Well, that was ugly: Kansas 57, Memphis 55. Granted, you have to give the Tigers credit. They're supposed to be in rebuilding mode and, who knows, maybe they are. But last night in the Hall of Fame Showcase at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Josh Pastner's group was every bit the equal of the number one team in the nation. Why, then, was the evening so hard on the eyes?
Neither offense could get anywhere close to the point-per-trip mark in this average-paced (66-possession) game. For Memphis the issue was what itís been for Kansas opponents roughly since the dawn of hoops time: Making shots. Elliot Williams and Roburt Sallie (rather boldly rechristened ďJohnĒ at one point by Dickie V.) were a combined 8-of-28 from the field. Itís not easy to make shots against this D and thatís not going to change anytime soon.
Meanwhile for KU the issue was what itís been since last year: Turnovers. Last night Bill Self watched in visible distress as his team gave the ball away on fully 32 percent of their possessions. Itís a miracle the Jayhawks could still win a game, any game, when donating one out of every three trips to the opponent like that. If this keeps up Selfís face will harden into a permanent Clint Eastwood-style distressed squint.
Still, try as I might I just canít get worked up long-term about Kansas. (Yet.) Like everyone else in the western hemisphere I am on the record as believing that the Jayhawks will win the national championship in Indy next April. Sure, weíd all have looked a lot smarter if KU had blown the Tigers off the court. But my takeaway here is more that itís time to be impressed with Memphis than that itís time to project Kansas as finishing below Colorado in the Big 12. Which brings me to my latest sweeping proclamation.
Gasawayís First Law of Favorites: Eventual national champions will look ugly on occasion.
You will note this is a Law and not something more squishy like a Theory, Hypothesis, Postulate, or Kinsley Gaffe. In fact I feel so sure of my Law that Iíve gone so far as to have it inscribed on a stone tablet that looms over my laptop at all times. Just look at recent history.
So donít hit the panic button on Kansas quite yet. Self still has a loaded and experienced roster, albeit one that looked ugly last night and indeed one that will look ugly again at various points this year.
Other bald assertionsÖ.
Michigan State is fine too. Most likely. The world at large has the Spartans pegged at number two in the nation behind Kansas, whereas I have them pegged at number two in the Big Ten behind Purdue. I donít suppose Stateís 75-71 win over Gonzaga in East Lansing last night clinches that argument for either side, but I do at least see where Tom Izzo was coming from in the preseason when he scoffed at his teamís lofty national ranking. Goran Suton and Travis Walton are gone and most people see that and think: So what? They were the fourth and fifth options on offense. Indeed they were, but they were also the heart and soul of the D. Not to mention Suton was superb within his supporting role on offense. Thatís not to say Michigan State is doomed this year without those two, of course. Merely that Izzo is uncertain about what heíll see early in the season from this newly reconstituted group. We should be uncertain too. For now, though, hats off to Durrell Summers, who recorded a gaudy 21-11 double-double on 8-of-9 shooting from the field against the Zags.
Soon you will be talking about Tennessee. Mind you, I donít suppose now is the time to start. In fact beating UNC-Asheville 124-49 feels a little too much like college football in early September for my tender sensibilities. Iím just giving you advance notice: The Volunteers will not be outside the top ten in the rankings much longer. Once they get there they will stay.
In their sassy new Harden-less and Pendergraph-less format, Arizona State looks primed to play really slow this season. See for example the Sun Devilsí 52-49 win over TCU in Tempe last night, a game that featured just 50 possessions. Even with James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph last year ASU wasnít exactly North Carolina West, of course. Still, donít be surprised if the tempo is just a bit more deliberate now that those two are located in Oklahoma City and Portland, respectively.
If not for prior headlines like ďRotnei Clarke!Ē and ďNick Winbush!Ē more people might have taken note of the game Lucca Staiger had for Iowa State last night. In the Cyclonesí impressively easy 90-70 win at Drake, Staiger scored 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Even more remarkable, someone in an ISU uniform (Staiger) actually attempted more shots from the field than Craig Brackins. I rubbed my eyes and looked at this box score three separate times but it really does appear to have happened. Now Iíve seen everything.
John also eschews hacky headlines like ďWhatís the Matter with Kansas?Ē on Twitter: @johngasaway.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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