Let’s play a game of “what if I’d told you.” Because there’s nothing more fun, is there.
What if I’d told you that Kansas would out-rebound Iowa State, 53-36, on Monday night in Ames? And that KU would hold Iowa State to 31.4 percent shooting overall and just 4 of 25 from the three-point line. And that the Jayhawks would get 17 points and 19 rebounds from Andrew Wiggins, 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks from Joel Embiid and 23 points from point guard Nadiir Tharpe.
And . . . and . . . 14-of-17 shooting from Tharpe and Embiid.
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What if I’d told you all of that?
Kansas 90, Iowa State 62? Or something in that ballpark, right.
Well, it was 77-70. KU threatened to pull away often but could never get into fourth gear. Third gear was enough, but 24 turnovers and 26 fouls were a problem. Just when the Jayhawks were about to put the hammer down, somebody would make a bad turnover. Or commit a silly foul.
Most of the numbers pointed to a Kansas blowout. But two numbers – turnovers and fouls – made it a closer game than it should been.
Iowa State did nothing. The Cyclones, who started 14-0, have now dropped two straight. They get a lot of admiration when their helter-skelter offensive style works. But against Kansas on Monday night, Iowa State never got into a rhythm.
A sellout crowd at Hilton Coliseum was ready to go crazy. And they did. Not, however, with jubilation. But with frustration in watching their favorite team miss shot after shot.
The Cyclones weren’t just cold from the three-point line, they mostly missed badly. And with the 7-foot Embiid manning the middle for Kansas, it wasn’t like Iowa State could attack the basket. When the Cyclones tried that, Embiid blocked five and altered at least that many.
Embiid is an incredibly gifted athlete who is becoming a basketball player before our eyes. Sometimes our eyes wince, as they did while watching him turn the basketball over seven times Monday night and commit five fouls.
But Embiid has come so far since the start of the season, especially as an offensive player. He moves. He has improving footwork. He can use both hands. And he’s starting to understand more and more where he is on the floor and how to get to where he needs to be.
A bunch of NBA general managers are daydreaming about Embiid these days. As good as Wiggins has been and will be in the future, Embiid has that 7-foot thing going for him. Best of all, he moves that 7-foot thing like it’s about 6-6.
Give Wiggins a high five, too. He had 19 rebounds and is improving defensively. He still takes too many bad shots. He’s still trying to figure out his offensive consistency. But Wiggins is becoming more like the prototypical Bill Self player, one who is willing and eager to contribute in all facets of basketball.
KU is now 3-0 in the Big 12 and, with road wins in hand at Oklahoma and Iowa State, is back to being a strong conference favorite. The Jayhawks’ difficult non-conference schedule left them with four losses, but it’s a better team because of those experiences.
Best of all, there’s still so much room for KU to grow. The Jayhawks did a lot of things well Monday night, but they bungled some things, too. Self is a master at fixing bungles. And when he cleans up some more of the mistakes, Kansas will be a team ready for a long postseason run.