The Kansas Jayhawks (6-3) will try to break out of their funk Saturday evening when they face the New Mexico Lobos (7-1) in the Sprint Center in Kansas City at 6 p.m. The Jayhawks have dropped their last two contests, and 3 of their last four.
Kansas is really struggling to score points right now as they have only averaged 64.8 points an outing over those past four games. They put up 87 points a game in their first five games, all wins. Despite leading the nation in field goal percentage after 5 games, they are now 24th, shooting .498 from the field.
Freshman Andrew Wiggins leads the team in scoring, putting up 16.4 a game, followed by sophomore Perry Ellis at 13.3. Freshman center Joel Embiid tops the Jayhawks in rebounds, pulling down 6.6 an outing. Naadir Tharpe paces the team with 4.6 assists a game, and Wiggins leads Kansas with 9 steals on the season. Embiid has 20 blocks to lead the team in that category.
The Lobos have three players that average more than 18 points a game. Senior forward Cameron Bairstow sets the pace with 19.8 points a game, followed b senior guard Kendall Williams with 19.1, and junior center Alex Kirk with 18.6. Kirk averages a double-double as he pulls down 10.4 rebounds a contest. The Lobos as a team hit the boards hard, grabbing 43.5 caroms a game.
The Lobos are have depth and experience. They featured two 7-footers (though freshman Obig Aget doesn’t play much yet), and several upper classmen in the primary, 9-man rotation. They have wins over AUB, who beat North Carolina, New Mexico State, Davidson, and Cincinnati. Their lone loss was to UMass.
Former Kansas Jayhawk Merv Lindsey plays for the Lobos. He has seen time in half of New Mexico’s games, playing 16 total minutes and scoring 2 points. He scored 11 points for the Jayhawks in the 2011-2012 season.
New Mexico is not a cupcake by any stretch of the imagination. They score over 81 points a game and you can be sure they know about the Jayhawks’ weakness against zone defenses. They have the size, experience, and athleticism to cause Kansas issues, especially if the Jayhawks continue their sub par play.
Kansas must get out to quick start and maintain their composure and intensity throughout the game. They must attack any defense thrown at them, and they have to play better defense than they have up to this point in the season.
Andrew Wiggins has shown signs that he may yet reach his potential at the collegiate level. He has played extremely well in the second halves of the losses to Colorado and Florida, but he must find a way to get mentally into the game from the opening tip. He has the raw ability to carry this team through its struggles, but he must be able to focus early in every single ball game.
Wiggins scored 18 points in the second half against Florida, and almost single handedly brought the Jayhawks all the way back from a 15-point half time deficit. It was really the first time fans could really see what Wiggins might actually be able to accomplish at Kansas.
An improvement in play, and a better understanding of Head Coach Bill Self’s offensive and defensive philosophies for several other newcomers is a must. Wayne Selden Jr. has played very poorly for several games now, Frank Mason shows incredible heart and intensity but needs to work on his decision making, and senior transfer Tarik Black has to quit fouling at every turn, and become more of a steadying force inside.
The veterans to the program haven’t been helping much of late either. Naadir Tharpe has got to be more of a team leader, even if he is coming off the bench now. His perimeter defense has been especially putrid. Perry Ellis has to be more consistent, and he can’t disappear for huge chunks of the game. Andrew White III needs to find a way to get on the court and make a bigger, more positive contribution to this team.
If the Jayhawks don’t get some things straightened out very soon, starting Saturday against New Mexico, the next several weeks are going to be long and painful for Jayhawk fans. Hopefully, Self can help the youngsters see the light, and mesh them into the solid unit their raw ability and talent has indicated they can be. The potential of this team is still sky high but at some point, they must show progress.
Potential is great but it just means they haven’t played up to their ability as of yet. Let’s see if that changes this weekend in the Sprint Center against New Mexico.