As it turns out, road losses in tough environments like Colorado and Florida may have paid off for the Kansas University men's basketball team, which went into arguably the toughest place to play on its entire schedule Monday night — Hilton Coliseum — and knocked off Iowa State, 77-70.
KU took charge with great starts to each half and got superb play from Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Naadir Tharpe, each one taking a different moment to shine.
It's still early, there's no doubt about that. But KU has taken as much control of the Big 12 Conference race as a team can take in three games, based largely on the strength of its two road victories.
Success in the Jayhawks' next two games — 3 p.m. Saturday vs. Oklahoma State and 8 p.m. Monday vs. Baylor — could make it an all-out stranglehold.
It baffles me that Iowa State, which lost to KU three times last season and had every reason in the world to take the floor with more hunger, anger and intensity than the visiting Jayhawks on Monday night, actually got out-hungered by Kansas. Credit KU coach Bill Self and veteran point guard Naadir Tharpe for explaining to the young guys on this roster just how hostile Hilton would be and for preparing them to feel like the underdog with everything to prove. It worked brilliantly and KU got one of its best games of the season in terms of pure effort.
1 – Naadir Tharpe, the guy some KU fans said they wanted to see thrown off the team for missing shots earlier this season, showed that none of the negativity around his play has had a negative impact on his ability to develop his game and lead this team. Games like Monday can only make Tharpe's confidence soar and a more confident Tharpe is a more comfortable Tharpe, which is a great thing for Kansas.
2 – The Jayhawks were sensational out of timeouts Monday night, whenever Iowa State showed signs of making a run. I can recall at least three or four times when Iowa State closed the gap to six or so points and appeared to be poised for a big run, only to watch Kansas calmly call timeout and respond by getting an easy bucket right at the rim, most often from Embiid. That's clearly solid coaching but it also showed incredible poise by Self's players.
3 – In back-to-back games to open Big 12 play, freshman guard Wayne Selden finished among the Jayhawks' leading scorer and looked great doing it. Monday, Selden had an off night offensively — finishing with just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting — but more than made up for it by leading the team with six assists in 33 minutes.
1 – Perry Ellis definitely did not have one of his best nights. Forget the 4-of-13 shooting or the 0-of-3 mark from the free throw line, the thing that surprised me the most about Ellis' sluggish night was how he let a bad play on one end lead to another on the other end. I can remember one time specifically where Ellis missed an easy shot in close and then went down and committed a silly foul. As he went to the bench, Self uttered something to the effect of “It's OK to miss the shot but don't make it worse on the other end.” We've become so used to Ellis being so steady that we sometimes forget that he's in his second season of college ball and still developing in his own right.
2 – If you would've said before the game that KU would turn it over 24 times and Iowa State just 8, nobody would've guessed that KU would have come out on top. Iowa State swiped a dozen steals but the rest of the turnovers were the result of sloppy ball-handling. The Jayhawks got away with it because they dominated on the glass — which only came because Iowa State was so cold from the floor — but they can't make a habit of giving it up that many times, especially on the road.
3 – For the second game in a row, Joel Embiid got busted for retaliating after bodies got tangled up and was hit with a technical foul for a little extra physical contact. Against K-State, the incident cost Embiid the rest of the game and against the Cyclones it forced him to the bench for a five-minute stretch in which ISU turned a 15-4 KU lead into a 21-19 KU advantage. Embiid's an emotional guy out there and that's good when it leads to him aggressively taking the ball to the basket on offense or feeling like nobody in the gym can stop him. But these extra-curricular fouls can't become a regular part of his ever-advancing game.
The Jayhawks' impressive victory over an angry Iowa State team on Monday:
• Kept Kansas the only undefeated team in conference play, making KU 3-0 for the eighth-straight time and the 10th time in the 11-year Bill Self era.
• Extended Kansas' win streak over Iowa State to four-straight.
• Increased the Jayhawks’ series lead to 174-59 all-time against the Cyclones, including a 30-8 advantage in the Big 12 era and 24-19 in Hilton Coliseum.
• Marked KU’s 50th victory on ESPN’s Big Monday. The Jayhawks are 50-16 in Big Monday games since the start of the Big 12 era.
• Moved Kansas head coach Bill Self to 20-3 all-time against Iowa State, 312-63 while at Kansas and 519-168 overall.
• Pushed KU's all-time record to 2,113-816.
Next up: The Jayhawks continue their crazy stretch against ranked teams when they return to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday for a 3 p.m. game against No. 9 Oklahoma State.