KU basketball looking to shore up ’unbelievable’ layup woes
LAWRENCE — After facing three ranked foes across the season’s first two weeks, Kansas basketball can accurately say it has successfully navigated the teeth of its nonconference schedule.
Just don’t, Bill Self insists, classify the days ahead as an opportunity to exhale.
“We can’t take a breath now,” said Self, speaking after the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks’ 73-72 victory over No. 8 Creighton on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse. “Obviously you have two more (nonconference) games, but the games that really matter start ... in nine days, is that right? So we’ve got a lot of stuff we’ve got to improve on before we’re ready to take on those first two league games.”
With two contests remaining before its Big 12 opener against No. 17 Texas Tech at 6 p.m. Dec. 17 in Lubbock, Texas, KU will look to shore up arguably its most pressing issue — which also happens to be one of the sport’s most reliable play.
The Jayhawks (5-1) were 10-for-21 on layup attempts against the Bluejays, able to convert on just one of their final five tries in that department in the airtight victory. A 10-for-22 afternoon from 3-point range barely offset the team’s 16-for-44 showing on 2s, a performance that sunk KU’s 2-point shooting percentage on the season to 45.4%.
That clip ranked 241st nationally entering play Wednesday. For reference, the Udoka Azubuike-led Jayhawks from a year ago were true on 55.3% of their attempts from inside the arc, good for 14th in college basketball in that category at that season’s premature end.
Of his current team’s struggles up close, Self remarked: “It’s been unbelievable.”
Self specifically identified botched fastbreak opportunities as one of the culprits behind the team’s poor conversion rate on layups.
“First of all in transition, you’ve got to make an extra pass. I mean all you’ve got to do is throw the ball to the right guy in transition and it’s two points. Instead we come away with nothing (on Tuesday) twice,” Self said. “I mean this sounds ridiculous: We need to practice two-on-ones. We need to practice three-on-ones. Those should be automatic. For us to not convert those, that’s the difference in shooting 40% and shooting 50%, just converting three in tight. We’ve got to do a better job there.”
Jayhawk guards also aren’t driving to pass enough, Self contends. It’s already questionable whether those players have the standing height to reliably convert contested layups, be it one-on-one or with a defender closing in from behind, and the issue is only exacerbated when the KU guards don’t go up with a sense of urgency.
That was certainly true on the team’s first possession Tuesday, where Marcus Garrett got the ball “exactly where” he wanted but shot-faked and allowed the weak side defender, Christian Bishop, to record the first of five Creighton blocks in the contest.
“That’s the kind of stuff that we don’t need to do. Just catch and go,” Self said. “We allow help to get there too often and then we’re not tall enough many times to play over the help.”
Of course, the easiest way for the Jayhawks to improve their accuracy inside is for the team’s frontcourt options to start playing to their size.
David McCormack, KU’s 6-foot-10, 250-pound starting forward, enjoyed a productive first half against Creighton but struggled from the floor after the intermission, missing two layups and all four of his shot attempts in the second period. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, seven rebounds and three turnovers in 28 minutes.
A career 53.6% shooter, McCormack has connected on just 40.4% of his shot attempts across the first six games of his junior campaign. Too often this season McCormack has faded away from his defender after catching the ball in the post, creating longer, more difficult and less efficient shot attempts.
Mitch Lightfoot, the team’s only other rotation big, was 0-for-2 in six minutes Tuesday.
KU’s next opportunity at a step forward in all of these areas will come in a 6 p.m. Friday home game against Omaha (2-4). While Self didn’t make any bold proclamations about this being the contest where those percentages begin to trend in the right direction, he does believe that day is on the horizon.
“It’s things that we’ve just got to work on,” Self said. “I think we’ll get better at it.”
Fans at the Fieldhouse
Fans were allowed into Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday for the first time this season, with up to 2,500 attendees approved for the top-10 matchup.
Despite that limited capacity, Self noted the contest had the feel of “an NCAA Tournament game,” mostly due to the 500-or-so visiting fans that turned the historic facility into a split environment.
While Self said he’d rather have fans from both schools in attendance than no fans at all, he acknowledged he was “a little disappointed” that so many of the tickets distributed to Jayhawk supporters were apparently resold.
“If our fans can’t come to the games, don’t sell them on the secondary market. Give them to a Jayhawk fan. Sell them to a Jayhawk fan. Call the ticket office and let us pay you back for ’em. Hell, I’ll pay you back. I will personally pay you back for the tickets if you cannot come so we can give ’em to a Kansas fan,” Self said. “That was the only thing about (Tuesday) that was remotely, remotely negative, even though it was still great that we had people in the building.”
OMAHA AT NO. 5 KANSAS
Tipoff: 6 p.m. Friday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Records: Omaha 2-4, Kansas 5-1
TV/radio (Topeka): ESPN2/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Next for KU: vs. Tarleton State, 1 p.m. Sunday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence