On Tuesday night, the Kansas Jayhawks were pummeled by Oklahoma State. Really whatever verb you'd like to choose--be it clobbered, thumped, or mollywhopped--would be appropriate to describe the 86-67 drubbing the Jayhawks' received in Stillwater. The loss was Bill Self's third straight at Gallagher-Iba Arena and the second time this season that Kansas suffered a third straight loss on the road against the same opponent (West Virginia has also beaten the Jayhawks three straight years on their home floor).
Make no mistake, the defeat once again laid bare a number of Kansas's recurring troubles. Self is still very much tethered to a high-low style offense that is a bit outdated and doesn't emphasize his roster's strengths. Teams have gotten smarter. When any player not named Perry Ellis steps out to play the "high," opponents can simply double team the remaining big with very little chance of the open man knocking down a jumper. Meanwhile, if the ball does enter the post, there has been very little reason for opponents to send a double team, so the inside-out game--kicking the ball out to three-point shooters--is rendered less effective. While the Jayhawks' offense has been very good this season, Tuesday's game, like the loss to Michigan State, highlighted areas for improvement on that end.
The other way Kansas has opened up looks for its three-point shooters is through a drive-and-kick game with guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. Now, though, the Jayhawks are facing teams will well-developed scouting reports and one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is that neither Mason nor Graham are particularly effective finishers at the rim. The two have combined to shoot a below average 47.1 percent on layup and dunk attempts this season according to data from hoop-math.com. Opposing defense are able to guard their drives one-on-one without requiring help off the wings which means that Kansas's shooters are less available on the perimeter.
The final issue for the Jayhawks came on the defensive end where the team's guards struggled to stay in front of Oklahoma State freshman Jawun Evans. Evans, a five star high school recruit, was able to consistently blow by his defenders in an effort to either get to the rim or kick out to open shooters at the three-point line, scoring or assisting on 45 of the Cowboys' 86 points. Without a regular rim protector on the floor, Kansas's guards also struggled mightily to contain penetration against West Virginia last week.
These are all concerning issues for Kansas going forward, but it's by no means time to give up on the Jayhawks' Big 12 and national title hopes. For starters, Kansas is still good. The loss did a number of the Jayhawks' KenPom ranking, dropping them from second to 10th, but they still have a top 15 offense and a top 30 defense. Their defensive numbers should improve as team's cool off against them from three-point land. During conference play, opponents are shooting 40.0 percent from behind the arc against Kansas, well above the national average. That variance manifested itself on Tuesday when Oklahoma State knocked down 11 of its 21 three-point attempts. The 11 makes are a season high for the Cowboys. After coming into the game making 33.6 percent of threes on the season, Oklahoma State connected on 52.4 percent of them in Stillwater. Given that teams will regress towards the mean, it's certainly not unreasonable to expect the Jayhawks to enter March with a top 15 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.
As for those March aspirations, there's no need to throw in the towel. The Big 12 title is still within reach. Oklahoma is a cold three-point shooting night away from another loss. The Sooners struggle to score inside the arc, having shot just 47.5 percent on twos this season. West Virginia has yet to travel to Allen Fieldhouse, and Baylor has played one of the league's softest schedules. In the national picture, the proclamations that there are no great teams this season continue to ring true and KenPom's Pythagorean rating reflects that. Villanova, the top-ranked team in 2015-16, would barely crack the top five last season. As such, the NCAA Tournament figures to be filled with plenty of unpredictable events.
Sure, one of those events could be an early loss for Kansas and yes, the Jayhawks do have their problems, but the issues that came to light on Tuesday are no different than those we've seen before. And yet, Kansas is still a pretty good basketball team. The complaints that fans have about the Jayhawks tend to amount to mere first world problems in the grand scheme of college basketball, so don't give up on Kansas, buckle up, and enjoy the occasionally bumpy ride.