Feb 11, 2013, 11:48 PM EDT
Kansas was never “not good enough”.
The three game losing streak they battled through? That embarrassing loss to TCU? Their first three game losing streak since 2005? Their first losing streak — period — since 2006?
That was never a result of Kansas being bad or Kansas being anything other than the Big 12 favorite and a Final Four contender. We knew Kansas was flawed at the beginning of the season. We knew they would be forced to use an out-of-position Elijah Johnson or an overmatched Naadir Tharpe at the point, and we knew that Ben McLemore would take time to embrace the role of go-to scorer.
If anything, the 18 game winning streak that the Jayhawks were able to put together is a testament to how well Bill Self can coach and just how good this team can be defensively.
On Monday night, Kansas proved that as they jumped out to a 36-16 first half lead en route to an 83-62 pasting of Kansas State, an in-state rival that just so happened to enter Phog Allen with sole possession of first place in the Big 12.
It was, quite frankly, a sensational performance from the Jayhawks, and precisely the kind of offensive explosion that they needed to give them the confidence that they aren’t nearly as bad as they have played over the past ten days. Ben McLemore had 30 points on 9-13 shooting from the floor. Jeff Withey finished with 17 points, 10 boards and five blocks. Kevin Young had 13 points and nine boards doing prototypical Kevin Young things. Naadir Tharpe played the best basketball of his Kansas career in the first half, where he finished with seven points, six assists and not a single turnover. And as a team, the Jayhawks made Kansas State look downright inept offensively for the first 15 minutes.
That was a glimpse of just how good this group can be when it call comes together.
But there are also plenty of red flags that should keep Jayhawk fans from getting too high after this win.
For starters, Johnson is still playing poorly. He was 1-6 from the field with three assists and four turnovers in 28 minutes despite playing the majority of his time on the floor at the off-guard spot. The 27 minutes that Tharpe played were the most he’s logged since the season-opener. And after a terrific start to the game, Tharpe looked fairly normal in the second half. He missed his last five shots and had just two assists and a turnover in the final 20 minutes.
Ben McLemore scored those 30 points on 13 shots, the majority of which were in transition or on catch-and-shoot threes. He’s still an uber-efficiency piece within a system, go a true go-to player that can create his own shots in isolation. The Jayhawks still have some serious depth issues, as Tharpe is really the only non-starter ready to contribute major minutes.
All those inherent issues that Kansas had at the start of the season? All the problems that were magnified as the Jayhawks played three consecutive games without confidence and with the toughness of a lily pad?
They are still there.
Kansas is still the same team they were in November and the same team they were in January and the same team they were against TCU.
Kansas State caught the Jayhawks at the wrong time. They won’t be this good every night.
But this should be enough to prove to anyone thinking that Kansas was somehow no longer the best team in the Big 12 that this is Bill Self’s conference to lose.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
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