Protecting paint, defending rim musts for KU in Big 12 play
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is never one to feel satisfied about his team’s defensive play. Of late, he hasn’t been thrilled with the Jayhawks’ ability to keep opponents — guards in particular — out of the paint.
When asked Thursday on the Big 12 coaches media teleconference about what KU could do to better protect the rim, Self made it clear perimeter defenders have failed to meet his expectations, so there is more to it than the Jayhawks’ current lack of front-court depth.
“That’s something that we have labored with all year and certainly that hurt us against Tech,” Self said of guards not keeping their man in front of them. “I don’t know how many straight-line drives they had. And you can’t really blame that all on rim protection; you’ve got to blame most of it on being able to guard the ball.”
A week into conference play, Kansas has surrendered 42 points in the paint (a season-high) to Texas and 32 to Texas Tech (fourth-highest through 14 games).
KU’s 39.4% field-goal percentage defense on the season, predictably, hasn’t maintained now that Big 12 play has arrived. Texas shot 43.1% against Kansas in a loss and Texas Tech made 43.3% of its shots in a road win.
Per hoop-math.com, KU opponents are attempting almost 28 percent of their shots at the rim — not a bad mark, considering it is 39th-lowest in the nation, among 351 teams. Foes have converted just above 57% (119th) of those layups, dunks and point-blank looks.
Self estimated Tech probably beat KU five to seven times with simple straight-line drives past a defender, without even making a real basketball move to find success, likening those instances to what Frank Mason III did to Kansas opponents so often a year ago: “just put your head down and go.”
The Jayhawks defending outside, Self added, have to do a better job of executing the plan laid out in scouting reports. But the coach admitted his forwards and centers also have to “play bigger.”
For now, with the status of both Billy Preston and Silviou De Sousa unresolved, that means KU needs 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike to maximize his paint-protecting potential.
“We need Udoka to be able to block and alter more,” Self said, before referencing why Azubuike might not have been as effective of late. “And there’s no excuse at all, but hopefully he’ll feel better physically, where he’s able to do that. His back is sore and he didn’t move very well against Tech — we didn’t think — at all. But it’s not from a lack of effort. I just don’t feel like he’s quite at 100 percent.”
Azubuike blocked just one shot in 57 combined minutes versus Texas and Texas Tech while dealing with back soreness. Backup forward Mitch Lightfoot blocked two shots in 18 minutes against UT and Tech.
The No. 10 Jayhawks (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) will have to better protect the rim Saturday night at No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1). According to hoop-math.com, the Horned Frogs get 44.1% of their shots at the rim — 22nd nationally. On those attempts TCU shoots 65.4% (70th in the country).