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Shooting woes plague Kansas against zone defense

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, at 12:44 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, at 12:44 p.m.

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— In plain and simple terms, Kansas coach Bill Self is not what you would consider a “zone defense” kind of guy. For Self, the idea of going zone is something close to conceding failure.

If you can’t stop a team in a man-to-man defense, why even bother showing up?

So that’s the context. Now hear this: For the moment, if Self was tasked with coaching against his own team, there’s no question what defense he would use.

“Everybody’s gonna play us zone right now until we start making some shots,” Self said on Saturday night, in the moments after Kansas’ 75-72 loss at Colorado.

So yes, as No. 6 Kansas prepares to face No. 15 Florida on Tuesday night in Gainesville, Fla., Self is very much expecting his young team to see another night of zone defense. And why not? For the last two weeks, as KU has dropped two of its last three games, the Jayhawks have seen a healthy diet of zone. And they’ve shown very little ability to break it down in the post or bust it from the outside.

After eight games, the Jayhawks are shooting just 29.8 percent from three-point range, a number that checks in at 286th in the country. The sample size is still small, of course, but Kansas is thus far pacing to be the worst outside shooting team of Self’s tenure.

The Jayhawks shot 33.7 percent from three-point range in 2003-04, Self’s first year at Kansas, and they’ve been better than that every year since. Aside from 2012, when KU shot 34.5 percent from three, Self’s teams have been in the 36-to-40 percent range.

“We’re struggling right now,” KU freshman Andrew Wiggins said late last week. “We’re not where we want to be at. But I’d say in the next couple games, in the next couple months, we’ll pull it together.”

Still, the numbers have trended downward during Kansas’ last four games; the Jayhawks have made just 15 of 65 from behind the arc during the span, including a five-of-20 performance against Colorado.

The shooting issues appear to be partly based on youthful decision-making, and perhaps partly just based on unfortunate luck during the season’s opening weeks.

For instance: Freshman point guard Frank Mason, who is three of 19 from three-point range, should probably be shooting less. But then there’s freshman guard Conner Frankamp, who has been described by Self as one of the best shooters he’s coached. In limited minutes, Frankamp is just three of 13 from three.

Meanwhile, Kansas’ other backcourt regulars — Wayne Selden, Naadir Tharpe and Wiggins — have shot a combined 35 percent (21 of 60) from three.

It’s not just pure shooting, either. After the Colorado loss, Self blamed a general hesitancy to attack for some of the offensive problems.

“We weren’t very good against the zone because we were nervous about getting in there and making a play,” Self said. “(We) were letting two guys guard four guys. So we didn’t make them pay.”

On the whole, Kansas has still been one of the more efficient teams in the country, ranking 15th in adjusted efficiency, according to college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy. The number is largely based on the Jayhawks’ ability to dominate in the interior. KU is fourth in the country on two-point attempts, shooting 58.4 percent.

For the moment, the Jayhawks still has time to improve on the offensive end. And Self is stressing that point. The Jayhawks may have been ranked in the top 10 in the preseason polls, but Self never quite bought into the idea his team could be one of the nation’s best in November or December.

“I hate to say this, and this isn’t being critical, but we didn’t think we’d be a great team by Christmas,” Self said. “That’s being totally unrealistic.

“And the preseason ratings, they shouldn’t have had us there. But what we could be, we could play (to that ranking) at the end. But we couldn’t play there at the beginning.”

FLORIDA INJURY UPDATE: Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who is recovering from an ankle injury, is expected to be ready for Tuesday’s game against KU. Wilbekin is averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 assists in 35 minutes per game. Florida freshman guard Kasey Hill is still questionable after missing the last four games because of a high-ankle sprain.

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