The Kansas Jayhawks basketball team has had a wonderful year thus far.
As you talk to a buddy, write an angry comment on the Kansas City Star website, or scream at the TV watching a re-run of Saturday's game, make sure and tell yourself that. Even by the astronomical expectations put on Bill Self and the basketball team, which are even higher this year with this über-talented team filled with experience, 24-3, #7 in the country and an outside shot at a conference crown is nothing to frown out. Oh, and even with our "embarrassing" loss in Stillwater Saturday, the one that has everyone jumping off the bandwagon, we are still the #1 team in the entire freakin' country in the KenPom ratings. So, no matter how bad we are currently playing, and I'll get there in a second, settle down. Our team has done more than enough to be given the benefit of the doubt, even if that involves justfying an absolutely horrid seven-game stretch.
So, with all of that positive stuff out of the way, let's move away from the more-than-impressive numbers and move on to the less-than-impressive on-court performance. Yuck. Our guards haven't played defense since the annhilation of Nebraska back on January 26th, save a couple of small stretches here-and-there spread out over the seven games since. Our forwards have been inconsistent at best, either because of foul trouble (DA), lack of inclusion in the offense (D-Block), lack of playing time (Cole) or lack of natural ability (Sasha). And that doesn't bring up Bill Self, who has refused to make any significant change, instead adopting a laissez-faire strategy to try and bring back the 20-0 version of the Kansas Jayhawks.
Because there have basically been two separate Jayhawk teams to take the court this season, the one that started 20-0, averaged 83.4 points a game and gave up only 58.5 points. That is a margin of victory of almost 25 points. Then, there is the 4-3 squad that is scoring only 76 points a game and giving up 68.9 points a game. That provides a robust 7 point margin of victory, not even close to the embarrassing-opponent mark of almost 25 we were putting up before the loss in Manhattan.
Of course, the difference in competition is certainly noted, but in the second team contains a 24 point home victory over an extremely mediocre Colorado Buffaloes team, and that is a big reason for even having a margin of victory at all. But, again, there is a larger picture to paint than the numbers.
The actual product out on the floor has been the biggest difference. We have gone from a team that pressured the opposition, putting the onus on them to stay even, to a team that can't break free of the other team's defense. We have gone from that controls the tempo to one that is controlled, and a team that has gone from making open shots to missing open shots while allowing m ore open shots, almost all made, on the defensive side. Just about any way you slice the way we are playing, it is obvious we aren't on the same level we were earlier on the year.
20-0 Kansas would kick 4-3 Kansas to the curb, delivering the finishing blow with about 15 minutes left in the second half and coasting to an incredibly easy victory. The talent is still there, but the attitude is a completely different one. The first 20 games of the season, we were the aggressor, pushing the tempo and forcing the opposition to play our game. Our last 7, we have failed miserably at imposing our tempo for 11 of the 14 halves, and two of those halves (vs. Baylor) the opposition was openly welcoming the up-tempo pace. The only half we have played, of the last 14, up the potential we showed in our first 20 games was in the first half against Texas, when we showed that we really do belong among the nation's elite. We played focused, we played motivated, we played our game and we beat an awesome team in their place.
But then the second half started, and we left it all back in the locker room at halftime. Despite holding a 10 rebound advantage going into intermission, we came out of it -1 in the category, meaning that, when the game was on the line, we were beat to the 50/50 balls.
And more than anything, those 50/50 balls and the effort category is keeping us from reaching the potential of that 20 win team that showed up at the beginning of the year. Want to see how good we are? Re-watch the absolute demolition we put on the Boston College Eagles up in Boston, where we absolutely laid the wood and did whatever the hell we wanted to. That is the team that can go to San Antonio, not the one we saw Saturday in Stillwater, the newest low-point of the year.
I know this didn't cover a lot of why we became a completely different team after our loss to Kansas State. But, and this is probably stretching it, the Kansas State Wildcats football team took a similar nosedive this season after our win in Manhattan this season. When you get to the point where you "expect" to beat teams, the results after you lose are often-times embarrassing. And while we certainly haven't turned out as bad as the Powercats did, who managed to turn a once-promising season into sitting home over the holidays, we aren't exactly re-reaching our potential.
So, tomorrow is an opportunity presented. We have lost three of our last four road games, with the one win being a less-than-impressive win in Boulder where we were tied at halftime, and we find ourselves making a trip to Hilton Coliseum, a place where we have always struggled.
Hopefully we can bounce back from our disappointing mid-year stretch, our mid-life crisis if you will, and pick up a nice, solid victory tomorrow in Ames. Because if we don't, ugh. Just ugh.
More on the game tomorrow, like game-specific previews and stuff.
Hopefully you like this many words of just me typing away, discussing our problems, but even if you didn't whatevs. I had to say this stuff.