Kansas needed this game. Not because they have lost recently. They have won their last four games. But those games haven’t been against top competition.
The Jayhawks came out playing terrific defense. We have been told that it has been their focus in practice lately. They changed how they were handling ball screens.
You couldn’t judge the defensive changes based on their last three games. One of those was at Kansas State. The other two were against Iowa State. Everyone beats them. No, we needed to see the defense against better teams. Saturday against Texas Tech was a big jump in opponents. And next week, they have even tougher games against Texas and Baylor. That defense will get a huge test.
But the first half of this game looked like that defensive improvement could be for real. Kansas held Texas Tech to 36% shooting and held Mac McClung to 1-for-6 from the field, with his only field goal coming at the buzzer on a tough three-point shot.
Kansas didn’t shoot the ball much better than Tech. The difference was that Kansas was missing open shots. Tech wasn’t getting many open shots on their end. If Kansas could shoot a little better and continue to play tough defense, they could extend their 31-25 lead in the second half.
And the Jayhawks did that. Well, I don’t know that I would say that the Jayhawks shot much better in the second half, but they did get more opportunities and stretched the lead to 11 multiple times. Every time though, Texas Tech fought back.
The Jayhawks have improved at throwing the ball into David McCormack. He was getting the ball in better spots, and Kansas wasn’t throwing the ball away as much. And McCormack was at his best today finding open players. He wasn’t just determined to shoot every time he touched the ball. He had patience and found the open perimeter shooter.
This was the best game Kansas has played this season. Sure, you could make a valid argument for other games, but the defense and effort in this game made it their best to me. They won most 50-50 balls. It was not their best offensive game. The offense has gone backward since the season started. But it is defense and effort that give any team the best chance to win.
We will continue to learn about where Kansas is at next week. Texas and Baylor are better than Texas Tech. Can Kansas play good enough defense to give themselves a chance to win those games?
At this point, I would say the Jayhawks could win one, maybe two games in the NCAA tournament. What they do this next week could change that perception.