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Study Hall: Areas of Focus for KU During Finals Week

How the Jayhawks can improve with their week off without a game.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico State at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Being that this is amateur athletics, and these players are student athletes (the student comes first), Kansas won’t play again until Saturday in order to focus on finals.

And just like how KU players must adhere to the time-honored tradition of final exams, so too must writers use this time of year to theme content, because basketball grades can’t be handed out themselves.

Which is why I’m using this article to look at three aspects of their game the Jayhawks need to study this week in order to pass the tests ahead of them the rest of the season, starting with Villanova on Saturday.

Interior Defense

The people who thought Kansas could be better without Udoka were referring to the Jayhawks’ offense and the ability to spread the floor with four guards. But that assumption overlooked a glaring flaw, which is that Dok’s presence is critical to Kansas’ rim protection and rebounding.

In Saturday’s game without Azubuike, Kansas allowed New Mexico State to shoot 62% from two, as NMSU’s big men continued to back down Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot for easy buckets. The Jayhawks did a better job against Wofford (which plays a different style), but gave up 19 offensive rebounds in that game.

The good news is Udoka’s injury is not long-term, but in order to complete a perfect non-conference schedule, the interior defense needs to improve. More minutes for David McCormack could help. Otherwise, Kansas needs to find a way to replicate the second half against Wofford when it’s small lineup still sped up the Terriers, causing steals and blocking shots below the rim.

Free-Throw Shooting

The charity stripe hasn’t been very in a very giving mood when the Jayhawks are at the line. According to kenpom, Kansas is shooting 64.2 percent from the stripe, which is 298th nationally.

Free-throw shooting for KU is like an 8 a.m. ethics class in which they’re riding with a D average in an otherwise B+ semester because who can contemplate ethical dilemmas at 8 in the morning(?) and right after that class they have a killer microeconomics class with a tough professor. Their parents are a little concerned, but the Jayhawks assure them they’ll step it up when they have to and crush the final.

The reason for optimism is the arguably top offensive threat (Lawson) and player with the ball in his hands the most (Devon Dotson) are the two best free-throw shooters on the team at 76.8 and 75 percent respectively. The negative? The third-best shooter is Lagerald Vick, at 71 percent, who is averaging less than one attempt per game. Dok hasn’t improved statistically at 32 percent, and both Marcus Garrett and Quentin Grimes are only shooting 60 percent. We’ll see if it improves come test time.

3-Point Shooting

The actual percentage isn’t concerning. Kansas is hitting nearly 38 percent of its threes (37.7 percent), which is in the top 60 nationally according to kenpom. What’s more concerning is how that number has come to be, and how frequently the shots are taken.

Vick’s ridiculous and unsustainable 56 percent from beyond the arc is carrying the team. And while Dotson (40 percent) and Grimes (38 percent) are shooting it well from 3-point range, that’s where it ends. Charlie Moore—who shot 35 percent from deep at Cal—is 13.6 percent, Dedric Lawson is at 15 percent, and Garrett is 28 percent.

It’s a small sample size, but not just because it’s eight games into the season. The Jayhawks are only taking 30 percent of their shots from downtown, which is 328th in the country. Last year’s Kansas guards are likely shuddering in horror on NBA-chartered flights. And it’s not like those 30 percent have been all open looks. Dotson, Vick, and Garrett have a strong ability to drive and play off the dribble, and the guards could stand to start driving more in order to kick out for open outside shots.

Assessment

At 8-0 with one of the country’s toughest schedules, it’s by no means time to panic. But the games have been closer than anticipated, and there are aspects of the Jayhawks’ game that have room for improvement. Strengthen these three areas and Kansas will ace a lot of tests this season.