The Kansas Jayhawks are a very good basketball team, but they haven’t received the recognition they have deserved this season. Rock Chalk is slowly creeping up the polls and is in prime position to win another Big 12 title.
Bill Self is simply a tremendous basketball coach. While the Jayhawks have suffered six losses this season, they always bounce back. That’s a testament to Self and his coaching staff.
After Kentucky drubbed the Jayhawks, 72-40 on Nov. 18, Self’s group responded with eight wins in a row. Kansas suffered another setback on Dec. 22 in a 77-50 throttling at the hands of Temple, but Self’s team didn’t let their season crumble.
Kansas has one major, “code-red” problem, though: no veteran leadership.
Kansas is a team with two seniors on its roster and zero seniors who play meaningful minutes. The Jayhawks are led by a nest full of players who aren’t legally old enough to drink a beer. That normally doesn’t lead to success in the NCAA Tournament. Since Kansas reached the title game in 2012, Kansas has failed to make it past the Sweet 16. The last time that happened was in 2010 when the Jayhawks were the No. 1 overall seed and Northern Iowa bounced them in the second round.
Junior Perry Ellis has emerged as the team’s most consistent player. After seeing minimal playing time as a freshman, Ellis’ was thrust into a starting role as a sophomore and responded by averaging 13.5 points per game. As a junior, Ellis has bumped his scoring to 14.2 points per game and collects seven rebounds per game as well.
Sophomore point guard Frank Mason has already played more than twice as many minutes as he did when he was a freshman. He, too, has responded with a better than 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is second on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game and is shooting 45.3 percent from the floor.
Two of the most highly touted freshman, Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, have had their bright moments, too.
Oubre really struggled to find playing time during the beginning of the season. He averaged 8.2 minutes per game over the first seven games, but has seen increased action since Dec. 10. He scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a Dec. 20 victory over Lafayette. He has scored in double-figures in 12 of his last 20 games.
Alexander has had a little more trouble seeing consistent minutes because he plays behind Ellis. He is also in trouble with the NCAA on an issue referring to eligibility that has caused him to miss the last two games, but Self is hopeful Alexander will return to the court soon. Alexander has reached double-figures in scoring nine times this season.
When I look at this Kansas team, I feel that something is missing. The Jayhawks have always had one standout player. Last year it was Andrew Wiggins. Ben McLemore was before him. In 2012, it was Thomas Robinson and before Robinson it was Marcus and Markieff Morris.
They don’t have that one guy this season.
This Jayhawk squad makes me feel empty inside. While they are 23-6, they’ve had bad losses to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and previously mentioned Temple.
In terms of statistics, the Jayhawks are nothing special, either. The only two categories they rank in the top 25 is rebounding and free throws made. They have turned the ball over 25 more times than their opponents.
The Jayhawks have played very good defense, though. They are holding opponents to 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 32 percent from three.
However, I think it’s going to be extremely tough to win games in the NCAA Tournament with a junior and a bunch of underclassmen. I could see the Jayhawks losing their second game of the tournament.
Here’s an interesting stat: of the Jayhawks six losses, five have come on the road and one was at a neutral site.
Too bad the Jayhawks can’t play tournament games at home.