The Jayhawks suffered their worst and most embarrassing loss of the season on Tuesday night. Below are my 5 Observations from the game.
1) Officially Worried About Frank
In my last few 5 Observations articles, I've highlighted Frank Mason on a variety of subjects including injury, hesitancy and fatigue. Against Oklahoma State, all three of those issues seemed prevalent as struggled for the full 34 minutes he was on the floor. Although he did lead the Jayhawks in scoring with 14, none of those points came easy, as Frank took 12 shots and didn't record a single assist. It was the first time this year Frank has gone without a dime, and just the 3rd time over the past 2 years in which he hasn't contributed on a bucket. The Jayhawks record in those 3 games: 0-3 with Frank shooting 28.5% from the floor.
Since the Oklahoma game, Frank has just looked hesitant to me, like he's thinking twice about letting it fly or going to the basket. Basketball, as everyone who is reading this knows, is such a quick game that the snap of a finger is the different between an open look and a contested one, or between a charge and a blocking foul. Since OU, Frank has been taking longer than normal to make his decisions, whether it be shooting or driving, and it is taking a toll on his effectiveness and compromising his quick first step.
Over the course of a season, a player will have a few off-shooting nights, sometimes over the course of a few games. With Frank however, I'm beginning to think that these off nights, and his hesitancy is brought on by some sort of injury. One of the first things you'll notice about Frank Mason when you watch him play is that he's fearless. Unfortunately, that is a blessing and a curse as it leads to some nasty falls on the hardwood. Frank has risen from the deck grimacing, and holding his elbow on multiple occasions, sometimes keeping his arm down by his side back down the floor until it is time to play defense. Although there has been no word or diagnosis, a lingering elbow problem could be one of the reasons Frank's play has been hampered over the past few nights.
2) Not Just Frank, Jayhawk Guards Look Hesitant Overall
Living in Los Angeles, my trips to the mecca that is Allen Fieldhouse have become few and far between. Luckily, I was able to journey to Allen for the TCU game, where at times we played with the same intensity as was shown in Stillwater Tuesday night. Although I did not include it in my 5 Observations piece from that game, one of the things I noticed was Bill consistently yelling at our guards to "SHOOT THE BALL." Directed at Mason, Graham and Selden for the most part, he must have yelled this same message 3 times in the first half alone. I was especially struck by this message because Bill has taken some flack for not being a believer in the 3-point shot. However, in this case it seemed as if the Kansas players did not believe in themselves.
To clarify, these "SHOOT THE BALL" yelling sprees were not directed at instances when one of our guards was sitting at the top of the key waiting for something to happen. They were directed at times when Kansas had run its offense, and the ball was moved from side to side eventually creating a good look for the would-be shooter. However, too many times the potential shooter would pass up a 3 only to take it inside and most of the time waste an otherwise solid offensive possession.
That same hesitancy was prevalent in the Oklahoma State game, as Kansas would pass up a decent look because of hesitancy, and would often result in an isolation play that as you all saw, did not work. The only guy in Crimson and Blue who hasn't been hesitant to shoot is Svi, who has still not proven he can knock down the outside shot with consistency. I didn't think he played a bad game on Tuesday night, but the Jayhawks need more than a 1-7 outing from their bench players
3) Big Man Rotation Still Unsolved
If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that we played 6 big men in a mid-January game, I'm not sure if I would have believed you. The frontcourt has been in flux all year long and there is nothing that tells me that it will be figured out any time soon. Mickelson went from starting (but playing only through the first media timeout), to getting garbage time last night, while the rest of the big men were sharing minutes as if it was a YMCA league where everybody gets to play an allotted time.
I certainly do not envy Bill's position and the decisions he is going to have to make, but at some point I feel that he's going to have to go with a lineup and stick through it through it's ups and downs. It's hard to sit for 6, 10, 14 minutes and come in and have an instantly positive impact on the game. It takes time to get into the flow of the game and get into a rhythm - which is not something the Kansas big men have had the luxury of doing. At this point, it's anyone's guess what we'll see in the Texas game, but I just can't believe that such a long rotation is going to correlate with playing deep into March
4) Bragg a Bright Spot
There were very few positives to be taken from Tuesday's debacle, but the play of Carlton Bragg might qualify as one. Bragg was the Jayhawks most efficient player on the floor, totaling 8 points, 4 rebounds and a steal in just 11 minutes. As he did against TCU, Bragg scored in a variety of ways; with his smooth jumper from just inside the arc, off the offensive glass, and within the flow of the offense. He finished 4-4 on the night and if he had not been hampered by foul trouble, could have posted a career high in back to back games.
The play and minutes of Diallo have overshadowed Bragg all season, but I've been impressed with the freshman and see a bright future ahead. As all freshmen do, he has a lot to figure out, but he reminds me a lot of the Morris twins in the sense that he looks comfortable scoring all over the floor and in a variety of ways. In the last 3 games, Bragg has played 33 minutes and scored 21 points and grabbing 11 boards. He's not a world-beater, but he's quietly improving his game and his performance was another step in the right direction.
5) If the Sky is Falling, It's Falling on Almost Everyone
Yes, I am concerned with the Kansas' play over the last week, but I have not fallen into full-blown panic mode. In the last 2 weeks, about 70% of the AP Top 25 has lost a game. Michigan State, who at one time was a #1, has lost 3-straight including a 71-72 loss to Nebraska in which the Spartans shot 61% from 3. West Virginia lost at home to Texas last night. Baylor needed 2 OTs to beat K-State at home. It's January, teams are tired, vulnerable, and dropping games left and right. Kansas still has plenty of time to right the ship and I have complete faith that they will.
Whenever the Jayhawks disappoint, I'm always hoping their next game is a big one so they can immediately prove to themselves that they are a good team. Luckily, with both Texas and Kansas sitting at 4-2 in the Big 12 and Texas looking better and better, this game looks a lot bigger than it did a month ago. Follow that up with games against Iowa State, Kentucky and K-State - this team has all the opportunity in the world to prove to themselves, and to us, that they are for real.