Let’s start with some wild stats from last night: Kansas shot 32.6 percent inside the arc last night and still won. Kansas had almost as many two point shots blocked (11) as made (15), and still won. Kansas scored 5 points the first 10 minutes of the game, and still won. Kansas got zero field goals from any bench player, and still won.
On to the game as a whole: what a disaster offensively. Neither team could buy a basket. And while Bill Self’s comments after the game that the rims were extremely tight excuses some of the jump shooting by both teams, a lot of those jumpers were nowhere close. It also doesn’t explain a ton of bad turnovers by Kentucky, and Kansas loving to repeatedly attack the rim despite the aforementioned shot blocking prowess of the Wildcats (and Isaiah Jackson in particular).
Still, you know a game where Kansas isn’t shooting well but still wins is Bill Self’s dream outcome. Who knows how good the Jayhawks will be this year, but after the comeback against Gonzaga and the one last night, I think we can already write off toughness concerns.
The small ball lineup again dominated last night and even where you thought it would get hurt, on the glass, it excelled. As a whole, Kansas rebounded 38.8 percent of its misses and held Kentucky, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country coming into the game, and the tallest team in the country, to just a 31.7 percent offensive rebounding rate.
Defensively, the Jayhawks played well aside from Kentucky’s shooting woes. The Wildcats were held to under 50 percent inside the arc, and the Jayhawks did a good job switching out on the perimeter and forced Kentucky into some tough shots both on the perimeter and inside. Because of just how bad Kentucky was from 3 though (3-21), I think it’s much too early to suggest the Jayhawks defensive woes are cured. Although, forcing a team to shoot under 50 percent from two and to turn it over on roughly one-fifth of its possessions is a good start.
- Christian Braun took a bit of a step back shooting wise, but managed to contribute in other ways, most notably pulling down 13 rebounds. That sort of rebounding from a wing spot is going to be key going forward for Kansas to continue playing small ball. He also had 2 blocks and 2 steals.
- Ochai Agbaji started hot, then got worse, then got better again, and finished with a respectable 17 points and 5 rebounds. He struggled inside the arc (2-8), but was 3-9 from three and more importantly didn’t show any hesitation pulling the trigger after missing a couple shots badly. He also made the 2 clinching free throws.
- Marcus Garrett played sick, which is a wild thing to say in 2020, and showed it. He forced some turnovers, but had 3 TOs himself and was just 4-11 from the field. Needless to say the Jayhawks need him to get better fast.
- Jalen Wilson was the star of the night, starting at the 4 and playing a lot of minutes at the 5. He scored 23 points, was 2-4 from three, and 5-8 from the line. He also pulled down 10 rebounds, including 3 big ones on the offensive glass, and most importantly validated my claim that he would be a matchup issue in this one.
- David McCormack struggled, going just 1-9 from the field and committing a pair of turnovers. I will say, though, that I think a lot of the issues last night were him being in his own head moreso than physical limitations. He took too many weird fadeaways despite being double teamed at times, but once he started passing the ball out of the post, KU’s offense clicked a little more. I still think it’s going to be tough to play him too much because him being in the lane while not being a reliable scoring option kills spacing too much. But if he can start scoring even a little bit down low, or present himself as a viable lob catcher, he becomes more playable. It is worth noting Kentucky had quite a bit of success attacking him defensively, however.
- Dajuan Harris was again a star off the bench, with 5 assists and 4 steals in just 25 minutes. At this point with how steady he is with the ball in his hands I think he’s locked into the backup point guard role. He’ll need to keep showing he can make a three, though, lest he get ignored a la current day Rajon Rondo.
- Bryce Thompson isn’t the first and won’t be the last freshman to struggle out of the gate as he learns what Self wants from him offensively and defensively, but he played 9 minutes without making a shot and committed 3 fouls.
- Mitch Lightfoot, Tristan Enaruna, and Tyon Grant-Foster all played 2 minutes each without scoring. Lightfoot in particular looks like he’s earned minutes, but with he and Wilson being roughly the same size, it makes some sense that Self is trying to get the team’s lone actual big man going so that they can play a diverse set of lineups.