looked like they used the past week to improve, Perry may have used it to get back to 100% which is exactly what this team needs.
2) The Offense was Full of Action and Movement
Normally you'd call this "Ball Movement," but I don't think that was the reason why the Jayhawk offense looked so fluid for long stretches of Saturday's game. Yes, a lot of scoring did come as a direct result of ball movement, but just as much came from deliberate, but not undirected penetration. Many times, the Kansas offense gets into trouble because someone is attempting to go from outside the arc, all the way to the basket by themselves.
Against Montana, the offense did a great job of making a few deliberate dribbles and kicking the ball out, keeping the ball, and more importantly the defense, moving. Furthermore, the offensive movement helped to open up interior passing lanes, an issue I have harped on in the past.
When the ball moves well, as it did on Saturday, defenses have a harder time playing the pass into the post because they are out of position and unable to help. Kansas always has better post success when the ball moves well on the perimeter, which is exactly what happened against Montana.
3) Selden Played a Great Game Even Without His Jumper
Some players, when their shot isn't falling, let their offensive slump creep into the rest of their game. Wayne Selden was the perfect example of a player who didn't allow that to happen. Wayne missed all 4 of his 3-point attempts on the day, with 3 of them being wide open. The 4th, well when you're shooting 60% from 3, almost anything can be considered wide open.
Instead of pouting because his shots wouldn't drop, Wayne picked it up on the defensive side of the ball with 2 steals and a multitude of shot contestations. He became more aggressive and assertive with the ball, finishing 5-6 from 2-point range with all of those shots taken at the basket. Wayne also he continued to be unselfish, racking up 4 assists. Although his stat line was pretty pedestrian for the type of year he's been having, it was a treat to watch him compete today.
Returning back to Wayne's defense, I believe he only played 2 1st half possessions in which he was guarding Montana's Martin Breunig, but in those possessions, Wayne forced a difficult fadeaway jumper and a backcourt violation. Breunig reminded me so much of George Niang, Iowa State's All-America contender and Selden's former high school teammate. Due to the Cyclone's willingness to play small, it may be interesting to see if Bill decides to put Selden on Niang when these two teams meet later in the year.
4) Playing Higher Pressure, Riskier Defense
I've noticed this more and more as the season has gone on, but the Jayhawks look to be playing more of an uptempo defense this year. The pressing is obvious, but in years past I don't remember this team to be tipping entry passes, double teaming the post, and disrupting the opponent's offense as they have done the past few games.
Bill's teams have always been defensively stout and rank tops in the nation in opponent FG%, but this team's defensive feel is just... different. Bill has begun to accept the fact that this team is going to depend on outside shooting. I believe he has also realized that this team is better suited to be more aggressive defensively. In the past, Kansas could depend on winning 1-1 match ups because of players like Aldrich, Withey, Robinson, Jackson, Kaun, Embiid etc. etc.
This year's team doesn't have those bodies, but it does have excellent team speed. By pressuring ball handlers, double teaming the post, and being aggressive overall, speeds up the other team, which plays to the strengths of the Jayhawks. This does mean that Kansas is going to give up some easy baskets, but overall I think this is a great and adaptive coaching move.
5) A Great Saturday Performance
Again, I realize that it was only Montana, but I don't think you could have asked for a better performance out of this team. There was a lot of talk about the team using this week's dead period at school to focus on basketball and improve its game, and I think they did. Although some shots didn't fall, I thought the offense looked crisp and the defense looked energized. More specifically, it seemed that everyone, especially the big men, were realizing their role and how to play to their strengths.
Earlier in the year, feeding the ball into the post seemed like throwing it into a black hole. This Saturday, the ball went inside and out and side to side on a more consistent basis than it has all year. While many of their classmates geared up to go home this weekend, give these guys credit for gearing up to play a sound basketball game.
Guys, I struggled with this all weekend, but what do we think was the play of the day?
A) Frank Mason's behind the back / and-1 layup? That reminded me of something Steph Curry would do
B) Diallo's shovel pass to Perry for the and-1? Maybe the least flashy of the plays, but it was so awesome to see Diallo make such a brilliant pass out of the post.
C) Selden's Oop to Bragg? Not often you see a half-court alley-oop in any basketball game, NBA included. The Kansas big men run the floor so well, and this highlight should keep them motivated to do so.