Stiff competition will help Jayhawks come March
By Andrew Curtis
I know, Jayhawk Nation, the Kansas basketball lost in the second game of the season. I’m here to tell you to relax and why everything is going to be fine.
First off, your head coach is one of the best in the business. Now he can focus on the little things that seventh-ranked Kansas failed to do against twenty first-ranked Michigan State and use them as teaching points moving forward.
Secondly, the guy Self lost to, Tom Izzo, is notorious for playing a brutal non-conference schedule and taking some tough losses. This pays off when March rolls around year after year, when the Spartans make their annual run deep into the NCAA Tournament.
I’d also like to point out that Izzo now owns a 7-5 record when facing Self, which dates back to when Self was at Illinois. In other words, he has his number. Sparty has now defeated Kansas in the past three meetings, with two of those coming in the 2009 season, when Michigan State ousted KU from the big dance in the Sweet 16 round.
Lastly, this is exactly what happened to Kansas last year. In the first year of the round-robin tournament featuring other natural powerhouses Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State last year, Kansas was dealt with a loss to Kentucky in what was also just the second game of the regular season.
Yes, Kentucky was a more talented team than Kansas last year, whereas Kansas was favored against Michigan State last night, but early in the season, anybody is capable of beating anybody. Kansas also managed to go down against Duke in the championship game of the Maui Invitational a couple weeks later, before riding the ship to an 8th straight Big 12 regular season title and a national runner up in the Final Four.
KU showed its offensive prowess by shooting better than 50 percent from the field and controlled the game throughout, holding a lead for 21 consecutive minutes of action up until the finish.
Ah, the finish. That’s the key. Kansas failed to finish a game it played so well throughout. A clutch performance by Michigan State’s Keith Appling proved to be the difference in the final two minutes, when Michigan State took the lead and never looked back.
There’s plenty of room for criticism, of course. KU missed several easy layups, committed 16 turnovers, couldn’t find a 3rd scorer, got outrebounded 31 to 25, got little to no bench production and allowed just its 7th opponent in the last 186 games to shoot over 50 percent.
The senior leaders were inconsistent throughout the game. Yes, Elijah Johnson looked better than he did in the opener, but he lacked the decision making skills to drive the ball to the basket instead of settling for jump shots. Jeff Withey was in bad position on both ends of the court several times, while Travis Releford continued to struggle, committing numerous turnovers and missing the final shot at the buzzer. It was Kevin Young’s first game back from injury, so you couldn’t expect much from him. The veterans on this team will get used to their roles with time.
The youth of Kansas proved to be exactly as expected in a game this early in the season. Ben McLemore, at times, looked comfortable out there for a freshman, while Perry Ellis looked like, well, a freshman. How could I forget Jamari Traylor? The guy made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays twice last night. These guys are still going to be studs and will continue to progress as the season goes on.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s November. These guys have barely been practicing for a month and this Kansas team is full of freshmen getting their first taste of college basketball.
This KU team has the potential to go a long way, something even last year’s team lacked. The deck is stacked.
It’s better to get these tough losses out of the way in November, especially before Thanksgiving, than it is to lose in March or early April. Bill Self will make sure that this team learns from its mistakes and has yet another successful season.