CHICAGO — Last season, we christened The KU Chalkboard, a weekly refuge where one could analyze Jeff Withey’s block percentage or dissect Kansas’ adjusted defensive efficiency in peace.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Today, as No. 5 Kansas prepares to face No. 4 Duke in the Champions Classic, the ’Board makes its triumphant, glorious return, ready to keep tabs on Wayne Selden’s usage rate, Perry Ellis’ efficiency around the rim and Andrew Wiggins’ VORH (value over replacement haircut). More on that in a second.
Every week, we’ll dive into the minutiae and take a statistically inclined look at Kansas. But today, with just one game in the books, and Jabari Parker and Duke waiting at the United Center, let’s keep things simple:
Here are six things you might need to know before tonight’s game:
1. Kansas coach Bill Self has been one of the most outspoken critics of the new rules that limit hand-checking and contact around the perimeter. In an attempt to promote more scoring, college basketball has tried to make the game more free-flowing and less physical in certain areas.
But in Self’s view, scores across the country will increase … but only because teams will shoot more free throws. So far, some of this has been true. Officials called 58 fouls in KU’s 80-63 victory over Louisiana Monroe last Friday. And you might have seen that Seton Hall-Niagara game last weekend, where refs called an absurd 73 fouls.
For now, Self still isn’t sure whether the emphasis on limiting contact on the perimeter will be a net positive or negative for his team.
On one hand, freshman Andrew Wiggins could be even more unguardable if an opponent can’t use his hands while attempting to stay in front of him. On the other hand, Self is the kind of coach who detests anything that might keep his team from being aggressive on defense.
“When you say ‘Play with your head and your feet,’ or whatever term you want to say that means don’t foul … the tendency is to play passive,” Self said. “And to play defensively on defense, and we’ve never been a team like that.
“We’ve always been a team that attacked the other people, especially at home, and this team hasn’t done that at all.”
2. The ticket market surrounding tonight’s games, including No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State, has turned fairly ridiculous. According to SeatGeek, an online ticket marketplace, fans are paying an average of $366 per ticket on the secondary market to attend tonight’s games — $204 more than the average resale price for the same event last year, which was held at the Georgia Dome. On Sunday, you could find two courtside seats on StubHub.com for $3,250 each, and according to SeatGeek, two other courtside seats have gone for $3,500.
This is, of course, what happens when you have a four-team event that includes crazy fan bases from Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Duke. But even for an obscenely rich college basketball fan, spending $3,500 for a November double-header probably means you have too much money.
3. Naadir Tharpe is back. So Tharpe, a junior point guard, may not be the Jayhawks’ best player — or even their best guard — but he is the most experienced player in the program (if you don’t count senior transfer Tarik Black) and one of the only players to have played major minutes in an environment like this one.
Tharpe served his one-game penance for playing in an unsanctioned Pro-Am game last summer in Chicago, and now he’ll return to the starting lineup tonight against Duke.
“Naadir’s not our most talented guy,” KU coach Bill Self said. “But he’s been our most valuable player since we started practicing.”
It carried over into Kansas’ two exhibition games, when Tharpe recorded 15 assists with zero turnovers. And his return could facilitate some more scoring chances for Wiggins. Self has also cautioned that the Jayhawks must be able to handle Duke’s pressure. Much of that duty will fall on Tharpe.
“I think it’ll be a totally different-looking team,” Self said.
4. Speaking of Wiggins, well, he got rid of his glorious, unkempt fro. Here’s the before and after photos. Here at the Chalkboard, we thought it was a good look for Wiggins, and seemed to mesh with his cool, laid-back persona. But now it’s gone. Too bad. We’ll never know what could have been.
5. Then again, maybe Wiggins’ streamlined look will help him stay in front of Duke’s two versatile forwards, freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore Rodney Hood. Wiggins probably will spend time guarding both players tonight, but he could start on Hood, whom Self called maybe the “best three-man” that Kansas will see all season.
6. While most of the attention will rightly be on Wiggins and Parker in tonight’s matchup, here’s one reason why Kansas might be better off facing Duke in March.
The Blue Devils have nobody like Kansas freshman Joel Embiid, a 7-footer with emerging skills and coordination. (In addition to Parker and Hood, Duke will start Amile Jefferson, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward.)
Embiid, though, is playing just his second college game and still feeling his way around a basketball court. Kansas probably will have the inside advantage tonight against Duke, but if Embiid can tap into his potential, that advantage would be even greater in four months.
To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.