Nothing like a (very) late game on a Tuesday night to get the real college hoops season started!
First, although I got many texts asking this question, I should clarify that I did not go to the KU-Duke game last night. This is the first non-Covid Champions Classic game played in Indy I have not attended. The first two times friends came up with tickets and went with me. Four years ago I literally got the invite seven hours before game time.
But, strangely, people don’t like traveling to Indianapolis on a random Tuesday in November unless absolutely necessary. So no ticket hookup. I checked tickets online a couple times and for the seats I could get, they were awfully pricey. When you live in the Kentucky fan sphere of influence it jacks up the market. Plus, knowing KU would be the late game meant L probably wouldn’t be interested in going.
Instead we went to the Cathedral girls game – it was CYO night! – and I was home just in time for the KU game. Well, that’s what I thought. Then Kentucky and Michigan State played two overtimes and I had an hour to kill.
Worth noting it was the first time I watched basketball on our good TV since April 4. I did not have to change seats this time. In fact I was pretty chill all night as I sat watching in my National Champions hoodie.
You can’t take too much from these games. They are always exciting because of the opponent and platform. Most years all four teams are integrating a bunch of new, young players and the games are kind of stinky. The result may be close, but it is rarely good basketball.
Still it’s fucking fun to beat Duke.
Not that it was easy. Once Jon Scheyer made some defensive adjustments and Duke’s length started bothering KU the game got disjointed on both ends. The concerning thing for KU was how hard it was to score. We knew that would be a problem this year. The Jayhawks fell into Hero Ball mode way too easily, though, chucking up early shots and settling for 3’s on a night they were not falling.
The second half was super frustrating. Was KU really going to blow an 11-point lead and give Scheyer the first big win of his career? It did not look good.
Thankfully Gradey Dick came alive in the last three minutes and keyed a 15–5 run to steal the win.
Again, you can’t make too many definitive conclusions about this game. For all of Duke’s talent, they are still missing a key player, learning to play together, very young, and will certainly be much better in a month. KU was missing its head coach and two guys who likely would have played serious minutes last night.
We did see that KU is going to be an absolute bitch on defense. DaJuan Harris and Kevin McCullar Jr. are going to wreck people all year. The rest of the team doesn’t have to do much when those two are in, but they all seem to understand how to play off them. I don’t know if the team will match the 2020 team’s defensive ceiling, but they may be better across all five positions which will make them extremely formidable.
On nights when KU is hitting outside shots, they are going to be really good. While I think last night was an especially bad outlier, there are still going to be plenty of games when KU shoots in the 20% range from 3. Those are going to be ugly as hell.
McCullar still looks like he’s pressing on offense. Once he settles down that will help a lot.
The inside game is going to be a concern all year simply because of the combination of skill/size/experience the Jayhawks have there. Last night showed, though, that the combination of KJ Adams, Ernest Udeh Jr, and Zuby Ejiofor can provide moments of decent play. Ernest was a little too turned up. Zuby seemed clueless but gets his hands on every rebound. Zach Clemons did not play last night because of injury, and he’s not looked comfortable inside in the first two games. I don’t know if that group will ever inspire true confidence all year, but at least we know they will be serviceable.
Weird observation: KJ Adams is starting to remind me of Richard Scott. You look at a built, 6’7” kid and expect him to be super athletic. KJ has ok ups, but nothing spectacular. He’s low key kind of slow. Dude knows how to use his body, though. He doesn’t have anything close to Scott’s offensive game – he’s frankly terrible if he doesn’t get a lob or can just lay it in – but he takes up space and knows how to pass out of the post. And credit where due, he made a couple important baskets last night.
It’s a cliche when Jay Bilas does a KU game, but the team showed the championship DNA he loves to talk about last night. Wilson and Harris, especially, never seemed rattled. They came from 16 down in a national championship game. What is being down five to a bunch of freshmen in November? This team is TOUGH, and when Bill Self returns to the bench next week, he is going to absolutely love that.
A fun win, simply because it was a win over Duke, in a very ugly game. KU fans should get used to that, as I think more games than not will look like this rather than 85–78 wins that are free-flowing and fun.
Oh, and in Kyle Filipowski we had a new Dukie to hate! That dude is good, though.
Rock Chalk, bitches.
Although she made me feel a little bad Tuesday afternoon when she said she was interested. I told her this morning the game ended around 12:30 AM and she was glad she was in bed before tipoff instead of downtown. ↩