Column: Kansas can spin its fate into fuel

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sitting on the throne strips kings of the advantage of using the effective Rodney Dangerfield motivational device.

“Nobody thought we could do it.”

“Nobody believed in us.”

“Everybody picked somebody else to win it.”

The Kansas University basketball team never gets to pull that club out of the bag.

Until now.

Barring a swifter-than-anticipated recovery by Joel Embiid, KU will play at least the first two games of the NCAA Tournament without him. It’s conceivable that, if KU gets bounced immediately in the Big 12 tourney, the seeding committee could drop the Jayhawks all the way to the No. 4 line.

If the players can turn such a fate into a slap in the face and find a way to advance to the Sweet 16 without their gifted center, picture this scenario:

Embiid jumps center in a regional semifinal game.

In Indianapolis.

Against Wichita State.

Embiid wouldn’t be limping, as Willis Reed was for his 1970 Game 7 entrance against the Lakers, but it could be quite the powerful moment for KU fans.

Nothing good about losing a talented 7-footer, but losing the ever-present weight of expectations can have its benefits.

Telecasts of college basketball games don’t yet prompt viewers to “text who you think will win,” but when West Virginia was up 25 points in the second half Saturday, 99.9 percent of the viewers would have voted for West Virginia. And the Mountaineers did in fact win, but not without an Andrew Wiggins-led charge that chiseled the deficit to as low as four points.

It’s time for the Jayhawks to become creative.

Embiid’s presence will be missed first, of course, in defending the paint, second in rebounding, third in scoring. One way to compensate could include KU going small at times with Wiggins moving closer to the basket, where his explosiveness and underrated competitiveness enable him to overcome a lack of girth in battling for boards.

Underdogs draw such a tight circle, play with so much passion, feed off the joy of the moment. It can bring out the best in young athletes.