You don’t hear a lot of push from the experts for the Kansas Jayhawks in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
About midseason, the Jayhawks were on the tip of everyone’s Final Four tongue. With Joel Embiid, the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, zooming up charts as the overall No. 1 NBA draft pick, along with fellow just-scratching-the-surface freshman Andrew Wiggins by his side, KU was thought to be a lock for a deep run.
But the steam has run out of this team. Embiid’s bad back may mean he’s coming back to KU for another year as he could realize he’s not physically strong enough yet to take the nightly NBA poundings and he’s still a raw work in progress despite all his physical gifts. Another year under the tutelage of KU’s legendary strength coach Andrea Hudy could turn him into a certifiable physical monster, not to mention the coaching he would receive from Bill Self.
Embiid isn’t expected to play this week and it’s hoped he’ll be ready for the Sweet 16 if the team somehow gets that far. But even if he is, he’s going to be rusty. He’ll just be a fraction of the player he was in January when he was so dominant.
Wiggins has stepped up his game in Embiid’s absence, putting this team on his shoulders. He has seemed to come out of his shell when he yielded to others and was just trying to fit in. He’s still a so-so shooter and has trouble finishing at the rim. But I know 67 other teams in this tournament that would love to have him on their team. Wiggins will leave KU as one of its best-ever freshmen, though he left us wanting so much more.
Without Embiid, though, this team will have at the most a three-game run. The problem is that point guard Naadir Tharpe seemingly has dropped off the face of the earth. He was so good in January and early February, but he’s reverted to his old ways by making silly turnovers and can’t guard at all. He gets bounced around like a pinball, and more and more teams are starting to attack him.
Wayne Selden, the other guard, has had a typical inconsistent freshman year, one that begs for a return for a second year. But I’m not sure if his support staff will allow it since he came in so heralded. I can’t conceive a scenario where he’d go in the first round of the draft. He’s got a football body that NBA scouts like, but doesn’t have a great handle and shoots it erratically.
Perry Ellis is still rather one-dimensional, really good offensively but struggles on the defensive end. His passiveness and lack of fire are his biggest drawbacks, as too often he stands and watches.
Tarik Black tries hard, but he’s a foul waiting to happen. With Embiid out for at least two games, Black could be the team's barometer. If he can’t stay on the floor, KU is left with Jamari Traylor (who really can’t guard) and untested Landon Lucas.
Brannen Greene has been getting more minutes, but doesn’t seem to get much accomplished when he’s on the floor. Freshman guards Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp have had their moments, but Mason plays too out of control and probably leads the world in getting his shot blocked. After having seen Frankamp in high school, it just stuns me when he misses an open shot. I keep waiting for a game where he makes about three of four in a row, but I can’t remember him making back-to-back shots in a long time. If he’s not making 3s, he serves little purpose because he’s overmatched on the defensive end.
This is by far the worst defensive team in Bill Self’s tenure, which goes back to it being so young. Defense wins championships and since that’s KU’s glaring weakness, this team is going to end up with 10 losses on the season, somebody a lot of people probably didn’t see coming.