Now 11 games into the season with 2022 nearly here, the Kansas Jayhawks’ identity is beginning to show itself heading into conference play (after a rescheduling audible that extended the non-con portion of the schedule). The sample size is getting big enough that flukes and unsustainable spurts are moving aside for more telling trends of who this team is.
It’s not all crystal clear, though. Here are three aspects of the team that we, as fans, should feel confident about and three others that remain uncertain.
What We Know
Agbaji’s transformation is not a fluke
It’s not just the staggering difference in Ochai Agbaji’s stats from last year to this year, especially when it comes to his efficiency (and it is stark).
2020-21: 14.1 ppg, 42% from field, 48.3% from 2, 37.7% from 3, 3.7 rpg, 1.9 apg
2021-22: 21.5 ppg, 56.3% from the field, 62:4% from 2, 47.8% from 3, 4.5 rpg, 1.6 apg
It’s the way that he’s getting these shots. Last year, Agbaji was mostly a stand-up shooter that struggled to create his own shots off the dribble. But this year, he’s not only become better from 3, but he’s taking defenders off the dribble and finishing stronger at the rim.
The Jayhawks have turned a flaw into a strength
So far this year, only two teams (Gonzaga and Oklahoma) are better than Kansas at 2-point efficiency according to KenPom (Purdue is tied with KU), as the Jayhawks are shooting 59.1% from inside the arc. A season ago, KU ranked 207th in that category while shooting just 48.9%. We’ve already mentioned Agbaji’s improvement in this area, but Christian Braun has had a similar transformation when it comes to cutting and scoring around the rim.
The result has been the Jayhawks being able to get easy baskets when they’ve needed them, while still also being a bigger threat from 3-point range compared to last year.
The top seven has been secured (barring injury)
Despite the incredible depth of this year’s team, Kansas has consistency and continuity from it’s starters and first off the bench. The starting lineup of Remy Martin, Dajuan Harris, Agbaji, Braun, and McCormack, with Jalen Wilson and Mitch Lightfoot coming off the bench, doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon unless (knock on wood) someone goes down with an injury. This group provides ball handling, shooting, and scoring. And the more they play together, the better it should look.
What We Still Don’t Know
Which McCormack will we get on any given night?
It’s been a roller-coaster start to the season for McCormack, who has been inconsistent on the offensive end. Through the first 10 games, McCormack had five double-digit scoring games and five single-digit games, and then posted 14 points and six rebounds against Nevada.
He hasn’t been as bad as fans may have thought in non-scoring areas. Big Dave is 14th nationally in offensive rebound percentage and already has half as many blocks (15) through 11 games than he did last year in 29 games (30) and nearly as many steals (14) in 11 games as in all of last year (20).
The other question still surrounding McCormack is what happened to his free-throw shooting? Last year, he was nearly automatic at the line at 80%, but so far this year he’s struggling at just 60% on nearly the same amount of attempts per game.
Who will round out the Jayhawks’ lineup?
While the top seven is secure, the eighth and ninth guys off the bench still vary depending on the game. Jalen Coleman-Lands, Joseph Yesufu, and Zach Clemence have all shown glimpses that show they warrant playing time, not to mention the athletic ability and energy provided by KJ Adams.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Bill Self has multiple options to turn to in the event of foul trouble based on the matchup. This Jayhawks team is about the most versatile as we’ve seen in recent years.
How good can this team be defensively?
The Jayhawks have struggled to keep opposing offenses in front of them, allowing opponents to shoot 50% from 2-point range through 11 games. KU’s defensive adjusted efficiency mark is currently 32nd nationally, which would be the worst mark since 2018.
The Nevada game actually improved that number. The Wolf Pack only scored .79 points per possession while shooting 45% from 2. The intensity of the guards is key to the defense’s ceiling, as Jesse Newell wrote about for the KC Star.
The area the Jayhawks have excelled is in forcing turnovers. Kansas is forcing a turnover on 22.8% of possessions, and this could be especially big given this team is great in transition. This year’s Jayhawks aren’t going to be the dominant rim-protecting team that it was with Doke, but it’s guards can wreck enough havoc and score enough points off turnovers to hopefully not make it too big of an issue.
Whether what we saw against Nevada can be a consistent point of growth remains to be seen. But it’s crazy to count out Bill Self’s success coaching defense and making adjustments over the course of a season.