K-State faces off with KU today, in a 1:00 p.m. tipoff at
the Amityville House of Horror Allen Fieldhouse. To give us a little more information about KU, I posed a few questions to Rock Chalk Talk's fetch9. My answers to his questions are here.
TB: Our shared commenter, 2.1, has mentioned that you've embarked on a yearlong quest to chart individual defense. Can you describe what you're doing?
F9: Basically what I'm doing is re-watching every game (and oftentimes re-watching many defensive possessions more than just once) in an attempt to see who is responsible for a defensive breakdown, or, alternatively, who is responsible for things like a missed shot or turnover. For a longer explanation, you can read the first one here. It was started by David Hess, and got some press in SI thanks to Luke Winn running a big feature on it. Basically, for me, it is a way to try to back up any assertions we make. Defensive analysis is way behind offensive analysis and while I think I've gotten better at evaluating defense from a scouting point of view, especially since I've watched it so much, it's nice to be able to point out some stats and trends that maybe don't agree with popular narrative about a guy, or to be able to back up an assertion like "Joel Embiid is getting more and more Withey-like." There are a few things it can't do obviously; just to pull out a recent example, an Oklahoma player tried driving the lane on Wiggins, but Wiggins cut him off and made him pass the ball back out and Oklahoma eventually had to take a tougher shot. Obviously that was great defense by Wiggins, but there's no real way to capture it in the defensive scoresheet. Still, it's a step up from where we were in evaluating defense I think.
TB: The schedule has been difficult, but I sense a bit of disappointment among KU fans at having four losses at this point. Did you expect better in the non-conference season? And what would you consider the biggest "problem" thus far?
F9: I'm not too disappointed I guess. I think we all have a habit of overrating our own team, especially ones this talented, that we kind of lose sight of the fact that these are just kids who don't have a lot of experience. It didn't help either that they had to go a month without a game at home. And with the tough schedule, they don't have a bad loss on their record. I kind of hate people who rationalize away things like this because at the end of the day you could do it with every team, but Kansas is really probably 5 or 6 total possessions away from being undefeated (and definitely ranked #1 in the country, yet they'd be the exact same team). Things like Arcidiacono making a lucky three for Villanova, or Askia Booker making that 40 footer to win it at the buzzer for Colorado, or Perry Ellis not being able to corral a pass that he grabs 99 times out of 100 against SDSU Again, I fully acknowledge it's kind of wishful thinking to explain all those things away, because they definitely happened, but a bounce here and a bounce there and the team's record looks a lot different. The W-L record doesn't look great, but they're 4 close losses against 4 really good teams, three of them away from home. I can live with that.
TB: Andrew Wiggins has played well, but the production hasn't matched the outsize expectations of the national media and some, if not many, KU fans. Did you expect more out of Wiggins this year? And are you concerned that he hasn't played particularly well the last couple weeks?
F9: I really didn't. I think some of it comes from watching a lot of his play in AAU ball and realizing the system that Self runs. Self doesn't run a lot of pick and roll and pretty much no isolation, and those are the two areas where I think Wiggins could score the most points. He's a little loose with his ballhandling yet and his outside shot isn't great, but he's getting to the rim a lot and has been fine at shooting two point jumpers. Perry Ellis really struggled around the rim last year and then turned it on late, so hopefully a similar explosion is coming from Wiggins once he adjusts to the college game a bit more. The main positive, obviously, has been his defense. I haven't watched enough other people to rank him for sure, and there are definitely times when he takes possessions off, but when he gets it into his head that his man isn't scoring, his man doesn't score.
TB: As I view it, K-State's only potential matchup advantage is Jevon Thomas against Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason. Are you concerned about KU's point guard play this season in general, and this Saturday in particular?
F9: Eh, yes and no. I haven't been high on Frank Mason all year to be honest. He's a crowd favorite because he's tough and fearless and he knifes into the lane, but the offense is a lot worse with him on the floor. He can't shoot and he doesn't have a great assist rate. Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal took a really good look at the two (that I can't find now, obviously) and found that a lot of Tharpe's assists were for layups and dunks, whereas Mason's were for jumpers and three pointers. He has a low turnover rate, but that's only because he doesn't really do much on offense.
Tharpe, meanwhile, kind of is what he is at this point. He's inconsistent, but when Good Tharpe shows up, Kansas is going to be really tough to beat. Oklahoma isn't exactly good defensively, but Good Tharpe showed up and Kansas won despite Wiggins and Embiid both playing poorly, and having to sit due to foul trouble. If he can play the opponents' point guard even close to even, I think Kansas should win every game that happens. The problem, of course, is getting him to stay at that level. He needs to cut down on the turnovers, but he's had a really good assist rate all year and he's added the three to his game, shooting 42% on the year, so I've been pretty happy with him offensively. Defensively is another story, but both he and Mason have been poor there, so neither really has the edge. One way I think K State will score points this weekend in fact is that for some reason Bill Self likes to play Tharpe and Mason together, and that's usually when the opponent goes on a bit of a run.
TB: At various points, I've heard Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden mentioned as possible early-entry players. How many of KU's freshmen do you expect to return next season?
F9: Wiggins is gone obviously. I think Selden will be back. He's probably a late lottery pick at this point, even with how much he's struggled, and if he has a good year next year he could probably go top 10 with next year's draft not being very good. Embiid is an interesting story. There's been some chatter lately about how he doesn't need the money and maybe he'd come back because of how hard it is to develop a post game in the NBA. But as it stands I really can't see him coming back when he could be the #1 pick in June. That's just too much money to turn down.