Wed Nov 16 02:39am EST
It's not even close to panic time in Lawrence. So don't go that far just yet.
But there is a reality that might be setting in early here in the 2011-12 season: This year, Kansas might not belong with the so-called 'elites' in the college basketball ranks.
It wasn't that Kentucky picked apart Kansas on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden with a superior game plan or veteran savvy. Both teams were sloppy. But with that said, it was simply talent that won out in a 75-65 Wildcats victory.
The Jayhawks, right now, are good, but not great. In terms of the overall talent at Bill Self's disposal, it's likely the thinnest team KU has put on the floor since the 2000-01 campaign, which oddly enough had its season ended by a Self-led Illinois team in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
So, how did Kansas get to this point?
A lot of it is tied into recruiting, and to be more particular, it's been Self's bad luck in that department over the last few years.
Aside from getting beat at the finish line for a handful of top prospects, academic issues assaulted last year's recruiting haul in a big way.
After losing the Morris twins and ultimate glue guys Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed following last season's run to the Elite Eight, three of the five players Self signed in the 2011 class were ruled as partial qualifiers by the NCAA, making them ineligible to play in the Big 12. Canadian power forward Braeden Anderson ended up at Fresno State, while forward Jamari Traylor and shooting guard Ben McLemore — the star of KU's 2011 class — are currently watching from the bench in street clothes and will begin practicing with the team after the fall semester.
Also, while Self's team was knocked down a peg by a team loaded with freshmen and a program that has become a launching pad for one-and-done candidates, he's had some bad experiences in that department, too.
In the last two years, Kentucky got huge contribuitons from the likes of John Wall, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and other newcomers. Kansas got underwhelming and injury-riddled seasons from Xavier Henry and Josh Selby.
The law of averages tells you that this is just a minor swoon for Self, who has made a career out of being, among other things, a star recruiter. Kansas wins too consistently and has too much to offer as a program for this to turn into a downward spiral.
But in the meantime, this season will have some added intrigue and unknowns, as Kansas winning its eighth consecutive Big 12 title, even in a down year for the league, is far from a given. Of course, they won't be playing the Kentuckys of the world every night, and also have one of the nation's stiffest home court advantages.
In junior Thomas Robinson, Self has a legitimate front-line star and future NBA lottery pick. Kentucky collapsed on him repeatedly on Tuesday night, but Robinson still found a way to have an 11-point, 12-rebound night in 27 minutes.
The Jayhawks' glaring weaknesses, it appears, are depth and guard play.
The team's success will depend heavily on senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who has been consistently inconsistent throughout his career, following up solid performances with ones that are simply heartbreaking on a regular basis. He's also had his share of off-court issues, but now has one last chance to mature in a hurry and give KU the reliable leader it needs running the show. He was just 3-of-13 from the floor against Kentucky, but did hit 15 of 17 free throw attempts and committed no turnovers in 33 minutes.
KU might not develop into the Final Four threat this season that it has been in each of Self's first eight years on the job, but the Jayhawks are still dangerous to a degree. It's too hard to write them off after just two games, but it only intensifies the microscope on them as they head off to take part in a loaded Maui Invitational, where they'll open against Georgetown next Tuesday.