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February 11, 2011
Amazing Pace
Jayhawks on a Tear

by C.J. Moore


Since losing to Texas nearly three weeks ago, Kansas has been on an offensive tear that is almost unprecedented for a major-conference team in the tempo-free era.

The Jayhawks have scored more than 1.20 points per possession in five straight games, averaging 1.29 points per trip during that stretch.

  • at Colorado: 1.26 ppp
  • vs. K-State: 1.23 ppp
  • at Texas Tech: 1.26 ppp
  • at Nebraska: 1.25 ppp
  • vs. Missouri: 1.45 ppp

To put KU's run in perspective, Marquette's the only other team to reach 1.20 points per trip four straight times in major-conference play. Looking through the game logs for every national champion of the 2000s, only Duke in 2001 had a 1.20-plus streak of four games during conference play. On the other hand last year's Blue Devils, considered a strong offensive team, didn't score 1.20 points per possession in consecutive games even once in ACC play.

In KU's history this kind of streak has happened just once in the last 15 years. As documented by KU Sports' Jesse Newell, the 2001-02 Jayhawks also scored at least 1.20 points per trip in five straight conference games. That team had three lottery picks (Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich), the school's all-time three-point leader (Jeff Boschee) and the school's all-time assist leader (Aaron Miles).

That Jayhawk team lived in transition and averaged 79 possessions per game. This year's version averages eight fewer possessions per contest and scored 99 of their 103 points against Missouri on Monday night in the half-court.

KU's five keys to half-court uber-efficiency:

  1. Brady Morningstar. In the first 19 games of the season, Morningstar made only 8-of-34 threes and his highest point total was eight. In the last five games, Morningstar has made 12-of-21 threes and has surpassed that total three times. During the conference season, the senior guard has 33 assists against just five turnovers. Defenses are now forced to treat Morningstar as a legitimate scoring threat, creating space for KU's post players.
  2. Nebraska provided the template for defending KU earlier this season. The Huskers crowded the paint and tried to take away the Morris twins. They nearly pulled off the upset in Lawrence, as the Jayhawks made just seven of 21 threes and scored 0.98 points per possession -- KU's second-lowest output during Big 12 play. During the last five games, however, Kansas is shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc. In the return match in Lincoln last Saturday, Bill Self's team made 13 of 24 threes, making a pack-the-paint strategy ineffective.
  3. The Morrii. As Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn pointed out last week, Marcus Morris is the most productive player in the country when posting up. He can score over either shoulder in the post. Take away his post touches, and the Jayhawks find Marcus elsewhere, as he has a face-up game that allows Self to play him on the perimeter. Marcus has gone 29-of-41 from the field over the last five games, and his brother Markieff has been even better (28-of-38). Like Marcus, Markieff's not limited to the paint -- in fact he's made five of six threes during this run.
  4. Ball movement. The Jayhawks lead the country in both effective FG percentage (58.8) and 2FG percentage (58.6). Give the credit to this team's ball movement. When opponents try to double-team the Morris twins, both are adept at executing the skip pass. As Self pointed out at his weekly press conference on Thursday, the twins don't have high assist numbers, but if the pass before the assist were tracked (as in hockey) the Morrii would rack up great numbers. KU's also adept at swinging the ball from side to side on the perimeter, creating angles for post players or open looks for guards and wings.
  5. Fewer turnovers. While the Jayhawks have had great shooting numbers all year, the one area where they've struggled on occasion is turnovers. But over the last five games KU's given the ball away on just 16 percent of its possessions. Josh Selby, who for the season has a high turnover rate (25.1), has been a big part of the improvement. He was sloppy in a five-TO effort against K-State, but had just one turnover each against Colorado and Texas Tech. Note however that Selby missed the last two games because of a stress reaction in his foot, putting assist-to-turnover ace Morningstar back in the starting lineup.

Repeat of '08?
Here's a comparison of KU's current team and the 2008 national championship team:

  • The 2007-08 team scored 1.17 points per possession for the season and held opponents to 0.89, an efficiency margin of 0.28. The current Jayhawks' offensive output and defensive outputs are identical.
  • In conference play the 2007-08 Jayhawks scored 1.16 points per possession and held opponents to 0.92, an efficiency margin of 0.24. The current Jayhawks have matched that team on D and, thanks to their current run, surpassed the 2008 national champions offensively. This year Kansas is scoring 1.18 points per trip against the Big 12, for an efficiency margin of 0.26.
That efficiency margin, surprisingly, is not the best in the conference, as Texas is outscoring the league by 0.28 points per possession. In fact the Longhorns have a streak of their own going, having held their last six opponents to less than 0.90 points per trip.

Which brings up an obvious question: Could we see an all-Big 12 national championship game? If Texas and Kansas both keep playing at this level it's certainly possible. For now we'll just have to see if their amazing efficiency streaks continue.

C.J. Moore is a writer in Kansas City. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmoore4.

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