Entries from blogs tagged with “Jayhawks”

ESPN analysts Dick Vitale, Seth Greenberg reveal national-title picks

ESPN commentator Dick Vitale has some fun with the Kansas student section prior to tipoff against Florida on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

ESPN commentator Dick Vitale has some fun with the Kansas student section prior to tipoff against Florida on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

ESPN college basketball analysts Dick Vitale and Seth Greenberg shared interesting takes on the impact of new rules and offered their midseason picks to win it all during a joint conference call Wednesday.

The former Div. I coaches agreed that the new emphasis on existing rules translate to offense winning championships.

“If you think about all the freedom of movement . . . you think about the five-second call, you think about you can’t bump cutters, you think about you can’t tag rollers, you think about you can’t body guys off screens, the rules are basically set up for offense.”

Vitale agreed: “I think it is definitely a scenario where the scoring has become dominant.” Vitale mentioned four schools — Villanova, UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina — on his way to singling out the one he thinks has the best shot to win it all.

Greenberg mentioned three — UCLA, Villanova and North Carolina — before zeroing in on his pick.

“We’ve got the real scrutiny and a watch on Villanova,” Vitale said. “Can they pull a Florida? Can they go back-to-back? Initially, I would have said no, but I’m not so sure saying no now.

They’ve got a bunch of winners with (Josh) Hart, (Kris) Jenkins and Brunson. Those kids know how to win. They make threes so well. They’ve got a star player (Hart).”

Vitale called UCLA’s resurgence "incredible" and then discussed the Jayhawks.

“Do they ever lose? Fifty-two in a row at home,” Vitale said. “Everybody talks about Baylor. People are talking about West Virginia now in the Big 12. You’ve still got to go through Lawrence, man. You’ve got to go through Lawrence, and Bill Self to me, nominated for the Hall of Fame, I hope he gets in because he’s so deserving for his achievements.”

And then Vitale revealed his choice to win the 2017 national title.

“The team that I think, if they just make a (defensive) commitment, which I think they’re going to do, I really do, and they’ve got enough bodies, they’ve got enough talent, they’ve got enough coaching, I’m going with the team in Chapel Hill. I’m going North Carolina. ... I’m going Tar Heels all the way. Chapel Hill.”

Greenberg interjected: “You’re looking for a rematch, coach, like the football game.”

Greenberg then said that although it's difficult to pick against defending national champion Villanova and runner-up North Carolina, he likes another team even better.

“I just think the way the rules are right now, UCLA is poised to be that type of team," Greenberg said. "They have a dynamic leader, obviously, in (Lonzo) Ball. They’ve got great shot-makers. They’ve got depth up front. They’ve got six starters.”

The Bruins, who play some of their games when most of America sleeps, have six scorers in double figures, led by coach Steve Alford’s son Bryce (17.8 points per game) and two players close to averaging a double-double: T.J. Leaf (16.8 points, 8.9 rebounds) and Ball (14.6 points, eight assists).

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Stock watch: Josh Jackson’s shooting could impact draft position

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Even the greatest players on the planet have their flaws. That’s what makes debating one man’s on-the-court value versus another’s a fundamental element of basketball discussions. For star Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, his strengths are numerous and his imperfections, while scarce, are obvious.

Jackson, who turns 20 in February, is a 6-foot-8 perimeter player with a 6-9.75 wingspan, who can handle the ball, attack the glass, see the floor like a point guard and play — both offensively and defensively — in the stratosphere above the rim. Throw in a competitive streak coaches love and you’re looking at a Jayhawk bound to be taken near the top of the 2017 NBA Draft.

In fact, Jackson might be considered a lock for the No. 1 spot after one season at KU if it wasn’t for his glaring deficiency: shooting.

As the game of basketball keeps evolving, NBA franchises are placing increasing value in the power of the 3-pointer. In his 18 appearances in a Kansas uniform, shooting from behind a 3-point arc that stretches out 20 feet and 9 inches from the basket — closer than The Association’s, semi-circle, which stretches out to 22 feet in the corners and 23-9 up top — Jackson has connected on only 23.7% of his attempts.

KU coach Bill Self didn’t recruit Jackson for his shooting, so it’s not an emphasis for his stud freshman. Plus, the Detroit native is in a bit of a 3-point funk. Jackson very well could start connecting in KU’s upcoming games against Texas and West Virginia and see his season percentage begin building toward a more respectable number, but he has only made four 3’s in the previous 11 games — a stretch in which the freshman is shooting 19% from deep. He’s 2-for-12 (16.7%) in his past five outings.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts up a three over Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts up a three over Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It’s at the free-throw line where Jackson’s shooting struggles have been more problematic. Often, Jackson is too long and powerful for a defender trying to stay in front of him or compete for a rebound, so he draws a lot of fouls. But he has only capitalized on 57% of his free-throw tries.

Jackson’s inconsistencies as a shooter at the college level likely are making a moderate impact on his NBA draft stock — though because he’s so talented and shooting is a skill that can be refined, it’s borderline unfeasible to see him dropping out of the top five. So when we say Jackson’s stock is taking a hit, it’s all relative to the top few spots in the draft.

Back in October, before Jackson made his Kansas debut, in mock drafts posted by Draft Express, Bleacher Report, NBADraft.net, Hoops Hype and Fan Sided, his average position was 2nd overall. Two-and-a-half months later, Jackson’s position has slipped in each site’s projections and he averages out as the 4th pick.

- DraftExpress: No. 4 pick

- BleacherReport: No. 5

- NBADraft.net: No. 5

- HoopsHype: No. 5

- FanSided.com: No. 2

If you’re looking for potential reasons for the slight dip, Jackson’s 9-for-38 3-point shooting (23.7%) and 53-for-93 success rate (57%) at the free-throw line stand out.

In a draft that will heavily feature freshmen and perimeter prospects at the very top, Jackson’s shooting numbers lag behind those being posted by some of his competition, such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. — all point guards.

Name Pos. Ht. School Games
3 pt. made-att. (pct.) FT made-att. (pct.)
Josh Jackson SG/SF 6-8 Kansas 18 9-for-38 (23.7%) 53-for-93 (57%)
Markelle Fultz PG 6-4 Washington 17 31-for-75 (41.3%) 73-for-109 (67%)
Lonzo Ball PG 6-6 UCLA 19 46-for-107 (43%) 40-for-59 (67.8%)
Dennis Smith Jr. PG 6-3 N.C. State 19 34-for-92 (37%) 94-for-127 (74%)
Jayson Tatum SF 6-8 Duke 10 11-for-36 (30.6%) 47-for-55 (85.5%)
De'Aaron Fox PG 6-4 Kentucky 18 5-for-37 (13.5%) 74-for-105 (70.5%)
Malik Monk PG/SG 6-4 Kentucky 18 54-for-133 (40.6%) 55-for-66 (83.3%)

Questions about Jackson’s shot and form have existed since he emerged as a star recruit in the prep ranks, so this isn’t necessarily unexpected. What’s more, Jackson still remains in great standing in the minds of scouts and executives in the NBA.

How many college basketball players would love to be in Jackson’s position right now? He’s got two-plus more months of games and plenty of pre-draft workouts and interviews to go through before the draft in June. And we won’t even know until after the regular season which teams will be making the picks at the top.

Jackson could very well end up going No. 1, just like former Kansas standouts Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Danny Manning (1988). An improved stroke on that jumper could get him there.

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Brtual stretch of Kansas basketball schedule starts Tuesday in Morgantown

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) tries to fight through a trap from West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) and forward Nathan Adrian (11) during the first half, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) tries to fight through a trap from West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) and forward Nathan Adrian (11) during the first half, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

After Saturday’s 1 p.m. tipoff vs. Texas ends, Kansas will have played 19 games, just one of them against a team ranked in the current Associated Press top 25 poll.

Indiana was ranked at the time Kansas opened the season against the Hoosiers but has fallen out. Duke is the lone KU opponent thus far in the top 25.

That’s another way of saying that KU will play five times as many current top 25 teams in an eight-game stretch than it played in its first 19 games.

And it’s not as if the other three games during that stretch (Iowa State at home, at Kansas State, at Texas Tech) are easy ones.

It’s not a stretch to maintain that KU’s bid for a 13th consecutive Big 12 title will be won or lost during the eight-game stretch that follows Saturday’s visit from Texas, although the visit to Kentucky doesn't count in the conference standings.

The five games vs. ranked foes (all times Central, statistics per kenpom.com):

Tuesday, 6 p.m., at No. 7 West Virginia, 6 p.m.: The Mountaineers rank first in the nation in forcing turnovers (32.7 percent of opponents’ possessions), steals (17 percent) and fourth in offensive rebounds (40.5 percent).

The Mountaineers have won the last three Morgantown meetings between the schools and are led by a trio of experienced guards in juniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles and senior Tarik Phillip. The trio combines for 6.4 steals per game and Carter leads the conference with 3.1 per game.

No other team plays quite like West Virginia, which crashes the offensive boards relentlessly and even after misses applies full-court pressure.

Saturday, Jan. 28, 5 p.m., at No. 5 Kentucky: The Wildcats rank 347th among 351 Div. I basketball programs, but they don’t play like a young team, ranking seventh in the nation in terms of ball security. Freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox (16.7 points, five rebounds, 6.3 assists) plays like a senior and is projected by draftexpress.com to go fourth in the NBA draft. Shooting guard Malik Monk (21.4 points) is projected to go seventh.

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 8 p.m., No. 6 Baylor, Allen Fieldhouse: Do the math: This will be the third game against a team ranked in the top seven in the nation in a nine-day span. The home crowd should infuse Kansas with energy, but it won’t be an easy game.

Junior forward Johnathan Motley ranks seventh in the conference in scoring (15.8) and second in rebounding (9.7) and junior point guard Manu Lecomte is terrific.

Monday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m., vs. No. 7 West Virginia, Allen Fieldhouse: The shock value to KU newcomers of playing against such an unorthodox style should be lessened in the rematch, but this is not an easy team to play anywhere, any time.

Saturday, Feb. 18, noon, at No. 6 Baylor: Kansas will have all week to prepare for the Bears, who have a size advantage.

The plot is on the verge of thickening, which promises to make what already has been a fascinating season that much more interesting.

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What are Joel Embiid’s chances of making all-star team as rookie?

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, top, dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, top, dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The more Joel Embiid plays, the more the NBA Rookie of the Year-in-waiting amazes the Philadelphia fan base and observers league-wide.

The former Kansas big man has scored 20 or more points in his previous nine starts — all while playing between 24 to 30 minutes of 48-minute-long games. Embiid even has led the Sixers, a long mocked franchise that averaged 15.7 wins a season the previous three years, to victories in six of the last seven games in which he’s played.

Since the beginning of January, Embiid is averaging 22.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, while shooting 44.8% from the floor and 81.5% at the foul line and playing 27 minutes a game. The 22-year-old center seemingly improves by the week, and his season numbers of 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, in black and white, look like those of one of the better big men in the Eastern Conference. But does the best rookie in the league actually deserve to play in the NBA All-Star Game?

Hundreds of thousands of NBA fans have answered that question in the affirmative. Voting for all-star starters closed Monday. The results won’t be announced until Thursday night on TNT’s NBA Tip-Off show (6 p.m. CT), but here’s what we do know: at last announced count, Embiid ranked fourth among East frontcourt players in fan votes. As of last week, the fans had LeBron James (1,066,147 votes), Giannis Antetokounmpo (963,110) and Kevin Love (473,328) as their East frontcourt starters. But Embiid wasn’t too far behind Love, with 457,300 votes — narrowing the margin between he and Love from the first vote count by 12,335.

Did Embiid do enough in the final week of the voting period to surpass Love and break into the top three?

None by Joel Embiid

Even if he did, that won’t automatically make him an all-star starter or guarantee him a roster spot for the Feb. 19 exhibition in New Orleans. Fan votes carry 50% of the weight in determining starting spots for the Eastern and Western conferences. The other 50% is split evenly between a select number of media who cover the NBA and the league’s current players.

Cleveland superstar James and Milwaukee’s rising star Antetokounmpo are virtual locks to start for the East. That third spot is up for grabs. It would be safe to guess many players and media would lean toward a vote for Love, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Indiana’s Paul George or New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis before they would vote for Embiid. All are more established than the rookie phenom, and the Sixers, though improved, still have just a 13-26 record.

And then there’s the matter of how much — or relatively little — Embiid has played in his first season. The Sixers wisely have kept him out of one game on either end of back-to-back dates and restricted his minutes to around 28 a night. They already spent two years without Embiid impacting their on-court product due to injury, and they want to protect their investment until they’re confident he can handle a complete role.

It’s not by his choice, but Embiid has missed 11 games and doesn’t get as much of a chance to impact games as other East stars, such as Butler (36.7 minutes a game), George (35.3), Antetokounmpo (34.7) and others.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe might have put it best on his Lowe Post podcast while discussing Embiid’s all-star case:

“I love watching Joel Embiid play. Love it. He’s unbelievable. If he stays healthy — knock on every piece of whatever material that is within arm’s length of you — he is going to be a superstar for a long time. He’s missed 10 games and he plays on a minutes restriction. He should not be in the All-Star Game.”

Already, Embiid has produced some almost unthinkable statistics for Philadelphia. Per Basketball-Reference, he’s averaging more points per 100 possessions in his first season than Michael Jordan did. As in No. 23. As in His Airness. As in The G.O.A.T.

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ESPN put out another telling stat regarding Embiid’s impact. He ranks second-best in NBA history in rookie points per 36 minutes (28.0), trailing only Kansas legend and hall of famer Wilt Chamberlain (29.2).

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Those numbers hint at Embiid’s potential for longterm greatness. However, such examples might not matter to NBA media and players, who, as Lowe pointed out, will most likely take their all-star selections far more seriously than fans, because — right or wrong — sometimes after players’ careers are over their cases for the Hall of Fame can be tied to all-star appearances. So Embiid’s array of highlight blocks and dunks might not be enough to get him in as a starter.

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If Embiid doesn’t crack the East’s starting five, he would have to secure one of the seven reserve spots, as chosen by the NBA’s coaches (results announced Jan. 26 on TNT). The same factors that will work against the rookie with players and media might hurt him even more with the coaches. Do enough of them respect Embiid as much as they do other more established players whom they’ve played against and game-planned to try and stop for longer?

Let’s say, as an example, the East starting five matches the latest fan-voting totals. The starters would be James, Antetokounmpo, Love, a third Cav in Kyrie Irving and first-year Chicago Bull Dwyane Wade. The way coaches vote for the all-star backups, they can take two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards. As mentioned earlier, Butler, Anthony, Porzingis and George would be Embiid’s competition for those frountcourt spots. And if the coaches prefer them, or perhaps even Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, landing one of the final two spots could be difficult, too.

The number of all-star caliber guards in the East is greater than the number of available reserve spots for perimeter players. If Irving and Wade start, the coaches would still have Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Washington’s John Wall from which to choose. It seems a fairly safe bet that four of those five will make it.

If Embiid isn’t a first-year all-star, he will still be a headliner in the Rising Stars Challenge (a showcase for first- and second-year players) at all-star weekend. And, let’s be honest, the way his game is progressing — or is that processing? — Embiid looks like a player who will be a no-brainer selection for years to come.

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Tracking dunks, etc., for KU basketball

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) delivers a dunk during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) delivers a dunk during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

All sorts of interesting Kansas basketball tidbits are tracked in the pregame notes distributed to the media.

Such as:

Josh Jackson has scored the team’s first points in half of the 18 games, including Monday night in Ames. Frank Mason, the team’s leading scorer, had not drawn first blood until doing so from the free-throw line in the 17th game. Others to score team’s first point or points: Devonte’ Graham four, Udoka Azubuike two, Landen Lucas and Lagerald Vick one apiece.

How KU scored first points: Jumper (five), layup (five), dunk (four), free throw (two), follow (one), 3-pointer (one).

First player off bench: Vick 13, Carlton Bragg eight, Sviastoslav Mykhailiuk five, Lucas four, Azubuike two, Mitch Lightfoot one.

Double-figure scoring: Mason (17), Jackson and Graham (15), Mykhailiuk (12), Lucas (six), Vick (four), Bragg (three), Azubuike (one).

Double-doubles: Jackson (four), Lucas (three), Bragg (one).

Twenty-point games: Mason (10), Jackson (four), Mykhailiuk and Vick (one).

Charges drawn: Graham (three), Lucas (two), Bragg (one).

Dunks: Jackson (24), Lucas (17), Azubuike (14, would have had career night vs. Iowa State), Vick (eight), Bragg (six), Mykhailiuk (four), Graham (two), Coleby (one), Lightfoot (one), Mason (one).

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Jayhawks’ mettle impressive in victory at Iowa State

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates as time expires in the Jayhawks' 76-72 win over Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) celebrates as time expires in the Jayhawks' 76-72 win over Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

No one will confuse this year’s Iowa State team with a college basketball juggernaut. The Cyclones’ lack of size ultimately undermined their chances of keeping up with Kansas on the glass or stopping the Jayhawks inside Monday night in a 76-72 KU victory at ISU.

Kansas made the most of its obvious advantages to out-rebound the home team 41-24 and out-score Iowa State in the paint, 52-28. Those qualified as the most impressive numbers of the Jayhawks’ latest win in a streak of 17. But another set of digits rank right up there: 34:09. That’s how many minutes and seconds Kansas led to close its fourth road win of the season.

As coach Bill Self referenced after his No. 2-ranked team remained unblemished in Big 12 play (17-1 overall, 6-0 conference), he expected the Jayhawks’ trip to Hilton Coliseum to be their most taxing road date yet and for the game to be one of the most difficult outside of Allen Fieldhouse this season.

KU’s previous road wins came at UNLV (ranked 194th in the nation by KenPom.com), TCU (KenPom’s No. 32 team) and Oklahoma (73rd at KenPom). Based solely on those numbers, Kansas winning at Iowa State (23rd) qualifies as the team’s best victory since defeating Duke (11th) at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November.

Iowa State (11-6, 3-3) took an 8-6 lead in front of an amped-up home crowd on a layup by Naz Mitrou-Long with 15:50 left in the first half. But one of the country’s supreme guards, KU senior Frank Mason III, scored a layup to tie the game shortly after. What followed was a Cyclones team and fan base ravenous for a home win over Kansas watching in frustration as the Jayhawks never trailed again, following a Mason 3-pointer with 14:09 left in the first half.

Kansas (ranked No. 7 at KenPom) got up as many as 10 points on five occasions, and kept withstanding the Iowa State surges that reinvigorated its antagonistic supporters in the arena. In the second half, when ISU got within four with 12 minutes left, Svi Mykhailiuk drilled a 3 and Landen Lucas scored inside, while the Jayhawks got stops on the other end.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Again, with less than four minutes to go, Iowa State carved its deficit back to four. Then, in a crucial burst, Josh Jackson, Lucas and Mason each scored a basket on three straight trips down the floor.

Ever resilient, ISU still got as close as three points twice in the final 30 seconds. And Kansas got out of Ames with a win thanks to a successful press-break that set up a Lagerald Vick dunk and a much-needed Devonte’ Graham free throw with 0:12 on the clock.

The cynic in you might say the Jayhawks need to do a better job closing out games. The realist in you should remember KU didn’t allow a solid ISU team to lead on its home floor for the final 34:09 of a hotly contested game.

Give Self and his players the credit they deserve. They didn’t allow the Cyclones to regain the lead and set Hilton ablaze with energy. This is the kind of game plenty of top-25 teams could have lost. Yes, KU has its flaws (see: 18 turnovers at Iowa State, the presence of only two bigs on the roster), but there is something to be said for a team with this kind of mettle.

Game after game, Self, his staff and the players find the areas where their opponents can be exploited. And though the competition hasn’t always been taxing (KenPom ranks KU’s non-conference schedule as 87th nationally), Kansas hasn’t walked off any court with a loss since its season-opener.

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Raimond Pendleton 1, Antonio Brown 0

In the first game of the season, punt returner Raimond Pendleton dives headlong into the endzone after running back a punt for a touchdown during the first half against Central Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007 at Memorial Stadium.

In the first game of the season, punt returner Raimond Pendleton dives headlong into the endzone after running back a punt for a touchdown during the first half against Central Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The Kansas City Chiefs kept superstar receiver/return man Antonio Brown and all of his teammates out of the end zone in Sunday’s 18-16 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but didn’t do nearly stellar a job against Brown as the Kansas Jayhawks did nine years and a few months earlier.

KU defeated Brown’s Central Michigan squad, 52-7, in the 2007 season-opener, Brown's collegiate debut and Todd Reesing's first start.

Brown averaged 18 yards on four kickoff returns, carried the ball once for 13 yards and caught four passes for 23 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per catch, against KU.

He went on to finish that season, his first of three at Central Michigan, with 1,003 receiving yards. Brown must have been relieved to discover that not all college cornerbacks covered as well as first-team All-American Aqib Talib.

Brown caught six passes for 108 yards against the Chiefs and returned two punts for nine yards.

There was a return for a touchdown in the Central Michigan-Kansas game, but it wasn’t by Brown.

Raimond Pendleton returned a punt for a TD and famously executed a memorable dive into the end zone, a dive that made such an impression on KU coach Mark Mangino that it turned him into a world-class sprinter. Mangino's feedback on the dive was delivered at such close range that he cut his lip on Pendleton's face mask.

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KU Sports Extra: An Impressive Win in Ames

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Baseline View: Jayhawks hold strong for road win in Ames

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Josh Jackson on Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris: ‘I owe him one’

Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) lofts a shot over Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and guard Devonte' Graham (4) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) lofts a shot over Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and guard Devonte' Graham (4) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Tonight won't be the first time Kansas Josh Jackson and Iowa State point guard Monte' Morris will face each other in a packed house with plenty at stake.

"Oh, I owe him one," Jackson said of Morris at Big 12 Media Day. "I owe him one. He sent me home crying when I was a freshman in high school."

Morris scored 28 points to lead Flint Beecher to a 46-44 victory against Jackson's Detroit Consortium in a Michigan Class C quarterfinal game on March 19, 2013. Morris stole the ball from Jackson, referred to as "Joshua" in newspaper accounts, with 2.9 seconds remaining to seal the victory. Jackson scored nine points in the game and a year later led Consortium to the state title.

"Monte's a great guy," Jackson said. "For as long as he’s been in college after he left high school, I still continue to talk to him. He offered me a lot of advice when I was in high school, still supported me. We still talk. We’re still friends.”

Morris was Big 12 preseason player of the year and the lone unanimous selection on a first team that included Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham of Kansas, Johnathan Motley of Baylor and Jawun Evans of Oklahoma State.

Either Frank Mason or Devonte' Graham likely will start the game defending Morris, but if KU coach Bill Self wants to give Morris a different look, it's possible he could put Jackson on him for a stretch or two. Jackson's primary assignment likely will be 6-foot-5, 250-pound Deonte Burton, an inside-outside threat who is the Cyclones' third-leading scorer (12.4) and leading rebounder (6.9).

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Villanova jumps Kansas to move to No. 1 in AP college basketball poll

Villanova guard Josh Hart pulls down a rebound between Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) and guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Villanova guard Josh Hart pulls down a rebound between Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) and guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

Villanova had a more impressive week than Kansas, which had to battle back from halftime deficits to win at Oklahoma and at home against Oklahoma State, and vaulted over Kansas to move into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press college basketball poll.

Kansas remained No. 2 and Baylor, which had been No. 1, fell to sixth. UCLA is No. 3, Gonzaga No. 4, Kentucky No. 5.

KU received 32 first-place votes, Villanova 28, UCLA three and Gonzaga two. West Virginia is ranked No. 7. Although the Big 12 has three of the nations top seven teams, no other Big 12 school is ranked. TCU received the most votes among unranked schools.

Defending national-champion Villanova crushed Xavier by 25 points and St. John's by 13 and has won three in a row since suffering its first loss, to Butler.

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KU Sports Extra: Fighting to 5-0 in Big 12 play

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Jayhawks trying to find better ways to defend paint

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) swats a shot by Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) swats a shot by Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The undersized, predominantly four-guard Kansas basketball lineup, as it has become so adept at doing this season, gathered enough rebounds inside and even blocked shots here and there Saturday while defeating Oklahoma State, 87-80. A plus-nine margin on the glass and five swats: the types of things the Jayhawks will have to continue doing to win while only playing two bigs — senior Landen Lucas and sophomore Carlton Bragg.

However, KU had less success stopping the Cowboys from getting to the paint for easy buckets. OSU converted eight layups and a tip-in while maintaining a first-half lead, then converted four more layups, two put-backs and a dunk in the final 20 minutes. All of those added up to give the visitors a 44-38 advantage in points in the paint.

It marked the fourth time in five Big 12 victories the Jayhawks (16-1 overall, 5-0 conference) were out-scored inside.

KU’s lack of an interior defensive enforcer — 6-foot-8 wing Josh Jackson leads the team with 24 blocks in 17 games — has been well documented, and head coach Bill Self referenced that as a concern even before freshman center Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist injury. So the Jayhawks know opponents want to get to the lane via drive or post-ups for high-percentage shots. Self’s players just haven’t yet totally mastered the strategies they’ll need to employ to best defend that coveted real estate near the basket.

Much like Nebraska, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma, the other teams to put up more points in the paint than KU head-to-head this season, Oklahoma State (10-7, 0-5) did so without the help of a go-to post player. Kansas keeps winning, but it has issues containing both penetration and pick-and-roll actions initiated by opposing guards.

Junior KU guard Devonte’ Graham acknowledged giving up so many interior baskets was an issue.

“The offense that they run was kind of tough to guard with the back cuts and having to guard the shooters out there,” Graham said, referencing the 3-point abilities of Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll when dynamic play-maker Jawun Evans had the ball in his hands. “So the bigs was kind of getting open on the back-screen ball screen, because it was hard to guard a back screen from the big and then come up and hedge the ball screen. So that’s where they was getting us a lot on.”

Big 12 Opponents’ Points in Paint vs. KU Points in Paint

TCU 38, KU 32

K-State 46, KU 44

Texas Tech 18, KU 30

Oklahoma 38, KU 28

Okla. St. 44, KU 38

Of late, Graham added, the Jayhawks see more teams finding ways to effectively attack their guards from the perimeter.

“There’s a lot of teams since TCU really killed us and exploited us with it, they’ve been trying to run a lot of side ball screens and have their big guys just roll,” Graham noted of ways opposing guards make things easier for their post players, too.

Six-foot-nine OSU junior forward Mitchell Solomon entered Allen Fieldhouse averaging just 4.2 points a game this season. During one second-half stretch against KU, though, Solomon scored five straight baskets for the Cowboys, all in the paint. Before he fouled out late, Solomon went 6-for-6 from the floor and put up 16 points.

“I thought he killed us on the glass,” Self said, “but he only got four rebounds and three were offensive, and two of them were back-to-back putbacks.”

It didn’t take Self long to figure out how the OSU reserve easily topped his previous career-high for points (10, versus Rogers State): “Now granted he played very well, but Evans forced help, and then our rotations were slow. So even though he benefited from some plays, I think Evans deserves half the credit on those plays.”

Evans wasn’t the first guard hellbent on attacking KU and he won’t be the last. So when Solomon talks about his teammate’s expertise, picture other KU opponents to come mimicking the sentiment and replacing the name Evans with Monte’ Morris or Jevon Carter or whomever serves as that team’s ball-dominant guard.

“If Jawun’s aggressive, there’s really not anybody, I believe, who can stop him. So if he’s doing downhill he’s gonna attract a lot of attention,” Solomon said when asked if the Cowboys thought their ability to score inside versus Kansas would be a factor. “That leaves room for offensive rebounds if he doesn’t finish, which he does often.”

First-year Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood game-planned for KU expecting the Cowboys’ 3-point shooting and the actions they run offensively to give them their best looks.

“We thought we could take them away from the rim. We felt like in our offense, there’s a lot of cutters, there’s a lot of movement, there’s a lot of weak-side opportunities,” Underwood said. “You put Landen in ball screens, force him to guard, that opens things up in the paint.”

The opposition has taken note of one of KU’s weaknesses, so the Jayhawks should expect more of the same in the weeks ahead, around the Big 12 and at Kentucky (Jan. 28).

Self identified quicker defensive rotations and recognition from his guard-heavy lineup as one way to better defend the paint.

“Whenever there’s a ball screen, or pinch-post action or handoff that occurs, everybody’s gotta jump to it. And if you go back and watch the tape, Evans made some great plays to get the ball to Solomon. But our rotations were slow,” Self said.

“Whenever you go help somebody, the natural tendency is throw the ball in the direction that the help came from,” the coach continued. “So if you’re an alert defensive player, the tendency is that, ‘Well, if I know that they’re gonna throw it here, I should be able to put myself in a position not to allow that to happen.’ And we were slow doing that.”

By the Numbers: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80.

By the Numbers: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80.

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Baseline View: Mason and Graham pull Jayhawks to victory

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Baseline View: Mason and Graham pull Jayhawks to victory

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KU football OC Doug Meacham not the only talented newcomer

Kansas will be better at quarterback, deeper at receiver, more experienced on the offensive line and armed with a dedicated offensive coordinator who does not have to spread himself think by handling head-coaching responsibilities.

It all should add up to the most high-scoring KU football team since Mark Mangino was the head coach and Todd Reesing was the quarterback.

A look at five individuals who bring the Jayhawks a different look on offense than they had during a 2-10 2016 season in which KU too often wasted strong defensive performance:

Kansas receiver Daylon Charlot soars back to get in line during team stretches at the beginning of practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Daylon Charlot soars back to get in line during team stretches at the beginning of practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

1 - Daylon Charlot: The Alabama transfer gives Kansas three receivers with big-play potential, joining Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez. Not only that, with Charlot fielding punts and kick returns, the defense will have company in giving the offense good field position. Kansas had negative punt-return yardage last season, so going from the worst in the nation to above average, a realistic expectation, indirectly will lead to many more points. His work ethic and humble attitude made him a favorite of the coaching staff during his red-shirt season.

FILE — Washington State head coach Mike Leach, left, talks with quarterback Peyton Bender during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCLA, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. Bender transferred from WSU after his redshirt freshman season, and after spending a year with Itawamba Community College, signed with Kansas football. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

FILE — Washington State head coach Mike Leach, left, talks with quarterback Peyton Bender during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCLA, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. Bender transferred from WSU after his redshirt freshman season, and after spending a year with Itawamba Community College, signed with Kansas football. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

2 - Peyton Bender: Head coach David Beaty takes great care to avoid hyping newcomers so as not to clash with his earn-it philosophy, but it's difficult for him when discussing Bender. His Air Raid history dating back to high school and ultra-quick release rank high among the traits that most excite Beaty. I'll be shocked if he doesn't win the starting job.

TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham talks to his players on the sideline in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 41-20.

TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham talks to his players on the sideline in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 41-20.

3 - Doug Meacham: He'll be calling the plays, which takes that responsibility off of Beaty's too-full plate. When the head coach runs one side of the ball, nobody with authority oversees him, not an ideal situation. Now Beaty will oversee Meacham, a big factor in TCU having its two best offensive seasons (2014 and 2015) under vastly improved quarterback Trevone Boykin. New quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley will play a big role in the offense as well.

Kansas newcomer, Charles Baldwin, 72, a transfer from Alabama, gets stretched out with the offensive line during practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas newcomer, Charles Baldwin, 72, a transfer from Alabama, gets stretched out with the offensive line during practice on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

4 - Charles Baldwin: Highly ranked juco prospect didn't do his repuation any favors in his one (spring) semester at Alabama and was tossed from the team. So the burden of proof is on him. If he brings a better attitude to spring football and summer conditioning he could become the biggest faster in an improved offensive line.

Derby senior receiver Kenyon Tabor jumps up to catch a pass in front of Free State junior cornerback Gabe del Valle during the Class 6A state semifinals on Friday.

Derby senior receiver Kenyon Tabor jumps up to catch a pass in front of Free State junior cornerback Gabe del Valle during the Class 6A state semifinals on Friday.

5 - Kenyon Tabor: At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Tabor gives the KU quarterbacks a big target and he's not just big, he's physical and blessed with outstanding hands. No reason the Derby High standout can't make a big contribution from the start of his career.

Woodland off to strong start in Hawaii

Gary Woodland follows his drive off the 17th tee during the first round of the Sony Open golf tournament Thursday in Honolulu.

Gary Woodland follows his drive off the 17th tee during the first round of the Sony Open golf tournament Thursday in Honolulu.

Former Alabama golfer Justin Thomas, 23, became the youngest golfer to break 60 in a PGA tour event when he fired an 11-under 59 in Thursday's first round of the Sony Open. Fresh off his victory in the Tournament of Champions, Thomas is being pursued by, among others, former Kansas golfer Gary Woodland, who shot a 6-under 64 to put himself in an eight-way tie for fourth heading into today's second round.

Woodland tees off at 4:10 p.m. Central time and Golf Channel will cover the event from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Woodland ranks 50th in the Official World Golf Rankings.

A check of the play-by-play detailed on pgatour.com reveals that the three longest putts Woodland made in the opening round came on back-to-back-to-back holes, all of which he birdied. Woodland teed off on No. 10 and hit putts of 36 feet, 11 inches, 20 feet, four inches and 9 feet, 7 inches on holes 12 through 14.

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In KU’s search for eighth man, energetic Mitch Lightfoot most likely candidate

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets a bucket past Emporia State forward Garin Vandiver (34) and guard Jevon Taylor (21) during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets a bucket past Emporia State forward Garin Vandiver (34) and guard Jevon Taylor (21) during the first half, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Ideally, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self says, he would like to implement an eight-man rotation this season — something Self was able to do before freshman center Udoka Azubuike suffered a season-ending wrist injury.

On the perimeter, the coach has all the help he needs in Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick. But down low, Self would love to trust either Mitch Lightfoot or Dwight Coleby enough to have them support Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg. The coach just is not there yet.

“I would like nothing more than for those guys, for another big, to give us seven to 10 minutes a game — I think that would be very good for our team,” Self said. “Neither one of them are quite ready to do that.”

On the year, Lightfoot, a freshman forward from Gilbert, Arizona, is averaging just 4.1 minutes, 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds. Through four Big 12 games for Kansas (15-1 overall, 4-0 conference), though, the 6-foot-8 backup has only got off the bench in two games and played four combined minutes.

Earlier this week at Oklahoma — after Bragg picked up two first-half fouls and Self wanted to protect Lucas from picking up a second foul before halftime — Lightfoot entered the game, missed a shot, and committed one foul and one turnover in one minute before Self took him out of the game and decided against putting him in again.

At that point, Self gave Coleby, who had yet to play a minute of Big 12 basketball, a shot. The 6-foot-9 junior, who transferred to Kansas from Ole Miss, grabbed a defensive rebound, got whistled for setting an illegal screen and returned to the bench for good after playing two minutes.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) wrestles for a ball with UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) wrestles for a ball with UNLV forward Cheickna Dembele (11) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. by Nick Krug

The coach wanted to see, on the road with his team struggling at the time, if either Lightfoot or Coleby could give the Jayhawks what they needed.

“And in that little stretch there, it was a really bad stretch,” Self said. “And it wasn't all on them, but coincidentally (the Sooners) were in the game, so they didn't get a chance to play as much.”

So what would Self like to see from either Lightfoot or Coleby (averaging 1.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 5.6 minutes — and just 10 appearances — this season) that would inspire him to utilize one of them more?

“I would say just being able to carry out defensive assignments and play smarter. There are some things, like Mitch — I want to play Mitch — and he got in the game the other day. It's not that it's that complicated, but we're ball screen defense, in what we call 32. And, you know, he forgot to hedge a ball screen,” Self explained. “The guy just went and made a layup. And you can't have that. It's an easy play. And I think it's not that he can't do it. It's just that he gets excited right now and he's trying too hard.”

KU’s veteran big man, Lucas, knows exactly what his coach is talking about when Self references Lightfoot’s enthusiasm. The senior can’t help but laugh when he thinks about how the freshman’s exuberance manifests itself at practices, where Lightfoot is most involved on the court.

“An example of this is he says everything he’s doing. We’ll be at practice and we’ll joke with him, ‘You don’t have to say, OK, breathe now. Blink.’ Something like that,” Lucas shared. “He says ‘ball fake,’ just everything. It just shows how much he’s trying, which is good. You want guys to try.”

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a bucket by teammate Frank Mason III during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a bucket by teammate Frank Mason III during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. by Nick Krug

It appears Lightfoot is more likely than Coleby to become the eighth man Self wants, because of his activity and athleticism. Coleby, the coach says, still hasn’t fully recovered to the form he showed at Ole Miss, prior to tearing his ACL in late 2015.

“I do think that Mitch has a chance to be a really good player,” Self said. “He’s an athlete, he’s tough. But right now, he’s got to be able to take the practice and do the things that the team needs him to do in the short minutes that he’s in there. And he’s just been a little bit inconsistent with that.”

Lucas, who sees the work Lightfoot and Coleby put in behind closed doors, thinks both have the ability to make a positive impact for KU this season.

“Mitch and Dwight are great bigs. (At) most schools they’re playing a lot. I have a ton of faith in them. They’ve just gotta understand what they can come in and do well for our team during those short periods of time. It took me a while, too. It’s not easy,” said Lucas, who played just 4.9 minutes a game as a redshirt freshman during the 2013-14 season. “You kind of get out there and expect, you start thinking, ‘OK, maybe I’ve gotta make a couple shots to stay in the game for longer or prolong my time,’ but that’s not how it works, you know. If you want to go out there and stay out there, everybody else around you has to be better — the team has to be better — and you have to extend the lead or come back, whatever the case is.”

Self thinks Lightfoot will perform better once the coach can put the freshman in a game and keep him in for extended minutes — a scenario that could play out the next time Kansas builds a significant second-half lead.

Lucas envisions his young teammate improving, too, by making the best use of his feistiness.

“But the next step is, all right now, concentrate that on the right things, don’t overthink things,” Lucas said. “It’s better, I’m sure, as a coach, to pull a player’s excitement and stuff back than try to do it the other way. So he has the right mindset when he goes out there, he has the right energy. Now it’s just kind of making sure that he’s understanding and focusing in on what he needs to do and channel all that energy in the right places.”

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Lucas remembers Obama visit, previews OSU

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Write your very own Frank Mason captions

Seemingly almost as quick as Frank Mason himself, Nick Krug manages to get his lens in the path of the action with amazing consistency. He also gets to write the cutlines, or as we amateur photographers like to call them, captions.

Without Nick's permission, I have swiped some of his photos and wrote my very own captions. I'm sure you can do better on most of them — highly doubtful on Nos. 5 and 6 — so give one or all a shot and I will declare a winner for each photo caption. Your prize? Bragging rights.

No. 1

These guys have no clue what I'm about to do to them.

These guys have no clue what I'm about to do to them. by Tom Keegan

No. 2

A quarterback is a quarterback no matter the sport.

A quarterback is a quarterback no matter the sport. by Tom Keegan

No. 3

You can knock him down, but when he gets back up he will kick ... your ... team into the loss column.

You can knock him down, but when he gets back up he will kick ... your ... team into the loss column. by Tom Keegan

No. 4

Frank Mason sits atop college basketball world in all 50 states, not just Kansas.

Frank Mason sits atop college basketball world in all 50 states, not just Kansas. by Tom Keegan

No. 5

Mitch I'm, Mitch I'm Frank Mason.

Mitch I'm, Mitch I'm Frank Mason. by Tom Keegan

No. 6

Mitch he's, Mitch he's Frank Mason.

Mitch he's, Mitch he's Frank Mason. by Tom Keegan

No. 7

Stay right there, Lando, I've got this.

Stay right there, Lando, I've got this. by Tom Keegan

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Ryan Willis’ decision to transfer was inevitable

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In what is sure to go down as the least surprising development of the offseason for Kansas football — even beating out the departure of former offensive coordinator Rob Likens — quarterback Ryan Willis announced Wednesday he is transferring out of the program.

The only mystery surrounding the next step of Willis’ college career was when he would reveal it and where he would go next. As it turned out, the two-year Jayhawk from nearby Bishop Miege chose Virginia Tech the week before the start of the spring semester at KU.

The notion that the QB’s days in Lawrence were numbered became clear months earlier, after head coach David Beaty decided to move on from Willis as a starter.

The first four weeks of the 2016 season, Willis bounced on and off the field, trading spots with Montell Cozart behind center. After that two-quarterback experiment failed, Beaty handed the offense over to Willis ahead of a home game against TCU. The Jayhawks nearly pulled off an upset victory in a 24-23 loss during Willis’ first start as a sophomore (he also started the final eight games of 2015 as a true freshman), and he threw for 348 yards against the Horned Frogs. However, he also threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and took six sacks in a winnable game.

The following week, at Baylor, went much worse. Again, Willis tossed three picks, and he only completed 10 of 19 passes for 89 yards. The Bears sacked him four times, and the Kansas offense didn’t score until late in what turned out be a 49-7 loss. Plus, KU’s lone touchdown came with Willis watching from the bench.

Willis never threw another pass for Kansas after that Baylor loss. Beaty went back to Cozart as the starter the following week — though that didn’t work either. By the time another switch came and redshirt freshman Carter Stanley took over at QB, it was easy to envision Willis, who still has two years of eligibility left, moving on. Once Beaty got junior college QB Peyton Bender, formerly of Washington State, on board and referenced him as a player who would push Stanley for the starting job, why would Willis even want to stay?

Beaty’s version of the Air Raid offense and Willis just didn’t fit. This isn’t to say Willis won’t play well at Virginia Tech if given the chance. He is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, has a strong arm, and is faster than one might anticipate when he runs. As evidenced by the sacks he took, Willis didn’t have the benefit of playing for a dominant offensive line and he probably held on to the ball too long at times, hoping for something other than a quick pass to the sideline to develop.

He needed a change and he got one at a university that, unlike Kansas, is known for football success.

Willis wasn’t going to become the quarterback who turned the KU program around, but he tried his best to do so while he was in Lawrence. Ultimately both sides can move on now, which is the most important aspect of it all.

Beaty and QB coach Garrett Riley can focus on developing Stanley, Bender and 2017 redshirt freshman Tyriek Starks for the coming season.

Realistically, four quarterbacks is too many, barring a series of unfortunate injuries. Willis knew that and left KU behind. Smart decision.

The next question is: will another similarly inspired Bishop Miege alum, Cozart, leave the quarterbacks room for another position for his senior season at Kansas? Spring football isn’t too far away and Cozart said a year ago he was open to switching spots if the staff needed him to. We shall see.

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