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Entries from blogs tagged with “Jayhawks”

Getting to know Kansas State

Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber directs his defense during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber directs his defense during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Already 2-6 outside of Manhattan this season (1-4 in true road games, 1-2 at neutral sites), things don’t figure to get any easier for Bruce Weber’s Kansas State basketball team Saturday, when the Wildcats head east on I-70 to play the Sunflower Showdown at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas has knocked off K-State eight times in a row in Lawrence, with the last rivalry game road win for the guys in purple coming in 2006.

KU has won 13 of the last 15 meetings in the series and holds a 39-4 record against the Wildcats in the Big 12 era.

What’s more, the Wildcats (12-9 overall, 5-3 Big 12) enter the showdown having lost two of their last three games, falling at Iowa State and at home to West Virginia (both by six points), while beating Oklahoma State by 10 in Manhattan.

In order to beat Bill Self’s No. 9 Kansas team (17-3 overall, 6-1 Big 12), K-State will have to execute its defensive game plan and hope one of its top players is available (more on that to come).

In conference games, Weber’s squad only allows 60.5 points (second to Oklahoma State’s 59.5) and has held foes to 40.6% shooting (fifth in Big 12). The Wildcats also have limited their opposition to 30.1% 3-point shooting (second in the Big 12 to TCU’s 26.3%).

Here are the K-State players the Jayhawks will have to worry about as they try to stay atop the Big 12 standings.

WILDCATS STARTERS

No. 2 — Marcus Foster, 6-3, sophomore G

Kansas State guard Marcus Foster pulls up for a three before Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe during the second half on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas State guard Marcus Foster pulls up for a three before Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe during the second half on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

K-State’s leading scorer comes in averaging 13.8 points, but that’s not the only category in which he leads the Wildcats. Foster has team-highs in: field goals (91), FGs attempted (216), made 3-pointers (51), 3-point tries (126), double-digit scoring games (17), 20-point games (4), and minutes (28.9).

Foster is by far the Wildcats’ top 3-point shooter, having hit 39 more than teammates Justin Edwards and Nigel Johnson (12 each).

He averages 2.2 assists per game, while hitting 42.1% of his shots and 40.5% of his 3-pointers.

Last season against KU, Foster averaged 13.5 points on 36.4% shooting. But Self said Friday he can tell Foster asserts himself more on offense this season, especially in Big 12 play.

The dynamic sophomore guard is averaging 13.4 points through eight league games while doing some of his damage by getting to the foul line — 32 for 42 (76.2%) in Big 12 action.

K-State has benefited when Foster isn’t doing the scoring alone, though. The Wildcats are 8-2 when three players reach double figures in the same game. Foster averages 15.9 points in those contests.

Foster went through a bit of a slump earlier this season, and even finished scoreless at Oklahoma State to open Big 12 play. Since then, he’s averaging 15.3 points and shooting 41.3%.

He had his worst shooting night since the league opener earlier this week, vs. WVU, making just 4 of his 12 shots.

hoop-math.com nugget: As athletic as he is, Foster only takes 20.4% of his shots at the rim. He has hit 25 of those 44 looks (56.8%). Most often, he prefers hoisting 3-pointers — 58.3% of his shots come from downtown.

No. 11 — Nino Williams, 6-5, senior F

Kansas teammates Jamari Traylor, center, and Tarik Black defend against a shot by Kansas State forward Nino Williams during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas teammates Jamari Traylor, center, and Tarik Black defend against a shot by Kansas State forward Nino Williams during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Williams’ status for Saturday afternoon, as of Friday, was up in the air. The athletic wing hurt his knee Tuesday during K-State’s home loss to the Mountaineers. http://www2.kusports.com/news/2015/ja...

If he can’t play, the Wildcats will be without their leading rebounder (4.9 per game), and a guy who has put up 11.7 points while hitting 53.4% of his shots.

Listed as day-to-day, Williams was named co-Big 12 Player of the Week on Monday, and had led K-State in scoring in three straight games, prior to playing 8 minutes vs. WVU:

  • 18 points vs. Baylor

  • 22 points at Iowa State

  • 20 points vs. Oklahoma State

He shot 25-for-37 — 68% — in that three-game stretch.

K-State would miss his energetic approach, too, if he’s unable to go. The Wildcats have a point system that tracks each player’s deflections/blocks, steals, dives, loose balls, offensive rebounds and charges drawn, and Williams has tallied a team-best 162 points.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Williams operates mostly on short- to mid-range offense. 60.9% of his attempts have come on 2-point jumpers. He has hit 44 of 98 (44.9%) in that range.

No. 42 — Thomas Gipson, 6-7, senior F

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell (4) attempts to drive past Kansas State forward Thomas Gipson (42) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Maui Invitational on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell (4) attempts to drive past Kansas State forward Thomas Gipson (42) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Maui Invitational on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner) by Eugene Tanner

The senior post player has become a steady source of offense, hitting 57.3% of his field goal attempts and 74.8% at the free-throw line.

In his seven previous games against Kansas, Gipson has averaged just 5.3 points and 4.4 rebounds, but K-State relies upon him more this season.

He has produced double figures in six of his last 12 games, most recently getting 15 at Iowa State. However, the big man also struggled against West Virginia, making 2 of 6 shots and scoring 8 points in the loss.

In K-State wins, Gipson averages 10.5 points and shoots 59.2%.

This season, he leads K-State in free throws made and attempted — 89 for 119.

Defensively, he leads the Wildcats with 10 charges drawn and 14 blocked shots.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Tied with Justin Edwards for the team lead in put-backs on offensive rebounds (12), Gipson takes 60.5% of his shots at the rim and converts 72% of them.

No. 25 — Wesley Iwundu, 6-7, sophomore G

Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu gets an overtime bucket to widen the Wildcats' overtime lead on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas State forward Wesley Iwundu gets an overtime bucket to widen the Wildcats' overtime lead on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Though athletic and active, the second-year wing at times hasn’t provided much offensively: 5.8 ppg on the season on 45.7% shooting. His numbers have improved a little in eight Big 12 games, which coincides with Weber inserting him in the starting lineup: 6.6 points on 48.6% shooting.

Iwundu did score a season-high 12 points (shot 6-for-9 on free throws), pull down 6 rebounds and pass out a team-best 3 assists against West Virginia. But it was just his fourth double-digit output of the season.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Of Iwundu’s 92 shot attempts, he only has made 14 away from the rim.

No. 1 — Jevon Thomas, 6-0, sophomore G

Kansas forward Perry Ellis comes down with a rebound between Kansas State players Thomas Gipson, left, and Jevon Thomas during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis comes down with a rebound between Kansas State players Thomas Gipson, left, and Jevon Thomas during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Another unproductive source of scoring in the starting five, Thomas averages 5.4 points on the season. It’s even worse in Big 12 games: 3.5 points and 37% shooting.

He could help out his numbers by hitting more free throws: 37 for 68 (54.4%) on the season, 6 for 14 (42.9%) in conference games.

If he’s on the floor late, Thomas is the guy you want to foul if you need to: 10 of 21 in the final five minutes of games this year.

What Thomas does bring, though, is ball-handling and passing. He’s eighth in the Big 12 with 3.6 assists a game.

He’s also a disruptive defender, who has 25 steals to his credit.

Thomas hasn’t made more than 2 shots in a game since a 13-point outing at Tennessee in the first week of December. He only went 1-for-2 vs. WVU and combined to shoot 0-for-7 in his previous two games.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Thomas has made 34 shots this year, with 20 coming at the rim. He has hit 6 of 17 2-point jumpers and 8 of 21 3-pointers.

WILDCATS BENCH

No. 14 — Justin Edwards, 6-4, junior G

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The most likely Wildcat to throw down a dunk (11 this season), the transfer from Maine comes off the bench and is K-State’s No. 4 scorer: 6.4 points, 39.5% shooter.

Edwards has averaged 3.9 rebounds in Big 12 games and three times this season has led his team in boards.

He also has swiped a team-high 26 steals.

He went scoreless (0-for-4) in 18 minutes vs. West Virginia after back-to-back double-digit outings: 12 at ISU, 14 vs. OSU.

Not a great 3-point shooter (12 for 43 for 27.9%), Edwards hit a pair from deep in each of those recent productive games.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Tied for third with Gipson for FG attempts (124), Edwards has only hit 4 of 19 (21.1%) 2-point jumpers. He prefers getting to the rim: 33 for 62 (53.2%).

No. 41 — Stephen Hurt, 6-11, junior F

Another transfer, who formerly called Lipscomb and NW Florida State home, Hurt might have his name called more often than usual as Weber tries to match up with KU’s front line.

The big man averages just 4.8 points and 3.3 boards a game. But he’s fourth on K-State with 25 offensive rebounds despite playing 13.7 minutes. He hauled in 6 of those at Long Beach State in November.

Despite his size, Hurt only has blocked 3 shots this season.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Only 34.8% of his attempts come at the rim, but he makes 73.9% there. 53% of his shots have been 2-point jumpers, where he makes 37.1%.

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Jayhawks preparing to battle respected rivals from K-State

Kansas forward Landen Lucas battles for a loose ball with TCU Horned Frogs center Karviar Shepherd during the second half at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. Also pictured are TCU Horned Frogs forward Chris Washburn (33) and Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34).

Kansas forward Landen Lucas battles for a loose ball with TCU Horned Frogs center Karviar Shepherd during the second half at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. Also pictured are TCU Horned Frogs forward Chris Washburn (33) and Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34). by Nick Krug

Bill Self’s Kansas basketball team found ways to win both of its past two games in the Lone Star State — even if that one at TCU became a struggle late.

Now Self and the Jayhawks can put their successes behind them and focus on what’s next. The coach met with the media Friday afternoon, before No. 9 Kansas (17-3 overall, 6-1 Big 12) plays two huge games at Allen Fieldhouse — Saturday against Kansas State (12-9, 5-3) and on Big Monday against Iowa State (15-4, 5-2).

Here are some of the highlights from the press conference:

K-State is much improved in Big 12 play, and those are the games Self has studied. Usually when you go through rough spots it’s when you labor to score. Their offense is flowing better and Nino Williams and Marcus Foster are playing well. The Wildcats are 5-3 in a great league.

Williams might be injured and unavailable Saturday. As a fan of the game and a fan of his, Self would hope everybody plays.

Foster was aggressive last year, but in the games Self has studied he seems even more aggressive now — splitting ball screens, making guarded shots and the like. He’ll get plenty of attention from KU, and the Jayhawks did that last year, too. Kansas did a better job guarding him in Allen Fieldhouse last season than it did in Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) is fouled on his way to the bucket while defended by TCU Horned Frogs forward Devonta Abron (23) and guard Trey Zeigler (32) during the second half at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) is fouled on his way to the bucket while defended by TCU Horned Frogs forward Devonta Abron (23) and guard Trey Zeigler (32) during the second half at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

Self told Landen Lucas, Svi Mykhailiuk and Hunter Mickelson prior to the TCU game they always need to be ready to play. He didn’t know the Jayhawks would have to count so much on them. All three of them played well in spurts in that game to help KU win. Guys will get an opportunity to play and need to stay ready. Lucas will be good enough to be a starter at Kansas — that’s his next step in his progression as a player. Every coach would like to have eight or nine guys who are good enough to start.

Next year the Big 12-SEC Challenge will be at the end of January. Self thinks the challenge is good for the league, but the timing is bad. It will bring exposure to the league, which is good. There is so much competition in the world of sports in December they decided to move it. This will be different. It’s fine, but it’s certainly not the best.

Sophomore point guard Frank Mason III didn’t do great at TCU, but he did a good job on Kyan Anderson, who can really score. Self hopes the team has multiple leaders, but Mason is the guy everybody knows needs to be on the court.

The way KU has gotten to this point as a team is a little different than what Self anticipated. The Jayhawks aren’t far off from where he’d like them to be, it just hasn’t been a smooth road getting to this point.

Kelly Oubre Jr. “was out of it” at TCU, because he wasn’t feeling well. They could tell he didn’t feel well at all, and that had a lot to do with his lack of production.

KU doesn’t have any separation yet in the Big 12 title race. When KU has been behind two games late in the season, there has been pressure on them. He doesn’t know how much pressure other teams feel right now, with Kansas at the top of the standings alone. But there is no separation yet.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden floats into the lane for a shot before Kansas State defenders Thomas Gipson and Shane Southwell during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden floats into the lane for a shot before Kansas State defenders Thomas Gipson and Shane Southwell during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

KU’s players know K-State’s players. They work with each other at camps in the summer and that sort of thing. They are rivals, but they are respected rivals. Missouri was a more hated rival.

K-State has had enough success vs. Kansas of late, the Jayhawks definitely think of the Wildcats as formidable rivals.

Everybody likes waking up in the morning disliking somebody, from that standpoint it hasn’t been great to lose one of your longtime rivals. KU is fortunate and glad to have K-State around as a rival.

Kansas has played a lot of close games, and up until the TCU game the Jayhawks had been good at the free-throw line late. You have to win some games where you don’t play well — the players must be taking that to heart, Self joked.

• Self pays attention to successful NFL coaches, but probably more so in the regular season than the week of the Super Bowl. You have to get your guys’ heads right. That’s a part of it as much as X’s and O’s.

Given the TCU performance, Self would like to see better energy every single game out of his players. Some games it hasn’t been there. You get to defensive position half a step late when you don’t have the mental energy and approach you need. KU can make some mistakes and make up for it with athletic ability when energy is there.

• Wayne Selden Jr. can play better, and Selden knows that. Every player can play a lot better, too. Even Mason and Ellis. KU isn’t going to play great every night. The Jayhawks are young and sometimes people forget how young they are. Selden just needs to see some shots that haven’t been going in fall through the hoop.

When the Chicago Bulls went 72-10, there were a lot of nights they didn’t play well but they had a guy who could bail them out. Everybody struggles with maintaing a high level of play. KU has done a decent job with it. When there are less great players and more good players the playing field gets leveled out.

— Listen to the entire press conference: Bill Self talks Sunflower Showdown rivalry and absence of Missouri

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Getting to know TCU

TCU head coach Trent Johnson lays into an official during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

TCU head coach Trent Johnson lays into an official during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

After a perfect 13-0 start to the season, Big 12 play hasn’t gone quite as well for Trent Johnson and his TCU Horned Frogs (14-5 overall, 1-5 Big 12).

Still, TCU has competed, with two of its losses coming in overtime, including a wild, near-upset at West Virginia.

Johnson, who is 2-3 all-time vs. Kansas, including a December 2003 win when he coached at Nevada, is turning things around for the program, which last advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1998. Remember: Last season TCU went 0-18 in the Big 12 and 9-22 overall.

Entering Tuesday night, TCU ranked third in the nation in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 35.1% shooting. The two teams ahead of the Horned Frogs? Undefeated Kentucky (31.7%) and Virginia (34.1%).

In Big 12 play, TCU leads the league in FG% defense at 37.4% (ahead of second-ranked KU’s 38.6%), as well as 3-point FG% defense (25.3%).

Part of TCU’s success on the defensive end comes from its shot-blocking — 5.8 denials a game, which ranks 12th in the nation. On the season, the Horned Frogs are allowing 57.3 points a game (15th nationally). In Big 12 games, the Horned Frogs rank sixth in blocks (4.3) and are tied for fifth in scoring defense (66.0).

Defense has allowed TCU to battle better than its Big 12 record indicates. In four of its five losses in the league, the Horned Frogs either led or trailed by single digits in the final five minutes of the game.

TCU has lost its last 17 games against ranked opponents, with its last top-25 win coming in February of 2013 against Kansas — the infamous “Topeka YMCA” game.

So between the way their road trip to West Virginia ended and their eagerness to prove they can beat a ranked team, expect nothing to come easy for No. 9 Kansas (16-3, 5-1) at Wilkerson-Greines Athletic Center.

Here are the Horned Frogs the Jayhawks will have to worry about Wednesday night at Fort Worth, Texas.

HORNED FROGS STARTERS

No. 5 — Kyan Anderson, 5-11, senior G

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe defends as TCU guard Kyan Anderson pulls back for a shot during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe defends as TCU guard Kyan Anderson pulls back for a shot during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

TCU’s leader in points (13.7) assists (3.9), and steals (1.4), his scoring actually has dipped from last season (17.0 points), but that’s a good thing for the Horned Frogs and Anderson, because it means he isn’t being forced to do so much on his own.

Still, he has scored in double figures in 14 games this season — not surprising, considering his name, face and efforts have been the most consistent thing about TCU the past few seasons. Anderson ranks in the program’s top five in career games started, minutes played and steals. He’s top-10 in TCU history in scoring, 3-pointers, free throws made and assists.

His 30 3-pointers this season lead the team — by 16 — but he only hits 32.3% from long range.

The Horned Frogs visit the charity stripe 27.9 times a game, and Anderson is a big part of that. He shoots 89.2% at the foul line (tops in the Big 12) on 83 attempts (4.4 tries a game).

Unfortunately for TCU, he’s the only reliable free-throw shooter on the team — more on that to come.

Anderson put up 22 points at West Virginia, bouncing back from a 2-point night in a loss to Texas.

hoop-math.com nugget: While the rest of Anderson’s teammates don’t shot the ball from deep too often, he more than makes up for it, taking 52.5% of his shots from 3-point range. 73.3% of his 3-point makes have been assisted.

No. 32 — Trey Zeigler, 6-5, senior G

An explosive guard, he has upgraded TCU’s experience this season. Zeigler played at Central Michigan and Pitt before landing in Fort Worth. He has posted more than 1,300 points and 500 rebounds in his career.

Averaging 8.7 points and 3.9 rebounds this season, Zeigler has facilitated TCU’s offense of late, leading the team in assists in six of the last eight games. In Big 12 play, he’s averaging 11.3 points and shooting 46% from the floor.

The veteran guard knocked in clutch jumpers at the end of regulation and in overtime at WVU.

Zeigler had a season-high 19 points at Kansas State, hitting 7 of 14 shot attempts.

Though he plays in the backcourt, he has not made a 3-pointer and attempted just 5 all season. Likewise, he isn’t a good free-throw shooter. While he has taken 81 attempts (just behind Anderson’s 83), Zeigler has connected on just 58% of his tries.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Zeigler, obviously not much of a shooter, takes 60.2% of his shots at the rim, which leads TCU. He has made 59.7% of his 77 attempts.

No. 34 — Kenrich Williams, 6-7, sophomore F

The second-year small forward chips in 8.4 points a game and leads the Horned Frogs with 6.6 rebounds.

His 11-point outing at West Virginia marked his ninth time in double figures this season. TCU is 7-2 when he scores 10 or more.

A junior-college transfer, Williams leads TCU with 50 offensive rebounds (2.6 a game).

Like Zeigler, he is a poor free-throw shooter: 33 of 56 (58.9%).

— hoop-math.com nugget: Here’s another Horned Frog who knows where he needs to be shooting. Williams takes 56.5% of his shots at the rim and makes 67.2% at that distance.

No. 33 — Chris Washburn, 6-8, sophomore F

A transfer from UTEP, the son of the No. 3 overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, Chris Washburn Sr., was a four-star prospect coming out of high school.

The younger Washburn is averaging 6.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in his first season playing for TCU.

His eight dunks lead the Horned Frogs this season, but he is active defensively, too, averaging 1.53 blocks and 1.0 steals. Washburn had 3 steals against Baylor and blocked 2 shots at Texas Tech and at West Virginia.

He has missed both of his 3-point tries this season. And, guess what, he also stinks as a free-throw shooter: 38 of 57 (49.1%).

— hoop-math.com nugget: While Washburn has taken 53 shots at the rim this season, making 66% of those, he has only connected on 16 of his 48 2-point jumpers. … His 15 put-backs on the offensive glass lead TCU.

No. 14 — Karviar Shepherd, 6-10, sophomore C

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor gets a bucket past TCU center Karviar Shepherd during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor gets a bucket past TCU center Karviar Shepherd during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The big man has only contributed 6.7 points this season, which has a lot to do with him making just 48 of his 109 field goal attempts (44%).

The highest-rated prospect (No. 46 in Class of 2013 by Rivals.com) ever to choose TCU, Shepherd has just three double-digit scoring games this season after accomplishing that feat 16 times as a freshman.

The center had 15 rebounds last season against Iowa State, but this year he is averaging just 6.2 boards (5.5 in Big 12 games).

He has 17 blocks in 19 games and leads TCU with 52 personal fouls.

Compared to TCU’s other top rotation players, he’s not atrocious at the free-throw line: 31 for 49, 63.3%.

— hoop-math.com nugget: The majority of his shots — 58.7% — have come on 2-point jumpers, and Shepherd has made only 24 of 64 (37.5%).

HORNED FROGS BENCH

No. 4 — Amric Fields, 6-9, senior F

None by NCAA Colleges news

Contributing 7.1 points and 3.1 rebounds off the bench in just 16.2 minutes, Fields takes smart shots and makes them. He’s hitting at a 60% clip on the season — 42-for-70.

Six times last season, he led the Horned Frogs in scoring and reached double digits in 14 of the 18 games he played in, averaging 13.8 points.

Now that he’s in a backup role, it hasn’t affected Fields’ approach on offense. He scored 11 points and hit all 5 of his shots at West Virginia.

While he is typically efficient within the flow of the game, he too struggles at the foul line: 19 for 41 (46.3%).

— hoop-math.com nugget: Fields is actually the team’s most effective shooter. His eFG% of 62.1% leads the team.

No. 11 — Brandon Parrish, 6-6, sophomore F

Kansas defenders Tarik Black, left, and Wayne Selden try to smother a shot by TCU forward Brandon Parrish during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas defenders Tarik Black, left, and Wayne Selden try to smother a shot by TCU forward Brandon Parrish during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The second-year forward had a career-high 22 points back in November against New Orleans. He blocked five shots in December vs. Texas-San Antonio.

On the season, Parrish averages 5.9 points and 2.3 rebounds.

He spent 16 games as a starter before Williams replaced him in the top five.

In his three appearances off the bench, Parrish had 0 points at Texas Tech (3 minutes), 5 points vs. Texas and 3 points at West Virginia. He has only made 2 of 9 shots as a backup.

His 14 3-pointers this season ranks him second on TCU, and he has made 38.9% from long range.

Oh, year. Parrish is 23 of 40 at the foul line (57.5%).

— hoop-math.com nugget: Parrish has taken 37.1% of his shots at the rim and 37.1% from 3-point range. He has made 18 of 36 inside.

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Rookie of Year frontrunner Andrew Wiggins has room to grow

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins (22) tries to move around Dallas Mavericks’ Devin Harris (20) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins (22) tries to move around Dallas Mavericks’ Devin Harris (20) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

There are still 30-plus games to go in Andrew Wiggins’ first NBA season, but we all know what’s coming at the end of it for the budding Minnesota star.

The 2014 No. 1 pick out of Kansas is in a one-man race for Rookie of the Year after Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear. Plus, potential R.O.Y competition, Wiggins’ Kansas teammate Joel Embiid, might not make his debut in Philadelphia until the 2015-16 season.

The 19-year-old Canadian plays for a young team that has struggled mightily — the Timberwovles, as of Monday, own the league’s worst record (7-36). They’ve lost four straight, five of their last six and 20 of their last 22.

But Wiggins has given the fan base hope, at least, scoring in double figures in 17 straight games.

Since he turned that corner, the 6-foot-8 forward is averaging:

  • 19.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and hitting 47.3% of his shots and 37.5% of his 3-pointers.

Compare that to his averages in his first 26 games:

  • 12.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 38.5% on FGs, 36.4% on 3-pointers

For the season, Wiggins is averaging:

  • 15.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and hitting 42.7% of his shots and 37% of his 3-pointers

His January has been so impressive, Stats.NBA.com has a feature on it.

On a nightly basis, the high-flying rookie helps Minnesota fans get over the fact the franchise traded its former centerpiece, Kevin Love, to Cleveland, so he could chase an NBA title with LeBron James.


Still, as Kirk Goldsberry wrote for Grantland.com, while Wiggins might very well be a superstar in the making, he is far from perfect.

None by Kirk Goldsberry

Goldsberry points out Wiggins strengths — athleticism, scoring, defense. But he also examines his weaknesses: inefficiency on offense, caused by shot selection. As of a few days ago, in fact, Wiggins ranked last in FG% among 41 players who had taken at least 200 mid-range shots, only making 33%.

There is some good news, or at least reason for optimism, on this front, though. Goldsberry points out Kevin Durant also struggled to play efficiently on offense as a rookie.

That leaves Wiggins with plenty to consider as he develops his NBA game in the years to come. But he won’t have to worry about that Rookie of the Year trophy as long as he stays healthy.

The latest Rookie Ladder feature on NBA.com, where Scott Howard-Cooper tracks The Association’s top newcomers, of course, has Wiggins at the top.

His closest competition right now?

  • Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel — 8.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.6 steals.

  • Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic — 7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists.

  • Orlando’s Elfrid Payton — 7.7 points, 5.7 assists, 1.5 steals.

  • Philadelphia’s K.J. McDaniels — 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 assists.

Good luck to the also-rans.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Getting to know No. 17 Texas

Texas head coach Rick Barnes has harsh words for Demarcus Holland during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas head coach Rick Barnes has harsh words for Demarcus Holland during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

More often than not, Kansas University’s basketball team has found success against Texas.

All-time, KU is 23-8 against the guys in burnt orange.

But winning in Austin, Texas, hasn’t come as easily for the Jayhawks. UT has prevailed six times in 12 tries.

It so happens the Frank Erwin Center is the site of Saturday’s showdown between two of the Big 12’s most talented teams.

You might remember last season Kansas hit a major road block at said arena, losing 81-69 as the Longhorns swatted 12 KU shots.

Dating back to last season, No. 17 UT (14-4 overall, 3-2 Big 12) has won 17 of its last 19 at home.

What’s more, Texas has a history of success against Top-25 teams under coach Rick Barnes at home. The Longhorns are 34-19 vs. AP ranked teams at the Erwin Center.

This season, UT is second in the Big 12 in scoring defense (56.3 points allowed) to TCU (55.7 allowed), and leads the league in field-goal percentage defense (34.4%) and blocked shots (7.7 a game).

No. 11 Kansas (15-3, 4-1) will increase its chances of winning on the road Saturday afternoon if the Jayhawks can make at least 40% of their shots. In the Barnes era, Texas has held 276 opponents to below 40% shooting, and the Longhorns are 249-27 (.902 winning percentage) in those games. This season, UT is 12-1 when holding foes below 40%.

With all of that in mind, here are the Longhorns KU has to worry about in Austin.

LONGHORNS STARTERS

No. 10 — Jonathan Holmes, 6-8, senior F

An interior veteran for the ’Horns, he averages 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds while hitting 46.5% of his shots.

However, Holmes has been off at times this season, including in a few recent Big 12 games:

  • 0-for-10, 0 points in 34 minutes, in a loss at Oklahoma State (Jan. 10)

  • 2-for-9, 4 points in 30 minutes, in a loss to Oklahoma (Jan. 5)

  • 3-for-5, 9 points in 23 minutes (4 fouls), in a win at TCU (Jan. 19)

Maybe his most productive game of the season came in a Jan. 17 win over West Virginia: 16 points, 11 rebounds. But he only made 2 of his 6 field goals in that one, while cashing in at the foul line (11-for-12).

The lone scholarship senior for Texas, Holmes hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in the Longhorns’ November win at Connecticut. The big man doesn’t mind stepping outside, and has hit 24 of his 65 3’s this season (36.9%).

hoop-math.com nugget: Not only does Holmes not take many shots at the rim (33.6% of his 152 attempts have come at that distance), he doesn’t shoot a great percentage there (49%).

No. 1 — Isaiah Taylor, 6-1, sophomore G

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe defends against a drive by Texas guard Isaiah Taylor during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe defends against a drive by Texas guard Isaiah Taylor during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

An injury to his left wrist in late November forced him to miss 10 games this season, but Texas managed to go 8-2 without its floor general.

Taylor returned just in time for Big 12 play. In his eight games this season, he’s averaging 11.4 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals, while making 39% of his shots and 6 of 18 from 3-point range.

He’s not a pass-first point guard. Despite the time he missed, he is sixth on the team in field goal attempts (82) and averages 10.3 shots a game.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Taylor shoots more 2-point jumpers than he does shots at the rim or 3-pointers. 41.5% of his shots have come in that in-between range, and he’s only made 9 of 34.

No. 55 — Cameron Ridley, 6-9, junior C

Kansas forward Perry Ellis pulls a rebound from Texas center Cameron Ridley during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis pulls a rebound from Texas center Cameron Ridley during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The guy is a load in the paint: 6-foot-9, 285 pounds. When he gets position, look out.

Ridley made 8 of his 10 shots and scored a season-high 19 points in UT’s 27-point victory over West Virginia last week. And he added six rebounds and four blocks to his stat line.

In his last two games, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks, while hitting 70.6% of his shots.

The big man has a team-high 38 offensive rebounds (2.1 a game) and averages 8.7 points and 4.8 boards.

In the NCAA Tournament last season, his last-second put-back beat Arizona State and sent Texas to the Round of 32.

Defensively, he turns away 1.8 shots a game (third in the Big 12).

— hoop-math.com nugget: 62.6% of his shots come at the rim and he has made 74.2% of them this season. His 18 put-backs lead Texas.

No. 2 — Demarcus Holland, 6-2, junior G

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins puts up a three over Texas guard Demarcus Holland during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins puts up a three over Texas guard Demarcus Holland during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

He earned the team’s defensive player of the year award in each of his first two seasons in Austin, Texas. His ability doesn’t show up in his individual stats (9 steals, 3 blocks). Holland just has a tendency to lock down the man he’s guarding and work hard to be in the right spot defensively.

That’s part of the reason he leads Texas in minutes played (30.0 a game).

Holland averages 7.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists, and he’s a selective 3-point shooter (10-for-22) who also makes 49.5% of his total field goals.

He contributed 10 points, 4 boards (3 offensive), 5 assists and 2 steals in UT’s most difficult game of the season, at No. 1 Kentucky.

In his last two games, though, Holland hasn’t generated many points: 4 vs. WVU and 2 at TCU in a combined 63 minutes. He did set up teammates for 4.5 assists in that two-game span.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Keep him mid-range and you should be OK defensively. Holland has only hit 3 2-point jumpers in 20 attempts, while he converts 64.2% of his shots at the rim and 45.5% of his 3’s.

No. 21 — Connor Lammert, 6-9, junior F

Oklahoma State post Kamari Murphy (21) holds his head and Texas forward Connor Lammert (21) applauds after Murphy was called for a foul during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma State post Kamari Murphy (21) holds his head and Texas forward Connor Lammert (21) applauds after Murphy was called for a foul during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) by Sue Ogrocki

A role player in the starting unit, he averages just 5.1 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Lammert’s one double-double this season came against Long Beach State, and he had 9 rebounds (4 offensive) in UT’s loss at Kentucky.

He has tried to be a spot-up 3-point shooter for Texas but has little success doing so: 12-for-42 (28.6%). He has scored 6 points or fewer in seven straight games.

In Big 12 games, Lammert is only averaging 3.8 points in 15.2 minutes and shooting 35.7% from the field.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Lammert actually leads UT rotation players in FG% at the rim: 77.8%. He has made 14 of 18 with 8 coming via assists.

LONGHORNS BENCH

No. 52 — Myles Turner, 6-11, freshman F

In this Nov. 16, 2014, file photo, Texas’ Myles Turner defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Alcorn State in Austin, Texas. Texas basketball is rolling _ both the men and the women _ and making a splash among the nation’s best just two seasons after both had seemed to hit bottom. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

In this Nov. 16, 2014, file photo, Texas’ Myles Turner defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Alcorn State in Austin, Texas. Texas basketball is rolling _ both the men and the women _ and making a splash among the nation’s best just two seasons after both had seemed to hit bottom. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Finally, we get to the most talented player on the Texas roster.

Perhaps the Longhorns’ biggest name, Turner comes off the bench but leads UT in scoring (11.8 points) and rebounding (6.8 boards) while playing just 22.4 minutes a game.

The freshman big man, who chose Texas over Kansas, also leads his team in blocks (2.7) and personal fouls (2.5).

His knack for swatting foes’ shots puts Turner atop the Big 12 in blocks per game.

Barnes experimented with starting him for a three-game stretch that included UT’s first two Big 12 games, but the 6-foot-11 freshman only scored 8 points at Texas Tech and 4 against Oklahoma.

In Turner’s last three games, back in his reserve role, he scored 18 at Oklahoma State, 16 vs. West Virginia and 11 at TCU.

Turner not only gets to the free-throw line, he makes his trips count. His 77 attempts lead UT and he shoots a team-best 88.3% at the line.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Almost half (47.9%) of Turner’s attempts are 2-point jumpers. He has hit 26 of 68 (38.2%).

No. 3 — Javan Felix, 5-11, junior G

Kansas guard Frank Mason hoists a three over Texas guard Javan Felix during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason hoists a three over Texas guard Javan Felix during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Another highly productive sub, he scores 10.5 points a game.

Felix led Texas with 15 points against TCU, and has made at least one 3-pointer in all 17 games he has played in this season. He made 2 of 5 from long range in the road win and has hit 30 of 81 on the season (37%).

In Big 12 play, he leads the Longhorns in scoring (11.6 points) and has connected on 11 of 25 3-pointers (44%).

Felix has scored in double figures in 7 of his last 10 games.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Tied for the team lead in field-goal attempts (152), Felix takes the majority of his shots (53.3%) from 3-point range. Only 15.8% of his attempts have come at the rim, where he has made 13 of 24 (54.2%). But he does make 44.7% of his 2-point jumpers.

No. 0 — Kendal Yancy, 6-3, sophomore G

When Taylor was out, Yancy averaged 7.2 points, and 4.4 rebounds in 27.2 minutes. He started and scored 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting in 34 minutes against Stanford (an overtime loss).

On the season, he averages 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19.4 minutes.

Yancy has struggled as a 3-point threat, making just 7 of 26 attempts (26.9%).

— hoop-math.com nugget: All 11 of his 2-point jumpers have been unassisted.

No. 44 — Prince Ibeh, 6-10, junior C

Kansas forward Perry Ellis turns for a shot against Texas center Prince Ibeh during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis turns for a shot against Texas center Prince Ibeh during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

The backup big man only plays 10.4 minutes and scores just 2.4 points a game, but he’s the kind of defensive rim protector KU has struggled against.

Ibeh ranks 10th on UT’s all-time career swat list, with 122 and has 21 blocks this season.

He had a season-high 7 rebounds in just 13 minutes at TCU.

— hoop-math.com nugget: As you would expect, Ibeh doesn’t venture outside of the paint often. 78.8% of his shots come at the rim and he makes 65.4% of them,

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Tarik Black fitting in with Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black (28) pulls down a rebound from Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker, right, in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black (28) pulls down a rebound from Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker, right, in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Boy, are the Los Angeles Lakers glad Houston picked up Josh Smith.

This, of course, has nothing to do with the Western Conference standings — the Lakers are 12-30 and basically irrelevant in terms of the eventual postseason. But the Rockets had to waive Tarik Black in order to add Smith to their roster.

That move allowed L.A. to pick up the undrafted rookie out of Kansas, without making a trade. Grantland.com is calling the under-the-radar transaction the waiver wire pickup of the year in a feature introducing fans to the Lakers’ unlikely productive backup.

None by Grantland

The energetic and powerful 23-year-old made his Lakers debut Jan. 7 and has now played in seven games for L.A., averaging 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds on 66.7% shooting in 18.3 minutes.

Black’s best game in purple and gold came in a Lakers win — the team’s only victory in its last eight games — against Orlando. He came one rebound shy of a double-double, with 14 point and nine boards.

The Lakers are glad to have the young guy around, and he couldn’t be a better teammate. The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan recently wrote about the way Black carries himself. The rookie constantly thanks people with whom he interacts — a trait that showed up when he was in Lawrence for a season, as well.

Black looks at his young NBA career as an “opportunity,” and he told the L.A. Times why he is so grateful.

"As soon as I walked through the door, coach shook my hand and told me that as long as I work hard, I'll be all right out here. Usually coaches don't even really talk to us like that unless you're their franchise player or their top draft pick," Black said. "Undrafted guys? They don't give you the time of day. Coaches here have shown me love from day one."

Black suffered the first setback of his first year in The Association on Monday night, in Phoenix. He sprained his right ankle after scoring 6 points and grabbing 3 rebounds in 21 minutes.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black (28) reacts after getting hurt in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, in Phoenix. Black left the game and never returned. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black (28) reacts after getting hurt in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, in Phoenix. Black left the game and never returned. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

He appeared to be suffering badly when it happened, but Black told Time Warner Cable Sportsnet afterward it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

“I’ve sprained my ankle a couple of times, so I wasn’t really worried, because I didn’t hear anything pop, didn’t come out of place or anything like that.”

Asked after the game if he would miss any games because of the ankle, he remained optimistic.

“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”

Reports Tuesday afternoon indicated Black didn’t practice Tuesday and will miss L.A.’s next game, against New Orleans.

None by Mike Trudell

Knowing Black’s attitude and approach, this minor setback doesn’t figure to deter his path toward a successful rookie campaign.

None by Boom Boom


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Getting to know No. 18 Oklahoma

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger pleads to an official during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger pleads to an official during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

As Bill Self mentioned following Kansas University’s Saturday night loss at Iowa State, the Jayhawks don’t have much time to recover and prepare for another solid offensive team in Oklahoma.

The Sooners (12-5 overall, 3-2 Big 12) head to Allen Fieldhouse for Big Monday coming off an 82-65 dismantling of rival Oklahoma State. It was just what OU needed, having lost in overtime to Kansas State and by 21 at West Virginia in its previous two league games.

Only two opponents this season — Butler and Wisconsin — have held Oklahoma below 60 points. The Sooners average 73 points a game (third in the Big 12) and have shot 44.6% from the field (fourth in Big 12).

But Lon Kruger’s team knows how to defend, too. OU has held its competition to 36.9% shooting (third in the Big 12).

Meet the six Sooners KU (14-3, 3-1) has to worry about on Big Monday.

SOONERS STARTERS

No. 24 — Buddy Hield, 6-4, junior G

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins collides with Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield as the two vie for a loose ball during the second half on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. Also pictured are KU forward Jamari Traylor, left, and guard Brannen Greene.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins collides with Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield as the two vie for a loose ball during the second half on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. Also pictured are KU forward Jamari Traylor, left, and guard Brannen Greene. by Nick Krug

Just a fraction of a point behind Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash (17.7 points) for Big 12 leading scorer honors, Hield averages 17.6 points. Unlike his rival from OSU, he can torch opponents from long range.

His 40.8% 3-point shooting ranks fifth in the conference, and he is always ready to fire. HIeld already has made 51 3’s this season — to lead the Big 12 — on 125 hoists.

He’s no one-trick Sooner, either. Hield leads OU with 22 steals, averages 5.6 rebounds and makes 81.8% of his free throws (sixth in the Big 12).

Hield destroyed Oklahoma State on Saturday, nailing all 10 of his field-goal attempts, including four 3-pointers, on his way to 27 points.

He scored 31 in a loss to Kansas State and is averaging a Big 12-best 22.4 points in conference games.

hoop-math.com nugget: Good luck coaxing Hield into taking 2-point jump shots, a range at which he only makes 25.8% of his attempts. He takes less than two of those a game and only 13.6% of his 228 shots have been on 2-point jumpers. Hield basically lives downtown, and at the rim.

No. 11 — Isaiah Cousins, 6-4, junior G

Kansas guard Wayne Selden defends a drive by Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins during the first half on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden defends a drive by Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins during the first half on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Though he doesn’t jack as many 3-pointers as backcourt mate Hield, Cousins actually shoots the deep ball at a higher percentage. He has nailed 32 of 72 3-pointers (44.4%, third in the Big 12).

Cousins hit 4 of 8 3-pointers against Baylor, 3 of 5 at Texas and 3 of 5 at West Virginia.

He averages 12.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, but does turn the ball over more than any of his teammates (2.4 a game). His carelessness has picked up since the start of Big 12 play, too. Cousins has averaged 4.3 giveaways in the past three games.

— hoop-math.com nugget: 34.1% of Cousins’ shots have been 2-point jumpers. He has made 20 of 59, and they primarily come one-on-one. Only three of his 2-point jumpers have been assisted.

No. 35 — Tashawn Thomas, 6-8, senior F

None by CBS Sports Radio

The former Houston big man has added some power to the Sooners’ rotation after learning 17 hours before the season opener the NCAA had granted him a waiver to play.

He entered the season with 34 career double-doubles on his resume and has averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 boards as a Sooner, while leading OU with 1.5 blocks.

Both of Thomas’ double-doubles this season have come in Big 12 play: 12 points/11 boards at Texas, 14 points/11 boards vs. K-State.

He blocked three shots at West Virginia and two vs. OSU in his last two games. In the non-conference, he swatted five shots against Missouri.

To open conference play, Thomas lit up Baylor, making 11 of 17 shots and scoring 24 points.

— hoop-math.com nugget: As you might’ve guessed, Thomas mostly operates inside, with 57.2% of his shots coming at the rim. He’s not too bad in short- to mid-range, either. His 40% shooting (24-for-60) on 2-point jumpers leads OU’s rotation players.

No. 00 — Ryan Spangler, 6-8, junior F

Again one of the top rebounders in the conference, Spangler averages 8.2 boards a game (second to Rico Gathers’ 11.2).

When the OU defense gets stops, he’s usually the guy finishing them off. He leads the Big 12 with 6.2 defensive boards a game.

Spangler contributes 9.5 points a game, too, and makes 55.4% of his shots. Since he transferred to Oklahoma from Gonzaga, he has hit 50% or better in 38 of his 50 games, all of which he has started.

The rugged forward went for 11 points and 11 rebounds against OSU, his fifth double-double of the season.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Even though most of Spangler’s boards come on defense, he averages 2.0 a game on offense and has 15 put-backs this season. 25% of his shots at the rim have been on the offensive glass. Spangler shoots 73.3% at the rim (44 of 60).

No. 10 — Jordan Woodard, 6-0, sophomore G

None by Ryan Aber

The least likely scorer in OU’s starting five, the second-year guard scores 7.9 a game.

The Sooners need Woodard to set things up on offense, and he averages 4.5 assists a game (second in the Big 12 to Monté Morris’ 5.9).

He has started all 50 games of his OU career and has shot 82.4% at the foul line this season.

Woodard shot 5-for-7 vs. OSU, scored 13 points and dished four assists.

— hoop-math.com nugget: The point guard can get to the rim on his own. Of his 19 field goals at the rim this season, only one came via a teammate’s assist.

SOONERS BENCH

No. 2 — Dinjiyl Walker, 6-1, junior G

None by Justin Hite

Kruger barely uses his bench, with OU’s five starters all playing 28 minutes a game or more. Walker is the one Sooner backup earning consistent minutes (13.7 a game).

The former junior-college guard averages 5.4 points a game on 39.8% shooting.

Walker’s season-high is 13 points, against Northwestern State, but he also scored 10 points against both Wisconsin and Texas.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Walker hasn’t been great from 3-point range (25%), but 43.4% of his 83 shot attempts have come from deep.

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Getting to know the No. 11 Cyclones

Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg watches late in the second half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg watches late in the second half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Having “The Mayor” back in Ames, Iowa, has done wonders for Iowa State’s basketball program.

Fred Hoiberg, who averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in nine games against Kansas as a player, now coaches the Cyclones, and has helped them earn three straight NCAA Tournament berths.

ISU (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big 12, ranked No. 11 in the nation) is well on its way to a fourth March Madness appearance in a row. Few things give The Mayor’s constituents at Hilton Coliseum more joy than beating Kansas (14-2, 3-0, No. 9) — something Hoiberg did in uniform four times in nine games between 1992 and 1995.

But the fifth-year coach enters tonight’s primetime showdown with the Jayhawks holding a 2-7 record against the team he loved to beat as a player.

Iowa State is 8-0 this season at Hilton Coliseum, including wins over Arkansas (currently No. 19) and Oklahoma State (No. 24). The Cyclones have won 15 in a row at home, dating back to last season.

Since Hoiberg began manning ISU’s sideline, the Cyclones resurgence has thrived because of his free-wheeling offense. Iowa State averages 79.9 points a game this season and has put up 90 or more points 25 times in the Hoiberg era.

Five Cyclones average double figures in scoring, and ISU’s effective field-goal percentage (which takes into account 3-point shots being worth more than 2-pointers) of 55.8 is 12th nationally.

With all of that in mind, here are the Cyclones KU has to worry about as it tries to stay unbeaten in Big 12 play.

CYCLONES STARTERS

No. 31 — Georges Niang, 6-8, junior F

Iowa State forwards Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim celebrate the Cyclones' win over Kansas State on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. They will face Kansas in the semifinal round of the Big 12 Tournament on Friday.

Iowa State forwards Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim celebrate the Cyclones' win over Kansas State on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. They will face Kansas in the semifinal round of the Big 12 Tournament on Friday. by Nick Krug

The Big 12’s fifth-leading scorer (14.9 points per game) can play inside and outside, making him a difficult matchup for many teams, and Hoiberg uses him in a variety of ways.

Niang averages 5.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists, making him one of 20 players nationally to average at least 14 points, five boards and three assists.

Since the start of Big 12 play, the forward has only scored 10 vs. Oklahoma State, 16 at West Virginia and 10 at Baylor.

The preseason All-Big 12 selection averages 17.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists in six previous meetings with Kansas.

Plus, Niang might have even more incentive to torment KU, considering what happened to him the last time ISU faced the Jayhawks:

Iowa State forward Georges Niang lies on the floor bleeding from a gash above his eye suffered late in the second half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Iowa State forward Georges Niang lies on the floor bleeding from a gash above his eye suffered late in the second half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

hoop-math.com nugget: As a team, the Cyclones really finish well inside (74.2% on FGs at the rim, third in the nation). They’re so good, in fact that Niang’s 64.4% shooting at the rim is one of the worst among rotation players. Niang has converted 29 of 45 from point-blank range.

No. 13 Bryce Dejean-Jones, 6-6, senior G

A graduate-transfer from UNLV, he is yet another example of an experienced college veteran plugged in as a difference-maker by Hoiberg.

The Big 12’s preseason Newcomer of the Year is eighth in the league in scoring (12.9 points) and leads Iowa State in rebounding (5.9). Like Niang, though he plays off the ball, he can set other Cyclones up, too (3.1 assists).

Dejean-Jones scored 14 points in ISU’s loss at Baylor, giving him a double-figure outing for the first time in five games.

He’s the only Cyclone with more than one double-double this season (two, vs. Oakland and Lamar).

Connecting on 48.8% of his shots, he’s one of three ISU players in the top four of the Big 12 in field goal percentage.

1st. Dustin Hogue, ISU, 60.4%

2nd. TaShawn Thomas, OU, 56.5%

3rd. Bryce Dejean-Jones, ISU, 53.3%

4th. Naz Long, ISU, 48.8%

5th. Frank Mason III, KU, 48.2%

Inside the 3-point line, he’s a 63.3% shooter, thanks in part to 14 dunks. Dejean-Jones has hit 14 of 41 3-pointers. And he’s the Cyclones’ third-best free-throw shooter (79.6%).

— hoop-math.com nugget: His scoring versatility shows in his shot selection. 33.3% of Dejean-Jones shots have come at the rim, 32.5% on 2-point jumpers and 34.2% from 3-point range.

No. 15 — Naz Long, 6-4, junior G

As he showed in Iowa State’s loss at Baylor — 5-for-5 3-point shooting — Long has the perfect last name, because he’s the team’s best outside shooter.

Long has knocked in 43 of his 101 3-point attempts (42.6%), which makes him all the more difficult to keep in check on the perimeter. He’s fourth in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting percentage, and second in 3-point makes, behind Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (47).

He’s knocked in five or more 3-pointers in a game four times this season.

Last season, as a backup, he proved critical in crunch time, with a 3-pointer at Oklahoma State that sent the game to double-overtime, and another vs. OSU at Hilton Coliseum that forced OT.

— hoop-math.com nugget: He has been Iowa State’s most effective shooter. Long’s eFG% is 65.5%, leading ISU’s rotation players.

No. 22 — Dustin Hogue, 6-6, senior F

Kansas forward Perry Ellis defends against a shot from Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis defends against a shot from Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Last season, his first at ISU, he averaged 10.7 points and 8.0 rebounds against Kansas.

Hogue doesn’t often take 3-pointers, but he makes his attempts count when he does. The forward has made 9 of 18 from deep on the season, as well as 4 of his last 6.

When ISU beat Oklahoma State, he scored all 17 of his points in the second half, went 7-for-7 in the final 20 minutes, scored Iowa State’s final seven points and blocked a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left to give the Cyclones a 63-61 win in their league opener.

Hogue’s 24 offensive rebounds lead the team.

He only scored 5 points and had 5 rebounds in ISU’s loss at Baylor.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Somewhat surprisingly, Hogue only has 7 put-backs this season. And just 4.9% of his attempts at the rim have come on the offensive glass.

No. 11 — Monté Morris, 6-2, sophomore G

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe looks to strip the ball from Iowa State guard Monte Morris during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe looks to strip the ball from Iowa State guard Monte Morris during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

No one playing college basketball right now is better at taking care of the rock than Monté Morris. His 5.6 assist-to-turnover ratio is best in the land.

Averaging 5.6 assists a game, he has relinquished possession just 15 times in 490 minutes. Nine different times in his career, the sophomore has dished at least five assists without turning it over.

He has never had back-to-back games with two or more giveaways.

Last year in three games vs. Kansas, the then-freshman ball-handler had 1 turnover in 98 minutes and averaged 7.3 points.

Defensively, Morris leads Iowa State, with 24 steals (Dejean-Jones has 22 in one less game played).

ESPN’s Seth Greenberg recently named him the best point guard in the nation.

— hoop-math.com nugget: As good as the point guard is at running the team and setting others up, Morris also can score inside. He has shot 31-for-41 on shots at the rim (75.6%).

CYCLONES BENCH

No. 1 — Jameel McKay, 6-9, junior F

Another transfer (from Marquette, where he never played a game after joining the program as a junior college recruit), McKay gained eligibility on Dec. 20 and has averaged 8.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in six games since.

Despite his brief time in the lineup, he’s the only Cyclone with double-digit blocks (16). He has swatted 3.7 blocks in Big 12 games, to lead the conference.

In ISU’s win at West Virginia, McKay turned back five Mountaineers shots.

— hoop-math.com nugget: He’s the only guy who will play meaningful minutes and not take a 3-pointer (0 attempts this season). McKay primarily lives in the paint, with 69.7% of his shots coming at the rim. He makes 69.6% of them.

No. 2 — Abdel Nader, 6-6, junior F

After back-to-back scoreless outings, Nader busted out at West Virginia, with a 19-point night and 7 rebounds.

A former leading scorer at Northern Illinois, the Cyclones are deep enough to bring him off the bench, and he averages 6.1 points in just 16.5 minutes.

He made a season-high 4 3-pointers on 6 tries in ISU’s at Iowa.

— hoop-math.com nugget: He’ll settle for 3-point shots (44.1% of his attempts come from long range) and so far he has only made 3-pointers (6 of 30) when a teammate assists him.

No. 21 — Matt Thomas, 6-4, sophomore G

With 15 3-pointers this season, he has one more outside make than Dejean-Jones in 9.4 fewer minutes a game.

Thomas only played seven minutes and scored 1 point at Baylor. But two games earlier, he scored 10 in 22 minutes against Oklahoma State, when he made 2 of 3 from 3-point range.

The sophomore averages 5.8 points in 18.3 minutes a game, and only has 7 turnovers in 238 minutes. He’s no Morris, but that’s not too shabby.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Only Long is more likely to take 3-pointers than Thomas. 66.7% of his 69 shot attempts this season have come behind the arc. All but one of his 15 makes have been assisted.

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Big game, environment awaits KU

Kansas players, from left, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor watch a pair of free throws from Kelly Oubre with head coach Bill Self after a flagrant foul by Baylor during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas players, from left, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor watch a pair of free throws from Kelly Oubre with head coach Bill Self after a flagrant foul by Baylor during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

It’s only mid-January, but the No. 9-ranked Kansas University basketball team is about to play one of its biggest games of the regular season.

No. 11 Iowa State (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big 12) is hosting not only KU, but also ESPN’s College GameDay, Saturday at Hilton Coliseum.

Coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks are 14-2 overall and 3-0 in the conference, spoke with media members Thursday about what could be KU’s most difficult road test to date.

Here are some of the highlights:

It’s hard to recall other coaches who have had as much success with transfers as Fred Hoiberg has at Iowa State. They’ve been “right on point” on how they’ve conducted their recruiting. You’re looking at a lot of states in the Midwest that don’t produce great numbers of elite athletes. It’s a smart way to conduct business with having older guys play against a lot of freshmen and sophomores. … Style, playing time and other reasons factor into guys transferring. Those players who sit out might end up being more locked in once they’re eligible.

Self likes playing on the ESPN GameDay showcase. Even away from Lawrence. It ends up being an infomercial for your school and program when you host one. It’s a game that deserves national attention. He wishes KU was hosting one this season.

Self saw some of Iowa State at Baylor Wednesday night, while watching video from some of the other games. The Bears won 74-73. ISU played fabulous down the stretch, and Baylor might not have ever played better this season.

• There have been numerous games when KU hasn’t shot a large amount of free throws — unlike the game against Oklahoma State. Because of the "chippiness” of the last game, the refs ended up calling it closer. Self thinks refs have done a good job with the emphasis on freedom of movement of late. Watching video, you see refs get a lot more right than you would in their position.

Scoring is way down in college basketball. In KU’s three Big 12 games, the Jayhawks are averaging 69.7 points, which is third in the league. The players’ skillsets aren’t quite as good in college basketball as in years past, because “none of them” stay past their sophomore year. … He doesn’t think the product is down at all. … There appears to be less transition than in years past in college basketball. … The rules committee has done a good job of putting offense in a good spot.

You can control defense and rebounding a lot more than execution and making shots.

A lot of coaches are not in favor of shot-clock reduction. Self thinks the clock should be reduced, because coaches would adjust to it. A lot of coaches across America think it would lead to worse half-court offense if there were less time to execute. Self doesn’t agree.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) swats a shot from Oklahoma State forward Le'Bryan Nash (2) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) swats a shot from Oklahoma State forward Le'Bryan Nash (2) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

KU’s defense has improved with better activity with their hands, more blocking and contesting shots, since the start of Big 12 play. Some of that started in late December, before conference play. Self thought they would be decent at contesting shots. Junior Jamari Traylor and sophomore Wayne Selden Jr. have gotten better at blocking shots from behind. KU doesn’t have a great shot-blocker. But there are more guys contesting and blocking shots.

• Junior forward Perry Ellis is just “a fraction away” from doing the things the coaches envisioned he could do. He needs to believe he’s the best player on the floor every night, because when he plays well he is. Maybe the situation for him is KU is winning so he thinks he can be just as productive as he was in past years. That’s not what the coaches want. They want Ellis to play assertively. He needs to be KU’s go-to guy. Self doesn’t think he’s far away. … Ellis remembers his misses and screw-ups. That’s something he has to get better at. He’s sometimes too nice a kid and rationalizes that KU is doing fine.

• Self doesn’t think the whole team has had great body language this season. That’s something they need to work on.

Kelly Oubre Jr. doesn’t remember missed shots. He could miss three or four in a row, then knock the ball away and feel better and think the next shot or play he makes is the one that won the game. He has adjusted since his early-season slump. The schedule was a negative from that perspective, because guys could struggle and get down on themselves — because they’re so young.

• ISU’s Georges Niang is “terrific.” But you can’t focus on him, because the whole team can score. The Cyclones have eight players who are natural scorers and Monte Morris doesn’t turn it over (15 all seasons). “It’s gonna be, ‘Guard your man.’” Iowa State is very creative on offense.

Last year, KU played really well at Ames. The year before Elijah Johnson was “off the charts.” It’s as good an atmosphere as KU will play in on the road this year.

Winning this one and staying unbeaten would be important but it’s early in the season. And every game is going to impact the race for the conference championship. It would be way premature to think anybody would be in the driver’s seat after that win.

— Listen to the complete press conference here: Bill Self says every game impacts Big 12 race

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Getting to know the No. 24 Cowboys

Just a few days ago, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self called Oklahoma State one of the surprising Big 12 teams this season.

The Cowboys — 12-3 overall, 2-1 in league games and now ranked No. 24 in the nation — come to Lawrence having just handled Texas in an 11-point home win this past weekend.

KenPom.com ranks the Cowboys at No. 22, and their only losses have come to teams in Pomeroy’s top 40:

  • at South Carolina (No. 37 KenPom), 75-49, on Dec. 6

  • to Maryland (No. 14 AP, No. 20 KenPom), 73-64, on Dec. 21

  • at Iowa State (No. 11 AP, No. 19 KenPom), 63-61, on Jan. 6

Not much was expected of coach Travis Ford’s squad this year, what with the departure of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown.

That hasn’t seemed to bother returning veterans Phil Forte III (17.7 points per game) and Le’Bryan Nash (17.6 ppg), who head into their showdown at No. 9 Kansas (13-2, 2-0) as the Big 12’s top two scorers.

OSU can play some defense, too:

  • 8.9 steals/game (17th in NCAA)

  • 37.2 FG% defense (20th in NCAA)

  • 58.6 ppg scoring defense (27th in NCAA)

  • 5.2 blocks/game (35th in NCAA)

Meet the Cowboys the Jayhawks will have to worry about while attempting to open conference play with three straight victories.

COWBOYS STARTERS

No. 13 — Phil Forte III, 5-11, junior G

None by OSU Sports Extra

The undersized guard with seemingly unlimited range hits on 41.2% of his 3-pointers: 42-for-102. And he fires, on average, 6.8 attempts from behind the arc each game.

Forte gives the ball up every once in a while (1.8 assists) but is more interested in getting it back (2.6 steals, tops in the Big 12).

In each of his last four games — against Missouri, Kansas State, Iowa State and Texas — the gun-slinging junior guard has scored 20-plus points. He has nailed 55% of his shots and 55.2% of his 3-pointers in that stretch.

Forte has 17 20-point games in his career — second among active Big 12 players to his teammate, Nash.

He hit just 1 of 8 3-pointers in his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse, in 2013, but hit 7 of 10 from deep at KU and scored 23 points last season.

hoop-math.com nugget: Sure, Forte can drill the long ball. But he also drains jumpers inside the arc. He shoots 51.2% on 2-point shots away from the rim and has made 22.

No. 2 — Le’Bryan Nash, 6-7, senior F

Kansas guard Frank Mason tries to hook a pass around Oklahoma State forward Le'Bryan Nash during the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Frank Mason tries to hook a pass around Oklahoma State forward Le'Bryan Nash during the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

With 26 career outings of 20-plus points, Nash is the only active Big 12 player with more of those than Forte.

Nash has made 47.9% of his shots this season, a number hurt a little by his 2-for-12 3-point shooting.

The athletic senior from Dallas has scored in double figures in every game he has played this season, but also contributes 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 block.

Over the past two seasons, Nash has scored more points each time he gets another crack at Kansas: 7, 8, 10, 16 and 19 in the last five meetings between the two programs.

He gets to the foul line better than anybody in the Big 12 — 85-for-112 — and makes 75.9%, eighth in the league.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Nash takes just more than half of his shots on 2-point jumpers and has hit 44% from that range. He’s better when he gets to the rim — 57.7%.

No. 12 — Anthony Hickey Jr., 5-11, senior G

After starting three years at LSU, Hickey (9.3 points) has fit in well in OSU’s three-guard lineup

The guy is a pest on defense, too, with 246 career steals (fourth among active Div. I players) and 2.0 swipes a game this season.

Hickey sets up the Cowboys offense often, and leads the team with 3.3 assists a game.

He had 10 points, nine boards, seven assists and one turnover in OSU’s win over Texas.

With a 2.26 career assist-to-turnover ratio, Hickey ranks 10th among active NCAA players (minimum 400 assists).

— hoop-math.com nugget: Almost half (48.5%) of Hickey’s shots have come from 3-point range (21-for-63). But he’s not just a catch-and-shoot guy. Nine of his three-pointers have come without an assist.

No. 20 — Michael Cobbins, 6-8, senior F

Kansas center Jeff Withey is fouled by Oklahoma State center Michael Cobbins during the first overtime on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas center Jeff Withey is fouled by Oklahoma State center Michael Cobbins during the first overtime on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

An injury limited his junior season to just 13 games, but now Cobbins is back and giving Oklahoma State a much needed interior presence.

He has blocked 15 shots in the last six games and averages 2.2 swats on the season. Plus, Cobbins leads OSU with 6.3 rebounds a game.

The Cowboys are 21-4 in the last 25 games in which Cobbins has played.

In his last two games against KU, he has averaged 11 rebounds.

The big man averages 7.2 points on the season and has hit 61.1% of his shots.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Cobbins has converted 27 of his 32 shots at the rim this season, but only five of those buckets have come on put-backs, via the offensive glass.

No. 22 — Jeff Newberry, 6-2, junior G

The least productive member of the starting five, Newberry only scores 5.8 points and averages 16.3 minutes.

He spent 11 games coming off the bench before Ford turned him into a starter. Since the move, he has averaged 7.3 points on 9-for-23 shooting (39.1%), while making 5 of 12 3-pointers (41.7%) and passing out 2.3 assists.

The former Mississippi and junior college player scored 10 points and had two steals in a win over Kansas State.

— hoop-math.com nugget: When opponents coax him into 2-point jumpers he has only made 7 of 24 (29.2%).

COWBOYS BENCH

No. 5 — Tavarius Shine, 6-5, freshman F

He’s the only backup Cowboy who has played double-digit minutes off the bench in each of OSU’s three Big 12 games.

Shine only averages 3.5 points and 1.7 rebounds on the season. But in conference play his numbers read: 7.0 points, 50% shooting.

He scored eight points against both K-State and Iowa State. Shine, who has hit 8 of 26 3-pointers on the season, made two 3’s apiece against the Wildcats and Cyclones.

— hoop-math.com nugget: 66.7% of his shots have come from 3-point range, but he’s better off attacking, with a 84.4% success rate on shots at the rim (9-for-11).

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Jacque Vaughn focused on coaching Magic, not rumors or speculation

Orlando Magic's head coach Jacque Vaughn coaches against Boston Celtics during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)

Orlando Magic's head coach Jacque Vaughn coaches against Boston Celtics during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)

When Jacque Vaughn accepted the position of head coach of the Orlando Magic before the 2012-13 season, he knew the organization had a long way to go to reach respectability.

The former Kansas point guard, who went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA with Utah, Atlanta, Orlando, New Jersey and San Antonio, joined the organization at the ground floor of a major overhaul. That’s why the Magic didn’t overreact and fire the young coach — who landed the gig after spending two years as a Spurs assistant — when the team struggled in Vaughn’s first two seasons (20-62, then 23-59) down in Mickey Mouse Land.

Now in Year 3, the young Magic have shown promise at times, but Orlando has lost six straight and 11 of 14.

The Magic’s most recent struggles, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reported, have led some of the team’s fans to call for Vaughn’s dismissal.

Orlando (13-27) currently is tied with Boston for 11th in the mostly wide-open Eastern Conference and sits in fifth place in the five-team Southeast Division (comprised of Atlanta, Washington, Miami, Charlotte and the Magic).

However, Vaughn told the Sentinel he isn’t worried about what outsiders think of the job he’s doing and he avoids reading about rumors and speculation.

"I'm not on social media,” Vaughn said. “And the great thing is I do my job as hard as I can every single day, and I'll always keep it that way. I keep it that simple. I don't complicate it. What I do know is, since Day One, since I accepted this job, everything I've done has been for this organization and it'll continue to be that way."

Robbins reports that the Magic have expectations for improvement this season, with young players such as Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier (Vucevic is 24 and the other three are 22 years old) gaining experience.

While Orlando is 5-4 in games decided by 3 points or less, it is 10-11 against teams that are below .500. That’s where much of the criticism originates.

The Sentinel lists “head-scratching” Magic losses to teams such as Boston, Utah, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Detroit and the L.A. Lakers as signs Orlando has lost its way recently.

Harris, though, doesn’t agree with disgruntled fans pointing their fingers at Vaughn.

"I think for us as a team we need to turn it around, not just for Coach but for ourselves," Harris told the Sentinel. "At the end of the day, Coach can't come on the floor. He can't box out for you. He can't dive on the floor for you. Nobody on the staff can get on the floor and go out there and out-hustle somebody and play with a passion and a heart for you as a player.”

Harris went on to speak of Vaughn’s passion behind the scenes, as well as the coach putting in long hours to study game video.

Vucevic also defended the 39-year-old man in charge.

"You can't blame it on Jacque," Vucevic told the Sentinel. "We're the guys out there playing. You can't say that it's Jacque's fault. The effort has to come from us. He can't control that. He can give us plays and X's-and-O's and all that, but if we don't come out with any effort ... it's not going to do anything.”

The Magic had two lottery picks in the 2014 Draft and picked up 20-year-old point guard Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette) and 19-year-old forward Aaron Gordon (Arizona). Injured early in the season, Gordaon has only played 11 games.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Orlando coming up. Its next five opponents are Chicago, Houston, Memphis, Oklahoma City and the suddenly recharged Pistons. Then the Magic get lowly New York (5-35) and mediocre Indiana (15-24).

If Vaughn survives this season it likely will mean his young players show competitiveness and promise down the stretch. And if that happens, things could turn around for Vaughn and Orlando in the next couple of seasons.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Getting to know the Red Raiders

First-year Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith pleads with a game official during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

First-year Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith pleads with a game official during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, as any coach in the Big 12 would, says there are no automatic wins in this very deep and talented league.

Even if that is the case, Saturday should be about as automatic as it gets for the No. 12 Jayhawks (12-2 overall, 1-0 Big 12), who welcome Texas Tech to Allen Fieldhouse for a 2 p.m. game on ESPNU.

The Red Raiders are one of two Big 12 teams not ranked in the top 55 by KenPom.com. Texas Tech (10-5, 0-2) is nearly 100 spots behind, at 151. The only other conference team lagging is Kansas State (8-7), at No. 104.

Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith is a highly respected coach with 535 career victories. In his 24 years as a head coach, he has won .682 of his games. However, three of his five starters are freshmen and the Red Raiders have the sixth-youngest starting lineup in the nation.

Texas Tech ranks last in the Big 12 with 4.87 3-pointers made per game and is ninth in scoring (68.3 points). The Red Raiders at least hold opponents to 38.5% shooting — better than KU’s 41.4% — and average 7.27 steals (fourth in the Big 12).

Here are the Red Raiders KU has to worry about as it seeks a 2-0 start in conference play.

RED RAIDERS STARTERS

No. 0 — Devaugntah Williams, 6-4, junior G

Tech’s leading scorer (11.7 points) has, by far, the most 3-pointers on the team, as well. Williams is shooting 39.7% from long range, with 25 makes on 63 tries.

A junior-college transfer, he worked his way into Smith’s starting lineup.

Williams struggled in his Big 12 debut, making just 1 of 4 shots and scoring 3 against Texas. However, he followed that up with a 21-point showing and 3-for-4 shooting from downtown against West Virginia.

— hoop-math.com nugget: On 22 of his 25 3-pointers, Williams’ teammates have set him up with an assist. But he can get to the rim on his own, with 32 field goals there (only 10 assisted on).

No. 14 — Robert Turner, 6-3, senior G

Kansas guard Conner Frankamp blocks a shot from Texas Tech guard Robert Turner during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Conner Frankamp blocks a shot from Texas Tech guard Robert Turner during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The only senior in Tech’s top seven, he was named to the Las Vegas Classic All-Tournament team, earlier this season.

But his shooting has failed him often.

Turner scored a season-high 19 points against Air Force when he routinely visited the free-throw line and went 8-for-9 — a rarity for the 63.4% free-throw shooter.

What’s more, he has only made 5 of 14 field goals in two Big 12 games.

On the season, Turner has hoisted 50 3-pointers and made just 12.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Turner has only made 8 of his 29 2-point jump shots (27.6%).

No. 32 — Norense Odiase, 6-9, freshman F

The 270-pound big man gives Texas Tech some legit size in the paint.

Odiase’s 5.1 rebounds a game lead the team and he has exactly as many boards on defense as on offense this season: 38 on each end of the floor.

Offensively, the young big has been held to single-digit points in seven straight games. But he did put up 9 and pass out 3 assists against West Virginia.

He gets to the charity stripe more often than any of his teammates — 63 attempts — but shoots just 57.1% at the foul line.

— hoop-math.com nugget: As you might expect, Odiase leads Texas Tech with 14 put-backs on the offensive glass. That’s how 26.2% of his shots at the rim are generated.

No. 5 — Justin Gray, 6-6, freshman G/F

Part of the freshman invasion project at Texas Tech, the long guard has struggled of late:

  • scoreless against Houston

  • 2 points vs. North Texas

  • 4 points vs. Texas

  • 2 points vs. West Virginia

His minutes also have dropped significantly in this slump, after he scored 17 points in 35 minutes against Loyola Chicago.

Gray averages 7.1 points a game and shoots 50.1% from the floor.

— hoop-math.com nugget: When Gray gets to the rim, he is at his best, making 23 of 30 (76.7%).

No. 11 — Zach Smith, 6-8, freshman F

Yet another fresh face, the athletic big man doesn’t score much (eighth on Texas Tech, with 5.2 points a game), but he has blocked 23 shots (1.6 a game) and is on pace to set a program record for freshmen in that category.

Coming off a 3-point/3-rebound game against West Virginia, in 36 minutes, Smith has scored in double figures just once this season (13, at LSU).

At least he hits his free throws: 31 of 44 (70.5 percent).

— hoop-math.com nugget: 28 of his 47 2-point attempts have come at the rim, where Smith has converted 64.3% of his point-blank looks.

RED RAIDERS BENCH

No. 20 — Toddrick Gotcher, 6-4, junior G

None by Daily Toreador Photo

Hey, a returning player.

Capable of playing PG, SG or SF off the bench for Texas Tech, he is a valuable player.

Gotcher is averaging 6.9 points and has made 16 3-pointers (second on Texas Tech) in 43 attempts (35.7%).

Against West Virginia, the junior played 34 minutes — essentially replacing Gray — and scored 14 points by getting to the foul line (8-for-10) on a night he shot 2-for-7 from the floor.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Most of his shot attempts (56.6%) come from long range and teammates have set Gotcher up for all 16 of his 3-pointers.

No. 3 — Randy Onwuasor, 6-3, sophomore G

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe and Texas Tech guard Randy Onwuasor chase a loose ball during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe and Texas Tech guard Randy Onwuasor chase a loose ball during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

On the season, gives Tech nearly as much offense as Gotcher by scoring 6.4 points.

Onwuasor was one of Smith’s first recruits and played in all 32 games as a freshman.

His minutes have nearly doubled this season to 21.0 a game, but he played just 13 minutes vs. West Virginia and scored 3 points to go with 4 rebounds.

He’s only shooting 36.7% from the floor this season, though he is third on the team in attempts (79).

— hoop-math.com nugget: Onwuasor isn’t helping his shooting percentage with his shot selection. He has made just 5 of 22 2-point jumpers.

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Marcus Morris loses cool, yells at Suns head coach

Phoenix Suns forwards Marcus Morris (15) and P.J. Tucker celebrate during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Phoenix Suns forwards Marcus Morris (15) and P.J. Tucker celebrate during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Well, now we know who the evil Morris twin is.

Because neither Marcus nor Markieff wears a sinister mustache, there used to be no way to tell.

The typically laid back twins who first teamed up at Kansas in college before reuniting in the NBA with Phoenix live together, get matching tattoos and spout the power of #FOE (family over everything). But Marcus lost his cool Wednesday night, during the Suns’ 113-111 win over Minnesota.

First, the 6-foot-9 forward got hit with a technical foul in the third quarter. Next, he took his anger with him to the bench, and was caught by ESPN’s cameras during an animated and intense back-and-forth with Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek.

The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro reported Marcus became agitated on the court when he got hit in the nose and no foul was called. He remained in that state during the ensuing timeout and when Hornacek didn’t side with him, Marcus started yelling at the coach while stating his case.

Eventually, Suns assistant Corey Gaines stepped in before the situation got any worse.

Coro reported Marcus settled things with Hornacek shortly after the game.

"It was heat of the moment," Marcus told the Arizona Republic. "Coach knows I've got a lot of respect for him. As soon as the game was over, I apologized to him and the team, especially the younger guys for them having to see that. I felt like I got hit in the nose and my nose was bleeding and he had took me out so I was really upset about it.

"When I apologized to Jeff, he said, 'You don't have to apologize.' He knows. He's been a player. I hate that it had to be televised like just because it seemed worse than what it was."

Marcus also took to Twitter to apologize publicly.

None by Marcus Morris

None by Marcus Morris

The backup Morris finished the game with 8 points in 14 minutes. Starting brother Markieff scored 14.

Meanwhile, Timberwolve rookie Andrew Wiggins went for 25 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals, to go with 6 turnovers. The No. 1 overall pick hit 1 of his 4 3-point tries and just missed one that would’ve won the game.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Getting to know No. 21-ranked Baylor

Baylor head coach Scott Drew watches from the sideline during a Jayhawk run in the second half on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew watches from the sideline during a Jayhawk run in the second half on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Given the depth and quality of the Big 12 this season, it somehow seems appropriate Kansas will begin its conference title defense on the road against a top-25 team.

These are the exact types of games the Jayhawks will have to win in order to extend their regular-season championship run to 11 years in a row.

For No. 12 KU, the journey begins Wednesday night at No. 21 Baylor.

Scott Drew, who is 3-13 against Bill Self’s Jayhawks since taking over in Waco, Texas, has coached BU to 12 straight victories at the Ferrell Center. Wouldn’t you know it, the Bears’ last home loss came to Kansas on Feb. 4, 2014.

Baylor has only surrendered 56.1 points a game this season (13th in the nation) and has a field-goal percentage defense of 37.7% (28th nationally). What’s more, the Bears have held their opponents to an average of 13.0 points below their season scoring averages.

In BU’s Big 12 opener, though, the previously stingy Bears lost 73-63 at Oklahoma (2-0 in Big 12 after throttling Texas 70-49 on Big Monday).

It’s time to meet the Baylor players Kansas will have to hold back.

BEARS STARTERS

No. 35 — Jonathan Motley, 6-9, freshman F

The 230-pound redshirt freshman is a load inside and capable of doing serious damage on the offensive glass (see: 8 offensive boards vs. Texas A&M on Dec. 9).

Motley is said to have added 20 pounds of muscle while sitting out the 2013-14 season — a year he spent battling Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers at Baylor practices.

The strategy (one rarely seen in major Division I college basketball) seems to have paid off. The first-year forward averages 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on the season. But he has come on much stronger of late, leading Baylor in scoring in four of the last five games. In that five-game stretch, Motley is averaging 17.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.

This followed back-to-back games in early December when he fouled out and went scoreless.

In his Big 12 debut this past weekend, Motley scored 24 points and hit 9 of 12 field goals in a loss at Oklahoma.

hoop-math.com nugget: Motley loves finishing inside, where he has 37 field goals at the rim. Keep him away from point-blank range and he makes just 24.4% of his 2-point jumpers and 25% of his 3-pointers.

No. 00 — Royce O’Neale, 6-6, senior F

None by NCAA Tourney

Both Baylor and O’Neale benefited when the forward decided to transfer and become a Bear after playing two seasons at Denver.

He has scored 1,069 points in his career, with 676 rebounds, 329 assists and 134 steals.

As a junior, O’Neale became the first player in Baylor history to produce 200-plus rebounds and 100-plus assists in the same season, and though he doesn’t play in the backcourt he ranked second on the team with 2.9 assists.

Speaking of guard skills, he has made four or more 3-pointers in three games this season.

Just over a week ago, O’Neale (10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists) went for a career-high with 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting (5-for-6 from deep) against Norfolk State.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Gathers scores mostly at the rim (20 field goals) and from downtown (19 3-pointers). He makes 66.7% of his takes to the rim.

No. 2 — Rico Gathers, 6-8, junior F

Baylor forward Rico Gathers blocks a shot from Andrew Wiggins, but got called for a foul during the second half of the Jayhawks' win over the Baylor Bears Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Baylor forward Rico Gathers blocks a shot from Andrew Wiggins, but got called for a foul during the second half of the Jayhawks' win over the Baylor Bears Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Mike Yoder

No, that’s not a Baylor football defensive end. That’s BU’s powerfully-built, 275-pound power forward.

Gathers nearly averages a double-double — 9.6 points, 10.6 rebounds — now that he’s a Baylor starter, as a junior. A monster in the paint, and at times impossible to block out, he’s averaging 4.9 offensive rebounds a game — second to Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney in that category.

According to sports-reference.com, the beastly forward controls 20.3% of available offensive rebounds. That’s second in the nation, to Nevada’s AJ West (22.2%).

Gathers’ six double-doubles this season lead the Big 12 and he averages one rebound every 2.8 minutes in his career.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Little surprise here, but Gathers leads Baylor in put-backs. He has scored 27 times on the offensive glass this season (Motley has 15 put-backs) and makes 50% of his put-back tries at the rim.

No. 11 — Lester Medford, 5-10, junior G

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A junior-college transfer, Medford is similar in size and ability to fellow backcourt mate Kenny Chery. He started five games for Chery when the incumbent guard hurt his foot and dished 30 assists, against seven turnovers.

The combo guard averages 4.1 assists per game (fifth in the Big 12) to go with his 8.3 points.

A double-digit scorer in six games this season, Medford also mixes it up defensively, with 1.7 steals (tied for fifth in the Big 12 with Frank Mason III).

He has hit 17 of his 50 3-point attempts this season (34%), but is coming off a 3-for-6 outing at OU.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Of Baylor’s rotation players, Medford spends the least time taking shots in between the rim and the 3-point arc. Just 14.8% of his shots have been 2-point jumpers, while 35.2% have come at the rim and a whopping 50% have come from long distance.

No. 1 — Kenny Chery, 5-11, senior G

Kansas players Joel Embiid (21) and Wayne Selden defend against a three from Baylor guard Kenny Chery during the first half on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players Joel Embiid (21) and Wayne Selden defend against a three from Baylor guard Kenny Chery during the first half on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Baylor’s primary distributor dishes 4.6 assists per game to go with 8.2 points.

Since missing five consecutive starts (coming off the bench in one) with planter fasciitis, the senior from Montreal has set up his fellow Bears to the tune of 6.8 assists a game in his last four starts, compared to 2.0 turnovers a game.

The point guard channeled his inner scorer at South Carolina, where he poured in 18 of his 20 in the second half to help Baylor win on the road.

Last season, Chery’s .879 free-throw percentage led the Big 12, and he has made 12 of 15 (80 percent) so far as a senior, playing in nine games.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Just 18.1% of his shots so far have come at the rim. Chery has taken 25 2-point jumpers and is making just 28.6% of those tries. He’s 12-for-34 from deep.

BEARS BENCH

No. 21 — Taurean Prince, 6-7, junior F

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A starter for five games this season while Chery recovered, he has easily transitioned into a stellar sixth man. Prince’s 12.0 points per game and 21 3-pointers lead the Bears. He has made that many bombs on just 39 attempts — giving him the Big 12’s top percentage of 53.8%.

With nine double-digit scoring games, he leads Baylor (Gathers, Medford and Motley all have six such performances).

Prince played 30 minutes at Oklahoma, and shot the ball well — 6-for-12 from the floor, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range.

Overall, he has made 50 of 104 shots (48.1%) while providing instant offense.

— hoop-math.com nugget: He can create his own easy points. Only 50% of Prince’s shots at the rim come off assists. His method? Crashing the offensive glass. He has 11 put-backs.

No. 25 — Al Freeman, 6-3, freshman G

Another redshirt freshman (he missed eight weeks with a broken wrist last year), Freeman has scored double-digits off the bench in three of BU’s past five games.

But at Oklahoma, Drew only played Freeman 16 minutes and he went 0-for-3 with one point.

He has yet to start, but averages 6.5 points in 19.3 minutes and has reached the foul line (20-for-29) more often than starting guards Medford and Chery.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Most of his shot attempts, 55.2% actually, come from long range. However, Freeman has connected on just 29.7% of his 3-pointers.

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Sixers coach sees some Tim Duncan in Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid of Cameroon shoots the ball prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Nets won 99-91. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid of Cameroon shoots the ball prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Nets won 99-91. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

One of these days, Philadelphia 7-footer Joel Embiid will bring more to the 76ers than pre-game and video-board entertainment.

None by Joel-Hans Embiid

After suffering a fracture in his right foot prior to the NBA Draft, the rookie out of Kansas has been on a slow and steady path to rehabilitation.

While Embiid had traveled with ever-struggling Philadelphia (4-28) on what had to be a bummer of a recent road trip, the team sent him home early to focus on his rehab and training.

Prior to that, Sixers coach Brett Brown conversed with TruehoopTV’s Henry Abbott about the injured center. The coach, obviously, wishes he had his No. 3 lottery pick on the court.

For what it’s worth, Philadelphia at least has some experience in dealing with this type of situation. The 76ers’ 2013 lottery pick, Nerlens Noel, rehabbed throughout what would have been his rookie season without playing a single game in a Philly uniform. Brown said that prepared the staff for the challenges of keeping an injured young talent completely engaged in the process of getting game-ready.

“We’re trying to go overboard,” Brown said, “and teach (Embiid) what leadership is, and how to grow a program.”

With the end goal of having Embiid healthy and contributing on a permanent basis, his coach said the 20-year-old’s daily routine focuses on his health, diet and an on-going education about the game of basketball and making it in the NBA. Embiid watches video of some of the league’s best post players, and Brown — a former San Antonio assistant — even arranged for Tim Duncan to speak with the young prodigy when the Sixers played the Spurs.

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In fact, Brown, who scouted Embiid as a Jayhawk, went as far as to compare him to Duncan when asked to come up with some similar players.

“You feel reckless throwing out the names I would throw out,” Brown admitted.

But then the coach went ahead and mentioned he saw a little of all-time Houston great Hakeem Olajuwon, some flashes of Duncan and the post skills of Charlotte big man Al Jefferson in Embiid’s game.

“Those names that I just said are quite flattering and I have to use them responsibly, but there are hints of that. I think the difference with Joel, say from Timmy, when we coached Timmy, is Timmy had four years at Wake Forest and then burst into the NBA and from the get-go was arguably the best 4-man and maybe the best power forward ever.

“So Joel’s one year of experience — and almost three-quarters of a year — is far shy of that four-year period Timmy enjoyed to better prepare him for the NBA.”

As Embiid rehabs (which at one point included him just sitting in a chair with one foot up, shooting one-handed), Brown said the big man from Cameroon by way of KU is giving himself the best chance to return as soon as possible.

Whenever he finally gets clearance to play, Philadelphia could find itself with a good problem: having two talented, young, similar interior players in Embiid and 6-foot-11 Noel (7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks through 29 games).

As Scott Howard-Cooper wrote for NBA.com, Brown now sees Noel, projected as a power forward, as more of a center. The coach said that would be “a challenge” for Philadelphia when Embiid joins the rotation.

Brown said Noel is a work in progress defensively, but for now he is more of a presence at the rim than when guarding stretch-forwards on the perimeter. Could that mean Embiid would play power forward?

Howard-Cooper reported Philly has plenty of time to figure this out, because Embiid very well might not make his debut until the Summer League.

Maybe Philadelphia just has two centers. The Sixers could play them both, just as San Antonio did when it had David Robinson and drafted Duncan. Had a team without a perennial all-star at center drafted Duncan, he would’ve been called a center, instead of a power forward. And we’d all talk about Duncan as one of the all-time great centers.

Whether Embiid gets labeled as a center of power forward, he still has a long way to go just to get on the court, let alone prove he should be mentioned in the same breath as Duncan or Olajuwon.

None by Joel-Hans Embiid


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Kansas one of handful of teams capable of winning Big 12

Kansas head coach Bill Self and official Gerry Pollard have a disagreement during the second half on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self and official Gerry Pollard have a disagreement during the second half on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The non-conference schedule finally has ended for Bill Self’s Kansas University basketball team, now ranked No. 12 in the nation, so coach Self and his Jayhawks have turned their attention squarely toward the Big 12 grind.

Before KU (11-2) begins conference play, Wednesday at Baylor (11-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12), Self met with the media Monday afternoon to talk about the loaded league and where the Jayhawks stand entering the home stretch.

Here are some of the highlights from the coach’s Q&A:

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) blocks a shot by UNLV guard Rashad Vaughn (1) against the backboard during the second half on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) blocks a shot by UNLV guard Rashad Vaughn (1) against the backboard during the second half on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Freshman Cliff Alexander is the best candidate to be an enforcer on the defensive end. Self thought he played really well against UNLV. KU needs him to be that guy. Even if he’s not starting, as is the case right now, he’s still their best low-post physical presence.

Frank Mason III, hands down, has been the most consistent player for Kansas and the team’s MVP. When Devonté Graham went down, that put even more on him, and Mason has been consistent.

Now that the non-conference is over, Self thinks KU at least has improved a lot since the Kentucky loss. Although KU has been inconsistent at times, they’ve played good enough to win — with the exception of the Temple game.

Kansas has rebounded the ball pretty well, but Self can’t say the defense has been good. KU played a pretty good non-con schedule but their activity level on defense hasn’t been there for the most part. On offense, execution has gotten better since November. Looking at their stats, Kansas is last in the league in field-goal percentage (.426) and eighth in field-goal percentage defense (.419). But he doesn’t like to look at stats until teams have played four or five games in the league.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) swoops in to the bucket after a steal from UNLV guard Cody Doolin (45) in the first half on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) swoops in to the bucket after a steal from UNLV guard Cody Doolin (45) in the first half on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The Jayhawks had a two-hour meeting the other day, when Self “wasn’t real happy with them,” and asked them what they can hang their hat on. What they came up with: they’ve won some games when they didn’t play so well. … They’ve met a lot since the team got back from the holiday break.

Stats can sometimes be very overrated, but the reality is they’re not way off regarding field-goal percentage. It’s fairly accurate. The difference between shooting 43% and 48% isn’t what they’re running, it’s energy level.

Lsat year was similar in terms of room for improvement at this time of year, entering Big 12 play. KU has improved with some individuals playing better.

In Self’s opinion, there are probably five teams in the Big 12 that have a legitimate chance of winning the league. And if one of the other teams gets on a roll, they might have a chance. From what he’s seen, there are some really good teams out there. Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas all could win the league. Texas might be able to win it all, or at least make the Final Four. Watching OU and Baylor, those are two really good teams. And West Virginia is forcing 22.6 turnovers a game. … Self predicts injuries and timing of things will play as much a role in winning the Big 12 as anything else. You lose a key player during a really tough stretch and you could end up in a hole.

Every year, at least privately, Self has wondered if his team has been good enough to win the Big 12. He thought there was no way KU would win the league by two games last year, following the loss to San Diego State. KU started off 1-2 when Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and Brandon Rush were freshmen.

Your non-conference schedule should put freshmen in position to be prepared for league play.

Self looks at field-goal percentage defense, field-goal percentage and rebounding as being the stats that show how good you are as a team.

Self would be disappointed every year if they weren’t a top-10 defensive team and they aren’t there this year. There is a lot of room for improvement on that end of the floor. KU can still become a great defensive team.

With Baylor, every guy on the floor shoots 3-pointers. So the Jayhawks have to keep that in mind.

There aren’t always plays in games where you get a chance to dive on the floor for a loose ball or jump to save a ball from going out of bounds. But as a coach you have to have your guys prepared to make those types of plays.

Graham is doing some light running and cutting. This has just started and Self is hopeful they can put him in some kind of practice situation later this week. He’s in “terrible” shape right now. But he could be back to playing spot minutes pretty quickly. He’s progressed nicely. He hasn’t done anything full-speed. If it turns out he can’t be 100 percent or close a medical redshirt remains a possibility.

KU’s bigs did a pretty good job on ball screens the past couple of games.

— Listen to the complete press conference here: Self discusses depth of Big 12, how often he has thought KU would win it

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Getting to know the Runnin’ Rebels

UNLV guard Rashad Vaughn celebrates a 71-67 victory over Arizona after an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

UNLV guard Rashad Vaughn celebrates a 71-67 victory over Arizona after an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

There is a reason the same UNLV team that defeated Arizona (12-1, now ranked No. 8) also lost to unranked Arizona State (8-5) within a 20-day span.

Youth.

The Runnin’ Rebels (9-4 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) lost all five starters from last season. Four of their top seven players are freshmen. Their two best players are a freshman and a sophomore. One of their two starting seniors is a transfer. There are eight new players on the roster.

Sometimes UNLV looks great. Other times the team’s collection of young talent just looks inexperienced.

Coach Dave Rice hopes the Rebels’ skills show up more often than their teenaged tendencies Sunday afternoon at Kansas.

Between a Dec. 20 loss to Utah (then ranked No. 14), a Dec. 23 upset victory over Arizona (then ranked No. 3) and Sunday’s trip to Allen Fieldhouse to face No. 13 Kansas, UNLV finds itself in quite the non-conference stretch. It marks the first time the Rebels have played three top-15 teams in such a short amount of time.

Another marquee win for Vegas (9-4, ranked No. 113 in the nation by KenPom.com) would do wonders for the Rebels’ résumé, and KU coach Bill Self, of course, isn’t taking them lightly.

UNLV blocks 7.2 shots a game (fifth in the nation) and holds opponents to 37.5-percent shooting (29th, nationally).

If the Rebels can keep it close, they’ll at least feel comfortable. UNLV is 5-1 this season in single-digit decisions. Kansas is 5-0 in games decided by 9 points or less, with wins over Rhode Island, Michigan State, Florida, Georgetown and Utah.

Let’s meet the Runnin’ Rebs Kansas (10-2) will have to hold back to end its non-conference schedule with a win.

RUNNIN’ REBELS STARTERS

No. 1 — Rashad Vaughn | 6-6, freshman G

The youngster leads Vegas, and the Mountain West Conference, in scoring (17.9 points).

Though UNLV lost its MWC opener, 76-71, at Wyoming Wednesday, Vaughn hit his first six shots (including three 3-pointers) and finished with 16 points.

He was the No. 8 player in his class and a recruiting target of Self and the KU staff. Named the preseason MWC Freshman of the Year, Vaughn lit up Arizona for 21 points — one of five 20-plus point performances for the fab frosh.

hoop-math.com nugget: When Vaughn has the ball in his hands, he is comfortable scoring from anywhere. 30.6% of his shots have come at the rim, 33.9% have been on 2-point jumpers and 35.6% of have been taken from 3-point range (22-for-64).

No. 5 — Christian Wood | 6-11, sophomore F

With eight double-doubles, the talented young big man ranks fifth in the nation.

Wood leads UNLV with 9.8 boards and 3.0 blocks, and he puts up 15.7 points per game.

At Wyoming, the sophomore set a new personal best with 29 points. He has scored 20 or more in three straight outings and was named National Player of the Week by CBS, NBC and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

Wood’s 39 denials this season rank 10th in the country.

— hoop-math.com nugget: As a 3-point shooter (10-for-32), Wood is at his best when benefiting from a teammate’s assist. Nine of his made 3-pointers came on a dish. … His 19 putb-acks on the offensive glass leads UNLV.

No. 45 — Cody Doolin | 6-3, senior G

Not only does one of the team’s rare elder statesmen handle the rock and distribute, he can score in the clutch.

Doolin hit UNLV’s game-winner in overtime against Portland.

His 4.6 assists a game and assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.0 lead the MWC.

Doolin broke the 1,000-point barrier at San Francisco before transferring to Vegas.

He hits 60.5% of his two-point shots, which leads the team.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Though he isn’t the tallest Rebel, Doolin attacks with a purpose, and has taken 29 of his 38 two-point attempts at the rim. His 20 field goals at the rim put him only behind Wood (48) and Vaughn (29).

No. 22 — Jelan Kendrick | 6-6, senior G

The team’s leading returning scorer, UNLV doesn’t exactly need him for his offense (5.0 points, 40% field goals).

Kendrick scored a season-high 13 points against South Dakota but hasn’t broken double-digits in any other game. Arizona held him scoreless and he only took one shot.

He made two free throws in the final 35 seconds to help UNLV beat Temple, on Nov. 22, in Brooklyn.

Against Southern Utah, the veteran guard had career-highs with 11 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks, while avoiding turning the ball over — even once.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Kendrick’s seven field-goal makes at the rim is the fewest among UNLV’s core players.

No. 11 — Goodluck Okonoboh, 6-10, freshman F/C

Good luck to the KU bigs finishing over this freshman. The 6-foot-10 swatter blocks 2.8 shots a game (4th in MVC; third nationally, among freshmen).

Okonoboh denied seven shots against Morehead State and six apiece vs. Sam Houston State, Saint Katherine and Utah. This season, he has blocked a team-leading 10.4% of opponent two-point shots when he’s on the floor.

His free throw with 4:47 left vs. Arizona gave the Rebels their first lead since early in the first half.

— hoop-math.com nugget: 61.5% of his 52 field-goal attempts have come at the rim, and 68.8% of Okonoboh’s makes have been assisted. When someone drives looking to dish, the big man cashes in.

RUNNIN’ REBELS BENCH

No. 2 — Patrick McCaw, 6-6, freshman G

None by MWCConnection.com

Providing some scoring punch off the bench, the first-year guard’s 7.4 points a game rank third on the team, and he does it in just 26.0 minutes.

McCaw’s 15 3-pointers and 50 3-point attempts rank second on the team to Vaughn (22-for-64).

The St. Louis native chased down a loose ball and scored a layup to put UNLV up five points in the final minute against Temple.

In a rare start vs. St. Katherine, McCaw distributed nine assists.

He hit two free throws with less than a second left in the Rebels’ four-point win over Arizona.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Though McCaw has only made 30% of his 3-pointers, that’s where 55.6% of his shots come from.

No. 15 — Dwayne Morgan, 6-8, freshman F

Yet another key UNLV freshman, he sent the Portland game to OT when Doolin found him for a wide-open layup.

In just 18.6 minutes, Morgan grabs 4.0 rebounds and scores 5.8 points.

He went for 13 points and 14 boards against Florida National.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Morgan (20 offensive rebounds) has 11 put-backs this season, but he has only made 37.5% of his second-chance shots at the rim.

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Cole Aldrich suddenly a factor for Knicks

New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich (45) defends Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014. The Wizards defeated the Knicks 102-91. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich (45) defends Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014. The Wizards defeated the Knicks 102-91. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Hey, who’s that big guy for the Knicks scoring and rebounding? He kind of looks like Cole Aldrich.

Oh, wait. That is Cole Aldrich.

A backup post player with no previous sustained history of success in the NBA, Aldrich entered this season with little fanfare and quite possibly the least expectations of any former Kansas player in the league.

The “all-elbows-and-kneecaps” center, as Billy Witz described him in a feature for the New York Times, never had played more than 46 games in a season nor averaged more than 2.2 points.

However, with a recent new role, Aldrich suddenly looks like a serviceable interior presence, and not just a really tall guy who can wave a towel and congratulate teammates at the end of New York’s bench.

The Knicks (5-29) are terrible. Only one team in The Association can claim a worse winning percentage as the calendar turns to 2015, and that’s the “Seriously, we’re not tanking” Philadelphia 76ers (4-26).

Everybody has a bad day at the office now and then. The Knicks have been spilling coffee down their shirts while blowing the big presentation on a loop for two months now. So it helps to have someone around who can keep everybody from wanting to rip their hair out. For New York, Aldrich is that guy.

As the Lawrence Journal-World's Gary Bedore wrote about back when Aldrich was a junior at KU, the big man lost his front left tooth while battling in the paint as a Jayhawk. To this day, the 6-foot-11 center plays without his replacement tooth in his mouth, and he told the N.Y. Times that doesn’t stop him from flashing a smile with a prominent gap.

None by Empire Writes Back

“As weird as it sounds, I think it brings a little lightness to the air,” Aldrich said. “Somebody says something funny and I get a big old grin on my face, and somebody starts laughing.”

While little moments such as that surely are rewarding in their own right, the fifth-year pro — playing for his fourth team — finally has earned some legitimate playing time in The Big Apple. And that’s all every player really wants.

Aldrich averages just 8.6 minutes a contest in his 157-game career, but first-year Knicks coach Derek Fisher (a former teammate of Aldrich in Oklahoma City) has leaned on the 26-year-old center of late.

Prior to this past month, the 2010 lottery pick had started twice in the NBA. A handful of N.Y. roster issues, though, pushed Aldrich into the Knicks’ starting lineup for six of the team’s last seven games.

That’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from his 12 DNP’s this season. However, Aldrich has averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 2.1 assists, while hitting 59.6-percent of his shots in New York’s previous seven games — all losses.

None by Frank Isola

“There have been a few stretches over my career where I’ve had the opportunity to play here or there,” Aldrich told the N.Y. Times. “I take the same approach every time that it happens, which is go out there and play hard, rebound, play defense and score when given the opportunity.”

Last week, the suddenly important post player scored a career-high 18 points at Sacramento, then pulled down 19 rebounds, another personal best, at Portland the next day.

While the fun-loving big man took some Internet flack for not getting involved in teammate Quincy Acy’s Christmas Day brawl, his coach and former teammate, Fisher, appreciates Aldrich’s work ethic and positivity.

None by NBA Central

“He’s a great guy to have on a team,” Fisher told the N.Y Times. “He’s not a guy that tries to always lead in a vocal way, but he’s definitely become somewhat of a leader just in his approach and being an example of how you work at what you do.”

No matter what comes next for the at times goofy New York big man, he’ll keep embracing life to the fullest and make others laugh when he can, which isn’t a bad scouting report to have.

None by Cole Aldrich


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Paul Pierce could return to Celtics — once he retires

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) takes a shot against Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) takes a shot against Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Boston loves Paul Pierce. And for the former Celtic, the feeling is mutual.

Even though Pierce agreed to be traded to Brooklyn in the summer of 2013, and has since moved on to play for Washington, he spent 15 years in Celtics green. Beantown and its beloved basketball team mean so much to him, in early December Pierce made a video about his most recent return before facing Boston as a member of the Wizards in TD Garden.

So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise Pierce told the Boston Herald he could return to the organization once he calls it quits (the 37-year-old has a player-option on his contract at the end of this season, and could opt out to earn more money in 2015-16).

According to the former Kansas standout, sometime in the coming offseason, he plans to visit Boston and will seek out Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck to talk about opportunities that might be available for him when he retires.

The Herald’s Steve Bulpett reported though the 2008 NBA Finals MVP long had thought about front-office positions for his post-playing days, Pierce might even be interested in a spot on the bench.

“I’m not sure, man. I like to keep my options open,” Pierce said. “Coaching could be in my future. I think I still have a lot left to give this game. I always find myself talking to the guys. When we’re going through scouting, I’m giving out pointers. A lot of the assistants say, ‘Man, you’ve got a lot to give this game after you’re done.’ So whether it’s coaching or being a general manager, it’s something I think about. I think it’s something that Kevin (Garnett, his former C’s and Nets teammate) has even thought about. Me and him talked about it. I think he would enjoy coaching. You know, Kevin likes to teach.”

Pierce, who has career averages of 21.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals has seen his production decline over the past two seasons, as the wear and tear of hundreds of NBA games — 1207 and counting — catches up with him.

This season with Washington (22-9, No. 3 in the Eastern Conference), he is shooting 44.6% from the floor, right at his career mark of 44.7%, and has made 36.3% of his 3-pointers, not too far off from the 37% he has made in his 16-plus seasons. Like last year with the Nets, he is playing below 30 minutes a game (27.0), but is contributing 13.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 steals in a Wizards uniform.

Even though he is a productive member of a successful team, the veteran knows retirement comes closer every day.

“I’m just going to listen to my body,” Pierce told the Herald. “Some days are better than others, definitely. But it’s going to be a personal and family decision — even going into this summer.”

In the meantime, he’ll keep doing what he did all those years in Boston — just maybe on a reduced scale. Gotta save those legs for coaching.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Getting to know Kent State

Call it a holiday gift.

After playing one of the most challenging non-conference schedules in the nation — the fifth-most difficult according to KenPom.com — Kansas University’s basketball team should get a bit of a reprieve Tuesday night, when the Jayhawks play host to Kent State (8-3).

The Golden Flashes are ranked No. 133 in the country in the 2015 Pomeroy Ratings, far below the majority of KU’s other opponents to date.

KenPom.com rankings for KU’s non-conference opponents

(Through Dec. 28)

No. 1: Kentucky (13-0)

No. 15: Florida (7-4)

No. 21: Utah (9-2)

No. 22: Michigan State (9-4)

No. 28: Georgetown (8-3)

No. 50: Rhode Island (7-3)

No. 67: Temple (9-4)

No. 83: UC Santa Barbara (5-6)

No. 95: Tennessee (7-4)

No. 113: UNLV (9-3)

No. 133: Kent State (8-3)

No. 142: Lafayette (8-3)

No. 182: Rider (6-6)

The No. 13 Jayhawks (9-2) need a get-right game after losing by 25 points at Temple prior to the holiday break. Playing Kent State, out of the Mid-American Conference, could be exactly what Bill Self’s team needs, with the brutal Big 12 schedule beginning very soon.

KenPom.com rankings for the Big 12

(Through Dec. 28)

No. 10: Texas (11-2)

No. 12: Oklahoma (8-3)

No. 16: Kansas (9-2)

No. 17: Baylor (10-1)

No. 19: West Virginia (11-1)

No. 20: Iowa State (9-1)

No. 25: Oklahoma State (9-2)

No. 47: TCU (12-0)

No. 96 Kansas State (7-5)

No. 146: Texas Tech (9-3)

Kent State coach Rob Senderoff’s team ranks 38th in the nation in 3-point shooting (39%), but KenPom.com ranks the Golden Flashes 170th in adjusted offensive efficiency (Kansas is 17th).

Let’s meet the Kent State players KU will have to hold back to get back in the win column.

GOLDEN FLASHES STARTERS

No. 35 — Jimmy Hall, 6-7, soph. F

None by KentStMBB

A transfer from Hofstra, the Golden Flashes’ leading scorer (13.7 points) and rebounder (7.3) became the program’s first player to produce at least 10 points in his first eight games at Kent State since Jay Peters in 1986-87.

In just 25 minutes against UTEP, Hall went for 20 points and 10 rebounds.

He does plenty of damage on the offensive glass, grabbing 3.1 of his 7.6 boards a game on that end.

While Hall gets to the free-throw line (46 attempts) as much as any player on the team, he only shoots 50% at the charity stripe.

The Blue Ribbon College Basketball yearbook named him Preseason MAC Newcomer of the Year.

No. 0 — Devareaux Manley, 6-4, sr. G

This is one of the Golden Flashes who can’t be left unattended behind the 3-point line.

Manley (11.7 points per game) shoots 45.6% from long range and has already drained 36 3-pointers.

In December, he’s leading Kent State with a 14.2 points per game average.

Five times this season, Manley has hit four or more 3-pointers, including an incredible 7-for-10 outing vs. North Carolina A&T.

No. 23 — Derek Jackson, 6-1, sr. G

Like Manley, he is a 3-point threat, having converted on 43.2% of his attempts this season — 19-for-44.

Jackson made a season-high four from downtown against UTEP.

But the senior guard can set up his teammates, too (3.3 assists). And he’s the team’s most successful ball hawk, averaging 2.0 steals a game.

The little guy even ranks second on the team in dunks this season, with four, trailing only big man Khaliq Spicer’s 12.

No. 21 — Khaliq Spicer, 6-9, jr. F/C

Speaking of the dunking big man, that’s about all he has to his offensive game. He has only made 19 shots this season.

Spicer at least averages 5.8 rebounds for Kent State. Twice this year, he has pulled down double-digit boards.

Twice last season, he blocked four shots in a game.

No. 13 — Gary Akbar, 6-5, jr. G/F

While he has bounced between a starting role and a bench role, he has barely registered on offense for Kent State, scoring only 2.6 points a game.

More of a ball-mover for the Golden Flashes, he set a career high with four assists vs. N.C. A&T.

Akbar has made just 10 of 30 shots since arriving from San Jacinto College.

GOLDEN FLASHES BENCH

No. 1 — Kris Brewer, 6-3, sr. G

Kent State’s third-leading scorer does his damage as a reserve. Brewer has made 16 of 41 3-pointers and averages 10.8 points, while leading the team with 3.3 assists.

A 71.7% shooter at the foul line, he made the game-winning free throw with 2.9 seconds remaining against North Dakota State.

Last season, he tied a MAC record for most 3-pointers in a game without a miss, going 7-for-7 at Miami (Ohio).

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