LAWRENCE — Any time Kansas basketball is ranked last in the Big 12 in a given statistic, it’s a newsworthy moment. Whenever the blueblood program is ranked 305th nationally in that same category, it might as well be a five-alarm fire.
Those positions are where the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (3-0) stand in terms of 3-point field-goal percentage defense, the team allowing opponents to hit 38.8 percent of their attempts beyond the arc.
KU coach Bill Self, though, isn’t reaching for the figurative fire extinguisher just yet.
“Whenever you’ve only played three games, it’s all small sample size,” Self said in advance of his team’s 6 p.m. Wednesday contest against Marquette (3-1) in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I’ve said this all along: Forget about nonconference stats. When you think within your league, what your nonconference stats are is totally irrelevant because not everyone plays the same people.”
Permission to exhale, KU fans.
Across Self’s previous 15 seasons in Lawrence, the Jayhawks have finished last in the Big 12 in total 3-point field-goal percentage defense only once — a 35.5-percent clip surrendered in 2013-14 — and have only found themselves in the bottom half of the conference just three times. Conversely, KU has ended up in the top four in the statistic 12 times, a run that includes four second-place finishes.
Even in that 2013-14 campaign, the Jayhawks did exactly as Self indicated so often happens, recovering to finish fifth in Big 12 play in 3-point field-goal percentage defense. All told, Self’s previous 15 teams allowed opponents to hit just 32.7 percent — or 3,536 of 10,814 — of their attempts beyond the arc.
“The relevance will obviously start taking place three or four games into your conference season, and then you can start to tell if there’s a sample size of who you are,” Self said. “We’ve always been better in conference within the conference ratings than what we are outside of it because we always play such a tough nonconference schedule.”
Having said all that, Self still sees significant room for defensive improvement. This KU team also ranks last in the Big 12 in overall field-goal percentage defense, surrendering makes on 42.7 percent of its opponents’ attempts.
“These are numbers we have never put up,” Self said. “I think that I can help (the players) more because I think we are in a little bit of a confused state on how we want to guard defensively. In theory, this (scheme) looks really good, but does the personnel fit that theory? Maybe it doesn’t fit quite as good as we thought it would this season.
“We are going to need to make some adjustments on that, but also the commitment has to come from the players as well. I think how we guard ball screen has got to improve. Even though in theory this is what I would like to do, the reality of it is it’s hard to do some of the things that I thought would be much easier. We’ll adjust on that.”
One of those players, junior forward Dedric Lawson has apparently heeded Self’s call for commitment. Speaking to the media Monday, Lawson’s first comment included the revelation that the emphasis ahead of the NIT Season Tip-Off doubleheader has been on guarding the 3-point lines.
Marquette, which starts four forwards, may provide some relief in this matchup — the Golden Eagles are ranked 202nd nationally in 3-point shooting at 33.6 percent.
“A lot of it has to do with I’d say the bigs, starting with me, just getting out there once you hedge the screens and just making a better effort to get out there and disrupt the guy’s shot,” Lawson said. “... (It’s about) more activity, just trying to discourage the guy’s confidence running there (and) stop letting guys get comfortable shooting the ball.”
Improved 3-point defense, Self said, will start with better attention to detail and energy, active hands and more deflections — “more things that are created by guys just playing with activity,” he added.
While he's looking to conference play as the first true measuring stick of the team's potential, Self isn't dismissing the importance of this early-season test in the Big Apple.
"We're going to know a lot more about our team," Self said, "after this week."
KU OPPONENTS' 3-POINT SHOOTING PERCENTAGE (SELF ERA)
Year ... Big 12 ranking ... percentage (total games) ... 3s made/attempted
2017-18 ... 4th ... 33.3 percent (39 games) ... 315/947
2016-17 ... 6th ... 35.6 percent (36 games) ... 268/753
2015-16 ... 2nd ... 32.1 percent (38 games) ... 233/726
2014-15 ... 2nd ... 31.5 percent (36 games) ... 210/666
2013-14 ... 10th ... 35.5 percent (35 games) ... 219/617
2012-13 ... 2nd ... 30.3 percent (37 games) ... 236/778
2011-12 ... 7th ... 34 percent (39 games) ... 236/694
2010-11 ... 2nd* ... 29.8 percent (38 games) ... 225/756
2009-10 ... 4th* ... 33.1 percent (36 games) ... 229/691
2008-09 ... 3rd* ... 33.4 percent (35 games) ... 230/688
2007-08 ... 4th* ... 32.8 percent (40 games) ... 282/861
2006-07 ... 3rd* ... 31.8 percent (38 games) ... 249/783
2005-06 ... 4th* ... 34.4 percent (33 games) ... 214/622
2004-05 ... 3rd* ... 31.8 percent (30 games) ... 190/597
2003-04 ... 4th* ... 31.5 percent (33 games) ... 200/635
* — When Big 12 was a 12-team league