There have been a few surprising losing streaks already this season. Arizona’s three-losses-in-three-days Bahamas trip was shocking, while Florida’s three-game losing streak that included home losses to Florida State and Loyola Chicago was surprising.
Kansas’ past week is up there with both of them.
The Jayhawks lost by 10 at home to Arizona State on Sunday, 95-85 in Lawrence, just days after losing by nine to Washington in Kansas City, Missouri.
Since that Washington game counts as a home game for Kansas, there are a few stats that come into play. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas hadn’t lost consecutive home games under Bill Self before this week. In fact, the last time it happened was in February 1989, in Roy Williams’ first season as Kansas’ coach. The Jayhawks also had never lost consecutive home games as a ranked team.
In other words, this isn’t a normal occurrence for Self or for Kansas. It also comes on the heels of a stellar 7-0 start to the season.
During November, Kansas was arguably the best team in college basketball. The Jayhawks beat Kentucky on a neutral court and then beat their other five opponents by at least 30 points apiece. They were making shots, they were defending, they had Devonte’ Graham — and they were still without Billy Preston, Sam Cunliffe and perhaps Silvio De Sousa. Times were good.
But there were warning signs — and they really came to the forefront this week.
Kansas severely lacks frontcourt depth. Udoka Azubuike has taken a step forward this season, but he’s pretty much all the Jayhawks can rely on up front. There’s no one else available taller than 6-foot-8. The primary bench option is Mitch Lightfoot, who scored 24 points total last season. Walk-on Clay Young, 6-foot-5, has played nearly nine minutes per game up until this point.
Five-star freshman Preston was supposed to provide help, but he’s been held out while Kansas looks into an on-campus incident that involved a car he was in. De Sousa signed with Kansas for the 2018 class, but he could graduate high school early and enroll in Lawrence in the next few weeks. Things have gotten so barren up front that Kansas football player James Sosinski was added to the roster.
As a result, Kansas is missing certain aspects on the offensive end. The Jayhawks rely on making shots from the perimeter. They shot 38 3-pointers on Sunday, compared to just 29 inside the arc. They’ve taken at least 20 3-point shots in all but one game this season. They’re not getting the ball inside much since there’s only one interior option, and they’re not attacking the rim. In the two losses this week, Kansas shot a total of 17 free throws. (For comparison, Collin Sexton and Allonzo Trier shot 16 apiece in Saturday night’s Alabama-Arizona game.) The Jayhawks ranked No. 349 in free-throw rate at KenPom.com.
A lot of this comes from toughness, and Self still looking for replacements for Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, last season’s stars. Not just on the court — Graham and Lagerald Vick have performed fine — but in terms of aggressiveness, in terms of leadership. Mason was maybe the best late-game player in the country. He lived at the free-throw line. Jackson was tough at both ends of the floor. He could make shots and he could get stops. Does Kansas have anyone like that this season? Malik Newman has been inconsistent all year, while Svi Mykhailiuk shot 6-for-26 this week.
When Kansas got punched in the mouth last season, Mason and Jackson made sure it didn’t turn into a knockout.
The Jayhawks needed someone like that this week.