Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Who is KU’s best player? It should be Perry Ellis

Kentucky’s players look happy and with good reason. The Wildcats put away Kansas, 72-40, Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
Kentucky’s players look happy and with good reason. The Wildcats put away Kansas, 72-40, Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. AP Photo

Tuesday, before Kansas played Kentucky, I wrote in this blog that the Jayhawks had an advantage because of Perry Ellis’ experience as a junior.

I thought Ellis would help keep his young team afloat against the supremely-talented Wildcats. I knew Kentucky would be a load, but I expected KU to stay in the game largely because of Ellis.

And, once again, I’ve proven how little I know.

The 6-foot-8 Ellis, a junior with vast experience, was awful. He made one early basket and late in the game hit a couple of free throws to finish with four points, two rebounds, one assist and three fouls.

Of course, KU’s embarrassing 72-40 loss in Indianapolis wasn’t all on Ellis. He had plenty of wretched help as Kansas shot 19.6 percent from the field (11 of 56) and made just three of 15 three-pointers. They were awful at the free-throw line, too (15 of 27).

I know it’s November. I know it’s early. I know Kentucky is picked by a lot of people, including me, to win the national championship. I know all of that.

I know Kansas is young and that its coach, Bill Self, is trying to break in a bunch of new players. I know the Jayhawks will improve (how could they not?) and be a contender (I think) for their 11th consecutive Big 12 championship. I know, or think I know, a lot of things about KU, like not to count out Self, one of the nation’s best and brightest coaches.

But before we get into the future and how bright it still might be for KU, can we acknowledge this game as the travesty it was?

Give the Wildcats credit, but also remember this was a team that trailed Buffalo at halftime in a game last week. Buffalo. So it’s not like Kentucky is playing in mid-season form, even though it sure appeared that way Tuesday night.

It was the UK’s defense that did the job. Kansas had nowhere to go without finding another in what seemed like an endless parade of 6-10, 6-11 and 7-footers. Ellis, who has shown what a tough scorer he can be around the basket because of his great foot-work and moves, was stymied. He looked like he was 5-8 in the post, not 6-8.

Self took it all in stride after the game, not hiding his disappointment but acknowledging, sometimes with humor, how bad it was. Taking a sip from a cup in a post-game meeting with the media, Self expressed disappointment that it was not vodka in the cup.

He also said something interesting, and could be construed as a measured comment directed toward Ellis.

“My biggest concern,” Self said, “is who are my best players? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. We’re good if we play a system. Individually we’re not good enough to play against guys like that. We have to become a team. We’re not close to being a team yet. It’s a long season. We’ve had some teams stink before and responded. Tonight we could have been on the top of our game and not made much difference.”

Ellis should be KU’s best player, bar none. Self is right when he says KU isn’t good enough, at least not now, to try to individually outclass a team like Kentucky.

But Ellis has to be better than he was against the Wildcats. He is far and away the most experienced Kansas player and his teammates undoubtedly follow his lead.

Tuesday, Ellis led the Jayhawks into slaughter. He was defenseless to do anything about it. Bad became worse and worse became abysmal.

Write it off to November college basketball if you like. But remember, Kansas hadn’t scored 40 or fewer points in a game in 32 years, since Jan. 20, 1982, in a 41-35 loss to Missouri.

Only seven times since had KU been held in the 40s, most recently in a 61-49 loss to Arizona in the Maui Classic on Nov. 5, 2005.

One of those times, incidentally, was a 54-49 loss to Wichita State at then-Levitt Arena on Jan. 6, 1987.

Kansas will get better. Then again, how could the Jayhawks be any worse.