The Kansas Jayhawks (6-1) blew a 15-point second half lead to barely squeak out a 4-point win over the UTEP Miners (4-4) in the consolation game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Officially, the Jayhawks finished third in the holiday tournament.
Third place is nothing to be proud of as Kansas was incredibly unimpressive in the games against Wake Forest, Villanova, and UTEP.
In his quick post game, court side interview, Head Coach Bill Self indicated he thought the Jayhawks were worse after the three games than they were when they left Lawrence earlier in the week. That is not encouraging.
Against the Miners, Perry Ellis led the team with 19 points. Wayne Selden, Jr. and Naadir Tharpe also scored in double digits. Ellis and Andrew Wiggins each had 7 rebounds to led the team. Tharpe topped the team with 4 assists, and Joel Embiid had 2 steals and 7 blocks to pace the team in those categories.
McKenzie Moore led the Miners with 15 points. Reserves Justin Crosgile and Vince Hunter also scored in double figures as UTEP accomplished something that didn’t seem possible by anyone this season – the Miners bench outscored the Jayhawks’.
While Joel Embiid upped his game in the Bahamas, several if his teammates took major steps backward. Andrew Wiggins was incredibly underwhelming the whole tournament, and he only tallied 6 points against UTEP on 2 for 9 shooting. Wayne Selden started off quickly against the Miners, hitting two early 3-pointers, but he finished with 6 turnovers.
Until last Tuesday, Kansas led the nation in field goal percentage, and they started the tournament in second place in shooting. After the three games on Paradise Island, they are now ranked 31st in the nation.
The three teams Kansas played all had different schemes in how to deal with the Jayhawks’ athleticism and depth. All proved to Kansas that athleticism didn’t make up for actually knowing how to play the game. There were times when Kansas looked like they had hardly even practiced.
Wake Forest and Villanova at least featured young, talented teams. UTEP was a different story. Kansas was obviously more talented and a much better team, but their lack of defense, hustle, and team discipline evened the playing field.
Bill Self seemed at a loss as to what to do most of the game, and that was a bit disconcerting to watch. Young players have often struggled to adjust to Self’s system. With a team with so many young players, struggles should be expected.
The hype surrounding so many of the players is so unrealistic, people assumed these youngsters wouldn’t experience their fair of struggles. That is obviously not true.
With all of this being said, Kansas still won two of the three games in Nassau. The world is not ending. These ugly games are probably just normal growing pains.
Self’s teams usually improve mightily over the month of December. They need to just put these games behind them and look forward to getting better quickly.
On Saturday, Kansas will play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Boulder, Colorado to play their former Big 12 Conference mates, the Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado lost their first game of the season to the Baylor Bears but have rattled off seven straight wins since. Former Jayhawk Tad Boyle is the head coach of the Buffaloes.
If Kansas doesn’t get some things ironed out soon, namely perimeter defense, 3-point shooting, and general hustle, the Jayhawks could be in trouble in Colorado.
There is plenty of time for the Jayhawks to improve. It is far too early to panic. The talent on this team is still present and impressive. Maybe the young players just need to understand the hype surrounding them just spurs opponents to their best, not intimidate them.