I have always been more of a reader than a contributor to forums like this. Like the rest of you, I’m extremely passionate about KU Basketball and I spend a completely unnecessary amount of time and energy pouring through articles, blogs and anything else I can find to satiate my KU hoops appetite. It’s always been entertaining to me to digest the knee-jerk reactions, analyses, theories and prognostications shared between you fine folks.
Going into last night’s game, I was fairly confident we would bounce back and build off of the tough loss on Saturday. I thought that the ship would begin to point North a bit and some strides would be taken towards becoming the cohesive, formidable team I’m still very confident we will see by the end of the year. Please note that all of these positive things can happen without coming out of a hostile, raucous road environment against a veteran, tough, tourney-tested team with a win. In fact, I thought we would lose this game (I know, what a terrible fan I am…)
Much has been said about the landmines sprinkled out over this schedule. When I first saw it, I predicted that we would be looking at 4 losses by the time we trek it down to Norman to start the conference season. Just like everyone else, I was guilty of amping up my expectations after the Duke win. Those expectations weren’t fair and they clearly weren’t accurate given that KU is still an extremely young team (which got even younger last night with 4 Freshman starters) with minimal big-time College Basketball floor experience playing one of the toughest non-con schedules in the country. Thankfully, these road warriors are now looking at a few home games.
There are obviously, several things that need work (including ballhandling, rebounding, etc.) and the lineup is still sorting itself out but instead of dwelling on these things, I think there are some positive things to note:
- Granted, the first half was abysmal. They were clearly rattled and confused by the switching zones that Florida presented. They threw the ball around the gym, dribbled off their feet, ran into each other on rebounds and seemed to miss every shot that they were actually able to throw up. But all of these things didn’t seem to be due to lack of effort – in fact, most of them seemed due to “overtrying”. Not that these mistakes are completely excusable since the boys were “trying hard”, but it’s easy (especially for a young team) to fold up in that kind of environment against a team that clearly has the mojo.
- When we weren’t chucking the ball all around the gym and we were able to get some shots off, they were actually falling. There was obviously a litany of easy layups that didn’t drop (I’m looking at you, Tarik Black), but for a team that was struggling from deep, it was great to see some shots going in. 42% from behind the arc is encouraging. That’s the equivalent of 60% from the 2-point floor. I’ll take it.
- When Dickie V wasn’t apologizing on behalf of Wiggins for the “inexperienced backcourt” that couldn’t seem to get him the ball, he made several comments about how it seemed like the score should be worse. I found myself thinking the same thing. Somehow there is some resiliency to this team that showed sparks of it in the first half and a lot of it in the second. They got their asses handed to them on the offensive glass in the first half with Florida getting two, sometimes three shots every trip down the floor. They were able to man up a bit in the second and they did a great job of taking 9th-year senior Patrick Young out of the game a bit.
- Wilbekin has an extremely punchable face. It was extremely frustrating every time he squashed a run or hit a big shot (and it seemed to happen with precision frequency). Until… Wiggins took up the assignment. I love it when Wiggins gets a chance to take on the opposing teams best scorer. He seems to be capable of guarding multiple positions (including post players as evidenced by his shutting down of Julius Randle in the summer circuit last year). Hopefully Coach Self can trust him to stay out of foul trouble enough to give us our defensive stopper.
- I’ve read a lot of comments about “shaken confidence” and perhaps this team has been humbled a bit (which isn’t a bad thing). However, I think the way they battled back on the road against a top 20 team (and now that they’re full-strength, Florida may wind up being a Top 10 opponent) and were just a couple bounces and a few preventable turnovers short of a win is an incredibly optimistic sign. We cut our turnovers in half from the first half to the second and were a bad no-call and an inexcusable turnover away from making it a 4-point game with roughly 2 minutes left. After watching the first half and knowing where it could’ve potentially gone, I think that is a remarkable achievement.
We’re heading back to AFH (after a quick stop in KC). Friendly faces and quality opponents await, but I still believe it’s only up from here. I think it’s just important to realize we’re much closer to the ’06 team than the ’08 team. Call me naïve but I’m buckled up and ready to enjoy the ride…