KU still on top, but it's a struggle

By Steve Sell
February 07, 2018

The Kansas Jayhawks seemingly can’t do anything the easy way anymore.

KU survived an upset bid by TCU 71-64 on Tuesday, with the outcome not determined until the final minute.

This is something KU fans just have to get used to this year. Generally the Jayhawks dispatch with teams at home to the point where the walk-ons mop up the final couple of minutes while KU fans yell the haunting “Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU” chant.

When’s the last time we heard that? KU has either won games at the end or lost. The Jayhawks are 6-3 in their last nine games at home after being 102-3 in the previous 105.

Despite this season of tumult, the Jayhawks find themselves on top in the Big 12 by a half-game over Texas Tech, one of the surprise teams in college basketball. Even after the Red Raiders went into The Phog and stunned KU, many thought it was an aberration and they would go away and be a second-division team like they normally are.

But Tech has had surprising staying power and is even ranked in the Top 10. It shouldn’t have much trouble tonight at home with Iowa State, though anything is possible. West Virginia, which outlasted Oklahoma on Monday, is dangerously lurking a game back.

Even in victory, the Jayhawks gave plenty of cause to make their fans squirm. TCU had a nice lead in the first half behind some 3-point shooting while Malik Newman and Svi were MIA most of the night.

Coach Bill Self gave Mitch Lightfoot the start in place of Lagerald Vick. Lightfoot brought some energy to the team, but he’s not a guy who’s the answer in the long term. Lightfoot goes in bursts and I have a feeling if he winds up playing heavy minutes, he’ll probably wear down since he’s somewhat undersized.

I continue to marvel at Devonte’ Graham. He plays 40 minutes almost every game and you can just see the fatigue in his face. It showed at the end of the game against TCU as he missed 3 of 5 free throws down the stretch as his legs were simply gone. Self has no true backup point guard on his team this year, one reason he’ll have two next year so he doesn’t get caught in this trap again.

The Jayhawks’ barometer, though, is Udoka Azubuike. When he’s on the floor the Jayhawks’ offense goes through him, when he’s in foul trouble it’s a plodding KU team that struggles in the halfcourt.

Transition baskets are something else that KU just doesn’t have this year. It also doesn’t seem to put together lengthy runs, those 10-0 or 12-0 skeins where the crowd splits ears with its deafening approval.

Still, KU is where it always is — on top. If it somehow wins or shares its 14th title in a row, it will definitely have earned it.