Kansas is what we thought they were: young

Try to transport yourself back to before the season started. Before you saw Wiggins actually play in a game. How many games did you think Kansas would win?

Well back in May when the non-conference schedule was announced, I asked everyone in a SquareOff and 40% of the users picked Kansas would lose three or more games. If you’re in the 40%, you were right.

Fact of the matter is, Kansas’ schedule is incredibly stacked. Their RPI has skyrocketed to an absurd 0.83 in ESPN’s rankings, which is No. 1 overall. The next toughest strength of schedule is Brigham Young’s at 0.77. The highest season-ending strength of schedule since 2011-2012 was 0.66. That number will drop, of course, once Big 12 play starts. But that just shows how tough this schedule truly is.

It doesn’t exactly get any easier on Saturday, either. New Mexico is No. 25 in the RPI and No. 27 in the Kenpom rankings. Then KU plays Georgetown a week later, No. 25 in the Kenpom rankings.

Kansas could still lose another game or two in the non-conference schedule. Will they? Probably not because Kansas strives in Allen Fieldhouse. But the opponents are still going to be tough. But the next game is in the Sprint Center and KU has a quick turnaround to prepare for the game.

Back to Florida.

Kansas looked awful in the first half. Kansas simply cannot letting opponents get back into the game when they get up early. The Jayhawks were up 10-3 and then allowed Florida to go on a 21-0 run in almost nine minutes. The thing is… Kansas was beating themselves by having unforced turnovers. Well, they were forced because Kansas was forcing themselves to turn it over.

On several occasions, a KU player fought his own teammate for a rebound and the ball ended up going out of bounds. That just cannot happen. Kansas ended up turning it over 24 times total. I’m not entirely sure how many were unforced turnovers but if Kansas eliminated stupid mistakes and stupid passes (Looking at you in the first half, Andrew Wiggins), they probably end up cutting their turnover total by five or eight and still end up winning the game.

Kansas was down 18 at one point and 15 at half . As mentioned earlier, Kansas went almost nine minutes without scoring and gave up a 21-0 run. The Jayhawks had 24 turnovers.

And the Jayhawks only lost by six points. That’s both incredibly scary and encouraging at the same time.

Bill Self agrees.

“I’m leaving here knowing we are not very good right now. We’re not,” Bill Self said after the game. “I’m also leaving here believing we can be really good if we can just continue to try to grind it out and get better day to day.”

Like I said in late November, Kansas has to grow up quickly because the Jayhawks were playing a month away from home. Self also addressed this in the postgame news conference.

“The problem with us right now is we are the only school in America that didn’t play any home games for a month … in a BCS Conference,” said Self. That’s my fault. The schedule doesn’t lend itself to getting confidence by winning some games where you don’t have to play great. A lot of it is confidence as much as anything else.”

Brannen Greene said in the postgame presser that the road environment was a factor.

“We let the crowd get to us,” said Greene. “I feel they punched us in the mouth. We didn’t respond until the second half. It’s putting together two solid quarters. We’ve got some things to work on, though.”

But probably the biggest takeaway from the game is that Andrew Wiggins put his team on his back when they needed him the most. Again, Wiggins has a lackluster first half compared to what he did in the second half.

Wiggins tied his career-high of 15 field goal attempts (Duke) but had his first career double-double and put up career-highs in points (26), minutes (37), rebounds (11) and blocks (two). He also went to the free throw line eight times and drained all of them.

In his last two games, Wiggins is 15-for-17 from the charity stripe. That’s encouraging because A) he’s finally asserting himself to get to the free throw line and B) he’s making them. The previous seven games, Wiggins was 24-of-38 (63 percent) and now he is at 71 percent.

Wiggins looked straight up unstoppable at times. Like when he did this:

Additionally, Wiggins was aggressive from the perimeter. Nine of his 15 field goal attempts were 3-pointers. He only made four but the four he did make were huge. If Wiggins can shoot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc and 50 percent for 2-pt field goals, Kansas should be unstoppable. I say “should be” because Wiggins did just that on Tuesday but Kansas lost. That goes back to 24 turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, Wiggins had four (season high). He had a couple of sloppy passes and there was one time he went down the court and just tried to do too much in transition, which I noted on Twitter. Unfortunately, Wiggins will be forced into that sometimes when the rest of the team doesn’t perform well.

And the rest of the team didn’t play well.

Wiggins outscored the rest of the starters, 26 to 23, and nine of those 23 points were from Frank Mason! Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid combing for nine field goal attempts is confusing but only Tharpe (four), Embiid (six) and Mason (six) had more than three field goal attempts other than Wiggins (15).

This game will frustrate Bill Self because he knows this team will be better in March. But it still is remarkable that Jayhawks only lost by six considering the following:

  • Kansas took 10 less field attempts than Florida (44 to 54)
  • Kansas took 15 less free throw attempts than Florida(19 to 34)
  • Kansas turned it over three times as much as Florida (24 to 8)
  • Florida hit 50 percent of their threes (7-of-14 for Florida and 8-of-19 for Kansas)

I still think Kansas is shooting too many three pointers. But Wiggins did take nine of the 18 on Tuesday night and many of those nine were necessary. But as stated above, Ellis (three) and Embiid (six) didn’t get very many field goal attempts.

The Jayhawks looked young on Tuesday night and well, that’s what we expected early in the season. It certainly was what Bill Self expected. It’s better to take these losses now than in conference play or in the tournament. It’s not time to panic.

In the end, Kansas redeemed themselves for giving up a  21-0 run by making it a game at the end. One thing this team has shown is that big deficits don’t intimidate them. If things broke their way towards the end of the game, we’re probably talking about a miraculous comeback victory. However, we’re talking about how Kansas lost three of their last four games.

On Tuesday night, Kansas started four freshmen and one sophomore for the first time in program history. It showed.  That’s just a part of being young.