Jayhawk Insider: Four Lessons from Brooklyn
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It didn’t take long for the casual observer to notice a sense of relief in the eyes of Kansas head coach Bill Self following his team’s overtime victory over No. 5 Tennessee Friday night in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The two-game stretch over the Thanksgiving holiday was to be Self’s first true litmus test of where his squad stood following the first month of the season, and after seeing his Jayhawks grind out two wins, take down another top-10 ranked opponent and hoist a fifth-straight in-season tournament trophy, it appears as though many of Self’s questions have been answered.
Here are four takeaways from the Jayhawks’ impressive two-game stretch at the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, including some insights from Self following the tournament victory:
THE JAYHAWKS CAN WIN UGLY
Both of Kansas’ wins last week were not without their blemishes. The Jayhawks faced deficits of nine points early in the second half against both Marquette and Tennessee. They tallied 24 turnovers, 16 coming against the Volunteers. And KU missed 20 of their 58 free throw attempts for the week. But despite all that, the Jayhawks still found a way to come away with two wins against two teams that will likely earn NCAA Tournament bids come March. The ability to win games when the team isn’t clicking on all cylinders is one ingredient that Self-coached Kansas squads have always seemed to have, and the 2018-19 team appears to be no exception.
“I do think this: it’s okay to win ugly. Winning ugly is actually pretty at the end of the day and we won a game today where, artistically, it wasn’t very good. But we’ve won a lot of games over the years where we didn’t look very good and we just hung around and found a way, so I think it gives our guys some confidence.”
THE LAWSONS MAKE A FORMIDABLE PAIR
The week in New York served as the first real look for KU fans at what the Lawson duo could look like this season. Dedric has been on everyone’s radar, a preseason All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year and already averaging a double-double as well as the NIT tournament MVP trophy in tow. But until Friday night, the Jayhawks hadn’t seen what K.J. could contribute. The redshirt sophomore answered that in a key 19 minutes against the Volunteers, 14 of which came in the second half and overtime. With the K.J. on the floor Kansas outscored the Volunteers by 11 points as he added eight of his own to go along with six rebounds and a pair of steals.
K.J. Lawson’s jumper midway through the second half against Tennessee fueled the KU comeback.
LAGERALD VICK IS FILLING THE LEADERSHIP ROLE
It’s hard to think back to a time when Kansas didn’t feature a senior leader the team could lean on during turbulent moments in games. Sherron Collins, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are just three of a handful of KU floor generals that have filled this role over the last decade. As the only senior on this year’s roster, Lagerald Vick seemed the obvious choice to carry the torch but he faced some questions as to whether he could handle a leadership-role of this magnitude. But after the first five contests of the season, namely his two most recent outings, Vick has silenced those doubters. His record-breaking 3-point shooting made the trip to Brooklyn, now having connected on 21 of his last 32 tries from beyond the arc. But it’s not just his torrid shooting that has him it’s his ability to make plays when his team has need them the most. Exhibit 1 came Friday night when the Jayhawks faced a three-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play in regulation. The senior out of Memphis hit back-to-back threes before connecting on a jumper to cap a one-man 8-0 run to turn momentum in the game. This burst brought back memories of the likes of Collins, Mason III and Graham, all who had the same ability to get the ball through the net when their team needed a bucket the most.
“Lagerald has been great. He has been great from an attitude standpoint, from a leadership standpoint, a playing standpoint. He’s been a 10 so far. I’m very excited about Lagerald being a part of it. He’s been terrific for us. We may have not won those last two home games we had unless Lagerald was going 15-of-20 from three. So I’m very happy we have him back.
KANSAS WON’T LIVE AND DIE BY THE THREE
This week showed fans that, while the 3-pointer is a very important weapon in Jayhawks’ arsenal, it won’t necessarily be the deciding factor in wins and losses. This is something that will take some getting used to after the 2018-19 team’s record-setting season from deep. While it’s impressive outside shooting was a major factor in its run to the Final Four last season, last year’s Kansas squad struggled when the shots weren’t falling. That team hit seven or fewer threes in 12 of its 39 contests and went 7-5 in those instances. That kind of reliance on the deep ball doesn’t appear to be something the 2018-19 team will face. The prospect of this Jayhawk team making only five treys in each game in Brooklyn may have made some nervous, but KU was able to overcome some cold outside shooting and generate scoring in different ways. Kansas averaged 44 points in the paint in its two games in the NIT and posted a 53 percent clip on shots taken inside the arc. This ability to strike at the heart of opposing defenses will no doubt free up the Jayhawks’ outside shooters as the season progresses and could make KU a potent match-up from inside as well as from deep.
With KU up three points in overtime, Lagerald Vick connected with Dedric Lawson an an alley-oop
Kansas returns home to host Stanford on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 4:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN. Stanford is coached by former KU guard Jerod Haase, who is in his third season with the Cardinal. Haase played three seasons at Kansas from 1995-97.
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