After knocking off then-ranked No. 1 Duke at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, the Kansas Jayhawks have been quietly going about their business, winning nine straight.
With the semester coming to a close and conference schedules around the corner, let's reflect on the first six weeks of the season ... how the offense looks, what's working on defense and how the Jayhawks can hit the books over winter break to improve going into Big 12 play.
Let's have some fun.
Grading the offense: A-
If you talk about high-octane college basketball offenses, glossing over Kansas would be a mistake. The Jayhawks' offense is the fifth-most efficient in the country, scoring 120.4 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom.
The success is determined by the execution of two of the top guards in the Big 12: Devonte' Graham and Frank Mason III. Both guards use their experience well -- they know when to attack and when to get others involved. When they do draw additional attention, they both know how to find the open man instinctively:
And hey, they aren't just good distributors. Mason and Graham average a combined 33.7 points per game. They can knock down shots at a high level. And the big shots? It's their specialty.
The back court is the lifeblood of the offense. Kansas has a number of guys who can catch fire on any given night. That is what has allowed them to thrive through the first portion of the schedule. The guards can knock down shots. They can drive it to the hoop. They run in transition as well as any team.
All four Jayhawks who average double figures in scoring are back-court players. That's a four-headed monster that is difficult to stop -- and what makes them such a lethal team to try to defend.
Easing youngsters into larger roles: B+
Kansas boasts one of the top freshmen in the country in Josh Jackson, an elite wing player who is averaging 15.1 points per game. One of the best all-around offensive weapons in the nation, Jackson can score it from deep, attack off the dribble and make plays for others, and he's an an excellent finisher around the rim.
Josh Jackson behind-the-back layup in transition pic.twitter.com/DmFZJldRvU— Jayhawk Video (@JayhawkVideo) December 7, 2016
There's been no such thing as easing Jackson in. He was a Day 1 starter. With an arsenal that includes passes like this, he's been exactly the player Bill Self recruited to fill his wing spot. He is the definition of versatile. It's an added dimension that gives opponents fits on defense.
What a pass by Josh Jackson! pic.twitter.com/ini6qKdQt3— Jayhawk Video (@JayhawkVideo) November 30, 2016
Jackson was a top recruit who had lofty expectations. His success shouldn't come as a surprise.
But it's the emergence of sophomore Lagerald Vick and freshman Udoka Azubuike that shows Self's brilliance. Vick, a sophomore, played just 4.8 minutes per game last season. His emergence as a reliable scorer -- and starter -- has been as impressive as any player on the team. He is averaging 25 minutes and 9.1 points per contest.
Freshman Azubuike has been a revelation for the Jayhawks. Landen Lucas has been more than capable but Azubuike's ability to take over the starting role has given Kansas a more physical presence down low.
Starting the season, Azubuike's first five games he averaged just 10 minutes per game. Since then, he has logged 15 minutes per game, including consecutive 23-minute games against UNC-Asheville and Long Beach State. Both games were lopsided ones that Self used to work him into meaningful minutes. He's a big body down low, and he put those minutes to use with season-high point totals of 17 and 8.
11/25/16— Jayhawk Video (@JayhawkVideo) December 6, 2016
Udoka Azubuike vs UNC Asheville
17 points (8-9 FG) (7 dunks)
3 rebounds 3 blocks pic.twitter.com/tB5OxDbbCH
Jackson, Vick and Azubuike are now all starting for Kansas. They've done more than ease them in. They now rely on them each game to win games. That says a lot about how high Self's confidence is in them, and even more about the talent each brings.
Grading the defense: B
The defense has been good -- in most facets, that is -- for Kansas. The only time a team has scored more than 75 on them was in KU's lone loss to Indiana. They gave up 103.
The Jayhawks run in transition as often as possible, led by the aforementioned Mason and Graham. By doing so, it increases the number of possessions dramatically. In turn, that allows more opportunities for teams to score. The defense ranks 125th nationally in total points given up per game at 68.8 points per game.
However the Jayhawks have still been quite stingy defensively from an advanced metrics point of view. Opponents are scoring just 92.4 points per 100 possessions. That's an efficiency that is 10th nationally, according to KenPom.
The major deficiency is in shot-blocking -- or lack thereof. The Jayhawks rank in the top-25 nationally in blocks per game, but that number is slightly skewed with big block outputs against inferior competition; Washburn (9), Siena (10) and Emporia State (9).
What about equal or greater competition, such as Duke and Indiana? A combined six blocks. The season-low two block performance against Indiana came in the lone loss of the year. And it's not just just the total block number, of course, that raises concern here. It's rim protection in general: altering shots and letting those athletic guards play aggressively on the perimeter because they know they have someone on the back end to cover them.
As stated above, Kansas is working in a true freshman down low and has been running with a four-guard lineup. That combination will net you a lot of scoring, but also makes them susceptible to allowing more points. Specifically in the paint.
Kansas relies on defensive pressure on the perimeter and wreaking havoc with its guards. Azubuike and Lucas have the size to defend down low and bang with the bigs. However, affecting shots in the lane is where the team has struggled to find great success.
Overall grade: A-
Kansas' schedule has been in a lull of late, but that doesn't mean the Jayhawks haven't looked good. The offense, run through Frank Mason, is clicking on all cylinders. Most promising is the way the youngsters are rounding into shape. Self is a big-man whisperer who tends to turn potential into fruitful production.
No team in the country can really hold a candle to what Self has built in the Big 12, with 12 consecutive conference titles. Conference play begins after the semester, and once again they are the prohibitive favorites to bring home the hardware.