Some Williams Fund members who heard Kansas basketball coach Bill Self speak Wednesday night at an event at Lawrence's Cider Gallery emerged optimistic that Billy Preston will play for the Jayhawks some time around the beginning of Big 12 play, which opens Dec. 29 in Austin vs. Texas.
Was what he said misinterpreted?
“No, I don’t think so,” Self said. “I am optimistic, but the thing of it is from an optimism standpoint, we don’t know how other people will view what we see or what we’ve done, but I think our school has done a great job getting all the information that could possibly be pertinent to his situation.”
Self said the school’s findings have not yet been handed over to the NCAA.
“You don’t know,” Self said. “They could come back and say, ‘No, we need more information.’ They could come back and say ‘Everything’s OK, good to go.’ They could come back and say, ‘No, it’s not good to go.’ Who knows what the response will be because it will be determined by somebody else, but the reality of it is us putting the entire package together from every scenario, we’ve done a good job. Hopefully, whatever information is given to the deciding parties, it will be a quick turnaround.”
Preston has practiced daily with the team but has not played in games, withheld because the athletic department has been conducting a probe into the “financial picture” of the Dodge Charger that Preston was driving when he was in a minor one-car accident. The late-model car Preston had been driving had expired temporary tags from Florida.
Preston played for Kansas in exhibitions in Italy and against Missouri, Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State.
Preston did not play in the season-opener vs. Tennessee State on Nov. 10 because, according to Self, he missed curfew and a class.
Preston’s accident occurred the night after the opener and on Nov. 14, in the hours leading up to KU’s game vs. Kentucky, Self released a statement explaining why Preston would not play in the game.
It read: “On Saturday, Billy was involved in a single-vehicle incident on campus. There were no injuries but Billy's car sustained damage. After I learned about the incident, I reported it to our administration. The administration determined that we needed a clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle (so) we decided to hold him out of tonight's game and will continue to do that until the review is complete. Needless to say, he was disappointed and crushed. He was very excited to make his KU debut. We hope to have the situation resolved as soon as possible.”
According to multiple people who heard Self talk Wednesday, the coach at one point said, "if and when," and then paused and said, "I should say when...”.
If Kansas basketball games seem to fly by faster this season there is a good reason for that. The games seldom are slowed down by whistles that put Jayhawks at the free-throw line.
Kansas always plays fast and you can't foul what you can't catch, but even by KU's standards, free-throw attempts are way down. KU is shooting more 3-pointers, don't have a low-post threat through whom the offense runs and the guards tend to drive to dish more than to score.
Those are all factors in Kansas ranking 350th in Div. I in percentage of free throws attempted compared to field goals attempted, one of many statistics tracked at kenpom.com, with a ratio of 19.6 percent.
The next-lowest percentage and rank (36.4/178th) came during the national-championship season of 2007-08. The highest ratio (48.3/32nd) happened in 2013-14, when Andrew Wiggins took off for the hoop and drew foul calls as the ball spilled out of bounds.
Lagerald Vick leads this year's team in free-throw attempts with 20 in nine games, an average of 2.2 per game, the lowest for a team leader during the Bill Self era.
Spending my entire adult life reporting on sports usually means I seek other topics, often true crime, when looking to become lost in a book. When I make exceptions, it's often to educate myself on a work-related topic.
Since Kansas technically runs an Air Raid offense, I decided to give "The Perfect Pass" by S.C. Gwynne, a shot. Friend Joe Reitz, retired University of Kansas faculty member and founder of Lawrence Family Promise, a wonderful charity designed at helping homeless and low-income families to reach sustainable independence, lent me his copy.
A beautifully written, well-researched, breezy read that centers on the origins of the Air Raid through the careers of the offense's creator, Hal Mumme, and sidekick Mike Leach, the most famous Air Raid practitioner.
Leach, then 28, and wife Sharon had one child and another on the way when Leach went to work for Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan. Leach was armed with a law degree, but not interested in a suit-and-tie career when, fresh off coaching in Finland, he accepted a $12,000 salary, plus free housing, a "moldy one-room trailer."
Wrote Gwynne: "Located in a junk-strewn trailer park, it was engulfed by three-foot high weeds. The bedroom was carpeted with grubby, two-inch-deep, blood-red shag. The ceiling fan was mounted so low that the blades would sometimes hit Leach in the face when he crossed the room."
From such humble beginnings, Mumme and Leach went on to change the way football is played.
The offense, when taught and executed properly, stretched the field horizontally and vertically in such a way that teams with lesser talent were able to score improbable upsets.
Rob Likens, David Beaty's first offensive coordinator at Kansas, and Doug Meacham, are among the Air Raid assistant coaches mentioned in the book.
I still don't understand the Air Raid offense, but I grew an understanding of why KU's version of it doesn't work. Two sentences on page 156 hit me like one of those thanks-I-needed-that cold slaps in the face from the old Skin Bracer after shave commercials: "As offensive line coach, Leach was an integral — Hal often thought the integral — part of the passing attack. If (Dustin) Dewald didn't get three or more seconds, there was no offense."
There you have it. Neither Likens nor Meacham was the source of the failure of the Air Raid at Kansas. If the blocks aren't there, the air is filled with three-and-out failures. (A noticeable increase dropped passes didn't help either).
Beaty inherited a roster sorely lacking in offensive linemen. The quantity of blockers has been upgraded, but so far the quality hasn't kept pace. Will that change with an extra year of growth in the weight room and in mastering technique on the practice field? We'll see.
Center Mesa Ribordy, who came to KU as a walk-on tight end, has been KU's most consistent offensive lineman. The Jayhawks will have 11 offensive lineman who came to KU on scholarship, all but one (Jacob Bragg) recruited since Beaty took the job, participating in spring football.
It's not known whether Kansas will stick with the Air Raid. This much is certain: If the offensive line doesn't improve significantly, there is no offense.
Nicholls State and Kansas were in the market for football coaches at the end of their disappointing 2014 seasons. Kansas hired David Beaty, receivers coach from Texas A&M. Nicholls State opted for Tim Rebowe, safeties coach at Louisiana Lafayette.
Beaty inherited a program coming off a 3-9 record, a seven-year bowl drought and a roster sorely lacking in offensive linemen.
Rebowe inherited an 0-12 squad located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, that had finished last in the Southland Conference for four consecutive seasons.
Three years into the job, Beaty has a 3-33 record. He hasn’t been able to establish a strong recruiting footprint in either his native Texas or Kansas, which led to an aggressive turn toward Louisiana. At the moment, 2 of 6 verbal commitments from The Boot still list Kansas as their top choices, but cornerback Coe Harris and running back Pooka Williams are being aggressively pursued by big-time college football programs.
Rebowe is 16-18, including 8-4 this past season when his team lost to South Dakota in the first round of the 16-team FCS playoffs.
Obviously, Louisiana produces far more football prospects than Kansas. Even so, it’s impressive how disciplined Rebowe has been in sticking to his hyper-local recruiting approach. In his first three recruiting classes, 58 of 64 signees came from Louisiana.
Why should anybody in Kansas care about what's happening with an FCS school from Louisiana? KU opens its 2018 football season Sept. 1 vs. Nicholls State in Memorial Stadium.
Curious as to whether Rebowe had the good fortune of inheriting a strong class that as seniors led the Colonels to an 8-4 record in 2017, I did some research on geauxcolonels.com.
Unfortunately for Kansas, not the case.
Nicholls State returns 89 percent of its rushing yards and 95 percent of its rushing touchdowns, 95 percent of its passing yards, 100 percent of its passing touchdowns, 79 percent of its receiving yards, 86 percent of its receiving touchdowns.
But will the blocks be there to free the quarterback and running backs to do their work?
The Colonels bring back 4 of 5 starting offensive linemen from the team that lost to Texas A&M by 10 points, an impressive showing, although not as shocking as the previous year’s outcome vs. an FBS opponent. Georgia defeated Nicholls State by two points in 2016.
Oddsmakers don’t always post lines for games pitting FBS schools vs. FCS ones. If there is a line for this one, it’s worth wondering which school will be favored. I wonder if an FCS road team ever has been favored against an FBS school. I’ll try to find out before the day is over.
On one hand, Beaty has a 2-1 record vs. FCS opponents and will finally have a full roster of scholarship players. On the other hand, look at the comparative records from 2014, the year before the coaches took over, through 2017.
Kansas: 3-9, 0-12, 2-10, 1-11.
Nicholls State: 0-12, 3-8, 5-6, 8-4.
The Colonels’ growth curve points steadily up. For the Jayhawks, it’s been down, up, down. It's reasonable to expect it to head back up in 2018, provided defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong return, rather than declare for the NFL draft.
Fascinating matchup between coaches who inherited similar situations, although at different levels of competition, and three years in have had starkly different results.
No easy solutions exist for the Kansas basketball team’s defensive problems exposed in back-to-back losses to Pac-12 schools.
The flaws extend from the perimeter, where the guards don’t force a ton of turnovers, to the interior, where center Udoka Azubuike hasn’t yet developed great timing as a shot-blocker.
“We have less margin for error than a lot of teams that we’ve had in here in the past,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But I would say our toughness, to be able to get stops or keep a guy in front of you for 30 seconds, being able to defend the entire shot clock, those things are disappointing. And it’s everybody. It’s not just one or two people. We have no rim protection.”
Azubuike blocked just two shots Sunday against the much shorter Sun Devils.
Arizona State’s guards stung Kansas from the perimeter and on drives to the hoop. “I don’t know how tall they list (Tra) Holder and (Shannon) Evans and (Remy) Martin, but they all have to be under 5-11 and to have three guys score 72 points who are basically really, really quick and really good with the ball, but still yet, that’s just ridiculous to allow them to have that type of output.”
Arizona State (9-0) moved all the way to fifth in the Associated Press top 25 poll, eight spots ahead of Kansas.
Twelve days removed from college football’s first December signing period, Kansas ranks next-to-last in the Big 12 with 12 verbal commitments. Only Kansas State, which never does as well in recruiting on paper as on the football field, has fewer (11) verbals.
The rest of the Big 12 members' numbers: West Virginia (22), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU (20), Texas Tech (19), Iowa State and Texas (18), according to Rivals, which ranks Texas slightly ahead of Oklahoma in its team recruiting rankings, followed by West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State.
Eight of KU’s 12 commitments are high school players and four are prospects from junior colleges.
KU head coach David Beaty shared his thoughts during Big 12 Media Days in July on the addition of the early signing period.
“One of the most interesting things for me is when kids are committed and that first period comes around how many of them actually sign and how many don’t, because if they don’t sign then, they’re not committed,” Beaty said.
Tough to argue that point, so it's now or never for KU's most celebrated recruits.
Kansas lost another commitment Wednesday when three-star defensive end Josh Smith of Landry-Walker High in New Orleans, announcement on Twitter that he will “explore other options.”
KU has four remaining commitments who have been pursued by big programs and will be recruited aggressively by schools trying to pry them from their Kansas commitments before early signing day.
Cornerback Corione Harris and receiver Devonta Jason of Landry-Walker High in New Orleans, running back Anthony Williams from Boutte, Louisiana, and quarterback Clayton Tune of Hebron, Texas, all have SEC offers.
Harris announced on Twitter he would choose between Kansas and Mississippi State. Jason tweeted that former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullens’ still is recruiting him at his new job at Florida. This might mean nothing, but it’s somewhat interesting that Harris just started following new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt on Twitter.
LSU, Mississippi State, TCU and UCLA have offered Williams at various stages of his recruitment, per Rivals.
Quarterback Clayton Tune from Hebron, Texas, tweeted that Ole Miss offered him a scholarship.
These are nervous times for college football coaches. The early signing period cranks up the pressure because the guess by most is that the majority of prospects will sign now, rather than wait until February.
By the time Sam Cunliffe is eligible to play in his first game for Kansas, which will be at Nebraska on Dec. 16, barring one of his professors spacing out and not getting his first-semester grade in on time, the Seattle native will have played in practice for Kansas coach Bill Self for a full year.
So what type of player are the Jayhawks adding?
“He’s an athlete,” senior guard Devonte’ Graham said.
The internet is loaded with examples of Cunliffe’s acrobatic dunks.
“He can steal extra possessions and you know coach loves guys like that who can go offensive rebound, get out in the passing lanes,” Graham said. “He can shoot the ball really well too. He’s been shooting well in practice. And he also can be another defensive stopper.”
It wasn’t dissatisfaction with playing time that caused Cunliffe to transfer from Arizona State. He started all 10 of his games there and averaged 25.4 minutes per game. he also averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.8 turnovers. Cunliffe shot .314 on 2-point shots and .405 on 3-pointers.
Coming out of high school he was ranked No. 36 in his class by Rivals.
Search for "Sam I Am" on youtube and you'll find a three-episode series on Cunliffe. Each one is roughly 30 minutes.
Cunliffe won't have any trouble keeping up with the fleet Jayhawks. Speed runs in the family. His sister, Hannah, a senior at Oregon, was 60-meter champion at the NCAA Indoor meet.
Running at altitude, she was clocked in a collegiate-record 7.07 in a heat. She won the final in 7.14.
She was named Pac-12 female track and field athlete of the year in 2016 and was on course to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the 100 meters, but suffered a hamstring injury that put that dream on hold for four years.
The Big 12 has a remarkable 80 percent of its members heading to a bowl game. Baylor (1-11 overall, 1-8 in Big 12 play) and Kansas (1-11, 0-9) are the lone exceptions.
A disappointing season extended KU's bowl drought to nine years. No other school from a power-five conference has a drought of longer than four years and Oregon State and Syracuse are the lone schools to go that long without the extra game and practices that go with it.
KU's attendance dropped for the ninth consecutive year, to 25,165, despite Kansas State and Oklahoma drawing a large number of fans to Memorial Stadium.
At what point does the school's conference affiliation become jeopardized by the football program's inability to compete?
“That’s not something that’s ever been (a concern)," KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger told me in an interview in his office last week. "We’re a strong institution in many, many, many ways, and strong in this athletic department. Granted, we don’t have the wins in football right now, but all else is going well.”
Kansas last participated in the postseason on New Year's Eve 2008, when the Jayhawks defeated Minnesota, 42-21, in the Insight Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. That improved Mark Mangino's bowl record to 3-1. His 2006 team also was bowl eligible but was not invited to a game.
A look at the bottom 20 power-five schools in terms participation in bowl games during the length of KU's drought:
|School||Bowls since 2009 season
|1 - Kansas||None||Nine years
|2 - Colorado
|3 (tie) - Virginia
|3 (tie) - Indiana
|5 (tie) - Purdue
||2011, 2012, 2017
|5 (tie) - Wake Forest
||2011, 2016, 2017
|5 (tie) - Cal
||2009, 2011, 2015
|5 (tie) - Illinois
||2010, 2011, 2014
|5 (tie) - Oregon State
||2009, 2012, 2013
|5 (tie) - Syracuse
||2010, 2012, 2013
|11 (tie) - Iowa State
||2009, 2011, 2012, 2017
|11 (tie) - Kentucky
||2009, 2010, 2016, 2017
|11 (tie) - Maryland
||2010, 2013, 2014, 2016
|11 (tie) - Vanderbilt
||2011, 2012, 2013, 2016
|11 (tie) - Washington State
||2013, 2015, 2016, 2017
|16 (tie) - Duke
||2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017
|16 (tie) - Texas Tech
||2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017
|16 (tie) - Ole Miss
||2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
|16 (tie) - Rutgers
||2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
|16 (tie) - Tennessee
||2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016
Obviously, no two situations are alike when coaching changes are made in college football. Some coaches inherit worst situations than others. David Beaty inherited a tough challenge in large part because predecessor Charlie Weis recruited too many transfers and left the cupboard bare, particularly at offensive line.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to see how other schools that made coaching changes after the 2014 season have fared.
All computer rankings have flaws, but I've always considered the Sagarin predictor to be the best in both college football and basketball.
|*Coach no longer at that school.
The magic for the Kansas volleyball program started when the Jayhawks made a thrilling run into the 2015 Final Four and continued through winning the 2016 Big 12 title, a pair of program firsts.
Kansas has a number of quality victories since then, but the magic is on hiatus.
Creighton bounced KU from the 2016 NCAA tournament in a second-round, five-set match in Horejsi that went to extra points. Kansas (22-7 overall, 11-5 in conference) finished this season’s Big 12 schedule tied with Iowa State for third, five games behind Texas and two games behind second-place Baylor.
One thing hasn’t changed from the 2015 Final Four team that advanced to Omaha with an extraordinary comeback from a 13-9 deficit in the fifth set of its match against No. 1 overall seed USC: All-Americans Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne and fellow senior Madison Rigdon, an all-conference player, remain the key trio for the Jayhawks.
Can they rekindle the magic?
KU made the tournament field for the sixth consecutive season. In the previous five, the Jayhawks played the first two rounds at home. This time, they travel to Wichita State and have a first-round match at 6 p.m. Friday against Missouri. Wichita State faces Radford at 8 p.m. and the winners of those two matches meet at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Last year, I just thought we were maybe a little emotionally gutted because we want to win the Big 12 so bad,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “We played a lot of five-set matches at the end of the year, so we really backed off our training. I think it being the first time having gone through that process we could have handled that a bit better.”
The inevitable exhale after claiming the first conference title in school history put the Jayhawks at risk of not regaining their edge. It was a different feel from 2015.
“Two years ago we were on a pretty good run (heading into the tournament),” Bechard said. “We were disappointed we didn’t win the Big 12 and we had a lot to prove in the tournament. I think that would resemble this year, the fact that the regular season didn’t work out in some ways like we had hoped.”
Kansas went 30-3 overall and 15-1 in the Big 12 in 2015.
“I’m not sure people remember we didn’t win the Big 12 in 2015,” Bechard said. “They remember the great run that we went on.”
Texas won the Big 12 in 2015. In the Final Four, Nebraska defeated Kansas in four sets and then swept Texas in the national-title match.
Kansas was ranked No. 19 in the AVCA poll released Monday; Wichita State (28-3) No. 20. Missouri (20-11) and Radford (25-4) are not ranked.
The home-court advantage gives Wichita State the favorite role.
KU's refusal to play Wichita State doesn't sit well with Shockers fans, which could lead some in the crowd for Friday's Missouri-Kansas match to root against the Jayhawks.
“I would like to think they’d root for somebody from Kansas, but that’s up to them," Bechard said. "They’re good volleyball fans. We have a good relationship with Wichita State in volleyball, respect what they’ve done. We’ve met, butted heads a couple of times the last few years in the NCAA tournament. We’ve had mixed results, won one of those and lost one. Coach (Chris) Lamb has done a great job and I’m sure the city of Wichita is very excited about the opportunity to host.”
It might not take magic to survive two matches in Wichita to advance, but it will take better volleyball than Kansas played in its final regular-season match, a five-set loss to West Virginia in Horejsi.