Andrew Wiggins

Two losses in a row? Three in 11 days? Oh well. Don’t give up on Kansas just yet

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I wrote this on Saturday after No. 13 Kansas lost to Colorado at the buzzer.

The gist of it?

Kansas fans should not be too disappointed about the loss, that the more important news was that Andrew Wiggins finally started to play like the Andrew Wiggins we all told you about.

I could pretty much write the same column after the Jayhawks lost to No. 19 Florida 67-61 at the O-Dome tonight. Wiggins finished with 26 points and 11 boards while holding Casey Prather, who entered the game averaging more than 19 points, to just one field goal. He started to take over in the second half and hit three threes down the stretch that nearly brought Kansas back from one of the ugliest first halves I’ve ever seen a Bill Self-coached team play. If a couple of calls had gone the other way down the stretch, this column might not even be necessary.

But Kansas lost their second straight game and for the third time this season, so it is.

Kansas fans: Do. Not. Panic.

For the most part, I don’t think you are. I think most of you get it. I think most of you realize that the best is yet to come for this group, but for those that don’t, let me explain.

The Jayhawks are young. Really young. The best lineup that they can run out there includes four freshmen and a sophomore. That’s exactly the same amount of experience as Kentucky puts on the court when their best lineup takes the floor. I know that you’ve heard this over and over again, but it takes time for these young teams to develop. It takes time for them to gel. It takes time for them to learn how to play, how to compete, how to buy into a role, and how to win at the collegiate level. It also means that their learning curve is steep. They’ll get a lot better, and it will happen fairly quickly.

But it also means that, despite the overload of talent, the Jayhawks just aren’t that good right now, which is a problem considering the fact that Bill Self has rolled his team through a hellish schedule this season. Think about it like this: the Jayhawks lost to an experienced and tough Villanova team in the Bahamas. The Wildcats, then unranked, are now a borderline top ten team and the favorites to win the Big East.

That happened on November 30th. Seven days later, they were in Boulder, CO, to take on Colorado, another veteran, to 25 team. They should finish in the top four in the Pac-12, and Kansas lost to them on the road at the buzzer. Not exactly something to be ashamed over. Three days after the Colorado game, the Jayhawks were in Gainesville to take on a Florida team that’s finally healthy and playing like the national title contender that they are. And, once again, Kansas lost.

On the road.

To a tough, veteran team.

Yes, there are issues that the Jayhawks need ironed out. They flat out stink at attacking a zone defense. Part of the reason? They’re not a great perimeter shooting team right now. The other reason? They haven’t faced many active zone defenses. You go zone in AAU ball because your players are tired, or lazy, or both. You play zone in college because you have the length and athleticism to give opposing teams a different look. Those zones are tough to beat, and that’s what Kansas faced during Florida’s 29-4 first half run. Kansas looked lost against an extended 1-3-1 zone, as they should. When have they ever seen something like that before?

There are also, once again, concerns at the point guard spot, and this could end up being a bigger issue. I love Frank Mason’s moxie and I love his toughness. He’s earned the starting point guard over Naadir Tharpe, who just isn’t capable of being this team’s leader. But I’m curious to see how that pans out over the course of an entire season. Can Mason be that sparkplug at the point?

Those are problems. But it’s not like those problems can’t be fixed, or at the very least minimized.

The bottom-line is that a young Kansas team that is only going to get better now has three single-digit losses to 25 teams, two of which came in true road games.

Don’t give up on them.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.