Kansas Offense Clicking on All Cylinders With Its Biggest Questions AnsweredPosted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2014
Back in October, when we had nothing on which to evaluate the season but preview magazines and computer projections, the biggest questions surrounding Kansas were whether Naadir Tharpe would develop into a mature, trustworthy distributor, and how long it would take for Andrew Wiggins to mesh into Bill Self‘s balanced system. As we now near the halfway mark of conference play, the Jayhawks appear to have fully answered both of those questions. It’s why Kansas looks poised to lock down a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and why they have to be considered among the heavy favorites to cut down the nets in Arlington.
League play is supposed to be tougher than non-league play, but Tharpe apparently missed that memo. The junior has been terrific in seven games against Big 12 opponents, scoring 11.9 points and dishing out 5.6 assists per game to just 1.7 turnovers per outing. All of those numbers are better than his non-conference splits. While many of his made field goals have been the worst kind to take (long twos), he’s hit plenty of them, so while it may not be a sustainable method of shot selection, his execution has opened up space for his teammates, and there may not be a bigger beneficiary on the team than Wiggins. After exploding against TCU over the weekend, he he had another big night on Wednesday against Iowa State, scoring an efficient 29 points (a new career high) on just 16 shots. He looked more comfortable and confident than perhaps at any other point in the season, calmly making 4-of-6 three-pointers, and when Kansas needed to get some separation with the game in the balance late in the second half, he was there to provide it.
Iowa State had gone on one of its patented runs and the Jayhawks’ lead was down to just three points. Wiggins drove to the hoop, drawing an intentional foul on Cyclones forward Dustin Hogue. After a minor dust-up ensued, Wiggins went to the line and made both free throws. On the next trip, he followed an Embiid miss with a tip-in. Fifteen seconds later, Wiggins leaked out after a Tharpe steal, and with no one in front of him, brought down the house with an emphatic two-handed dunk. The scintillating freshman is averaging 19.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over his last seven contests, and that includes an outing against Oklahoma State where he was essentially a non-factor. It was always unfair to expect Wiggins to live up to the massive hype placed upon him before the season even began, but while his efficiency numbers have always been stellar, we’re finally seeing him parlay his sky-high talent and athleticism into productive games on a nightly basis.
The emergence of Joel Embiid has also allowed Wiggins to adapt to the college atmosphere at his own pace, keeping Kansas above water through the most rugged non-league schedule assembled by a major-conference team in recent memory. It’s no coincidence that the Jayhawks’ offense is absolutely rolling as Wiggins’ confidence level has grown. While Maple Jordan is athletic enough to not have to rely on Tharpe’s improvement as a distributor to get clean looks, it’s certainly helped more than the numbers show. It’s also helped Perry Ellis, who on Wednesday had one of the quietest 20-point games you’ll see this season. If the game continues to slow down for Tharpe and Wiggins — it’s downright terrifying to imagine where the Jayhawks could be in six weeks, much less nine.