WSU-KU:it's all about toughness

By Steve Sell
March 23, 2015

Now we know why Kansas coach Bill Self has been avoiding Wichita State.

Maybe in the deep recesses of Self’s mind he has doubts about his McDonald’s All-American-filled squads. Maybe he knows they don’t have the physical and mental toughness of the veteran Shockers, who have built their program on the mantra of “Play Angry.”

There was no question which was the better team on Sunday. The Shockers, after taking one on the chin early as they were down by eight, dominated the final 24 minutes for a 78-65 victory, a margin that probably was flabbergasting to most, except to those who watched the game unfold and saw how gritty these Shockers were.

Give all the credit to Wichita State. Its experience was the difference, as its seniors and juniors gave a basketball lesson to KU’s sophomores and freshmen. It was kind of like men against boys in the second half in terms of toughness. Wichita State said “boo” and Kansas jumped.

A loose ball on the floor? The Shockers got it. Need a key 3-pointer? Evan Wessel was there to provide it. A change from a man defense to zone? Nothing a couple of WSU 3-pointers won’t dispel.

Everything Self tried didn’t work. WSU coach Gregg Marshall had an answer for every strategy and his team followed his blueprint to the letter. The Jayhawks started panicking about the 16-minute mark and were reduced to flinging harmless 3-pointers that for the most part clanked. They had a size advantage inside, but were at a severe disadvantage in execution.

The only worry WSU fans might have is that with such an utter domination of Kansas, Marshall’s already-burgeoning stock went through the roof. He is going to be a bull on the open coaching market and the leading candidate for every opening. He’s got a good thing going at Wichita State, and most likely will return Wessel, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet next year, plus his bench. Does he want to continue to be a big fish in a little pond or try to make it with the whales after knocking off one of the Shamus of college basketball?

Since losing to Kentucky in the 2012 national championship game, the Jayhawks have been little more than a footnote in the NCAA Tournament. They are 4-3 in their last seven games and while Self can coach at KU as long as he wants, some fans are getting antsy about being spectators for the Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final 4.

I think anyone who thought KU would make a deeper run was thinking with their heart and not their head. This team already was flawed before the bizarre Cliff Alexander saga unfolded. It had no inside scoring presence other than Perry Ellis and after lighting it up from 3-point for 2/3 of the season, KU proved that relying on treys is Fool’s Gold as its touch turned to stone. 

It was a team that was built more on style than substance, as Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden are nowhere near ready for the NBA as their pre-arrival credentials suggested. Selden’s already shattered confidence probably hit an all-time low after his 0-for-5 shooting performance. Right now all three would be D-League drifters as they are not mentally ready for the NBA and in Oubre’s case, physically ready.

Who knows the future of all three. I don’t think Alexander will ever play again as given the time it’s taken to make a ruling on his situation, it can’t be good. Oubre and Selden should come back, but my guess is Oubre will be gone and Selden will return, especially after NBA scouts saw him flopping and flailing about like a fish out of water on Sunday.

Self does have a chance to return his most veteran team in a while. Frank Mason III is a quality point guard and Ellis is a very good college player whose career may end after KU since he doesn’t have the physical toughness to play in the NBA. Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, Brannen Greene, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailuk all can come back as well, so there’s a good base.

Self must recruit a low-post presence with some size (Lucas has the size, but is limited offensively) and probably another wing player since I think Oubre is gone and Greene is so poor defensively as he’s at best a sixth-man type off the bench.

For the first time, KU is no longer Big Brother of Kansas basketball. Wichita State proved that on Sunday. That alone should motivate Self and the Jayhawks next season.