Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Hey, Kansas. Of Kansas’ three most recent losses, the only one that made Monday night’s home match-up with Kansas State feel even somewhat dubious was the inexplicable TCU slip-up. The other two are concerning, but only by Kansas fans’ warped standards – a product of Bill Self’s remarkable string of excellence in Lawrence. Oklahoma State is a solid all-around team, with a set of explosive scorers and one of the best and most versatile point guards in the country making everything work. Oklahoma is brutally physical, extremely well-coached, and an absolute bear to play on the road. Those losses aren’t bad, per se, as much as they are out of character for a Kansas team most believed had another conference title sealed up at the turn of the New Year. Kansas is not the unparalleled Big 12 demigod it was billed to be, but that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be. Kansas can and probably will wind up winning the Big 12, again. This team has warts, and things can get ugly on the offensive end every now and then, but when these Jayhawks get going in their own building, few teams have what it takes to keep up. Monday night was one of those nights.
Your Watercooler Moment. Kansas Ends the Speculation.
Because Kansas has been so consistently dominant under Self, and because this Jayhawks team looked nigh-unstoppable for much of this season, questions about this team’s long-term health were a major discussion point heading into Monday night’s contest with intrastate rival Kansas State. Not only did the Wildcats have the upper hand in the latest AP Poll, they were also riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak along with the added confidence of a reeling KU team seeking to end a three-game skid. The way both of these teams were headed – Kansas State rising higher and higher, with Kansas sinking into a mid-season rut – Monday night felt like one of the only times during Self’s tenure when picking against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse didn’t sound like such a horrible idea. Forty minutes and 30 Ben McLemore points later, whatever suspicions arose in the past week about Kansas’ ability to legitimately contend for a Big 12 and national championship were effectively silenced. The Jayhawks punked their basketball step-brother; Kansas State was rarely even competitive from the opening tip. Kansas bossed the game from start to finish, just the way we saw it impose itself during the first few months of the season. It was the kind of game Kansas so often conducts in its own building: dominant, efficient, smothering, deafening. On Monday night, Kansas played like Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse was Allen Fieldhouse, and the natural order of things seemed to fall back into place. Concerns about the Kansas offense, especially point guard Elijah Johnson, won’t go away, and the Jayhawks might well take a few losses the rest of the season, but for 40 minutes Bill Self’s team looked like the conference juggernaut we’re so accustomed to seeing under his tutelage. It looked like a team incapable of going on a three-game losing streak.
Tonight’s Quick Hits….
- Offense vs. Defense in DC. It’s not every day you get drastic strength-on-strength match-ups with teams from the same conference. Leagues typically breed a certain style of play or tactical focus. The Big Ten, for example, is a physical, bruising conference known for its toughness, defensive discipline and pace-averse offense. Not every league can be so easily defined – some conferences feature a wide spectrum of different styles and strategic emphases. Georgetown and Marquette brought the polar opposite ends of the offense-defense balance into their Big Monday night game, and when a great offense (Marquette owns the nation’s 17th best O, per KenPom) meets an even better defense (The Hoyas are 10th in defensive efficiency), the outcome is simple and predictable. Georgetown held Marquette to 55 points, leaned on Otto Porter Jr. for another All American-worthy performance (21 points, seven rebounds), and finished the night with Big East win number eight, its sixth straight.