There’s no doubt that No. 2 Kansas doesn’t lack for talent, as one of the nation’s best freshman classes combines with some solid returnees to form the rotation that many expect to make a run at yet another Big 12 title and possibly a national title as well. Of course there’s Andrew Wiggins, and classmates Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden and sophomore Perry Ellis have received their share of early season praise as well.
But there’s no guarantee that the five starters will get the job done for Bill Self’s squad, meaning that the reserves will need to be heard from as well. And on Thursday afternoon, that’s exactly what happened in the Jayhawks’ 87-78 win over a Wake Forest squad that proved to be peskier than many anticipated.
Kansas reserves combined to score 41 of those 87 points with freshmen Frank Mason (13 points) and Joel Embiid (ten points, six rebounds and three blocks) leading the way, and sophomores Jamari Traylor (eight points, five rebounds) and Andrew White III (six points, four rebounds) were productive as well. The starters struggled for much of the contest, which ultimately led to Self sticking with the bench players for a significant portion of the second half.
Wake Forest would make multiple runs, cutting the Kansas lead to four early in the second half, but the Jayhawks were able to regain separation down the stretch.
Much has been made of the arrival of Wiggins (17 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals) and based upon his skill set rightfully so, but while one player can get hot during the tournament a lot more is needed in order to navigate an entire season. Kansas entered Thursday’s game ranked eighth nationally in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency per kenpom.com, rankings that are indicative of the productivity of the entire team. And the bench production isn’t something new this season either, as Kansas reserves are scoring an average of 35.6 points per game.
While rotations tend to shorten when teams begin conference play, the Jayhawks have some bench players making the decision of “whose minutes will be cut” a tough one for Self and his staff. And that’s a good problem to have.