Receptive or not, Kansas has learned its lesson about repeatedly playing with fire.
The Jayhawks have been whisking through fumes since the turn of the calendar. They first lit the match versus Temple, fiddled with the soot in the conference opener against Iowa State and have been fanning the flames ever since. On Saturday, Bill Self’s pyromaniacs finally got seared. The team’s outdated 18-game winning streak—exposed as smoke and mirrors.
Few college hoops scribes (guilty) have dared question Kansas during a two-and-a-half month stretch of invincibility that’s included a 36-point waxing of Colorado, a statement road win in Columbus and gut-check triumph at the Octagon of Doom. Still, through a half-season’s worth of “perfection,” the game logs, taken collectively, didn’t reflect the on-court performance.
Despite Travis Releford’s breakout senior season, Jeff Withey’s steadying presence as a rim guard and the divine efforts of super-frosh Ben McLemore, the Jayhawks have seemed vulnerable to poaching for some time. As the wins had mounted in succession, so too did pressing questions about the long-term viability of the team. Oklahoma State’s herculean upset at the Phog on Saturday validated, once and for all, those concerns.
Kansas is without a reliable option at the most important position on the floor: point guard. Eljiah Johnson may be the answer in Lawrence by process of elimination—sophomore backup Naadir Tharpe is too inconsistent at this point in his career—but he’s not the answer for a program with real Final Four aspirations. Shrill reality: the Jayhawks are a better team when Johnson is either on the bench or playing off-ball.
McLemore has a tendency to disappear for prolonged periods. College basketball’s best talent is becoming more assertive on offense, especially in late-game situations, but his motor still needs another few gears. McLemore has endured a scoring drought of at least 15 minutes in seven games this season, far too many for a player of his ilk.