The Jayhawks have one loss on the season, and a bad one at that. Completely outclassed, the Tennessee Volunteers beat down the Jayhawks 64-50, and the Jayhawks looked completely lost. Lack of size, good shot selection, and overall discipline plagued the Jayhawks top to bottom, and now the Jayhawks are left with lots of questions. It is still early, so the Hawks have time to recuperate and develop, and they showed signs of taking the first steps with a big win over Texas Southern 87-55. All the usual suspects showed out, Wilson, Harris, Dick, even KJ Adams had a good game, but the main focus was the amount of play time guys such as MJ Rice, Ernest Udeh, and Zuby Ejiofor got and utilized to the best of their ability. All four (Including Dick) showed that if given time to develop and chances to shine, they could be key assets to this team, and potentially allow for the continuation of KU Basketball excellence.
Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat it, the Jayhawks need these guys to develop and perform this season (and quickly) in order to make noise this year. They do not look nearly good enough to beat teams that will test them. Yes, they barely beat Duke, and there is still time, but to save face from embarrassing performances like we saw against Tennessee and really throughout the Bad Boy Mowers Invitational they must strengthen their front court, perimeter defense, and overall decision making. It starts with the bench, without the bench this team cannot survive. The bench has not paid dividends this year yet, as it's hardly being utilized. When it is, guys that have had shots to shine have petered out, see Zach Clemence. Until you can get that depth going, and get that discipline permeating throughout the team, teams such as Mizzou and those middle of the road Big 12 teams pose an unexpected and unwarranted challenge. Mizzou should be an easy W for this team, KU has better talent, a better coaching staff, and more experience. They will not be however, if this team continues to struggle with the struggles they had against Tennessee, not to mention they will be playing a team with a chip on their shoulder. Mizzou is undefeated, and a rival. They will not go quietly even if the Jayhawks play their best game, and it will only look dicier if the Jayhawks can't maximize their bench and continue to make preventable mistakes. This rings true for other games, but this game in particular will be a litmus test to see how the Hawks will fare against middle of the road Big 12 teams as well as the contenders such as Baylor. An away rivalry game against a hot team is not exactly what a team would look forward to if a team is in the situation the Jayhawks are in, it leaves a ton of potential for embarrassment, and possibly a loss the Jayhawks will struggle to come back from. In order to be fully prepared for that fateful day in Columbia December 10th, Self MUST get bench players as much playtime as possible in this past game (Mission accomplished) but also in this upcoming game against Seton Hall. Seton Hall is a good team that will prepare the Jayhawks for the meat and potatoes of their schedule and is a perfect time to challenge these bench players into development. Pressure makes diamonds, and what some of these guys need is pressure in order to become the best player they can be. No more Clemence, mix in Rice with Yesefu and Pettiford, and utilize the size you have with Ejiofor and Udeh. Let Gradey Dick cook too, as he has proven he can be that guy.
I fully trust Bill Self to do what needs to be done to mold this team into a contender this year, however with a game that now looms large over this season coming up, a win on December 10th could allow for the Jayhawks to stay the course and continue to develop swimmingly. A loss on December 10th, and the Jayhawks may take a hit to their confidence that could hurt them for a long time. It's been time, but now more than ever the Jayhawks must utilize and develop their bench. They're off to a good start with this past victory, but the difficulty jumps up come December 1st against Seton Hall, and that is where the focus must be for right now, that and the development of the bench via game experience.
Burn Notice: 9/10 Don't #BurnItDown just yet folks... but be wary.