SALT LAKE CITY — Marcus Garrett could’ve identified a silver lining.
Garrett, a sophomore guard for No. 4-seeded Kansas basketball, and his Jayhawk teammates are preparing for a 3 p.m. Thursday opener in the NCAA Tournament against No. 13-seeded Northeastern at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Facing an opponent ranked 13th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage with a 38.8-percent clip, defensive ace Garrett was asked Wednesday how he feels KU has performed this season when tasked with forcing guarded 3s.
His answer was an honest one.
“We haven’t done good at that at all,” Garrett acknowledged. “It feels like teams have got a lot of open looks.”
The numbers back up that assertion.
The Jayhawks (25-9) rank 127th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to connect on 33.6 percent of their tries beyond the arc. Add that to the team’s own 137th-ranked mark from long range — KU has hit 35 percent of its 3-point tries — and it’s easy to understand why the opening-round matchup has gone from a 10-point spread in favor of the Jayhawks to just a 6½-point edge.
To put it into perspective, consider the following: Northeastern (23-10) touts five players connecting on at least 39.3 percent of their 3-point attempts; KU has no one hitting that threshold.
“It is a challenge. They can shoot," KU coach Bill Self said. "I don’t know if anybody has mentioned, (their) releases are quick. That’s the thing that’s unbelievable. Not very often you see in college basketball where you see kids that don’t have to dip to shoot, and they got guys that don’t dip to shoot, so it makes it harder to close out because when you think you’re there, you may not be there in time.”
Among their regular 3-point shooters, the Huskies are paced by junior guard Bolden Brace’s 41.5-percent clip; for the Jayhawks, junior forward Dedric Lawson and freshman guard Devon Dotson (37-percent success rate) lead the way — that is, if one eliminates marks posted by departed senior guard Lagerald Vick (45.5 percent) and sophomore guard Chris Teahan (40 percent), the latter having attempted five total 3s to date.
So how does KU limit the long-range pain Thursday? The answer is simple, Garrett indicated.
“Make them take tough 3s,” Garrett said of Northeastern, which ranks 22nd nationally in 3-point rate (46.3 percent). “With a team like that that shoots a lot of 3s, I feel like you can’t just stop them from shooting 3s, but you can make them take tough, contested 3s.”
Again, that hasn’t exactly been these Jayhawks’ calling card.
KU’s two most lopsided defeats — a 77-60 outcome on Jan. 5 at Iowa State and a 91-62 drubbing on Feb. 23 at Texas Tech — saw the Cyclones and Red Raiders combine to make 29 of 51 tries from beyond the arc, good for a 56.9-percent conversion rate. Carrying a four-out, one-in approach, Northeastern should pose a similar challenge, said KU freshman guard Ochai Agbaji.
Informed of Agbaji’s observation, Self offered his own assessment.
“I hope we defend Northeastern better than we did the other two,” Self quipped.
“I do think it helps (having played Texas Tech and Iowa State),” he said. “We got lit up pretty good on both occasions. I think from a mindset standpoint, we go from whatever your philosophy is to clogging the lane or making them score over the top, to now you have to make sure you are there on the catch and (with) short closeouts, if any, and certainly your ball screen defense has to be great because they’re very, very good at scoring off of that."
Before Wednesday’s open locker room access ended, Garrett did actually identify one silver lining in the situation: The Jayhawks have had a spirited week of practice, with the group getting better each day at defending the 3-point line.
Ultimately, he added, the team simply needs to flip the switch.
“I feel like those other teams, sometimes when they made 3s, that really wasn’t what they did on the scouting report,” Garrett said. “I feel like the scouting report now is get to their shooters, so we can stick to the scouting report.”
NO. 13 NORTHEASTERN VS. NO. 4 KANSAS
Tipoff: 3 p.m. CST Thursday, Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City
Line: KU by 6½
TV/Radio: TNT/KWIC-FM (99.3)
TJC watch party: Lazy Toad
Next: Winner vs. No. 5 Auburn/No. 12 New Mexico State winner, TBD Saturday, Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City
NO. 13 NORTHEASTERN (23-10)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
C Anthony Green ... 6-10 ... Sr. ... 8.9 ... 5.4
G Bolden Brace ... 6-6 ... Jr. ... 10.0 ... 6.0
G Jordan Roland ... 6-1 ... Jr. ... 14.7 ... 2.4
G Donnell Gresham ... 6-1 ... Jr. ... 9.8 ... 3.2*
G Vasa Pusica ... 6-5 ... Sr. ... 17.8 ... 4.2*
NO. 4 KANSAS (25-9)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
F David McCormack ... 6-10 ... Fr. ... 3.8 ... 2.9
F Dedric Lawson ... 6-9 ... Jr. ... 19.1 ... 10.3
G Marcus Garrett 6-5 ... So. ... 7.3 ... 4.2
G Quentin Grimes ... 6-5 ... Fr. ... 8.3 ... 2.5
G Devon Dotson ... 6-2 ... Fr. ... 12.1 ... 3.6*
* — Assists