A savior. That's what many Kansas fans had anointed Josh Selby as they waited for the ballyhooed freshman guard to make his debut against USC on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
Expectations are great enough for any highly-ranked Jayhawk newcomer. Selby was the top-ranked incoming freshman by Rivals.com, and the hype only multiplied as the time ticked away on a nine-game suspension levied by the NCAA.
But savior? Given an undefeated team that's ranked second in the KenPom ratings, it was tough to think that Selby was going to be anything more than an extra weapon.
However, for one day at least, Selby was indeed a savior, scoring a game-high 21 points nailing the game-winning three with 26 seconds left in KU's 70-68 win over USC. In the process Selby saved the Jayhawks from what would have been an embarrassing upset at home.
In fact it was a strange day all around for Bill Self's team. KU has rarely struggled while posting a 10-0 record, but with a productive Selby added to the mix the result, somehow, was the Jayhawks' worst offensive game of the season. Kansas made a season-worst 39 percent of their twos while scoring just 70 points in 69 possessions. Fortunately for KU fans Self's team did do one thing well. Thanks to a 5-of-8 effort from Selby, Kansas shot a solid 39 percent (7-of-18) from beyond the arc.
Even so, these numbers are nowhere near the production Kansas had racked up prior to Selby's arrival. The Jayhawks entered the game scoring an incredible 1.22 points per possession, thanks in large measure to the best two-point shooting in the country (62.2 percent).
What made the Jayhawks so effective pre-Selby was both their unselfishness and their understanding of what makes for a good shot. Self's high-low offense has been structured to get the ball to the incredibly efficient Morris twins in the post. But on Saturday, while Kansas was able to get the twins their touches in the post, the results were not good. Players named "Morris" went just 5-of-14 inside the arc.
The Jayhawks also appeared to suffer from a brand of one-upmanship that, while it was Selby-induced, may not have been the freshman's fault. KU usually moves the ball from side to side and works for a good shot. But in the second half while the Trojans erased a 14-point deficit, Self's offense went stagnant, taking quick shots off a lot of one-on-one action.
If there was a concern that Selby's presence would actually hurt KU's offense, this was it. The Jayhawks would watch Selby go one-on-one and lose their identity. But it wasn't Selby that tried to go one-on-one, it was point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who had six turnovers, and leading scorer Marcus Morris.
Selby did take a couple forced and guarded shots (several of which went in), but he didn't go one-on-one in the half-court and when he wasn't shooting, he moved the ball effectively (other than one poor post entry that turned into a turnover).
Self's freshman star has said that it's not his role to be the go-to scorer and priority No. 1 for Kansas is getting the ball to the Morris twins. But it was obvious as soon as Selby came off the bench that he wasn't exactly going to be a spectator. Upon entering the game, Selby used six of seven possessions, turning the ball over twice, taking three shots and getting to the line for a pair of free throws.
Still, Selby wasn't supposed to take the game-deciding three. The play was designed to go to Marcus Morris, but when Morris missed his first shot and was double-teamed off of his offensive rebound, Selby was open on the wing. The freshman faked a pass to Taylor in the corner and confidently stroked the biggest shot of the game.
Self has compared Selby to former KU guard Sherron Collins, another inner-city guard who believed in his ability. Taking the big shot was Collins' role on last year's Kansas team and maybe the one thing KU was missing in the early going this year.
Like Collins, Selby is known for attacking the basket and making difficult shots in the paint. That skill was not on display on Saturday but will be a welcome addition to a KU offense that really has only one other slasher in Taylor.
Selby's fearlessness will also benefit the Jayhawks. As long as Selby's sensational debut doesn't make him trigger-happy, the Jayhawks could have the most dynamic offense in the country -- if they figure out how to play with their new lineup.
C.J. Moore is a writer in Kansas City.