Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 105-62 victory over UMKC on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Jayhawks scored a season high and shot lights out while doing it. Came within one make of tying a school record for three-pointers and watched four players score in dobule figures in an easy victory.
The Jayhawks gave up a few too many easy looks in the first half and allowed UMKC to shoot 53 percent from three-point range in the first half. But the Jayhawks clamped down from the start in the second half and made life miserable for the Roos, inside and out.
Carlton Bragg, Udoka Azubuike and Landen Lucas all showed glimpses of improved play. But they also showed enough that frustrated their head coach for him to have freshman Mitch Lightfoot in the game in the first half. The big man project is still a work in progress, but the Jayhawks looked inside to Azubuike a bunch and appear to be trying to get him comfortable in the post.
A career-high tying 30 points for Frank Mason and 27-of-37 shooting from the floor for the four guards who started. So, yeah. Pretty good night.
Sviatoslav Mykhailuk, Bragg, Lucas and Lightfoot all brought pretty good effort even if their statistics weren’t spectacular. Beyond that, Self was able to empty his bench on a night when he picked up career win 600. Playing those guys at the end, no matter how well they do, always helps the bench grade.
It was a big weekend in the Big 12 Conference, with the still-unbeaten Baylor Bears knocking off No. 7 Xavier and Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad picking up a huge road victory at No. 6 Virginia.
That and more in the latest edition of This Week in the Big 12.
• It’s never too early to start building your resume for March and the Baylor Bears have done just that. At 8-0, Scott Drew’s team not only sits at No. 4 in the latest AP Poll (one spot behind Kansas), but also already has recorded victories over some big time teams — Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, VCU and, of course, Xavier.
The Bears’ win over Xavier on Saturday (76-61) featured a 24-point night from Miami transfer Manu Lecomte, a 5-foot-11 junior guard who has taken over the reins at PG for Drew’s team. Through eight games, Lecomte is averaging 14 points and 5 assists per night, but, more importantly, has brought a leadership presence that the Bears definitely needed in the backcourt.
With upcoming games against Southern, Jackson State, John Brown College and Texas Southern, the Bears should easily take a 12-0 record into Big 12 play and, at this point, definitely appear to be KU’s No. 1 challenger for the 2016-17 Big 12 title.
To that end, the Bears also have the advantage of not having to face the Jayhawks until February, which could make the Feb. 1, Big Monday match-up in Lawrence and the Feb. 18 rematch in Waco games to circle on this year’s Big 12 calendar.
• The schedule for 6-1 West Virginia is not nearly as impressive as Baylor’s, top to bottom, but that changed a little on Saturday, when the Mountaineers walked into No. 6 Virginia’s home arena and ended a 24-game homecourt winning streak.
So frustrated were the UVA fans about the outcome that many of them began filing for the exits with more than 30 seconds to play and their team down just five. That’s the kind of spoilage that a 24-game homecourt winning streak can have on a place, so it’s possible that Huggins’ crew did the Cavs fans a favor.
As it typically does, West Virginia is getting by on the strength of its defense, but the Mountaineers’ offense also has been solid. Balance has been the key for Huggins’ attack, with six players averaging 8 points per game or more so far this season.
• It started as a cute little story, with TCU alum Jamie Dixon returning to coach his alma mater and ripping off four straight victories in his homecoming. But those wins were against St. Thomas (Texas), Alabama State, Jacksonville State and Illinois State. Not exactly the powerhouse programs of college basketball.
Since then, the Dixon returns to TCU story has turned from cute to cool, as the Horned Frogs have ripped off four more victories and sit at 8-0 through the first month of the season.
Although TCU’s schedule has not included the same names that Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas have played (and beaten), it’s not a complete joke either.
In addition to a road win against UNLV in the Global Sports Classic, a scheduling quirk delivered back-to-back wins over Washington and freshman phenom Markelle Fultz. The first came in the title game of the Global Sports Classic and the second in Fort Worth. Both were by double digits and both, no doubt, gave the rebuilding Frogs a boost of confidence.
TCU plays at SMU Wednesday night and then will not face another stiff challenge until Dec. 30, when it opens Big 12 play at home against the Jayhawks.
• It’s hard to say exactly what’s gone wrong so far — or if it’s too soon to start to panic — but Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era in Austin, Texas, is off to a rough start.
After racing out to a 3-0 start with wins over three nobodies, the Longhorns dropped three straight to Northwestern, Colorado and Texas-Arlington, the last bringing out the feeling of frustration around the program.
Texas responded with a nice win over Alabama and will play four more tough opponents before the start of Big 12 play, including a pair of KU foes, UAB and Long Beach State.
The Longhorns are 4-3 with five non-conference games to go before opening Big 12 play with K-State. If they can get to 8-4 heading into the match-up in Manhattan, it’s likely they’ll have righted the ship.
If not, the non-con struggles and a Big 12 slate that features four road games in the first seven — including back-to-back at Baylor and Kansas — and all four Big 12 teams that are currently ranked could make for a dangerous start for Smart.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-74 victory over Stanford on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
A low turnover total, terrific transition numbers and a great percentage from the floor and even better mark from three-point range. Easy A, approaching an A+.
Stanford shot 50 percent in the first half and big man Reid Travis had his way with the Jayhawks down low. KU’s defensive intensity went up tremendously in the second half, when Stanford shot just 34.6 percent from the floor.
Landen Lucas returned from injury and played with a good spark in the first half. But his struggles returned a little in the second half and Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike remained inconsistent. You know the final stat line for Stanford big man Travis (29 points, 9 rebounds, 19-of-22 at the FT line) will not sit well with KU coach Bill Self.
Devonte’ Graham was sensational, Frank Mason was right there with him and Josh Jackson did his thing, as well. Probably could copy and paste that sentence for every one of these the rest of the way. KU’s guards were red hot from three-point range in this one, as well.
Svi hit a couple of threes and Lucas did a nice job in the first half. Other than that, though, not a lot to write home about from the bench on a night when Dwight Coleby fouled out in just seven minutes.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 91-61 victory over Long Beach State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks hit 9 of their first 14 three-pointers and 14 of 26 for the night. Beyond that, KU was insanely good in transition and shared the ball so well. There were a couple of ill-advised shots and a few too many turnovers (19) but this was a solid A effort.
KU limited LBSU to 40 percent shooting, forced 15 turnovers and used those turnovers to create transition offense. But the 49ers scored a few buckets right at the rim and shot 42 percent from three-point range.
Udoka Azubuike played hard, played aggressive and played a lot. Carlton Bragg Jr. did not, picking up two fouls in the first 1:13 he was on the floor. Bragg came around in the second half and played much harder — not necessarily much smarter — and Dwight Coleby gave a few decent minutes, as well, on a night when Landen Lucas did not play.
Throwing star of the game Lagerald Vick into the backcourt mix certainly did nothing to hurt the Jayhawks in this one. Vick was great from minute one and Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, who combined for 20 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds in 28 & 29 minutes apiece, did everything they could to keep his flow going.
Svi knocked down a few jumpers and Bragg played a strong second half. Other than that, the bench did not provide much to write home about.
Welcome to the first edition of our This Week in the Big 12 blog, a short and sweet conference notebook of sorts that keeps tabs and catches you up on what’s going on with the teams that KU will play 18 games against to close the 2016-17 regular season.
We’re not going to go into great depth here nor is this going to be overly analytical. That may change when Big 12 play gets rolling, but, for now, we’ll keep this merely to observations and interesting happenings from around the Big 12 Conference.
Although this seems like it’s going to be a down year for the Big 12, there are still plenty of intriguing teams and interesting talents that make the conference worth keeping up with. Besides, you never know when a team or player is going to explode out of nowhere and become a true challenger to KU’s streak of 12 straight Big 12 titles.
Speaking of becoming a challenger, let’s get to right to it...
• Don’t look now, but Kansas has company in the Top 10 of this week’s AP Poll. Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears, which have raced out to a 6-0 start, checked in at No. 9 this week and even received one first-place vote.
The reason? The Bears made it through a murderer’s row type of week, knocking off No. 24 Michigan State by 15 one day and then topping No. 10 Louisville, 66-63, one day later to claim the Battle for Atlantis title. That, after already owning a victory over then-No. 4 Oregon earlier in the season.
Baylor did not receive a single vote in either the AP or preseason coaches’ poll before the year began. But the Bears are getting plenty of love now.
Baylor plays No. 7 Xavier on Dec. 3, but if it can navigate that game, the Bears stand a great chance to take an unbeaten record into Big 12 play. Their strong start has been due mostly to the big time play of Jonathan Motley and a better-than-expected defense.
• Speaking of defense, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad lived up to its “Press Virginia” nickname on Monday name by forcing a school-record 40 turnovers in a win over Manhattan.
The Mountaineers, who have been playing this specific frantic style for the past three seasons now, turned opponents over 28 percent of the time in Year 1, 25 percent of the time last season and are sitting at a whopping 35 percent of the time this season. That’s hard to even comprehend.
So let’s say you’ve got a game where each team has 80 possessions. The Mountaineers are either taking the ball from you or forcing you to cough it up on 28 of those possessions. And that’s on average. Incredible stuff and a clear sign that the Mountaineers, currently sitting at 4-1 and ranked No. 25, will be a legitimate challenger in the Big 12 this season.
My favorite part about WVU’s 40-turnover night? That had to be Huggins’ response. “I thought we did a pretty good job,” he said.
• The only other Big 12 team currently ranked is No. 19 Iowa State, whose only blemish in a 5-1 start was a tough and dramatic loss to No. 11 Gonzaga in the final of the Advocare Invitational in Atlanta, 73-71.
Outside of that game, the Cyclones have not truly been tested and have been a bit of a mixed bag so far this season. They knocked out Miami, Florida, by 17 but also barely squeaked by Indiana State by two in the Advocare semis. Beyond that, ISU has had games where they’ve scored big — 130 and 113 are their season-highs — and games where they’ve been stuck in the 70s.
So clearly, Year 2 of the Steve Prohm takeover is still a work in progress, but give the ’Clones credit for using their veteran backcourt to get out to a great start.
• I didn’t think it was possible for a building to seem more lifeless and empty than the Sprint Center when UAB played George Washington last week before KU’s match-up with Georgia. But then I saw highlights from the K-State-Boston College game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and realized I was wrong.
That place was empty, but that didn’t bother the Wildcats, who rolled to a 72-54 victory.
That’s something the Wildcats have done more than a little of so far this season. The Wildcats’ five victories so far this season have come by an average of 20 points and KSU might very well still be undefeated itself if not for allowing a layup to Maryland’s Melo Trimble with 6.6 seconds to play in the championship game of the Barclays Classic.
• It’s still early, but nobody in the Big 12 has gotten off to a disastrous start. The conference, as a whole, opened the day with a 49-9 record and featured two unbeatens (Baylor and TCU are both 6-0) and just one team with two losses — Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.
With the big fella slated to start his second consecutive game for the 5-1 Kansas men's basketball team, KU coach Bill Self has been fielding an increased number of questions about 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike during the past week or so.
But few questions have resulted in better answers than the one Self gave Monday when he was asked if Azubuike reminded him of anyone from the past.
“Shaq in the movie Blue Chips would be the only one," joked Self, with laughter filled the room around him. "You know, just dunk it. And if you go back and watch it, there’s a lot of similarities. But that would be the only thing that (Azubuike) reminds me of.”
That character from the 1994 movie starring Nick Nolte was named Neon Boudeaux. And like Azubuike, whenever Neon got anywhere near the rim, he rose up and tried to bring it down.
It was a bit hokey in terms of sports movie standards, but left nothing to the imagination about the impact of a player of Neon Boudeaux's caliber, which Shaq, of course, delivered on the NBA stage for the better part of nearly 20 NBA seasons.
Azubuike, of course, is just getting his career started. Still incredibly young (17) and raw, the Nigerian already has reached the point in his KU career where his improvement comes in bunches and shows up big time on the big stage. That's not to say he has moved past the point where he can make silly mistakes or forget an assignment here or there. But whether you're talking about conditioning, knowledge of the game or execution on the floor Azubuike is growing fast and Self continues to marvel at some of the things he can do.
“His skillset isn’t one that’s gonna leave you going crazy," Self said. "But what is unbelievable is how quick he is off his feet and how long he is and how big he is and how well he moves.”
Asked what Azubuike's ceiling could be during his time at Kansas, Self had no problem pencilling him in between two very concrete categories.
“He’s not Joel (Embiid)," said Self, almost offended that anyone might even consider thinking that. "Not close. But he does have a chance to be as good as any big man we’ve had here that I’ve coached other than Joel.”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 95-57 victory over UNC Asheville at Allen Fieldhouse on Friday, Nov. 25.
The Jayhawks were fast, efficient and relentless on offense, with four players finishing in double figures, including both first-time starters Lagerald Vick (15) and Udoka Azubuike (17). Frank Mason continued his torrid start by leading all scorers with 21 points.
The Jayhawks limited Asheville to 36 percent shooting and destroyed the Bulldogs on the boards, 49-23. The minus comes for forcing just 8 turnovers.
Coming off the bench, Bragg and Lucas did a better job of going after the ball on the glass, finishing with nine combined rebounds. Add that to the monster night turned in by Azubuike and the KU frontcourt finally gets a passing grade.
Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson did what they tend to do and Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk contributed, as well, for this deep and talented KU backcourt.
Normally, big nights from Azubuike and Vick would mean good things for the KU bench, but with those two starting, that made the bench look a little different. Lucas, Bragg and Svi were good at times but also had their share of bonehead moments.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 65-54 victory over Georgia in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on Tuesday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
At this point, this team’s offense is coming from its four guards, so if you’re grading on that kind of a scale and not expecting much from the KU big men, you can’t give the offense anything other than an A. We'll throw in the minus for the poor contributions from KU's frontcourt and Svi's off night shooting the ball.
Foul trouble forced KU to try a 2-3 zone for much of the night and Georgia’s cold shooting allowed the Jayhawks to stay in it. It’s not the defense of choice for anyone in crimson and blue, but the fact that they don’t like it and don’t practice or play it often is reason enough to give it a solid grade considering how well it worked.
To give the KU frontcourt an F would be a discredit to junior Dwight Coleby, who got the most out of his body and his minutes and, according to Self, “bailed out” KU’s bigs. So give Coleby a solid B or B+ and give the rest of the bunch an F. That equals a D on the final grade sheet.
Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson were more than just all-tournament team selections. They were awesome. They play so fast, so hard and so well together.
Lagerald Vick played with great effort, gave some good minutes and finished with solid numbers (9 points and 8 rebounds) and Coleby came in and played well beyond what anyone would’ve expected from him. Svi (1-of-7 from the floor in 23 minutes) and Udoka Azubuike (next to nothing in five minutes), left more than a little to be desired.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Georgia
- Perimeter-oriented attack carries KU past Georgia
- Keegan: Mason outplays height once again
- Notebook: Coleby steps up to contribute inside
- Report Card: KU 65, UGA 54
- Coleby surprises father with nice gift — playing time
- Keegan Ratings: Mason delivers another big night
Well, that was a first.
After setting the college basketball world on fire during the first couple of weeks of the season with big time performance after big time performance, Kansas senior Frank Mason III finally surrendered his spot as the Jayhawks’ top scorer, giving way to freshman Josh Jackson, who led everyone with 22 points in KU’s 83-63 win over UAB at Sprint Center in the CBE Classic.
Surpassing Mason wasn’t easy, though.
The 6-foot-8 freshman needed every one of his monster dunks and timely free throws to outscor his senior teammate, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three-point range.
Mason, who entered Monday’s game averaging 23 points per night, led Kansas with 30 points vs. Indiana, 21 points vs. Duke and 18 points in the home opener against Siena.
While his 20-point night against UAB certainly keeps him in line with those strong performances, it also prompted one media member to ask KU coach Bill Self about Mason’s role as more of an “unsung hero” on this Kansas team.
Self saw it differently.
“It’s really, really nice,” said Self said of having someone as steady as Mason running his team. “But I don’t think he’s an unsung hero. He was National Player of the Week, so I don't see him being unsung at all. I know he’s not in our mind. I know everybody in our room understands and appreciates his value.”
If there’s one area in which Self would like to limit Mason, it’s playing time. Although he loves having his tough-as-nails point guard on the floor as much as possible, Self also recognizes the importance of keeping him fresh and not wearing him down.
There’s more to it than that, though.
“I do think we need to limit his minutes,” Self admitted. “To let other guys play better, we’ve got to limit his and Devonte (Graham’s) minutes.”
Despite the Jayhawks winning by 20 points on Monday, Mason played 35 minutes against UAB and, as he always seems to do, took a couple of hard shots and hit the floor more than his share of times.
Late in the game, Mason tumbled to the ground and stayed down for a few minutes, grabbing his lower right leg before getting up and heading to the bench. Self said after the game that Mason was fine and did not need any kind of special treatment.
Although Mason has yet to play fewer than 35 minutes in a game this season, that clearly has not hurt his production.
As much as Self would like to rest Mason more, and as much as Mason might benefit from it, don’t expect it to happen all that often. The senior from Petersburg, Virginia, has been a workhorse for this team for three seasons and it’s hard to imagine him surrendering that role now during his final season of college basketball.
Mason and the Jayhawks will take on Georgia (3-1) at 9 p.m. tonight in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic championship game at Sprint Center.
• — For a preview of what to expect in tonight's match-up, join our Gameday Chat with Matt Tait to talk KU-Georgia. Submit questions early or join the live chat at 2 p.m. central time. — •
Because the Kansas men’s basketball program is a perennial title contender, claims the Big 12 crown like it’s a birth right every season and wins games at an alarmingly high rate, it has become easy for many backers of Kansas athletics to focus most, if not all, of their attention on the hoops program that brings more smiles than frowns.
Doing so takes time and, intentionally or otherwise, has allowed a good chunk of the fan base to overlook the goings on of other KU teams, even in sports as big as football, baseball and volleyball.
That’s kind of just the way it goes around here. And, because the football team has struggled so mightily during the past seven seasons, dismissing fall football and pining for basketball season to be a year-round passion hardly even gets a second thought from those who are doing it.
I’ve often wondered what it would take — outside of winning, of course — for the fan base to be more all-inclusive and, on Saturday, I may have found my answer.
Saturday was a monster day for Kansas athletics and more than a few people noticed. The Jayhawks knocked off Texas at Memorial Stadium in thrilling fashion, picking up the football program’s first win over UT since 1938.
A few hours earlier, KU’s volleyball team clinched the Big 12 title, adding yet another chapter to the awesome run by Ray Bechard’s squad during the past few seasons. And KU also enjoyed high-level success in cross country and swimming.
In short, there were no shortage of reasons to be proud to be a Jayhawk on Saturday and some of the most high-profile Jayhawks on the planet were happy to point that out.
One of them even included a cool hashtag that I hadn't seen before: #ISupportAllJayhawks
If these guys can show up and get behind the other programs at Kansas, you can’t help but wonder what kind of impact that could have on the rest of the Kansas fan base.
Can’t hurt, right?
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 86-65 victory over Siena in the home opener Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks were so good in transition and really responded to Siena’s threats with some big buckets when they needed them, but again struggled from three-point range (3-of-12) and the free throw line (17-of-26). KU did shoot 57 percent from the floor overall.
If you just watched how many times Bill Self rubbed his temples in frustration after watching his team miss an assignment, you might’ve given them an F. But if you looked at Siena’s 37 percent shooting from the floor you’d probably go higher. KU recorded 10 blocks, five coming from Landen Lucas.
Carlton Bragg had a great night, but his two running mates (Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike) struggled, scoring just 7 points and grabbing 8 rebounds combined.
There were times when the KU guards were outplayed by Siena guard Marquis Wright. But they always seemed to answer when they needed to, they got a big time game from Lagerald Vick and there were just so many of them.
Vick carried the grade for the bench, as Azubuike played just seven minutes and Svi gave Self at least seven headaches.
It's rare that a coach can comment on a player as soon as he commits, but in the case of five-star forward Billy Preston, who announced Friday on ESPNU that he would play his college basketball at Kansas, that was exactly the way it went down.
The reason? Even though Preston revealed his decision on Friday, he actually had made up his mind much sooner.
Preston told Matt Scott, of TheShiver.com, that he knew Kansas was the place for him a week or 10 days ago. That allowed him to sign his official letter of intent in the early signing period, which ended Wednesday, even though he waited for the national television audience to announce his choice.
All of that allowed KU coach Bill Self to offer his thoughts about the No. 8 player in the 2017 Class according to Rivals.com. And it's clear that Self thinks the Jayhawks landed a good one.
"Obviously, we are very excited," Self said in a press release. "I don't think we've ever had the opportunity to coach a taller, more athletic, skill player than Billy. He has guard-type athletic ability and skills but, at 6-foot-10, he can be a force inside as well. We are thrilled to have Billy joining our basketball program."
Preston said his connection with Self and KU assistant Kurtis Townsend played a huge role in him picking the Jayhawks and Self said Townsend worked hard to land the Jayhawks' second commitment in the 2017 class.
"Coach Townsend was the point man and did a great job with Billy and his family," Self said. "I think what actually sold them was on his official visit he saw the interest level and the love our fans have for our players."
With senior big man Landen Lucas struggling so far this season, to the tune of 13 points, 8 rebounds and 9 fouls in just 49 minutes in KU’s first two games, the natural tendency of the KU fan base is to look to the bench to see who might be able to do better.
Add to that the fact that freshman center Udoka Azubuike was one of the top performers and a key part of KU’s Champions Classic win over No. 1 Duke on Tuesday night and the looks from the fans start to become less exploratory and more insistent.
Two games in to this 2016-17 season —and Azubuike’s college career — I already have heard all kinds of people ask if Azubuike should be starting in Lucas’ spot.
I don’t blame them for the inquiry. Azubuike has a ton of potential and his style of play is exciting. Beyond that, fans are gonna fan. But that’s why they’re fans and not head coaches making millions of dollars per year to run the program.
The man in charge of doing that, KU’s Bill Self, is not anywhere near ready to sit Lucas in favor of Azubuike and it’s because there’s so much more that goes into playing that spot — or any spot — for the Jayhawks than Azubuike even knows at this point.
Factors such as conditioning, IQ, experience and others all play into how much — and how quickly — Azubuike can have handle a bigger role on this team. Lucas is a pro in all of those areas and, as we saw last season, has a way of making things better for the other four players on the floor even if his numbers aren’t jumping off the page while he’s out there.
So the right move for fans wanting to see more of Azubuike is to pull for him to develop but not at the expense of Lucas’ minutes. Lucas will be fine. And Azubuike will get better. Perhaps quickly. But the whole thing is a process and one Self is just fine with thus far.
“No, probably not ahead,” said Self when asked if Azubuike’s early production had surprised him. “I don’t think he’s behind. He’s about what we thought. I think he’s improving so much so quickly and I think we thought that would happen so I’d say he’s right on schedule of what we thought he’d be.”
One thing that could change that is if he takes his performance against Duke — 6 points, 12 rebounds in 15 minutes — and uses that to springboard his development. I asked Self the other day if he thought playing that well against a team of that caliber could end up delivering 4 or 5 games worth of confidence and experience for the freshman big man and Self supported that thought.
“I think so,” he said. “I think he learned a lot. Conditioning’s important and he got tired. He’s worked his tail off conditioning, but he’s got another step he can take there. Offensively, all our bigs are too slow to catch, gather and go. They’re allowing small guys to basically become a defender on ’em. He’s gotta get better at that. As far as going after balls, he may have knocked some guys over to get ’em, but he went after some balls the other day that were pretty impressive.”
It's another big day for KU on the recruiting trail and, depending on how you look at things, the Jayhawks seem to be due for one of these to go their way.
Oak Hill forward Billy Preston, the No. 8 ranked player in the 2017 class according to Rivals.com said on Twitter earlier today that he was going to make his decision/announcement between 3-4 p.m. central time and it will be televised on ESPNU.
Sources have said that KU feels pretty good about their chances with Preston, who was one of several visitors at Late Night in early October.
Should Preston — 6-9, 220 pounds — pick the Jayhawks, they would be getting a versatile forward with power and the potential to deliver guard type skills from the position, as well.
Preston is down to KU, Syracuse, USC and Indiana and recently broke down all four schools with HoopPhenomReport.com:
On Kansas: “Coach Self and Coach Townsend are both great coaches. I couldn’t say anything bad about them because they have been recruiting since my 8th grade year. All through adversity, they still stayed with me through the process and the coaches want me to come there and play my game.”
On Syracuse: “Coach Jim Boeheim is a legend. He’s one of the greatest coaches to ever do it and you really can’t turn that down. Coach Autry has also been great to me since he’s my main recruiter up there and he tells me that there has been many guys like me that have been successful there and that I could be next.”
On Indiana: “Coach Crean is a great coach. He coached Dwyane Wade at Marquette. He really focuses on player development and I think as a player you don’t have any limits when it comes to developing and I think overall he could be a great coach for me.”
On USC: “It’s home. I’ve known Coach Enfield and Coach Hart since my 8th grade year and they have stayed loyal to me all throughout this process. Just like Kansas, I couldn’t say anything bad about them… I love those guys.”
Stay tuned to KUsports.com later today for coverage and reaction from Preston's decision.
While many local Kansas basketball fans were rejoicing over the Champions Classic being televised on ESPN and not one of the handful of early-season games that KU fans have a difficult time getting through their cable systems, a good chunk of the rest of the world was watching the game online.
I'm sure several KU fans went this route, too, but regardless of the demographic make-up, KU's 77-75 victory over No. 1 Duke on Tuesday night set a record for ESPN's online streaming services.
The streaming audience of 83,000 average viewers per minute made KU-Duke ESPN’s most streamed men’s college basketball game of all-time, topping last year’s Kentucky-Duke Champions Classic game, which drew 78,000 steaming viewers per minute.
According to ESPN, the total live audience for the game, which includes television viewers and the streaming audience, topped 2.4 million, up 28 percent from last year's KU-Michigan State game, which drew a combined audience of 1.9 million.
For comparison, the first game of Tuesday's Champions Classic doubleheader, No. 2 Kentucky’s 68-49 win over No. 13 Michigan State, picked up a total live audience of 2.15 million viewers, including a streaming audience of 67,000 average viewers, making that game one of the top five largest men’s college basketball regular season streaming games on ESPN.
The two Champions Classic games combined had a streaming average minute audience of 76,000 viewers, up 21 percent from the 2015 event.
The Champions Classic is owned and operated by ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, and recently signed a three-year extension to play the event through 2019.
With the way people are watching their sporting events changing by the day, with more people abandoning cable and going with online streaming services, the numbers figure to continue to rise into the future, as consuming games in this manner, be it at home on the couch or on the go on a tablet or cell phone, certainly seems to be a sign of the times and a legitimate part of the college sports experience.
New York — There’s so much that goes into the Champions Classic year after year, but that’s especially true when the game is played in New York City at Madison Square Garden.
The hype goes up a level or two, the stage is a little bigger and brighter and the outcome, good or bad, seems to carry the weight of more than a single victory.
That was just one of the benefits KU received from Tuesday’s, grind-it-out, 77-75 victory over Duke that came when Frank Mason III drilled a pull-up jumper with 1.8 seconds to play to give the Jayhawks’ the victory.
The fact that Kansas beat Duke clearly meant a lot to the team and the fan base, as it would any day of the week, any time of year. But the fact that the Blue Devils were ranked No.1 in the nation when this one came only added to the excitement surrounding it.
No one in Jayhawkland is walking around today believing that this win was as good as bringing home a national championship. But you can’t blame them if it helped validate all of those dreams they’ve had all offseason about this being the team that could bring another title back to Lawrence.
Say what you will about Duke being short-handed — although, to the Blue Devils’ credit they said nothing about it — but this Kansas victory was big time and for more than just evening the record at 1-1 and helping the Jayhawks avoid an 0-2 start for the first time in more than 40 years. KU gained confidence, proved itself as a legit national title contender with a couple of big time players and also got enough from some of its young-and-still-developing players to put a serious boost into the hope and expectations for what guys like Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick and others can be, perhaps sooner rather than later. In short, coming off of a tough Indiana loss in a game the Jayhawks probably should have won, this was the perfect answer for this team at this time.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Frank Mason’s a boss. All offseason, people wondered who would lead this team in scoring. And the options were many. Some said freshman Josh Jackson, others picked Devonte’ Graham and a few others even said Carlton Bragg. I was in the Graham camp. Shame on me. And shame on the rest of us. Mason is this team’s heartbeat, and, better than anyone on the roster, he has the ability to rise up to meet any challenge and deliver. The fact that he can do it in multiple ways — with the drive, with the jumper, on defense, etc. — only makes him seem like more of a bad man. It’s still early and Mason might not end up leading this team in scoring, but I wouldn’t bet against it at this point.
2 – Let’s give Bill Self a little credit for handling the substitutions brilliantly. It can’t be easy to put guys in and pull guys out in search of some kind of rhythm and survival when fouls are being called at a record pace. But just about every button Self pushed worked out perfectly. He benched guys with two fouls, reinserted them even with they had four fouls and found enough of a way to create enough continuity and good energy on the floor to help Kansas pull this one off. The players themselves, of course, get some of the credit for this, but overlooking Self’s role in it and just how difficult it can be when the whistles are blowing like they were, should not be done.
3 – Carlton Bragg’s coming. He’s still got a long way to go, looks slow and lost too often on defense and still could stand to be tougher, but his last two games — against big time competition — have been far better than his first two against exhibition foes. That’s good news for the Jayhawks. Not only did Bragg put together a decent night against Duke on the offensive end (9 points on 3-of-5 shooting, 3-of-4 from the free throw line) but he also made a couple of his biggest plays in absolute crunch time. One was a baseline jumper with the shot clock winding down and the Jayhawks fighting to hold Duke off. And the other was a big boy rebound on the defensive end, where he went up with authority and ripped it out of the air. He finished with five boards and needs to play more like that and worry less about his offense, but it sure looks like it’s coming.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU has to get better guarding the ball. Duke’s guards are terrific — as were Indiana’s — and there were a few times where the Jayhawks locked down on the perimeter. But there were still far too many times when the Blue Devils blew right past their men and got the rim for easy buckets. Self said the Jayhawks need to be better playing with their heads and their feet on the defensive end and the next few weeks should offer an opportunity to get there and feel better about it. But, if nothing else, this early season test has shown the Jayhawks that they absolutely need to become better one-on-one defenders if they want to contend at the highest level with the top teams.
2 – Landen Lucas is laboring. Maybe it’s the injured foot, maybe it’s the new rules emphasis, maybe it’s the new team and figuring out how the pieces fit. But Kansas needs him. I posted a blog earlier today that said there’s no reason to panic about Lucas’ start, but if there’s one area that is a concern here it’s that it looks like it’s bothering him. I don’t remember seeing Lucas look at the officials after no-calls or tough contact plays as much as last year and, to me, that’s a sign of a guy who’s battling through something — in this case a sore foot — and looking to get a little help to get through it. It’ll come. And Lucas will figure it out. But this team cannot reach its ceiling without him.
3 – Self talked about it after the Indiana game and it’s still a little bit of an issue. The Jayhawks pick some weird times to take some awful shots and have a little bit of poor shot selection plaguing them right now. Luckily for Kansas, the big time scorers on this team have it figured out and rarely jack up bad shots. But the other guys taking those bad shots takes an opportunity away from the front-line guys to take good ones, which only compounds the problem. Again, it’s early, but that’s among the biggest areas of this team’s offense that needs to be cleaned up.
Kansas’ wild road trip from Lawrence to Hawaii, on to New York and back to Lawrence is over and the Jayhawks will host Siena at 7 p.m. Friday in their home opener. The opponent and the venue both will be welcomed for this team that has to be a little exhausted, physically and emotionally.
— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Duke during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
More news and notes from the win against Duke
- Fearless Frank: Mason drills game-winning shot for 77-75 win over No. 1 Duke
- Tom Keegan: KU’s bench delivers big punch during win against Duke
- Notebook: Jackson ‘sparked’ Jayhawks in second half; KU-Stanford create series
- Duke’s Krzyzewski on Kansas: ‘They’re really good’
- The Keegan Ratings
- Matt Tait's postgame Report Card
For the fifth season in a row, it looks as if Kansas big man Landen Lucas is going to have to spend some time figuring out exactly what his strengths are, what he does well and where he fits into this Kansas team.
And it’s not his fault.
Because Lucas, the 6-foot-10 forward from Portland who finished the 2015-16 season as one of the most consistently solid players on one of the country’s best teams, played so well down the stretch a year ago, the belief among many Kansas fans was that he was bound to pick up where he left off and build on that strong junior season.
And if Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Brannen Greene and Cheick Diallo all were back as a part of Bill Self’s rotation, Lucas may have done just that.
But this is a different team, one with different strengths and weaknesses, and it looks as if it’s going to take Lucas — and just about everyone else for that matter — a little bit of time to find out exactly how he fits and what his role is with this bunch.
Searching for those answers against the likes of Indiana and Duke to kick off the season only magnified the process that lies ahead. Had KU opened with a couple of patsies, Lucas likely would have performed much better and looked a lot more like the player he was as a junior. But the fact that he hasn’t is not necessarily a bad thing for him or the Jayhawks.
Lucas is arguably the smartest guy on this roster and he, perhaps more than anyone, goes to work throughout each day by studying himself as much as he studies opponents. Getting the opportunity to face two Top 10 teams out of the gate will expedite his opportunity to learn what he’s all about with this year’s squad and there’s no doubt in my mind that the lessons he learned in the two high-profile games to start the season will serve him well along the way and late in the season, when he thinks back on what went right and what went wrong in order to prepare for similar opponents on other big stages.
It’s not as if Lucas has a notebook he keeps on the bench and he jots down little nuggets and tidbits into it along the way. But it would not surprise me for a second if he had one in his dorm room.
Let’s also not forget that Lucas has been dealing with a sore foot that may very well be worse than any of us realize. It’s hard enough to battle against these types of teams and players at full strength but being asked to do that when you’re dealing with an ailing foot — kind of an important body part for a basketball player — certainly can impact your effectiveness and confidence.
I haven’t noticed too much wincing or pain in Lucas’ body language in the first two games and neither he nor Self are the types to blame the foot for Lucas’ slow start. But you have to consider that it has played a role, perhaps a big role.
Regardless of what’s been ailing him and the slower than expected start that Lucas has gotten off to, you can’t convince me for a second that this is the type of season the KU big man is going to have. He’s too smart, works too hard and cares too much to limp to the finish line.
Having to prove himself in the face of a little adversity has been a staple in Lucas’ KU career and it looks as if, with one season of college basketball still left to play, he’ll have to do it one more time. Count on him getting it done.
— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Duke during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
More news and notes from the win against Duke
- Fearless Frank: Mason drills game-winning shot for 77-75 win over No. 1 Duke
- Tom Keegan: KU’s bench delivers big punch during win against Duke
- Notebook: Jackson ‘sparked’ Jayhawks in second half; KU-Stanford create series
- Duke’s Krzyzewski on Kansas: ‘They’re really good’
- The Keegan Ratings
- Matt Tait's postgame Report Card
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 77-75 victory over No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night in New York City.
Kansas shot 51 percent for the game, including 61 percent in the second half, and nearly hung 50 on the Blue Devils in the second half. This would have been an easy A — and possibly an easy win — if Kansas had hit better than 2-of-17 from three-point range and 9-of-19 from the free throw line.
The Jayhawks were good when they had to be and great at times, but still let the Blue Devils drive the ball to the rim and into the paint way too easily and also missed some opportunities to close out to three-point shooters. Beyond that, they committed several silly fouls. But they cleaned up the rebounding and forced 16 Duke turnovers.
Udoka Azubuike was a beast and gave this team 15 big minutes. Landen Lucas struggled with foul trouble yet again and only grabbed one rebound and Carlton Bragg, though clutch with a couple of buckets late, still looked passive too often and lost at times.
The three best players in the game for Kansas were the Jayhawks’ starting backcourt and one of them hit the game winner. Enough said.
As noted above, Azubuike was big off the bench for the Jayhawks on a night when they needed him, but so, too, were Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. The two bench guards combined for 11 points and seven rebounds in nearly 30 minutes a piece and were ultra aggressive attacking the rim as both scorers and rebounders.
New York — The Kansas basketball program’s 1-4 record in the Champions Classic, which resumes tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where Kansas will face No. 1 Duke at 8:30 p.m., hardly comes as a surprise when looking at some of the individual statistics in the showcase from some of the top players on this year’s squad.
Before finally breaking through with a victory over Duke in Chicago early in the 2013-14 season, the Jayhawks opened the six-year old classic with back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Michigan State in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Two players from this year’s team — seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas — played in KU’s lone victory at the event and they enter this year’s showcase game as two of the most experienced players on such a stage for either squad.
But experience does not make for good numbers and neither Mason nor Lucas has fared particularly well in this event during their Kansas careers.
Mason, who played 23 minutes as a true freshman in that win over Duke, is just 8-of-31 from the floor in three career Champions Classic games. He has played an average of 30 minutes per game and has recorded what would be considered impressive numbers in just two categories during that time — free throw shooting and rebounding.
Mason is 20-of-24 all-time from the free throw line in this event and also recorded a respectable five rebounds during last season’s six-point loss to Michigan State in Chicago. If there’s a silver lining surrounding Mason’s Champions Classic numbers, it’s that they have improved with each season. What’s more, he is by far the most accomplished Jayhawk on the current roster in the season kick-off classic.
Asked this week what he remembered most about the Jayhawks’ win over Duke during his freshman year — this was the game that former Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins sealed with a transition dunk — Mason pointed to the obvious.
“I don’t remember much,” he said. “I just remember that we got the win. That was the most important thing. I think we played pretty well on the defensive end. We limited them to not too many second-chance shots and played pretty well on the offensive end.”
Like Mason, Lucas has appeared in each of the past three Champions Classic games, while junior guards Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have played in the previous two. But none of them have approached the kind of minutes Mason has logged. Lucas has played just over 23 career minutes while Graham played 38 a year ago but just 14 the year before and Mykhailiuk has tallied a total of 35 minutes in his two games in the high-profile event.
Carlton Bragg Jr. — 4 points and 1 rebound in 11 minutes in last year’s game — is the only other Jayhawk on the current roster to have experienced this stage.
As a group, that foursome has combined to score 18 points on 6-of-29 shooting in all of those previous appearances. And of those 18 points, nearly a third came from the free throw line.
If the Jayhawks hope to tip their Champions Classic fortune to a more positive outcome, it’s going to take much better efforts than any player on the roster has given in this event to date, veterans and newcomers alike.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self warned before the Jayhawks’ season-opener in Honolulu that KU would be in trouble if they did not defend Indiana’s three-point shooters.
Sixteen makes and 48 percent from three-point range later, the Hoosiers dropped KU to 0-1 on the season with a 103-99, overtime battle in the Armed Forces Classic.
Self and senior guard Frank Mason both admitted that part of the Jayhawks’ struggles against the three-point shot was that Indiana shot out of its mind and hit some very tough shots and incredibly clutch times. But that did not eliminate the fact that both believed the Jayhawks could defend better and Self said, yet again, that they better Tuesday night against No. 1 Duke in New York City.
“We’re capable of being a very good shooting team,” Self said. “But Indiana and Duke aren’t teams you probably want to get in a HORSE contest with and I think sometimes they can kind of goad you into that. They hit a three and you want to match it on the other end.”
That happened at times against the Hoosiers and Self said it easily could happen again against the Blue Devils, given the enormous stage, magnitude of the game and desire to right what went wrong in the opener.
“They’re about as good a shooting team as we’ll play all year,” Self said of 2-0 Duke. “We may play the best two shooting teams that we’ll play all year in the first two games. We didn’t do a great job defending Indiana and we’ve gotta be a lot better getting to the three-point shooters against Duke.”
One way to do that, according to Self, is to make Duke’s sharp-shooters work when they don’t have the ball.
“We need to do some different things to kind of create less rhythm for them offensively,” Self said. “And sometimes you can do that when you have the ball and make them guard you on the defensive end.
“You want to give the defense a chance to break down,” he continued. “The other thing is, when you’re in the bonus or double-bonus, a lot of times you’re bailing out the defense by not making them guard, especially when they’re calling it close. You want to put pressure on officials to make calls and the best way to do that is to put pressure on the other team to have to guard the ball.”
Self and No. 7 Kansas will face No. 1 Duke a little after 8 p.m. Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic.