Whatever else Mike Hopkins picked up after more than 20 years under Jim Boeheim, the man learned how to play in an area.
The former Syracuse head coach led Washington to run the defense zone to stifle, discombobulate and generally infamous second-placed and until now undefeated Kansas in a 74-65 victory over the Jayhawks in Kansas City.
It was really an impressive sight to see that Washington's pretty daring game plan was played almost perfectly and Kansas seems so completely unable to deal with an area that gave them free rein inside but kept them away from the arc of 3 points.
The flagrant weakness of the Jayhawks right now with Billy Preston out of the game and Silvio De Sousa not yet in Lawrence is the inside game. Udoka Azubuike is a legitimate man of five men, but in old school mode he needs a dynamic pin or free space by his side in the attack area.
Against the area of the Huskies, it was 6-foot-5 LaGerald Vick driving the high post.
It was a relatively high-risk play by Hopkins and Washington since Vick has the ability to make plays and lots of athleticism. However, it worked for Washington because Vick seemed completely uncomfortable having the offense crossed by him in the middle of the area most of the time.
Vick scored 28 points, but he needed a volume to get there, leaving 12 of 23 from the floor. He issued seven badists, but had four turnovers. These are good to very good numbers, but only when they lack context. Washington was begging Vick to separate them. They gave him space and opportunity to put monstrous numbers. The Huskies essentially played a trade, playing the percentages that Vick would not be able to beat. He tested them in a way that Jesse Newell, of the Kansas City Star, perfectly expressed:
It's the strangest thing to see a player get 28 points while being exposed at the same time.
– Jesse Newell (@jessenewell) December 7, 2017
Vick was able to get his, but only at a level that Washington was comfortable with in his game plan. They bet that he could not go completely crazy, and that the bet turned out to be correct.
Washington's decision-making was undoubtedly based largely not only on the lack of a great Kansas man who could make them comfortable in a high-low game against the area, but because the Huskies had to keep it at bay to the shooters of Kansas. The Jayhawks reached the ninth night in the country shooting 43.5 percent from the 3-point range. Devonte Graham, VIck, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk shoot better than 40 percent from the distance in the year.
Against Washington, the Jayhawks scored only 5 of 20 (25 percent) of the 3-point range.
He was shaking his head to see how often Kansas seemed unable to resolve the area when Washington had already given them the answer with the way they essentially allowed the Vick space to work. The Jayhawks simply could not decipher it enough. That's the brilliance of the movement, too, since forcing the Jayhawks to play through Vick means they were not playing with Graham. The All-American preseason took only eight shots and made only one in 40 minutes.
It may not be a model that other programs can replicate completely to bottle Kansas, but it certainly gives them something to think about. It also makes the return of Preston or the arrival of De Sousa much more pressing. Putting something in the center of that area would change the mathematics of how teams could use it.
Kansas' weakness this season was clearly the building of its list. Washington was only the first team that could fully exploit the vulnerability.