Monday, March 17, 2014


Column: Without Embiid, possible UNM rematch would be toss-up

Kansas players Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden defend as New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow puts up a shot during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas players Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden defend as New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow puts up a shot during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.


One game, more than any other, demonstrated how much having 7-foot freshman center Joel Embiid on the floor changes the Kansas University basketball team for the better.

It was neither the regular-season loss to West Virginia nor the Big 12 tournament semifinal elimination at the hand of Iowa State.

Embiid best demonstrated his value to a young Jayhawks team last Dec. 14 in Sprint Center against New Mexico, a possible NCAA Tournament opponent in St. Louis if KU survives Eastern Kentucky.

Embiid played seven minutes in the first half of the New Mexico game, drew his second foul with 10:50 left and took a seat for the rest of the half. He had two points and one blocked shot in those seven minutes. Kansas won that half, 39-38.

In 18 second-half minutes, Embiid scored 16 points and had three blocked shots. KU won that half, 41-25. (Stop searching for the calculator icon on your iPhone. The final was Kansas 80, New Mexico 63).

Much has changed in three months, but this much probably hasn’t: With Embiid, Kansas is far better than the tall Lobos. Without him, it’s closer to a toss-up.

Nobody was talking optimistically on Selection Sunday about the chances of Embiid playing Sunday in KU’s second game, vs. either Stanford or New Mexico, but that game was still a week away. A lot can happen in a week.

Those who think only with NBA brains assume that because Embiid will be worth millions and is playing for room, board, tuition and books now, he’ll skip the NCAA Tournament. Plus, his handler (read: Luc Mbah A Moute, a Minnesota Timberwolves reserve forward) will advise against it, some believe.

I suspect more is at work here. Thomas Embiid, Joel’s father, is a colonel in the Cameroon military, a man by the nature of his position not easily swayed. Everybody claims to be about more than money, but not all professions include being willing to risk your life for unselfish reasons.

That’s not to say that if any doctors, affiliated or unaffiliated with the Kansas basketball program, advise against Embiid the son playing that Embiid the father will say the heck with that and encourage his son to play. But the colonel’s profession suggests that his advice won’t be fear-based.

It wouldn’t shock me if KU’s center returns as early as Sunday, something teammates are not preoccupied with at the moment.

Big 12 basketball players don’t pin their hopes on an injured player returning. If they had that little confidence in their own abilities, they wouldn’t have made it to such a competitive conference in the first place.

“With or without him, we know what we have to do,” KU freshman guard Wayne Selden said. “With or without him, we have to come out and compete. We have to play defense. We have to have energy. With or without him, we just have to play.”

And play well if New Mexico is the next opponent after Eastern Kentucky.

It’s not surprising that the Lobos, ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll, wound up on the No. 7 line, but it is unjust.

It finally hit me, after all these years, why the NCAA Tournament selection committee favors the dreadful RPI computer ranking system.

Follow the money trail to unlock the mystery.

The RPI puts far too much weight on strength of schedule, rewarding schools for playing tough nonconference slates and penalizing schools that don’t, even if it’s not their fault they can’t get heavyweights to play them.

RPI Justice results in far more attractive nonconference matchups. Attractive games translate to higher TV ratings in November and December. The higher the ratings, the higher the rights fees.

So the goal of seeding isn’t fairness, rather motivating schools to play tough schedules in November and December.

The very same RPI that penalized New Mexico with a No. 7 seed for not playing a tough-enough schedule rewarded nine-loss KU with a No. 2 seed, so that doesn’t leave much room for complaining.

Louisville is a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, even though the Cardinals have won 12 of 13 games and the victories (four vs. Top 25 teams) came by an average margin of 24.9 points. Next to the Cardinals, Wichita State was cheated the worst. Assuming victories by the higher seeds, the Shockers’ path to the Final Four would start with an as-yet determined 16th seed, then Kentucky, then Louisville, then Michigan. Nice.

KU’s South region is the next toughest, featuring No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Syracuse.

Naturally, the South becomes a great deal tougher or less challenging for Kansas based on the availability of Embiid.


Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 2 months ago

I like our chance to look past the first round, Mr. Keegan. But, EK looks just as impressive as KU (without Jojo) and defending 3s has been nightmare for us. Hopefully our team wakes up from their long naps and start playing D like they're supposed to. In the tourney, things will get out of whack, those refs will allow aggressive pressures, physical plays - our guys must be ready. Ellis, for Christ's sake, please defend like a man. Tharpe, play like CP3 dang it; we've got so many big guys that can fly - just toss the ball up while penetrating. And please shoot like you really mean it. Mason, don't play a hero, bud. You need to start playing like CP3, too. Selden, keep making those 3s. It's now or never, guys. ROCK CHALK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Allen Shepard 4 years, 2 months ago

We just beat OSU without Embiid, and they're better than New Mexico, let alone EKY.

John White 4 years, 2 months ago

By what measure is OSU better than New Mexico? New Mexico is ranked #15 RPI while OSU is #45. New Mexico is also seeded higher, meaning the committee clearly thinks they are better. Lastly, every single talking head was shocked by how under-seeded New Mexico was. New Mexico is not a better team in any way.

Without Embiid, we had to go to OT to beat OSU. Stands to reason, we will really struggle with a New Mexico team that is better by any objective measure available to us.

Sam Constance 4 years, 2 months ago

By two measures:

Adjusted offensive efficiency - OSU #24 / UNM #38

Adjusted defensive efficiency - OSU #29 / UNM #38

Which is why they are also rated higher in a more meaningful regression: Pomeroy

Jeff Kilgore 4 years, 2 months ago

Another argument against UNM is past history. YIKES! Many early round exits.

Adam Collins 4 years, 2 months ago

According to Jesse Newell, we have been alright at 3-point defense:

John White 4 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, I don't understand where this comes from -- past years I guess. This team has defended the 3 pretty well. As for the rest of the defense, it has been terrible. This is by far the worst defense Bill Self has had at KU. They are completely incapable of stopping the drive without fouling. That is the huge weakness in this team's defense. If you have guards that can attack on the dribble, this team is in trouble.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 2 months ago

I agree on the penetration D, too. UWV, UT - them PGs are capable to wreck havoc and make our D look helpless.

Jonathan Allison 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes, but the stat that Newell is referencing is % of 3's. Which is a measure of 3 pt's made vs total FGs made. Most teams won't attempt the 3 when they have a lay-up available.

Joe Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

The percentage of 3 pointers made is not the whole story. One must also consider how many open looks behind the arc are given up as well. It is possible, after all, for Kansas to give up a smaller percentage of made threes and still surrender more points from beyond the arc. How? Easy. Suppose in one case that a team makes 50% of their shots from "3" but takes 20 of them. That's 10 made. Suppose in another case that a different team makes 100% of their shots, but because of tight defense, they are only able to get 8 of them up. Every rational person realizes that they would rather have the second scenario play out, because the opposition has less points scored against them. I've heard it said that if you torture statistics long enough you can make them confess to anything, but you should not be fooled by Jesse's numbers: PERIMETER DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM. We give WAY too much cushion to shooters!

Ryan Michael 4 years, 2 months ago

Another discrepancy in these stats is that they don't account for individual performance. Wiggins typically shuts down his man at the Arc, whereas Tharpe gives up open shots consistently.

If there was a way to break them down by individual, I think we'd see that opposing teams when they want an open look at 3 will always target Tharpe because he just doesn't stay with his man at all. I can't even count how many times in a single game I see him lose his man entirely or he's not within 5 feet of his man when a shot goes up. Even worse is that his man constantly has an open line to get to the hoop. That puts a lot of added stress and fouls on our bigs as they have to cut over for help defense because Tharpe isn't staying with his man.

I really hope Tharpe spends all off-season working on this, because it's really too late this season for him to improve all that much. For now we're just going to have to work around it as we have all season long.

Brandon Pope 4 years, 2 months ago

I think people are giving EKU a little too much credit. Good? Sure. Should we be worried about them? Not really. UNM is a different story. They could beat us if we don't play well, even with Embiid.

Sam Constance 4 years, 2 months ago

Agreed completely. Last time we played a team that rated in the vicinity of EKU (#129) on the Pomeroy ratings (excluding TCU because they rank in the 200s) was when we played Towson (#128).

We handled them pretty well...

Dirk Medema 4 years, 2 months ago

Not sure if it is giving EKU credit, or just recognizing that ball handling is not a strength of this team, so pressure D could be a problem. Add to that the fact that 3's can swing games to the underdog, as we have found in the past.

Definitely should win, but dangerous none the less if the team is not focused.

Armen Kurdian 4 years, 2 months ago

Less than 20% of all NCAA Div I make it to the tourney, the level of competition is greater and parity can bite you in the behind. We should be EK, yes, but do not expect KU to run away. We have to put them away early and start taking away hope quickly, can't let them hang in there. Our biggest strength this year is quickness, moreso than our defense. We can outrun just about anyone with transition. That is what will demoralize our competition more than anything. I will be cheering until I'm hoarse for sure, but I have no illusions that any game we play hereon is anything remotely close to a gimme. If Princeton and Norfolk State could win as 15-seeds, so can EK.

Rodney Crain 4 years, 2 months ago

Hi Brandon, as Self just said any team can be had this year in the tournament. Our issues in past years have been overconfidence, which should not be a problem this year.

We will live and die with our perimeter defense and PG play and lately well our PG has been benched and good guards have made it difficult to guard the rim as we are beat off the ball. UNM is going to be a handful without Joel.

I really liked the post Jesse Newell made on how missing Joel effects are offense too, very interesting read if you got time.

Waylon Cook 4 years, 2 months ago

New Mexico was "under seeded" and will beat KU(Rece Davis really?)

We need to win our first game so we can play Stanford . Because if history tells us anything the team who was "disrespected" usually loses. I doubt New Mexico advances out of first round.

William Weissbeck 4 years, 2 months ago

Call the RPI what it is - a way to knock out the small market teams the first weekend. The MVC has been hosed for years. If the NCAA was "fair" they'd cap the number of teams from the major conferences. Why shouldn't a small school playing in it's historic conference in its natural geographic region get a shot even if they didn't win the regular season conference or in their tournament, but still got 20+ wins? Sure it would have hurt the Big 12 this year, but is the NCAA really in the business of rewarding only the big schools? (Yes!). You know the NIT would be a lot more interesting if the almost made its from the power conferences played a few more games. We should always keep in the back of our minds that the NCAA isn't looking out for KU, KSU or ISU when everyone else was going to bolt to the Super Conferences. We were going to be the 3 schools on the outside looking in. Football wise, we are numbers 65, 66 and 67. And explain to me again why we didn't invite Louisville as a member. Sure would help that RPI down the road.

Bryan Mohr 4 years, 2 months ago

"Wichita State was cheated the worst" -Keegan

If this undefeated, SI cover team is as great as they and their fans make them out to be, then you have it wrong. Kentucky and Louisville are the teams "cheated". Comments like these only prove that faith in WSU to beat good teams isn't really there.

Bryan Mohr 4 years, 2 months ago

To Keegan's defense, he did say, "Next to the Cardinals, Wichita State was cheated the worst". But my point remains the same. It's as if some think WSU should get an easier path. I, for one, am happy to see that the Woo-Shock princess has to finally come out of her castle and do some real work like the other #1's through #4's have been doing all season.

Benz Junque 4 years, 2 months ago

Kentucky sucks or they would be a #8 seed. How is it not "fair" to put them against Wichita State? They're no better or worse than any of the other 8 seeds.

And Louisville? Their resume is not worthy of more than a #4 seed. Yippee, they got hot and beat a #7 seeded UConn twice. an SMU team that the committee thinks so little of that they didn't even put them in the field despite them being ranked and a bunch of AAC scrubs. Everyone's fascination with Louisville perplexes me. If Kansas was playing that wimpy schedule they would look like the best team in the country, too.

Mark Lindrud 4 years, 2 months ago

I do think Wichita State was cheated as far as 1 seeds go. Virginia should be considered the weakest 1 seed and should have had the toughest bracket as such, but Wichita State has a virtual murderers row of teams to face starting in the round of 32. I do think Louisville was cheated, but Kentucky should be happy they were an 8 honestly. Oh well, let's play the games and let's, get it on!

Reggie Flenory 4 years, 2 months ago

Everybody keeps saying new mexico, new mexico, new mexico, but they have to get past standford first and thats not gonna be easy

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