By now you should know that No. 2 Kansas had other heavily-sought after recruits not named Andrew Wiggins. One was starting guard Wayne Selden and the other was 7-foot center Joel Embiid.
The latter of the two had his best performance to date in KU’s 86-66 win over defending MAAC champion Iona on Tuesday night at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Embiid started the game off the bench to score 16 points, grab 13 rebounds and reject two shots, connecting on all seven shots he took.
“You guys saw just a small glimpse of how good his feet are,” Kansas head coach Bill Self told reporters after the game, via Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “And he’s smart, and he gets it, and he’s just figuring stuff out all the time. I’m real pleased with his development, but I still think we’re not even scratching the surface of what he can become.”
The Cameroon native, playing in front of his father, showed enough glimpses to warrant a second half start over transfer senior Tarik Black. In the first half, Embiid showed terrific footwork in the lane for the smooth finish at the rim. And in the first minute of second half he rose up and caught a high alley-oop feed from Naadir Tharpe.
Kansas led 41-36 at halftime, but pulled away in the last 20 minutes behind Wiggins’ defense and Perry Ellis’ team-high 21 points. Wiggins and Ellis connected on a great play, that started with Wiggins picking off a pass at halfcourt, before surveying the court. Wiggins attacked the basket and hit Ellis with a pass, and from there the sophomore forward went up and under the hoop for the acrobatic lay-in, to stretch the Jayhawks’ lead
I get it, a double-double game against Iona may not be a big deal, but this is a big step for a kid that didn’t start playing basketball until he was 16. Embiid is full of potential, and this was a step in the right direction. What’s even better for Kansas: he’s got 10 more games to get more reps, more minutes before conference play starts. And by then he’ll have games against Florida’s frontline, Joshua Smith of Georgetown and Alex Kirk of New Mexico under his belt.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.