Kelly Oubre has finally broken through for No. 13 Kansas.
The uber-talented small forward went for 20 points, scoring 16 in the first half, as the Jayhawks knocked off Kent State on Tuesday night. That came 10 days after he had 23 points and 10 boards in a win over Lafayette.
Oubre has done enough, according to head coach Bill Self, that he has “solidified” his role as the starting small forward for the Jayhawks. That’s a big deal. Oubre is the most talented wing on the Kansas roster, and getting him on the floor for 30 minutes a night would go a long way towards curing some of the Jayhawk ills this season.
Now to focus turns to Cliff Alexander, another supremely talented freshman that has gone through massive scoring and effort droughts this season. Alexander scored eight points in the second half, sparking a run that put the game away on Tuesday. But before that he had been more or less irrelevant for the last three games. Self provided some insight why after the game. From the Kansas City Star:
On Tuesday, Self opted to start junior forward Jamari Traylor instead of Alexander, and in the first minute after his freshman power forward entered the game, Self called for his team to run a simple play off a free throw.
“He just gets back and doesn’t even run it,” Self said. “He’s only been in there for one minute — why wouldn’t he have effort to go make that play? I think that’s just kind of the stuff. It’s just consistency to go do it.”
If you don’t run what coach wants you to run, that’s an easy way to find yourself buried on the bench.
Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.
KANSAS PROMISES TO: Play their best players the majority of the minutes.
It will happen because: Bill Self isn’t stupid. He hasn’t won a decade’s worth of consecutive Big 12 titles by accident. He’s as good of a coach as there is in the country, and he understands what he needs to get out of his guys if the Jayhawks are going to be real Final Four contenders. If that means that he has to limit minutes early on for guys like Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre while he drives home the importance of things like offensive execution and attention to detail defensively, than that’s what he’ll do. Remember, Kansas has not yet played their best, and they’ve beaten Utah, Michigan State, Florida and Georgetown in D.C.
But it might not because: There’s no guarantee that those guys ever get to a place where they’re as good as they’re expected to be. These are college freshmen, 19-year olds that have a long, long way to go in their basketball careers. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Wayne Selden’s left-hand, Alexander’s awareness or Oubre’s knowledge of defensive rotations. This is a by-product of recruiting guys that will only be on campus for a year or two.
KANSAS ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Continue to get beaten up in the paint.
It will happen because: Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but one of the biggest issues that Kansas has had this season has been the play of their big men around the rim. Some stats: They’re 310th nationally in how often their two-points attempts get blocked (13.5 percent), they’re 287th in the country in two-point field goal percentage and they’re allowing opponents to grab 30.5 percent of the available offensive rebounds. With the number of title contenders with powerful front lines, that’s a concern, one Self will no doubt make a point of emphasis. Alexander’s growth should help in that regard.
But it might not because: As good as Perry Ellis and Alexander are, they’re never going to be as bigas opposing front lines. At some point, it is what it is, which is why Self has publicly discussed playing someone like Oubre, Brannen Greene or Svi Mykhailiuk at the four. If you’re going to get beat up inside, you might as well tryto create mismatches at the other end of the floor while you’re at it.
Self says No. 10 Kansas is ‘not good right now’, and that should scare you
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bill Self is not happy with where his Kansas team is a month into the season.
Not even close.
And to understand that, you really don’t have to look much farther than who is currently starting for the Jayhawks. Svi Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 wing from Ukraine with a ton of potential, might be the best NBA prospect in the Kansas program, but he’s also a 17-year old living in the United States for the first time. As head coach Bill Self likes to say, “he’s pretty good for a high school junior.” At center, Landen Lucas has been starting of late, and as one longtime scout told me recently of Lucas, “I’m not convinced he’s more than a low-major player.”
While those two get major minutes for the Jayhawks, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, two top 10 recruits and projected lottery picks, come off the bench. Alexander has been a major part of the rotation, but Oubre? He played 16 minutes on Wednesday night, which was his season-high. He had logged 23 total minutes the previous four games.
“We’re not good right now,” Self said. “I think we have the potential to be good because we’re so young. We’re just trying to figure it out. We don’t know where our shots are coming from consistently. We don’t know who to play through at times. Sometimes Frank [Mason] is the best player on our team. Sometimes Wayne [Selden] is. Sometimes Perry [Ellis] is. We haven’t quite figured it out yet.”
And that should terrify you.
Because while you’re still hung up on that 32-point shellacking that No. 10 Kansas took at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky during the Champions Classic, what you may not have noticed is that over the course of the last five days, the Jayhawks have landed a pair of wins that you rarely see young, still-learning teams earn.
On Wednesday night, Kansas went into the Verizon Center and knocked off Georgetown, 75-70, in a game that the Jayhawks seemed primed to lose. Kansas was up by as much as 12 in the first half, and while they kept making runs during the final 20 minutes, they were never really able to get separation from the Hoyas. Georgetown always had an answer, whether it was in the form of an L.J. Peak three, a pair of low-post buckets from Josh Smith or an easy transition layup created by the defensive play-making of Mikael Hopkins.
This had Georgetown-steals-a-win-at-home written all over it, but Kansas, when they needed to make a play, made it.
“It was a toughness win,” said Brannen Greene, who finished with a career-high 19 points, hitting 5-for-5 from three. That included a trio of massive threes in the second half, the last of which pushed the Kansas lead to 68-63 with less than three minutes left. “We grinded it out.”
“We didn’t play great, but I thought we competed pretty hard. We won some important possessions,” Self said. “When we had to have a good possession, we got a good possession.”
Georgetown’s record may not show it, but that’s a very good basketball team. By the end of the season, don’t be surprised to see them sitting in the top 20 of the national polls and slotted right behind Villanova in the Big East standings.
Now let’s rewind to last Friday, when the Jayhawks hosted an underwhelming and undermanned Florida team and proceeded to get absolutely run out of the gym for the first 24 minutes. At one point early in the second half, Kansas was down 45-27. It was ugly. Everyone in Phog Allen Fieldhouse was getting ready to write off any chance of winning an 11th straight Big 12 title, and every writer on press row was prepping to write their ‘Will Kansas ever turn this around?’ column.
And then, all of a sudden, the Jayhawks woke up, attacking the rim, hitting open threes and pounding the glass as they completed a massive comeback, winning 71-65.
“It was just like Jekyll-and-Hyde the first half and second,” Self said.
Bad teams don’t do that.
They don’t erase 18-point second half deficits against NCAA tournament teams coached by a Hall of Famer, regardless of how banged up they are. They don’t hold on to beat quality opponents on the road when they commit 17 turnovers. They don’t do things like win the Orlando Classic, which Kansas did last month, and beat Michigan State in the process.
Right now, at this very moment in time, Kansas is a good basketball team. Good enough to win the Big 12? Probably not. Good enough to make the Final Four? Doubtful. But they’re good enough to play less than their best and do the things that good teams do.
So what happens when they do play their best?
What happens when Alexander and Oubre fully get the hang of what Self is looking for out of his star freshmen? What happens when Oubre gets the hang of where he’s supposed to be defensively? What happens when Selden irons out his inconsistencies? What happens when all-Big 12 forward Ellis goes back to being the guy you always forget about because there’s just so much talent around him?
They’re starting to get there. You can see it with the touches Cliff gets and the confidence that Selden is starting to build back up. You can see it with Oubre, who attacked the basket off of ball-screens quite a bit on Wednesday. Perhaps more telling is that after blowing a defensive rotation — he was late on help-side and allowed Smith to catch an over-the-top pass in the post for a dunk — Oubre was yanked, yelled at on the bench … and put right back into the game a minute later.
The future is bright for Kansas, and the future will be here sooner than you realize.
If Kansas keeps moving in the direction they’re currently moving, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.