Don't panic, KU will be just fine

By Steve Sell
November 02, 2016

No matter how the Kansas Jayhawks performed on Tuesday against in-state Division II school Washburn, it wasn’t going to be good enough for the customary 16,300 rabids who regularly squeeze into the old Allen Field House Barn.

The Jayhawks had no chance to live up to the hype. They have been ranked in the Top 5 of every poll conceivable and basically given a free pass to their 13th straight Big 12 championship by the media.

So when KU took the court, it was expected to make every shot, grab every rebound and not allow Washburn to even breathe on the offensive end. The fans were expecting something like 100-50.

Of course, the bar wound up being set pretty low by the time it completed a 92-74 victory. Bill Self’s neck could have been used to fry an egg after Washburn outhustled his team all night, at one point having a 12-rebound advantage before the final margin was down to 1. KU also was forced into a horrendous 24 turnovers.

There’s a group of alleged KU fans who troll the Internet message boards that are referred to as “the chicken littles.” This game certainly threw them more red meat than they can handle. I’m sure for them, the sky was falling.

Listen. KU will be fine. You can throw this game away except for Frank Mason, the toy bulldog four-year point guard who showed why he could be one of the best players in the country. He was an assist shy of a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. I would never have expected Mason to play that long to accumulate such numbers, but KU’s lack of point guards once you get past Mason and Devonte’ Graham has to be a concern — since Mason graduates after this year and Graham could be NBA-bound.

Self used one of his favorite words — “soft” — to describe the play of his big men. Carlton Bragg was a virtual no-show and spent much of the game in Self’s doghouse. Landen Lucas and the massive Udoka Azubuike were plagued by fouls. Mitch Lightfoot was active, but probably won’t play in high-leverage situations as he’s not physically ready. He did show a nose for the ball by grabbing 7 rebounds. Dwight Coleby, a redshirt big man, didn’t show anything that led me to believe he’s going to be a counted-on performer.

Then there’s the freshman Josh Jackson. Talk about somebody set up to fail, he was supposed to be LeBron and Kobe rolled into one. And, no, he didn’t walk on water in his debut.

He was beyond horrible in the first half and I’m sure the “chicken littles” were calling him a fraud. But he settled his nerves in the second half to score all 14 of his points. He’s a work in progress, not the first-team All-American that some anointed him before the season. But he’s going to be very, very good.

His final line was 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 turnovers. There’s no question he’s a talent, but fans need to tamp down their unrealistic expectations. This is Mason’s team, along with Lucas and Graham. Jackson is going to be more of a complementary player before he heads off to the NBA next year.

It was good to see McPherson’s Drew Pyle get in for 16 minutes. If he can score 9 points against KU, he’s got a chance to really be a factor for the Ichabods. He drained a couple of 3-pointers and didn’t act like he didn’t belong. If you would have told him a year ago that he’d be going up against Mason as a freshman in his first college game, I’m not sure he would have believed it.

KU can erase the bad taste Sunday when it plays another exhibition against Emporia State. I’m guessing practice the rest of the week for the Jayhawks will hardly be pleasant. Don’t expect KU to get beat on the boards, play matador defense and turn it over 24 times as they did against the Ichabods.