Welcome to the point in the season when we are supposed to overreact.
That’s what we are trained to do when a team on a roll loses for the first time or falters when faced with a new challenge.
The No. 1-ranked (for now) Kansas basketball team checked both of those boxes Saturday night. The Jayhawks suffered their first defeat of the season in their first true road game on the schedule.
The trouble is it’s hard to blow KU’s 80-76 loss to No. 18 Arizona State out of proportion.
Did we really think Kansas was the best team in the country — a different question than should it have been ranked No. 1 in the polls — before the Sun Devils rallied from a 10-point early second half deficit to win?
Those who have followed the Jayhawks closely already knew their flaws and many of those imperfections cost them on their preholiday break trip to Tempe, Ariz.
Junior forward Dedric Lawson can’t be asked to do much more offensively than he already is. Lawson’s never looked more smooth than he did at ASU, with a 30-point, 14-rebound double-double. But, just as we’ve seen before, in other games KU could have lost, there’s rarely even an Alfred to be found to complement Lawson’s Batman, let alone a Robin.
Where’s Lagerald Vick when Lawson needs him? Well, sometimes the senior guard comes through. (See: Vick’s 4-point play at the 4:58 mark of the second half, which briefly pushed KU’s lead to seven.) But Vick also was credited with two turnovers in the game’s final minute, the second of which was at best a borderline over-and-back call when Devon Dotson and an ASU defender chased and reached for a Vick pass that got away.
Then there’s the matter of KU’s 3-point shooting. Gone are the days of picture-perfect jumpers draining from all angles within KU’s four-guard lineup.
This team has one 3-point shooter. And when Vick is off, good luck finding someone who is on. Vick’s 3-for-11 night at Arizona State isn’t what cost KU. But the Jayhawks’ offensive problems worsened when the rest of his teammates combined to shoot 4 for 17 from behind the arc.
At some point this season, Dotson (2 for 4 on 3-pointers) and fellow freshman Quentin Grimes (0 for 5), as well as backup guard Charlie Moore (1 for 3), will have to prove to opponents they can hit from downtown with consistency. If they don’t, it will continue to be that much easier for defenses to collapse around Lawson and take away his utility belt of offensive tricks.
We’ve also seen that KU doesn’t get much production from its bench. That cost the Jayhawks more than ever at Arizona State, as the Sun Devils’ subs outscored their counterparts 26-5.
These aren’t new issues for KU. They’re just magnified by the fact that they all added up to a defeat for a change.
At some point soon, Udoka Azubuike will be back in the mix. And the 7-footer’s presence might at least give KU the complementary piece to Lawson that it needs offensively.
Those other issues aren’t going to be overlooked, in wins or defeats, until the Jayhawks can prove they’ve put them in the rearview mirror.
So what did we learn about KU in its first road game, which also happened to be its first defeat? Not a whole lot. Except that without some tweaks and progress in the next few weeks, the Jayhawks will be losing with more frequency, because with the start of Big 12 play comes road games. And if you believe the rankings at KenPom.com, there are seven teams not named Kansas in the Big 12 that are better than Arizona State.
It’s like KU head coach Bill Self said before his team ventured west.
"Just because you go on the road and win, doesn't mean you conquered it or if you don't win, you lost it.”
No one thought this KU (10-1) team was unbeatable before Saturday night. Neither a win or a loss was going to change that.
The ongoing battle to address and overcome obvious weaknesses is a true challenge for every team. And Self and his staff were going to be doing all they could on those fronts regardless of Saturday’s outcome. They won’t be overreacting to anything that transpired either.