Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”
The idea of a Kansas basketball victory Monday night at West Virginia seemed somewhere in the realm of debatable to unfeasible during the Jayhawks’ unproductive first half.
Incredibly, KU emerged as an unlikely victor, 71-66, by withstanding the Mountaineers’ physical defense early on and eventually achieving the type of levelheaded play it needed to win at WVU Coliseum for the first time in five years.
Scouring through the final numbers, here are five statistics that stood out for Kansas, and made the improbable comeback from a 16-point first-half deficit possible.
Points off turnovers
Who would have thought Kansas would ever come out of a 40-minute battle with Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers having posted fewer turnovers and more points off turnovers than “Press Virginia”?
Three of KU’s previous four opponents won the points off turnovers battle against these same Jayhawks. Entering Monday’s game at West Virginia, Kansas was losing that category by an average of 4.4 points a game in Big 12 play.
Nevertheless, the Jayhawks beat WVU at what Huggins’ teams typically do best, turning 16 Mountaineers mistakes into 21 points. West Virginia scored 16 off of KU’s 13 turnovers. That’s only a five-point swing in KU’s favor, but it sure came in handy in a five-point road win.
Coming into the Big Monday showdown, West Virginia was out-scoring opponents in this category by an average of 23.4-12.1 a game.
Kansas made seven of its nine steals in the second half, with Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick coming away with two apiece. WVU totaled 11 turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
The visitors appeared bound for a disastrous night on the turnover front, with eight giveaways in the game’s first 10 minutes, but only committed five more turnovers in the final 30 minutes of play.
Kansas trailed by nine before it held West Virginia to just six points over the course of the game’s final 5:53.
Head coach Bill Self has been waiting all season to see this team make consistent stops and the Jayhawks couldn’t have picked a better time or place to show they had it in them.
WVU missed eight of its final 11 field-goal attempts and turned the ball over three times as Kansas turned up its defense and finished the night on a 20-6 run.
Speaking of KU’s defense, the Jayhawks provided enough hindrances beyond the arc that West Virginia converted just five 3-pointers all night — its second-lowest total of the season. Even better for Kansas, it held the Mountaineers to its lowest 3-point field goal percentage of the year: 18.5 percent, on 5-for-27 shooting.
That number also qualified as the lowest 3-point percentage by a KU opponent this season. Foes had made 32.8 percent from beyond the arc in the Jayhawks’ previous 17 games.
WVU really struggled from deep in the second half, making just 1 of 13 tries — a measly 7.7 percent.
The two KU players who had experienced more road losses at WVU than any of their teammates, seniors Devonte’ Graham and Mykhailiuk made sure they finally left The Mountain State victorious.
The duo basically traded scoring responsibilities for the final eight-and-a-half minutes to complete the comeback. Although Mykhailiuk struggled with three turnovers in that span, he tried to make up for it by going 3-for-3 from the floor and 4-for-4 on free throws, scoring 12 of his 17 points in that stretch.
Graham provided eight points for KU in the same span, which got rolling in the right direction with an and-one layup by the senior leader. Graham also nailed a 3 and made another lay-in in the final five minutes, finishing with 16 points in his first win at WVU Coliseum.
Mykhailiuk and Graham accounted for 20 of KU’s final 28 points.
Second-half second-chance points
Although WVU missed 18 field goals in the final 20 minutes and grabbed seven for offensive rebounds, the home team wasn’t able to feast on second-chance points down the stretch.
In the second half, that category, another staple of Huggins’ teams, only provided the Mountaineers with four points.
It was another key area Kansas had to address, after WVU scored 10 second-chance points in the first half.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia
- Mountain of a comeback: Jayhawks stun West Virginia, move atop Big 12 standings
- Tom Keegan: Jayhawks far more effective with Azubuike on the floor
- Notebook: WVU’s Harris earns start despite reprimand; Self wears Huggins’ pullover
- The Keegan Ratings: Graham leads comeback, tops ratings at West Virginia
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Pressing on: Jayhawks rally for rare victory at West Virginia
Hearing from Big 12 coaches how brutal a schedule the league’s 10 teams play is a time-honored tradition at this point. At least this season those arguments built for soundbites seem more fact-based than ever.
The upper echelon of the conference might even be better than the mighty ACC’s, with four of the top 13 teams in the nation, according to KenPom.com, calling the Big 12 home.
At this point, the coaches of the league’s top teams likely wish their words were hollow, so their players could coast to a win every once in a while. Instead, even the programs toiling in obscurity nationally are far from the prey we’re used to seeing at the bottom of the standings.
For that reason, it seems Big 12 teams should enter the postseason more battle-ready than any others, what with the round-robin format and all.
Whichever program emerges as 2018 regular-season champion — and for the first time in 14 years it might not be Kansas — should not be slept on come March. Plus, the closer we get to The Madness, the more it seems even the teams that come up short in that title race will have as good a shot at making a deep NCAA Tournament run as the victors.
With so many quality lineups in the conference this season, the Big 12 Power Rankings are bound to fluctuate every week between now and Selection Sunday. We will monitor it all here in order to attempt to have a better grasp come March on which teams are best qualified to survive and advance.
Each team’s best victories and its losses — good, bad and in between — are considered in this process, using KenPom.com’s ratings, to classify the league’s most and least impressive squads to date.
Big 12 Power Rankings — Jan. 15, 2018
No. 1 - Texas Tech (15-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 5
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +8.6
Top-50 wins: No. 21 Nevada (OT), No. 43 Baylor, at No. 11 Kansas, No. 44 Kansas State, No. 10 West Virginia
Losses: No. 31 Seton Hall, at No. 13 Oklahoma
No. 2 - West Virginia (15-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 10
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +5.8
Top-50 wins: No. 40 Missouri, No. 3 Virginia, at No. 44 Kansas State, No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 43 Baylor
Losses: No. 29 Texas A&M, at No. 5 Texas Tech
No. 3 - Oklahoma (14-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 13
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +4.6
Top-50 wins: No. 45 USC, at No. 12 Wichita State, at No. 27 TCU, No. 5 Texas Tech, No. 27 TCU (OT)
Losses: No. 35 Arkansas, at No. 10 West Virginia
No. 4 - Kansas (14-3)
Kenpom ranking: No. 11
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +0.8
Top-50 wins: No. 25 Kentucky, at No. 27 TCU, at No. 38 Texas, No. 46 Syracuse, No. 44 Kansas State
Losses: No. 113 Washington, No. 26 Arizona State, No. 5 Texas Tech
No. 5 - TCU (13-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 27
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -1.6
Top-50 wins: No. 36 SMU, No. 21 Nevada, at No. 43 Baylor (OT)
Losses: No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 11 Kansas, at No. 38 Texas (2OT), at No. 13 Oklahoma (OT)
No. 6 - Baylor (11-6)
Kenpom ranking: No. 43
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -6.2
Top-50 wins: No. 24 Creighton, No. 38 Texas
Losses: at No. 18 Xavier, No. 12 Wichita State, at No. 5 Texas Tech, No. 27 TCU (OT), at No. 10 West Virginia, at No. 99 Iowa State
No. 7 - Oklahoma State (12-5)
Kenpom ranking: No. 58
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -4.0
Top-50 wins: No. 28 Florida State, No. 38 Texas
Losses: No. 29 Texas A&M, No. 12 Wichita State, No. 10 West Virginia, No. 13 Oklahoma, at No. 44 Kansas State
No. 8 - Texas (11-6)
Kenpom ranking: No. 38
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -2.2
Top-50 wins: No. 39 Butler, No. 27 TCU (2OT)
Losses: No. 4 Duke (OT), No. 7 Gonzaga (OT), No. 17 Michigan, No. 11 Kansas, at No. 43 Baylor, at No. 58 Oklahoma State
No. 9 - Kansas State (12-5)
Kenpom ranking: No. 44
Top-50 wins: N/A [Best win = at No. 58 Oklahoma State]
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -1.0
Losses: No. 26 Arizona State, No. 135 Tulsa, No. 10 West Virginia, at No. 5 Texas Tech, at No. 11 Kansas
No. 10 - Iowa State (10-6)
Kenpom ranking: No. 99
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -4.8
Top-50 win: No. 43 Baylor
Losses: at No. 40 Missouri, No. 212 Milwaukee, No. 44 Kansas State, No. 38 Texas (OT), at No. 58 Oklahoma State (OT), at No. 11 Kansas
During most of Saturday’s Sunflower Showdown inside Allen Fieldhouse, the Kansas defense found little success in trying to defend 6-foot-10 junior Dean Wade. The forward thrived when the Jayhawks tried to defend him one-on-one, and Wade shot 8-for-14 from the floor on his way to a team-high 22 points.
After KU dodged its third fieldhouse defeat of the season with a 73-72 victory over its rivals, head coach Bill Self described Wade’s offensive showing as “fabulous,” but also made sure to praise his sophomore center, Udoka Azubuike, for a couple “great” defensive sequences late in the game when asked to stop Wade.
The No. 12 Jayhawks (14-3 overall, 4-1 Big 12) don’t often have their 7-foot sophomore defend opposing bigs who spend much of their time operating on the perimeter. In the final minutes of a tight game, Self let his the big man and his teammates know K-State (12-5, 2-3) would look to use Wade on ball screens and then have him pop open for jumpers of face-up opportunities.
Azubuike already had blocked five Wildcats shots on the afternoon when his 280-pound frame entered the defensive spotlight for the game’s final seconds, along with sophomore guard Malik Newman, on the perimeter, far from the paint, where he is most comfortable and effective.
With the game clock ticking down, Wade came up from the left block to set a ball screen for Barry Brown Jr. The first time Wade tried to get involved, he came away from a screen on Newman to move over to the top of the key, and Azubuike stayed with him.
“When I saw that he set the screen he went to the other side and I knew (Brown) was going to pass the ball to him, so I tried to deny the pass to him as fast as I can,” Azubuike said of a pass that never came.
Instead, Wade came right back to Brown for another pick. Azubuike made one quick defensive slide to his left to make sure Newman had time to recover. The center extended his long right arm upward when he saw Brown gather for a potential game-winning 3-pointer, and by the time Brown got his shot off Newman had arrived to contest it even better.
“I just tried to get a high hand,” Newman said after the dramatic ending, “and big fella did a great job of getting a high hand.”
According to Newman, Azubuike has improved as a perimeter defender in those situations.
“He’s doing great. I think every day he’s getting better and better. For him to be that big and that mobile I think that just says a lot about how much he’s been working in the weight room and things like that,” Newman said, adding the big man’s back is doing “much better,” allowing Azubuike to play with more activity than he had in previous weeks. “He’s had great energy since I saw him this morning, so I knew he was coming ready to play.”
Self didn’t consider putting Azubuike on Wade in a potential pick-and-pop situation as ideal, so the Jayhawks may have been fortunate Brown opted for the contested 3 instead of a pass to Wade on the action.
Still, Azubuike reacted appropriately under pressure out of his element. Asked whether he trusts the second-year center to defend such actions, Self’s reply showed the coach thinks Azubuike often doesn’t meet his potential when defending on the perimeter.
“When Dok’s turned up he’s a great athlete. A great athlete. He can slide his feet and guard just about anybody when he’s turned up. And he was turned up,” Self offered. “I’m not saying that’s the ideal situation, but he was turned up.”
The effort was there with the game on the line. Now Self will want to see Azubuike move swiftly and smartly every time the young big is outside of the paint, helping defend the perimeter.
During the Big 12’s first 20 years of existence, a point guard emerged as the conference’s Player of the Year just twice. Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley took home the honor in 2001, and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart proved worthy of the distinction in 2013.
Four games into the 2018 league schedule, though, back-to-back seasons culminating with a point guard collecting the Big 12’s most coveted individual trophy seems inevitable.
Obviously, Kansas All-American Frank Mason III became the third lead guard to win Big 12 Player of the Year in 2017. The unmistakable front-runners for the prize this season all play point guard, too: Oklahoma’s Trae Young, KU’s Devonte’ Graham, Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans and West Virginia’s Jevon Carter.
The league’s list of influential ball-handling specialists doesn’t end there, either. As No. 12 Kansas (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) navigates its way through conference play, head coach Bill Self anticipates game-planning for and facing a strong point guard every step of the way.
“I’m sure it will end up being 9 for 9,” Self predicted. “Plus our guy, Devonte’. It’s a great guard league.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach wouldn’t go as far as to agree with the notion this current crop of point guards is as good as the conference has seen, but he admitted there seems to be a noticeable shift in which type of players are standing out and taking over.
“We’ve had good guards in our league, it seems like forever, but it seems like the most dominant players have usually been the bigs,” Self said, naming former players of the year Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin and referencing former KU big men such as Thomas Robinson, Wayne Simien and Marcus Morris, all of whom won Big 12 Player of the Year, as well. “But it seems the smaller player has been the more dominant player for sure last year and certainly this year, without question, with what Trae’s doing and with what other guards are doing.”
Young, a sensational freshman and likely All-American for Oklahoma, has posted such eye-popping numbers it will be difficult for any other guard in the league to outshine the 6-foot-2 shooting dynamo. Young torched TCU for 39 points in his Big 12 debut and enters this weekend’s rematch with the Horned Frogs, in Norman, Okla., averaging 30.5 points and 9.8 assists in league play.
In his senior season at KU, Graham is scoring (18.1 points per game) and dishing (7.5 assists) more than ever before, while also handling on- and off-court leadership responsibilities with ease. After an uncharacteristic shooting night in a win over Iowa State (4 for 14) earlier this week, Graham didn’t look like he would lose sleep over scoring only 11 points.
“I had nine assists, so I’m still satisfied with the night,” Graham said. “I feel like everybody played pretty well.”
At Texas Tech, Self said senior Evans has proven himself to be one of the premier players in the conference. Evans’ 19.9 points in Big 12 games have keyed the Red Raiders’ 3-1 start.
Surprisingly, West Virginia senior Jevon Carter posted single-digit scoring nights in wins over Kansas State and Baylor, leading to his 10.0 points-per-game average in conference. But the Mountaineers enter Saturday’s game at Texas Tech owners of the Big 12’s only unblemished conference record (4-0), and Carter’s season numbers — 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 steals — serve as a reminder of what he’s capable of over the course of the next couple of months.
Like Carter, Baylor senior Manu Lecomte’s scoring has dipped in league play thus far, but he has averaged 16.5 points overall and knocked down 3.3 3-pointers a game, while shooting 41.5 percent from long range.
Iowa State freshman Lindell Wigginton looks like a point guard who will give the rest of the league fits for years to come. Wigginton, a 6-2 lead guard from Canada, torched Kansas for 27 points on Tuesday by getting to the rim for layups in the first half and nailing three of his four successful 3-pointers in the second half.
TCU sophomore Jaylen Fisher’s 3-point shooting (43.9%) makes him difficult to defend on the perimeter and he’s second among all Big 12 players in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7), trailing only Kansas senior Graham (2.9).
Kansas State is going to miss the point guard play of junior Kamau Stokes, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury, when the Wildcats (12-4, 2-2) visit Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. Stokes assisted on 28 percent of K-State’s field goals prior to suffering the injury and buried seven 3-pointers earlier this year against Arizona State.
Even in Stokes’ absence, however, the Wildcats don’t seem to be in awful shape. Redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra replaced him Wednesday and contributed 17 points, four assists, one steal and three turnovers, while going 2 for 3 on 3-pointers in first career start, an 86-82 K-State home win over Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys, though off to a 1-3 start in Big 12 play, have seen graduate transfer Kendall Smith step in this season and make an impact when he scores. Wednesday’s defeat at K-State marked the first time Smith put up double-digit points and OSU lost.
Self thinks highly of Texas true freshman Matt Coleman, predicting the traditional point guard will be great for the Longhorns one day. Coleman already looked more than capable in UT’s double-overtime win over TCU this week, scoring 17 points and distributing a career-best 12 assists on the day the Longhorns announced point guard Andrew Jones has been diagnosed with leukemia.
The man who has coached Kansas to 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles thinks the best teams in the league this season will feature complementary big men, too — not just a great point guard. But it’s clear to Self and everyone else that, at least for now, it’s little man’s conference.
“Our league is so good — you can’t even say from top to bottom. Our league is just so good, period,” Self said of the 2018 race.
Big 12 point guards
Trae Young — Oklahoma freshman
29.2 points, 10.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 4.5 turnovers, 58-for-149 on 3-pointers (38.9%)
Devonte’ Graham — Kansas senior
18.1 points, 7.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 2.6 turnovers, 51-for-118 on 3-pointers (43.2%)
Keenan Evans — Texas Tech senior
17.3 points, 3.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.7 turnovers, 23-for-70 on 3-pointers (32.9%)
Jevon Carter — West Virginia senior
16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 2.8 turnovers, 32-for-81 on 3-pointers (39.5%)
Manu Lecomte — Baylor senior
16.5 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 49-for-118 on 3-pointers (41.5%)
Lindell Wiggington — Iowa State freshman
15.6 points, 2.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 2.2 turnovers, 29-for-70 on 3-pointers (41.4%)
Jaylen Fisher — TCU sophomore
11.7 points, 5.4 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 25-for-57 on 3-pointers (43.9%)
Kamau Stokes (out, foot) — Kansas State junior
13.4 points, 4.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 33-for-79 on 3-pointers (41.8%)
Cartier Diarra — Kansas State redshirt freshman
5.1 points, 1.7 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 1.4 turnovers, 13-for-29 on 3-pointers (44.8%) [17 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 2-for-3 on 3-pointers in first career start]
Kendall Smith — Oklahoma State graduate transfer
11.3 points, 3.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 17-for-50 on 3-pointers (34%)
Matt Coleman — Texas freshman
8.7 points, 5.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 12-for-52 on 3-pointers (23.1%)
Thanks to Oklahoma freshman Trae Young’s somewhat unexpected sensational play and hot starts for both West Virginia and Texas Tech, the rest of the college basketball world has been forced to pay attention to Big 12 teams not named Kansas this season.
The conference appears in great shape as of early January, with five programs currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and seven teams in position to land NCAA Tournament invites.
These developments — as well as the ongoing waiting game KU is going through regarding the eligibility of freshmen Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa — have made the Jayhawks’ chances of winning their 14th consecutive Big 12 title appear anything but concrete.
While the regular-season championship is one intriguing plot, so is the potential for numerous Big 12 teams to make serious March Madness runs toward the Final Four, in San Antonio.
It’s that big-picture, end-of-the-season, how-many-nets-can-you-cut-down potential that we hope to examine by checking out the résumés of the league’s 10 teams in the first installment of Big 12 Power Rankings.
Each team’s best victories and its losses — good, bad and in between — were considered, using KenPom.com’s ratings, to classify the league’s most and least impressive squads to date.
With so many quality lineups in the conference this season, the rankings are bound to fluctuate between now and the Big Dance. We will monitor it all each week in order to attempt to have a better grasp come March on which teams are best qualified to survive the coming madness.
Big 12 Power Rankings — Jan. 9, 2018
No. 1 - West Virginia (14-1)
Kenpom ranking: No. 10
Top-50 wins: No. 44 Missouri, No. 3 Virginia, at No. 43 Kansas State, No. 13 Oklahoma
Loss: No. 26 Texas A&M
No. 2 - Texas Tech (14-1)
Kenpom ranking: No. 4
Top-50 wins: No. 31 Nevada (OT), No. 36 Baylor, at No. 7 Kansas, No. 43 Kansas State
Loss: No. 18 Seton Hall
No. 3 - Oklahoma (12-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 13
Top-50 wins: No. 47 USC, at No. 11 Wichita State, at No. 23 TCU
Losses: No. 29 Arkansas, at No. 10 West Virginia
No. 4 - Kansas (12-3)
Kenpom ranking: No. 7
Top-50 wins: No. 22 Kentucky, at No. 23 TCU, at No. 37 Texas, No. 50 Syracuse
Losses: No. 109 Washington, No. 20 Arizona State, No. 4 Texas Tech
No. 5 - TCU (13-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 23
Top-50 wins: No. 34 SMU, No. 31 Nevada, at No. 36 Baylor (OT)
Losses: No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 7 Kansas
No. 6 - Baylor (11-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 36
Top-50 wins: No. 19 Creighton, No. 37 Texas
Losses: at No. 21 Xavier, No. 11 Wichita State, at No. 4 Texas Tech, No. 23 TCU (OT)
No. 7 - Texas (10-5)
Kenpom ranking: No. 37
Top-50 win: No. 38 Butler
Losses: No. 6 Duke (OT), No. 9 Gonzaga (OT), No. 32 Michigan, No. 7 Kansas
No. 8 - Oklahoma State (11-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 55
Top-50 wins: No. 24 Florida State
Losses: No. 26 Texas A&M, No. 11 Wichita State, No. 10 West Virginia, No. 13 Oklahoma
No. 9 - Kansas State (11-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 43
Top-50 wins: N/A [Best win = at No. 84 Vanderbilt]
Losses: No. 20 Arizona State, No. 121 Tulsa, No. 10 West Virginia, at No. 4 Texas Tech
No. 10 - Iowa State (9-5)
Kenpom ranking: No. 104
Top-50 wins: N/A [Best win = No. 54 Boise State]
Losses: at No. 44 Missouri, No. 200 Milwaukee, No. 43 Kansas State, No. 37 Texas (OT), at No. 55 Oklahoma State (OT)
Out-rebounded in four straight games and seven times this season, Kansas can hardly afford to lose its largest body and most important interior presence for long stretches — especially with Bill Self’s program still waiting to hear from the NCAA about the eligibility of freshmen forwards Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston.
When discussing how TCU beat the Jayhawks by 14 on the glass (42-28), Self emphasized sophomore center Udoka Azubuike has to stay on the floor for KU’s rebounding to be at its best.
“Mitch played great,” Self said of backup big Mitch Lightfoot’s nine-point, seven-rebound, six-block showing in an 88-84 Kansas road win Saturday night, “but Dok gets one rebound, because he only plays 13 minutes. That’s a tiny team you have out there.”
The 7-foot, 280-pound starting center from Nigeria spent so much time on the bench and contributed so few boards because of the frequency of his fouls versus the Horned Frogs.
Many wondered entering the season how much Azubuike’s impact would be limited by foul trouble, because in his injury-shortened freshman season he picked up four fouls in four of his 11 appearances. To the sophomore pivot’s credit, he has been much better at avoiding foul calls in his second year of college basketball.
The five-foul disqualification at TCU was an anomaly for the developing big man. In KU’s first 14 games Azubuike only got whistled four times once — against Syracuse. He enters Tuesday night’s home matchup with Iowa State averaging 2.7 fouls a game in his 24.7 minutes.
It’s important to remember: Azubuike’s size and the physical nature of his role means fouls are going to be inevitable. Self understands that. If the center is going to assert himself, personal fouls sometimes will accompany his style of play.
For example, the first whistle on Azubuike at TCU came when he began posting up his defender, Vlad Brodziansky, at the left elbow.
“His first foul was good,” Self said. “We backed him down, ran him over.”
Azubuike determinedly going after a potential offensive rebound led to his second foul. With both hands above his head, the center leapt up hoping to come away with the ball and an extra possession for Kansas.
“The second foul was bad. I mean, he didn’t touch him going over the back — you guys probably saw that on TV,” Self assessed of the infraction.
In other cases, reckless activity caught up to Azubuike — keep in mind the 18-year-old has played in 26 college games and some impulse-fueled mistakes along the way are unavoidable.
He picked up foul No. 3 when he bulldozed a TCU defender who had clearly established position inside while crashing to follow a Devonte’ Graham shot.
An even more obvious violation turned out to be the final and most costly transgression. With more than four minutes to play, Azubuike fouled out by trying to recover and swat a Brodziansky shot from behind.
“Then the last foul was awful,” Self said. “He went and swung at it like there was no time left and it was game point. He missed the ball, but he did catch his neck, and in most cases that’s a foul.”
There were cases where Azbuike got away with unseen or uncalled fouls, though. Often those came away from the ball, as he tried to out-physical Brodziansky for position and took it too far. On one second-half possession, Azubuike put his forearm into his man’s shoulders and nearly knocked him over.
Not surprisingly, seconds later, when Azubuike played some sound post defense, a bump from his lower body on Brodziansky drew what had to be a make-up whistle.
The KU center’s fourth foul came as he raised both hands skyward to contest a shot when his man pivoted toward the paint.
“He had many more times I thought where he was laying on the guy that they could’ve called a foul and they didn’t call it,” Self said. “So I think they end up balancing out.”
Azubuike doesn’t seem far away from keeping out of foul trouble and giving KU the space-eater and rebounder it needs. Self thinks one of the bad habits his sophomore post defender needs to break is using an off hand to ride a player going into a shot attempt while contesting or going for a block with the other.
“If he can just learn to contest with both hands up, things like that, I think they’re correctable,” Self said of the center’s shortcomings.
The only legit center on KU’s active roster, Azubuike might not be the best shot-blocker — that distinction goes to Lightfoot — but he is the team’s best rebounder. Azubuike has led the Jayhawks in rebounds nine times this year and, per sports-reference.com, he leads rotation players in both defensive rebound percentage (20.6%) and offensive rebound percentage (13.5%).
A KU lineup with Azubuike isn’t a perfect one, but it’s bigger and better equipped to rebound. If he can maximize his playing time — which he has much of the season — by finding the balance between actively pursuing offensive and defensive situations, and understanding when he must rein it back, it will help the Jayhawks reach their potential in every aspect of the game.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is never one to feel satisfied about his team’s defensive play. Of late, he hasn’t been thrilled with the Jayhawks’ ability to keep opponents — guards in particular — out of the paint.
When asked Thursday on the Big 12 coaches media teleconference about what KU could do to better protect the rim, Self made it clear perimeter defenders have failed to meet his expectations, so there is more to it than the Jayhawks’ current lack of front-court depth.
“That’s something that we have labored with all year and certainly that hurt us against Tech,” Self said of guards not keeping their man in front of them. “I don’t know how many straight-line drives they had. And you can’t really blame that all on rim protection; you’ve got to blame most of it on being able to guard the ball.”
A week into conference play, Kansas has surrendered 42 points in the paint (a season-high) to Texas and 32 to Texas Tech (fourth-highest through 14 games).
KU’s 39.4% field-goal percentage defense on the season, predictably, hasn’t maintained now that Big 12 play has arrived. Texas shot 43.1% against Kansas in a loss and Texas Tech made 43.3% of its shots in a road win.
Per hoop-math.com, KU opponents are attempting almost 28 percent of their shots at the rim — not a bad mark, considering it is 39th-lowest in the nation, among 351 teams. Foes have converted just above 57% (119th) of those layups, dunks and point-blank looks.
Self estimated Tech probably beat KU five to seven times with simple straight-line drives past a defender, without even making a real basketball move to find success, likening those instances to what Frank Mason III did to Kansas opponents so often a year ago: “just put your head down and go.”
The Jayhawks defending outside, Self added, have to do a better job of executing the plan laid out in scouting reports. But the coach admitted his forwards and centers also have to “play bigger.”
For now, with the status of both Billy Preston and Silviou De Sousa unresolved, that means KU needs 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike to maximize his paint-protecting potential.
“We need Udoka to be able to block and alter more,” Self said, before referencing why Azubuike might not have been as effective of late. “And there’s no excuse at all, but hopefully he’ll feel better physically, where he’s able to do that. His back is sore and he didn’t move very well against Tech — we didn’t think — at all. But it’s not from a lack of effort. I just don’t feel like he’s quite at 100 percent.”
Azubuike blocked just one shot in 57 combined minutes versus Texas and Texas Tech while dealing with back soreness. Backup forward Mitch Lightfoot blocked two shots in 18 minutes against UT and Tech.
The No. 10 Jayhawks (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) will have to better protect the rim Saturday night at No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1). According to hoop-math.com, the Horned Frogs get 44.1% of their shots at the rim — 22nd nationally. On those attempts TCU shoots 65.4% (70th in the country).
A domain so welcoming to the Kansas basketball team this season, the territory behind the 3-point line didn’t yield typical results for the Jayhawks in their Big 12 home opener Tuesday night.
KU experienced its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season — 6-for-26, 23.1 percent — in an 85-73 loss to Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse.
Shockingly, after opening the game 6-for-12 from long range, the home team’s final successful 3 of the game came 2:23 before the two teams left the court for halftime. The Jayhawks missed their final 14 3-point tries of the loss, which included an 0-for-12 second half.
Afterward, KU senior guard Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 2-for-8 on 3-pointers) was asked if going 0-for in the final 20 minutes had anything to do with the Red Raiders’ defense.
“Nah, just off shooting basically. I didn’t know we missed all 12, but, yeah, it was just an off shooting night,” Graham replied.
The team’s leader had reason to remain so self-assured. Even after the slump-filled night, Kansas remained ranked 21st nationally in 3-point accuracy (40.9 percent) on the season.
Still, considering No. 10 KU (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) has experienced such ruts before — 8 of 28 versus Kentucky, and 5 of 20 against Washington are the other sub-30 percent performances — and the team relies on 3-pointers as a weapon (see: the Jayhawks’ double-digit makes from downtown in eight games) it seemed worthwhile to look back at the 3-pointers that did and didn’t drop for Kansas in the loss to No. 18 Texas Tech (13-1, 2-0).
Below is a sequential recap of the long-distance misfires and hits (X = miss; √ = make).
X (19:03) — On KU’s opening possession Lagerald Vick settled for a contested step-back 3 from the left wing with the shot clock approaching 5 seconds.
√ (16:54) — Off a baseline out of bounds set, Graham drove into the paint and kicked out to the right corner for a wide-open Svi Mykhailiuk.
X (15:02) — Graham rose up early in the shot clock when given too much space, and just left it short.
X (14:15) — With the shot clock around seven, Graham opted to take a contested 3-pointer up top.
√ (9:58) — KU beat Tech’s transition defense as Graham threw ahead for Mykhailiuk on the right sideline, in front of the Red Raiders’ bench.
X (8:50) — Garrett kicked to Vick on the left half of the floor, but Keenan Evans was right there to outstretch his left arm and contest.
√ (8:32) — Another Graham push with Mykhailiuk out in front of him on the right wing provided an open look, yet again in front of the Tech bench.
√ (7:12) — Graham saw an open window up top when Niem Stevenson gambled, trying to swipe a Mitch Lightfoot pass, and Graham stepped into a 3-pointer
X (6:13) — Malik Newman caught a Graham pass on the right wing and tried to jab-step Justin Gray to create space for a step-back 3, but Gray stayed low, then got his hand in Newman’s face
√ (4:54) — Graham, whose feet stood on the beak of the giant mid-court Jayhawk logo, simply ball-faked on a catch to give himself room, took one dribble to his left and nailed a long 3 before Gray could recover.
X (4:09) — When Tech smothered Graham with a trap in the left corner, it left Vick wide open 10 feet away. Despite the extra space, Vick’s 3 rimmed out.
√ (2:23) — Azubuike caught an entry pass in the paint just below the free-throw line. When Tech’s defense shifted its focus toward the 7-footer, the center spotted backup wing Sam Cunliffe open in the left corner for as open a look as he’ll see all year.
X (1:18) — Following a timeout, Graham dribbled up the floor and Mykhailiuk set a ball screen for the point guard before popping open for a quality 3, which hit the back of the iron.
X (0:43) — Graham tried to exploit Tech’s retreating transition defense by pitching the ball to Mykhailiuk on the perimeter for a third time. When Tech closed out and forced him to drive, the senior from Ukraine kicked to Vick, who had a great look from the right side rim out.
X (16:59) — Mykhailiuk effectively slipped a ball screen for Graham and found an opening in the right corner. A pump fake sent Jarrett Culver flying by Mykhailiuk, who rose up and missed a high-percentage shot, leaving it short.
X (15:45) — A ball screen at the top of the key courtesy of Azubuike allowed Mykhailiuk to reach the apex of his jumper before his defender could recover. However, the 3 only made it as far as the front of the rim.
X (14:57) — Vick’s baseline drive gave him a lane to make a skip pass out to the right wing for Mykhailiuk, who missed his fourth 3 in a row.
X (10:04) — KU tried running Mykhailiuk off an Azubuike pick near the right block, and the 280-pounder gave the Ukrainian senior ample space for a right-corner 3, which refused to fall through the cylinder during a tough second-half stretch for Mykhailiuk.
X (7:03) — Thinking he might have caught Brandone Francis off guard as Marcus Garrett attempted to get open a few feet away, Graham pulled up with 21 seconds on the shot clock and misfired while fading away from Francis on a 3.
X (5:41) — Utilizing no action, Newman attempted to go one-on-one versus Francis on the left side of the floor, settled for a well-defended 3 with 17 left on the shot clock and missed to the left.
X (5:19) — A hard dribble and step-back gave Mykhailiuk the clearance he desired near the right corner momentarily, but Culver regrouped to get a hand in the shooter’s face.
X (5:17) — Mykhailiuk’s long offensive rebound of his own missed 3 allowed him to shovel a pass out to an open Graham at the top of the arc, but his fellow senior missed as a defender flew past him.
X (4:11) — Newman drove and passed to nearby Vick on the left wing. Though the junior from Memphis made a quick dribble to get more open, Francis’ extended arm obstructed Vick’s look at the 3.
X (1:54) — Down eight with less than two minutes to play, Graham tried to deliver a needed 3 from the right corner off a Newman pass. But he did so knowing Zhaire Smith was right there, and left the attempt short.
X (1:07) — With the Red Raiders’ lead up to 10, Vick dribbled into a pull-up 3 on the right side, but Culver went up to defend it and make sure KU got nothing easy.
X (0:11) — The game was all but over, and Graham raced up the floor and missed a 3 defended by Culver.
Unsurprisingly, KU fared far better when it found quality looks at 3-pointers (6-for-10 in the first half, 6-for-15 overall), as opposed to attempts that qualified as less-than-ideal (0-for-4 in the first, 0-for-11 overall).
Asked for his assessment of what his Red Raiders — now 14th nationally, with a 29.3 percent 3-point defense — did to take away one of KU’s strengths, Chris Beard said some good luck played a part in it.
“They got some good looks. We made some mistakes on some switches, so we were fortunate tonight,” Beard said. “But I think you’ve got to give our players credit. I do feel like there was an urgency to guard the 3-point line. With that came the opportunity for Kansas to drive the ball against us in the second half. But luckily we had a lead big enough to where we could sustain that.”
Bill Self, when discussing how Tech’s defense of the 3-point line might have differed from other opponents, cited how the Red Raiders defended ball screens. Beard’s players iced or downed in those situations at times — a strategy that, when successful, takes away the potential to even attempt a 3-pointer, because the defenders aren’t going under picks, gifting shooters with clear lines of vision.
“They are a pressure defensive team. Chris has done a great job of getting them up the floor and playing their man before he catches it and all that stuff. So I would say they did a good job of playing higher on the floor and not letting us get a lot of wide-open looks,” Self said.
“To me, the first half we made six 3’s and I thought three of them were awful shots, they just happened to go in,” KU’s coach added.
Mykhailiuk, who went 3-for-4 from 3-point distance in the first half and 0-for-5 in the second, said the Red Raiders’ defensive activity made them unique.
“Definitely. It started with denying the ball,” said Mykhailiuk, who is shooting 38-for-84 (45.2 percent) on 3’s this year. “They didn’t let us catch anything. It was breaking down everything.”
The Jayhawks will look to rediscover their 3-point touch Saturday at No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1). The Horned Frogs have held opponents to 33.3 percent 3-point shooting (128th in the country).
The past 12 months — September through November in particular — undeniably featured more failures than triumphs for the forlorn University of Kansas football program.
With a new year imminent, evoking reflection on all that transpired during 2017, constructing a best-of recap for KU football would qualify as disingenuous.
Instead, because not everyone can be as “super-positive” as Jayhawks head coach David Beaty, here are the 17 lowest moments the team endured throughout 2017, a year filled with matters most associated with the program would prefer to forget.
No FBS wins/11-game losing streak
The high point of Beaty’s third season leading the Jayhawks came and went on the first Saturday of September, when KU beat overmatched Southeast Missouri State, 38-16.
Following that victory against an FCS opponent, Kansas tailspun into an 11-game losing streak.
By the time the schedule wrapped up with KU losing eight of its nine Big 12 games by 22 or more points, Beaty’s record with the Jayhawks dropped to 3-33 overall and 1-32 against FBS competition.
Oklahoma handshake debacle
The rest of the college football universe would have gone on ignoring the Jayhawks’ on-field miseries had the team’s captains not decided to snub eventual Heisman Trophy-winner Baker Mayfield during a pre-game handshake in KU’s home finale.
Alternatively, Beaty and captains Daniel Wise, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Joe Dineen and Jeremiah Booker spent the following days apologizing to Mayfield, the Oklahoma program, KU fans, the Big 12 and college football, in general, after losing the game 41-3.
KU offense collapses at TCU
The Jayhawks’ branded Air Raid offense crashed and burned often this past season, but never looked more clumsy than in a prime time road loss at TCU, on Oct. 21.
Forget scoring 21 points in a game — a feat KU accomplished twice during Big 12 play — the offense mustered just 21 total yards, the fewest by an FBS team in at least 20 seasons, against the Horned Frogs.
KU’s longest play from scrimmage went 13 yards and the offense netted minus-25 yards rushing in a dumbfounding performance.
Record-breaking road skid
For the eighth consecutive season, KU failed to win a road game.
The Jayhawks took on the unenviable distinction of owning the longest road losing streak in major college football history with their 45th straight defeat in an opponent’s stadium, Nov. 11 at Texas.
The skid extended to 46 with KU’s season-ending, 58-17 loss at Oklahoma State. What’s more, the loss marked the program’s 49th consecutive defeat outside of Lawrence, when neutral site games are included. Plus, KU has dropped 41 conference road contests in a row.
‘Fire Zenger’ banner flies
In the hours before KU’s Oct. 28 rivalry game with Kansas State, a plane flew above Memorial Stadium with a banner in tow which read: “Fire Zenger.”
The airborne suggestion referenced KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and the football program’s ongoing struggles, which have rendered increasing numbers of the fan base dissatisfied over the past couple of years.
After KU lost, 30-20, Beaty described the idea of displaying such a message in the air space above campus as “asinine.”
Jason, most of ‘Louisianimals’ back out
On one wild weekend this past February, KU football fans didn’t quite know what to make of the program soaring up recruiting rankings by landing verbal commitments from several touted prospects, six of which hailed from Louisiana and were recruited by Kansas assistant Tony Hull.
In announcing the Pelican State pledges from recruits Anthony “Pooka” Williams, Devonta Jason, Corione Harris, Ja’Marr Chase, Aaron Brule and Nelson Jenkins, Beaty included the nickname: Louisianimals.
While both Williams and Harris eventually became early signees with KU, the other four de-committed, including the most promising talent in the group, four-star receiver Jason, who signed with Mississippi State.
Inept at Iowa State
In retrospect, it was a harbinger of what awaited KU at TCU. In the moment, it seemed as though the Jayhawks’ offense bottomed out in a 45-0 defeat at Iowa State.
Kansas amassed just 106 total yards and five first downs in Ames, Iowa.
In unimaginable fashion, the Cyclones completed three series on offense before KU got a chance to run its second offensive play, thanks to a muffed punt return and an interception in the game’s opening minutes.
From the day KU signed quarterback Peyton Bender, the former Mike Leach pupil at Washington State was identified by Beaty as a challenger for KU’s most visible starting job.
Bender debuted as the No. 1 QB in the season opener and maintained that status through four games, before the staff benched the junior at halftime of a drubbing at the hands of Texas Tech.
Although Bender would start the next two weeks, his passing numbers proved less than tame in back-to-back shutouts at ISU and TCU.
Demoting Bender to backup duties and giving Carter Stanley the job for the following four weeks was the right move at the time, but served as a reminder of the team’s inability to find and/or identify an impactful QB.
Program a punching bag during broadcasts
Opponents overwhelmed KU so often in 2017, the broadcasters paid to describe and analyze the Jayhawks’ play on television sometimes were brutally honest or at a loss for words.
At one point during the road loss at Ohio, a broadcaster for ESPNU assessed “Kansas is not a good football team.”
More infamously, during halftime of the face-plant at TCU, FOX studio analyst and former Hesiman winner Matt Leinart face-palmed when asked to describe KU’s play, and couldn’t fight off the desire to laugh.
Charlot fails to make an impact
A much-hyped receiver who transferred to Kansas from national powerhouse Alabama in 2016, Daylon Charlot barely produced anything in his debut season.
Once a four-star prep receiver considered talented enough to play for Nick Saban, Charlot returned five kickoffs for 82 yards on KU’s special teams and made one reception for zero yards on offense.
Before the season even neared its conclusion, the staff decided to move the receiver to defense, where he became an end-of-the-bench safety.
Home loss to Central Michigan
For those KU football fans hoping 2017 would be a season of progress, the Week 2 home loss to Central Michigan signaled a path in the opposite direction.
The Chippewas, who went on to finish third in the MAC’s West division, took the lead for good in the second quarter and won, 45-27.
Any promise of Kansas winning more than three games for the first time since Mark Mangino was forced out disappeared prior to Week 3.
Days ahead of preseason camp, Beaty kicked LaQuvionte Gonzalez off the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Though disciplining a talented player is commendable, the removal of Gonzalez served as another lowlight.
Beaty hand-picked the speedy receiver, whom he recruited to and coached previously at Texas A & M, hoping Gonzalez could aid a massive rebuild at Kansas.
The receiver the KU coach had previously called his “son” blew a chance to help Beaty look good, and instead disobeyed guidelines established by the man in charge.
Blown out after bye week
The goal coming off an in-season idle Saturday is to return to the field feeling fresh and looking improved. Extra time off for KU in late September did nothing of the sort.
Following the Jayhawks’ Big 12 opener, a 56-34 home loss to West Virginia, the staff and players had more recovery and preparation time than usual and responded by laying an egg at Memorial Stadium versus a Texas Tech team that would go on to finish eighth in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders clobbered KU, 65-19, in front of a season-worst announced home crowd of 21,050.
KU always needs help on its offensive line, and from the day Charles Baldwin, a former five-star junior college prospect, arrived in Lawrence, it was assumed the 6-foot-5, 305-pound tackle could provide just that.
Baldwin proved as effective for KU this past fall as he did in his short-lived spring stint with Alabama in 2016. By early September, the right tackle disappeared from the depth chart. Shortly after, his No. 58 uniform was nowhere to be seen on Saturday — not even during warm-ups or on the sidelines during home games, where even seldom-used backups typically participate and spectate.
Armstrong falls short of preseason honor
Back in July, at the apex of the offseason optimism surrounding Kansas, media members who cover the Big 12 voted defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. the league’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Following that unprecedented distinction for a Jayhawk, though, the junior from Houston couldn’t duplicate the statistical success of his breakout sophomore season.
While KU’s defensive schemes and altering of Armstrong’s responsibilities played a factor in the drop-offs, the 6-4 D-end’s production went from 20.0 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2016, to 9.0 TFLs and 1.5 sacks in 2017.
The only unanimous selection to the media’s preseason all-league defensive team, Armstrong finished the year as a second-team selection of the Associated Press.
Tune spurns Kansas — twice
Most who follow college football recruiting realize a prospect backing off a verbal commitment always is a possibility. But for a potential signee to do so twice — to the same program — is bizarre.
That’s how quarterback Clayton Tune’s recruitment played out with KU. The Texas prep first pledged to the Jayhawks in February, then de-committed in October, when he checked out Baylor and Kansas got embarrassed at TCU on the same Saturday.
Somehow, the day after KU’s season ended, Tune re-committed as members of the coaching staff visited his home. The reconsideration proved fleeting, though, as Tune began exploring other options in December and reneged yet again.
Sternberger leaves KU
When tight end Jace Sternberger cut his time with Kansas short this past spring, opting to transfer out of the program ahead of what would have been his redshirt sophomore season, it didn’t seem especially devastating at the time.
However, the 6-foot-4 target needed just one fall at Northeastern Oklahoma A & M to remind everyone of his potential.
While Sternberger could’ve become a natural replacement for Ben Johnson at KU in 2018, he instead became the first prospect to commit to new Texas A & M coach Jimbo Fisher. Sternberger signed with the Aggies in December.
Some serendipitous timing, thanks to the schedule-makers for both the Kansas men’s basketball team and the NBA, allowed KU’s 2017 National Player of the Year and current Sacramento rookie Frank Mason III to take a courtside seat and watch the Jayhawks defeat Stanford Thursday night.
Seeing as how Mason knew the Jayhawks as well as anyone inside at the new Golden 1 Center not named Bill Self, the point guard slipped on a headset and joined the ESPN2 broadcast to discuss all things Kansas.
Although the Kings are his priority, Mason, averaging 8.6 points and 2.7 assists in 21.1 minutes this month, said he continues to follow the Jayhawks closely.
“I try to keep up with them as much as I can. I search Twitter, and if I can watch the game I definitely do that,” Mason said, before reiterating his Senior Night claim that he would’ve played more than four years for KU if possible. “But I’m always supporting my Jayhawks. I love them to death.”
ESPN’s Sam Farber and P.J. Carlesimo prompted Mason to explain what he misses about Lawrence and his time at Kansas.
“I miss absolutely everything. The amazing fans, my professors, coaches, teammates, the dormitory we live in — we called it a mansion,” Mason joked of McCarthy Hall. “It’s great, man. So I miss everything. And I miss the fans who come through Kansas. I miss playing in the fieldhouse — 16,300 fans every night, they bring unbelievable energy.”
For years to come, of course, Mason’s time with the Jayhawks will be associated with the program’s ongoing Big 12 title streak, currently at 13 years. He felt certain even though he won’t be contributing this season, as Self’s bunch attempts to break college basketball’s all-time conference title streak Kansas shares with UCLA, his former teammates know how much the run of excellence means to so many.
“Every player on the team don’t want to be a part of the team that ends that streak. So I think they’re all aware of that,” Mason said. “They worked really hard during the offseason and they take the responsibility to go out there and get a win every night.”
Asked about Oklahoma freshman phenom Trae Young and how the rest of the Big 12 stacks up this season, Mason wasn’t ready to assume the Jayhawks will make it 14 in a row with ease.
“I think that it’s definitely going to be a challenge. I think Trae is doing a great job over there at OU, and he’s doing more than scoring. He’s assisting the ball really well. They have a fantastic coach over there, too,” Mason added of Lon Kruger, “so I’m looking forward to Big 12 play. I think it’s going to be a really, really fun season.”
The former KU all-American hopes to get back to Allen Fieldhouse over the NBA’s All-Star break and said he is eying KU’s Feb. 17 home date with West Virginia. In the meantime, he’ll continue to enjoy watching his longtime backcourt running mate Devonte’ Graham take on a larger role as a senior.
“He’s running the show, I think he’s doing a fantastic job,” Mason began to say, before Graham dished one of his five first-half assists. “Look at that pass right there. What a pass by Devonte’ Graham.”
His air time couldn’t conclude without the ESPN crew asking Mason for his prediction on how the rest of the KU season will play out.
“That’s a rhetorical question,” Mason replied. “I think we’re going to win it all this year.”
The NCAA’s new December early signing period for college football began Wednesday morning, and once the prospects could make their commitments official, the letters of intent from transfers began rolling in for Kansas.
After five junior college players and one graduate transfer became the first six to send in their documents, KU added its first high school signee when Texas prep offensive lineman Jacobi Lott did the same.
The biggest moment of the morning by far, though, came when New Orleans prep cornerback Corione Harris, a four-star prospect attached with this KU class for more than 10 months, announced he will sign with the Jayhawks instead of Mississippi State — where his prep teammate and former KU commit Devonta Jason decided to go.
High school and juco prospects have until Friday to sign, but they don’t have to do so. Players can just as easily wait until February 7 for National Signing Day if they so choose.
Putting it off until then would allow many undecided players to further weigh their options and visit more programs before making a final decision.
Below is a rundown — which will continue to be updated through the day — of which players can officially be called members of KU’s 2018 recruiting class.
• Mavin Saunders | 6-5, 256 | TE | Florida State
• Jeremiah McCullough | 6-0, 205 | S | Hartnell College
• Davon Ferguson | 5-10, 190 | DB | Hartnell College
• Elijah Jones | 6-1, 175 | CB | Ellsworth Community College
• Najee Stevens-McKenzie | 6-3, 225 | DE | ASA College
• Azur Kamara | 6-4, 225 | DE | Arizona Western College
• Jacobi Lott | 6-4, 309 | OL | Tascosa High (Texas)
• Charles Cole | 6-3, 280 | DT | Butler Community College
• Foster Dixson | 6-4, 250 | DE | West Los Angeles Community College
• Stephon Robinson | 5-10, 170 | WR | El Camino Community College
• Mac Copeland | 6-4, 245 | OL | Wichita Collegiate High
• Nick Williams | 6-8, 265 | OL | Ritenour High (Mo.)
• Corione Harris | 6-1, 170 | CB | Landry-Walker High (La.)
• Elmore Hempstead Jr. | 5-11, 175 | CB | Fort Scott C.C.
A two-sport high school star in Arizona whose career path as a college athlete began with the UMass football program, James Sosinski’s past two years have included stints as a redshirt quarterback, a junior college basketball player and a first-time tight end. Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse, he added Kansas basketball big man to his résumé.
With only 3:40 left in the Jayhawks’ rout of vanquished Omaha, KU coach Bill Self had no problem emptying his still shorthanded bench and putting the Kansas football reserve on the floor for mop-up duty.
“I asked him, ‘Hey, can you do this?’” Self related of a back-and-forth with the 6-foot-7 forward from Chandler, Ariz., before Sosinski checked in. “And he said, ‘I don’t know any of it.’ I said, ‘Well, just ball-screen and run to the rim.’ And he did, and ended up getting a couple of baskets.”
Sosinski’s first action wearing his No. 55 Kansas basketball uniform — as opposed to his No. 89 KU football jersey — turned out to be a foul. But a defensive rebound of a missed free throw soon followed. And, as Self referenced, the final minutes of KU’s 109-64 drubbing of the Mavericks included Sosinski banking in a shot from the paint and tipping in a missed attempt by Marcus Garrett.
“Points per minute he led the team in scoring,” Self joked after Sosinski contributed 2-for-2 shooting, four points and two rebounds in four minutes. “But I thought he did good for a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing at all.”
Following KU’s late November victory over Toledo, Self initially revealed he was looking into adding Sosinski to the basketball roster by having the backup tight end practice with his team. The 250-pound redshirt sophomore convinced Self through his efforts in those auditions he was worth a flier, and first suited up for Kansas against Washington, on Dec. 6. He just never found himself actually in position to play until Monday night.
“I knew that if I got the opportunity,” Sosinski said following his hardwood kickoff, “I would try to make the most of it and just work my hardest.”
The two-sport Jayhawk, of course, never figured when he arrived on campus this past August he would premiere as a basketball player instead of a football player.
“That’s crazy to think,” Sosinski said. “But it’s sure nice to get in.”
KU football coach David Beaty first introduced the idea of dabbling in basketball to him after the Jayhawks’ 1-11 season concluded, Sosinski said. Self had reached out to Beaty to inquire about the possibility, due to his team’s uncharacteristically shallow rotation.
Self didn’t guarantee Sosinski anything the first time they spoke, in late November.
“So I just went out there and hustled as hard as I could and tried to do my best,” the new Kansas basketball bench supporter said.
Such an improbable scenario never would have been possible had KU linebackers coach Todd Bradford not watched Sosinski at a football camp this past summer. The former UMass quarterback who broke his foot in 2015, and didn’t play that sport anywhere in 2016 eventually earned an offer to come to Kansas as a tight end, a position he had never played.
“Having a year off from football was hard,” Sosinski said, when asked about his role with KU football the past several months, when he didn’t appear in a game. “I didn’t take it for granted. I didn’t pout. I just tried to work hard every day and tried to get better, and I’m looking forward for the season next year and hopefully we can get back on track.”
Self isn’t in such dire straits, and made it clear from the time Sosinski joined the basketball program his role would be the same as one of the roster’s walk-ons. But the 15th-year KU coach thinks having Sosinski around has benefited the team — even if it’s as simple as being able to take him on the road and practice, as was the case this past weekend at Nebraska.
“But we really haven’t needed him as much as you would think,” Self added, because 6-10 freshman Billy Preston hasn’t been cleared to play yet, so he and 6-9 transfer Dedric Lawson have been practicing with KU’s red team. “So we’ve got some bigs there. But James is our best low-post defender on (starting center Udoka Azubuike). There’s no question. He can put a body on him and foul him and get him off his spot better than anybody, which I think is good for Dok to play against.”
The whole transition remains a work in progress for Sosinski, who admitted he probably still isn’t in basketball shape. But he feels grateful for his unlikely role, same as any minutes he might scrape together as an end-of-the-bench fill-in.
“They needed help in basketball,” Sosinski said, “and I just love going out there and helping the big guys get work in practice and helping everyone out.”
It’s safe to say Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk’s offense began to fall into a bit of a funk the past couple of games, with consecutive sub-30-percent shooting outings in the Jayhawks’ two defeats.
After a string of seven consecutive double-figure scoring performances to start his final year in a KU uniform, Mykhailiuk’s struggles began in KU’s loss to Washington, when he shot 3-for-12 from the field, made just two of eight 3-point tries and scored 8 points. Plus, the typically sure-handed guard, who entered the game averaging only 1.1 turnovers, gave the ball up three times.
Mykhailiuk couldn’t shake his turnover woes in the Jayhawks’ loss to Arizona State, either. All four of his miscues came in the second half of the setback — leading to 5 of ASU’s 25 points off turnovers.
And although the 6-foot-8 senior from Ukraine made three of his final five field-goal attempts in the final six-plus minutes versus the Sun Devils to finish with 14 points, the nine shots that left his hand prior to that run all misfired. In the loss, Mykhailiuk missed 11 of his 14 shot attempts overall and saw 3-pointers rim out or bounce off the rim eight different times (3-for-11).
It’s important to note, though, that the mini-slump doesn’t have Mykhailiuk’s coach, Bill Self, worried about the senior’s game moving forward.
“He hasn’t played well. He didn’t have a good game against Arizona State, but for the most part this year he’s been good,” Self said of KU’s third-leading scorer, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 turnovers, while shooting 30-for-65 on 3-pointers (40%), 44.3% from floor, and 10-for-14 on free throws (71.4%).
“And nobody tries harder than Svi, so he’ll be fine,” Self said. “He’ll be fine.”
Mykhailiuk’s consistent effort even showed up in the home loss to ASU. To the senior’s credit, during a volatile afternoon on the court, he at least facilitated the offense in the first 20 minutes, even though his shot wouldn’t fall. While going 0-for-5 in the opening half, Mykhailiuk also dished six assists — setting up a Malik Newman 3-pointer, a Lagerald Vick layup, a pair of Vick 3-pointers and back-to-back Vick dunks.
In KU’s consecutive losses to Pac-12 foes, Mykhailiuk’s averages read: 36 minutes, 11 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3.5 turnovers. He shot 6-for-26 from the field (23%), 5-for-19 on 3-pointers (26%) and 5-for-6 on free throws (83%, with no attempts vs. Washington).
While such a stretch might have unnerved him in past seasons, Mykhailiuk hasn’t appeared rattled of late. If anything, he shows some frustration after a costly turnover, then goes back to taking the same offensive approach that has made him more effective this season.
And even though he is still only 20 years old, the senior now is mature and confident enough to keep attacking and shooting when shots aren’t falling.
Following the loss to Washington, Mykhailiuk was asked whether there was more pressure to knock down open looks when the Huskies’ defense had set up so well to take the 3-point weapon away from Kansas.
“It’s the same mentality. When you’re open you’ve got to shoot it no matter what,” Mykhailiuk responded.
If his offensive arsenal is lacking anything at this point, with No. 13 Kansas inching closer to Big 12 play, it’s determined drives to the paint. Self said the previous season Frank Mason III used to go off the dribble, get into the lane and either force help or draw fouls.
“Svi can do a better job of that,” Self said, after identifying Devonte’ Graham and Vick as the only effective drivers for KU thus far.
Entering Saturday’s game at Nebraska (7-4), Mykhailiuk has attempted only 14 free throws and owns the lowest free-throw rate on the entire roster — a sign that he should seek out more opportunities to create offense off the bounce.
An even more dynamic Mykhailiuk who takes advantage of closing-out opponents with drives from the perimeter to draw defenders and fouls, would make his 3-point shot that much more difficult to defend.
Opportunities for the senior to put his recent funk behind him will present themselves at Nebraska, and every game going forward doubles as another chance for Mykhailiuk to further develop his overall game. The more versatility he shows as not just a shooter, but also a driver and passer, the more high-powered KU’s offense will become.
In a rare Allen Fieldhouse loss Sunday to surging Arizona State, no potential defect for the now 13th-ranked Kansas basketball team leapt off the court quite like the Jayhawks’ perimeter defense.
KU’s defenders uncovered no real solutions for hindering either the paint-bound drives or 3-point bombs of Sun Devils guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Remy Martin.
The trio accounted for 72 of ASU’s 95 points in a road victory that propelled the Pac-12 program to a No. 5 national ranking. Holder (29 points), a 6-foot-1 senior, shot 4-for-7 from long range and scored eight points in the paint. Evans, also a 6-1 senior, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and scored four points off layups. Martin, a 6-1 freshman, drained both of his attempts from beyond the arc and added 10 points at the rim.
Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham shined some light on the defensive conundrum he and his teammates faced while trying to stop Arizona State’s dynamic guards.
“They were really tough, because they were so quick and they could shoot the ball really well. It was hard to guard both,” Graham began. “You know, you wanted the short close-out because you were worried about the drive. And then they could shoot it. They did a great job knocking down shots.”
Especially in cases when Holder or Evans spotted up on the perimeter and waited for a kick-out, Kansas defenders found it hard to decide whether to fly at a shooter or close their ground under control to better limit an attack off the dribble.
At other points, ASU coach Bobby Hurley asked Holder to attack off ball screens, and those situations harmed the Jayhawks, as well, even if it wasn’t one of the guards finishing the play. Five of 6-8 freshman forward Romello White’s six buckets came at the rim. Improperly defending a White screen-and-roll with Holder meant an assist for the senior ball-handler and a layup for the young big man.
After Kansas dropped its second game in a row, 15th-year head coach Bill Self — without naming any specific culprit — deplored the way Graham, Lagerald Vick, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk guarded their ASU counterparts.
“(ASU) ran some actions to create switches and, you know, our ball-screen defense wasn’t any good today,” Self began. “But basically they were better with the ball, which they’ve been with everybody. They put it on Xavier pretty good, too. They’re good. And they were better with the ball than we were obviously, physically being able to stay in front of them.”
The defensive malfunctions throughout the second half allowed Arizona State (9-0) to put up 58 points in the final 20 minutes, on 58% shooting, as the visitors converted 11 layups or dunks and shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
The display is likely to become a favorite of the most talented guards remaining on KU’s schedule, who will watch the video evidence of how to attack the Jayhawks picturing themselves doing the same. The more quick-off-the-bounce drivers and shooters a team has on its roster, the better its coaches and players will feel about matching up with Kansas.
Even when KU’s offense finally rallied late in the second half, its defense couldn’t stop Evans during a critical stretch, when he nailed three 3-pointers in less than four minutes.
The Jayhawks either gave him too much space or flew right past him, allowing Evans to flourish and further embolden his teammates for crunch time.
Really, the only portion of the game in which Kansas played effective defensively came in the opening minutes, when the Jayhawks built a 13-point lead they couldn’t sustain.
“I thought the first half, early in the half we did a pretty good job,” Self said. “They’re going to score points. I don’t see how you keep them from scoring points, especially if they shoot the ball like that.”
Of course, that defensive success proved short-lived. Once KU’s breakdowns on the perimeter allowed ASU back in the game, its talented guards kept exposing their opponent’s weaknesses, paving the way for a 51% shooting performance from the field and 14-for-28 accuracy from 3-point range.
At times, it was simple as Holder, Evans or Martin blowing by the Jayhawk in front of him for a layup.
“They played take-em a lot in the second half,” Self said, “and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
By the end of a stressful afternoon for KU’s perimeter defenders, the Sun Devils had foisted the Jayhawks into so many missteps it seemed like every shot ASU put up was bound to drop through the net.
Even a Steph Curry-range dagger.
Avenues toward an improved KU defense obviously still exist, even as the team tries to maximize minutes from its starting five while incorporating just two rotation players, Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett, off the bench.
As a jumping off point, Self said his players need to learn how to defend in a fashion that makes their opponents uneasy on offense.
“A lot of it is toughness. When things aren’t going well you kind of grind through it a little bit, and we just don’t have that right now,” Self said. “That’s what we’ve got to get as much as anything else. We’ve got to get to the point where we can make others play bad. See, they could make us play bad because they could tell Remy Martin to go guard the ball and he’d get a deflection or a steal (five takeaways at KU) or what not. We don’t have people that can do that. So we’ve got to figure out a way to collectively not let people be comfortable as a team. That’s not working right now.”
KU’s senior leader and best player, Graham understands the Jayhawks must enhance their defense. They might have held Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern, Oakland and Syracuse below 37% shooting, but Washington converted 48% of its shots in an upset at Sprint Center, and Arizona State, the best team Kansas has faced so far, out-scored KU 93-70 in the final 36-plus minutes at the feildhouse.
“We’ve got to work on it a lot,” Graham said of KU’s defense. “We’re just not guarding the ball really well right now. We’ve got to get better, especially on that end of the court. We’ve got a whole week until our next game and we’re going to get better.”
The University of Kansas football program generated an explosion of unexpected buzz this past February by adding intriguing prospects to its 2018 recruiting class.
But 10 months later, with the NCAA’s new early-signing period for college football beginning Dec. 20, the vibe surrounding KU’s potential signees could shift drastically in the opposite direction.
Over the weekend, the biggest name tied to the Jayhawks, four-star New Orleans receiver Devonta Jason, decommitted from David Beaty’s program. Meanwhile, the only quarterback in KU’s class, Texas prep Clayton Tune, visited Ole Miss and currently describes Kansas as “still in the picture” for the quickly approaching signing day.
KU fans now have to hope Beaty and his staff can hold on to the high school commitments they have, with the biggest concerns being four-star cornerback Corione Harris — Jason’s prep teammate at Landry-Walker (La.) — and the group’s other remaining “Louisianimal,” running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams.
Harris announced recently he will chose between KU and Mississippi State. Williams, though, appears to have a number of programs to consider.
Sam Spiegelman, a recruiting reporter for SEC Country, spoke with Williams after his Hahnville High team lost in Louisiana’s Class 5A state title game on Saturday. The 5-foot-10, three-star running back explained how his recruitment has picked up during his remarkable senior season, capped by rushing for 1,403 yards and 14 touchdowns in five playoff games.
The speedy all-purpose back told SEC Country he not only has an offer from LSU but also Miami. Plus, Williams related, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Auburn have shown interest in him, as well.
“A lot of schools have come here,” Williams told SEC Country. “When you do big things, big schools come in. Nebraska, Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Miami. … I can keep naming schools.”
Williams had stated previously he planned to sign with Kansas on Dec. 20, but Spiegelman reported the Louisiana standout is considering delaying signing until February.
If the increasingly popular running back had to make a choice now, he told SEC Country he would pick the Jayhawks, to whom he committed in February after hitting it off with running backs coach Tony Hull, a Louisiana native.
“It’s still Kansas, because I’m committed to them and I gave them my word,” Williams said. “It would be hard for me to flip my word on them. It’s about loyalty and it’s like a family, so if I go somewhere, I have to feel comfortable and it’s where I can play. We’ll see who can build a family [relationship] with me and we’ll take it from there.”
A former LSU quarterback with both a high school state title and an NJCAA national championship on his résumé is examining the University of Kansas as his next potential stop.
Earlier this week, Lindsey Scott Jr., helped East Mississippi Community College — the program made famous the previous couple of years by the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U” — finish the season No. 1 in the nation. Scott completed 15 of 28 passes for 170 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, as well as 40 rushing yards, in a 31-28 victory over Arizona Western at the Mississippi Bowl, the NJCAA’s Football Championship Game.
According to Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham watched Scott in person on Sunday, in Perkinston, Miss., and the Jayhawks offered the QB a scholarship on Monday.
In high school, Scott led Zachary (La.) to a Class 5A state championship in 2015, and was considered by Rivals to be a three-star, dual-threat QB in the recruiting Class of 2016.
Scott signed with LSU after picking up offers from a number of programs, including Power Five schools Maryland, Rutgers, Wake Forest and Syracuse, as well as Air Force, Army, Navy, Tulane and Harvard.
A 5-foot-11, 210-pound passing and running threat, Scott transferred out of LSU this past August after spending one season in the program as a redshirt QB. According to The Advocate, he was in a battle to become LSU’s No. 2 quarterback during preseason camp.
However, Scott decided to transfer to the junior college level and play immediately. At Eastern Mississippi, within a spread offensive attack, he completed 65 percent of his 398 passes, while throwing for 3,481 yards, with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also averaged 60.8 rushing yards a game and ran for six scores.
Now that his one fall of juco football is over, Scott has three years of eligibility remaining. The QB said during a Wednesday interview with Matt Moscona, on 104.5 FM ESPN Baton Rouge, he will visit Kansas this weekend, and follow the trip up by checking out Western Michigan.
Scott identified KU, WMU, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio as the four teams he is considering right now. In another interview, with the Biloxi Sun Herald, he said Tulane has recruited him hard since he left LSU.
Asked during his radio Q & A whether he will reach a decision this month and make it official during the new NCAA early signing period, Scott admitted he wasn’t certain. He could potentially wait until February.
“With juco recruiting things can change quickly,” Scott told ESPN Baton Rouge. “So I guess the extra time would just be beneficial to me.”
As Scott weighs his choices, he will have different styles of offenses to consider. Although Tulane runs a zone-option, he told the Sun Herald he could see himself fitting in there. But that seems to be his mentality for any system, as Scott declined to pigeonhole himself.
“I can see myself in different types of offenses,” he told ESPN Baton Rouge. “I think I’m very malleable.”
Ultimately, Scott might decide he fits best at KU if his experience during his visit to Lawrence convinces him he would be contented as a part of the rebuilding program.
“I just want somewhere that feels like home with a coaching staff that has the best interest for me,” Scott said, “and where the offense suits my skill set.”
Devonte’ Graham’s shooting display in Miami this past weekend was so impactful it wowed Heat president Pat Riley, who, according to Kansas coach Bill Self, said the senior guard “put on a show” in a victory over Syracuse.
That 35-point deluge alone — even coupled with Graham’s 35-point outburst versus Toledo that preceded it — won’t guarantee the 6-foot-2 Jayhawks veteran a spot in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft.
In a new mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (formerly of DraftExpress.com) released on Tuesday, neither Graham’s name nor the those of any of his teammates appear in the first round.
As of early December at least, with 24 regular-season games and an entire postseason in front of him, Graham is considered an early second-rounder. Givony projects KU’s current leading scorer (18.6 points per game, 46% field goals, 41% 3-pointers) as the 38th pick overall, a slot occupied for the moment by the Memphis Grizzlies.
The charismatic senior also has shown improvements in other areas of his game, with career-best averages of 4.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists at this early juncture of the non-conference schedule.
ESPN’s predictions consider another KU senior, 20-year-old shooting guard Svi Mykhailiuk, a second-round talent, as well.
Givony’s mock draft forecasts Mykhailiuk being taken eight picks after Graham, 46th overall, by Utah.
After testing out the draft process this past spring without signing on with an agent, Mykhailiuk’s final go-around with the Jayhawks is off to a promising start, with improved defense and a better-than-ever 3-point stroke.
The 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine enters Wednesday’s non-conference matchup with Washington in Kansas City, Mo., averaging 17.1 points, fueled by 25-for-46 accuracy (54.3%) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Mykhailiuk, while not as well-rounded as Graham, also has picked up his rebounding (4.0 a game) and passing (1.9 assists) with increased playing time as a senior.
The Kansas seniors are the only Jayhawks on ESPN’s mock draft in the first week of December. However, Givony’s list of top 100 prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft also includes junior Lagerald Vick, listed at No. 61, and sophomore Malik Newman, 92nd.
A great deal can change between now and the NCAA Tournament, let alone in the pre-draft workouts and interviews that follow the season. Graham and Mykhailiuk won’t soar into lottery status, but both appear to be on trajectories that could get them closer to — or maybe even into — the first round in the months ahead.
We all now recognize how flammable the shooting hand of Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham can get, in wake of his back-to-back 35-point performances this past week, spearheading victories over Toledo and Syracuse.
It’s safe to say any one of the Jayhawks’ starters, Graham confirmed, could put up 20 points and no one would experience an iota of astonishment. But which of his teammates is most capable of exploding for 30 or more points like the senior point guard has?
“There’s no telling,” Graham replied, when asked for his opinion. “It could be Lagerald, could be Svi, could be Malik. Udoka could go crazy one night. … Anybody could have a hot night any given night. If everybody’s being aggressive, somebody’s gonna probably get hot.”
Spoken tactfully, like a true veteran leader. Maybe junior wing Lagerald Vick could slash and shoot his way to 30. Or senior Svi Mykhailiuk might bombard an opponent with 3-pointers en route to a huge night. Perhaps sophomore guard Malik Newman gets hot, while also scoring in bunches in transition for a career performance. It’s conceivable 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could be so overpowering against a front line that he dunks, lay-ups and jump-hooks his way to a massive scoring total.
Who knows? Well, actually, KU head coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea.
Asked which of Graham’s running mates is most likely to go off in the fashion his senior point guard did, Self didn’t have to ponder the inquiry at all.
“Svi,” Self replied, even before the question was completed. “Svi. I think Svi’s shown that.”
As KU’s coach referenced, Mykhailiuk nearly reached 30 a few weeks ago, on a night he shot 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and put up 27 against South Dakota State. But that doesn’t mean Self determined the 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine is the only plausible candidate for the high-scoring, No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (91.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country).
“I think Lagerald can, too,” Self added of the 6-5 guard from Memphis, who produced 20 points against Syracuse while only hitting one 3-pointer.
“And Dok, I’m a little disappointed in Dok in the last game,” Self said of the mammoth post man from Nigeria, who is shooting 77% from the floor and already has finished 26 slams on the season, “because he never put himself in position to score — he never ducked in one time, he never posted up. It’s like the zone messed with his head. And he’s got to be able to play through that.”
Although Azubuike is averaging 14.6 points as a sophomore, Self expressed his dismay about the center’s season-low 6 points versus Syracuse’s 2-3 zone most likely because Kansas is about to face that type of defense again Wednesday night vs. Washington, in Kansas City, Mo.
The Jayhawks (7-0) also could use a bounce-back performance from Newman. The former Mississippi State guard registered his first single-digit scoring game at KU in Miami, going 1-for-8 with just 2 points.
“And Malik’s obviously a guy that can get 20 any night if he’s playing well,” Self added. “And, of course, that wasn’t one of his better games obviously.”
The key takeaway from the who-else-can-get-hot discussion, though, was what an enviable position this team is in from an offensive standpoint.
“The good thing about having five guys that are capable of doing that is you don’t have to have all five guys the same night,” Self said. “You can just have two or three have big nights.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach pointed out Graham, Vick and Mykhailiuk (11 points) combined to contribute 66 of KU’s 76 points in the win over the ACC’s Orange.
“And to be honest with you the other — I could be off on this — the other 10 points we scored, four of them were uncontested lob plays. Not baskets you have to earn,” Self said. “And Malik got an offensive rebound and a put-back on a layup. That’s it. To think we could beat Syracuse when we only have three guys contribute offensively statistically, I think that hopefully is a good sign.”
It seems most fans would agree with Self’s judgment that Mykhailiuk is the most likely Jayhawk to catch fire offensively. Fifty percent of those who voted on Twitter selected the senior marksman as most likely to join Graham as a 30-point scorer at some point this season.
Mykhailiuk definitely qualifies as the most probable to go off. But don’t rule out Newman. The 6-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., hasn’t even reached 20 points yet at Kansas, but he has the confidence and shooter’s mentality to erupt when he inevitably has a game where he’s feeling it.
Newman isn’t a gunner as a rule, but if there’s a matchup that favors him and his teammates aren’t at their offensive peak, he wouldn’t have any trouble becoming the go-to scorer when needed.
Here’s a further look at each of the candidates.
Season stats: 14.6 PPG, 77% FGs, 40% FTs
Career highs: 21 points, vs. Oakland (Nov. 21); 10 FGs, vs. Oakland; 4 FTs, vs. UMKC (Dec. 6, 2016)
Season stats: 17.1 PPG, 51% FGs, 54% 3s, 63% FTs
Career highs: 27 points, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17); 10 FGs, vs. South Dakota State; 6 3-pointers, vs. Chaminade (Nov. 23, 2015); 5 FTs, vs. Baylor (Jan. 2, 2016)
Season stats: 11.9 PPG, 46% FGs, 40% 3s, 100% FTs
Career highs: 25 points, vs. Ole Miss (while at Mississippi State, Jan. 23, 2016); 8 FGs, vs. Ole Miss; 7 3-pointers, vs. Ole Miss; 6 FTs, vs. Tulane (Dec. 18, 2015)
Season stats: 16.4 PPG, 54% FGs, 47% 3s, 71% FTs
Career highs: 23 points, vs. Tennessee State (Nov. 10); 9 FGs, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17) and Long Beach State (Nov. 29, 2016); 4 3-pointers, vs. Tennessee State and Long Beach State; 4 FTs, vs. West Virginia (Feb. 13, 2017) and TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)
Back before he became the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, defensive end Julius Peppers spent his football offseasons in Chapel Hill, N.C., helping the University of North Carolina’s vaunted basketball program win ACC and postseason games.
So when the Kansas basketball team this season ran into such depth issues that head coach Bill Self only played six Jayhawks 20 or more minutes in each of the first three games it stood to reason some multi-skilled athlete from the KU football team with a basketball past might become useful inside Allen Fieldhouse.
I was convinced Kansas junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. was the perfect man for the job. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Armstrong might not be quite as imposing at the 6-7, 290-pound Peppers was, but it’s the same idea: put a freakishly athletic, muscle-bound pass-rusher on the court, let him intimidate opponents and/or wreak havoc on the rim. In other words: Grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
That was basically my pitch to Armstrong recently during one of his weekly interview sessions. So had the former big man at Houston’s North Shore High, where he played on a 5A state championship team in 2014, ever entertained the idea of going back to his hoops roots at Kansas?
“Nuh-uh,” Armstrong replied, while shaking his head and grinning. “No.”
Armstrong has to be one of the most hulking individual’s on KU’s campus. And you have to admit, it seems like the basketball roster could use another big body.
“I don’t know. I don’t really get into it. My focus is all here. I feel like they’ve got everything taken care of over there,” Armstrong assessed. “So I’ll keep my focus over here and try and get this thing flipped.”
But what about Peppers? That’s proof it could work, right? The defensive end/power forward averaged 7.1 points and and 4.0 rebounds in his second (and final) basketball season at UNC (2000-01).
“No, my basketball days are over with,” Armstrong said with a laugh. “I haven’t been on the court in a minute. Can’t even run up and down that thing no more.”
Armstrong actually scored in double figures several times during his final prep season at North Shore. But as it turns out, an even more skilled basketball player existed on the KU football roster: backup sophomore tight end James Sosinski.
Longtime Self assistant Norm Roberts told his boss about Sosinski, who played previously at South Mountain Community College, in Phoenix, Ariz., after Roberts ran into the tight end’s father at a KU football game. Then Self called KU football coach David Beaty to inquire further.
“Of course David’s great, and he was totally open to him coming out,” Self added.
Armstrong never was going to be the KU basketball equivalent of Peppers at UNC, and Sosinski won’t be either. Self is giving the 6-7 former club teammate of Mitch Lightfoot a look at practices to see how the tight end might fit in and be of use in KU’s shallow front court. If it ever reaches a point where Sosinski is checking into a game for Self’s Jayhawks, the coach predicts it wouldn’t be more than “maybe a minute or two here or there,” no different than when he goes to walk-ons Clay Young and Chris Teahan.
Self revealed this won’t be the first time he borrowed some talent from a football program.
“We did it at Illinois,” Self said. “Illinois had a wide receiver who actually played in the NFL, a kid named Walter Young, and he was a good high school player. For whatever reason we were short on depth — in practice, not in games.”
Young played sparingly for Self’s Illini in the 2001-02 season, averaging 1.0 points and 2.5 minutes per game before becoming a seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2003.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with that he played football,” Self added. “I think it was just that that was the best possibility on campus.”
Sosinski falls into the same category now for Kansas. Even though it would’ve been fascinating to see a second-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman like Armstrong out in transition for a break-away jam. We’ll just have to settle for a backup tight end.
Pretty much since the day New Orleans prep teammates Devonta Jason and Corione Harris shocked the college football recruiting world by committing to Kansas, people have openly wondered about the chances the Jayhawks have of actually signing two such highly-coveted recruits.
Much more successful programs remain in the hunt for Jason, rated a five-star receiver by Rivals, and Harris, a four-star cornerback. But, like their former high school teammate at Landry-Walker, Mike Lee, these Class of 2018 prospects have been sold on KU as a a legitimate landing spot thanks to the efforts of Louisiana native Tony Hull, the associate head coach on David Beaty’s staff.
The Kansas staff, as well as the program’s supporters, have followed Jason and Harris closely, and now that the new NCAA early signing period is in effect, we could know just what their futures hold by Dec. 20.
In order to get a different perspective on KU’s recruitment of the so-called “Louisianimals” and perhaps a better feel for whether Jason and Harris will end up playing for the Jayhawks in 2018, I reached out to Sam Spiegelman, who covers LSU and the Louisiana recruiting scene for SECCountry.com.
What did you and others who follow LSU recruiting make of Devonta Jason not making an official visit this past weekend to LSU as planned?
“This was a complicated situation,” Spiegelman said. “Jason has a tight window to get three official visits in and had only four weekends to do it. He had planned on making his way to LSU for Nov. 25, Kansas on Dec. 2 and Mississippi State on Dec. 9. That left Dec. 15 open, but he has plans with his family on the weekend right before the early signing period.”
According to Spiegelman, Jason told him and other reporters the plan all along was to make an official visit to LSU for this past weekend’s Texas A&M game. However, some miscommunication with the LSU staff led to it falling through, as the Tigers were hosting a couple of other receiving prospects, five-star Terrace Marshall Jr. and four-star Justin Watkins. The coaches didn’t want Jason to have a subpar visit because they couldn’t spend as much time with each recruit as they hoped with so many big names there at once.
“LSU’s New Orleans area recruiter Mickey Joseph spent Monday morning at Jason’s high school to try and mend fences,” Spiegelman said. “He will go in-home with the wideout on Thursday, too. Between then, expect Joseph to try and find a time for Jason to officially visit LSU, whether it replaces another visit or is a mid-week official.”
How important is this official visit Jason is making to KU this coming weekend?
“The one edge Kansas has is the level of comfort between Jason and coach Tony Hull, and that Jason’s former teammate, Mike Lee, is having so much success in Lawrence. Beyond that, Jason is very cognizant of the state of the team and the lack of on-the-field success,” Spiegelman replied.
“Jason has made his way from New Orleans to Kansas several times over the past few months, so I’m not so sure if an official visit is really going to sway him in one direction or another,” he added. “This will be about talking to the coaches, getting an idea for the direction of the program and having a chance to re-connect with Lee for a weekend.”
Other potential advantages for Beaty, Hull and KU, Spiegelman suggested, are not only the recent visit mishap with LSU, but also the coaching change at Mississippi State, where Dan Mullen left to become the head coach at Florida, and Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took over.
“If LSU can’t lure Jason back on campus, Kansas is all of a sudden emerging as a bigger threat than even a month ago,” Spiegelman said.
Who among Jason’s other finalists — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, West Virginia and Miami — are the biggest threat to beat out LSU and Kansas?
“Easily Mississippi State. I was close to picking State as Jason’s most likely destination after the LSU official visit went awry, but with Dan Mullen now embedded as Florida’s head coach, we need to see which members of his coaching staff will leave Starkville, Miss., and head to Gainesville, Fla.,” Spiegelman said.
“Like Kansas, State holds an edge with some of Jason’s former high school teammates on the roster. Most notably, Keytaon Thompson, Jason’s former quarterback who he won a Class 5A state championship with a year ago,” he explained. “If specific members of the coaching staff stay put on the new-look Mississippi State staff, they may emerge as the favorite leading into a Dec. 20 decision date.”
Is Jason still expected to graduate from Landry-Walker in December and enroll somewhere for the spring semester?
“Yes. He has worked very hard for more than a year to get ahead of schedule in order to graduate in December and be on campus somewhere in January,” Spiegelman responded.
What was the initial reaction in Louisiana when Jason and Harris committed to KU in February, and how, if at all, has that changed in the months since it happened?
“Initially, it was shock. Maybe even a little bit of awe,” Spiegelman revealed. “Jason, a former LSU commit, is one of the top-five prospects within the state of Louisiana. Hull made an even bigger splash landing the tandem of Jason and Corione Harris, along with Pooka Williams, Ja’Marr Chase and Aaron Brule’ in one junior day function. Later, he added Nelson Jenkins, who is now committed to LSU, and Josh Smith, another teammate of Jason’s at Landry-Walker High School, in New Orleans.”
Williams, a three-star running back per Rivals, remains part of KU’s class, as does Smith, a three-star defensive end. Chase, Brule’ and Jenkins backed out of their verbal commitments.
“It led to some early frustration among the LSU fan base, for sure,” Spiegelman related of KU’s recruiting haul. “LSU fans were calling for Hull to replace Joseph as the team’s New Orleans area recruiter and made fans envious of the Jayhawks. Jason has long been a fan favorite for his spectacular, highlight-reel catches. Chase and Williams are also big-time performers that LSU fans are craving to find their way into the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class.”
The rabid LSU fan base, he added, probably has toned it down since, and wouldn’t lose too much sleep if both Harris and Smith end up playing at Kansas.
“Jason and Williams — not so much,” Spiegelman made clear. “I fully anticipate Williams will wind up at Kansas, assuming he qualifies academically. I can’t say the same for Jason, but if he did, the LSU fan base would not be pleased.”
Do you think it’s likely Harris and Jason are a package deal — wherever they end up?
“If they are, the I’d circle Kansas and Mississippi State as the only schools in the mix for the two,” Spiegelman said. “Jason has been a priority for the LSU coaching staff, whereas Harris — another former commit — has certainly fallen down the board a bit over the past year following his de-commitment in July, 2016.”
Jason and Harris are not just close, he added, but best friends.
“Over the past few months, it seems as if they would be comfortable going their separate ways in order to find their own best fits at a college program. However, LSU is the only school where both wouldn’t be takes,” he said. “At Kansas or State, both could be a part of the plan.”
Is Harris more likely than Jason to end up at KU?
“Absolutely. It’s probably a coin flip between Kansas and Mississippi State,” Spiegelman began. “I know he officially visited Texas and had eyed a visit to Florida, which may be in the mix now that Mullen has landed in Gainesville, Fla. But I’d say Harris has been rather loyal to the Jayhawks and is weighing a future at Kansas versus State for the most part.”
How easy is it for other coaching staffs to use KU’s record the past several seasons as an argument to get Jason and Harris to back out — and do you think that will ultimately be the result?
“That definitely is on the table, but more so other coaching staffs are going to push the proximity from New Orleans or Louisiana,” Spiegelman suggested. “Kansas is a plane ride away. You can’t drive an hour up I-10 West to Baton Rouge or three hours through Mississippi to get there. The distance from home and their families cannot be overstated, especially when schools like LSU can preach playing for your home state and for your hometown school.”
According to the Louisiana-based recruiting reporter, both Jason and Harris seem unbothered when KU’s lack of success gets brought up.
“They are very bright kids and are well aware of the records at Kansas. They have also been reprised of the fact that they could play as true freshman in the Big 12 and perhaps spearhead a turnaround for the Jayhawks,” he said. “Coach Hull has done a terrific job prioritizing both Jason and Harris and keeping them on board for this long. Whether that sticks is out of his control and more will be a product of LSU’s and Mississippi State’s continued push.”
If Jason and/or Harris ultimately flip, Spiegelman thinks it would have less to do with KU’s record over the past several seasons and more to do with the overall stability of a more prominent program.
“There are more constants at, say, an LSU or a Mississippi State or a Florida, because of the program’s football history,” he offered. “Both prospects are going to go where they are wanted the most and they have done a great job entertaining all of their options, Kansas included, leading into Dec. 20.”