Joel Embiid Headed to the NBA: What Does Kansas Do Next?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on April 9th, 2014

Joel Embiid officially declared his intention to enter the 2014 NBA Draft in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Embiid is projected as a top three pick in the upcoming draft despite missing seven games at the end of this season because of a stress fracture in his lower back. Given how rare it is for big men to come along with a demonstrated ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, it should come as no shock that the seven-footer from Cameroon has decided to leave Kansas after just one abbreviated season.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

The most optimistic Kansas fans, however, were holding out hope that Embiid’s comments to ESPN earlier this year would convince him to stick around in Lawrence for another season. In that January article, Embiid talked about studying other talented big men and cited how many years they stayed in school as a contributing factor to become the best at his position one day. But make no mistake about it, the game isn’t the same as when Olajuwon, Duncan, and Shaq were dominating college campuses. Players now more than ever are drafted on potential, and in Embiid’s case, he has it in spades. In the end, this announcement comes down to making a sensible business decision, and capitalizing on the opportunity to make life-changing money — something that could be significantly hindered if he were to return to campus and experience another year of back problems.

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Will Defensive Issues Spell Doom for Kansas?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 19th, 2014

The biggest question surrounding Kansas as it begins the 2014 NCAA Tournament later this week is whether standout center Joel Embiid will be available sometime in the next few weeks, and if so, when his availability might occur. When news about the stress fracture in his lower back came to light early last week, Self indicated that the first weekend of the tournament was a “long shot” but the Jayhawks were hopeful he could return later in the tournament if they were fortunate enough to advance. While we continue to remain in the dark over Embiid’s status, the next biggest question now becomes what can keep Kansas from surviving this weekend’s trip to St. Louis?

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively.

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively. (Photo: KUSports.com)

If you’ve spent any time at all watching Kansas over the last few weeks without the services of their center from Cameroon, the answer to this question is the stark inability of Kansas to lock down the defensive end of the floor. Even typing that last sentence feels odd, given Self’s track record of defensive excellence throughout his tenure as the head coach in Lawrence. Consider that every year from 2006 to last season, the Jayhawks have finished #3, #1, #1, #9, #9, #11, #3, and #5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. This season, Kansas currently sits 45th in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings, illustrating just how much this team has struggled on that end of the floor.

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Big 12 M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 19th, 2014

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  1. After cutting down the nets in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City on Saturday night, Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team is riding high on confidence and momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament, as the Cyclones became the first Big 12 team to win the conference tournament while seeded fourth or lower. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune took a look at how teams that have been in a similar situation after winning their conference tournament as a lower seed have fared in the Big Dance, and found that in all five instances, those squads have fallen in either the first or second round. More recently, however, we’ve seen a pair of teams from the old Big East use their performance in their conference tournament to fuel a run in the NCAAs. Those two teams are the Kemba Walker-led Connecticut team that cut down the nets in 2011, and the Louisville team that challenged Kentucky in the 2012 Final Four. There’s certainly a case to be made for Iowa State building on last week’s success, but they’ll need to continue to shoot the ball with confidence if they intend on writing their own March story.
  2. After a great start to the conference season which propelled them near the top of the league standings, Texas dropped four of its last six regular season games and were bounced in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. If Rick Barnes’ team wants to stick around a bit longer this week, they will be best served by leaning on their elite ability to rebound the basketball, which ranks fourth in the nation in large part because of big man Cameron Ridley. As the Dallas Morning News points out, Texas isn’t really elite at anything else, from a statistical standpoint, outside of crashing the glass. In a Thursday match-up against Arizona State, this could be a big factor against a Sun Devils team that ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in rebounding.
  3. While our infatuation as a society with one-and-done college players seems to grow by the day, Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star points out that freshmen-led teams winning an NCAA title are still the exception, not the rule. Bill Self’s Kansas team has had freshmen play 55.6 percent of the available minutes this season, and only the Anthony Davis-led Kentucky team has won a national championship with freshmen contributing over half of their minutes. Last year’s Louisville championship team gave only 8.1 percent of its total minutes to freshmen, a number that resembles the allocation to this year’s Florida team. From an optimistic standpoint, you could argue that Kansas resembles the 2012 champs in the sense that two Jayhawks are also projected as the top two picks in June’s NBA Draft. But the obvious flaw to that argument is that one of those future lottery picks might not see the court for the rest of the season, as Joel Embiid continues to battle a stress fracture in his lower back.
  4. When the NCAA Tournament brackets were released on Sunday evening, nearly everyone in the nation pointed to a potential third round match-up between Wichita State and Kentucky. The Shockers haven’t seen much of the type of athleticism that John Calipari puts out on the floor in what could be a very interesting showdown. What many failed to realize, however, is that the Wildcats have to survive a tough opening round game against a pesky Kansas State team which, by the way, finished fourth in what might have been the toughest conference in college basketball. The inherent urge to overlook K-State might be the best thing that could happen to Bruce Weber’s team this week, as he will have no problem motivating his team Friday night. While Kansas State won’t have the surplus of athletes of Kentucky, their disciplined approach and motion offense might be the perfect counter to what has been an undisciplined team for a majority of the season.
  5. To say that this season hasn’t gone according to plan for Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State would be quite the understatement. Part of Smart’s motivation to return for his sophomore season in Stillwater was fueled by the Cowboys’ second round loss a season ago against a terribly underseeded Oregon team. Heading into Friday’s game against Gonzaga, Smart has a chance to leave one lasting impression on his short, often criticized career at Oklahoma State. Aside from his mediocre long range shooting ability, there’s no question that Smart is an outstanding talent who could carry a team through several rounds in March. Whether he can change our perception of his college career for the good, though, remains to be seen.
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Joel Embiid’s Prolonged Absence Leaves Kansas At A Crossroads

Posted by Kory Carpenter & Taylor Erickson on March 11th, 2014

Unless you live under a rock, chances are you’ve heard that Kansas center Joel Embiid will miss this weekend’s Big 12 tournament, and his participation in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament at this point is considered to be a “long shot,” according to head coach Bill Self. While it remains a possibility that Embiid could be available for the later rounds of the NCAA tournament if Kansas advances, for the time being, this news certainly rocks the college basketball landscape and has serious implications for the Jayhawks’ chances of winning it all in early April. Big 12 microsite writers Taylor Erickson and Kory Carpenter break down the challenges that Embiid’s updated prognosis brings to Kansas’ national title aspirations:

TE: The silver lining for Bill Self and company lies in the fact that Embiid isn’t the only NBA lottery pick roaming the sidewalks in Lawrence this season. There’s another ridiculously talented athlete wearing a Kansas jersey that has the ability to completely take over a college basketball game. It’s your move, Andrew Wiggins.

Can Andrew Wiggins put Kansas on his back while Joel Embiid is out with a back injury? (KUSports.com)

Can Andrew Wiggins carry the load while Joel Embiid is out with a back injury? (KUSports.com)

You all know the story by now. Wiggins came to Kansas as one of the most heralded recruits of all time. He had that “best since” clause attached to his name. For the most part, there’s been no shortage of college basketball fans and media alike that would tell you that Wiggins has underachieved this year. But the beauty of college basketball is that heroes in this sport are made in March, and for Andrew Wiggins, the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on college basketball is still right out in front of him, waiting to be capitalized on. We’ve seen it in stretches, and his 41-point outburst at West Virginia, albeit in a loss, was the most recent example of how dominant the 6’8″ guard from Canada can be. In a year where there’s clearly no bulletproof team in the nation, is it really that far-fetched to believe Wiggins could lead Kansas on a Kemba Walker-like run?

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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Win Over Iowa State Last Night

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 5th, 2014

In the moments following his team’s win over Iowa State on Tuesday night, Baylor head coach Scott Drew was asked if that performance against the Cyclones put his team into the NCAA Tournament, to which Drew responded, “Absolutely. No question.” Baring a dreadful performance in the Bears’ last game on Saturday at Kansas State and an disappointing early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, it seems like Drew’s statement is spot on. That in itself is crazy to think about; a team that looked all but dead in the water at 2-8 in conference play with little emotional desire to turn things around has done exactly that, winning six of its last seven and positioning the squad for a bid on Selection Sunday. It’s also worth mentioning that for all the criticism Scott Drew took while his team floundered to start conference play, he too is responsible in large part for its February resurgence and should receive due credit. For the Cyclones, it was another road loss in a league that offers very few chances to get a win away from home, but make no mistake about it, Fred Hoiberg’s squad will not be an easy out in postseason play. Here’s three observations from last night’s contest.

Baylor-Iowa State

Cory Jefferson and Baylor Appear to be Back in the NCAA Tournament’s Good Graces

  1. Aside from Kansas, Baylor has perhaps the best combination of frontcourt size and skill on both ends of the floor, and this was certainly the case on Tuesday night. The length of Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin inside held the Big 12′s leading scorer, Melvin Ejim, to just six points, far from his average of 18.3 points per game in league play. Ejim’s teammate Georges Niang also had a difficult night, contributing only four points in the contest, also well below his league average. The duo of Jefferson and Austin combined to score 20 points themselves, but most importantly, controlled the paint. What was most interesting about this game was the fact that Baylor allowed Iowa State to shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc — connecting on 12 three-pointers — but that wasn’t enough to keep pace for the Cyclones with two of their stars failing to show up. It’s almost as if Drew’s game plan was to make Iowa State beat the Bears from the outside, and it seems to have been effective as the Cyclones converted better from distance than they did inside the arc (39 percent). Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 28th, 2014

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  1. For a Kansas team hoping to push for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, finishing the remainder of the season without another loss looks like it’ll be a necessity, and even that might not be enough to earn a spot on the top line on Selection Sunday. One of the teams that appears to be poised for a #1 seed ahead of Kansas is, of course, Wichita State. On Thursday, Kansas head coach Bill Self said that he believes the Shockers should earn a #1 seed if they finish the season unbeaten, given how hard it is to consistently win on the road regardless of strength of schedule. If things play out like they could, we might find a situation where Wichita State and Kansas are in the same region as the #1 and #2 seeds. That would certainly be all the Sunflower State could handle.
  2. Competition in the Big 12 has been nothing short of stellar for most of the season, but as Dave Skretta of the Associated Press points out, we might be reaching a point where the league is cannibalizing itself. Because there are so many quality teams from top to bottom, beating each other could potentially have a negative impact on the number of berths that the league receives to the NCAA Tournament.  The last two weeks of the season are sure to have several games that will have a significant impact on the postseason, let’s just hope the selection committee is aware of just how tough it is to win in the Big 12 this season.
  3. In a sport like college basketball where so much of the talk is centered around underclassmen, it’s refreshing to hear some of the senior night stories that will take place in the next few weeks — such as this one about Oklahoma seniors Cam Clark and Tyler Neal.  While Neal has the luxury of welcoming his parents to every home game, Clark will for once have his parents in attendance as he plays his final game in Norman.
  4. One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround that Rick Barnes’ team has experienced at Texas this season is the improved play of big man Cameron Ridley. On Wednesday night, Ridley saw the type of size on Baylor’s front line that he can expect to see at the NBA level, and his performance didn’t disappoint. We’ve seen similar play at times from Ridley throughout the season, namely the home game against Kansas where Ridley dominated the talented Jayhawks’ frontcourt. For Texas to excel in postseason play, you can bet that Ridley will need to continue to have a significant influence.
  5. Speaking of postseason play, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team is currently in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, but will need some big wins down the stretch to get there. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they will continue to be without the services of Terry Henderson, who has been out of action with an undisclosed illness since a game against Kansas on February 8. While West Virginia officials couldn’t get into the details of exactly what is wrong with Henderson, they believe he is appearing to come out of whatever is bothering him. It looks like superbly talented point guard Juwan Staten will continue to shoulder most of the load for the Mountaineers.
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Big 12 M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 36 hours, you’ve heard by now that Kansas‘ win over Oklahoma on Monday night extended their streak of regular season conference titles to a remarkable ten in a row. During that streak, three times Kansas has replaced all five starters from the previous season in 2005-06, 2008-09, and 2013-14 and still managed to capture the league crown. Brian Hamilton at Sports Illustrated took a look at those three seasons in particular and ranked them in order of which is most impressive.  Sooner or perhaps later, the streak will come to an end, just not this season.
  2. When the NCAA Tournament rolls around, you can bet Iowa State will be a sleeper team many people around the country like to advance deep because of their ability to score the ball. While point guard DeAndre Kane and forward Melvin Ejim receive most of the attention, forward Georges Niang may be the most important piece to Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones. Niang has been a model of consistency as of late, scoring at least 17 points in nine of his last 10 games. Niang’s ability to stretch opposing defenses away from the basket creates a difficult matchup, especially for a team having to potentially prepare for Iowa State in just one day in the NCAA tournament format.
  3. Speaking of NCAA tournament play, the Oklahoma Sooners and head coach Lon Kruger have proven during conference play that they can score points with any team in the country, but for Oklahoma moving forward, the key is being able to get stops on the defensive end of the floor. As NBCSports.com points out, in six of the Sooner’s eight losses, their opponents scored over 80 points. Part of the problem for Oklahoma is that while their ability to score from so many different places on the floor, that versatility resulting from a smaller lineup leaves them vulnerable to taller frontcourts, especially when forward Ryan Spangler gets in foul trouble.
  4. This season we’ve learned quite a bit about Marcus Smart, both good and bad. On Monday night, Smart showed that superstition wasn’t a concern for him after a student manager left his jersey back in Stillwater, forcing Smart to wear number 43 instead of his usual 33. In all seriousness, as bad as things have been for Smart this year, he still has an opportunity in front of him to make a meaningful and positive impact on college basketball. That opportunity starts on Saturday night, when the Cowboys host league leading Kansas with ESPN’s College Gameday in attendance.
  5. After dropping two disappointing games in a row, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team is in need of a great end to conference play to really make a push to the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers will have three opportunities against RPI Top 25 teams in their last four games which could drastically help improve their tournament resume. It will be important for Huggins’ squad to tighten up on the defensive end, and hope that point guard Juwan Staten can continue his impressive play that jump-started the Mountaineers in league play.
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Big 12 M5: 02.25.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 25th, 2014

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  1. The addition of Memphis transfer Tarik Black to Kansas last summer was viewed as an important move for Bill Self to solidify a young frontcourt alongside sophomore forward Perry Ellis. Black was voted Big 12 preseason Newcomer of the Year in October, and figured to play a prominent role on Kansas’ roster this season. That’s how it was suppose to work out, anyway. In reality, Black struggled early with foul trouble and quickly relinquished his starting spot to talented freshman Joel Embiid. But he has never regretted his decision to transfer to Lawrence, telling family and friends he is blessed to be there, while finding a way to use the physical and mental toughness that he developed as a youth to bring much-needed leadership to Self’s young squad. Moving forward, it will be vital that Black continue to do so as the Jayhawks enter the all-important stretch of postseason play when their season will ultimately be judged as a success or failure.
  2. Just a few short weeks ago, it looked like West Virginia was among those in the Big 12 poised to position themselves for a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. After losing three of their last four games, however, including a 13-point loss over the weekend to fellow bubble team Baylor, Bob Huggins openly questioned his teams “commitment to excellence”. The head coach seems frustrated with his player’s lack of attention to detail, explaining that the players all have iPads that are meant to be used to watch game video, but that apparently wasn’t happening. The Mountaineers will close the season with road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma and have two home contests remaining against TCU and Kansas. At 15-12 overall and 7-7 in Big 12 play, Huggins’ squad will need to finish at least .500 in the conference and need a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament if it hopes to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
  3. On Tuesday night in Lubbock, Texas, students will have a bit of added motivation to show up at United Spirit Arena to cheer on their Red Raiders as they take on Kansas State. Texas Tech announced that the school will be giving away 30 prize packages, including eight chances for students to win $10,000 in cash or $10,000 towards the purchase of an automobile, along with a live DJ and free food. We’ve seen promotions on the uptick this year in college basketball, but certainly not anything to this degree. Moving forward, with schools struggle with game attendance, we’re likely to see more of these and other promotions in the understandable attempt to give themselves as big a home court advantage as possible.
  4. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg became the latest college basketball coach to express his frustrations with social media on Monday saying, “I think social media is going to be the end of us, I really do.” Hoiberg went on to say that he thought it was a joke that someone could sit behind a computer and rifle verbal assaults at college basketball players who are out there doing the best they can. This comes just days after Louisville head coach Rick Pitino echoed similar statements, and after Iowa Hawkeye forward Zach McCabe airballed a crucial three-point attempt in a home loss to Wisconsin which caused fans to berate him on social media. After that incident, Fran McCaffery, who has been known to have a short temper, banned his team from social media for the remainder of the season. Coaches like Hoiberg and McCaffery face a difficult situation because banning players from social media platforms could easily be used against them in recruiting. Despite the fact that it might be best for teenagers who are entering college for the first time, most kids won’t like having restrictions on how they can communicate with friends, family, and yes, fans.
  5. With all the fan negativity that exists in college athletics, it’s refreshing to hear of stories like a recent one involving Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In a news conference held on Monday, Hield couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of getting a chance to play Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse that night. It’s that same joy in just lacing them up to play the game of basketball that Oklahoma coaches found when they first starting recruiting Hield in the Bahamas a few years ago. Hield recalls playing in slippers as a youth because he didn’t have any shoes, and now he finds himself enjoying a starring role on an NCAA Tournament-bound team. A quote from that story really shows how much the Oklahoma guard gets it, saying “If you’re doing something you don’t love, what’s the sense in doing it?” I think that’s probably something we could all apply to our own lives.
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Big 12 M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 24th, 2014

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  1. With his recent three game suspension behind him, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart now has an opportunity to make one last impression on how we will remember his college career in Stillwater. At 5-9 in league play, the Cowboys are are the perfect example of a bubble team heading into the last few weeks of the season with games against Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State remaining. Given the talent on Travis Ford’s roster, it’s not a stretch to think this team could get on roll throughout both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments and pose an incredibly difficult match-up for most teams.
  2. Heading into this Big 12 season, most anticipated the aforementioned Oklahoma State would be the biggest challenge to end Kansas’ streak of nine regular season league titles, but with just four games remaining, Kansas holds a three-game lead on all other teams in the conference, and needs just one win to guarantee at least a tie for the league crown. As Mike DeCourcy writes, the streak by Bill Self and company is much more of a dynasty given just how dominant the Jayhawks have been for the last decade.
  3. For Kansas State this season, there has certainly been no place like home. On Saturday, Bruce Weber’s team continued to experience road woes in their blowout loss at Oklahoma. Wildcat forward Thomas Gipson said after the game that he didn’t know what they can do to win a game away from home. Kansas State has a difficult finish to their season and while their doesn’t appear to be a threat to their NCAA Tournament status just yet, they could vastly improve their seeding come Selection Sunday if they were able to show their ability to win away from home.
  4. Two of the most bubblicious teams in the Big 12 squared off on Saturday when Baylor visited West Virginia, and for the time being, it looks like they may be headed in different directions come Selection Sunday. Scott Drew’s Baylor team has now won four straight league games after topping the Mountaineers 88-75 in Morgantown. Baylor is now 6-8 in league play in their quest to finish .500 in the conference, which should be enough to get them into the dance given the strength of their non conference play. In the first meeting between these two teams, Baylor guard Royce O’Neale played just seven minutes in the Bears’ loss at home in Waco, but scored 22 on Saturday and has been valuable in the resurgence of Baylor as of late.
  5. While the spot at the top of the conference seems all but settled, the race for second place will come down to the last few weeks of the season between Iowa State, Texas, and perhaps Oklahoma, all of whom currently sit at 9-5 in league play. For the Cyclones, finding a way to position themselves second in the Big 12 would allow them to avoid a potential rematch with Kansas until the championship game, and would pair Fred Hoiberg’s squad in the second round with a team that played the previous day. Regardless of how the seedings play out, you can bet the competition in Kansas City will be highly entertaining.
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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Monday Night Win Over Oklahoma State

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 18th, 2014

Take a trip back in time to January 3, 2014. Baylor had just demolished lowly Savannah State at home in its final tune-up before conference play. Scott Drew’s team was 12-1, ranked 9th in the nation with neutral site, non-conference victories over a Spencer Dinwiddie-led Colorado team and a Kentucky squad that was ranked 3rd at the time. Baylor looked like one of the Big 12′s elite, possibly capable of threatening Kansas’ nine-year reign atop the league. On that same evening in early January, Oklahoma State was preparing for its first conference game of the season — a road contest at an up-and-down Kansas State group looking for a win to ignite its start in league play. The Cowboys, much like their fellow Big 12 competitors from Waco, had raced out to a 12-1 record to begin the season, and found themselves ranked 6th in the nation after non-conference victories over Memphis and the same Colorado team. Marcus Smart was averaging over 17 points per game, and perhaps even more so than Baylor, Travis Ford’s team looked like it had a legitimate shot to take down the then-shaky Jayhawks.

With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside.

With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside. (Waco Tribune-Herald)

At that time, a mid-February Big Monday battle in Waco between these two teams looked like must-see television. Boy, how quickly things can change. Instead of a match-up that could have (should have?) had serious league title implications, this game instead featured the eighth and ninth teams in the Big 12 standings, fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. The winner of last night’s game would move to three games back of .500 in conference play; the loser would stare at a 4-9 record and the notion of having to win every game left just to break even. What took place for the better part of 30 minutes on Monday night looked exactly like a contest between two bottom-dwellers, regardless of the names on the fronts of the jerseys. And if that wasn’t enough, a comedy of head-scratching coaching decisions down the stretch left most observers wondering what the heck they just witnessed. Nevertheless, a 70-64 overtime win for Baylor proved to be a tremendous feat for a team clinging to hopes of an at-large bid. Here are three thoughts on the showdown that was in Waco Monday night.

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Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Win Last Night at Baylor

Posted 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.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe had a huge game leading the Jayhawks with 22 points on a night that Kansas' big freshmen struggled.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe had a huge game leading the Jayhawks with 22 points on a night that Kansas’ big freshmen struggled. (KUSports.com)

  1. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 31st, 2014

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  1. As good as Kansas freshman Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins have been, lost in the shuffle is the improved play by junior point guard Naadir Tharpe. Tharpe finished Wednesday night’s game against Iowa State with 12 points, 12 assists, and just one turnover. That makes 17 assists to one turnover in his last three games, and a 3.3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in conference play. There’s certainly a case that could be made that, while Embiid and Wiggins have been the center of most conversation around Kansas’ 7-0 start in league play, Tharpe’s improved play and reduction in turnovers has been the real reason why Kansas has been clicking as of late.
  2. Like many schools across the nation, attendance for home games has been an issue for Oklahoma State at times this season. On Thursday, head coach Travis Ford practically begged students at the campus union to attend games at Gallagher-Iba Arena. To make the process easier, students will no longer have to certify their tickets before the game — apparently a big issue. With the technology available to improve the at-home viewing experience, this seams to be an issue across several different sports, and it will force athletic departments to get creative to come up with new strategies to draw more interest.
  3. Fresh off a loss at Kansas on Wednesday night, there is some buzz that Cyclones’ head coach Fred Hoiberg may switch up his starting lineup by inserting freshman point guard Monte Morris into the mix. Morris has been a spark off the bench for Iowa State, and he could help out of the gate by preventing DeAndre Kane and company from getting off to slow starts, something that plagued them in both halves at Allen Fieldhouse.
  4. If I were to ask you to name the leading rebounder in the Big 12 this season, you might throw out names like Joel Embiid, Cameron Ridley or last season’s leading rebounder, Melvin Ejim. Instead, Oklahoma’s sophomore forward Ryan Spangler has proved to be an absolute workhorse down low for the Sooners, averaging over 11 rebounds per game in league play. Head coach Lon Kruger believes that Spangler’s attitude and work ethic has inspired his team’s improved play this year. Watching Spangler play like he did on Monday night in a win over Oklahoma State, you can’t help but appreciate the effort he puts forth on both ends of the floor.
  5. In a new series on CBSSports.com, Jeff Borzello discusses a potential title contender with a panel of anonymous head coaches about the strengths and weaknesses of said team and how best to perform against them. Thursday, Borzello took a look at Kansas and among the many items he discussed, perhaps the most interesting was whether the panel of coaches thought that Bill Self had the point guard play necessary to win a national title. The consensus opinion seemed to be that with the way Tharpe has been playing, the junior point guard was fully capable of leading Kansas to a Monday night win in Arlington.
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