Kansas Basketball: Jayhawks Still Big 12 Favorites Despite Slow Start

R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2013

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 21:  Naadir Tharpe #10, Jamari Traylor #31, and Evan Manning #5 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrate on the bench after the Jayhawks scored 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

The Kansas Jayhawks started the season with hopes of contending for another national championship during the Bill Self era. But after a few early season hiccups, the Jayhawks have looked like a team that is struggling to find its identity through the first 11 games.

Those early bumps in the road for elite teams like Kansas are just that and typically nothing more. With just two games remaining before starting the Big 12 slate against an Oklahoma team that has lost just one game all season to Michigan State, here are the ways Kansas can still turn the season around and win the Big 12 title for the 12th year in a row.


Getting Talent to Work Together

Nov 30, 2013; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) and center Joel Embiid (21) react after a score during the game against the UTEP Miners at the 2013 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. Mandatory
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas has the talent to win a Big 12 title. It also has the talent to win a national championship. But if said talent doesn't mesh, winning at the highest level is next to impossible.

What Bill Self has done at Kansas is remarkable, but even he admitted that his teams for whatever reason tend to improve after December, according to Matt Tait of KUSports.com:

We've always gotten better over Christmas. Last year was the one year we didn't.

In their last two wins, the Jayhawks have appeared to spread the ball around more and have scored more than 80 points against both Georgetown and New Mexico as a result. Against Georgetown, Kansas had four players—Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Naadir Tharpe and Tarik Black—post 10 or more points.

Even with Perry Ellis suffering a bruised nerve in his neck, Kansas' other prolific scorers were able to carry the team. In fact, Embiid's standout performance had Jay Bilas talking all sorts of nonsense on Twitter about the freshman:

But playing as a team means more than just spreading around the points, it also leads to teams playing better defense. Against Georgetown, Kansas held the Hoyas to a .407 shooting percentage and forced them to shoot just 4-of-15 from three-point range (.267).

With consistency at the point guard position with Naadir Tharpe returning to form—Self said he needs him to be "the quarterback" of the team in Tait's article—the Jayhawks might be able to get back to playing Self's style of basketball.

For Kansas to get back to its old ways, it will also need to find a way to stop teams on the road.


Reversing Road Woes

Dec 10, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) reacts against the Florida Gators during the first half at Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas has played just two actual road games early in the season and has lost both. The first loss to Colorado was shocking, but the Buffaloes have proven early in the season to be formidable foes for any team. The second came just three days later against a Florida team that now ranks 13th in the nation.

Needless to say, those are acceptable losses for a young team early in the season. But in order to turn around their season, the Jayhawks will need to learn quickly how to get road wins.

Kansas starts its Big 12 schedule with two early road games against the aforementioned Sooners and an Iowa State team that is currently ranked 14th in the country. Following the loss to the Gators, Self spoke about what his team needed to do to improve on the road to Mark Long of the Associated Press:

We made a couple of shots and played pretty well the first four or five minutes. But we were awful after that. ... That was not a good team playing there at all, and when things started to go bad, we didn't do anything to stop it. That was frustrating.

For the Jayhawks to heed their coaches' advice, they will need to learn to not give up on the road. One of the biggest tendencies for young players is to take plays off, which is something experienced teams feast on.

If Kansas continues to allow teams to take over games on the road, it will get the same results and could be looking up at teams like Oklahoma State and Baylor at the end of the season.