Last night, streaks were falling all over the place. You had "The Streak", the 24-game winning streak by the Kansas Jayhawks on the Kansas State Wildcats' home floor. This has received an incredible amount of ink over the years, as it was one of the most incredible streaks in all of sports. But still, everyone knew it was going to end at some point, and this is the best Kansas State team in quite awhile, so this year was more likely than most. Last night also ended the bid for a perfect season by the Kansas Jayhawks, whose season-opening streak stopped at 20. Combine that with the seven games in a row to end the 2006/07 season, and you have a 27 game regular season winning streak. All gone.
But putting aside all of those streaks, which is easier said than done, last night's loss is an easy one to take. We were on the road, in an incredibly hostile environment, against a team that was loaded with athletes. Add that all up, and it equates to a loss for the road team, a loss we, in every way, shape and form, deserved to take. Talk all you want about the zebras, and they did make some atrocious calls, but the the team that played better last night won. I promise. Now, put the Powercats and Jayhawks in a neutral setting and have them play 10 games, I think we come away with 7 of them. But last night, backed by an incredible shooting day from beyond the three-point line by the Poewrcats, K-State looked, played and acted like the better team.
I will tear this loss apart today and tomorrow, maybe even a little bit Saturday, but for now here are my general thoughts on the game:
Michael Beasley had an insane game from the outside. I thought we did a pretty good job keeping him out of the lane and forcing him to beat us with his jumpshot, but that didn't work. Apparently, he can shoot the rock from anywhere on the court, knocking down all four of his attempts from three-point range. But the smartest thing he did all game was not pick up stupid fouls. He has struggled with fouls all season long, even picking up two quick ones in their last game, at home against the Cyclones of Iowa State. But Wednesday night, he didn't pick up his first foul until late in the second half, around five minutes left IIRC, and that was the only time the refs felt Beasley fouled. I put it that way, because a couple of times it was pretty obvious that #30 was the biggest offender, but they would instead assign it to another Powercat in the area, like Dominique Sutton or Darren Kent.
And, to reiterate my view, I still believe that Kevin Durant was a better college basketball player than Michael Beasley is right now. Before Wednesday night, I would have said so with complete certainty, Durant's incredible performance in Allen Field House still freshly replaying in my mind. But now, after the second half Michael Beasley put up last night, the once seemingly insurmountable gap has narrowed considerably, leaving Beasley just enough time to capture the title of Best College Basketball Freshman of the 21st Century (and maybe more).
Billy Walker, with all of the pissing-on-towels and everything, was even better than I thought he would be, at least in the first half. While Beasley struggled, and Kansas was actually making shots it wouldn't make later on in the game, Billy Walker kept the Powercats in the game, almost by himself. If he doesn't get into foul trouble in the first half, picking up three pretty quick ones, we might not be within single-digits by halftime. Of course, as was expected after such a hot start, he cooled off in the second half and ended up only shooting 3 of 10 from beyond the arc, and 9 for 18 (identical to Beasley) overall from the field. His athleticism was too much for any of our bigs to handle, especially the overmatched Darrell Arthur, and by establishing the jumpshot early, he shredded our defense in the second half as the bigs creeped further and further out to shut down the long shots.
But, talk as we may about the tremendous performances by Michael Beasley and Billy Walker, we lost the game because of one player. Jacob. Pullen. On any other Powercat team since Mitch Richmond, Pullen is the absolute star of the team, the go-to-guy from opening tip to final horn. And they would have lost last night by about 20, as we key on Pullen and the rest of their team isn't talented enough to seriously compete with our handful of McDonald's All-Americans. But enter Pullen off the bench, as the (at best) third option on the team, and you have a more-than-dangerous combination. He made all 10 of his free throws, and made two absolutely humongous threes. Props to Pullen, and good luck next year when he just might be the best Powercat player, after Beasley and Walker leave for the riches of the the League.
Moving on to the Kansas side of things, nobody on our team really played "well". Statistically speaking, I guess the best was Mario Chalmers, who scored 19 points on 5-9 shooting and 7 of 8 from the charity stripe. But look deeper and see that, for the second straight game, he came up steal-less, and his A:T ratio was a pitiful 2:3. As a team, our A:T ratio, which just might be the most important stat in basketball after FG%, was a disgusting 12:16, compared to the not-so-great 17:13 of the Powercats. The defense, of course, lies in the fact that the Powercats' offense is predicated off of one-on-one matchups, whereas our offense is best run with pass-after-pass-after-pass before we find someone wide open, who then drains the shot. Last night, none of that happened.
As a unit, our guards' play was pretty mediocre from the start. I'm not blaming them for losing the game, no one (as I just mentioned) played well and Self wasn't at the top of his game either. Plus, they "won" the game more than we "lost" it. But, and this has been proven three times now, when a team pressures our guard from the moment they step beyond the timeline, we struggle to run our offense. If our team has one weakness, this side of free throw shooting which was actually pretty stellar last night (17 for 20), it is the physicality of our guards. Even Brandon, a pretty big college guard, struggles when defenders get up in his grill, and he picked up his dribble a couple of times thirty feet away from the basket, with no one open nearby. This, of course, leads to turnovers much more often than not, and I couldn't keep track of how many teams our four guards (SC, Russell, Super Mario and Brandon) did it last night.
But, and I hate to call out a specific player like this, Russell Robinson was, by far, the biggest offender. I love Russell to death, and no way we make it far without him, but he just didn't play well anywhere last night except the free throw lane. Not coincidentally, the free throw line was the only time all night that Russell didn't have a defender in his face. He doesn't respond well to physicality, pure and simple, and unless either he or Bill Self adjusts to this before Tournament time, we might find ourselves bounced out before expected yet again.
I touched on this last time, but I wanted to devote a whole "Jayhawk bullet" to it. For some reason, we don't respond well to other teams pressing us, we don't like other teams playing in-your-face defense, and we definitely aren't a big fan of contact while taking shots. Sure, the refs let a lot of stuff go, but sometimes you have to take your defender to the basket and make the frickin' shot. Way too many times did our guards, either on a fast break or just in the flow of the offense, see an open seam to the basket, and drive. But then, and this is the "bad" part, we would just try to draw the foul and spin something off the glass, and when the officials' whistle went unblown, they had a five-on-four the other way. But this isn't just on the guards.
Darrell Arthur has a tremendous fadeaway jumpshot. There is no denying that. But a couple of times every game, with an opening to the basket available, he will shoot the fadeaway over a layup near the basket. That isn't the most efficient way to score points, and that is the point at the end of the day, to score points. It doesn't matter whether the two points come off of a fadeaway, nothing-but-net fifteen foot fadeaway or a simple, third-grade-level layup. Two points is two points is two points.
Just one more thing, I promise. Why didn't we play Cole Aldrich at all in the second half. He was the only big who wanted to use the out-muscle approach against Beasley, from what I saw, and that seems to be the most effective. Sure, he gave up the one three, but I would haver rather seen Big Cole in the game for defense opposed to Sasha. If not for anything other than to simply try out someone else, because obviously no one was succeeding in the second half. But whatevs, Billy Self is the coach and I'm not.
I have a challenge for you. Look at as many box scores from this century as you want, and tell me this. See who has more rebounds, less turnovers, and shoots better from three. I don't have any hard statistical evidence to back my theory up, but I would place significant money on the fact that, at least 75% of the time, if a team has all three in its favor they will win the game. No, scratch that 75%. Make it 85. So, with my wager in mind, let's take a look at those three stats:
Rebounds: KSU (28) > KU (26)
Turnovers: KU (16) > KSU (13)
3-Point %: KSU (12-26; 46%) > KU (6-17; 35%)
It's OK. Some games, you just don't play up to par and your opponents do. This was one of those cases. These are the games that are the reason no one has gone through an entire regular season and postseason undefeated since way back in 1976. There are just too many chances for poor shooting nights, hot shooting nights by the other team, or other mostly random occurrences to happen. Not to take anything away from the Powercats, but we weren't at our finest last night. Not by a longshot. And certainly, some of that can be attributed to the aggressive, in-your-face defense played by the Powercats. But even taking into account the hand-checks and all, we missed way more open shots than we usually do. We usually don't get into foul trouble with many different people. And we usually don't play in hostile environments like that. So, enjoy the streak-breaker Powercats' fans. You guys have a damn good team this year, and are a serious threat to make a deep run in March. But don't get too used to beating the Jayhawks, everyone has bad nights.
Much more on the game to follow, for now I am going to go watch the Lost Season Premiere.