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Posts tagged with Kansas Jayhawks

Missed Opportunities for the Kansas Jayhawks

The Kansas Jayhawks had a terrific season. I think they were ranked high in the preseason polls and picked to win the Big XII due more to their reputations and history rather than true talent. Yet, the Jayhawks played to their ranking and preseason predictions. They won their 8th straight conference title and were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season. They earned a number 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While these accomplishments don’t seem like a surprise, I have to honestly admit they really exceeded my true expectations.

KU featured a fine starting five and a very thin bench. When the season started, Tyshawn Taylor had more career minutes played than all of his teammates combined at Kansas. Jayhawk fans are used to a solid rotation of 8 or 9 almost every season. This team played its bench only when it was necessary. Yet, they found a way to succeed and play to the seemingly unrealistic preseason predictions. Mirroring the toughness of their head coach, Bill Self, Kansas fought and scraped their way to success. Few games were easy or runaways and the Jayhawks seemed to be playing from behind much of the season. They found a way to win game after game.

The NCAA Tournament followed the established pattern for the Jayhawks. They didn’t play well in the first halves and those kids were able to turn things around in the second halves, making furious comebacks in several postseason games. Even in the championship game, the Jayhawks struggled early and found themselves digging themselves out of a hole late.

Kentucky is a fine team. There has been little doubt the Wildcats were the best team throughout a down year in college basketball. They were young but talented and athletic. Coach John Calipari got them to buy into his system and to play defense, a deathly combination for the opposition.

There is no doubt Kentucky was more talented and athletic, player for player, than Kansas. The Wildcats dominated the first half and it was all the Jayhawks could do not to be blown out and embarrassed. KU popped out of the locker room after the half just as they did several other games. Kansas made a couple of shots and made a couple of defensive stops. In my opinion, the key play of the game was when Jeff Withey failed to get an easy dunk through the cords early in the second half. KU had cut into the lead and their fans were just starting to feel the momentum swing. If that dunk goes down, who knows if the outcome would have been different. So much happened after that play. Immediately though, UK scored a basket and snuffed the Jayhawks’ growing momentum. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming Withey for this loss. Without him, KU would never have been even close to the championship game. It just happened to be his missed dunk that I felt was the key.

From that point, KU ever so slowly scraped their way back into the game but never really gained that feeling of momentum. The Wildcats seemed to be on the verge of allowing the Jayhawks back into the game mentally but with that failed dunk, Kansas seemed to lose a little something. They eventually cut their deficit to 5 points but never closer. UK kept them at arms length and eventually outlasted the comeback.

But that missed dunk wasn’t the only missed opportunity for the Jayhawks. KU missed 3 dunks and 13 lay-ups through the course of the game. The fantastic Anthony Davis had a lot to do with Kansas’ tightness around the rim. Still, KU only lost by 8 points. If KU had cashed in on just a few of those missed chances, things could have been much different. Make the dunks (the highest percentage shot possible) and just a couple of the missed bunnies, then maybe there would have been a different result in the outcome.

It is futile to play the “what if” game. It serves no purpose and it does take away from a great performance by the Wildcats. I mention these key blown opportunities because it shows that the game wasn’t that far from having a different result.

I heard a talking head yesterday speaking about how this only proves that Kentucky is the best program and how John Calipari is by far the best coach in college basketball. All of his arguments sounded pre-written. I think if KU would have won, this guy would have just replaced Kentucky with Kansas and John Calipari with Bill Self. His arguments would have held weight for whichever school and coach, depending on who won the game. He went on and on about now it wasn’t even close to which school and coach was best. He said no one could argue the point anymore. My point is that the discussion is still closer than this guy wanted to admit. Three dunks and a couple of lay ups and who knows. Kentucky had a fine season and played a heck of a championship game and they deserved the title but KU wasn’t that far behind.

Bill Self proved that he must be counted among the game’s finest coaches. He has shown in the past that he is a top notch recruiter and has been able to get top players to adhere to his system. He proved this season he could coach a team with less talent but with huge hearts and still win. Coach Self and this team should be very proud of their season and the final results. I know the fans are. The worst thing is that we now have to wait seven months for the next edition of the Kansas Jayhawks.

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Tourney Chances for the Jayhawks

Trying to predict the outcome of the annual March Madness extravaganza is never an easy thing. As parity becomes more prevalent in college basketball (some would argue that it is mediocrity, not parity), the excitement of the tournament has never been higher. Tuesday night’s play-in games were absolutely thrilling, with one team trailing by 16 points with less than 5 minutes to go, then charging back for the win, and in the other game, one team scored 55 points in the first fifteen minutes, building a 25 point lead, but only scoring 17 points the rest of the way to lose in the end. What a way to start the tournament!

The Kansas Jayhawks have, in my opinion, overachieved all season. They ran out basically 5 BCS caliber players and still won the Big XII. It did not hurt my feelings at all to see them fall early in the conference tournament and then to not have to play until late Friday evening. This team appeared tired and beat up toward the end of the season and the extra rest certainly will do them no harm. Yes, it would have been awesome to enjoy yet another KU/MU tilt but I think not having to play a relatively meaningless game against a tough opponent may help KU in the end.

After taking in all the brackets, I did not feel KU got the shaft in their brackets like I usually do. In fact, after pouring over all of the regions, not one team really jumped out at me as having an overwhelming hard or easy path to the Final Four. It seems to me that just about every match-up has its risks for the higher seeds. There just isn’t that much difference in teams this season. When you have a #15 seed Detroit with more McDonald’s All Americans on its team than #2 seed Kansas, that should tell you all you need to know about the state of college basketball.

I can honestly see KU possibly going down in every round. Detroit is no slouch and neither St. May’s nor Purdue are pushovers. KU beat Georgetown earlier in the season but both teams are significantly better than they were. The Hoyas are a deep, young, athletic team that will be a hard match-up for the Jayhawks. I assume that either North Carolina or Michigan will make it to the Elite Eight, although there are obviously no guarantees of that either. If so, KU could beat either team in a scrap. Of course, they could take a beating from either team, too.

KU has a recent history of exiting the tournament too early, and with stronger teams than this one. On the flip side, we as KU fans certainly know how far one player of the year candidate can carry a team. Kansas has two outstanding players in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor who will bad match-ups for just about any team. Throw in a true, shot blocking 7-footer, and a couple of capable, tough defenders, KU’s starting five is as good as any in the nation. The problem is an achingly thin bench. If KU gets into any early foul trouble with the top 2 or three players, the lights will dim quickly on the Jayhawks’ hope.

With all of these things taken into consideration, I think the Jayhawks will make it into the Elite Eight at least. It would not surprise me at all if the exit earlier than that, and I will be thrilled if they make it to yet another Final Four. A NC/KU battle for that Final Four spot could be epic. Ole Roy wouldn’t like it much but as fans, it would be terrific. If KU could scrap their way into the Final Four, anything could happen. I think KU is one of eight to twelve teams that have the firepower to win it all.

Of course, my dream final match-up would be the Kansas Jayhawks versus the Missouri Tigers. How great would it be to defeat the Tigers in the final game and send them off to the SEC with their tail tucked firmly between their legs. On the other hand, that match-up would also be my worst nightmare match-up. Nothing would be worse than for the Tigers to end our great, historic rivalry by beating KU in the National Championship game. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. KU has to come out every game and play every minute. They have a tendency to come out flat, either to begin the game, or out of the locker room after halftime. This cannot happen in the tourney or they will be done. They must stay focused, healthy, and out of foul trouble of they want a chance for that Elite Eight.

As I ready for this phenomenally awesome sporting event, I know I will be bitterly disappointed with anything less than an Elite Eight and absolutely thrilled with anything more. As always, I will cheer my team on as long as they are alive and I will complain initially upon their ouster. Regardless, I love my team and would never want to follow any other in the country.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk. Go KU!!!

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The End of a Rivalry

If a rivalry has to end, I guess it should end like this one. This Saturday, Missouri will visit Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the last time, at least for the immediate future. The atmosphere in the Phog should be spectacular from start to finish and it should be a fitting end to the 104-year old hoops rivalry.

What is so great about this final regular season match-up is that there is a lot riding on the outcome. A Kansas win will guarantee the Jayhawks at least a share of the Big XII basketball championship for the eighth straight season. A Missouri win will put the Tigers in a position to share the conference championship or to win it outright, in their last season. If they beat the Jayhawks for the second time this season, they will be the number one seed in the Big XII tournament if they tie for the title. On top of everything else, the winner has a great shot at being named a number one seed in the NCAA tournament.

Missouri would love to win the Big XII as a final raspberry as they exit the league and to knock off KU at the Phog, where KU has won something like 89 of their last 90 home games. Nothing pleases the Tiger fans more than beating the Jayhawks, and vice versa. Even though Kansas holds a gigantic advantage in the series, the rivalry certainly seems closer than the 171-95 head-to-head record would indicate. As a Jayhawk fan, it seems like every time KU has been highly rated and played Missouri, especially in Columbia, the Tigers have ripped out our hearts. Without looking up the results of every match-up, it seems to me that players like Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold, Derrick Chevious, Doug Smith, Anthony Peeler, Linus Kleiza, and Marcus Denmon (plus many others) all played their very best against Kansas. Anything can happen in this rivalry, including a massive melee in 1961 where punches were thrown and fans dove into the scrum. Even the women’s teams have been known to mix it up at times.

As fans of sports, rivalries such as these are what keep us going. It gives us things to discuss and to look forward to. We love these games. We love to beat our rivals and we are loathe to lose to them. There are few rivalries more passionate than this in all of sports. The rivalry is bound in historic dimensions, going back to the 1850’s, when Jayhawkers from Kansas and bushwhackers from Missouri raided across the Missouri River to burn and pillage. It is hard to compare to that. Even their football programs, each historically mediocre at best, are nearly neck in neck, with the Tigers holding a slim lead in the series, 57-54-9, and even one of those wins is disputed by both schools.

Now the rivalry is coming to an end. Missouri has decided, with all of its higher educated wisdom, to abandon the Big XII for the proverbial greener grass of the SEC. Only time will tell but it is my opinion that Missouri will quickly become a bottom half football program in the SEC, which is sad because the Tigers have worked hard to gain respectability on a yearly basis in the Big XII. In basketball, Missouri could work up to a top half program but is all that worth throwing away so much history? I certainly don’t think so.

Regardless of my opinion on Missouri leaving the conference, I will miss the yearly match-ups. Even if they powers that be eventually agree to a yearly renewal of this great rivalry, it will be watered down. It won’t mean as much as the conference battles and if it is in neutral Kansas City, and not on the campuses, it will be diluted even more. If those games are ever scheduled in the future, I am just having a hard time believing the games will be filled with the same passion.

Of course, this may not be the last game between the teams this season. They are the cream of the crop in the Big XII and could easily meet in the tournament championship game. They will both be seeded one or two in the NCAA tournament; wouldn’t it be awesome if they met in the Final Four!

Regardless if they meet each other at some point in the post season or if they ever play each other again, this Saturday is going to be special. I will cheer the Jayhawks on with all my heart. I will yell and complain and verbally cajole my team on from opening tip to final buzzer. I will groan and sulk at every call that goes against the Jayhawks. I am going to revel in every moment. I am going celebrate a victory or bemoan a loss but either way, it’s going to be a great day. No matter how the game unfolds, it’s a great way to end a great rivalry. My only regret is that it is over.

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The Jayhawks’ Down Year

I have always admired Bill Self and I consider him a great college basketball coach. We all know he is a terrific recruiter and one of the best coaches roaming the sidelines. Coach Self though, did suffer through one of his worst recruiting seasons of his career last year. He got caught in late May waiting on a handful of young studs to make their decisions on which college they would attend and Self missed on most of them. Self was forced to scrape together some leftovers and scraps just out fill out his roster. Of the guys that chose KU, three were eventually deemed ineligible by the NCAA and one subsequently left the program. Self was left with his most shallow bench, by far, for this team.

Self seems to have learned his lesson when it comes to waiting for young, flighty, self-absorbed children to make up their minds about where they want to play their one year of college ball. Self has locked up most of his recruits for next season already and he won’t be relying on any late signers to make or break next year’s roster. Most, if not all of the signed players, are good students and should not have any NCAA academic issues.

Now, let’s return to the thought about Self being a great coach. This version of the Jayhawks features one big, super-stud in Thomas Robinson. T-Rob is a beast, a match-up problem for almost any college teams. KU also relies on a flighty, inconsistent, often times, brilliant guard in Tyshawn Taylor. Many fans have been quite harsh with Taylor, and sometimes he has earned this, but KU would not be anywhere near as good as they are without him. While his uneven play will undoubtedly cost the Jayhawks a win or two, his athleticism and skills with certainly win the Jayhawks many more games than he will lose. He has already done so. I think fans need to accept Taylor for what he is and be glad he plays for us and not someone else.

Jeff Withey has been better than I ever thought he would be. While he is not a perfect player, he offers so much that is positive to this team. I think he has been the biggest key to the success of his team thus far, more than any other single player. The starting line up is rounded out by a couple of players in Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford who have developed into decent role players. While I think both are underachievers on the offensive end, both have been playing terrific defense and in Self’s system, this is as important as scoring points. EJ especially needs to gain offensive confidence if the Jayhawks hope to go very deep into the NCAA tournament.

The bench is where Self’s recruiting shortcomings really rears its ugly head. Self is basically stealing minutes of rest with just three players, none of which are really good enough to be playing regularly in a conference as good as the Big XII. Conner Teahan is the most disappointing because he is supposed to be a three point specialist and he has struggled mightily most of the season. Let’s face facts here – if Teahan isn’t hitting 3’s, he isn’t contributing much. His defense is barely adequate and he often looks overmatched on both ends of the court. He does hustle and rebound but most times, it is not enough. Kevin Young and Justin Wesley are both just foul fodder. There have been few seasons when either of these guys would have been good enough to see any court time at KU. Again, they work hard but just fall short of being skilled enough to make much more than an occasional positive contribution.

This team reminds me a little of the 1987-1988 champions. Each features one incredible player of the year candidate and not a whole lot else. Each team had some big ups and downs throughout the season. This biggest difference is that this squad has overachieved most of the season. They have been a ranked team all year. They still have a great chance to win another league championship. I can not predict at this time how I think they will do in the NCAA tournament. I can easily see this team losing in one of the first two rounds. When a team is as shallow as this one is, a single game can easily be influenced heavily and negatively, by foul trouble or a slight injury. If KU would lose early in the tourney this season, I would be disappointed but not overly surprised. Self’s teams do have a history of early exits in the tournament.

On the other hand, we all know perfectly well that a single player can throw a team over his shoulder and carry them to the promise land. We have seen it firsthand. T-Rob could be this kind of player. Robinson also has a very talented caddy in Taylor, who could easily go on a six-game hot streak and propel KU right into the Final Four and maybe even to a championship. Coach Bill Self has a history here too. We all know he has a championship under his belt as well as some of those early exits.

I think if this turns out to be KU’s down year and Coach Self learns from his past mistakes in recruiting, as it appears he has, we as KU fans should feel very fortunate. There are a lot of schools out there who love to be ranked in the top ten and be tied for first in their conference in a down season. This may very well be Self’s greatest coaching job. He has worked miracles with a team with very few BCS-type players. As KU fans, we are definitively spoiled rotten. I, for one, don’t mind. I am looking forward to the last few weeks of the regular season and the tourney season. I will cheer the Jayhawks on for however long they last in the post season and I will probably be disappointed and a little mad if, or when, we lose. Yet, I wouldn’t want to follow any other team or coach. Rock Chalk!

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Thoughts on Charlie Weis

Two different friends of mine, who don’t know each other, reacted to KU hiring Charlie Weis as the new Jayhawk football coach with the same exact word – underwhelming. I was astonished at their reaction. I mean, just who did they think Kansas was going to get for the job? Let’s face this simple fact – the job of the football coach at the University of Kansas is not a plum job. It isn’t even a stepping stone for later success at other schools with better programs. Who was the last KU football coach who went on to another, better program, let alone had success? I can’t think of a single one. Not one.

So, just who were my friends expecting KU to hire? Why would any hot commodity young coach from a smaller school in a non-BCS conference come here? Just how did the careers of Terry Allen and Turner Gill turn out? Why would any coach want to come to a basketball school in a football conference? Why would any big time coach come to Kansas to take over a team coming off a 2-10 season (and it wasn’t even THAT good, really)? Just how enticing would it be to take over a team that is the reigning bottom dweller in a powerhouse conference, a school with exactly six seasons with more than eight victories (1899, 1905, 1908, 1968, 1995, and 2007)?

The hiring of Charlie Weis is a home run hire for the Jayhawks. Period. Charlie Weiss is the biggest name KU fans could ever hope for. He may be the biggest name hire for KU in their history, certainly in my lifetime. Only two coaches since 1953 have had winning records at KU (Jack Mitchell and Mark Mangino, each just 2 games over .500) so I can’t imagine there were hordes of big time coaches trampling each other to take over the reins to this team. Whether or not Weis is successful really isn’t an issue at this point and time. This hire of Charlie Weis at this time was a terrific coup for Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger.

Charlie Weis has done a good job filling out his staff as well. He kept the one guy he should have from the previous regime in Reggie Mitchell. I love the hire of Tim Grunhard as the offensive line coach. Grunhard had a successful pro career with the Chiefs and has been a successful high school coach. This was a natural progression in his career and he knows what it takes to be successful as a player. There are several coaches I just don’t know much about and there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, negative reactions to them. I am going to assume they will do a better job than the previous coaches.

I do know about Dave Campo. Again, I think this is a fantastic hire. I don’t care he hasn’t coached at the college level for twenty-some years. He was successful at the college level before having terrific success on the professional level. He knows defense and he knows how to coach players. That is all I want. Many times last season, the defense simply looked uncoached and that is not acceptable. I was also thrilled Weis brought back local boy, Clint Bowen, as the special teams coach. KU special teams have been awful over the last two years and Bowen had great success with these units in the past. Not only was it a good PR move, it was an astute football hire.

Now that this staff is in place, it will be a matter of time before we see if they can actually coach the players on campus. Their job will be to bring players to fit their system and to coach them up. Weis has already garnered three transfers with good reputations, if not some mixed on the field results. I trust Weis knows what he is doing when it comes to recruiting and can get this program back on the right track. Weis’ record at Notre Dame was 35-27. He was fired by the Irish; if he puts up that record here in his first five years, he will be a god. I know it is all relative but I would be thrilled with 35 wins in five seasons.

Don’t expect a huge improvement on the record next season. I just am not sure how much talent he was to work with for 2012. I just want see an improvement in play. I want to see a team that looks like they have been coached. It is a tough row to hoe to make big strides in the Big XII. If KU wins four games and is competitive in their losses, this will be a huge step forward. It will be going forward, not backward. I will have faith Weis will get this program on the right track.

One more thing – now that Weis is going to return the names to the back of the jerseys, he now needs to return the Jayhawk to the helmets.

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