mason

Reserves make the difference as No. 2 Kansas holds off Wake Forest

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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.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: