Posts tagged with Jayhawks

Stock watch: Josh Jackson’s shooting could impact draft position

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Even the greatest players on the planet have their flaws. That’s what makes debating one man’s on-the-court value versus another’s a fundamental element of basketball discussions. For star Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, his strengths are numerous and his imperfections, while scarce, are obvious.

Jackson, who turns 20 in February, is a 6-foot-8 perimeter player with a 6-9.75 wingspan, who can handle the ball, attack the glass, see the floor like a point guard and play — both offensively and defensively — in the stratosphere above the rim. Throw in a competitive streak coaches love and you’re looking at a Jayhawk bound to be taken near the top of the 2017 NBA Draft.

In fact, Jackson might be considered a lock for the No. 1 spot after one season at KU if it wasn’t for his glaring deficiency: shooting.

As the game of basketball keeps evolving, NBA franchises are placing increasing value in the power of the 3-pointer. In his 18 appearances in a Kansas uniform, shooting from behind a 3-point arc that stretches out 20 feet and 9 inches from the basket — closer than The Association’s, semi-circle, which stretches out to 22 feet in the corners and 23-9 up top — Jackson has connected on only 23.7% of his attempts.

KU coach Bill Self didn’t recruit Jackson for his shooting, so it’s not an emphasis for his stud freshman. Plus, the Detroit native is in a bit of a 3-point funk. Jackson very well could start connecting in KU’s upcoming games against Texas and West Virginia and see his season percentage begin building toward a more respectable number, but he has only made four 3’s in the previous 11 games — a stretch in which the freshman is shooting 19% from deep. He’s 2-for-12 (16.7%) in his past five outings.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts up a three over Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts up a three over Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It’s at the free-throw line where Jackson’s shooting struggles have been more problematic. Often, Jackson is too long and powerful for a defender trying to stay in front of him or compete for a rebound, so he draws a lot of fouls. But he has only capitalized on 57% of his free-throw tries.

Jackson’s inconsistencies as a shooter at the college level likely are making a moderate impact on his NBA draft stock — though because he’s so talented and shooting is a skill that can be refined, it’s borderline unfeasible to see him dropping out of the top five. So when we say Jackson’s stock is taking a hit, it’s all relative to the top few spots in the draft.

Back in October, before Jackson made his Kansas debut, in mock drafts posted by Draft Express, Bleacher Report, NBADraft.net, Hoops Hype and Fan Sided, his average position was 2nd overall. Two-and-a-half months later, Jackson’s position has slipped in each site’s projections and he averages out as the 4th pick.

- DraftExpress: No. 4 pick

- BleacherReport: No. 5

- NBADraft.net: No. 5

- HoopsHype: No. 5

- FanSided.com: No. 2

If you’re looking for potential reasons for the slight dip, Jackson’s 9-for-38 3-point shooting (23.7%) and 53-for-93 success rate (57%) at the free-throw line stand out.

In a draft that will heavily feature freshmen and perimeter prospects at the very top, Jackson’s shooting numbers lag behind those being posted by some of his competition, such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. — all point guards.

Name Pos. Ht. School Games
3 pt. made-att. (pct.) FT made-att. (pct.)
Josh Jackson SG/SF 6-8 Kansas 18 9-for-38 (23.7%) 53-for-93 (57%)
Markelle Fultz PG 6-4 Washington 17 31-for-75 (41.3%) 73-for-109 (67%)
Lonzo Ball PG 6-6 UCLA 19 46-for-107 (43%) 40-for-59 (67.8%)
Dennis Smith Jr. PG 6-3 N.C. State 19 34-for-92 (37%) 94-for-127 (74%)
Jayson Tatum SF 6-8 Duke 10 11-for-36 (30.6%) 47-for-55 (85.5%)
De'Aaron Fox PG 6-4 Kentucky 18 5-for-37 (13.5%) 74-for-105 (70.5%)
Malik Monk PG/SG 6-4 Kentucky 18 54-for-133 (40.6%) 55-for-66 (83.3%)

Questions about Jackson’s shot and form have existed since he emerged as a star recruit in the prep ranks, so this isn’t necessarily unexpected. What’s more, Jackson still remains in great standing in the minds of scouts and executives in the NBA.

How many college basketball players would love to be in Jackson’s position right now? He’s got two-plus more months of games and plenty of pre-draft workouts and interviews to go through before the draft in June. And we won’t even know until after the regular season which teams will be making the picks at the top.

Jackson could very well end up going No. 1, just like former Kansas standouts Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Danny Manning (1988). An improved stroke on that jumper could get him there.

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Jayhawks’ mettle impressive in victory at Iowa State

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates as time expires in the Jayhawks' 76-72 win over Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates as time expires in the Jayhawks' 76-72 win over Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

No one will confuse this year’s Iowa State team with a college basketball juggernaut. The Cyclones’ lack of size ultimately undermined their chances of keeping up with Kansas on the glass or stopping the Jayhawks inside Monday night in a 76-72 KU victory at ISU.

Kansas made the most of its obvious advantages to out-rebound the home team 41-24 and out-score Iowa State in the paint, 52-28. Those qualified as the most impressive numbers of the Jayhawks’ latest win in a streak of 17. But another set of digits rank right up there: 34:09. That’s how many minutes and seconds Kansas led to close its fourth road win of the season.

As coach Bill Self referenced after his No. 2-ranked team remained unblemished in Big 12 play (17-1 overall, 6-0 conference), he expected the Jayhawks’ trip to Hilton Coliseum to be their most taxing road date yet and for the game to be one of the most difficult outside of Allen Fieldhouse this season.

KU’s previous road wins came at UNLV (ranked 194th in the nation by KenPom.com), TCU (KenPom’s No. 32 team) and Oklahoma (73rd at KenPom). Based solely on those numbers, Kansas winning at Iowa State (23rd) qualifies as the team’s best victory since defeating Duke (11th) at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November.

Iowa State (11-6, 3-3) took an 8-6 lead in front of an amped-up home crowd on a layup by Naz Mitrou-Long with 15:50 left in the first half. But one of the country’s supreme guards, KU senior Frank Mason III, scored a layup to tie the game shortly after. What followed was a Cyclones team and fan base ravenous for a home win over Kansas watching in frustration as the Jayhawks never trailed again, following a Mason 3-pointer with 14:09 left in the first half.

Kansas (ranked No. 7 at KenPom) got up as many as 10 points on five occasions, and kept withstanding the Iowa State surges that reinvigorated its antagonistic supporters in the arena. In the second half, when ISU got within four with 12 minutes left, Svi Mykhailiuk drilled a 3 and Landen Lucas scored inside, while the Jayhawks got stops on the other end.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Again, with less than four minutes to go, Iowa State carved its deficit back to four. Then, in a crucial burst, Josh Jackson, Lucas and Mason each scored a basket on three straight trips down the floor.

Ever resilient, ISU still got as close as three points twice in the final 30 seconds. And Kansas got out of Ames with a win thanks to a successful press-break that set up a Lagerald Vick dunk and a much-needed Devonte’ Graham free throw with 0:12 on the clock.

The cynic in you might say the Jayhawks need to do a better job closing out games. The realist in you should remember KU didn’t allow a solid ISU team to lead on its home floor for the final 34:09 of a hotly contested game.

Give Self and his players the credit they deserve. They didn’t allow the Cyclones to regain the lead and set Hilton ablaze with energy. This is the kind of game plenty of top-25 teams could have lost. Yes, KU has its flaws (see: 18 turnovers at Iowa State, the presence of only two bigs on the roster), but there is something to be said for a team with this kind of mettle.

Game after game, Self, his staff and the players find the areas where their opponents can be exploited. And though the competition hasn’t always been taxing (KenPom ranks KU’s non-conference schedule as 87th nationally), Kansas hasn’t walked off any court with a loss since its season-opener.

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Jayhawks trying to find better ways to defend paint

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) swats a shot by Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) swats a shot by Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The undersized, predominantly four-guard Kansas basketball lineup, as it has become so adept at doing this season, gathered enough rebounds inside and even blocked shots here and there Saturday while defeating Oklahoma State, 87-80. A plus-nine margin on the glass and five swats: the types of things the Jayhawks will have to continue doing to win while only playing two bigs — senior Landen Lucas and sophomore Carlton Bragg.

However, KU had less success stopping the Cowboys from getting to the paint for easy buckets. OSU converted eight layups and a tip-in while maintaining a first-half lead, then converted four more layups, two put-backs and a dunk in the final 20 minutes. All of those added up to give the visitors a 44-38 advantage in points in the paint.

It marked the fourth time in five Big 12 victories the Jayhawks (16-1 overall, 5-0 conference) were out-scored inside.

KU’s lack of an interior defensive enforcer — 6-foot-8 wing Josh Jackson leads the team with 24 blocks in 17 games — has been well documented, and head coach Bill Self referenced that as a concern even before freshman center Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist injury. So the Jayhawks know opponents want to get to the lane via drive or post-ups for high-percentage shots. Self’s players just haven’t yet totally mastered the strategies they’ll need to employ to best defend that coveted real estate near the basket.

Much like Nebraska, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma, the other teams to put up more points in the paint than KU head-to-head this season, Oklahoma State (10-7, 0-5) did so without the help of a go-to post player. Kansas keeps winning, but it has issues containing both penetration and pick-and-roll actions initiated by opposing guards.

Junior KU guard Devonte’ Graham acknowledged giving up so many interior baskets was an issue.

“The offense that they run was kind of tough to guard with the back cuts and having to guard the shooters out there,” Graham said, referencing the 3-point abilities of Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll when dynamic play-maker Jawun Evans had the ball in his hands. “So the bigs was kind of getting open on the back-screen ball screen, because it was hard to guard a back screen from the big and then come up and hedge the ball screen. So that’s where they was getting us a lot on.”

Big 12 Opponents’ Points in Paint vs. KU Points in Paint

TCU 38, KU 32

K-State 46, KU 44

Texas Tech 18, KU 30

Oklahoma 38, KU 28

Okla. St. 44, KU 38

Of late, Graham added, the Jayhawks see more teams finding ways to effectively attack their guards from the perimeter.

“There’s a lot of teams since TCU really killed us and exploited us with it, they’ve been trying to run a lot of side ball screens and have their big guys just roll,” Graham noted of ways opposing guards make things easier for their post players, too.

Six-foot-nine OSU junior forward Mitchell Solomon entered Allen Fieldhouse averaging just 4.2 points a game this season. During one second-half stretch against KU, though, Solomon scored five straight baskets for the Cowboys, all in the paint. Before he fouled out late, Solomon went 6-for-6 from the floor and put up 16 points.

“I thought he killed us on the glass,” Self said, “but he only got four rebounds and three were offensive, and two of them were back-to-back putbacks.”

It didn’t take Self long to figure out how the OSU reserve easily topped his previous career-high for points (10, versus Rogers State): “Now granted he played very well, but Evans forced help, and then our rotations were slow. So even though he benefited from some plays, I think Evans deserves half the credit on those plays.”

Evans wasn’t the first guard hellbent on attacking KU and he won’t be the last. So when Solomon talks about his teammate’s expertise, picture other KU opponents to come mimicking the sentiment and replacing the name Evans with Monte’ Morris or Jevon Carter or whomever serves as that team’s ball-dominant guard.

“If Jawun’s aggressive, there’s really not anybody, I believe, who can stop him. So if he’s doing downhill he’s gonna attract a lot of attention,” Solomon said when asked if the Cowboys thought their ability to score inside versus Kansas would be a factor. “That leaves room for offensive rebounds if he doesn’t finish, which he does often.”

First-year Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood game-planned for KU expecting the Cowboys’ 3-point shooting and the actions they run offensively to give them their best looks.

“We thought we could take them away from the rim. We felt like in our offense, there’s a lot of cutters, there’s a lot of movement, there’s a lot of weak-side opportunities,” Underwood said. “You put Landen in ball screens, force him to guard, that opens things up in the paint.”

The opposition has taken note of one of KU’s weaknesses, so the Jayhawks should expect more of the same in the weeks ahead, around the Big 12 and at Kentucky (Jan. 28).

Self identified quicker defensive rotations and recognition from his guard-heavy lineup as one way to better defend the paint.

“Whenever there’s a ball screen, or pinch-post action or handoff that occurs, everybody’s gotta jump to it. And if you go back and watch the tape, Evans made some great plays to get the ball to Solomon. But our rotations were slow,” Self said.

“Whenever you go help somebody, the natural tendency is throw the ball in the direction that the help came from,” the coach continued. “So if you’re an alert defensive player, the tendency is that, ‘Well, if I know that they’re gonna throw it here, I should be able to put myself in a position not to allow that to happen.’ And we were slow doing that.”

By the Numbers: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80.

By the Numbers: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80.

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In KU’s search for eighth man, energetic Mitch Lightfoot most likely candidate

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets a bucket past Emporia State forward Garin Vandiver (34) and guard Jevon Taylor (21) during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets a bucket past Emporia State forward Garin Vandiver (34) and guard Jevon Taylor (21) during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Ideally, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self says, he would like to implement an eight-man rotation this season — something Self was able to do before freshman center Udoka Azubuike suffered a season-ending wrist injury.

On the perimeter, the coach has all the help he needs in Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick. But down low, Self would love to trust either Mitch Lightfoot or Dwight Coleby enough to have them support Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg. The coach just is not there yet.

“I would like nothing more than for those guys, for another big, to give us seven to 10 minutes a game — I think that would be very good for our team,” Self said. “Neither one of them are quite ready to do that.”

On the year, Lightfoot, a freshman forward from Gilbert, Arizona, is averaging just 4.1 minutes, 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds. Through four Big 12 games for Kansas (15-1 overall, 4-0 conference), though, the 6-foot-8 backup has only got off the bench in two games and played four combined minutes.

Earlier this week at Oklahoma — after Bragg picked up two first-half fouls and Self wanted to protect Lucas from picking up a second foul before halftime — Lightfoot entered the game, missed a shot, and committed one foul and one turnover in one minute before Self took him out of the game and decided against putting him in again.

At that point, Self gave Coleby, who had yet to play a minute of Big 12 basketball, a shot. The 6-foot-9 junior, who transferred to Kansas from Ole Miss, grabbed a defensive rebound, got whistled for setting an illegal screen and returned to the bench for good after playing two minutes.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) wrestles for a ball with UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) wrestles for a ball with UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. by Nick Krug

The coach wanted to see, on the road with his team struggling at the time, if either Lightfoot or Coleby could give the Jayhawks what they needed.

“And in that little stretch there, it was a really bad stretch,” Self said. “And it wasn't all on them, but coincidentally (the Sooners) were in the game, so they didn't get a chance to play as much.”

So what would Self like to see from either Lightfoot or Coleby (averaging 1.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 5.6 minutes — and just 10 appearances — this season) that would inspire him to utilize one of them more?

“I would say just being able to carry out defensive assignments and play smarter. There are some things, like Mitch — I want to play Mitch — and he got in the game the other day. It's not that it's that complicated, but we're ball screen defense, in what we call 32. And, you know, he forgot to hedge a ball screen,” Self explained. “The guy just went and made a layup. And you can't have that. It's an easy play. And I think it's not that he can't do it. It's just that he gets excited right now and he's trying too hard.”

KU’s veteran big man, Lucas, knows exactly what his coach is talking about when Self references Lightfoot’s enthusiasm. The senior can’t help but laugh when he thinks about how the freshman’s exuberance manifests itself at practices, where Lightfoot is most involved on the court.

“An example of this is he says everything he’s doing. We’ll be at practice and we’ll joke with him, ‘You don’t have to say, OK, breathe now. Blink.’ Something like that,” Lucas shared. “He says ‘ball fake,’ just everything. It just shows how much he’s trying, which is good. You want guys to try.”

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a bucket by teammate Frank Mason III during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a bucket by teammate Frank Mason III during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. by Nick Krug

It appears Lightfoot is more likely than Coleby to become the eighth man Self wants, because of his activity and athleticism. Coleby, the coach says, still hasn’t fully recovered to the form he showed at Ole Miss, prior to tearing his ACL in late 2015.

“I do think that Mitch has a chance to be a really good player,” Self said. “He’s an athlete, he’s tough. But right now, he’s got to be able to take the practice and do the things that the team needs him to do in the short minutes that he’s in there. And he’s just been a little bit inconsistent with that.”

Lucas, who sees the work Lightfoot and Coleby put in behind closed doors, thinks both have the ability to make a positive impact for KU this season.

“Mitch and Dwight are great bigs. (At) most schools they’re playing a lot. I have a ton of faith in them. They’ve just gotta understand what they can come in and do well for our team during those short periods of time. It took me a while, too. It’s not easy,” said Lucas, who played just 4.9 minutes a game as a redshirt freshman during the 2013-14 season. “You kind of get out there and expect, you start thinking, ‘OK, maybe I’ve gotta make a couple shots to stay in the game for longer or prolong my time,’ but that’s not how it works, you know. If you want to go out there and stay out there, everybody else around you has to be better — the team has to be better — and you have to extend the lead or come back, whatever the case is.”

Self thinks Lightfoot will perform better once the coach can put the freshman in a game and keep him in for extended minutes — a scenario that could play out the next time Kansas builds a significant second-half lead.

Lucas envisions his young teammate improving, too, by making the best use of his feistiness.

“But the next step is, all right now, concentrate that on the right things, don’t overthink things,” Lucas said. “It’s better, I’m sure, as a coach, to pull a player’s excitement and stuff back than try to do it the other way. So he has the right mindset when he goes out there, he has the right energy. Now it’s just kind of making sure that he’s understanding and focusing in on what he needs to do and channel all that energy in the right places.”

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Ryan Willis’ decision to transfer was inevitable

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In what is sure to go down as the least surprising development of the offseason for Kansas football — even beating out the departure of former offensive coordinator Rob Likens — quarterback Ryan Willis announced Wednesday he is transferring out of the program.

The only mystery surrounding the next step of Willis’ college career was when he would reveal it and where he would go next. As it turned out, the two-year Jayhawk from nearby Bishop Miege chose Virginia Tech the week before the start of the spring semester at KU.

The notion that the QB’s days in Lawrence were numbered became clear months earlier, after head coach David Beaty decided to move on from Willis as a starter.

The first four weeks of the 2016 season, Willis bounced on and off the field, trading spots with Montell Cozart behind center. After that two-quarterback experiment failed, Beaty handed the offense over to Willis ahead of a home game against TCU. The Jayhawks nearly pulled off an upset victory in a 24-23 loss during Willis’ first start as a sophomore (he also started the final eight games of 2015 as a true freshman), and he threw for 348 yards against the Horned Frogs. However, he also threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and took six sacks in a winnable game.

The following week, at Baylor, went much worse. Again, Willis tossed three picks, and he only completed 10 of 19 passes for 89 yards. The Bears sacked him four times, and the Kansas offense didn’t score until late in what turned out be a 49-7 loss. Plus, KU’s lone touchdown came with Willis watching from the bench.

Willis never threw another pass for Kansas after that Baylor loss. Beaty went back to Cozart as the starter the following week — though that didn’t work either. By the time another switch came and redshirt freshman Carter Stanley took over at QB, it was easy to envision Willis, who still has two years of eligibility left, moving on. Once Beaty got junior college QB Peyton Bender, formerly of Washington State, on board and referenced him as a player who would push Stanley for the starting job, why would Willis even want to stay?

Beaty’s version of the Air Raid offense and Willis just didn’t fit. This isn’t to say Willis won’t play well at Virginia Tech if given the chance. He is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, has a strong arm, and is faster than one might anticipate when he runs. As evidenced by the sacks he took, Willis didn’t have the benefit of playing for a dominant offensive line and he probably held on to the ball too long at times, hoping for something other than a quick pass to the sideline to develop.

He needed a change and he got one at a university that, unlike Kansas, is known for football success.

Willis wasn’t going to become the quarterback who turned the KU program around, but he tried his best to do so while he was in Lawrence. Ultimately both sides can move on now, which is the most important aspect of it all.

Beaty and QB coach Garrett Riley can focus on developing Stanley, Bender and 2017 redshirt freshman Tyriek Starks for the coming season.

Realistically, four quarterbacks is too many, barring a series of unfortunate injuries. Willis knew that and left KU behind. Smart decision.

The next question is: will another similarly inspired Bishop Miege alum, Cozart, leave the quarterbacks room for another position for his senior season at Kansas? Spring football isn’t too far away and Cozart said a year ago he was open to switching spots if the staff needed him to. We shall see.

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Jayhawks harnessing 3-point prowess to keep victories coming

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a three against Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a three against Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

As Bill Self directs Kansas toward what he hopes will be the basketball program’s 13th consecutive Big 12 title, it has become clear this isn’t one of his typical teams, and not just because he doesn’t have as much frontcourt depth as he would like and is forced to play four-guard lineups much of the time.

Those perimeter-oriented combinations Self puts on the floor work so well because every guard and wing isn’t one-dimensional when the ball reaches his hands. The Jayhawks have drivers and shooters outside, and wouldn’t be ranked No. 2 in the country or riding a 15-game winning streak without the power of the 3-pointer.

Down nine at the half on the road Tuesday night at Oklahoma, KU recovered for an 81-70 victory by harnessing one of its biggest offensive strengths. A 3-for-11 first-half display from behind the arc influenced a putrid showing early against the worst team in the Big 12. But the Jayhawks and senior leader Frank Mason III proved, on most nights, opponents just aren’t going to be able to stop them from creating high-percentage 3-pointers and cashing in on the best of those looks.

Mason couldn’t miss from long range during the second-half KU rally, knocking in all four of his 3-point tries. When Mason takes over, his teammates follow. With juniors Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham joining the barrage, Kansas shot 9-for-16 from long range in the final 20 minutes.

Mykhailiuk, whose 3 just after intermission helped ignite a 54-point second half, said Mason, per usual, made everything easier for his teammates on offense.

“Oh, yeah, because he is a really good driver,” said Mykhailiuk, who scored all nine of his points on 3’s in the closing half. “I think nobody can guard him. He’s just beating his guy and the other guy gotta help, and that’s what (creates) open (shots).”

During his 28-point outing, the 5-foot-11 Mason only missed one of six 3-point attempts, bringing his percentage on the year to an astounding 54.9%. Mason, following his ninth game of 20-plus points this season, said it was just his night.

“The first shot I missed even felt good, but you know I was just in rhythm on every shot and I think all them 3’s I made were pretty good shot selections,” Mason said after knocking down at least five from deep for the third time in his spectacular senior season. “So I hope that continue to happen movin' forward.”

Before the Jayhawks (15-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) get too excited about ranking fourth in the nation in 3-point accuracy (42.2%), though, their coach will remind them not all of their looks from downtown have been ideal.

“I thought they came pretty out of rhythm and I thought a lot of them came in transition and in the open court,” Self said on the subject of KU’s nine successful 3-pointers in the second half at OU (6-9, 0-4).

“You know, there was a really big play where Frank makes a terrible play, late clock, and they steal it and the kid (one of the Sooners) tries to throw it from his back, I think, up the court and we steal it back and make a 3,” Self gave as an example. “Plays like that, that could’ve been a five-point swing right there. So we were pretty fortunate on some plays like that.”

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore (0) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore (0) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

Even though Self previously has been a noted skeptic of trusting the 3-pointer, know that he says these types of things as a way to keep his players from settling, instead of working for a better shot. He knows this Kansas team has the shooters to capitalize from long range, but he wants them to do so on open looks off of ball movement or drive-and-kick situations whenever possible.

“But I thought we took pretty good looks,” Self admitted of a decisive second-half run when KU assisted on six of its nine 3’s.

Sixteen games into the season, Mason (39-for-71 from deep) has proven to be KU’s best from distance, but he also has help. Graham is shooting 38% (38 of 100), while both Mykhailiuk (36-for-81) and sophomore sub Lagerald Vick (20-for-45) are connecting on 44% of their 3’s. Among the guards, only freshman Jackson (9-for-35) has struggled, at 26%.

“When (Mason) and Devonte’ and Svi are shootin’ the ball,” Self said, “and Lagerald, too, although Lagerald didn’t (at OU, 1-for-2 on 3’s, 1-for-6 from the floor) — but when those guys are shootin' the ball well from the perimeter it makes it pretty hard to guard.”

KU has shot 40% or better from 3-point range in nine games now, and while an off night or a slump could come at some point, the Jayhawks won’t abandon the weapon they’ll need to get this team where it wants to go.

Said Mykhailiuk: “We’re shooting pretty good. You know, everybody can shoot on our team: Frank, Devonte’, me, Josh, Lagerald. So we’re just driving the ball real aggressive and when the defense sucks in we just throw it to the 3-point line. It’s an open shot.”

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Josh Jackson learning from few run-ins with officials

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) converses with an official during the second half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) converses with an official during the second half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. by Nick Krug

Josh Jackson won’t play college basketball for long, but while he’s doing so at the University of Kansas, part of his on-court education involves learning how to best carry himself when things don’t go his way.

Back in November, during just his second game with the Jayhawks, Jackson picked up his first technical foul as a collegian on a national stage, with KU facing Duke at Madison Square Garden. Jackson slapped the ball away from one of the Blue Devils during a dead ball, earning a “T” that ultimately kept him off the floor in the closing minutes of a tight game, because it counted as one of his five personal fouls.

Jackson, while not always thrilled with officials’ calls in the weeks that followed, avoided another technical foul until Big 12 play began a little more than a week ago. Then the 6-foot-8 wing did enough to inspire officials to whistle at him on a technicality in back-to-back games.

Publicly, KU coach Bill Self defended Jackson for the “T’s” at TCU and against Kansas State, but Self also worried his star freshman might have developed a reputation for needing to get in the final word with referees.

Now that he has played 15 games for KU (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12), Jackson was asked following a tech-free outing against Texas Tech whether he thought he has become a marked man with officials and if he thought he needed to change anything about his on-court persona.

“I honestly don’t think so,” said Jackson, known for his affable nature off the court. “I think I have three technical fouls this year and I can honestly say I deserved one (against Duke). But just trying to move on to the next play a little bit — I think I did a good job of that (versus the Red Raiders).”

In fact, early in the first half of the Tech game, Jackson was called for an offensive foul on a drive to the paint, and though his face showed he didn’t agree with the assessment, he didn’t initiate a conversation with an official to sound off on the matter. What’s more, during the next stoppage in play, Jackson calmly approached a referee for an explanation on the charge call.

“Some refs are different. Some give you a technical foul for a lot less than others will,” Jackson said of his early lessons in navigating conversations with college officiating crews. “You’ve just gotta move on to the next play no matter what, because after they make the call you can’t change it anyway.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self lays into an official after a technical foul was called on Kansas guard Josh Jackson during the second half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self lays into an official after a technical foul was called on Kansas guard Josh Jackson during the second half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

There are bound to be far more intense games than KU-TT on the horizon, so there are no guarantees Jackson will finish his one-and-done season without picking up another technical. Still, he appears to be processing the positives and negatives that come with displaying his fiery side during competition.

Jackson certainly won’t let his past indiscretions — perceived or real — change who he is on the court. But, as his coach also pointed out, he’s too massive a talent to allow technical fouls to become a recurring issue.

More lessons for the freshman

It didn’t take Jackson long to find out Big 12 games take on a different level of passion than some of those non-conference undercards KU played in December. An NBA prospect expected to be taken in the first few picks of the draft this coming June, Jackson fouled out of the Jayhawks’ win at TCU, playing just 12 minutes and contributing only four points and two rebounds (both season-lows).

“Guys come out and play a lot harder, especially with Kansas winning the league so many years in a row,” said Jackson, who bounced back with 22 points against K-State and 17 versus Tech, making him the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week. “… There’s a target on our back. Everybody would love to beat us. If you asked any team in this league if they could beat one team, just win one game, I guarantee you they would say us.”

Tuesday night at Oklahoma, the Sooners (6-8, 0-3) will fall into that category. Playing with Kansas on the front of their jerseys and figurative bull’s eyes on their backs might be difficult, but Jackson said he and his teammates don’t mind.

“I think all of us really love a challenge,” he said. “We welcome it and it just really shows us, gives us a chance to see how tough we are and what we really can do.”

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Long to-do list no problem for freshman Josh Jackson

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) knocks a rebound away from Texas Tech forward Zach Smith during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) knocks a rebound away from Texas Tech forward Zach Smith during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

For a freshman who Kansas basketball coach Bill Self asks to do, well, just about everything, Josh Jackson never becomes overwhelmed with his job responsibilities.

The 6-foot-8 wing from Detroit flashed his abundant strengths at various points of the Jayhawks’ 85-68 win over Texas Tech Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse, where he scored 17 points, secured a game-high 10 rebounds, blocked three shots, took away two steals, dished one assist, hit a 3-pointer and played a starring role in his team’s overall improved defensive intensity.

The future NBA lottery pick supplied the home crowd with his standard supply of savage highlight dunks, too, but it was another area on offense where his endless potential glowed. Half of Jackson’s rebounds came on Kansas misses, and when he attacked the glass and came away with the ball, the Red Raiders didn’t have much success in stopping him.

His five offensive rebounds directly led to eight of KU’s 23 second-chance points. Jackson shot 7-for-15 on the night, and in the first half when he badly missed a fadeaway jumper from the left elbow, he was the first to meet the ball on the right side of the backboard when it clanged off the rim.

The do-it-all freshman said Self has emphasized his need to take an active role on the offensive glass.

“Definitely another one of my jobs,” Jackson said, with a grin.

How many jobs does he have exactly? It seems like a pretty long list.

“Not really that long,” Jackson claimed. “Probably got about four or five key ones.”

That statement’s hard to believe when it comes from a 19-year-old phenom who is KU’s second-leading scorer (15.3 points a game, behind Frank Mason III’s 19.9), second-best rebounder (6.6, barely trailing Landen Lucas’ 6.9), leading shot-blocker (22), tied for the team lead in steals (23, same as Devonte’ Graham), third in assists (3.2 a game) and No. 1 in offensive rebounding (38).

So just realize there actually is no shortlist for Jackson, when it comes to where he needs to impact the game for the Jayhawks (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12).

If you ask Self where his latest one-and-done talent needs to make his mark most, he’ll refute Jackson’s claims, explaining the wing’s list of responsibilities actually is quite lengthy.

“You play hard, you defend, you rebound and you let the game come to you and you do what the game dictates,” Self said of his general demands for the star freshman. “But he should be a guy that I think should impact every area of the game — which he actually is doing a good job. He’s a good passer, he’s a good shot-blocker, he got his hands on balls for steals, he should be our best offensive rebounder — I think he got five tonight. I mean, there’s a lot of things that I think he did really well tonight.”

Jackson’s latest loaded stat output gave him his third double-double of the season, and, naturally, he said collecting rebounds is just part of his job.

“Everybody, every last guy, has a job that they’re supposed to do,” Jackson said. “Behind Landen I think I’m the guy who’s supposed to be down there bangin' and trying to grab a couple of rebounds and block shots, especially after, you know, losing Udoka (Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury), who’s a pretty big piece of our team. We definitely all gotta step up in that category.”

As the number of games Jackson has left in a Kansas uniform diminishes, Self doesn’t mind asking him to expand his on-court obligations to the Jayhawks’ cause.

“But to me that should be the same thing every game,” Self added. “You may look at an opponent and say, ‘You know what, they’re gonna put a big guy on him, so this could be a team that he could drive more (against).’ Or ‘They may put a little guy on him, so this could maybe be a team that we could post him more,’ you know, things like that. But for the most part it doesn’t change game to game on what we expect him to do.”

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Texas Tech


By the Numbers: Kansas 85, Texas Tech 68

By the Numbers: Kansas 85, Texas Tech 68

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In search of another league title, Jayhawks quickly reminded it’s not easy to win in Big 12

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is fouled hard by TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is fouled hard by TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and veteran Jayhawks such as Frank Mason III, who have been through more conference encounters than they can count off the top of their heads, will tell you there is nothing easy about winning the Big 12 — even if the Jayhawks have done so 12 years in a row.

The first couple of stops on what many imagined would be an uneventful journey to KU’s 13th consecutive league crown, though, back up the case made by those responsible for the conference dominance some observers have taken as a foregone conclusion.

The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks couldn’t ever completely bury TCU on the road in their Big 12 opener, and it took a controversial buzzer-beater at the end of regulation for them to defeat rival Kansas State inside Allen Fieldhouse.

Victories, of course, often are considered more important than the minutia that made them possible. But Self said opening league play with back-to-back taxing outings should give his players something to think about as they prepare for a Saturday home game against Texas Tech (12-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) and the next couple of months in front of them.

“But I think there’s been a lot of nice reminders for our guys on just how hard it is to win,” the 14th-year KU coach said, “and especially in a league where — I mean, this is no disrespect to anybody — but I think most, in fans’ minds, think if you go to TCU, based on the past few years, that that should be a game that you should for sure win. And as coaches, we know that we're gonna have to play to win, because they’re so much improved.”

This week, the Big 12 has three teams — No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 KU and No. 7 West Virginia — ranked among the top seven in the country in the AP poll. Even the unranked teams have generated some buzz just two games into the conference schedule. The Red Raiders knocked off WVU on Tuesday, in Lubbock, Texas, on the same night K-State had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds at Kansas. The next day, Iowa State lost by two at Baylor. Eight of the league’s 10 teams have at least one Big 12 victory already, and only Kansas and Baylor enter the weekend without a conference loss.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to pass during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to pass during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

KenPom.com ranks the Big 12’s eight best teams among the top 40 in the country: No. 2 WVU, No. 6 BU, No. 7 KU, No. 27 ISU, No. 28 Tech, No. 30 K-State, No. 38 TCU and No. 39 Oklahoma State. And even the Cowboys lost at No. 79 Texas, which has struggled to a 7-7 start in Shaka Smart’s second season.

“Well, I think there's no question that our league is underrated,” Self said, “and it's rated very high, and it's still underrated. I think you could say, you could make a strong case, that the ACC has more good teams in their league than anybody else. But that's also in large part the numbers are so much bigger. They've got five more teams … to pick from.

“But I think our league is a monster,” Self continued. “And you know, coaches after games sometimes can be emotional and mad or happy, and there's been a time or two I've been that way, as well. But the TCU win was a good win. They're gonna beat a lot of people at TCU.”

An even stronger argument along those lines could be made for K-State (12-2, 1-1), and Self said the Jayhawks (13-1, 2-0) don’t have to apologize for eking out a win against the Wildcats — even if KU avoided overtime because the officials didn’t whistle Svi Mykhailiuk for traveling.

“Although I didn't think we played well, I think Kansas State's a really good team. I think they did some things that didn't allow us to play well,” Self explained. “So I think winning at home is going to be a premium again. But I don't think the home wins are gonna come as easy as a lot of people perceive them to be as they have in year's past, because there’s just more good teams in our league.”

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) pulls a rebound from Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu (25) and Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) pulls a rebound from Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu (25) and Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

To his point, the latest NCAA Tournament projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi place six Big 12 teams in the field: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and TCU. Plus, Lunardi lists Texas Tech among the “first four out” and K-State in the “next four out” — so eight league teams, at least in early January, are in the mix for March Madness.

Mason, KU’s senior point guard who is averaging 18.5 points and 5.5 assists in Big 12 action, said there are easy lessons to take away from his team’s two narrow conference wins.

“Even when we’re not playing good we still have to rebound the ball and make the other team play as bad as we are,” Mason began. “You know, we have to stay coachable, keep ptichin' the ball ahead, execute on the offensive end. And we have to make free throws, and just make the right play, make the extra pass.”

Quickly this season, the Jayhawks have been reminded it’s not easy to win in the Big 12. Their coach, as one might expect, plans on hammering that message home, and letting the players know there are no certainties in league play.

“And I think that's the one thing that we really need to sell to all our players, and I think that other coaches will sell to their respective players is that, hey, everybody's better than they were last year — for the most part,” Self said. “Everybody's better. So don't look at an opponent based on what happened last year. Everybody's improved. Everybody's added some nice pieces.”

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Top 10 most important members of KU football program in 2016

Kansas head coach David Beaty runs off the field with his first win after beating Rhode Island 55-6 on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach David Beaty runs off the field with his first win after beating Rhode Island 55-6 on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

According to the most important numbers — the ones corresponding with wins and losses — 2016 didn’t look too remarkable for the University of Kansas football program, as the Jayhawks won two games and lost 10.

Using only those digits, the season seemed similar to the six before it for KU, during which three head coaches and one interim coach led the team. In a seven-year stretch from 2010 to 2016, Kansas never won more than three games in a season, and finished with an average record of 2-10.

So it’s easy to lump the latest campaign with the rest of the ugly falls that preceded it. However, doing so doesn’t take into account the context of watching David Beaty’s second KU football team far outperform his first in terms of competence and competitiveness. The numbers 2 and 10 don’t factor in the many talented players who improved this past season, positively impacting the product on the field and giving the fan base some signs of real progress

Here is a look at the 10 Jayhawks who made the biggest impact for KU football in 2016 — a year that could end up marking a turning point for a long-struggling program.

No. 10: Running backs coach Tony Hull

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.

Kansas running backs coach Tony Hull encourages his players as they warm up during practice on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. by Nick Krug

For all the work assistant coach Hull put in during practices and with game preparation for the team’s running backs, he also quickly established himself as an important individual in KU’s recruiting strategy during his first year with the program.

A former high school coach in New Orleans, Hull’s ties to the region already have helped Kansas bring in talents such as safety Mike Lee, who became a key defensive starter, and quarterback Tyriek Starks, who took a redshirt season. Hull also served as lead recruiter on Class of 2017 commitments Takulve Williams (two-star receiver) and Travis Jordan (three-star athlete). Plus, his presence has helped the Jayhawks earn consideration from still available touted prospects, such as Brad Stewart, a four-star defensive back.

With Hull in place, Kansas seems in position to target quality recruits in a part of the country where it otherwise might not have been able to get involved.

No. 9: Offensive tackle D’Andre Banks

D'Andre Banks

D'Andre Banks by John Young

During his senior season at Kansas, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman played anywhere position coach Zach Yenser needed him. Banks began the year playing left tackle, because Jordan Shelley-Smith was injured and true freshman Hakeem Adeniji wasn’t ready yet. The Killeen, Texas, native even started a game at right guard at Memphis, as KU continued to tweak its O-line combinations.

The final eight games of the year, Banks returned to his rightful spot at right tackle, and down the stretch KU’s O-line became more effective, with the help of the senior leader.

No. 8: Quarterback Carter Stanley

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) heaves a pass around Baylor linebacker Raaquan Davis (19) during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) heaves a pass around Baylor linebacker Raaquan Davis (19) during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

True, the redshirt freshman quarterback only started three games for Kansas this past season, but Stanley’s presence on the field coincided with by far the best stretch of 2016 for the Jayhawks.

Stanley, of course, controlled the offense during the team’s overtime victory over Texas — KU’s lone Big 12 victory. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB actually had better individual numbers in KU losses against Iowa State (26-for-38, 171 yards, TD, interception) and at Kansas State (24-for-44, 302 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).

With Stanley at QB, KU consistently competed, and that couldn’t be said for other stretches of the season.

No. 7: Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen

Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen celebrates with linebacker Courtney Arnick after a defensive stop  during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen celebrates with linebacker Courtney Arnick after a defensive stop during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In 2015, the Kansas defense routinely blew tackles and coverages, contributing mightily to a woeful 0-12 campaign. A year later, Bowen and his assistants turned the Jayhawks’ defense into a strength.

In Big 12 play this past year, KU ranked first in the conference in third-down conversion defense (37.4 percent), second in pass defense (248.0 yards allowed a game), third in red-zone defense (78 percent), and fifth in interceptions (eight), sacks (22) and opponent first downs (24.2 a game).

The work Bowen, linebackers coach Todd Bradford, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry and D-line coach Michael Slater did with their players set the tone for a season highlighted by headway.

No. 6: Safety Mike Lee

Kansas safety Mike Lee (11) intercepts a pass during overtime on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Mike Lee (11) intercepts a pass during overtime on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

When the true freshman safety graduated early from high school and arrived on campus ready to play a year ahead of schedule, no one expected Lee to transform so quickly into a play-maker.

The 5-foot-11, 176-pound defensive back from New Orleans came off the bench in his first three appearances for Kansas and did not play at all in Week 2. But Lee’s hard hits became one of the consistent bright spots for Kansas, beginning with the team’s Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.

From that point on, while at times learning on the fly, the first-year safety started the final eight games. Lee, whose overtime interception versus Texas will be remembered for a long time at Memorial Stadium, finished second on the team in total tackles (77), while tying KU’s leader in that category, senior safety Fish Smithson, for the most solo tackles (70).

No. 5: Wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) puts a juke move on Texas cornerback Kris Boyd (2) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) puts a juke move on Texas cornerback Kris Boyd (2) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The Kansas offense often didn’t look pretty this past year, but when it peaked Sims often played a prominent role. The 5-foot-10, 176-pound wide receiver became someone opposing defensive coordinators had to game-plan to stop.

Sims’ breakout sophomore season included four games of 100-plus yards, as he led KU in receptions (72), yardage (859) and touchdowns (seven). His confidence and maturity showed on the field and off, as he worked to become an impact player as an underclassman while operating in a system that used three different starting quarterbacks and ranked eighth in passing (231.9 yards per game) and last in scoring (17.8 points a game) in Big 12 play.

No. 4: Head coach David Beaty

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat to Kansas cornerback Marnez Ogletree (10) as the defense leaves the field following a Memphis touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat to Kansas cornerback Marnez Ogletree (10) as the defense leaves the field following a Memphis touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. by Nick Krug

The head coach’s first season doubling as offensive coordinator might not have gone as well as he wanted, but ultimately the notable overall progress within the program happened under his watch, and Beaty deserves credit for the strides made by the players and in recruiting.

Beaty’s undying positivity trickles down throughout the team, and that showed during the final month of the season. Although the Jayhawks struggled much of the year, they finally began playing at a higher level in the final weeks, when players under a lesser leader could have mentally and physically checked out.

Day after day, Beaty found ways to win over players and prospects, building momentum for a 2017 with increased expectations.

No. 3: Safety Fish Smithson

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) works to make a catch as Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) works to make a catch as Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016. by Alonzo Adams/The Associated Press

Speaking of positivity, you won’t meet many more upbeat players than Smithson, a defensive captain and outgoing senior. Week after week for the past couple of seasons, the safety had to answer media questions about KU’s shortcomings, and never did he let it impact him negatively.

Smithson’s personality helped his production on the field, too. Even when he made a mistake on one snap, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety would come back the next ready to demand more of himself.

As he walks away from the program, the Jayhawks will not only miss his 93 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups, but also his leadership and ability to get his teammates in the right spots.

No. 2: Defensive tackle Daniel Wise

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) looks to bring down Oklahoma State running back Chris Carson (32) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) looks to bring down Oklahoma State running back Chris Carson (32) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

When the Kansas defense needed a stop, the man breaking through with a crucial push at the point of attack tended to be Wise, the powerful, 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle form Lewisville, Texas.

The talkative sophomore had the sills to back up any in-game (or pre-game) chatter he sent in the direction of the opposition, thanks to an offseason filled with work toward vastly improving his strength and technique. Playing a position where it can be difficult to accumulate much statistical proof of one’s worth, Wise finished seventh on the team in total tackles, with 38, while making 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and even blocking two extra points.

Wise’s presence made it easier for his teammates around him to do their jobs, too, as offenses game-planned to limit how the tackle could impact the line of scrimmage.

No. 1: Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In his sophomore season at KU, Armstrong transformed into one of the most feared defensive ends around, easily making him a consensus All-Big 12 first-teamer.

Fittingly, the 6-foot-4, 246-pound lineman from Houston’s most complete performance came in the Jayhawks’ victory over Texas — the program’s beacon of better things to come. Armstrong not only made 11 total tackles, but aded two sacks, three tackles for loss, while both forcing and recovering a fumble.

Armstrong’s 20 tackles for loss on the season made him the Big 12’s leader in that category, and he finished second in sacks (10) to Kansas State senior — and fellow all-league D-lineman — Jordan Willis (11.5).

If Kansas, under Beaty, can start climbing out of the ditch it has lived in since Mark Mangino left, Armstrong is the type of star player the coach needs to make it happen.

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