By: Taylor Erickson (follow on Twitter at @tc_erickson)
Fresh off an absolute beat down of K-State, Coach Self is now faced with a pretty interesting question.
What do you do with the point guard position?
There are two particular plays from the drubbing Monday night that vividly stick out in my head that perfectly encapsulate our current situation at point guard.
Midway through the first half right before we really blew the game open, Naadir caught the ball on the right wing, just outside of the three point line. If you’ve watched our first 23 games of the season, you probably knew what was coming next. Naadir would shoot a deep three off one foot, the other team would get the rebound and be off to the other end. A perfect opportunity to extend a lead would be wasted on a three point attempt by someone not named Ben McLemore.
Except that didn’t happen.
Instead, Naadir pump faked, drove into the lane, and kicked the ball out to a WIDE open Ben McLemore. If you’ve watched our first 23 games of the season, you probably know what happened next. McLemore fired that picture-perfect jump shot, and the result was nothing but net. Naadir finished with 6 assists in the first half in what was without question exactly what we need from the point guard spot to legitimately contend for a National Title.
Fast forward about 30 minutes of game action to late in the second half, when the rout was on.
KU had the ball on offense, working some clock and looking for a good shot. I can’t recall exactly how the ball ended up in his hands, but Elijah caught it right in front of the KU bench for a wide open three. There wasn’t a K-State defender within 10 feet- probably the most open Elijah’s been for a three yet this season.
Except he didn’t shoot it. Instead he passed up the wide open three, and kicked it to a different guard to continue the possession.
I couldn’t help but think about those two plays, and how similar they were yet so completely different. Naadir Tharpe is beaming with confidence, and his play on Monday night reflected it. He was constantly looking to attack and break down the defense, and proved getting a good shot at the end of the half is actually possible. Elijah, on the other hand, is not even close to the player he was last March, and continues his search for a missing jump shot.
So if you’re Coach Self, what do you do?
Do you bench Elijah, and push the chips all in on Naadir Tharpe as this team’s starting point guard and risk losing any confidence Elijah had left? Do you continue to start Elijah, and bring Naadir off the bench several minutes into the game and risk giving up an early lead rather than jumping out to a great start?
I’ve heard some people say perhaps we should play smaller, even possibly start four guards moving Releford to the four spot. While that sounds like the best way to put our best players on the floor, I think the impact on the defensive end is much greater. You move our best perimeter defender down low, and lose considerable size outside.
In my opinion, at some point the light is going to come on for Elijah, he’ll find his jump shot, and he’ll make big plays down the stretch like he did for us last year in March. I think the risk of moving him to the bench outweighs the reward of moving Naadir into the starting lineup. If Elijah continues to struggle the next several weeks and Naadir builds off an impressive performance Monday, this conundrum continues to grow.
Naadir’s performance on Monday represents a new found hope for a fan base that had none just four days ago. I think it will be extremely interesting to see how Coach Self handles this position moving forward.
#kubball, Basketball, Bill Self, college basketball, Elijah Johnson, ESPN, Kansas, Naadir Tharpe