The Kansas Jayhawks showed off one of their biggest strengths Tuesday night as they defeated the Duke Blue Devils, 94-83, in Chicago as part of the State Farm Champions Classic. The Jayhawks played 12 guys in a game that wasn’t decided until the last couple of minutes.
Kansas lost all five of their starters from a year ago, and return only three players with much experience at all. Junior guard Naadir Tharpe was the only guard in last season’s thin 8-man rotation. Sophomore forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor also saw significant playing time last season. Andrew White III averaged only 5 minutes a contest a year ago, and didn’t play in 12 games.
The Jayhawks did add senior forward Tarik Black, who played in 102 games for the Memphis Tigers in three years, 60 has a starter. After these five guys, no one else had any game experience coming into this season.
The Jayhawks brought in a super class of freshmen including Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden Jr, Joel Embiid, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp, and Frank Mason. Red shirt freshman Landen Lucas also joins this groups as first year players.
Kansas needed all 12 against Duke.
The Jayhawks were whistled for 24 fouls, many of them in the first 10 minutes of the game. Tarik Black spent most of his night on the bench because of early foul trouble and ineffectiveness when he was on the court. He played just 6 minutes all night. Andrew Wiggins only played 9 minutes in the first half due to fouls.
Players stepped up all night. Wayne Selden Jr led the team in minutes with 37. He scored 15 points on 5-10 shooting, including 1-2 from 3-point range, and 4-4 from the line. He also recorded 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and just 2 turnovers.
Joel Embiid had a terrific night despite not scoring much. The 7-footer had just 2 points but he recorded 7 rebounds, 5 assists, a block, and just 1 turnover in 20 minutes of action. His 5 assists from the post position was his most surprising stat.
The player who maybe impressed the most was point guard Frank Mason. He played 23 minutes and scored 15 points. He was just 2-6 from the field but he nailed 11 of his 12 free throw attempts. Duke could not stop his penetration as he drove toward the basket repeatedly in the second half, drawing fouls nearly every time.
Mason’s ability to get into the lane off the dribble isn’t something Jayhawk fans have seen since the days of Sherron Collins. Mason also tallied a rebound, an assist, 2 steals, and zero turnovers during this performance.
Brannen Greene added 5 points in 8 minutes of action in the first half and Jamari Traylor scored 4. Andrew White III, Conner Frankamp, and Landen Lucas all saw brief playing time in the first half.
If the Jayhawks are going play aggressive defense, as is Bill Self’s trademark, Kansas is going to have games where fouls are an issue. The depth of their talent is staggering. Depth was a key reason Kansas was able to stay in the game during the first half when starters were on the bench, and Jabari Parker was pouring in points from everywhere on the court.
Self loves having a tight rotation, and has indicated he won’t go deeper than 9 in most tight games. Self showed his willingness and confidence to go deep into that bench when the situation called for it.
While some of the rotation spots are pretty much locked, the last couple spots will probably remain fluid throughout the season as players improve or struggle. Fouls will most certainly figure into just how deep Self must delve from game to game.
There cannot be too many teams, if any, with the talent from top to bottom that Kansas has. They are a full 12 players deep, even though it is doubtful all 12 play in every close ball game as they did against Duke. This won’t be the last game where this depth figures strongly into the outcome.
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