To get the bad stuff out of the way first, Kansas allowed Duke to shoot 57.5% from two last night. With Duke's lack of size and Kansas's (potential) rim protectors, that number can't be that high, despite the fact that Duke is a very good offensive team. I am not as concerned about Duke shooting almost 40% from three because that stuff is going to happen, but I do worry that it took Bill Self so long to switch Andrew Wiggins onto Jabari Parker. My guess is, foul concerns aside, he'll be using Wiggins as a defensive weapon a lot more this year.
I suppose I can't go any further without mentioning the fouls. The teams combined to shoot 63 free throws, and there were 53 fouls called. While I support the idea that inferior defenders shouldn't be helped out by being able to clutch and grab, the fact that a player can now drive in a straight line to the basket and get a foul called almost every time doesn't accomplish anything. It doesn't improve flow. It doesn't make the offense look any better. It improves scoring. A person who only looks at the scores will notice that the game was 94-83 and teams shot a high percentage, but that doesn't mean it was free flowing, offensive basketball. I imagine eventually we will reach a balance where guys can hand check a bit and fouls aren't called when a Duke player barrels into a straight up Andrew Wiggins or a Duke player isn't called for a foul for having his hand on Perry Ellis's back when he catches the ball.
The last bit of bad news is that Kansas might have a bit of a depth problem: they went with basically six players down the final stretch of the game, and would have been 5 if Perry Ellis not suffered from cramps. Granted it is a big stage and was the first major game for guys like Greene and Frankamp (and White) but because of the foul situation Self is eventually going to have to work those guys in.
Onto the good news: Kansas, a team starting two Freshmen, giving two more significant minutes, and giving two other players (Traylor and White) their first really significant minutes ever, plus a point guard playing his first game of the year, stared down a very talented, experienced team and that team blinked. Last year in the Champions Classic it was Kansas, starting 4 Seniors, who blinked down the stretch against Michigan State. What's more, Kansas turned it over on just 13% of their possessions last night (more on that later).
Despite Tarik Black, who was a very good rebounder at Memphis, barely playing, Kansas owned the defensive glass for the second straight game, allowing the Blue Devils to grab just 14% of their misses. If they can keep teams off the offensive glass like that all year, it will go a long way to alleviating defensive concerns. Bottom line is, though, this team is supremely talented, probably the most athletic team we've seen in nearly a decade, and they've shown the maturity to win a close game in a neutral environment. Other teams will improve as well, but Kansas has so much room to grow, especially on defense, that the sky is the limit.
For player comments this year, I'm going to start off by grading each player on a 1-10 scale, sort of how writers grade players after a soccer game. I am going to do it on a bit of a curve, meaning I will grade based on what I expected from the player going into the game. Of course, I run the risk of people only looking at the rating and not the analysis that follows, but oh well.
Andrew Wiggins: 9. Wiggins struggled with some foul trouble, but went 9-15 from the field (9-14 from two), had 8 rebounds, a block and just one turnover. He scored in a variety of ways, and got all of his points in the flow of the offense. He showed a really high basketball IQ in cutting to the basket for a dunk off an Embiid pass, and going down to post up (and absolutely manhandle) Tyler Thornton. He also showed off his athleticism, putting away a dunk late in the game that Jabari Parker fouled out on. But his most impressive basket probably came in the second half when he missed a layup and then landed and jumped up and tipped the ball in before anyone else had even landed. I wish we could have seen more of him on Parker because, while he didn't completely take him out of the game, Parker was much less noticeable and effective with Wiggins on him.
Perry Ellis: 9.5 Ellis was KU's most efficient player last night, going 8-12 from two and 1-1 from three. He went to the line 6 times and also had 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. I mentioned on twitter that on offense he does probably 80% of his work before he even catches the ball. I don't remember seeing a guy as young as he is who seals guys on the interior as well as he did, creating easy layups for himself. He also faced up and drove to the hoop. He can score over guys and drive past guys. The only nitpick, I guess, would be that he didn't go to the line maybe as much as he should have. It seemed like he shied away from contact a bit, but as he adjusts to the new rule I think he will end up living at the line. Defensively, the stats belie how well he played Jabari Parker. He over-helped off him a few times, but in one on one situations Ellis really guarded him well on the perimeter, even beyond the three point line.
Naadir Tharpe: 6.5 Tharpe didn't play horribly on offense, with 5 assists to 3 turnovers, and he made 2 of his 3 shots, but I did expect fewer turnovers. Still, it was his first game and against a ballhawking defense, so I suppose expectations should be held in check. Defensively, Tharpe had his moments but was fairly inconsistent. Though to be fair, it's going to be tough to grade defenses this year because it's going to be tough for a lot of guys to keep opposing point guards from blowing by them.
Frank Mason: 7.5. For a large portion of the game, especially down the stretch, KU's best offense was Mason driving into the lane and getting fouled. He shot 11-12 from the line and, perhaps just as remarkably given how often he went into the teeth of the defense, didn't turn the ball over. Just one assist and going 2-6 from the field means he still has some stuff to work on. Defensively he was inconsistent as well, forcing some turnovers but getting beat by his man way too often.
Wayne Selden: 8. Selden was incredible in this one. He was 4-8 from two and 1-2 from three (and also went 4-4 from the line, alleviating some premature concerns about his stroke at the line). But he contributed in other ways as well, grabbing 6 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists, functioning as Kansas's 2nd best perimeter defender, and he also did a great job leading out there. He has probably the most NBA ready body and game of anyone on the team, and it showed last night.
Joel Embiid: 7. Embiid going just 1-4 from the field doesn't tell the full story of his night. He was very active on the interior defensively, had 7 rebounds in just 20 minutes played (including 4 offensive) and had 5 assists to just 1 turnover. He does some weird stuff out there, as to be expected from a guy who barely started playing organized ball, but he shows awareness beyond his years and incredible athleticism.
Jamari Traylor: 5. Traylor did what Traylor should do: He made a couple shots, had a block, and had four fouls. He looks better than last year, but right now he's still best served as a screener and energy guy off the bench.
The rest of the guys didn't play enough for me to comfortably grade them, so I'll just offer some general thoughts:
Brannen Greene still isn't an asset defensively yet, but anyone who can come in and shoot like he did should probably get a bit more playing time.
Tarik Black needs to learn how to not foul. He is potentially a big asset on the offensive glass, and another interior defender that Kansas desperately needs.
I was really hoping for a lot more from Andrew White in this one. Just 4 minutes played. I'm not sure what the issue was, but I assume it was defense related.