NEW YORK -- Kansas is a 12-point favorite over Memphis in the first game of Tuesday night's doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. So the Jayhawks should win. But they could lose. Either way, know this: The result will have little to do with KU's longterm possibilities.
That's the strange thing about this Jimmy V Classic.
The No. 4 Jayhawks are the highest-ranked participant in this four-school event despite the fact that their most talented player is yet to play this season, and he won't be on display here, either. Two games remain in the nine-game suspension the NCAA levied against Josh Selby for his acceptance of improper benefits. So the version of the Jayhawks the nation watches against Memphis will be uniquely gifted -- Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris Twins provide a nice inside-outside core -- but not nearly as talented as they'll be when Selby becomes eligible Dec. 18.
"He's going to be good for us," said Kansas guard Tyrel Reed.
But how good?
Will Selby soar quickly like Jared Sullinger or struggle early like Harrison Barnes?
My prediction: Reality will be somewhere in the middle.
The tough part for Selby will be joining a season already in progress and trying to enhance a team that's pretty good without him, and he'll be competing for minutes in a backcourt full of experienced guards. None of them can match Selby's physical tools, obviously. But Bill Self is comfortable with his veterans, and he won't just force Selby into a major role. If it happens, great. But if Selby struggles to grasp the concepts in place for this team, then it's possible -- I'm not suggesting it's likely, just possible -- that he could be more of a limited reserve for a few weeks.
"Josh is gonna help us, but he's got to be able to fit in and make us a better team," Self told me last week. "He's as talented a kid as we have. But the most talented kids don't always make the best teams. You've got to have guys who understand how we play. ... We play a style that I think will fit Josh well when he [becomes eligible]. But he's got to be able to do some things for us to warrant freedom and a lot of minutes."
In other words, Self is advising the nation to be patient.
And for good reason.
He's watched Barnes struggle at North Carolina for the disappointing-to-date Tar Heels, and the hype that surrounded the AP First Team All-American's arrival to campus has only intensified the criticism. That said, there's a couple of reasons to think Selby's path will be different. The first is because even if Selby struggles it's unlikely Kansas will because the Jayhawks don't need Selby to be great for them to be good like the Tar Heels need Barnes to be great for them to be good. Kansas will be good, regardless. So Selby starting slow won't cause the Jayhawks to fall out of the Top 25, point being that his rough patches won't be magnified the way Barnes' rough patches have been. The second reason? Whereas Barnes seems passive on most possessions (that's part of his problem, I think), Selby is relentless offensively -- a dribble-driving beast always on the attack, someone who's main purpose in life is to get to the rim. He'll crunch one on an overmatched defender within three games, guaranteed. So while I can't say for sure that Selby won't struggle to adjust, what I can tell you is that any problems he might encounter won't be rooted in passiveness.
"He's a gamer," Self said. "I think Josh will play better in the games just because he likes to compete … but it's going to take time. The expectations on him are going to be higher than they are on Harrison and the other guys because he hasn't played yet, and there's just been a buildup. I think he can handle it, without question. But to be real honest, every freshman I've coached has gone through stuff. … Mario [Chalmers]. Sherron [Collins]. Julian [Wright]. Shady [Darrell Arthur]. Makes no difference. There are some games they played less than 10 minutes [as a freshman].
"I'm not saying that'll happen with Josh," Self concluded. "I'm just saying it depends on how quickly he picks things up."