Indianapolis So much has changed from last season for the Kansas University basketball team, but two games into the season, one thing remains the same: The Jayhawks don’t play at an elite level without a healthy Joel Embiid protecting the paint.
The difference, of course, is that when Embiid returns to health, he’ll play for the Philadelphia 76ers, not Kansas.
Kentucky exposed KU’s lack of size to an extent only the Wildcats could in a 72-40 blowout in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but they won’t be the only team on the schedule with troublesome size.
Texas comes to mind as the Big 12 foe with enough big bodies to make it difficult for Kansas to defend with its typical efficiency. The Jayhawks will be much better by then, but too many tough tests stand in their way before worrying about that one.
The good news: The toughest, tallest is behind them. The bad news: Kansas must grow a great deal as individuals and a team to come out of a grueling nonconference schedule with confidence on the uptick.
Kansas, as good a classroom for big men as any in the country in recent and even not-so-recent years, looked and played so small against a Kentucky team that compares favorably in size to many NBA squads.
A look at the combined numbers of each team’s top four post players shows just how thoroughly Kentucky dominated the paint. Giving three or four inches at most post matchups throughout the game, Kansas was equally ill-equipped to score against length or defend it.
Kentucky’s top four post players — Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee — combined to play 76 minutes. KU’s top four — Cliff Alexander, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas — played 75 minutes.
Kentucky’s four monsters shot better, .583 to .143, scored more, 31-14, and won the battle of the boards, 28-22.
KU’s four post players shot a combined 3 for 21. Ellis and Traylor shot a combined 1 for 12.
Alexander did the best job of hanging in there with eight points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes and has the most room for in-season improvement.
“Cliff needs to learn how to score before he catches,” Self said. “He’s not tall enough, as it was very evident tonight, all our guys, to score over that kind of length. ... We have to do a good job of teaching him where he can score before he catches it and then guys have to play to that and understand that. He’s going to be a nice player, though.”
By March, probably the team’s best player, and top scorer and rebounder.