On the surface, a team like Kansas – with their preseason hype and high-profile freshman imports – having a record of 11-4 heading into Monday night’s contest against No. 8 Iowa State probably reeked of “average.” No way a squad of that caliber should already have four losses before conference play began. They’re supposed to run people off the court, right?
Well, here’s the thing: all four losses are to teams currently ranked in the Top 25. Three of them are in the top 10 – Villanova, Florida and San Diego State. So, yes, in a handful of ways, the Jayhawks were graded on a curve.
About the only thing to go wrong for the No. 15 Kansas Jayhawks last night were their 24 turnovers. Aside from those miscues, Bill Self’s squad kept their spotless Big 12 record just that behind 49% shooting from the floor. Tied 36 at halftime, Kansas exploded with a 16-5 run to start the second half and never looked back.
DeAndre Kane played 37 minutes on a tender ankle and finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, but the Cyclones did themselves no favors missing 21 of their 25 three pointers and were blitzed on the boards 53-36. Kansas, on the other hand, was led by a three headed monster:
— Naadir Tharpe’s career-high 23 points and six rebounds highlighted an evening where the junior only missed four shorts altogether, and that’s including regular attempts, three point attempts and free throw attempts.
— Joel Embiid fouled out, but had perhaps his biggest showing of the season. Words surround this kid in the manner of “upside,” “untapped potential” and “immeasurable ceiling.” It’s still difficult to tell exactly how good the freshman seven-footer is, but last night Embiid had every facet of his game working. He blocked five shots, but altered at least 10 more. He showed an ever-imporving ability to pass out the double team. And there were points during the game where he dominated both sides of the floor in succession leaving Brent Musburger speechless.
All that and more is why Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg gushed with praise, too, following the game saying, “I think Embiid is the best player in the country. He’s huge. He’s got great length. He can shoot, he’s got incredible footwork and he’s been playing the game for about two years.”
— Much has been said about Andrew Wiggins and why – in the eyes of some – he’s “overrated” because he’s not averaging 25 and 10 how sports media led so many to believe prior to the season. That’s another topic for another day, yet despite six turnovers, the 6’8 freshman devoured the glass on both ends of the floor finishing with a career-high 19 rebounds to pair alongside 17 points. Oh, and seriously, watch Wiggins play defense. It’s a sight to see. I mean that in a good way.
Sitting atop the Big 12, the stage sets perfectly for Saturday. That’s when Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State come into town for a showdown I’ve only been talking about for months now.
— It was a little touch-and-go there for awhile, but No. 2 ranked Syracuse remained undefeated – led by Trevor Cooney’s 21 points – with 69-59 road win over their ACC counterpart Boston College. It’s going to take years to get used to saying ‘Cuse and ACC in the same sentence.
— How weird is it to see Duke ranked No. 23? And had they lost to UVA last night, which damn-near happened, Duke University would have been unranked for the first time since February 2007. Coach K’s bunch won 69-65 thanks to a lucky bounce here, Rasheed Sulaimon’s season-high 21 points and some bad UVA passing there.
And after starting the season on such a torrid pace, Jabari Parker’s pace has come back down to Earth as of late (had eight points on Monday on 3-11 shooting). Let’s not start overreacting and labeling the kid with all sorts of unflattering descriptions. I know it’s tough, but let’s try not to, America. At least give him until February.