The Kansas Jayhawks have arrived at the fork in the road.
The Jayhawks, who are still a creditable 16-4 though it seems a lot worse, close out January tonight with a road game at Texas before hitting it hard throughout February.
It’s hard to believe the Jayhawks have won just one — that’s right, one — true road game this season. They are 1-4 away from Allen Field House, which can only keep them afloat in the Big 12 race for so long.
The Jayhawks find themselves in a dogfight in the Big 12, as they so often do heading into February. Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State are worthy challengers in what to me is a down year for the conference. I don’t really see a Final Four team, or even an Elite Eight team, coming out of the Big 12. Heck, it may be lucky to have two teams in the Sweet 16.
It’s time for Kansas to shift into its typical overdrive. To do that, it needs to win tonight.
The Jayhawks barely escaped the Longhorns at Allen Field House, but they can say that about a lot of teams. They’ve been the masters of extraction, getting themselves in trouble but finding ways to get out of it.
But just look at this stretch of three games coming up. Given how this team is playing on the road, I give it a 50-50 shot at best at winning tonight. Then it comes home on Saturday to take on Texas Tech, which is a chance to put some distance between itself and the Red Raiders. Then it’s on to the Octagon of Doom in Manhattan, where I don’t like the Jayhawks’ chances at all.
No question the loss of Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending injury for the second time in three years was a killer. But the expected depth of the team was counted on to pick up the slack.
But the bench has shrunk. K.J. Lawson has shown few signs of being the player he was at Memphis and seldom finds his way on the court. Mitch Lightfoot has virtually disappeared, for what reason I have no idea because I like his energy. Charlie Moore, who was to provide instant offense on the bench, is so bad defensively that you wonder if he’s still on the team he gets so few of minutes.
David McCormack gets chances and doesn’t do badly, but it’s obvious he’s not trusted in crunch time because he’s so raw offensively. All that’s left is former redshirt Ochai Abagji, who at times looks good but not playing for such a long time slowed his progress.
Kansas is basically going to go as far as the starting five will take it. It is riding Dedric Lawson as hard as it can offensively since freshman guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes are maddeningly inconsistent. Marcus Garrett and Lagerald Vick can not be counted on game-in and game-out to deliver. Garrett is great defensively, but can’t shoot, while Vick has moments where he looks like he could play in the NBA, then others where he disappears and pouts.
This is just a very un-Bill Self-like team. As much as he tries to get through to this bunch, his voice isn’t being heard as it makes the same mistakes over and over. Kansas fans may just have to accept the fact this year is average by their rarefied standards and hope the Jayhawks return to their Final Four or Elite Eight ways next year.