Andrew Wiggins is obviously the headliner for this Kansas team. Is that right and fair, and, if not, what are the other things people should know about the Jayhawks?
Yes and no, maybe? Wiggins is obviously the most high-profile guy Kansas has had in awhile, but, honestly, if the draft was tomorrow he wouldn't be the first Jayhawk I would personally take.
That would be seven-footer Joel Embiid, with whom Florida fans are obviously familiar (Embiid played at The Rock School in Gainesville, and considered Florida, but opted to go to Kansas — Andy). For a guy who has only played the game for two-ish years, he's been coming along in leaps and bounds. Embiid still does some weird stuff on offense, and he fouls a lot, but his block rate has been basically what Jeff Withey's was the last couple years, and he can score pretty much any way he's asked to.
Elsewhere, Perry Ellis is shooting 61 percent from two, and has shown he can score against bigger or smaller defenders.
Wiggins hasn't made a ton of noise with his play since that splashy matchup with Duke, but I've gotten the sense that he's a terrific defender with an evolving offensive game. What do you like best about him, and what does he need to work on most?
Your sense is pretty much right. He's only shooting 33 percent from three, and he has taken the majority of his shots on putbacks or in transition, so I think other than the obvious need to improve his jumper I'd like to see him do a bit better at working to get open in terms of posting up, and, even though this isn't really a part of Bill Self's mantra, I'd love to see them run some clearout type stuff for him.
The other thing is that his handles can get loose from time to time, and he has one or two offensive moves that he favors above all others. They're still tough to stop, but it's a bit easier when you have a pretty good chance of guessing what's coming.
As for the defense, you're right when you say he's a terrific defender. We've been doing defensive charting all year, and he's always graded out well in that. He's guarded bigger guys, smaller guys, and been really useful at the top of a 3-2 zone they ran against Colorado. Self's protected him a bit due to fouls, but I think come conference play he will get unleashed on the other team's best player a lot more — and, as a result, Kansas's defense will look a lot better.
Kansas has two losses, much like Florida, but the Jayhawks took them in games against Villanova and Colorado, and have gotten some "overrated" chirping for them. Are those losses really troubling, or just a matter of a young team taking some time to gel?
I can't speak for everyone in terms of being troubled, but I'm not, really. It might sound like excuse-making, but they tried to give Colorado the game on Saturday and pretty much only lost because a guy hit a running three that he'd hit, what, five percent of the time? I can live with that.
And while they struggled in the Battle 4 Atlantis, it was their first big trip and it was in another country playing in a hotel ballroom. I didn't expect them to look as bad as they did, but I didn't expect them to blow the doors off everyone either.
They are struggling to gel on defense, though. Part of the defensive scoresheet thing we do requires me to rewatch every game at least once (and usually twice or three times) to see exactly what happened on each possession, and one major thing I notice is they're still struggling with defensive rotations. On a ball screen (or whatever), a big will come out and hedge, or a big will step up to meet the ball handler if he gets by his man, but there is no one rotating to cover his spot. It has happened time and time again, and while I think they'll figure it out by the time it really matters, it's frustrating to see the same mistakes every game for a month.
Kansas has tried the undersized point guard thing before, with Sherron Collins piloting the team well. Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason would seem to be as short (or even shorter?) than Collins was. Has that been an issue for Kansas this year (we remember Erving Walker fondly, usually!), and does that worry you against Florida?
The size in and of itself hasn't really been a big deal. Neither guy has been a great defender, with Mason being quite a bit worse so far (though he did play better against Colorado). Offensively, Mason seems to ignore the offense a bit more and just take it to the rim haphazardly, or shoot threes that make me want to throw something every time. Tharpe has shot it a bit better so far this year, but I don't think anyone thinks he's a 40 percent shooter from three in the long run.
I think it comes down to how well they defend and how well they can get the ball to the guys who should be shooting. One thing I will say about Mason, though: He seems to understand that guys can barrel into the lane this year without much of a plan and draw a foul, and that's been pretty effective.
Taking that all into consideration, I don't think the lack of size has hurt, since the defensive issues have been more about them staying in front of their man than getting their size taken advantage of, and they don't seem affected by it on offense.
Who wins, and why?
I'm saying Florida by somewhere between five and 10 points. Florida is really good, and I would say better than their KenPom ranking (Florida's currently 16th, after spending most of last season at No. 1; Kansas is eighth — Andy) says they are, while Kansas has been scuffling lately. Obviously there's some recency bias in that prediction, but I think Kansas will have a bit tougher time scoring down low against Florida's bigs, and Self has been reluctant to play our best outside shooters too much.
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