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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Keegan

Column: Kansas not so dynamic without freshman duo

Kansas players Naadir Tharpe, left, Conner Frankamp, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black react to a foul called against the Jayhawks in the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas players Naadir Tharpe, left, Conner Frankamp, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black react to a foul called against the Jayhawks in the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Bill Self, Andrew Wiggins, Jamari Traylor discuss loss at WVU, what's next for KU

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, freshman Andrew Wiggins and sophomore Jamari Traylor discuss the Jayhawks' loss at WVU, and what's next for KU.

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WEST VIRGINIA 92, KANSAS 86

Box score

— Two superstar painters can throw enough fresh paint on a rotting porch to make it look presentable enough to close the sale, but there is only so much one can do in 40 minutes.

Freshman Andrew Wiggins, looking every bit like the No. 1-ranked recruit he was when he last played basketball in the mountain state, for Huntington Prep, did it all Saturday for Kansas University and it wasn’t enough to prevent another court-storming, this time in WVU Coliseum, where West Virginia defeated the Jayhawks, 92-86.

Even on a day Wiggins totaled 41 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and five steals, he needed another superior talent, fellow freshman Joel Embiid, for KU to knock off a hungry team that played a terrific game.

Embiid wasn’t in West Virginia, will be on a plane for Los Angeles today and in the office of a renowned back specialist Monday, getting a second opinion on his nagging back injury. If that doctor concurs with the others who have seen him so far and lets the 7-footer from Cameroon know that he won’t be risking further injury by playing, Embiid will reappear on the court either at some point during the Big 12 tournament or more likely, it would seem, the NCAA Tournament.

Nobody expects him to be 100 percent upon his return — stiffness will limit his mobility and make him less than his graceful self — but even a diluted Embiid can greatly change Kansas for the better.

It’s easier to play point guard when dumping the ball into a 7-footer with a soft touch is a go-to option. It’s not as costly when a point guard gets blown by if a 7-footer lurks.

Embiid and Wiggins clearly distanced themselves as the team’s two most important, most consistent players, a pair of long, athletic wonders who learned through the year how to use their gifts in so many different ways all over the floor. In so doing, they masked the weaknesses of teammates. Take one of them away, a couple of things go wrong early in a game and things can snowball the margin becomes 25 points.

Plenty went wrong around Wiggins against a Mountaineers squad that returns every player next year.

Coming off a dominant senior night in which he scored 19 points vs. Texas Tech, Tarik Black needed to stay out of foul trouble on the road and didn’t. He was whistled for his second personal at the 15:56 mark of the first half. West Virginia’s quickness made this a tough game for Landen Lucas to play in and he committed four fouls in his seven minutes.

Kansas, more than any game this season, needed Perry Ellis to assert himself, become a force under the boards and on the scoreboard. It didn’t happen. After an 11-point, four-rebound first half, Ellis faded into the background, the one place his team couldn’t afford for him to go. He totaled three points and a rebound in nine second-half minutes.

But if I had to guess which play might be shown over and over to Ellis in front of the entire team it would one from the first half, the one in which he perfectly executed the footwork of a bullfighter and conceded a basket. Pivoted right out of the way. If you didn’t see it, don’t find it because it might loop in your head until your brain is tied in knots.

Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, the only player with more game minutes in a Kansas uniform than Ellis, couldn’t prevent Mountaineers’ all-conference-worthy point guard Juwan Staten from controlling the game. Tharpe couldn’t get Kansas in its offense, either, and went without a point, rebound or assist in 16 minutes. Staten outscored Tharpe, 46-5, in the two games this season.

Conner Frankamp, sometimes looking as if he aimed his shots, maybe because he was so wide open, missed all six tries, including four three-pointers.

Frank Mason had his share of freshman moments but also made 3 of 4 three-point shots, twice cutting a deficit that had been 25 points to five points in the final 1:29. But the deficit might have shrunk from there had Mason not bailed out Staten by fouling him with a couple of seconds left on the shot clock with 44 seconds left on the game clock. Staten made both and pumped the lead back to seven.

Too little defense — the Mountaineers (17-4, 9-9) shot .529 from the field and .563 from three — and not enough rebounding (West Virginia won that battle, 37-31) — shined a light on Embiid’s absence.

Wiggins and Jamari Traylor, the two Kansas players brought to the post-game media session, were asked about how much they missed Embiid. Wiggins hesitated, perhaps trying to formulate an answer that wouldn’t offend Embiid’s replacement and Traylor stepped in to answer the question.

“We definitely missed him,” Traylor said. “He could have altered some shots in the lane, help us rebound. But like coach said, we’ve got to make plays and other players have to step up.”

Not enough others did.

Kansas coach Bill Self had no use for another explanation for poor play offered: Having already clinched the Big 12 title, the Jayhawks didn’t have anything for which to play, right?

“I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” he said. “This time of year, guys have got to get up. That’s not a factor.”

Embiid’s absence and Tharpe’s play were factors, big ones, and it appears KU has one less thing for which to play, a No. 1 seed. No big deal. Playing as a No. 1 seed doesn't compare to the boost the team would receive from again playing with No. 21.

Comments

John Randall 6 months, 3 weeks ago

These are the nicest guys you could want to have playing in your church league! None of them is going to prod his teammates to embarrass other teams by winning more than the bare minimum for title #10.

I had a slight foreboding that HCBS would put winning on the back burner in order to spotlight his choice for Big12POY. Nice way to entice another top recruit to come learn "The Self Way."

The conference now has a good shot at having over 3/4 of its teams selected for NCAA tourney, even if it takes "Going To One Knee" again at Sprint Center for that to happen? I'll have to look over the bracket to check whether KU will meet someone who needs "one more statement win" ...

When does the time come to put the rest of the league (and then the country) in the proper attitude of respect?

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Rodney Crain 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Nice opening paragraph TK. Sad, sad way to limp out of our season. Ellis disappears, Tharpe playing well like Tharpe, looking outclassed. How does your starting PG put up that stat line this late in the year? Benched again, this late in the season. Pathetic.

Before Wiggins committed a lot of "experts" said our team was going to struggle to win the B12 a 10th time. Having now been through it I have to agree they were right. Wiggins saved our conference season by being the best player game in game out all year long. I was thrilled he played for us and even more thankful he showed us what a competitor looks like no matter what the game is for or where it is played. A tip of my hat Andrew for showing us what a class act looks like, and acts like. Thank you!

It has been a joy to see him in a KU uniform.

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Craig Carr 6 months, 3 weeks ago

With a #1 seed out of the question now, why would Joel play a minute of the big 12 tournament? Don't see dropping past a 3 so who cares? This team clearly needs better PG play but without Joel the entire defense other than whoever Andrew guards has no problem attacking the rim.

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Benz Junque 6 months, 3 weeks ago

It's probably not a great idea to go three weeks without playing any games. That's an easy way to lose your conditioning. He needs to get some minutes on the floor just to keep his lungs and legs ready to go.

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Len Shaffer 6 months, 3 weeks ago

What's really scary is that the Big XII looks like it may be even better next season.

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Greg Lux 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I need to clarify one thing. Frank Mason got called for a foul with 2 seconds on the shot clock late in the game. The WV player was driving to the basket and Mason did everything he could do to not foul but the WV player drove into Mason's "Belly" and a foul was called. You can say ticky-tack I would and in Mason's defense he did everything he could to avoid fouling. Sometimes the calls go your way and sometimes they don't but that was not Mason's fault. He played great defense and a belly foul with a game in the balance is just not the correct call. I understand Home court calls very well and in my opinion WVU got a lot of "Home court calls" yesterday. It's not why we lost the game but it's part of the reason. Good game Frank it was not your fault..

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Benz Junque 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Kansas didn't need Embiid to win this game; it needed the players it brought to the game to show up. Outside of Wiggins, no one else on the team showed up with the type of attitude necessary to win a college basketball team. Their lack of effort and focus on the defensive end of the floor was the reason they lost.

It is a shame that Naadir Tharpe can't seem to be bothered to put his mind into a game more than once every few weeks. It will break my heart once again to see another talented Kansas team capable of going to the Final Four fall short because their PG "leader" doesn't feel it's necessary to play hard and smart in every game. He's been in the program for THREE YEARS hearing the same message; KU doesn't need you to be a superstar. They need you to be smart with the ball and put guys in a position to score easily on offense and they need you to play aggressively in your assignment on defense. NOT COMPLICATED.

How many more games do I need to hear the same old song from Tharpe? Another Final Four caliber team that won't make it out of the Sweet Sixteen.

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Rodney Crain 6 months, 3 weeks ago

100% agree Benz great post.

How can your starting PG play like that, put up that stat line this late in the season? How does he look his teammates in the eyes on the way home or the next day? I would be embarassed by my performance, as a leader I would be questioning my preparation. He just has this look like he is lost in some other world and does not really care. We will get them next game, oh well.

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Ben Schwartz 6 months, 3 weeks ago

We should have Selden running point. He has been one of the most consistently tuned-in players we have had all year. He can slash and is decent at creating his own shot.

Plus, it fixes the roster problem next year if he and Embiid stay: 1.) Selden Jr. 2.) Oubre 3.) Ellis (as a true SF) 4.) Alexander 5.) Embiid

Probably won't happen, but hey.

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DaNeille Davis 6 months, 3 weeks ago

It doesn't matter who is in the game and who isn't. You better be ready to step up when your number is called. When other teams come out with more energy than our little "softies," we're doomed. They hang their heads and mope. I don't recall a Kansas team more inconsistent as far as effort goes than this team. You can kiss the #1 seed bye, bye. Thanks for your effort. You should be ashamed of yourselves that the one guy giving all out effort is the freshman OAD guy. Good job. We'll be lucky to win another game from here on out.

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Yonatan Negash 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I cringe every time I think of a 10 loss season.

It's never happened in Bill Self's era

The last time Kansas lost 10 games in a single season dates back to 1999 - 2000.

Sadly, this could be the year we lose 10 games in a season. Not sure, I can get used to that.

Despite the tough schedule we had, we've lost way too many games this year. We've lost games, we should have won (i.e., Colorado, Villanova, West Virginia, Oklahoma State). In my opinion, with true leadership on the floor and true point guard play, not sure we'd be staring at a 10 game loss season.

Confidence in Naadir Tharpe is at an all time low at this point. In short, we just don't have a true point guard.

We've all seen flashes of greatness with Tharpe but for the most part it's been horrible to watch.

Unless something miraculously changes, which I have some serious doubts by the way, 10 loss season is inevitable.

The only time Kansas won a National Championship with 10 or more losses, was during the miraculous season 1988.

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Rodney Crain 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Yonatan it is amazing 10 losses. The effort on Saturday was just terrible. It was one against 5 and the one almost pulled it out. It is just sad to see us play so poorly.

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Gregor Southard 6 months, 3 weeks ago

On the other hand, KU won the conference title with 8 frosh, 1 soph, and 1 junior and had only one "bad" loss all year. This team ain't perfect but its far from a lost cause. I think I'll choose to be happy to have a very young team that can make a good run in the Dance (warts and all).

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Benz Junque 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Losses where you simply don't show up prepared to play are "bad" losses, no matter what the team you play is ranked.

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Chad Smith 6 months, 3 weeks ago

serious question/request for this forum and interaction: any chance mason can start/get the bulk of minutes at PG? Tharpe is just not a leader. Tyshawn Taylor made a lot of mistakes, but he also had the guts to go and make plays and at least give our team a shot. Mason is a bulldog and honestly, I want him over tharpe. Am I crazy for thinking this? Mason is limited offensively, but he is quick and can make plays. I defended Tharpe the other day, but I guess I was just hoping for him to snap out of this funk. Should Mason play more/start?

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Benz Junque 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Mason is even worse than Tharpe right now. His "make plays" consists primarily of charging into a pile of opponents and praying the refs call a foul. And his defense, heaven help me... KU's season will rest on Tharpe and whether or not he can just come out and play poised. He doesn't have to be GREAT, he just has to be a productive part that doesn't screw us. He cannot continue to be the guy that is shooting KU in the foot possession after possession.

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