College basketball insider: Flashes in Kansas starting to flicker

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2014 - 12:06 AM

Kansas is losing some luster, thanks to inexperience and a taxing schedule.

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Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins, right, drives around Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Perhaps it’s because we’re conditioned to view everything through the thick lens of hype that is put in place so early in the college basketball season. Perhaps it’s because we expect everything to be dynamic right away, for good teams to be great right away.

And that’s why when a team like Kansas and its expected lottery pick, freshman Andrew Wiggins, experience some early bumps, we all shake our heads and ask, “What’s WRONG?”

There is no doubt that through the first two-plus months the Jayhawks haven’t excelled the way some have anticipated. Kansas has gone from No. 5 in the preseason AP poll to No. 18 after Sunday’s loss to San Diego State — which ended the Jayhawk’s 68-game home nonconference winning streak.

Wiggins has looked firmly human and, with other freshmen around the country wowing night in and night out (Jabari Parker, anyone?), he also has lost his grip on being the No. 1 pick overall in the NBA draft in June.

Even Kansas coach Bill Self himself has expressed doubt, telling the Lawrence Journal-World, “I am frustrated. I am. I don’t think we are playing as well as we should be playing. I think every team has a ceiling. I am frustrated because in my opinion, which I’m sure all fans would agree, we’re operating well under that [ceiling] when you look at personnel individually.”

In reality, there is nothing wrong with Kansas. Self knows it, and anyone who has watched a decent amount of Jayhawks ball knows it. Kansas may have experienced some hiccups it’s not used to at this point in the schedule — losing four games already, to Villanova in the Bahamas, at Colorado, at Florida and against San Diego State — but the season is young and the heart of the schedule is still ahead.

All four of Kansas’ losses came by six points or fewer, and three were by four points or fewer. In no way have the Jayhawks, who are ranked No. 13 on kenpom.com and are hitting a very high percentage of two-point shots (55.4 percent, 11th best in the nation), choked. Like many young teams, they simply have lacked that last-second execution and leadership that becomes important against good competition.

The Jayhawks have had plenty of top-tier opponents; they own the No. 2 RPI in the nation.

“[We] haven’t had a chance to play poorly and win a game,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve had a game in which we didn’t have to be our best since mid-November … It certainly has been an eye-opener on what can happen if you’re off even just a little bit.”

Meanwhile, while no one would call Wiggins overwhelming (he had just nine points and six rebounds at Oklahoma on Wednesday), Kansas has the luxury of plenty of talent around him. Center Joel Embiid, a freshman, has improved to the point where he’s in the conversation about possible No. 1 picks. The big man has shown he can play with his back to the basket as well as hit shots from the perimeter and efficiently feed his teammates. While Wiggins has been less aggressive offensively than some would like, he’s likely to improve as the season goes on.

When he is able to harness that potential, Kansas could be as intriguing as ever.

College basketball short takes

• While Bill Self has made it clear he’s not interested in beginning a new home-and-home rivalry with Wichita State, Kansas State’s Bruce Webber seems somewhat intrigued by the idea of a new in-state tradition.

“I’m not against it,” Weber told the Wichita Eagle. “But scheduling is one of the most difficult things about coaching. I don’t think people have any idea how hard it is. It might be more difficult than even recruiting.”

• Feel like Duke just isn’t the same imposing giant it usually is? The nation agrees. For the first time in six years — SIX YEARS! — the Blue Devils have dropped out of the Associated Press top 10.

Duke is No. 16 in the poll released Monday, falling from No. 7 the week before. According to NBC’s College Basketball Talk, Duke’s streak of 122 weeks in the top 10 was the second longest of all time. UCLA leads with a run of 155 weeks in the 1970s. Michigan State now claims the longest active streak, 16 weeks.

• After more than two months of play, five unbeaten teams remain (in order of kenpom.com ranking): Arizona (16-0), Wisconsin (16-0), Syracuse (15-0), Iowa State (14-0) and Wichita State (16-0). Meanwhile, there is a lone winless team: Cornell, 0-13.

• Looking for a way to waste some money? One of former North Carolina coach Dean Smith’s recruiting letters to Michael Jordan is up for auction. The opening price is $5,000.



Big Ten power poll

1. Wisconsin: It’s hard to argue with one of the five remaining undefeated teams in college basketball.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their first this week, but that will happen in this league. No shame in falling to Michigan State at home.

3. Michigan State: Despite being hobbled with injuries for most of the year. the Spartans are finding a way to get it done.

4. Iowa: The Hawkeyes need to find a way to win close games. All three losses have come by five points or fewer.

5. Michigan: Despite early struggles, the Wolverines are 3-0 in the Big Ten, where it counts, but they haven’t hit any big competition.

6. Illinois: The Illini were introduced to Wisconsin on Wednesday, when the Badgers held Illinois to 31.6 shooting.

7. Minnesota: A victory over Penn State wasn’t the prettiest, but as Richard Pitino is already finding out, a win is a win in this league.

8. Purdue: If the Boilermakers continue to hit only 65.8 percent of their free throws, it’s going to be a long season.

9. Indiana: The Hoosiers’ youth shows. They are 327th out of 351 teams nationally in turnover percentage, according to kenpom.com.

10. Penn State: A win over the visiting Gophers was in the Nittany Lions’ grasp. Instead, they’re still waiting for their first league victory.

11. Nebraska: The Huskers have not had it easy so far, but they nearly pulled one out this week against Michigan at home.

12. Northwestern: Perhaps the only thing worse than Wildcats basketball right now is the new player-designed uniforms.

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