Entries from blogs tagged with “basketball”
In his 27 games at Kansas, freshman Cheick Diallo never turned into the interior force most expected the highly-rated big man to become.
After a 13-point debut against Loyola (Md.) at Allen Fieldhouse, Diallo neither matched nor topped that total again, and only reached double-digit points on one other occasion — his third game, against Holy Cross (12).
Diallo only played more than 10 minutes five times all season, and outside of a 9-point, 9-rebound, 5-block effort against TCU never had a significant impact in a Big 12 game.
So why is it again that the 6-foot-9 19-year-old from Kayes, Mali, has entered the NBA Draft? It’s all about potential. And it only takes the decision-makers with one franchise to look at Diallo and see an improved, evolved version of what he is now for him to hear his name called in the first round of the draft on June 23.
Bill Self expects Diallo will intrigue enough scouts, general managers and coaches for the big man to hire an agent and stay in the draft — something he hasn’t done yet. Diallo might receive the feedback to bring on that decision next week, when he, Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr., and 60 other prospects report to Chicago for the NBA Combine.
The weeks ahead — and Diallo’s ability to prove himself worthy of a team’s investment — will determine if he receives a guaranteed contract in the first round or really has to prove himself as a second-round draft choice.
At this moment, the likable youngster is straddling the border of the first and second rounds, according to most mock drafts.
DraftExpress.com, one of the few sites that projects both rounds, has Diallo falling to No. 33 (the third pick of Round 2), to the Los Angeles Clippers.
There are other sites that project Diallo as a late first-rounder:
However, there are also a few first-round-only mocks out there that don’t include Diallo’s name.
Anyone who watched Diallo play for Kansas understands his limitations at this point, and it might be difficult to overlook those when thinking about how he fits in with an NBA team. Just remember that no general manager in his right mind would add Diallo to his roster and expect him to play meaningful minutes in the 2016-17 season.
Whichever organization picks up Diallo, it will do so as a longterm investment, and then utilize its developmental resources — think countless hours of drills with assistant coaches and trips to the D-League — in the hopes of turning him into a valuable post presence a few seasons from now.
Believe it or not, Diallo does have attributes that make him a potentially valuable commodity. DraftExpress does a great job of highlighting his strengths in the video below.
Specifically, the DraftExpress scouting report breaks Diallo’s best abilities into three categories: length/mobility, defensive potential and motor.
LENGTH AND MOBILITY
What is there to like about Diallo as an athlete? Plenty, according to Draft Express.
- 7-foot-4 wingspan; 9-foot-1 standing reach
- He’s mobile for his size and a “tremendous” rim-runner.
- Diallo plays hard, which shows up when he goes to set screens and dives to the rim off those actions.
The young big certainly has his flaws on defense, but those are fixable with coaching and hard work.
- Diallo has good instincts and mobility.
- He can block shots with either hand, and even recover to block shots when caught out of position.
- 6-9 might not be an ideal height for a potential center, but he is quick off the floor.
- He is athletic enough to step out and move well on the perimeter, and he’s also comfortable getting low and sliding his feet outside.
At this stage of his basketball career, Diallo’s energy and work ethic might be his most valuable characteristics.
- He plays hard on both ends of the floor.
- Diallo can rebound out of his area, meaning he will chase down long rebounds when they take unexpected bounces away from the paint.
- When taking an active approach, he keeps the ball alive on the offensive glass and comes up with tap-outs to extend possessions.
- Averaged 13.1 rebounds per 40 minutes.
- Can be physical, despite his slender frame.
- Diallo wasn’t a headache for the KU staff when Self kept him in limited role.
Because DraftExpress does such a great job with its prospect analysis, the site also provides a scouting video of Diallo’s weaknesses, viewable below.
Again, KU fans are plenty aware that Diallo isn’t exactly Joel Embiid with the ball in his hands.
- For the NBA, he is probably undersized to play center.
- Amazing stat alert! — He only had 1 assist in 202 minutes for KU. One assist!
- The big man only makes occasional jumpers, and his shot selection wasn’t always ideal.
- Frankly, Diallo doesn’t score well on post-ups, partly because his touch around the rim isn’t great.
SIZE AND STRENGTH
Once Diallo gets to the NBA, his effort will only get him so far.
- He gives up position too easily inside.
- Despite his speed in the open floor, he lacks the “elite bounce” that would help him make up for his lack of size in the paint.
- Young Diallo will get knocked around inside at the next level.
Mistakes on defense probably cost Diallo minutes at KU more than anything else.
- Not only does he bite on shot fakes, he is “very” prone to fouling — 7.8 per 40 minutes.
- Diallo reaches too much on the perimeter.
- He tries for blocks that he won’t be able to get, putting him and his teammates in bad spots.
- As DraftExpress bluntly puts it, Diallo is “A long way from being able to help an NBA team”
We’ll continue to track the stock of Diallo, Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene in the weeks leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft here at KUsports.com.
Every year, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self brings in a new batch of recruits to add to the Jayhawks’ stockpile of talent. When he does, many of those freshman arrive in Lawrence with fans hoping the first-year college players will take on key roles in propelling KU to the Final Four.
Mitch Lightfoot isn’t one of those players. And that’s a good thing.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Gilbert, Ariz., isn’t a one-and-done like Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. or Josh Jackson. Unhyped, Lightfoot doesn’t have to step on campus with unrealistic expectations of becoming a game-changer before he has even, you know, played a college game.
Still, that shouldn’t temper fans’ excitement for Lightfoot. The hard-working, 219-pound forward will have a chance to develop season after season, and likely one day become a reliable veteran — perhaps even a special player. Having those types of four-year mainstays in a program is vital, too.
Freshman Mitch Lightfoot, trying to break into a front-court rotation that includes Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg Jr., Udoka Azubuike and Dwight Coleby, might not make much of an impact. But junior Mitch Lightfoot or senior Mitch Lightfoot? He could be the exact type of upperclassman every successful program needs on the floor and in the locker room. By then, he’ll know Self’s system and demands far better than the latest ultra-hyped one-and-dones to put on a Kansas uniform, and he’ll have the age and experience to help those young guys while also showcasing his own skills.
In the midst of scoring 32 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in the Ballislife All-American Game this past weekend, Lightfoot was asked to describe his game, and project how he might fit in at KU.
“I like to work hard. I’m doing everything I can for us to win — taking charges, getting rebounds, scoring if they need me to score,” Lightfoot said. “With us losing Jamari (Traylor) and Perry (Ellis) there’s opportunity there. I just have to work my butt off and take advantage of that.”
While certainly confident in his abilities, Lightfoot also seems very realistic about his limitations and what it will take for him to contribute in his first season in the program.
“I’m working on shooting and getting bigger,” Lightfoot said, adding he has been lifting weights six days a week. “I’m really working my butt off trying to get better and being able to shoot the rock.”
Back when Lightfoot committed to Kansas, in October, he looked too slim, and a few years away from making any kind of meaningful contributions at the next level.
Wise beyond his years, though, you can tell Lightfoot already has begun to address his bulk with his workouts, and he looks significantly stronger now than he did entering his senior year.
Playing at Gilbert Christian, Lightfoot (currently ranked 118th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals and 67th by ESPN) faced double- and triple-teams in high school. If he can earn minutes next season on a stacked Kansas team poised to win a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title and make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, he’ll enjoy a very different on-court experience, with defenses focused on shutting down the talented players around him. If Lightfoot is comfortable enough, he should be able to find open gaps for high-percentage shots and ease his way into the college game.
Regardless of whether Lightfoot plays regularly or sparingly as a freshman at Kansas, he appears to be the type of person who will remain committed to the difficult challenges that come with cracking Self’s rotation. So even if he is a few years away from being one of the first guys mentioned when you’re talking about the Jayhawks, just remember there is nothing wrong with that.
Playing for KU means a lot to Lightfoot, who was born in Kansas City. So even if it isn’t until 2018 or 2019, his time in the spotlight at Allen Fieldhouse should come eventually.
Former Kansas University forward Perry Ellis, who still is less than a month removed from being the face of the KU basketball program, teamed with the popular web site The Players' Tribune to pen a farewell letter to Jayhawk fans everywhere.
The letter, titled "Thank You, Kansas," takes Jayhawk fans on a journey all the way back to Ellis' freshman year and before, with pictures from his days as a young baller and tales of his childhood in Wichita.
Some of it you've heard before, but even if you have it's one final look at what being a Jayhawk meant to Ellis.
Dubbed "a new media company that provides athletes with a platform to connect directly with their fans, in their own words," The Players' Tribune has taken the sports world by storm, with letters, flashbacks, inside stories and memorable moments from some of the world's best known athletes.
Founded by former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, The Players’ Tribune publishes first-person stories from athletes, providing unique insight into the daily sports conversation. Through impactful and powerful long and short form stories, video series and podcasts, The Players’ Tribune brings fans closer than ever to the games they love.
Fellow former KU great Paul Pierce already has been featured on the site 11 times, including this look back at the heartbreaking loss to Arizona during the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
If the NBA Draft happened today, odds are four-year Kansas forward Perry Ellis would last deep into the second round — or perhaps not be selected at all.
A consensus All-American in his senior season with the Jayhawks, all Ellis did was average 16.9 points and 5.8 rebounds, shoot 53.1% from the floor, make 28 of 64 3-pointers (43.8%) and visit the free-throw line 4.7 times a game, where he connected on 78.5% of his tries.
As reliable a scorer as the Big 12 has seen the past handful of years, Ellis, according to sports-reference.com, ranks No. 1 in the conference since 2009-10 in career offensive rating (120.30), even beating out Naismith Award winner Buddy Hield of Oklahoma (115.39).
Yet, when you look at projections for the 2016 NBA Draft, such as the current mock at DraftExpress.com, Hield’s name appears in the lottery and Ellis’ doesn’t show up until near the end of the second round. DraftExpress lists Ellis 59th, the next-to-last pick in the entire draft. NBADraft.net’s predictions have Ellis going 56th.
Now, there is no denying that Hield and other projected lottery picks look like more sure fits in the NBA than Ellis. But could there possibly be 50-plus prospects in this draft better than him?
The good news for the soft-spoken, hard-working forward from KU is the draft isn’t until the end of June. Ellis will have plenty of opportunities in the weeks ahead to work out for various franchises, in front of coaches and decision-makers, and show them exactly what type of player and person he can be for their organization.
At 6-foot-8, one perceived knock on Ellis is that he’s a tweener — not big enough to play power forward, but not exactly a small forward, either. However, Ellis might be entering the NBA at the exact right time for that not to matter. More and more teams are showing their preferences for playing smaller lineups, putting a stretch-4 at power forward, someone who can hit outside shots and provide better offensive spacing.
There isn’t an NBA coach or general manager who would look at Ellis and say, “There’s our new starting 4-man.” But there are so many teams in need of production off the bench, it’s hard to imagine that many organizations passing up on Ellis, who can smoothly knock down jumpers (Bill Self just didn’t often need him to or ask him to), or use his quickness facing up to get inside for a high-percentage attempt.
Maybe the draft will play out that way the current predictions indicate, and Ellis will hear the names of 50-some players called before his. Or maybe the right organization will see Ellis’ potential to contribute off the bench and decide to take a proven basketball commodity over a gamble with intriguing measurements.
Either way, we’ll continue to track the draft stock of Ellis and other Jayhawks in the weeks ahead, here at KUsports.com.
Every March — and one weekend each April — the NCAA Tournament churns out indelible moments that live on in the consciousness of college basketball fans like the very March Madness promos designed to remind us of the mega event’s greatness.
The 2016 tournament featured a phenomenal national title game, capped by a buzzer-beater for the ages by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.
But that wasn’t the only great game of the most recent postseason — nor the only Villanova matchup that kept fans on the edges of their seats.
Zac Ellis of SI.com ranked the top 10 battles of the 2016 tourney, and the Wildcats’ Elite Eight meeting with Kansas made the list, as well.
While Villanova’s 64-59 victory in Louisville will linger in the hearts and minds of KU basketball fans for years, because it meant the end of the road for the top-seeded Jayhawks, the regional final also stood out for neutral parties.
Ellis (Zac of SI.com, not Perry of KU) said Kansas vs. Villanova, which he ranked No. 6, had a “Final Four feel to it.”
See the complete top 10 over as SI.com. (You can probably guess which game topped the rankings.)
Where does KU-’Nova rank in your mind? It certainly turned out to be a more defensive-oriented game, but the effort exerted by both teams is undeniable.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and his assistants remain in the hunt for a high school player who can help the Jayhawks in the upcoming 2016-17 season. In the meantime, it seems increasingly likely they will also add a transfer with college experience.
Reports surfaced in early April of KU’s interest in Kory Holden, formerly of Delaware. News on the transfer front heated up Monday, though, with the names of San Francisco’s Devin Watson and Duke’s Derryck Thornton being linked with Kansas, as well.
All three play point guard, and if any were to join KU it would mean sitting out a season. It seems as though Self wants to bring in an experienced ball handler to share the backcourt with Devonté Graham in 2017-18, after Frank Mason III completes his senior season with the Jayhawks.
Here’s a look at what each potential transfer could bring to KU.
Kory Holden | 6-2, 180
In two seasons at Delaware, Kory Holden didn’t experience much team success. The Fightin’ Blue Hens went 10-20 in his freshman year, and finished 7-23 in 2015-16.
However, Holden, rated a three-star point guard out of high school, proved to be one of the program’s few bright spots. While Holden distributed the ball well, dishing 4.6 assists a game in 59 appearances (55 starts), he also increased his scoring average from 12.4 points in Year One to 17.7 points as a sophomore.
Holden shot 38.8% from 3-point range in his final year at Delaware, connecting on 69 long-range bombs.
Against some of the stiffest competition the Hens faced this past season, Holden more than held his own. The lead guard scored 35 points and shot 6-for-13 from deep in a loss at Boston College. In his very next game, Holden put up 23 points, going 6-for-10 from 3-point distance, in a road loss to eventual national champion Villanova.
Devin Watson | 6-1, 165
A significant jump in minutes also meant a massive leap in production for second-year San Francisco guard Devin Watson, who will be moving on from the Dons.
Watson, playing for former Kansas guard and since-fired coach Rex Walters at USF, became a workhorse for the West Coast Conference program as a sophomore. Playing 34.7 minutes a game, the small guard passed out 4.9 assists a game while also scoring 20.3 an outing.
Not quite as good a shooter as Holden, Watson (also rated as a three-star point guard in the Class of 2014) connected on 65 of his 186 3-pointers for San Francisco this past season (34.9%).
Watson tied his career high with 33 points in what turned out to be his USF finale, a WCC Tournament loss to Pepperdine, a game in which he went 4-for-7 from 3-point land.
His other 33-point outing came in January, when Watson also distributed 7 assists and shot 5-for-12 from downtown in a loss to Gonzaga.
Derryck Thornton | 6-2, 175
After playing 36 games for Duke as a freshman, Derryck Thornton might be on the move from one college basketball blue blood program to another.
Thornton’s numbers — 7.1 points, 2.5 assists, 27 of 82 on 3-pointers in 26.0 minutes (20 starts) — might not be as eye-popping as those of Watson and Holden, but Delaware and San Francisco certainly don’t have the type of talented teammates Thornton had at Duke.
What’s more, Thornton was much more highly regarded coming out of high school, with a five-star rating and offers from the likes of Duke, Arizona and UCLA.
The Blue Devils, who finished 25-11 and lost in the Sweet 16, were 15-5 with Thornton in the starting lineup.
His most productive games, however, came against inferior competition. Thornton only turned out one double-digit scoring performance in the final three months of the season — 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists at Georgia Tech.
During Thornton’s brief stay in Durham, N.C., his best showings came in the non-conference, with a career-high 19 points against VCU, and 18 points against Long Beach State on 8-for-12 shooting (2-for-3 from 3-point range).
Starting with Bob Frederick, late athletic director of Kansas University, the Frederick family has built a rich Final Four tradition.
Bob served as the chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee and hired Roy Williams, who took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours.
Bob’s son, Brad Frederick, director of operations on Williams’ staff at North Carolina, went to two Final Fours as a player at North Carolina and earlier this month was in Houston, where the Tar Heels lost at the buzzer to Villanova in the national-title game.
But a pint-sized patriot by the name of Sawyer Frederick, the youngest of Brad and Jocelyn’s three children, has become the most famous of all the Fredericks.
A video of Sawyer, all of 2 years old, shaking the hands of several military personnel on the tarmac after the North Carolina basketball team’s chartered flight landed for the Final Four has gone viral.
Jocelyn took the video with her phone, and her brother-in-law, Chris Frederick, a KU graduate student and bartender at The Sandbar, posted it on Youtube, triggering a frenzy of interest from global media outlets, including (London-based) The Telegraph.
“Sawyer is really funny because he is adorable to look at, but he doesn’t talk a whole lot,” Jocelyn said by phone from North Carolina. “But he’s a busy body, toddles around like a pint-sized version of an adult, so he’s very funny.”
Jocelyn said the "Pint-Sized Patriot," nickname has caught on in North Carolina.
Jocelyn and Sawyer appeared Thursday on “Fox and Friends,” and the video appears on the ABC news website.
Margey Frederick, Sawyer’s grandmother and a Lawrence resident, said she is “incredibly proud. We are a family that always supported the military. It was really fun. I had no idea it would mushroom into this much attention.”
Chris Frederick, the youngest of Bob and Margey's four sons, said that at last check, one of the Youtube postings had reached 1.3 million views.
“I read the comments under it and so many people posted that watching it brought them to tears,” Chris said. “So I sent my sister-in-law a text saying, ‘I bet you didn’t imagine when you were filming this you would make people all over the world cry.’ ”
Tonight's the night.
Kobe Bryant, the man Magic Johnson himself calls the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time, will play the final game of his legendary NBA career at home in front of what figures to be a star-studded crowd of some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment.
And there's no doubt that, given that this is Kobe and Hollywood we're talking about, it figures to be one heck of a send-off.
For those of you who don't care much for Kobe, I'm sure the dominant thought in your minds is, "Hasn't this whole season been a Kobe send-off?" And, yeah. It has. But that's what happens when legends say goodbye and, love or hate him, Kobe Bryant, on the floor is a basketball legend.
With that said, so much of this day and this week have been about Kobe send-offs. And one of the most recent tributes I saw, a Nike commercial which should speak to the Kobe fans and haters, featured a little Kansas basketball flavor, as legendary Jayhawk and Boston Celtic Paul Pierce made an appearance.
Here's a look...
Josh Jackson fever has overtaken the Kansas basketball universe since the No. 1-rated player in the Class of 2016 tweeted out Monday night his decision to play for the Jayhawks next season.
Because the 6-foot-7 wing won’t arrive in Lawrence until the summer and won’t suit up for KU until November, the only way to watch him in the meantime is to check out Jackson’s YouTube highlight reels.
We’ve compiled a small assortment of the more enthralling clips. So feel free to watch to your heart’s content and consider how Jackson will translate to the college game and fit in at Kansas — playing for coach Bill Self, alongside the likes of Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg Jr., Svi Mykhailiuk, and the rest of the Jayhawks.
Jackson’s amazing explosiveness and fiery competitive approach to the game become abundantly clear in the array of mixtapes and highlights, viewable below.
(This clip also mixes in highlights of Michigan State-bound Miles Bridges, but is worth viewing for the in-game display put on by Jackson.)
If you follow Kansas basketball, you’ve surely heard the theory thrown about on social media, internet comment sections, message boards or, you know, in actual in-person conversations.
The argument usually goes something like: Bill Self can’t win with these one-and-done college basketball players, so KU should stop pursuing recruits the coaches know will only play one season in Lawrence before moving on to the NBA.
While that’s an interesting hypothesis, capable of prompting entertaining debates, it’s not a concept Self would ever consider. Nor should he.
A coach running one of the nation’s elite basketball programs doesn’t just let some other school — one that he very well might run into during the Madness of March nonetheless — nab a player such as Josh Jackson, already projected as a top pick in the 2017 draft.
Self’s job each season entails putting together a roster capable of competing for a national championship. If he and his assistants think a lottery pick in waiting like Jackson — a 6-foot-7 shooting guard ranked as the nation’s top recruit by Rivals.com — will increase KU’s chances of cutting down as many nets as possible the following season, you better believe they’re going to do all they can to get that young star in a Kansas uniform.
Jackson, who committed to KU Monday night, didn’t just do so to showcase his talent for NBA scouts and general managers. Jackson is coming to Kansas because Self thinks the Jayhawks will be better with him on the floor.
Getting back to the crux of the argument, it is true Self hasn’t yet experienced significant NCAA Tournament success with one-year stars (or projected stars).
The biggest name to pick Kansas in quite some time before Jackson followed suit three years later, Andrew Wiggins couldn’t get the Jayhawks past the Round of 32 in 2014. Even though Wiggins went on to become the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft a few months later, and took home Rookie of the Year honors, he only scored 4 points against Stanford in a season-ending loss.
A year later, Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t produce enough to get KU to the Sweet 16, either, putting up 9 points in a loss to Wichita State.
The presence of one-and-done Jayhawks didn’t lead to those defeats, though. As Self has gladly addressed publicly, both of those KU teams faced significant determents in the forms of injuries. Joel Embiid, drafted third overall three months later, couldn’t play even a minute for Kansas in the 2014 Big Dance. The following March, a nagging injury slowed down Perry Ellis, robbing him of his typical quickness and explosiveness.
If KU had Wiggins and Embiid playing in the NCAAs two seasons ago, this idea that Kansas can’t survive and advance with such talents almost certainly wouldn’t exist. It’s hard to envision Kansas losing to an underwhelming Stanford team with two of the top three picks in the draft on the floor. From there, could the Wiggins/Embiid-led Jayhawks have handled Dayton in the Sweet 16? Seems pretty likely. And how would that young Kansas team have done in an Elite Eight matchup with Florida? We’ll never know for sure, but simply reaching that regional final would have drastically changed the narrative surrounding Self and his postseason success with one-year wonders.
While it is also true that Self’s best marches through the NCAA Tournament have come with veteran teams (see: 2008 national championship, 2012 national runner-up, 2016 Elite Eight), we shouldn’t just assume he is incapable of reaching college basketball’s promised land with a freshman phenom or two on board.
It takes the right player and the right set of circumstances, but one-and-done freshman have taken on starring roles for Final Four teams for years now.
Zach Randolph, Michigan State (2001)
Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse (2003)
Luol Deng, Duke (2004)
Marvin Williams, UNC (2005)
Tyrus Thomas, LSU (2006)
Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Ohio State (2007)
Kevin Love, UCLA (2008)
Derrick Rose, Memphis (2008)
Brandon Knight, Kentucky (2011)
Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, Kentucky (2012)
Julius Randle and James Young, Kentucky (2014)
Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, Duke (2015)
Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, Kentucky (2015)
Obviously, one could also put together a list of veteran college players who led their teams to Final Four berths. The point is there is more than one avenue to NCAA Tournament success, and having a young star in the mix doesn’t automatically disqualify a team — or coach — from doing something special in the postseason.
Perhaps the fear among Kansas fans is that Self would begin to mimic Kentucky’s John Calipari, cycling through year after year of one-and-done lineups. Self isn’t interested in that approach. He likes having veterans who can help the youngsters along. Self would never want to start five freshmen — it would likely drive him bonkers. But mix a stud freshman or two with some experienced Jayhawks? Now that makes a lot more sense.
If Self and Jackson have their way, KU will add to its rich tradition in 2017, with a freshman lottery-pick-to-be making crucial winning plays in March, alongside some Jayhawks with postseason experience.
According to multiple recent reports, highly coveted high school senior Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-7, 201-pound McDonald’s All-American wing ranked No. 1 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, will announce his college of choice next Monday or Wednesday.
This is in line with Jackson’s original timeline of sometime after the Nike Hoops Summit game, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday and will be shown on ESPN2.
Future Jayhawk big man Udoka Azubuike also will play in the Hoops Summit game on Saturday.
As for which day is most likely between the two, Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, recently Tweeted that Jackson told him that Monday would be the day.
No. 1 Josh Jackson tells me that Monday is likely going to be the day for his college decision.— Eric Bossi (@ebosshoops) April 8, 2016
Kansas and head coach Bill Self remain in good position for Jackson’s services and the Jayhawks are competing with Michigan State and Arizona to land the standout perimeter player who has the total package and figures to make an immediate and profound impact wherever he plays his college ball.
Jackson, who earned co-MVP honors at the McDonald's game, has said throughout the process that he's looking for the best fit for him as a person and basketball player and often talked about how important the family feel would be for him in choosing a school.
Here are a couple of recent good looks at Jackson from USA Today.
With Kansas basketball underclassmen Cheick Diallo, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene already tossing their names into the 2016 NBA Draft pool for consideration, and senior bigs Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor moving on — not to mention the possibility of more underclassmen testing the draft waters — right now very few things are certain about the 2016-17 KU roster.
One player, though, coach Bill Self knows he will have at his disposal while pursuing the program’s 13th Big 12 title in a row is incoming freshman big man Udoka Azubuike.
The massive 6-foot-11 center, while playing for Potter’s House, in Jacksonville, Fla., has made a habit of first destroying overmatched defenders in the post, then unleashing on the rim.
Obviously, that won’t be as easy to do once Azubuike gets to college and faces Big 12 defenders in the paint. But the native of Lagos, Nigeria, got a taste of more intense competition this week in Chicago, at the McDonald’s All-American Game. Said to weigh around 280 pounds, with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Azubuike played for the East all-stars and registered nine points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes.
You can bet his fellow all-Americans tested his prowess at practices leading up to the all-star showcase, too. In a video interview for DraftExpress.com — conducted by Markelle Fultz, who will play at Washington — Azubuike revealed a little about his McDonald’s experience, and a lot about his expectations as a college basketball player.
“It’s pretty fun, like playing against some of the best players in the country,” Azubuike told Fultz, “playing against some of my teammates, and all of that, so it’s pretty fun and intense.”
Interestingly enough, the future Kansas big man, who said he projects as a center for the Jayhawks, didn’t hesitate when asked how long he expects to play college basketball.
“Pretty much two years,” Azubuike responded. “Two years and I’m goin’.”
(Like Svi Mykhailiuk, Azubuike will be 17 years old during his freshman year at Kansas, so draft rules dictate he couldn't enter the NBA until playing at least two seasons of college hoops.)
You have to respect the kid for being up front on the matter. Almost every high-profile basketball recruit goes to college with the idea of turning his skill set into a profession, and most dream of getting to the NBA and playing for a living as soon as possible. Good for him for not hiding his intentions.
Still, it sounds as if Azubuike — just like Diallo, or Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, or any big man not named Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis — still has a ways to go as a player before he becomes as unstoppable in the college or professional ranks as he was against high school opponents.
A huge smile overtook Azubuike’s face when asked about his highlight of the all-star week experience
“Pretty much just going out there, dunking, having fun,” he said. “I like to dunk. I like to compete. I like to just go out there and play my heart out.”
Known for his power game inside, Azubuike described how he attacks on offense.
“Each time I dunk, I just dunk with great intensity,” the 16-year-old said (he’ll be 17 by the time his freshman season at Kansas begins). “Like people think that I’m just going out there to break the rim, but I mean it is what it is.”
Again, that approach will only get him so far in college. An SI.com story on Azubuike earlier this year described the young big as a “man among boys” at the prep level, but added he lacked touch in the paint, and his footwork needed fine-tuning.
To his credit, Azubuike realizes he has shortcomings offensively.
“I have been working a lot on my hook shot,” he told scout.com. “I am getting very comfortable. Everybody says I just dunk all the time, so I have just been working on hook shot and my jump shot a lot to get comfortable doing that.”
Members of the scout.com staff watched McDonald’s practices this week, and reported Azubuike’s size, strength and motor make him a force in the paint when he gets the ball. While he usually scores via dunks, the developing post player utilized a right-handed hook, too, in Chicago.
Azubuike, like Joel Embiid and Diallo, played soccer as a youngster before picking up basketball. He told DraftExpress he tries to practice his jump shots outside of the paint, because he knows that area is one of his weaknesses.
“My strength is just to go out there and dominate, back to the basket, kind of game,” Azubuike said. “Just trying to dominate by, you know, hook shot or just going out there to dunk.”
Imagine how helpful it will be for Azubuike to learn about his shortcomings — and improve upon those, as well as his strengths — by going up against KU’s Landen Lucas, a strong senior-to-be who made a name for himself by out-thinking and out-positioning physically strong post players.
Don’t expect Azubuike to arrive in Lawrence ready to start. It appears he will be too raw to replace Lucas as KU’s starting center. But his forceful approach to the game could make him a useful weapon off the bench for the Jayhawks next season.
And then maybe he’ll get a year’s worth of starting experience before entering the 2018 NBA Draft.
While some Kansas basketball fans still might have been reeling Wednesday night from three consecutive days of KU underclassmen declaring for the NBA Draft, at least one future Jayhawk — and perhaps more — took the court in Chicago for the annual high school all-star showcase, the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Bill Self knows 6-foot-11 center Udoka Azubuike, who put up nine points and pulled down eight rebounds in 15 minutes for the East team, will be in a Kansas uniform next season.
The coach hopes 6-foot-7 swingman Josh Jackson will join Azubuike and the rest of the Jayhawks in the pursuit of KU’s 13th consecutive Big 12 championship.
Jackson earned co-MVP honors after contributing 19 points, four rebounds and three assists in a winning cause for the West all-stars.
A freak athlete with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Jackson, said to be considering Kansas, Michigan State and Arizona, projects as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, according to DraftExpress.com, which lists some of the 19-year-old’s strengths as:
Flies all over the court
Amazing potential defensively, with great lateral quickness and high motor
Excellent wing rebounder, especially on offensive glass
Finds ways to score without plays being called for him
(See the complete list, as well as some of Jackson’s notable weaknesses at his DraftExpress profile).
The McDonald’s game, as you might imagine, really only showcased Jackson’s strengths. I mean, when was the last time you watched a basketball all-star game in which anyone played defense for a prolonged stretch?
Still, Jackson’s talent jumped off the screen — watch his highlights in the video below.
Jackson, who made 9 of his 11 shot attempts in the all-star game, handles the ball well and can get into the paint.
What’s more, he’s a willing passer, who both knows how to move without the ball and uses dribble-drives to create open shots for teammates.
Jackson takes off for fast-break dunks and offensive rebounds with explosiveness, existing above the rim much of the time he plays.
He even shows his ability to hit corner 3-pointers — an increasingly important skill in the NBA. Jackson can also handle the ball on the break off a defensive rebound and find another elite athlete for an alley-oop.
As talented as he is scoring the ball, his passing is on point, too. Plus — can you believe it? — he even played some defense, blocking a shot, then securing a defensive board.
It’s easy to see why Self, Tom Izzo and Sean Miller want to add a wing with that array of talents — even if he will undoubtedly only be on campus for one year.
Oh, one more thing, did we mention Jackson is athletic?
You have to be doing something right to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. In the case of the South region’s No. 2 seed, Villanova, well, the Wildcats have scorched the nets in Brooklyn, New York, and Louisville, Kentucky, putting up 88.3 points a game.
That scoring is impressive for sure, but what leaps off the stat sheet even more is Villanova’s shooting numbers. Entering Saturday night’s regional final against No. 1 seed Kansas (33-4), Jay Wright’s Wildcats have hit 57.9% of their shots or better in wins over UNC Asheville, Iowa and Miami (FL). Nova is shooting 59.9% from the floor in the Big Dance — a clip that includes blazing 53.2% accuracy from 3-point range.
So what’s the secret? According to leading scorer Josh Hart, a junior guard, patience, trust and feel have served Villanova (32-5) well. Offensive efficiency has become a part of who the players are.
While the Wildcats know there is no guarantee they can keep producing at this level against KU, with a spot in the Final Four on the line, they don’t worry about maintaining their incredible offensive numbers.
“Our offense is about getting the best shot available on that possession,” Hart said. “And we have such great shooters, such confident guys with the basketball that there’s never really the pressure to go in and make shots.”
Asked to define an ideal shot, Hart, obviously, said an uncontested one, before elaborating on how Villanova’s offense is structured to create those high-percentage shots.
“Say, I get in the lane, kick out, exit pass for a three,” Hart said. “Ideally, you want it to be wide open. It’s just shots where you’re in the lane, the big man steps up, it’s one-on-two, and me against a seven-footer. I can try to get a shot up but that won’t be the best shot that we could get. The best shot would be being able to kick down to Daniel (Ochefu) for a dunk or be able to kick out to Ryan (Arcidiacono) or Kris (Jenkins) for a three. I think that’s the best shot — just getting open shots off ball movement.”
Sound simple enough. Yet it takes a special, disciplined team to put it into action. And that’s what Villanova has done to get to this stage.
Meet the Wildcats the Jayhawks will have to keep from getting open in the regional final Saturday night.
No. 15 — PG Ryan Arcidiacono | 6-3, 195, sr.
- Stats: 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 43.1% FGs, 38.3% 3s (70 of 183), 82.8% FTs (82 of 99)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Only hits 35.6% of his 2-point jumpers. KU will want to keep him from getting into the lane and try to get him to take low-percentage shots.
- Brunson’s report: “Ryan’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever played with. Playing against him all summer really made me better, and I think him playing against me made him better. It’s done a lot for me and him. He’s a great guy and a great player. There’s so much more to him that people don’t know about.
- Hart’s report: “A lot of times guys are coming in thinking I need to score, or I need to do this, I need to do that. He comes in thinking, ‘All right. I’m just gonna do the right thing every possession that I can.’ And that contributes to him being so far ahead of the game.”
No. 2 — F Kris Jenkins | 6-6, 240, jr.
- Stats: 13.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 45.7% FGs, 38.6% 3s (93 of 241), 84% FTs (79 of 94)
- hoop-math.com nugget: An effective scorer everywhere on the floor: 77.3% accuracy at the rim, 50% on 2-point jumpers. Surprisingly, only takes 12.3% of his shots at the rim.
- Hart’s report: “He’s extremely mobile… A lot of times he’s able to stretch the court out, with his ability to make shots deeper than three — we saw that (Thursday against Miami — 5-for-6 from deep). It just gives us another element to our offense, having a stretch-4 like that. And another element to our defense, him being able to get out and guard smaller guards.”
“Teams have to give him so much attention. If you don’t, he’s capable of going off for like 25, 30. Having someone who is able to stretch the court out, especially for a driver, you love it. You love being able to see open lanes, get into the defense, just make the right play.”
- Wright’s report: “Kris has got like a mid-range post-up game. I think Kris might have a little bit better range that would extend Perry (Ellis). I think Perry's better driving the ball off the dribble. Kris is going to have to contain. But they're both mismatch nightmares. Both of them. They are. For everybody. I don't mean just each other but if you get a small guy on Perry Ellis, he's posting him up. You get a bigger guy on him, and he's shooting if he has space. If he comes up on him, he's driving by him. Kris does the same thing.”
No. 3 — G Josh Hart | 6-5, 202, jr.
- Stats: 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 51.2% FGs, 35.6% 3s (52 of 146), 75.4% FTs (98 of 130)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Benefits from teammates finding him open for 3-pointers — 92.3% of his 3’s come via assists.
- John Thompson III’s report (from Fox Sports): “When you talk about Josh Hart, the beginning and the end should be about how hard he plays. He plays as hard as anyone in college basketball.”
- Jenkins’ report (from Fox Sports): “To me, Josh is one of the best players in college basketball. Not only can he score but he also defends the best player on the opposing team. And he also rebounds with the best in country, being 6-5 and banging with 7-footers. He has lot of things that motivate him, but being underrated is something he embraces. It adds fuel to his fire.”
No. 23 — C/F Daniel Ochefu | 6-11, 245, sr.
- Stats: 10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds (2.1 offensive), 1.6 blocks, 61.9% FGs, 68.1% FTs (62 of 91)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Takes 70.8% of his shots at the rim, and finishes 69.4% of the time there. Only 15 put-backs on the offensive glass this season, but leads the team in that category.
- Hart’s report: “Very dangerous. To be able to have a 5 — I wouldn't even call him a 5-man. To be able to have a basketball player at his height be able to make the right play, a lot of times, especially here, it's easy for a big to be frustrated just because a lot of times guards take shots. We have the ball in our hands a lot. It's easy for a big to get frustrated. That's something he never gets frustrated. He's always focused on this team. He's always focused on making the right play. He's never focused on his individual stats.”
- Wright’s report: “When you have a five-man like Daniel Ochefu, who is as skilled as any of the guards, great decision-maker, ball handler, passer for his position, extremely skilled, usually the other guys are skilled. But when you have a guy like that at the five spot, you know you've got a chance to be pretty good.”
No. 1 — G Jalen Brunson | 6-2.5, 199, fr.
- Stats: 9.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 45.5% FGs, 38.5% 3s (47 of 122), 77.8% FTs (77 of 99)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Can be coaxed into pulling up for one-on-one jumpers. Hits 40.3% of his 2-point jumpers, but just 8% come via assists.
- Arcidiacono’s report: “I know Jalen took a few (charges) at the beginning of the game (in Villanova’s Sweet 16 victory). A couple weren't called, but I think that set the tone and gave Miami the mindset they weren't going to get any easy baskets at the rim.”
- Brunson’s report: “I don't think there's a point in time where I said, all right, this is my breakout game. Now it's time to go for it. I think I've just always had it. I had scoring nights. I had nights I didn't even score. But I know that if I just come out, play defense and help my team rebound, we'll be successful.”
No. 25 — G Mikal Bridges | 6-7, 191, R-fr.
- Stats: 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 51.3% FGs, 29.7% 3s (22 of 74), 77.9% FTs (53 of 68) in 20.2 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: Villanova’s best finisher inside. Makes 81.5% of his shots at the rim.
No. 5 — G Phil Booth | 6-3, 195, so.
- Stats: 6.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 34.6% FGs, 29.7% 3s (35 of 118), 86.6% FTs (58 of 67) in 22.1 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: Having a rough year, shooting wise. Only finishing 44.8% on shots at the rim and making 34.6% of his 2-point jumpers.
No. 45 — F Darryl Reynolds | 6-8, 225, jr.
- Stats: 3.8 points, 4.7 rebounds (1.2 offensive), 65.8% FGs, 71.4% FTs (45 of 63)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Essentially only operates in the paint, where he has taken 60 of his 73 shots this year. Finishes 70% of his attempts at the rim.
The stage gets bigger every day for the top-seeded Kansas basketball team, as the Jayhawks make their NCAA Tournament run.
Friday was a day off from basketball for KU, which is one win away from a trip to Houston for the Final Four.
The Kansas players, coach Bill Self, as well as their counterparts at Villanova, and coach Jay Wright, stayed busy this afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, with media interviews previewing their Saturday night Elite Eight showdown at the KFC Yum! Center.
— Check out the highlights from the afternoon of interviews: Jayhawks and Wildcats preview Elite Eight matchup
Losses in four of their final six regular-season games hurt Maryland’s chances of entering the NCAA Tournament in the enviable position of playing as a top-three seed.
Now that the Terrapins (27-8) got through the first weekend unscathed as a No 5 seed in the South region, seed lines and late-season blips don’t matter.
Maryland might have entered the Big Dance ranked No. 18 in the AP Top 25, but Kansas coach Bill Self said the Jahawks’ Sweet 16 opponent Thursday night in Louisville looks more than capable of living up to its early-season expectations under fifth-year coach Mark Turgeon.
“I think we're catching a team that even though they're seeded fifth,” Self said, “our guys understand they can play to a one seed. So this is a hard — this is really a hard matchup — because we really think a lot of their team.”
The Terrapins, even with their late slide, finished 12-6 in the Big Ten, good enough for third place (behind Indiana and Michigan State). They were the only team in the conference with five players averaging double figures in scoring.
Junior Maryland forward Robert Carter Jr. said the team’s length inside and out has led to its success this season.
“We have really talented guys at every position,” Carter said, “even coming off the bench. It just helps us in general. Just guarding other teams and just helps us dominate guys.”
In recovering from a disappointing end to the regular season, the Terrapins had the help of a former Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Juan Dixon. Now a special assistant to Turgeon, Dixon led Maryland to a 2002 national title, which came a few weeks after North Carolina State upset the Terps in the ACC semifinals.
According to Carter, Dixon told the current Maryland players about that setback and emphasized re-focusing and making a postseason run still was possible.
“He sees a lot,” Carter said of Dixon. “We just always go to him and pick his brain about what he’s seeing. He understands the game and it’s cool to get that opinion from somebody who not too long ago finished playing.”
The Terps beat South Dakota State by four in the first round and Hawaii by 13 in the second round. They’ll have to get hot from deep (36.7% on 3-pointers this season) to open things up offensively and give themselves a shot at knocking off Kansas.
Maryland has plenty of length and skill to throw at the Jayhawks (32-4). With the help of a little scouting report from Carter on the starters, meet the Terrapins KU will have to hold back in order to advance to the Elite Eight.
No. 2 — G Melo Trimble | 6-3, 185, so.
- Stats: 14.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 41.4% FGs, 32.2% 3’s (57 of 177), 87.9% FTs (152 of 173)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Almost half of Trimble’s shot attempts (47.6%) come from 3-point range, so for all the talent and 1-on-1 ability he has, he can be coaxed to stay outside when working with the ball, off of screens. The key is contesting him when he fires from deep.
- Carter’s report: “He’s a dominant player. He always draws attention from other teams because of how well he can score the ball, how he can get to the basket. And he makes shots.”
Trimble is averaging 21.5 points in the NCAA Tournament, thanks in part to hitting 22 of 23 free throws (95.7%) in two wins.
Capable of attacking off the dribble to create fouls, Trimble’s trips to the free-throw line are worth tracking. The Terrapins are 23-3 when he shoots at least 7 free throws.
No. 33 — C Diamond Stone | 6-11, 255, fr.
- Stats: 12.7 points, 5.4 rebounds (2.2 offensive), 1.6 blocks, 56.9% FGs, 76.5% FTs (101 of 132)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Of course the talented young big man who projects as a first-round draft pick leads Maryland in put-backs (36). Stone shoots 73.5% on shots at the rim and that’s where he takes 54.8% of his attempts. On 2-point shots away form the rim, Stone’s shooting percentage drops to 36.6%.
- Carter’s report: “He’s also a big-time player. He can score the basketball and he can block shots defensively. He’s dominant.”
“He can wear you down, but he’s also skilled.”
No. 4 — F Robert Carter Jr. | 6-9, 235, jr.
- Stats: 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 56% FGs, 33% 3’s (25 of 75), 74.5% FTs (76 of 102)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Carter is highly effective scoring the ball both at the rim (76.8%) and on 2-point jumpers (69 of 128, 53.9%). The Jayhawks will have to try and force him into 3-pointers and be ready to help when he gets the ball inside the arc.
- Carter’s report: “I’m just a versatile guy, do a bunch of different teams on both ends. I guard multiple positions. On offense I stretch the floor or post up, things like that.”
- In the Terps’ victories over South Dakota State and Hawaii, Carter averaged 10.0 rebounds.
No. 10 — F Jake Layman | 6-9, 220, sr.
- Stats: 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 50.4% FGs, 40.7% 3’s (57 of 140), 82.8% FTs (77 of 93)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Perhaps the most effective scorer on the roster, Layman leads Maryland in true shooting percentage (0.645) and finishes strong inside — 78.9% on shots at the rim.
- Carter’s report: “He does a little bit of everything. He dabbles. A shooter, he’s a big wing, he can post up. He can do a lot of different things.”
“(On defense) he’s long, he’s athletic, he can guard multiple positions.”
Layman is shooting 57.9% from the field thus far in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 18.5 points in Maryland’s wins last weekend, in Spokane, Wash.
Layman is one game shy of tying Dixon for the program’s all-time lead in career games played (141).
No. 0 — G Rasheed Sulaimon | 6-4, 190, sr.
- Stats: 11.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 46.1% FGs, 43% 3’s (55 of 128), 73.7% FTs (70 of 95)
- hoop-math.com nugget: Sulaimon rarely ventures inside, preferring instead to take 45.1% of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc. He makes 35.8% of his 2-point jumpers.
- Carter’s report: “He’s a three-point shooter. He brings defensive toughness. He’s one of the guys that plays really hard all the time. He’s just one of our emotional leaders.”
“He just defends and defends hard. He defends anybody coach puts him on and he just tries to play hard and get his team a win, any way possible.”
No. 11 — G/F Jared Nickens | 6-7, 205, so.
- Stats: 5.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 37% FGs, 34.9% 3’s (51 of 146), 80% FTs (12 of 15) in 19.7 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: Talk about 3-happy. Nickens has taken 84.4% of his shots from downtown. All year long, he has taken 7 shots at the rim, making 4.
No. 35 — Damonte Dodd | 6-11, 250, jr.
- Stats: 2.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 61.9% FGs, 66.7% FTs (24 of 36) in 15.4 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: When one of Maryland’s more heralded players draws the attention of the defense, Dodd knows how to make himself available. He takes 68.3% of his shots at the rim and has been assisted on a team-leading 67.9% of his 43 attempts from point-blank range.
As the South region’s No. 1 seed, the Kansas Jayhawks, prepare to face 5th-seeded Maryland in Louisville, Kentucky, the players and coaches went through interviews with the media and an open practice Wednesday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.
— Get the highlights from the KUsports.com team at our live blog: Sweet 16 Media Day: Kansas vs. Maryland
The Most Outstanding Player at the 2002 Final Four, Juan Dixon, now a special assistant to Mark Turgeon at Maryland, can tell the Terrapins are starting to do all the little things right in March.
Dixon says the Terps, who face Kansas on Thursday in a Sweet 16 matchup in Louisville, Kentucky, will have to keep making hustle plays to compete at the highest level against the Jayhawks.
In the 2002 national semifinals, Dixon scored 33 points against KU before Maryland went on to beat Indiana for the national title. Dixon, as of Wednesday afternoon at least, hasn’t shared any stories with Maryland players about his 33 points versus Kansas at the Final Four.
A national champion playing for Gary Williams, Dixon says Turgeon, now in his fifth season with the Terps, has built the program back up.
“He’s leaving his mark here on this Maryland basketball program,” Dixon says. “He’s gonna continue to do his best, and this program is on the rise.”
As crazy as it may sound, Dixon says he gets more nervous about games now, as an administrative staff member, than he did as a player. Against Hawaii in the second round, Maryland got off to a slow start and Dixon started feeling butterflies in his stomach.
“Hopefully it will be a little bit cleaner tomorrow,” Dixon says, looking forward to the Thursday night meeting with Kansas. “You know, we can play Maryland-type basketball, the type of basketball Coach Turgeon has been teaching these guys since Day One. I’m looking forward to tomorrow night.”
Occasionally, Dixon admits he finds himself looking back at his NCAA Tournament success when he sees the Terrapins doing so well this March, with Maryland advancing to its first Sweet 16 since 2003 — the year after he graduated.
“Sweet 16, when I was a player, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Dixon admits. “… As a player, I didn’t have that perspective, but as a coach, you’ll appreciate it a lot more.”
Dixon says some programs take getting to a regional semifinal for granted, but it isn’t easy.
“I was fortunate enough to go to the Sweet 16 three times, but it’s really, really hard,” Dixon says. “Coach Turg and the staff, they’re building the program to get to this point on a consistent basis.”
Freshman forward Carlton Bragg Jr. knows he isn’t suddenly going to become a focal point of the Kansas offense in the postseason. The long, lean Cleveland native with a silky jumper, after all, shares front-court minutes with veterans Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor in coach Bill Self’s shortened-for-March rotation.
Still, even in limited bursts, the 6-foot-9 Bragg feels more capable now than ever before to contribute, as the Jayhawks remain in the hunt for the Final Four.
The young big man’s burgeoning assuredness made its first public appearance in Kansas City, Mo., at the Big 12 Tournament. Bragg, who had one double-digits scoring outing in his first 31 games in a KU uniform, put up 12 points against Kansas State in the quarterfinals, and 10 the next night versus Baylor in the semifinals — 22 total points in 21 combined minutes, off the bench.
The stage gets bigger and the pressure more intense every time Kansas (32-4) wins. But Bragg’s performances in his first conference tournament indicate the first-year forward is capable of delivering from here on out, even in a South regional semifinal Thursday against Maryland (27-8).
Bragg admitted he might not have been able to so readily contribute against high-level competition earlier in the season.
“I’m more confident now. I got more comfortable with the system, and coach puts more trust in me,” Bragg said.
In the first two NCAA Tournament games of his career, Bragg only saw limited action off the bench — 9 minutes against Austin Peay, and 4 minutes against Connecticut — as Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16. But he took an active approach and showed he could make an impact on the offensive glass, with 3 rebounds of KU misses in his 13 total minutes in Des Moines. Bragg shot 2-for-3 in the first round (4 points) and 1-for-2 in the second (2 points).
Between put-backs, working on the baseline, jumpers from the elbows and even an occasional 3-pointer, Bragg’s offensive game has slowly grown throughout his freshman season, as he’s added wrinkles along the way. At the Big 12 Tournament, he even went by a defender after catching a pass at the free-throw line, and took the ball in for a layup.
KU sophomore point guard Devonté Graham and the rest of the Jayhawks couldn’t be happier to see Bragg (4.0 points, 2.4 rebounds in 8.9 minutes a game this season) make so many improvements.
“This is definitely the time for him to start doing stuff like that, because we’re gonna need a spark off the bench,” Graham said. “You know, one game maybe guys get in foul trouble or somebody’s not playing well. We’re gonna need that spark off the bench where he can come in. But he’s gotta stay out of foul trouble,” Graham added, with a chuckle.
Indeed, for all the enthusiasm and potential Bragg shows, fouls have been an issue lately. He fouled out after scoring his career high against K-State, and then got whistled for 4 fouls in both the Big 12 semis and championship game. Bragg had 3 more fouls against Austin Peay, then managed to avoid a penalty in 4 minutes against UConn.
Still, Bragg’s potential and growth make him an intriguing X-factor every time Kansas plays. Particularly with his ability to stretch the floor with his shooting touch. Against K-State to open the Big 12 Tournament, Bragg hit a pair of 3-pointers, making him 4-for-7 from long range this season.
“Lately, especially in practice, he’s been knockin' them down,” Graham said of Bragg’s 3-point attempts, “and his confidence has gone up by showing it. I feel like, as a freshman, and playing his position, he got spot minutes, so he’d be kind of hesitant on taking that shot — thinking about maybe coming out and stuff like that. But lately he’s been knocking it down in practice, so coach has been giving him confidence and we’ve been giving him confidence and telling him to shoot the ball.”
Bragg said, much like in games, he doesn’t try to take a lot of 3-point shots at practices. Sure, he’ll let it fly when he’s open, but normally he just swings the ball on a perimeter touch and goes to set a screen.
That’s the perfect approach for a role player, and Bragg’s ability to embrace that also leads to his role expanding. Coaches and teammates now trust the energetic freshman to make smart choices within the offense.
For all of KU’s strengths, consistent front-court scoring off the bench hasn’t been one. Bragg would like to do his part in changing that, if possible.
“I think we could be really good and we could do a lot of damage and go deep into the tournament,” Bragg said. “You know, just in the couple minutes I play, just giving energy off the bench, it can come a long way.”
The NCAA Tournament is designed to reward the nation’s best teams with an easier path — theoretically, at least — to the Final Four. That at least gives No. 1 seeds a nice little warmup victory in the first round, as we saw Thursday, when Kansas (31-4) cruised past Austin Peay.
Let’s be honest, though. From that point on nothing is going to come easily in March. Any team that’s one of the final 32 alive is going to scrap and claw and play inspired basketball. So expect nothing less out of the South region’s No. 9 seed, Connecticut (25-10), when the Jayhawks and Huskies square off Saturday night in Des Moines, Iowa, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
Kevin Ollie’s UConn team is one of the most defensively sound in the nation, allowing just 63.1 points per game (12th-best in the country) and holding opponents to 38.2% shooting (3rd).
Offensively, while none of the Huskies boast All-American level numbers, Rodney Purvis, Shonn Miller, Daniel Hamilton and Sterling Gibbs all average 12.0 points per game or more. Miller said their balance makes them a little more tricky to prepare for.
“I definitely think having multiple people that are threats offensively from the floor is an advantage in our favor,” Miller said. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, we’re gonna stop one person in this game and we’re gonna win.’ You’ve gotta stop us all.”
UConn’s guards all have the ability to break down defenders one-on-one and get into the paint. And when they blow by their man on the perimeter, that often leads to free throws. The Huskies aren’t just a good free-throw shooting team. They’re the best: 79.3%. So KU will have to realize the foul line is a true source of offense for upset-minded Connecticut.
Not all of UConn’s bigs are as dangerous with the ball in their hands, but the guards know how to set them up for the best possible looks within the perimeter-oriented, drive-heavy offense.
“I think we’re a very balanced team,” Miller said.
The Huskies will get a chance to prove that to the country Saturday night. Playing in the American Athletic Conference, they might get overlooked sometimes, despite their four national titles since 1999. UConn’s confident core of players understand a victory over top-seeded Kansas would serve as a not-so-subtle reminder of their status as a marquee program.
“We don’t worry about what conference anybody’s in,” Miller said. “We just want to go out there and compete with whoever lines up opposite of us."
With all of those factors in mind, here are the Huskies the Jayhawks will have to keep in check in order to move on to the Sweet 16 — with a little self-scouting help from Miller.
No. 44 — G Rodney Purvis | 6-4, 205, jr.
- Stats: 12.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 43.3% FGs, 38.9% 3s (68 of 175), 65.3% FTs
- hoop-math.com nugget: Nearly half (48.2%) of Purvis’ shots are 3-pointers; hits 40% on 2-point jumpers (any shot taken away from the rim and inside the arc)
- Miller’s report: “He’s a knockdown shooter, as well. His percentage is through the roof. But he can also slash and get to the basket, you know, finish.”
No. 32 — F Shonn Miller | 6-7, 222, gr.
- Stats: 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 58.3% FGs, 37.5% 3s (9 of 24), 80.2% FTs
- hoop-math.com nugget: converts 70.5% of his shots at the rim; also strong on 2-point jumpers, hitting 48.8% (62 of 127)
- Miller’s report: “I feel like I have a pretty well-rounded game.”
No. 5 — G/F Daniel Hamilton | 6-7, 195, soph.
- Stats: 12.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 39% FGs, 32.1% 3s (44 of 137), 86% FTs
- hoop-math.com nugget: takes more in-between shots than anyone on the team and shoots just 36.8% on 2-point jumpers (60 of 163)
- Miller’s report: “Daniel can do it all. He plays at all there levels: down low, mid-range and three.”
No. 4 — G Sterling Gibbs | 6-2, 191, gr.
- Stats: 12.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 38.6% FGs, 38.5% 3s (75 of 195), 85.5% FTs
- hoop-math.com nugget: Gibbs really camps out behind the 3-point line, taking 62.7% of his shots from downtown; teammates have set him up with assists on 61 of his 75 3s
- Miller’s report: “Knockdown shooter. Don’t leave him open.”
No. 0 — F Phillip Nolan | 6-10, 230, sr.
- Stats: 1.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, 56.4% FGs, 81.8% FTs (9 of 11) in 10.6 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: not much of a scorer; has converted 16 of 24 shots at the rim this year
- Miller’s report: “Phil’s gonna bang down low and get us buckets… He does a lot of things that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. His footwork and his defensive ability is the best on the team. He always seems to be in the right position when he needs to be.”
No. 2 — G Jalen Adams | 6-3, 187
- Stats: 7.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 43.2% FGs, 25.6% 3s (11 of 43), 86.3% FTs in 23.4 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: just a 55.1% finisher at the rim, even though 50.4% of his shot attempts come from there
No. 35 — C Amida Brimah | 7-0, 232, jr.
- Stats: 6.6 points, 4.7 rebounds (1.9 offensive), 2.7 blocks, 65.7% FGs, 82.4% FTs in 21.2 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: not a big man who takes a lot of shots, but the most effective scorer for the Huskies, shooting 77.6% at the rim, where he takes 76.8% of his shots
No. 12 — F Kentan Facey | 6-10, 217, jr.
- Stats: 3.2 points, 3.7 rebounds (1.8 offensive), 57.3% FGs, 65.2% FTs in 12.8 minutes
- hoop-math.com nugget: while playing significantly less minutes, tied with Brimah for the UConn lead in put-backs on the offensive glass: 23