What we learned – New Mexico State at Kansas: Warts and all, they’re good

Now 8-0 on the season, some Jayhawk fans are concerned about the team’s lackadaisical play as of late. How fair is this criticism?

Kansas keeps winning, but it keeps playing with fire at the same time. Saturday night was the fifth time in the last six contests where the Jayhawks trailed by at least seven points before coming back to win.

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I’m going to cut right to the chase: fans criticizing Kansas – saying they don’t deserve to be No. 1, complaining about lineups, and questioning how good they’ll ultimately be – are crazy. The team may not be playing at its ceiling just yet, but that doesn’t mean they still haven’t been arguably college basketball’s most impressive team.

KU is 8-0 for the first time in eight seasons. They’ve accomplished that while facing the No. 1 strength of schedule in college basketball. They boast two top-10 wins, and quite literally everybody on their schedule figures to be in NCAA tournament conversation, whether it’d be as an at-large or a mid-major tournament winner.

In five of the last six games, the Jayhawks have fallen behind by at least seven points more than 15 minutes into the contest, only to come back and win each of those games. They’re definitely playing with fire a bit, but slow starts are to be expected when you look deeper into this team’s current structure. The country’s most efficient offensive player is sidelined with a bum ankle. Their top-10 recruit has struggled to catch up to the speed of the sport. The frontcourt, a completely different set of players from a year ago, hasn’t flashed Bill Self a lineup he can consistently count on in certain situations.

Last year, the Jayhawks beat Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern, Oakland, and Toledo by an average of 39 points per game in November. They smashed their “cupcake” opponents. Then when they lost to Washington and Arizona State, fans complained that the team wasn’t “battle-tested,” and that the blowout wins didn’t prepare them to close out up-in-the-air contests that would surely come later in the year.

This year, they’ve only beaten Vermont, Louisiana, Wofford, Stanford, and New Mexico State by 12 points per game, but they’ve closed out nailbiters against everyone else. The fans then complain about how they should be beating their “cupcakes” by more, citing that they’re playing with fire.

You can’t have it both ways.

Starting 8-0 this year is one of the more impressive things Bill Self has done at Kansas. Nobody has any idea what this particular team’s most efficient lineup is, yet he’s managed to push the right buttons every single night out. Every single contest KU plays is up in the air at the final TV timeout, yet Self keeps shuffling out the right lineup in clutch situations to watch his team pull out win after win. It’s not particularly aesthetically pleasing to watch, but winning games despite having plenty of hiccups speaks volumes as to just how good Self – and his team – are.

Complaining about this Jayhawk team is like having a supermodel girlfriend with a bottomless bank account, only to complain about how she takes a bit too long getting ready. Every single year, Self leads this team to 28+ wins. They’re always a top-15 team by mid-February, rounding into form and preparing to play in the NCAA tournament as a one or two seed. Considering that this team’s ceiling is higher than any squad Self has had since 2010-11, one would be crazy to think that this team won’t follow that exact same blueprint.

This team has its warts, but they’re no bigger than anyone else’s. They’re 8-0 despite having not clicked as a whole just yet. And that should make the rest of college basketball extremely nervous.

Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.