After ending the non-conference schedule with a seemingly tepid record – particularly when factoring in having one of the most hyped-freshmen & freshmen classes – most of the popular basketball headlines focused on KU were the following:
(Great book, by the way. Too bad recently the same question has been asked about Kansas’ public education system.)
It may have been a bit over-the-top – and definitely over-used (obviously I’m guilty here, too) – but you could understand the genesis of the question.
For the most part, analysts said similar things: KU has a young team and is learning to play not only at the college level but with each other. KU has one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. KU didn’t play at home for nearly a month. Bill Self’s teams usually improve in the conference season, and with 9 straight conference titles as validation, it’s not quite time to hit the panic button. All of these are correct, and from a movie analogy standpoint – if you squinted a little bit – you could say the situation was “Bluto-esque”:
Before tonight’s 90-83 win over Oklahoma, out of KU’s 13 games the Jayhawks played 8 teams that are currently expected to make this year’s NCAA tournament. Though that’s impressive, a .500 record from those 8 games seems rather pedestrian until you look closely – those losses came against teams currently projected to be seeded 2, 3, 4 and 4 (Villanova, SDSU, Colorado and Florida respectively). By a combined total of 17 points. With CU and Florida as true road games and Villanova in the Bahamas. (Yeah, losing to SDSU at home hurts, but still…) That’s a pretty good showing, and to paraphrase Bluto from above, the season wasn’t close to being over with a record of 9-4.
This is particularly good when you also factor in that KU is a team that’s ranked #348 in Kenpom’s experience statistic (out of 351 teams). To be successful however, this team is going to have to accelerate the learning curve and become – according to Vince Vaughn as Trent Walker in Swingers – “all grows up”:
To be “All Grows Up”, you have to be consistent and able to be counted on when the going gets tough. Being All Grows Up is definitely a first cousin of how Bill Self describes being soft, but All Grows Up is cooler with an entertaining YouTube video to help illustrate it. So looking at tonight’s win, did any of our little babies All Grows Up?
In a word – No.
Perry Ellis is probably the closest, but his impotence against SDSU definitely worked against him. Even in tonight’s win, though Ellis had 11 rebounds, there were a couple of plays where he didn’t box out and seemed lackadaisical – he was even called out on his lack of effort by Jay Bilas. Andrew Wiggins is KU’s best defender, but will need to become more consistent with his jumper and stop missing a maddening number of shots at the rim when he drives. It was nice that Wayne Selden had a big scoring night, but we’ll have to see if he can be a threat game in and game out. Tarik Black, who I expected to be All Grows Up from day one of the season, can’t stay on the court for more than a few minutes due to foul trouble. I’m even going to factor in Bill Self to this evaluation – he’s obviously proven himself as a Hall of Fame coach, but for this season and with this particular team, will he be able to find the justright combination of motivation & inspiration, and the right style of play?
From this point on, KU BALLS will watch games to determine who on the team is All Grows Up. After all, at some point – to be considered a good team – you simply have to win.