Following a strong victory against New Mexico with an even more impressive one against Georgetown, Kansas continued its rebound in the Associated Press men's college basketball poll, released today, by moving up two spots to No. 16.
Joel Embiid was dominant in both games and Tarik Black scored 17 points against Georgetown, breaking a streak of four consecutive scoreless outings.
Perhaps the most encouraging development of the past two games involved KU’s point guard tandem of starter Naadir Tharpe and reserve (Fearless) Frank Mason. Tharpe combined for 18 points, nine assists and four turnovers. Mason scored five points and had five assists and one turnover in 21 minutes.
The Jayhawks don't need their point guards to score. They just need to score enough that opponents respect their ability to put points on the board. For the most part, what they need to do is limit turnovers so they can feed the post, especially Embiid, and play solid defense.
In the Georgetown game, Tharpe and Mason both did a nice job of making the easy pass and they combined for eight assists and two turnovers. Kansas needed Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor to score. Not so with Tharpe and Mason. Aaron Miles-like point guard play is what’s needed.
The AP's top 25, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Dec. 22, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote and last week's ranking:
Record Pts Prv
Others receiving votes: Oklahoma 65, Illinois 53, Texas 47, George Washington 43, Toledo 27, Florida St. 23, Michigan 15, Harvard 14, UCLA 14, Saint Mary's (Cal) 8, Pittsburgh 6, Creighton 5, LSU 1, SMU 1.
My AP top 25 ballot:
1— Arizona: Point guard T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne, knows his role and it’s not scoring. He’s averaging 6.8 points and 6.5 assists.
2— Syracuse: Everybody knows Jim Brown was the greatest football player of all-time. Many also know that Brown was such a dominant force in lacrosse that he caused a rule change that required players to keep their sticks in constant motion while running. A few might even be aware that he was a standout decathlete. But did you know that Brown averaged 15 points a game, second on the team by less than a point (Vinnie Cohen, 15.8), for Syracuse’s 1954-55 team?
3— Ohio State: Buckeyes have played a soft nonconference schedule, which seems a strange way to prepare for the Big Ten.
4— Wisconsin: The Badgers, like the honey badger, are nasty.
5— Louisville: A Saturday trip to Lexington to face in-state rival Kentucky pits a pair of loaded teams that both lost to North Carolina.
6— Michigan State: Also lost to North Carolina.
7— Oklahoma State: As is the case with so many, Le’Bryan Nash left high school figuring he was a one-and-done player. He never would have made it if he had left after his freshman year. He had so much to learn about the game in general and his game specifically. He’s a much better junior than he was a freshman or sophomore. One reason for that is he has learned what he is not, namely, a three-point shooter. In his first two seasons of college basketball, Nash made 28 of 118 three-pointers, a .237 percentage. He has attempted just two this season. His overall field-goal percentage in each of his three seasons, starting with his freshman year: .394, .462, .562.
8— Duke: It always pays to spend part of your Sunday night reading Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis on Twitter. He posts his AP Top 25 ballot, puts himself against the wall wearing a blindfold and lets the masses fire away. His responses, hilarious to rational readers, bait the jilted blind loyalists into new levels of fury. One week, when asked how he could rate Wisconsin so low, Davis tweeted, "I hate Wisconsin." The humor was lost on the incensed Badger, who didn't think it was right for a voter to hate a school. Make @SethDavisHoops required Sunday night reading, even if it means staying up past your bedtime. He even provided a useful link Sunday: Matt Norlander reminds us Blue Devils have been ranked in top 10 in the AP poll for 119 consecutive weeks, spanning 222 consecutive games, second-longest streak in men’s college basketball history.
9— Villanova: Syracuse and Nova bring combined 22-0 record into Carrier Dome on Saturday.
10— Wichita State: Undefeated Shockers will be favored in every remaining game until the NCAA tourney. Can any other undefeated team say the same? On paper, it looks as if a trip to Indiana State on Feb. 5 represents biggest threat. Sycamores defeated Notre Dame early in the season, plus Terre Haute can sap the joy right out of you on gloomy days.
11— Oregon: Ducks learned how to play without point guard Dominic Artis, now they must learn how to play with him again. He and reserve power forward Ben Carter were suspended for nine games for selling sneakers issued by the school. Since Oregon is Nike’s flagship university, it creates suspicion that NCAA is mad at the Swoosh. Just imagine how many athletes read that news, looked at each other, eyes wide, pulse speeding, and said: "They enforce that rule? Oh boy."
12— Florida: Whenever I see the word Florida, I think back to my days covering spring training, driving all over the state. And I always remember a story so touching that holiday season is the perfect time to share it.
A young colleague called me to express his excitement over having met a few weeks previous a young woman at her work place.
He went on and on about all her wonderful qualities and concluded, “I think she’s the one. I can’t wait to bring her home to meet my mother.”
When I asked him her name, he said: “Dawn. ... stage name Genesis.”
A short time later and a good deal poorer, he decided she wasn’t the one after all.
13— Kansas: Ask yourself this question: Is there any player in college basketball for whom you would trade Joel Embiid? Didn’t think so.
14— Baylor: These words will be said in many huddles of Bears foes trailing late in tight games: “But whatever you do, don’t foul (Kenny) Chery.”
Chery has made 25 of 27 free throws. He is no relation to colorful hockey commentator Don Cherry, a childhood hero of mine when he was a player and later a coach for the Rochester Americans (Amerks for short) of the American Hockey League.
15— Iowa State: Dustin Hogue, one of five Cyclones scoring in double figures, is averaging a double-double (12.6 points, 11.1 rebounds), which makes him a candidate for All-In-N-Out Burger honors.
16— North Carolina: Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.
17— Kentucky: Freshman Julius Randall attempted 19 free throws, scored 29 points and had 10 rebounds in victory against Belmont. Randall has double-figure free throw attempts in six games.
18— Connecticut: Home-court loss to Stanford followed by victory at Washington.
19— Memphis: Shaq Goodwin (13.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.5 steals), sophomore from Atlanta, is a speedy load at 6-9, 242.
20— Colorado: Marijuana becomes legal to smoke in “private” in Colorado starting Jan. 1, 2014. Listen closely and you will hear the wind carry these words from the chairs of ski lifts: “Oh wow, it’s like those people down there are shrinking. Do you have any potato chips in your pocket? How did Peter Frampton do that with his guitar? You know, that real wobbly sound.”
21— San Diego State: Aztecs, who visit Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 5, have big-time scorer Xavier Thames (16.0), big-time rebounder Josh Davis (10.7) and big-time shot-blocker Skylar Spencer (2.4).
22— Florida State: Doubt you’ll hear Seminoles grousing about new rules. Five of team’s top six scorers shoot .824 or better from line.
23— Massachusetts: Minutemen made just 1 of 15 three-pointers in first loss of season, to Florida State.
24— Iowa: Roy Devyn Marble shoots too many three-pointers (17 of 56, .304) but more than makes up for it by compiling 11 more steals (27) than turnovers (16).
25— Texas: My guess as to next coach of Longhorns football team: Florida State’s Jumbo Fisher. Your guess?