Just think, it wasn’t that long ago that the rest of the Big 12 thought the conference crown that has resided in Lawrence, Kansas for nine consecutive years was up for grabs.
Yet, through five games that included formidable tests against the likes of Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and now Baylor, the mighty Jayhawks are 5-0 in the league and in complete control of the early race for the Big 12 title. What’s more, their star player—one Mr. Andrew Wiggins—is going to take home the conference’s Player of the Year honors.
The barometer on Wiggins throughout the first half of the 2013-14 college basketball season has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride.
Before Wiggins officially committed to Kansas, the Jayhawks were seen as a Top 20 team but not really a threat to crack the Final Four. However, as a direct result of Wiggins electing to take his talents to Lawrence, Bill Self’s squad found itself among the nation’s elite with the No. 5 ranking in the initial AP poll.
The expectations for Wiggins were at an unfair level. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star broke down just how absurd the hypothetical bar was set before the freshman even stepped on the court:
If the Andrew Wiggins experiment at Kansas is deemed a success, it will not be because he meets the expectations that have been laid out before him. For the most part, he can’t.
Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 swingman, the son of two professional athletes, the great Maple hope of Canadian basketball, is expected to dunk from the free-throw line, score 30 points per game, and lead KU to a fourth NCAA title before becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
It would have taken the Space Jam version of Michael Jordan to live up to the hype.
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Wiggins expectedly fell short of saving the world through basketball in the early going, and when other superstars such as Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart got off to quick starts, Wiggins was immediately doubted. Losses to Villanova, Colorado, Florida and San Diego State didn’t do much to quell the noise.
Then Big 12 play started.
Against in-state rival Kansas State, Wiggins posted 22 points and five rebounds behind 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc. Then he dropped 17 points and an astounding 19 rebounds at Iowa State in a critical road victory for the Jayhawks.
So much for Hilton Magic.
Against Baylor, Wiggins scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but it was his aggressiveness and ability to get to the free-throw line that stood out. He finished with 12 free throws (10 of which he made) in the 10-point victory.
That’s not to say everything has been perfect. Wiggins was nowhere to be seen against Oklahoma State (three points and two rebounds) and struggled against Oklahoma (nine points and six rebounds), but Kansas won both games.
Nevertheless, the Jayhawks just emerged from their opening five-game stretch in conference play unscathed, and it included games against every one of the so-called contenders in the league, multiple contests against Top 10 teams and two road trips to difficult venues. Wiggins' role in all but one of them cannot be overlooked.
He may still have some issues with his overall consistency, but there isn’t a player in the country with as high of a ceiling as Wiggins. That includes fellow Big 12 Player of the Year candidates Smart and Melvin Ejim.
He is averaging north of 15 points and six rebounds a game, has a knack for getting to the line and is still developing. With many of Kansas’ difficult conference games out of the way already, expect those numbers to gradually improve against easier competition and as he gets better with more experience.
Wiggins may not be scoring the 25 points a game that many had hoped for before the season started, but when March rolls around, the Jayhawks will be sitting atop the Big 12 standings once again. Not only will Kansas be wearing the Big 12 crown for the 10th year in a row, but the best player from the best team will also be taking home the league’s MVP trophy.