Last season, the Kansas Jayhawks and Iowa State Cyclones produced some instant classics. With the gap in talent less distinguishable, there was hope that this year's encore would provide similar drama.
Newcomers Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid made sure that didn't happen.
Putting together their best argument for being the top two picks in June, Wiggins poured in 17 points to go with a career-high 19 rebounds, while Embiid finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and five blocks, as the No. 15 Jayhawks rolled to a 77-70 win over No. 8 Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum on Monday night.
SportsCenter summed up the win with this play:
Kansas freshmen SHOWING OUT vs. Iowa St. tonight. One of Joel Embiid's 5 blocks leads to 2 of Andrew Wiggins' 17 Pts. http://t.co/180eqziEh2— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 14, 2014
Naadir Tharpe added a career-high 23 points on nine shots to go with six rebounds and four assists for the Jayhawks, who remain undefeated in the Big 12.
Kansas Gameday noted the impressive start from a historical perspective for the program:
DeAndre Kane, fresh off a sprained ankle suffered Saturday against Oklahoma, led Iowa State with 21 points, but Fred Hoiberg's team couldn't overcome missing 21 of 25 shots from the outside.
The opening minutes consisted of equal parts of Kansas exploding out of the gate and Iowa State stumbling out of it. The Cyclones were sloppy on offense and couldn't keep Kansas off the glass on defense, as the Jayhawks jumped out to an early 15-4 lead.
But when Embiid, who had two points, two offensive rebounds and a steal in the first five minutes, went to the bench after being hit with a flagrant foul, Iowa State responded with a 14-5 run capped by a Kane alley-oop dunk that sent the Hilton crowd into a frenzy.
ESPN gave us a look at the throw-down:
From there, it was mostly back and forth.
Kansas was led by Tharpe, who didn't miss a shot from the field on his way to 14 first-half points, and Wiggins, who entered the locker room with 11 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, via the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newell:
Andrew Wiggins' 11 rebounds through first 17 minutes ties a career-high. #KUbball— Jesse Newell (@jessenewell) January 14, 2014
But Player-of-the-Year candidate Kane was his typical electric self in the first half, tallying 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and a buzzer-beating three that tied the game at 36 going into halftime.
Unfortunately for Iowa State, the second half began a lot like the first.
Behind more transcendent play from Embiid, the Jayhawks jumped out to a 9-0 run and never really looked back.
The Cyclones cut the lead to five on two separate occasions in the half. When they did it with 12:06 remaining, Embiid responded with three layups, a block at the rim, a steal and an assist in the next three minutes to push the Jayhawks' lead back to nine.
Iowa State did it again with under two minutes to go, but once again, Embiid came up with a big defensive stop on Kane, sealing the win for the Jayhawks.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: A-
A quick look at the box score will tell you the kind of impressive imprint Wiggins left on this crucial conference road game, but it still might not tell the entire story.
If you have the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, who are you taking?
En route to his 17 points, he was aggressive on the offensive end. He knocked down some early jump shots that extended the defense, and as that happened, he successfully got to the hoop for some easy buckets.
As far as his other impressive stat of the night, most of his 19 rebounds weren't easy. They were of the sky-over-everyone-else-and-grab-them-above-the-rim variety.
Wiggins slowed down in the second half, and he committed six turnovers, but his unreal athleticism and welcomed energy were integral to Kansas' win.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: B+
One of the few Iowa State players who seemed capable of consistently producing on the offensive end, Kane finished with 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals.
As has become typical, he was relentless in getting to the rim, finishing 6-of-13 from the field and got to the line 16 times. Unfortunately, a sour note was his eight missed free throws, including a couple important ones late in the game.
Still, playing through a less-than-100-percent ankle, Kane has very little to be ashamed of.
Joel Embiid, Kansas: A-
There are very few—if any—players in the country capable of affecting the game in the same manner as Embiid, and that was crystal clear on Monday night.
He blocked shots, affected others, recorded steals, scored with his back to the basket, scored off pick-and-rolls, passed intelligently out of double-teams and pulled down five offensive rebounds. On one sequence, when Iowa State was cutting into KU's lead, he had a huge block at the rim on one end and an agile post move and score on the other, leading to this praise from Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg:
In 30 secs, Joel Embiid has an assist out of double, a block and two beautiful baskets. Whoever has the No. 1 pick will think long and hard.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) January 14, 2014
His night wasn't perfect. He forced some things on offense (seven turnovers) and committed some silly fouls (most notably the early flagrant foul) that kept him off the court.
But he essentially put Iowa State away by himself in the second half, and NBA scouts were undoubtedly drooling watching him in action.
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State: C+
Melvin Ejim knocked down two of his five shots from deep, while the rest of the team finished a miserable 2-of-20.
So there's that.
Unfortunately, Iowa State's leading scorer was ice cold from everywhere else on the court. He hit just 5-of-15 shots overall, with several of those misses coming on shots around the rim that he usually makes.
Ejim eventually got to 15 points before fouling out, but he'll want to forget about this one.
Kansas continues its trip through the Top 25 when it hosts No. 9 Oklahoma State in a massive battle at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, while Iowa State will look to halt a two-game losing streak at Texas.