Poor Defense Appears Fatal; We Shall Overcome

  • It’s now down to this … we’ve been here before. KU has a #1 seed and a reasonable path to the Final Four. But the last four times we’ve been in this position, our season has ended with painful losses. Logic says it will happen again. Champions, many times, defy logic.

    1. Defense Wins Championships: The old adage is generally true. Rarely does a top defensive team win the title when it is poor defensively. We posted about this yesterday … even UNC in 2005 and 2009 were in the top 40 in defensive efficiency. Roy’s teams that won the title played pretty good defense. I do think an overwhelming offense can overcome, but we’re talking six games, no margin of error, against top teams with great coaches. It’s why Self loves to have some character tests during the season, some games where we persevere and win when the ball doesn’t go in the hole. We have joked about how Self actually prefers low scoring games – this is surely part of the reason.

    2. Our Weakness: Defense has been our bugaboo all season. Someone aptly described the KU defense parting like the Red Sea when TCU attacked at times. We are lacking in that department. We have good perimeter defenders, but when the dike starts to leak, we have nothing to plug it with. We have zero rim protection from the post positions. JJ is an athletic guy, but nothing comparable to our ideal – Aldrich, Embiid, Withey. Erasers that cover leakage.

    3. Udoka: This was a huge loss. Udoka provided us a true rim protector. Coach Self inserted Udoka in the starting lineup, quite obviously, to prep him for this moment. To permit him to arc upward and gain experience. The wrist injury ended all that. And it sent our chances to play good team defense down the drain.

    4. Defensive Efficiency: If there is a big negative for KU’s chances of an NCAA title, it’s defensive efficiency. Kansas sits at 99th in defensive efficiency. Since Self has been the coach at KU, no team that has won the NCAA title has been worse than 74th. So we’re 25 spots away from that bottom-dweller position. Here is are the numbers for NCAA title winners for defensive efficiency, with Kansas shown for 2017.

    -2004: UConn 6

    -2005: UNC 19

    -2006: Florida 19 (KU was 1)

    -2007: Florida 16 (KU was 1)

    -2008: Kansas 4

    -2009: UNC 39

    -2010: Duke 9

    -2011: UConn 75

    -2012: Kentucky 9

    -2013: Louisville 3

    -2014: UConn 19

    -2015: Duke 63

    -2016: Villanova 14

    -2017: Kansas 99

    5. KenPom Defensive Efficiency: Using a different metric, KenPom’s efficiency ratings, the news doesn’t get any better. No NCAA title winner since 2004 has been worse than 21 in at the KenPom ratings regarding defensive efficiency. KU is now at 30.

    -2004: UConn 5

    -2005: UNC 7

    -2006: Florida 7

    -2007: Florida 15

    -2008: Kansas 1

    -2009: UNC 21

    -2010: Duke 5

    -2011: UConn 15

    -2012: Kentucky 8

    -2013: Louisville 1

    -2014: UConn 10

    -2015: Duke 12

    -2016: Villanova 5

    -2017: Kansas 30

    So what does this all mean? I think quite simply it seems to mean that we are living on borrowed time. It seems like harsh reality. It’s why when you have a team constructed for March, like we have many times before, you have to cash it. It’s why the possible titles in 2010, 2011, and 2015, where we could argue that we should have won, are so precious. We needed one of those. And a team like this just can’t win a national title, can it? Well, it shouldn’t.

    We all know we should not win the title this season. We look like Duke in 2015 I heard someone say, comparing Winslow and Jackson at the four, but ignoring the guy named Okafer. This season and its success is a result of Bill Self, and taking a team, and its warts, and constructing a scheme and plan to put our guys in the best position to win. The best example I have seen from coach Self in this regard. But we are have weaknesses that tend to get exposed in March. That inability to stop other teams from scoring.

    I have been content this season. A good word – content. We look at 2008-09 many times as Self’s best coaching job. This season, in my mind, is clearly the best. Landen Lucas and fumes in the post. Carlton Bragg, who’s played like the bong was his brother. And Dwight Coleby, whose game has had more holes than a block of Swiss most of the season. The leader, Lucas, continually plays to his ceiling. An amazing story. But he has been it.

    And the lack of inside presence has led to an inability to cover perimeter mistakes. It has led to perimeter issues, too, when our defenders have had to shade and protect against the drive, leaving open threes (ISU a great example). For those that shrug at the idea of rim protection, you might consider how valuable a Hunter Mickelson would be right now to this porous perimeter.

    Can we remain optimistic? Sure. This season may be decided by something other than defense. But don’t bet on it. And don’t bet on KU this March. That’s the ugly negative. The “we can’t” stuff that is easy to spew.

    This is Kansas, if I recall correctly. We can.

    The good news is that there are no lock down defensive teams in our bracket, aside from possibly Louisville. Here are the teams we may face, with defensive efficiency/KenPom defensive efficiency - Louisville 22/6, Oregon 19/22, Purdue 23/16, ISU 96/43, Creighton 91/27. Our possible second round opponents come in as follows - Michigan St. 92/34 and Miami 92/20.

    Has the NCAA selection committee done us a favor? A blessed favor? Maybe. Only one number from the two metrics in the top 10. The selection committee clearly gave us a favorable region. Who would have wanted Duke, or UCLA, or UK, or Arizona, over what we have? Would anyone have wanted defensive stalwarts UVA as our 5, or Wisconsin as our 8, or Florida as our 4? Maybe they all stink, but it seems that avoiding top defensive teams might be our best path.

    In our region, in top half of the seeds, only Michigan is better than KU on the offensive end of it, under both metrics. The differences aren’t substantial, but they are differences. And who scores better on under the basket in-bounds plays, anyway?

    This team also has experience, and it has the biggest (figuratively), baddest (literally – as in how Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from Welcome Back Kotter might say it) player in the tournament – Frank Mason. The single baddest player in CBB.

    Guards win titles, and this may be the clash of metrics vs. simplicity. The best guards win. Lots of examples where guard play has propelled teams to the title. If that is really the case, start find room in the trophy case.

    When I bet, I’ll bet on the best point guard in Kansas history. I sure as heck am not betting against him.

    I’m not betting against KU in the Sprint Center, either. AFH west has been gifted to Kansas, again by that evil NCAA. The gold brick path to the Final Four is there. It used to be Kemper, and Roy remembers UVA, and Jeff Jones. Bill Self has no such memory. This is our town.

    This KU team also knows how to win. Bill Parcells said that good teams win close games. Some say that good teams blow out the opponent. True. But good teams know how to win close games. That’s of great value. We’ve done it on the road, we’ve done it at home. We’ve done it. Just win, baby. Yea, I hated the Raiders. All Chiefs fans did. But over time, one respects the mantra and even the despicable QB (Kenny Stabler). This KU team just wins. It is all that matters.

    Sometimes, in the most pressure packed moments, a player rises to the moment. Better than he ever was, better than he will ever be. We have candidates, and one that has overcome a devastating knee injury to rise again. We’ve seen glimpses. On that crucial night, we might only need 12 solid minutes. But titles are won on 12 solid minutes. Call it a hunch.

    The optimist will say that we can overcome the history of the numbers defensively. Of course we can. We shall overcome. Someone always overcomes the numbers. Always. Standards and numbers change. Good grief, the Royals won the World Series again before I was dumped in a pine box. Would not have believed it possible. So odds have been destroyed before. Recently. Here.

    As we know, KU has had the odds in its favor many times in this event, and failed. Again, the last four times we were a number one seed we went down in flames before the Final Four. It would seem apropos for Kansas to win the title when the numbers seemed quite ominous. That’s how the world works. It’s not like we have to win the popular vote, lots of useless votes on the left coast – we just need the rest of the electoral college. Advanced metrics have been mocked by actual results quite recently, I tend to recall. Odds and probabilities be damned. That feeling is still in the air. .

    Red state? Deep state? State of denial? No – it’s a belief. A collective belief in what’s right.

    We overcame odds before, I think … in 1988. With a POY. We now have the POY again. And the POY shall lead them. The stars, planets, and little black birds on the wire can line up. We aren’t Villanova in '85, or the Wolpack of '83. We don’t have to be either to win it all. We’re above that.

    I might also argue that KU deserves this title. That’s right, we are the chosen ones. Given a life of KU basketball. We were born to this earth to don the crimson and blue, and to look down upon the world below us. This is of course a capitalistic system, one where the strong survive. The losers lose. We will not redistribute the wealth. We are aristocracy and we deserve another title – with our wine, and selection of tasty cheeses. The goblet gets passed around amongst the blue bloods. We shall drink. It’s been too long. We must drink.

    And Self deserves it. Man, does he deserve it. Hugging his son, grasping the trophy, cementing his place as the greatest coach in KU history. Self deserves this.

    This is a national title team until it isn’t. Six games. Three, four team tournaments. Easy, right?

    Maybe, just maybe, in a season of unprecedented off the court distractions, when the hits just keep on coming, the team with the supposed fatal flaw locks arms, with the chip squarely on their collective shoulder (see @drgnslayr), and that team drives powerfully to the title. Flipping the bird at that attack force media gathered outside the locker room. Saying screw the traitors, and the naysayers, and the enemies. We are 16,300 strong every freaking night, but that locker room and that coach has seen the knives come out from the treacherous, yet, predictable few. Waiting to pounce on perfection, and on a program and coach that do things the right way.

    We’ll pounce on this. There is no reason why this can’t happen. No reason.

    The best coach. The best player. And a team that has persevered all season, in dark situations, with an eye on the ultimate prize.

    Write KU in as your national title team. Or don’t. There is no ever present karma other than what runs through that locker room. This team has “it.” And I want a ring.

    We are Kansas. The greatest basketball school ever. Now on to the most amazing spectacle in sports.

  • @HighEliteMajor Nice detail-well thought out .Can’t speak for others, but I’ve missed your insight HEM-ROCK CHALK & welcome back.

  • @HighEliteMajor In many ways your posts remind me of others. Alter egos or surely coincidence?

  • IMG_4729.GIF

  • Classic post. Thanks for putting in all the time and effort to write it.

    I fully agree that stats and percentages aside we have what it takes. Best coach. Best player. Best name on the front of the jersey. Rock Chalk.

  • Some quick hitter comments.

    You listing those ideal centers, makes me realize just how spoiled we as KU fans have been in that regard until recently.

    The bright side of the comparison with defenses is that the worst team (2011 UCONN) had Kemba go beast mode, maybe Frank can be a facsimile of Kemba’s legendary tournament run.

    Personally I don’t lump in 2015 with 2010 and 2011. The 2015 team had so many losses. I know the mystery of Embiid is reason for some, but imo post play isn’t the reason the Stanford game was lost. Black played the game of his life in that game honestly, though he did foul out iirc.

    I would certainly agree that this particular KU team, is a bit smoke and mirrors. When you are this porous on defense, you have to be so so good on offense. As I was saying earlier in a discussion with other posters, this KU team could easily have 7-8 losses with a few different breaks of the ball. Arguing otherwise is foolish. Now there is the old adage you are what your record says you are, and this team definitely has grit, which gives me a bit more hope.

    Lucas is definitely the only dependably post player, and even Lucas would admit he isn’t great. He’s great for this team in that he does enough and is smart on offense, but he can’t be relied on to get critical baskets, the skillset just isn’t there.

    Agree this has been Self’s best coaching job at KU. Somewhat ironically because Udoka got injured, but we will never know how everything would have progressed with Doke.

    Oregon no longer has Boucher, that hurts them a lot.

    I agree, said it Sunday when I saw the brackets this is a GREAT path. Dodged UVA, WSU and Zona which were all teams I felt would beat KU. Also I would agree Wisconsin is one of the better 8/9s.

  • I’d love to see us break the ‘curse’ of being Kansas whatever that is and win this year. For all of our bluebloodedness, we’ve fallen short all but 3 times since the present format of the NCAA tournament. 50’s, 80’s, 00’s, We’ve shortened the time between titles from 30 years between to 20 years between. Time to make it 10 years between. I know that’s not an approach that makes any sense, but as you finished up, we have to win this, we deserve it. We’re Kansas. But that poor defense sure worries me!

  • @wissox

    If it wasn’t for that damn juggernaut perfect Calimari storm in 2012, that KU squad was a team of destiny.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Kick ass.

    Here’s my name later: jaybate 1.0.

    Way to go.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Very interesting and well through out post. I do have a few questions that hopefully you can answer.

    First, if I recall correctly, Pomeroy defensive efficiency was at one time a lot higher, I seem to remember in the 70s and now it sits at 30 which would appear to indicate that defense has improved as the season moved forward and had the team played better defense earlier the number might be lower.

    Next, the conference is better this year than last and teams cannot overlook any opponents and bottom of the conference OU can beat WSU on the road and KSU can beat Baylor on the road and at a neutral site. OSU is currently ranked as #1 in offensive efficiency by KenPom. Nobody could have predicted that KU would win the conference by 4 games, I certainly did not, and yet it managed to do so against all odds. Luck alone cannot explain the result so it appears that KU, like most great teams, does not need luck since it apparently makes its own luck. This is an extremely powerful argument since it shows that KU can close the deal in close games, something that was missing in past teams.

    Last, Mason has had a season for the ages and winning the Title would not only validate his season but the team’s as well. This is powerful motivation to move forward in a format when one bad game sends you home. As you mentioned, guards win tournaments and KU has a great, arguably the best, although the center is still the Achilles heel if Lucas gets in foul trouble; luckily KU also has two 6’8" players that can compensate some. A good tournament by Bragg and to a lesser extent Coleby could be the ultimate difference.

  • @JayHawkFanToo

    Nice in theory but what has Bragg or Coleby done to lead you to believe they are capable of a 6 game sustained run? Then again that might be asking too much in general, just patch 5 games (the first game is essentially free, NO WHAMMY NO WHAMMY NO WHAMMY NO JINX) together out of the entire post composite. Louisville worries me with their bigs, maybe they will choke.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    When I look at your two lists for DE it seems like fairly wide dispersion around a mean…

    Further, in the first list, Duke’s 2015 team and UConn’s 2011 team stand out as both most similar to this 2017 KU team in reliance on offense, and to significantly have poorer than average defensive efficiency ratings, though not as poor as 2017 KU. The Duke and UConn teams seem like miner’s canaries for us to focus on. What would be interesting to know is if their offensive efficiencies were unusually high and so allowed them to be a little weaker and still win.

    Here is a QA thought.

    How about weighting the defensive efficiency rankings for each of the teams listed, but especially Duke and UConn, with season average for points per possession.

    DE x PPP = DE weighted for PPP (a measure of offensive efficiency).

    If DE weighted for PPP were similar for UConn, Duke and 2017 KU we might all sleep better for the next few weeks. 😄

  • @BShark

    I did not say they are, simply that if they do it could be a game changer. Remember Perry? He had a pretty non-descript freshman year until the conference tournament when he turned the switch on and never looked back and as they say, the rest is history.

    We have seen at times flashes of what, Bragg and to a lesser extent Coleby, can do but they have not been consistent. Again, I don’t know if they will do it but I certainly hope they do.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Bravo! One of the best posts to grace the boards in many a moon.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    It’s 11pm and I just caught your post. I’m tired and off to bed with a long day ahead but I feel like it is Christmas eve and you have given me a big present to open tomorrow! Can’t wait.

  • Love this post; love the Talking Heads. Rock Chalk!

  • Some good news. Kansas does rank in the top 25 in Luck per Pomeroy.

    3-15-2017 8-04-27 AM.jpg

  • @Blown said:

    Some good news. Kansas does rank in the top 25 in Luck per Pomeroy.

    I think “luck” simply means “wins close games”.

  • You think a lot !! 💡

  • Nice post HEM. One typo though, the sprint center is East of Allen Fieldhouse. Allen Fieldhouse West is Manhattan, thankfully there are no NCAA games in that hole.

    KU’s defense scares me this year, but the offense thrills me. With Frank in charge KU will be in every game. Hopefully Devonte and others feel the urgency that Frank has demonstrated all season. Too bad Frank didn’t have more company in the gym this summer!

    I was waiting on last years team to win it all for four years. You could see it coming, then it didn’t. This year I don’t have as high of expectations as last season even though I think this team is more consistnent. The margin for error is much smaller this season than last, they just perform near their ceiling more often.

  • @ParisHawk


    And all other things statistical modeling cannot account for.

  • @Blown guys you choose when picking teams

  • @dylans yeah, I don’t feel the same urgency with Devonte. Appears as though he is coasting at times.

  • The coach at UC Davis is the former coach of Bradley.

    Just sayin’

  • @HighEliteMajor Man, perfectly put! Nothing to add. D cost us the IowaSt game in AFH, and the TCU-KansasCityYMCA-Debacle. You’ve been giving us caviar lately, HEM. Not Karviar, but we see even he was able to beat us. Defense: a BillSelf101 concept.

  • Just a thought regarding our D. When we play a good 3pt shooting team, why don’t we NOT offer as much help inside, and guard the wide open 3 shooter who is waiting for the kick-out pass from the driving player? I would rather have them shoot an inside contested shot, than a wide open 3. This seems to kill us all too often. Of course, it is preferred to keep our man in front of us, as to not allow the penetration in the first place. .

  • Pick your poison, but if we help less off shooters and open the drive even more, Lucas might get fouled up and then what?

    Self must be teaching a "protect Landen " D.

  • @dylans said:

    Allen Fieldhouse West is Manhattan

    It used to be in Boulder didn’t it?

  • @mayjay

    Allen Fieldhouse Mountain?

  • @mayjay both places Boulder and the big horse apple

  • @dylans Yeah, but I just miss the stories about people going to Boulder from Kansas because they could get tickets. Didn’t UColo one year require that people buy season tickets in order to get the KU game?

  • @mayjay

    Yes and I believe Texas does that the same thing now.

    I remember when Nebraska fans used to come to Lawrence for football since it was the only way they could watch their team live.

  • @JayHawkFanToo said:


    Yes and I believe Texas does that the same thing now.

    I remember when Nebraska fans used to come to Lawrence for football since it was the only way they could watch their team live.

    UT did it for one year when Steve Patterson was AD. There were still a bunch of KU fans there that year because there were a bunch of tickets on the secondary market. I think that was either 2013 or 2014, but that lasted only for one year.

  • @Texas-Hawk-10

    I believe you posted that before and I was not sure if they still dd it. Thanks for the assist.

  • @JayHawkFanToo said:

    I remember when Nebraska fans used to come to Lawrence for football since it was the only way they could watch their team live.

    Oh yeah, back in the day when there were more visitors in the stands than home crowd.


  • @HighEliteMajor

    I’ve been one of your disciples for a long time.

    I’ve never seen you commit this hard to fate. You have always been the firm pragmatist; writing novel-length posts to properly give your message it’s due respect. You are the guy who doesn’t shave corners. You have the hardheadedness necessary to be a successful head coach. That is why I’ve always referred to you as “Coach.” I’ve always respected you because you are “all in” concerning your beliefs.

    So what you post here has really given me an extra shot of optimism. All the printed words and stats simply push to “NO” for Kansas this year. This would usually give you enough material to support the “NO” prediction.

    But you went for the “eye test” instead. You went for the “heart test” instead. You FEEL the presence of Frank Mason… a guy we would all feel comfortable with us as our sidekick in any battle, from Iraq to the Final Four!

    Let’s go get this done!

    Done Losin’!

  • @HighEliteMajor Who are you, and how much of my kool-aid have you been drinking? 😕

  • @Blown said:

    Some good news. Kansas does rank in the top 25 in Luck per Pomeroy.

    3-15-2017 8-04-27 AM.jpg

    Noticed our first Foe is even luckier! They’re lucky they get to face Kansas!

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Again you have come through with a gem.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Good to see one of your well-thought-out posts- everything you says makes sense.

    Please, ye BB gods, give us the gift of a Hot Streak, some luck thrown in, and frank-and-boys will do the rest

    Including you svi … especially you

  • @HighEliteMajor Sweet post! That was kick ass!

  • @HighEliteMajor said:

    1. KenPom Defensive Efficiency: Using a different metric, KenPom’s efficiency ratings, the news doesn’t get any better. No NCAA title winner since 2004 has been worse than 21 in at the KenPom ratings regarding defensive efficiency. KU is now at 30.

    -2004: UConn 5

    -2005: UNC 7

    -2006: Florida 7

    -2007: Florida 15

    -2008: Kansas 1

    The numbers you cite for past years are kenpom’s calculations after the tournaments are over.

    As of the Purdue game, KU has now moved up to third in the kenpom rankings, and second among teams that are still alive. Offensive efficiency has improved to 3, and defensive efficiency to 23.

    KU keeps winning and our kenpom defensive efficiency will move up to the teens without question.

    This is not to say your overall analysis is wrong, it’s just that the numbers you have only allow you to compare apples with green apples.

  • @ParisHawk You are correct. And it’s a good point to make. We were terrific defensively last night … why? Coach Self.

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