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Kansas winning ugly, but it's a start

12/11/2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One might be inclined to think that after five straight wins -- including three in a row over Michigan State, Florida and Georgetown -- the Kansas Jayhawks are a pretty good basketball team. Not great, necessarily. Not vintage. But pretty good, right?

Bill Self would be the first to disabuse you of that notion.

"We're not very good yet," Self said.

He is happy to list the reasons.

"We're not a good passing team at all," Self said. "We don't make the game easier for our teammates. ... We don't know where our shots are coming from consistently. We don't know who to play through at times. Sometimes Frank [Mason] is the best player on our team. Sometimes Wayne [Selden] is. Sometimes Perry [Ellis] is. We haven't quite figured it out yet. But that's OK. The key to having great seasons is winning when you don't play great."

Judged by that standard, Wednesday night's win was Kansas' most impressive yet.

On the road against a Georgetown team with a massive front line and a visible hunger for a marquee, nonconference breakthrough, the Jayhawks scrapped and clawed and shot their way to a mostly ugly 75-70 win. Kansas made just 10 of its 36 attempts inside the arc, a parade of contested tries taken in the teeth of the Hoyas' physical defense. The Jayhawks committed 17 turnovers to just 11 assists. They scored 1.01 points per possession.

All the while, Self continued to tinker with his lineup. He gave forward Landen Lucas the nod in the starting lineup. He gave Kelly Oubre -- a star freshman prospect who has largely disappointed to date -- his biggest and most impactful minutes of the season. And he rode the hot hand of Brannen Greene, whom Self said has "gotten in his own way with us on the court by not doing what we think he's capable of doing," to 19 points on 5-of-5 from 3 and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.

"It was a toughness win," Greene said. "Coach kept saying the toughest team was going to win. That's what I felt like we did. We grinded it out."

Greene's shooting made him the lone Jayhawk to hit better than 50 percent Wednesday night. Perry Ellis finished 4-of-15 for 13 points but contributed 10 rebounds to the cause. Wayne Selden shot 2-of-7. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk started the game but managed just one attempt before being relegated to the bench for the rest of the evening. Mason was probably the Jayhawks' second-best player, and even he finished just 4-of-8 with four turnovers, though several of his buckets came at crucial junctures in the game.

A good portion of the credit should go to Georgetown. After the game, John Thompson II said he was struggling to identify positives from the outing. The Hoyas truly, desperately wanted a win.

But even if the wins haven't come, Georgetown has been undeniably more impressive this season than during 2013-14's lackluster 18-15 campaign. They're more efficient on offense, thanks to the emergence of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera as the team's lead guard and (finally!) the arrival of long-awaited UCLA transfer Josh Smith. Smith in particular has been impressive, with a usage rate of 29.7 percent and an offensive rebounding rate of 15.5 percent. Georgetown is far better on defense, too, holding opponents to well under a point per trip this season. The uptick on both ends hasn't translated into wins -- the Hoyas played Wisconsin close in the Bahamas and fell to Butler two days after topping Florida in overtime -- but the odds this team will miss the tournament are minimal.

All of which makes Kansas's performance praiseworthy. With a lineup in flux and an offense prone to sputters, Self's team emerged from a true, nonconference road test with a win. An unsightly win, sure. But a win all the same.

"I think we're learning how to win ugly," Self said. "Which is still winning."