Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Big Win Over Iowa State Monday Night

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 14th, 2014

Monday night’s tilt between Kansas and Iowa State entered Monday night as one of the most anticipated Big 12 games to date, in large part due to the fierce competition that developed between the two fan bases last season, stemming from two classic meetings that both required overtime to settle the score. Iowa State came into this game with a huge question mark at point guard following an ankle injury on Saturday to standout DeAndre Kane, but it appeared to have little impact as he showed up and played big, going for 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals.

Joel Embiid dominated in the second half against Iowa State.

Joel Embiid dominated in the second half against Iowa State.

Instead, the storyline from Monday night revolves around the talented Kansas freshmen, namely Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, both of whom played phenomenally in helping secure a huge win in one of the most difficult environments in college basketball. Listen, many expected Kansas to turn the corner over Christmas break like so many previous teams had done, but the home loss to San Diego State a couple weeks ago had some questioning whether Bill Self would be able to build a complete team with so many freshman playing key minutes. Since that time, Kansas has jumped out to a 3-0 start in Big 12 play and appears to clicking at just the right time, while in the midst of one of the toughest stretches in the schedule. Here are three thoughts on Bill Self’s biggest win this season, and how it impacts the league race moving forward.

  1. Joel Embiid was flat-out dominant for a stretch in the second half. Coming off a Kansas State game Saturday where Embiid picked up a silly flagrant two foul late in the game that earned him an ejection, Embiid once again found himself in a tussle early with Kane that resulted in a flagrant one foul. The second boneheaded play by Embiid in as many games resulted in a seat on the bench for a portion of the first half, and limited him from having much of a first half impact. In the second half, however, Embiid took over the game for a sequence, finding an open Frank Mason out of a double-team, followed by two baskets on the offensive end of the floor, and a block-and-rip-away on Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue. After the game, Cyclones’ head coach Fred Hoiberg called Embiid the “best player” in the nation. While that still might be a bit of a stretch, when the athletic seven-footer is on top of his game, he presents Kansas with a weapon that few teams in college basketball have. Going forward, you can bet other Big 12 squads will try to get in Embiid’s head to bait him into retaliatory actions, and Embiid will have to be prepared to deal with such chippiness for the remainder of the season. It’s much better for opponents if he’s not in the game. 
  2. It’s becoming increasingly evident that Andrew Wiggins has a knack for showing up biggest when the lights are shining brightest. Wiggins came out more aggressively than we’ve seen for a majority of the season, in both attacking the basket and crashing the boards on his way to 17 points and 19 rebounds. As good as those numbers were for Wiggins, he missed several shots around the rim and could have easily drawn a foul on several others. In the last two games in Big 12 play, Wiggins is averaging 19.5 points per game and appears to be getting more comfortable with his role in Bill Self’s system. With a home match-up against Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart on the horizon, you can bet the competitive preseason banter that was discussed by Smart and head coach Travis Ford should fuel Wiggins to another aggressive performance. While Self has a variety of match-up options available to him on the defensive end of the floor, college basketball fans alike have to be excited about the possibility of a Smart vs. Wiggins showdown that should provide plenty of weekend fireworks.
  3. Not to be overshadowed by the performances of Kansas’ premier freshman was the play of junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, who channeled his inner Elijah Johnson in scoring a career high 23 points off 7-0f-9 shooting (remember that Johnson scored 39 in a win in Ames last season). Over the weekend, I wrote that Kansas didn’t need Tharpe to score in order to win games this season, but I couldn’t have been more wrong on Monday night. Buried under the individual performances to begin Big 12 play for Kansas, it appears Tharpe’s improved play could be the real reason why the Jayhawks have been playing great. It’s no secret that heading into the season, the biggest question surrounding Kansas was whether the Jayhawks would have the point guard play necessary to contend for a national title, and if Monday night was any indication, it appears Tharpe can be that guy for Bill Self.
Taylor Erickson (54 Posts)

Taylor Erickson is a Big 12 contributor for RTC. You can follow him on Twitter @tc_erickson.

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