PHILADELPHIA -- College basketball is currently playing a little game Agatha Christie would appreciate. The murder mystery author penned, "And Then There Were None," a perfect time for the start of the hoops New Year, as the undefeateds are whittled down to the nub.
Purdue booted West Virginia from the exclusive club on Friday and Syracuse took its unceremonious exit on Saturday at the hands of Pitt, leaving just four with a goose egg in the loss column.
Three of the four played on Saturday – Kentucky, Texas and Kansas – and Sherron Collins knew most prognosticators figured Kansas would be the most likely to get dumped.
“We all knew we were on the losing radar all day,’’ Collins said.
Instead, while the Wildcats won brutally ugly against Louisville and the Longhorns barely survived Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, No. 1 Kansas emerged with the loudest statement of the new year, routing 19th-ranked Temple, 84-52.
It was the worst loss for the Owls since 1996, when Tim Duncan and Wake Forest took home a 106-69 thumper, and easily the most decisive win for Kansas this season.
The Jayhawks have won bigger, but they haven’t won better. With everyone looking for a chink in the armor, and some already thinking they’ve found it -- this week marked the first time this season the Jayhawks weren’t a unanimous No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today poll -- Kansas proved once more why it deserves its ranking: The team is ridiculously deep; ridiculously talented; and, when it plays defense, impossible to stop.
“This was the first time this season where it didn’t matter who was out there,’’ an elated Bill Self said. “Everyone contributed and produced.’’
A game Self figured would be a grinder, instead turned into a laugher. Temple came into the game leading the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 54.2 points per game. Kansas had 56 with 12 minutes left to play.
The Jayhawks shot 55 percent from the floor, exploiting their size and strength inside to the tune of a 42-16 advantage in points in the paint. Cole Aldrich posted a double-double with 10 and 10, Marcus Morris made his Philly homecoming by scoring 13 points, and Xavier Henry had 15. And when the inside was closed, KU simply went outside. Collins and Tyshawn Taylor played a near perfect backcourt game. Collins had 14 points and four rebounds and Taylor had eight points to go with five boards.
But more than the Jayhawks’ offense, it was how they played defense that ought to send a large dose of "Hello!" to the rest of college hoopdom.
Temple shot 25 percent for the game, connecting on only 16 field goals all day.
The Jayhawks were longer, and they were everywhere, swarming sharpshooter Juan Fernandez (3-for-16) and rendering all but impotent a Temple team that isn’t exactly overpowering offensively.
“They made shots and they were relentless on the defensive end,’’ Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “They’re talented and they’re deep. That’s a tough combination.’’
Self came to Philadelphia searching for answers. He thought his team hadn’t been tested, didn’t think it really had an identity and worried that maybe it even had a false sense of self, convinced it could merely outscore everyone.
No coach ever leaves entirely satisfied and Self is no exception. He pointed out that the Jayhawks did allow Temple to take 29 3-pointers, which means they had too many open attempts in his mind, but even he knew he was nitpicking for errors.
“That’s the most in-tune we’ve been defensively all year,’’ he said. “Our guys knew our season started today.’’
And started with a bang.