J'Covan Brown lights up the Jayhawks again but Texas still falls.
It was a clash of the stars, and Kansas came away the victor. The upperclassmen duo of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor were the only two Jayhawks who scored in double digits, combining for 47 points. Meanwhile, Texas' two best players, J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo, racked up 33. But, uhh, yeah: all 33 of those points belonged to Brown.
Kabongo's donut in the scoring column, while complemented by 6 assists, was a stark reminder of how unready he is for professional basketball. Meanwhile, Brown's stock may well be maxed out. Despite limited height, quickness, and athleticism, dude is a pure scorer and basketball player. It's a spirited debate as to whether each player should return next year, and ironically, their fates may be intertwined.
But first, here's a few words on the game. This season was a heck of a coaching job by Bill Self, as pretty much every single player on KU roster exceeded expectations. Robinson went from an All-American candidate to National Player of the Year frontrunner. Taylor from talented headcase to the Big 12's best point guard. Jeff Withey from a Chapman-like stiff to a defensive force. Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson from do-nothing ex-blue chippers to solid role players. Conner Teahan from nobody walk-on to ace-in-the-hole sharpshooter. Kansas went out and earned the right to take home its eighth straight Big 12 championship, and kudos to the Jayhawks for a great season.
As for Texas, it was a valiant but ultimately futile effort. I'll give the seniors, Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene, a hand. Both have had ups and downs throughout the season, and Saturday was no different. Wangmene was doing a grade-A job of defending KU's Robinson until a freak arm injury knocked him out for the year. Chapman had some strong opening minutes, then unluckily rolled his ankle, but continued to put in some tough minutes with Wangmene sidelined. Both players have been solid contributors this year, improving much upon season past, and I hope memory serves them well.
Texas' remaining players (all freshmen, it should be noted), didn't have their A games. Or even B games. Sheldon McClellan, fresh off a 24-point outburst against OU, was held to just 2 of 10 shooting after being hounded all night by Releford and Johnson. Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes combined for just 5 rebounds and 2 assists, and were hardly able to check Robinson when called upon after Wangmene's injury. Julien Lewis returned from a back injury to chip in a solid 8 points, though it would have been nice to see a full-strength Lewis help body up Taylor.
I'm hopeful that all of them will improve upon sometimes trying, yet mostly developmental, freshmen campaigns. I can only hope we will also see Kabongo's improvement happen at Texas next year. In a debate that would take more than just one paragraph, I personally think Kabongo should return for his sophomore year. He has a lot of room for improvement, and another year in Austin could pay off both professionally and financially. Meanwhile, Brown may have proven all he can on the 40 Acres. The only way I see him benefiting is if Kabongo does leave and Rick Barnes hands Brown the keys as the full-time, starting point guard. Again, it's a debate we can have in the off-season.
As for next steps this year, Texas is the sixth seed in the Big 12 Tournament. The Horns draw Iowa State, which beat Baylor at home to close out its season. Without Wangmene and with a hobbled Chapman, Texas would have been hard-pressed to try and beat Baylor's tall and talented frontcourt. So while a win against Iowa State won't have the same cache, the most important thing is to do like Al Davis says: just win, baby.
The only way Texas can feel absolutely safe is to win the whole enchilada. But with that being about a snowball's chance in happening, two wins would make me feel confident, one win at least somewhat safe. A second-round loss to the Cyclones would put me on pins and needles going into Selection Sunday. The Cyclones aren't a pushover win by any means, and they've risen to #28 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. It's a good team, but a beatable team. We'll see what happens.