For all the talk – by myself and pretty much everyone else – about how unpredictable this Kansas team is, I no longer think that statement is very accurate. I centered my Arizona preview on the fact that no one had any idea what to expect and unsurprisingly we saw two completely different Kansas teams play that night, ultimately leading to a lopsided loss. Since then, the Hawks have had two lazy wins, one big one and yesterday’s loss. With those results as the indicator, it would be easy to continue perpetuating the inconsistency/unpredictable card. But in doing so, I think we’re just making a sweeping generalization that isn’t very descriptive of this team.
Are they inconsistent? Of course. That’s why they don’t run an offense for an entire half and only score 18 points yet come out the next half and put up 44 rather easily (I say easily only because of how many points were still left out there). But are they unpredictable? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect them to play their worst half of the season yesterday. But I was pretty positive they would get taken out of their offense, get a little flustered and fall behind by a decent margin. I also expected them to learn from the debacle that was the second half at Arizona and keep fighting to the end. As we all know by now, that’s exactly what happened. And honestly, there was no good reason to expect otherwise.
In looking back at our fifteen non-conference games, there’s really only one surprise: UMass (of which there is no logical explanation). They played seven games against nothing teams and won them all handily. Though lazy in victory, they handled Siena fine. They had very impressive and underappreciated wins over Temple and especially Washington. They came out fired up against Tennessee and held them off in very impressive fashion for a great home win. The three losses to Syracuse, @ Arizona and @ MSU were all ugly in their own way, but plenty understandable. Obviously we gave it away against Syracuse. And we only played half games at Arizona and Michigan State. You don’t excuse those mistakes, but you do expect them. That’s just who this team is right now. We have two players we can count on every time out, while the rest are still finding their way. Add that up and there’s absolutely no reason to expect them to come out and handle tough opponents in tough road environments. That doesn’t mean it can’t (or won’t) happen, just that it shouldn’t be expected.
Fortunately, our conference schedule works out pretty favorably early on. As you all know, we start with a visit from the purple. An easy game it will not be. But there’s no better way to come off a tough road loss than to come home and play in a fired up Allen Fieldhouse. Win that and we’ll get some swagger back. Even more fortunate is the location of our first road game: Boulder. All conference road games are tough in their own way, but we have a way of turning the Coors Events Center into Allen Fieldhouse West – not to mention that Colorado is probably the worst team in the league this year. Like I said, we can’t expect this team to band together and win in a tough road environment. My expectation is that Colorado won’t fit into that category. But that doesn’t mean the players can’t build on it as if it were.
The way I look at things is that we’re learning lessons the hard way. We used our losses against Syracuse and Arizona to keep us focused and driven against Tennessee. And while it didn’t turn into a win, I think we used our Arizona loss yesterday in East Lansing. Arizona started to make a run, took the lead, and we invariably crumbled. On the other hand, Michigan State dominated us in every way for an entire half yesterday. And true to suit, we crumbled. But then we fought back. In fact, we battled so well that we were one in-and-out three pointer away from only being down six points with 3 minutes to go (* Random note below). The next step is winning. And while a win in Boulder won’t mean what one in Tucson or East Lansing would have, it would still be a step. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I’d venture to say that a win in Boulder very well could lead to a 6-0 conference start.
Bonus unrelated material: Like most any sports fanatic, I enjoy the occasional road game. I kind of enjoy being the outcast, but really I just enjoy seeing new arenas (or stadiums) and observing how things are done elsewhere. Quite unexpectedly, I got to visit the Breslin Center for yesterday’s game. Going into the game, I was thinking the Spartans might under whelm me, but the Breslin Center would impress. The opposite occurred. First for the home team: they’re athletic, deep, well coached and just plain talented. If they don’t win the Big TelevEN, I’ll be stunned. They have the look of a very dangerous 2 or 3 seed come March. But I just didn’t care for the Breslin Center. It’s not that it’s a bad place – far from it – but I think the prefect description is that it’s a small NBA arena. It’s a nice facility on the outside, concourse is okay, but really it’s just a lot of spread out plastic seatbacks, two levels, and very little intimacy. I love the setup of the Izzone, keeping the students so close to the court, but aside from them there is almost nothing good to speak of. There is no tradition, no history and really, no fan involvement of any kind. For reference, the fans did not stand up in unison once during game play. And more shocking than all that was the complete lack of noise. I’m guessing the Izzone members keep the court pretty loud, but the rest of the arena may as well have been at a James Taylor concert. I would always recommend you find out for yourself, but if you plan on heading up there, keep your expectations low.
*Random note about yesterday's deficit/comeback attempt. As Cole Aldrich was sinking two free throws with somewhere between 7 and 8 minutes left I noticed the score was 58-42. And immediately I realized how frustrating that deficit really was. As bad as Kansas had played, they were 9-18 from the line at that time and they had missed three alley-oops. Convert those 16 points and it's a one point game. Hell, convert the alley-oops and shoot 12/18 (67% compared to our 73% for the year) and you're down a mere 7 with over 7 minutes to play. But again, that's who this team is. They're not a good road team yet. These type of mistakes are ridiculous and too much to overcome against good opponents, but they're still to be expected for the time being. Let's just hope they don't persist too much into league play.