LAWRENCE — There’s no grand secret when it comes to scouting No. 3 Kansas.
Yes, there are differences with this team than those of the past. KU coach Bill Self has changed parts of his philosophies as he’s adapted to his personnel and the loss of 7-foot freshman center Udoka Azubuike. But when opponents begin to look at what makes KU work, it shouldn’t come as any surprise what pops out on the scouting report.
“I know a lot of scouting reports are focused on us three,” junior guard Devonte’ Graham said of himself, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson following KU’s 85-68 win over Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. “It’s hard to guard all three of us, because (we) can attack the basket, we can knock down open shots and all types of stuff like that.”
It isn’t always the case, but Saturday those three — the big three, if you will — were on their game. The trio combined for 63 points, just five fewer than Tech as a team, and added 18 rebounds and nine assists in the win.
And with those numbers, each brought his own highlights and flashes of what makes him a part of one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country. After the game, Self was able to take a step back and appreciate the trio’s performance during his postgame radio interview.
“I thought Frank closed the game out pretty well and Devonte’ obviously had one of his better games,” Self said. “Josh had 17 and 10 (and) then of course had three blocks as well, and if I’m not mistaken two steals, so our activity defensively was pretty good and I think he was a big part of that.”
Frank Mason — 26 points (6-11 FG, 3-4 3PT, 11-12 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Mason’s numbers shouldn’t catch anyone off guard at this point. The senior has already posted a couple 30-point games on the year, and has come fairly close to recording the first ever triple-double by a KU guard.
Against Tech, he flashed some of that versatility, totaling five rebounds and four assists. After the game, he chose to credit his teammates for the performance rather than taking too much credit himself.
“It’s not all about me,” Mason said. “My teammates do a great job spacing the floor and giving me the ball in great positions to where I’m best at. I just have to thank them for that.”
On the other side, Tech coach Chris Beard was a little more willing to credit the feats of the senior guard.
“Yeah, pro. Great college player,” Beard said of Mason. “Got better every year. … He’s a tough guard.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Mason’s day was his efficiency. The senior scored 26 points with just 11 field goal attempts, posting a 79.85 true shooting percentage.
If the season ended today, Mason would finish as the only Jayhawk shooting better than 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3 and 75 percent from the line. He would also become the first KU player in the Self era to do so for a season with a minimum of 100 minutes played.
“He’s been playing at a high, high level this year. And he’s real efficient, you know,” Graham said. “He’s not scoring 30 on 30 shots. He’s only taking like 12 or 13. So you know the shots he’s taking are good shots.”
Either way, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see Mason is doing several things better this year, beyond the numbers.
Mason is finishing at the rim at an incredible rate. And while Self has harped on his defense at times, he still has an appreciation for how good Mason has been, as well as where he may finish the year if he continues with the pace he’s set.
“In my opinion,” Self said, “he’s got an unbelievable chance to be a first-team All-American.”
Devonte’ Graham — 20 points (8-14 FG, 4-8 3PT), 4 assists, 3 rebounds
Graham has maintained throughout his junior season that scoring isn’t something too important to him — at least not as much as winning. But when he wants to, Graham can be every bit the scorer of any of the guards on the team.
Graham hasn’t shot the ball as well as Mason this season, but is still making a respectable 38 percent of his 3s, many of which have come with an increased degree of difficulty, either from NBA range or off the dribble.
And even while he doesn’t do it often, Graham shows flashes of athleticism that seem to surprise the crowd, and occasionally, his teammates. One instance of that was Saturday, when Mason drove into the teeth of the defense and dropped the ball off to Graham, who was cutting baseline.
Graham rose up for what the 16,300 in attendance likely assumed would be an easy layup. Instead, Graham put his own flair on the play, throwing down his second dunk of the season.
“I was very surprised. We were talking about that after the game,” Mason said with a laugh. “I thought he was going to lay it up, but he surprised me and dunked it.”
Like Mason, Graham has been challenged by Self and the coaches to turn up the defensive intensity. He said after the game the coaches showed film of what the players needed to do better throughout the week, though Self said after the game it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Regardless, while Graham’s season hasn’t quite matched the high expectations set by some, his season-high 20 points against Tech had to come as a welcome sight, especially after he’d shot a combined 28.13 percent (9 for 32) from the floor in his last three contests.
“As far as the last couple games, I wasn’t shooting the ball as well as I had been, but I wasn’t thinking about it as a slump,” Graham said. “I don’t really care about scoring that much. It’s just the little things that I like that help the team win.”
Josh Jackson — 17 points (7-15 FG, 1-2 3PT, 2-3 FT), 10 rebounds
Jackson came into the season as the most unproven of the trio, but he’s quickly cemented himself as a mainstay in the lineup.
He quickly endeared himself to fans with his athleticism, instincts and hustle, and has since turned it up a notch, throwing down a seemingly countless number of dunks over the last week.
Perhaps Jackson’s best highlight Saturday, however, came on the defensive end.
Yes, there was the one-handed slam complete with a memorable call — “Goodbye,” exclaimed ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla as Jackson raced toward the bucket — and a post-dunk stare-down with a minute to play in the first half against the Red Raiders, but setting up that bucket was Jackson’s instinct to get out into passing lanes and force a turnover, as he’s done so often throughout the year.
Jackson finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds, giving him his third double-double of the season. He rounded out his performance with three blocks and two steals, which included a vicious spike of a dunk attempt by Tech guard Shadell Millinghaus early in the second half that led to a KU breakaway.
“There’s a lot of things I think he did really well tonight,” Self said of Jackson.
And really, that versatility is what’s made Jackson so invaluable to KU this season.
While all three guards are capable of affecting the game in multiple areas, perhaps none are equipped to do so as much as Jackson. In fact, Self was asked after the game if there’s any sort of “shortlist” for areas he wants to see his freshman succeed. His response, said in good fun, told the whole story.
“No,” Self said with a smile. “God, you guys are way too detailed for me.
“You play hard, you defend, you rebound and you let the game come to you. And you do what the game dictates.”