A near disaster in the Fieldhouse last night should have most KU fans very concerned this morning.
Iowa State has proven that their 12–0 start was no fluke, and new coach TJ O (I refuse to learn how to spell his last name; this is a blog not a newspaper) deserves an enormous amount of credit for turning the program around so quickly. They guard your ass off, and not a single KU player handled the pressure well.
There are some caveats to the concern. The biggest was Remy Martin’s absence. His speed and ability to attack the ISU pressure would have freed everyone else up. He could have played 35 minutes without scoring a point and I think just being on the court means KU wins by 6–7.
There’s no shame in struggling on offense in the Big 12 this year. But KU has looked pretty bad in the last two games with the defense forcing them out of their comfort zone.
This team is not confident with the ball, and should expect an enormous amount of pressure in every game the rest of the season. I asked in one of my text threads last night if we had ever practiced against pressure, because we looked like fifth graders playing against a press for the first time.
Speaking of middle schoolers, KU showed little desire to go get tough rebounds the past two games. It reminded me of L’s game Monday when her team got out-rebounded approximately 87–2. Texas Tech and Iowa State were both the more physical, engaged, and determined teams in going after loose balls. I rarely saw a KU player get a body on a Cyclone as the ball was going up, content to chase the ball in the air without trying to get position.
It was ironic that last night was Roy Williams’ return to Allen Fieldhouse – and there really needs to be something more formal to honor him, maybe next year to celebrate the 2002 and 2003 Final Four teams? – with the former KU coach seated directly across from the KU bench. There were moments when we knew that, had Roy been the KU coach, he would have sent the last five, healthy guys on the bench into the game. That’s not Bill Self’s style; he will always default to the guy’s he trusts, whether they’re playing well or not. But maybe last night was a game that he could have stole a page from Ol’ Roy’s coaching book and lit a fire under his team.
The most interesting aspect of last night’s game was Self starting freshman KJ Adams and playing him a decent chunk of minutes at the 5 spot. Neither David McCormack nor Mitch Lightfoot were injured, so Self wasn’t forced to start Adams. I would have been less surprised if he slid Jalen Wilson to the 5 and started Jalen Coleman-Lands. Because Self never starts a player like Adams unless he has to.
I found that move encouraging. It means Self was, for once, coaching for the future instead of the moment. KJ had a few nice moments, but mostly looked like he was just trying to keep up and not mess things up too badly. Starting him in a conference game is all about trying to get him confidence so Self can trust him when we get to late February and early March and the games get bigger.
To be clear, I don’t think KJ is the answer at the 5. He’s only 6’7” and although he’s athletic, he’s not Andrew Wiggins athletic, so he won’t be jumping over everyone to grab rebounds. He’s also not like those super strong, 6’7” dudes who would bully people back in the ’90s. But if he can just set screens, make the right rolls, not get destroyed on D, and give effort on the boards, he can be a stop gap until Dave and Mitch figure out how to stay on the court.
(Remy makes this team go. But what is going to doom this team is not having an athletic big man. I’ve said it before, but it becomes more glaringly obvious every week. There weren’t many guys like that in the portal last summer, and Self whiffed on that kind of player in high school recruiting. He also probably thought McCormack would be an effective, 30 mpg player.)
It’s still early January. KU is fighting some injuries. The team should look different in a week or two if/when Remy gets healthy and Bobby Pettiford shakes the rust. They snatched a win in a game they did not deserve on the same night Baylor lost a home game. The Big 12 schedule is going to be an absolute monster for the next two months. There is plenty of reason for concern but no reason to give up on this year’s team quite yet.