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What We've Learned About the Jayhawks
Impressions After Four Games
By John Steere
 
Box score
Williams' comments
Season summary
Specialty stats
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With four games in the books and a tournament trophy on the shelf we know a lot more about this Jayhawk team than we did 10 days ago. The early indications are enough to make Jayhawk fans giddy.

Rather than do a traditional game summary, I thought Iíd take a look at what weíve discovered about this team now that they have four games under their belts.

This team is significantly better than last year:
If the team looks better to you this year than it did last season, the numbers back you up. The Jayhawks are averaging 95 points per game, 23 more than last year, are shooting 52% from the field, 8 percentage points higher than last season, are shooting 40.4% from behind the arc, 8 percentage point higher than last season, are averaging 26 assists per game compared to 15.7 last season and have a team 4-3 assist to turnover ratio, compare to a 1-1 ratio last season. 67% of KUís fieldgoals this season have come off of assists compared to 59% last season.

The only negative comparison to last year is the number of point allowed. So far this year the Jayhawks have given up an average of 72.3 points compared to 64.5 last season. Partly this is due to the more up-tempo style the team is playing this year. Partly it is due to the team not playing team defensive as effectively, yet, as it did the second half of last season.

Granted that stats over four games are not as indicative of a teamís ability as a full season of stats, so one canít conclusively proclaim this team dramatically better than last yearís squad based only on these stats. However, the teams the Jayhawks beat in Alaska were not patsies, and these numbers sure support the gut impressions of a lot of Jayhawk fans right now.

Axtell hasnít lost his shooting stroke.
Luke Axtell has made 7 of 13 three-point attempts for a stellar 53.8 percentage. Many of his threes havenít been easy ones. The thing that has impressed me the most is his ability to hit the three-pointer coming around a screen on the dribble and to do so several feet behind the line. The surprising thing about his play has been his knack for scoring in the lane. He has a nice move to the hoop on the baseline, has a sweet turn-around shot and has been effective in head-faking his defender on the blocks.

The other great thing about his shooting is that it has been timely. He has a knack for hitting a big three-pointer just when one is most needed.

He is scoring in bunches. Despite averaging just 14 minutes a game, he is averaging nearly 12 points per game, which is the best scoring efficiency of any player on the team.

Lukeís defense is a work in progress.
While Lukeís play is nearly flawless on the offensive end, his defense is still spotty. You canít fault his effort. If you isolate on him during a game you see that he is trying hard and is exerting a lot of energy. However, he often finds himself out of position. He does hustle, but this sometimes causes him more problems. When he loses his man he then sometimes runs at him allowing his man to blow by him. There was a good example of this last night when Luke lost his man on the perimeter. His man got the ball and Luke ran at him. Luke's man then went right by Luke and drove to the basket. Johnson was forced to try to stop the penetration and fouled him, putting the man on the line. I thought it was an offensive foul, but Ashante shouldn't have been put in that position in the first place.

Part of Lukeís difficulty on defense is that at 6-9 heís being asked to guard players five inches shorter who are usually also a bit quicker.

That Luke would struggle some on defense was expected. The point here is that despite Lukeís staggering potential on offense, he isnít likely to get a lot more minutes a game until his defense improves. Luke is such a threat that his defense may not be held to the same standards as other players for him to earn more minutes, but for those fans suggesting that he should be playing significantly more minutes now, I suspect that Coach Williamsí answer would start with a reminder that even with a team like this one that can out-score most opponents, Kansas Basketball starts with defense.

Jeff Boschee has matured as a point guard.
To my mind the primary measure of a point guard is his assist to turnover ratio. A good point guard should have at least a 2-to-1 ratio. Itís great when point guards score points, but the primary job of the point guard is to distribute the ball. Last season Jeffís assist-to-turnover ratio was just a hair over 1-1. This season it is right at 2-1.

This improvement hasnít come at the expense of his scoring though. Just the opposite, really. Despite averaging 10 fewer minutes a game so far this season, his scoring average is up from 10.9 to 11.8. His scoring has increased not because heís shooting more. Heís shooting less. His scoring has increased because his shooting percentage has been just incredible. Heís hit 78.6% of his three-point shots (11-14) and 70% overall.

While those numbers may partly be due to a streak of hot shooting, much of the reason for his vastly increased shooting percentage is that he is taking better shots. Last year Jeff often took three-pointers instead of running the offense. This season his shots seem more often to come out of the natural flow of the offense and much more often come after the ball has been passed three or four times. With so many other scorers on the team Jeff doesnít have to try to create his shots on his own in an attempt to manufacture team offense. I suspect this makes him a more relaxed shooter. It also leads to better, more open shots, which heís hitting at a prodigious rate.

With Luke and Jeff hitting a combined 66% behind the arc no team can afford to play a pack-in zone against the Jayhawks. It almost makes you want to play Temple.

Kirk Hinrich is more than Boscheeís caddy.
Hinrich has to be the most pleasant surprise of the season. Before the season started the question concerning Kirk in many fanís minds was whether as a freshman he would be able to give Boschee 10-15 minutes of rest a game without hurting the team. Itís a big jump from high school to college, after all, and that is especially true for point guards at KU who have to learn a complicated offense and meet Williamsí defensive expectations.

Hinrich not only can sub for Jeff effectively, heís essentially turned into a co-starter, with the team hardly missing a beat when he comes into the game. Heís not the scorer that Jeff is, averaging only 3.3 points per game, but he has shown that he can shoot and score when the opportunity presents itself. He has 7 more assists (and three more turnovers) than Boschee in less minutes and is probably a more natural point guard. Jeff, really, is a small shooting guard who has worked hard to become an effective point guard.

Kirk and Jeff give KU a devastating one-two punch. Against Georgia Kirk struggled, picking up four fouls quickly and playing only six minutes. He was a non-factor in the game. Jeff, though, picked up the slack and scored 18 points in 29 minutes. Against Georgia Tech Jeff got in early foul trouble. Kirk came in and dished a team leading 6 assists. And then in the last 8 minutes of the game when Georgia Tech was trying to get back into the game, Jeff, scoreless to that point, came back in with fresh legs and scored 8 quick points that put Georgia Tech away for good.

Jeff and Kirk have different strengths and weaknesses, but KU seems equally effective regardless of which of them is at the helm. And thatís a rare luxury for a college team.

Drew Gooden is a raw talent of immense proportions:
Gooden displayed both that his talent is immense and still very raw in Alaska. Drew Goodenís election as the tournamentís Most Outstanding Player was based more on his explosion at the start of the second half against Georgia Tech than on his play over all three games. Kenny Gregory, who inexplicably was left off the all-tournament team, was the Jayhawksí most outstanding performer measured over the span of all three games. Nevertheless, Gooden was phenomenal against Tech. He scored 20 of KU's first 58 points and eight straight points in a 15-3 run early in the second half that effectively buried the Yellow Jackets.

He scored from about everywhere. He scored from just inside the three-point line, demonstrating his pure shooting touch out on the floor. He scored on the blocks showing the best jump-hook at KU since Manning, and he scored off of offensive rebounds. In the final game he hit 9 of 14 shots and looked unstoppable. That is the immense side of his talent.

In the first two games he showed that this talent is still raw. On the season heís only shooting 45%, and in the first two games of the tournament hit only 7 of 23 shots. His low percentage was a direct result of some questionable shot selection and attempts to tip the ball one-handed when a clean rebound and stuff would have been more affective. He struggled at times on defense, as well. He has the raw ability to be a fine defender, but too often bit on head fakes and was a step late getting into position.

Drew is leading the team in rebounds and there isnít any reason to suspect that he wonít continue to do so all season. Heís got both the instincts and the physical gifts to be one of the best rebounders in KU history. Although Collison is the more refined player at this point, it will be Gooden over whom Vitale and his ilk will gush the next time the Jayhawks are on national television.

Ashante Johnson will contribute.
After a long season at the end of the KU bench last year trying to recover from the knee injury he suffered at Late Night, Ashante Johnson looks ready to be a regular and important contributor off the bench. With a 5.8 scoring average in only 7 minutes a game, his points per minute are second only to Axtell. In four games he is yet to commit a turnover. He has a solid turnaround jumper in the blocks and a nice touch facing the basket. He also runs the break well. For two years weíve heard how well Johnson plays in pick-up games. We are beginning to see his talents in games.

Johnsonís biggest problem this year is one of numbers. Collison, Gooden and Chenowith are each going to get a lot of minutes, leaving only about 15 a game for a fourth post player. So far this season those minutes have been divided between Johnson and Lester. I donít know how Williams can solve that problem, but Johnson looks like he intends to make the most of whatever minutes he can get.

Nick Bradford deserves every minute he plays.
Coach Williams has been praising Nick Bradfordís senior leadership ever since practice started, and Nick was one of the first players Williams identified as a sure starter. Still, it seems there are some fans either enamored of Axtellís scoring or who still think of Nick as he was as a freshman--a turnover-waiting-to-happen wearing big socks--who wonder why he is getting more minutes than anyone but Chenowith.

Hereís the answer. Bradford leads the team in assists (21) and has the best assist to turnover ratio on the team (2.625), leads the team in steals (9) with more than double any other Jayhawk, and is averaging 9.8 points per game. And his scoring is efficient; heís shooting 61% from the filed. Bradford has earned every minute and to my mind is the glue that holds this team together.

Kenny Gregory is much improved
Kenny is leading the team in scoring with 17.8 point per game. That alone isnít enough to proclaim Kenny out of his sophomore slump. This time last year he was KUís leading scorer before slumping and losing his starting spot by the middle of the season. It is the rest of his play that looks so much improved. Set aside the stats and just watch him play. He looks like heís just having a lot more fun. He looks energized. Part of that may be due to the fact that KUís up-tempo style this year plays to his strengthórunning the floor on the break. But I think it goes beyond that. He seems to have a renewed dedication to the team concept. Unlike last year he seems just as comfortable in the half-court game as in transition and only rarely has appeared to get frustrated by a slower tempo and force a one-on-one shot as a result. He also seems much more focused and comfortable on defense.

His early numbers are revealing. Last season he averaged 11.8 points per game playing 25 minutes a game. This season heís getting 6 more points per game playing three less minutes. Last season he committed a turnover for every assist this year heís getting two assists for every turnover and has both increased his assists per game and reduced his turnovers per game.

Playing fewer minutes and playing on a much bigger team he has still increased his rebounding average by 2 per game, averaging 6.8 compared to 4.7 last season.

Itís a bit early to know whether his outside shooting has improved. Heís missed all three three-point shots heís taken this year, but heís hit a bunch of shots in the 15-18 foot range. The test for Kenny will be to keep these numbers going in this positive direction, but it is apparent why Coach Williams identified him as one of the players playing the best in practice.

Except at the free throw line
Kennyís performance at the stripe is still his Achillesí heel. For the season heís only hitting 45% and still looks uncomfortable. He missed the first of two free throws on three occasions against Georgia Tech, air-balling one of them. The only positive sign is that he made the second on all three occasions. Against Georgia Williams put Gregory on the bench in the closing moments undoubtedly because he didnít want Kenny at the line. If this stat doesnít improve KU will miss Kenny at the end of close games where his athleticism could help the Jayhawks.

The Jayhawks wonít have many off nights.
Teams that have only one or two go-to guys are susceptible to off night. If the scorers arenít clicking, such a team can be quite vulnerable. The Jayhawks donít appear to have any primary go-to guy. Rather they have about 7 guys who can carry the team on any given night. Consider Boschee who scored 18 and 16 in the first two games in Alaska but was scoreless through three-quarters of the game against Georgia Tech. The Jayhawks didnít miss a beat and were winning by 23.

Three different Jayhawks have led the team in scoring in only four game and the Jayhawks have had at least five players score in double figures in three of their four games. On any given night Chenowith, Gooden, Collison, Boschee, Gregory or Bradford could lead the team in scoring without anyone being the least bit surprised. Eight different KU players have scored in double figures on at lest one occasion in just the first four games.

Not only does this mean that defenses canít focus on only one player, it means that KUís players are likely to play very loosely. None of the Jayhawks have to feel that the teamís success depends on whether they are scoring on a given night. One suspects that this will have to make it easier for all of the players to relax and just stroke their shots.

Chenowith is struggling:
The only disappointment so far this season is that Chenowith hasnít picked up where he left off last season. Eric is very talented and is worthy of his preseason accolades when he is aggressive under the basket and takes the ball strongly to the hoop. Eric improved upon that during the course of last season and started routinely getting double-doubles in conference play. So far this season he has mostly reverted to passive play and his numbers have suffered as a result. Last year he averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds. He is averaging only 9.8 points and 6 rebounds a game this year despite playing the most minutes of anyone on the team.

Williams said before the season began that Eric needed to improve his shooting percentage. Last season he shot only 44% from the field, far below the 60% one expects from a post player. The primary cause of his low shooting percentage is his tendency to be satisfied with fade-away shots rather than attacking the basket. So far this season his shooting percentage is lower than last season at 40% and, except for moments in the first half against Georgia Tech, he has failed to attack the basket.

Eric started slowly last season before coming on and he may well do the same this season. Whether KU is simply a very good team or one of the very best in the nation may depend, though, on whether Eric becomes the force inside he has the potential to be.

This team is going to be fun to watch.
The Jayhawks have looked a little sloppy at times, and the defense is still coming around, but my goodness is this team fun to watch. They can score equally effectively in the half-court offense and in transition, pass the ball well, rebound well, and score in huge bunches. Regardless of how the season ends or how many games the team ultimately wins, this is going to be one of the most entertaining seasons Williams has given us.

By the numbers:
As we have every season, Dave and I (well mostly Dave) will update the team season-to-date stats after every game and will update individual player stats broken out by game every week or two. Hereís the link to the season-to-date stats. Click on a playerís name on that page to find their individual stats broken out by each game.

If you havenít already discovered it, Dave has compiled complete stats for every player and every team since the beginning of KU basketball, creating the most complete set of KU stats anywhere on the web or anywhere at all except in the files of the KU athletic department. There isnít a college basketball team in the country whose stats are so well documented on the web. I tip my hat to my friend and partner for this remarkable achievement.

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