By now, it seems as if most Kansas University basketball fans have given up the stance — if they ever took it — that KU freshman Andrew Wiggins has been underwhelming.
At this point, Wiggins has produced enough, both offensively and defensively, and on a consistent enough basis to be classified as this team's best player.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound phenom leads the team with a 16.3 points-per-game average, is first in minutes played (904) by more than two full games, ranks third with 5.8 rebounds per game, third in assists (45), second in blocks (25), first in steals (29) and has attempted the most shots (145-of-324), most free throws (132-of-174) and second most three-pointers (35-of-98) while also owning the unofficial title of the team's best defensive player.
So forget whether he's disappeared for 10-minute spurts here and there or that he doesn't dunk it enough or finish consistently when he attacks the basket. None of that matters. What Wiggins has delivered has been nothing short of amazing, especially when taking into account the insane expectations that followed him to Lawrence and how well he has done at both handling those and inserting himself into the locker room as just another one of the guys.
It's genuine, too, by the way. There is no ego here. Wiggins is not all about Wiggins. In fact, he seems most comfortable during interviews when he's being asked about teammates or something other than himself.
All of this got me thinking.... What if Wiggins never came to Kansas? What if he picked Florida State or Kentucky or North Carolina last May and left the Jayhawks to fend for themselves with the roster they already had? First of all, KU would have been just fine, even without the steady dose of highlight-reel dunks, long arms on defense and lightning fast strides in transition.
But would Bill Self's bottom line have remained the same? Would the players who absorbed Wiggins' minutes — and it likely would have been several of them — have been able to produce the same results?
It's not likely. But here's a look.
(Note: I realize it's fully possible that Self might have scrambled to add another rotation guy had Wiggins chosen to go to school somewhere else, but, for the sake of this blog, we're going to say that Self would've had to move on with the roster he had.)
For this exercise, I've divvied up Wiggins' minutes to the five most likely Jayhawks who would have seen an uptick in playing time if the Canadian never came to town.
Here's how the numbers translated.
• G BRANNEN GREENE •
Increase in minutes: 40% or 362 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.38
Projected additional points: 138
• PG FRANK MASON •
Increase in minutes: 30% or 272 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.36
Projected additional points: 98
• G CONNER FRANKAMP •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.29
Projected additional points: 26
• PF JAMARI TRAYLOR •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.29
Projected additional points: 26
• G ANDREW WHITE III •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.43
Projected additional points: 38
As you can see, the difference between the total points produced by these five players in Wiggins' absence (326) and the number of points Wiggins has tallied in those same minutes (457) would have dropped KU's overall total by 131 points and lowered its per-game average from 79.8 points per game (with Wiggins) to 75.1 points per game (without Wiggins).
Given that KU has won three games by fewer than five points this season — 67-63 over UTEP in the Bahamas; 80-78 over Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse; and 64-63 over Texas Tech in Lubbock — you could make a case that Wiggins picking another school would have cost the Jayhawks at least three victories.
If that were true, not only would a 10th straight Big 12 regular season title still be up in the air, the Jayhawks, at 19-9 instead of 22-6, would be staring more at a seed in the 3-5 range in the upcoming NCAA Tournament instead of sitting in their current position where they appear to be close to a lock as a 2 and still alive for a 1.
All of this is purely speculative, of course, and there's no telling how things would have played out had Wiggins not worn crimson and blue this season. Maybe Brannen Greene would've been an instant star. Maybe another prospect would have taken the spot and filled the role admirably. Of course, this does not take into account all of the ways Wiggins' defense has impacted KU's win-loss record or the fact that, when playing more minutes, the points-per-minute number of the five guys mentioned above might actually have gone down or up.
Either way, it's a pretty compelling case for something I'm guessing we all know anyway — Wiggins has had a fantastic season and he is, without question, the MVP of the Big 12 this season.
There was no bank shot and no overtime in this one, but the Jayhawks' latest victory over Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse certainly had plenty of drama.
A game that began with the look of a Kansas blowout turned into a one-possession game late, with the 16th-ranked Cyclones charging hard and the home crowd roaring to help keep No. 6 Kansas ahead.
In the end, a career-best performance by KU freshman Andrew Wiggins proved to be enough to give the Jayhawks their seventh win in a row and their second victory in two weeks over a tough Iowa State team.
While Wiggins stole the show with his scoring explosion, Perry Ellis' first half (15 points on 7-of-8 shooting) played a huge part in the victory, as did another fantastic game from point guard Naadir Tharpe.
Wednesday's victory pushed KU to 16-4 overall and 7-0 in Big 12 play and set the Jayhawks up with a golden opportunity to take complete control of the conference race heading into back-to-back road games at Texas (Saturday) and Baylor (Tuesday).
I'm not sure enough credit is being given to what the Jayhawks have done this month against the Cyclones. Iowa State is darn good. They opened the season with 14 straight victories, can shoot from distance as well as just about any team in the country and can score from all five spots on the floor and create tough mismatches for opponents because of it. Despite all of that, the Jayhawks basically handled ISU for 80 minutes. Yes, the Cyclones made a couple of runs and looked sharp in doing it, but Kansas controlled the majority of both games and did so behind the strength of different players stepping up at different times. This team is gaining more confidence every time out.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Andrew Wiggins is on a roll and only getting better. After going for a career-high 27 points in the victory over TCU, Wiggins one-upped himself with a 29-point outing against Iowa State. His shot looks good every time he lets it go and he's done a much better job of finishing during recent weeks. ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said after that game that Wiggins is oozing with confidence right now and went as far as to call that fact “scary.” Two of the best parts about Wiggins' 29-point night on Wednesday? He reached that number by taking just 16 shots and only went to the free throw line six times.
2 – The offense as a whole is playing so much off of instinct right now. Rather than thinking too much and worrying about where to be and when to be there, the Jayhawks are just being. Every player seems to know his role inside and out and, more importantly, appears to be comfortable playing to it. Passes are moving quicker and being thrown crisper and the offense has a real good feel for when to pull it out and reset and when to attack.
3 – Joel Embiid finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds and it seemed like he had a pretty ho-hum night. That's the sign of a big-time player. Two of Embiid's best plays of the night? In the first half, he grabbed a rebound, gathered to go up for the put-back, tripped over an Iowa State player laying in the lane and still managed to keep his balance enough to finish the play. Later, when ISU big man Georges Niang attacked the right side and ducked under the rim to try a reverse layup, Embiid, who was leaning to protect the right side, stopped on a dime and still managed to swat Niang's shot with his off hand. That's No. 1-pick type stuff right there.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Opponents' points at the rim (again)... Iowa State scored 28 of its 81 points on Wednesday on layups or dunks. That number (35 percent) wasn't quite as bad as the 43-percent mark that Kansas State enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, though it was a higher number of points (28 compared to 26). The Jayhawks have made progress in this department, but opponents too often continue to find it too easy to score inside.
2 – It looked, to me, like the Jayhawks might have momentarily thought this one was over when they went up 30-14 midway through the first half. As KU coach Bill Self said after the game, the Jayhawks played about as well as they could've during the game's first 10 minutes, but, after building that kind of lead there's no way that ISU should've been within three points at halftime. Don't get me wrong, the Cyclones deserve credit for battling back. But KU did its best to help them. The ill-advised Joel Embiid three-pointer, a few careless passes and too many quick shots come to mind.
3 – Thanks to 29 points from Wiggins and 20 more from Perry Ellis, KU did not need much from its bench in this one. Good thing, too, because it got next to nothing. Brannen Greene and Frank Mason each hit one three-pointer, which accounted for all of the bench scoring the Jayhawks got in this one. Fortunately for Kansas, the starters were sharp from start to finish in this one. Had all five guys not been, the outcome might have been different. To be fair, it's worth pointing out that KU reserves Tarik Black (ankle) and Conner Frankamp (knee) did not play.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' second win over Iowa State in 16 days:
• Kept Kansas as the only undefeated team in Big 12 play at 7-0
• Made KU 7-0 in conference play for the third-straight season and the sixth time in the Bill Self era
• Gave the Jayhawks their fifth win over a top-25 ranked opponent over the last six games
• Made the Kansas-Iowa State all-time series 175-59 in favor of KU, including 49-9 in Allen Fieldhouse
• Gave Kansas its fifth-straight win versus Iowa State
• Made KU 9-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 170-9 under Bill Self and 708-109 all-time in the venue
• Made Bill Self 21-3 all-time against ISU (20-3 while at KU), 316-63 while at Kansas and 523-168 overall
• Made KU 2,117-816 all-time
The Jayhawks will head out onto the road for the next two games, starting with Saturday's 3 p.m. tip-off at Texas. After that, they'll play Baylor at 6 p.m. on Feb. 4 before returning home to face West Virginia at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8.
One of the best things about rivalry games is that every time the two teams involved take the floor or take the field, both have a legitimate chance to win.
While that certainly has been true in the recent match-ups between Kansas and Iowa State, a quick look back at their last 20 meetings shows that this series has been incredibly lopsided for one that many believe has developed into a solid rivalry.
Maybe it's because Missouri left the Big 12 and the Jayhawks are in need of a replacement. Maybe it's because the KU-K-State rivalry has not been real intense or exciting. Or maybe it's because a few of the most recent KU-ISU match-ups have been full of crazy drama and included a few overtime thrillers.
Either way, a lot of people want to paint this as KU's next great rivalry. In fact, on Tuesday, KU big man Landen Lucas was asked if the Cyclones had become a chief rival for the Jayhawks. His answer?
“I think so, yeah,” he said. “Whenever you've got a talented team that gives you a good game every time, it slowly becomes a rival. It's exciting. And we always look for something like that and I think Iowa State's definitely becoming something like that.”
Something like that, maybe. But a true rival? Not yet.
In the last 20 meetings between these two, the Jayhawks own an 18-2 record and have won those 18 games by an average score of 84-70. In the two games that Iowa State won during that stretch — 72-64 on Jan. 28, 2012 and 63-61 in OT on Feb. 19, 2005 in Lawrence — the average margin of victory was just five points.
There certainly is more to a rivalry than the final scores, but until the Cyclones can tip the scales of victory a little more in their favor, this potentially developing rivalry figures to continue to crawl along at a snail's pace.
The Jayhawks and Cyclones will get after it again at 8 p.m. tonight at Allen Fieldhouse.
As always, we'll have all kinds of live game coverage before, during and after the game, so be sure to stick with KUSports.com throughout the day and night.
While you wait for tip-off, here's a quick look back at those last 20 meetings:
Jan. 13 @ Ames – KU 77, ISU 70
Jan. 29 @ AFH – ?????
Jan. 9 @ AFH – KU 97, ISU 89, OT
Feb. 25 @ Ames – KU 108, ISU 96, OT
March 15 @ KC – KU 88, ISU 73
Jan. 14 @ AFH – KU 82, ISU 73
Jan. 28 @ Ames – ISU 72, KU 64
Jan. 12 @ Ames – KU 84, ISU 79
Feb. 12 @ AFH – KU 89, ISU 66
Jan. 23 @ Ames – KU 84, ISU 61
Feb. 13 @ AFH – KU 73, ISU 59
Jan. 24 @ Ames – KU 82, ISU 67
Feb. 18 @ AFH – KU 72, ISU 55
Jan. 23 @ AFH – KU 83, ISU 59
Feb. 27 @ Ames – KU 75, ISU 64
Jan. 13 @ Ames – KU 68, ISU 64, OT
Feb. 24 @ AFH – KU 89, ISU 52
Jan. 28 @ Ames – KU 95, ISU 85
Feb. 11 @ AFH – KU 88, ISU 75
Jan. 12 @ Ames – KU 71, ISU 66
Feb. 19 @ AFH – ISU 63, KU 61, OT
In a recent blog ranking the 25 best players in college basketball today, ESPN.com's John Gasaway placed two Jayhawks on his list but perhaps not as high as many of you might expect.
Because the blog falls under the ESPN Insider pay wall, I can't link to it here because I don't want to send those of you who aren't "Insiders" to a link you cannot access.
But we can still discuss Gasaway's rankings.
First thing's first: He put freshman center Joel Embiid at No. 9 and freshman wing Andrew Wiggins at No. 21.
The top five looked like this: 1. Doug McDermott (Creighton), 2. Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), 3. Lamar Patterson (Pitt), 4. Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and 5. Julius Randle (Kentucky).
I have to admit I was a little surprised not to see Embiid and/or Wiggins higher on the list and also surprised that Duke's Jabari Parker did not crack the Top 5. For what it's worth, Gasaway ranks Parker sixth, so that's not a huge slight. And, really, if you read his explanation for the rankings, putting Embiid and Wiggins where he did is not a knock either.
Those of you who can check out the full blog should go take a look. In it, Gasaway explains that the entire exercise was done to give a better indication of the top college players who impact the college game better than anyone else. He acknowledges that often — perhaps too often — college players are judged and ranked based on their potential impact in the NBA and using that as a filter for current collegiate players often skews the process of identifying the top college players.
No one better backs up that theory than McDermott, who is as good as it gets at the college level but may not project to be quite the pro of Parker or Embiid or Wiggins.
It's an interesting concept and, for those of you out there who may consider yourselves college basketball purists, probably one that's rather refreshing.
Even if it's not, I don't think you should take it as a slight toward Embiid or Wiggins. Landing in the Top 25 is solid no matter where you are and Gasaway's explanations for both players point out that he is very aware they're likely to be among the top picks in the June draft. Again, though, for this blog, he's looking purely at how they impact the college game.
Here's a look at what he said about the two Jayhawks in his Top 25:
9 - Joel Embiid, Kansas Jayhawks
Embiid may well be the first player taken in the 2014 NBA draft, so what's he doing way "down" here at No. 9? I see no contradiction here. The NBA is correctly registering that players of Embiid's height and ability are exceptionally rare. This list is attempting to correctly measure Embiid's impact as a college player over his first 409 minutes.
Clearly, that impact has been huge. Embiid makes 70 percent of his 2s as a supporting player in a Jayhawks offense centered on Wiggins and Perry Ellis. He also blocks shots and cleans the glass at both ends. On the other hand, Embiid is still averaging more than six fouls per 40 minutes, and he has recorded four or more fouls in four of his past six outings. His minutes are limited (and that lowers the benefit KU draws from his shot-blocking), but when he's on the floor Embiid changes the game dramatically. I don't blame the NBA one bit for being keenly interested in the young man.
21 - Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks
Wiggins will be one of the first two or three players selected in the 2014 NBA draft based on an expectation of what an 18-year-old (he'll turn 19 next month) this skilled might become in the very near future.
Meantime, he also happens to be one of the best college players in the country, one who carries a larger workload than any teammate on the offense of a national title contender. Wiggins' shooting percentages from the field are, as yet, just fair, but he takes care of the ball, draws fouls and shoots 76 percent at the line. Don't be surprised if his ranking improves on future versions of this list.
It's a play that everyone was talking about (and probably still is) and one of the finest displays of all-out hustle I've ever seen in person.
So why not take another look (or 10) back at the spectacular save made by KU freshman Wayne Selden during Monday's 78-68 victory over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.
Sure, it appears that Selden may have stepped on the line before making the save. But it wasn't called, it still goes down as a fantastic effort and even the Baylor players were not bent out of shape about the no-call following the loss.
Here's the video replay of the SportsCenter play of the night, along with a detailed description of everything that went into the save from our own Tom Keegan.