It appears the sky isn’t falling after all.
The Kansas Jayhawks now sit at 3-0 in the Big 12 and 12-4 overall. A week ago, after four losses in the non-conference, nearly all of the narratives around town were about what was wrong with KU. The freshman stunk. Tarik Black was a disappointment. They lack a true point guard.
Well, after last night’s 77-70 over the Iowa State Cyclones, I think the Jayhawks are going to be just fine.
This was supposed to be the toughest part of of KU’s conference season, and they’ve cut through it like a buzz saw, taking down the first three teams with relative ease, two of which were on the road. Next up, visits by Oklahoma State and Baylor to Allen Fieldhouse. The Cowboys have the best player in the league in Marcus Smart, but with the loss of Michael Cobbins, they lack any size whatsoever inside. K-State has similar size deficiencies down low and we saw how that turned out last Saturday.
Baylor might be the most talented team in the Big 12 not named Kansas. But Scott Drew is winless in six trips to Allen Fieldhouse and only 3-12 against the Jayhawks since taking over at Baylor in 2003. The Bears match up with Kansas better than anyone else in the conference size-wise, so that will be an interesting game to watch.
Last Sunday, following the loss to San Diego State, a 3-2 record over these first five games looked like best case scenario. But something clicked prior to the game against Oklahoma. Andrew Wiggins had struggled for the most part. Wayne Selden looked to be vastly overrated by the recruiting services. And the biggest issue was the lack of a point guard.
Well, Selden has put up 51 points in the past three games, Wiggins has poured in 48, and point guard Naadir Tharpe has scored 44 points and dished out 16 assists with only 5 turnovers.
I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I flat out said last week that those three weren’t playing at a high enough level to give Kansas a chance at it’s 10th consecutive Big 12 Title. I was dumb enough to tell a friend last week that I thought K-State’s guards were better than KU’s. Consider my words eaten.
The K-State combo of Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas are going to be really good over the next three and a half years. But if we learned anything Saturday, it’s that they aren’t on the same level as the NBA caliber talent KU has in its backcourt.
The expectations and player comparisons heaped on the KU freshman class were so unfair I think it cost the Jayhawks some games early. Wiggins was the best recruit since Lebron James. Joel Embiid is the next Hakeem Olajuwon. Selden is Brandon Roy.
As each year passes, no matter the sport, you can bet on ridiculous comparisons for players with no track record, to the greatest players to play the respective sport.
For Wiggins, it was probably the most unfair. He came to a conference that has seen two of the best freshman seasons ever. Kevin Durant averaged almost 26 points a game and 11 rebounds a game as a freshman at Texas. The following season, Michael Beasley averaged 26.2 points a game and led the nation in rebounding at 12.4 a game.
Wiggins was never going to be that type of player. He had the best game of his short career at KU Monday night, scoring 17 points and pulling down 19 rebounds. Comparing him to Lebron James, was criminal and it wasn’t the least bit fair to Wiggins. He absolutely must get stronger. There are just too many times he misses easy shots when he has to absorb the slightest bit of contact.
It’s scary to think that KU for the most part played quite poorly in Ames. On most nights, if you commit 24 turnovers and foul you opponent 26 times, you’re not going to win. Fred Hoiberg’s “offense” helped make up for any Jayhawk shortcomings, making only 4-of-25 shots from behind the three-point line, including Georges Niang hitting only 4-of-20 shots from the floor.
If the Jayhawks navigate this five game stretch at either 4-1 or 5-0, they will be home free. They will be favored in at least 13 of the final 15 games, with the games at Baylor and at Oklahoma State being the only chance for the Jayhawks to be underdogs.
That salty non-conference schedule that was so tough, which was the No. 1 ranked strength of schedule, was frustrating for KU fans no doubt, but it led to this. It led to the Jayhawks beating two of the conferences five ranked teams on the road in their first six days of the conference season.
As bumpy of a ride as the first eight weeks of the season was, this is afterall a team with three likely NBA Lottery picks. Wiggins, Selden and Joel Embiid are all projected to be lottery picks by nbadraft.net. Embiid and Wiggins in 2014 and Selden in 2015. That’s not to say Selden can’t push himself into this years draft as well if he keeps playing at the level he’s played at for the last week.
In hindsight, it was silly for us all to doubt Bill Self and this Jayhawk squad. Teams with this much talent don’t stink. They just don’t. The rough start was just par for the course for a young, but the best is yet to come for this squad. Which must be a scary thought for the other nine Big 12 coaches.