Entries from blogs tagged with “Jayhawks”

Joel Embiid wowing Sixers while working back into game shape

For the Philadelphia 76ers, next season can’t come soon enough.

As expected (and, let’s be honest, intended), 2014-15 has been a giant bust: Eighteen wins. Sixty-one losses. Three games left.

With another campaign of tanking coming to a close, what makes anyone within the Sixers organization optimistic next season will be any different? For one thing, they should finally have Joel Embiid in uniform and contributing.

In the past few days, interest in the rookie-to-be out of Kansas has grown. Still working his way back into shape after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot prior to being picked No. 3 in the NBA Draft, Embiid played two-on-two basketball for the first time earlier this week.

Bob Cooney of the Daily News reported the recovering young 7-footer also displayed his jump-shooting and post moves after a recent practice. Philly coach Brett Brown, of course, has seen far more. And he says Embiid has a long way to go.

"Physically, it's important that none of us get ahead of ourselves or expect something too quick, too soon, because that's not going to happen,” Brown said. “But when you see glimpses of his skill package, you can't help but say, 'Wow.' Just like we saw when we saw him play at Kansas. It's a two-way player and you're just seeing hints of some of the great players and all wrapped up into somebody that hasn't played basketball in a really long time.”

The work Embiid is putting in is impressing teammates, too. Fellow KU product Thomas Robinson said he would bet on the phenom from Cameroon soon becoming a productive NBA player.

"He's my teammate and a KU guy. He'll be great,” Robinson predicted. “I like that he's not a typical back-to-the-basket center. He is a little versatile. He can do a lot more than just stand in the post and shoot jumpers. He can handle the ball. I'm not saying he's going to do these things, but he has the package to use them if he has to. Later on in his career, once everything gets together, then he'll be a problem."

Kansas center Joel Embiid and Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy tangle for position during the first half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas center Joel Embiid and Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy tangle for position during the first half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

The next big step for the 21-year-old with monumental upside figured to be the NBA’s Summer League, his first chance to prove himself in live competition since his final game for the Jayhawks, a loss at Oklahoma State in which he had 13 points and 13 rebounds before re-injuring his back.

However, The Inquirer’s Marc Narducci reported the Sixers have yet to officially decide whether Embiid will play in the summer showcase for young, developing players and unaffiliated free agents.

Brown first wants to see the injury-plagued big man run up and down the court.

“When we get to that level,” the coach told The Inquirer, “then we are really cooking, and a hell of a lot closer than we are today to making better assessments and projecting him out as it relates to summer league."

Embiid, of course, can’t wait to be an active member of the 76ers. He recently suited up just to be on the floor for pre-game introductions.


Philadelphia plans to pair Embiid with 6-foot-11 rookie Nerlens Noel to form a dynamic, rim-protecting wall of “we dare you to come in here.” Noel, averaging 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, told Sixers.com he expects his fellow big man to be a welcome, game-altering addition.

“He takes up a lot of space. He is always going to draw attention. His shooting ability is definitely there,” Noel said. “He practices shooting the three. I don't know how much he will be doing that, but just having that ability is going to open up a lot of things."

Inquirer beat writer Keith Pompey recently posted some clips of Embiid working out on his Instagram account, and he’s definitely working on his inside game, too.

The Sixers just hope they get a chance to see even more out of their potential franchise cornerstone. And soon.


Embiid dancing on the bench while wearing a suit only provides so much entertainment value.


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


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Despite tumultuous season, Cliff Alexander remembers time at KU fondly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NBA All-Stars gush about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) passes against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Miami, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. The Heat won 102-92. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) passes against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Miami, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. The Heat won 102-92. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

With the 2014-15 NBA season quickly winding down, the Minnesota Timberwolves would like to remind you they have a future star in rookie Andrew Wiggins.

The T’Wolves (16-60 with with six games left) do this because it’s better to look far down the road than focus on the fact they have a legitimate shot to finish with the worst record in the league. Also, a little publicity never hurts as Wiggins figures to hold off late pushes from Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel and Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic for Rookie of the Year.

Minnesota recently posted a video on its website which features superstars and all-stars gushing about Wiggins’ athleticism and potential.

Check out what some of the best players in the NBA have said about the 20-year-old out of Kansas this season.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers:

“I remember being Andrew Wiggins. I remember playing against Michael (Jordan) my first year. And playing against (Wiggins) and seeing the baby face and the little footwork and technique things that he’s gonna be much, much sharper at as time goes on, it’s just looking at a reflection of myself, you know, 19 years ago. It’s pretty cool, man.”

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls:

“I think everybody knew he was gonna be a really special player in this league. He’s tough. He’s learning. There’s a learning curve for the kid, but he’s gonna make his mark and have a great career.”

James Harden, Houston Rockets:

“Obviously he’s a great talent. You know, he’s so athletic, so skilled and so long that offensively he’s getting a lot better, feeling more comfortable. I think that, as a rookie, the more comfortable you are the better off you’ll be.”

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers:

“He’s a great talent. Great talent. And I think he has a very, very good feel for the game. And that’s good to see. I think he’s grown each month this season.”

“I remember when I was a rookie, you know, I played against T-Mac (Tracy McGrady) on Christmas day. I played against Kobe, I played against A.I. (Allen Iverson) and all those guys that was shining in the league at that time. I remember how I got up to play those guys, so I know what he was feeling.”

Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks:

“It feels like he’s not even loading and he’s jumping at the top of the backboard. I don’t even know if he’s using all of his muscles. … He’s just like a pogo stick. He jumps up there, and he’s still really raw, but his potential is really amazing.

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers:

“You know, he’s gonna continue to evolve and he’ll get better as time goes on.”

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat:

“Like I told him when we played them in Miami, ‘You know, man, the sky’s the limit for you.’ You know, if you want it and you put the work in, he has that talent. And he’s so young, man, he’s a raw talent right now, but the kid can be good. I see him getting better and more confident in his game.”

“To be 19 and come into this league, I give a lot of respect for all the guys that come in. I mean, six years from now my son’ll be 19. When you think about something like that, in the NBA? Living his own life? That’s crazy.”

The feature also includes some praises from NBA coaches, who probably look at young players with an even more critical eye.

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks:

“He’s a tremendous young player that’s growing all the time. Very skilled, as you can tell by his three-point numbers. And he’s developing a really nice inside game to go with his outside game.”

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors:

“I don’t even know who else would be in the conversation. He’s gonna be an all-star. He’s a terrific player, a good talent and he’s figuring out the NBA game.”

Watch the video — which also includes plenty of slow-motion, highlight-reel jams, footage of Wiggins taking on the league’s top stars and more — at the Timberwolves’ website.

Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com took an informal poll of some voters last week and determined Wiggins has a significant lead in the Rookie of the Year race. But some media members said their vote could change before final ballots are in.

Those who dive into the advanced metrics might prefer Noel and the way his defense has made a terrible Philadelphia team competitive.

While the Timberwolves are even worse than the 76ers (18-60), Wiggins does put up numbers: 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 43.6% shooting, 32.2% on 3-pointers.

(Noel averages 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds. 1.7 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals and shoots 46.5% from the floor.)

Plus, Wiggins makes jaw-dropping plays, such as this soaring slam dunk that left broadcasters comparing him to Dr. J.

The race might be a little tighter than we originally thought when Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid became non-factors due to season-ending injuries, but Wiggins taking home the hardware remains a safe bet.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None by Texas Longhorns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now his goal is to replicate that at UT.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tarik Black auditioning for his NBA future

Los Angeles Lakers' Tarik Black, center, goes up for a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Jazz 80-73. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Lakers' Tarik Black, center, goes up for a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Jazz 80-73. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In the grand scheme of things, the next couple of weeks are fairly meaningless for the Los Angeles Lakers.

At 20-54 with eight games left, the marquee franchise won’t come close to sniffing the playoffs this season. Really, the Lakers would be better off losing out to give themselves the best chance at retaining their 2015 lottery pick, which is top-five protected.

But you better believe the final games of the season mean the world to rookie big man Tarik Black. Undrafted out of Kansas, and waived by Houston in December, the powerful young big man now starts for one of the most storied franchises in pro sports.

That fact alone, however, guarantees Black nothing. As Mike Bresnahan wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the first-year post player currently finds himself in an ongoing audition for his future NBA livelihood.

Black’s contract for next season isn’t guaranteed, and though the Lakers would only have to pay him $850,000 in 2015-16 — we say only because this is the NBA, and most guys make millions upon millions annually — the wise-beyond-his-years 23-year-old told the L.A. Times he isn’t about to assume anything.

Black learned that the hard way, when Houston released him.

"Every article was the same — 'Tarik Black is a keeper, a surprise because nobody drafted him,'" Black told the L.A. Times. "Then a situation popped up where a star free agent came up (Josh Smith) and I ended up getting waived. It's why I tend not to think about tomorrow."

Since the second week of March, Black’s minutes have gone up, and he has responded with some solid outings, including double-doubles versus New York and Utah, and a career-high 16 points on Wednesday against New Orleans.

Between Houston and L.A., Black has averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in his first NBA campaign, while hitting 55.2% of his shots and playing just 18.2 minutes a game.

His numbers look even better in the past 13 games, while playing 24.4 minutes: 8.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 54.8% shooting.

The more opportunities Black gets to prove himself, the more he looks like a legitimate role player who could contribute on a winning team.

Whether that is the Lakers or some other organization next season, Black told the L.A. Times he can’t let that bother him.

"I'm very happy with the way I've been playing. I love this organization. I want to stay with the Lakers. But if I end up somewhere else, I'll just have to work hard there as well.”

Black’s season has gone so well, he actually is ranked 10th on the Rookie Ladder blog at NBA.com.

If he can do that after all 30 teams passed on him in the draft, you know his effort and attitude will take him far in The Association — in Los Angeles or elsewhere.


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


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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sub-packages, like nickel or dime defenses?

“Those things are out right now.”

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

So this is the mindset they ned to embrace:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marcus Morris making strides in Phoenix, too

Phoenix Suns' Marcus Morris (15) makes a shot over Orlando Magic's Andrew Nicholson (44) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Phoenix Suns' Marcus Morris (15) makes a shot over Orlando Magic's Andrew Nicholson (44) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Years from now, when people look back at Markieff Morris’s NBA career, the 2014-15 season just might stand out as the one in which he shed the label of role player and established himself as one of the more skilled big forwards in the Western Conference.

But his twin brother and Phoenix teammate Marcus is making serious strides this season, too.

2014-15 Morrii stats (through 74 games) PPG FG% 3% FT% RPG APG BPG SPG TOPG MPG
Markieff Morris 15.6 .466 .323 .757 6.0 2.2 0.5 1.3 2.1 31.4
Marcus Morris 10.6 .441 .368 .619 4.6 1.6 0.2 0.7 0.9 24.9

The real breakthrough game for Marcus — as referenced by Ben York at Suns.com — came back in February against Utah. Subbing in off the bench, he put up a career-high 34 points and a then-career-high 12 rebounds. Marcus converted 11 of his 17 field goal tries and nailed 5 of 7 3-pointers.

"He was unstoppable," proud brother Markieff said afterward.

It marked the first time a Suns player produced at least 30 points and 10 boards off the bench since Danny Manning — one of his coaches at Kansas — had 35 points and 10 rebounds in November of 1997.

York wrote the explosion served as a confirmation of what many thought about Marcus’s potential.

More recently, the less heralded Morrii has scored in double figures in 7 of his last 8 games, including 5 straight outings — a first for him this season. In that 8-game stretch, he’s averaging 15.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and shooting 44.4% from the floor and 32.7% from 3-point range (just 50% from the foul line).

His playing time has increased of late due to some injury problems for the Suns, and Marcus hasn’t forgotten that with his contributions.

“It’s not really about me,” Morris told Suns.com. “It’s about what coach needs and what the team needs. We have a lot of talent on this team and we’re fighting to get into the playoffs.

“We all have to step our game up and stick together.”

Phoenix (38-36), which lost a critical matchup with Oklahoma City (42-32) Sunday night, currently sits outside of the playoff picture in the West, in 10th place. The Suns have lost 3 straight games and have just 8 games left to try and surpass both New Orleans (39-34) and the Thunder for the final postseason berth available.

“He’s been big for us,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said of Marcus. “With some of the guys injured, we’ve needed that boost in scoring and energy. He’s hit some big shots and starting to find a rhythm. He’s been one of the more consistent guys the last couple weeks and we’ll need that in these final (eight) games.”

Clearly, Hornacek respects Marcus, even if they had an in-game disagreement earlier this season.

Do the Suns have a run in them? Well, their end-of-season schedule is pretty brutal, featuring at least seven playoff teams and both regular-season conference champions.

Phoenix's final regular-season games are: at Portland (47-25), at Golden State (60-13), vs. Utah (32-41), at Atlanta (55-18), at Dallas (45-29), at New Orleans (39-34), at San Antonio (47-26) and vs. the Los Angeles Clippers (49-25).

If the Suns squeeze into the playoffs after that, the Morris twins' reputations will continue taking off.


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


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Cases being made against Andrew Wiggins winning Rookie of the Year (seriously)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, left, races down court as Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gives chase in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, left, races down court as Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gives chase in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

We’ve seen his long arms, his spring-powered legs, the defense and the dunks. He even gets some jump shots to drop through the net every now and then. All of those signs seem to solidify Andrew Wiggins as the no-brainer choice for NBA Rookie of the Year.

Throw in the former Kansas standout’s season averages through 71 games — 16.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 43.7% shooting, 32.5% on 3-pointers — and the absence of well-known competition due to injuries to fellow top-three draft picks Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, and the hardware seems all but guaranteed to reside in Wiggins’ trophy case.

However, with the season winding down, and award season approaching, a swell of anti-Wiggins arguments has appeared over the past couple of days.

First, the Rookie Ladder feature at NBA.com bumped Wiggins from the No. 1 spot this week.

Scott Howard-Cooper, who runs the rookie-tracking blog, instead bumped defensive-minded Philadelphia big man Nerlens Noel to the top of the list, citing the following:

  • Noel is 6th in the NBA in blocks — 2.0 a game

  • he’s 9th in steals (1.8 a game), despite playing fewer minutes than seven players ahead of him

  • the Sixers' big man leads rookies in rebounding — 8.0 a game (Wiggins is fifth among rookies who have played at least 50 games)

  • Noel is 6th in rookie scoring — 9.6 points a game (on a list that includes Milwaukee’s Parker, who played 25 games, and New York’s Langston Galloway, who has only played 35 games)

Wiggins had occupied the No. 1 slot since the first week of January, but Howard-Cooper pointed out the 20-year-old’s shooting touch has slipped in March.

Entering Friday’s game at Houston, the young Canadian had made 43% of his shots this month. That’s pretty close to his season average. But the glaring statistic is his 3-point shooting: 15.4%.

That’s almost bad enough to make you forget about his freakish athleticism.

Taking flight. The usual. #RisingWolves

Taking flight. The usual. #RisingWolves by mntimberwolves

Almost.

Then came this argument: Andrew Wiggins isn’t actually that great, he’s just putting up numbers on a bad team.

Credit writer Ben Detrick for backing that theory with some advanced statistical data. He questioned Wiggins’ impact by citing VORP (value over replacement player) — defined by basketball-reference.com as:

“a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season.”

Mumbo jumbo? Kind of. But this particular advanced metric ranks Wiggins as the sixth-most valuable rookie in his class — behind Noel, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic, Boston’s Marcus Smart, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton and Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic.

None by Ben Detrick

None by Ben Detrick

Before you just dismiss this, at least take a look at the NBA’s top-10 players in VORP this season. It reads like a who’s who of impact players in 2014-15: Steph Curry (6.7), James Harden (6.7), Russell Westbrook (6.5), Chris Paul (5.7), LeBron James (5.2), Damian Lillard (4.8), Anthony Davis (4.7), Draymond Green (4.1), Marc Gasol (4.0) and DeAndre Jordan (3.8).

Really, no one you would want to build your NBA team around resides in the same neighborhood as Wiggins (-0.1).

Does this mean Wiggins won’t win Rookie of the Year? Probably not. Plenty of people around the league still love what they’ve seen from the youngster and realize even better days are ahead for him — which is kind of frightening when you consider the things he is doing on the court.

And, of course, he has plenty of time to improve his shooting, efficiency, ball-handling, basketball IQ and everything else.

If Wiggins still doesn’t have an impressive VORP five seasons from now, then he’s got a problem.

Just so you know: Kevin Durant’s rookie VORP was 0.4. That’s obviously better than where Wiggins is at now, but you get the idea. He has years to acclimate himself as a player and make an even more meaningful impact in the league.


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


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Dean Smith thanks former players with checks

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

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

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

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

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

None by InsideCarolina

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

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

What a cool gesture.

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

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Getting to know Wichita State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHOCKERS STARTERS

No. 31 — Ron Baker, 6-4, 220 junior G

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just didn’t want to be that guy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 3 — Evan Wessel, 6-4, 218 junior

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

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

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

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

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

SHOCKERS BENCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting to know upset-minded NMSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AGGIES STARTERS

No. 3 — Remi Barry, 6-8, 225 senior F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None by Benton Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AGGIES BENCH

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

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

Eldridge considers himself a defensive-minded guy.

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

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Paul Pierce picks Kansas to beat Kentucky, win it all

Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick consoles former Kansas basketball
player Paul Pierce in this 1998 file photo.

Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick consoles former Kansas basketball player Paul Pierce in this 1998 file photo. by Earl Richardson/Journal-World Photo

No one can question Paul Pierce’s loyalty.

The 10-time NBA all-star hasn’t played for Kansas University since 1998, but when the longtime Celtic, one-year Net and current Wizard filled out his 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket, it was clear he still considers himself a Jayhawk.

Pierce posted his bracket on Instagram Wednesday morning.

Here's my bracket rock chalk

Here's my bracket rock chalk by paulpierce

The former KU star has the Jayhawks beating New Mexico State, Wichita State, Notre Dame, Kentucky (the same undefeated Wildcats team that smoked Kansas, 72-40, in November), Arizona and Virginia for the national championship.

A first-team All-American in 1997-98, Pierce gave the rest of the Big 12 some love, too. He put Iowa State in his Final Four, and has West Virginia in the Sweet 16.

He might not end up with a perfect bracket. But it’s not like he needs to win his bracket pool.

When Pierce played for Kansas under Roy Williams, his teams lost in the Elite Eight to Syracuse (1996), in the Sweet 16 to Arizona (1997) and to Rhode Island in the second round (1998).

Pierce likes his former Kansas coach making noise, as well. He has UNC reaching the Elite Eight before bowing out to Arizona.

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Fresh look at Morris twins’ journey to KU, NBA

Anyone with a passing interesting KU basketball has heard the story of the Morris twins.

There's Marcus and Markieff's unique bond on and off the court. The fact that they play for the same NBA team, the Phoenix Suns. The shared house, bank account and tattoos. And, of course, F.O.E.

Luckily, with the Morrii, there's always more. This week, SBNation.com posted a fresh, 10-minute look at the twins. The video includes interviews with the pair, their mother and their coaches — including "mean stepfather" Bill Self.

It's a fun watch, but Self's quotes about pushing the twins' buttons pushes it over the top:

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Bill Self examines the Midwest region of NCAA Tournament

Kansas players Jamari Traylor, left, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis surround Frank Mason before a pair of free throws by Mason during the second half on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players Jamari Traylor, left, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis surround Frank Mason before a pair of free throws by Mason during the second half on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

As the 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket got unveiled Sunday evening, it quickly became clear Kansas University might have one of the most difficult roads to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

KU coach Bill Self discussed his team’s Friday matchup with a solid No. 15 seed, New Mexico State, as well as a potential Round of 32 game against Wichita State Sunday evening, following the selection show.

Oh, yeah. One more thing: Kentucky is the No. 1 seed in KU’s Midwest region.

Here are some highlights from the press conference:

• Saturday’s result against Iowa State in the Big 12 final might not have mattered for KU’s seeding. It would have been hard to pass Gonzaga on the 2-seed line. KU got what it should have in ending up in Kentucky’s bracket, because the other No. 2 seeds probably had better years.

• New Mexico State (23-10) had some injuries this season and that is why have lost some of the games they did.

KU could face Wichita State in the Round of 32, and Self couldn’t believe the Shockers got a No. 7 seed.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) watches as Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) rejects his floater during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) watches as Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) rejects his floater during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. by Nick Krug

• If this KU team gets a chance to play in the Elite Eight game, against Kentucky, “it’s been a hell of a year.”

The Jayhawks don’t even have to talk about that right now. Hopefully they will get to talk about that next week.

• Kansas took Sunday off from practicing. Kansas City was taxing on the team. They are beat up. Playing Friday helps KU. There is an extra day to get healthy, get bodies back fresh.

Perry Ellis isn’t close to being where he needs to be, but these four days will be big for him getting that bounce back.

• Self saw New Mexico State while flipping channels last night. He goes through all the teams that could end up being Nos. 15 or 16 seeds, and he had New Mexico State as a No. 13 seed.

“It is a hard first game, and we need to be ready come Friday.” When KU is good, it is really good. But it can’t afford to take 5 or 10 minutes off like it did against Iowa State.

• Self was pleased to see seven Big 12 teams get into the Big Dance.

• Self told the players: “You know how many bullets we’ve dodged?” in his time at KU, in terms of potential NCAA Tournament matchups. It isn’t guaranteed KU will play Wichita State.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson draws a foul on a shot from Purdue forward Robbie Hummel during the second half on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson draws a foul on a shot from Purdue forward Robbie Hummel during the second half on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha. by Nick Krug

• KU has always had a good crowd in Omaha, Nebraska, and Wisconsin will travel great, too. KU has had some good runs going through Omaha, too: The Jayhawks won it in 2008 and got to the final in 2012 after playing in Omaha.

• Larry Brown and SMU got in, and Self thought that might end up being a Round of 32 matchup for Kansas. Instead it was Wichita State.

• The guys are excited, and one guy who should be more excited than anybody else is Ellis. That is a pretty big potential matchup for him, maybe facing his hometown program in Wichita State next Sunday.

• Kentucky was a lot better than Kansas that day they met in November, but that team is even better now. KU is better, too.

There might not ever have been a team as favored going into the tournament as Kentucky.

• Self thinks KU has had a real good season, but you have to accomplish some things in the next few weeks to make it memorable.

For KU, losing to ISU, there was a little hangover, but that’s gone now.

• KU could have an exciting next few weeks potentially, with maybe the chance to play the hottest team in the ACC in Notre Dame and the prohibitive favorite in Kentucky.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander watches warmups on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas University officials announced that Alexander will not play against Texas after they were alerted to a potential eligibility issue involving Alexander by the NCAA.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander watches warmups on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas University officials announced that Alexander will not play against Texas after they were alerted to a potential eligibility issue involving Alexander by the NCAA. by Nick Krug

• Self doesn’t think he should even talk about Cliff Alexander anymore with the media. If new information comes out, then he will.

• Landen Lucas is banged up and at this point in time, they need him and every player as healthy as possible. KU can be as close to whole as it has been in a while very soon.

• Self talked to the entire team after the TCU game on Thursday about how disappointing that was, and part of that was the way Wayne Selden Jr. played. Selden responded perfectly in the next two days.

• KU didn’t have the same intensity level in the second half vs. Iowa State, but still had a chance to win it late after being down 7 points.

Another positive came the night before with how KU rebounded and defended against Baylor.

But the bottom line is they need Ellis back playing to his potential.

• The Big 12 didn’t do well as a league in the NCAAs last season, after a strong regular season.

This year was another strong campaign, and the seeding reflected that. To validate that you need to have three or four teams get to that second weekend.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self reacts to Selection Sunday, KU's draw

— Hear from Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr.: Ellis and Selden discuss the NCAA Tournament

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Joel Embiid suffers setback in injured right foot

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

At this point in what would have been his rookie season, no one expected Philadelphia rookie Joel Embiid to actually put on a 76ers uniform and contribute in a game any time soon.

Not after the one-and-done Kansas product suffered a stress fracture in his right foot last summer. The Sixers snatched him up with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft for his long-term potential, and didn’t mind if an extended rehab process meant Embiid wouldn’t play a regular-season game until the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

Still, you got the sense the organization and the Philly fan base felt excited about what the future had in store for the young 7-footer, who turns 21 this month.

Putting in the work.

Putting in the work. by philadelphia76ers

It was just a few days ago that the clip of Embiid’s between-the-legs jam during a workout session blew up on social media. On Monday, though, came news of a possible hindrance to the talented prospect’s progress.

The Intelligencer’s Tom Moore reported Embiid suffered a “minor setback” in his right foot, and the center was back to wearing a protective walking boot.

What’s more, CSNPhilly.com’s Dei Lynam reported Embiid would be in Los Angeles Tuesday for a checkup on the troublesome foot — though it wasn’t clear at that juncture if this appointment had been scheduled before his recent setback or because of it.

Derek Bodner, who covers the 76ers for ESPN South Jersey and LibertyBallers.com, provided an update on that front, via Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

None by Derek Bodner

None by Derek Bodner

Bodner wrote about those comments and more for SB Nation. Philadelphia’s coach indicated Embiid might sometimes push things too far because he so badly wants to get back to playing.

"Sometimes when we turn our heads he'll go out there and take a shot or do that dunk (the viral between-the-legs one),” Brown continued. "But he gets it. He has been responsible with most of it. We just have to make sure that we continue to help put him in environments that will allow him to maximize his health.

"When he did experience some minor pain he brought it to our attention and we just wanted to stay on top of it.”

The silver lining here? Well, Bodner might have tweeted it best.

None by Derek Bodner

This might not mean anything for Embiid's future at all. He could very well show up in Philadelphia's starting lineup on opening night next fall. Just as planned.

Once Embiid finally reaches a point where he can contribute to the Sixers, Brown envisions the center defending the rim and paint on defense and playing more like a power forward on offense, alongside fellow young big man Nerlens Noel.

“I don’t see Joel guarding people on the perimeter,” Brown said in Moore’s report for The Intelligencer. “I think Nerlens’ athleticism where he can switch out on point guards, guard 4-men, I just think there’s a versatility and athleticism that we’re going to really enjoy tapping into.”

The experiment with a modern day twin towers should be fun to watch — assuming the Sixers can get their two young centerpieces healthy simultaneously.

And assuming Noel and Embiid are both still with the team next season if Philadelphia’s latest tankapalooza (the 76ers’ 14-49 record is second-worst to New York’s 12-50) results in the No. 1 pick of 2015. The Sixers might decide they can’t pass up on a chance to grab Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. And you don’t need your three best players all occupying the same position.

Twin towers? Sure. Triple towers? Let's not go crazy.


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


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Bill Self, Jayhawks turn their focus toward postseason

Coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Frank Mason III after the Jayhawks overtime win over the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4.

Coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Frank Mason III after the Jayhawks overtime win over the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4.

Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and his Jayhawks finally can turn their focus to the postseason.

At a press conference Monday in Allen Fieldhouse, Self spoke plenty about this week’s Big 12 Tournament and some about the NCAA madness that follows.

Of course, the status of three guys who didn’t play for KU at Oklahoma on Saturday — Perry Ellis, Cliff Alexander and Brannen Greene — came up too.

Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A:

• On being named the Big 12’s AP coach of the year: It’s nice, but it’s a reflection of the fact you have good players and a good team. There were several guys who could’ve won it.

“For the first time, I think the media actually knows what it’s talking about,” the coach joked (we assume).

• The mood after KU’s loss at Oklahoma was positive. The Jayhawks played hard, and fought and just got beat.

Losing on the last play again, like at West Virginia, made it harder to stomach. KU didn’t make shots the first half and did much better in the second half. The Jayhawks played better than they had the week prior, too.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) drives against Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue (22) during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) drives against Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue (22) during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

• Perry Ellis will be evaluated tomorrow, as he has been every day. The hope is he will be able to go full speed at practice by Wednesday. If that’s not the case, he won’t play Thursday.

Ellis will wear a brace the rest of the season, regardless, for precautionary measures.

• Self has never thought it is that important to win the Big 12 Tournament. The Jayhawks want to go and win, just like every team. But it’s the only game where you can lose and immediately be recharged and looking to what’s next.

As soon as you win it, your whole focus turns. There is no relishing it. You want to win it because you’re competitive and it’s against your peers, but it’s not the end of the earth if you don’t.

• One could make a case for seven or eight different teams winning the Big 12 Tournament if they get hot. You could also make a case that if those same teams don’t come out ready on Thursday, they will lose.

• Self might watch some other games this week if they’re on TV, but he won’t study them.

Kansas head coach Bill Self slaps hands with center Joel Embiid as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 86-64 win over Georgetown on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self slaps hands with center Joel Embiid as he leaves the court following the Jayhawks' 86-64 win over Georgetown on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

• In terms of preparing for the NCAA Tournament, Self will do something differently this year. Last year the team thought it was going to get Joel Embiid back and prepared for him to play. That was a mistake. The Jayhawks should’ve prepared not expecting him, and if he came back it would be a bonus.

KU spent too much energy thinking Embiid would come back. So this year, Self won’t count on Cliff Alexander coming back. If he gets cleared, KU will plug Alexander in.

• Based on Self’s limited information, which he read on the Yahoo! report, he doesn’t really know where Alexander’s situation stands.

So Self is planning not to have Alexander available.

“He’s a stud… He’s down.. But his attitude’s great,” Self said of Alexander. And the freshman big man probably has practiced better than ever.

Every good player in the country has “somebody meet with somebody.” It becomes illegal if there are things beyond that. And Self doesn’t have enough information on it to comment on that part of it.

• The players feel bad for Alexander, but there won’t be a negative situation if they don’t get him back. The guys are prepared and focused.

• Landen Lucas, Self thought even before the sophomore’s big day at OU, would be good enough to start at Kansas one day. He is a good player and a part of the program’s future moving forward.

• Brannen Greene should play on Thursday. He has handled his business since Saturday’s suspension. He needs to keep doing that.

• Self hasn’t talked to Wayne Selden Jr. since the game at OU, but the report from the trainer is he is fine. He should be 100 percent by Thursday.

Selden also has suffered from the flu.

“We checked everyone’s schedule and there is no time for anyone to get sick,” Self joked.

• Both Kansas State and TCU — KU’s potential opponents on Thursday — guarded Kansas really well in the regular season.

• The play KU ran to get Frank Mason III fouled on a three-pointer at the end of the Oklahoma loss worked out well. They call it “home run,” and probably every team in America runs it or something close. It is like the famous Valparaiso play.

• There is so much hype on the NCAA Tournament, it means more in people’s minds and you have to deliver. From KU’s perspective, you know the difference between some of the seeds is very small, even if some people think of certain outcomes as monumental upsets.

Everybody can beat everybody.

• Kentucky is “really good.” They won games where they didn’t play well and that’s what is impressive about their undefeated mark at this point.

But if something happens and they don’t win it all, it won’t be monumental. The best team doesn’t always win.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) dives out of bounds for an attempted save before the Jayhawks' bench during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) dives out of bounds for an attempted save before the Jayhawks' bench during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

• Jamari Traylor’s season has been up and down, but the last two games he has been really good. “He’s not big enough to do what he does,” Self said. Last year the role was easier for Traylor because he had big guys like Embiid and Tarik Black ahead of him.

Self just wishes he would defensive rebound the ball a little better. He’s on an uptick right now.

• Nothing that happened Saturday at OU will hurt Kansas, it can only help the team.

• You don’t want your guys practicing more than an hour and 10 minutes or so at this time of year to avoid fatigue. You might work on a couple of late-game situations a day and have some refreshers, but you don’t necessarily spend more time on those sorts of plays.

• “The Big 12 Tournament should stay in Kansas City.” That’s not because it is close to KU, it’s because it is the best setup. You’re guaranteed sellouts. At other conference tournaments there will be tons of empty seats in those early rounds.

Self joked, Fred Hoiberg would rather it be in Des Moines. But other league coaches like it in Kansas City, Missouri, too — not just Self.

• If KU hadn’t played such a good schedule the Jayhawks wouldn’t have had the same chance at a high seed as they do now, with a 24-7 record. The Jayhawks are used to playing hard schedules.

— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self talks Big 12 Tournament, March Madness and more

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These guys again: No. 15 Oklahoma

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12), forward Perry Ellis, and Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr., right, battle for a rebound with Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins (11) and Oklahoma TaShawn Thomas (35) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12), forward Perry Ellis, and Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr., right, battle for a rebound with Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins (11) and Oklahoma TaShawn Thomas (35) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners hoped Saturday’s regular-season finale at home against perennial power Kansas would decide the 2015 Big 12 championship.

However, two road losses in OU’s previous five games destroyed the Sooners’ chances of becoming the team that ended KU’s run of regular-season dominance.

Oklahoma lost at Kansas State by 3 on Valentine’s Day, and fell victim to a massive Iowa State comeback on Big Monday earlier this week.

Now, it’s not as if the No. 15 Sooners (20-9 overall, 11-6 Big 12) have nothing left to play for against the No. 9 Jayhawks (24-6, 13-4). There is the matter of closing down Lloyd Noble Center for the season in style, not to mention the feather in the cap a win over KU brings to a team’s résumé just before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Frankly, OU should feel pretty good about winning this rematch with Kansas. The Sooners recovered from a 20-point deficit at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 19 and took a four-point lead in the second half before Kansas won, 85-78.

KU is 5-5 in true road games. Plus, the Jayhawks, have neither Allen Fieldhouse, Perry Ellis nor Cliff Alexander to help them this time.

At home this season, OU has defeated Baylor, Iowa State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State (all ranked at the time).

OU visitors this season have been out-shot:

  • 48.3% to 36.6%, from the field

  • 40.6% to 29.2%, from 3-point land

With that in mind, here is a refresher on the Sooners KU will have to hold back to have a shot at entering the postseason on a three-game winning streak.

SOONERS STARTERS

No. 24 — Buddy Hield, 6-4, junior G

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) celebrates during the Sooners' comeback against Kansas during the second half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) celebrates during the Sooners' comeback against Kansas during the second half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

— Jan. 19 at KU: 26 points, 7/19 FGs, 4/13 3s, 8/9 FTs, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 TOs, 2 steals in 37 minutes

The Big 12’s leading scorer — his 18.5 points per game in conference are even better than his 17.3 average for the season — is a gunner. Hield already has taken 206 3-pointers, and has made 79 (2.7 makes a game).

In the league, the dynamic junior shoots 44.9% from the floor and 38.3% from 3-point land.

Hield and fellow starting guards, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, are active defenders, too. Hield has 26 steals in the Big 12, and the trio of guards all rank in the top eight in the conference in that category.

A strong candidate to be named conference player of the year, Hield torched KU in the first meeting, and now has two fewer interior defenders to worry about when he attacks off the dribble.

In eight league games, he has scored 20 points or more, and did so in each of his last two outings — 21 vs. TCU, 26 at Iowa State.

hoop-math.com update: Good luck coaxing Hield into taking 2-point jump shots, a range at which he only makes 32.9% of his attempts. He takes 2.5 of those a game and only 18.4% of his 397 shots this season have been 2-point jumpers. Hield basically lives downtown (51.9% of his shots are taken there), and at the rim. … Oh, yeah. Hield also has 20 put-backs on the offensive glass this year.

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

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. reaches through for a steal against Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins (11) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. reaches through for a steal against Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins (11) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

— Jan. 19 at KU: 18 points, 7/15 FGs, 3/8 3s, 1/1 FTs, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 TOs, 2 steals in 38 minutes

KU didn’t have much success checking Cousins in the first game, either.

On the season, Cousins is the conference’s top 3-point shooter at 44.7%. Wouldn’t you know it, he’s even better in the Big 12: 30-for-65, 46.2%.

Basically, never leave that guy open. Especially at home, where he makes 51% of his 3-pointers.

Cousins averages 11.4 points and 3.9 boards in the conference, and he has 24 steals so far.

He has made 3 or more 3-pointers in 7 Big 12 games this season.

— hoop-math.com update: When he’s not taking 3-pointers, 38.2% of Cousins’ shots have been 2-point jumpers. He has made 39 of 113 (34.5%), and they primarily come one-on-one. Only 9 of his 2-point jumpers have been assisted.

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

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts up a shot over Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) and guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) puts up a shot over Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) and guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

— Jan. 19 at KU: 4 points, 1/7 FGs, 2/2 FTs, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 6 TOs, 3 blocks in 25 minutes

The only OU starter who failed to reach double figures in the first meeting with KU, Thomas might not have a problem doing so this time around, what with the Jayhawks’ frontcourt looking so thin right now.

The big man averages 11.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in the league, and makes 47.5% of his shot attempts.

While Thomas has swatted away 24 shots in the Big 12, he also has drawn 8 charges in his last 9 games.

He had 4 offensive rebounds, and 8 total, in each of his last 2 games.

Thomas’s 24 points vs. BU and 22 vs. ISU this season keyed big home wins.

— hoop-math.com update: As you likely know by now, Thomas mostly operates inside, with 51.8% of his shots coming at the rim. He shoots 35.3% (41-for-116) on 2-point jumpers.

No. 00 — Ryan Spangler, 6-8, junior F

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) pulls back for an attempted dunk against Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) during the second half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) pulls back for an attempted dunk against Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler (00) during the second half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

— Jan. 19 at KU: 13 points, 6/10 FGs, 0/1 3s, 1/1 FTs, 10 rebounds (4 offensive), 3 assists, 1 TO, 1 block in 37 minutes

Just about every KU opponent this season has had at least one guy hurt the Jayhawks on the offensive glass. For Oklahoma, that man was Spangler.

Thanks in part to his work on the boards when OU puts up a shot, he shoots 57.6% from the floor in the Big 12 — which easily makes him the league leader. Only ISU’s Monté Morris (51%) and Ellis (50%) are in the same neighborhood.

In league games, he averages 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and has denied 24 shots.

For some reason, Spangler has taken 18 3-pointers this season in the league. He has made just 3 — 16.7%.

— hoop-math.com update: Even though most of Spangler’s boards come on defense, he averages 2.3 a game on offense, and has a team-leading 25 put-backs this season. 19% of his shots at the rim have been on the offensive glass. Spangler shoots 71.9% at the rim (87 of 121).

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

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts up a three from the corner as he is defended by Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts up a three from the corner as he is defended by Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

— Jan. 19 at KU: 10 points, 2/5 FGs, 6/7 FTs, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 TO, 1 block, 1 steal in 38 minutes

OU’s point guard averages 3.6 assists in the Big 12, to go with his 9.6 points and 2.9 rebounds.

Woodard isn’t quite the shooter — 11-for-32 from 3-point distance in the league — that Hield and Cousins are but he gets easy points at the free-throw line, where he connects 84.9% of the time (62 makes on team-leading 73 attempts).

His 1.59 steals a game also lead OU, and rank him tied for fourth in the league.

— hoop-math.com update: The point guard can get to the rim on his own. Of his 31 field goals at the rim this season, only six came via a teammate’s assist.

SOONERS BENCH

No. 1 — Frank Booker, 6-4, sophomore G

— Jan. 19 at KU: 3 points, 1/1 FGs, 1/1 3s, 0 TOs in 3 minutes

Booker’s role has increased significantly since the first matchup with Kansas.

He barely played back in January at the fieldhouse, but since then he has registered 15 minutes or more in 9 of the last 11 games (including each of the last 6). Booker now averages 14.4 minutes in Big 12 games, contributing 5.6 points off the bench.

Outside of Hield and Cousins, he is OU’s best 3-point shooter. In conference games, Booker has made 20 of 58 3-pointers (34.5%).

Though he went 0-for-5 at ISU on Monday, he made 4 of 8 recently — Feb. 21 at Texas Tech.

— hoop-math.com nugget: Some players take a lot of 3-pointers. And then there is Booker. This season, 79% of his shots have come behind the arc. (For comparison’s sake: Brannen Greene takes 71.8% of his shots from downtown.) Look for him to catch and shoot. 24 of his 28 makes from 3-point land have been assisted.

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Bill Self: Big 12 champion Jayhawks going to OU to win

Kansas coach Bill Self hugs Devonte Graham (4) after a 76-69 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse..

Kansas coach Bill Self hugs Devonte Graham (4) after a 76-69 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse..

Just one game remains in the regular season for Bill Self’s Kansas basketball team, and his Jayhawks (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12) already have sole possession of a conference championship sealed up.

Plus, two guys that started for KU just less than two weeks ago — forwards Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander — don’t figure in the plans.

That makes Saturday’s game at Oklahoma (20-9, 11-6) unique, but Self still plans on going down to Norman to win.

He talked about that and more Thursday afternoon at his weekly press conference. Here are some of the highlights:

On monumental rallies in the Big 12 this past week: They’ve always happened, based on Self’s knowledge, and they happen at home, where the crowd plays such a part of it. The Iowa State rally vs. OU was different. The Cyclones went off. KU didn’t really hit shots vs. West Virginia; the Jayhawks just rebounded. At Allen Fieldhouse, the crowd gives KU players so much confidence.

The perception of the Big 12 nationally is it’s a great league, and not a top-heavy league, which Self thinks is fair. There is parity in the Big 12. There are only 10 teams in the conference, which is different from the other major conferences. ESPN has promoted the league favorably but the Big 12 still operates in the fly-over states and doesn’t get quite the attention that the ACC gets, for example.

Sometimes the regular season gets overlooked, and sometimes that’s unfair. KU has had a good season, but the Jayhawks have to play well in the postseason to make it special.

Everybody in the league has done well at some point or another in the postseason in the Big 12 since Self has been here, too, he said.

If you have good enough players to win the league, you have a good enough team to make a run in the postseason.

Perry Ellis is responding well to treatment. But he’s definitely not going to play at Oklahoma. Hopefully by next week they will know if he can get out there and play in the Big 12 Tournament.

It’s a sprained knee.

There is nothing new on Cliff Alexander, so to Self’s estimation, the chances of him playing Saturday are almost non-existent.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) hangs for a shot against Texas center Cameron Ridley (55) and forward Connor Lammert during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is Kansas forward Perry Ellis.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) hangs for a shot against Texas center Cameron Ridley (55) and forward Connor Lammert during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is Kansas forward Perry Ellis. by Nick Krug

This altered lineup impacts how KU will play at OU, when they should be fine-tuning things. Wayne Selden Jr. has an ankle injury, too. The Jayhawks might tweak some things and “have some fun with it.”

Depending on Selden’s situation, there won’t be anyone who has played a ton of minutes except for Frank Mason III. And Mason wants to play. He doesn’t want to rest. Besides, Self says KU is going down to OU to win the game.

There are probably a lot of things that would have to happen for KU to get in position to be considered for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

If things went in the other direction, the Jayhawks could fall to a 3-seed line.

Self hopes KU has its full complement of players for the Big 12 Tournament, because right now it feels like they are in limbo.

Oklahoma has a tremendous lineup, and Self thought this game would probably mean a lot more in terms of the league title race.

But now KU is playing for seed lines, that sort of thing, as is OU.

Now with 11 Big 12 titles in a row, Self can remember certain portions of specific seasons when things sort of clicked or things fell apart.

Self will probably remember this one more than others because it was such a grind to get the championship. This might have been the most difficult season to win the league, in large part because the differential in talent is so small.

Kansas center Hunter Mickelson (42) knocks the ball loose to create a steal against the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Hunter Mickelson (42) knocks the ball loose to create a steal against the West Virginia Mountaineers Tuesday, March 4, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

When guys like Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucas come in ready to play like they did against West Virginia, that is a credit to them more than the coaches.

Mickelson just wants a chance to play, which is a good thing. Self said he, Lucas and Svi Mykhailiuk have as good an attitude as anybody in the program.

Mickelson can shoot and blocks some shots. He busted his butt against WVU. And Lucas made a “stud play” at the end of regulation to block a shot that could’ve won it for WVU.

It’s kind of a next man up situation, as the football saying goes. Those guys should play well and Self thinks they will.

KU hit nine 3-pointers in the first half against OU at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, but the Jayhawks aren’t going to Norman expecting to make that many.

Still, without Ellis, it will behoove Kansas to hit some perimeter shots on Saturday.

Self doesn’t talk about missing shots with the team, just with the media.

ISU and OU are the best shot-making teams in the league, so Kansas doesn’t want to go down there and get in a game of HORSE. You have to have some shot-makers. But mainly KU needs to get quality shots more than anything else.

In the race for Big 12 Player of the Year, Ellis might be hurt by missing time at the end. To Self, Ellis putting KU on his back speaks volume. Buddy Hield has been great for Oklahoma, too.

Ellis certainly has played himself onto the first team without question.

— Listen to the entire press conference: Bill Self talks quality of Big 12, seed lines and more

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Nomad Thomas Robinson not mad about his many moves

Philadelphia 76ers forward Thomas Robinson, center, grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

Philadelphia 76ers forward Thomas Robinson, center, grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

One can’t help but wonder: Does Thomas Robinson just keep all of his things packed, just in case he has to move again?

Maybe now that he has landed in Philadelphia he can at least unpack a few go-to items for use in the next couple of months.

The often traded, once waived former lottery pick out of Kansas has endured quite the journey(s) since leaving KU following a run to the 2012 Final Four.

SI.com’s Chris Mannix caught up with the 6-foot-10 former King/Rocket/Trail Blazer (almost Nugget and Net) to discuss what kind of impact becoming a “roster filler” less than three years after entering the league as a top-five draft pick has had on him.

Already accustomed to being a man on the move, the recent NBA trade deadline in February brought about a bizarre few days for Robinson, who was:

In just his third season in the NBA, Robinson already has worn the jerseys of Sacramento (51 games), Houston (19 games), Portland (102 games) and now Philadelphia, bouncing from city to city on one long road trip.

“I could complain about it, but this is just my path,” Robinson told SI.com. “It’s the hand I have been dealt.”

In four games as a Sixer, Robinson has made the most of his limited playing time. Though he only averages 16.3 minutes since arriving in Philly, he is scoring 9.5 points and pulling down 7.3 rebounds, while making 46.9% of his shot attempts.

None by Keith Pompey

Monday night against Toronto (in another loss for the 13-47 Sixers, neck-deep in a long rebuilding overhaul), the high-energy power forward scored 13 points in 15 minutes.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, who saw management deal away some productive young players in Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels less than two weeks ago, likes the way the 23-year-old forward asserts himself, describing him to SI.com as “a bull.”

“He fits all the things we like when we identify keepers. It’s a look that we couldn’t pass up. He’s not going to have a better environment to have a legitimate chance to be a legitimate NBA player.”

That's a dub. #SIXERSWIN

That's a dub. #SIXERSWIN by philadelphia76ers

Robinson, in a story by Tom Moore for mccall.com, pointed to Brown as a reason the transition to his latest team has felt easier than one might think.

"I'm definitely more comfortable," Robinson said. "Like I said, all credit to coach. He's been talking to me every day since I've been here and just pretty much making me believe we're on the same page I and we think I am as a player."

The 76ers have 22 more games to play this season (and no playoffs). For Robinson, this qualifies as an open audition, because he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I know what I can do,” Robinson told SI.com. “I’m just keeping it simple here: rebound, defend, get to the open spots. Energy and toughness is my game. That’s who I am as a player right now.”

By the time the 2015-16 season begins, odds are Robinson could be in his fifth NBA uniform, far away from Philly. It’s easy to envision him as a complimentary role player on a solid playoff team that needs a rebounder who will get after it when his name is called.

Don’t forget, though, if Robinson does move on, there will be another KU product making an impact in the City of Brotherly Love next season.


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


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These guys again: No. 20 West Virginia

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) is defended by West Virginia guard Juwan Staten (3) after Ellis caught a long pass from Jamari Traylor in an attempt for a last-second shot at the end of the Jayhawks 62-61 loss game against the West Virginia Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105  in Morgantown, W.V.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) is defended by West Virginia guard Juwan Staten (3) after Ellis caught a long pass from Jamari Traylor in an attempt for a last-second shot at the end of the Jayhawks 62-61 loss game against the West Virginia Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105 in Morgantown, W.V.

Odds are you vividly remember what happened the last time Kansas and West Virginia squared off. Feb. 16 wasn’t that long ago, after all.

The final seconds, in which the Mountaineers’ Juwan Staten scored a layup on one end of the floor and the Jayhawks’ Perry Ellis missed one on the other end, received a lot of attention. But West Virginia’s ability to dominate the offensive glass and create Kansas turnovers throughout proved even more important for Bob Huggins’ squad.

In a 62-61 WVU win, the Mountaineers scored 15 second-chance points off 22 offensive rebounds. — Again, 22 offensive rebounds. — Plus, Kansas gave the ball away 14 times, and West Virginia capitalized by scoring 17 points off turnovers.

West Virginia thrived by doing what it does best. Now the question is: Can the Mountaineers replicate that at Allen Fieldhouse? Statistics indicate those specific set of skills travel well.

According to TeamRankings.com, WVU leads the nation in opponents’ turnover percentage: 28.2%. In away games, WVU opponents have turned it over on 28% of their possessions.

What’s more, WVU retrieves 38.7% of available offensive rebounds — that ranks 8th in the nation. On the road, the Mountaineers get 37.6%.

The tricky part for the No. 20 Mountaineers (22-7 overall, 10-6 Big 12), though, could be maintaining their typical style, aggressiveness and effectiveness without a key piece or two.

Huggins said Monday starting guards Staten and Gary Browne are “day-to-day” with injuries. Staten hurt his knee against Texas and Browne suffered an ankle sprain against Baylor.

Without both of those guys, beating No. 9 Kansas (23-6, 12-4) might prove impossible. WVU lost by 12 at Baylor without Staten and Browne (played just 3 minutes).

Now, as a refresher, here are the Mountaineers KU has to hold back in the final week of the regular season, as the Jayhawks try to clinch their 11th straight Big 12 championship outright.

MOUNTAINEERS STARTERS

No. 3 — Juwan Staten, 6-1, senior G

West Virginia guard Juwan Staten (3) jumps through the Kansas defense for shot during the Jayhawks game against the West Virginia Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105  in Morgantown, W.V. Staten led W.V. with 20 points and scored the winning basket in the game.

West Virginia guard Juwan Staten (3) jumps through the Kansas defense for shot during the Jayhawks game against the West Virginia Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105 in Morgantown, W.V. Staten led W.V. with 20 points and scored the winning basket in the game.

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 20 points, 9/18 FGs, 2/3 3s, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 steal in 32 minutes

Will West Virginia’s best player be available at Kansas? We might have to wait until just before Tuesday’s 8 p.m. tip to find out.

If he suits up and is close to 100%, Staten gives WVU its best shot at pulling off an upset. The Big 12’s preseason Player of the Year has scored 20 or more points in three straight games vs. Kansas.

In 14 Big 12 games, Staten has averaged 13.1 points and 5.0 assists, made 10 of 29 3-pointers (34.5%) and hit 40.8% of his field goals overall. He also gets to the foul line with regularity, but has made just 53 of 86 free throws (61.6%).

hoop-matth.com update: Look for Staten to go one-on-one and take 2-point jump shots. 48.4% of his attempts on the season qualify as such, and while he connects on 41.3% of them, only 10 of his 62 makes have come via a teammate’s assist.

No. 5 — Devin Williams, 6-9, sophomore F

Kansas guard Frank Mason III and West Virginia forward Devin Williams (5) struggle for a loose ball Monday, February 16, 2105  in Morgantown, W.V.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III and West Virginia forward Devin Williams (5) struggle for a loose ball Monday, February 16, 2105 in Morgantown, W.V.

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 8 points, 4/7 FGs, 4 rebounds (1 offensive), 3 assists, 2 TOs, 1 steal in 26 minutes

In WVU’s first meeting with the Jayhawks, KU actually did a nice job of negating his presence on the offensive glass, but his teammates more than made up for Williams only grabbing 1.

Williams has cleaned the glass well in the Big 12, averaging 8.9 bards to go with his 11.4 points and 46.2% shooting. He averages 2.7 offensive rebounds a game.

The big man gets to the foul line for 4.9 attempts a game in the league, and he shoots 69.9%.

— hoop-math.com update: Given his size and rebounding ability, it’s surprising that Williams only takes 47.1% of his shots at the rim. He gladly takes jumpers from the baseline and elbows. His 34 put-backs on the offensive glass don’t even lead the team.

No. 14 — Gary Browne, 6-1, senior G

West Virginia guards Chase Connor, left, and Gary Browne, center, surround Juwan Staten (3) at the end of the Mountaineers 62-61 win over the Jayhawks Monday, February 16, 2105  in Morgantown, W.V. Staten scored the final basket for the win.

West Virginia guards Chase Connor, left, and Gary Browne, center, surround Juwan Staten (3) at the end of the Mountaineers 62-61 win over the Jayhawks Monday, February 16, 2105 in Morgantown, W.V. Staten scored the final basket for the win.

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 6 points, 1/6 FGs, 1/2 3s, 3/4 FTs, 3 rebounds (1 offensive), 2 TOs, 1 steal in 24 minutes

Another starting guard described as “day-to-day,” West Virginia could really use one of its better 3-point shooters at Allen Fieldhouse.

In Big 12 games, Browne has knocked down 16 of 48 3-pointers (33.3%). That’s not outstanding, but he has made the second-most 3s on the team in conference.

Browne averages 8.6 points in the league on 38.9% shooting from the field.

On the season, he has made 26 of 72 from 3-point range.

— hoop-math.com update: More likely to shoot jumpers than attack the rim, Browne makes 35.9% of his 2-point jumpers — the range where 26.4% of his attempts comes from. He doesn’t live there as much as he does downtown, but if you can force him there it is to your benefit.

No. 1 — Jonathan Holton, 6-7, junior F

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 5 points, 2/3 FGs, 1/2 FTs, 9 rebounds (6 offensive), 1 assist, 1 TO, 1 block, 2 steals in 22 mintues

One of many players to destroy KU on the offensive glass just more than two weeks ago, Holton might not have scored much himself, but his 6 offensive rebounds set a tone for WVU’s win.

In Big 12 play, 52% of his rebounds come on the offensive glass, and he averages 5.1 boards a game, while scoring 5.3 points and making 41.1% of his shots.

Holton is coming off a performance of 7 offensive rebounds (10 total) at Baylor, where he scored 7 points.

— hoop-math.com update: More than any of his teammates, Holton operates at the rim, where he takes 64.5% of his shots and makes 61% of those looks. He has 46 put-backs via the offensive glass to lead WVU. 29.7% of his shots at the rim are a result of his rebounding.

No. 4 — Daxter Miles Jr., 6-3, freshman G

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre, Jr. (12) goes out of bound battling for a ball with West Virginia guard Daxter Miles Jr. (4) during the Jayhawks 62-61 loss game against the West Virginia Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105  in Morgantown, W.V.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre, Jr. (12) goes out of bound battling for a ball with West Virginia guard Daxter Miles Jr. (4) during the Jayhawks 62-61 loss game against the West Virginia Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105 in Morgantown, W.V.

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 2 points, 1/5 FGs, 0/3 3s, 3 rebounds (1 offensive), 1 assist, 0 TOs in 15 minutes

The freshman has struggled with his shooting in the Big 12:

  • 38-for-97 FGs, 39.2%

  • 14-for-49 3s, 28.6%

  • 11-for-21 FTs, 52.4%

With Staten and Browne unavailable at Baylor, Miles scored 11 points (4-for-9 shooting, 1-for-5 from 3) and dished 5 assists.

That came after a 12-point, 5-steal showing in a win vs. Texas, in which Miles hit 4 of 8 shots and 2 of 4 from 3-point range.

— hoop-math.com update: Only 11.7% of his shot attempts have been 2-point jumpers. He only shoots 19% from that range, and rightfully prefers scoring at the rim (39-for-71) or taking 3-pointers.

MOUNTAINEERS BENCH

No. 2 — Jevon Carter, 6-2, freshman G

None by WVSports.com

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 13 points, 4/8 FGs, 3/5 3s, 2/2 FTs, 6 rebounds (4 offensive), 1 assist, 1 TO in 29 minutes

We told you before the game at WVU to watch out for this guy off the bench. But who knew he’d kill it on the offensive glass, too, with 4 boards on that end of the floor?

Carter might get a chance to make an even bigger name for himself if Staten and/or Browne can’t play. One of those scenarios would make him a starter, and even more critical to the Mountaineers’ offense.

He started at Baylor and basically became Juwan Staten Jr., scoring 25 points on 7-for-13 shooting from 3-point range. — That is correct. Carter made 7 3-pointers his last time out. — He took 16 shots and 13 came from behind the arc.

While WVU’s style forces teams to turn it over more often than usual, Carter really forces things as a defender, with a team-leading 28 steals in Big 12 play.

In conference, Carter averages 9.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. Plus, the young guard has made 39.4% of his shots, 40.5% of his 3s and 84% of his free throws.

— hoop-math.com update: Third on WVU in FG attempts, most of those come from 3-point range (58%), but Carter also finds his way to the paint, where he converts 58.6% of his shots at the rim (34-for-58).

No. 00 — Jaysean Paige, 6-2, junior G

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 3 points, 1/2 FGs, 1/2 3s, 1 rebound (on offense), 3 TOs, 1 block in 6 minutes

He only averages 12.7 minutes in the Big 12, but those obviously could go up depending on the health of WVU’s backcourt.

Paige has made 13 of 41 3-pointers in the league and averages 4.7 points.

— hoop-math.com update: A catch-and-shoot guy, each of Paige’s 28 3-point makes this season has come off an assist.

No. 11 Nathan Adrian — 6-9, sophomore F

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) drives past West Virginia forward Nathan Adrian (11) to give the Jayhawks a late 61-60 lead against the Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105  in Morgantown, W.V. West Virginia scored the final basket to defeat KU 62-61.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) drives past West Virginia forward Nathan Adrian (11) to give the Jayhawks a late 61-60 lead against the Mountaineers Monday, February 16, 2105 in Morgantown, W.V. West Virginia scored the final basket to defeat KU 62-61.

— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 2 points, 1/7 FGs, 0/4 3s, 4 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 assist, 0 TOs, 1 steal in 17 minutes

A big man who spends time on the perimeter on offense, Adrian has taken 2.0 3-pointers a game in the Big 12. Unfortunately for WVU, Adrian has made 5 of his 32 tries.

With a 25.4 field-goal percentage to boot, he averages only 2.8 points in the league.

— hoop-math.com nugget: He’d probably be better off getting more looks at the rim, but Adrian is a big guy who likes to jack 3-pointers (that’s where 56.3% of his shots come from). At the rim, he converts 65.4% of his attempts. But only 25.2% of his shots are taken there.

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