By Chad Rader
Kansas beat Duke in thrilling fashion, and any win over Duke is a great one. Sure, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden were out, and if the two schools face again in March, it will be a much different game. But that's then, this is now and no bigger win than in ESPN's grand event for college basketball on Tuesday night.
For today, KU needed the win for a few nice reasons:
- Kansas was sitting at 1-4 in the Champions Classic series. But with the win on Tuesday, and the 94-83 win in 2013 in Chicago over Duke, KU is 2-0 in the series vs Coach K. So that keeps Kansas fans satisfied.
- KU would’ve started 0-2. Even with tight losses to top 10 teams and traditional powerhouses in Indiana and Duke (which both would’ve been in OT), Kansas likely would’ve dipped to No. 12 next week. Instead, KU will be back up in the top 5.
- Did I mention it was over Duke and Coach K?
- More importantly, a win over Duke will be a strong feather in the cap towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourney. As mentioned on The Border Patrol by Nate Bukaty to Mike DeCourcy, the Big 12 won’t have any big-time wins for Kansas to beat its chest on the resume about, and after Duke, while some nice games lie ahead, Kentucky is the lone Top 10 matchup ahead – at least on paper today.
Not that winning the Big 12 and likely 30 wins won't get a No. 1, nor that a No. 1 is key for KU in the NCAA Tournament, as we've seen from past years, but hey, you take the No. 1 as on paper, its the better path. And ... it is a win over Duke.
- Josh Jackson taking over the game in the second half should be real exciting for fans and the coaching staff. The spurt – before Jackson encountered foul trouble that led him to fouling out – showed why he’s a consensus top 1 or 2 player in the 2016 recruiting class. Driving to the lane, consecutive pullups from the outside showed that he’s not afraid to take the big shots, or drive. More of this play and Kansas will be in great shape. Whereas otherwise, Jackson becomes Andrew Wiggins while at Kansas – a very nice player, but best in transition or with a few open gaps to slice, but not willing to attempt to take over the moment.
- Jackson needs to learn to corral the emotions, as shown with the stupid ball slap in the first half, then getting a little mouthy (which probably anyone would be frustrated after the loose ball tie-up called a foul) that Devonte Graham helped him halt.
Having played on a high school "circuit" at Prolific Prep, one of those roll-the-eyes "academies", then the EYBL circuit during AAU/summer, Jackson probably hasn't been held to adhering to officials. And then tossing a kid onto the stage at MSG is quite a jump. But it seems from him jumping on the bench at the end that he's into the game and team, and should learn the mental side of it all as the year goes along.
- Kansas overall did a tremendous job driving to the lane. The offense is SO much better than watching typical stand on the outside, dribble, wait for a ball screen and then take 2-3 dribbles and shoot, or pass back to the screener. Very frustrating offense. This is definitely more wide open, but Self needed the two point guard tandem of Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham, a Jackson and Bragg who can do so at the forward, and the Svi’s and others who also can put the ball on the floor. A lot of upside here on offense and from a spectator standpoint, hopefully is here to stay.
- Whether its added strength after another offseason, fresh legs early in the year or just improved, Mason certainly is finishing when getting to the lane. In the past, he’d drive and perhaps hit 40-50% of the drives. Now seems to be converting 60% or more, and/or getting fouled.
- Graham: See above on Mason. Let’s just hope the cramping goes away
- It’s hard not to get excited about Azubuike, and his potential. His aggressiveness inside is the top takeaway. The breakaway for the attempted layup, miss, then own rebound and dunk was fun. But the dominance on the glass late in the second half really has to get everyone excited. For now, seems like he’s a 15-20 minute player with stamina, and if can get to 25-30 by season’s end, wow. Also, his offensive game will continue to improve and maybe while not hitting his cap while in college this year, if he can improve against some non-con foes, and in Big 12 play, and improve say from a 3 of 10 to a 5.5 on a 10 scale, that’ll be dramatic for Kansas in 2016-17.
- Forgotten was Landen Lucas with foul trouble.
- Free throws – ugly early on, but will improve as the year goes.
- Next year, Kansas will face Kentucky in Chicago, and mark four straight years KU has faced UK – twice in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and twice in the Champions Classic. Couple in the 2011-12 season with the two meetings in the Champions Classic and NCAA title game, and KU is sitting 1-3 in the last five years vs the Wildcats.
- Yes, it can be discussed how KU beat Duke with their three big recruits in sharp looking suits, but who’s to say they would’ve been in midseason form anyway, especially Giles. Heck, with his injuries and recovery over the last 12-14 months, he may never be at full form this year. Bolden is polished, but young. Tatum obviously is spectacular, but shows how much Duke is loaded that without these three, they still took Kansas to the wire.
Final observation - instead of going to Madison Square Garden and a fun trip to New York City, I wisely opted to stay home for the wife’s birthday. There’s always the Kentucky game in Chicago next year… or perhaps an NCAA Tourney trip – to Phoenix in March? With the quick progress of Jackson, the aggressiveness of Udoka Azubuike in the middle and getting more minutes for Carlton Bragg, maybe I should be checking where I should cash some Marriott points in Phoenix. Hmmmm.