The Jayhawks weren’t handed the easiest road on Selection Sunday, and it starts with a first round matchup against CAA champ Northeastern. Although Northeastern can really only hurt Kansas on one side of the ball, they’re still a much tougher 13 seed than Kansas would hoped to have drawn in the first round.
The first thing that stands out with the Huskies is how perimeter oriented they are. Northeastern takes right around 46 percent of their shots from behind the arc, making 38.8 percent of their threes, and four Huskies have attempted more than 100 threes on the year (those four have made over 50 threes each as well).
You’ll never believe this, but there is a shortage of CAA basketball footage online, so we will have to do the best we can video wise.
The Huskies get their three point looks in a variety of ways, but the primary way is via ball movement. Maybe my favorite set of theirs is this one: It starts with multiple screens of various intent. First, #12 Jordan Roland sets an off ball screen and runs to the corner. As probably the team’s best 3-point shooter, he obviously commands attention, which makes the rest of this play work.
While he is running to the corner, #20 Bolden Brace sets a ball screen and heads to the other corner. Brace is a good shooter himself, but he works as more of a decoy on this play. As Northeastern swings the ball around the perimeter, #22 Donnell Gresham vacates to the other corner, using a screen set by Brace to get free. Then, as the defense over-helps, they eventually have three guys guarding two Northeastern players, which leads to either an open corner three from Gresham (thanks to that screen), or an easy pass to Vasa Pusica for an open three:
Next, a look at how they punish overhelping. This is a very basic drive and kick, but underscores how important it will be not to help off shooters:
This is another simple screen-and-roll action where the strong side defender dives into the paint to take the roll man for some reason rather than go to the shooter:
As far as how to stop it? It’s clear ball pressure is going to be important. Watch this possession from the semifinals of the Charleston Classic. Virginia Tech pressures the ball pretty much immediately after Northeastern crosses halfcourt, and they aggressively go over screens and attempt to jump passing lanes:
Obviously you can’t pressure like that every possession, especially when you have the depth issues Kansas does, but it does show how important pressure is going to be.
Northeastern clearly struggled with Virginia Tech’s bigger, faster athletes, turning it over on 29 percent of their possessions, and that’s why the Hokies were able to blow out Northeastern and hold them under a point per possession despite Northeastern shooting 13-26 from three. Interestingly, the Hokies did a lot of the same hedge-and-recovery stuff that Kansas likes to do on ball screens, so that shows it can work against Northeastern.
The Huskies are a very good 2-point shooting team as well (56.4 percent), but most of that is a result of opening up the floor with their 3 point shooting. Northeastern takes fewer than a third of their shots at the rim, and a lot of those come in transition.
One positive is that Northeastern basically doesn’t try to get offensive rebounds, ranking 328th nationally. While that will likely hurt KU offensively (because they won’t have many transition opportunities available), there likely will be a lot of one-and-done possessions, which will be a big help if Northeastern is anything but on fire offensively.
Where the Jayhawks have the chance to make some hay is on the other end of the floor. Northeastern has one of the shorter front lines in the tournament, with 6-10 Anthony Green starting at center, but playing fewer than 60 percent of the team’s minutes. He commits 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes, so Kansas can certainly get him in foul trouble.
The Huskies allow teams to shoot 52.5 percent inside the arc, 271st nationally, and rank 204th in allowing teams to get to the rim and 264th in FG% allowed at the rim. Not only does this mean Dedric Lawson should have a big game, but Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett should have an easier time scoring at the rim as well. (Of course, Iowa State doesn’t have a stout interior defense and look what happened there.) I also think this could be a good Mitch Lightfoot game, as he is quick enough to chase Northeastern around the perimeter but also can take advantage of Northeastern’s smaller interior defense.
The “How to Score” against Northeastern section is pretty boring and pretty obvious. As much as I think more threes would help this team long term, there’s no doubt they should be attacking the paint over and over and getting as many easy twos as possible to make up for the 3-point barrage.
This game will be won or lost, though, when Northeastern has the ball. If Kansas can force some turnovers and stick tight to Northeastern’s shooters, forcing them to take contested threes, they should score enough easy points to win. If they play the type of perimeter defense they have for most of the year, though, who knows.