There was more than one question about Kansas before the Big 12 Conference tournament tipped off this week in Kansas City and the Jayhawks took a step toward answering some of them Thursday by surviving Oklahoma State in a 77-70 overtime quarterfinal game.
Some want to know if the Jayhawks can become the first team to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with more than seven losses. To do so, they would likely have to win the Big 12 tournament because they're already sitting on eight losses this season and would definitely eliminate themselves from a No. 1 seed with a ninth setback.
Others wanted to know if the Jayhawks would be motivated to win the conference tournament considering they're so firmly locked into the NCAA bracket. They obviously weren't lacking enthusiasm Thursday, playing hard throughout the game.
Perhaps the biggest question that was answered against the Cowboys, however, was whether the Jayhawks could still be tough defensive team without center Joel Embiid, who is out with a back injury. They did not finish the regular season in strong fashion, losing at West Virginia 92-86 without Embiid last weekend.
There were times Thursday when you could question Oklahoma State's patience and shot selection on offense, but the Jayhawks deserve credit for lifting their level of intensity following their performance at West Virginia and making it hard on Marcus Smart and his teammates.
Kansas advances to play another high-powered offensive team in Iowa State in the semifinals. The Cyclones have three of the Big 12's top-10 scorers in the regular season. But the Jayhawks have a surging and confident Andrew Wiggins who scored 30 points against Oklahoma State, following up a career-best 41 points in the regular season finale.
Oklahoma State might not have been the best team to challenge the Jayhawks without Embiid because it is lacking a big time scorer and rebounder in the post to take advantage of Embiid's absence. The same can also be said to some degree of Iowa State, which does have Georges Niang, a 6-foot-7 senior forward. But Niang is more of an outside-in forward.
Regardless, Kansas looked more like Kansas in its tournament opener and Jayhawks have to feel more comfortable about their chances in Kansas City even with Embiid wearing street clothes.
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