On Saturday night, No. 5 Kansas went into Stillwater and lost to Oklahoma State 72-65, and while it saved the Cowboys’ season, it more or less meant nothing to Kansas.
Nothing at all.
The Jayhawks clinched the outright Big 12 title on Saturday evening with Kansas State knocked off No. 15 Iowa State. If they end up losing out on a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday, it’s not going to be because they lost to Oklahoma State on the road when the Pokes were back at full strength. They may drop a bit in the polls, but since the polls are nothing more than a popularity contest, I think Bill Self and company will survive.
The loss isn’t an issue. Why the loss happened, however, is.
First things first: the turnovers. Kansas committed 22 of them. Naadir Tharpe had six, many of which were completely head-scratching and, for the most part, unforced. Andrew Wiggins had six as well. It wasn’t like Oklahoma State was pressing for 40 minutes, either. This wasn’t a case of the Jayhawks going up against a team like VCU or Arkansas, teams that build their defense around generating turnovers.
These were brain locks. Wiggins shuffling his feet before putting the ball on the floor. Tharpe leaving his feet to make a pass with no one to pass to. The most egregious? With Kansas down four and less than a minute left in the game, Tharpe gave the ball to Joel Embiid 40 feet from the rim. Embiid tried to throw it back to Tharpe, who wasn’t looking. The ball bounced off of the back of his head and straight back to Embiid. Given time, the Jayhawks will laugh just as hard about that play as I did when it happened.
Elite teams don’t turn the ball over 22 times. National title contenders don’t make those kinds of mistakes that often. It’s the reason why ‘Naadir Tharpe’ is the answer to ‘Why can’t Kansas win a title?’ every time the question is asked. This isn’t the first time this has happened; he almost cost Kansas a win at Texas Tech as well.
As concerning as those turnover numbers were, that’s not the biggest question mark for Kansas coming out of Saturday’s game.
Embiid’s back is.
He hurt it when he landed awkwardly late in the second half. He left the game and returned, but was not moving well at all. One of Smart’s biggest buckets was a driving layup that he scored over Embiid on a block that Embiid normally would have gotten.
After the game, ESPN showed Embiid walking back to the locker room very gingerly. He was clearly in quite a bit of discomfort, although all Self would offer after the game was that Embiid “tweaked his back“. Embiid missed some time earlier this season dealing with back issues.
He’s such an important piece to what Kansas does, obviously. If he’s not at 100%, Kansas is not the same team.