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Andrew Wiggins won’t be The One at Kansas this season

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

In The Matrix, Neo might have been The One, but he needed Morpheus, Trinity and Tank to show him the way and watch his back while he learned Kung Fu.

Andrew Wiggins will have that same luxury at Kansas this year. Bill Self will make sure his star takes the crimson and blue pill so he can walk the fine line between artistry and hard work. Wiggins’ teammates will help carry the load. It’s the only way the Jayhawks can lock down yet another Big 12 title, and possibly another trip to the Final Four.

The team concept is vital. It’s a lesson other Big 12 teams have learned the hard way in recent seasons. Remember Michael Beasley at K-State? His single season was a marvel of individual effort, but Kansas won the 2008 league (and national) title in spite of Beasley’s 28 double-doubles. One year prior, Kevin Durant was transcendent at Texas, winning national player of the year honors, but even the Durantula couldn’t wrest the Big 12 trophy from Bill Self’s hands all by his lonesome.

So what’s to keep the same fate from befalling Andrew Wiggins? The Canadian wunderkind has the inside track on the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick and the Naismith Award, and most pundits favor him to be one of the game’s all-time greats over the next two decades. That’s a lot of expectation on one guy.

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Wayne Selden, also a freshman, will be Wiggins’ superstar wingman. (youtube.com screencap)

Here’s the thing – Kansas doesn’t do the one man show. Take a look at the talent arrayed around Wiggins, and you’ll see the makings of a national title contender, though maybe not one as flashy as the one John Calipari has built at Kentucky. Junior Naadir Tharpe will become the primary ballhandler, and he’ll share the backcourt with Wayne Selden, a freshman who would be the team’s most notable player if not for a certain Canadian.

(MORE: Read NBCSports.com’s Big 12 Preview)

In the frontcourt, Self has another newbie in Joel Embiid, an experienced transfer in Memphis’ Tarik Black, and the hard-won wisdom of sophomore Perry Ellis, who learned patience in his own unpredictable freshman campaign.

“I had a lot of ups and downs,” Ellis told NBCSports.com via phone. “I realized I still had a lot to learn about the game. Just by becoming more mentally tough and learning little aspects of the game that coach was teaching.”

Bill Self has never asked one player to carry his squad. His dalliances with one-and-done talent in the past have driven home the point: no one man, no matter how talented, can do the whole job. Xavier Henry needed his teammates to pick up the slack while he learned how to be aggressive and hit the mid-range jumper. Josh Selby had to sit out nine games of his freshman season, and never really became a star as he was expected to. Ben McLemore was Self’s biggest success to date, but last season was hardly a solo performance by the eventual lottery pick.

Wiggins is a different sort of superstar – he can, and likely will, take over games on his own – but he’ll have the support system he needs if things don’t go as planned. Ellis, a blue-chip recruit in his own right, knows that those days will come. He’ll have advice for Wiggins, Selden and especially freshman big man Embiid when things get tough.

“He’ll get down sometimes,” Ellis said. “I went through that too my freshman year. I can relate to him on that. Jeff (Withey) and them would take me under their wing when I wasn’t doing well or got down on myself. That’s what I’m really trying to help them with. When things aren’t going well, just keep competing.”

Wiggins is hard to nail down. He’s the sort of player who can thrive anywhere on the court. He’ll explode eyeballs if his teammates can do the little things that create space for a superstar – setting picks, knocking down zone-busting shots, sealing off defenders in the paint – and that’s the kind of thing Bill Self teams excel at. Ellis pointed out that some of the bench players who will see their time dwindle as the stars take the court will have vital roles to play.

“Andrew White and Brannen Green are good shooters. In practice, we’ve been meshing real well, with guys knocking in shots, or I can get it in the post and kick it back out. I think that will be great for us.”

If you look at Kansas teams of the past, there’s always talent. That’s a given. But Bill Self’s Final Four teams, including his national title winners of 2008, haven’t yet produced a bona fide NBA superstar. With a consensus stud on the roster this season, it’ll be up to the head coach to make sure his supporting cast is never standing and watching as Wiggins defies gravity. Ellis, who struggled to learn his role as McLemore lit up the scoreboard, knows that hard work pays off, even if you’re not the star every night.

“The game started really slowing down for me,” Ellis said. “I realized that my freshman season. It’s a long season but I turned it around at the end.”

Self’s troops, though young, should be primed to hear that wisdom. Even the younger players on the team ooze maturity. Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News – the polar opposite of an attention-hungry internet troll – lobbed a stunning compliment at one of the other freshmen earlier this season.

Wayne Selden does not relent. I’ll say this as directly as possible: Selden is the hardest-practicing freshman I’ve encountered in more than a quarter-century on the college basketball beat.

Wiggins’s athleticism will permit him to do some things college opponents can’t prevent. But those same young men simply won’t want to get in Selden’s way.

Kansas will certainly never turn up its nose at the uber-talented. But a decade’s worth of league titles won over an opponent’s superstar or two ought to prove that Bill Self’s Jayhawks will always win with more than one man, even when that man is the amazing Andrew Wiggins.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A Big 12 and a Big Ten showdown

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

The last time these two teams got together, West Virginia actually knocked off Kansas in Morgantown. It was the third time in the last three seasons that WVU has beaten KU at home. So there’s some revenge at stake here. But there’s also the whole Big 12 title race, which West Virginia currently leads. If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’ll be up by two games on Kansas with the tie breaker and just seven games left to play. The Jayhawks regular season title streak could be over if that happens.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 8 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.

We think the Spartans are back to their early season form after wins over Maryland (at home), Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan. If Michigan State really wants to prove something to the college basketball world, they will go into West Lafayette tonight and get a win. Denzel Valentine vs. Raphael Davis will be fun.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Pitt will pay a visit to No. 12 Miami in a game the Panthers could really use a win in. Pitt hasn’t been the most consistent team in the country and without adding a few quality wins they could be looking at the bubble.
  2. Duquesne will be paying a visit to No. 19 Dayton, who moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to VCU’s loss on Saturday.
  3. Georgia is right there on the bubble, and they will have a chance to try and push themselves into a better spot when they play at No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
  4. Creighton probably has to win out to have a shot of making the NCAA tournament, and that includes tonight, when they host No. 5 Xavier.
  5. No. 7 Virginia will be hosting Virginia Tech, who picked off the Wahoos in Blacksburg earlier this year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 1 Villanova at DePaul, 8:30 p.m.
  • No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Buddy Hield isn’t going anywhere

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) drives to the basket as LSU guard Antonio Blakeney (2) defends in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
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It’s Tuesday, which means that it is once again time for the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.

And you’ll be shocked to find out that Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield is still No. 1 in those rankings. By a pretty wide margin.

The rest of the top 10?

They can be found here, at the CBT FaceBook page. Follow that page for the countdown: