Fakin it til They Makin’ it [Originally Posted 1/10/14 on sportsblog.com]

Big win for the Jayhawks the other night. The start of conference play and their latest mini-swoon lend to a visible increase of intensity for Oklahoma. They played like they were tired of losing, with Selden leading the way with 15 early points in the first half.

I liked the aggression, the Jayhawks were still making mistakes, but they were not lackadaisical. This was important to see because Oklahoma (and every team they will face the rest of the season) is capable of beating them. It almost happened too. Cameron Clark put on a show the other night, putting up 32 points. I was very impressed with his game, and he was so hot at one point, that I was surprised whenever anyone but him shot the ball. Nevertheless, OU is a jump shooting team, and KU put the ball inside when they needed to, with Perry Ellis putting up a very quiet 22 points and 11 rebounds. OU is probably NIT bound, but they are still a lot to handle. They didn’t quit and played to the final whistle. Respect.

It may take until the end of the season before this team gels into the collection of players everyone (including me) envisioned. There may be some clunkers, and ugly wins, but if they have some grit, then another conference title can be won. Jayhawks fans will have to endure the growing pains. I’m still not altogether sure if this season is only the build up for next year. Inexperience could be their fatal flaw in this year’s tournament.

Some random thoughts before I go:

I wonder how well a lineup of Connor Frankemp, Brandon Greene,Wiggins, Selden, and Embiid would play together. That’s a line-up that could really spread the floor against the right team. I wonder if Self will unveil that combination any during these next few games.

It seems like any combination Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, and Tarik Black at power forward and center will result in an extravaganza of outside shots and 3 second violations. The Jayhawks get slower and more predicable on offense when this clunky lineup is on the floor. It can get ugly sometimes.
I love watching Jayhawks games at the bar for the atmosphere as much for the game. Streaming it on the laptop and projecting it on the wall can be just as nice–especially when I’m trying to save money. One of my favorite things about streaming is the random channels that you end up on. For some reason commercials don’t seem quite as mundane and annoying when they are in Russian.

I have a hunch that Wiggins will unleash the beast for a game or two during this upcoming stretch. I could see it being in Ames; in a hostile environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was next Saturday against Oklahoma State. It might be a few years until Wiggins finally gets a hold of what Deion Sanders referred to as “his dog”. It took Kevin Durant losing the Western Conference Finals to fully embrace that nasty streak. I’ve noticed it come out when someone pisses Wiggins off, but he hasn’t quite harnessed that viciousness yet.

If Jamari Traylor decides to focus on passing, rebounding, setting screens, and defense, he will find himself with plenty of playing time. Traylor’s offensive game is not the most polished, but if he makes up his mind that he would focus on the above things and get garbage points when they arrived, Self would have trouble keeping him off the floor.

There seems to be a lack of a discernible defensive leader on this team;someone who sets the tone for the team, and makes sure everyone has their assignments. Part of this may be from a lack of cohesion; having not played together enough. This concerns me because the team is putting up points but still giving them up as well. It’s nice to know when you are on the road, in a hostile environment, that you can get a stop on defense whenever you need one.

I’m liking what is going on out in Wichita. I watched a game the other night on TV and decided I’m going to have to make a trip there. I like the team’s makeup and I like their coach Gregg Marshall. This team reminds me of those Butler squads that went back to back Final Fours. I think this team is good enough to make it to the championship game. If they were to play Kansas tomorrow, I would favor them to beat KU. KU has a more talented roster, but right now Wichita State is the better team (in fact, if the tournament started next week, I would not feel confident this KU squad had what it took to get past the sweet sixteen).

I like Wichita’s Ron Baker (in my opinion almost a good of a passer as Luke Walton). I like their point guard Fred VanFleet, I like Cleanthony Early, and I like Nick Wiggins (who is more of a grinder than his brother). It feels like there is something special going on right now in Wichita. It may not last longer than this season, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

I saw the “U” play UNC the other night. They really miss Shane Larkin, but I could easily see them making some noise by next year (this year, NIT bound). I have liked Jim Larranaga since his George Mason days, and Miami is lucky to have such a good player’s coach.

I need to see more Victor Oladipo. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, and Oladipo is almost worth watching Orlando Magic games. I’m not crazy about the point guard experiment with Oladipo, but I think he will be a great 2 guard. He is athletic and a great defender He definitely has that “dog” harnessed. I may go on to regret saying this, but he seems to have that nasty streak that Jordan had in him. What if Orlando lucked into a lottery pick and got Embiid, Parker, or Julius Randle? Any of those 3 players with Oladipo and Afflalo would put the Eastern conference on notice; something else to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones may be the best backcourt east of Cameron Indoors. They are explosive.

UCLA games at Pauley Pavillion look like the pick to click. You know UCLA hoops is back when you see NBA stars going to the games on their night off. Doc Rivers, Steve Nash, Phil Jackson, and Baron Davis were all in attendance for the UCLA-Arizona game.

Last night’s game was very fun to watch. I would be surprised if there were less than 6 future NBA players from this game. UCLA has a tendency to put guys in the NBA who went on to have better pro careers than college. I think Kyle Anderson is going to be the rawest of anybody who played in this game. With his height and his handles, and his ability to finish, he could be the next Penny Hardaway. He could leave now and get drafted pretty high, but it may serve him well to stay another year in college. Unfortunately UCLA is a first half team. They played two entertaining first halves against Duke and Arizona. The second half of both games they would lose focus for long stretches of time with bad shots and careless turnovers. That being said, they will make for a very watchable NIT run.

Arizona looks like a very balanced team. I like the backcourt of Nick Johnson and A.J. McConnell. Aaron Gordon made me to squeal a couple times last night after throwing it down.
If there is a school with better looking basketball cheerleaders than UCLA, I’d love to attend a game there. Wow! I thought KU had some great looking cheerleaders. I’d take UCLA’s stable over half the squads in the NBA. Much respect.

UCLA has some sweet uniforms. Classic.

I forgot how much I miss Bill Walton’s musings and rambling. What a great ambassador for the game of basketball. Reading his autobiography “Nothing But Net” was a real influence on my love for the game. His affection and enthusiasm for the game is contagious.

We’ll see if there is any momentum tomorrow against the K-State Wildcats who won a share of the Big 12 conference title last year. They beat Oklahoma State last Saturday so this will be interesting. One thing for sure, there will be some intensity tomorrow–all day long. Bring on the weekend.

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