With so much hype surrounding freshman star Andrew Wiggins, the Kansas Jayhawks were expected to be a top team with young talent. Many made comparisons to the year Syracuse won the national championship with their own freshman star (Carmelo Anthony) and a slew of young, under-appreciated talent.
After earning a big victory over the Duke Blue Devils and their own freshman star, Jabari Parker, Kansas’ season was off to a hot start. Wiggins’ hype was greater than ever before, expectations even higher. It didn’t take very long, however, for things to take a quick turn downhill.
During the annual Thanksgiving weekend tournament known as the Battle 4 Atlantis, Kansas was the heavy favorite to win it all. A win against Wake Forest set up a semifinal match featuring the Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats, a team with very few expectations coming into the season. Nova took Kansas to the wire, managing to come away with a huge victory thanks for a late 3-pointer by Ryan Arcidiacono (his only made field goal of the game), knocking off the Jayhawks.
Kansas managed to recover in the consolation game against UTEP, but lost their next two games at Colorado and at Florida. This left many wondering if Wiggins and his teammates — as most of the country saw Kansas at this point of the season — could live up to their great expectations. The Jayhawks went on a three-game winning streak after those two losses, only to hit their lowest point of the season: losing at home to San Diego State in a game where Kansas never really looked comfortable or competitive.
Fans and media members alike all began to write off Kansas and, more critically, Wiggins. “He’s overrated. Not aggressive enough and is all athleticism and no pure skill”. As cruel as some of these comments were about Wiggins they were correct, at the time, anyway. Wiggins wasn’t being aggressive, often times deferring to be a secondary option to Perry Ellis when games were close. He has since shed that negative criticism, as have the Jayhawks.
Wiggins has helped lead the Jayhawks to a 13-2 record since that home loss to San Diego State, clinching at least a share of Bill Self’s 10th-straight Big 12 regular-season championship on Monday night after a win against Oklahoma. Only two teams in the history of college basketball have clinched more consecutive conference championships — 13 for the 1967-79 UCLA Bruins dynasty and 11 for the 2001-11 Gonzaga Bulldogs — than Kansas has. Winning consistently is often overlooked. This year’s Jayhawks would prefer they not be the attention of the media. Not after all they’ve had to put up with this season already.
Funny thing about the Jayhawks’ recent winning ways is that nobody seems to be talking about them anymore. Kansas losing games with Wiggins playing soft is a much better story than Kansas winning games and Wiggins being a solid player. Wiggins has scored 15 points or more in seven of Kansas’ eight games so far in February. Kansas’ record in those eight games? 6-2. The Big 12 is a brutal conference and losses are going to come here and there, no matter how powerful you may be.
Media attention can be the death to a young player. Some will tell you that they don’t pay attention to it, but there’s no avoiding it. When a player such as Andrew Wiggins comes to town, everybody will let him know how they feel about him. Whether that’s good or bad is up to those people. But Wiggins hasn’t been under the constant pressure to be great, to be the next thing since LeBron James because he doesn’t have to be. All Kansas needs him to do is to help them win games and be the player he knows he can be. He’s done just that the last two months and all those outside voices have started to fade away.
Now, with March Madness and the 2014 NCAA tournament approaching quickly, all eyes and ears will once against be refocused on the Jayhawks and Wiggins. How the team and the player handles that remains to be seen. If he can continue to ignore the naysayers, just go out and focus on the game at hand, not worrying about what come for the future, Wiggins and the Jayhawks are in line to be a formidable challenge to any and every team that stands between them and a national championship.