LAWRENCE, Kan. — The 2013-2014 college basketball season began with intensely high anticipation for the Kansas Jayhawks (16-4, 7-0 Big 12) and their chances to go all the way. As the weeks went on, the hype surrounding the youthful Kansas team began to deflate. After a grueling home loss to a defensively-brute San Diego State team, snapping the Jayhawks’ 68-game non-conference home winning streak, all hope seemed to be lost that the guys would ever put it all together.
However, in a flash.
In the blink of an eye.
It all changed.
The Kansas Jayhawks have exploded on the scene since Big-12 play started, punching the gas petal and guiding the well-oiled machine that is the Kansas Jayhawks to a 7-0 start in conference play, despite their grim genesis.
Kansas faced off with the #16 Iowa State Cyclones (15-4 ,3-4 Big 12) for the second time this season Wednesday night, this time in the Jayhawk’s house in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Bill Self and the Jayhawks entered Ames earlier in the year and departed with a 77-70 victory.
The Jayhawks pounced on Iowa State early and with 11:56 remaining in the first half, a Naadir Tharpe three-point basket gave Kansas a 26-11 lead. Following a Fred Hoiberg timeout, the Cyclones began to chip away at the deficit. A sluggish three minute stretch by KU allowed Iowa State to close the gap even more, chiseling the Jayhawks lead to 9 and forcing a Bill Self timeout.
Out of the Kansas timeout, three consecutive Iowa State offensive possessions ended in the splash of a three-point basket and the Cyclones were officially back in the game. The teams traded punches for the remainder of the half and Kansas entered halftime clinging to a 46-43 lead.
The second half commenced with a Deandre Kane three-point shot that tied the game at 46.
Kansas, however, wasn’t going down without a fight. The Jayhawks sparked an impressive 11-0 run to extend their lead back out to double-digits, 57-46, before Iowa State Head Coach Fred Hoiberg stopped the bleeding with another timeout. The Cyclones also proved they weren’t going away that easy.
Iowa State made another big push at Kansas, depleting the Jayhawk lead once again down to 73-72 with four and a half minutes remaining in regulation.
At this point, the Jayhawks had seen enough. Following a Joel Embiid slam dunk, fellow Freshman Andrew Wiggins decided to take the game over, scoring six straight points and solidifying the Jayhawks 92-81 victory over Iowa State.
F Georges Niang and G Deandre Kane led the way for the Iowa State. Niang finished with a team-high 24 points while Kane added 22 points of his own. F Melvin Eljim was able to contribute 18 points and 8 rebounds.
Andrew Wiggins, who has been highly criticized for his lack of aggressiveness, has been nothing short of spectacular in his last two outings. After notching his career-high in points with 27 against TCU on January 25, Wiggins was at it again, topping his most recent career-high with a new one. The Canada-native finished Saturday’s game with his new career-high 29 points on 10-16 shooting and added 7 rebounds in 34 minutes played. Aggression seems to no longer be an issue for the young man. Wiggins’ confidence is at its atmospheric high while his comfortability is more snug than a bug in a rug. Wiggins buried 4-6 three-point attempts in Wednesday’s victory with an ever-so-improving jump shot. When the jump shot isn’t going for Wiggins, he makes his way to the basket in wiry fashion, contorting his body through defenders to reach the rim. The Cyclones threw six different defenders at Wiggins as the night went on, none of which had much luck with his containment.
“I’m just starting to feel more comfortable,” Wiggins said after the game.
Here is a recap of Wiggins’ night:
Andrew Wiggins wasn’t the only Kansas player to show up Saturday night. All five Jayhawks starters closed the night out with double-digit scoring and two of them finished with double-doubles. Coach Self stuck to a rather tight seven man rotation. Freshmen Brannen Greene and Landen Lucas saw minimal minutes, while most of the bench play went to Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor. Conner Frankamp didn’t suit up due to injury and Senior Memphis transfer Tarik Black missed his second straight game with an ankle injury.
Sophomore Perry Ellis was the second leading scorer for Kansas, quietly adding 20 points of his own on 8-12 shooting from the field. Ellis corralled 6 rebounds as well in 33 minutes played. Freshman swingman Wayne Selden, Jr. added 11 points of his own in 33 minutes played.
Freshman Center Joel Embiid, in his fifth double-double performance of the year, scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his 30 minutes played. The big man was only able to block one shot in Wednesday’s win, but steadily approaches the school record for blocks in a season by a Freshman. Embiid currently has 54 blocked shots this season and is only 8 blocks shy of the record (62).
Junior Point Guard Naadir Tharpe has really grown into his role as the floor general of the 4th youngest team in the nation. Tharpe produced his first double-double of the season, scoring 12 points on only 3-7 shooting and a career-high 12 assists to only 1 turnover. Despite having his early struggles, the Junior Massachusetts-native has fully bought in to what his role is in Kansas’ National Championship aspirations. Tharpe can get his shot when he wants it, can knock it down when they need it, and can get to the rim when he must, but managing the tempo of the game and taking care of the ball is the most important contribution he can make.
Wednesday night, ball movement was superb for KU, who accrued 20 assists on their 32 made shot attempts. Moreover, Kansas also converted 18 of their 21 free throw attempts in their 92-81 victory, an 86% free-throw shooting percentage. Luckily for the Jayhawks, they were able to stay away from foul trouble, which is out of the norm for this team. Turnovers are still the most crippling aspect of the Jayhawks’ game, averaging 14 per game and finishing Wednesday’s contest with the same.
Offensively, the Kansas Jayhawks carry a Muhammad Ali swag and pack a punch just as hard. The Jayhawks, who are riddled with offensive explosion, are 2nd in the nation in field goal percentage, converting on 51% of their attempted shots. In addition to their fantastic shooting, Kansas ranked 21st in the nation in assists per game with 16 per. The Jayhawks are averaging better than 80 points per game this season and when they reach 80+ points, KU is 13-0 on the year. Kansas has the uncanny ability to get their top scoring from all five positions, a luxury most teams in the country don’t have.
Defensively, things still look somewhat grim for the Jayhawks. Kansas is currently allowing nearly 70 points per contest, which is ranked 177th overall in the country. Combine that with a 245th ranked steal per game average of 5.7 per game and you have a real messy concoction. Without the ability to steal the ball or impede the scoring of opponents, Kansas finds themselves having to win “shoot-out” games. The Kansas perimeter defense is simply atrocious. It seems like every night the Jayhawks’ opponents shoot the lights out on them. Much improvement will need to be directed towards these dynamics in the coming weeks to really round out the season. The bright spot for KU on defense is blocked shots. The Jayhawks currently rank 17th in the nation in blocks, averaging more than 6 per game. KU has a multitude of shot blockers that come from almost every position.
Kansas is currently #1 in the RPI Rankings (.712) and #2 in the BPI Rankings (91.0) and have regained their spot as a projected #1 seed in the Tournament via Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. The Jayhawks, without question, have faced the most difficult schedule in the country this season between their strenuous non-conference schedule mixed with the talent and allure of the Big-12 conference schedule. Aside from TCU, every conference opponent Kansas has come across thus far has held a Top 25 ranking, including their upcoming matchup with streaking and now #25 ranked Texas Saturday afternoon.