Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Win Last Night at BaylorPosted by Taylor Erickson on February 5th, 2014
After taking a drubbing from a Texas team in Austin on Saturday in a game that frankly looked like Kansas wanted to be anywhere but the Erwin Center, head coach Bill Self said it was important for his team to not let one loss turn into two or three as a result. Just a year ago, Kansas jumped out to an identical 7-0 record in league play before dropping three straight and inviting everyone back into the Big 12 title race. For those reasons, among others, last night’s match-up with a difficult-to-understand Baylor team that had beaten Oklahoma State in Stillwater was important for the Jayhawks to maintain their separation from the rest of the pack. After a back-and-forth first half, Kansas took an eight-point lead into the locker room after an Andrew Wiggins three-pointer from 50 feet, and eventually cruised in the second half to a 69-52 win in Waco. Here’s three takeaway thoughts from Tuesday night’s game.
- Has Naadir Tharpe been given enough credit for Kansas’ success in league play? The junior point guard has quietly operated under the radar while his freshman counterparts have generated most of the buzz in Lawrence this year. Before the season began, the biggest question surrounding the Jayhawks was whether they had the necessary point guard play to win six games in a row in March. After last night, Tharpe is now shooting 55 percent from behind the arc in Big 12 play while operating at a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s those statistics that suggests that he is certainly capable of leading Kansas to a national title. That said, consistency is still an aspect of Tharpe’s game that is the most maddening for Kansas fans. As a team leader, he has to find ways to bring a positive impact on the game when he’s not scoring — that is, getting talented teammates like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Perry Ellis involved in the offense. Tharpe’s development has followed a similar path of former Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who for three-plus seasons looked like he would never be able to put it all together, before flipping the switch and leading Kansas (along with Thomas Robinson) to the national title game in 2012. While the play of Wiggins and Embiid will be under the spotlight down the stretch, it’s likely that Tharpe’s play will have the biggest effect on Kansas’ ultimate success.
- It’s becoming a sad reality that the never-ending discussion regarding NBA draft status’ for college basketball players is here to stay as long as the one-and-done rule exists. Last night during ESPN’s broadcast of the game, Jeff Goodman reported that center Joel Embiid is “seriously considering” returning to Kansas for his sophomore season, despite the fact that many believe he would be the top pick in the draft. Immediately following those comments, Twitter erupted with chatter about Embiid returning to school. What wasn’t mentioned on SportsCenter following the game were Embiid’s postgame comments, where he said, “Physically, mentally, if I feel like I’m ready to leave, I’m going to leave. But right now, I’m not really thinking about that.” I say all this to post this question… What else is he supposed to say in early February while his team is in the middle of a league title race? Did we expect Embiid to just come out and say that he’s going to leave after the season is over and create a huge distraction for his team moving forward? This is of course amid the almost daily discussion about where Wiggins stands in the eyes of NBA GMs and scouts, and what impact each performance has on his ranking. Rest assured, Embiid will make a decision after the conclusion of this season that is best for himself and his development toward playing in the NBA regardless of what was said or reported throughout the season. It would be a refreshing spin if we could just accept that fact and enjoy his time in college basketball, however long that might be.
- As bad as Kansas was on defense in stretches Saturday against Texas, the Jayhawks were equally as good in Waco on Tuesday night, holding Baylor to just 29 percent shooting from the field. Kansas also outrebounded the Bears by 14 which is impressive considering the size Scott Drew displays on his front line. Playing solid defense has long been a staple of a Self team, but for the fourth youngest team in college basketball, it hasn’t been so easy. According to KenPom, the Jayhawks rank 24th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season, compared to their rankings of fifth and third the last two years. While Self has a plethora of offensive weapons at his disposal, there’s bound to be a game in the NCAA Tournament where Kansas’ shots simply aren’t falling, and the young Jayhawks will be forced rely on their defense to keep them in it. Self has his team playing so much better than the one that lost four games in non-conference action, but for Kansas to take the next step towards becoming a serious title contender, the play on the defensive end will need to continue to develop during the month of February.