Chicago I expected the word tentative to pop into my brain during the nightcap to Tuesday night’s fascinating doubleheader in United Center, but it never did.
From the moment the locker room door flew open to when the celebratory basketball was tossed skyward, the young Kansas University basketball team stayed in confident attack mode, keeping seriously skilled Duke from taking control and then burying the Blue Devils with a flurry at the end.
Impressive. And so was the lack of silly mistakes. Sure, it wasn’t the right time for Joel Embiid to unload a three-pointer that he nearly made.
Wayne Selden should have kissed a ball off the glass that he tried to dunk with one hand. Other than that, he played with the mind of a senior and the body of a middle linebacker. Andrew Wiggins has a lot of growing to do physically, but his game certainly is mature enough for the big moment, stage and opponent.
Brannen Greene threw two careless passes, but he probably doesn’t have much experience. With a shot like that, his high school coach must have been tempted to bench him every time he gave it up.
Fearless Frank Mason has a wicked shimmy move and a relentless passion for driving to the hoop. His jersey number, 0, represents his turnover goal heading into each game and so far he’s 2 for 2. He has not turned it over in 41 minutes. In his second college game, he scored 15 points against Duke. How many can say the same, other than Wiggins (22 points) and Selden (15)? Conner Frankamp wasn’t needed in this one, played just one minute and didn’t take a shot. There will be spots for him and when he comes on the floor, his long range will occupy the defense’s attention. Think of the talented scorers mentioned here already. And we haven’t gotten to anyone who has more than two games of college experience.
Sophomore Perry Ellis is the program’s best low-post scorer since Marcus Morris, and he’ll pass him at some point. Naadir Tharpe has a knack for gathering the team at high-pressure moments. Tarik Black and ever-improving Jamari Traylor infuse the team with energy and bodyguard protection.
After the victory against the Blue Devils, 11th-year KU coach Bill Self lamented his team’s defensive performance and with good reason. There is not a Cole Aldrich/Jeff Withey-caliber shot-blocker and the new rules make defending the perimeter tougher than ever. But highly competitive, quick, long-armed athletes tend to figure it out, and this team is loaded with them. Plus, it has the firepower to win shootouts and the depth to withstand foul trouble.
So far, Self has expanded his rotation and it’s working. I can’t imagine anyone walking out of the home court of the Chicago Bulls less bullish on KU than when walking into the arena.