Anyone who has watched the Kansas Jayhawks on a regular basis already knew what things would do in the Jayhawks in tournament play. They have struggled mightily on the defensive end of the court all season, especially without Joel Embiid to clean up around the rim, and weak point guard play didn’t help on either end of the court.
Both things haunted the Kansas Jayhawks (24-9, 14-4) in the 94-83 loss Friday night to the Iowa State Cyclones (25-7, 11-7).
For the second time in the last three games, the Jayhawks allowed more than 90 points. Kansas gave up 92 points last weekend to the West Virgina Mountaineers before offering up zero resistance in surrendering 94 to the Cyclones in the Big 12 semi-finals.
If one statistic indicates just how poor this team is defensively is that Iowa State shot 54.0% (34-63) from the field, and an incredible 57.9% (11-19) from three-point range. This game featured some of the worst team and individual defensive performances I have seen from a Bill Self coached team.
This will be the first time Kansas will not hold opponents under 40% shooting for the season since Bill Self took over 11 years ago. He has to be just sick to his stomach with this performance.
All five starting Cyclones scored in double figures, led by Georges Niang, who tallied 25. He could have scored even more if he hadn’t missed a number of point blank shots in the first half, some barely contested. In the second half, Niang scored at will as no Jayhawks could stop him.
Niang ended up leaving the game late after taking an elbow to the face while taking a charge in the final minutes. A cut opened up and was bleeding profusely.
Jamari Traylor in particular was ineffective at slowing Niang. He seemed absolutely incapable of moving his feet, and staying in front of the versatile Niang.
The Jayhawks also had issues stopping DeAndre Kane, who scored 20 points on the strength of hitting 5 of his 6 three-point attempts. Melvin Ejim netted 19 points, which was not unexpected for the Big 12 Player of the Year, who averaged 18.4 points a game on the season.
Don’t make any mistake. The Cyclones are a very good team, especially when they knock down their threes. That was why it was so important for Kansas to be more aggressive at challenging Iowa State from behind the arc, something they didn’t do well enough.
On offense, the Jayhawks hardly resembled a normal, Bill Self coached, crisp passing, well oiled unit either. They scored 83 points, but only recorded 11 assists in the entire game, 9 by Naadir Tharpe. Kansas’ whole offensive scheme was to drive the lane, and hope to get a basket at the rim or get fouled.
The Kansas Jayhawks were also putrid from deep, connecting on just 4 of their 15 attempts from 3-pointers, for 26.7%. On the game, Kansas hit just 29 of 62 of all their field goals for 46.8%.
Perry Ellis did show up in this one, leading the team with 30 points, hitting 11 of his 12 field goals. Andrew Wiggins scored 22 but made just a third of his 21 shots. Tarik Black pulled down 10 rebounds.
Don’t let Tharpe’s 9 assists fool you. Many of these came in transition, and he wasn’t even in the game at the end. He did not hit a field goal all night, and only scored 5 points on free throws, four of which came on one play - a foul on a wild drive, and a technical foul on Fred Hoiberg. Tharpe dropped in all four free throws to account for most of his scoring.
He had little success in getting the Kansas Jayhawks into an effective half court offense.
The Jayhawks certainly played themselves out of a number one seed, and maybe even a number two. Kansas has to hope Joel Embiid is healthy enough to play next weekend or Kansas may not make it through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
This team is offensively and defensively lost without Embiid. It is as simple as that. With the ball, Kansas struggles to get the ball inside. While defending, the Jayhawks’ terrible perimeter defense is exposed without Embiid in the lane to clean up their mess by blocking and altering shots.
It is going to be very difficult for a very imperfect team like Kansas to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, even with Embiid. It is going to be impossible if Embiid doesn’t return sooner rather than later.