Kansas Basketball: Final Grades for Jayhawks' 2013-14 Season
Kansas' season came to a quick and sudden end on Sunday afternoon, when the Jayhawks—the No. 2 seed in the South Region—were bounced by the Stanford Cardinal 60-57 in the third round.
The result was pretty shocking, even as Kansas trailed for much of the way and struggled mightily, particularly on the inside, against a tough and determined Cardinal defense. Watching the game live, you couldn't help but get the feeling that someone would up his game at a crucial moment for the Jayhawks and will them to a come-from-behind victory.
But that moment never came, and Kansas and its fans were left to swallow the bitter pill of a second consecutive season without an appearance in the Elite Eight, much less the Final Four.
Now, that might seem like an awfully high standard for a team that won 25 games, claimed the Big 12 regular-season title (for the 10th consecutive season) and was without its best interior player during its tournament run.
But that's the reality of Kansas basketball. It's all about Final Fours and championships, and this year's team came up short of that goal.
Fair or not, these are your final grades for the 2013-14 Kansas Jayhawks.
Andrew Wiggins came into this season—without a doubt his lone one at the college level—with more hype than any player in the entire nation.
You can talk all you want about Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, but Wiggins was a known one-and-done player before he ever stepped on the court in the crimson and blue of the Jayhawks.
Before he even played a game, ESPN.com posed the question: "Should teams tank for Andrew Wiggins?" Yahoo! Sports published pieces on whether teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns should tank their seasons to position themselves for a chance at the top pick in the NBA draft in order to claim him.
Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated even took the time to devote an entire column on how the NBA could fix its lottery system to deter teams from tanking in order to get players like Wiggins, Parker or Randle.
That's some pretty serious stuff.
Throughout the season, Wiggins largely lived up to the hype as an uber-talented young man with a couple of flaws in his game. His season averages (17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists) were right about where you'd expect them to be, and he played tremendously (22 points, eight rebounds) in his first big national showcase, a 94-83 neutral-court win over then-No. 4 Duke on Nov. 12.
He proved he can really shoot the basketball and showed that when he's on, he's capable of taking over a game. But he also showed that he's prone to long stretches where you don't even know he's on the court and that he often lacks the aggressiveness you'd like to see from a player with his talent and style of play.
Sadly for Wiggins and the Jayhawks, the latter was the player who manifested in the season-ending loss to Stanford.
Wiggins had as many points (four) as turnovers and shot just 1-of-6 from the field. The performance was so bad, there are people openly speculating about whether or not it cost him the top spot in the upcoming NBA draft.
Only time will tell on that front, but on the overall score, we must view Wiggins in totality. Overall, he had a solid freshman season. He displayed the type of talent that was advertised, but like so many other young players, he's got a lot yet to learn.
Final Grade: B+
Joel Embiid will forever remember this season—quite possibly his only at the college level—as a lost opportunity.
The 7'0" big man from Cameroon was the Jayhawks' most important player this season—even more so than Wiggins—and missed their last six contests with a stress fracture in his back. There was hope, should Kansas advance to the Sweet 16, that it would get Embiid back in time to make a national title run, but it wasn't to be.
Embiid, a former volleyball player who only started playing basketball in 2011, began the season very raw and a bit unrefined. But as the year went on, he really upped his game, settling into the role of dominant interior defender and rebounder.
His rise was meteoric, and by January, there was already discussion that his huge upside could lead him to supplanting his teammate Wiggins as the top overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft.
Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.0 boards and 2.6 blocks per game this season. He was the Jayhawks' best interior defender and rim-protector. All you need to do in order to understand his importance, particularly on defense, is to look at the numbers.
In games where Embiid played 20 or more minutes this season, per Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated, Kansas' opponents only shot 41.9 percent on two-point attempts. By contrast, in games where he played less than 20 minutes, opposing teams saw their two-point percentage balloon to 46.6 percent.
That's a testament to his interior presence and ability to alter shots and force teams into lower-percentage looks from outside the paint.
The lone knock on Embiid is that we don't know how he would've performed in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Big 12 or NCAA tournaments.
But it's fair to say that Kansas—which was beaten 37-35 on the glass by a so-so rebounding team in Stanford in its season-ending loss—could definitely have used his inside presence in order to extend its season.
Final Grade: A-/B+
Perry Ellis is one of the Jayhawks starters who is most likely to return next year for his junior season. That's largely due to the fact that he was overshadowed this year, often playing third wheel on a team featuring two stud freshmen in Wiggins and Embiid.
But that doesn't mean he wasn't a big part of the Jayhawks' success.
Ellis saw drastically increased playing time in his sophomore season, more than doubling his scoring average (from 5.8 to 13.5 points per game), grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game and improving his shooting to 54.9 percent.
He had big performances in wins over Duke, New Mexico, Iowa State and Oklahoma, and tried to put the team on his back in a 94-83 loss against the Cyclones in the Big 12 tournament semifinals. In that game, he had 30 points, just to shy of a career high, and seven boards.
For the season, Ellis remained largely consistent, but he was definitely upstaged by his two better-known teammates.
With Embiid on the shelf for the final six games of the season, Ellis upped his scoring average to 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds, but those numbers are skewed by the 30 points he scored in the Big 12 semifinals and the 13 boards he grabbed in Kansas' second-round victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Ellis had just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting in the season-ending loss to Stanford, and you can't help but feel he missed a big opportunity to step up as the Jayhawks' main scoring option with Embiid out and Wiggins struggling.
He loses a few marks for that.
Wayne Selden Jr.
Wayne Selden Jr. was the third part of Bill Self's recruiting trifecta in the offseason—joining Wiggins and Embiid—and, at least statistically, he was the third-best player in that group.
On a team featuring so many proficient scorers, it's understandable how Selden could fly a bit under the radar. He did average 9.7 points per contest and had a few really good games—Duke, Oklahoma, Kansas State—showing flashes of possible future brilliance.
But he also had a bunch of games where he disappeared.
Selden is one of those players who can hurt you in different ways. He's proficient from the perimeter and can also slash and attack the rim.
The biggest problem in his game—granted he's a freshman—is a lack of aggression. Selden is often too passive on the court, deferring to the better-known players around him. That's not always a bad thing, but it's nice to have a certain level of killer instinct in a player.
Selden also faded pretty badly during Kansas' late-season swoon.
The Jayhawks were just a .500 team over their final six games without Embiid, and during that stretch, Selden saw his scoring average dip to 6.5 points per game.
In two NCAA tournament games, Selden only contributed a total of four points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field. Talk about coming up short in a big spot.
That's not enough to ruin an overall promising, if unspectacular, season, but it definitely takes him down a few pegs.
The proverbial excrement storm is about to come raining down on Naadir Tharpe.
Sure, Wiggins was streaky and didn't show up against Stanford, and Embiid was hurt.
All of that is true—and then some.
But Tharpe was a frequent—and not always unfair—subject of Kansas fans' ire all season, and his performance in the NCAA tournament is going to do nothing to call off the dogs.
Tharpe really isn't a true point guard, the role he was thrust into this season, and is likely to be the only Jayhawks starter not to find his way into the NBA. His effort and leadership were often questioned, and time and time again, he found himself on the bench for long stretches when Coach Self felt his energy wasn't up to snuff.
Now, nobody is placing all, or even most, of the blame for the Jayhawks' disappointing finish on Tharpe's shoulders. That would be completely unfair, given he had nowhere near the expectations of Kansas' other starters.
He was definitely one of the culprits, but to say he was the only or biggest one is totally unrealistic.
Tharpe never really found any consistency in his game, and he was brutally bad down the stretch, including Kansas' two NCAA tournament games.
Dating back to a Feb. 15 victory over TCU, he had as many zero-point games (two) as double-digit efforts. Against Eastern Kentucky and Stanford, he was a complete non-factor, closing out a bad season in a bad way.
For the Jayhawks, bench depth can be boiled down to only three names.
Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor and Frank Mason.
Nobody else provided any real statistically significant production playing behind the starting five.
Black, who was in his lone season in Lawrence after spending three seasons at Memphis, played big down the stretch—he was the lone Jayhawk to turn in two solid NCAA tournament games—particularly once Embiid went down with injury.
His energy and effort, though not always his numbers, were a big part of Kansas' success this season, and he might be the most overlooked contributor on the team.
Frank Mason got off to a good start in the nonconference schedule, but he was a complete non-factor for much of the season. He's only a freshman and still has upside, but it seems that he's best suited for a bench role going forward. He's just not consistent enough to rely on him for starter's minutes.
Jamari Traylor has a ton of potential, and he showed flashes this season of possibly being a solid contributor going forward. He's not much of a scorer—the Eastern Kentucky game notwithstanding—but he can grab his share of boards off the bench.
These three players were pretty much all she wrote when it came to the Jayhawks bench.
Conner Frankamp is worth mentioning. He hit his stride in the tournament and very nearly pulled off some last-second heroics against Stanford, but he's a player who didn't provide much during the regular season. Next season should provide a better look at what he can contribute.
The lack of real depth hurt the Jayhawks, and it wasn't so much that their bench players didn't play well, but that there weren't enough of them.
Bill Self didn't do his best coaching job this year.
Granted, it's difficult being a college coach these days.
Elite high school players come to college now because they have to. They can no longer jump straight to the NBA, and thus, they come to a school, have a cup of coffee and then jet off after a season in search of the big bucks.
Self certainly knew when he recruited Wiggins, Embiid and Selden that he probably wouldn't have them around for very long. Wiggins is a virtual lock to enter the NBA draft, Embiid could well join him, and while Selden would likely benefit from another year in school, nothing is certain.
But it's hard to look at this roster in its totality and not think: Could he have gotten more out of a group this talented?
The Jayhawks entered the season as the No. 5-ranked squad in The Associated Press' preseason poll. They weren't just considered national title contenders, but easily slotted into the select group of national title favorites.
A record of 25-10 and a third-round exit against a team that they absolutely should've beaten.
The Jayhawks looked absolutely terrible against Stanford's zone. They were clearly rattled, and even with Self trying to get other players involved—Frankamp, Landen Lucas and even Brannen Greene saw action—nothing worked. The team just didn't have it, and it showed.
Putting it bluntly, Self was flat out outcoached by a man—Johnny Dawkins—who literally saved his job by just getting his team into the tournament. Dawkins' zone defense was brilliantly constructed, and Self had no answers for it. And that was the ballgame and the season.
For most teams, a 25-win season and a 10th straight regular-season conference title would be enough.
But Kansas isn't most teams.
With a roster this talented and a favorable draw in the South Region, you can't help but feel that this season was a big disappointment for the Kansas Jayhawks and their fans.
You can't often argue with a 10th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title. You can't often argue with a team that puts up 25 wins while playing in a conference deep enough to produce seven bids to the Big Dance.
But 10 losses? Out before the second week of the NCAA tournament?
That's not—and never will be—acceptable in the universe of Jayhawk basketball.
The 10 losses are the most from any Kansas team since 2000, the 25 wins are the fewest since 2005, and this was the first team since 2009 not to win at least 30 games.
We can dissect and debate the lack of Embiid in the NCAA tournament from here until forever, and there's no doubt at all that the Jayhawks were a fundamentally different team without him.
But their draw was still favorable, and with his potential return looming in the second week of play, there was no reason to expect that this team—still loaded with talent—couldn't find a way to shoot itself past a 12-loss Stanford team and into the Sweet 16.
But instead, Wiggins turned in his worst performance of the season, Selden and Ellis hardly showed up and poor Black was left all by his lonesome.
This was a group of underachievers—a team that was supposed to bring Kansas its first national title since 2008.
Maybe it shows the dangers of overreliance on freshman players, regardless of their talent.
But it will forever be remembered not for what it accomplished, but what it didn't.