The first and most important thing to know about Kansas’s massive trip to Ames, Ia. on Monday night is -- twist! -- something we don’t know. Namely, whether Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane can play.
The last we saw of Kane — in the waning minutes of Iowa State’s first loss of the season, Saturday’s 87-82 defeat at Oklahoma — he was being carried to the sideline by two of his Cyclone teammates. On Sunday, Iowa State team trainer Vic Miller revealed the injury was merely an ankle sprain “with no evidence of a break.”
That is good news, sort of: Relative to a broken ankle or a knee injury or an Achilles tear, an ankle sprain isn’t so bad. But it does leave Kane’s status for Monday’s game against the Jayhawks very much in doubt, a matter of swelling reduction and pain tolerance and the efficacy of frozen water in a plastic bag.
The Kane question doesn’t make Kansas’s preparation for Monday’s massive road challenge any easier. If Kane does play, then the Jayhawks will have to focus on stopping arguably the nation’s best and most versatile force at the guard position. If Kane doesn’t play, Kansas will have to be ready for a totally different Iowa State configuration -- a team on which they will have zero film. It’s a little like trying to campaign against a first-time political candidate: How do you attack a voting record that doesn’t exist?
That may not even be the most difficult preparatory conundrum facing Bill Self on Monday night. This season, in the (rarer than you think) instances when the Jayhawks’ offense has struggled, it’s largely been in conventional half-court offensive sets. Smart teams like San Diego State have raced back on secondary breaks, packed the lane and begged the Jayhawks to shoot. This has left the Jayhawks, and specifically star wing Andrew Wiggins, without space or angles to attack. When the Jayhawks have been able to get out and run — as they did in their most effective possessions in last week’s wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State — they’ve often times been devastating. If you want to know why Wiggins got so many LeBron James comparisons these last few years, watch him attack defenders in the open court. He’s a devastating force.
So the question for Kansas is this: Do you (arguably) open things up for Wiggins and Co. at the risk of sliding into a frenetic uptempo game against a very good team that excels at exactly that? Or do you play it safe, and risk hobbling your own attack, in the hopes that you’ll be able to grind out your points with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis’s size and second-chance points?
Both plans have clear pros and cons, and the ideal answer may be “a little bit of both.” That still may not be enough. But whether it's Kane or no Kane, fast or bruising -- few coaches could hope to thread this many needles. Self is undoubtedly one of them.