The 5th-ranked Kansas basketball team held off a scrappy effort by visiting Eastern Illinois, 71-63, at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
The win moved the Jayhawks to 6-1 on the season and sets up a chance for KU to focus the rest of the week on its top-5 showdown with No. 4 UConn on Friday night.
Kansas certainly appears to have plenty to work on the rest of the week, but there’s no doubt that the Jayhawks will have better energy and the building will be on fire when the defending national champs roll into town.
Here’s a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights from Tuesday’s game, the Jayhawks’ first at Allen Fieldhouse since returning from Hawaii.
• McDowell scrappin’: If this keeps up, the Kansas coaching staff is going to have to give a long look at starting freshman guard Jamari McDowell – if they haven’t already. KU coach Bill Self said earlier this week that McDowell has the most “moxie” of all the Kansas freshmen and that he also is most consistent about making the right play, playing within himself and not getting out over his skis. That shows up time and time again when McDowell is on the floor, and it’s no surprise that some of KU’s best stretches in this one came with the blue-showed bandit on the court.
• Best with ball movement: It’s not exclusive to Kansas nor is it a secret of any kind. But this team, in particular, seems to be best when all five guys on the floor are moving the ball quickly and getting to what Self likes to call the third side — pass to one side, reverse it and reverse it again. That, as you might know, gets the defense moving side to side more than it might like and increases the odds of a defensive breakdown. That opens up passing angles and driving lanes not to mention wide-open jump shots, giving the offense its pick of the easiest basket it can find. KU has been great at this throughout the early portion of the season but it has not always shown up. And although assists are nice, too many of them can unearth a less-obvious issue of trouble driving to the paint.
• Pregame light show: There was a lot of talk this offseason about the upgrades that were starting to be done inside Allen Fieldhouse, in preparation for the bigger renovations/ and remodeling that’s coming in the near future. One of them was on full display — and in glorious fashion — on Tuesday night… the pregame light show. It’s nothing too gaudy nor is it over the top. Just the addition of a series of red and blue lights filling the Fieldhouse while the KU starting lineup is introduced. Initially, it reminded me a lot of what happens at Rupp Arena, but this is much more subtle than that. It’s a nice job of bringing something new and fresh to the venue without departing too much from what makes Allen Fieldhouse what it is and always has been.
• Moment of silence for Mrs. Adams: Tuesday’s game was the first inside Allen Fieldhouse since the passing of KJ Adams’ mother Yvonne on Nov. 17. As such, KU displayed a photo of Adams and his mother hugging on the video board and requested a moment of silence for the woman who was referred to as one of Kansas basketball’s biggest fans.
• 3-point shooting: both makes and attempts: At some point, we might have to face the reality that this is just not that great of a 3-point shooting team and, therefore, these Jayhawks should not attempt as many shots from behind the arc as past teams. There’s nothing really wrong with that as long as everything else is going well. But, still, they’re going to have to make more than the 3 of 14 triples they made on Tuesday, and therefore will have to attempt a few more, too. The key will be getting the right guys to take those shots and, right now, those guys are, probably in this order, Hunter Dickinson, Kevin McCullar Jr. and Dajuan Harris Jr. Johnny Furphy, Elmarko Jackson, Nick Timberlake and Jamari McDowell all have to be ready to shoot when the flow of the game invites it. But those guys probably shouldn’t be hunting 3-point shots at this point and KU needs to focus on playing inside-out as often as possible. They did that in this one and Hunter Dickinson got off to a great start. Other teams aren’t going to let him feast. But KU might want to keep feeding him anyway. EIU finished with an 18-point edge from behind the 3-point line in this game.
• Rebounding help for Hunter: Eastern Illinois entered this one with one of the worst effective field goal percentage rankings in the country, which speaks to how they fare on the offensive glass, and a ranking of No. 136 in allowing offensive rebounds, which speaks to how they fare on the defensive glass. Yet, for much of this game, the Panthers were right there with the Jayhawks on the boards. In fact, EIU out-rebounded Kansas 36-33 on the night. KU big man Hunter Dickinson, who entered the night leading the nation at 12.7 rebounds per game, did his part. The KU big man grabbed 13 for his fourth game of double-digit rebounds already this season. The problem was he got very little help in that department. No one on his team grabbed more than 3 rebounds. In fact, six Jayhawks grabbed 3 boards apiece.
• Jayhawks’ slow start to the 2nd half: The home team held a 13-point lead at the break and led by as many as 17 points in the first half, yet, there Eastern Illinois was, down by just two points, five minutes into the second half and again at the 11:53 mark of the second half and down just one (59-58) with 5:04 to play. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for the Jayhawks during that stretch, and, believe it or not, it might’ve come more as the result of EIU gaining confidence rather than the Jayhawks playing poorly. Still, Kansas lacked energy and intensity out of the locker room and that left the door open for the Panthers to climb back into the game. Remember, this was a team ranked No. 344 per KenPom.com and playing as a 35-plus-point underdog on KU’s home floor. While the start certainly looked that way, the shine quickly wore off and the Panthers did not look at all scared of KU for most of the second half.
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