Scouting Kansas

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Travis Releford, Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson

Kansas is never short on talent on this year is no exception. The Jayhawks have the 2nd, 26th and 98th best players on the latest Draft Express Top 100 ranking in Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson respectively. Michigan has its share of NBA talent, No. 10, 20, 46 and 83 on the same list, but will face a significant challenge against Bill Self’s team.

The Jayhawks have the talent to provide some difficult matchups and are a top-10 team according the Ken Pomeroy; on the season Michigan is just 2-6 against KenPom top-10 teams. To further breakdown Friday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup we dug deeper into the numbers to utilize data fueled by  Ken Pomeroy, Hoop-Math and Synergy Sports and examined the top seven players in the Jayhawk rotation.

#23 Ben McLemore
6-foot-5, 195 lbs, freshman. 32.0 mins, 15.8 pts, 5.3 rebs, 2.0 asts, 59.7% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Transition
Underrated: Defender
Weakness: Pick and roll

McLemore is a pro. He has all of the tools and frame of a solid NBA guard and he’s lethally efficient while taking the highest percentages of Kansas’ shots.

A majority of his half court offense comes spotting up on the wing. McLemore shoots a no dribble jumper 68% of the time when catching the ball on the wing and he scores a lethal 1.47 points per attempt. For a frame of reference, Nik Stauskas averages 1.46 points per spot up no dribble jumper; McLemore is a legitimate shooting threat. While Michigan will have to run him off the line, he’s s also a threat to put the ball on the floor. He prefers to go left (all of his pull up jumpers are to the left) but he’s capable of getting to the basket in either direction.

McLemore’s weakness appears to be creating his own offense as just 14.2% of his offense originates from screen and rolls (including passes) and 5.8% originates in isolation scenarios (including passes). Kansas scores just .71 points per McLemore ball screen which is the worst mark on the team.

McLemore has the rep of a big time scorer but he actually grades out to be Kansas’ best defender according to the numbers in Synergy Sports.

#24 Travis Releford
6-foot-6, 210 lbs, senior. 33.6 mins, 11.8 pts, 3.8 rebs, 2.5 asts, 64.4% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Transition
Underrated: Ball screen player
Weakness: Midrange

Releford leads Kansas is minutes per game but uses fewer offensive possessions than any other Jayhawk. His selectiveness pays off as he’s the most efficient player on the Kansas roster and the 24th most efficient in the country.

Releford is the most effective transition player in the country (minimum 70 possessions):

Nat. Rank Player Team % Time PPP eFG%
1 Travis Releford Kansas 31.5% 1.487 81.4%
7 Tim Hardaway Jr Michigan 19.8% 1.422 75.9%
58 Ben McLemore Kansas 20.9% 1.284 63.7%
65 Glenn Robinson III Michigan 19.8% 1.277 70.0%
259 Trey Burke Michigan 20.5% 1.113 59.9%

Michigan has its fair share of efficient transition players but Releford sets the standard. Preventing transition opportunities will have to be near the top of the scouting report for the Wolverines. Releford’s not a bad half court player by any means but nothing on his scouting report jumps off the page like his lethal transition game.

Releford is a great player from three point range (41%) and at the rim (76%) but he struggles with the middle game. He rarely settles for midrange shots 17% of FGAs) and he’s shooting just 39% on those attempts.

Releford has used fewer ball screens than Tharpe, Johnson and McLemore this season but he’s by far Kansas’ most effective player when utilizing the pick and roll. The Jayhawks score on 52% of Releford’s ball screens (including passes) compared to under 40% for the other Jayhawk guards.

For reference, Michigan scores on 54% of Nik Stauskas’s ball screens, 50% of Spike Albrecht’s and 45% of Trey Burke’s. Burke has been involved in 427 ball screen possessions this season, more than Kansas’ top four players combined.

#15 Elijah Johnson
6-foot-4, 195 lbs, senior. 31.2 mins, 9.8 pts, 3.1 rebs, 4.7 asts, 46% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Isolation
Weakness: Transition

As Luke Winn pointed out in February, Johnson has been a very streaky shooter throughout his career but has shot the ball well in March but that hasn’t been the case this season. Through eight games this March, Johnson is shooting 34% on twos and 27% on threes. Since the calendar hit 2013 he isn’t much better: 40% on twos and 30% on threes.

Johnson’s play type splits aren’t much more encouraging. He’s best spotting up and rates poorly in transition and pick and roll situations. While he scores 1.5 points per unguarded jump shot, he’s scoring just .65 points per guarded jump shot; a radical difference.

Johnson uses more ball screens than any other Kansas player but the Jayhawks score just .84 points per ball screen (including passes), that’s slightly better than McLemore but worse than Releford and Tharpe. As a team, Kansas rarely features the ball screen as just 11.5% of its offensive possessions end with ball screen action, just over half of Michigan’s 20.4%.

#5 Jeff Withey
7-foot, 235 lbs, senior. 30.7 mins, 13.8 pts, 8.5 rebs, .9 asts, 58.6% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Cuts to the basket
Underrated: Blocking shots in bounds
Weakness: Offense away from the basket

Withey’s shot blocking and size draws most of the headlines but he’s an effective offensive player as well. Withey scores the ball in three ways: posting up (46%), cutting to the basket (22%) and on the offensive glass (11%). Withey scores .84 points per post up, 1.58 points per cut and 1.33 points per put-back. Almost half of Withey’s post-ups come from the right block. When he’s on the right block he prefers to go over his left shoulder; on the left block he’s comfortable and balanced to either side.

Kansas throws the ball to Withey in the post a fair amount but his 1.58 points per cutting field goal attempt is off the charts. Withey is the most efficient finisher when cutting to the basket among players with at least 65 attempts, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III ranks 8th on that list. When Kansas guards get in the lane, or Kevin Young gets the ball on the block, they are almost always looking to throw the ball up to Withey who uses his size to catch and finish over small defenders. The two post look could be particularly troublesome for Michigan as Young’s action on the low block is reminiscent of Ryan Evans posting up Robinson and dishing to Jared Berggren.

Withey’s defense can’t be underrated, not only does he block as many shots as anyone in the country; most of the shots he blocks remain in bounds. Luke Winn has it covered:

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#40 Kevin Young
6-foot-8, 190 lbs, senior. 22.6 mins, 7.6 pts, 6.7 rebs, 1.2 asts, 54.8% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Residual action
Underrated: Glue guy
Weakness: Jump shot

Young is the glue guy in the Kansas offense. He scores off of a lot of residual action (cuts to the baskets and put backs) but isn’t nearly as efficient as Glenn Robinson III in similar situations. While he isn’t an inefficient player, Young’s ability to influence the game without scoring is most notable. He is the best Kansas offensive rebounder, a very good defensive rebounder and also ranked nationally in block and steal percentage.

Per Hoop-Math, Young is shooting just 29% on two point jumpers and hasn’t made a three all season. He’s not a threat to score if he’s not finishing at the rim, where he shoots 57%.

#1 Naadir Tharpe
5-foot-11, 170 lbs, sophomore. 19 mins, 5.6 pts, 1.5 rebs, 2.9 asts, 47.1% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Ball screens
Underrated: Zone buster
Weakness: Finishing

Tharpe is Bill Self’s backup guard of choice and he’s not much more efficient than Elijah Johnson. Tharpe’s lack of size hurts him finishing at the rim (and in transition) but he’s not a bad jumpshooter and is comfortable creating for himself off of a ball screen or spotting up on the wing.

Johnson and Releford both have awful numbers against zone defense but Tharpe’s production against the zone is sterling: 1.38 points per possession. While McLemore (1.06 PPP) and Withey (1.43 PPP) are both very good zone options, Tharpe’s ability to not turn the ball over (4.8% zone turnover rate) differentiates him from Johnson (24% zone turnover rate) and Releford (31% zone turnover rate).

#34 Perry Ellis
6-foot-8, 225 lbs, freshman. 13.6 mins, 5.8 pts, 3.9 rebs, .5 asts, 48.0% eFG%
Favorite Offense:
Post up
Weakness: Left block

Roughly 38% of Ellis’s offensive possessions come on the low block and while he’s split fairly even (52% right, 42% left, 6% middle) in terms of distribution he’s significantly more effective on the right block. Ellis scores 1.03 points per post up on the right compared to .63 points per post up on the left block.

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