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.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.
For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year.
On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.
Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.
Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.
In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.
As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.
(More to come from Chapel Hill…)
North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.
(H/T: The Cauldron)