Entries from blogs tagged with “football”

Frank Mason, former Jayhawks, college basketball observers react to KU’s win at WVU

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) grabs Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) as the Jayhawks celebrate their 71-66 win over West Virginia, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) grabs Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) as the Jayhawks celebrate their 71-66 win over West Virginia, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

When two top-10 teams square off in prime time, the rest of the college basketball universe makes a point to tune in and watch the show.

ESPN’s Big Monday matchup between No. 10 Kansas and No. 6 West Virginia wasn’t always the most visually appealing display, but the Jayhawks’ unlikely rally for a rare “Country Road” win made it a captivating finish.

For the more prominent viewers — some former KU players, others national college basketball writers and analysts — the battle between two of the Big 12’s top teams and the Jayhawks’ first win at WVU Coliseum in five years not only proved entertaining but also telling.

Here are some of the social media reactions to KU’s 71-66 win, from around college basketball, including a couple from Jayhawks who made it possible.

None by Frank Mason

None by Mario Chalmers

None by LaGerald Vick

M O O D :

A post shared by Devonte' Graham (@dtaegraham) on

M O O D : by dtaegraham

None by Marcus Morris

None by tyshawn taylor

None by Wave Papi

None by Brett Ballard

None by Seth Davis

None by Jeff Eisenberg

None by Doug Gottlieb

None by Seth Davis

None by Jeff Goodman

None by Doug Gottlieb

None by Pat Forde

None by Jeff Eisenberg

None by Dana O'Neil

None by Jay Williams

None by Myron Medcalf

None by Seth Davis

None by Kyle Tucker

None by John Gasaway

None by Rush the Court

None by Doug Gottlieb

None by Seth Davis

None by Andy Glockner




More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia


By the Numbers: Kansas 71, West Virginia 66

By the Numbers: Kansas 71, West Virginia 66

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5 stats that popped for Kansas in a crucial win at West Virginia

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) lays out to try to grab a loose ball with West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate (50) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) lays out to try to grab a loose ball with West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate (50) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

Crunch-time defense

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) defends against a shot from West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) defends against a shot from West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

3-point defense

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.

Senior scoring

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three from the corner against West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three from the corner against West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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


By the Numbers: Kansas 71, West Virginia 66

By the Numbers: Kansas 71, West Virginia 66

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Short quarterbacks long on success at Kansas in recent years

FORMER KANSAS UNIVERSITY QUARTERBACK BILL WHITTEMORE is among the many Jayhawks who transferred to Mount Oread from Jayhawk Conference schools. He played his junior-college ball at Fort Scott Community College.

FORMER KANSAS UNIVERSITY QUARTERBACK BILL WHITTEMORE is among the many Jayhawks who transferred to Mount Oread from Jayhawk Conference schools. He played his junior-college ball at Fort Scott Community College.

All three bowl-game starting quarterbacks for Kansas were vertically challenged by Big 12 standards, but not challenged at stretching the field vertically, which of course is far more important.

Bill Whittemore, Jason Swanson and Todd Reesing combined to go 3-1 in bowl games at Kansas. Reesing was listed at 5-foot-11, Whittemore and Swanson at 6-foot.

Miles Kendrick, a native of San Jose who spent one semester at San Mateo Community Collge before enrolling at Kansas, is even shorter at 5-10.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be good, but it does take the air out of the inevitable question: If he’s any good, why didn’t anyone else offer him a scholarship? The bigger the program, the less likely the coaching staff will take a chance on a short quarterback.

Kendrick started the season second on San Mateo’s depth chart behind Shawn Akina, son of Stanford defensive backs coach Duane Akina. Despite Akina playing well, Kendrick beat him out from the fourth game on and took his team all the way to the California state juco championship game.

In his first start, Kendrick completed 14 of 21 passes for 263 yards and threw touchdowns without throwing an interception. He rushed for 84 yards on 10 carries and was on his way.

Kendrick wasn’t KU’s first choice. When it became obvious to the KU coaching staff that Texas high school standout Clayton Tune merely was using Kansas to get better offers, he was scratched off the list. Lindsey Scott, Jr., a 5-11 dual-threat QB from East Mississippi CC, visited Kansas but didn’t sign during the early period, which meant he was going elsewhere.

Kendrick will have a chance to show during spring football whether he has the arm strength to make the throws favored by offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. If Miles can beat out Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, great. If not, he could always spend a year as a redshirt, spending four-and-a-half years at Kansas. Either way, his addition to the class means that the coaching staff doesn’t have to force the issue in making sure a high school quarterback is part of this recruiting class.

At this point, not as many prospects are available as in the Class of 2019, so might as well delay that a year. Best guess as to how many scholarships KU has left this season: Four. Why waste one on a high school quarterback unless a must-have prospect surfaces?

KU will have a senior (Bender), junior (Stanley) and two sophomores (Kendrick and Tyriek Starks) on scholarship in 2018, and four is the right number to have on a roster.

Obviously, without better blocking and fewer receiver drops, it will be tough for any QB to get much accomplished this coming season.

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Big 12 standings from different vantage points

Kansas head coach Bill Self laughs with West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins while Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford and his players, Le'Bryan Nash, left, and Marcus Smart await a television interview during Big 12 Media Day on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Coaches and players representing each school in the conference were available for interviews. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas head coach Bill Self laughs with West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins while Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford and his players, Le'Bryan Nash, left, and Marcus Smart await a television interview during Big 12 Media Day on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Coaches and players representing each school in the conference were available for interviews. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

Morgantown, W. Va. — Four schools established themselves very early in this Big 12 season as the top tier of the conference and sure enough all four are tied atop the standings with a 4-1 record. The other six schools all have losing records and everyone has at least one victory.

A deeper look at the standings reveals that some 4-1 records are better than others.

Kansas coach Bill Self, who has won at least a share of the Big 12 title in 13 consecutive seasons, keeps a different sort of standings in his head. It credits teams one point for road victories and subtracts one point for home losses. Home victories and road losses are neutral results in the Self-made standings.

Per Self’s standings, West Virginia is alone in first place and the other three 4-1 schools are tied for second.

I also include here each of the four schools’ record against other Tier I schools and labeled it the Tier I round-robin standings. In those, Texas Tech is alone in first, Kansas alone in fourth.

If Kansas, the only school with a three-game winning streak in conference play, can score a mini-upset tonight, that would move the Jayhawks to the role of favorites in the minds of many and, at least temporarily, would move KU into first in the Self scoring system as the only school at +2.

If the Mountaineers, four-point favorites, can extend KU’s Morgantown losing streak to five years, they would remain atop the Self standings and move into a tie in the Tier I round-robin competition.

Big, Big Monday game tonight.

Big 12 standings:

School Big 12
Overall
Texas Tech
4-1 15-2
West Virginia
4-1 15-2
Oklahoma 4-1
14-2
Kansas 4-1 14-3
Kansas State
2-3 12-5
Oklahoma State
2-3 12-5
Texas 2-3 11-6
TCU 1-4 13-4
Baylor 1-4 11-6
Iowa State
1-4 10-6

Self-made standings

School Home
Away Points
1 - West Virginia
2-0
2-1 +2
2 (tie) - Texas Tech
3-0 1-1 +1
2 (tie) - Oklahoma
3-0 1-1 +1
2 (tie) - Kansas
2-1 2-0 +1
5 (tie) - Kansas St.
1-1 1-2 0
5 (tie) - Texas
1-1 1-2 0
7 (tie) - Oklahoma St.
2-1 0-2 -1
7 (tie) - TCU
0-2 1-2 -1
7 (tie) - Baylor
1-1 0-3 -1
10 - Iowa State
1-2
0-2 -2

Tier I round-robin standings

School Record Games left
1 - Texas Tech
2-1 Home: KU, OU
Road: WVU
2 (tie) - West Virginia
1-1 Home: KU, TT
Road: KU, OU
2 (tie) - Oklahoma
1-1 Home: KU, WVU
Road: KU, TT
4 - Kansas
0-1 Home: WVU, OU
Road: WVU, TT, OU
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Big 12 Power Rankings: No gimmes in this conference

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) wrestles for position on a loose ball with Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed (20) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) wrestles for position on a loose ball with Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed (20) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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


Previous rankings:

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‘Turned up’ Udoka Azubuike shows he can defend on perimeter, too

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and the Jayhawks celebrate after a last second shot by Kansas State guard Barry Brown missed, securing the game for the Jayhawks, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and the Jayhawks celebrate after a last second shot by Kansas State guard Barry Brown missed, securing the game for the Jayhawks, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

None by Matt Gasper

“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.

By the Numbers: Kansas 73, Kansas State 72.

By the Numbers: Kansas 73, Kansas State 72.

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Silvio De Sousa on a conditioning crash course

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa shags rebounds for his teammates prior to tipoff against Texas on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa shags rebounds for his teammates prior to tipoff against Texas on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Once cleared — could today be the day? — Kansas freshman Silvio De Sousa needs time before he can play long stretches in games for reasons that extend beyond learning the plays and understanding defensive principles.

“I do think his conditioning is lacking,” Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said. “So when your conditioning’s not as good, I do think sometimes you pace yourself.”

That’s where the coaching staff , including strength and conditioning director Andrea Hudy, comes in to push an athlete past his comfort zone.

“Andrea will take him after every practice, whether it’s to do extra in the weight room, where he’s primarily doing what his teammates do, so it is primarily running,” Self said.

Self also looks for opportunities to give De Sousa extra conditioning.

“Like yesterday, I made him do a drill in front of the team, which was a totally exhausting drill, and he was all excited when he finished it,” Self said. “I said, ‘OK, now on the line you’ve got this, this and this.’ He knows he needs to get in better shape. He’s the first one to tell us that, but it’s a big difference from high school to college. When you stop and think, this dude was playing high school ball just three weeks ago.”

If De Sousa is cleared in time to play Saturday against Kansas State, an 11 a.m. tip in Allen Fieldhouse, those in attendance can expect to see him make his on-court debut.

“He’s been with us long enough that I’d trust him to play in the game,” Self said. “I don’t know if I’d trust him to play in the last three minutes or four minutes, but play in a close game midway through the second half, no question.”

Self said he doesn’t expect it to take long for De Sousa to get into game shape.

“He’s been here now for two weeks and I think it’s expecting too much for him to be 80 or 90 percent of what he can be in the first couple of weeks,” Self said. “But I certainly think by February 1, I believe that to be the case that he can be 100 percent of what he can be.”

His early role will be to bring energy off the bench in short stretches to give Udoka Azubuike rest.

"He’s not going to play enough early on that we’re going to expect him to play 10 straight minutes," Self said. "It’s going to be short spurts so there’s no reason he can’t give us two to three to four minutes where his energy level’s very high, knowing that he’s not going to be in much longer than that anyway.”

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Point guards taking over the Big 12, a league once dominated by bigs

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) throws a pass to the wing while defended by Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti, left, and Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) throws a pass to the wing while defended by Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti, left, and Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.”

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) shoots while being defended by West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) shoots while being defended by West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

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.”

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) puts up a three over Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) puts up a three over Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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%)

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Daniel Wise return means Kansas should improve on defense

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise catches a break during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise catches a break during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

I know you have read this opinion in many previous seasons only to be disappointed, but this time it seems as if it can't possibly be anything but accurate: Kansas should have a better defense this coming season than last.

Now that Daniel Wise decided to return, that means that KU has 10 of its leading 11 tacklers, its two sack leaders and its only two players to pick off passes (Hasan Defense and Mike Lee) back for David Beaty's fourth season.

Plus, several defensive players from junior college were recruited with the intention of helping immediately.

Sure, defensive end Dorance Armstrong will be missed a great deal, despite being limited to two sacks a year after totaling 10 as a sophomore. Still, he led all Big 12 defensive ends in tackles and played a part in KU's big improvement against the run.

In 2015, opponents averaged 5.67 yards per carry, placing KU 123rd in the nation. The numbers improved to 5.17 (106th) in 2016 and 4.19 (55th) in 2017. Other than Armstrong, all the players who brought about that improvement return.

The linebackers all are back and the hope is that speedy Kyron Johnson will improve enough from his true freshman to sophomore season to take on a bigger role.

J.J. Holmes, mobile for his size but still in need of shedding a few pounds, Isi Holani (with a medical redshirt gaining him an extra year) and juco recruit Charles Cole have a chance to make defensive tackle a solid position.

Azura Kamara, juco defensive end, is considered by some the jewel of KU's juco class, and Najee Stevens-McKenzie arrives from juco with a reputation as an explosive edge rusher. Josh Ehambe has one more season remaining.

Four juco defensive backs were recruited to try to shore up a shoddy secondary. Will they make KU better against the pass? Can't get much worse. Plus, top 100 high school recruit Corione Harris could win a job right off the bat.

Most importantly, the driven, energetic, talented, experienced Wise is back, which enables the rest of the front six fall into place.

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Time for NCAA to stand up and clear Silvio De Sousa

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa talks with assistant coach Kurtis Townsend prior to tipoff against Texas on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa talks with assistant coach Kurtis Townsend prior to tipoff against Texas on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Devonte' Graham knows how to feed the hot hand, but it's also on shooters to know when they have the hot hand and senior Svi Mykhailiuk seems to be doing a better job of it than in past years.

On the topic of hot hands, I'm here to tell you, I have one at the moment. In a column displayed on the front page of the Journal-World sports section Tuesday, I wrote that it's time for the real Malik Newman to stand up. Sure enough, Newman responded with by far his best game for Kansas, dropping 27 points and eight rebounds on visiting Iowa State.

How did I make such a timely call? Pure luck.

Now it's time for me to ride my hot hand and see if my luck can continue. Here goes:

It's time for the NCAA to clear Silvio De Sousa so that he can make his debut Saturday against Kansas State.

It would be a shame for De Sousa to have to wait much longer, given that he gave up his second semester at IMG Academy to join Kansas, which needs the muscle he can add to a thin front-court.

Once De Sousa makes his KU debut, coach Bill Self predicts it will be "three or four weeks" for him to get comfortable. He can still help a little before he's comfortable and probably a lot once he settles in.

For now, we can only rely on Youtube videos to get a feel for what type of player De Sousa is. Highlight tapes show only the good plays, obviously, but even so it's tough not to be impressed with this "Hoop Diamonds" collection of highlights from the 6-foot-9, 245-pound native of Angola.

He doesn't appear to have a particularly long wingspan, but is a quick leaper and perhaps best of all, understands that he can help his team most by staying close to the basket at both ends. It doesn't look as if he'll use his time at Kansas to try to prove to NBA scouts that he has a reliable jump shot. That's the impression Cheick Diallo gave, which is one reason he never logged many minutes for Kansas after making an impressive debut on Dec. 1, 2015, when he totaled 13 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots vs. Loyola (Maryland). In Diallo's remaining 26 games with KU he never surpassed any of those totals.

De Sousa (pronounced deh-SOE-suh, like once-inflated slugger Sammy Sosa) was named MVP of the FIBA Africa Championship in 2016. Silvio Fernando, also of Angola, was an all-tournament selection for that team. Fernando, a 6-10, 245-pound freshman for Maryland, is averaging 11 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Terrapins, coached by former Kansas point guard Mark Turgeon.

De Sousa is at a disadvantage compared to Fernando in that he joined his team mid-year, but still it's encouraging that a player who has not been hyped quite to the extent as De Sousa is making such a big immediate impact at a Big 10 school.

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Tropical Bowl a reunion for 2016 Kansas Jayhawks football offense

Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart (3) runs the ball against Wyoming safety Andrew Wingard (28) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Boise State won 24-14. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart (3) runs the ball against Wyoming safety Andrew Wingard (28) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Boise State won 24-14. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

It’s becoming increasingly popular for top NFL prospects to blow off bowl games so as not to risk injury.

No such players fill the rosters for the Tropical Bowl, where non-prospects attempt to remove the word before the hyphen one last time.

The Tropical Bowl, played at 8 a.m. Central time Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla., is not televised, but is available via subscription at FloFootball.com.

The “all-star” game and two practices that precede it give players a chance to be watched by NFL scouts in attendance. It could result in some players bypassed in the draft gaining invitations they otherwise might not have received to NFL camps.

For three former Kansas football players the game also serves as a mini-reunion of sorts in that all three players were at least part-time starters as juniors on the Jayhawks’ 2016 offense.

Guard Jayson Rhodes and receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez each started 11 games and quarterback Montell Cozart seven for the 2016 Jayhawks and are teammates on the American Team (Red) vs. the National Team (Blue) in the Tropical Bowl.

The KU offense for which the three players started the majority of games ranked 117th among 128 FBS schools with 4.96 yards per play and led the nation with 36 turnovers. The three Tropical Bowl selections who combined to start 29 starts as juniors combined for three KU starts as seniors. Rhodes, replaced in the starting lineup by Andru Tovi in the starting lineup, was the only of the three to play for KU as a senior.

Offered a chance to switch positions, Cozart instead graduated without participating in spring football and then transferred to Boise State.

Sharing the job with Boise State starter Brett Rypien, Cozart had by far the best season of his career. He completed 62.9 percent of is passes, threw 10 touchdowns, was intercepted just once, and averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt. He also rushed for 361 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per attempt.

In parts of four seasons at Kansas, Cozart threw 14 TD passes, 19 interceptions and averaged 5.7 yards per pass attempt. He also averaged 2.5 yards per rush and ran for two touchdowns at Kansas.

Gonzalez caught 62 passes for 729 yards (11.8 yards per catch) and three touchdowns during his lone season at KU. His hands weren’t as sticky when fielding punts as in other areas, such as catching passes.

Gonzalez was dismissed from the team before his senior year and transferred to an NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla., so that he could be eligible to play immediately. Gonzalez caught 60 passes for 1,018 (17 ypc) and 10 touchdowns at Southeastern.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Which teams appear best suited for March’s madness?

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) come in to defend against a three from Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) come in to defend against a three from Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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)

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Fouling out an anomaly for still-developing KU center Udoka Azubuike

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fights for a rebound with TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky (10) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fights for a rebound with TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky (10) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena. by Nick Krug

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.

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Big 12 point guards even better than advertised

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena. by Nick Krug

One reason the Big 12 has exceeded preseason expectations has to do with conference point guards, hyped plenty, performing even better than projected.

Numbers guru Ken Pomeroy of kenpom.com uses a statistical formula for his player-of-the-year rankings and has four point guards among his top 10. Three of them play in the Big 12 and one is not West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, who just outplayed Oklahoma freshman phenom Trae Young in West Virginia’s victory at home against the Sooners on Saturday.

A look at the kenpom.com top 10 POY standings:

Player
PPG RPG APG
1 - Trae Young
(Oklahoma, Fr. PG)
29.4 3.9 10.2
2 - Jock Landale
Saint Mary's, Sr. C
21.3 10.2 1.6
3 - Bonzie Colson
Notre Dame, Sr. PF
21.4 10.4 1.1
4 - Keenan Evans
Texas Tech, Sr. PG
17.2 2.9 3.6
5 - Marvin Bagley
Duke, Fr. C
22.5 11.5 1.5
6 - Jalen Brunson
Villanova, Jr. PG
19.4 3.3 5.2
7 - Deandre Ayton
Arizona, Fr. C
20.4 11.6 1.6
8 - Mikal Bridges
Villanova, Jr. SF
17.8 5.6 2.1
9 - Devonte' Graham
Kansas, Sr. PG
18.6 3.6 7.4
10 - Keita Bates-Diop
Ohio State, Jr. PF
20.0 8.8 1.4
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Protecting paint, defending rim musts for KU in Big 12 play

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fouls Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) on the shot during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) fouls Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) on the shot during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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).

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Juco recruiting: David Beaty’s Dream Team II bound to perform better than Charlie Weis’ Dream Team I

Richard Gwin/Journal World Photo.KU football player Marquel Combs, shakes hands with resident Rose Tare-Smith, as a handful of KU football players were on hand at the Meadowlark Estates Retirement Home at 4430 Bauer Farm Drive to get some first hand information on KU football

Richard Gwin/Journal World Photo.KU football player Marquel Combs, shakes hands with resident Rose Tare-Smith, as a handful of KU football players were on hand at the Meadowlark Estates Retirement Home at 4430 Bauer Farm Drive to get some first hand information on KU football

Kansas hasn't recruited so many highly rated football recruits from junior colleges since Charlie Weis assembled a Class of 2013 that came to be known as #DreamTeam on Twitter.

It's not fair to say that entire class turned into #NightmareTeam because 2 of 7 recruits cited in the Rivals Top 100 junior college prospects had strong careers in the KU program. Defensive back Cassius Sendish started all 24 games in two seasons at Kansas, was a team captain and the leader of the secondary. Offensive guard Mike Smithburg was a two-year starter and drew high grades for his run-blocking.

Other than that, nightmare city.

DREAM TEAM I TOP 100 JUCO RECRUITS

Rank Player/Pos. Kansas career
10 Marquel Combs/DT Never played in game,
transferred to La. Lafayette
in mid-season.
13 Chris Martin/DE Never played in a game
and was sentenced to
three years probation
for felony robbery in home
invasion.
41 Mike Smithburg/OL Two-year starter at guard and
was one of line's more
reliable performers.
57 Marcus Jenkins-Moore/LB Slowed by knee injury,
never played in a game and
transferred to South Dakota.
59 Cassius Sendish/DB Started all 24 games of
Kansas career, captain
and All-Big 12 honorable
mention as senior. Works for
KU football as grad assistant.
69 Kevin Short/CB Withdrew from school before
appearing in a game.
91 Andrew Bolton/DT Played one injury-filled season
and did not return for senior
year.

Thus far, David Beaty's 2018 recruiting class includes nine juco players, including five ranked in the top 100 by Rivals. It's a safe assumption that Beaty will get more out of his five top 100 jucos than Charlie Weis received from his seven.

Thanks to the famous flops from the Class of 2013, nobody from Kansas is calling this Dream Team II, and in fact, Beaty is low-keying the class, perhaps because he defended his case for a fourth season by saying he needed time because he didn't go the quick-fix, juco-recruiting route. Unlike last season, Beaty did not have a season-ending press conference and has gone underground on the publicity front.

Simply for comparison purposes, though, let's call Beaty's full-out dive into the juco pool Dream Team II.

DREAM TEAM II TOP 100 JUCO RECRUITS

Rank Player Ht./Wt./Pos. Other Offers
36 Najeeb Stevens-McKenzie
6-4, 215, DE
Iowa St., Maryland
Missouri, Pitt
UCF and others
48 Azur Kamara
6-6, 230, DE
Arizona, ASU
Baylor, Florida State
Iowa State, Ole Miss
Nebraska, Okla. St.
Tennessee and others
68 Elijah Jones
6-3, 185, CB
Illinois, Iowa State
Rutgers, UCF
Utah State and others
72 Stephon Robinson
5-11, 170, WR
Hawaii, Mid. Tenn. St.
Mont. St., Old Dominion
98 Charles Cole
6-3, 280, DT
Memphis, Murray State
North Texas, Toledo
UNLV and others

This recruiting class was assembled with the idea of fortifying an extremely vulnerable secondary and in preparation for losing defensive end Dorance Armstrong a year early to the NFL draft, which happened Thursday.

Although the staff went about it quietly, the juco plan has been in place all season, which gave coaches time to thoroughly check out the backgrounds of the players offered scholarships. At least with the best of the signees, this doesn't appear to be a case of last-minute sorting through leftovers.

Kamara, an every-down defensive end, appears to be the player the coaching staff was most excited about landing and he had an impressive list of schools recruiting him. Stevens-McKenzie also had power-five schools in pursuit of him, attracted by an explosiveness that translates well to his projected role as a pass-rush specialist. Three-star DE Foster Dixon also will battle for snaps.

In the secondary, if high school recruit Corione Harris of New Orleans can lock down one starting spot at cornerback, jucos Jones, Elmore Hempstead and returning starters Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor will battle for the other starting spot. Tyrone Miller, a returning starter at safety alongside Mike Lee, will have a tough battle on his hands staving off challenges from junior-college defensive backs Davon Ferguson and Jeremiah McCullough.

Beaty has been consistent through the years in stating the belief that teams loaded with fourth-and-fifth-year seniors are the toughest to beat, but facing long odds at keeping his job beyond 2018, Beaty recruited mostly players who could help right away, thus guaranteeing the 2021 roster will lack fourth-year seniors and the 2022 squad will be shy of fifth-year seniors.

If you're going to take the juco approach, you might as well recruit good prospects and according to Rivals, Kansas accomplished that.

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Road warriors on fire in deep Big 12

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins yells out after a foul during an NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins yells out after a foul during an NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas.

By the time all 90 Big 12 games are played, obviously, the majority of games will be won by the home team.

But it’s going to be tougher than ever to turn back road warriors throughout the conference.

Even so, nobody could have predicted it would be as tough as it has been so far.

The road team won eight of the first nine Big 12 games. Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State, 109-89, Wednesday night to join Texas Tech as the only conference schools to win a home game.

What’s up?

Is it just a case of more of the good teams playing on the road the first week?

“I don’t know what a better team is, to be honest,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “This is the hardest, best-coached, best league I’ve ever seen, from top to bottom. I think round-robin makes it that much harder. We don’t have a bottom. Somebody is going to end up at bottom, but put them in another league they’re not going to end up at bottom.”

Those were the words of a coach who has a view from the top. West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas Tech are the only schools to get off to 2-0 starts.

The view from the bottom doesn’t look any different.

“It’s the No. 1 league in the country for a reason without a doubt,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “You you look back and there’s not an easy out in this league, home and on the road, 1 through 10, there is no bottom. Everybody’s good.”

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Shot selection, Texas Tech defense led to KU’s worst 3-point showing of season

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) puts up a three over Texas Tech guard Justin Gray (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) puts up a three over Texas Tech guard Justin Gray (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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).


FIRST HALF

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.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three before the Texas Tech bench during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three before the Texas Tech bench during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

√ (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.

Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe (3) puts up a three from the corner against Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver (23) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe (3) puts up a three from the corner against Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver (23) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

√ (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.

SECOND HALF

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).

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Bill Self blasts his team’s lack of hunger

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) can't block an inbound pass to Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) can't block an inbound pass to Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas coach Bill Self didn't hold back during the post-game radio interview on just how frustrated he is with his team in the wake of Tuesday night's 85-73 loss to Texas in Allen Fieldhouse.

"It's unbelievable, 41 points out of our softness or lack of ball-handling ability," Self said. "We turn it over 15 times ... and they get 26, which is unheard of, and then they turn it over 10 times and we get eight."

He was just warming up.

"The second-chance points (comparison) was a joke," Self said. "We do not have anybody who fights for the ball. We are playing all 2 guards and we have been able to dodge a few bullets. Udoka (Azubuike) got his butt whipped by their big kid (Norense Odiase) on the glass and our supposedly two best rebounders who play minutes should be Lagerald (Vick) and Svi (Mykhailiuk). Svi did not have a good game tonight and Lagerald (two points, two rebounds in 34 minutes), that was about as poor as I have seen him individually."

Self went on to explain how that could happen.

"It is because we didn't play tough," he said. "I have done such a crap job of getting these guys to understand how athletes who are hungry play. Those are some hungry athletes on the other side and we didn't match it at all from an intensity standpoint. We got what we deserved, certainly, and hopefully we can grow and get better from this."

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Freshmen producing for Texas Tech

Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) tries to lay up the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Abilene Christian, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver (23) tries to lay up the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Abilene Christian, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson) by Brad Tollefson (Associated Press)

Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Texas’ Mo Bamba understandably hog the freshman spotlight in the Big 12, but they aren’t the only newcomers having big impacts on their teams. Kansas will face two productive Texas Tech freshmen flying under the radar of the national spotlight tonight.

In the case of 6-foot-5, 195-pound Zhaire Smith from Garland, Texas, “flying” is the right way to put it.

“I played against him in high school a lot,” Kansas freshman Marcus Garrett said. “He’s a jumper. I think he’s got a 40-something inch vertical. That’s something right there. … He has a high motor and he plays hard.”

Smith averages 22.6 minutes, 10.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks and a steal per game.

Jarrett Culver, a 6-5, 190-pound native of Lubbock, averages 10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 21.2 minutes per game.

Both freshmen usually come off the bench, although they rank second and third on the team in scoring behind senior guard Keenan Evans (16.6 ppg).

“Culver is just a good player,” Self said. “He can just do a little bit of everything. He can score. He’s got good size. He can handle it. He’s like one of those jack-of-all-trades fours. He can post it and he can score beyond the arc.”

Smith and Culver have had the benefit of adjusting to the speed of the game against a soft non-conference schedule and came into conference play with a lot of confidence. Culver scored 13 points in a 77-53 rout of injury-weakened Baylor.

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