ATB: The Usual Kansas, Georgetown Grinds Out Marquette and The Game That Shall Not Be Played…Posted by Chris Johnson on February 12th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Hey, Kansas. Of Kansas’ three most recent losses, the only one that made Monday night’s home match-up with Kansas State feel even somewhat dubious was the inexplicable TCU slip-up. The other two are concerning, but only by Kansas fans’ warped standards – a product of Bill Self’s remarkable string of excellence in Lawrence. Oklahoma State is a solid all-around team, with a set of explosive scorers and one of the best and most versatile point guards in the country making everything work. Oklahoma is brutally physical, extremely well-coached, and an absolute bear to play on the road. Those losses aren’t bad, per se, as much as they are out of character for a Kansas team most believed had another conference title sealed up at the turn of the New Year. Kansas is not the unparalleled Big 12 demigod it was billed to be, but that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be. Kansas can and probably will wind up winning the Big 12, again. This team has warts, and things can get ugly on the offensive end every now and then, but when these Jayhawks get going in their own building, few teams have what it takes to keep up. Monday night was one of those nights.
Your Watercooler Moment. Kansas Ends the Speculation.
Because Kansas has been so consistently dominant under Self, and because this Jayhawks team looked nigh-unstoppable for much of this season, questions about this team’s long-term health were a major discussion point heading into Monday night’s contest with intrastate rival Kansas State. Not only did the Wildcats have the upper hand in the latest AP Poll, they were also riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak along with the added confidence of a reeling KU team seeking to end a three-game skid. The way both of these teams were headed – Kansas State rising higher and higher, with Kansas sinking into a mid-season rut – Monday night felt like one of the only times during Self’s tenure when picking against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse didn’t sound like such a horrible idea. Forty minutes and 30 Ben McLemore points later, whatever suspicions arose in the past week about Kansas’ ability to legitimately contend for a Big 12 and national championship were effectively silenced. The Jayhawks punked their basketball step-brother; Kansas State was rarely even competitive from the opening tip. Kansas bossed the game from start to finish, just the way we saw it impose itself during the first few months of the season. It was the kind of game Kansas so often conducts in its own building: dominant, efficient, smothering, deafening. On Monday night, Kansas played like Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse was Allen Fieldhouse, and the natural order of things seemed to fall back into place. Concerns about the Kansas offense, especially point guard Elijah Johnson, won’t go away, and the Jayhawks might well take a few losses the rest of the season, but for 40 minutes Bill Self’s team looked like the conference juggernaut we’re so accustomed to seeing under his tutelage. It looked like a team incapable of going on a three-game losing streak.
Tonight’s Quick Hits….
- Offense vs. Defense in DC. It’s not every day you get drastic strength-on-strength match-ups with teams from the same conference. Leagues typically breed a certain style of play or tactical focus. The Big Ten, for example, is a physical, bruising conference known for its toughness, defensive discipline and pace-averse offense. Not every league can be so easily defined – some conferences feature a wide spectrum of different styles and strategic emphases. Georgetown and Marquette brought the polar opposite ends of the offense-defense balance into their Big Monday night game, and when a great offense (Marquette owns the nation’s 17th best O, per KenPom) meets an even better defense (The Hoyas are 10th in defensive efficiency), the outcome is simple and predictable. Georgetown held Marquette to 55 points, leaned on Otto Porter Jr. for another All American-worthy performance (21 points, seven rebounds), and finished the night with Big East win number eight, its sixth straight.
- TCU Still Bad. Look no further than tonight’s Oklahoma-TCU game to reveal why Kansas’ loss in Fort Worth was as wacky and as wildly aberrant as they come for the Jayhawks – and why the other two losses in its three-game skid (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) can’t be lumped in with it in any sense beyond simple temporal proximity. TCU is as close to awful as exists in today’s power six conference construct – the Horned Frogs lost by 27 at Oklahoma to move to 1-10 in Big 12 play Monday night, which would have been evidence enough that TCU is in fact a dismal group but only confirmed what we already knew to be true after Saturday’s 13-point home loss to West Virginia. In case you thought TCU was about to springboard into league contention, think again. Its win over Kansas last week didn’t signal a larger rise into the Big 12’s upper tier; TCU won because Kansas played one of the worst offensive basketball games since Self took over in Lawrence nearly a decade ago. College basketball is a wacky game, and weird results are a natural part of that game, never more so than this season. Kansas went into a huge funk, TCU sensed weakness, seized the opportunity and gladly rushed the court to celebrate one of the biggest basketball-related events in program history. Any overriding KU upset-crafted narrative on TCU’s trajectory going forward is silly. This team isn’t any good. Sorry!
- A Quadruple Postponement. The nasty winter storm that blanketed the Northeast this weekend disrupted the travel plans of many college hoops teams traveling to the area. Bryant postponed its Saturday game against Sacred Heart, then rescheduled for Sunday afternoon (in two time windows), which was also postponed. The next available slot was Monday night. By that time, municipal clean-up crews and plow trucks would have tidied up the roads to serviceable levels, or at least to the point where the Pioneers could make their scheduled trip. Turns out, the game was pushed back again, for fear of perilous driving conditions. The roads remain spotty, and driving a bus on icy/slushy pavement for a basketball game is not the best idea, but I’m starting to feel like maybe this game – for whatever reason – just isn’t meant to be, that Mother Nature is sending a strong message. The two sides reached an agreement for a makeup date on February 25, and unless another mammoth storm knocks the area out of commission, the game sounds like it will be played then. This is a tricky date for Bryant, who also hosts Robert Morris and St. Francis that same week – when the Bulldogs should be making a final push for the NEC title.
Dunkdafied. Finishing in traffic with a thunderous slam is nice. Capping it off with a vibrant celebration to ignite the crowd is theatrical icing. Jeff Withey, featured.
Monday Night’s All-Americans.
- Ben McLemore, Kansas (NPOY) – On his 20th birthday, McLemore scored 30 points to lift his team over the visiting Wildcats.
- Otto Porter, Georgetown – My worry with Georgetown is that it relies too much on Porter’s scoring. The formula worked Monday night: Porter finished with 21 points and seven rebounds against Marquette.
- Jeff Withey, Kansas – 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks and one huge dunk in an excellent two-day effort for Withey.
- Romero Osby, Oklahoma – The numbers (11 points, seven rebounds) aren’t great, but Osby was an efficient shotmaker (5-of-8) in 22 minutes of game action.
Tweet of the Night. I like Kansas State, and the Wildcats are going to be a tough out in March. Bruce Weber inherited a team suited to his defense-first philosophy, and everything is going according to plan. Even the most optimistic iteration of that plan does not include upsetting Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks didn’t need to prove ownership of “our state”; a quick reading of any college basketball almanac will have you convinced. The Jayhawks did need to deflate mounting national scrutiny (and even more intense local scrutiny) in convincing fashion. Thumping the streaking Wildcats was a perfect exclamation point.
“This is our state.” chant from Allen Fieldhouse. #kubball
— Rock Chalk Blog (@RockChalkBlog) February 12, 2013