Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
A No. 16 seed from the Ohio Valley Conference, Austin Peay hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
The No. 1 overall seed in the field, Kansas hasn’t won the national championship since 2008.
Some meaning to that postseason eight years ago is one of the few things the two programs have in common heading into a first-round meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday (3 p.m. tip-off, TNT).
The Governors (18-17) took the OVC Tournament as the No. 8 seed, and had to win on the final day of the regular season to get in. KU (30-4) has won 12 straight Big 12 titles in a row.
It is going to take some March magic for APSU to have a chance at making history and becoming the first 16 seed in tournament history to defeat a No. 1.
So, according to sophomore guard Josh Robinson, playing with passion and just enjoying the moment will be as important to the Govs’ upset bid as X’s and O’s drawn up by head coach Dave Loos.
“I think it makes the game more fun when you play with passion,” said Robinson, a 6-foot-2 guard from St. Louis. “That’s what people like to see. When you score you say a little something to somebody. It just makes the game more fun.”
Robinson and his teammates have enjoyed themselves of late, winning six games in a row to get to The Big Dance.
“I think we feel real loose after the past six games,” Robinson said. “We’re playing really good together. We know what each other do and what we can do.”
The Govs haven’t played since March 6 but find themselves riding the program’s longest winning streak since the 2010-11 season. They shot 61% from the field in the second halves of their four OVC Tournament victories. In the title game, an 83-73 win over Tennessee Martin, APSU nailed a program-record 16 3-pointers on 31 attempts.
One of the team’s biggest offensive strengths this season has been the ability to get to the free-throw line. APSU has taken 899 from the charity stripe this year (25.7 attempts a game), ranking fourth in the nation.
However, the Govs enter the NCAAs shooting just 67% as a team on freebies. Robinson (83.2%) and freshman guard Jared Savage (81.8%) are the team’s best at the foul line, while double-double machine Chris Horton only shoots 62.6% (on team-high 281 tries).
Defensively, APSU ranks 40th in the nation in steals (6.9 a game). Senior big Horton (47 steals), junior guard Khalil Davis (41) and Robinson (35) are the ball-hawking Governors the Jayhawks should watch out for.
As for the individual talents of Austin Peay’s players, Robinson kindly offered up his take on the strengths of each member of the starting lineup, providing insight on the skills and intangibles the Governors hope to display with the college basketball nation watching.
Get to know the Govs, with the help of Robinson and some key numbers.
AUSTIN PEAY STARTERS
No. 5 — F/C Chris Horton | 6-8, 220, sr.
Stats: 18.9 points, 12.0 rebounds (4.9 offensive), 1.8 blocks, 60.4% FGs, 62.6% FTs
hoop-math.com nuggets: 59 put-backs on offensive glass this season; 72.7% on FGs taken at the rim, 39.5% on 2-point jumpers
Scored 30 points and ripped down 16 rebounds in the OVC semifinals, as APSU took out top-seeded Belmont.
— Robinson’s breakdown:
“Whenever we miss, I always expect him to get the rebound. He just works really hard on the glass. He got good moves. He’s a good teammate. I like playing with him. I think he’s gonna be really good at the next level.”
Horton’s defense: “That’s the biggest thing. If we get beat, I know he’s always gonna be there to try to block it. Sometimes I feel bad if I get beat and he gets a foul and he’s got to sit out. He’s always there to help out the team on defense.”
No. 4 — G Josh Robinson | 6-2, 185, so.
Stats: 16.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 40% FGs, 33.8% 3s, 83.2% FTs
hoop-math.com nugget: Almost half — 45.6% — of his shot attempts come from 3-point range
— Robinson’s breakdown:
“I play with a lot of confidence and passion. I think you’ll see when I score I always like celebrate. I just play with a lot of passion.”
“I can pass really good. I think that’s an underrated thing about my game.”
No. 11 — G/F Khalil Davis | 6-5, 170, sr.
Stats: 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 42.8% FGs, 29.1% 3s, 66.9% FTs
hoop-math.com nuggets: Shoots 66.3% at the rim, but just 25% (16 of 64) on all other 2-point shots
— Robinson’s description:
“Got a nice pull-up shot. Sometimes I think he plays too passive. But when he plays his game he’s a hard player to guard, too.”
Davis’ unselfishness: “When he gets in the lane, he’ll have an open shot and instead he’ll pass. That’s good sometimes, but sometimes he needs to shoot it.”
No. 42 — F Kenny Jones | 6-6, 180, jr.
Stats: 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 52.9% FGs, 4 of 11 on 3s, 41.8% FTs
hoop-math.com nuggets: Like Horton, most of his shots (56.5%) come at the rim; Jones converts 64.8% of the time inside
— Robinson’s description:
- “He’s an energy player… If I miss a shot, he’s always there telling me just, ‘Keep shooting. Keep playing.’”
No. 2 — G/F Jared Savage | 6-5, 195, fr.
Stats: 6.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 43% FGs, 40.6% 3s, 81.8% FTs
hoop-math.com nuggets: Almost never goes inside (8.7% of his shots are at the rim); basically lives outside the 3-point line (78.3% of his attempts come from deep)
— Robinson’s description:
- “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen — besides myself. He can shoot really good. He rebounds. He can do it all.”
AUSTIN PEAY BENCH
No. 32 — G/F John Murry
- 5.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 44.9% FGs, 32.4% 3s, 74% FTs, in 11.5 minutes off bench
No. 3 — G/F Chris Porter-Bunton
- 4.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, 51.5% FGs, 50% 3s (13 of 26), 70% FTs, in 12.4 minutes off bench
It didn’t take long after the Jayhawks’ Big 12 semifinal victory over Baylor for Kansas junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. to see what everyone following the game on TV and Twitter had already viewed a number of times: the reaction to Selden’s monster jam from his uncle, Anthony Pitts, watching the game from his seat behind the KU bench.
“It was funny, because he’s always been like that,” Selden said, “since I was a kid playing basketball, playing football.”
When Baylor’s Ish Wainright made contact with Selden on the play, it actually gave the high-flying KU junior a bit of a boost, according to the man who hammered it home.
Still, Selden wasn’t willing to rate his highlight-reel slam ahead of the alley-oop Jamari Traylor pulled off at Texas just less than two weeks ago.
Actually, Selden didn’t even think he had the top play of the day. The junior from Roxbury, Mass., had to give that honor to Connecticut freshman Jalen Adams, whose desperation heave in triple-overtime against Cincinnati kept the Huskies alive in the American Athletic Conference Tournament and set up a quadruple-OT victory.
Believe it or not, the two most impressive plays in the nation came from Roxbury, Mass., natives.
“I grew up with him. We actually played AAU from third grade ’til like sixth grade,” Selden revealed.
Selden said he was happy to see the UConn freshman hit the wild shot and score 22 points.
— See what people were saying about KU's semifinal victory during KUsports.com's live coverage
More news and notes from KU’s Big 12 semifinal victory
- Clocked: Selden highlights KU’s semifinal victory over BU
- Keegan: Bragg following Ellis’ development path
- Bears: Some of us got dunked on
- Self’s halftime message to Jayhawks short and blunt
- Kansas knows WVU will bring pressure in title game
- KU to face West Virginia for Big 12 tourney title
- Jayhawks dunk their way to Big 12 semifinal victory
- Keegan Ratings: Once again, Ellis carries KU to victory
It’s difficult enough to win three college basketball games in three days. Beating three different Big 12 teams in three days? Now that’s a superb accomplishment — even if you’re the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
The Jayhawks (27-4) are in Kansas City, Mo., this week trying to add to their already striking résumé by winning the 2016 Big 12 Tournament. They last left Sprint Center as tourney champions in 2013. Each of the past two seasons, Iowa State took home the title, defeating KU in the 2014 semifinals and 2015 championship game.
Even with those losses, 13th-year Kansas coach Bill Self has a 24-6 record in Big 12 Tournament games. When the conference postseason wars are played at Sprint Center, Self’s record is even better: 16-3.
Self, who has led Kansas to 6 postseason Big 12 championships, knows nothing about this weekend will be easy for the Jayhawks, even if they won the regular-season title by two games and haven’t lost since Jan. 25, at Iowa State.
“I think it's got to be — and I've heard other people say it — it's got to be as good a postseason conference tournament as there is in the country,” Self said earlier this week. “I think the competitive nature of it, everybody wants to show that they are the best. I think that drives it.”
With all of that in mind, here are five potential obstacles the Jayhawks might have to overcome in the days ahead in order to extend their 11-game winning streak to 14 and add another trophy to the program’s many cases.
More poor free-throw shooting
Entering the postseason, the Jayhawks haven’t been great at the free-throw line. They’re hitting 70% on the year — which ranks 6th in the Big 12 and 163rd in the nation.
Even more troubling, Kansas has shot below 70% in four of its last five games:
- 18 of 30 at Kansas State: 60%
- 12 of 17 at Baylor: 70.6%
- 10 of 15 vs. Texas Tech: 66.7%
- 11 of 24 at Texas: 45.8%
- 9 of 15 vs. Iowa State: 60%
Now that it’s the postseason, Self said missing free throws could be disastrous.
“But we've got to make them. You know what, we've been a good free-throw shooting team when it counted,” Self said. “We haven't been a very good free-throw shooting it seems like to me when it didn't count, so maybe that's a positive sign. But certainly that could bite us. You don't make free throws in the postseason, the chances of you advancing against a comparable team is not very good.”
So who are KU’s best free-throw shooters when it count? Here are the individual numbers for free throws taken in the last 5 minutes of a game or overtime (as a team, KU shoots 70.3% in those situations, and opponents have made 74.1%):
Brannen Greene: 9/11, 90%
Devonté Graham: 20/24, 83.3%
Perry Ellis: 14/17, 82.4%
Frank Mason III: 40/54, 74.1%
Svi Mykhailiuk: 5/7, 71.4%
Cheick Diallo: 7/10, 70%
Landen Lucas: 11/18, 61.1%
Wayne Selden Jr.: 15/25, 60%
Jamari Traylor: 3/6, 50%
Hunter Mickelson: 1/3, 33.3%
Carlton Bragg: 0/0
In each of KU’s 4 losses this season, the opposition had a better shooting night at the free-throw line.
Opponents pounding the offensive glass
The Jayhawks have finished with fewer offensive rebounds than their opponent in 6 of their last 10 games. During that same stretch KU got out-scored in second-chance points five times and won the margin by 1 on 2 occasions.
In 9 of KU’s 18 Big 12 games, they lost second-chance points. Sometimes, KU’s first-shot defense leads to those opportunities (see: Texas missed 44 field goals, shot 30.2% and gathered 18 offensive rebounds, leading to 13 second-chance points). But it’s still an area of concern, because second-chance attempts often come from point-blank range, meaning easy points.
In Norman, Okla., the Sooners scored 22 second-chance points on 15 offensive rebounds. Looking at KU’s last five games, four opponents scored double digits via offensive rebounds: K-State (12), Baylor (14), Texas Tech (14) and Iowa State (13).
Beware of Shaka
Now, there is no guarantee that Kansas will run into Texas in the Big 12 semifinals. Obviously, both KU (versus K-State) and UT (versus Baylor) will have to handle their business to make that happen. But the past success of first-year Longhorns coach Shaka Smart makes one think a UT-KU meeting will start things off Friday night at Sprint. And that Self’s Jayhawks shouldn’t take the ’Horns lightly — despite a regular-season sweep.
In his six seasons at VCU, Smart’s Rams won two conference tournament titles (Colonial Athletic Association Tournament in 2012, and Atlantic-10 Tournament in 2015) and posted a 15-4 record.
What’s more, VCU won at least two games at every conference tournament in Smart’s time there.
2010 (CAA) 2-1
2011 (CAA) 2-1
2012 (CAA) 3-0
2013 (A-10) 2-1
2014 (A-10) 2-1
2015 (A-10) 4-0
Smart has a way of getting the best out of his players in March. And there is a chance massive, 6-foot-10 center Cameron Ridley will be back for the Longhorns this weekend.
Sure, KU blew out Texas a little more than a week ago. But they call it March Madness for a reason. Sometimes the unthinkable plays out right in front of your eyes.
An off night for Devonté Graham
The youngest member of KU’s starting five, sophomore Devonté Graham has emerged as a reliable scorer (11.2 points per game, 45.9% shooting) and the Jayhawks’ best high-volume 3-point marksman.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., has made 43.7% of his 135 attempts from beyond the arc (second to Wayne Selden Jr.’s 156 tries). While Perry Elis (45.6% on 57 attempts) and Brannen Greene (51.7% on 58 shots from downtown) are better percentage-wise, Graham has been more productive.
KU has enough depth and talent that an off night from one player shouldn’t mean doom for the team, but Graham has been below his normal production in the Jayhawks’ four losses this season.
- vs. Michigan State: 4 points, 1/9 FGs, 0/4 3s, 2/2 FTs
- at West Virginia: 7 points, 2/7 FGs, 2/3 3s, 1/4 FTs
- at Oklahoma State: 10 points, 4/9 FGs, 1/4 3s, 1/1 FTs
- at Iowa State: 7 points, 3/7 FGs, 1/3 3s, 0/0 FTs
A below-average outing from Graham doesn’t automatically mean a KU loss. He had three single-digit point totals in February, and Kansas still won every game last month.
It’s just Graham seems to have an infectious energy that propels Kansas when he is playing well. If he goes cold in a game and other problems pop up for KU, that could mean trouble.
Can KU respond to adversity?
KU has been on such a roll, what happens if an opponent gets hot and the Jayhawks find themselves down by double digits?
That hasn’t happened to Kansas since Jan. 25, at Iowa State. That’s a long time to go without playing from behind while in legitimate trouble.
Will the players buckle down and get stops? Will pride take over and validate just how good KU is?
Or will the physical and mental grind of the regular season finally catch up with the players in such a scenario? In the back of their minds, they know a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament already is essentially wrapped up. Will they have the fire to exert extra energy with a big comeback if it doing so doesn’t have an impact on where they stand entering the Big Dance? Maybe we find out. Maybe we don’t.
For what it’s worth, KU has a pair of neutral-floor recoveries on its schedule this season. Kansas came back from a 14-point deficit to beat Oregon State at Sprint Center in December. Before that, the Jayhawks recovered from a 10-point hole against Vanderbilt to win the Maui Invitational final.
Jamari Traylor has watched closely from nearby as a Kansas basketball team made a deep run through the postseason. An NCAA partial qualifier, Traylor sat out his first year in Lawrence, only practicing in the spring semester with what turned out to be a Final Four squad.
But the senior power forward from Chicago never has personally contributed to anything better than a Sweet 16 berth for KU in 2013, his freshman season. Back then, Traylor didn’t have Bill Self’s trust like he does now. Traylor played a combined 13 minutes as the Jayhawks moved past Western Kentucky and North Carolina, and lost to Michigan. He took three shots, made two of them, scored four points, but didn’t even collect a rebound.
Each of the following two seasons, Traylor’s role increased, but Kansas faltered early in March Madness, exiting with just a single tourney victory in both 2014 and 2015.
Traylor, like the most of his teammates, struggled to score inside (1-for-8 shooting) in a 60-57 second-round loss to Stanford his sophomore year, two days after dominating against Eastern Kentucky, with 17 points and 14 boards.
As a junior, Traylor’s season concluded with him contributing four points (2-for-5 shooting) and five rebounds off the bench as KU lost, 78-65, to Wichita State.
Those back-to-back Round of 32 losses don’t fall solely on Traylor’s broad shoulders, of course. KU’s core of veterans — Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III — also played key roles in those season-ending head-scratchers. But Traylor takes ownership in the program’s successes and shortcomings. That’s one reason why, as the Jayhawks head into the postseason this March, the 6-foot-8 leader senses this team can actually live up to KU’s lofty expectations.
“It’s pretty much a different feeling,” Traylor said of the vibe, compared to the other KU teams he has played for. “I feel like we’ve got a group of guys who’s a little more hungry. We’ve tasted defeat in the postseason, so we know what’s around the corner for us. I’m a senior now. Perry’s a senior now. So we know it’s our last opportunity, so we’re more locked in.”
Even before the season began, Traylor thought the final Kansas team he played on could be as good defensively as the one he watched reach the 2012 national championship game.
What’s more, the closer the KU’s veterans get to the NCAAs, the better their defense looks. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks held opponents to 39.2% shooting. No other team registered better than 42.9% — by both West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
KU’s improving defensive effort, coinciding with the emergence of junior big man Landen Lucas, is a sign of the hunger Traylor described.
“As a younger team, I guess guys probably could feel like we could come back next year or come back the year after,” Traylor explained of the more youthful KU rosters who fell short in past postseasons. “We don’t have that opportunity. I feel like we’re more focused in and we’ve just gotta be in tune, because we know one bad mistake or one bad game we can be over.”
In March, intangibles tend to push teams closer to a Final Four. Self pointed to an immeasurable characteristic when asked what he admired most about this year’s Jayhawks.
“I would say, I would probably never give my teams that much credit for being pretty tough, but I think they are pretty tough in crucial situations,” Self said. “I think that they usually — not always — usually rise to the level of what needs to be done at that particular moment, and, you know, they like each other.”
Ellis may be best known for his soft shooting touch from inside and outside, but Traylor noticed the team’s leading scorer getting tough in the final minutes of KU’s regular-season finale, an 85-78 home victory over Iowa State.
“He’s just a winner,” Traylor said of Ellis. “The last play you could tell, because he put it all out there. He dove on the court. It was the defining moment for the game. It just shows how much you want to win if you do that.”
Traylor, Ellis, Selden and Mason all will have plenty of chances, beginning this weekend at the Big 12 Tournament, to prove with their play if March victories mean even more to them now than they did in the past.
There aren’t many college basketball players that can say they have won four of the past five times they have faced Kansas. In fact, the only ones who can say that about a Bill Self-coached KU team are Iowa State’s current crop of veterans.
With a pair of Big 12 Tournament victories and two more wins coming at Hilton Coliseum, the Cyclones have proven they have the fire power to not only hang with the Jayhawks, but knock them off. Winning at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon — on Perry Ellis’ Senior Day? That would be a next-level accomplishment. Iowa State has lost its last 10 trips to Lawrence.
When the 2015-16 schedule came out, this KU-ISU matchup seemed like one that could decide the Big 12 championship. However, KU already wrapped up its 12th straight title and ISU has experienced more drop-off than expected following the departure of former coach Fred Hoiberg.
No. 21 Iowa State (21-9 overall, 10-7 Big 12) and first-year ISU coach Steve Prohm still have plenty to play for. Heading into Saturday, ISU could earn anywhere from a No. 3 seed to a No. 6 seed at the upcoming Big 12 Tournament, in Kansas City, Mo.
And there is the less obvious incentive of ISU trying to become the first Big 12 team to beat a Self-coached KU team both at home and on the road in the same season. While that’s probably not something floating around in the minds of Georges Niang and Monté Morris, just getting a win at Allen Fieldhouse is motivation enough.
So how could the Cyclones pull off the upset at No. 1 KU (26-4, 14-3)? They’d better score a ton of points if they want to have a shot.
ISU (82.2 points per game this season, 1st in Big 12) has led the league in scoring each of the last three years. If the Cyclones can do that again they would join Kansas (2000-03) as the only teams to lead the Big 12 four consecutive seasons.
Some other interesting Iowa State offensive numbers to consider:
- In the 2nd halves of the last 8 games ISU is shooting 57.8% from the floor and 42.3% on 3-pointers.
- In 4 of those last 8 games ISU has shot 64% of better in the 2nd half.
- The Cyclones have made 10 or more 3-pointers in 6 of the last 9 games.
- ISU is shooting 57.1% on 2-point field goals, which ranks 4th nationally.
- Iowa State has made 50.3% of its shots on the year, ranking 2nd in the nation to St. Mary’s, which has hit 50.9%. (KU ranks 8th at 49.3%).
Defense has been ISU’s issue all season, particularly with the absence of injured Naz Long. The Cyclones are 3-8 when their opponent gets 80 or more points. They also rank last in Big 12 games in points allowed (76.9) and 6th in FG% defense (44.2%). KU leads the conference, holding Big 12 foes to 38.7% shooting.
While ISU ranks 2nd in the nation — behind only Michigan State — in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to college hoops math wizard Ken Pomeroy, of kenpom.com, the Cyclones are 111th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Iowa State certainly will extend its run of NCAA Tournament appearances to five straight years, improving on its current program record. But the Cyclones’ defensive issues might be too much to overcome against a hot Kansas team that can match them basket for basket.
With all of those factors in mind, here are the Cyclones the Jayhawks have to worry about as they try to close out the regular season with an 11th straight win.
IOWA STATE STARTERS
No. 31 — F Georges Niang | 6-8, sr.
— Jan. 25 vs. KU: 19 points, 8/17 FGs, 0/5 3s, 3/3 FTs, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers in 33 minutes
One of the nation’s better all-around offensive threats, senior Georges Niang (19.3 points) is the only player in the country averaging at least 19 points and 6 rebounds, while shooting 50% or better from the floor and 80% or better at the free-throw line. The last player to pull that off was Creighton’s Doug McDermott (2013-14).
The winningest player in ISU history (96 wins), Niang doesn’t just score, he sets up his teammates for baskets, averaging 3.2 assists in his final season. He’s the only player to rank in the top 12 in the Big 12 in scoring, rebounding and assists.
In Big 12 games, Niang is shooting 55% from the floor and 35.8% from three-point range (24 of 67).
Niang is one of six players in the nation hitting at least 60% of his 2-point shot attempts.
In his last 4 games, Niang is shooting 66% from the field.
No. 11 — PG Monté Morris | 6-3, jr.
— Jan. 25 vs. KU: 21 points, 7/14 FGs, 2/4 3s, 5/7 FTs, 4 rebounds (2 offensive), 9 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 steal in 40 minutes
A finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, junior point guard Monté Morris (14.3 points) leads the Big 12 in assists (7.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (4.1).
Morris is on pace to pass Jeff Hornacek (6.8 assists) as the program’s all-time single-season assist leader.
The Big 12’s active leader in career assists (525), Morris also has more career steals (163) than any other current players in the league.
Morris has looked to score more frequently this season than he did in the past and his 50.4% shooting from the field leads all Big 12 guards.
In Big 12 games, Morris has made 22 of 51 from 3-point range (43.1%).
A workhorse, Morris has played every minute in 9 games this season.
4th in the Big 12 with 1.8 steals a game, he has recorded at least 1 steal in 26 of 30 games this year.
No. 1 — F Jameel McKay | 6-9, sr.
— Jan. 25 vs. KU: 6 points, 2/4 FGs, 2/2 FTs, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block in 27 minutes
Senior big man Jameel McKay (11.5 points) gives Iowa State an athletic presence in the paint and above the rim. McKay leads the team with 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
In his last 6 games, McKay, hampered by some soreness in the first meeting with KU, is averaging 2.3 blocks.
Starting to return to form, McKay put up 14 points and 17 boards against Kansas State last week, marking his first double-double since the first week of January.
McKay has shot 50% or better from the field in 41 of his 52 career games for ISU. This season, McKay is shooting 58.9%. In Big 12 games, that mark is 54.3%.
ISU went 4-3 without McKay in the starting lineup this season.
Averaging 2.9 offensive rebounds a game in Big 12 action.
No. 2 — F Abdel Nader | 6-6, sr.
— Jan. 25 vs. KU: 17 points, 6/9 FGs, 3/3 3s, 2/2 FTs, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 4 steals in 36 minutes
As he closes in on the end of his college career, senior Abdel Nader (13.5 points, 5.1 rebounds) is getting hot at the right time. Nader is averaging 19.2 points in the last 5 games.
In his 5-game run, Nader has made 47.4% of his 3-pointers, hitting 18 total — including 3 games with 5 successful bombs.
In his first 25 games of the season, Nader made 26 total 3’s and shot 31.3% from deep.
Shooting 48.5% from the floor in Big 12 games.
Only dud in his last 5 games was a 4-point performance vs. K-State, when Nader shot 0-for-6 from 3-point range. He scored between 19 and 26 points in the other 4, against Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
No. 21 — G Matt Thomas | 6-4, jr.
— Jan. 25 vs. KU: 13 points, 5/10 FGs, 3/6 3s, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 4 steals in 37 minutes
Odds are junior sharpshooter Matt Thomas (10.7 points, 4.5 rebounds) is going to make at least one 3-pointer. He has done so in 20 consecutive games.
With 2.5 3-pointers made per game this year, Thomas ranks (distant) 2nd to Buddy Hield, of Oklahoma, who makes 4.2 a game.
Shooting 43.2% from long range on the year, Thomas’ productivity coincides with ISU success. The Cyclones are 11-1 when he scores at least 12 points as a starter.
Thomas has nailed 3 or more 3-pointers in 9 of the last 13 games.
Also ISU’s best free-throw shooter, Thomas has made 30 of 33 at the line this season (90.9%).
IOWA STATE BENCH
No. 30 — G Deonte Burton | 6-4, jr.
— Jan. 25 vs. KU: 9 points, 4/5 FGs, 1/1 3s, 0/1 FTs, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 4 fouls in 17 minutes off the bench
A transfer from Marquette (just like McKay), junior Deonte Burton (10.0 points, 3.9 rebounds) is ISU’s 6th man and the real productivity off the bench begins and ends with him.
Burton doesn’t take as many 3-pointers as Niang, Morris, Nader or Thomas, but he has connected on 10 of 23 (43.5%) in Big 12 games.
Shooting 52.8% from the field in conference games — good. And 59.5% at the free-throw line — bad.
The longer the streak extends the more the question gets asked: Which season in the Kansas Jayhawks’ run of consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships was the most difficult or most impressive?
It’s a great debate for those that follow the now 12-time defending kings of the conference. And every year about this time, with the regular season almost over, the man who coached each of those title teams is asked to compare, contrast and find some way to encapsulate the various challenges that come up year after year.
Just last week, KU coach Bill Self said of this season’s competition: “I think there's more really, really good teams in our league than there ever has been.”
That might turn out to be true. The latest Bracketology projections indicate the Big 12 could easily end up sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Think about that. No. 1-ranked KU (26-4 overall, 14-3 Big 12) already has won the conference outright and has a 2-game lead in the loss column on second-place West Virginia — in a conference where the best teams play 12 games against tourney-worthy competition. The Mountaineers still have a home game with Texas Tech and a road date with Baylor left to play this week. Let’s say WVU splits those. As long as Kansas defends its home court Saturday against Iowa State, the Jayhawks would win the Big 12 by 3 games.
The 2016 season really might go down as the most impressive in the run, depending on what transpires in the future.
There are plenty of factors that go into such a debate, but for the purposes of this exercise, here is a glance at how Kansas has performed year-by-year during its title streak, with the Jayhawks’ final Big 12 record, a look at the top of the standings, how Kansas performed against the top contender(s) and how many Big 12 teams went dancing.
When you put those factors together, 2010 is pretty remarkable, even if that pre-dated the round robin format now in place.
Immerse yourself in the data and decide for yourself: Which of the Jayhawks’ championship seasons stands out as the best?
— We'll add the final numbers for 2016 when the season wraps up this weekend.
2005 — KU 12-4 in 12-team league
Co-champions with Oklahoma
Lost only regular-season meeting with OU, 71-63, in Norman, Okla.
Six NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2006 — KU 13-3 in 12-team league
Co-champions with Texas
Lost only regular-season meeting with UT, 80-55, in Austin, Texas
Four NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2007 — KU 14-2 in 12-team league
Finished 1 game ahead of runner-up Texas A&M
Lost only regular-season meeting with A&M, 69-66, at Allen Fieldhouse
Four NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2008 — KU 13-3 in 12-team league
Co-champions with Texas
Lost only regular-season meeting with UT, 72-69, in Austin, Texas
Six NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2009 — KU 14-2 in 12-team league
Finished 1 game ahead of runner-up Oklahoma
Won only regular-season meeting with OU, 87-78, in Norman, Okla.
Six NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2010 — KU 15-1 in 12-team league
Finished 4 games ahead of second-place teams Kansas State, Baylor and Texas A&M
Swept K-State — 81-79 (OT) in Manhattan, 82-65 at Allen Fieldhouse
Won only regular-season meeting with BU, 81-75, at Allen Fieldhouse
Won only regular-season meting with A&M, 59-54, in College Station, Texas
Seven NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2011 — KU 14-2 in 12-team league
Finished 1 game ahead of runner-up Texas
Lost only regular-season meeting with UT, 74-63, at Allen Fieldhouse
Five NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2012 — KU 16-2 in 10-team league
Finished 2 games ahead of runner-up Missouri
Split regular-season meetings with Mizzou — lost, 74-71, in Columbia, Mo.; won, 87-86 (OT), at Allen Fieldhouse
Six NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2013 — KU 14-4 in 10-team league
Co-champions with Kansas State
Swept regular-season meetings with K-State — 59-55 in Manhattan, 83-62 at Allen Fieldhouse
Five NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2014 — KU 14-4 in 10-team league
Finished 2 games ahead of runner-up Oklahoma
Swept regular-season meetings with OU — 90-83 in Norman, Okla., 83-75 at Allen Fieldhouse
Seven NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2015 — KU 13-5 in 10-team league
Finished 1 game ahead of runners-up Iowa State and Oklahoma
Split regular-season meetings with ISU — lost, 86-81, in Ames, Iowa; won, 89-76, at Allen Fieldhouse
Split regular-season meetings with OU — won, 85-78, at Allen Fieldhouse; lost, 75-73, in Norman, Okla.
Seven NCAA Tournament teams in Big 12
2016 — KU 13-5 in 10-team league
Finished 2 games ahead of runner-up West Virginia
Split regular-season meetings with WVU — lost, 74-63, in Morgantown, W. Va.; won, 75-65, at Allen Fieldhouse
Likely seven NCAA Tournament teams
Congratulations, Kansas. You just wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title (again). You’re about to be ranked No. 1 in the nation (again). Now get on down to Austin, Texas, on a two-day turnaround to face Shaka Smart’s Longhorns, who already have home victories over North Carolina, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Oklahoma this season.
Such is life in the Big 12.
Texas (19-10 overall, 10-6) also comes into the Big Monday finale with little rest, but the ’Horns didn’t have any traveling to do after beating Oklahoma at Frank Erwin Center, eliminating their rivals from league title contention.
Smart’s teams get after it defensively, as the Longhorns showed at Allen Fieldhouse last month, when they blocked 8 shots and held KU to 40% shooting.
In Big 12 games, UT leads the league in fewest points allowed (68.2) and 3-point FG% defense (33%). So of course, Texas’ defense carried it against the Sooners on Saturday. The Longhorns went on a massive 22-0 run in the second half, holding OU to 0-for-9 shooting in that stretch — including 0-for-4 for Buddy Heild. Texas out-rebounded Oklahoma by 12 in the win and limited OU to 29% shooting in the second half.
That marquee victory could be topped against KU (25-4, 13-3) on Senior Night for such Longhorns as Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, Prince Ibeh, Connor Lammert and Cameron Ridley (out, fractured left foot). If Smart can get another inspired defensive showing from his team and keep the Jayhawks constrained, Texas will have a shot at pulling off the first victory over a No. 1-ranked team in program history. The ’Horns already own a 3-0 mark at home against top-10 teams this season.
Kansas, meanwhile, has an outright Big 12 championship at stake. Win this game and West Virginia is out of the picture.
With all of those factors in mind, here are the Longhorns the Jayhawks will have to go through to extend their winning streak to 10 games.
No. 1 — PG Isaiah Taylor | 6-3, jr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 13 points, 6/11 FGs, 0/1 3s, 1/2 FTs, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal in 37 minutes
UT’s third-year starting point guard, junior Isaiah Taylor leads the team in scoring (15.5 points), assists (5.0), free-throw% (81%), steals (27) and minutes (30.8 mpg).
In league games, Taylor has 84 assists to 25 turnovers (3.4 ratio).
Put together a pretty impressive day vs. OU: 18 points, 5 assists and 0 turnovers.
For all his quickness and ball-handling ability, Taylor hasn’t been a guard who can stretch the floor for UT. He has just 14 successful 3-pointers on 54 tries this season (25.9%). In 16 conference games, Taylor is 8 of 33 (24.2%) from downtown.
No. 3 — G Javan Felix | 5-11, sr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 12 points, 5/12 FGs, 0/2 3s, 2/2 FTs, 1 rebound, 6 assists, 1 turnover, 2 steals in 30 minutes
Neck-and-neck with fellow senior Connor Lammert for title of UT’s best 3-point shooter this season, Javan Felix (11.1 points) has made 43 of 119 (36.1%) of his long-range jumpers…
… However, Felix has gone cold from deep in conference action, connecting on just 17 of his 65 3-point attempts (26.2%). He hasn’t made more than 1 3-pointer in a game in his past 6 outings (3-for-17, 17.6%).
In UT’s 11 games against top-25 competition this year, Felix has averaged 12.2 points and made 27 of 30 free throws.
Much like Taylor, Felix takes care of the basketball. With 65 assists and 32 turnovers on the season, he has a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Scored 14 points against Oklahoma in UT’s big win, but had his worst ball-handling game of the season, with 5 turnovers and just 1 assist.
No. 44 — C Prince Ibeh | 6-11, sr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 7 points, 3/4 FGs, 1/3 FTs, 7 rebounds (3 offensive) 3 turnovers, 7 blocks, 1 steal, 4 fouls in 35 minutes
An athletic big man capable of wreaking havoc on defense, senior Prince Ibeh (4.1 points) might be salivating at the thought of a KU rematch after he swatted away a career-high 7 shots at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season. That was the most blocked shots for a KU opponent since Anthony Davis rejected 7 against the Jayhawks in Nov., 2011.
In UT’s last 10 games (7-3), Ibeh is averaging 7.1 points, 6.2 boards and 2.2 blocks in 21.4 minutes. In that span, Ibeh is shooting 62.8% from the floor.
Ibeh blocked 6 shots in just 16 minutes in UT’s home win over WVU earlier this month.
Making 67.9% of his shot attempts in Big 12 play, Ibeh at times is unstoppable in the paint. However, he can and should be fouled when he gets touches down low. Ibeh has made just 14 of 41 free throws (34.1%) against league foes.
Went and got 8 offensive rebounds (11 total) and scored 13 points in a victory over Vanderbilt.
No. 21 — F Connor Lammert | 6-10, sr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 15 points, 5/7 FGs, 5/7 3s, 4 rebounds, 1 turnover, fouled out in 30 minutes
Although Ibeh is more intimidating, senior big man Connor Lammert (6.9 points, team-leading 5.4 rebounds) actually brings more consistent offensive production.
Lammert scored 14 points, burned OU for 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point distance and swiped 2 steals on Saturday.
Like Ibeh, Lammert had a career game in UT’s first meeting with Kansas this season: 15 points and 5 3-pointers.
As mentioned earlier, Lammert has been one of UT’s best shooters this season, making 44 of 122 3-pointers (36.1%). But he also has maintained that in Big 12 play, unlike Felix. Lamert has hit a team-best 29 3’s against conference opponents on 76 attempts (38.2%).
No. 2 — G Demarcus Holland | 6-3, sr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 0 points, in 4 minutes off the bench
More of a team leader than stat producer, senior Demarcus Holland (2.6 points) has 88 career starts, tops on the roster.
Has started 3 times in Big 12 contests while logging just 9.9 minutes in 15 games, averaging 1.7 points and making only 32% of his shots.
Has gone scoreless in 3 straight games and 5 of the past 6.
Shooting 3-for-11 on 3-pointers in Big 12 games.
No. 10 — G Eric Davis Jr. | 6-2, fr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 13 points, 6/11 FGs, 1/2 3s, 5 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 steal in 21 minutes
Freshman Eric Davis (7.9 points) likes the spotlight. In 11 games vs. top-25 teams, the young guard averages 9.6 points and has hit 20 of 38 from beyond the 3-point arc (52.6%).
Starting to produce more consistently, Davis scored 10 points vs. Oklahoma, marking his fourth consecutive double-digit scoring game. During that run, he is averaging 11.5 points in 24.0 minutes, with 9 successful 3-pointers on 16 attempts (56.3%).
Hitting 35.8% of his 3-pointers in league games: 19 of 53.
No. 0 — G/F Tevin Mack | 6-6, fr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 0 points, 0/3 FGs, 0/3 3s, 1 turnover, 1 block in 10 minutes
Freshman backup Tevin Mack only plays 14.1 minutes but averages 5.5 points.
In his most impressive Big 12 outing to date, Mack hit 5 of his 12 3-pointers, scored 18 points and secured 5 rebounds in a loss at Iowa State.
That 3-point performance at ISU was a tad uncharacteristic. In the rest of his 15 league games combined, Mack has made 13 of 48 from long range (27%).
Has gone scoreless in back-to-back games, shooting 0-for-7 from the field in combined 21 minutes.
No. 5 — G Kendal Yancy | 6-3, jr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 0 points, 0/1 FGs, 0/1 3s, 3 rebounds, 1 assist in 12 minutes as a starter
Veteran backup Kendal Yancy (3.3 points) doesn’t take a lot of shots, but he has made 46.8% of his attempts in Big 12 games (22 of 47).
The same holds true for Yancy 3-pointers: 9 of 19 (47.4%) vs. the Big 12.
Scored a personal season-high 13 points and shot 3-for-4 on 3-pointers in a loss at OU.
No. 12 — G Kerwin Roach Jr. | 6-4, fr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 5 points, 1/5 FGs, 3/6 FTs, 2 rebounds in 19 minutes
Freakishly athletic, freshman Kerwin Roach (7.1 points) is the most likely Longhorn to put a defender in a highlight reel or Vine loop.
The more Roach plays the better he looks. In UT’s past 10 games, the first-year guard is averaging 9.9 points and 3.9 rebounds, and making 59.2% of his shots.
Had 12 points and 3 rebounds in win over OU.
Produced his first career double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) to go with 2 assists and 4 steals as Texas beat Vanderbilt in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
In 16 Big 12 games, has made 8 of his 21 tries from 3-point range.
Registered 2 or more steals 3 times in Big 12 play.
No. 32 — F Shaquille Cleare | 6-8, jr.
— Jan. 23 at KU: 2 points, 1/2 FGs in 3 minutes
When you see junior big man Shaquille Cleare (3.4 points) go to work, you’re not surprised to learn the massive post player’s favorite former Longhorn is Dexter Pittman.
A transfer from Maryland who sat out last season, Cleare put up a career-best 14 points in a loss to Baylor just over a week ago and pulled down 3 of his 5 rebounds on offense.
Making 56.9% of his shot attempts in Big 12 action, while averaging 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14.3 minutes.
Undeniably, Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech team is on the rise. The Red Raiders have won five straight games, a stretch that includes their first two road victories of the season.
As March approaches, Tech is peaking at the right time, playing its way from afterthought to NCAA Tournament team in the past couple of weeks.
But the Red Raiders (18-9 overall, 8-7 Big 12) will have to put together some extraordinary game planning and execution to add another win to the run Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse (11 a.m. tip, ESPN).
The No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (24-4, 12-3), of course, are on as good a run as any team in the nation, with eight straight victories, and in need of one more to snag at least a share of the program’s 12th conference crown in a row.
Smith, now in his 3rd season with the Red Raiders, is 0-5 versus KU as Tech’s head coach. While this team obviously is his best yet in Lubbock, Texas, it also is 0-2 on the road and 0-1 on neutral floors against RPI top-25 teams this season.
Texas Tech (No. 38 in the nation according to KenPom.com) will need to stick to what it does best to win at the fieldhouse, where Kansas has rattled off 38 consecutive victories.
The Red Raiders average 15.4 points off turnovers a game compared to their opponents’ average of 12.2.
In their best victories of the season, they’ve won points off turnovers:
- 10-7 (Jan. 2 vs Texas)
- 11-8 (Feb. 10 vs. Iowa State)
- 24-15 (Feb. 13 at Baylor)
- 14-9 (Feb. 17 vs. Oklahoma)
The ability to turn foes’ mistakes into easy points hasn’t always traveled well with Tech in its various stops around the Big 12 (and one SEC road game) this winter:
- at ISU, lost 14-10
- at Kansas State, lost 18-16
- at TCU, lost 15-8
- at OU, lost 16-13
- at Arkansas, lost 15-8
- at Texas, won 16-7 — but lost game 69-59
- at BU, won 24-15
- at Oklahoma State, lost 9-2
Clearly the Red Raiders will need to find some comfort in Allen Fieldhouse, and this is one way to do it. If possible, they’ll need to turn KU over and go the other way for baskets that will give them a boost while turning down the volume of the home crowd.
Another strategy the Red Raiders will use is simply attacking KU’s defense and getting to the free-throw line. Six of the Red Raiders’ top players have attempted 44 or more free throws in Big 12 play. When Tech makes 20 or more free throws this season, it has resulted in a Red Raiders victory on 10 out of 11 occasions.
Texas Tech’s 76.2% free-throw accuracy in conference games leads the Big 12.
Defensively, Tech’s biggest strength is its shot-blocking ability. The Red Raiders are averaging 4.5 swats a game in league play, second only to OU’s 5.9. So finding ways to frustrate KU around the rim will also be critical in their upset bid.
With those things in mind, here are the Red Raiders the Jayhawks have to worry about as they go after yet another Big 12 title.
TEXAS TECH STARTERS
No. 20 — G Toddrick Gotcher | 6-4, 205, sr.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 13 points, 5/12 FGs, 2/7 3s, 1/2 FTs, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 32 minutes*
More likely than any other Red Raider to pull up from 3-point range, senior Toddrick Gotcher (10.9 points) has made a team-best 51 3-pointers on 129 attempts (39.5%).
In his last 6 games, Gotcher has knocked down 18 from downtown on 31 tries (58%).
A week ago, Gotcher scored a career-high 24 points at Oklahoma state, behind 4 second-half 3-pointers.
An 85% free-throw shooter in Big 12 games.
No. 11 — F Zach Smith | 6-8, 215, soph.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 5 points, 2/7 FGs, 0/3 3s, 1/4 FTs, 6 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 block, 2 steals in 31 minutes*
Texas Tech’s best shot-blocker (1.6) and rebounder (7.5), sophomore Zach Smith chips in 10.3 points a game.
Had a rough outing at OSU last week, but bounced back by scoring a career-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting against TCU.
Playing well offensively in 4 of his last 5 games, Smith has averaged 13.2 points and shot 55% from the floor in Tech’s last 5 games.
Looking at the past 10 Tech games, Smith has blocked 23 shots.
Tech’s worst free-throw shooter among its core players, Smith is shooting 67.7% in Big 12 action.
No. 5 — F Justin Gray | 6-6, 210, soph.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 10 points, 4/7 FGs, 2/3 FTs, 3 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 turnover, 1 block, 2 steals in 23 minutes off the bench*
A second-year guard who became a starter late in the season, Justin Gray (8.7 points) leads Tech in 3-point accuracy: 17-for-40, 42.5%.
Only a starter for the past 7 games, Gray has produced double-digit points in 9 of the past 15 games.
However, Gray has been in an offensive slump the past 3 games: 5.3 ppg in 29.0 minutes/game.
In Big 12 contests, Gray averages 10.1 points on 52.5% shooting (best on the team) and is Tech’s second-best rebounder (4.6).
Hitting 73.8% of his free throws in conference.
No. 12 — G Keenan Evans | 6-3, 180, soph.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 1 point, 0/3 FGs, 1/3 FTs, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal in 23 minutes*
Lead guard Keenan Evans (8.6 points) has only dished 2.8 assists a game this season — best on the team — but has become a little more active distributing the rock of late, with 3.3 apg in his past 6.
Had one of the best games of his career at Baylor, with career-high 21 points, to go with 5 assists and 4 steals.
An occasional 3-point shooter, Evans has hit 15 of 43 this season (34.9%). But he did connect on a big 3 to help beat Iowa State, giving TT the lead in overtime.
Leads Tech with 18 steals in Big 12 games.
Making 77.4% of his free throws in conference play.
No. 34 — F Matthew Temple | 6-10, 235, jr.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 3 points, 1/2 FGs, 1/1 3s, 2 rebounds in 9 minutes off the bench*
Not originally in Tech’s starting lineup, junior Matthew Temple (4.0 points in 12.0 minutes this season) still doesn’t spend much time on the court as one of the first 5.
One of the Red Raiders trying to fill the void left by center Norense Odiase, who broke a foot and could miss the remainder of the season, Temple joined the program as a walk-on before the season began.
Produced career-highs with 11 points an 4 rebounds in a blowout loss at OU last month.
He matched those 11 points last week while shooting 5-for-7 at OSU.
3-for-4 from downtown in Big 12 games and 11-for-20 at the free-throw line (55%).
TEXAS TECH BENCH
No. 15 — F Aaron Ross | 6-8, 225, jr.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 7 points, 2/3 FGs, 1/2 3s, 2/2 FTs, 1 assist, 1 block, 4 fouls in 12 minutes*
In Big 12 play, junior sub Aaron Ross actually leads Tech in scoring. His 13.1 ppg average against conference opponents tops Gotcher’s 10.8 mark, despite Ross playing almost 5 fewer minutes per game.
Ross often sparks Tech, and he’ll need to do that at KU for his team to have a shot. He only played 12 minutes in the first matchup because, in part, he committed 4 fouls. Ross was the only Red Raider with a positive +/- vs. KU: +5.
When Ross comes off the bench, he produces by getting to the free-throw line (team-best 90.8% and 65 attempts in Big 12 play) and hitting from 3-point range (24 of 56, 42.9% in conference).
Coming off a career-high 25 points vs. TCU, when he went 12-for-12 at the free-throw line.
Has scored 10-plus points in 8 straight games, a career best. Ross’ last two single-digit outings? At Oklahoma (4 points) and vs. Kansas (7 points).
No. 0 — G Devaugntah Williams | 6-4, 205, sr.
— Jan. 9 vs. KU: 4 points, 1/8 FGs, 0/3 3s, 2/4 FTs, 1 assist, 1 turnover in 25 minutes as a starter*
A former starter, senior Devaugntah Williams (10.8 points) has seen his team take off as he moved to the bench. Tech is 6-1 since Tubby Smith changed up his role.
Williams scored the game-winning layup with less than a second remaining to beat OSU in his first game as a backup.
Produced 19 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in Tech’s overtime upset of Iowa State.
A 37.9% 3-point shooter on the year, Williams’ accuracy has fallen off vs. league competition: 12 of 45, 26.7%.
In his past 4 games, Williams has only scored 4.3 points on 28.5% shooting, while making 2 of 6 from 3-point range.
Has shot 72.7% at the free-throw stripe against league foes.
Every once in a while, sophomore Kansas guard Svi Mykhailiuk flashes the kind of shooting and ball handling that reminds you he arrived at KU from Ukraine touted as a future pro, and likely a player who would leave college early for the NBA Draft.
Mykhailiuk exhibited his potential Saturday, at Kansas State, where the 6-foot-8 backup came off the bench to hit each of his first three shots from 3-point range, and added 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 solid minutes.
The thing is, one never knows from game to game these days whether “Svi for three” will be shouted during a Jayhawks run, because chances are he might not even get off the bench to check in.
Throw out the 195-pound sophomore’s 2 games against K-State (10 points in 21 minutes on Feb. 3) and his 24 minutes (3 points) in a KU rout at TCU, and Mykhailiuk has seldom stepped foot on the floor during live action in the past 9 games.
The Cherkasy, Ukraine native did not play at all in Kansas home wins over Texas and Kentucky, nor in the Jayhawks’ victory at Oklahoma.
Mykhailiuk played 1 minute at Iowa State, 4 minutes versus West Virginia and 3 minutes against Oklahoma State. In total, over the last 9 games, the talented 18-year-old has logged 73 minutes on the floor (about 8.1 minutes a game).
If Bill Self doesn’t have enough trust in Mykhailiuk to play him regularly in the Big 12, there is no way he would contribute in the NBA a year from now.
So should Kansas worry at all about losing Mykhailiuk (5.5 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 40.2% FGs, 34.2% 3s this season, through 24 games played) at the end of the season to the NBA Draft?
Surprisingly, as recently as a few weeks ago, DraftExpress.com listed him as the 25th pick in the first round of the 2016 draft. But, boy, have things changed for Mykhailiuk on the mock draft board since then. In its current projections, Draft Express doesn’t have Mykhailiuk getting selected at all in the 60-pick, two-round draft.
That seems like good news for Self and KU. The Jayhawks could use a stronger, improved version of “Svi” back in Lawrence for the 2016-17 season.
Still, we have no idea what the weeks ahead could mean for Mykhailiuk. Will his showing vs. K-State be a turning point? Will he consistently play 20-plus minutes down the stretch as KU makes a postseason run? We just don’t know.
Such a scenario could put Mykhailiuk firmly back on NBA team’s radars. After all, even Draft Express still has him as the No. 42 overall available prospect.
Even if you see posts such as this one over at Upside & Motor, explaining why Mykhailiuk continues to draw NBA interest, the Draft Express projections indicate — at least for now — Mykhailiuk doesn’t appear to be a player who should declare this year.
The 2017 NBA Draft? Now that’s another story. Draft Express projects the still developing KU wing as the 21st pick, following what would be his junior season with the Jayhawks.