Mac Stevenson
Kansas had everything just where they wanted it going into last Saturday’s game with Oklahoma State in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks were all alone in first place in the Big 12 race, leading Texas Tech and Oklahoma by one game. But KU couldn’t take advantage of the situation.
O-State outrebounded, outhustled, and outplayed KU and beat the Jayhawks 84-79. This was a severe blow to KU’s opportunity to win their 14th consecutive Big 12 championship, which would be a national record. The Jayhawks are currently tied with UCLA at 13 in a row.
Coach Bill Self succinctly summed up the O-State game, saying, “To think we had a chance to be in that game if we scored late was amazing to me because I thought we got whipped in pretty much every facet.”
Coach Self’s Jayhawks were exposed by shortcomings on their frontline; unless KU shoots very well from the 3-point line, they can lose to anyone. Self’s team went from a good chance to win an undisputed Big 12 title to scratching for at least a first-place tie.
Point guard Devonté Graham and off guard Lagerald Vick have been slumping badly on offense and it showed up against O-State. That points up another KU limitation; Self doesn’t have any quality depth on his perimeter. If one or two of the KU guards has a slump or several poor games, the Jayhawks run into major problems.
This is one of the few times in Coach Self’s marvelous career at Kansas that he has been short of depth and—to some extent—talent. And, ironically, this season has been one of Self’s best coaching jobs.
After Saturday, KU was still tied for first with Texas Tech in the league title chase and the Jayhawks could still pull it off; however, right now the Red Raiders look like the best team in the conference. The Big 12 came back to earth with a thud in the recent Big 12/SEC challenge and there’s no conference team that has emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the title outright.
One thing Self needs to change is to either keep rookie forward Silvio De Sousa on the bench or leave him in for more than one or two minutes. Nothing destroys a young player’s confidence quicker than knowing he’s headed for the bench the moment he makes a mistake. It’s not as if Self’s regular players aren’t making their fair share of unforced blunders.
If Self is focused entirely on winning or sharing the Big 12 title, he might get away with not playing De Sousa, but that won’t work in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas isn’t far from being an outstanding team, but the Jayhawks need quality play from De Sousa to make it very far at the Big Dance.
Kansas State contributed to what turned out to be a disastrous Saturday for the teams from the Sunflower State; the Wildcats were crushed (89-51) at West Virginia. It was K-State’s worst game of the season.
After the game, Coach Weber said, “When you make shots, you feel good about yourself. We had some opportunities and we didn’t make some shots . . . when we won, it was because of great balance; we just haven’t had the great balance the last couple games.”
The Wildcats fell to 5-5 in Big 12 play and it appears that they’re out of the running so far as league championship aspirations are concerned. K-State’s biggest issue has been the lack of development by a power forward; it hasn’t happened. Against WVU, forwards Makol Mawien, Levi Stockard, and James Love combined for 39 minutes, one of four field goal attempts, eight rebounds, and one block. None of Weber’s forwards has stepped forward to play effective basketball alongside center Dean Wade.
K-State needs to regroup and finish the regular season with a winning record in Big 12 play in order to gain a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It won’t be easy.
Wichita State has also fallen on hard times; the Shockers (7-3, 17-5 overall) have slipped into a tie with Houston for second place in the American Athletic Conference. Cincinnati leads the league with a 10-0 record.
Wichita is mired in their worst slump during Gregg Marshall’s tenure as the Shockers’ coach. Guards Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp have been unable to hit their normal high percentage on three-point shots and that has adversely affected the offense.
Cincinnati appears almost certain to win the AAC championship and Wichita State needs to focus on shaking out of their slump and solidifying their qualifications for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.