Kansas tempted fate on Wednesday narrowly escaping a pesky Cornell team at home. Heading on the road against a much tougher opponent would likely take a stronger effort, yet the Jayhawks never seemed emerge from whatever funk they carried over from Wednesday into Knoxville on Sunday.
Headed into the game Kansas remained one of three undefeated teams along with Big 12 counter part Texas and fellow "blue blood" program Kentucky. Tennessee entered the game fresh off the suspension of four scholarship players and the question was whether they would play inspired or come in defeated.
That question was answered late in the first half as the Vols overcame an early Kansas lead to establish a solid lead of their own. Back and forth from that point on with Kansas not able to overcome the Tennessee lead. A lack of defensive intensity by Kansas led to a Tennessee team shooting near 50% from the field and over 50% from the three point line. The Vols shooting performance is the best by a Kansas opponent this year.
From the Kansas side of things the offense looked out of sync for the second straight game. The Jayhawks who early in the season looked to have a multitude of scoring options were stuck depending on one. The inside game was a struggle to establish and just 10 assists from the entire team on 23 field goals reflects a lack of ball movement and a lack of a true half court offensive set.
It was fun while it lasted. Optimistic and somewhat light hearted talk of an undefeated season is no more. Truth be told Kansas fans probably expected a stumble here an there this season. Bill Self is one of the best in the business at tweaking a team, developing talent and molding a rotation of players into a group of winners. The biggest question tonight is how quickly Coach Self can accomplish this.
By no fault of there own the Jayhawks didn't find themselves tested too often early this season. Memphis was tricky, but not what they were expected to be when scheduled. UCLA is in full blown rebuilding mode. Michigan and Cal failed to live up to their preseason rankings and as a result Kansas had four potential tests turn into fairly simple victories. With those games living up to the expectation, Kansas likely finds it's weakpoints much earlier and perhaps even drops a game much sooner. As it stands now, Kansas was finally exposed this week with Cornell and Tennessee. Now Head Coach Bill Self begins the process.
#1 talk is over for now, the label is gone and a group has been humbled. At the same time expectations are still high, a conference title, a final four and a national title are all still very much in play. However Kansas is now just a team like any other. Beatable, battling, looking to improve and starting its long tough grind in what promises to be a challenging final two and a half months of the season.
More game recap to come tomorrow...