And Happy Holidays to you, Dr. James Naismith . . .
You know how some Christmas cards bring you up to date on the news? This one is about your adopted state of Kansas. Truth is, things are a little tense at the moment for the college basketball teams.
Oh, the Kansas Jayhawks are still unbeaten, and with Gonzaga’s loss Sunday, might even be back to No. 1. So how much can be wrong? But actually, they’ve been on the wobbly side. Seems like they’re behind every game. Matter of fact, they’ve trailed by at least seven points in six of their eight games, and two went overtime. Saturday at home against New Mexico State, they were lucky to get out of Kansas City, Mo., in one piece. They’re also tied for 300th in the nation in free throw shooting, and that won’t work.
The big guy, Udoka Azubuike, is hurt. Lagerald Vick was late to a shootaround and had a tough week. Freshman phenom Quentin Grimes has not quite played up to the phenom part yet. The starting lineup against New Mexico State added up to 380 inches of Jayhawks — average height 6-4 — which was the shortest in the Bill Self era. And all this comes against a non-conference schedule with few free passes.
Kansas survives a scare from New Mexico State in the Jayhawk Shootout! pic.twitter.com/NCuNLnYaiZ— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 9, 2018
Self did not sound like a happy man after the latest close call. “We’re not very good right now,” he said, calling on his team to play with more confidence, more focus, more purpose. “You can list the things we don’t do from a competitive and thinking standpoint, it’s just unbelievable.
“(I don’t know) how in the world we’ve won these games.”
They’ll find their A game. They always do. But until then, no night seems safe. Doesn’t sound as if Self envisions a No. 1 ranking when he looks out at practice.
Meanwhile, Kansas State has gone from top-10 team in the coaches’ poll to losing consecutive games, including a 47-46 defensive stuffing at Tulsa. Coach Bruce Weber must see the Tulsa zone in his sleep. The Wildcats shot 30.5 percent against the Hurricane. In a loss to Tulsa last season, they shot 31.6. Clang, clang.
“We have still got to learn and figure out some things,” Weber said. “Wish it was a little smoother, but sometimes, you have to go through some of this to take steps forward.” He particularly hopes to light a fire beneath his star, Dean Wade. “We need more out of him. Right now, he isn’t aggressive enough.”
Despite having just two points in the first half, Dedric Lawson went on to finish with 18 points in the second half (16 in the final 11 minutes) and lead #KUbball to a win over New Mexico State pic.twitter.com/BxwTWVCjvv— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) December 9, 2018
Then there’s Wichita State. Trying times for Gregg Marshall, who has averaged 28.7 victories the past nine years. But only 11 percent of the playing minutes returned to the roster this season, he’s playing a batch of freshmen — and this ain't Duke. Working in all the new faces will sometimes be painful. Saturday, for instance.
The 80-48 mashing the Shockers took against Oklahoma was their most lopsided loss in more than 15 years, and leaves them 4-4. Reporters asked Marshall afterward if there was anything positive to take away from such a thrashing. Quick answer.
“I get to go home.”
It came on Dec. 8, 2018. The last time the Shockers were held under 50 points in a game was Dec. 8, 2008, so happy 10th anniversary. They might want to be idle on Dec. 8, 2028.
The 24.2 field goal percentage against the Sooners was Wichita State’s worst in more than 20 years, but wasn’t that much out of recent character, since the Shockers are tied for 306th in the country in shooting.
They don’t normally lose much in your state, do they, Dr. Naismith? Well, except when you were around. You may have invented this game, but you remain the only Kansas Jayhawks coach in history with a career losing record, back in more patient, forgiving times. Put those numbers up now and they’d tell you and your peach basket to take a hike.
These three teams are all led by accomplished coaches, so they’re likely to manage their teams through most rough spots — as Kansas tries to gel, Kansas State looks for second wind, and Wichita State tries not to finish eighth in the American as predicted.
That’s all for now, Doc. Season’s greetings.
P.S. We'll know more Saturday, when Villanova visits Kansas. Last time they met, the Wildcats won by 16 in the Final Four. Now it is a Kansas team still searching, no matter what the polls say. Then again, Villanova has been, too.