Kansas Basketball Still An Enigma Nearing NCAA Tournament
The Kansas Jayhawks continue to perform as enigmatically as any team in the nation. Today, in their third game of the year against the imposing and talented Oklahoma State Cowboys, KU went right back to playing like one of the country’s best teams — for the most part. This came without the injured Joel Embiid and against a Cowboys team that dominated the Hawks in their last matchup.
It was a game of runs today at the Sprint Center, but the key to KU’s success was their ability to control the game (until the end) on defense.
After a slow offensive start, a combination of tight D and unstoppable offense from Andrew Wiggins gave KU a comfortable grasp on the lead for the majority of the game, until some serious ugliness made things close near the end. With more than six and a half minutes gone in the first half, KU had scored only six points. Then, Wiggins connected on a three-point attempted and followed it up with a deep jumper with a hand in his face.
This allowed the Hawks to distance themselves for the first time, before a 10-2 run in just over four minutes left, the Cowboys with a seven point deficit, and less than seven minutes to go in the first half. Wiggins finished the game with 30 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals.
KU’s dominance inside the paint, however, proved to be the difference-maker today. At the half, KU already had 21 defensive rebounds, and the Cowboys only had a single board on offense. Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Tarik Black brought down eight, nine and 12 rebounds respectively, all while shooting 50 percent or better from the field. Marcus Smart was limited largely to jump shots, greatly stunting his effectiveness all game long. Phil Forte III began the game shooting 1-7 from the perimeter thanks to constant pressure at the arch from Wiggins and others.
Despite their improved defense and emerging star in Wiggins, KU lost the lead several times in the second half to a surging Oklahoma State, who rallied to push the Jayhawks to overtime; 13 total turnovers played a large part in keeping the Cowboys in the game until the latter minutes of extra play.
This victory is typical of Kansas this year. I’ve made note of KU’s unpredictability before, but it’s just uncanny how this team has as much of a chance of losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament as they do of reaching the Final Four. They really are that good, but they really can be that bad.