What’s the Matter With Kansas? Some Historical PerspectivePosted by Taylor Erickson on December 11th, 2013
Kansas appears to be in a bit of a funk. After falling for a third time in four games at Florida on Tuesday night, it feels like the sky in Lawrence is falling for some KU fans. The point guard situation is a serious cause for concern; the offense is flat-out stymied by any type of zone defense; and any trace of veteran leadership looks as if it’s gone with the wind. Bill Self’s squad can’t defend; they turn the ball over at an incredibly high rate; and they constantly get beaten to every 50-50 ball out there.
Did I miss anything?
Good deal. Because as crazy as this may sound, we’ve seen this episode before in Self’s tenure at Kansas. Just 10 months ago, to be exact, Kansas was in the midst of a similar lackluster stretch after dropping three straight games to anything but the league’s elite. Elijah Johnson was sputtering at point guard for the Jayhawks; they couldn’t seem to score more than 65 points a game; and at the time, many KU fans were certain that last year’s team would be the one that failed to continue the conference title streak.
Two years ago included much of the same. On December 19 of that season, KU fell to Davidson at the Sprint Center, dropping its record to 7-3 after a pair of early losses to Kentucky and Duke. Tyshawn Taylor was the whipping boy for a team struggling with what appeared to be a lack of veteran leadership. Many felt that after a frustrating three-plus seasons, Taylor would never rise to the occasion. But we all know how that season ended – Taylor flipped a switch after Christmas break as he and Thomas Robinson led Kansas to the national title game before falling to that insanely talented Kentucky team.
So what I’m saying is that it’s not exactly like Self and company are floating in uncharted waters here. This time, Kansas’ early struggles are attributed in part to a brutally difficult non-conference schedule — a schedule that was constructed in a way that has kept Self’s team away from the comforts of Allen Fieldhouse for 29 straight days. Playing away from home for this long of a stretch is not only unnatural in college basketball, it’s also borderline crazy. It’s like that feeling you get after a long vacation, the one that screams “just get me back in my own bed.” And because we’re talking about Kansas, perhaps Dorothy said it best that it feels like there’s no place like home.
This Kansas team is young and inexperienced, and with such a tough early season schedule, it didn’t exactly take a tarot card reader to foresee a stretch like this occurring. Sure, there are some legitimate concerns moving forward. With one of the youngest teams in college basketball, senior big man Tarik Black and junior point guard Naadir Tharpe were supposed to be the upperclassman leaders of this team. But after nine games, both have already lost their starting jobs to freshman counterparts. Black was brought in to provide toughness in the post but has proven that he can’t stay on the floor long without getting in foul trouble. Tharpe showed glimpses of stellar play a season ago, but when Kansas really needs to get a good look on offense, Tharpe has lacked the ability to provide that leadership you’d expect from a veteran guard.
Perhaps the biggest problem was the way Kansas beat a more experienced Duke team in the Champions Classic in early November. What that win really did is led pundits and fans alike to believe that this Kansas team was much further along early in the season than anyone had anticipated. The win suggested that maybe these Jayhawks would skate through their non-conference schedule with only a minor hiccup or two, avoiding some of the adversity that the schedule presented.
Since that time, a dose of reality has set in, and along with it, maybe some optimism has faded. But taking a step back and putting this stretch into context proves that maybe it isn’t all that abnormal for teams starting four freshman and a sophomore to struggle. For fans, patience through the rest of the holiday season will be a virtue. For the team, the best cure for the problems it is facing might just be a healthy dose of Allen Fieldhouse, a stretch of winter break free from classes and other distractions, and some time to allow Self to mold this team in a way that we’ve seen time and time again.
So in the meantime, please excuse me for not hitting the fire alarm just yet. This Kansas team will be just fine.