The Jayhawks wrapped up conference play (for at least a while) with a 78-53 win over the UC Irvine Anteaters, below are my 5 observations from the game.
1) Despite Bill's Comments, Rotation Does Not Shrink
When speaking to the media before Tuesday's game, Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters that he planned to consolidate the rotation very soon. In turn, many Kansas fans including myself believed that we were going to see a real shake-up of how minutes were distributed to the Kansas big men. Apparently, Bill's "very soon" timeframe was more than 24 hours, because he played all 5 of the frontcourt players not named Perry Ellis for significant minutes.
UC Irvine is an experienced team, so it only made sense that the best remedy for that (and their size) was the Jayhawks' most experienced players. So it was no surprise that Lucas and Mickelson outplayed their younger counterparts in Diallo and Bragg. However, it was pretty surprising to see those two not get much more than garbage time minutes this late in the season. My question is, if Diallo and Bragg had given Self the performances that he wanted to see from the get-go, would Lucas and Mickelson have gotten the chances to affect the game as they did? Obviously Bill wants to shorten the rotation, and obviously he wants Bragg and Diallo to play, and so I think that the rotation is much more likely to be shortened when our two freshman can give us quality, dependable minutes.
2) Kansas Was Deterred by UCI's Size
For the first 20 minutes, Kansas looked to be seriously affected by the size of the UC Irvine frontline. It wasn't the zone that threw the Jayhawks off, as they have played extremely well against that type of defense in the past few games, but those behemoths underneath the basket. It comes as no surprise that Frank Mason was the most averse to the Anteater length, but many times our big men received the ball around the key, and half-heartedly looked at the basket or thought about attacking. This led to the ball being worked around the perimeter for the majority of offensive possessions, and the overall stagnation of the Kansas offense.
Bill Self obviously got through to the squad during the halftime break, as the Jayhawks took it to the basket from the opening tip in the 2nd half. Perry Ellis in particular, who had 1 point in the 1st, looked much more aggressive on his way to 14 points on 4-8 shooting. Perry and the rest of the team rebounded the ball surprisingly well against UCI's size, but it's a bit frustrating that this team continuously has to be reminded to be aggressive in the paint. The Jayhawks won't be able to get away with lackluster inside play for an entire half as they did on Tuesday anymore.
3) Greene Solidifying Spot
Although the front court remains a mystery, Brannen Greene looks more and more the most dependable option for the Kansas bench. Although he did not shoot the ball well, he outplayed Svi, and got to the line an impressive 11 times for a total of 10 points. Usually, guys who are great 3-point shooters have difficulty getting to the free throw line, but Greene is doing it at a shockingly high rate - 8.0 FT/Per 40 minutes. Obviously he is working with a smaller sample size, but to compare, Perry Ellis is getting to the line 7.3 times Per 40 minutes. When Greene's shot returns, he's going to be an even more effective 6th man, but it has been a nice surprise to see him respond to his suspension in such a positive way.
4) Rotation Biggest Since 2010-2011
I know I'm harping on this a lot, but you'd have to go pretty far back to see this big of a Kansas rotation this close to conference play. In fact, it was the 2010-2011 team that had a comparably large rotation to the current squad, as Bill played 10 guys more than 10 minutes against UMKC in the last non-conference game. All this means is that Kansas is in slightly unchartered territory when it comes to the guys that they put out on the court this late in the season. Every year, the Jayhawks are challenged to retain their title as the Big 12 kings, and to do that this year, they will have to figure out themselves as much as they will have to figure out their opponents.
5) This Team Does Not Feel Like a #1 Squad, Yet
This isn't an observation about the game so much as it is about the season so far, but this iteration of the Jayhawks certainly does not seem like the #1 team in the country (assuming we defeat Baylor). We have beaten the opponents laid out in front of us (besides Michigan State of course), but right now, I think this Jayhawk team would lose to the other #1 ranked teams we have had in recent memory. This is a testament to just how wide open college basketball is this year, and the fact that there is not a single dominant team. If Kansas takes care of business against Baylor on Saturday, it will be fun to be #1, but this team is not close to their ceiling, which is definitely a positive at this point.