Could we have two more depressing games for which to write reaction posts? First, an expected but still bitterly disappointing loss to our in-state rival, and then an embarrassing collapse to the second-worst team in the league at home on Senior Night.
On Wednesday, the Cats traveled to Lawrence and left with an 82-65 loss. I guess you could say the final margin makes the game look like a bigger blowout than it was, as K-State repeatedly cut into KU's leads after a slow start and tied the game early in the second half at 45-45. Despite that, this game was not in doubt past the 10-minute mark of the second half, as KU took advantage of our zone defense to knock down 50 percent of its three-point attempts after the break.
Let's do a short breakdown of what I took away from the game on Wednesday...
What I liked...
Seeing Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen play well on the same night. I remarked after the Missouri game that I would love to see a game where Denis and Jake played well on the same night. We got that on Wednesday, as the pair combined for 41 points on 12/26 shooting (5/12 3FG). Of course, when I said I wanted to see them play well on the same night, I was assuming all other things would remain equal. That is, I wanted both Jake and Denis to play well and get the same production inside that we've seen. We'll get to that more below, but ceteris paribus was not a valid assumption on Wednesday.
A decent response to playing in that barn. We're improving. Last year, we fell behind 17-0 in Allen Fieldhouse. This year, it was only 6-0. We need to get off to better starts, because it's damn hard to beat KU, period, but when you dig yourself a hole early, it's impossible.
The reappearance of Wally Judge. Does he just need a higher-ranked opponent to get his game going? He didn't play nearly as well as his 10-point, nine-rebound effort in the first game against KU, but he was as good as any of our big guys -- which isn't saying much -- in scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds.
What I didn't like...
Four assists. It's hard to fathom that we could have Pullen and Clemente on the floor for a combined 74 minutes and only have four assists as a team. A lot of credit for this has to go to KU for playing tough defense, including that goddamn triangle-and-two junk, but we have really seen this team stagnate on offense laterly. Speaking of that...
Where has the offense gone? Only 63 points in a win against Missouri. Then 65 in a loss to KU. The Iowa State game was a little better, at 74 points in regulation, but that's still well below the season average of almost 80 per game.
Being stuck in zone defense. We were in deep foul trouble, and sticking with man-to-man was probably an invitation to having half our squad disqualified from the game with five fouls, but zone is not how we play.
Going away from the inside guys. Wally Judge took six shots. Jamar Samuels took four. Curtis Kelly took two (?!). Dominique Sutton took three, and didn't make a single one of them. Luis Colon took four. When Big Lu has double the shot attempts Kelly does, we're going to be in trouble, one way or another.
Iowa State thoughts after the jump...
Infinitely more disturbing than the loss to KU was Saturday's debacle against Iowa State. Despite having some talented players, it's hard to overstate how bad ISU has been this year. Prior to Saturday, they had three conference wins, two against Nebraska and one against Colorado. Frank Martin liked to say prior to the game that ISU has as good a starting five as anybody in the Big 12. I tend to think that may be a bit of an overstatement, but regardless they have some pretty good players with Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap.
Unfortunately, they also have zero depth, meaning they have to overplay their best players and can't turn to anyone when they get in foul trouble. We managed to get them in foul trouble Saturday, but we didn't do a lot with it, and we failed to take advantage of what should have been a tailor-made overtime situation.
What I liked...
Nothing. There's nothing good you can take away from a home loss to Iowa State. Nothing.
What I didn't like...
Losing focus. After a sluggish start -- another bad habit this team needs to break -- the Cats came roaring back with a run to take the lead (I'd like to tell you how big the run was, but nobody has play-by-play stats on this game). The run got the overly inebriated crowd into the game and got the players excited, but my sense throughout the game was the the run got the team a little too relaxed, and they took Iowa State too lightly. Oh good, we put this big run on them. It's going to be easy now. Not so much.
No inside game. For the second straight game, we had no inside game whatsoever. Clemente and Pullen combined for 38 shots (and made a whopping 11 of them). Samuels/Kelly/Colon/Sutton/Judge combined for 20 shots. If Jake and Denis are hot, like they were against KU, we can live with that kind of breakdown. When they're not, it's a recipe for disaster. Last night, we got disaster. And can someone, for the love of God, please teach Samuels as post move other than "turn to the middle and throw up an off-balance shot while hoping to get fouled"?
Lazy defense. I remarked after the game in the open thread that we were constantly switching on high ball screens, especially in the second half. Maybe that was Frank's strategy, and if he had a reason for doing it, I'm all ears. But it just looked like laziness to me, and it resulted in bad matchups. On one of Iowa State's crucial possessions in overtime, Diante Garrett was handling the ball up top and got a screen. We switched, leaving Jamar Samuels on Garrett outside, which is not a matchup we want. Garrett crossed Samuels over, got to the rim, and just floated the ball over Samuels and Kelly.
As a corollary to that, Samuels failed to rotate on two consecutive possessions in overtime, both resulting in easy buckets (one a layup, the other a dunk). That simply goes back to effort. Yesterday, the team in cardinal and gold put forth maximum effort. The team in white did not.
Not taking advantage of a chance to bail ourselves out. We played horrible the entire game and really didn't deserve to win. But thanks to some big plays late, we managed to tie it and force overtime. By the time we got to overtime, Craig Brackins had long ago fouled out, and three other Iowa State players -- including their only other decent big guy, Justin Hamilton -- had four fouls. However, even without Brackins, the Cyclones found a way to win in the overtime, and on the road.
What it means and where we're going...
Despite the loss, we are still the two-seed in this week's Big 12 men's basketball tournament in Kansas City. We will open play on Thursday, March 11, at 6:00 p.m., against the winner of Wednesday's 7/10 game between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Most likely, we will face a rematch against the Cowboys, who knocked us off in Bramlage earlier this season. To say that I'm not exactly brimming with confidence about that one is an understatement.
We shouldn't make too much out of one game, but there are certain problems that have been festering for a while that reared their heads in an ugly way yesterday. We simply are not running much of an offense right now. To some extent, we've always been a chuck-it-and-go-get it team, which isn't bad if you can get decent looks for your shooters and can commit three players to offensive rebounding. But when it isn't working -- and three-pointers aren't always going to fall at a 50 percent clip -- you have to have something else. With players like Kelly, Samuels, Sutton and even Judge, we should be able to work the ball inside against most teams. In the Missouri game, we did a good job of getting inside looks for the big guys. Against the Tigers, Jake and Denis combined for 19 shot attempts, while Kelly/Samuels/Sutton/Henriquez combined for 27.
It would also help to see a better defensive effort than what we got the last couple games. Iowa State shot 47.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three-point line. KU was 51 percent overall and 44 percent from deep. That won't get it done, especially with the way our offense is playing right now. It would be an overreaction to declare that these guys may be worn down from a long season, but we had better hope that is not the case right now, because that's one of the few things you can't make adjustments to change.
Anyway, it's time to put last week behind us. The regular season is over, and it was quite a ride to 24-6. Now the postseason begins, starting this week in Kansas City and continuing next week at a site to be determined.