Thank goodness for the calendar because it sure felt like March and not November. Kansas and Florida put on a late night show in Las Vegas worthy of all the pre-game hype. The non-conference thriller which lasted until well after 1am on the east coast, had it all from a screaming Dick Vitale to a raucous “neutral” court crowd. It was the type of game that provokes water cooler talk the next day.
Not trying to rain on anyone’s parade and Kansas should certainly feel good about this win against Billy Donovan’s top-ranked Gators, but in the long run, it’s just a quality non-conference win in November. Or is it?
After KU’s impressive triumph in Las Vegas, we know one thing for sure --if the Jayhawks brought that kind of effort to Allen Fieldhouse back on a certain day in mid-November they’d have a spotless record right now and would probably be the nation’s best team according to the pollsters. Bill Self’s team has proven to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Saturday’s high-octane performance was the complete opposite of Friday’s lackluster performance against Ball State.
So therein lies the mystery and the frustration for fans and coaches alike. Why can’t Kansas bring that type of energy and effort on a nightly basis? It’s something that has really had Self befuddled for most of this young season.
A win against the Gators won’t mean a hill of beans if Self’s squad fails to come ready to play against the Dartmouths or the DePauls of the world. Florida is a game with built-in motivation but you can’t play the number one-ranked team every night. This victory, which Self labeled as one of the biggest since he’s been at Kansas, must be a building block for the future, and that’s what KU’s fourth year coach will be harping on the next few days. A victory against the Gators is not the end, just the beginning if Kansas wants to contend for a national championship.
We also learned that when sophomore sensation Julian Wright plays with that kind of energy and effort, the results are mind-blowing. Wright, much like he did against Oklahoma in a 16-point comeback win against the Sooners last season, led the emotionally charged Jayhawks. These weren’t just good plays – these were eye-popping plays good for 17 first half points. Every NBA scout in attendance had to be salivating over the skill Wright packs in that skinny, 6-9 frame.
This is a poised and resilient group. I admit a shadow of doubt crept into my mind once Florida tied the game and sent it to overtime. I figured “giving” away a lead in the last minute would deflate the young Jayhawks. Not even a three-point deficit in the OT was enough to keep this determined bunch from walking away with a victory.
Now I’m going to go out of my way on this one - as good as the Jayhawks played – I still think they can play better. That’s a testament to the potential on Bill Self’s roster not a knock on this performance. Don’t get me wrong there’s not a single player who didn’t contribute to this one in some shape or form. We’ve mentioned Wright, Russell Robinson continues to be the pulse of this team, Mario Chalmers gets more comfortable in his own skin each and every day, Darrell Arthur proves again and again why he’s a big-time talent, and Brandon Rush was absolutely terrific on defense. However, Sasha Kaun is still shaking off the rust; Rush’s offensive game has another gear we’ve yet to see this season; and Sherron Collins played only seven minutes and had three fouls; and as scary as it is, Darrell Arthur is just going to continue to get better and better everyday.
Now let’s play a game of what if. So what if Kansas hadn’t come away with the win and Corey Brewer’s three would’ve dropped? It wouldn’t spell doom for KU and certainly Florida won’t lose sleep over this early season loss. It gives Donovan a chance to refocus his players and remind them what brought them a title in Indianapolis in April. For Kansas, it just might be the game you look back on as the start of something special in Lawrence.