For all the points he has put up and all the wicked dunks he has thrown down since entering the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins still has ample room to grow in terms of the impact he can make for Minnesota.
In his three professional seasons since leaving Kansas, Wiggins’ scoring average has climbed each year, and he produced 23.6 points per game (16th in the league) in 2016-17. However, his 6-foot-8 frame, 7-foot wingspan and elite athletic ability haven’t helped the young wing become the defensive stopper many envisioned.
Wiggins’ new teammate, Jimmy Butler, plans to change that.
During Butler’s appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Wiggins’ reputation came up as Simmons and Butler discussed Minnesota’s roster. The host referenced Wiggins’ below-average defense, as recently detailed at FiveThirtyEight.com.
In a feature titled “The NBA Haters’ Ball,” FiveThirtyEight identified Wiggins as the league’s “Least Defensive Player.” That unwanted label got thrust upon Wiggins after some player-tracking data examined shots defended by individuals during the 2016-17 season and the results of said attempts.
“Possession by possession, there are a few defenders who are as bad as Wiggins,” Kyle Wagner wrote. “When Wiggins contests a shot, opponents have a 56.1 effective field goal percentage; when they are unguarded, they have a 56.4 eFG percentage. Fundamentally, getting a shot up against Andrew Wiggins is the same as getting an open shot.”
According to the evaluation, Wiggins’ liabilities included a lack of full effort and ball-watching.
“He defended the 10th-most shots in the league, by far the most by a below-average defender,” Wagner added at FiveThirtyEight. “Most teams do their best to hide their weak defenders, but opponents seek Wiggins out like no other defender in the league.”
A three-time second-team All-Defensive team selection, Butler expects he can mold Wiggins into a far more competitive and potent player on the defensive end of the court.
“He has all the tools to be a terrific defender, by the way,” Butler said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “But it’s different when somebody’s just telling you something all the time and somebody’s showing you: This is what playing both sides of the floor can get you.”
When Wiggins joined Minnesota three years ago, he had no savvy multi-time all-star to show him the NBA ropes. The Timberwolves have been somewhere between mediocre and awful throughout their current 13-year playoff drought, but finally appear to have a postseason-worthy roster thanks to the summer additions of Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague, to go with Wiggins and star big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
Minnesota acquired Wiggins with the idea that he would one day become an all-star wing such as Butler. Now the 22-year-old Canadian prodigy has a chance to learn every day from one of the league’s best all-around perimeter players long before entering the prime of his career.
“He is extremely talented on the offensive end,” Butler said of Wiggins. “And I think he’s going to be just that talented on the defensive end, as well, as long as you lock into it. I think he has that will and he wants to be great, so he’s going to want to do it. And I’m excited to get with him, just because I know how passionate he is about the game — his drive and his work ethic and how he wants to win. When you have that as a young guy, you have it. You can’t really teach that; you just have it.”
In 2014, one-and-done Kansas star Andrew Wiggins became the No. 1 pick in the draft after leading the Jayhawks in scoring. Yet, as this year’s KU team prepares to begin its postseason run, one gets the sense Kansas expects even more out of its latest NBA-bound freshman wing, Josh Jackson.
Three years ago, coach Bill Self needed Wiggins to score, draw fouls (he got to the free-throw line 227 times during his one year of college basketball), help the Jayhawks on the glass and use his athleticism and wingspan to defend all over the floor.
Self requires all of that and then some from the 6-foot-8 Jackson, who is a far more polished driver and passer for KU than Wiggins was before turning pro.
Wiggins definitely did a better job of staying out of trouble off the court during his brief stay in Lawrence. Jackson will serve a one-game suspension for KU’s Big 12 tournament opener on Thursday after backing into a parked car last month and failing to leave proper contact information. This display of poor judgment came in the same month Jackson was charged with criminally damaging a car in a separate incident.
Self has to be perturbed by Jackson’s actions, which led the coach to keep him out of the lineup for a postseason game. Fortunately for Self and the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (28-3), Jackson has looked far more shrewd on the court and even has overcome a tendency earlier this season to draw a technical foul here or there.
Speaking with media members on Monday, prior to news of Jackson’s suspension, Self cited his star freshman’s mental approach to basketball as a reason the explosive wing from Detroit has been able to set himself apart from past one-and-done prospects who passed through KU.
“In crucial situations, he’s got a calmness about him,” Self said of the 20-year-old Jackson. “I think that his intangible makeup is as good as any that I’ve ever been around, especially at that age.”
Wiggins was definitely the better athlete — which is saying something when you’re being compared to Jackson — but Self might trust Jackson as a player more than any freshman he has ever coached.
Jackson and Wiggins arrived at Kansas in very different situations. Jackson gets to play in a four-guard lineup with all-league veterans Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. The most experienced guard Wiggins played alongside was Naadir Tharpe. Still, it’s difficult to envision Jackson’s college season — and career — ending with a 4-point outing in a loss, which turned out to be the case for Wiggins.
Jackson seems too competitive — and maybe it’s easier to be that way when you’re rolling with a national player of the year candidate like Mason — to not find multiple ways to impact the game every time he steps on the floor.
The freshman from Detroit has overcome the pressure of arriving at Kansas with the expectations of a rabid fan base hovering over him, too. Self said earlier this season playing under some duress might have led to some early struggles, such as 3-point shooting. A 37.7-percent 3-point shooter on the season, Jackson has knocked down 12 of 25 (48 percent) from deep since the end of January.
“But, you look at it, he’s been pretty consistently good in defense, rebounding, extra possessions, energy, making plays for others, passing,” Self said. “And you know he’s been a consistent scorer.”
Those skills and Jackson’s personality make him look like a far more dangerous player, capable of improving KU’s postseason chances, than Wiggins was three years before him.
The Canadian sensation came through with scoring outputs of 30, 22 and 19 points in the 2014 postseason prior to KU’s loss to Stanford in the first weekend. Jackson is so versatile he could put up big points like Wiggins or not and still give the Jayhawks a chance to win by doing the other things he’s shown all season.
Jackson might not end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, but he seems to have the kind of mental makeup and array of skills to do more for Kansas this postseason than Wiggins could in 2014.
Below is a look at the regular-season statistical output from both Wiggins and Jackson, prior to the start of the Big 12 tournament.
|Andrew Wiggins' stats
entering 2014 postseason
|Josh Jackson's stats
entering 2017 postseason
In the realm of college basketball, March is known for its madness.
Kansas University coach Bill Self experienced a little of that himself Sunday evening after the NCAA unveiled the 2014 national championship bracket.
Even though Self barely had time to read up on KU's Friday opponent, Eastern Kentucky — let alone scout the Colonels by watching some game video — a room full of reporters awaited him at 6 p.m. inside Allen Fieldhouse to talk about the matchup between No. 2-seeded Kansas (24-9) and the No. 15 seed, EKU (24-9), out of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Here are the highlights of the Q&A, in bullet-point form:
• Self kind of thought Kansas would get a No. 2 seed. But he still thought KU had a really good chance of getting a No. 1 seed. If things had happened differently in some of the other conference tournaments, maybe the Jayhawks would have got consideration for the most sought after seed line.
• In KU's pod, New Mexico looks better than its No. 7 seed. Self hopes KU has a chance to play UNM or Stanford in the round of 32, but the Jayhawks' focus needs to be on Eastern Kentucky and defending the 3-point line. Self has already learned that EKU has four starters who shoot 3-pointers. They're a lot like Iowa State in that aspect.
• Sometimes when you play close to home there are more distractions. KU experienced that some last year, in Kansas City, Mo., for its first two NCAA games. Friday's games in St. Louis will be some of the hottest tickets ever for the first two rounds. Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky and Wichita State are all playing there. (All except KU are competing in the Midwest region.)
• KU has been in the same city as K-State for the NCAA tournament before. It will be interesting. You wonder if fans from both sides of the Sunflower Showdown will cheer for their rivals.
• Self couldn't believe SMU and Larry Brown didn't make the tournament. When it all played out on the selection show, Self though North Carolina would play SMU. But he forgot Providence hadn't been announced yet. … That's what Brown thought would happen (a Roy Williams and UNC vs. Brown and SMU game) when Self spoke with the former KU coach on Sunday morning.
• On the other hand… Self was really happy to see Danny Manning's Tulsa team earn a spot. Tulsa is in the same region as Kansas, as a No. 13 seed, and will face UCLA on Friday.
• Kansas needs to play with high energy all the time. When you do that you can camouflage some mistakes with this group. Iowa State might've beaten anybody the way it played Friday in the Big 12 semifinals. KU might've been better off giving the Cyclones some "dare" shots, instead of letting ISU get inside of them.
• Looking at a potential rematch with New Mexico, that first meeting (an 80-63 KU win at Sprint Center) was a long time ago, on Dec. 14. Self doesn't know how much of an advantage either team would have should each advance.
• With a young team, there is potential for some distractions at this time of year. The most focused team Self has ever had was in 2008. That was a "wild crew," but they did everything the coaches asked and trusted them. It's great to have rules, but sometimes players think rules are great for everybody else but themselves. That's when you start getting distractions.
• Andrew Wiggins has played great. He just didn't make some shots early against ISU.
• Self didn't know which regional KU would end up in. No matter what one you end up in, you always think that the committee didn't do you any favors. But the Midwest (No. 1 Wichita State, No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Louisville, No. 5 St. Louis) looks really tough.
• Not to get ahead of themselves, but the South region has the best team in the country — Florida. And a team that everyone thought was the best team in the country a month ago — No. 3 Syracuse. UCLA, the No. 4 seed, is one of the hottest teams in the country. But the focus is getting through this weekend.
• There are more good teams and less great teams this season. Florida is a great team. The bottom line: everybody in the field can be had. This year, there are more good, solid teams that can beat what are perceived as the better teams.
• Joel Embiid's status remains the same. He feels better. Self doesn't feel optimistic Embiid would be able to play this weekend. But he is optimistic about the following weekend (Sweet 16). His availability is all symptom-related and he has responded very well of late.
— Listen to the complete press conference: KU coach Bill Self reacts to NCAA Tournament bracket
The regular season is over, and the postseason begins Thursday for Kansas University's men's basketball team.
Coach Bill Self doesn't yet know whether his Jayhawks (23-8 overall, 14-4 Big 12) will face Oklahoma State or Texas Tech in their Big 12 Championship opener in the Kansa City, Mo. — those two teams play in the opening round Wednesday — but he was ready to talk about the postseason Monday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
KU has lost two of its last three games, and freshman center Joel Embiid's availability at the Big 12 Tournament remains up in the air due to his back issues, making the next week even more intriguing.
Here are some of the highlights from Self's press conference, in bullet-point form:
• Self doesn't see a scenario where Joel Embiid doesn't play in the postseason. He does see a scenario where Embiid might not be able to play in the Big 12 Tournament, though. … Embiid is a lot better, symptom-wise, than he was a week ago. If the doctors say it is fine to play him this weekend, they will. Playing three games in three days at Kansas City, Mo., could be challenging for Embiid, too. Rather than manage minutes, Self would rather have him more rested for the NCAAs if that's what is best for the freshman big man.
• Self's first year here, Keith Langford hurt his knee and didn't practice the last few weeks of the season. The next year Wayne Simien had a similar situation. This isn't new territory for Self. Still, no one on the coaching staff is an expert on how to bring Embiid along. They will rely on what the doctors say. … Embiid is pain-free now, but that could change if he took a hit or bump at practice or in a game. … Embiid about "threw a fit" the last time they told him he couldn't play against TCU. He wanted to play.
• Oklahoma State is the No. 8 seed in the Big 12 Tournament — that shows how tough the league is. KU could play the Cowboys Thursday. That's good for KU. Self would like to face a real quality opponent.
• After losing at West Virginia Saturday, Self wants to see KU play tougher. The Jayhawks need to have more pride in guarding the ball, and keeping guys from getting to the rim.
• On Kansas point guards: Frank Mason and Naadir Tharpe, as well as Conner Frankamp, are the guys in charge of making sure KU plays well. But, really, it's on Tharpe to make that happen more than anybody else. KU needs its guard play to be sound, and they need to be a little more aggressive on both ends of the floor than they were at WVU.
• Big 12 awards turned out about the way Self thought. He has never understood, though, why voters are able to cast votes before the regular season is over. … Self thought Iowa State's Melvin Ejim deserved Player of the Year. Andrew Wiggins could've and should've been right there. … Self thought Rick Barnes deserved the Coach of the Year, but Lon Kruger deserved it, too.
• Big 12 Tournaments have always been competitive. But this year, regardless of what seeds end up in the championship game, it shouldn't surprise anybody. No. 8 seed OSU was picked to win the league before the season began. "It's gonna be a pretty special weekend."
• The last time KU played OSU, the Jayhawks lost. The guys should be excited to play the Cowboys again, considering they got outplayed at OSU.
• On playing away from Allen Fieldhouse: He wishes the W-L record was better (5-6 away, 4-1 neutral) but the competition had a lot to do with it. Villanova (lone neutral site loss, at the Bahamas) could be a No. 1 seed.
• Wiggins keeps getting better. He was fantastic, not just because of 41 points at WVU, but because of his energy level. Wiggins has proven he can take over. Self told Wiggins yesterday he needs to play at the level he has proven he is capable of. … With KU playing form behind, there was no margin for error, but the basket does get bigger. You can't make too much of the comeback because of that.
• On playing a junk zone defense, such as a triangle-and-two: Situations and personnel on the other team determine when they do that. KU hasn't done it much this year. Kansas should be able to stop people, even without Embiid on the floor.
• On the possibility of being in the same bracket as Wichita State: Self would welcome whatever bracket the Jayhawks end up in. It doesn't matter who the other top seeds are in that region. They want to play the other top seeds, regardless of who they are.
• Playing well this weekend is the key. A No. 1 seed could still be in play if KU wins the Big 12 Championship. … Regardless of what sites KU gets in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas fans will travel well.
• Perry Ellis needs to play well defensively for KU to have its best chance. But he is capable.
— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self on dealing with Embiid's back issues, Big 12 Championship
After Self's session, KU sophomore power forward Perry Ellis came out to answer questions from the media.
Kansas University men's basketball coach Bill Self fielded questions from the media for about 30 minutes Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
The No. 5 Jayhawks (22-6 overall, 11-2 Big 12) play at Oklahoma State (18-10, 6-9) at 8 p.m. Saturday night. Self commented on that game and much more, including the rise of Wichita State to national prominence and whether the Jayhawks could add the Shockers to their schedule.
Here are the highlights in bullet-point form:
• Winning the Big 12 outright is a small part of the motivation on Saturday. The big part is playing an Oklahoma State team Kansas has developed a little rivalry with lately, as well as playing on a national showcase in prime time on ESPN.
• Oklahoma State is different now that Marcus Smart is back. He can impact a game and not score. His defensive anticipation is as good as anyone who KU will play against, and not just this year. Smart has totally dominated the games since serving his suspension.
• OSU is playing better because Phil Forte is playing better. He thrives when Smart is on the floor. They're kind of like the Morris twins in the way they feed off of one another. You can't leave Forte open. That's what makes him hard to guard.
• Self thought this game at OSU would have conference title implications, as far as who would have the best shot to win it. It's nice to go down there with a tie already clinched, but the Jayhawks want to take care of business. KU needs to play well to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
• On Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor: They're a big part of why KU is better. They provide a needed energy presence, and give the Jayhawks a different look than the starting frontcourt players, Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis.
• Kansas isn't in competing with Wichita State for a No. 1 seed, despite the arguments media or people want to have about it. Self thinks WSU deserves the No. 1 seed line if the Shockers keep on winning. It's hard to win on the road, especially when you're everybody's Super Bowl game. … Self isn't in the least bit concerned with anything but the teams on KU's schedule. The Jayhawks have a long way to go before they will be a No. 1 seed. It all depends on how they finish the season.
• Wichita State's success is great for the state. Iron sharpens iron. When others are good in your area, it makes you better. It's good for Kansas to have Wichita State and Kansas State playing well.
• On returning to Oklahoma State, where he played in college: The first time he coached KU down there, Self toured every place and talked with a lot of good friends. KU got rocked in that game. Now he approaches it as a business trip.
• Going into the NCAAs, you start thinking more about seeding and the tournament itself. It's too premature to give much thought to those things now.
• Kansas keeps making the NCAA Tournament despite turnover in the roster. That's because the players are good and the assistant coaches are good. Those are the constants, the jobs those assistants have done. KU has brought in talent and has been able to overcome inexperience.
• On the Big 12 player of the year coming from KU: Self would like to see Embiid as a candidate but numbers tend to drive that award and people might not include him despite the impact he has on the floor. Andrew Wiggins is a leading contender. People should wait to draw their conclusions until the Big 12 season is over.
• On KU assistant coaches: Self thought Barry Hinson was positive, but Fred Quartlebaum (director of student-athlete development in his first year at Kansas) makes Hinson look like a the sky is falling and the sun will never come up personality. Jerrance Howard is a younger coach, has more energy and fun to him than Self and Kurtis Townsend. One thing you can't undersell is having someone who has been in the fire. Norm Roberts was a head coach in New York for St. John's. KU has a nice blend on its staff, and has for a while. Different personalities on the staff offset each other, and that's a good thing.
• On highly-ranked recruits: The key with Kansas has been evaluating and projecting what they could become. You can look at players who are ranked in the top five or 10 and you know they will have a huge impact. But there isn't much difference between 11 and 50. Those recruiting services, though Self appreciates them, are overrated. KU coaches have done a good job of plugging in guys that fit the program.
• Wayne Selden is getting it. Embiid and Wiggins deserve the majority of the attention, but if KU didn't have those two, Selden would be a guy that would be in consideration for freshman of the year in the Big 12.
• Naadir Tharpe has given KU point guard play that has allowed the Jayhawks to do well in the Big 12. He has gotten better, but one area where he can get better is on the defensive end.
• Wiggins has learned to impact the game with his athletic ability. People line up and what to get a piece of him, because he got so much attention. He has had the best season of any player on the team to this point. Wiggins has been the most consistent. That's pretty good when you don't have upperclassmen to show you how to do it, plus all the expectations on him. He has been himself and not tried to be what he's not. No disrespect to Embiid, but it's easier when there is less pressure. Now Embiid is feeling the way Wiggins has all season.
Wiggins is so nice. He might be the most polite kid KU has ever had. Nice is OK, except for two and a half hours a day. Wiggins couldn't have handled it better with all the hype. He just plays. Some of the things that are said about him register for him and motivate him.
• Oklahoma State is capable of beating anybody, particularly when they're playing at home. OSU is right at the top of the Big 12 in terms of raw talent.
• Self wouldn't say Kansas would never play Wichita State. KU is pretty locked in schedule wise, and that wouldn't be a part of what they have planned right now. KU will schedule strictly on what the program thinks is best. It might be better for KU to play out in New York or Los Angeles or Philadelphia. You want to do what's best for the program. When Self was at Illinois, the program had a presence in a lot of metropolitan areas because they were in the Big 10. It doesn't hurt now that he's at KU to be able to go play at Georgetown or another major city.
• Self thought against Texas Kansas was at the level it needs to be defensively. They didn't carry that over to the Oklahoma game. Kansas needs to make other teams play poorly. That's what got the Jayhawks to the title game in 2012.
• Re-focusing after clinching a share of the Big 12 title. Whenever you win your league, that's a good year. But good years aren't good enough. The whole focus now is what are they going to give to make good become great, and can they become special. It's hard to take those steps. If they're not motivated by that, then there is a problem.
• As the road team for a College Game day game: It's not too different from another road game. Except when guys are laying around watching TV, there will be a lot of talk about the game, which should get the Jayhawks amped up.
• Self's parting shot: "This may have been the longest press conference I've ever done."
— Hear the complete press conference by clicking here: Bill Self discusses what lies ahead for KU
— Listen to a Q & A with guard Wayne Selden: Wayne Selden discusses learning as a freshman, the Big 12 title
Apparently it's better to be elite than perfect.
With two of the most talented freshmen in the nation wearing Kansas University basketball uniforms, even crunch-time blunders from Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid turned into gold for the Jayhawks Tuesday night, as they escaped Lubbock, Texas, with a 64-63 victory over Texas Tech.
No. 8 KU (20-6 overall, 11-2 Big 12) didn't play awful at United Spirit Arena, home of the Red Raiders (13-13, 5-8), but the outcome might have flipped had center Embiid not had guard Wiggins' back — and vice versa — in the final minute.
Returning to the Kansas lineup after sitting out a game with an ailing back and knee, Embiid's final two points on an 18-point night came on his third offensive rebound, when he jammed in a missed dunk by Wiggins with just more than 30 seconds left in the second half.
Wiggins had pulled off a similar baseline drive and slam earlier in the night, but he hesitated for a split-second when TT big man Dejan Kravic slid over as a help defender. That threw Wiggins' timing off just enough that his dunk attempt hit the rim. But the 6-foot-8 guard's drive drew so much attention, Embiid had no problem gathering the mistake and stuffing it home to finish 6-for-7 from the floor.
After Texas Tech's Robert Turner hit two bonus free throws to put KU in a one-point deficit, Kansas had to get a basket to avoid its third conference loss. Embiid received the ball on the right block, and as he spun toward the baseline, he lost his handle. Wouldn't you know it, Wiggins was there to grab the loose ball and lay it in for the win, and finish with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
A couple of unlikely and remarkable plays end up making the difference, offensively, in the final minute of a game controlled by Texas Tech from a pace standpoint — KU's 42 field-goal attempts were its second-lowest total of the season (Baylor held the Jayhawks to 40 attempts on Jan. 20).
Kansas was obviously the more talented team, and like it or not, that's how a lot of college basketball games are decided when the disparity is drastic between two rosters. Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who knows the game as well as anyone, had a terrific game plan and his players executed it to near perfection. In the end, it simply wasn't enough.
“Good teams like Kansas make plays like that. Great players make plays like that," Smith said. "Andrew’s a great player and great players make plays like that.“
You won't hear Kansas coach Bill Self complaining about his team winning in a tough situation on the road, but he surely will let his players know the kind of effort they gave late in the first half and through chunks of the second half, when Texas Tech was in control, won't win them many games in the postseason, which is now less than a month away.
Three reasons to smile:
1 — The Red Raiders easily could have won this game. "Wait, why am I smiling about this?" you may ask. Well, the Jayhawks didn't let them win. With a coach of Smith's caliber, in a packed house full of hostile fans and with Tech players likely believing a victory over KU could get them out of relative irrelevancy and one step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth, Kansas denied the Red Raiders the résumé-building victory they so desperately needed.
And despite the game-winner Wiggins converted on offense, his defensive stand seconds earlier had as much to do with the KU win. Texas Tech only turned the ball over nine times, hit 47% of its shot attempts and 6 of 12 from three-point range, but KU's defense came through in the final minute (with the exception of Embiid getting whistled for a blocking foul on Turner with 16 seconds left).
On Tech's previous last-minute possession, Wiggins blocked a Jaye Crockett jumper with the shot clock winding down, and when the denial fell back in Crockett's lap, Wiggins contested another jumper. The long rebound went to Tech's Jordan Tolbert, but Kansas forced a held ball, with the possession arrow in its favor.
2 — The real Joel Embiid is back. That evil twin of Embiid's — the one whose back and/or knee issues limited his range of motion and kept him to 7.5 points in his past four appearances — that guy is gone.
The real Embiid looked comfortable running the floor, and making assertive moves in the post. He finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds and a block, but the most promising number for KU is that he played 32 minutes. As Self talked about after the win, the 7-footer hadn't even practiced that much in the past week. Embiid said he felt like he was at about 90 percent.
So, barring any more injury setbacks, this is the kind of performance the Jayhawks can expect out of their center from Cameroon going forward.
3 — These young Jayhawks have confidence. Any time a team can pull off a last-second win, it gives the players an experience they can draw from in the future. The next time Kansas finds itself down a possession in the final minutes, Self can say, "Hey, remember how we finished strong at Texas Tech, and Jo Jo and Wiggs made those clutch plays? That's the mentality it's going to take to win this one."
What's more, the Jayhawks didn't let their struggles at Tech hold them back in the final minutes. Freshman guard Wayne Selden hadn't scored in the second half, and had only made 1 of 7 shots on the night when he rose up to drain a critical thee-pointer with less than three minutes to play.
Even when the Jayhawks are down, they believe they will win a close game.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 — Although Embiid returned, Texas Tech beat Kansas in points in the paint, 30-24. Embiid's defense might not have caught up with his offense quite yet, and Kansas only blocked three shots (one for Embiid, two for Wiggins). That total, though, isn't as troubling as how easily Tech scored inside at times. Defensive breakdowns led to open dunks/layups. Kravic, a senior 7-footer only averaging 6.4 points a game — scored 13 on 6 of 8 shooting.
Part of Tech's success inside came with its 13 offensive rebounds. KU had 13, too, and out-rebounded TT, 28-26, overall. But the Red Raiders scored 19 second-chance points, compared to KU's 14.
2 — Perry Ellis didn't make a shot, and barely made an impact. After a career game against TCU on Saturday, the sophomore forward contributed to Kansas losing the points in the paint battle. Ellis missed all three of his shot attempts, found himself in foul trouble and was the only Kansas starter to not play 30-plus minutes (he played 26). All four of his points came at the free-throw line and he only secured two rebounds.
Hardly the only culprit for KU, Ellis was one of five Jayhawks to play at least 10 minutes but not produce more than six points as Wiggins and Embiid carried the load. Selden and Naadir Tharpe each scored six, Jamari Traylor had five in 12 minutes and Tarik Black scored four in 10 minutes.
Between Ellis, Selden and Tharpe, they combined to hit 3 of 18 field goals.
3 — Texas Tech made 47% of its shots. Since Self arrived at Kansas, his teams have won so often because of defense. In eight of Self's previous 10 seasons at KU, his teams have led the Big 12 in field-goal percentage defense. Currently, the Jayhawks are fifth in that category, at 41.2%.
Six of KU's last eight opponents have made 42% of their shots or better. For the Jayhawks to truly be considered one of the nation's top teams this season, they just need to turn it up a notch on the defensive end, and force foes into more difficult attempts.
One thought for the road:
There is no shame in winning ugly. Especially on the road. Even though Kansas had season-lows in rebounds (28) and assists (six), the Jayhawks managed to win. The ongoing struggle for this team seems to be getting everyone to produce to his fullest (or in that neighborhood) each and every game. A lot of that has to do with the team's youth. Consistency is the most difficult thing to grasp for most teams. Because KU starts three freshmen and a sophomore, that is inherently more challenging. If junior point guard Tharpe (1 of 7 shooting, 2 assists, 4 turnovers at TT) can set the tone in that department, the rest of the team likely will follow his lead.
Thanks to Iowa State's 85-76 win over Texas on Tuesday in Ames, Iowa, the Longhorns enter Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game at Allen Fieldhouse two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings. A win for the Jayhawks would avenge their road loss to UT and put them even closer to a 10th straight Big 12 championship.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media Friday afternoon to talk about the Jayhawks' upcoming home game against West Virginia, as well as a variety of other topics.
No. 8 KU (17-5 overall, 8-1 Big 12) plays host to the Mountaineers (14-9, 6-4) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Here are the highlights from Self's comments in bullet-point form:
- On West Virginia: They're obviously playing well (won three in a row, four of five), have some good wins (Oklahoma and Kansas State) and had close losses. They could've beat Oklahoma State twice. Probably have as good a pair of guards as there is in the league.
- On WVU junior guard Juwan Staten (18.1 points, 6.0 rebounds): He never comes out. It's hard to average more than 40 minutes a game. Strong for his size. He has a great opportunity to be first-team all-league.
- KU's defense: Self is more critical than most coaches might be about this team. He is used to better defense. KU didn't guard at Texas and did better at Baylor. He wouldn't put this team in the same group as past teams he has had at KU, but this group will get better.
- On Naadir Tharpe: He's shot the ball well and doing a better job of being more vocal and being a better leader on the team. He has improved 70 or 80 percent since early in the season when Self wasn't happy with him.
- The Big 12 race: A lot of times when you have everybody in the league with losses it gives a sense of mediocrity. But it's the same way in the Big 10… Sometimes when there are three teams in the top 10 of the rankings from the same league, it's because the bottom of the league isn't capable of beating the elite teams. That isn't the case in the Big 12 this season. The race is still wide open… Self didn't see there being this much balance before the season began. Oklahoma and West Virginia lost key players and have improved through the season. Texas lost a lot of players and got a lot better. That's what makes the Big 12 so good.
- On Joel Embiid: It's easy for him to pick up scouting reports and the feel for the game. He's a bright guy and he knows where everyone on the floor is supposed to be on a play. … He needs to get stronger, especially in his lower body. Sometimes Embiid defers too much on offense. He can improve in anything. He's just scratching the surface.
- Players leaving early or not: KU has had kids say one thing and end up doing something else. It shouldn't have any bearing on how the staff prepares from a recruiting standpoint. The coaches need to have players ready to bring in. Self likes all the guys they have that are coming back, regardless of who stays or doesn't stay. Coaches hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The one-and-done guys are the easiest to replace. The hard ones are the ones that come out of nowhere and end up leaving early, such as Ben McLemore last year. Self doesn't know if KU would've got Andrew Wiggins if McLemore came back. High-level guys know your roster.
- At this time of year, sometimes players start looking ahead. Self doesn't think it is the players as much as the people around them who are thinking about NBA potential at this point of the season. It doesn't help them make more money to be thinking about leaving early in January or February. It's important for the players to realize there is no reason to listen to that talk right now. The best thing possible is to focus on the season, what is going on.
- On Wayne Selden guarding Heslip at Baylor: He totally gave himself up for the betterment of the team. Looked a lot like Travis Releford. Self was proud of Selden.
- This time of year, guys should have a pretty good idea what Self wants defensively. It's not from a lack of trying, but sometimes they are less enthusiastic about doing that job.
- On Conner Frankamp: He's done fine. He and Brannen Greene kind of drew the short straw on minutes, been the odd men out. He's healthy.
- KU's confidence: Coming off a good road win, they're pretty confident. KU got in a situation where maybe the Jayhawks lost their edge a little bit at Texas. This is a team that Self wants them to believe they're good, but he might compliment them a little too much when things went well. He can't allow them to get soft by praising them too much. "We better get better or it's (the season) gonna end sad."
- The difficulty of going unbeaten in a regular season: To Self, that was never a realistic thing for any of his teams. With Wichita State and Syracuse, he wouldn't think about running the table. He'd think about winning the next game and where the team is at right now. In Self's opinion, it's hard to be great "unless you go through some crap." Still, a coach is going to coach every game to win, obviously.
- Scouting an opponent: The majority of the focus is "How do we stop them?" The second time you play a team in league play or again in conference tournament, it gets even tougher to execute against them because of the familiarity.
- West Virginia doesn't turn the ball over (9.8 giveaways a game in Big 12 play). They really added a lot of perimeter shooting since last year, too. They will be a real challenge to guard. WVU will pressure KU. Self thinks Bob Huggins will have his guys trying to create take-aways.
- Who is the best dunker Self ever coached? "Wiggs could be if he wanted to be. I'm not sure it interests him that much. It takes energy to do that." Probably Ben McLemore. JR Giddens was a great dunker. Those guys are probably the best, and McLemore liked to show off how athletic he was more than any other guy they've had. He'll do something funky in the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend.
— For complete audio from the press conference, click here: Self press conference.
— Hear from sophomore Perry Ellis and freshman Frank Mason by clicking here: Player media session.