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Kansas is Returning to Defensive Dominance

The Jayhawks are shutting down opponents to start the season.

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at Kansas Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas-Dayton championship game of the Maui Invitational was not lacking for storylines. The better-than-expected Flyers and star Obi Toppin, Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike’s offensive explosion, the Flyers’ seeming inability to miss from 3-point range, Bill Self not fouling up three at the end of regulation.

But there was another development that doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention, but was the difference in the game.

Despite the red-hot performance from deep, Dayton is not the best 3-point-shooting team in the country. The Flyers are, however, the best 2-point-shooting team, according to KenPom, hitting 66.2% of their shots inside the arc (they are also now the top effective field goal percentage team in the country at 62.6%). That number was 72% entering the Kansas game.

That six-point drop? That’s because KU held the Flyers to 37.9% shooting from inside the arc, after Dayton hadn’t shot worse than 60% against Georgia or Virginia Tech in the first two rounds.

Nothing was easy for the Flyers from inside 20 feet, while Kansas, meanwhile, got 60% of its 2-point field goals to go. That is why Kansas could stay in the game despite Dayton hitting 16 3s.

The Jayhawks are back to having the type of defense—at least early, and it is early—that Bill Self is known for. KU has the sixth-best defense in the country, according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency, and is in the top 59 in KenPom’s 2-point percentage (59th, as of Sunday night), block percentage (44th), and steal percentage (23rd). The last time that was the case was 2010, though KU has been in the top 100 in all three categories more recently. And despite Dayton’s outburst, Kansas is still holding teams to 31.2% shooting from 3, which is 126th nationally. Dayton is the only of KU’s seven opponents to crack 70 points, and all but two of those are in the top 100 in KenPom.

It’s not just Azubuike, although he’s a great place to start if you want to protect the rim. Kansas has three players that are nationally ranked in KenPom in block percentage (Doke, David McCormack, and Tristan Enaruna) and four in steal percentage (Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, and Enaruna). The defensive dominance has been a team effort.

It’s been a welcome development because while the offense has been good (it is 17th in KenPom), there are still areas in which to improve. Isaiah Moss is still coming back from a hamstring injury and finding his place on the team. The same could be said for Enaruna, Silvio De Sousa, and Christian Braun.

Kansas still needs to see what it can get consistently from Agbaji and get more of a contribution out of its bench. This defense allows the offense time to get all of the pieces in place.

And once that happens, and both aspects of the team are firing on all cylinders, the Big 12 will have to watch out. Because this year, the conference challengers are strong in area, but not great in both. Baylor (7th in offense, 34th in defense), and Iowa State (22nd in offense, 72nd in defense) are good offensively, while Texas Tech (18th in defense, 50th in offense), Oklahoma State (10th in defense, 49th in offense), and Kansas State (15th in defense, 192nd in offense—nope, not a typo) are strong defenses that are more offensively challenged.

Kansas has the potential to be great in both. And that wins hardware.