The hot topic with Kansas basketball this year will be shot selection, and one can understand why.
These Jayhawks will fire up more threes than any other Bill Self team, and that’s basically because they have to. KU is short on big men and long on shooters, meaning those sorta-guarded threes — ones that would have gotten players benched in the past — have now become tries that should at the least be forgiven and perhaps even encouraged.
Shots will go down some nights. They’ll miss others.
But in the aggregate, that philosophy has the potential to push up KU’s offensive ceiling for an important reason — and one that was on display Friday night in the Jayhawks’ 98-64 victory over South Dakota State.
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Svi Mykhailiuk, Udoka Azubuike and Bill Self talk about Svi’s point and Udoka’s move after beating South Dakota State 99-64 on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Shane KeyserThe Kansas City Star
KU’s players, taking advantage of additional shooting freedom, had no turnovers in the first half. In fact, the Jayhawks didn’t have a giveaway until their 51st possession when Mitch Lightfoot had a shot half-blocked-half-stolen with 11:27 left.
“Usually when you don’t turn it over, it’s because you’re not taking enough chances, but I’m not sure that was the case tonight,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I just think we did a pretty good job.”
A few things have to go right for KU to go that long without a turnover, which is something that’s tough to do even when going against no defenders in practice.
Start with this: South Dakota State is not a pressuring team. That helps. But KU also benefited from big man Udoka Azubuike making good decisions when he was trapped in the post. And South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger also singled out Kansas guard Devonté Graham as a stabilizing force with 11 assists and one turnover.
“He’s an unbelievable passer, tremendous passer on the move, leader, winner,” Otzelberger said.
Consider KU’s ball security from Friday another way this offense could look strikingly different from the past.
The Jayhawks haven’t always been a high-turnover team exactly, but they haven’t perennially been a low one either. Self’s best team at KU ranked 60th in turnover percentage and his worst one 243rd, meaning this hasn’t been a statistical standout one way or the other in most seasons.
That might change if KU keeps up its pace from Friday. A primary four-guard lineup means more ball-handlers on the floor, and looser shot selection also could help by giving the Jayhawks a chance at points before a potential turnover.
It could be an effective way to play, considering the circumstances. Statistician Dean Oliver first came up with the four factors to winning and found each to have a different approximate weight: shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free-throw rate (15 percent).
This team’s roster construction should ding two of those categories. KU doesn’t have as many guys who can get to the rim off the dribble, so it’s unlikely to get as many free throws. And a lack of available big men will probably hurt rebounding, especially on the defensive end.
Then again, those aren’t the most important elements. Shooting and turnovers are, which means reducing that second category by one or two a game potentially could help KU more than most realize.
What’s funny, though, is how Self handled the first-half achievement. When he looked down at the halftime box score and saw a zero, he immediately knew he had to bring it up with his team.
“He didn’t say anything about turning the ball over,” KU forward Clay Young said. “He focused more on the fact that we didn’t have any offensive rebounds.”
Of course. When two numbers jump off the box score, expect Self to talk about the one that will motivate his players most.
Make no mistake, though. The other zero was impressive too.