Kansas City, Mo. Talk centers on superstars in advance of big games. In the case of today’s 2 p.m. tip in Sprint Center between Kansas University and Oklahoma State, that means the stars playing and the one sidelined by injury.
Sometimes, a stealth bomber sneaks in below the chatter and swings the contest in favor of his team. It could be anybody and it’s impossible to predict. So I ask myself over and over: Why do I think freshman Brannen Greene could be that guy today?
Certainly the source is neither his season statistics (2.5 points in 6.4 minutes a game, .396 shooting percentage, .333 from three, one double-figures scoring game) nor his effort in the game in Stillwater. He didn’t get off the bench in that one.
Maybe it’s because first impressions tend to linger and the first time I saw him play in an intrasquad game, everything about the way the guy moved, shot and had a hint of a strut screamed “big-time scorer.”
Like so many freshmen, Greene struggled to make the adjustment, which ate at his confidence and chances at serious minutes. So why now?
Losing Joel Embiid for the Big 12 tournament and at least the first two games of the NCAA tournament makes KU hit the reset button. With a full season of practices and some game experience in the bank, Greene should be more prepared for this new season than the regular one. It doesn’t take much for a talented, natural scorer to restore lost confidence. Greene hits a shot or two as soon as he comes off the bench today and the Cowboys have one more problem than they came into the game envisioning.
That can only happen if Kansas coach Bill Self calls Greene’s number. Does the coach trust the 6-foot-7, 215-pound native of Juliette, Ga., yet?
“I do trust Brannen,” Self said. “He’s going to be a great player. Right now, he’s a really good player that just hasn’t had many opportunities. I think he’s going to be terrific. I do trust him. Now, do I trust him to the point I put him in for Wayne (Selden) or (Wiggins) if they were rested and not in foul trouble? That would be a tough call. I can see a scenario where we’d play all three together.”
Somehow, Kansas must try to find a way to turn three McDonald’s All-Americans — Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins — plus Tarik Black, plus Greene and some combination of three small point guards into a victory against an Oklahoma State squad that has gone 2-2 against the perennial Big 12 champions since Marcus Smart made orange his favorite color. Smart and junior Le’Bryan Nash are Oklahoma State’s McDonald’s All-Americans.
Color KU’s orange nightmares Brown, first name Markel. In four games vs. Kansas while riding shotgun to Smart, Brown, a bouncy, 6-foot-3 senior from Alexandria, La., has averaged 21 points and made 17 of 29 three-pointers (.586). Brown has gotten the better of Andrew Wiggins twice.
Kamari Murphy has been the Pokes’ starting center since a torn Achilles ended goal protector Michael Cobbins’ season. Color Murphy’s nightmares Black. Staying out of foul trouble will be vital for Black, although sophomore Jamari Traylor has played well against the Cowboys.
When it’s all over, might Greene be the color of Oklahoma State’s nightmares? Many a man who played the ponies and took hunches to the window waved goodbye to a lifetime of dreams and never again could afford to buy anything to replace the filthy, brown double-knit pants he wore to the track that night. Most hunches aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Just in case this is one of those, don’t bet on Greene playing the stealth bomber today. But don’t bet against it either.
Self doesn’t believe in outscoring the opponent, but he usually has far better defensive teams than the one that will take the court against his alma mater.
“That’s never been one of my philosophies,” Self said. “I always thought if the other team plays poorly, your chance of winning is high. This team hasn’t consistently made other teams play poorly like some of our teams in the past. I never thought we’d have to outscore folks. I’d never let our team know we have to outscore folks to win.”
He went on to say certain situations call for loading the lineup with offensive firepower to overcome deficits. Greene was in one such lineup in the overtime loss at Kansas State, when he totaled 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and a costly turnover when the hour was getting late. It’s time to see what sort of matinee performer Greene is now that the season is getting late.