There were many fears that came with Kansas center Joel Embiid's absence and Friday night at the Sprint Center, many were realized, as Iowa State took it too the Jayhawks at will and eliminated then from the Big 12 Championship, 94-83 to advance to the championship game.
The Cyclones controlled the pace of the game and the Jayhawks, who needed overtime to dispatch Oklahoma State the day before wore down late, despite Perry Ellis' 30 point effort. Kansas was eliminated before the championship game for the first time since 2012.
"Well, obviously I thought Iowa State - I don't know if they controlled the game from start to finish, but, because we had a pretty nice run there midway through the first half. But they played very, very well. They were terrific offensively. We never got in any rhythm defensively at all," Kansas head coach Bill Self said. "And they were comfortable. And, of course, the first half their big three were really, really good. In the second half they were all good. But obviously they played through Georges there in the crunch part of the game, and he delivered for them."
"So it was disappointing that we didn't play better on the defensive end, but certainly they deserved to beat us and we deserved exactly what we got."
Kansas looked like they were ready to repeat what happened in last year's semifinal game, as they jumped out to a 36-26 lead after trailing early. However, unlike last year, Iowa State answered each challenge in a fun and fast paced first half, which had the fans buzzing. Kansas held a slim 48-46 lead and with the Cyclones now controlling the pace, Kansas was on the ropes.
The second half would be all Iowa State and the knock out would come courtesy of Iowa State's Georges Niang, who scored a team high 25 points and dished out seven assists, before leaving late when he was elbow by Kansas' Brannen Greene on a charge, which opened up a nasty gash on over Niang's right eye, which would require five stitches.
"It's not him on the low block, it's him driving to the low block. He scores the majority of his points by being crafty," Self said. "He's not the quickest guy, but he's probably as hard to guard as anybody because he can play at different speeds and he's shifty and he can get you leaning one way and come back the other. He's very good at spinning, as you guys know. So what I thought he did a great job of was to catch it beyond the arc and put his head down and drive, and then however we guard him after that, he countered it. He's really good. He's a fun player to watch play unless he's kicking your butt like he did tonight."
By that time, Iowa State had stretched their lead to as much as 12 and Kansas was going home, hoping their defensive woes are fixed in time for the NCAA Tournament. The Cyclones shot 54 percent for the game, including 11 of 19 from beyond the arc. If that defense shows up again, the Jayhawks' Tournament run will merely be a short walk.
"We're not going to play - I'm not going to say there's not other teams in the country that aren't potentially as good as Iowa State offensively. But we're not going to play a team, more than likely, in the tournament that's better than Iowa State was tonight offensively," Self said. "But, sure I'm concerned. I'm concerned about a lot of things. I don't know of any coach that wouldn't be concerned about different things with their ball club. That's an area that obviously we've been inconsistent because our defense last night was exceptional."
"And tonight it wasn't as good, and the matchup was harder for us tonight. We historically play better defense when you play against two bigs, and tonight we played against zero. And that makes it hard for us to guard."
Kansas will learn its tournament fate on Sunday night. They'll most like be a two seed, but some projections now have them potentially a three seed.