Thursday, December 1 2022

Kansas coach Bill Self hasn’t always liked to change defensively.

At the time, he saw it as the easy way out. You should be able to fight through screens. Be difficult. Keep your man.

That was years ago, of course, and Self has changed over time. College basketball has shifted towards pick-and-rolls and peripheral shooting, and with that, a switch defense is no longer about comfort; it’s about being more agile in an increasingly fluid and chaotic game.

This discussion leads to the most encouraging aspect of 75-62 win for KU over TCU during Friday’s Big 12 Tournament semifinals at the T-Mobile Center.

“I thought our defense,” Self said afterwards, “was the best in a while.”

Start with this: This ending has been KU’s weakness for most of this season.

And change, to be honest, was often a big part of the problem.

Specifically with single-point queues, Self too often had a react team instead of one attack a. In other words, communicating switches often left KU’s defense one step back rather than one step forward. This passive style was particularly reflected in the team’s 12 worst steal numbers in conference play.

It is therefore worth looking at what things look like when everything is working in this facet as it can potentially be.

TCU’s first clock violation at 14:10 of the first half makes for a great look.

For this example, focus away from the ball and instead on scoring the Jayhawks players. It’s the most important move that helps KU’s teammates communicate switches early and effectively, making almost every pass difficult for TCU’s ballhandlers.

Here is an overview:

First point, 2:33 p.m.: Christian Braun Tells Ochai Agbaji to Take TCU’s No. 0 Micah Peavy;

Second point, 14:24: Braun tells Remy Martin to take TCU No. 10 Damion Baugh;

Third point, 14:21: Braun tells Martin to take TCU No. 3 Francisco Farabello;

Fourth point, 14:17: Jalen Wilson tells Braun to take Baugh #10 from TCU;

Fifth point, 14:13: Ochai Agbaji tells Wilson to take Peavy #0 from TCU;

Sixth point, 14:13: Wilson acknowledges the change, tells Agbaji to take No. 21 JaKobe Coles from TCU.

All of those micro-moments added up to this: Desperate Baugh at the end of the shot clock, hoisting a contested deep three that didn’t come close to hitting the rim.

T&C of turnover.

It’s a little insight into why playing good defense can be so tricky. A brief lapse in focus – or a beatdown when one of the five players doesn’t see the full picture defensively – can cause full possession to be wasted.

KU, for one night, showed how dangerous it could be with a magical level of intensity. Yes, it helped that TCU lacked three-point shooters — covering defensively in the lane is easier that way — but even that shouldn’t take away from the Jayhawks’ encouraging effort on their most concerning side.

“I think once you show up, you can be a great defensive team,” KU forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “But when we’re out there making moves, it allows teams to get comfortable, and that’s a recipe for disaster.”

The Jayhawks have mostly avoided this type of disaster in a late-season restart.

KU has now held four consecutive opponents to less than a point per possession. If you only consider games played after Feb. 1 this season, the Jayhawks defense would rank 15th nationally according to Bart Torvik’s Adjusted Figures.

Self put it succinctly afterwards: take care of the ball on one side and defend on the other, and you give yourself a chance in any contest.

The Jayhawks embraced that belief on Friday, making big accomplishments by executing small details.

And do it one point at a time.

Related stories from the Center Daily Times

Jesse Newell — he won an EPPY for Best Sports Blog and was once named Top Beat Writer in His Broadcast by AP Sports Writers — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analysis stems from his math teacher father, who handed out rules to Trick-or-Treaters every year.

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