Thoughts on Friday's NCAA tourney

By Steve Sell
March 22, 2014

One guy’s opinion of KU, Wichita State, Kansas State and Brad Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks after a wild, wonderful and wacky Friday of college basketball...

• JUST AS I CALLED IT — Somebody asked me today if I posted yesterday’s column AFTER the KU-Eastern Kentucky game.

The answer is no. But maybe I’ve seen this KU team play so much that I can almost predict exactly what is going to happen.

I said Eastern Kentucky’s quickness and 3-point shooting would put KU in an early hole and Jayhawk fans would get “sweaty palms.” Sure enough, the Jayhawks found themselves staring at an early deficit and my prediction of Naadir Tharpe melting down became a reality.

KU hardly played its best game. It didn’t take advantage of its inside dominance in the first half and couldn’t throw it in the ocean from 3-point, where it failed the entire day without a single make — almost unheard of in this age of college basketball.

In the second half, the Jayhawks put away the 3-pointer and turned the game into a dunkfest. They’re going to have to be much better against Stanford or it will be an early exit.

The star of the game definitely was Conner Frankamp. He picked the perfect time to play the best game of his career, rescuing the flummoxed Tharpe, whose horrendous decline has this team in a quandary.

Frankamp did not commit a turnover in 25 minutes and ran the team with aplomb. He made good decisions, which entailed getting the ball to Jamari Traylor (who also played his best-ever game), Perry Ellis and Tarik Black around the rim. Then, of course, Andrew Wiggins slashed his way to 19 points even though it didn’t seem like he was getting that much done. 

The big question, of course, is what to do with Tharpe. My guess is that Bill Self will start him Sunday, but he’s on a no-tolerance policy. His confidence is totally mind-blown, as he had four turnovers in just 21 minutes and didn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. He still makes the lazy, one-handed passes and puts the ball in front of the defense, finding himself tied up on occasion.

I think it’s fortunate that KU is playing Stanford instead of New Mexico. The Lobos had the better talent, but dug themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of.

I still look for KU to win just one more. Without Joel Embiid, it’s basically a Top 20 team, not Top 10. Even if Embiid is back, it could hurt KU more than help it since he’s so rusty.

• WSU LOOKED SOLID — This is what a No. 1 seed is supposed to do against a No. 16.

Wichita State overwhelmed Cal Poly 64-37 in steely, cold-blooded, methodical fashion. The Shockers rocketed out of the gates behind Cleanthony Early, who was their only double-figure scorer with 23 points.

No Shocker played more than 28 minutes, which should bode well for Sunday’s expected physical tussle with Kentucky. Early and Tekele Cotton didn’t even play half the game as the Shocker bench was able to gobble up minutes to save some wear and tear.

Kentucky’s length will certainly bother WSU. But this could be a game where brains triumphs over brawn. The Shockers just need to run their stuff and wait for Kentucky to make the mistakes.

• NOT ENOUGH FIREPOWER — My biggest fears about Kansas State going into its game with Kentucky were confirmed.

Scoring points has been the Wildcats’ biggest problem when they go on the road. While they were competitive and hardly overmatched in a 56-49 loss, they simply didn’t have enough arsenal to win.

Most of the scoring came from three players, Marcus Foster (15), Shane Southwell (11) and Thomas Gipson (10). Will Spradling’s final game will unfortunately be forgettable (1 of 8, 3 points), while the five starters managed only 35 points. That just won’t get it done.

Kansas State’s size disadvantage was glaring as despite its physical style it was outboarded by 12, 40-28. Freshman Julius Randle was a beast with 19 points and 15 rebounds, as KSU had no answer for him.

Still, it was a good year for Bruce Weber in his second go-around with the Wildcats and he has a lot of good, young talent. He must, however, land a 6-9 or 6-10 type of inside presence, as Gipson is better suited to play power forward. Weber has the program on the right track, he just needs to add a few more pieces.

• HOORAY FOR UNDERWOOD — McPherson native Brad Underwood has his Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in the field of 32.

In one of the most exciting finishes in the tournament so far, the Lumberbacks overcame a double-digit second-half deficit and used a rare 4-point play to tie the game, forcing overtime against tourney veteran VCU. In the OT, the Lumberjacks were able to make enough plays to pull the third No. 12 victory over a No. 5 seed in the tourney.

Underwood’s team now plays legendary UCLA in the next round on Sunday. Again, the Lumberjacks will be giving away a lot of size, but they’ve won 29 games in a row by overcoming all obstacles.