KU’s explosive offense to be tested by Orange’s defense on Saturday

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

Kansas’ basketball team has averaged 104.0 points on sizzling 56.5 percent shooting in three games over the past two weeks at Allen Fieldhouse.

Syracuse, meanwhile, has allowed 60.3 points on stingy 35.8 percent marksmanship in also defeating common opponents Texas Southern, Oakland and Toledo.

The cold, hard stats regarding KU’s offense and Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense have made some wonder whether the two 6-0 teams will light up the scoreboard, struggle scoring or fit somewhere in between during Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. Hoophall Miami Invitational finale at American Airlines Arena.

“I wouldn’t anticipate a high-scoring game at all. Not every game can you score in the 90s or 100,” KU coach Bill Self said in previewing just the second meeting between Hall of Fame coaches Self and Jim Boeheim. Syracuse stopped the Jayhawks, 89-81, in overtime in the championship game of the 2008 CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.

“I hope it’s not like the Kentucky game in the low to mid 60s. It could be.”

Self’s Jayhawks tripped fellow Hall of Famer John Calipari’s Wildcats 65-61 on Nov. 14 in Chicago. But toss out the Kentucky game and KU has averaged 100.4 points in five contests.

Overall in the three Hoophall Invitational games on campus, KU’s defense has allowed 62.7 points while Syracuse’s offense has rung up 75.3 points per game.

“The teams we’ve played are better than what they played against us,” Self said.

The Jayhawks have won the three campus games in the invitational, the Kentucky game and contests against Tennessee State and South Dakota State at home.

“The competition will step up starting Saturday — Syracuse, Washington, Arizona State, Nebraska, Stanford, then start the Big 12 at Texas. Those are our next games (along with a home game against Omaha). The fun and games are over. Our schedule has just started,” Self said.

The Jayhawks on Saturday meet a Syracuse team that tripped Maryland 72-70 on Monday in Syracuse, N.Y. That’s the only game all season in which the Orange’s 2-3 zone has surrendered 70 points.

Self says the Orange’s length (7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu, 6-10 Bourama Sidibe, 6-9 Marek Dolezaj, 6-8 Oshae Brissett, 6-5 Frank Howard and 6-6 Tyus Battle) will be difficult to combat.

“This is what they do. They play to their scouting report off of zone offense, where most people play to it off of both man and zone,” Self said. “They know where the shooters are. They know how to tweak it if (opponents) are doing something that’s hurting it. He will make adjustments. Four minutes into the game, it (zone) may take a different shape than what it did to start the game.”

The Jayhawks took Wednesday off then had two full days of practice against the zone.

“I think we do a good job moving the ball and shooting the ball so well, we might give them problems with it,” said KU senior guard Devonté Graham. He noted some of the Jayhawks have played against Baylor’s 2-3 zone in the past, but others such as freshman Marcus Garrett and sophomore Mitch Lightfoot have not.

“We played against length like that in Kentucky, but as far as that zone, I know it’ll be hard attacking it,” said KU sophomore center Udoka Azubuike.

How best to attack?

“You’ve got to get a guy in the open spaces, flash high post, be where they are not, get the ball moving,” Lightfoot said. “It’s hard for a zone to react. Dribble into the gap. Make the bottom guy commit to guarding you so you can kick it to the wing. Be aggressive. You can’t let the zone get you out of your game. Syracuse is good at it. We have to learn to get around it and beat it. I’m sure coach has something drawn up that will help us.”

This game matches 73-year-old Boeheim vs. the 54-year-old Self. Boeheim is 909-357 (.718) in 42 seasons at Syracuse; Self is 422-88 (.827) in 15 seasons at KU. Both have won one national title. Boeheim, by the way, has had 101 wins erased by the NCAA because of rules violations.

“I don’t go that far back (with him). I know the year that we lost to Bucknell (2005 in NCAA Tournament), they lost to Vermont. I’ve always told him I thought Bucknell was a lot better than Vermont that particular year,” Self said, smiling.

KU will follow the Syracuse game with an 8 p.m. contest against Washington on Wednesday at the Sprint Center.

Syracuse on Friday announced that graduate transfer guard Geno Thorpe has left the program for “personal reasons.” Thorpe averaged 6.0 points and 14.3 minutes a game. He had six assists to seven turnovers.

Thorpe averaged 15.1 points last season at South Florida. Syracuse.com notes that the Orange now have just eight available scholarship players on the roster to Kansas’ seven. The team’s only other guard besides starters Howard and Battle is Howard Washington. The 6-3 freshman averages 6.7 minutes per game. He has not scored yet this season.

Gary Bedore: 816-234-4068, @garybedore

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