The Day After: Getting even with ISU
Let's be honest, tomorrow is national signing day for KU football and I'm neck deep in stories, blurbs and obligations to get ready for that — don't forget to follow the Tale of the Tait blog all morning Wednesday for updates on all the signees as their letters roll in — so this Day After blog is going to be pretty short.
Luckily, there's not a whole lot that isn't obvious that needs to be said after KU's 89-76 victory over Iowa State on Monday night.
The Jayhawks shot lights out from the outside, played incredible defense and worked — on both ends — about as hard as I remember seeing them work all season. Clearly, the game and the chance to get revenge for their only Big 12 loss to date meant something to these guys.
Through its first 21 games, KU has racked up about as impressive a resume as you can rack up in modern college basketball. The Jayhawks have double digits Top 50 victories, have won some tough games against some tough opponents and positioned themselves well for another Big 12 title. But even with all of that said, I think Monday's game might have been the biggest of them all. There's just something that's gained, from a confidence standpoint, from beating a team that already beat you. No longer do you have those doubts about your team, yourself, your system. The fact that the Cyclones were ranked in the Top 12 only made the win more important. There's no doubt that Iowa State can play with just about anybody in the country when it's on. And, now, even though the Jayhawks probably already believed that based purely on the fact that they play at Kansas, that belief has reached a new level because they expunged the one loss that was haunting them from their record.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Yeah, we all know that Wayne Selden went wild with his jump shot in this one, but the thing that impressed me just as much was his leadership. We've talked a lot about this team lacking a clear on-the-floor leader, but it seems as if Selden may be sliding more and more into that role. I saw him talking a lot to his teammates, during good times and bad, and really trying to be a guy who rallied the team when it needed someone to take charge. At one point, I saw him encourage Frank Mason before a free throw to keep attacking. A few minutes later, he immediately helped Landen Lucas shake off a questionable foul call by telling him, “That's not the worst foul, that's not the worst foul.” Sure enough, Naz Long, whom Lucas fouled, missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw trip. More of this kind of chatter on a consistent basis will make Selden and this team even more dangerous.
2 – You probably can't count on Selden or any other KU player to knock in 5 of 7 three-point tries most nights, but it's incredibly clear that when KU is hitting these shots as a team, they're much tougher for opposing defense to handle. Because the Jayhawks don't have a powerful presence in the post who they can throw it down to and work through, spreading the floor is incredibly important because it allows several guys on the floor — occasionally all five — the room to put the ball down and attack the paint off the dribble.
3 – I thought KU's competitiveness was off the charts good in this one. Iowa State is the kind of team that is going to bring maximum energy every night no matter where they're playing. In fact, the Cyclones looked so fired up when they took the floor that I don't think the noise or the atmosphere bothered them one bit. And for the first 12 or so minutes of the game, they played like that. Eventually, though, KU matched it and started out-competing ISU for loose balls, rebounds and hustle plays. The combination of that kind of effort and KU's hot shooting made KU look every bit like a team that could contend for a No. 1 seed and a Final Four. Long way to go before we get to that point, but that's the blueprint to getting there.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I'm sure they're addressing it plenty this week in practice, but KU appears to have some work to do against full-court pressure. The Jayhawks struggled with it against TCU last week and again on Monday against Iowa State. Bill Self always has been pretty great about drilling his guys on this aspect of the game, so getting a few days to work out the kinks will probably help tremendously. If I'm a KU opponent, though, there's no question in my mind that I'm pressing as much as I feel I can until KU proves it can handle it consistently.
2 – For all of the good things Jamari Traylor does out there, he still has those moments that make you scratch your head. One such moment came on a fast-break Monday night, when Traylor tried to get the ball to Perry Ellis. He had three choices. A lob probably would've worked great. A bounce pass would've been equally effective. But, unfortunately for KU, Traylor through the chest pass and ISU's Jameel McKay got his hand on it and forced a turnover. The gaffe drew some choice words from Self, who essentially told Traylor to wake up. With so many other guys playing at such a high level right now, Traylor can't afford to have these mistakes. Case in point: He played just 18 minutes in this one and finished with a roller-coaster line of 4 points, 1 rebound, 3 fouls, 3 turnovers, 3 steals, 1 block and 1 assist. I will say this, though: Both of the shots Traylor hit came off of very sound and under-control moves to the rim.
3 – I think he's filled his role very well since coming back from injury, but I'd still like to see Devonte' Graham look for his shot a little more. His strong take to the rim and finish with his left hand was very impressive. It also was his only shot attempt of the night. Since returning to the lineup, Graham is averaging less than four shots per game and has had three games with two shots or fewer. Nobody's looking for Graham to get trigger happy and start jacking up 15 shots a game, but the kid has some skills on the offensive end and could help put pressure on opposing defenses as a scorer and not just a passer.
One for the road
KU's 13-point win over the Cyclones...
• Made Kansas 19-3 overall and 8-1 in Big 12 play for the eighth time under head coach Bill Self.
• Added to KU’s all-time series advantage, which Kansas now leads 176-61, including a 32-10 mark in Big 12 games, 91-15 in games played in Lawrence and 50-9 inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Marked the 10th-straight win against Iowa State inside Allen Fieldhouse beginning in 2006.
• Extended KU’s overall win streak in Allen Fieldhouse to 20 games, including an 11-0 record in the venue this season.
• Bettered KU’s all-time record inside Allen Fieldhouse to 724-109, including a 186-9 under Self.
• Improved Self to 344-72 while at Kansas, 22-5 against Iowa State (21-5 at Kansas) and 551-177 overall.
• Made KU 2,145-825 all-time.
The Jayhawks head back out on the road for a match-up with Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The game will be shown on either ESPN or ESPN2. The last time these two met the Jayhawks topped the Cowboys 67-57 Jan. 13 in Allen Fieldhouse.