Remember when Kansas was the nation’s second-ranked team and Wichita State was No. 15?
What were those Associated Press voters smoking?
If you have watched the Jayhawks and Shockers recently, you know their road toward NCAA Tournament riches turned into a Dead Man’s Curve.
Wichita State has lost three straight, including a game Tuesday night at Southern Illinois, which previously had won one Missouri Valley Conference game and had dropped its most recent contest to Illinois State by 36.
Then, a night later in that basketball hotbed, TCU, the Horned Frogs made Kansas croak. It was TCU’s first win in the Big 12 Conference and its first win over a top-five team. TCU is to college basketball what the Ford Pinto is to the history of automobiles. Which is to say, insignificant and kind of funny.
After the TCU students rushed the floor for perhaps the first time in the school’s history, KU coach Bill Self attempted to put the loss in perspective. Failing that, he went for his team’s jugular.
“I think (Dr. Naismith) had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years,’’ Self told reporters. “But for the first half, there hasn’t been a team any worse than that.’’
Go ahead and laugh, KU fans. It’s better than crying.
Suddenly, the Jayhawks look better suited for a noon pick-up game at the Y. KU has left the tracks. The sheer impact of the TCU loss cannot be put into words, except to call it the worst loss in the Self era. And probably the Williams and Brown eras, too.
Kansas had two points through the first 13-plus minutes. Two points. In 13 minutes. Against TCU. This is KU we’re talking about.
The Jayhawks would have been better off putting the guys from the percussion section of the pep band out there, such was the level of their futility. Elijah Johnson couldn’t throw it into the ocean. Then Naadir Tharpe started to think he was Kobe Bryant, firing up shots and missing almost all of them. Kansas shot less than 30 percent.
KU’s lack of a point guard, a floor general, is glaring. Johnson isn’t a point guard. Tharpe isn’t a point guard. So when the Jayhawks need some settling, someone who can direct the show, they instead are left to improvise. The Jayhawks looked lost at TCU and now it’s a stretch to see them winning at Oklahoma on Saturday or against Kansas State in Allen Fieldhouse on Big Monday.
Wichita State has similar issues. The Shockers have become discombobulated by consecutive losses to Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. After building a nice early lead against the Salukis, WSU tanked.
The Shockers, too, lack steady play at the point. Neither Malcolm Armstead nor Demetric Williams looks comfortable there and both have become too shooting conscious in recent games.
It seems to me that the only go-to offensive player for Kansas is freshman Ben McLemore, who was part of a large KU contingent that stunk against TCU. But McLemore needs to be fed, and at times it appears that the veterans in KU’s lineup are reluctant to allow a mere babe to bail them out.
As KU was trying to mount some kind of comeback against TCU, McLemore had a cameo role as Johnson and Tharpe did the bulk of the shooting – and missing. There’s something wrong with that picture.
Wichita State lacks offensive weapons, too. And the biggest one the Shockers have, junior forward Cleanthony Early, sometimes blends into the background, although I’m not sure it’s of his choosing.
Kansas and Wichita State have relied on stifling, tough defense as a major component of their success. But it’s such a long season and teams often wear down in February. It becomes harder and harder to pull off great defense, especially for teams that have to work so hard to score points.
Kansas and Wichita State are eerily similar in their strengths, and their deficiencies. Both teams could really use a natural point guard and some scoring punch. Both teams are coming off inexcusable, bizarre losses to the worst teams in their conferences. And for both teams, we kind of saw this coming. Certainly not losses to TCU and SIU, but there were indicators that the Jayhawks and Shockers had been spitting into the wind.
Now we’ll see how the teams re-group.
Kansas isn’t in any danger of falling out of NCAA Tournament at-large contention, at least not yet. The Jayhawks are tied atop the Big 12 with Kansas State, which could set up a fascinating showdown between the two in Lawrence on Monday night.
Wichita State, thanks to Indiana State’s one-sided win over Creighton on Wednesday night, is just a game behind the Bluejays in the MVC race and in a second-place tie with the Sycamores.
With records of 19-3 and 19-5, KU and WSU haven’t contacted Life Alert. They have fallen, but they can still get up.