It hasn’t been an easy Freshman season for Andrew Wiggins, shouldering almost impossible expectations. But things have been looking good for him and Kansas since the Big 12 play began, continuing that trend with a 92-81 win over Iowa State and a career high for the projected number one pick in the next NBA draft.
Wiggins scored 29 points (10-of-16 from the field) while adding 7 rebounds as the Jayhawks improved to 7-0 in the Big 12 this season, sending the Cyclones to their fourth consecutive loss. Iowa State used six different defenders to guard Wiggins, but struggled both in half court and transition sets; Wiggins scored 7 of Kansas’ 9 transition points which is no surprise. He’s averaging 1.46 points per possession in transition, the best in the Big 12 and 3rd best in the nation.
What made Wiggins so effective, not just in this game but in recent times in general? This was his second consecutive career game (had 27 points against TCU in the previous one), and one of the changes has been him attacking the basket a lot more: He’s shooting 70% from the paint in these two games. The season began with 58% from the paint in the non-conference games, but his Big 12 days began with a sub-par 48% from close range through the first five games.
Another thing that’s been really helping him is Joel Embiid getting all this extra attention. The center had 22 touches inside the 3-point line, with Iowa State doubling him on 14 of those times. When he was not double teamed, Embiid made both field goal attempts and drew 2 fouls. All 14 of Embiid’s points came from his paint touches. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds on 5-of-9 from the field, and is turning out to be a guy who is much more NBA ready than anyone expected when this season began.
Wiggins has been saving his best for big-time opponents (Cyclones were #16 in the nation before the game). He is averaging 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game against AP top-25 opponents compared to 14.9 points and 4.8 rebounds against unranked opponents.
Iowa State can match up with most teams in the nation when it comes to shooting, but Kansas were on a role from the start. Naadir Tharpe has seen better defenses, and the one Iowa State presented him with allowed him to finish with 11 points and 12 assists, as the entire Kansas starting lineup finished in double figures: Perry Ellis had 20 points, Wayne Selden, Jr. had 11.
Iowa State had a good game, but just couldn’t match Kansas shot for shot. Probably no team in the nation can at the moment. DeAndre Kane scored 22 points; Georges Niang had 24; the Cyclones shot 48.4% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc. That’s good enough to beat most teams in the Big 12, but as the saying goes about gun fights, you don’t show up to them with knives, or at least with inferior weapons to the ones your opponents has.
Kansas haven’t been able to consistently turn games into these kind of shootouts, but if this team can do decently on defense while making their opponents run after them on most nights, this season is going to end in a much happier manner than the way it began.