The Day After: Passing the Harvard test
Saturday afternoon, the Kansas University basketball team jumped out to a 32-16 lead over Harvard, saw that lead trimmed to nine points by halftime and, eventually, found itself tied with the Crimson at 56 with 7 minutes to play.
While a lot of the things that led to Harvard climbing back into the game were not good — missed free throws, losing the battle on the glass, a disappearing Perry Ellis — the fact that the Jayhawks (6-1) were forced to play in a pressure-packed environment and asked to make some clutch plays to win can only help this team down the road.
Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham were both great when it counted and, especially when you consider the fact that their minutes were up because of Wayne Selden's foul trouble, you have to be impressed by the games those guys played.
Harvard is not exactly a top-tier non-conference foe, but they are a well-coached, fundamentally sound club that proved to be a good test for the Jayhawks in a season when the non-con schedule does not have many of them.
Credit the Harvard defense and scrappy play for taking Kansas out of its offensive flow, but I don't think it was a coincidence by any means that Kansas struggled when Wayne Selden sat with four fouls. KU coach Bill Self said he talked to Selden near the end of the first half about being smart and not picking up No. 3 before the half. But that didn't happen. And when Selden picked up No. 4, he sat for a long portion of the second half. When he sat, KU lost its hottest offensive player and the offense suffered. We all know how well Selden played in Korea, how he finally reached that level again in Maui and how good he was the last time out against Loyola. But now we have a better understanding of just what good Selden means to this loaded KU team. It's not just his scoring and three-point shooting that matters. It's also his attitude, demeanor and the way he opens things up for the rest of his team.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Self talked all offseason about how excited he was to put Graham and Mason in the starting lineup together. This was exactly why. Both guys pushed the tempo on offense, got after it on defense and scored when Kansas needed them to score. Their best moment came when Mason pushed a pass ahead to Graham, who got up in a hurry and threw it down with two hands. Before he even landed, Graham was smiling and the two guards banged shoulders to celebrate. After the win, I asked Graham why he was so jacked after that and he said it was because he told Mason earlier in the day that he was going to get a dunk. A point guard and a prophet.
2 – We won't do this every week, but the Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk maturation project took another step forward. Svi's numbers were not great but he did show continued growth in terms of aggressiveness by taking the ball to the rim when KU needed a spark offensively with Selden sitting on the bench with four fouls. Each moment like that makes Mykhailiuk even more dangerous the next time out because it makes him that much more comfortable both with the game and his role on the team.
3 – You don't have to love how many minutes he played (24) or that he took time from Cheick Diallo, but you do have to give Landen Lucas credit for his defense on Harvard's best player. Lucas did not do anything special and was not all of a sudden some amazing highlight machine. Instead, he used his size and length to bother Zena Edosomwan and allowed the rest of the defense to attack based off of that. Lucas finished with five points and eight boards and was 2-of-2 from the field. The only thing keeping it from being a great night was his 1-of-3 showing at the free throw line.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – After breaking onto the scene in his debut last Tuesday, Cheick Diallo played just seven minutes in this one. Bill Self had his reasons for the limited minutes and, as much as the Twitter dwellers might disagree, they are legit. But you can tell that Diallo is dying to be unleashed. And the fact that KU couldn't get ahead enough to allow him to play more minutes and that Diallo was not get enough defensively to earn more minutes seems like a wasted opportunity. Self warned about this the other night. He said Diallo won't score 13 every night and added that the young man still has work to do. That's obvious. He's still a little weak around the rim and clearly needs to get stronger on both ends to become a bona fide weapon.
2 – KU's free throw shooting was awful for the second straight game. The Jayhawks made just 13 of 25 from the line, including 9 of 17 in the tighter-than-necessary second half. No magic words or fixes here. They just have to be better. Or it's going to bite them.
3 – Harvard had just three guys 6-foot-9 or taller — only two of which played any real minutes — and yet they still out-rebounded the Jayhawks by eight. There was no real panic in the KU camp about this fact, and, hey, they won the game. But I was incredibly surprised that the Jayhawks and Self were rather matter-of-fact and did not seem much more bothered by this.
One for the road
KU's win over Harvard....
• Kept Kansas undefeated in 15 games against the Ivy League.
• Made Kansas 96-4 against non-conference opponents in Allen Fieldhouse in the Bill Self era.
• Gave KU its 27th-straight win in Allen Fieldhouse, which is the eighth-longest streak in school history.
• Moved KU to 731-109 all-time in Allen Fieldhouse, including 193-9 under Self.
• Improved Self to 358-79 while at Kansas and 656-184 all-time.
• Advanced KU to 2,159-832 all-time.
The Jayhawks will be back in Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tilt with Holy Cross. The game will be shown on Jayhawk TV and ESPN3. For those wondering, the Dec. 19 home game vs. Montana will be KU's final game on the Jayhawk Network this season.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Harvard
- Real-game pressure: Jayhawks handle Harvard’s heat
- Column: Perry Ellis hasn’t been himself
- Banged-up Perry Ellis keeping head up
- Notebook: Wayne Selden Jr. plagued by fouls
- Composed Harvard comes close in upset bid
- Jayhawks survive scare from Harvard
- Keegan Ratings: Mason leads Kansas past Harvard