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.
The first thing I liked reading about Lindsey Scott Jr., quarterback of national-champion East Mississippi Community College, was his height.
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, which means schools that can afford to be picky about such things decided not to recruit him for fear he would have trouble seeing over offensive linemen.
The smaller the pool of interested schools, the better shot Kansas has of landing him.
Mark Mangino had two terrific quarterbacks at Kansas and both could play in 6-foot-and-under basketball leagues without cheating by bending their knees at the official measurement, a tactic that allowed our 6-2 center Joe Trivisonno to play on the Marquette 1978 intramural champions, “The Eraserheads.”
Back to Mangino’s two best quarterbacks.
Bill Whittemore was listed at 6-0, Todd Reesing at 5-11. KU beat out New Mexico to land Whittemore, Duke and Kansas State to land Reesing.
Underdogs can’t get hung up on physical prototypes or they’ll end up with a roster full of players who look good coming off the bus, warming up and posing for photographs for the media guide, but can’t play a lick.
Whittemore played in the Tangerine Bowl, which interestingly was played in a stadium called the Citrus Bowl.
Reesing led KU to victory in the Orange Bowl and the Insight Bowl.
Jason Swanson, listed at 6-foot, led KU to victory in the Fort Worth Bowl.
The next thing to like about Scott is that he has only burned one year of eligibility and will have three remaining seasons after selecting a school from among Kansas, Texas-San Antonio, Tulane and Western Michigan. He red-shirted during his one year at LSU.
My guess is that Scott has thick skin because he excelled under EMCC coach Buddy Stephens the central figure in the popular Netflix series that followed two Lions seasons.
Stephens is a yeller and a screamer, a cusser and a fusser, despite trying to tame his act in Season 2.
Scott’s dual-threat capabilities count as another plus.
If KU can land Scott and Clayton Tune, who intends to graduate early and participate in spring football drills, David Beaty would have four quarterbacks, including holdovers Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, competing for the starting job heading into spring football.
That’s a good thing, as long as Beaty names a starter by the end of spring football.
Tune originally made a verbal commitment to Kansas, then opened up his recruitment the night KU produced 21 yards in total offense in a 43-0 loss at TCU. He verbally recommitted to Kansas last week, but doubts arose to the strength of that commitment when he tweeted on Thursday: “Thankful to have received a scholarship offer from Ole Miss!”
Kansas had been recruiting dual-threat QB Victor Viramontes, but he committed to Minnesota.
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 masses wouldn’t be so quick to treat this Kansas basketball team’s bid for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title almost as a formality if it considered the size, speed, skill and experience level of one of the teams it faces.
Before considering the name across the jerseys of this team’s players, because that could slant your judgment, consider that one of the starters is a freshman ranked No. 11 in his recruiting class. The other four have combined to start 141 of their 151 collegiate games, which means they were good enough to start from Day 1.
Now look at the size of the five starters, moving from point guard to center: 5-foot-11, 6-6, 6-8, 6-10, 6-9. They’re loaded with speed and sky-walkers.
Each starter, except the freshman, has averaged at least 9.5 points per game in a season and one averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds.
Meet KU’s greatest red team of all-time: Charlie Moore, Sam Cunliffe, K.J. Lawson, Billy Preston and Dedric Lawson.
In reality, of course, this team can't hurt the Jayhawks' chances of extending their Big 12 dominance, but they can help to continue the streak.
Cunliffe will be leaving the red team and joining the real Jayhawks as soon as the Nebraska game. Preston remains in limbo, hoping to join the real team and leave the red squad behind. But for the moment, Kansas faces better competition daily in practice than any team in the nation.
The 1931 Philadelphia A’s, managed by Connie Mack, enter many conversations about the greatest all-time baseball team, but one factor that contributed to their dominance never is mentioned: Hall of Famer Lefty Grove used to like to throw full-speed batting practice frequently, believing that the best way to make his arm stronger, more accurate, was to use it in between starts. It helped to ready the hitters for games, where they seldom faced a pitcher of his talent.
KU coach Bill Self has talked about shortening practices because of the team’s lack of depth, but based on the sharpness of the team’s early season play, what practices lack in quantity is more than compensated for with the quality of the daily competition.
“Sometimes in practice coach gets so mad at us because they’ll be killing us, but when you think about it, they’re Div. I basketball players too,” senior guard Devonte’ Graham said. “It’s not like we’re just playing against the walk-ons. They’ve definitely been making us better defensively and offensively.”
Graham sharpens his game playing against Cal transfer Charlie Moore, a 5-11 point guard.
“Real quick first step, can’ handle the ball really well and can shoot it, so he makes Malik and me better defenders,” Graham said. “It’s good to have another guard who is like someone you’re going to be playing against.”
Self doesn’t take the red-team players for granted either.
“The other day we played the red team for a 10-minute scrimmage and they scored 34 points on us in 10 minutes,” Self said. “It’s not uncommon for them to score 25 in 10 minutes, running clock, so that means they would score 100 on us, easily, if it’s a 40-minute game. So even though it’s enough to make me mad, it’s probably good for us.”
Dedric Lawson averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 boards for Memphis last season.
“If Billy’s on our red team along with Dedric, that’s as good a front line as we’re going to play against,” Self said. “Then you have K.J. and Sam, those are pretty good guards. I’m not saying all-league, but those are good guards. And throw Charlie in there, that’s a pretty good red team.”
Facing that sort of talent in practice keeps bad habits from developing and keeps the eligible Jayhawks competing at a high level. Good practice habits lead to good game performances and Kansas (7-0) has had plenty of those already.
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.
You hang around a sports department office long enough and you’re bound to hear some interesting numbers and not all of them have dollar signs in front of them.
Some of the more compelling statistics produced by the Kansas football team during a 1-11 2017 campaign:
Scott Chasen pointed out on the KU Sports Hour that Khalil Herbert rushed for five more yards (291) against West Virginia than any teammate gained for the entire season. Taylor Martin rushed for 286 yards.
Bobby Nightengale noted that Kansas finished 130th (last) with an opponent punt-return average of 18.3 yards.
True freshman Earl Bostick, who started the season at offensive tackle and converted to tight end, had as many catches as Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot, who started the season at receiver and converted to safety.
Charlot caught one pass for no gain. This was one example of hype for which coaches can’t be blamed. The coaches consistently threw water on the media’s excitement, but we didn’t listen.
Bostick made his first and only catch a memorable one. Bostick’s 8-yard touchdown reception from Carter Stanley cut Texas’ lead to two touchdowns early in the second quarter.
Four schools surrendered more than the 296.8 passing yards per game allowed by KU and one school might come as a surprise: 130 - UConn (333.9); 129 - Kansas State (310.3); 128 - Louisiana-Monroe (308.5), Texas State (297.3).
Stanley had a hand in K-State’s ranking by throwing for 418 yards against the Wildcats.
Another indictment of the KU secondary: Tied for 123rd with four interceptions. KU ranks 128th with a -1.42 turnover margin and 126th with a 28.86-percent success rate on third down. Opponents were successful on 40.11 percent of their third-down plays.
KU averaged 3.1 yards per rush and 5.91 yards per pass attempt. Opponents averaged 4.2 yards per rush and 9.32 yards per pass.
The longest stretch of offensive ineptitude didn’t come in a 38-9 loss to Baylor, which lost its other 11 games, rather in a nine-and-a-half quarter streak that started midway through the third quarter of the 65-19 loss to Texas Tech and dragged on in back-to-back shutouts against Iowa State and TCU. The Jayhawks were outscored 118-0. They gained 129 yards in nine quarters.
On the positive side, Kansas ranked 15th in the nation with 7.42 tackles for loss per game.
Gabriel Rui was responsible for the team’s biggest area of improvement. He made 17 of 20 field goals and nailed a career-high 50-yard kick, one of 10 field goals of 40 or more yards.
Kansas ranks 17th in the nation with a 43-percent accuracy rate on 3-point shots.
The hot shooting in part can be attributed to tremendous ball movement, rare for November basketball.
When asked to assess his team thus far, 15th year Kansas coach Bill Self pointed to that strength first.
“I can tell you I’m pleased the majority of the time with how the ball moves,” Self said. “I’m pleased that for the most part, other than Kentucky, we’ve gotten the ball to the open man and we’ve also played through (center Udoka Azubuike) more, so I think that’s a positive offensively. But when you play that small you need to shoot the ball well and for the most part other than one game we’ve done that.”
KU’s top 3-point-percentage shooters so far: Mitch Lightfoot .667 (4 of 6), Lagerald Vick .542 (13 of 24), Svi Mykhailiuk .515 (17 of 33), Malik Newman .468 (22 of 47).
Devonte’ Graham hasn’t found his touch yet and is shooting .286 (8 of 28) from long distance.
“Defensively we’ve just been average at best and we don’t rebound like we’re capable of,” Self said. “The key to us rebounding well is going to be Lagerald and Udoka. They’ve got to do better than what they’ve been doing.”
Vick and Garrett share the team rebounding lead with 7.2 per game and Azubuike is third with 7.0 rebounds per game.
Vick and Garrett share the team lead in defensive rebounds (27) and Azubuike has the most offensive rebounds (15).