Commentary

Jekyll or Hyde? Jayhawks have bipolar performances

Originally Published: April 4, 2008
By Andy Glockner | ESPN.com

On paper, it's a close call between Kansas and Memphis as to which team has the best overall balance and roster depth in this Final Four. KU was third overall in adjusted defensive efficiency and second in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Jayhawks, though, have more variance in their performances than similarly potent Memphis or North Carolina. The Jayhawks didn't have a game against an RPI Top 50 team this season in which they scored between 1.10 and 1.20 points per possession, and had only one in which they allowed between 0.95 and 1.10 points per possession. That's extremely odd for such an elite team to have such bipolar performance groupings.

What we learned from games against comparable foes
When Kansas is at its offensive best, very few teams in the nation are equipped to slow the Jayhawks down. They blistered quality defensive teams like Texas A&M and Oklahoma and have the capability to hang huge numbers on just about anyone. Six times in their 12 games against Top 50 foes, they scored at least 1.20 points per possession. Given that potential, it's a bit surprising to see how often Kansas hits an offensive lull. In their other six games in that category, the Jayhawks didn't even reach the 1.10 PPP plateau.

It's the same thing defensively. Early in the season, KU limited explosive offensive teams Arizona and USC to mere crumbs and did a great job defending Davidson in the Elite Eight. Then you look at the rest of the season and realize that the Jayhawks' defense has been touched up for at least 1.10 PPP five times (Texas twice, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas A&M) in its past nine games against Top 50 foes. Texas comes close to North Carolina's offensive proficiency, but the other three don't, which is a concern.

Kansas' Big Picture

  Tempo Offense PPP Defense PPP
Season Average 68.1 1.18 0.90
vs. RPI Top 50 Average 66.3 1.14 1.01
vs. RPI Top 50 Median 65.0 1.16 0.98
Tempo is the amount of possessions per game. PPP is points per possession.

A lot of the talk entering this game is about North Carolina's defense being the clearest weak spot between the two teams, but the Tar Heels have been defending much better in the second half of the season. If you believe the above data, it's more or less a coin flip which Kansas team will show up on both ends of the floor.

What we learned from losses/close calls
There was little statistical similarity between KU's three losses, but all three came on the road. In the first two (K-State and Texas), the Jayhawks ran into extremely good offensive performances, and the one at Oklahoma State was just a surprisingly poor offensive showing for KU. Generally speaking, when KU has been in a close game, it's usually its offense that has underperformed. Only in the two Big 12 tournament games against Texas A&M and Texas did KU end up in a shootout. The Jayhawks could be in store for one on Saturday, though, so it will be interesting to see how they respond, especially if they get down early.

The one stat that stands out is that Kansas shot a combined 12-for-45 from the 3-point range in its three losses. The Jayhawks aren't heavily dependent on the 3-pointer, as they showed by hanging 100 points on Baylor without any 3s and ending the season 284th in the country in the percentage of total shots taken from behind the arc. For a team that shoots 40.1 percent from that distance, though, that was unusually bad marksmanship.

Trends to note
• The past three national champs were first or second in adjusted offensive efficiency (like KU) and three of the past four were in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency (also like KU).
• While Kansas doesn't take a lot of 3s, its opponents sure do. KU foes took 38.5 percent of their shots from behind the arc this season (the 51st highest rate in Div. I). Wayne Ellington is loosening up his shooting arm.

Final thoughts
Kansas at its best is probably better than North Carolina at its best, but it's anyone's guess whether KU will bring its A-game on Saturday. Will the release of pressure that comes with finally getting to a Final Four allow Bill Self and his players to coach/play more freely than the Davidson game? With Ty Lawson back healthy, Carolina's offense is back up to full throttle, and KU has had enough issues recently stopping good teams that Jayhawks fans should be concerned about their defense in this game. That could leave the onus on the KU offense to win a more high-scoring game. Carolina has been hurt most often this season by teams with balanced scoring and strong frontcourt contributions. The Jayhawks certainly have enough weapons to do that, but you have to believe Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson need to provide more scoring from the frontcourt while they (and others) take turns trying to limit Tyler Hansbrough.

[Editor's note: Season stats and rankings courtesy of kenpom.com]

Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU College Basketball Insider podcast. He can be reached at bubblewatch@gmail.com.