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Joel Embiid’s health, ball-screen defense concerns after Kansas loss at Kansas State

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The final three shots and Andrew Wiggins took in regulation in Monday night’s loss to Kansas State are a pretty good representation of what this season has been like for him.

In the final minute with a chance to tie the game, Wiggins airballed a three. A couple of possessions later, he beat his man off the dribble and got into the paint, but his runner bounced off the backboard and rolled off the rim. But being the athletic freak that he is, Wiggins was able to come from the baseline outside the paint and tip in the miss, causing a turnover on the ensuing Kansas State possession that would force overtime.

That’s him right there. That’s who he is. Underwhelming performances where he has a tendency to disappear and leave your mouth agape when you see him make the plays that he is capable of.

It’d be easy to pin this 85-82 overtime loss on another one of those up-and-down performances. Wiggins was 0-for-4 from the floor in the first half, meaning that he’s now 1-for-14 from the field in the first halves of his last three road games. The ‘1’? A half court prayer that came after the first half buzzer sounded at Baylor. He finished the night 4-for-12 from the floor and 8-for-15 from the line.

So yeah, it wasn’t a good night for Wiggins.

But that’s not why Kansas lost. Not even close.

Take a look at the Kansas State’s second half shot chart, via Kansas beat writer Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal:


If you can’t interpret that, it’s simply: Kansas State got 11 layups and dunks in the second half. Every other shot they hit was a three-pointer. When it comes to running efficient offense, that’s about as ideal as it gets.

Now, the reason that Kansas State got so many layups is a bit more difficult to work through. The obvious answer is that Joel Embiid was out of the game for much of the second half. He’s been dealing with a knee issue since the TCU game two weeks ago and a back issue since Saturday’s win against West Virginia. Bill Self said after the game there’s a chance he might sit out some games.

“Joel is beat up,” Self said after Embiid’s third-straight game in which he played less than 18 minutes. “I’m not going to make one excuse for him, because if you’re out there you have to perform. But certainly, he’s going to get some time off.”

Embiid is one of the nation’s best shot blockers, which would presumably make it more difficult for Kansas State’s burly-but-undersized front line to finish around the rim.

But the way that Kansas State was running their offense, there’s no guarantee he would have been around the rim to block any shots. Kansas was struggling with their ball-screen defense — on one possession, I counted Wildcat ballhandlers running off of six ball-screens — and you can be sure that if Embiid was in the game, his man would have been the one setting the screens. The goal of any coach is to get a shotblocker like that away from the basket — by forcing him to guard a shooter, involving him in screening actions, etc.

That’s besides the point, anyway.

Kansas’ defense has to be much, much better if they are going to be a national title contender.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.