While many Jayhawk fans, myself included, were fairly worried about this game, the Jayhawks dispatched the Aztecs in convincing fashion on Tuesday night. Below are my 5 Observations from our early Christmas present from Bill Self and the Boys.
1) San Diego State's Offense Was Really, Really Bad
The ineptitude of the Aztec offense was brought up in the game previews, but all the stats and metrics didn't compare to what I saw with my own eyes. I don't know if it was the Jayhawks playing great defense, or the fact that Steve Fisher's team simply doesn't run plays, but it was not a pretty sight - not that I'm complaining.
Whether feeding it into the post or shooting from the outside, San Diego State had no one that could consistently put it in the basket, or get it close. I think I counted 4 or 5 shots in the first half alone that were either airballs or didn't hit the rim. Even when the Kansas lead was cut to 4, I wasn't too worried about the outcome because there was simply no way the Aztecs were going to be able to score enough points. Kansas played a solid defensive game, but I think that was the worst offense we have faced all year
2) The Frontcourt Buck Stopped With Traylor
For the past few games, it seems like Self's strategy has been to play all of our big men in the 1st half, and use those performances to decide who gets the majority of 2nd half play. That approach continued Tuesday night, with all 5 big men not named Ellis getting a short run in the first 20. In the 2nd frame however, the play of Jamari Traylor stopped his Head Coach from going much farther down the bench. While he only finished 1-4 from the field, he went 4-4 from the line, had 3 steals, grabbed 3 offensive rebounds and didn't turn the ball over. Furthermore, many rebounds grabbed by Jayhawks were a direct result of his efforts and the fact that he kept the ball alive.
Between San Diego State's lackluster offense, solid defense, and raucous crowd, many predicted that this game could turn sloppy, which it certainly did for periods of time. This type of game was made for a guy like Traylor, who isn't afraid to get on the floor and fight for loose balls that result in crucial extra possessions. Although Jamari, like many of his fellow frontcourt players take a bit of heat for their offensive struggles, this was a game where the Chicago-native showed how valuable he could be, and I have no doubt his type of game will be needed again
3) Greene Played a Complete Game
I was about to say that Greene played his MOST complete game of his career, but since he only went 1-3 from downtown, I'm not quite ready to make that statement. However, that doesn't mean I am not ready to praise Brannen for a job well done. He was thrust into a pressure situation when Selden picked up his 2nd foul with 17:39 left to go in the 1st half, and he fully answered the test.
Although slightly aided by way of the Aztec's offensive struggles, he rebounded well and played solid defense for his 26 minutes of game action. Upon my 2nd watching of the game I noticed that even though his teammates didn't find him, Greene moved quite well without the ball and would have had more than 3 attempts from the floor if his teammates didn't already have a wide open shot that they took.
Plus / Minus can often be a misleading stat, but on the other hand, it can be a very useful one. In Brannen's case it was the latter as he finished +20 on the night. When your team only wins by 13, and you only play 26 minutes, being +20 is no fluke and further shows that Brannen's game continues to move in the right direction.
4) Perry's Perimeter Game Was on Display
There was another Perry Ellis All-American sighting in the 1st half as he went for 14 points on 6-11 of shooting with only 1 turnover. In the 2nd half, Ellis still shot 50% (2-4), but he also turned the ball over 4 times. The reason why; he was killing the Aztecs from the perimeter in the 1st, but he abandoned his outside game in the 2nd half.
Ellis went 5-7 on jumpers in the first, including 2-3 from 3-point range. In the 2nd, he didn't take a single jump shot, and finished 3-8 with 2 turnovers when he put the ball on the floor on his way to the hoop. In my short game preview, I was curious to see how Perry would play against San Diego State's tall front line. I'll take 20 points every day of the week, but this case was a game where Perry stopped doing what had been working. Against smaller teams, taking it to the basket is going to work, but against these bigger squads, I'd like to see Perry light it up from the outside for the full 40 minutes.
5) We Played Better Than The Score Indicated
Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about a 13-point win on the road, but I thought this game easily could have been 80-50. Unlike the Maui rims, the ones in Viejas arena were not so friendly to the boys in blue, who had many layups and floaters fall painfully off the cylinder.
Shots by Frank, Jamari, Devonte and even a Brannen 3 were in-and-out. While frustrating at the time, it's a testament to the team that we won so comfortably even when more than a few bounces didn't go our way. It was a great performance and great team effort from the Jayhawks who continue to take steps in the right direction.
Kudos to the "The Show," or the "San Diego State student section for making that venue such a tough place to play." I know that every away arena gets up when the Crimson and Blue roll into town, but I was genuinely impressed by environment. Even though SDSU is having a very down year and it is the holiday break, that place was rocking, and it gave Kansas the true road test that they scheduled.