Bill Self doesn’t need Wayne Selden to be the second coming of Joe Dumars. He just needs him not to be the second coming of Joe McDoakes.
Fun fact No. 1: When Kansas’ freshman off-guard nets just two or fewer field goals in a game, the Jayhawks are 0-3.
Fun fact No. 2: When Selden makes four or more, Kansas is 5-0.
The Jayhawks (10-4, 1-0 in the Big 12) may have an NBA front line, what with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis rising from the paint like a pair of mighty oaks. But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again:
Length is groovy. Length brings pro scouts into the concert hall like bears to a picnic. This particular guitar solo is going to last only as long as the backcourt can carry it.
The later in the season, the more unfriendly the environment, the more important it becomes to trot out guards with ice in their veins and blood on their hands. And wouldn’t ya know it: Point man Naadir Tharpe goes for 17 with three assists, Selden nets a career-high 24 with five 3-pointers, and KU wins, 90-83, in Norman against a feisty Oklahoma squad that beat ’em on this floor a year ago.
"Wayne got us off to a good start," Self told KUSports.com after the tilt. "It was nice to see a freshman step up."
Cough. Andrew Wiggins. Cough.
Hey, now, to be fair, even cover boys have "off" nights (2-of-9 shooting, nine points, four fouls, two turnovers, several perplexing decisions). Of the big Canadian’s first 14 games as a collegian, he’s reached double digits in points in 12 of them. Wiggins’ on-court demeanor and lack of visible emotion — hell, visible anything — may drive you bonkers, but he’s not the problem here. He’s not why the water in coach Self’s tap has alternated between hot and cold since Thanksgiving.
Wednesday night, the Jayhawks made 29 buckets, or nearly twice the amount (17) they’d managed at home the previous Sunday against San Diego State. So, if you’re keeping score, that’s 93 points, followed by 57, followed by 90 again. With the mighty oaks down low and Wiggins, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Until KU has more nights where they make 8 out of 16 from beyond the arc, opposing teams are going to be content to pack it in and see if the Baby Jays can make it rain from long-distance.
"Isn’t it amazing when you make shots?" Self pointed out after the contest, the 23rd straight occasion in which KU has opened league play with a victory.
The Jayhawks had 50 points at the half. They didn’t reach 50 last Sunday until there was 2:46 left in the tilt. When it comes to offense, KU is a roulette wheel that never stops spinning. Guess a number and hold your breath.
Which is not to say there weren’t a few pleasant surprises, or seeds to keep an eye on down the road. Conner Frankamp, seemingly missing for weeks, came off the bench late in the first half to relieve a foul-saddled Tharpe and accounted for five points in a span of 71 seconds, including a wide-open 3-pointer that the Sooners allowed the Wichita sniper about six weeks to set up for. The freshman guard’s jumper (also fairly uncontested) at the top of the key with five seconds left in the half capped a 7-0 KU run to end the half and an 11-5 run after a Self technical foul; a 39-39 game went to the break with the Jayhawks up 50-44.
"(He) just willed us back into the game," Self said.
Frankamp did the heavy lifting in the middle of the tilt, and Tharpe did it from the free throw line late. But the evening, end to end, belonged to Selden, the 6-foot-5 New Englander who has been as mercurial as Wiggins has been consistent.
His third trey put the Jayhawks up 20-11 with 13:32 to go in the first half, and yet the freshman’s most heads-up contribution might have come at the 6:04 mark of the second half with KU leading, 78-74. As the rock caromed, pinball-style, off the fingers and ankles of various Sooners and Jayhawks, Selden raced all the way across the court and dove to retrieve it, beating at least two Oklahoma chasers, preserving the possession, and calling timeout before he could slide out of bounds.
"He’s a load," Self said of Selden.
He’s also vital to the cause, like it or not. Wiggins and Tharpe and Frank Mason and Brannen Greene will continue to make waves, through bad times and good. Selden is the tide that can lift all the boats around him. Or sink them.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.