Good Teaching Moment [originally posted on 12/2/13 on sportsblog.com]

The Lawrence Journal World typified the overreaction from Jayhawk nation when it ran the headline: “Paradise Lost” for Friday’s loss to the Villanova Wildcats.

You could tell that early on the boys looked sluggish and the combination of Villanova’s aggression, the dim setting for an “arena” (the ceiling was too low and the room itself reeked of a Las Vegas ballroom lounge), and Kansas’ body language gave me a bad feeling minutes into the game.

I think even Bill Self knew the score. The smirk he displayed during his sideline interviews was priceless. I’m not saying he knew that the boys were being boys on their all expenses paid trip to the Bahamas, but he had to suspect something right?

I’m not alleging that the team was getting ripped all weekend, and thus too dehydrated to compete effectively, but it does make you wonder.

The only guys who were able to bring it consistently energy wise were Joel Embiid and Frank Mason Jr.

Not to take anything away from the Wildcats. They played out of their mind and are a very good team. I would be shocked if they didn’t make the NCAA tournament in March. But they barely won and KU didn’t play even close to what they are capable of playing. I’m not worried in the least bit. I’d rather they lose now in such a manner than go undefeated and lose during the tournament. I hope this weekend teaches the team that they have to bring it every game because every team will be bringing their ‘A’ game to face KU.

From the look of things, they have a lot to work on, even Self himself says “that they got very little accomplished” during this trip to the Bahamas.

Seems like Self still hasn’t quite found his lineup just yet. 3 point shooting has been pretty hit or miss. When Selden, Wiggins, Thaarpe, Black and Ellis are on the court together, there is a bit of cluster going on inside the perimeter. Thaarpe, Selden, and Wiggins still don’t make enough outside buckets to keep defenders honest. Brandon Greene, and Connor Frankamp haven’t been good enough defenders to stay on the court for long stretches of time.

This is too bad because their outside shooting could stretch defenses out a bit and open up the lanes for Wiggins to drive and Ellis to get some space to work inside. Joel Embiid looks like he’ll soon be starting for the team (unless Self wants a legitimate scorer like Embiid to lead the second unit) by mid season. He has worked himself higher up the draft every game. As of the other night, I saw one draft board that had Wiggins going number 1 (debatable), Embiid as high as a number 3 pick, Selden at number 9, and Ellis as a fifteen pick.
Embiid is already my favorite player on this squad and by year’s end could make the pantheon of Jayhawks to ever come through Allen Fieldhouse. I’m digging it. He just needs to learn how to stay on the floor without fouling (Olajuwon had the same problem early in his career–so maybe the comparisons are apt).

Other noteworthy thoughts from last week:

I got a chance to watch some other teams this week.

The Duke-Zona game was interesting. I’m still not sold on Duke as a team. Besides Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, and Jabari Parker, no one on that Duke team knocks me out. They will be a sweet sixteen team and maybe an elite eight, but the upper echelon teams will work them.

I like Arizona’s squad. Aaron Gordon didn’t particularly wow me as a scorer, but he surprised me with his passing. He’s a really good passer. I was impressed with a few of his dishes throughout the game. Someone (probably Bill Simmons) touted him as another Blake Griffin, but his game reminded me more of a finesse player (think Channing Frye with muscle). He may be the best passing big man I’ve seen on their team since Luke Walton. I could see them beating KU on the right day. Their pg TJ McConnell reminds me of Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and they play great defense. If they face KU in the tournament in March, look out!

Another team that scares me is Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart already has Kevin Durant’s ringing endorsement. I finally got a chance to see him this season the other night against Memphis. It was obvious that they had game planned especially for Smart and it was much more difficult for Smart to get to the rack. Every 3 pointer Smart jacked up was forced and contested and Oklahoma State ended up losing. Smart went 4 for 13 with 12 points and 5 turnovers. He did have a couple of sick assists and still threatened to take over down the stretch.

With Markel Brown, Le Bryant Nash, and Phil Forte, the Cowpokes have a chance to compete for the Big 12 title. I’m not sure if they have enough inside to challenge an opposing team’s big man on a consistent basis. Of course come tournament time, its all about the guard play, and this team may be just as good as the OSU team that went deep into the playoffs with Ivan McFarlin, Joey Graham, and John Lucas running the point. I can’t wait for that January 18th matchup. I’m going to have to find a 2nd job so I can afford tickets.

In the NBA, my award for Jayhawk of the week goes to Xavier Henry who has been down right balling for the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m pretty impressed because he came to Lawrence with so much hype and was even a lottery pick when he left school. I had kind of written him off as a bust. Just goes to show that some players take a little longer than others to develop (another reason why I preach to the Jayhawk faithful to be patient about Wiggins and temper the unrealistic expectations). I’m glad his talent is finally shining through. I’m sure he’s exchanging text messages with Matt Kemp and Blake Griffin about how the women in L.A. are even crazier than ones in Oklahoma City–but man isn’t the weather fantastic.

A quick shout out to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide for blowing their three-peat chances in memorable fashion. Personal fouls, personnel screw ups, poor special teams, and some head scratching coaching decisions helped Alabama to a big fat L. It was amazing to watch A Nick Saban coached team uncharacteristically unravel. When the refs put time on the clock, and the field goal unit trotted onto the field, I could not believe my eyes.

It didn’t make sense to put a freshman kicker out there to attempt a 59 yard kick when he’d only kicked 3 field goals his whole career. The starting kicker Cade Foster had already missed 3 field goals that day. I figured they were going to call the Hail Mary play. That was like watching the end of a video game. I still can’t believe it. I was watching it live as it happened and my housemates thought someone had broken their foot, I was screaming so loudly. It was unreal. I saw the Music City Miracle as it unfolded, and this was much more spectacular than this. In my opinion this beats Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary against Michigan, and Stanford-Cal’s kickoff return. Incredible. I bet the odds on Saban splitting for Texas now have increased by 33 percent.

Jayhawks go to Boulder and Gainesville this week. Let’s see how they bounce back.

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