Kansas basketball fans have been on quite the roller coaster ride the last couple weeks, and the ride will only become more intense as the stakes are raised heading into March.
The Jayhawks went from an 18-game winning streak to a three-game losing streak to beating up on its in-state rival. Luckily for the Jayhawks, one bad week in February does not make a season. A bad week in March, however, can spoil all the work that has been put in to that point.
So, what should one expect from Kansas the rest of the way? Who are the real Jayhawks?
A team with point guard issues
After his team’s loss at home to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2, Bill Self told reporters, “We don’t have a point guard.”
He was incredibly upset with the way Elijah Johnson had performed, and the truth is that Johnson has struggled as the primary ballhandler. In each of his last eight games, Johnson has committed at least three turnovers.
Self has started to play sophomore Naadir Tharpe more to take some pressure off Johnson. Tharpe had seven points and eight assists in 27 minutes in the team’s 83-62 win over Kansas State on Feb. 11. Tharpe's play in that game prompted Jon Rothstein of the CBS Sports Network to tweet:
A team that protects the rim
With Jeff Withey manning the middle, Kansas defends the paint better than anyone in the country. The Jayhawks are allowing opponents to shoot 38.5 percent from inside the arc, which ranks first in the nation, according to KenPom.com. Withey is third in the country, averaging 4.1 blocks per game.
Travis Releford and Kevin Young complement Withey well. They are long and active on the defensive end, making life tough for opponents when they drive to the basket.
As long as Withey is in the lineup, Kansas will defend the two-point area at an elite level.
A team with a potential superstar
Ben McLemore is well on his way to becoming a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft, assuming he decides to leave school. Chris Mannix of SI.com even has McLemore atop his big board, which is based on the opinion of various NBA scouts. McLemore is talented, efficient and the type of player who can lead a team on a run through March.
Something that bodes well as the games become more significant is that McLemore has played well in big games. When his team needed it most this week, McLemore delivered a 30-point performance on 9-of-13 shooting to help beat Kansas State and snap his team’s losing streak.
The key for Kansas is that McLemore has to stay aggressive. If he is assertive, that will be a great sign for the Jayhawks moving forward.
A team that can win the national title
The reality is that while Kansas has flaws, so does every other team in the country. No one will enter the NCAA Tournament as an overwhelming favorite to win it all. The Jayhawks have the right blend of starpower, inside/outside balance and defensive prowess to be a real player down the stretch.
Kansas had a bad week in early February, but that does not mean that the Jayhawks cannot be the best team in the country come March and early April. In fact, one doesn’t have to venture too far in the past to find a team that cut down the nets after suffering through a similar three-game losing streak. In 2006, Florida lost three games in a nine day span in February, but the Gators won the national title as a three seed.
Right now, the Jayhawks are on a similar seeding path as those Gators. Time will tell if Kansas will be on the same championship path.