Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”

Where KU’s 1988 and 2008 titles rank among most difficult roads to championship

Members of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team, including Danny Manning hold up their trophy after winning the championship game of the NCAA final four tournament in Kansas City on Monday, April 5, 1988. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)

Members of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team, including Danny Manning hold up their trophy after winning the championship game of the NCAA final four tournament in Kansas City on Monday, April 5, 1988. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)

No one ever claimed emerging from the madness of March as the NCAA Tournament’s champion was easy. But some paths are more difficult than others.

In Lawrence, the 1988 title captured by “Danny and The Miracles” will live on forever not only because national championships are in their very nature elusive and memorable, but also because Larry Brown and Danny Manning guided KU to that glory as a No. 6 seed. It was one of the more improbable and formidable runs in college basketball lore.

Where does it rank among the most demanding roads to a championship? Well, according to a study from Luke Benz of Yale University’s Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group, KU’s 1988 ascension stands out more than most since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Per the breakdown, the 2014 Connecticut Huskies are the champions of grueling title runs, after winning it all as a No. 7 seed. And only the classic, Cinderella-esque 1985 Villanova Wildcats (a No. 8 seed) also rank ahed of the ’88 Jayhawks.

Interestingly, the data used to compile the list takes into account more than a given team’s seeding in the year it won. The research involves NCAA Tournament history and the frequencies with which a specific seed beats a team from another particular seed line.

Here’s how the author, Benz, explains it: “For example, since 1985, 5 seeds have beaten 12 seeds 63.5% of the time, meaning a victory for the 5 seed in the game would net a Game Difficulty Rating of 0.365. Finally, I computed the total difficulty of a team’s championship by summing all of its Game Difficulty Ratings en route to the title.”

The analysis emerged in response to current tourney buzz surrounding Gonzaga’s first trip to the Final Four, with many arguing the Zags had far too easy a road to navigate. So the list includes projections for this year’s national semifinalists and where they would rank all-time should they cut down the nets this coming Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. As it turns out, Frank Martin’s seventh-seeded South Carolina team, with two more victories, would dethrone 2014 UConn.

Anyway, back to the KU angle of this thought-provoking examination of tournament feats. You might be somewhat surprised to learn KU’s 2008 championship ranks as the fifth-easiest on the list.

Kansas guard Sherron Collins, center, celebrates with Mario Chalmers (15) and Darrell Arthur (00) after the Jayhawks defeated Memphis in the national championship game on April 7, 2008, in San Antonio. KU and Memphis meet tonight for the first time since the title game.

Kansas guard Sherron Collins, center, celebrates with Mario Chalmers (15) and Darrell Arthur (00) after the Jayhawks defeated Memphis in the national championship game on April 7, 2008, in San Antonio. KU and Memphis meet tonight for the first time since the title game. by Thad Allender

The Jayhawks had to beat a pair of No. 1 seeds in North Carolina and Memphis to raise another banner in Allen Fieldhouse, but Bill Self’s Jayhawks beat teams seeded 16th, eighth, 12th and 10th prior to reaching the Final Four.

Studying the list from another angle, some KU teams played a part in other programs’ arduous routes to the NCAA championship. Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony topped Kansas in the 2003 title game, and the Orange just behind the 1988 Jayhawks. Melo’s crowning achievement comes in one spot ahead of Arizona’s 1997 run, when the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 knocked out a two-loss KU team that included future NBA lottery picks Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce.

What’s more, Villanova’s 2016 championship, which included an Elite Eight victory over Kansas, ranks as the eighth-most difficult championship to date.

— Check out the complete list and breakdown from Yale’s Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group: NCAA Championship Difficulties

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Stock watch: Where does Devonte’ Graham’s NBA candidacy stand after his junior year?

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From the moment Josh Jackson decided to play at Kansas, everyone knew he would spend one season with the Jayhawks before becoming an NBA lottery pick. And now that his freshman year is done, we can see Jackson’s a near lock to go in the first three picks this coming June.

The immediate future of KU junior guard Devonte’ Graham — and his whole should I stay or go conundrum — qualifies as far more cloudy.

At various points before and during the Jayhawks’ now completed 31-5 season, Graham’s name appeared on mock drafts near the bottom of the first round and/or hovering close to the top of the second round. At DraftExpress.com, his stock peaked at 28th overall, in October.

However, in a Draft Express projection updated this past weekend, the name of the 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., didn’t appear until near the bottom third of the two-round mockup, with Graham predicted as the 50th overall selection, by the Denver Nuggets.

What’s to be made of him going from a possible first-round pick to the 20th choice in Round 2? It could have to do with Graham’s shooting.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts up a three over Purdue guard Dakota Mathias (31) during the first half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts up a three over Purdue guard Dakota Mathias (31) during the first half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

In his third season at Kansas, Graham took 32 more 3-pointers than he did in his first two years combined, but only totaled two more 3-point makes than when you add up his freshman and sophomore numbers. In other words, his accuracy took a noticeable dip.

Here’s a look at his percentages from beyond the arc at Kansas:

- Freshman year: 17-for-40, 42.5% (29 games, 17.8 minutes)

- Sophomore year: 75-for-170, 44.1% (38 games, 32.5 minutes)

- Junior year: 94-for-242, 38.8% (36 games, 35.3 minutes)

Graham definitely has other qualities that will help him as he tries to make an NBA roster, but his 3-point marksmanship a year ago made the idea of selecting a 6-2, 185-pound guard more appealing. Graham’s mark of 38.8% this season wasn’t bad by any means — it currently ranks tied for 52nd nationally — but that 44.1% really made him stand out as a shooting prospect.

We still don’t know whether Graham will enter the draft or return to Kansas for his senior year. He could opt to test the waters without hiring an agent. Should he choose option No. 3, Graham could go to the NBA Draft Combine in May, get feedback on his status from various franchises and determine then what to do next.

Withdrawing from the draft in order to pad a pro résumé worked well over the past year for Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan, North Carolina wing Justin Jackson, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Villanova’s Josh Hart and Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame.

A late second-round draft pick isn’t guaranteed anything, so Graham could be more interested in returning to Kansas for the 2017-18 season and another run at a Final Four next March if his stock doesn’t take a jump upward in the next several weeks.

Of course, it’s ultimately his decision, and if Graham is ready to become a professional, Bill Self won’t stop him. The coach only will help his 22-year old guard make the most informed resolution possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the Numbers: Kansas 98, Purdue 66

By the Numbers: Kansas 98, Purdue 66

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Josh Jackson’s best is yet to come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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


More news and notes previewing Kansas vs. Purdue


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

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

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

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

How, exactly, does that happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Trust your seniors

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

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

- Get it and go

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

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

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

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

- Embrace the moment

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

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

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

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

- This is why you brought Jackson to KU

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

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

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

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

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

- Defend like it’s only thing that matters

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

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

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

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

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Bridges’ failed attempt to intimidate Mason fired up Jayhawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.instagram.com/p/BR15WOsAOfU/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jayhawks associate Tom Izzo with toughness, success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jayhawks’ loose approach to NCAA Tournament opener paid off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teammates expect Josh Jackson to respond positively after suspension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jayhawks think rest will beat out rust after unexpected layoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A peek inside Kansas football’s first spring practice of 2017 season

The first practice leading up to the 2017 Kansas football season came indoors Monday, when head coach David Beaty’s Jayhawks began their spring at KU’s Anschutz Pavilion.

The first of 15 sessions over the course of March and April marked the first time junior quarterback Peyton Bender (No. 7) and new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham were involved with a Jayhawks practice.

— Players featured in today’s practice video include: Bender, QB No. 18 Tyriek Starks, QB No. 9 Carter Stanley, WR No. 2 Daylon Charlot, WR No. 3 Chase Harrell, WR No. 11 Steven Sims Jr., and offensive linemen No. 72 Charles Baldwin, No. 73 Larry Hughes, No. 69 Mesa Ribordy, No. 65 Jayson Rhodes and No. 78 Hakeem Adeniji.

What stood out

Media don’t get to see much of KU’s football practices, but in the time allotted Monday, I spent all 20 minutes or so watching the offensive players — primarily their interactions with Meacham.

The former co-coordinator of TCU’s offense is intense during practice and knows what he wants to see. When a player or two didn’t live up to Meacham’s expectations he let them know about it, unconcerned that this was the team’s first practice together and some might consider that a reasonable excuse for not getting through everything flawlessly.

We only saw KU go through very basic drills, but Bender, Stanley and Starks all put good zip on their throws as they worked with what projects as a talented receiving group.

I only saw a little bit of the offensive line work, but one can’t help noticing the O-line seems to look a little more like a Big 12 unit each year — meaning the players responsible for protecting the QB appear collectively larger than their predecessors.

From left to right, here are the current listed measurements (KU hasn't officially updated them for 2017 as of yet) for what figures to be assistant Zach Yenser’s top five:

  • LT Hakeem Adeniji: 6-4, 265 sophomore

  • LG Jayson Rhodes: 6-4, 307 senior

  • C Mesa Ribordy: 6-4, 290 sophomore

  • RG Larry Hughes: 6-7, 311 junior

  • RT Charles Baldwin: 6-5, 305 junior

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Jayhawks worried loss to TCU could keep them from returning to K.C.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) is hounded by TCU guard Brandon Parrish, left, and TCU forward Karviar Shepherd (32) during the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) is hounded by TCU guard Brandon Parrish, left, and TCU forward Karviar Shepherd (32) during the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

In the moment’s following their unexpected early exit from the Big 12 tournament, Kansas basketball players sulked inside their temporary Sprint Center locker room Thursday, as they pondered a quarterfinal loss to TCU.

The Jayhawks lamented what they and head coach Bill Self deemed a lackluster defensive stretch with star freshman Josh Jackson serving a one-game suspension, but also tried to begin moving past the team’s fourth loss of the season. Looking ahead to The Big Dance, though, came with questions, and a feeling they could have blown a chance to control their path in the NCAA Tournament.

Senior all-everything point guard Frank Mason III wondered aloud about how KU’s loss to TCU might impact the team’s hierarchy among No. 1 seeds.

“And I think that, you know, if we would’ve done a good job in this tournament we probably would’ve been in the Midwest,” Mason said, implying the Jayhawks (28-4) could have cemented their chances to return to Kansas City, Mo., for games in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, “so we would’ve had home advantage.”

Kansas definitely hasn’t been eliminated from the running for a No. 1 seed and a spot in the Kansas City regional. But the players felt disappointed following the defeat, because they essentially left that decision in the selection committee’s hands, instead of winning three more games and forcing those in charge of the bracket to put the Jayhawks in the most favorable situation.

“We’re not really sure what’s gonna happen now,” Mason added.

Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr., too, said KU’s potential travel plans seemed up in the air due to its conference tournament setback.

“But it’s the tournament,” Bragg added of the upcoming NCAAs. “No matter where we play, we’re just gonna come to compete.”

Although KU’s most recent Sprint Center experience didn’t live up to the team’s expectations, the program is 34-7 all-time in the K.C. arena and 3-1 there this season. So the Jayhawks still hope to play two more games there March 23 and 25.

“For sure,” Bragg said. “Why not just play at home?”

As Matt Tait detailed, KU likely has no reason to worry about dropping to a No. 2 seed when the brackets are unveiled on Sunday, and it’s nearly a foregone conclusion the regular-season Big 12 champions will open March Madness in Tulsa, Okla. But the Jayhawks’ anxiety regarding where they will be sent for regional semifinals and finals — should they handle their business in the rounds of 64 and 32 — has some merit.

A year ago, Villanova ended up in the Louisville regional instead of its hometown of Philadelphia, after losing to Seton Hall in the Big East title game. The Wildcats, who overcame that more difficult road to win the national championship, entered the NCAA Tournament 29-5, but lost their potential No. 1 seed in the East to North Carolina, the ACC’s regular-season and postseason champion.

Could KU end up in the West (San Jose, Calif.), South (Memphis, Tenn.) or East (New York) regional now? When teams don’t make the selection committee’s job easy, one never knows how the road to the Final Four will look.

Senior big man Landen Lucas said the unpredictability the Jayhawks brought upon themselves made them feel worse.

“I think even today we saw how much a Kansas City crowd can help us at times,” Lucas said. “And we knew that, and we came out here and now nothing’s guaranteed. We’ve just gotta hope that our résumé up to this point does us enough to get the seed and the region that we want and go from there.”

Once the Jayhawks learn their bracket fate, Lucas isn’t worried about how they will respond.

“I think either way we’re looking at it just fine,” he said. “I mean, we’ve faced adversity throughout the whole year, so a challenge isn’t too big of a deal. But obviously playing here in front of this crowd would be helpful.”

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Devonte’ Graham and Jayhawks playing with ‘no pressure’ at Big 12 tournament

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates a three during the first half, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates a three during the first half, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — Winning the program’s 13th consecutive conference championship — by four games, no less — veteran Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham will tell you, was not easy (see: KU’s average margin of victory of 5.5 points in league play). Still, Graham also doesn’t mind sharing the Jayhawks enter the Big 12 tournament at Sprint Center virtually worry-free.

“Coach (Bill Self) keeps telling us there’s no pressure on us,” Graham, the Big 12 tourney’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, said Wednesday. “We just gotta go out and play. Just try to validate what we did in the regular season and come out and just play with a free mind.”

No. 1-ranked Kansas (28-3) knows how to do that by now, after winning all three games following their regular-season crown. That’s why no one should misinterpret Graham’s assessment that this team won’t — and shouldn’t — stress about the outcomes of this weekend’s games. The Jayhawks have big plans for the rest of the month, and what they accomplish in Kansas City will impact the fashion in which they enter the NCAA Tournament.

Graham said he and his teammates should have fun at the Big 12’s postseason showcase, because doing so also will fuel the players going forward.

“We don’t have Josh (Jackson) tomorrow, so guys gotta step up,” Graham said, referencing the one-game suspension of KU’s freshman star, “and we just need everybody to come from this tournament with a lot of confidence on the floor.”

A 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., Graham never lacks boldness on the floor, but he seems to be improving his offensive output just in time for the postseason, having nailed eight 3-pointers in KU’s final two regular-season wins (4-for-8 in each). And he definitely buys into the idea of Kansas gaining speed, strength and positive energy for March Madness.

“We get these couple wins and win the (Big 12) championship,” Graham said, “I think it’s big momentum going into the NCAA Tournament.”

An All-Big 12 second-team selection averaging 13.2 points and 4.3 assists, Graham knows Kansas should be prepared for whatever it sees and whomever it faces this weekend, due to the competitive nature of the conference and the round-robin schedule.

“We actually got a lot of people saying, ‘Why aren’t you blowing teams out?’ And it was just because a lot of the teams that were at the bottom of the league,” Graham would retort, “were really good teams. And it’s hard to play away from home. And we just found ways to win.”

KU opens the 2017 postseason Thursday afternoon (approximately 1:30 p.m., ESPN2) against TCU, which beat Oklahoma 82-63 Wednesday night.

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Josh Jackson should have more impactful postseason than Andrew Wiggins did

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) drives against Oklahoma forward Kristian Doolittle (11) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) drives against Oklahoma forward Kristian Doolittle (11) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse by Nick Krug

In 2014, one-and-done Kansas star Andrew Wiggins became the No. 1 pick in the draft after leading the Jayhawks in scoring. Yet, as this year’s KU team prepares to begin its postseason run, one gets the sense Kansas expects even more out of its latest NBA-bound freshman wing, Josh Jackson.

Three years ago, coach Bill Self needed Wiggins to score, draw fouls (he got to the free-throw line 227 times during his one year of college basketball), help the Jayhawks on the glass and use his athleticism and wingspan to defend all over the floor.

Self requires all of that and then some from the 6-foot-8 Jackson, who is a far more polished driver and passer for KU than Wiggins was before turning pro.

Wiggins definitely did a better job of staying out of trouble off the court during his brief stay in Lawrence. Jackson will serve a one-game suspension for KU’s Big 12 tournament opener on Thursday after backing into a parked car last month and failing to leave proper contact information. This display of poor judgment came in the same month Jackson was charged with criminally damaging a car in a separate incident.

Self has to be perturbed by Jackson’s actions, which led the coach to keep him out of the lineup for a postseason game. Fortunately for Self and the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (28-3), Jackson has looked far more shrewd on the court and even has overcome a tendency earlier this season to draw a technical foul here or there.

Speaking with media members on Monday, prior to news of Jackson’s suspension, Self cited his star freshman’s mental approach to basketball as a reason the explosive wing from Detroit has been able to set himself apart from past one-and-done prospects who passed through KU.

“In crucial situations, he’s got a calmness about him,” Self said of the 20-year-old Jackson. “I think that his intangible makeup is as good as any that I’ve ever been around, especially at that age.”

Wiggins was definitely the better athlete — which is saying something when you’re being compared to Jackson — but Self might trust Jackson as a player more than any freshman he has ever coached.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins drives around Eastern Kentucky forward Eric Stutz during the first half on Friday, March 21, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins drives around Eastern Kentucky forward Eric Stutz during the first half on Friday, March 21, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. by Nick Krug

Jackson and Wiggins arrived at Kansas in very different situations. Jackson gets to play in a four-guard lineup with all-league veterans Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. The most experienced guard Wiggins played alongside was Naadir Tharpe. Still, it’s difficult to envision Jackson’s college season — and career — ending with a 4-point outing in a loss, which turned out to be the case for Wiggins.

Jackson seems too competitive — and maybe it’s easier to be that way when you’re rolling with a national player of the year candidate like Mason — to not find multiple ways to impact the game every time he steps on the floor.

The freshman from Detroit has overcome the pressure of arriving at Kansas with the expectations of a rabid fan base hovering over him, too. Self said earlier this season playing under some duress might have led to some early struggles, such as 3-point shooting. A 37.7-percent 3-point shooter on the season, Jackson has knocked down 12 of 25 (48 percent) from deep since the end of January.

“But, you look at it, he’s been pretty consistently good in defense, rebounding, extra possessions, energy, making plays for others, passing,” Self said. “And you know he’s been a consistent scorer.”

Those skills and Jackson’s personality make him look like a far more dangerous player, capable of improving KU’s postseason chances, than Wiggins was three years before him.

The Canadian sensation came through with scoring outputs of 30, 22 and 19 points in the 2014 postseason prior to KU’s loss to Stanford in the first weekend. Jackson is so versatile he could put up big points like Wiggins or not and still give the Jayhawks a chance to win by doing the other things he’s shown all season.

Jackson might not end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, but he seems to have the kind of mental makeup and array of skills to do more for Kansas this postseason than Wiggins could in 2014.

Below is a look at the regular-season statistical output from both Wiggins and Jackson, prior to the start of the Big 12 tournament.

Andrew Wiggins' stats
entering 2014 postseason
Josh Jackson's stats
entering 2017 postseason
Games
Starts
31
31
31
31
Minutes
(avg.)
998
(32.2)
952
(30.7)
FG-FGA 165-365 194-380
FG% .452 .511
3s-3s att. 39-113 29-77
3-pt% .345 .377
FT-FTA 153-200 90-161
FT% .765 .559
Off. Reb.
Def. Reb.
69
113
73
151
Total Reb. 182 224
Reb. Avg. 5.9 7.2
Fouls 83 94
DQ 3 4
Assists 50 95
Turnovers 67 86
Blocks 29 33
Steals 36 51
Points 522 507
PPG avg. 16.8 16.4
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Frank Mason has vastly improved NBA chances with remarkable senior year

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While Frank Mason III’s extraordinary senior year has elevated Kansas to the No. 1 ranking in the nation and allowed the Petersburg, Va., native to accumulate a growing collection of individual awards, it also could pave his way to the NBA — which appeared far less likely before Mason’s supreme run through the 2016-17 season began.

Listed at 5-foot-11, Mason’s size, more than anything else, inspires evaluators at the next level to hesitate rather than assume his game translates perfectly to the NBA, where players are taller, stronger and faster than in the college ranks.

But Mason’s numbers this season — 20.5 points a game, 5.1 assists, 48.8 percent shooting from the floor, 49.3 percent accuracy from 3-point range — have forced his name into the NBA Draft conversation.

His college coach, Bill Self, who undoubtedly will go to bat for Mason via conversations with scouts, general managers and coaches in the months ahead, said Monday his tough-minded senior point guard has helped his case in another way, as well.

“I think winning trumps everything,” Self said. “I think Frank would agree with that. But also, you know, the naysayers would say, ‘Look, he's only 5-10.’ But the league is getting a little bit smaller and there’s more guys having success, whether it be a Yogi Ferrell or whatnot that's not that big.”

In the 2016 draft, the entire league passed on Ferrell, the Indiana point guard Self referenced. Now the 6-foot rookie is starting for Dallas and has a guaranteed contract.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) drives against Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) drives against Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

Mason is so diminutive by NBA standards that he even lacks Ferrell’s size — unless you add Mason’s hair to the equation. As Self mentioned, Mason probably is closer to 5-10. Fair or unfair, the league the KU senior aspires to join always has been one of giants. Self is right that the NBA is trending toward more guard-and-wing-heavy lineups, but the fact is very few roster spots are occupied by players similar to Mason.

So far this year in the NBA, only six players under 6-feet have appeared in games. One, Boston’s 5-9 dynamo, Isaiah Thomas, is enjoying an all-NBA-level campaign, which in theory could inspire some decision-makers to give Mason a longer look.

Query Results Table
Totals Per Game Shooting
Player Ht Age Tm G GS MP TRB AST STL TOV PTS FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TS%
Isaiah Thomas5-927BOS595934.32.76.20.82.729.5.459.381.540.908.621
Ty Lawson5-1129SAC561925.22.74.61.11.99.2.439.291.474.806.530
Tyler Ulis5-1021PHO42010.60.81.90.70.84.1.430.364.455.880.489
Kay Felder5-921CLE3709.51.01.30.40.74.0.394.350.420.711.469
Pierre Jackson5-1025DAL8110.51.12.40.30.44.4.333.273.372.857.416
John Lucas III5-1134MIN502.20.00.20.40.00.4.250.000.250.250
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/6/2017.

Although Thomas’ success is an outlier, the NBA once had serious questions about his chances, too, before Sacramento took him with the final pick in the 2011 draft. Self understands Mason will have to overcome similar skepticism.

“I don't think anybody has ever questioned his toughness or the fact that he's a good player. I just think they questioned can he do what he does against bigger guys and NBA players” Self said.

“The way he finishes and now the way he shoots it, it certainly puts you in a situation where you’ve gotta guard him,” KU’s coach added, championing his point guard’s ability and referencing Mason’s remarkable 70-for-142 shooting from 3-point range. “Now if you guard him, all you do is open up driving angles, which we all know he's very good at touching the paint off the bounce.”

The good news for Mason is the more of a name he makes for himself at KU, the more those who doubt him in the NBA will have to reevaluate their opinions. Entering the postseason, DraftExpress.com has Mason as the No. 58 choice (two picks before the final spot) in this June’s draft.

Mason began transforming himself into a legitimate NBA prospect this past summer. He said he learned a lot by going through pro-type workouts with players who had experienced the game at that level.

“And I think it really paid off for me,” he said.

Of course, Mason’s NBA future is not even in the driven senior’s field of vision right now, with his Jayhawks (28-3) gearing up for what they hope will be a March full of cutting down nets.

“I haven't really been thinking about that,” Mason said Monday in response to a question regarding his draft chances. “I’ve just been enjoying college and just focusing on the season. I haven't been thinking about the NBA.”

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Reinforcements: Bragg and Coleby capable of fortifying KU’s bench with Vick

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) pressure Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore (0) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) pressure Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore (0) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

When discussing the strengths of the top-ranked Kansas basketball team, one of the last facets likely to come up is the Jayhawks’ bench.

KU’s substitutes definitely haven’t derailed the team’s efforts — Kansas enters its regular-season finale Saturday at Oklahoma State at 27-3 overall and 15-2 in the Big 12. It’s just the backups haven’t blown anyone away, either.

Even so, coach Bill Self has to feel more positive than negative about the state of his bench with the postseason approaching, due to the recent resurgence of sophomore Lagerald Vick. The 6-foot-5 guard from Memphis has established himself as the clear sixth man.

Reserve bigs Carlton Bragg and Dwight Coleby, though, have not left the same kind of impression on their coach. Asked earlier this week what he likes about what the Jayhawks are getting from Vick, Bragg and Coleby, KU’s coach mentioned his big men only to acknowledge each had one memorable performance over the past few weeks.

“Dwight was great against Texas, Carlton was great against TCU. But it's been inconsistent,” Self said, prior to speaking at length about Vick’s qualities.

A 6-10 sophomore from Cleveland, Bragg turned in his best performance of the season against TCU, going for 15 points and 7 rebounds. The very next game, at Texas, 6-9 junior transfer Coleby had his foremost showing in a KU uniform, posting 12 points and 4 boards in 13 minutes.

Still, Self wants more from them, and he doesn’t even worry that much about how many points Bragg or Coleby — or even Vick — add to the Kansas mission. KU’s coach, who has navigated the program to 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, referred to bench scoring as a statistic that is “way, way, way, way overrated.” So he couldn’t care less that the Jayhawks’ bench players out-scored their counterparts in six straight games before losing that battle by 2 against Oklahoma earlier this week.

Vick’s scoring and shooting aren’t always there, but Self mentions him as the vital component of the bench unit because the springy sophomore can inject the lineup with energy.

Obviously, Bragg and Coleby can’t fly around the court the way Vick does. But they could win their coach’s favor by emulating the least showy player on the roster, starting center Landen Lucas.

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

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

So much of a glue guy it wouldn’t be surprising to see his face on a bottle of Elmer’s, Lucas provided an easy guide for Bragg and Coleby. According to the starter, here’s what KU needs out of either relief big when the fifth-year senior is on the bench:

- “Just to come in and defensively be in the right positions, making sure that it’s tough for the other team’s bigs to score,” Lucas began.

- “You know, use your fouls wisely — if you’re gonna foul, foul somebody. Make sure there’s not and-ones.”

- “Making sure that you just make the people that surround you better. That’s what I try to do and hopefully when I come out the game they can come in and continue to make the other guys better.”

- “And that really starts with the defensive end … and also rebounds and doing the small things.”

There you have it, straight from an expert on the subject. Bragg and Coleby can impact KU victories by taking the Lucas approach. When big men do that type of dirty work, the more enjoyable rewards, such as dunks and blocked shots, tend to follow, as well.

Vick might be the most reliable member of the Kansas bench right now, but there’s no reason Bragg and Coleby can’t try to catch up. Self knows Vick can make winning plays even without scoring. Now it’s time for the backup big men to do the same.

Said Self: “You know, we talk about people a lot of times as a team saying, you know, you can breathe life into the room or you can suck all the energy out of the room. And a guy off the bench needs to breathe life, breathe life into his team.”

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