Does the Kansas basketball team’s first loss of the season and the Jayhawks’ ensuing drop (exaggerated gasp), all the way down to No. 5 in the latest AP poll, have you in full-blown Grinch mode?
Well, keep your spirits up. Be merry and jolly. Deck the halls. 'Tis the season and all of that.
Get over any lingering humbugs by first unwrapping this idea: KU remains one of the nation’s best teams.
The Jayhawks (10-1) even showed during their 4-point Saturday night loss at Arizona State that they possess some important qualities that should help them win more often than not during their 10 remaining true road games.
While KU’s turnovers (16, which tied its season worst) and lack of 3-point accuracy (25 percent on 7-for-28 shooting) were troubling, the visiting Jayhawks showed some promise with their collective performance at the free-throw line.
With Dedric Lawson (5 for 5), of course, and Marcus Garrett (7 for 8) leading the way, the Jayhawks hit 15 of 16 at the foul line, even as the ASU student section’s famed “Curtain of Distraction” did its best to send their free throws astray.
While the discrepancy in attempts at the charity stripe between KU and the Sun Devils (20 for 32) proved costly, the Jayhawks showed they can make free throws on the road, even going 4 for 4 in the final five minutes.
That’s at least a little proof that the Jayhawks can perform with poise away from Allen Fieldhouse. Plus, on the season, they’ve made 55 of 75 free throws (73.3 percent) in the final five minutes and overtime of games. And that’s even including KU’s Tiny Tim, injured center Udoka Azubuike, who is 4 for 9 on late-game foul shots.
Here’s another gift that will keep on giving: The Jayhawks have one of the most crafty and versatile scorers in college basketball. Lawson already averages 20.6 points on 53.2-percent shooting and you can see him getting better and more comfortable as KU’s go-to scorer on almost a daily basis.
Currently the Big 12’s leader in both scoring and rebounding (11.4 per game), Lawson is starting to understand most defenders don’t have much of a chance at cutting him off when he utilizes his length and craftiness. And when Azubuike returns, Lawson should become even more of a problem for opponents, because he thrives as a passer when the 7-footer is playing in the post.
Now, forget about the Ghost of Christmas Future for a second and take a journey with the Ghost of Big 12 Games to Come. The deeper into this season KU gets, the more freshman guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes will get acclimated to competing at this level.
Thus far, Dotson has been the better of the two McDonald’s All-Americans. His ridiculous open-court speed has allowed him to score in double figures in each of KU’s biggest games to date, against Michigan State, Tennessee, Villanova and Arizona State. The 6-2 guard from Charlotte, N.C., is a gamer, despite taking on one of the toughest challenges in college basketball — starting at point guard for a national powerhouse as a true freshman.
Dotson is already confident in most situations and effective in bursts. By the time we get to late February, it’s easy to see him playing at a higher level.
The same goes for Grimes, even though the projected NBA first-round pick has struggled far more than anyone anticipated.
Since his lights-out debut against Michigan State, when Grimes nailed 6 of 10 from 3-point range and scored 21 points, the 6-5 guard from The Woodlands, Texas, has hit double-digit points just twice.
Maybe it’s the holiday cheer typing, but I see him improving in the weeks ahead. Remember the way in the second half at ASU that Grimes drove in assertively and converted an off-balance layup over a defender when Lawson was out of the game due to foul trouble? Or how he pushed in transition to feed Lagerald Vick for a layup? What about how Grimes later made a play within the half-court offense by driving and dishing to Lawson for a lay-in.
Those second-half displays on the road are signs that Grimes is getting closer to becoming the playmaker on offense KU needs. Defense hasn’t been much of an issue for Grimes, and once he turns a corner on the other end of the floor, the Jayhawks — who, remember, remain a one-loss, top-five team — will actually be able to play closer to their ceiling.
It’s the holidays. Let your KU-related worries travel out of sight. At least for a few days.