While in-season tournaments present great opportunities for programs to rack up multiple quality wins in a neutral setting, there also valuable when it comes to the growth of a roster. That’s certainly the hope for No. 2 Kansas, which despite its 2-1 weekend at the Battle 4 Atlantis did not enjoy the best of weekends in The Bahamas.
One night after losing to Villanova on a last-second three-pointer by Ryan Arcidiacono the Jayhawks failed to put away UTEP, and that combined with some poor decision-making down the stretch resulted in a “closer than it should have been” 67-63 victory. Perry Ellis led the way offensively with 19 points, scoring 15 of those points in the second half when the Miners were able to slow things down on both ends of the floor, helping offset a quiet night from freshman Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins scored just six points on 2-for-9 shooting, with UTEP’s multiple defensive looks successfully confusing Wiggins and many of his teammates. And he wasn’t the only freshman who struggled either, as one night after showing signs of being one of Kansas’ best decision-makers guard Frank Mason committed two unnecessary fouls in the game’s final minute. Add in 15 turnovers and as head coach Bill Self noted after the game, there are plenty of “teachable moments” for he and his staff to derive from this weekend in The Bahamas.
Kansas shot just 39% from the field and three-point shooting (5-for-19) remains a concern for the Jayhawks, who entered the game shooting 31.9% through six games. Kansas traditionally ranks among the best shooting teams in the country when it comes to overall field goal percentage, but they’re going need some guys to show that they can consistently knock down perimeter shots as the season wears on. Because even with the firepower on the roster, as UTEP showed Saturday night a zone or “junk” defense can be used to keep the Jayhawks out of the paint.
Some may wonder why there would be so much angst in the aftermath of a victory, but even with UTEP’s status as one of the preseason favorites to win Conference USA beating the Miners isn’t the standard set for Kansas. The Jayhawks certainly have to clean things up and they’ve got time to do that, and remaining non-conference games against Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State will test their progress.
The goal for any team with hopes of cutting down the nets is to hit its stride in March, not November. So while there are some areas of concern for Kansas, their uneven weekend in The Bahamas will help them in the long run.