The Jayhawks took care of the TCU Horned Frogs in fairly comfortable fashion Saturday by a score of 70-63. Below are my 5 Observations from the Big 12 battle.
1) Diallo's Best Day
Although he did not set a career high, Cheick Diallo played his best game in a Jayhawk uniform. In just 21 minutes, Diallo filled up the stat sheet with 9 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks, all without committing a single turnover and picking up only 1 foul. With his minutes seriously dwindling over the past few games, I was having my first legitimate concerns over Diallo's playing time for the rest of the year. After watching his performance on Saturday however, those fears have been eliminated for the time being.
I can't remember who said it (can I phone a friend on the comment section?), but there's a famous quote in college sports that goes something like, "the best thing about freshman is that they turn into sophomores." This past Saturday, you could have told me Diallo was a seasoned vet and I would have believed you whole heartedly. For the first time this season, Diallo seemed to realize how big of a person and how good of an athlete he is. Diallo's size and athleticism allows him to react and reject the opposition's post move, keeping him away from the body and out of foul trouble. I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but he reminded me of Jeff Withey in the sense that Diallo, like Jeff, didn't mind getting beat off the dribble or with a pump fake, they both have the ability to recover and block your shot.
Diallo's offensive game was also solid. What I liked most is that 3 of his 4 buckets came off of assists which shows he was playing within the offense. He would have had a 5th bucket if he was able to stuff a pretty lob from Frank. Diallo is also slowly convincing me of his ability to hit from outside the paint. Besides Perry Ellis, Diallo has the furthest range of any Jayhawk big, (more on that in a separate article I am writing). Lastly, Cheick is getting great at the "Tyson Chandler Rebound," which involves slapping, smacking or throwing an offensive miss back out to the perimeter in hopes that a fellow Jayhawk can secure the the ball. Cheick does need to learn that this strategy should only be applied on the offensive end, as he slapped a would be defensive rebound to a TCU player later in the game.
All in all, this was Diallo's best game of the year and hopefullly it turns out to be the game when he finally turns the corner.
2) Bragg Overshadowed Only by Fellow Freshman
If not for Diallo's big day, I'd be focused on the game that Carlton Bragg delivered. In just 16 minutes, Bragg posted a career high 10 points on 4-6 shooting with 4 rebounds and 0 turnovers. Apologies to Mr. Bragg for bringing Cheick back into his paragraph, but if the Hawks can get 19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks and 0 turnovers in 37 minutes from their 2 freshman bigs, that is a luxury few other teams have.
Back to Bragg though. For the first half he was far and away the Jayhawks best big man and quite frankly made that accomplishment look easy. His game and his jumper looked smooth and simple, scoring from the kickout, the 2-man game as well as underneath the basket. Apologies in advance for my basketball nerdiness, but Bragg's impressively consistent ball rotation is nothing to scoff at. The Ohio native got 2 jumpers to fall simply because of his shooters touch, not because he got lucky. Being able to get end over end rotation off the catch and shoot is an overlooked but difficult skill to master. It's one that Carlton seems to have spent quite a bit of time perfecting.
It would have been fantastic if Bragg could have replicated his 1st half performance in the 2nd frame, but like Diallo, it was a step in the right direction for the freshman.
3) Watching Mason's Minutes
In my paragraph preview for the TCU game, I commented that it would be great if we could take care of business while playing all of our starters less than 30 minutes. This was accomplished for some of the Jayhawks starters, but not for the person that I was especially hoping would get a rest: Frank Mason. Frank played a Kansas high 36 minutes against the Horned Frogs, pushing his minutes total over the last 4 games to 153. That number is skewed due to the OU Instant Classic, but it is still an alarming amount of minutes to play this early in the season.
Furthermore, in those last 4 games, Frank his shooting a measly 32% from the field. The thing is, it's not as if KU can get along without him no problem. Against TCU his +/- was over +20, he was a huge reason we escaped Lubbock with a W and I don't think we beat OU without his defense vs. Hield. All that being said, Frank is still averaging less MPG than he did last season which is a good sign. Hopefully the emergence of Diallo and Bragg will enable the Hawks to play bigger and allot Mason a few more minutes rest.
4) For What It's Worth, TCU Surpassed My Expectations
While the Horned Frogs certainly aren't the most aesthetically pleasing team when it comes to their jerseys or their basketball, their team did not make it easy on the Jayhawks. While they only shot 37% from the floor, they were composed and didn't let Kansas enforce its will as many teams allow when in Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas worked for and earned everything they got, and it was no fluke that they had their worst shooting 3-PT shooting day since Michigan State.
Kansas is going to get most opponent's best shot. That just comes with the territory of being an elite program. However, many of the "best shots" received are away from the comfy confines of Allen Fieldhouse. TCU on the other hand, while overmatched in talent, did not back down from the challenge, and didn't appear to be lost in the Phog that has destroyed much better teams than what Kansas faced on Saturday. While this game did not worry me at any point, hats off to TCU and their willingness to compete for 40 minutes.
5) Kansas Had To, Not "Wanted" To Play That Game
Any person I trust would say that it's just about impossible to wake up everyday with 100% motivation and excitement. Same goes for college kids, even if they are superb athletes with mounds of expectations heaped upon them. Kansas played the current #1 team in the country to the best regular season game in college basketball history before taking 2 long trips to Lubbock, TX and Morgantown, WV so I can understand why they may have been feeling a little sluggish.
That being said, this team has the opportunity to be great, and great teams get up for every game looking to punish the opposition for even stepping into their building. For stretches of that game, the Hawks looked as if they wanted the game to be over more than they wanted to continue battling. It's a long season, and TCU is not exactly an opponent that you circle on the calendar, but if this team wants to cut down the nets, they can't take anything for granted as they did today.