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The Jayhawks had a chance at 29-14 to put this game away and cruise to an easy victory. However, their carelessness with the ball and struggles from the line turned this game into a closer one than anyone expected. A few thoughts:
* Withey was very solid tonight and turned in another great first half performance. While he did a lot of his work off of the dribble penetration of the guards, he also moved to open spaces on that penetration and he made a couple of nice moves with his back to the basket. One thing that Withey must work on is to not bring the ball down when catching some of these lob passes and dump offs in the interior. Since he's not an explosive athlete he seems to feel that he has to gather and bring the ball down before going up. For a 7'0 center, and a great player, he gets a lot of shots blocked or potential shots knocked out of his hands while going up to the hoop.
* Releford was once again terrific. His defensive versatility is amazing as he can spend the past two games chasing McGruder and Pledger around screens and tonight defend a variety of quick West Virginia guards who's game is to attack off the dribble. There is no better role player nationally than this guy.
* Elijah continues to be more aggressive off the dribble, but I think part of that tonight is the pressure applied by the West Virginia guards bothered him and sped him up a little bit. He still is very shaky with the ball at times but did have a couple of nice assists including one in the first half that he dropped off to Withey. I was hopeful that his early '3' would get him going tonight but he only attempted three other shots the rest of the night.
* Foul trouble slowed McLemore down again tonight as he picked up his 2nd foul at the 15:09 mark of the 1st half and his 3rd foul at the 15:14 mark of the 2nd half. His 3rd foul in particular was careless as it occurred 35ft from the basket. While Ben still struggles when he puts the ball on the floor away from the basket (3 turnovers, including two in a row that helped West Virginia get back into the game after trailing 29-14), he is becoming better off of straight line drives to the hoop and off of 1-2 dribble moves. For him to get eight free throw attempts is a positive sign.
* While Young may struggle from the line at times and struggle to finish shots around the rim he makes his contribution with his effort. He finished with seven rebounds tonight and really cooled off Murray when Bill Self switched him onto the West Virginia big man in the middle of the 2nd half after the Mountaineers cut the lead to 42-40.
* Tharpe has really struggled lately. While I don't mind his aggressive attitude off the dribble at times, he has struggled to shoot the ball lately (2-15 from '3' in his last five games) and his on-ball defense is very poor. The West Virginia guards continually beat him off the bounce tonight, which is a major concern going forward.
* I was surprised that Ellis didn't see more action in the 2nd half. I thought that he brought some good energy to the game and also brought a scoring presence to the floor, which Kansas has needed lately. I would like to see him play more with Withey and less with Traylor, especially against bigger post players. His confidence level continues to improve and I still see him being a bigger factor as the season goes along.
* What a disappointing first half by the Jayhawks. They shot 59.1% from the floor, held West Virginia to nine made shots, and were +9 in rebounding margin and somehow only led by 8 at the break. Kansas also missed 9 free throws and turned the ball over nine times. Bill Self could not have been a happy camper in that locker room.
* The Jayhawks ball movement must improve along with their player movement. They didn't look crisp offensively for most of the game but some of this was due to the ball pressure applied by the West Virginia guards. This led to the Kansas guards being more aggressive off the dribble (and some nice dishes to Withey in the paint) but it also led to more turnovers and exposed a Kansas weakness, with their inability to handle the ball vs pressure. The Jayhawks started the game by going inside to Withey early and often but seemed to abandon that approach a little bit in the 2nd half as Withey only scored two points on two 2nd half shot attempts. 16 turnovers for a senior laden team is unacceptable...they must take better care of the ball.
* Kansas has to be able to convert their free throws on a more consistent basis. There are times that they are very accurate but there are times like tonight when they're just off of their game. By missing nine 1st half free throws they were able to keep West Virginia in the game and by missing 16 for the game it almost cost them a victory.
* West Virginia did a great job of making this game ugly. Just like the Kansas State teams under Frank Martin (who learned under Bob Huggins), they seem to operate by the premise that they will foul a team 50 times but the officials will only call around 25-30 of them. Coming into this game the Mountaineers led the conference in free throws attempted per game but were also 9th in the Big 12 in allowing their opponents to get to the line. This makes the game more physical and their aggressiveness also leads to them getting more free throw attempts. All of these free throws slow the game down and make it very difficult to get into a flow. Kansas was able to do a nice job in the 2nd half of keeping the Mountaineers off the line as they only attempted 2 free throws, after attempting 13 in the 1st half.
* Why did Kansas not switch Young onto Murray and let Withey cover Rutledge earlier? Rutledge has yet to attempt a 3pt shot on the season and yet the Jayhawks waited until it was 42-40 to make this switch. Bill Self usually doesn't miss a trick but this proved to be a mistake that let Murray get hot and let the Mountaineers back into the game.
* Another example of why Bill Self is such an outstanding coach, though...after West Virginia cut the lead to 2 at 42-20, Self called a timeout and then took advantage of a fired up West Virginia team by running a backdoor play to get Releford a layup. Excellent play call out of a timeout.
The bottom line is that this game is going to go down as a win for the Jayhawks in their quest to win their 9th straight Big 12 Championship and also the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It wasn't pretty and Kansas just isn't playing good basketball right now on the offensive end of the floor. They can use a couple of days of practice to get some things cleaned up but I also think they need just one breakout game to get back on track. They seem bored right now and while I wouldn't say that these victories are completely "joyless", this senior laden group knows that these are games they should win and they seem ready for a bigger challenge. You just hope that this team doesn't get stuck in neutral and that they can start to play up to their potential as the second half of conference play approaches.
This post was edited by Matt Cumro 18 months ago
I would like to believe some days off and practice would get them out of what we perceive as an offensive slump, but as every game passes and they continue to have no flow or consistency on offense and put up low 60's I'm beginning to believe this is the team. I mean for the offense to come around there needs to be better PG play and then more consistent scoring down low. Well, not sure PG play is ever going to be consistently good. When has Elijah been consistently good? Serious question. His career is a series of ups and downs. It's who he is as a player and that would be fine if there were anybody else who could do ANYTHING at PG position for this team, but there isn't.
Fortunately where this team thrives is on the defensive end. They might be the single best defensive team in the nation. It has absolutely carried them. With Releford basically shutting down the other team's best guard and Withey owning the inside KU is simply very difficult to score against.
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