It’s amazing what happens when you put aside the dizzying NBA Draft gossip and just roll out the ball and let two of the nation’s best teams go at it for 40 minutes, isn’t it? For all the hedges and qualifiers about taking the games with a grain of salt, last night’s Champions Classic nightcap was an absolute blast to watch (at least after you got past the 53 fouls that were called). So what did we learn about the Jayhawks during their 94-83 victory over Duke?
- Andrew Wiggins Will Be Just Fine: Bill Self‘s freshman phenom was much more active Tuesday night than he was in Kansas’ season opener last Friday. Wiggins took a seat on the bench for nearly half of the first stanza after picking up his second foul with 9:30 left, but he still finished with 22 points and eight rebounds against the Blue Devils. All night long, he made excellent cuts, drew attention in the post, hit jumpers and skied for boards. Oh, and he played a huge role in closing out a key win on a neutral court for the Jayhawks with everyone in America watching. It’s too simplistic to reduce the Champions Classic finale to a matter of who was better between Wiggins and Jabari Parker, because they were both fantastic in their own ways. But if this is the starting point for the trajectory of Andrew Wiggins, it’s downright terrifying to think of what he could be in four months, let alone three years.
- Young Bigs Show Development - Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor were mostly non-factors on Tuesday night, but Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid showed what they’re capable of doing inside. Ellis, who was snubbed on the handful of top-100 lists that were released by various media this preseason, displayed an improved arsenal of range and dribbling ability, finishing strong in transition as well as the half-court on his way to a team-high 23 points. We’re not sure if 20-point games should be expected from Ellis on a regular basis, but given Kansas’ mechanical ability to churn out highly skilled big men, we wouldn’t blame you if you bet on it. Meanwhile, Kansas’ Cameroonian freshman showed off some advanced ball-handling skills, feeding both Wiggins and role player Brannen Greene with a couple of impressive dishes in the first half. Typically, passing is one of the last skills that big men perfect on the developmental curve, and it usually doesn’t mature all that much in college, so it was a very nice surprise to see an otherwise raw freshman like Embiid drop a few dimes.