Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

What’s at stake with Naadir Tharpe, Wichita State’s anger, and Bruce Weber’s comfort

03/21/2014 9:29 AM

03/21/2014 9:46 AM

Just some quick thoughts before we start a historical day, when we finally find out if Kentucky will be the proud owners of the best recruiting class to ever lose an 8-9 game.

So much of the talk around Kansas is about Joel Embiid’s injury, and the Jayhawks’ need for Andrew Wiggins to be ANDREW WIGGINS

, and there is no question that the most talented player in the country can cover a lot of flaws and make up for some holes.

But there’s another important indicator here, one that you don’t hear as much about, and one that isn’t as positive. It’s Naadir Tharpe. Bill Self is fond of saying that for KU to be great, it needs Tharpe to be really good. Well, another way of saying that is that as much as KU needs Wiggins to be great, it also needs Tharpe to not be bad.

At his best, Tharpe provides a lot of good intangibles. He has the guts to take big shots, and often the skill to make them. He’s been around longer than any of the other regulars, and the need for him to be a strong leader is

one of this team’s defining storylines.

It’s not exactly fair to say that Tharpe is a weakness, but it is fair to say he has two major weaknesses that can be exploited by the right team. The first is that, defensively, he’s pretty bad. He has a really hard time staying in front of his man, and being the point guard for a coach who loves man-to-man defense, this is a problem. The second is that he turns the ball over too much. This is a broader problem for the team (Wiggins, in particular), but Tharpe is the point guard and too often instead of calming everyone down when the game speeds up he’s one of the guys being sped up.

Point being, as much as Wiggins needs to be the reason KU advances, keep an eye on whether Tharpe is the reason KU struggles.

Everyone is talking about

how tough a draw Wichita State got and, sure, the Midwest is the consensus toughest bracket.

But doesn’t this play into what the Shockers promote themselves to be about?

Play angry?

Nobody believes in us?

Wichita should be embracing the challenge. Get through this bracket (which, let’s be honest, has been overhyped this week) and whatever voices they’re hearing about their weak schedule should silence. They’re the top seed in the toughest bracket, so there should be some pride in that.

In a lot of ways, this is a good spot for Wichita State. No matter their second round opponent, they should have their best effort. It’s either Kentucky, which would be a brand-name opportunity, or K-State, a pseudo-rivalry and "bigger" program that hasn’t scheduled them.

If the Shockers have been aching for a chance to show their talents on a big stage, well, here you go.

Kansas State’s season is a success no matter what happens today, just like the good-looking man wrote here.

They’ve already overachieved, and by making the tournament in what was supposed to be a very down year, Bruce Weber took a strong step in answering direct (and justified) questions about whether he could with his own recruits.

They’ve also been stumbling down the stretch, losers of three in a row (though each was against an NCAA Tournament team).

So I don’t think anyone is expecting a long run here in the tournament, and not just because KSU is matched against the future millionaire talent of Kentucky.

But there is an opportunity here, particularly for the future comfort of Weber. A loss today, and when the NCAA Tournament comes around next year, Weber (who will presumably have K-State back) will hear a lot of talk about how he’s only won two NCAA Tournament games over six appearances and nine years since that gorgeous team he took to the 2005 final at Illinois.

Win today, and Weber will have beaten

Kentucky, and even though this version of Kentucky is often selfish and clueless, that counts for something with storylines. And with college basketball, and Weber in particular, storylines matter.

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