No. 2 Kansas braces for unbeaten No. 16 Arizona State
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Congeniality is not necessarily a bad trait, but it portrays a lack of toughness when reflected on a basketball court.
That was something Kansas coach Bill Self noticed when his No. 2-ranked Jayhawks were upset Wednesday by unranked and unheralded Washington.
With a more acclaimed Pac-12 team, No. 16 Arizona State (8-0), scheduled to meet Kansas (7-1) on Sunday in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks’ disposition poses a concern.
The issue stems from the loss of Frank Mason, who often willed Kansas to victories last season with forceful consistency that made him the national player of the year. In addition, Josh Jackson, the fourth pick in the NBA Draft, was a steely freshman who readily accepted challenges for a 2016-17 squad that advanced to the Elite Eight and finished 31-5.
“Bad play wasn’t a big deal, because the goal every night was to make the other teams play bad,’ Self said.
“This team, right now, the mindset is a little different. We don’t approach it as we need to make somebody else play bad. We approach it as we need to play better than them. Well, you’re not always going to play well.”
The impression left by the Jayhawks, and particularly their affable leader, point guard Devonte’ Graham, does not project a level of toughness Self typically demands of his teams.
Even though the Jayhawks are supremely talented — and this year’s team has shown the capacity to shoot lights out — defense and rebounding might be lacking for now.
“You look at the personalities or whatnot, we’ve got some really nice young men,” Self said.
“I don’t know that anybody ever, first thing they (said) after playing Frank or Josh was, ‘Hey, those were some nice young men.’ … But that’s probably how people look at us now.”
Kansas trailed the entire second half against Washington, drawing within one before the Huskies called timeout, answered with a 7-0 run and were never threatened again at Kansas City’s Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks return home where they stand 44-1 under Self, who is in his 15th season, coming off a defeat. The only blemish was in 2005 against Iowa State.
Arizona State figures to present a difficult test with a fast-paced attack that ranks among the nation’s leaders with a 91.4-point average. The Sun Devils shoot 52.2 percent, which is comparable to the Jayhawks’ 52.5 percent mark.
On Friday, 23-for-27 shooting from the foul line enabled Arizona State to outlast St. John’s 82-70 in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic in Los Angeles. The Sun Devils made their final eight free throw attempts.
“There was an opportunity late in the (first) half, if we made a few more plays on offense, to maybe make it a different game and not the struggle it became,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “Hopefully, moving forward, we’ll finish halves better.”
The Sun Devils are off to their best start since going 9-0 in 1974-75.
Senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans average 20.3 and 18.6 points, respectively, while freshman forward Romello White averages 15.6 points and leads Arizona State on the boards with 9.3 rebounds per game.
ASU small forward Mickey Mitchell, a transfer from Ohio State, is eligible and is expected to make his Sun Devils debut Sunday.