On paper, it looked as if this season would be the weakest schedule in several years that the Kansas basketball team would face, but it didn't play out that way.
The Jayhawks (29-7) have gone 10-1 against schools that join them in the Sweet 16 field. They have won more games against schools still in the hunt for the national title than any other two schools combined.
Every Sweet 16 school with the exception of Loyola of Chicago has played at least one game against another school that survived the first weekend of the tournament.
Kansas State (0-7) has fared the poorest. A look at how Sweet 16 schools have done against others still in the field.:
|Sweet 16 school
||1.000||FSU, Clemson, SU
||.909||UK, SU, KSU (3),
WVU (3), TAMU,
KSU (2), WVU
|KU, WVU (2)
||4-6||.400||KSU (2), TT (2)
||TAMU, TT, KU (3), UK
|Clemson||1-3||.250||FSU||FSU, Duke, SU
|Syracuse||1-3||.250||Clemson||KU, FSU, Duke
||0-7||.000||KU (3), WVU (2), TT (2)
After too many years of tough talk followed by disappointing NCAA tournament performances, the Big 12 really needed to deliver this March. Deliver it has.
Thanks to high-scoring guards gifted at defending, breaking down defenses and knocking down 3-pointers and free throws, the conference can boast that 40 percent of its members reached the Sweet 16: Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
The 15-member ACC also has four schools in the Sweet 16: Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Syracuse.
The Big Ten (Michigan and Purdue) and SEC (Kentucky and Texas A&M) are the only other conferences with more than one Sweet 16 representative. The Big East (Villanova), Missouri Valley (Loyola of Chicago), Mountain West (Nevada) and West Coast (Gonzaga) all have a school still in the hunt for a national title.
The four surviving Big 12 schools were the top four seeds in the Big 12 tournament and all made it to the semifinals in Sprint Center.
A look at NCAA tournament stats produced by the four lead guards — junior Barry Brown and seniors Jevon Carter, Keenan Evans and Devonte' Graham — who have led their Big 12 squads to consecutive victories:
|Big 12 G (School)
|Jevon Carter (WVU)
|Keenan Evans (TT)
|Devonte' Graham (KU)
|Barry Brown (KSU)
Wichita — Kansas is tough to beat when junior Lagerald Vick is playing well and hitting shots. When he’s not, anything can happen.
In KU’s seven losses, Vick shot .161 from 3-point range, compared to .423 in the 27 victories.
“In order for us to advance, we need to have all our best players playing well, and he’s certainly one of our best players,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And I thought he played really well against West Virginia. I thought his activity level was good. He’s had some really good practices since then.”
Vick had 10 points and five rebounds to help Kansas defeat West Virginia for the Big 12 tournament title. He made 2 of 3 3-pointers in the game.
Vick shot .161 from 3-point range in the seven losses, .423 in the 27 victories.
“His activity level was similar to what it was a couple of months ago,” Self said. “I don’t think his activity level during league play was quite as good as it was before … but I think he’s on a serious uptick right now.”
Wichita — Nearly as significant as Penn holding opponents to a .296 3-point percentage (second in the nation to Grand Canyon) is that the Quakers also do a nice job of limiting the number of 3-pointers taken by foes (32.8 percent of field goal attempts against them are 3-pointers, 37th nationally).
How do the Quakers do it?
"Our main goals are to limit the 3-pointers taken by flying around, making the shooters activate their dribble, start to get to the hoop and then guarding at the rim without fouling, forcing long contested twos are ideal for our defensive system," said sophomore forward A.J. Brodeur, unanimous first-team All-Ivy League and Ivy League tournament MVP.
Senior guard Matt MacDonald said the Quakers try "to run teams off the line," and do "everything with a great amount of energy and just toughness. You can say all that and have that as your philosophy, but if you don't play hard to a certain extent and really try to execute the game plan, it really means nothing."
Villanova made 8 of 16 3-pointers vs. Penn in a 90-62, early season slaughter, and Toledo made 9 of 14 in an 85-72 road victory. (The Rockets lost at Kansas, 96-58).
"Obviously they're going to present as much problems as anybody we play, probably with the exception of Villanova," Donahue said of the Jayhawks. "It's how we build our defense, and we like to take advantage of the 3, and we don't want to give up those 3s. So I think the thing that makes us a little different for this level is that we have some athleticism in our guard spots. We have good length, move well laterally."
Dan Majerle twice was named NBA All-Defensive second team when playing for the Phoenix Suns. Majerle not only knew how to play defense, he knows how to teach it.
Thunder Dan is in his fifth season as head coach of Grand Canyon University, which ranks No. 1 in the country in 3-point-percentage defense (.267). The Antelopes (22-11) are bound for the CBI tournament.
The nation’s second-best 3-point percentage defense belongs to Penn (.296), first-round foe of Kansas in the NCAA tournament, 1 p.m. tipoff Thursday in Wichita.
Kansas relies more heavily on the 3-point shot than in any season under coach Bill Self and subpar 3-point shooting has been a common denominator in each of KU’s seven losses.
|03-03-18||@ Oklahoma St.
That doesn't mean that the opponent's necessarily is the primary factor in KU's 3-point shooting.
The Quakers will be KU's seventh opponent with a 3-point percentage defense now ranked in the top 50 in the nation, per kenpom.com rankings. KU didn't shoot particularly well (.348, compared to a season 3-point accuracy rate of .403) in the first six, but they went 5-1, so it's not as if the Jayhawks can't survive off days from 3-point range.
Perhaps because when he gets hot few defenses can follow him out to the limits of his range, Devonte' Graham has shot well (.476) from long distance in those half dozen games.
3-pt. FG-FGA (pct.)
|12-16-17||@ Nebraska (25)
|01-02-18||TEXAS TECH (47)
|01-27-18||TEXAS A&M (29)
|02-24-18||@ Texas Tech (47)
||2 N, 2H, 2A
Without specifically addressing Udoka Azubuike’s case, Dr. James Gladstone, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, offered insight on the injury that prevented the Kansas center from playing in the Big 12 conference basketball tournament last week.
Kansas team doctors diagnosed Azubuike with a Grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament of the left knee.
“Grade 1 is the least severe of the sprains and that means it’s basically a mild stretch,” Gladstone said. “But for some reason, Grade 1 (sprains) tend to hurt a lot longer. It’s not uncommon for it to hurt for four or five months. That doesn’t mean that it’s unstable or he can’t do stuff on it, but I always tell my patients that they might keep feeling it for a long time.”
The injury can sideline Gladstone’s patients from playing basketball for from “four-to-10 weeks, but it really depends on how bad it is, how much it hurts, how quickly the pain settles down and then how quickly he feels comfortable.”
Azubuike suffered the injury last Tuesday in practice. KU opens NCAA tournament play Thursday against University of Pennsylvania in Wichita, 1 p.m. tipoff. Second-round games in Wichita take place Saturday at as yet-to-be-determined times.
Could Azubuike be ready in nine days?
“That’s definitely on the aggressive side, but with these it comes down more to pain and how you feel than it has to do with anything structural,” Gladstone said.
Would it be shocking to see a player return so quickly?
“It wouldn’t be shocking,” Gladstone said. “He may not be 100 percent of himself at that point, but again, if he’s able to to tolerate it and if he’s effective for them, even at a reduced capacity, he’s not going to hurt himself more by playing on it.”
Late in the 2015 regular season, Perry Ellis suffered a similar injury in a game. He returned to action a week from the following Friday, 10 days later. A Thursday return by Azubuike would be one day sooner, a Saturday return one day later than Ellis’ timetable.
Such injuries heal on their own and do not require surgery, Gladstone said.
What plays might challenge a basketball player still feeling pain from a sprained MCL?
“Three things,” Gladstone said. “Taking off on that (left) leg, landing on that leg, and the third would be a pivot to your right.”
The fact that Azubuike is doing mild workouts already is typical, Gladstone said.
“You want to start moving pretty quickly,” Gladstone said. “You don’t want it to get too stiff, moving stimulates the muscles. It’s quite an active rehab that begins quickly, certainly within three to five days.”
Sidelined Kansas State junior forward Dean Wade (sore foot), a first-team All-Big 12 performer, has scored in double figures in 20 consecutive games after failing to do so in four of the Wildcats’ first 12 games.
K-State has gone 12-8 during Wade’s double-figures streak. Two of the losses came at the hands of Kansas. So an argument can be made that the scoring output of another K-State frontcourt starter actually will weigh more heavily in the outcome of today’s 6 p.m. tipoff in Sprint Center against Kansas.
Makol Mawien, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound sophomore, was born in Cairo, Egypt, played high school basketball in Utah and according to the Kansas State media guide is the son of Mawien Arik, “the Ambassador of South Sudan,” and Adut Dor.
Mawien carried a big load in helping the Wildcats defeat TCU, 66-64, in overtime. Mawien produced 16 points, nine rebonds and three blocks. He played 30 minutes and made 6 of 7 field goals and 4 of 4 free throws before fouling out.
“That's tough in anyone's book in any league, and he was tough today, and we need him throughout the rest of the season, throughout March,” junior guard Barry Brown said.
Mawien has started all 32 games and averages 18.8 minutes, 6.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots.
“Last game I found out the stat when Mak has 10 or plus points that we are undefeated,” Brown said after the TCU game.
Brown didn’t say where he learned that statistic, but if it was from the coaching staff, that’s an indication the coaches would like to see the guards share the ball with the big man more frequently. K-State is 8-0 when Mawien reaches double figures.
Mawien spent his first year out of high school as a redshirt at Utah, then spent a year at a junior college. He has two remaining seasons of eligibility at Kansas State.
In the two losses to Kansas, Mawien combined for 37 minutes, seven points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. K-State might try to feature Mawien more because Udoka Azubuike (sprained MCL) is out of the lineup for Kansas.
In the postseason, today is a little tougher than yesterday and not as tough as tomorrow. At least that’s how it usually works with one-and-done tournaments.
That’s not necessarily the case for Kansas in the Big 12 tournament.
In such a closely bunched conference it’s more about matchups than record.
A case easily could be made that KU will have a tougher time getting past first-round opponent Oklahoma State than competing against the winner of the TCU-Kansas State game.
Mitch Lightfoot played well in both games against TCU, averaging 7.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and four blocked shots.
TCU’s big man Vladimir Brodziansky brings more skill than power and Lightfoot is well equipped to follow him to the 3-point line.
KU has trouble matching up with skilled Kansas State power forward Dean Wade with our without Azubuike in the lineup, so the Wildcats aren’t a horrible matchup either.
If Kansas can cool off Kendall Smith (49 points, 6 of 9 3-pointers in two games vs. KU) and Mitchell Solomon (25 points, 14 rebounds in the two games) and advance to Friday, it’s realistic to believe the Jayhawks will be playing in the Big 12 title game, which would be quite the accomplishment for a team that lacked front court depth before suffered a sprained MCL in practice Tuesday that will prevent him from playing this week in Sprint Center.
Still, playing without Azubuike is a significant loss at both ends because KU has no big man who can guard ball screens even close to as well as him and he’s such an unstoppable force when he gets the ball on the block.
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a scrimmage in Tuesday's practice and will not participate in the Big 12 tournament, KU basketball coach Bill Self announced this afternoon.
"We will hold him out this weekend in Kansas City and he will be reevaluated Sunday and our expectation is that he'll be back on the court next week," Self said. Self said the sprain, "is isolated. It is a Grade 1 sprain."
A Grade 1 sprain is the least severe and means that a ligament has been stretched but not torn.
Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors suffered a similar injury two years ago and missed two weeks.
The Kansas football roster hasn’t been updated since season’s end, which maintains a certain degree of mystery to what 2018 will look like.
So many questions remain. An updated roster will answer some. The 15 spring football practices will clarify others.
The first area of interest involves the identity of the offensive player who will start each play with the football in his hands.
Question No. 1: Will center Mesa Ribordy’s concussion history allow him to continue his football career or will KU have to turn elsewhere for a center?
Either way, identifying an offensive lineman who can snap and handle all the duties that come with the position is a top spring priority for the Jayhawks.
Ribordy missed the Iowa State and TCU games, which KU lost by a combined score of 88-0 and followed a 106-yard performance with a 21-yard historically bad dud.
No obvious candidates jump to mind. Hakeem Adeniji could be tried, but the team is on the shy side at tackle in the first place, so that might not work.
Question No. 2: Will defensive end Isaiah Bean’s concussion history allow him to continue his career?
If not, KU will have plenty of candidates, thanks to recruiting the position aggressively in anticipation of losing Dorance Armstrong to the NFL draft.
Bean had trouble putting on weight, but had remained an intriguing prospect because of his explosiveness.
Question No. 3: Will head coach David Beaty take a different approach from seasons past and name a starting quarterback by the end of spring, giving the top choice more time to get teammates to rally behind him?
Let’s hope so. Beaty and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham will choose from three candidates. Peyton Bender, a senior, and Carter Stanley, a junior, split the job in 2017 and neither player won over the coaching staff.
Enter Miles Kendrick, an undersized born leader, hard worker and confident presence. He’ll be given a serious look after spending his first semester out of high school at a junior college in California before transferring to KU, the only school to offer him a scholarship. He’s considered a dual-threat QB, as is Stanley.
Question No. 4: Will graduating high school a semester early enable cornerback Corione Harris ample time to refine his game to the degree he can become a starter from Day 1 of his college career?
At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds as a high school senior in New Orleans, Harris gained a reputation as a physical corner and was recruited by Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas, among other heavyweights and stayed loyal to KU assistant coach Tony Hull.
If Harris can lock down a starting job right away, he’ll generate a huge buzz. He wouldn't be the first cornerback named Harris to start as a freshman at KU. Chris Harris arrived on campus with decidedly less fanfare and developed into an All-Pro corner.
Question No. 5: Will solid depth at running back result in more running plays?
KU’s two quarterbacks combined to throw 460 passes last season. The five running backs combined for 391 carries.
Freshman Pooka Williams, sophomore Dom Williams, junior Khalil Herbert and senior Taylor Martin all bring speed.
At previous coaching stops the personnel on hand dictated that Meacham’s offenses would be pass-oriented. But don’t forget, this is a man who spent his college career blocking for Hall of Fame backs Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. His coaching background is rich with Air Raid history, but don’t think for a second he doesn’t know the value of running the football.