The Oklahoma Sooners are preparing for a tough week of basketball. First up will be the Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday and then the undefeated Iowa St. Cyclones on Saturday. Needless to say, we will learn not only where this team projects in the conference but also where they project nationally. Before we get to the aforementioned debate, notkapowski of Rock Talk Chalk was gracious enough to sit down with CCM and talk Kansas Basketball.
CCM - Andrew Wiggins has been in the national spotlight since his recruitment process. How has he translated to the collegiate game and what is the fanbase saying about this talented freshman?
I think some people have been disappointed with Wiggins because he hasn't been scoring 20 a game and flashing highlight reel dunks every other possession, but I have been very satisfied with his play. People rag on him for being inconsistent, but he's taking more shots than anyone else on the team, and he's maybe the best perimeter defender in the country. Like all Freshmen, he doesn't bring it 100% of the time, but when he doesn't want his guy to score, his guy doesn't score. He could use some work on his outside shot and scoring around the rim, but other than that he's been great.
CCM - With the aforementioned player being thrust into the limelight, who are some other major contributors expected to have an impact in conference play?
Obviously Joel Embiid is the guy right now. He's blossomed into a very good interior defender and he is shooting 68% from two. He's also one of the better rebounders around and he's drawing fouls at a high rate as well. If you look at his tape from any of the games in December vs. a game in November, his improvement is staggering. He's already a great player, but by the time March rolls around he might be one of the best 5 or so players in the country. Other than that, Perry Ellis has had a bit of a rough patch lately, but he's been having a great year other than that.
CCM -This is a roster full of inexperience without Jeff Withey and Travis Releford. The change marks a complete shift from last season as the Jayhawks possessed possibly the most experienced filled roster in the nation just a year ago. A majority of the talent is known for its offensive repertoire. However, Bill Self is known for his defenses, a stat line never "good enough" for the head coach. Is this a group ready to buckle down and live up to the defensive prowess of prior teams?
They've been getting a bit better defensively. They're holding teams to 43.4% shooting from two on the year, which would be a lot lower if you took out a dismal first handful of games. It probably won't get to the 37-39% mark they've been known for, but it should be good enough to accomplish what Kansas wants to accomplish this year. Their biggest problem is not being able to force a lot of steals, which cuts down on easy baskets, and they've had a really tough time on the defensive glass lately. The talent is there, but the toughness is missing a bit as of right now. Hopefully the tough non-conference schedule will prepare them for the best conference in America.
CCM - Throughout a majority of nonconference play, Kansas has seemed to lack a vocal leader. Who do you expect to step up into that role for the next two, maybe three, seasons?
I think it's going to be Naadir Tharpe. He's the old man on the team and while he does some ill-advised things, he's a pretty underrated player who I think the team respects (although, to be fair, how the hell would I know). Tarik Black is a 5th year Senior, but he has as much KU experience as the Freshmen do. Other than that, they don't really have a vocal leader, which can obviously help and hurt at times.
CCM - The Big XII Conference is littered with ball players from top to bottom. Competition will likely be stiff as possibly six teams look to make the NCAA Tournament. What are the Jayhawks chances of winning yet another conference title this season?
I think you are exactly right in saying the Big 12 could get 6 in the tournament. Kansas, OSU, Baylor and Iowa State are all going to be locks, and I think Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas could potentially all go as well. That said, even with the issues they've had in the nonconference, I still like Kansas to take this thing home. I am sure I'll be called a homer but when they're clicking I think they're pretty unbeatable. The problem, of course, is just how often will they be clicking and can they win when they're not? So far they haven't but I think they'll learn some lessons from the nonconference, get in a groove, and win (or share) the league with 3 or 4 losses.