If KU team that showed up Friday turns up at NCAA tourney, Jayhawks are going home
MAR 15, 2014 12:50a ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Swiss Guard one night, Swiss cheese the next. The Jayhawks are what they are now, for better or worse: a good offensive team whose defensive performance is as predictable as Lady Gaga's wardrobe, and ne'er the twain.
Incredible Hulk Kansas smashes damn near everything in its path en route to Dallas, a trail of destruction from here to Jerry World.
Bruce Banner Kansas runs into a Northern Iowa or a Bradley or a Bucknell or a (Your Mid-Major Goes Here) and ... quietly goes home.
If the Jayhawks of Friday night turn up in Bracketville -- and they might -- the party will be brief, regardless of seed, regardless of destination, regardless of intent.
"We're not going to play a team, more than likely, in the tournament that's better than Iowa State was (Friday) offensively," KU coach Bill Self said after the top-seeded Jayhawks fell, 94-83, to fourth-seeded Iowa State in the semfinals of the Big 12 tourney. "But sure, I'm concerned. I'm concerned about different things with their ball club. That's an area that, obviously, we've been inconsistent (with) because our defense (Thursday) was exceptional."
It was. That's the funny thing. The Jayhawks (24-9) on Thursday against Oklahoma State allowed 0.944 points per possession -- a stat, on average, that would place it among the top 30 defensive teams in the country. KU's season average of 0.988, coming into Friday, ranked 100th nationally.
Against the Cyclones (25-7), well, different story: Team Hoiberg sank 11 of 19 3-pointers, shot 54 percent from the field, and scored at a clip of 1.25 points per possession. To put that number in perspective, the worst team in Division I in terms of defensive efficiency, Cornell, has allowed 1.179 points.
So, yeah. Basically, for one night, the Jayhawks -- winners of 10 straight Big 12 titles, bastion of the Plains -- were worse than the worst defensive team in the freaking country. Rock chalk bottom.
"Just couldn't get stops at the end," KU point guard Naadir Tharpe shrugged. "We (were) playing back and forth. Exchanging points with a team like that ... can't let that happen."
No. No, you can't.
Not this month. Not now.
Not with a 1 seed in the NCAA tourney at stake, although that's probably toast.
"We're not going to be a 1," Self said. "So I'm going to tell you, it's definitely better since we're not going to be a 1. So we played a really good schedule and stuff, and who knows if we'll be a 2? I mean, who knows how the other games play out? And we're not going to be disappointed with whatever happens."
The half-full crowd will say KU was a 2 seed when Friday started and a 2 seed when Friday ended, and maybe this shuffles the cards for a Bracketville journey that starts the Jayhawks in St. Louis next week and slots them in the same region as baby brother Wichita State, the presumptive 1 seed in the Midwest.
That may very well be true, still. But the yawning chasm where Joel Embiid's 7-foot wingspan used to be is the same problem at Scottrade Center that it would have been in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando, Spokane, Raleigh, San Antonio, or San Diego.
KU may have changed the venue, but it can't change the subject.
"We don't have (anybody) that can block shots like Joel," Tharpe said.
And there's the rub. Still.
In the Jayhawks' defense (or lack thereof), Iowa State is a particularly bad matchup in a tourney setting, with or without Embiid. The Cyclones are a special offensive team, a weird offensive team, a crazy offensive team, a team where the bigs shoot threes and the guards post up. Iowa State drained eight of its first 10 treys, started hot and settled for no worse than lukewarm the rest of the game. When the smoke cleared, the Cyclones had almost as many 3-pointers as a team (11) as the Kansas backcourt did field goals (12).
"They're a great offensive team," KU star wing Andrew Wiggins said after a 7-for-21 shooting night, a night in which he looked a little tired, bored, or both. "Next to us, I would think that they're the next best (in the Big 12)."
And Self is absolutely right: Most squads in Bracketville aren't likely to stroke it at that kind of clip. Not on a neutral floor, under the bright lights and spacious sites of the Big Dance.
Although, there's also this: Over its last four games, the Jayhawks have now given up 57 points, then 92, then 70, then, then 94. Woof.
Of those last three, on road or neutral courts, the average comes out to a cringe-worthy 85.3 points allowed. Last Saturday, West Virginia scored 1.31 points per possession on the Jayhawks in Morgantown, which sort of speaks for itself, and not kindly.
"We definitely took a step back as far as being a defensive-minded team," said KU forward Jamari Traylor, one of the primary victims of Georges Niang's 25-point outburst. "We definitely didn't get the stops down the stretch that we needed to win the game and we came out flat, pretty much."
Yes. Yes, you did. And Flat Kansas goes home, too.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.