Kansas Big Men Taking Pressure off Andrew Wiggins as Jayhawks Thump Georgetown

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreBRCollege Basketball National Lead WriterDecember 21, 2013

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LAWRENCE, KAN. — Tarik Black sat in front of the media on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. He had just played his best game since transferring to Kansas, a breakout effort after nearly two months of struggles.

Next to Black sat Joel Embiid, the big freshman who took his place in the starting lineup two weeks ago and shared the limelight with him in a 86-64 win over Georgetown.

"Can the KU bigs overwhelm opponents with their size and talent?" Black was asked.

"Look at this guy, man," Black said as he looked Embiid up and down with a big grin. "This right here is a load itself."

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 21:  Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks talks with Joel Embiid #21 during the game against the Georgetown Hoyas at Allen Fieldhouse on December 21, 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Black has known for some time the amount of talent possessed by his teammate, while everyone else is just figuring it out, and he's not offended one iota that a freshman took his spot.

Andrew Wiggins is a great talent. Landing Andrew Wiggins was a monumental moment for the KU program. He has had his moments when the hype has been justified and other times when he's disappeared for long stretches like he did on Saturday.

But Wiggins is not the key at Kansas. Right now, Wiggins is not even the star at Kansas.

"We need to play through our bigs," Bill Self said. "That's the strength of our team."

Read that again.

That's the strength of our team. 

"(Embiid) scores 17 points today and takes four shots," Self said. "What about if he's taking 12 shots a game?"

What if...

The 18th-ranked Jayhawks are still "a work in progress," as Self calls them. An early win against Duke was a tease to how good the team could be, and three losses in four games was a reminder that they were still figuring themselves out. 

But what they're figuring out, particularly the last two Saturdays, is that they can be as good as their lofty preseason expectations. Only Embiid, not Wiggins, might be the most important Jayhawk. 

"He's pretty good. He's pretty good," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said of Embiid, who scored 35 points and missed only one shot the last two games. "Just watching all their games, not only is he pretty good, he must be pretty smart because he is getting better and better with each game. I think he has a chance to be a special player."

Thompson, realizing what he just witnessed, changed his answer mid-thought.

"He might be at that point already."

It's hard to fathom for a guy who is in his third year of organized basketball, but there's a reason Embiid has entered the conversation with Wiggins as a possible No. 1 pick in June, per B/R's Jason King. 

Neither is a finished product, but Embiid is wunderkind on the low blocks and Wiggins is still trying to feel out his spot in KU's offense. 

"If you see him every day, he gets better," Self said of Embiid. "If not daily, weekly. He's still just scratching the surface." 

That's not to say that Wiggins is not improving too. He struggled offensively against Georgetown, scoring 12 points on 10 shots, but Self was pleased to see Wiggins attack the rim a couple times in the first half.

"He may not have gotten fouled, but at least he's doing what he's supposed to be doing," Self said.

Wiggins has had his moments—he is, after all, still leading the team in scoring—but the priority has changed from trying to make sure the Jayhawks feed that beast to making sure they feed their beasts.

That being Embiid and his buddies inside.

Black is not as gifted a low-post scorer as Embiid, but he finally showed against Georgetown that he can be a great finisher and impose his physicality on an opponent without fouling. He came into the game committing 10.7 fouls per 40 minutes and had only one foul in 20 minutes against Georgetown.

Dec 21, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks forward Tarik Black (25) bats away a rebound attempt by Georgetown Hoyas guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (4) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Black, like Embiid, did not miss a shot from the field. The two combined to shoot 16-of-21 at the free-throw line and led the Jayhawks with 17 points apiece.

It was a needed break for Black, who transferred from Memphis to be a part of a more big-man friendly program. He got his chances early, but he had not scored in four games and played only 11 minutes the last three.

"I knew coming here that it wasn't going to be perfect," Black said. "I'm new here. I played in college for awhile, but I'm new here and had to learn the system.

"Also it made it easier because I had played before so I knew what I was capable of the whole time. It was just a matter of finding it in this system and having faith that the opportunity was going to come and present itself."

Those opportunities will keep coming if Self gets his way.

Perry Ellis, KU's second-leading scorer, played only 12 minutes because of a shot he took to the head area that Self said bruised a nerve in his neck.

Dec 21, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) is fouled by Georgetown Hoyas forward Nate Lubick (34) while shooting during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Self said he did not expect that Ellis would be out long, which is good for the Jayhawks because he's another reason Self wants that ball going in the post.

Jamari Traylor, who had also passed Black as the first big off the bench, is a fourth reason. Traylor also didn't miss a shot and scored eight points.

The big bodies just kept coming at Georgetown.

"We can definitely do damage on the inside," Black said. "We're dangerous in the frontcourt."

So dangerous that the scouting report for any opponent coming into Lawrence probably isn't going to start with Wiggins.

To stop the Jayhawks, you better stop Embiid and the wave of KU bigs.

Good luck, Big 12.


C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.


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