Kansas Already Battle Tested Just Five Days Into Season

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 16th, 2016

Only two games into the new season, Kansas has already endured one crushing defeat and one thrilling victory. The Jayhawks responded from a 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana on Friday night in Hawaii to outlast top-ranked Duke 77-75 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last night. No high-major team outside of arguably Michigan State has been challenged nearly as much. Senior guard Frank Mason has stolen the show to this point, scoring 30 points against Indiana and hitting the game-winning jump shot last night against Duke.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

The Kansas program has never shied away from testing itself early against elite programs and this year is no exception. (Getty)

What Adjustments Did Kansas Make? Even with Duke’s three highly-touted freshman sidelined, Bill Self’ needed to make some adjustments from the Indiana game to avoid falling to 0-2. The biggest shift came in the contributions of 6’11” freshman Udoka Azubuike off the bench. After playing only seven minutes and failing to score against the Hoosiers, Azubuike added six points and pulled down 12 big rebounds against Duke. It was clear that Self wanted to expose Duke’s lack of size down low with 6’10” Harry Giles and 6’11” Marques Bolden sitting on the bench. After being the only Kansas starter to not foul out in the game against Indiana, freshman Josh Jackson played much more aggressively for most of last night’s game before fouling out. Still, he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, putting all three Kansas starting guards into double figures (Mason, 21; Devonte’ Graham, 15). Using Jackson on the wing and Azubuike inside to balance things offensively is the formula Kansas needs rather than relying on Mason, who scored 30 points against Indiana, to consistently contribute such a heavy load.

Should We Be More or Less Confident In Kansas Now? The loss against Indiana last week probably revealed more about where the Hoosiers are as a program and less about the Jayhawks’ shortcomings. While Kansas has a returning veteran presence in the trio of Mason, Graham and Landen Lucas, the remaining group of players are all taking on new roles. Kansas will certainly improve as the season goes along — as Jackson matures; as Sviotoslav Mykhailiuk becomes more of a consistent scoring threat; and as Carlton Bragg, Jr. takes advantage of his expanded role in the starting rotation. That’s certainly a scary thought for most every other team outside of an elite few. For Self, it’s an encouraging sign that his team shot a miserable 2-of-17 from beyond the arc and still logged a two-point win over Duke. It shows that the Jayhawks aren’t so reliant on the three-point shot to prevent it from beating one of the best teams in college basketball.

What Lies Ahead For Kansas? The Jayhawks have been tested early this season, but the schedule cools down for the rest of non-conference play. After a tune-up game against Siena on Friday, Kansas will play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic next Monday in what will feel like a home atmosphere in Kansas City. The toughest opponent Kansas has left on its schedule comes in early 2017 as the Jayhawks travel to Rupp Arena to face soon-to-be-#1 Kentucky. While Duke will likely have its fair share of hiccups playing in the loaded ACC, Kansas and Kentucky shouldn’t struggle as much in their respective conferences this year. Therefore, the Big 12/SEC Challenge game between the two teams could go a long way in determining the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

Justin Fedich (11 Posts)

Justin Fedich is a sports journalism graduate of the University of Georgia. You can follow him on Twitter @jfedich.

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