Its the Apparent Embargo, Stupid: Life in an Age of Diminished KU Basketball Talent, When Basketball Expectations Still Soar with National Hype

  • KU makes beau coup money for a basketball program. Its combined TV, gate, memorabilia sales, and adidas contract make it more bucks up than its ever been and in the same league with the other elite programs–not bad for basketball program just east of wheat country in the CST in a low population state not endowed massively with oil, booze, or tobacco.

    But I’m not talkin’bout money, now, I’m talkin’bout talent.

    KU is no longer part of the elite teams.

    Or to put it another way, the elite teams have cleaved into super rich and the rich and KU is no where near the super rich and at the bottom of the rich and lives late recruiting season to late recruiting season sliding further and further onto the threshold of sub elite.

    MSU, despite its great accomplishments under Tom Izzo (notice I call him Tom now after he beat us fair and square without tire irons) has always been at the low end of the elite in terms talent. Izzo has always been able to have two star quality players in his line up, but rarely if ever more.

    KU under Self has often been able to field three such players, and always at least two, so for much of Self’s KU tenure Izzo has been beating Self, as he has been beating other coaches of elite programs with less talent.

    Now Self finds himself increasingly not equivalent to MSU in talent, but below MSU.

    Still, KU and MSU were at least comparable teams last night. Both could play sub-par games, though KU shot quite a bit worse, and play a close, exciting game.

    KU had one credible All Conference caliber player capable of staying on the floor with players from nationally ranked teams: Perry Ellis. MSU had two: Valentine and Costello.

    Top coaches like Izzo and Self can often hang around more talent with less talent, when they have the same number of impact players; i.e., when they have two or three impact players.

    But reduce a top coach to 1 true impact player, like, say, Perry Ellis, and sooner or later the rabbits stop hopping out of the top hats.

    This season the hype artists have crooned about KU having a potential Final Four team with great talent and depth and experience.

    Experience is the new elixir that dreams are made of among the less talented teams.

    Since KU is now out of the super elite for sure and teetering on the bottom edge of elite, experience is the word to hype the KU team to its fans.

    And that is what we have been served on a designer platter.

    Anyone that saw Kentucky play has to realize that this year’s KU team is not remotely in the same category of talent as UK and this is a down year for UK.

    This year’s KU team could hang around UK on a decent shooting night, and maybe win if UK stumbled badly.

    But this is an if hardly worth talking about.

    What matters is that KU is so diluted in talent that it has to play its A game to be lesser ranked teams like MSU.

    Self no longer has enough developed talent ready to play to resort to grind it out against even lesser ranked teams, when his guys are cold as Ice.

    Increasingly, KU has to play near its best to beat any ranked team.

    The days of beating Memphis for a ring with KU’s B game are long gone.

    KU can’t even beat a 13th, or 15th ranked MSU team with but two anchor players–Valentine and Costello–with it B-game.

    The apparent talent embargo is working.

    And until it is broken, KU’s talent level is going to keep declining is like to keep settling downward,

    Ironically, at the same time, fan expectations are going to keep going up so long as Big Media decides likely for television ratings and Big Gaming benefits to market KU as a top team, because of Self’s ability to create imitation silk purses out of at most top grain cowhide, and on the off seasons high great sow’s ears.

    Reality: Bill Self is starting Jamari Traylor at the 5 and backing him up with Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson.

    And his top recruit, Carlton Bragg, is a season away from being a player, and so is apprenticing to Perry Ellis at the four.

    Self is neither out of touch, as some suggest, nor is he in love with this player, nor down on that player. It wouldn’t have mattered which of his bigs he had played more than the ones he played a lot last night versus MSU. He got 7 points and 14 rebounds out of Traylor and Lucas. He might have gotten 14 and 11 out of Bragg, but he also would have gotten 4-6 turnovers and likely some kind of injury from playing against a team with guards that even outweigh him.

    Had Self played Mickelson, my preference, until Bragg has gotten half dozen warm up games against some non-Blue Meanies, Self likely would have gotten 12 points and 8 rebounds, a nose out the back of his head, and a bunch of fouls. The point here is that Self would have gained by playing other players in some ways, but he would have lost in others.

    Self clearly wanted to play Traylor to help recruiting in Chicago. Had Snacks not gotten busted for weed, he probably would have had Snacks out doing his dance on the sideline for the cameras and shouting: here I come Chicago recruits, get ready for the Snack man. But he did get busted, and so he had to keep a low profile.

    Self clearly wanted to protect Bragg from the physical play he expected against MSU, a decision I advocated strongly the day before the game.

    To me, it was a huge victory to get out of the MSU game with Bragg breathing normally and with both knees working normally. Bragg in this condition is someone we can now develop against a series of teams and actually improve ourselves in the long run for the season with.

    But back to recruiting talent and Bill Self.

    Self came to KU with the label of a guy that could recruit at least some of the best players in the country to KU. And he did.

    He was not billed as a guy that could bring you just the 20-50 guys, but a guy so dynamic and connected that he could get more guys than Roy brought and avoid the two greats, two nothings recruiting classes that Roy was so famous for, while recruiting half the country.

    Maybe Self was over sold as a recruiter, but until the adidas deal, I thought he brought in enough numbers of good players relative to what the competition did, that KU could stay competitive and hopefully slowly climb wrung by wrung up into the same class as the other elites.

    But after he signed Andrew Wiggins, which was supposed to open the flood gates on the 1-20 types three seasons ago (counting this one), Self has not pulled in the required 2-3 top players required to play the OAD game, at least, not the top two or three top players that can actually play immediately.

    And Self had terrible luck with his Wiggins, Embiid, Selden class, which was supposed to make it all happen, if I recall correctly. Maybe Selden was a class later, but I recall not.

    Wigs protected the merchandize. Embiid super nova-ed, but then went out with a back injury. Selden? Some combination of head and injury yielded a gutty player willing to play through, but one who has largely been a glue type starter and seems destined to be such, except when the competition is weak.

    Kelly Oubre last season could play, but again he had a weak knee. Svi? Wildly overrated. Just another potentially good ball player.

    Bragg this season: lots of promise. Some of the specific things this team needs–scoring out of the post and some length for rim protection. But skinny as a rail and so unlikely to be able to stay on a spot for 30 minutes till next season, even if Self starts him and plays him 20-30 mpg this season.

    Diallo? This was the guy that was supposed to save our bacon. And he can’t even get past the censors. And if he does he sounds like raw sushi at everything but rebounding; that means huge TO numbers per minute played.

    Where’s the BEEF? as the little old lady used to shout.

    The top recruits not only don’t start for Self, when they get here, they don’t look half as talented as the freshman that do start at UK, Duke, UNC, etc. Really, even after Oubre got it together some, he really never looked as good as any of the guys at Duke and UK last season. Had Oubre gone to Duke, or UK, last season, Oubre would have been a TAD for sure. He would most definitely have been second string at both places.

    Wigs is the only projected OAD Self has ever signed that could have lived up to his hype, had his handlers let him play at full speed. Wigs could turn it off and on like a light switch. He really was as good as everyone said, but too well managed to take any risk of injury at KU.

    So: Self’s ability to play this recruiting game. which now no longer apparently hinges on selling tradition, winning smiles, wise cracks and melting mother’s hearts, but apparently instead on down stream informal endorsement expectations, agency fee structures and how many pairs of comped shoes and how much players can sell them for, is greatly hampered.

    And so he is coaching with less and less, relative to the programs he was hired to compete and beat, regardless of what some recruiting rankings say about him currently having more 20-50, or 30-100 talent than most teams. He isn’t getting the horses as they used to call the top players, especially in the paint.

    And as the talent in recruiting classes has declined, the W&L statement, which finally does not lie, has trended downward from the 30+ win stratosphere that he maintained for a few seasons before the pernicious effects of the apparent embargo began to take serious effect.

    Self has kept finding ways to eek out conference titles by out maneuvering coaches in a conference similarly increasingly unable to sign top talent.

    But increasingly when KU plays a ranked team, KU has to play its A-game, or it doesn’t win.

    Self may have restocked the larder with a lot of 20-50 talent, and it may keep him winning conference titles in the diminished B12, but on the national scene, the effect of the apparent recruiting embargo is now beginning to be felt with its true force.

    The next step of decline will be that KU will not beat the ranked teams even when it brings its A-game.

    The loss to MSU may be a harbinger of that.

    MSU is a a very good team, but not an elite team in terms of talent.

    KU would have beaten MSU on a normal shooting night.

    But KU just wasn’t talented enough to get into a grind with Izzo and walk out with a W.

    MSU is of course tough to use as a yard stick of change, because Self has always had some trouble with Izzo, but one can recall a period when he was starting to close the gap with Tommie Tire Irons. But when Self has to play Traylor and Lucas big minutes, something has changed.

    Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, and likely LSU, Virginia, and Cal are at another level than KU now, regardless of how many recruiting points they score with the gurus vis a vis KU. Each those teams have two players that are arguably better than Ellis. And they each have several players better than Traylor, Lucas, and Mickelson (at least so far with Mick).

    The apparent embargo has worked.

    KU is still a dangerous team, because Self is a dangerous coach and KU has stockpiled a lot of shooters in lieu of being able to sign OAD big men, or OAD point guards, and it still plays pretty sticky defense. On a hot night, KU could beat any of the teams mentioned above, if they don’t bring their A-games. But the key is that KU HAS to be HOT, and play its A-game to have a prayer of winning.

    But if both teams bring their A-games, well, KU’s front court is Jamari Traylor, Landon Lucas and Hunter Mickelson, with Perry Ellis and an apprenticing Carlton Bragg.

    There is a difference between KU’s front court and the front courts of the other schools mentioned–a distinct difference.

    They are sharply more talented.

    Unless Bragg develops at the speed of light and Diallo escapes clearance hell things are going to remain this way there rest of the season.

    Embargos allowed to go on long enough can starve anything, or anyone.

    So: to reiterate the title of the post–Its the apparent embargo, stupid. Its life in an age of diminished KU basketball talent, when basketball expectations still soar with national hype.

    And then crash when reality is confronted.

  • @jaybate-1.0 How many people do you have on your writing staff!?

  • @jaybate-1.0 what happened w/the remote?

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    Ordered a new one. Playing Wii till it arrives.😄

  • @Makeshift

    Goes in spurts. When everyone else is in a lot of pain, I try to kick a little extra to get us to next. I used to really be able to crank it all the time, but I got sick a couple years ago and now I have to pace myself.

  • @jaybate-1.0 did you see the game?

  • @jaybate-1.0 So how do we plug this bleeding & get the embargo off our backs? Or are we at dead end?

  • @HawksWin

    So how do we plug this bleeding & get the embargo off our backs?

    Every single Williams Fund member tells Zenger: “It’s Adidas or me, you choose.”

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    Yup. Went to a bar cause I had to be away from the nest for other things and didn’t want to watch on my phone.

    Worked out good. Good singer at the bar.

  • @ParisHawk said:


    So how do we plug this bleeding & get the embargo off our backs?

    Every single Williams Fund member tells Zenger: “It’s Adidas or me, you choose.”

    No, that’s not how you do it. You do it by stop recruiting the kids that are ranked high enough that come under big shoe influence. Once you get past 20ish in most years, those kids aren’t heavily influenced because they aren’t projected out to be useful to big shoe. Let UCLA go back to being the top dog at Adidas and let KU have their choice of the 20-75 kids that are UK and Duke’s fall backs for when they crap out on kids which happens regularly.

    It’s happened time and again where those 20-75 kids as juniors and seniors beat the OAD all-stars in the tournament. The current recruiting model has been around since 2007 when the OAD rule went into effect and big shoe couldn’t push their chosen ones straight to the NBA and only 2 teams that were OAD heavy have won titles. Kentucky in 2012 and Duke last year. Every other title since 2007 has been won by the junior and senior heavy teams of 20-75 players.

Log in to reply