LAWRENCE — Another day, another victory over a ranked opponent for Kansas. The 15th-ranked Jayhawks stayed perfect in the Big 12 on Saturday, holding on for a 80-78 victory over No. 9 Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse. As a matchup with Baylor looms on Big Monday, here are three more thoughts and takeaways from the Jayhawks’ fourth straight victory:
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
1. It was almost Michigan all over again. That thought came directly from Bill Self, who made the connection during his postgame press conference. In last year’s Sweet 16, the Jayhawks controlled the game against Michigan for more than 30 minutes, building a 14-point lead in the final 10 minutes. But the lead wasted away, Michigan made a frantic comeback, and Trey Burke hit a deep three that forced overtime.
A devastating collapse.
Saturday’s final minutes had the same feel. The Jayhawks were in control, and then they weren’t. KU had an 18-point lead, and then had a chance to lose in the final seconds when Le’Bryan Nash nearly got off a potential game-winning three-pointer. Kansas’ Frank Mason, who had just missed a free throw, atoned for his miss by stripping Nash at the buzzer. So it all worked out.
But did KU actually miss out on a better late-game defensive strategy? There were close to five seconds on the clock when Mason went to the free throw line with KU leading 79-78, and the Jayhawks had just four fouls in the second half. Even after Mason missed his second free throw, KU could have salted away a few seconds by fouling Oklahoma State in the backcourt.
If Mason had made both free throws, Self may have instructed the Jayhawks to foul before a Cowboy could get off a game-winning three-pointer. But he said he didn’t consider fouling when up two points — even though KU had fouls to give.
“We haven’t practiced that,” Self said.
2. Jamari Traylor’s growth. It was a quiet career high for Traylor, who finished with nine points and three rebounds in 19 minutes. On a day where Andrew Wiggins (three points) and Perry Ellis (six points) weren’t scoring, it was a much needed offensive lift for Kansas.
On the whole, Traylor’s limitations on offense make him more suited to be a part-time player. But after redshirting and then playing sparingly last season, Traylor has shown enough growth on offense to suggest he could grow into a significant contributor before he’s done at Kansas.
Traylor rarely looks to score, and KU’s offense rarely looks for Traylor. He’s averaging just 1.9 field-goal attempts in 15.1 minutes per game. But after averaging .87 points per possession last year, Traylor is up to 1.11 per possession as a sophomore. He’s shooting 70 percent on two-point field goal attempts, and perhaps most surprising, he’s shooting 79 percent (23 of 29) from the free throw line.
Traylor will never be as polished as fellow sophomore power forward Perry Ellis. That seems certain. But his defensive ability, athleticism and energy could make him a solid piece in the frontcourt for the next two seasons.
3. The Big 12 grind. We’ve talked a lot about the difficulty of KU’s schedule — the nation’s toughest so far — but it’s worth mentioning again as KU finishes out a grueling 11-game stretch on Monday against Baylor.
The Bears were ranked No. 12 in last week’s poll, but will likely tumble after losing at Texas Tech and falling to Oklahoma at home. But entering Sunday, Baylor was ranked No. 44 in KenPom.com’s ranking, meaning Kansas will play a team ranked in the top 68 of KenPom’s rankings for the 11th straight game. The stretch has included Florida (No. 17 in KenPom), San Diego State (No. 21), Iowa State (No. 19) and then Oklahoma State (No. 12).
To put it one way: KU has played an NCAA tourney caliber team for 10 straight games.
It won’t get much easier. After a slight reprieve against TCU next Saturday — well, playing at TCU is supposed to be easy — KU will play Iowa State at home and then travel to Texas and Baylor. For the moment, TCU is the only Big 12 ranked outside of KenPom’s top 80. And according to a stat conjured up by the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Jesse Newell, KU’s current strength of schedule ranking (via KenPom) is the toughest in seven seasons. Yes, that’s for all of college basketball.