The Kansas Jayhawks (9-3) left the court Monday night with a 93-83 win over the Toledo Rockets (12-1) but it wasn’t an easy victory. The Jayhawks turned the ball over 10 more times than the Rockets to make winning a harder chore than it needed to be.
Kansas did some very nice things in this game but taking care of the basketball wasn’t one of them. The Jayhawks committed 18 turnovers on the night, a lot of them unforced. They coughed it up on each of their first 2 possessions of the game, causing Head Coach Bill Self to call a quick timeout for some good old fashioned rear end chewing. It didn’t help
The starters were the biggest culprits. Fifteen of the turnovers were committed by Naadir Tharpe (5), Wayne Selden, Jr., (4), Andrew Wiggins (3), and Joel Embiid (3). With as many minutes as these guys will be playing during conference play, they must do a much better job of valuing each possession. Right now, they are not understanding the importance of taking care of the basketball.
The Jayhawks also played defense in only the loosest definition of the word, in that they were not on offense all the time. The Rockets seemed to score at will against the bigger Kansas team. Not only did the Jayhawks only force 8 turnovers with sporadic defense, but they allowed the Rockets to shoot 46.4% from the field, and 56.3% from three-point range. A good portion of the Rockets’ 16 three-point attempts looked to be wide open looks as the Kansas players had trouble fighting through picks all night.
It wasn’t all negatives for Kansas. They out rebounded Toledo 44 to 28. The Jayhawks shot the ball extremely well by hitting 56.3% of all their field goal attempts, and 50% from behind the arc. The Jayhawks also dished out 23 assists on their 36 made field goals.
Discounting turnovers, there were some very nice performances offensively. Perry Ellis had a tremendous game by leading the team in scoring with 21 points, and in rebounding with 11. He added an assist and a steal, and committed no turnovers. Joel Embiid had 14 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocked shots. Naadir Tharpe scored 20, thanks to hitting 4 of his 5 three-pointers, and tallied 8 assists. Andrew Wiggins put up 20 points and 5 rebounds, and Frank Mason only scored 2 points but dished out 7 assists to just one turnover.
Nathan Boothe paced the Rockets with 15 points. J.D. Weatherspoon and Justin Drummond each scored 13, and Rian Pearson added 10. Point guard Julius Brown scored just 9, despite connecting on 3 of his 4 three-point attempts. He missed all 7 of his 2-point shots.
Matt Smith led the Rockets in rebounds with 5 off the bench. Brown recorded 5 assists. Pearson and Drummond had 3 steals each.
It is looking more and more like this team just isn’t going to get it defensively, at least not enough to understand that defense must be played hard each and every game. They looked like maybe they had turned a corner in the second half of the New Mexico game, and for most of the Georgetown contest.
In this game, defense seemed like something the players had to endure until they got the ball back.
No one could pressure the ball handlers, or even slow them down on the perimeter. The Rockets were able to shoot seemingly unencumbered by defenders from the outside, and had little difficulty driving around the Jayhawks.
Fans are accustomed to Kansas playing hard-nosed, tough, in-your-shorts defense, so watching this edition just go through the motions is very frustrating. Kansas fans expect so much more. As long and athletic as the Jayhawks are, they should be shutting down opponents. There have been brief flashes of this but they have been few and far between.
If Kansas hopes to win their 10th straight Big 12 conference regular season championship, against a very tough field, these Jayhawks will have to realize they can’t just give the ball away willy-nilly, and they have got to dedicate themselves to playing defense the right way.
Bill Self and his staff have their work cut for them.