Entries from blogs tagged with “football”

Despite tumultuous season, Cliff Alexander remembers time at KU fondly

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) comes in to celebrate with  guard Devonte Graham after Graham forced a turnover by Baylor guard Kenny Chery (1) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) comes in to celebrate with guard Devonte Graham after Graham forced a turnover by Baylor guard Kenny Chery (1) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Like fellow one-and-done Jayhawk Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander won’t have a press conference to discuss his decision to leave early and enter the NBA Draft.

An NCAA investigation into his eligibility that forced KU to keep Alexander off the court for the final eight games of the season surely had much to do with that.

The 6-foot-8 big man from Chicago played 28 games for Kansas, started six of those and finished his short-lived career as a Jayhawk averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 56.6% from the floor and 67.1% from the free-throw line.

Despite unpredictable production on the floor and off-the-court issues surrounding an alleged extra benefit for a family member, Alexander says in a video released by KU Athletics that he will remember his time with the program fondly.

Alexander says his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse, the venue that became his temporary basketball home, really stands out for him.

“It means a lot to me to know that a lot of great players have played in the fieldhouse,” Alexander says. “Basketball was invented here and one of the greatest coaches coached here, one of the greatest coaches still do coach here. It was just a great experience.”

(Give Alexander a pass on that “basketball was invented here” part of it. Someone on campus probably told him that or he inferred it from the tales of KU lore. Of course, the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith, coached at Kansas from 1898 to 1907.)

While the video doesn’t get into his reasons for leaving or his at times tumultuous season, it does give the young forward a chance to thank KU coach Bill Self and offer a final message to the Kansas fans.

“Thanks for being with me, supporting me the whole way. I love you guys and miss you guys. Rock chalk Jayhawk.”

Alexander reached double figures in scoring nine times in his lone season in Lawrence and twice had double-digit rebound totals.

The potential first-round pick showed brief flashes of what he might some day become as a player, but you can see in this chart from StatSheet.com just how erratic a year he had.


Here is a look back at Alexander’s most productive games for Kansas:

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) turns for a shot over Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) and forward Khadeem Lattin (12) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) turns for a shot over Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) and forward Khadeem Lattin (12) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

  • Nov. 24 vs. Rider: 10 points, 4 rebounds 4/4 FGs, 2/3 FTs in 13 minutes

  • Nov. 28 vs. Tennessee: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 5/6 FGs, 6/9 FTs in 20 minutes

  • Dec. 5 vs. Florida: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 2/4 FGs, 8/8 FTs in 19 minutes

  • Dec. 20 vs. Lafayette: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4/6 FGs, 2/2 FTs in 17 minutes

  • Jan. 4 vs UNLV: 10 points, 5 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 blocks, 5/12 FGs in 21 minutes

  • Jan. 10 vs. Texas Tech: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 6/8 FGs in 15 minutes

  • Jan. 19 vs. Oklahoma: 13 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive), 3 assists, 4/7 FGs, 5/7 FTs in 23 minutes

  • Jan. 24 at Texas: 15 points, 9 rebounds (5 offensive), 6/11 FGs, 3/6 FTs in 27 minutes

  • Feb. 10 at Texas Tech: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4/5 FGs, 2/3 FTs in 20 minutes

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Danny Manning, Paul Pierce share their ‘Tales of Madness’

Danny Manning and Larry Brown embrace after clinching the 1988 Men’s NCAA Basketball title.

Danny Manning and Larry Brown embrace after clinching the 1988 Men’s NCAA Basketball title. by Mike Yoder

The spectacle of March Madness entertains and amazes the nation each and every year. But for the vast majority of the players out there deciding whose brackets get framed and whose get tossed in the recycling bin, the win-or-go-home tournament ends in pain.

Only a select few can survive The Madness and call themselves champions of the NCAA Tournament.

Over at The Players’ Tribune — a website designed to let professional athletes share their first-person accounts of athletic triumphs and trials — there is a series called “Tales of Madness,” in which former college hoops stars detail all that is great (and devastating) about The Big Dance.

Wouldn’t you know it, you can read about an early exit and "one shining moment" from the Kansas perspective, thanks to entries from a couple of all-time greats.

Paul Pierce shares his memories of a painful loss to Arizona — in the Sweet 16, in 1997 — in a piece titled “One Bad Game.”

On the polar opposite end of the NCAA Tournament experience, KU legend Danny Manning describes the joy of winning the 1988 national championship.

“I played in four NCAA tournaments at Kansas, but that 1987-88 team was a special group,” Manning says. “Whenever a team wins a championship, everything has to fall into place. The coach has to have the right gameplan, coaches have to implement it and the players have to buy in and execute it. You have to catch some breaks along the way, but you also have to be dedicated and disciplined in your actions.

“In that 1988 NCAA Tournament, we weren’t the most talented team. We weren’t the most athletic team. But as anyone who’s ever watched the tournament knows, once you’re in, everyone’s record is 0-0. It’s all about which team can get hot at the right time.”

Pierce and his fellow Jayhawks from that 1996-97 KU team know that better than just about anybody who put on a college basketball uniform. Kansas entered the NCAA Tournament with just one loss, and it came in double overtime at rival Missouri.

KU’s previous dominance that season didn’t matter against No. 4 seed Arizona, which, much like Danny and The Miracles, started clicking at just the right time and won a national title.

“Arizona was good — they had a tremendous backcourt comprised of Mike Bibby and Jason Terry — but I didn’t have much doubt that we would win,” Pierce says. “Honestly, I thought we would crush them. Our team was stacked with NBA talent. The expectation was that we were going to bulldoze through the early rounds of the tournament. I had my sights set on the Final Four, where I figured we’d probably meet Kentucky, the defending national champs. That was the game we were all looking forward to.

“But Arizona came to play, and we weren’t at our best.”

Nine years earlier, Kansas entered the postseason as a No. 6 seed with 11 losses. Manning says coach Larry Brown’s unwavering belief in the Jayhawks helped them overcome what had at times been a bumpy regular season — the Jayhawks were 12-8 at one juncture.

Manning admits no one outside of the program expected KU in the Final Four, but there the Jayhawks were, playing in nearby Kansas City, Missouri, against fellow Big Eight program Oklahoma in the title game.

In the final seconds of a one-possession game, Manning hit two clutch free throws to push Kansas to an unlikely national title.

At The Players’ Tribune, Manning says his favorite memory from that magical ride actually came after the final game ended.

“Sitting in the locker room with my teammates after winning the national championship, we talked about our season, which was my senior season. We talked about the tournament. And that’s when it hit us: That was the last time we’d ever be together on the court as a team. It was a somber moment for me, but also a very satisfying one knowing that I was a part of a group that was able to win a national championship. A lot of hard work, sweat and tears went into it. A lot of guys made huge sacrifices for our team and for each other. We’d been through such uncertainty and endured so many tough losses, and here we were, reaping the benefits together — as a team.”

Obviously, Pierce recalls a far more agonizing feeling permeating the Kansas locker room when the season ended in 1997.

“The tournament is unforgiving,” Pierce says. “If you have one bad game, that’s it. Throughout my career I’ve had many losses, but all these years later, this is one that still stings.”

Other “Tales of Madness” from The Players’ Tribune include accounts from Ali Farokhmanesh, Mateen Cleaves, Baron Davis, Kenny Lofton, Jameer Nelson, Jalen Rose, Jason Kidd and more.

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KU’s Elite Eight loss to VCU comes up on Shaka Smart’s first day at Texas

The VCU bench celebrates a turnover against Kansas on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

The VCU bench celebrates a turnover against Kansas on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

Shaka Smart, whose 2011 VCU Rams busted onto the college hoops scene by toppling No. 1 seed Kansas on the way to the Final Four, didn’t flee for the first big-name university to call him up once he became a hot coaching commodity. He stuck it out in Richmond, Virginia, and waited for the right job.

The up-and-coming, 37-year-old coach from a previously unheralded program in a far-from-major conference has arrived in the Big 12, where KU has reigned supreme for 11 consecutive seasons.

Friday, Texas introduced Smart as its new men’s basketball coach — a move that could change the landscape of Big 12 basketball for years to come.

At VCU, Smart’s teams won 74.4% of their games with his “havoc” brand of full-court pressure defense and up-tempo offense. The Rams led the country in steals per game for three consecutive seasons (2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14) and ranked fourth nationally this past year (9.5 spg).

With that unique brand of basketball, VCU joined Duke as the only two programs in the nation to win at least 26 games in each of the past six seasons — not even Kansas could make that claim, thanks to a 25-10 showing in 2013-14.

Make no mistake, that Elite Eight win over KU in San Antonio four years ago catapulted Smart into the college hoops zeitgeist. Without that victory, who knows if he is standing in Austin, Texas, today flashing a “hook ’em, Horns” sign.

None by Texas Longhorns

With Smart landing at Texas, that VCU-Kansas game came up at his introductory press conference. A reporter asked the new Longhorns coach whether his “havoc” brand of hoops translated well to a major conference such as the Big 12.

Smart’s fearlessness and swagger showed up in his answer:

“It translated pretty well a few years ago in San Antonio.”

On that day, 11th-seeded VCU beat top-seeded Kansas, 71-61. The Jayhawks had lost twice all season before shooting 22-for-62 (35.5%) against Smart’s Rams and missing all but two of their 21 three-pointers (9.5%). KU turned the ball over 14 times (20.6% of its possessions), and VCU harassed Kansas star forward Marcus Morris into eight giveaways.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

After the loss, KU coach Bill Self said the Rams didn’t get the Jayhawks’ best shot, “but they had a lot to do with it not being our best shot.”

Basically, Kansas performed way out of character, because Smart’s Rams wanted the game to play out in that fashion.

“They were the aggressor,” Self said at the time. “Our whole deal is, ‘They are a scrappy team. We’ve got to be scrappier. Attack. Attack.’ They were the ones on the attack much more than us.”

Following the biggest victory of his career, the then-VCU coach said his senior-laden team established the tone in the first half (KU trailed 41-27 at the break).

“And if you watch closely, their players were tugging on their shorts for much of the game. When you don’t have your legs, it’s hard to make outside shots.”

“… That’s why we play the way we play,” Smart said. “That’s part of our havoc style is getting people winded, getting people fatigued.”

A little more than four years later, the new Texas coach reflected on the marquee victory and said his VCU team had a swagger and belief about it “that I think you have to have to beat those types of teams.”

Now his goal is to replicate that at UT.

“That’s what we’re gonna work towards here. And I think that is very, very doable, but it takes a connected effort. It takes a group of guys that are willing to put the team agenda front and center and understand if the team succeeds, everyone benefits.”

The Big 12 has some of the best coaches in America, and now that Smart has arrived on the scene, dominating the league will become even more difficult for KU and Self. When Smart spoke at his introductory press conference about what attracted him to the Texas job, he repeatedly mentioned its “world class” athletics department and the pride UT takes in winning championships.

Rick Barnes didn’t exactly leave Texas in shambles. Yes, Myles Turner and Jonathan Holmes are gone. But Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland, Javan Felix, Cameron Ridley, Kendal Yancy, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh all figure to be back next season.

And now UT has a young, energetic, charismatic coach in charge of a sleeping giant of a basketball program. Meaning, Texas will likely start landing even better recruiting classes.

Shaka Smart didn’t say it out loud during his first appearance in burnt orange — and why would he? — but you know his goal is for Texas to knock KU from its Big 12 throne, and give the league another powerhouse program that annually contends for national titles.

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Clint Bowen details what’s in store for KU’s defense this spring

Kansas head coach Clint Bowen tries to keep his defense fired up after a Baylor score during the second quarter at McLane Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 in Waco, Texas.

Kansas head coach Clint Bowen tries to keep his defense fired up after a Baylor score during the second quarter at McLane Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Kansas football assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen knows this spring will be critical in the overall development of the 2015 Jayhawks, even if there are more things on his to-do list than can possibly be accomplished for a young, rebuilding unit.

After going through just four practices, Bowen — also the safeties coach — sat down with the media Wednesday to discuss the state of the defense.

Here are some of the highlights:

The up-tempo approach of KU’s new Air Raid offense also benefits the defensive side of the ball.

With NCAA rules dictating how much time players can spend on the field, coaches have to find ways to get in as many plays as possible in the short amount of time they are out there.

“With what they’re doing offensively, it allows it to just play out naturally.”

When installing the defense this spring, there are one of two ways to approach it:

No. 1: Put in a few things and master those.

No. 2: Examine as much of it as you can “real fast” and hope enough of it sticks.

The Jayhawks went with the latter, and are putting in as much as they can early, teaching it and getting it all on video. They recycle through that install again so the players can retain more each time through.

“It allows you to practice situational football a lot faster — right away, going into your first scrimmage.”

The Jayhawks will get into these kind of situations in the next few practices: third downs, red zone, two-minute drills.

Through four practices, Bowen wasn’t ready to say any particular individuals have stood out, because the defense really has to start over as a group with the talent it lost from the 2014 season (see: Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd, etc.).

The players that are here need to take pride in giving the unit an identity.

“At this point in time, I think they’re all in the same boat of trying to figure it out.”

Bowen just wants them being physical, playing hard and learning.

On the roster as a whole, and on the defensive side of the ball, KU lacks depth. Bowen feels pretty good about what kind of 2-deep chart they will have, but the trouble comes beyond that.

Sub-packages, like nickel or dime defenses?

“Those things are out right now.”

Bowen says you don’t want to wear out all of your top players by making them play different packages.

So this is the mindset they ned to embrace:

“Only 11 of them can play at one time, so as long as we’ve got 11, we’re good.”

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry grits his teeth as he prepares to give some criticism during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

With the new defensive coaches on the staff, they are all getting used to each other’s approaches and tendencies.

“We’ve got a great group of guys on the staff, and everyone’s working for the common goal.”

Bowen and new co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry were acquaintances before, knew each other. Now that they’re working together they’re meshing.

Bowen said defensive back coaches have an “alligator hunter mentality”: There’s no such thing as a “pretty good” alligator hunter.

“That’s where you live as a DB coach. I think we always live on edge.”

Perry is intense because a mistake in the secondary means a TD for the opponent. You have to coach with a paranoia about yourself when working in the secondary.

Junior corner Brandon Stewart, who just arrived on campus before the spring semester started, seems to have some skills: good feet, awareness, instincts and “can run a little bit.”

The departure of would-be senior safety Isaiah Johnson was “a disappointment, but not a surprise.”

Now that David Beaty is here leading the program, it’s easier to communicate with high school coaches in Texas.

A lot of those high school coaches in Texas are legitimate friends of Beaty’s. That helps in recruiting.

As new coaches get to know each other, that’s usually an easy transition because they’re all in this profession to improve their program and help the players develop.

A lot of KU coaches are still in the process of relocating their families to Lawrence, buying houses and those types of things, so more of that camaraderie that comes with the job will show up even more once everyone is settled.

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Carlton Bragg’s windmill jam highlights future Jayhawk’s McDonald’s experience

East forward Dwayne Bacon, left, of Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va., shoots against West forward Carlton Bragg of Villa Angela-St. Joseph of Cleveland, during the second half of the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game in Chicago on Wednesday, April 1, 2015. The East won 111-91. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

East forward Dwayne Bacon, left, of Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va., shoots against West forward Carlton Bragg of Villa Angela-St. Joseph of Cleveland, during the second half of the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game in Chicago on Wednesday, April 1, 2015. The East won 111-91. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) by Nam Y. Huh

Almost every spring, just before the Final Four, Kansas basketball fans get a sneak preview — courtesy of the McDonald’s All-American game — of who’s coming to Lawrence in the fall to help KU in its continuous chase of national championship banners.

Wednesday night in Chicago, 6-foot-9 forward Carlton Bragg, who committed to Kentucky … err, make that Kansas … was the latest “next big-time player” on display.

Bragg, a five-star recruit from Villa Angela-St.Joseph in Cleveland, scored nine points and hit a 3-pointer for the West.

The Jayhawk-to-be also delivered one of the top plays of the prep all-star showcase, jumping into the passing lane for a steal, on his way to a windmill jam.

It came right after his West teammate, Kansas recruiting target Stephen Zimmerman, threw one down.

Here are a few other angles at the back-to-back, highlight-reel slams:

Want to hear something crazy? Bragg actually considered taking his uncontested jam to the next level.

“I was thinking about going between my legs, but I wasn't quite warmed up,” Bragg told Cleveland.com. “The windmill I felt like I could have got it, so I just did it."

His team lost, but really, participating in the game is a huge deal in itself, and the smiling young big man spoke about that with Cleveland.com.

He also had a message for Kansas fans:

“It’s coming, baby. Just be ready.”

Cleveland prep forward Carlton Bragg — who has committed to Kansas University — poses for a photo prior to Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago.

Cleveland prep forward Carlton Bragg — who has committed to Kansas University — poses for a photo prior to Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago.

Before the game, PrepHoops Illinois caught up with Bragg, who declared his love for pick-and-pop sets, explaining why he is considered a stretch-4.

Don’t worry, though. Bragg hasn’t abandoned playing in the paint. In fact, he said that’s one area of his game that he made a point to improve upon in his senior season.

“My post game got a lot better and I’m more aggressive.”

Bragg said KU’s style of play led to him choosing Bill Self’s program as his college team of choice.

“They run up and down, play the pick and pop, the pick and roll.”

With the expected departure of Cliff Alexander, Bragg could make an immediate impact for KU next season, providing the Jayhawks with another long body to man the paint with Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson.

If Bragg can score in the post at the college level, that would make KU’s offense — which often lacked that ability in 2014-15 — more complete and dangerous.

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Women’s basketball coaching search: Hutchinson County Community College head coach John Ontjes

Four consecutive Final Fours. Three national-title games in four seasons. A coach can't accomplish those feats without having the ability to recruit, develop and make the right moves in close ballgames against strong competition.

John Ontjes has accomplished those feats as head coach of the Hutchinson County Community College women's basketball program. He starred as a player for two years at Hutch before starting at point guard for Billy Tubbs for a year and Kelvin Sampson for a year at Oklahoma. He averaged 10.5 points and 6.6 assists during his Sooners career. He was better than solid as a player and is a way better coach than player.

His team, noted for tenacious defense, held 14 of its final 15 opponents to fewer than 60 points. The Blue Dragons took a 36-0 record into the national title game March 21, a 54-46 loss to Chipola.

Brad Hallier of the Hutchinson news recently wrote a column endorsing Ontjes for the KU job and expressing the opinion that the coach is too good for any level but high Div. I. In it, Hallier cited an amazing statistic in the column: The Blue Dragons have built a home-court winning streak of 117 games for their ultra-competitive coach.

Six of the 13 players on this season's Hutch roster played high school ball in Kansas.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger has not shared the names of his 15 finalists on a list that started with 60 names, but he did say he has explored coaches from all levels, including junior college. Given that, it's difficult to imagine Ontjes at the very least was not on the original list and very well could be among the final 15.

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Women’s basketball coaching search: Notre Dame assistant Niele Ivey

As Angel Goodrich demonstrated when she took Kansas to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, nothing is more important than a terrific point guard.

Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey (first name pronounced by saying the word “knee” and the letter “L”) was one herself and during her eight seasons as an assistint has mentored others.

A native of St. Louis who graduated from ND in 2000 with a history degree, Ivey also has been Notre Dame’s recruiting coordinator since 2012. The Fighting Irish, who rank second nationally in field-goal percentage (49.8) and fifth in scoring (80.9), face South Carolina in a 5:30 CT semifinal in a game televised on ESPN. This is Notre Dame's fifth consecutive Final Four.

Ivey has received praise for her work with ND point guard Lindsay Allen and with Skylar Diggins before that. She also has had a hand in the Irish ranking in the top five nationally in each of the past three recruiting classes.

After her All-American career at Notre Dame, Ivey spent five seasons playing in the WNBA.

“Niele is really a rising star, a rock star if you will, in the coaching profession,” Notre Dame head coach Muff McGraw said in the Niele bio on the school’s website. “... She’s got to be known as one of the best recruiters in the country and certainly with our point guards, she does just a phenomenal job.”

Ivey made the 2001 Final Four all-tournament team by averaging 16.5 points and 5.5 assists in leading Notre Dame to its first national title.

Ivey keeps the public up to date on Notre Dame basketball and on her son Jaden’s budding hoops career with the Twitter handle @IrishCoachIvey.

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Women’s basketball coaching search: Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger started his search for a new women’s basketball coach by compiling a list of 60 names. At least 59 of them were not named by Fortune Magazine as one of the “World’s Greatest Leaders.”

On a list that ranked Pope Francis fourth, LeBron James 31st and Jimmy Fallon 45th, Princeton eighth-year women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart checked in at No. 43. The Tigers went 31-1 this past season, losing to Maryland, 85-70, in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

“Banghart, who has a master’s degree in leadership development, expects more of her players than great play: They must adhere to Princeton’s tough academic standards too,” Fortune wrote of the Dartmouth graduate.

Banghart’s team plays an up-tempo style and led the nation in three-point accuracy this season, which is fitting considering that in 1999, Banhart led the nation in three-point field goals per game.

Seeded eighth in the NCAA tournament, the Tigers posted the second Ivy League victory in tourney history (Harvard 1998 was the first), defeating Wisconsin-Green Bay, 80-70, in the round of 64. Before hiring Banghart, Princeton never had been to the NCAA tourney. This was the fourth trip in five seasons for the Tigers, whose season included a 30-point victory at Michigan.

Banghart’s turn-around at the Ivy League school didn’t take long. She went 21-37 in her first two seasons, 148-30 in the next six.

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KU football coach David Beaty “Mic’d Up” for first practice

Throughout the past few years, the video crew at KU has done a fantastic job of capturing what goes on both on the field where everyone can see and behind the scenes of the program.

Whether you're talking practice or game highlights, players of the day video or the former feature known as The Gridiron, produced by former Jayhawk Micah Brown, there has been no shortage of entertaining video to watch about the KU football program.

That trend appears to have continued under the direction of first-year coach David Beaty, who was mic'd up by KU's video crew during the opening practice of the spring.

The video gives you a great look at the constant energy and urgency that Beaty operates with during practices. This was not just him putting on a show because he knew the mic was on. In fact, a good guess would be that he forgot he was wearing the thing about 10 minutes into practice.

This is just how the guy works on a daily basis and the hope, with the coaching staff, the KU administration and in the locker room, is that this kind of always-on attitude will become the norm for the Jayhawks in the near future.

Here's a look.

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Dean Smith thanks former players with checks

26 APR 1952:  University of Kansas coach Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen gives his final instructions to his team before playing and winning the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four held in Seattle, WA at the Edmundson Pavilion. Kansas defeated St. John's 80-63 for the title. future North Carloina coach Dean Smith (facing camera) was a junior at Kansas.

26 APR 1952: University of Kansas coach Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen gives his final instructions to his team before playing and winning the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four held in Seattle, WA at the Edmundson Pavilion. Kansas defeated St. John's 80-63 for the title. future North Carloina coach Dean Smith (facing camera) was a junior at Kansas.

Known not just for his contributions to the game of basketball, but also for his class and love for his players, Dean Smith’s legend continues to grow — even after his death.

Before Smith died, the former Kansas basketball player and legendary North Carolina coach made sure he left a little “thank you” behind for each of his former players.

A photo of a letter sent out from Smith’s trust began circulating on social media Thursday afternoon.

None by InsideCarolina

The message, as shown in the note sent to former UNC player Dante Calabria, explained that Smith set up his will to give $200 to each Tar Heel he coached during his time in Chapel Hill:

“Each player was important and special to Coach Smith and when he prepared his estate plan, Coach wanted to reach out to each of his lettermen. Accordingly, Coach directed that following his passing each letterman be sent a two hundred dollar check with the message, ‘enjoy a dinner out, compliments of Coach Dean Smith.’”

What a cool gesture.

Smith, a native of Emporia, played at KU under Phog Allen, and came off the bench for the Jayhawks when they won the 1952 national championship game against St. John’s.

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College basketball world reacts to KU’s Round of 32 exit

When the season ends for Kansas, it doesn’t just move the needle in the Sunflower State, the college basketball nation takes notice.

When the Jayhawks lose before the Sweet 16, it becomes an even bigger deal. Throw in the whole in-state, previously unplayed rivalry game angle and you’ve got all sorts of intrigue surrounding KU’s Round of 32 loss to Wichita State on Sunday in Omaha.

Below is some of the Twitter chatter, photos, stories — and trash talk — that showed up after the Shockers bounced Kansas from the NCAA Tournament.

None by Dick Vitale

None by Kyle Tucker

None by Fran Fraschilla

None by Dana O'Neil

None by Dick Vitale

None by Jeff Eisenberg

None by Dick Vitale

None by Gary Parrish

None by Gary Parrish

None by ShockerHoops.net

None by Sporting News NCAAB

None by Dan Dakich

None by Kristen Rodgers

None by Dan Dakich

None by Luke Winn

None by Theodore Bressman

None by Jason King

None by Jeff Eisenberg

None by NCAA March Madness

None by Brian Hamilton

None by Jay Bilas

None by Fran Fraschilla

None by Dick Vitale

Jeff Eisenberg went as far as to include one Kansas player in his “Best and worst of the NCAA tourney’s opening weekend” feature.

Spoiler alert: The Jayhawk didn’t land in the best category.

None by Jeff Eisenberg

Wayne Selden Jr. received the unappealing label of “Player who shrank in the spotlight”:

“Selden scored a quiet six points in a victory over New Mexico State on Friday and then went scoreless on five shots in a 78-65 loss to Wichita State two days later. Granted Kansas' game plan was to pound the ball inside against the smaller Shockers, but Selden still acknowledged after the game that he had let down his team by not being aggressive on offense and not playing well on defense.”

A couple of former KU players felt pretty good about their Jayhawks before the game, but since then we have social media silence on the subject.

None by Cole Aldrich

None by Mario Chalmers

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Take four more looks at pivotal play in Kansas loss to Wichita State

Take four more looks at the most talked-about play in Wichita State’s 78-65 victory Sunday in Omaha, one that sent the veteran Shockers on to a Sweet 16 game Thursday in Cleveland vs. Notre Dame.

The first thing you probably noticed is that at one point Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre was ahead of the Shockers' Zach Brown, but was ultimately beaten to the ball and mistimed his lunge for it.

Now watch it again and this time focus on Brannen Greene. After Brown tipped the pass, Greene, watching the ball, took three walking steps and the sprinted down the court. Three steps too late.

Now watch it a third time and this time focus on Perry Ellis. He was too far behind Brown to make a play, but had Ellis sprinted down court, making an angle to the basket, he could have been there for the rebound in the event Brown missed the dunk. Instead, he jogs very slowly down the right side of the court.

Watch it a fourth and final time and this time focus on Oubre after Brown makes the steal. Instead of sprinting after him in case he lost the ball on the dribble or missed the shot at the rim, Oubre actually drifts out of bounds and very slowly jogs for a few steps.

It was no way for any of the KU players to end a play that felt as if it ended the season.

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Getting to know Wichita State

Wichita State's coach Gregg Marshall talks to Wichita States guard Zach Brown (1) during Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE..

Wichita State's coach Gregg Marshall talks to Wichita States guard Zach Brown (1) during Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE.. by Richard Gwin

Separated by 161 miles of interstate and rolling plains, Kansas and Wichita State could play basketball against each other every year pretty easily.

Of course, they don’t. Which makes Sunday’s NCAA Tournament meeting — the first game between the Jayhawks and Shockers since January 6, 1993 — feel even more significant. As if that would be necessary in this scenario: winner moves on to the Sweet 16; loser’s season is over.

KU and WSU have squared off 14 times in the past, but Sunday in Omaha marks the first time that will happen with both ranked in the AP Top 25. Kansas entered the tourney at No. 10 and Wichita State is 14th.

The Shockers (29-4) also made it this far into March Madness last season, when they fell in their second game as the No. 1 seed to No. 8 seed Kentucky — the eventual national runner-up. In 2013, WSU went all the way to the Final Four. So it’s not as if this stage, hype or playing Kansas will rattle Wichita State.

If WSU can knock off its in-state big brother, that would give Gregg Marshall’s program 30 wins for the third season in a row. Since leaving Winthrop (a program he took to seven NCAA Tournaments), Marshall has gone 6-3 in The Big Dance at Wichita State.

Marshall’s teams have a reputation for playing tough, even when they are out-sized, as WSU will be against Kansas (27-8). But the Shockers’ four perimeter players all rebound, which has allowed Wichita State to average a +5.3 advantage on the glass this season (31st in the nation).

Having all those guards also makes it easier to protect the rock. WSU commits fewer turnovers a game (9.1) than all but three teams in the nation, and the Shockers have a +3.9 turnover margin.

The guy who runs the show, junior point guard Fred VanVleet, said his perimeter running mates Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Evan Wessel give WSU a unique look.

“They’re all irreplaceable to me,” VanVleet said.

One of the most talented point guards in the nation, VanVleet might be the most important player on the CenturyLink Center floor Sunday. So I asked him to give a little info on his teammates after he spoke with various reporters about his own development.

Here are the Shockers Kansas will have to worry about as the Jayhawks aim to survive and advance to the Sweet 16.

SHOCKERS STARTERS

No. 31 — Ron Baker, 6-4, 220 junior G

Wichita State guard Ron Baker drives to the basket in Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Ron Baker drives to the basket in Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Mike Yoder

— Season stats: 15.0 points, 43.7% FGs, 38.4% 3s (76 of 198), 75.8% FTs (91 of 120), 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals

“Obviously Ron has been our best scorer this year, shooting the ball. And his defense is kind of underrated at times.”

hoop-math.com nugget (stats entering NCAA Tournament): Most of Baker’s shots come from downtown: 53.2% of his team-leading 355 attempts. WSU doesn’t mind that he takes the most shots, either. He leads their top seven players in eFG%: 54.6%.

No. 23 — Fred VanVleet, 6-0, 195 junior PG

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet smiles during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet smiles during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 13.1 points, 43.3% FGs, 36.2% 3s (38 of 105), 79.9% FTs (119 of 149), 4.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.8 steals

For all he can do offensively, he has made it a point to work himself into a standout defender, as well.

“I think wanting to be a good defender is probably the first step.”

One of the assistant coaches his freshman year used to joke he had trouble finding guys VanVleet was capable of guarding when they were going over scouting reports.

“I just didn’t want to be that guy.”

“Having Tekele on our team, and seeing the respect that he gets for locking people down, I always wanted to be held in that same regard.”

“I think paying attention to game plan and scouting and just studying guys that you might guard helps a lot.”

“It’s tricky, because I try to be aggressive, but being as important as I am to this team … sometimes I got in foul trouble early on in this season being stupid.”

“You just want to be sound. If it’s a great scorer, try to make it tough on them, try to make every shot contested. If it’s a point guard who just runs the show, I just like to deny him and disrupt him, disrupt the timing of the offense and just make life miserable for the other team.”

— hoop-math.com nugget: VanVleet operates and scores in every area of the floor. He makes 52.8% of his shots at the rim, 36.8% of his 2-point jumpers and 36.2% of his 3s.

No. 12 — Darius Carter, 6-7, 245 senior F

— Season stats: 11.1 points, 51.8% FGs, 3 of 5 3s, 63.5% FTs, 5.4 rebounds

Carter leads the way inside for the perimeter-oriented Shockers, and they will need him to make his presence felt against a larger KU team.

“He’s been real great when he’s on the floor, not in foul trouble.”

That quote might sound disparaging, but you have to consider the source. VanVleet is the point guard, and a team leader. He wants Carter giving Wichita State all he can.

And Carter was sitting right next to him in the locker room when VanVleet said that. Subtle reminder. Plus, he spent time addressing his own foul issues and overcoming those. He wants his vital teammate to do the same.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Carter makes the most of his touches, converting 66.4% of his shots at the rim and 42.2% of his 2-point jumpers. He also has 21 put-backs on the offensive glass this season.

No. 32 — Tekele Cotton, 6-3, 205 senior G

Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton (32) shoots a layup while playing against George Washington guard Kethan Savage, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton (32) shoots a layup while playing against George Washington guard Kethan Savage, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner) by Eugene Tanner

— Season stats: 9.6 points, 41.2% FGs, 29.6% 3s (32 of 108, 70% FTs, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists

“Tekele, you know, he’s known for his defense, but he’s been great for us attacking the rim.”

— hoop-math.com nugget: There is a reason VanVleet wants Cotton finishing inside. Cotton converts 58.8% of his shots at the rim compared to his sub-par 3-point shooting.

No. 3 — Evan Wessel, 6-4, 218 junior

Wichita State guard Evan Wessel pauses during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Evan Wessel pauses during interviews Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 4.1 points, 38.1% FGs, 34.2% 3s (27 of 79), 52.9% FTs (9 of 17), 3.4 rebounds

“Evan’s just a tough guy, diving on the loose balls, doing dirty work, knocking down open threes, rebounding the ball — playing out of position at the four.”

— hoop-math.com nugget: Wessel doesn’t often score, and he knows not to waste his attempts. Just 9.3% of his shots are 2-point jumpers. And only 19.6% of his shots come at the rim. If he’s shooting, it’s likely an open 3. That’s where 71% of his shots are taken.

SHOCKERS BENCH

No. 24 — Shaquille Morris, 6-7, 261 freshman F

Wichita State's guard Shaquille Morris (24) slams home a dunk in Wichita State's win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha.

Wichita State's guard Shaquille Morris (24) slams home a dunk in Wichita State's win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 5.0 points, 55% FGs, 0 of 1 3s, 64.2% FTs (34 of 53), 2.7 rebounds

The numbers below provide all you need to know on the powerful young big man.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Morris takes 44.4% of his shots at the rim. That’s probably not enough, considering he converts 72.7% of his shots there and just 35.2% of his 2-point jumpers.

No. 0 — Rashard Kelly, 6-7, 232 freshman F

Wichita State guard Rashard Kelly celebrates in the final minutes of Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Wichita State guard Rashard Kelly celebrates in the final minutes of Wichita States' win over Indiana Friday, March 20, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Mike Yoder

— Season stats: 3.0 points, 48.6% FGs, 4 of 9 3s, 52.4% FTs, 3.0 rebounds

— hoop-math.com nugget: His 15 put-backs are second on the team, and that’s where 36.8% of his made baskets at the rim come.

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Let the hype continue: Media day, before KU vs. WSU

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to the media outside the Jayhawks' locker-room Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to the media outside the Jayhawks' locker-room Saturday, March 21, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb. by Mike Yoder

There might not be basketball games going on Saturday in Omaha, but there certainly is pre-game buzz at CenturyLInk Center for Sunday’s Kansas University basketball game against Wichita State, in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32.

The locker rooms for both the Jayhawks and Shockers were packed with media members as the anticipation for the Sunflower State’s postseason matchup grows.

This will be your landing place for all the quotes, audio, video and photos the KUsports.com team gathers, so check back as we update it throughout the afternoon.

— 4:54 p.m. update —

Kansas sophomore forward Landen Lucas understands why this Kansas vs. Wichita State game means so much in the Sunflower State, and to the fans especially.

That just makes it more exciting for the players, too, Lucas said.

— 4:49 p.m. update — By Matt Tait—

Just another quick hit from WSU guard Ron Baker, a Scott City, Kansas, native, who was asked on Saturday about the idea of playing KU and K-State on a more regular basis in the future.

“Every Kansas school would like that, I think," Baker said. "Obviously we're not the BCS school and I can see how KU and K-State wouldn't want to have a home-and-home. It's just kind of how the RPI and BPI and all that stuff works.”

“I think it would be good for the state if we had like a Sunflower Showdown. Even if we're not playing each other, maybe the three schools played different opponents in the same location. That way Kansas can kind of bond and watch those three games in a day. Something simple like that would be neat.”

Great idea. Needs to happen.

— 4:30 p.m. update — By Matt Tait

Had a chance to talk with both Perry Ellis and Wichita State's Evan Wessel about their friendship and time playing together in high school at Wichita Heights.

Interestingly enough, the two guys are pretty similar. Both quiet. Both polite. Both hard-working dudes who have made the most of their abilities.

I asked a few KU guys what they would want to know about Ellis if they had the chance to talk to Wessel and their answers were pretty funny. Evan Manning, Tyler Self and Josh Pollard said they've heard stories about how Ellis used to get technical fouls when he was younger and may even have thrown a chair once. Wessel didn't recall those incidents and said it might have happened before they started playing on the same teams.

Landen Lucas wanted to know if Wessel remembered whether Ellis would actually dance at school dances or just kind of hang back against the wall. Wessel didn't remember any specific incidents of Ellis dancing or not dancing but said he was certain that Ellis was never the one out there leading the dance party.

KU freshman Kelly Oubre might have given the most interesting answer when he was asked what he'd want to know about Ellis from Wessel: "They're the opposition right now."

I asked Jamari Traylor what he would want to know and he said he had been around Ellis for so long now that he could not really think of anything.

"I know everything I need to know about Perry," Traylor said. "I've been around him for a while now. I know I'd trust him with my wallet."

Wessel, who averages 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds a game in 23 minutes, said the one thing he always liked the most about Ellis' game was how unselfish he was.

"He could always be the best player on the floor when he's out there," Wessel said. "But he still was unselfish. He's a great teammate and a lot of fun to play with."

As for the upcoming battle between these two former Wichita Heights teammates, both sounded excited about the challenge and each said he hoped he would guard the other guy, which seems pretty likely according to players and coaches in both locker rooms.

"It's going to be a great opportunity," Wessel said. "Great teammates back in high school and it will be fun to play against him here tomorrow."

Added Ellis: "We have been competing since we were young and he's a great guy and it's going to be fun to get to play against each other again."

— 4:09 p.m. update —

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall knows this is a big game for his program, but he also realizes the ultimate goal here in Omaha is moving on to Cleveland.

It's exciting. I'm not going to tell you that I'm not excited about being in the third round against a wonderful program, a great team, a great coach, but when that ball is tossed, I'm just going to coach my team, and it's going to be just like any other game, with tremendous energy and intensity. And last year, Kentucky, that was a wonderful basketball game! It was electricity all through the building; it was one play after another, and tomorrow's game could very well be like that. I just hope we come out on the different end.

— Hear Marshall's press conference: Gregg Marshall looks ahead to Sunday's game vs. Kansas

— 3:58 p.m. update —

You might have heard that Wichita State junior Ron Baker grew up a Kansas basketball fan. He talked about that Saturday in the Shockers' locker room.

— 3:42 p.m. update —

Bill Self said it didn't take long for Kansas to turn its focus to Wichita State.

Yesterday was a great win for us, I think anybody that plays in the tournament that won would say it's a great win, but we got forgot about 30 minutes after we played and focused in on the next task, and that's a talented and well-coached Wichita State ball club.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self discusses Saturday's showdown with Wichita State

— 3:15 p.m. update —

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— 3:05 p.m. update —

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— 2:20 p.m. update —

You can tell some of the Jayhawks aren’t as excited about the two-programs-from-Kansas angle of this game as the media. Which is completely fine and understandable.

Kansas would want to win this game if Indiana was the opponent, too. The players don’t mind all the WSU buzz, but the subplots didn’t seem to exactly intrigue them. They’re just trying to get to the Sweet 16.

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Jayhawk-killer Ali Farokhmanesh surprises Kansas fans in Omaha

When March rolls around and the talk turns to NCAA upsets, you're liable to overhear conversations like this in Kansas basketball circles:

"Who was that shooter? Who was the little, um ... "

"He had a weird last name, right?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. What was his name?"

"Uh, Farokhmanesh? Farokhma-something?"

"Yes. Yeah, I remember him just raining jumpers the whole game."

Now what happens when the conversation starter is that guy, the infamous hero/villain of Northern Iowa's 2010 upset of KU, Ali Farokhmanesh?

Kansas guard Brady Morningstar (12) defends UNI's Ali Farokhmanesh (5) Saturday, March 20, 2010, in Oklahoma City, OK.

Kansas guard Brady Morningstar (12) defends UNI's Ali Farokhmanesh (5) Saturday, March 20, 2010, in Oklahoma City, OK. by Mike Yoder

To find out, the Omaha World-Herald grabbed the now-Nebraska graduate assistant and brought him to CenturyLink Center, where the Jayhawks started their 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Read the result, as chronicled by the W-H's Dirk Chatelain, or watch the video below:

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Getting to know upset-minded NMSU

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, right, hugs center Tshilidzi Nephawe toward the end of the second half of the Aggies’ victory over Cal State-Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Nephawe is one of four seniors Menzies will count on when the Aggies open the NCAA Tournament against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, right, hugs center Tshilidzi Nephawe toward the end of the second half of the Aggies’ victory over Cal State-Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Nephawe is one of four seniors Menzies will count on when the Aggies open the NCAA Tournament against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

New Mexico State hasn’t lost a college basketball game since Jan. 17. Winners of 13 straight, the Aggies hope to keep that streak alive Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, against national powerhouse Kansas.

Dancing in March for the fourth season in a row, NMSU (23-10) also has a chance to deal the Big 12 (0-3 on the first day of The Madness) another NCAA Tournament blow — if it can find a way to topple the Midwest’s No. 2 seed, KU (26-8).

The WAC regular-season and tournament champion Aggies lost at Baylor, 66-55, back on Dec. 17. But this is March. And upsets rule supreme.

If New Mexico State wants to test — or upset — Kansas, it will have to do so with its defense. The Aggies are:

  • 19th in the NCAA in scoring defense (59.3 points allowed)

  • 10th in 3-point FG% defense (29.3%)

  • 19th in rebound margin: +6.9 boards a game

The Aggies do all of that while playing pressure defense, and an adapting half-court zone that actually specializes in taking away open 3-point looks.

Asked to describe NMSU’s defense, sixth man D.K. Eldridge labeled it the ever-popular “40 minutes of hell.”

“We try to make it impossible to bring the ball across half court,” Eldridge said. “It mostly comes from all our deflections. We keep count of that. Daniel (Mullings) leading in deflections right now. Myself, Ian (Baker) can do it. And our back wall guys, they very athletic and make plays, as well.”

In summation: It’s the kind of approach that opponents hate.

In order to get to know the Aggies better, I asked senior guard Eldridge to provide his take on each of NMSU’s top six players.

AGGIES STARTERS

No. 3 — Remi Barry, 6-8, 225 senior F

New Mexico State senior forward Remi Barry participates in a NCAA second-round practice at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015. New Mexico State will face the Jayhawks Friday in a second-round NCAA Tournament game.

New Mexico State senior forward Remi Barry participates in a NCAA second-round practice at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015. New Mexico State will face the Jayhawks Friday in a second-round NCAA Tournament game. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 13.3 points, 46.3% FGs, 44.6% 3s (41-for-92), 76.6% FTs, 4.8 rebounds

“Coming off an injury from last year, he’s had a very successful year. He brings scoring to the table and he’s a part of our defense with his length.”

“He knows his role. He don’t get outside his box too much.”

No. 43 — Pascal Siakam, 6-9, 230 freshman F

New Mexico State freshman forward Pascal Siakam (43) warms up during a early practice session as New Mexico State took to the floor in Omaha, for a short practice session on Friday 19, 2015..

New Mexico State freshman forward Pascal Siakam (43) warms up during a early practice session as New Mexico State took to the floor in Omaha, for a short practice session on Friday 19, 2015.. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 13 points, 57.7% FGs, 0-for-2 3s, 76.3% FTs, 7.7 rebounds (4.4 offensive), 1.8 blocks

“Oh, man. He an animal down low. Only a freshman, though. That’s what’s crazy about it. He’s got a lot left. Hopefully this’ll give him experience to have confidence for the future.”

“He’s very athletic, rebounds, scores the ball really well. He plays hard every possession.”

No. 23 — Daniel Mullings, 6-2, 170, senior G

New Mexico State senior guard Daniel Mullings warms up with his team during a practice session at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015.

New Mexico State senior guard Daniel Mullings warms up with his team during a practice session at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE., Thursday, March 19, 2015. by Richard Gwin

— Season stats: 12.6 points, 43.5% FGs, 36.1% 3s, 70.8% FTs, 5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2 steals

“He’s the head of the program. A very good player, athletic, very strong competitor.”

“Similar to myself, we just go out there and do what we do best: play hard every possession, give it our all for 40 minutes.”

“He’s a very strong driver, capable shooter, very good defense on the ball and off the ball.”

No. 15 — Tshilidzi Nephawe, 6-10, 268, senior C

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— Season stats: 10.4 points, 53.1% FGs, 62.1% FTs, 7.6 rebounds

“Just call him ‘Chili.’ He gets mad if you don’t say his nickname.”

“Just a big presence down low. Offense, it’s hard to stop him. Big, strong kid. A guy you want to get the ball to every time. You know you’re gonna get a bucket out of him.”

“On the defensive end, he just change shots, rebound, guard. He can get down and guard guards if he want to.”

“His conditioning got better. He came off an injury not too long ago (missed 12 games before returning in mid-January).”

“He’s a senior, does the right things. Not too many mistakes — on and off the court. He’s a guy that you want, and we want. We’re lucky to have him on our team.”

No. 4 — Ian Baker, 6-0, 180, sophomore PG

— Season stats: 9.5 points, 47.8% FGs, 47.2% 3s (58-for-123), 75.9% FTs, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals

“He brings a lot. For being a young player, he’s a very experienced guy. He’s very mature at his position.”

“He can shoot the ball very well. He can lead the team on offense, and when he wants to he can play very good ‘D.’”

“He comes from a family with a lot of older brothers, so I think that’s why his maturity is so strong. … He’s a very good leader. We listen to him. He puts us in the right position to win games, hits a lot of big shots for us… When we’re in a deep situation, he’ll get us out of it.”

AGGIES BENCH

No. 1 — D.K. Eldridge, 6-2, 180, senior G

— Season stats: 8.1 points, 38.6% FGs, 28.1% 3s (34-for-121), 63.3% FTs, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals

Eldridge considers himself a defensive-minded guy.

“That’s where my offense comes from most of the time — playing good ‘D.’ I know this team needs me in that category, so I just try my best to come off the bench and bring energy, especially when the starting five’s not feeling too energetic.”

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Former Jayhawk Jerod Haase deals Big 12 a blow by coaching UAB to upset victory vs. Iowa State

Jerod Haase

Jerod Haase

Omaha — Greg Gurley, attending Kansas University’s public practice, had just finished watching on a courtside computer UAB finish off an upset of Iowa State on Thursday in Lousiville, when he looked back on the first time he saw UAB coach Jerod Haase in a Kansas locker room.

“He was at Cal and we hated playing against him (in the 1993 NCAA tournament) because he was kind of that annoying guy,” Gurley said. “Then we beat him and he came into our uniform, full uniform on, and I remember I was with one of my teammates and I go, ‘Is that Jerod Haase?’ It was. He and coach (Roy) Williams talked and he basically told Coach Williams he wanted to transfer.”

Kansas went on to the Final Four.

“The next weekend after that he was in Lawrence on a visit,” Gurley said. “From that point on, he was attached to coach Williams, followed him to North Carolina and has done well.”
Haase, 40, played his final three seasons of college basketball for Williams at Kansas. He spent four seasons working under Williams at KU and eight at North Carolina. He is in his third season as head coach at UAB and coached in the NCAA tournament Thursday for the first time. Until that victory, the one that gained the most attention for Haase came when his Blazers upset mentor Williams' North Carolina squad Dec. 1, 2013, in Birmingham.

Haase has a 54-45 record at UAB. His Blazers advance to a Saturday game vs. UCLA.
The Big 12 went 0-3 Thursday, with Baylor (Georgia State) and Iowa State losing to No. 14 seeds and Texas losing to No. 6 seed Butler.

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Media day at CenturyLink Center

Kansas forward Perry Ellis talks to the media at the Centrurylink Center in Omaha, NE. Friday March 19, 2015.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis talks to the media at the Centrurylink Center in Omaha, NE. Friday March 19, 2015. by Richard Gwin

The NCAA Tournament already is in full swing in some cities, but in Omaha, Nebraska, the games don’t start until Friday. That means today at CenturyLink Center, players and coaches from Kansas University, New Mexico State, Wichita State and Indiana will only be talking basketball (and going through a pseudo practice which will be open to the public).

This will serve as your landing spot for the media day, and we’ll check in as we can to update you on what’s being said about Friday’s Round of 64 games — and the Sunday could-be game between KU and WSU, when that inevitably gets brought up.

Check back in throughout the day for updates.

— 7:43 p.m. update— By Matt Tait

Just filed this story about New Mexico State big man Tshilidzi Nephawe that includes where his nickname "Chili" came from, what he's playing for and why he's proud of his homeland of South Africa.

Had a lot of fun interviewing him and writing this one. Just a really, really good dude.

New Mexico State's 'Chili' plays to represent South Africa

— 5:08 p.m. update—

Kansas guards Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Wayne Selden Jr. answer questions during a press conference at Centrurylink Center in Omaha, NE. Thursday March 19 2015.

Kansas guards Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Wayne Selden Jr. answer questions during a press conference at Centrurylink Center in Omaha, NE. Thursday March 19 2015. by Richard Gwin

KU sent sophomore Wayne Selden Jr. and freshman Kelly Oubre jr. to the bright lights of the stage for Thursday's press conference.

Said Oubre of his upcoming first tourney:

"Guys like Wayne, Perry, Jamari, they've pretty much just calmed me down throughout this whole process and told me to take every game, one game at a time, one possession at a time; don't take anybody for granted and pretty much just play with a free mind. Try to take care of business for the name across your chest."

— Listen to what they had to say: Selden and Oubre discuss preparing for NCAAs

— 4:55 p.m. update —

At his press conference Thursday afternoon, Kansas coach Bill Self opened by talking about the excitement and urgency of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

"Obviously we're excited to play in another Tournament and something that we definitely do not take for granted, and the guys have worked real hard to put themselves in a position to be here. And, of course, being in Omaha is like a double bonus to us. It's certainly close for our fans. But even more importantly to us, it's a great venue, it's a great setup and a great city, and we have experienced a little bit of success the last couple of times we've been here, so we're very happy to be here in Omaha."

— Listen to the complete press conference here: Bill Self talks expectations, New Mexico State

— 4:47 p.m. update — by Matt Tait

The Jayhawks were in, by far, the smallest locker room I've seen them in during an NCAA Tournament (New Mexico State's was not any bigger) and it was incredibly packed during the entire open locker room session.

Jamari Traylor was so far back in the corner of the locker room that he just hung back in his locker and stayed out of sight. I was able to get back into the corner eventually and I asked him how the past four days had been for the health of the Jayhawks.

"We're good, man," Traylor said. "Everybody's healthy, feeling good and ready to go."

Down the row from Traylor, Brannen Greene held the edge and that made the access to him easy in and easy out. I talked to Greene a lot about the difference between the feeling he has this year at the tournament and the feeling he had last year, as a true freshman.

The basic answer was this: Instead of having his head on a swivel and being a little bit in awe of all that takes place here, from the media hype to the fan frenzy to the intensity of the games himself, Greene feels much more comfortable and enjoys that he knows what to expect.

"Your energy has to be at an all-time high at a tournament like this," Greene said. "And I think we all know that now. Instead of worrying about all of the things going on around us, we can focus more on basketball and getting ready to play."

— 4 p.m. update —

The Kansas locker room was crowded with working media Thursday afternoon, but our photographer Mike Yoder got in there for video.

— 2:20 p.m. update —

You can't tell a whole lot from these open "practices" that the NCAA Tournament holds for the fans, but Brannen Greene — just like his teammates — worked on his shot during the session.

None by Benton Smith

Some fell, some didn't. But that's the way it goes when three or four players are shooting at once.

If KU wants to turn a corner and start playing at a higher level on offense, they'll need Green to find that shooting touch again.

Here's a look at all of the perimeter players going through drills Thursday afternoon.

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— 1:33 p.m. update —

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— 1:05 p.m. update —

None by Matt Tait

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— 12:53 p.m. update —

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— 12 p.m., from Benton Smith —

Just got back from the New Mexico State locker room and the Aggies seem loose and confident.

They pride themselves on playing disruptive, turnover-focused defense and they hope that creates easy offense for them.

NMSU opponents average 13.2 giveaways a game this season, so it’s not a ridiculous number. But that mindset can get under opponents’ skin, and that can be just as beneficial.

Both point guard Ian Baker and sixth man D.K Eldridge talked about that peskiness and pointed to it as one of NMSU’s strengths.

Check back for video from the locker room and quotes from the Aggies (23-10).

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One more look at the unjust stacking of Midwest region

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells at his players during the first half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells at his players during the first half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. by Nick Krug

I came up with one more way to look at the unfairness of the NCAA tournament seeding to see if I could confirm my suspicions that the Midwest region is strangely stacked, so much more loaded than the others.

I looked at the points each school received in the final 2014-15 Associated Press college basketball poll and compared them, region-by-region. Sure enough, it confirmed the power of the Midwest regional.

Led by Kentucky’s 1,625 points, the Midwest has 6,014 AP poll points. The East finishes second with 5,527 points, the West (4,855) third and the South (4,824) fourth.

The top 25 ranking of Midwest regional teams: 1. Kentucky, 8. Notre Dame, 10. Kansas, 12. Maryland, 14. Wichita State, 20. West Virginia, 24. Butler.

Think about this for a moment: There are four regionals and the Midwest has five of the first 14 teams in the Associated Press poll. Not cool. Four East schools rank in the top 14: 2. Villanova, 6. Virginia, 11. Northern Iowa, 13. Oklahoma, three from the South regional (4. Duke, 7. Gonzaga, 9. Iowa State), just two in the West (3. Wisconsin, 5. Arizona), plus Nos. 15. North Carolina and 16. Baylor.

Oh well, the games begin in full today and tomorrow, so it’s probably time to focus on them and stop griping about the unbalanced brackets.

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Kentucky and 15 lesser teams that could win it

In this photo from Nov. 28, 2012, SMU head coach Larry Brown instructs his team against Utah in Salt Lake City. The well-traveled coach — who led Kansas University to the 1988 NCAA crown — has SMU off to a 9-4 start.

In this photo from Nov. 28, 2012, SMU head coach Larry Brown instructs his team against Utah in Salt Lake City. The well-traveled coach — who led Kansas University to the 1988 NCAA crown — has SMU off to a 9-4 start.

Sixteen teams capable of winning the national title and why in 16 words:

1 - Kentucky: Several NBA teams lack legitimate NBA center. Kentucky has three: Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie-Cauley Stein, Dakari Johnson.

2 - Duke: Overlooked key Quinn Cook, senior guard, beautifully complements freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones.

3 - Arizona: Experienced point guard T.J. McConnell brings out best in forwards Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

4 - Wisconsin: Frank Kaminsky, 7-foot center with guard skills, one of many Badgers with Final Four experience.

5 - Gonzaga: Big Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and veteran guard Kevin Pangos just two of many three-point threats.

6 - Villanova: Think Pink: Can JayVaughn Pinkston lead ’Cats to a national title 30 years after Ed Pinckney did?

7 - Virginia: Pack-line defense: The only defender who ever extends to three-point line is the man guarding the ball.

8 - North Carolina: Marcus Paige latest Roy Williams superstar Iowan, joining Kirk Hinrich, Harrison Barnes, Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison.

9 - Lousiville: Rick Pitino’s scoring-challenged, hard-working Cardinals led by relentless Montrezl Harrell, all muscle and hustle.

10 - Ohio State: If “next Michael Jordan” tag had not died, D’Angelo Russell would be guy wearing it now.

11 - Kansas: Only if Kelly Oubre, Hunter Mickelson disrupt defensively and Brannen Greene makes three threes a game.

12 - Iowa State: Free-minded shooters, versaitle players, a coach with professional demeanor, no deficit too big to overcome.

13 - Michigan State: You’ll never find another love like mine for first name of Spartans guard Lourawls Nairn, Jr.

14 - Ole Miss: Third in nation in free-throw shooting, experienced, play hard, take smarter shots without Marshall Henderson.

15 - Northern Iowa: Five three-point shooters get hot for six games in a row and a miracle can happen.

16 - SMU: Coach Larry Harvey Brown. Coach Larry Harvey Brown. Coach Larry Harvey Brown. Coach Larry Harvey Brown.

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