What an unbelievable game. I went in thinking that Georgia Tech would get a fairly easy win. KU hadn’t been playing all that well with Wayne Simien; I certainly didn’t expect them to perform well in his absence. Even with a perfect performance, the best I saw was a narrow, character building loss. With about 2:00 left in regulation, I would have been more than happy to take that after being down by 16 twice. With apologies to the fans of Iowa, LSU, Michigan, and the rich kids from Texas, the game in Allen Fieldhouse was the most compelling sports event of the day. Random thoughts after 24 hours of reflection:
Jarrett Jack is a total stud. Hits gutsy shot after gutsy shot, and never does so at the expense of the rest of his team. His efforts aren’t always pretty, but the results are gorgeous. It’s truly rare that in a close game I can appreciate the performance of an opposing player. I’m normally too distracted by the drama of the game, and spend my time cursing the Anthony Peelers and Randy Rutherfords of the world. I was in awe of Jack throughout the game. He very much reminds me of Kirk Hinrich: a perimeter player who will do absolutely anything to will his team to victory.
This was a big game for Bill Self. For all the love he’s gotten since arriving in Lawrence, he had yet to have a signature win that will be looked back upon for years. This will be the first entry in his library. There are a lot of coaches, probably most coaches, who when faced with a short-term loss of their best player, are willing to sacrifice a few games in order to keep practicing and playing the same sets they would normally use. Self smartly implemented a whole new offense in order to maximize the talent he has and minimize the loss of Wayne Simien. It took 15 minutes for the team to figure out what the hell they were supposed to be doing, but thank goodness it did click. There are a lot of coaches who would have let their ego get in the way of making wholesale changes. Perhaps this is how Self’s ego manifests itself, but kudos for the moves. Having two base offenses will just make KU that much more dangerous if Wayne can stay healthy after his return.
In addition to being a signature game for Self, this has to have been one of the great games in the history of Allen Fieldhouse. A national audience, a marquee opponent, tremendous drama, unreal involvement by the crowd. In the modern era (i.e. most games televised), I think this joins the following as the truly great games at Allen:
Oklahoma, Louisville, 1986
Oklahoma State 1994
Arizona, Texas 2003
(My KU readers can let me know if I’ve missed anything.)
While I was totally thrilled with the comeback, there was a bittersweet element to the game for me. I realized this isn’t my team anymore. Yes, I’m still a huge fan and proud alum. But I think I’ve finally reached the age where I’m too far removed from school and Lawrence to have true ownership of the experience. That doesn’t mean I enjoy the games any less or watch them with less devotion. When I look at the list of games above, I think of most of them being in “my era”, even if I wasn’t at the games. I was lucky enough to go to quite a few games for several years after I graduated, which extended that window further. Years from now, I’ll still talk about the Georgia Tech game as one of the truly great moments in the program’s history. However, now I’m just another fan. This game belonged to all the kids from 18-28 who were in the stands or cheering from bars and living rooms around the country.
While we’re on the topic of my experience, worth noting that M. slept on S. next to me for almost the entire game. Which meant once the comeback began, I had to keep my yelling to a minimum. I muttered a lot of blasphemous language, but never really cut lose. I did get up and march around the couch when Keith Langford got tied up my Muhammed in the last minute. If the kid was awake, the pillows would have flown. And when KL knocked down the game winner, I could only jump and offer a silent shout. We’ve got to get this kid past the screaming when upset stage so daddy can avoid ulcers. S. did take her traditional nap that turned a deficit into a close game, so I gave her some props.
The national press made the story-line following Simien’s injury that the 4-6 weeks without him would be an opportunity for one of the freshmen big men to assert themselves and eventually take over the starting spot from Christian Moody. I have argued, however, that the more important development over the coming weeks would be that of Alex Galindo. In order to win in March, KU has to have a second, consistent, outside threat. Getting one will stretch the defense, open up the inside for Wayne, and create open looks for the other perimeter players. So far so good. I believe Galindo is the true wild-card in this season for KU. If he continues to perform well, whether he’s playing 10 or 25 minutes a night, he changes the complexion of the team. For all of JR Giddens’ pub, I think Alex had a better all-around game right now. He’s as good of a shooter, and probably more of a pure shooter than JR, he’s not afraid to crash the boards on every play, and he has a nose for being in the right spot at the right time. The ‘Hawks do need a big men to mature, but it’s not imperative that one of them become a star this year for the team to play late into the tournament.
Coming Monday, a new weekly feature called D’s Dozen. My list of the top 12 teams in college hoops as of the moment.