Kansas traveled to Lubbock, Texas on Saturday night and picked up their first Big 12 road win of the season in a 69-59 battle. Below are my 5 observations from the game.
1) Kansas' Rim Defense Was Strong
From the first few possessions to the last play of the game, the Kansas big men largely did a solid job of protecting the rim and not letting the Red Raiders make easy baskets near the bucket. While Texas Tech did have a few hook shots from Norense Odiase, which were helped by some home-team bounces, the rest of the team struggled mightily when taking the ball near the hoop.
More specifically, I thought Perry Ellis did a better job than usual at rim protection and I thought should have been credited with more than 1 block. Another thing on this topic that stood out was Diallo's defense vs. driving ball-handlers. Earlier in the season, he looked more than a touch out of control when defending the rim which either led to a monstrous block, or a foul call. Against Texas Tech, his defense looked a little more subdued, as he went straight up, and didn't extend his arms as much to block shots. This seemed to be a more conservative approach, and it is obvious that he is still trying to figure out how to play solid interior defense.
2) Sub-Par Finishing on the Fast Break
It's no secret that Kansas uses its team speed to create an advantage to push the pace of the game. One of the reasons this game stayed so close for so long is that Kansas did not finish in transition. Surprisingly enough, according to the KU Athletics box score, the Hawks finished with exactly 0 fast break points. Going on memory alone, I can think of Devonte's missed lay-up from Selden, Selden's blocked dunk, and Bragg's missed alley-oop as opportunities that Kansas usually finishes.
Even more surprising than Kansas not scoring a single fast break point is that they didn't lose the fast break battle...Texas Tech didn't have a fast break bucket. If there was ever a stat to sum up and ugly, grind it out game, having 0 fast break points would be the one. I have to say I am not to worried about the lack of transition scoring because until the finish, we looked competent while pushing the pace. Further more, Kansas showed it can win by playing another team's game, which is a rare trait to have.
3) Great Play Call, Great Reaction from Self
After 3 straight scores from Odiase, the Kansas lead was 58-54 with just under 3 minutes left when the Red Raiders went into a zone for the first time all game. The Jayhawks looked lost for the first ~25 seconds of the possession as the ball circulated the perimeter harmlessly. With about 5 seconds to go on the shot clock, Head Coach Bill Self hollered out instructions that eventually led to a Landen Lucas screen and a wide open 3 pointer for Wayne Selden.
That dagger made the game 61-54 and essentially finished off the Red Raiders, who were never able to make it closer than a 6-point game the rest of the way. Although the play was a simple, but extremely effective piece of basketball, the best part of the sequence may have been Bill Self's lively fist pump after the made shot. By no means is Self emotionless, but he's a coach who has quite literally seen it all, and is a pure professional when big shots are made. That being said, it was fun to see him that visibly excited about a perfectly executed play that helped the Jayhawks get out of Lubbock with a win.
4) This Was A BIFM Performance
For those of you who aren't aware, a largely unknown rapper "RedHead" released a song entitled "B**ch I'm Frank Mason" on YouTube. (The song's title does not actually have any asterisks in it, I am just placing them there for parental control purposes.) The jury is still out on how good of a song it is from a musical standpoint, but it has become a fan favorite, and an anthem for the fearless play of the Jayhawk point guard.
Bouncing back from his worst offensive performance of the season against OU, Frank Mason led the Jayhawks with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists on Saturday night. This an All-American stat line for anyone, not just the guy who happens to be the smallest player on the court. However, what really made Frank's performance stand-up in the BIFM category were the clutch plays that #0 made in the closing minutes of game. From the time frame of 8:52 to 2:25 left in the 2nd half, Kansas scored 14 points on 4 3s and a dunk from Selden. Of those 4 3s, Frank hit 2 of them himself, and assisted on the 2 others, all in all playing a factor in 12 of KU's 14 points down the stretch. It was only fitting that Mason scored the last 2 points of the game on a 1-and-1 set of free throws to push Kansas to 3-0 in the Big 12.
5) A Win Is a Win Is A Win
Truth be told, I was extremely worried about this game. With a historic win against the Sooners in the rear view, and a tough game in Morgantown coming up, I feared the Jayhawks would lose their focus against a much improved Texas Tech team. While the game certainly wasn't pretty, few road games on the Big 12 are. The fact that Kansas was able to win an ugly game when 2 of it's best 3 guards combined to go 5-19 (Graham, Selden) shows that this team has matured, and is confident that they can win without playing their best game. The game was a grind, it was ugly, it was a battle, but more importantly it was a W, and I'll take that everyday.
Bonus Observation / Talking Point
How much longer does Hunter Mickelson stay in the starting lineup? Mickelson has only played more than 11 minutes 1 time in the last 5 games, and is averaging 10.3 MPG in conference play. I don't think he has played poorly, and I don't think any of our other big men have played well enough to replace him in the starting 5, but I can't help but notice that his minutes have been dwindling. Personally, I believe that Mickelson will stay in his role, and that certain big men will get more minutes depending on the game, making the starter at the 5 spot less of an issue. However, I was curious what the RCT community thought of this
Bonus Bonus Observation
How about those Chiefs?!?!?!? Probably not all of you are Chiefs fans, but for those of you who are, congratulations on the W this weekend. Being born in 1991, this was my first real Chiefs playoff win I was able to experience and it was somewhat surreal. After all of the heartbreak the Kansas City faithful has endured over the years, it was odd to see the Chiefs cruise to such a blowout victory. I for one cannot wait for Saturday's Horned Frog - Patriots double feature.