Entries from blogs tagged with “basketball”

Landen Lucas goes from rooting for Ducks to trying to beat them

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) grabs a pass over Purdue center Isaac Haas (44) during the first half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) grabs a pass over Purdue center Isaac Haas (44) during the first half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Josh Jackson grew up a fan of Michigan State’s winning basketball program and played a huge part in knocking the Spartans out of the NCAA tournament.

Now it’s Landen Lucas’ turn to do the same to the team for which he rooted.

A native of Portland, Lucas’ father, Richard Lucas, a 6-foot-7 center, played at Oregon from 1987 through 1991. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior, 10.9 and 8.6 as a junior.

Richard wore an Oregon shirt and cheered for the Ducks throughout Thursday's one-point victory against Michigan.

“He had a Kansas shirt under it so he took that off and supported us,” Landen said after Kansas blew out Purdue in the second half Thursday night in Sprint Center. “I told him he needs to get rid that for the next 48 hours.”

Richard tweeted about how his no-lose situation.

Blood is thicker than water, even for a man who doubles as a Duck.

“Obviously, he should be rooting for us in this matchup,” Landen said. “It’ll be nice to play against them.”

Foul trouble limited Lucas to 20 minutes against Purdue, so he should be fresh, even after battling Purdue’s massive post players.

"I grew up watching them all the time, big fan," Landen said. "I’ve watched them a lot. They’re a good team, an athletic team. I feel like we match up well with them, they match up well with us.”

“I’m just going to play my game and I won’t try to force anything, but it’s going to be fun,” Lucas said. “And I’m obviously going to be ready to go because it’s the Final Four on the line, but it does add a little to it because it’s my dad’s school.”

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‘Always ready’: Dwight Coleby comes through again on tournament stage

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — As has become the norm for the reserve big man during his debut season with Kansas, Dwight Coleby’s numbers Thursday night against Purdue didn’t jump off the final stat sheet and leave anyone in awe.

But his top-seeded Jayhawks needed everything they got out of Coleby’s 13 minutes off the bench at Sprint Center, where KU limited the Boilermakers’ powerful front line and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 beating of fourth-seeded Purdue.

The 6-foot-9 Coleby and sophomore guard Lagerald Vick, one of the night’s numerous stars for KU in a Sweet 16 rout, gave a couple starters a breather less than five minutes into what evolved into a Kansas track meet late.

“I expected to play a big role,” Coleby said at the end of a night when his two points and two rebounds didn’t tell the full story of how he battled inside with massive Purdue bigs Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, “but I had no idea I’d be the first off the bench or something like that. I just take it as it comes and I’m always ready.”

That showed less than 30 seconds after the big man checked in, when Coleby handled a difficult pass from Josh Jackson and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Devonte’ Graham for one of the junior guard’s five successful 3-pointers.

Just more than a minute later, Coleby benefited from a Vick post-feed and scored easily inside.

Initially, though, Landen Lucas’ fill-in wasn’t matching the starting center’s defensive prowess. The Boilermakers’ massive backup big, 7-2 Haas, pinned Coleby in the paint within arm’s reach of the rim and scored over him easily.

When Coleby subbed out, though, he received some more positive reenforcement than scorn.

“Just play better defense. Just do your work early and you should be fine,” Coleby related of the message, a reminder of KU’s game plan to stop Swanigan and Haas.

The junior from Nassau, Bahamas, didn’t feel satisfied with his seven first-half minutes because of his defensive lapses. But Coleby said he got a second wind for the second half, when he, Lucas, Jackson and Carlton Bragg Jr. helped keep Haas scoreless and limited Swanigan to three two-point field goals on six attempts — Purdue’s star big stepped outside to knock down two 3-pointers, which Coleby said KU could live with.

“He was huge,” Kansas junior guard Devonte’ Graham said, when asked about Coleby’s contributions. “We have been telling him, ‘Be ready when your number is called,’ and he's been doing a great job in practice. He's been looking ready since the tournament started and we're going to need him to keep playing like that.”

The reserve helped KU survive a night when Lucas had to navigate four fouls and played just 20 minutes, in part because the Jayhawks blew Purdue out down the stretch.

Like Coleby did earlier in the week, in KU’s second-round win over Michigan State, he left his teammates impressed with his preparedness.

“We never know,” Frank Mason III said, “when guys are going to get in foul trouble or something like that, so they have to be ready and he did a great job of coming in and being confident and being ready to play.”

Now just a win away from KU’s first Final Four trip since 2012, coach Bill Self credited Coleby’s role in the team’s latest tourney rout.

“Obviously, Dwight bought us a ton of minutes whenever Landen was in foul trouble,” Self said. “But I thought Carlton came in and did a good job, too. You add those guys together you get 23 key minutes out of that position when Landen can't be in the game. So I think they both kind of bailed us out.”

Though one might assume Coleby is riding the excitement of two productive March Madness outings in a row, at the tail end of a season in which his minutes usually varied between sparing and none, the steady big man isn’t getting carried away.

“I feel great. But we can’t worry about this game,” Coleby said, minutes after KU reached a regional final and a Saturday night (7:49) matchup with Oregon. “This game is over. We’ve just got to move forward and try to win the next one.”

By the Numbers: Kansas 98, Purdue 66

By the Numbers: Kansas 98, Purdue 66

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Josh Jackson’s best is yet to come

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) delivers a dunk during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) delivers a dunk during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — A finite number of games remain in Josh Jackson’s college basketball career. And although his first 33 in a Kansas uniform have included a 31-point show, 11 double-doubles, 50 dunks and countless examples of the kind of floor vision one just doesn’t expect out of a 6-foot-8 freshman, we have not yet seen the best of Jackson.

That’s what the projected top-three pick in this June’s NBA Draft told reporters Wednesday, on the eve of the Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 showdown with Purdue.

Jackson conceded he has had his share of performances he would grade as “good games” in specific areas, “whether it be scoring or playing defense or passing the ball,” KU’s latest basketball prodigy said. “I don’t think I’ve had a game yet this season where I’ve put it all together in one game.”

That might initially come across as an absurd statement, but it’s an example of what Jackson expects from himself and what he knows top-seeded KU (30-4) needs from him in order to do something extraordinary during this NCAA Tournament.

Be honest. Do you really remember anything in particular about Jackson’s 31-point game at Texas Tech in February? That’s a big number and it’s basically forgettable at this juncture because the first-year (or: one-year) perimeter star has so much talent in so many aspects of the game. You know he’s capable of far more striking outings and so does he.

Jackson enters Thursday night’s game against the fourth-seeded Boilermakers (27-7) averaging 16.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists, with a 51.7% field-goal percentage and 38.6% accuracy from 3-point range (43.5% in Big 12 play). While Jackson’s free throws (56.7% on the season) have been one relative weakness, he has led KU in scoring nine times, in rebounds 11 times and in assists four times.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets up for an attempted dunk over Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. Burton fouled Jackson on the play.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets up for an attempted dunk over Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. Burton fouled Jackson on the play. by Nick Krug

His defensive impact — as witnessed when Kansas lost to TCU at Sprint Center two weeks ago while Jackson served a one-game suspension — is just as key. Fourteen times this season the freshman has led KU in steals, a number one better than the occasions when he finished as the team leader in blocks (13).

When asked what makes him so effective as a basketball player, Jackson referenced his basketball I.Q., height and athleticism after first naming his greatest intangible, his competitive drive. Those qualities combined make it easy to visualize Jackson out-doing himself against Purdue, and improving upon his 23-point outing against Michigan State this past weekend, when he only grabbed three rebounds and shockingly passed out zero assists.

KU couldn’t have picked a better time to see Jackson’s confidence continue to grow, and it’s coinciding with the Jayhawks peaking as a team, according to him.

“I think we’re playing the best defense that we’ve played all year,” Jackson said, “and I feel like it’s getting better and better every game. I feel like it’ll be even better (versus Purdue).”

In the past four games with Jackson on the floor, Kansas held Oklahoma to 34.9% shooting, Oklahoma State to 42.3%, UC-Davis to 33.9% and Michigan State to 43.9%. The Jayhawks defended the 3-point arc admirably in those wins, too: OU shot 28.6%, OSU 33.3%, UCD 20% and MSU 34.8%.

A reporter asked Jackson Wednesday if Kansas is the best team in the Sweet 16. He didn’t hesitate to answer: “In my opinion, yes.”

Why?

“We have a lot of things that other teams don’t have. Well, for one, we have Frank Mason,” Jackson began, with a chuckle. “Two, we’ve got guys who know their role and are really good at doing their role and we’ve got an amazing coach. We’ve got a coach who really knows basketball, trusts his players and gives us a lot of freedom.”

Indeed, Bill Self has equipped Jackson to do it all for this Kansas team, and the trust the freshman has earned from his coach and teammates makes it possible for him to overshadow other moments in his dazzling season every time the ball is tipped.


More news and notes previewing Kansas vs. Purdue


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Landen Lucas discusses the key to staying out of foul trouble

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) questions a blocking foul called on Kansas guard Josh Jackson during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) questions a blocking foul called on Kansas guard Josh Jackson during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Competitors don’t look at the other side’s strengths and view them with fear. Instead, they see them as opportunities to beat the best.

Purdue has a bigger, more physical front line than any team Kansas has faced, and 6-foot-9, 250-pound Caleb Swanigan is the most productive post player in the nation.

“This is exactly what I like,” KU senior Landen Lucas said. “I couldn’t think of any matchup that I would enjoy more than this, so I’m looking forward to it.”

He wants to play as much as possible and watch as little as possible, one more reason he will try to solve the puzzle of playing a physical brand of basketball without getting into foul trouble.

“It’s tough,” Lucas said. “It really depends on how the refs are calling it. Hopefully, they’ll let us play. If they do and they let me play the way I want to, that’ll be good. And if not, I’ll have to make in-game adjustments.”

He makes those with his ears as much as anything.

“If they’re calling it really tight, I’ve had games where I’ve let that affect me a little about taking away aggressiveness,” Lucas said. “The best I can do is listen to what they’re saying. A lot of times the refs are pretty good, especially after calling a couple of fouls and talking to you, letting you know where you could ease up a little bit more. If you just pay attention to what they’re saying, it makes it easier to adjust.”

Swanigan is a skilled passer who does a great job of passing from the post to the open 3-point shooter. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and especially Lagerald Vick haven’t always done a great job of recovering to shooters after helping out in the post.

Lucas did a nice job of explaining the key to helping without hurting.

“The big part of that is being in the initial position. If your body is already in the right spot to help, it’s easier to recover to your man afterward,” Lucas said. “If you’re helping as an afterthought, a lot of times the momentum of your body is going in the wrong position and it’s hard to get to shooters. So if everybody is in the right position to start, it’s easier to get back to the man.”

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Devonte Graham reminiscent of March Madness great from Kansas history

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) raises up the KU fanbase during a run by the Jayhawks in the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. At right is Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20).

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) raises up the KU fanbase during a run by the Jayhawks in the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. At right is Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20). by Nick Krug

Watching Devonte’ Graham play basketball triggers memories of other marquee Bill Self players.

The chemistry between Graham and Frank Mason borders on telepathy, each knowing where the other is at all times and knowing just when to either get him the ball or make himself available to receive it. Watching that can conjure memories of identical twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, front-court versions this season’s best backcourt in the nation.

But most of all, Graham reminds me of Mario Chalmers, another KU guard who excelled at both ends of the floor and especially in transition. Both combo guards play with a great deal of confidence, which comes in handy when taking clutch shots.

Sure, they have plenty of differences. Graham is an inch taller, Chalmers blessed with longer arms. Chalmers, great at stepping into passing lanes for steals, was an even better off-the-ball defender than Graham, who might be even better on the ball than Chalmers.

Graham is more of an extrovert, lighting up an arena with his smile, Chalmers a cooler customer. Chalmers finishes with more explosiveness.

But they have plenty in common as well, including extremely deep shooting range.

Statistically, Chalmers during his KU career and Graham are more alike than different. Chalmers had a career .419 3-point accuracy rate, Graham’s is .414. Chalmers shot .545 inside the arc, Graham .470. Chalmers made at least one 3-pointer in each of the six NCAA tournament games in 2008, shooting at the same .419 percentage as his career mark by making 13 of 31 3-pointers.

Chalmers scored 12.2 points per game during his Kansas career. Since becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore, Graham has averaged 12.3 points. Chalmers averaged 4.3 assists as a junior, as does Graham in this, his junior season.

Graham’s confidence appears to be at an all-time high and he’s on a tear. He has made four 3-pointers in four of the past five games, the exception being in the Big 12 tournament loss to TCU, when he was 2 of 10 without Josh Jackson in the lineup. In the four games excluding that one, Graham has made 12 of 21, a .571 percentage.

Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig (11 made 3-pointers) is the only Sweet 16 players who has hit more 3-pointers in the tournament than Graham’s eight.

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Late-game lessons Jayhawks should carry with them to Sweet 16

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) defend Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) around the perimeter during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) defend Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) around the perimeter during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Throughout the Kansas basketball team’s second-round NCAA Tournament showdown with Michigan State, it seemed the game would not be decided until the final few possessions. Then, over the course of the last seven minutes, it went from a two-score game to a 90-70 Jayhawks victory.

How, exactly, does that happen?

“It didn’t seem like it,” Kansas senior center Landen Lucas said of the vibe on the court ahead of the final 20-point margin, “and the scoreboard didn’t show it, but as a team we felt pretty confident about what we were doing.”

Essentially, KU’s collective will to advance didn’t falter when the Spartans repeatedly challenged the Midwest’s top seed with runs of their own and answers to Kansas scores for the first 30 or so minutes in Tulsa, Okla.

The Jayhawks (30-4) not only remained steadfast in coach Bill Self’s plan, but also cranked up their intensity for the stretch run. MSU cut the KU lead, which already had poked into double-digit territory three times, to five with 7:16 to play. From there, Kansas outscored the Spartans 21-6, held its foe to 2-for-8 shooting and advanced on to the Sweet 16 by converting eight of its 10 final shots.

Several sequences keyed the win for the Jayhawks and they’re the exact types of plays they’ll have to replicate in bunches Thursday at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., to move past an even better Big Ten challenger — No. 4 seed Purdue (27-7) — on the path to the Final Four.

The Boilermakers’ personnel obviously differs from the makeup of the MSU roster, particularly when it comes to experience and the paint presence of Purdue’s double-double machine, Caleb Swanigan, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan. But the types of plays Kansas made in crunch time against Michigan State should not be forgotten, because many of them had more to do with effort than matchups.

Here are six concepts and standout moments from KU’s final eight minutes of Round 2 that the Jayhawks need to keep in mind moving forward.

- Opponents can get caught up paying too much attention to stars

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) delivers a dunk over Michigan State guard Joshua Langford (1) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) delivers a dunk over Michigan State guard Joshua Langford (1) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Josh Jackson (23 points, 9-for-16 shooting) gave MSU headaches all game, so as the end approached, defenders zeroed in on Jackson even more.

On one possession, the star freshman made a cut from the left wing to the paint, then moved on out to the right wing, while Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham exchanged a hand off on the perimeter. With the Spartans worried about those three stars, backup Lagerald Vick made a hard backdoor cut for the paint and Graham sent a pass toward the hoop for a thunderous alley-oop before Vick’s defender had a shot at reacting and recovering.

- Trust your seniors

None by NCAA March Madness

Just after MSU made it a five-point game, Mason and Lucas worked a variation of the pick-and-roll to perfection. The big man set a screen for his point guard just after Mason caught a pass on on the left side of the floor. When Lucas’ man took a step too far to help on Mason, Lucas bounded toward the paint and met a lob above the rim for an easy slam.

The two seniors will need to assert themselves on both ends of the floor when games get tight. Their ability to execute will ease tensions and increase KU’s chances of moving on.

- Get it and go

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) goes in for a bucket against Michigan State forward Kenny Goins (25) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) goes in for a bucket against Michigan State forward Kenny Goins (25) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

This is an idea these Jayhawks have thoroughly embraced and there’s no need to change it just because the lights are brighter, the competition is stiffer and the score may be close. Mason, Graham and Jackson love throwing the ball ahead for potential numbers every time Kansas takes the ball away or snags an opportunistic defensive board.

When backup big Dwight Coleby came away with a steal and got the ball to Jackson late in the second half, the freshman knew what to do. About four seconds after Coleby secured the turnover, Jackson had zoomed up the the floor in four dribbles for a fast-break layup.

- Embrace the moment

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) celebrates during a Jayhawk run in the second half against Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) celebrates during a Jayhawk run in the second half against Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Kansas didn’t miss many shots down the stretch, but when Jackson released an unsuccessful 3-pointer with his team up 10, seldom-utilized backup Coleby secured the offensive rebound to extend the possession. A couple passes later, Graham buried a 3-pointer.

Role players tend to find their way into the spotlight during critical junctures in March. Whether it be Coleby, Vick, Carlton Bragg Jr. or even starter Svi Mykhailiuk, the Jayhawks need their less heralded players to step up when opportunities present themselves late in games. Often that’s the only way to advance.

- This is why you brought Jackson to KU

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) raises up his arms as he leaves the court with little time remaining during the Jayhawks' 90-70 win over Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) raises up his arms as he leaves the court with little time remaining during the Jayhawks' 90-70 win over Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Accurately, Self will tell you any number of his perimeter players are capable of bursting out and fueling offensive runs that alter the outcomes of games. Mason might be the national player of the year for that very reason. But there is no denying the most talented, potentially dominating presence on the floor wears No. 11.

The NCAA Tournament stage hasn’t looked too big for Jackson — he just took over for stretches versus a MSU program filled with friends and a coach who heavily recruited him to become a Spartan. During the game’s final six minutes, Jackson made two free throws, scored a layup, grabbed a defensive rebound and threw down a vicious one-handed jam after driving in from the top of the key in a half-court set.

Jackson has the competitive drive of Mason but also operates with the advantages of existing in a 6-foot-8, NBA-ready frame. He can carry a team to a Final Four if he needs to.

- Defend like it’s only thing that matters

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) nearly gets a steal from Michigan State guard Alvin Ellis III (3) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) nearly gets a steal from Michigan State guard Alvin Ellis III (3) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

It will take prolonged defensive focus for the Jayhawks to extend their season from here on out. Lucas explained how they turned a five-point game into a massive gap by the final buzzer against Michigan State.

“We knew that the reason that it was so close was because we weren’t executing the keys that the coaches were talking about: stopping in transition, easy buckets here and there,” Lucas explained. “And as soon as we talked about that and tightened those things up, we knew that we were gonna extend the lead. And we did that, and next thing you know it was pretty out of hand.”

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Purdue more than just a big basketball team

Purdue sophomore Caleb Swanigan puts up shot against Michigan. (AP photo).

Purdue sophomore Caleb Swanigan puts up shot against Michigan. (AP photo).

Isaac Haas stands 7-foot-2 and weighs 290 pounds and when he’s in the game he’ll be joined by either superstar Caleb Swanigan, 6-9, 250, or Vince Edwards, 6-8, 225, so there’s a reason size is the first thing that comes to mind about Purdue, Kansas’ opponent Thursday night at Sprint Center. But it’s what Purdue puts around that size that makes the Boilermakers difficult to defend. They have shooters who stretch a defense.

“If they had a bunch of non-shooters, their whole team would change,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said the day before the Cyclones lost to Purdue, 80-76. “But they all can make shots. That's why they can put so much pressure on you. Are you going to double? Can they get it out of the double too quick? Now they get a ball-reversal 3?. . . It's a lot more than Swanigan and Haas when you really research them and talk to other coaches. You’ve got to defend the 3-point line as well.”

Purdue ranks sixth in the nation, two spots behind Kansas, with a .404 3-point percentage. Dakota Mathis leads the team with a .458 3-point percentage, followed by Swanigan (.432), Vince Edwards (.425), Ryan Cline (.406) and P.J. Thompson (.402).

Purdue’s size will make it tougher for Kansas to score close to the basket, but if only if the Boilermakers retreat on defense quickly enough to contest shots, not an easy task against KU's unrivaled speed. Kansas played such a clean game at such a fast pace against Michigan State. That and a partisan crowd combine to make Kansas a five-point favorite. Still, Purdue's size is a concern for any team.

The day before losing to Purdue in the first round, Vermont coach John Becker was asked if had tried anything unusual to simulate Purdue’s size, such as holding a broom in the air and having his players try to score over it.

“We could try to score against a brick wall, is probably the closest thing we could do to try to emulate the size of Haas and Swanigan,” Becker said.

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Bridges’ failed attempt to intimidate Mason fired up Jayhawks

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges (22) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) get up close after a drive by Mason during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges (22) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) get up close after a drive by Mason during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

In an NCAA Tournament clash featuring two of college basketball’s most thriving programs, a fleeting moment during a dead ball situation became as memorable as any highlight-reel jam or crucial late-game basket Sunday, in Tulsa, Okla.

Well on his way to going down as one of those transcendent Kansas basketball stars, senior point guard Frank Mason III drove to the basket for a first-half lay-in like he has umpteen times over the course of the past four seasons. On this particular strike, the 5-foot-11 dynamo left his counterpart, Michigan State guard Tum Tum Nairn, in a heap out of bounds.

In the aftermath of the play, Mason remained near the baseline waiting for the game to resume. That irked Nairn’s freshman teammate, Miles Bridges, who stepped chest-to-chest with Mason to let him know about it.

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Bridges stared down a good eight inches into Mason’s eyes. KU’s uncompromising, 185-pound leader didn’t as much as blink — almost as if to say, “Bridges, I’m Frank Mason.”

Mason plays at an All-American level nearly every time he steps on the court for Kansas, and that’s one of many reasons the Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 90-70 victory over the Spartans. His bravado, though, as seen when the bigger Bridges tried harassing Mason, gives the Jayhawks an edge, as well.

Kansas senior center Landen Lucas said each of Mason’s teammates know they go to battle with a point guard who won’t show any fear, regardless of his stature.

“We’re all one team, one unit. We’re gonna feed off each other. We fed off of him,” Lucas said, describing how Mason’s interaction with Bridges fired up the Jayhawks.

A predictable smile covered Devonte’ Graham’s face when reminded of Bridges’ failed bullying attempt.

“My boy Frank is not going for none of that,” Mason’s backcourt mate said. “He’s not intimidated by anybody. He thinks he can guard LeBron, so nobody’s gonna intimidate him.”

Watching the scene from the bench at the time, backup big man Dwight Coleby said Mason’s cohorts knew he wasn’t about to back down.

“We was hyped. I was watching like, ‘Yeah,’” Coleby recalled, clapping for emphasis. “‘Let’s go. Let’s go.’”

Lucas revealed the Jayhawks heard plenty of trash talk during their second-round victory. No one ever would accuse Tom Izzo of failing to fully prepare his Michigan State basketball players for any game, let alone one in the postseason. So it must’ve been the Spartans’ idea to try and get in the heads of Mason and his KU teammates. And Bridges’ ploy flatlined.

“I think that’s silly if you’re trying to intimidate Frank,” Lucas said, “because that’s not gonna happen very often. Especially from a freshman. We’ve been through this before. We’ve been through a lot of things and that’s the last thing we’re worried about.”

Bill Self’s Kansas teams often are associated with their toughness, and no one on this year’s roster personifies that trait more than Mason.

“I think we all play with a lot of pride. We all believe in each other, and I think it starts with coach,” Mason said when asked about KU’s grit. “He really gets on to us in practice and he make us compete. And you know, it just carries on to the games. And I’m just proud of the way my teammates played and the great job that my coaches did.”

The image of Mason standing up to Bridges was a lasting one for anyone who saw the game, as well as the Petersburg, Va., native himself. KU’s Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy candidate posted a photo of Bridges’ scare tactic on Instagram after the game, dismissing the notion that someone’s chatter would rattle him.

“I’m about action,” Mason wrote, “like a movie.”

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Drew coaching family knows NCAA tournament highs and lows

Kansas guard Brady Morningstar has a laugh with Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew as officials reset the game clock during the second half, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Brady Morningstar has a laugh with Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew as officials reset the game clock during the second half, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Few things amplify the highs and lows of sports quite as loudly as the NCAA basketball tournament.

Nobody need tell that to Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew, who shot Valparaiso onto the national map 19 years ago and who four days ago took the lead role in comforting one of his players who erred in a way that puts him at risk of seeing it replayed every time he turns on the television.

Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis thought his team was down a point when it was up a point and fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh with 17 seconds remaining. The Commodores didn’t recover and just like that, former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew went from having two sons coaching in the NCAA tournament to having one.

Baylor’s Scott Drew is coaching in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in eight seasons. Drew stopped in the Kansas locker room Sunday at BOK Center in Tulsa to offer congratulations on his way to taking the court for the Bears’ game against USC.

Homer Drew was in attendance for Vandy’s loss to Northwestern in Salt Lake City and flew to Tulsa in the middle of the night to watch the Bears represent the Big 12 well with victories against New Mexico State and USC.

For the first time since interviewing him for a column I wrote in 1994 suggesting that the NCAA should investigate Valpo for going to such unethical lengths to land a commitment from that year’s Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana. Namely, Homer was sleeping with the recruit’s mother, Homer’s wife. Bryce Drew could have played anywhere and chose to play for his dad and that decision was rewarded with one of the more memorable moments in NCAA tournament history.

The hug father and son shared after that one still gets air time. So too, will Thursday’s blunder.

“Bryce handled it beautifully in the press conference,” Homer said of his son. “He talked about it takes a team to win and a team to lose and one play does not dictate an outcome. He was really gracious and stood by Matt because without Matt we, don’t get there. He hit some big 3’s and he hit three free throws in a row when he was fouled on a 3-point shot when it got us within one. So at the end he just thought that we were one down, instead of one up, so your heart goes out to him.”

Homer refers to the players by their first names and uses “us” and “we” and “our” when talking about Vanderbilt and Baylor.

“Time heals,” Homer said. “Matt feels really bad, but the teammates came up to him. Basketball’s special in that you have friends you live and die with on campus, going to classes, on the basketball court, traveling. So their compassion back to Matt makes life go on.”

Technically, Bryce coaches his team, Scott his, but in a way Bryce, Homer and Scott join minds to coach two teams.

“Some of the most exciting times have been at about 11, 12 at night and the three of us are talking basketball. I feel very blessed to have kids who ended up not by design but ended up coaching.”

They talk by three-way conference call.

“I have eight grandkids so they helped me learn how to press the buttons and get on one,” Homer said.

Scott and Bryce have not faced each other, but Homer said he hopes to witness that in March or early April one year.

“That would be the first time brothers have ever coached against each other in an NCAA tournament. That would be something special if that would happen,” Homer said. He retired from coaching after the 2011 season and is associate athletic director at Valparaiso, which he coached into the NCAA tournament seven times.

“Bryce and Drew talk a great deal and they’re so close,” Homer said. “It makes mom and dad very proud.”

The next challenge for the Bryce, Homer, Scott brain trust is to try to figure out a way to stop Frank Martin’s South Carolina team, which not only plays tough defense, but has averaged 59.5 second-half points two games into the tournament.

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Dwight Coleby proves he’s prepared for anything in KU win

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) celebrates during a Jayhawk run in the second half against Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) celebrates during a Jayhawk run in the second half against Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — Going into any given game, Kansas backup big man Dwight Coleby never knows how much — or how little — head coach Bill Self will decide to use him.

Twelve times so far during his junior season, the 6-foot-9 reserve from Nassau, Bahamas, never ventured to the scorer’s table to check in for the Jayhawks. So one can imagine his surprise and delight when Coleby, after watching the entire first half of KU’s second-round matchup with Michigan State from the bench Sunday at BOK Center, heard his name called in the midst of a tight second half, in the NCAA Tournament.

What began as an opportunity to give starting center Landen Lucas a breather evolved into a much larger responsibility when Lucas picked up his third foul midway through the second half. Before long, Coleby, who entered the game averaging 5.1 minutes and 1.7 points on the season, began finishing defensive stops with rebounds and extending possessions with offensive boards.

Few would have predicted as much prior to tip-off, but Coleby played as big a part in Kansas advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 90-70 victory as anyone wearing a KU uniform.

“He saved my career,” senior center Lucas said after his understudy contributed three points, four rebounds and a steal in 9 second-half relief minutes. “He made some big plays. I’m not trying to go home. We’re trying to win a championship and that’s what it takes, guys being ready and he was ready.”

Two days earlier, Coleby only logged seven minutes in a game that never was in doubt versus UC-Davis, in the opening round. Though he fully understands his role with the team, the backup big said he always hopes to earn more time.

“It’s the brightest stage and I want to play,” Coleby said, when asked how he stays mentally focused while never being sure what will be asked of him, “so I’m just ready the whole time.”

A studious observer, he doesn’t mind doing much of his research from his seat on the bench.

“I just watch Landen, and everything he does and how he defends,” Coleby shared. “Whatever he does, I just try to pick up on it and ask him questions.”

It’s a quality that can be difficult to master but Coleby said he felt prepared long before his coach called his name.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Listed at 6-9 and 240 pounds, Coleby looks more the part of a prototypical Michigan State post player than KU sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr. During one second-half sequence, Bragg couldn’t finish over MSU’s Nick Ward after snagging an offensive rebound. When the teams switched ends of the floor, Ward posted up Bragg, spun off him for a layup and a foul, and cut KU’s lead to four.

Bragg only spent one minute on the court in the second half, and Self said after the victory he probably should have went to Coleby even sooner.

“One thing about Dwight, he's not that tall, but he is strong and can hold his position,” said Self, echoing words he often has used while praising Lucas. “And I thought he did a really nice job of holding his position. And also, his ball-screen defense was super, probably as good as any big guy we had today.”

Exerting yourself while college basketball fans across the country are watching sure beats Coleby’s usual contributions.

“It was great to be in and actually help the team,” Coleby said, wearing a huge smile in the locker room. “All the celebration with the bench is cool and all, but actually being on the court and doing it, it’s way much better.”

After a moment in the postseason spotlight, Coleby said he could feel the crowd’s excitement growing with his hustle plays, which also fueled his teammates in a crucial stretch of the win.

“Yeah, everybody was hyped and jumping up and down,” Coleby said of the support he saw. “It lifted us up, so that was great.”

Lucas told Coleby and the rest of his KU teammates before the game they should be prepared for anything. Clearly Coleby listened.

“It obviously takes a pretty strong mental person to be able to do that,” Lucas said of Coleby’s approach, “and he showed us today he’s prepared for that. And that’s great to see moving forward.”

Added Coleby: “We just needed energy and I brought it.”

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Vets learned valuable lessons from KU’s 2nd-round exits few years ago

Kansas forward Landen Lucas dunks past Stanford forward Stefan Nastic during the second half on Sunday, March 23, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas dunks past Stanford forward Stefan Nastic during the second half on Sunday, March 23, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — Kansas center Landen Lucas didn’t realize it at the time, but when he and his young teammates experienced early exits from the NCAA Tournament as underclassmen, the disappointment doubled as a valuable lesson about what it takes to win in March.

Now a fifth-year senior, Lucas played for KU teams that lost to Stanford (2014) and Wichita State (2015) at the very stage of The Big Dance that his Jayhawks find themselves in now, the Round of 32.

Much wiser and accomplished at this stage of his college career, when Lucas reflects on those seasons that came up short of a Sweet 16 berth, he realizes, at the time, the Jayhawks fell into the trap of assuming March Madness success. He said ahead of KU’s Sunday meeting with Michigan State this year’s veterans know it’s better to approach every tournament game as the most important one.

“I think it was obviously an important game, but it wasn’t the most important game,” Lucas shared of the approach that bit KU during his freshman and sophomore seasons. “I think last year put so much on us to make sure that we got past this game (second round) that we did whatever it took. We were meeting as a team outside of the coaches telling us to, just to make sure we had scouting report down, and we’ll do that again this year.”

Now that KU’s veterans know what it’s like to get as far as the Elite Eight, which Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk all accomplished a year ago, Lucas said they understand there is no harm in expending all the energy they have to advance.

“We’re treating this like it’s a championship — like it’s our very last game,” Lucas said of No. 1 seed KU’s showdown with No. 9 Michigan State (20-14). “Because then, as we know last year, you get a couple days, you can regroup, reset a little bit and then go into the next weekend. So we’ve got to treat this like it’s our last game and go out there and really not look ahead at all.”

Two years removed from KU’s second-round loss to Wichita State, Mykhailiuk and Mason said they both have forgotten about that game by now. Mykhailiuk, though, sees some similarities that should help Kansas (29-4) know what to expect at BOK Center versus the Spartans.

“But that (Wichita State group) was a pretty tough team, like Michigan State,” the junior from Ukraine said. “They were a low seed but really good, and that’s the main point about them. They can beat anyone.”

The elder Jayhawks know now what they didn’t when they were younger. Those second-round losses, Lucas said, taught them your mental approach during the NCAA Tournament is as important as anything.

“It’s really what helped us out last year,” Lucas said of KU coming one win away from a Final Four in 2016. “It’s what’s gonna help us out again this year, because we learned from that. At the time there was really nothing against those teams, because those teams didn’t have very many people who had done it before. It was a lot of young guys or transfers or different things. We were all learning together, and that’s the benefit that the guys who have been here for that long period of time have, because we did learn from those experiences.”

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Jayhawks associate Tom Izzo with toughness, success

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo gets angry with his defense during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo gets angry with his defense during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — Tom Izzo’s intense sideline demeanor and the success that accompanies it this time of year has become synonymous with the NCAA Tournament.

The 22-year Michigan State head coach has navigated the Spartans to seven Final Four appearances and a national championship, so anyone who follows college basketball recognizes him and MSU as a distinct brand.

Before Kansas (29-4) attempts to send Izzo’s Spartans (20-14) home earlier than the young bunch from the Big Ten planned, several of the Jayhawks gave their impressions of the hall of fame coach and his history of March Madness victories (47-18 all-time).

“He’s a great coach,” said KU freshman Josh Jackson, who was heavily recruited by Izzo before he opted to play for Bill Self at Kansas. “He’s always gonna coach his guys to be tough. That’s why I think he’s always got a tough team year in and year out — and this year he does. And I feel like he really knows what he’s doing. He’s had a lot of guys come through his program, and I feel like just off of his coaching ability, any team that you give him he’s gonna find success and, you know, make the best of what he’s got.”

Jackson said he felt starstruck when he first met Izzo, as a young high school standout in the state of Michigan, around the age of 14. The legendary coach attended one of Jackson’s games.

“I’d been watching him for my whole life, basically,” Jackson shared.

A Portland, Ore., native, Kansas senior center Landen Lucas didn’t necessarily grow up in awe of Izzo. But the old school big man certainly enjoyed the tough style displayed by MSU’s many successful teams through the years. The idea of bruising in the paint versus the Spartans on Sunday night at BOK Center has Lucas fired up.

“It’s cool,” Lucas said. “I feel like it’s a school I would’ve enjoyed playing at, because of the way they play and their style. Their known for that kind of stuff — getting extra possessions.

“It’ll be fun for me to play against them. It usually is,” added Lucas, who also went up against Sparty in 2014 and 2015. “And I’m looking forward to it.”

A Cleveland prep who grew up in Big Ten country, KU forward Carlton Bragg Jr., too, is fully aware of Izzo’s impressive résumé.

“He has a great program, great legacy behind him,” said Bragg, a KU sophomore who at one point was offered a scholarship to MSU. “He develops his players really good, just like Coach Self, as well.”

MSU big men are associated with toughness in the paint, and Bragg expects nothing different this March, even if, like Self, Izzo hasn’t had his traditional lineup. Freshman Miles Bridges plays much the same role as his friend Jackson does at KU, in a four-guard starting lineup.

“They’re pretty aggressive,” Bragg said, adding the Jayhawks expect the Spartans to give KU their best shot. “Nick Ward (6-foot-8 freshman forward), he’s playing great basketball right now, coming off a big game versus Miami. He’s gonna be a challenge down low, and we’ve got to just keep him off the glass.”

The name Izzo, Kansas freshman Mitch Lightfoot added, conjures up images of grit and offensive rebounding.

“Doing all the little things, working their butt off,” Lightfood responded when asked to characterize Izzo’s Spartans. “You think of Draymond Green, stuff like that, players like that. Really athletic players. You know, Miles (Bridges) is super-athletic. But overall, really hard-working teams.”

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Jayhawks’ loose approach to NCAA Tournament opener paid off

Kansas guard Josh Jackson, left, and Kansas forward Landen Lucas have a laugh while waiting to check in during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson, left, and Kansas forward Landen Lucas have a laugh while waiting to check in during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — For weeks, Kansas coach Bill Self has referenced his hope that the Jayhawks would play loose, worry-free basketball this March, as they try to land the program in the Final Four for the first time in five seasons.

Once KU built a 20-point lead in the first half Friday night against UC-Davis, the players got to spend the remainder of a 100-62 rout living in the moment and enjoying the stage. This time of year can quickly become a stressful time for players and coaches, so opening the NCAA Tournament with laughs and chemistry-bolstering endorphins seemed ideal.

Senior center Landen Lucas definitely takes his job seriously, and doing so led to a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double for the KU veteran versus the Aggies (23-13). The 6-foot-10 big got to feel like a kid again, too, posting up on the blocks and showing off post moves that led to high-percentage buckets in the paint.

“Yeah, it was fun,” a smiling Lucas said in the locker room. “I don’t get a whole lot of chances to do that, so it was nice to do a couple. And then also it’s good moving forward because it gives me a little confidence to go to that if needed or if I see an opportunity for it.”

No one in a KU uniform enjoyed any play more than often subdued junior Svi Mykhailiuk, who coaxed a near-impossible 3-pointer through the net in the second half. With the shot clock clicking toward zero and his defender all over him, Mykhailiuk took a step-back, fading prayer from behind the arc that looked like it had no chance of dropping. But it did, the KU lead ballooned to 34 with more than 11 minutes to play and Svi cheesed harder than he seemed capable of as his buddy Devonte’ Graham ran toward him, screaming over the wild, highlight-level heave and make.

You would have sworn the Jayhawks (29-4) were just celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on the floor based on the looks on their faces. Mykhailiuk, who scored 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting, said having a good time in the midst of executing should benefit Kansas.

“We were just playing ball,” the junior from Ukraine said, “and just enjoying the game.”

Lucas said Mykhailiuk’s crazy 3 and a late-game drain from senior walk-on Tyler Self highlighted a happy-go-lucky night.

“It’s always fun when Tyler gets in,” Lucas said. “But, you know, it’s fun. You try to have fun with these games, especially once you have a comfortable lead, because we know as soon as it’s over this time, you’ve got to get serious again to move forward to the next one.”

Indeed, a more than formidable Michigan State team awaits the Jayhawks in the Round of 32 on Sunday at the BOK Center.

After contributing six points and five rebounds in the victory, backup forward Carlton Bragg Jr. emphasized the importance of opening the team’s tournament run on a mellow note.

“Coach said in the locker room, just go out there and have fun,” Bragg shared of the pre-game message. “Just play hard. This is fun to play in March. So just go out there and have fun. Just let it go.”

An enjoyable Friday night could make a Sunday battle a little easier on the legs and minds of the Jayhawks, as they try to get back to Kansas City, Mo., for the Sweet 16

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AAC coach of the year Tim Jankovich getting it done at SMU

SMU head basketball coach Tim Jankovich laughs as he talks with journalists during the Mustangs' practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

SMU head basketball coach Tim Jankovich laughs as he talks with journalists during the Mustangs' practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

So far, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self’s tree is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament.

Kansas State bounced Danny Manning’s Wake Forest squad in Dayton and Joe Dooley’s Florida Gulf Coast University team fell short in its upset bid against Florida State.

SMU head coach Tim Jankovich can keep the tree from getting skunked. His Mustangs take on USC in a tipoff scheduled for 2:10 p.m. in the BOK Center, a rematch of a Nov. 25 game USC won, 78-73.

Junior forward Semi Ojeleye, an Ottawa High graduate and Duke transfer, was named American Athletic Conference player of the year and a second-team Academic All-American. Jankovich has multiple ties to Kansas. He was an assistant to Bill Self in his first four seasons at Kansas and left to become head coach at Illinois State, hired by current KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger.

“He’s great,” Ojeleye said of Jankovich, named AAC coach of the year. “He’s a players' coach. He’s just so relaxed. If you didn’t know he was a head coach you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he walks around.”

Ojeleye compared and contrasted Jankovich’s style to that of Larry Brown, under whom Jankovich coached at SMU before taking over for him.

“I think it’s a little more up-tempo,” Ojeleye said. “Coach Brown kind of winced every time someone shot a 3. Coach (Jankovich) wants us to have the offensive freedom. But I think on the defensive end they are pretty much exactly the same. They want us to guard, play together. I think they really hang their hat on the defensive end. They’re similar and different, but they’re both great coaches.”

Jankovich has a brain built for X’s and O’s. A few years before college football teams began running it, Jankovich wondered why they didn’t use what became known as the Wildcat formation. He likes to tinker with offensive basketball X’s and O’s as well.

“I don’t know how many different, not just sets, but base offenses we’ve put in this year,” Ojeleye said. “We’ve tried three out, two in, we’ve tried a high-low offense, four out, one in, ball-screen, I mean we just continue to adapt based on what types of teams we’re about to play in trying to attack matchups. Even during games, if he sees something he’ll put something in real quick to try to go at that matchup, so he definitely adapts to what’s coming at him.”

Ojeleye said Jankovich has the gift of communicating complex things in “the simplest terms, and I think we have a high-IQ team, as he calls it, that can really understand it and implement things on the fly.”

SMU (30-4) is riding a 16-game winning streak and Jankovich throws some of the credit for that the way of Ojeleye for the hard work he put in during his one-and-a-half year layoff after transferring from Duke and then watching the school receive sanctions that included a ban from participating in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“If you want to be a player what else is there to do?” said Jankovich, who played at Kansas State. “But you know what, there a lot of guys around the country, they have a lot of time, too, and they’re not in there (the gym working on their games).

“Sitting out, after your school work’s done, what else do you have to do? Don’t give me the video games thing. Don’t be good at that. That’s not doing you any good. I don’t care how many you scored in the video game. Get over here and work on your real game, and he definitely does that.”

A conscience pang made Jankovich confess that he too once played video games: Space Invaders (released in 1978) and Pac-Man (1980), which at the time were considered unbelievable advances from Pong (1972).

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Teammates expect Josh Jackson to respond positively after suspension

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) loses a ball to Iowa State guard Monte Morris during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) loses a ball to Iowa State guard Monte Morris during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — After missing his first Kansas basketball start of the season due to a suspension at the Big 12 tournament a week ago, star freshman Josh Jackson, whose off-the-court issues have led to outsiders scrutinizing both the guard and the program, Jackson told reporters Thursday he’s ready to put any distractions behind him.

According to his teammates who have been around the 6-foot-8 guard throughout KU’s eight-day break from actual games, Jackson shouldn’t have any problem bouncing back after disappointing himself, the Jayhawks and members of the fan base with his actions.

Jackson hasn’t played in nearly two weeks, but at practices since he served his one-game suspension, senior Landen Lucas said the freshman has proven to be assertive and vocal.

“Trying to be even more of a leader than he already was, and I think that was important for all of us to see, because we knew he felt bad after that last game and we were all disappointed by it,” Lucas said. “But he came out with a whole other level to him, and I’m just excited to see him carry it over into the games.”

The Detroit native and projected top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft, Jackson will get a chance to prove Lucas right in the NCAA Tournament, beginning Friday evening against UC-Davis (23-12).

Starting junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk expects a great response from Jackson in his postseason debut, and said Jackson will pick up right where he left off, prior to his suspension.

“Definitely, because he’s a great competitor,” Mykhailiuk said. “He’s a winner, and he always wants to play, he always wants to win. I think he’s gonna be really hungry in the game, and he’s gonna show his best.”

KU head coach Bill Self repeatedly has supported Jackson publicly, and did so again on the eve of KU’s tourney run, saying he had no concern about Jackson’s approach to the game moving forward.

“I think Josh is focused. I do,” Self said. “He's a tough-minded individual. I think he's focused. And certainly his role or playing time or whatnot, whatever will only be dictated by what happens between the lines. It won't be dictated by anything else. And I think he's ready to go.”

KU’s senior leader and point guard, Frank Mason III said Jackson has handled lingering off-the-court issues and various allegations well.

“Josh is a great kid. We all love him. We all know he has great experience and things like that,” Mason said. “So we just tell him to focus on the things that he can take care of and that's exactly what he does. And we're just proud of how far he came so far throughout his year, and we're just focused on today and we're not really worried about anything off the court.”

Obviously, Kansas missed Jackson’s athleticism, defense, passing, scoring and rebounding in its Big 12 tournament loss to TCU. Lucas emphasized the importance of the freshman’s presence as the Jayhawks begin what they hope will be a lengthy journey through March Madness.

“We were confident in our team in the game that he missed that we should’ve won, but he just adds so much to this team,” Lucas said, “especially with the four-guard lineup that we like to go with so much. His presence is definitely important to us. He brings a lot of energy during runs and spurts that we really need. He’s a top three, five pick in the NBA, so it’s always nice to have somebody like that on your team.”

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Jayhawks think rest will beat out rust after unexpected layoff

Kansas forward Landen Lucas signs a couple more autographs as the Jayhawks make their way from the court following a practice before fans on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At left is Kansas guard Josh Jackson.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas signs a couple more autographs as the Jayhawks make their way from the court following a practice before fans on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At left is Kansas guard Josh Jackson. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — From the time Big 12 play began the last week of December up until the league’s tournament started in March, the Kansas basketball team existed on a steady diet of two games a week. The Jayhawks expected an even larger plate on the first weekend of the postseason, in Kansas City, Mo., before TCU sent them home early.

By the time KU, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, tips off its NCAA Tournament opener against UC-Davis at BOK Arena Friday evening, eight days will have passed since the players last competed full-out on a basketball court.

“I think this is the longest break we’ve had between games since the start of the season — at least that I can remember,” said senior center Landen Lucas, whose assessment was nearly spot on (KU also had eight days off with its holiday break in late December). “And, you know, it is weird. It almost feels like preseason again. You’re getting tired of battling against your teammates and stuff and ready to play somebody else.”

The subject rarely comes up for Kansas in March, one of the program’s busiest times of year, but the prolonged and unexpected layoff in action inspired a locker room discussion with media ahead of the Jayhawks’ tourney opener against UC-Davis (23-12).

“There’s always that debate about rust and rest and which one’s gonna come up, but I feel like it equals out,” Lucas predicted. “The rest is gonna be helpful at times maybe later in the game and the rust is early. If you were gonna say which one would you rather have, I think later would be better. We’ll be fine, and I think that as a team we’re mature enough that we can handle the rust.”

Indeed, the Jayhawks (28-4) have overcome all sorts of in-game challenges over the course of the past four months, often with veterans Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Lucas coming through with one play or many in crunch time.

While KU’s time off had plenty to do with Josh Jackson’s suspension, and how much the team missed his defense, rebounding and play-making, it did allow junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk to bust out of a personal slump. The starter from Ukraine could have used another game (or two) to keep building off the momentum of an 18-point outing.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) heads in for a bucket past TCU guard Kenrich Williams (34) during the first half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) heads in for a bucket past TCU guard Kenrich Williams (34) during the first half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

So, Svi, is this break from action a positive or negative for KU?

“I think the bad thing was we lost and we wanted to play more games and win the Big 12 tournament,” Mykhailiuk responded. “But I think the good thing is we got more time to prepare for the NCAA Tournament — working on mistakes, working on the defense and offense and just preparing better.”

Even if certain Jayhawks were battling fatigue right now, Mykhailiuk said they would find ways to ignore it this time of year, because all they care about are the games and finding ways to win.

According to Mason, who averaged 37.2 minutes a game in Big 12 play, KU spent its eight days off wisely.

“Yeah, definitely. Once we got back from last game, we got a little bit of rest,” said Mason, never one to seek out such respite. “And the next day we had practice. We practiced really hard. I think we got better as a team. And just a few days after the game, we practiced really hard and we're really prepared for this tournament.”

In the time since KU lost, UC-Davis, which also played that day, has played three more games, winning them all.

The Jayhawks haven’t exactly been idle, but their March got off to what Lucas said felt like a strange start. That odd feeling, though, might come accompanied with fresh legs that will prove rather handy in the days ahead.

“It could be helpful,” Lucas said of those eight game-free days. “I think we’re using this as motivation, using it as some momentum off of the practices going into this next game.”

For what it’s worth, Kansas lost in the Big 12 semifinals in 2012, then had seven days off before beginning a run to the national title game.

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Former Self assistant Jankovich happy both KU and SMU are competing in Tulsa

SMU head basketball coach Tim Jankovich laughs as he talks with journalists during the Mustangs' practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

SMU head basketball coach Tim Jankovich laughs as he talks with journalists during the Mustangs' practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Tulsa, Okla. — It has been a decade since Tim Jankovich called Lawrence, Kansas, home. But SMU’s head basketball coach is excited for a little bit of a reunion this weekend at the BOK Center.

After heading the program at North Texas and before lead positions at both Illinois State and SMU, Jankovich spent five seasons working with Bill Self — one at Illinois and four at Kansas, from 2002 to 2007.

The second-year coach of the Mustangs, who has the program in the NCAA Tournament as the No. 6 seed in the East region after regular-season and postseason American Athletic Conference championships, said at his Thursday afternoon press conference he was happy to get the chance to work in the same building as his old friends from Kansas again.

“We’ve been texting,” Jankovich said of his interactions with his former boss, Self, since the brackets came out on Sunday. “I don’t know if we’re gonna get together for dinner — we’re a little bit busy.”

Jankovich will try to guide SMU (30-4) past No. 11 seed USC on Friday afternoon, while Self’s Jayhawks, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, will face UC-Davis later that night.

The head coach in waiting while former KU head coach Larry Brown led SMU the past four years, Jankovich has the program back in the tournament after the NCAA hit the Mustangs with a postseason ban in 2016. He went 106-64 in five seasons at Illinois State after leaving KU.

His winning ways (SMU is on a 16-game win streak and has already set a program record for victories in a season) are reminiscent of Self, and Jankovich showed Thursday a little bit of his sense of humor while fielding questions — a staple of Self Q & A’s. The SMU coach, of course, paid close attention to Wednesday night’s First Four matchup between Providence and USC, when the Trojans trailed by 17 points in the first half before hammering the Friars, 46-27, in the final 20 minutes.

A reporter asked Jankovich for his assessment of how USC (25-9) looked in the two halves of its First Four victory.

“My thoughts are I wish they would play two halves like their first half,” Jankovich joked of the Trojans’ Friday game versus his Mustangs. “That's kind of what I'm hoping. I like their team way better in the first half, and I recommend they stay with that plan.”

Certainly at some point before the former KU assistant and Self leave Tulsa, they will get to cross paths. And if teams play to their seeding, Self might even be able to help Jankovich with a scouting report on Baylor — a potential hurdle for SMU in the Round of 32.

“But I’m excited that Kansas is here,” Jankovich said. “Hopefully we’ll get to run into a lot of people. I haven’t been back in a while. So it’s a little extra-exciting for me that they’re here.”

Coach Bill Self, center, is flanked by his staff. From left are Ronnie Chalmers, Tim Jankovich, Joe Dooley and Kurtis Townsend.

Coach Bill Self, center, is flanked by his staff. From left are Ronnie Chalmers, Tim Jankovich, Joe Dooley and Kurtis Townsend. by Nick Krug

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Kansas 3-point shooting needs to travel better

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III stand side by side during a pair of free throws in the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III stand side by side during a pair of free throws in the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Lacking the low-post scoring it has most seasons, Kansas has relied more heavily on 3-point shooting than at any point during coach Bill Self’s 14 years at the school and with good results.

Kenpom.com tracks various statistics through the years, including a “style component” that shows what percentage of field goals attempted are of the 3-point variety.

The percentage has been below 30 in eight seasons, above it in six. This season’s 35.5 percent mark is a high, during Self’s tenure, compared to a low of 26.1 percent in 2006-07, a year that ended in San Jose with Kansas losing to UCLA in an Elite Eight game. Last season’s 32.8 percent had been the high mark.

The 3-pointer has served Kansas well this season, with a .405 percentage that ranks eighth in the nation.

The question now becomes will the Jayhawks’ 3-point shooting touch travel well? Thus far, KU has not shot nearly as well away from Allen Fieldhouse (.358) as on campus (.454). Kansas went 14-3 away from Allen Fieldhouse, so the Jayhawks still found ways to win when treys weren’t falling, but the home/away shooting disparity does underscore the importance of playing consistently strong defense throughout the tournament.

In four games in Sprint Center, site of the NCAA Midwest regional, Kansas shot a combined .311 from 3-point range against UAB, Georgia, Davidson and TCU.

A look at individuals' shooting percentages in games played off campus this season and (overall):

Josh Jackson: .463 (.377)

Frank Mason: .392 (.487)

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: .382 (.401)

Lagerald Vick: .317 (.383)

Devonte’ Graham: .292 (.379).

Mason and Graham have the most NCAA tournament experience. Mason, although he made 5 of 7 3-pointers in the tournament as a sophomore, is a .292 3-point shooter in the NCAA tournament for his career. Graham has shot .346 from long distance in the tourney.

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A look at Kansas basketball players’ long-range shooting vs. ranked foes

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three over Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three over Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Olpe — Kansas enters the NCAA tournament with a 28-4 record, including a 5-2 mark against schools that were ranked at the time the Jayhawks played them.

Since ranked teams generally play better defense than unranked ones, let’s take a look at the relatively small sample to see which KU players’ talents translate the best to tougher competition.

Not surprisingly, Josh Jackson’s performance stands up, even improves in some areas, against ranked teams. Jackson averaged 17 points, 6.3 rebounds and had a .524 3-point accuracy rate in the seven games. Overall, Jackson averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and shot .377 from 3-point range.

Frank Mason also performed at a similar level vs. ranked and unranked foes in most categories, except not nearly as well in 3-point shooting (.487 overall, .310 vs. ranked teams). Mason averaged 20.8 points overall, 21.9 vs. ranked squads. He had a slightly better assists-to-turnover ratio vs. ranked foes (2.3) than overall (2.0).

With the exception of Jackson, the biggest decline when comparing unranked vs. overall came in 3-point shooting: Svi Mykhailiuk (.401/.267), Lagerald Vick (.383/.263), Devonte’ Graham (.379/.321) and the team overall (.405, .325).

Well, that's it for now. I’m going to put the headphones on and Listen to Neil Young’s “The Last Trip to Tulsa,” while wondering if he found himself as badly lost behind the wheel as Matt Tait just found himself on our trip to Tulsa. I no longer need to wonder what all the small Kansas towns I’ve heard about through the years look like. We’ve hit pretty much every one of them. Some are beautiful, others not my thing. Not to worry. Benton Smith has switched seats with M@ T8, so we’ll get there eventually.

Oh well, everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason we strayed so far off the direct path to Tulsa was so that Tait could hear this half of a conversation: “I looked out the window and there was a coyote. So my daughter said, ‘What you going to do, Daddy, shoot it?’ I said, ‘That’s a hell of an idea.’ So I reached behind the front seat, grabbed a rifle and I shot the SOB.’ ”

What a touching family moment. Here’s hoping that inspires a Hallmark card of some sort, perhaps even a holiday special TV show to watch while wrapped in blankets, huddled around the fireplace.

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Aggies ready to dismiss history, hope to get shot at upsetting No. 1 seed Kansas

UC Davis' Brynton Lemar celebrates his team's 50-47 win against UC Irvine in an NCAA college basketball game for the championship of the Big West tournament Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

UC Davis' Brynton Lemar celebrates his team's 50-47 win against UC Irvine in an NCAA college basketball game for the championship of the Big West tournament Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

March was made for madness. And upsets. And history. Just ask the basketball players at UC-Davis.

Before the Aggies get a chance at shocking the world, they will have to get past North Carolina Central in the First Four, in Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday night.

But, because the NCAA Tournament is beloved in this country and media outlets want juicy storylines, a few of UC-Davis’ top players already have pondered the idea of knocking off one of the field’s goliaths, Kansas, in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday night.

A reporter in Dayton, Ohio, site of the First Four, asked UC-Davis seniors Brynton Lemar and Darius Graham and junior Chima Moneke about the history of futility among 16 seeds in the tournament’s history.

How do players, fully aware No. 1 seeds are undefeated all-time versus 16 seeds, generate belief when every team in their position before them has failed?

“Well, I believe in our team,” began Lemar, a 6-foot-4 guard from San Diego. “We've been playing with each other since Costa Rica, since this summer. And I believe that we can upset hopefully the No. 1 seed.”

You can’t knock a college player for saying he wants to be a part of something historic. Lemar, as most anyone in his position would be, is confident in his Aggies (22-12).

“And I don't think any team's going to go and just try and just be happy to be here,” Lemar said. “They want to win. That's our whole goal, too. We want to win. We're excited to be in this position but at the end of the day we're still competitors.”

Jumping in where his teammate left off, Graham said the Aggies have an underdog nature about them that they hope will show on the court this March.

“A lot of us have been looked over our whole lives and everything,” said Graham, from Sacramento, Calif. “So to be able to be in this position, first, to play North Carolina Central and then to hopefully to play No. 1 Kansas, it's very rewarding. We're excited for it.”

To the senior’s credit, he kind of likes the numbers surrounding 16 seeds in the tourney. They’re 0-128.

“I like math a little bit, so the law of averages says that you're bound to possibly beat a No. 1 seed, especially since it hasn't happened yet,” Graham offered. “So we're going out here, like Brynton said, since the beginning of the season we've harped on defense and letting our defense take care of everything else, having each other's back and playing as a team in a tournament like this on any given night the best team will win.”

Of course, the eye test says the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, the Jayhawks (28-4), are the best team in a 1-versus-16 seed scenario, whether that be UC-Davis or NCCU (25-8). But, it is March, and a player has the right to defend his team’s chances, regardless of how steep.

“So in order to answer your question, you know, anything is possible,” Graham said. “We weren't supposed to be here. And we're here. So why not us?”

These players on teams seeded 16th have to believe in themselves or else what’s the point of stepping onto the NCAA Tournament stage.

“Any team is beatable, for sure,” said 6-foot-6 forward Moneke, a native of Australia. “We knew coming in that every team is a great team. At the same time we're here, too. So we deserve some respect for what we've done. And at the same time we respect NC Central first. Hopefully we'll take care of them. And if we get on to Kansas we'll respect them, but we won't fear anybody.”

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