Why KU basketball faces an interesting offensive challenge in 2018-19

Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self talks with forward Mitch Lightfoot in the second half during the basketball game against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks on December 18, 2017, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. | John Sleezer | jsleezer@kcstar.com

By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

The Kansas men's basketball team is expected be good next season; KU not only is ranked No. 1 in NBC Sports' updated preseason poll, but it also has taken the top spot in previous rankings put out by ESPN, CBS Sports and Yahoo.

What's fascinating, though, is that KU has held that position with a fairly obvious weakness: outside shooting.

For help with that deficiency, KU pursued Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo before he committed to Villanova earlier this week. Though the Jayhawks will likely continue looking for options to fill their open scholarship, it's getting less likely they'll be able to address that particular shortcoming with an addition who would be eligible immediately.

KU coach Bill Self has done a great job of adjusting to his personnel in each of the last two seasons, and it only makes sense that the Jayhawks will transition back to more of an interior-focused attack next year with Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike (if he doesn't stay in the draft) serving as the go-to guys.

Then again, this will be a situation unlike any other Self has faced at KU — and a quick look at the numbers shows us why.

For each of the coach's seasons at KU, I calculated how many three-pointers from the previous year were made by players who were returning for the current season. (For this exercise, I counted players who decided to redshirt the next season as non-returners.)

Here's how next year's KU team stacks up to the previous ones in that regard.


Returning 3sPercentage
2003-0481/18344%
2004-05178/18895%
2005-0624/19812%
2006-07140/20568%
2007-08224/23197%
2008-0963/27123%
2009-10211/21797%
2010-11109/26242%
2011-1259/27122%
2012-13104/22247%
2013-1449/21627%
2014-1579/18942%
2015-16179/21384%
2016-17168/30455%
2017-18200/31863%
2018-1922/3916%

Only 22 three-pointers from last season (12 from Marcus Garrett, six from Mitch Lightfoot, two each from Sam Cunliffe and Chris Teahan) were from players who will be back in 2018-19. Not only that, KU's 6-percent return rate is half of Self's previous low for a team, when the 2005-06 squad brought back 12 percent of its three-point production.

For the record, here's how KU's offense ended up (using Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency) for each of the seasons above.


% of 3s returningOffensive rank
2003-0444%38
2004-0595%15
2005-0612%50
2006-0768%29
2007-0897%2
2008-0923%23
2009-1097%2
2010-1123%6
2011-1297%23
2012-1342%27
2013-1427%6
2014-1542%27
2015-1684%10
2016-1755%5
2017-1863%5
2018-196%?

There seems to be a natural overlap here. Typically, the KU teams that bring back the most three-pointers are also the rosters with the most experience in general. And Self has had some great success in past years with teams that were led by third- and fourth-year players.

KU's worst offensive team was the one with the least amount of three-point shooting returning ... but that also was one of Self's most obvious rebuilding years with Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright in their freshman seasons. Self's offenses were great when he brought back 97 percent of his three-point shooting in 2008 and 2010, but the Jayhawks also fared just fine in 2011 and 2014 when previous role players (Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar in 2011) or newcomers (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason in 2014) emerged to help give the Jayhawks an elite scoring attack.

Perhaps the 2014 example is the best comp for this year's team. KU appears to have plenty of talent ready to step into significant roles next season, whether that's freshmen like Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes or transfers like the Lawson brothers or Charlie Moore.

There is still some unknown there. KU doesn't know exactly where its outside shooting will come from, or even who the team's best will be in that particular aspect.

It's an obstacle Self has faced in the past — but never quite to an extreme like this.


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