Takeaways For Kansas From Last Night’s Champions ClassicPosted by Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2013
It’s amazing what happens when you put aside the dizzying NBA Draft gossip and just roll out the ball and let two of the nation’s best teams go at it for 40 minutes, isn’t it? For all the hedges and qualifiers about taking the games with a grain of salt, last night’s Champions Classic nightcap was an absolute blast to watch (at least after you got past the 53 fouls that were called). So what did we learn about the Jayhawks during their 94-83 victory over Duke?
- Andrew Wiggins Will Be Just Fine: Bill Self‘s freshman phenom was much more active Tuesday night than he was in Kansas’ season opener last Friday. Wiggins took a seat on the bench for nearly half of the first stanza after picking up his second foul with 9:30 left, but he still finished with 22 points and eight rebounds against the Blue Devils. All night long, he made excellent cuts, drew attention in the post, hit jumpers and skied for boards. Oh, and he played a huge role in closing out a key win on a neutral court for the Jayhawks with everyone in America watching. It’s too simplistic to reduce the Champions Classic finale to a matter of who was better between Wiggins and Jabari Parker, because they were both fantastic in their own ways. But if this is the starting point for the trajectory of Andrew Wiggins, it’s downright terrifying to think of what he could be in four months, let alone three years.
- Young Bigs Show Development - Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor were mostly non-factors on Tuesday night, but Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid showed what they’re capable of doing inside. Ellis, who was snubbed on the handful of top-100 lists that were released by various media this preseason, displayed an improved arsenal of range and dribbling ability, finishing strong in transition as well as the half-court on his way to a team-high 23 points. We’re not sure if 20-point games should be expected from Ellis on a regular basis, but given Kansas’ mechanical ability to churn out highly skilled big men, we wouldn’t blame you if you bet on it. Meanwhile, Kansas’ Cameroonian freshman showed off some advanced ball-handling skills, feeding both Wiggins and role player Brannen Greene with a couple of impressive dishes in the first half. Typically, passing is one of the last skills that big men perfect on the developmental curve, and it usually doesn’t mature all that much in college, so it was a very nice surprise to see an otherwise raw freshman like Embiid drop a few dimes.
- Selden Provides Stability To Backcourt: It would have been preferable for Kansas to see some improvement from Naadir Tharpe, but while he wasn’t a liability on Tuesday night, freshman Wayne Selden stole the show in Bill Self’s backcourt. The big shooting guard showed an all-around offensive game, hitting jumpers, finishing drives and connecting from the charity stripe. He also used his fullback-caliber physique to muscle through Duke’s frontcourt for six rebounds. It’s not hard at all to picture Selden’s versatility giving opponents enormous migraines as the season wears on.
- Kansas Wins War Of Attrition, But Its Defense Needs Work: Like many games in the young season, fouls played a significant role in the outcome of the game. Duke connected on 57.1 percent of its free throw attempts and saw two players foul out, while Kansas nailed 27 of its 35 tries and not a single Jayhawk was disqualified. Credit Kansas for outplaying Duke on the margins, especially after Wiggins picked up his second foul in the first half, but Bill Self will be the first to tell you that his team has a long way to go defensively. No matter who Self put on Duke star forward Jabari Parker, whether through a set assignment or a rotation, the Blue Devils’ freshman frustrated the Jayhawks to no end. Amile Jefferson also had some success, scoring 17 points on just nine shot attempts. A combination of foul trouble and Duke’s perimeter orientation took Tarik Black out of the equation while Traylor contributed very little outside of four fouls, so there are definitely a few things to iron out. Given Self’s track record, we like Kansas’ chances of improvement over the next four months, but while not every team on Kansas’ non-conference schedule has a match-up nightmare like Parker, it’s tough to recall a more unpolished defensive starting point than where the Jayhawks are right now.
Kansas has plenty of things to work on as the rest of the season plays out, but it should also be very satisfied with the steps that some of its most important players took on a big stage against one of the best teams in the country. Success will ultimately be measured by results, but without a sound process in place to get there, the goals of Self’s team won’t be realized. Last night, the process was there for Kansas, and an important non-conference win followed.