A Gauntlet of Aztecs Approaching [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 1/7//14]

Bill Self described the upcoming five games against Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor as “having to face five San Diego States”.

I knew the Hawks were in some trouble after they gave up 83 points to Toledo, a team without any NBA prospects on it. In fact the Jayhawks hadn’t played a complete game since their November win against Towson.

I hadn’t watched a single Aztec game this year, but I know what Steve Fisher is capable of as a coach, and he certainly had them ready to play. He and the Aztecs went into Lawrence with a great game plan and executed it near flawlessly.

They limited KU’s fast break points, out-rebounded the Jayhawks 51-39, and killed them in the paint–only attempting eight 3 pointers the entire game. The Aztecs did a great job of doubling the KU bigs on the catch and the Jayhawks’ front line only mustered 18 points; 12 of them coming from the always impressive Joel Embiid (the already lion quick Center tweeted this weekend that he’d be taking ballet classes this upcoming semester to help him with his footwork–I know this worked for former Longhorn and future NBA guard Royal Ivey).

Notables from Sunday’s game:

1) The Jayhawks are not a very good passing team. They can get out in transition, but when it comes to creating shots for other players, they come up short. This is in part to having guards who can’t create consistently. Doug Gottlieb touched on this during Sunday’s telecast and one of the few things he got right (Naismith Blvd,Massachusetts Ave, and Wiggins’ summer activities were three things he got wrong), was that the lack of a play maker at point guard is hurting the team’s offensive development. Gottlieb then went on to say that this has held up the progress of stars Wiggins, and Embiid (let’s throw Perry Ellis in there too who hasn’t played well since his neck injury against Georgetown).

Which begs the question of does Bill Self develop point guards? It could be argued that the last consistent play maker at point guard was Aaron Miles– a Roy Williams recruit. Sherron Collins was a good guard, but I feel like he was more a shoot first guard than passer. I’m sure one could argue Josh Selby or Tyshawn Taylor, but I’d just laugh at them.

The offensive woes they have had to begin games has been irritating to watch. Sunday they came out 3/19 on field goals, and 6/29 in the first half, and only shot 4 for 16 from 3 point range for the whole game. It may seem crazy to say this because of how talented this team is, but because they are such a young team, this would arguably be Bill Self’s best coaching job if he somehow manages to will this team to another Big 12 title.

Naadir Tharpe has not played as well as I hoped he would, and at the beginning of the season I wrote that the team would only go as far as he could take them. Depending on shoot first freshman Frank Mason to lead the team is expecting too much this early in his career. The Jayhawks need better guard play if they expect to win another Big 12 title.

2) I was happy to see a team (capable of beating the Jayhawks) come into Lawrence and compete. The Aztecs brought it on Sunday. Their interior passing and rebounding was beautiful to watch. I can’t recall seeing so many put back dunks in a college game. It was good to see at least one team brought some intensity (although the last five minutes of the first half was an eyesore).

3) Wiggins is so smooth;as graceful as a gazelle. He made me squeal a couple of times when he found a lane, lifted off, and took it to the cup When he develops that outside shot he will be unstoppable–people forget that Lebron and Kobe didn’t always have good outside shots early in their careers–people used to dare Lebron to shoot the jumper.

4) I’m not digging the Landen Lucas, Jamari Traylor front line combo. It seems like they basically the same skill sets. Neither have impressed me with their handles, or how well they move without the ball. Even though they got killed on the boards, I like how the small ball lineup of Embiid, Wiggins, Selden, Mason, and Tharpe opened up the floor. The lack of 3 point shooting is something that I didn’t see coming. I figured Andrew White III, Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp would play bigger roles on the perimeter. All three players struggle to see consistent playing time.

5) San Diego State is going to cause some teams headaches come tournament time. They have a big, physical front line and they play good defense. But they’ll get beat once they encounter foul trouble and a team with a better bench. Of the 61 points they scored Sunday, only 6 came from the bench players.

It’s going to be a nasty stretch coming up for Kansas. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments that Self and the coaching staff make when conference play starts on Wednesday. I’m also excited to see if Kansas plays with the intensity and resolve they reserve for the last five minutes of every game. Self himself admitted that this team is not as good as he thought they would be at this point. He even shared some of the blame for being part of why they weren’t that good. It seems silly to say this early into season, but the next 5 games will reveal what kind of team the Jayhawks have. Maybe its time for a players only meeting. This might sound crazy, but anything less than a 4-1 start will have Jayhawks fans ready to hit the panic button.

This week will be a great stretch of games in both the NCAA and NBA:

For college we have KU vs. OU, KU vs. K-State, Michigan State vs. Ohio State tonight, Baylor vs. the Iowa State Hoibergs, Memphis and Louisville, and UCLA vs. Arizona.

I plan to sneak a peek at the (now) #8 ranked Wichita State Shockers with Ron Baker, Fred Van Fleet, and Nick Wiggins (yeah Andrew’s older brother). I’m certainly going to have to get out to Wichita and see them in person this spring. For now, I’ll have to settle for watching them on my laptop computer. It’s unfortunate that Self isn’t interested in scheduling them down the road, saying it doesn’t benefit the program to face them (perhaps he thinks this new found Shocker success is fleeting?) during the season. I personally think it would be great for the state of Kansas to see them face off every year and keep some of that money in state. It would be a fun deal for everyone, and I like that Wichita State is making some noise. Maybe if the Shockers keep it up, Bill will be more interested in putting them on the schedule. Hopefully I can make that trip out to Wichita and see for myself if they are legit.

The NBA games I plan to catch this week are Portland Orlando, Dallas- San Antonio, and Golden State- Milwaukee (Greek Freak!!!!).

I’m feeling a bit more honed in, after missing four key barn-burners over the holidays. I’m still kicking myself over missing the Warriors-Suns game from a week and a half ago (where Steph Curry almost got a triple double in one half), Portland-Miami (without Lebron) was a nail-biter. I fell asleep during the second half of the Kentucky- Louisville match 2 Saturdays ago and was stuck on a plane when Steph Curry (whose production has certainly gone up since the return of Iguodala) went NBA Jam all over the Heat last Thursday night (How was that game not on TNT?).

For the rest of this year I’m dedicating myself to sitting in front of the computer and watching basketball. No more nights off, no putting off hoops for romance, and no more going out. I’m putting all my energy into studying hoops. Nothing is worse than coming home, opening up the ESPN page and seeing replays of a game you vaguely felt was potentially intriguing and missing something amazing. Basketball never stops but……………..

Colin Kaepernick though ………

My little brother clowned on me when I told him that was my favorite qb in the league right now. I know he didn’t look great against Seattle in their first game, but I like his swagger. He’s only a 3rd year pro, first year starter, and he already seems like the heir apparent to Randall Cunningham. I love the fact that he didn’t wear sleeves during the Green Bay game. That 4th quarter was the kind of intensity that I love to see during the NFL playoffs. For some reason, SF-GB seem to more often than not have classic games. Some clutch play in brutal conditions provide for great theater.

I guess you could include KC-Indy in the great theater discussion, but that was more depressing than watching “The Pianist.” I knew the collapse was coming and still I kept watching and still the events that unfolded manage to surprise me. I’m not even a Chiefs fan and I was horrified.

I’m excited for this weekend’s games. I have watched more football in the last 48 hours then I have all season long.

Carolina-San Francisco might turn out to be the best game. I’m looking forward to seeing those defense square off. I think the Saints will play better this time against Seattle, but I still see them getting beat by 2 touchdowns. Denver-San Diego might be fun, and I’d like to see what kind of magic the Stanford boy produces against the Patriots.

While we are at it, how does anyone bet on that line from last night’s BCS game. Vegas probably made a killing. Florida State as 13 point favorites? Insane. Auburn will rue the fact that they didn’t try to score at the end of the first half, and the missed field goal early on in the game. They had FSU shook and couldn’t close the deal. It’s still hard to take college football seriously–more about politics than actual football–a bunch of rich old men investing in and betting on their alma maters. Although the NFL hypocrisy is pretty sickening. I don’t see how they can say they care about the players with Thursday night games, a push for an 18 game schedule and the legalization of Astroturf (you can tell how serious they are about alleviating concussions by the turf issue alone–they may as well been playing on concrete when the turf froze over in those stadiums).

Oh well, bring on the professionals. It’s going to be a fun week, and a really fun 2014.

Real fast before I go I wanna publicly admit that I did not think Trey Burke would be so good, nor did I think Michael Carter Williams would so spectacular. Also shout out to Kendall Marshall, who I’m very happy to see get another chance with the Los Angeles Lakers. Dude got 15 assists in his first game with them (and only 4th start of the season), and its not like he has that many people to throw the ball to. That Lakers team has been decimated with injuries. Keep fighting Lake Show. I hope they are able to get Westbrook and Kevin Love in the summer of 2015.

Enjoy one of the best months of the year. The doldrums of July will be here before you know it.

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