The Late Whistle: KU 77, Duke 75

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In the gleeful text exchange aftermath with my family immediately following the Jayhawks’ victory over Duke last night, I wrote: “I will say that I don’t want to play them again – they might be adding three lottery picks within the next couple of weeks. We could be one of their only losses all year.”

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Suits from Nike’s Brian “Benchwarmer” Scalabrine collection.

In reading every story & summary about the game I could since then, it seems that is a shared feeling. I don’t recall anyone specifically saying that KU only won because Duke didn’t have its full complement of players, but it could definitely have been inferred (for example, this article by Jeff Goodman of ESPN). For the rest of the season, as long as both teams play to their expected levels, anytime this game is brought up it will probably be followed with some version of, “Duke’s top players didn’t play” – almost like an asterisk to KU’s win. And, based on the text I sent to my family, I originally would have understood this type of qualifier. Originally

After thinking about it more today though, I’m less accepting of any such invisible asterisk. Unless we meet again in the NCAA Tournament there’s no way of knowing how a game would play out with both teams at full strength, but I did have a few thoughts:

  • The trio of freshmen that everyone is excited about, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, are definitely top-tier recruits as they were ranked the overall #1, 3 and 16 players in last year’s class. But it’s not like what was out on the court was chopped liver – the six players for Duke that played a majority of the minutes were all, yes all, McDonald’s All-Americans and ranked anywhere from the #10 to #36 recruit in the nation out of high school. And don’t forget that Grayson Allen is the consensus preseason pick for Player of the Year.
  • Even if you assume that the three freshmen who sat would start, it would have given Duke a much different lineup as they would have been more traditional instead of more of a small-ball oriented one. Maybe a more traditional lineup would have resulted in Azubuike, Bragg and Lucas being able to stay out of foul trouble and on the floor for longer since they weren’t having to play out of position and chase smaller, perimeter players. Duke’s traditional lineup would probably have evened the rebounds, but it’s also reasonable to assume that it wouldn’t have ended up going 8-19 from the three-point line and they may have suffered from more turnovers than the 16 the three- (and sometimes four-) guard lineup ended up with.
  • Lastly, KU was horrible from the three-point line and the charity stripe, shooting 2-17 (!!!) and 9-19 (!!!) respectively. Graham, Mason and Svi shot 44%, 38% and 38% from the outside last season. Last night, those three were a combined 1-10 (!!!). Maybe it was an off night, maybe having to chase guards wore them down, maybe playing an OT game in Hawaii just a few days before wore them down – whatever the reason, I doubt those three shoot that poorly again the rest of the season.

In any event, after mulling these and other “rationalizations,” I think meeting Duke again in the tourney would be fun and – even though they would probably be favored (at least at this point) – I’d like our chances.

Other thoughts:

  • The season isn’t even a week old, but Frank Mason is the clear leader at this point for Player of the Year. Check out this nice article on Frank being KU’s next folk hero at SBNation.
  • Lucas seems to be a bit off, but I think Azubuike could take his place as starter before the end of the 2016. I also don’t see the two sharing much time on the court as neither of them are reliable, interior passers that could make such a combination deadly.
  • If the Josh Jackson we saw in the second half that had 9 points in three minutes is the Josh Jackson we should get used to seeing…wowza. My prediction was that the success of the season would depend on Jackson’s and Bragg’s development, but if JJ can control his emotions (just a little, though – I like me some fire) and adjust to how the game is called while still playing free and aggressive, whatever Bragg brings might just be gravy. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News seems to agree with me.
  • I’m choosing to believe that this is about as battle-tested as a team could get in the non-conference schedule, let alone in the first two games. I fully expect Coach Self to parlay this into accelerating the team’s development.
  • Despite how KU is 1-1 and seemed to grind out last night’s game, the Jayhawks are currently ranked 4th in offensive and 6th in defensive efficiency. Yes – it’s early and no major team has played more than three games, but given how most, name-brand teams are playing multi-directional schools to kick off their seasons, this is somewhat surprising to me. Take it with a grain (or shaker) of salt, but this is bodes well given how we’ve played IU and Duke with a team that still needs some time to gel into a cohesive unit.
  • Lastly, I realize it’s not fair to compare the two, but I couldn’t help but think of how Ben Simmons was shown entering the locker room after a big game & interview in his “One & Done” documentary (which I highly recommend watching, by the way) when I saw how Frank Mason was greeted last night entering the locker room after his interview. It’s quite the contrast:

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I love seeing the team being excited for each other.

Here’s to many more of those celebrations this year – Rock Chalk!

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