November 5, 2012

KU offense struggles

Monday's final exhibition game for No. 7 Kansas was far from pretty as the Jayhawks were miserable on the offensive end of the floor in a 62-50 win over the Ichabods.

As good as they looked last week against Emporia State, Kansas was equally as bad against Washburn. Granted the Ichabods are ranked as the No. 2 team in the country at the Div. II level, but the Jayhawks looked every bit the young, underclassman-dominated team that they are on paper.

Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis stole the show for Kansas, essentially carrying the team through the entire 40 minutes with their combined effort. Senior Jeff Withey came on late with a solid performance after a nonexistent first half.

"He hasn't been a factor at all in our first two exhibition games, until the last 10 minutes of the game today where he did some good things," Bill Self said about his senior center. "You know at halftime he had no points, one rebound, no assists, one block and two turnovers in 11 minutes. That's a guy that's going to challenge for all league honors I hope, but year we have to get more out of him. He was a factor there late which hopefully will be a good boost for him but he hasn't been very aggressive."

As if actual words were needed based on the look Bill Self maintained throughout the game, he summed up his teams' performance quite emphatically after the win, obviously disgusted with the performance on the offensive end of the floor.

"We actually guarded them well. We held Washburn to 50. We did a good job defensively. Our offense stunk. It was just beyond bad," Self said in his opening statement after his teams' win over the Ichabods. "We scored 26 the last 24 minutes. We scored 36 points in first 16 minutes and 26 points in the last 24 minutes. I'm disappointed in that, but we are going to be a team that plays in spurts, and we're going to be a team that labors to score. We just are. We don't have guys that you can throw it to and just go get a basket."

"When you live by the perimeter jump shot, you are going to miss them some. We didn't execute and our senior leadership was non-existent. We played like little babies tonight. They beat us to loose balls, and we didn't rebound it. There are several things that we didn't do very well, but our first shot defense was pretty good. That was the only reason why we won the game."

Indeed his team struggled to score. Outside of McLemore and Ellis, the team struggled to get anything going offensively. McLemore's 17 came mostly in the first half when the freshman guard was simply un-guardable, while Ellis chipped in 10 and senior Elijah Johnson had a very quiet 13 points.

Kansas' defense held Washburn to just 25-percent shooting from the floor, while the Jayhawks hit 43-percent of their shots. It was poor shooting in the second half which resulted in just 26 points; it was the lack of actual shots and looks during their possessions.

After the game, Johnson had his own opinion about the current struggles of his team.

"I think everyone is thinking too much right now. Personally, as a senior, I'm speaking about it. I think it's too many people thinking too hard and not just playing. With us thinking so hard and making it complex, I think that we're confusing each other, rather than just rolling on a rhythm on the same train, building off of one play. I just feel like everyone is feeling like they have to hit a home run. With that being said, I think there's no chemistry out there."

Without a doubt you can see the lack of cohesiveness on the floor for the Jayhawks, but that typically comes with time. While McLemore looked to be every bit the NBA talent scouts drool over, he also scored many of his points in more of a one-on-one setting rather than plays being run for him.

It's visibly clear the sets Kansas runs on the offensive end are at this point, basic at best.

McLemore also claimed 10 rebounds and overall was by far the top performer for Kansas Monday night. His effort on both ends of the court was the first real proof of his incredible talent level, however, he had his own moments of mistake-filled possessions common of any freshman.

"Being a guard, the coach stresses a lot for me to crash the boards and just box my man out and crash the boards a lot," McLemore said of his rebounding effort. "So coach definitely stressed it a lot so I just do that and it helps the team out. I just crash the boards."

His athletic ability and ceiling is so high that the 6-foot-5 St. Louis, MO-native is full-throttle all the time, which means he is playing out of control much of the time. He along with the majority of his teammates haven't yet shown the understanding of valuing possessions.

"A lot of it is just pure lack of basketball IQ. We have to help them. Most of it is just pure softness. Not meeting the pass-just so soft with that ball. That was embarrassing, but I do think that was probably the best thing to happen to us. We're not what people think we are yet, so why not be humbled a little bit? We got their attention. I can get their attention now," said Self when talking about what impact Monday's game may have had.

"We haven't had a good week of practice. You play like you practice normally; not all of the time. You can just go down the list of things we didn't do. Not very often do you have a collective game where everybody plays poorly individually. I don't want guys leaving here feeling good because they scored points. That's not what it's about. What it's about is Kansas scoring points and Kansas making plays. We moped around a little bit, but this is good for us. We're so young, and we have so much to learn. We have to have better senior leadership without question."

Senior Elijah Johnson agrees with his coach in terms of the team not understanding exactly what is being asked of them by the coaching staff this early in the season. A young group of players need to understand the game on a level they never have up to this point.

"I think he wanted us to focus in. I don't think this group understands yet what it means to put a team to a stop or try and kill momentum," Johnson said after the game. "Right now, I wouldn't say we're struggling, but we're not as good as we were last year when we ended the year. It's just a learning process; we have a lot of new people on the floor. He called timeouts to give some people some reminders."

In terms of what type of teaching tool Monday's performance will serve as, well Self isn't quite sure yet because he isn't sure his team is ready to learn the type of lesson they are in need of. It's simply too early to tell what he is dealing with but his words should send the proper shockwaves throughout the locker room.

"It's not like we played everybody. We played to win. You can't have guys coming in and playing three or four minutes and having three turnovers. That's unheard of; that's junior-high ball. That's where it's at. I'll be honest; I don't think this is going to bother me much. I think it's perfect that we can go into the season and get their attention a little bit. We have a big game Friday and a huge one on Tuesday. If we play this soft a week from now, we're going to get a knot put on our head big time. Usually, guys in this program rally around this, and I'm sure these guys will."

Washburn head coach Bob Chipman has every reason to be proud of his team for fighting the way they did against the No. 7 team in the country. After the game, coach Chipman, who currently owns more than 700 career victories as a head coach, spoke about the effort of his team.

"I'm proud of our guys. We had some guys that really hooked it up and competed hard. (Senior forward Bobby Chipman and senior guard Will McNeill) played their tails off," coach Chipman said. "I thought our defense was really good. I'm proud of them and they just kept scrapping on every possession. We had a difficult time scoring. We'd get it in there and Mr. (Jeff) Withey was in there. I finally told Will and the guys to start shooting pull-up jumpers and Jeff started to block some pull-up jumpers. I really was proud of them. I thought we hung together. It was a tough environment. I thought our guys played really hard and it's kind of what you wanted to do as a coach. We feel good about the improvement we've made through these three games."

When talking about what he sees from the Jayhawks, coach Chipman again expect KU to be a very good team when all is said and done.

"(Kansas) is going to be great. What a class group of kids and what an unbelievable program. Just to be on this stage with them, what a great experience for us. It's something that we'll never forget. Those kids are incredible, so a special thanks to the Jayhawks for letting us come on their stage and be a part of something I know we'll always remember."

Up next for Kansas is the first regular season game of the year on Friday in Lawrence, Kan., when Southeast Missouri State comes to town.

The Jayhawks will look to improve upon their performance from Monday night and lock up a win Friday before heading to Atlanta to take on Michigan State the following Tuesday.

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