Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

Are you ready for more madness?

Shutterstock image of basketball brackets

Shutterstock image of basketball brackets

Already with a game scheduled for Feb. 11 — 1 p.m. at Texas Tech — the Kansas men’s basketball program and its fans now have another reason to circle that date on their calendars.

Are you ready for more madness?

You better be, because starting this year, the NCAA is going to start cranking up the hype on arguably the greatest sporting event on the planet a few weeks earlier.

Using the model put forth by college football, the NCAA will look to capitalize on the excitement of a little extra buzz and a lot of good, old-fashioned debate, when they unveil the tournament’s Top 16 seeds, as they stand that day, during what’s being dubbed a Bracket Preview Show at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 11 on CBS.

NCAA men’s basketball chairman Mark Hollis will join Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis in studio to discuss the top 16 seeds as well as the reason for creating this show that will air 29 days before Selection Sunday.

“We are excited about giving the fans a glimpse to what the men’s basketball committee is thinking at this point of the season, and creating a buzz as we look toward Selection Sunday,” Hollis said in a press release. “It’s important to recognize after this list has been released there is still a significant portion of the regular season to be played and every league must stage its conference tournament. There’s potential for quite a bit of movement until we do it for real March 12, but this early peek will give everyone insight as to where the committee stands as we hit the stretch run of the regular season.”

In many ways, this concept is nothing new. Various bracketologists, including ESPN’s Joe Lundardi, have been tracking the tournament’s entire field for years, generating hype and excitement about which teams will be sent where, who’s in, who’s out and which teams are on the bubble.

This new concept will be an extension of that, but also will come with some added credibility in that the selection committee chairman will be both leading the way and discussing things as they stand that day.


Jayhawks poised to attack ‘Press Virginia’

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) is fouled by West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) on the shot during the second half, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) is fouled by West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) on the shot during the second half, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

There have been a lot of discussions, questions and inquiries during the past couple of weeks centered around the strategy for playing against West Virginia’s press.

But now that the deck has been cleared and the second-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team (18-1 overall, 7-0 Big 12) has made it, unscathed in conference play, to its first meeting with Bob Huggins and his Press Viriginia bunch, it’s time to take a look at what the Jayhawks have learned.

By far the most interesting thing I heard about how teams strive to attack the WVU press came from KU coach Bill Self — go figure! — who provided a rather matter-of-fact look at how turnovers happen against West Virginia.

There are, Self said, basically two types of turnovers that the WVU press can create. The first, live ball turnovers, are those that lead directly to points for the Mountaineers and inspire the home crowd to get fired up.

The second, dead ball turnovers, are the type that WVU opponents prefer to see.

“You're going to turn it over against West Virginia,” said Self, whose Kansas teams have averaged 16 turnovers per game in the last nine meetings with the Mountaineers, six wins and three losses. “We talk about that, but they can't be live ball turnovers. You'd rather throw it out of bounds so your defense can get set rather than having numbers coming back at you.”

The timing of the Jayhawks’ next meeting with the Mountaineers — 6 p.m. Tuesday at WVU — leaves a little to be desired from a Kansas perspective. For one, the Mountaineers (15-4, 4-3) are returning home on the heels of back-to-back losses, including last weekend at Kansas State, and, for two, the Jayhawks have struggled to take care of the ball during the past couple of games, committing 18 turnovers at Iowa State and 16 in a home win against Texas.

It wasn’t the number as much as the type of turnover that left Self frustrated.

“That’s two games in a row where we, for no reason, just turned it over,” Self said of his team’s unforced errors. “I don’t think you can look that good when you turn it over that much.”

In the most recent game, however, Kansas was at least able to get most of those turnovers back, swiping a season-high 14 steals from Texas in the 12-point win. That defensive intensity and mindset was a breath of fresh air for a Kansas team that has faced plenty of defensive challenges so far this season.

And KU senior Frank Mason III said the high number of steals that resulted from them turning up the pressure proved Self right in one area.

“Coach tells us all the time you don’t even have to play good defense, sometimes if you’re in the right spot the other team will just throw you the ball,” Mason emphasized.

That concept, attacking the attacker, figures to be a point of emphasis for the Jayhawks against the Mountaineers in Morgantown and their success in that department could go a long way toward determining the outcome of the game.

History has shown that teams who play tentative against the WVU press tend to get eaten alive and those who attack it with poise and purpose stand a much better chance of getting out alive.

The Jayhawks have lost three straight in Morgantown, but this veteran group seems poised to change that this week.

“It’s not on my bucket list or whatever,” said Mason, referencing teammate Devonte’ Graham’s claim that beating WVU in Morgantown was on his ultimate wish list. “But, you know, I just want to win there. I want to win every game I play in, so that’s just another goal. Hopefully everyone will be healthy and ready to go and we can play a good game, and hopefully we can get the win.”

Added Self: “It’s OK to struggle there. They’ve been a Top 10 team every time we’ve played them there, I think. What we have to do is attack their pressure to score and then, obviously, take care of the basketball so we don’t have live-ball turnovers. And then we’ve gotta rebound. We need to steal some possessions on the glass because that’s what they make a living on, stealing extra possessions off the glass.”


Postgame Report Card: Kansas 79, Texas 67

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) lines up a three over Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. (10) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) lines up a three over Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. (10) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 79-67 victory over Texas on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: C+

They didn’t shoot it well — other than from 3-point range — and labored in the halfcourt while too often settling for bad shots. The three-point shooting and hot start was enough to carry KU to victory, but this was not one of their better offensive games.

Defense: C

The Jayhawks’ defense out high, guard on guard, was actually pretty good throughout the game but Texas got too many good looks off of offensive rebounds (11) and from three-point range. Beyond that, UT out-shot Kansas 46.7-41.2 in the first half.

Frontcourt: C+

Lucas did enough inside to grab 14 rebounds but he was a non-factor offensively and once again got little help against UT’s big bodies. Bragg was decent offensively but so many of his buckets were off of plays made by teammates.

Backcourt: B

Graham was great in the first half but quiet in the second. Mason found his touch in the second half and helped lead KU to victory but had a quiet first half. Everyone else kind of fell in line behind that, with the other three making as much noise for their turnovers as anything else.

Bench: B-

Bragg had some decent moments but equally as many bad moments. Vick did not shoot the ball well and turned it over. And Lightfoot, though solid, was only out there for 4 minutes.


Shaka Smart rebuilding Texas through patience, relationships

Texas head coach Shaka Smart directs his defense during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart directs his defense during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It’s no secret that the Texas men’s basketball team is struggling under second-year head coach Shaka Smart.

The 7-11 Longhorns, who will take on second-ranked Kansas at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, got out to an up-and-down start to the season and now are riding a 1-5 Big 12 record and four-game losing streak into their meeting with the Jayhawks.

On paper, the game looks like a mismatch. Wildly talented and explosive Jayhawks against young, still-finding itself Texas team. Kansas and its 86 points-per-game average, against Texas, which is not even cracking the 70-point mark on average. Veterans named Mason, Graham, Lucas and Self against many players most of the Big 12 hasn’t even heard of yet.

You get the point.

And there’s a chance the game will turn out to be exactly that — a mismatch. After all, it will be played in Allen Fieldhouse and the Jayhawks sort of seem to be due for an easy victory.

But it's not exactly a given that the Longhorns will prove to be that. In the five losses suffered by Texas in Big 12 play so far this season, only one has come by double figures (Tuesday’s 74-64 loss at No. 6 Baylor) and three have come by three points or less.

Those tight games, though encouraging, seem to be creating mixed emotions in the Lone Star State. On one hand, Smart and company are happy their group is competing and not just using its youth and inexperience as an excuse to roll over. On the other hand, the Longhorns still are coming up short in far too many key areas to allow them to get over that hump.

Smart, who was 163-56 (.744) in six seasons at VCU before taking over at Texas, has a pretty cool philosophy on how to take his team from a group that will play you tough to a team that will compete with the best of the best in the Big 12. And it has much more to do with relationships than it does basketball.

“It’s just deposits in the bank, really,” Smart said earlier this month on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “You’re putting a quarter in the piggy bank, but if you can keep doing that then, over time, you can build a level of connectivity and that’s really what we need to get to.... Any time you have a lot of changeover on your team, as we did from last year to this year, the more you can spend time together as a group and just get to know one another, be around each other in different settings, I think that can be a powerful thing.”

With the athletes Smart is able to attract to Texas and the system he utilizes, along with his personal track record of success, including the 2011 Final Four run, establishing this as the UT foundation could wind up going a long way in determining whether or not Smart is successful in burnt orange.

If this approach takes, and it’s far too early to predict whether it will or won't, it could be only a matter of time before Texas returns to its spot near the top of the conference standings each year and presents Kansas with a true, year-in and year-out challenger for Big 12 supremacy.

If it doesn’t, you have to wonder if Smart will last in Austin.

But regardless of which way it turns out, no one will ever be able to say Smart is attacking this job anything other than his way.

“It’s always a balance because, a lot of times in today’s world, people mistake accountability for negativity,” Smart said of his approach to rebuilding with a young group. “I think it’s important to show guys where progress has been made and where they’re doing things well individually. Our guys, like most guys at the college level, they want to win and they want to do well individually.... For most college basketball players, typically you go through November and early December and (think) ‘This is a little harder than I thought,’ both on an individual basis and team-wise. We just have to help them understand we can do it, we’re making progress and, with a young group, we just gotta stay focused on growth.”

Asked what part has proven most difficult as he has limped out to a 27-24 start to his career with UT, including a .500 record (12-12) in Big 12 play and 21-7 mark at home, Smart pointed to his team’s lack of experience and leadership as the biggest obstacle.

“Just the understanding of what goes into winning and what goes into success, both as a team and also individually,” he said. “You just have a better understanding of that if you’ve played more games and we’ve got a lot of guys on our team that haven’t played many college basketball games so you have to coach them through that and try to accelerate that growth process. But when you understand what’s gonna allow you to be successful, now your talent can take over and you can go do the great things on the court that you’re capable of doing. But when that understanding is not all the way there it almost can serve as a block (that gets) in the way of you being your best.”


Self says Jayhawks, at their best, as good as anybody

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets to the bucket against Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets to the bucket against Iowa State guard Deonte Burton (30) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

A few hours after returning from his team’s Monday night victory in Ames, Iowa, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self appeared on The Doug Gottlieb Show on Tuesday and discussed everything from KU’s latest win to the Svi Mykhailiuk travel heard ’round the world, Joel Embiid and the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup.

Most of what was said and discussed was stuff you’ve heard. But at the very end, Gottlieb, the former Oklahoma State guard who pays close attention to Big 12 basketball and has great respect for the KU program, asked Self one simple question.

“I’ve got 15 seconds,” Gottlieb said, announcing the upcoming end of the segment. “Do you have a national-championship-caliber team?

“I think that we have a team that there’s less margin for error than what we’ve had,” Self said. “But I think that, when we play our best, I think we can play as well as anybody.”

The last 17 games certainly suggest that. Although the Jayhawks’ schedule has not been the murderers row of seasons past, it has included some quality teams and the Jayhawks have racked up four true road victories and four wins on neutral floors.

According to kenpom.com, the Jayhawks’ strength of schedule currently ranks 17th in the country and Kansas has contributed to the strength-of-schedule ranking of five teams in the Top 25.

A big reason for KU’s ability to navigate that schedule — made up mostly of strong challengers from mid-major programs in the non-conference — has been Self’s willingness (or is it necessity?) to abandon his traditional two-bigs lineup and play with four guards the majority of the time.

Self and Gottlieb discussed the coach’s change of pace in this department and Self pointed out that while has played small in the past, everywhere from Tulsa to Illinois and even Kansas, it often has been done by playing a shorter player at one of the forward spots.

This Kansas team is playing a taller player (freshman Josh Jackson) in the 4 spot but utilizing him as a guard as opposed to asking him to play like a big.

“It certainly is a different look and different style than we’ve ever played before,” Self told Gottlieb.

Asked how he came up with the tweaks and strategies for employing such a system, Self pointed to a pair of familiar foes as the programs he and his staff have studied extra film of to get ready for the change.

“I think we’ve stolen from other people,” Self said. “I thought Iowa State did an unbelievable job when they had Georges (Niang) doing some different things so we’ve watched quite a bit of tape on that. Jay (Wright has) played that way at Villanova for a long time and we played them last year, obviously, and I’ve watched quite a bit of tape with them.”

“It’s totally different. We’re doing more false motion type things to try to get the ball back into different guys’ hands and spreading the floor with an open ball screen. We’re doing a lot of different things but that would be kind of what we run behind what we run.”

While Jackson, Mykhailiuk and sophomore Lagerald Vick have been key in making the four-guard lineup work for the Jayhawks, the two players who make it go are senior point guard Frank Mason III and junior running mate Devonte’ Graham.

“To see what they’ve done since they’ve been here,” Self began. “Two guys that play together and understand and are tough and competitive. Those guys do it about as good as anybody does.”

And those two guys are a huge reason Self believes this team has the potential to play as well as any team in the country the rest of the way.


KU signee Billy Preston named a McDonald’s All-American

Class of 2017 forward Billy Preston, the No. 8-ranked player in his class according to Rivals.com, learned Sunday night that he was selected to be a McDonald's All-American.

Preston joins a long list of current and former Jayhawks to earn a spot in the prestigious high school all-star game and was joined on the West squad by KU target Trae Young, one of the top point guards in the class who remains one of the Jayhawks' top targets in the current class.

Point guard Trevon Duval, who also remains undecided and on the Jayhawks' radar was named to the East squad.

Preston, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound five-star forward from Oak Hill Academy, chose Kansas over finalists Indiana, Syracuse and USC and did so on the strength of his stellar visit during Late Night in the Phog in early October.

He becomes the 41st Jayhawk to earn McDonald's All-American honors, a feat that also was accomplished by three members of the current roster — Carlton Bragg Jr. in 2015 and Udoka Azubuike and Josh Jackson in 2016.

While Preston — and potentially Young and/or Duval — was the only Jayhawk-to-be to land on this year's 24-player roster, a look at the 23 other names to earn the honor proves yet again just how strong KU's recent recruiting efforts have been.

Several players on the 24-man roster considered Kansas or had the Jayhawks on their final list, including center DeAndre Ayton, point guard Collin Sexton and small forward Troy Brown.

This year's McDonald's All-American game will take place March 29 at United Center in Chicago.


Postgame Report Card: Kansas 87, Oklahoma State 80

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) fakes Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) fakes Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte III (13) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 87-80 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B

Too many missed free throws and a really rough start to the game, both from the floor and behind the three-point line, pulled this usually excellent offensive team down to the B range. The Jayhawks were not their typical lights-out selves from three-point range (5-of-20) in this one from start to finish.

Defense: C

Oklahoma State did whatever they wanted to do in the first half and KU had a tough time stopping Mitchell Solomon of all people in the second half.

Frontcourt: B

KU got next to nothing from the bigs on the offensive end, but, led by Landen Lucas, got enough on the glass to out-rebound the Cowboys 45-36 overall after being out-rebounded in the first half.

Backcourt: A-

Mason and Graham were so tough and so clutch so many different times during this one. It was far from a perfect game for the KU backcourt, but they were good when they needed to be. Same goes for Josh Jackson, who delivered a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Bench: C

At some point we’re going to have to start grading the KU bench on a curve, one that begins with low expectations. Another quiet day from the two Jayhawks who came in, though both Vick and Bragg did a few things to aid KU’s victory.


Halftime deficit at OU provided Kansas with opportunity to grow

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) defends against a shot from Oklahoma center Jamuni McNeace (4) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) defends against a shot from Oklahoma center Jamuni McNeace (4) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

Historically speaking, trailing at halftime has not been good news for the Kansas men’s basketball team under Bill Self, who has just a .500 record in games in which the Jayhawks have trailed at the half.

Self, as you all surely know by now, racked up his 400th victory as the head coach at Kansas on Tuesday night in Norman, Oklahoma. And it took a second-half comeback to make it happen.

Trailing by a season-high nine points at the break, KU outscored the Sooners by 20 in the second half en route to the 11-point victory that featured, arguably, KU’s best half of the season.

The win moved second-ranked Kansas to 15-1 overall and 3-0 in games when they were trailing at halftime. Earlier this season, KU also beat Duke, which led 34-29, and Davidson, which led 43-42, despite trailing after the game’s first 20 minutes.

The win pulled KU teams coached by Self to a 55-55 record in games in which they trailed at the break, compared to a 333-25 mark in games in which Kansas has led at halftime. Self’s Jayhawks are 12-4 in his 13-plus seasons when tied at halftime.

While KU’s 3-0 mark this season after trailing at halftime, though a small sample size, seems to be a sign of overall mental strength of this year’s squad, KU senior Landen Lucas said the opportunity to face that kind of adversity was great for this team, which, in some ways, is still finding itself and coming together.

“I think it’s good, as a team, to kind of get that mindset back and, moving forward, you can always use those experiences, especially if you end up getting the (win),” Lucas said.

Asked if trailing at halftime triggered any sort of muscle memory moments from having found ways to come back in the past, Lucas said there was an element of battling back from halftime deficits that was like riding a bike but added that finding ways to get it done was different for each team.

“It’s something that you do have to work towards again,” he said. “We have to kind of relearn that. We had it down pretty good last year, how to not panic, how to put teams away when we’re ahead, different things like that. So we just gotta kind of relearn that and get our confidence back, knowing that we can do that.”

KU’s most recent victory (81-70 over OU) should go a long way toward delivering that confidence. Not only did the Jayhawks erase the nine-point halftime lead in impressive fashion, but they also followed up their lowest offensive output in a single half this season (27 points) by delivering their highest points in a half (54).

No. 2 Kansas is 12-1 when leading at the half this season — KU led Indiana 46-42 at the break in the season opener — and has yet to be tied at the break during the 2016-17 season.

Next up: KU will play host to 10-6 Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

For more about KU’s upcoming clash with Oklahoma State:


KU target Trae Young hoping to travel to Lawrence this weekend

Weather permitting — and, at this point, that’s a fairly big question mark — the Kansas men’s basketball team will have an important visitor in the building this weekend when they take on Oklahoma State on Saturday at 1 p.m.

With Trae Young, the No. 14-ranked player and one of the top point guards in the 2017 recruiting class, potentially closing in on a decision about where he will play his college basketball the Jayhawks have turned up their recruitment of the star guard, who officially visited KU’s campus in October.

Trae's father, Rayford Young, told Matt Scott of TheShiver.com that the family would make the trip to Lawrence this weekend as long as travel conditions allow them to do so.

Kansas, which has always been at or near the top of Young’s list, remains very much in the running and many recruiting analysts believe that the battle to land the Norman, Oklahoma, native is a two-school contest between KU and Oklahoma.

Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi said Monday night that he did not expect a decision real soon and also recently added that, in his opinion, KU has at least pulled even with the Sooners in pursuit of the talented point guard.

Young was not in attendance at the KU-OU game in Norman on Tuesday night, but KU’s coaches have maintained tight contact with the 6-foot-2, 170-pound, five-star prospect throughout the winter. KU coach Bill Self traveled south a couple of weeks ago to watch Young light up an opponent for 40 points, 5 assists and 11 steals. And assistant coach Norm Roberts was in attendance on Monday night, when Young went for 43 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals in a win.

Young said last Fall that he was eyeing a January decision date, which leaves him still almost three weeks to make a decision. Of course, should he need it, Young has every right to take as much time as necessary and, although it’s not likely, the possibility exists that he could take this thing well into March or April as the spring signing period does not open until April 12.

It’s looking more like a decision could come in late-January or early February and Young’s visit to KU’s campus this weekend, should he be able to travel, or at a later date if a reschedule is necessary, could play a huge role in the timing of Young announcing his decision.


Frank Mason gunning to become Self’s second KU player to average 20 a game

Kansas guard Frank Mason III

Kansas guard Frank Mason III by Nick Krug

It may still be early — although the halfway point of the 2016-17 regular season has arrived — but Kansas senior Frank Mason III has put himself in position to do something generally considered unthinkable under Bill Self at Kansas.

And he’s doing it in a way that is getting a lot of national pundits and die-hard college basketball fans to take notice.

He has become a regular fixture in national player of the year conversations around the country and seems to get more and more serious consideration for first-team All-American honors by the game.

Sixteen games into his senior season, Mason is averaging 20.4 points per game for the 15-1 Jayhawks, who have raced out to an early lead and 4-0 record in the Big 12 Conference title race.

If Mason is able to hold that average — or perhaps even improve upon it — he would become just the second Jayhawk during the Bill Self era to average more than 20 points per game during a single season. The first? Former All-American Wayne Simien, who averaged 20.3 points per game during Self’s second season in town.

Simien also led Self’s first KU team (2003-04) with a 17.8 points-per-game average, which still ranks as the third highest single-season total during Self’s 14 years at Kansas.

The average of the eight different players who have led KU in scoring during Self’s first 13 seasons in charge is 16.3 points per game, a number that KU’s leading point producer topped during just seven of those 13 seasons.

While nothing is guaranteed for Mason or the Jayhawks the rest of the way, topping 16.3 ppg seems likely and his pursuit of a 20-point season or better also seems well within reach given the way this team plays and the make-up of the supporting cast around him.

The Jayhawks were led in scoring by a big man five times during that 13-season stretch. But with no real offensive threat in the post to throw the ball into and run offense through, this team’s action will continue to go through its guards. More often than not that will mean Mason, who has the ball in his hands more often than any player on this team and also is the player the Jayhawks automatically look to late in the shot clock, late in games and with the game on the line.

He beat Duke with his game-winning jumper in New York City and was the No. 1 option in the final seconds against K-State.

Self has had a true point guard lead his KU teams in scoring just twice during his first 13 years in Lawrence — Sherron Collins did it in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. In addition, KU’s lead guard has finished in the top two on KU’s season-scoring list twice, Tyshawn Taylor in 2012 and Mason as a sophomore.

None of this matters, of course, to KU’s bottom line, which is winning and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Heck, if Self and the Jayhawks could find a way to ensure victory by getting freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot 25 points a game, they’d do it — in a second.

The unselfish nature of the players on the Kansas roster and the win-at-all-costs mentality of the man leading them make this about more than any one player or specific agenda.

But that unselfish tone, which has been a core principle of Self’s Kansas teams and a big reason why each season’s leading scorer has averaged in the low-to-mid-teens more often than not, is also the same thing that makes Mason a candidate to challenge the 20-point mark by season’s end.

His teammates are smart. They know he’s locked in right now and, more importantly, that few people in the country can stop him. So electing to get the ball to their senior leader is an easy choice and an often profitable decision.

No one, least of all Mason, is going to force the action to try to get his. But the way this season is playing out and the way Mason is performing, his may come one way or the other.

• Bill Self’s best

The top two scorers from each of Self’s first 13 seasons at KU

Season Leading Scorer Runner-up
2003-04 Wayne Simien, 17.8 Keith Langford, 15.5
2004-05 Wayne Simien, 20.3 Keith Langford, 14.4
2005-06 Brandon Rush, 13.5 Mario Chalmers, 11.5
2006-07 Brandon Rush, 13.8 Mario Chalmers, 12.2
2007-08 Brandon Rush, 13.3 Mario Chalmers, 12.8
2008-09 Sherron Collins, 18.9 Cole Aldrich, 14.9
2009-10 Sherron Collins, 15.5 Xavier Henry, 13.4
2010-11 Marcus Morris, 17.2 Markieff Morris 13.6
2011-12 Thomas Robinson, 17.7 Tyshawn Taylor, 16.6
2012-13 Ben McLemore, 15.9 Jeff Withey, 13.7
2013-14 Andrew Wiggins, 17.1 Perry Ellis, 13.5
2014-15 Perry Ellis, 13.8 Frank Mason, 12.6
2015-16 Perry Ellis, 16.9 Wayne Selden, 13.8
2016-17 ??? ???

Postgame Report Card: Kansas 81, Oklahoma 70

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) charges up the court past Oklahoma guard Rashard Odomes (1) and teammate Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) charges up the court past Oklahoma guard Rashard Odomes (1) and teammate Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 81-70 victory at Oklahoma on Tuesday night.

Offense: B+

It might be best to break the grades for this game into two halves and would be fairly easy to do — F for the first half, A for the second. KU’s offense, which missed 14 of its final 17 shots in the first half, was lights out to open the second and looked much more like the Kansas offense we’ve become used to seeing, fast, free, unselfish and scary.

Defense: C

The Jayhawks battled in both halves but looked much better — and played with more of a purpose — in the second half. The Sooners got whatever they wanted at times in the first half and out-toughed the Jayhawks on the glass.

Frontcourt: B+

This one’s all Lucas and he was darn good. 10 points, 13 rebounds and all kinds of effort. He’s still limited in some ways, but does what he does best as well as anybody.

Backcourt: A

Mason’s the man. What more needs to be said? He finished two points off of a career-high and knocked in 11 of 19 shots and 5 of 6 from three-point range. Jackson, Graham and Mykhailiuk chipped in 38 points to back up their leader.

Bench: C-

Vick and Bragg did little and Lightfoot and Coleby weren’t in long enough to do much. When they were, though, neither player looked all that comfortable or impressive.


Looking back at KU basketball’s milestone victories

It’s easy to gloss over a victory as historically significant as all-time win No. 2,200 when you consider the fact that the most experienced players on the current roster who delivered it only have been around for an average of less than 100 of those and the coach leading the way only 400.

But just because two of the players wearing KU uniforms today have been a part of just 14 of those 2,200 victories does not mean that the win — 85-68 over Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse — was not a major milestone to the thousands and thousands of KU fans who have screamed, yelled, cheered and rejoiced about more than half of those wins during their lifetimes.

Give the current Jayhawks credit for both recognizing the significance of Saturday’s 2,200th win and for having the respect to realize it’s not in any way about them and only them. And give senior point guard Frank Mason III major credit for offering the following four words as his final comment on the matter: “there’s more to come.”

Talk about a guy who gets it. Sure, being a part of win No. 2,200 was nice and likely will be something these guys look back on — many years from now — as one of the many, many cool parts of their Kansas careers.

But the objective today, as it has been year in and year out, week in and week out, for as long as anyone can remember is to find a way to bring more victories not celebrate wins gone by.

Bill Self now has been around for four milestone victories and if he's still the Kansas coach when the Jayhawks reach win No. 2,300, he'll tie Phog Allen and Roy Williams as the head coaches to deliver the most milestone wins in Kansas history.

With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at the major milestone wins, from 1 to 2,200, that Kansas basketball has achieved in the past 118 years.

Win Date Site Coach Opponent
1 Feb. 10, 1899 Lawrence James Naismith 31-6 vs. Topeka YMCA
100 Jan. 15, 1910 St. Louis W.O. Hamilton 34-13 vs. Washington (Mo.)
200 Jan. 24, 1917 Lawrence W.O. Hamilton 27-19 vs. Kansas State
300 Feb. 9, 1925 Lawrence Phog Allen 33-18 vs. Iowa State
400 Jan. 2, 1933 Lawrence Phog Allen 34-28 vs. Stanford
500 Jan. 18, 1939 Lawrence Phog Allen 37-32 vs. Missouri
600 Jan. 30, 1945 Lawrence Phog Allen 39-36 vs. Kansas State
700 Dec. 29, 1951 Kansas City, Mo. Phog Allen 75-65 vs. Missouri
800 March 15, 1957 Dallas Dick Harp 73-65 vs. SMU
900 Dec. 1, 1964 Fayetteville, Ark. Ted Owens 65-60 vs. Arkansas
1,000 Feb. 3, 1969 Lawrence Ted Owens 64-48 vs. Oklahoma State
1,100 Jan. 25, 1975 Lawrence Ted Owens 71-60 vs. Oklahoma State
1,200 Dec. 1, 1980 Lawrence Ted Owens 81-67 vs. Pepperdine
1,300 Dec. 3, 1985 Lawrence Larry Brown 86-71 vs. SIU-Edwardsville
1,400 Feb. 25, 1989 Lawrence Roy Williams 111-83 vs. Colorado
1,500 Jan. 16, 1993 Louisville, Ky Roy Williams 98-77 vs. Louisville
1,600 Nov. 27, 1996 Maui, Hawaii Roy Williams 80-63 vs. Virginia
1,700 Jan. 8, 2000 Boulder, Colo. Roy Williams 84-69 vs. Colorado
1,800 March 29, 2003 Anaheim, Calif. Roy Williams 78-75 vs. Arizona
1,900 March 3, 2007 Lawrence Bill Self 90-86 vs. Texas
2,000 March 11, 2010 Kansas City, Mo. Bill Self 80-68 vs. Texas Tech
2,100 March 24, 2013 Kansas City, Mo. Bill Self 70-58 vs. North Carolina
2,200 Jan. 7, 2017 Lawrence Bill Self 85-68 vs. Texas Tech

Postgame Report Card: Kansas 85, Texas Tech 68

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts down a dunk against Texas Tech during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts down a dunk against Texas Tech during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 85-68 victory over Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.

Offense: A

The Jayhawks shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent from three-point range and made five consecutive shots during the decisive run that put the game out of reach with around five minutes to play.

Defense: A-

The effort, activity and tenacity were all there and Kansas also limited the Red Raiders to 41 percent shooting from the floor. The only reason for the minus was KU’s inability to keep Tech from getting open looks from three-point range. Overall, though, a much, much better effort on the defensive end of the floor.

Frontcourt: C+

None of KU’s big men — all two of them — did much in this one. Bragg and Lucas combined for 11 points and 12 rebounds but also had a few forgettable moments, especially Bragg who struggled inside and occasionally got lost on defense.

Backcourt: A-

Devonte’ Graham (20 points) was hot early, Mason (26) was hot late and the Jayhawks got a big time effort from the three-headed monster of Graham, Mason and Jackson (63 of 85 points). Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk did not have much of an encore performance to his game-winner against K-State on Tuesday, finishing with five points and four rebounds before fouling out in 21 minutes.

Bench: C

Neither Bragg nor Lagerald Vick did much to write home about and both sent Bill Self looking to the bench to plug a starter back in a few too many times throughout this one.


Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe closing in on a decision?

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Sam Cunliffe, a 6-foot-6, 195-pound shooting guard who was ranked No. 36 overall in the Rivals.com recruiting class of 2016, was in Lawrence this week to visit Kansas and left with a great feel for the KU program.

"It was amazing," Cunliffe told TheShiver.com's Matt Scott following his visit, which included a trip to the KU-K-State game on Tuesday night. "That game was insane!!!! I loved every minute of it."

So much so that Cunliffe, who started 10 games for Arizona State this season but decided at semester to transfer, has chosen to shut down his recruiting.

"No more visits," Cunliffe told Scott on Wednesday. "Deciding real soon. No more than 3 days," he added.

If that timeline holds, Cunliffe should have a decision by the end of the week and the whole situation certainly has the feel of the young man picking Kansas.

Named the Seattle Times’ State Basketball Player of the Year following his senior season at Rainier Beach High, Cunliffe picked Arizona State from serious interest from California, Colorado, Gonzaga, Minnesota, Oregon, UNLV, Utah, Washington, Washington State and others.

A Seattle native who was the highest rated recruit landed by the Sun Devils since James Harden, announced in December that he was leaving ASU despite starting the first 10 games of his freshman season and averaging 9.5 points in 25.4 minutes.

In other recruiting news... Scott and other recruiting analysts are reporting that KU coach Bill Self will travel to Oklahoma today to watch Class of 2017 point guard Trae Young, who remains one of the top targets in KU's current class.

Young said last Fall that he wanted to take his time with the decision and get an opportunity to see each team in the mix play and watch how their seasons play out a little bit.

“I’m getting near to the end of my recruitment and I’m starting to look at these teams play and come to a conclusion what school I want to choose so it was a really big thing for them to come out and I’m really happy for that," Young told A Sea of Blue, SB Nation's Kentucky site, in late November.

Asked when he might announce, Young said, “Probably early January. Don’t have a date set yet, but probably early January.”

Other programs remain in the mix, but most analysts believe Young's recruitment is a hot contest between Kansas and in-state school Oklahoma.


Svi’s game winner vs. K-State might not have happened a couple months ago

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) lays in the final shot for win over Kansas State on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) lays in the final shot for win over Kansas State on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Tuesday night, following KU’s thrilling, 90-88 victory over Sunflower State rival Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse, one thing rattled around inside my brain about junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s game-winning shot at the buzzer.

Yes, Svi traveled. Nobody’s disputing that. The closest anybody even came to doing so on Tuesday night were those who said they hadn’t seen it yet.

So, we know Svi traveled. We know, travel or not, that it was still a pretty impressive play to get a layup despite having to go the length of the floor in five seconds. And we know that, again, travel or not, Svi’s hanging scoop shot was no easy play, especially with the game on the line.

But none of that was what stuck with me following Tuesday’s game.

What stuck with me was the fact that, for the last time, travel or not, the shot was probably one Svi would not even have attempted a couple of months ago.

That’s how much confidence can help a player, and few players are playing with as much confidence right now as KU’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who, on Tuesday, reached double digits in scoring for the eighth consecutive game and 10th time overall this season.

Let’s take another quick look at the play and see what route a less-confident Svi could have taken instead of the one he chose, which won the game.

There’s a point, just across halfcourt, when K-State’s Wesley Iwundu is closing in and, under different circumstances, easily could’ve been enough of a bother to coerce Svi into getting rid of the ball, especially when you consider that his only option from this position would’ve been to toss it back and to his right to Frank Mason III, who was crossing the mid-court stripe at about the same time and has a recent history of hitting game winners.

Mason even put his hand up briefly, calling for the ball. But Svi either never saw it or disregarded it because he felt good enough about his own ability to go win the game.

Let’s keep moving.

Once Svi reached the free throw line, where two KSU defenders greeted him and two others trailed closely, it would have been easy for him to (a) decide to throw a lob to Landen Lucas on his left or (b) zip a pass to Josh Jackson on the right for a baseline jumper to win the game.

A pass to Lucas would have made sense given the fact that the Jayhawks love lobs and Lucas delivered a career-high 18 points against the Wildcats. But it also might have taken too much time and there’s a chance Svi sensed that, with his internal clock surely a half-second or so ahead of the actual game clock thanks to adrenaline and the chaotic nature of those final few seconds.

Finding Jackson, who was more in Svi’s line of sight, also would have made sense because the KU freshman is known as a terrific scorer and has a knack for getting to the rim. That, too, might have taken a tad too long and such a decision could’ve cost the Jayhawks their shot to win it in regulation.

That’s three separate options — all of which would have made sense — that Svi passed up in order to put the game on his shoulders.

Again, there’s little-to-no chance he makes that decision a couple of months ago.

And the fact that he made it (both the shot and the decision) on Tuesday night should be viewed as perhaps the best news of all to come out of a game that people will be talking about for quite some time.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has finally become a player. And I can’t help but get the feeling that the best is yet to come for KU’s most recent hero.


Postgame Report Card: Kansas 90, Kansas State 88

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) comes in with a put-back bucket against Kansas State during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) comes in with a put-back bucket against Kansas State during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s thrilling, 90-88 victory over Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Offense: A

They scored 52 points in the first half and, somehow, led by 10 after the Wildcats shot 54 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range during the same 20-minute period. It’s to the point now where it’s newsworthy if the Jayhawks’ offense isn’t an A.

Defense: C

The Jayhawks had plenty of opportunities to bury the Wildcats but kept letting them off the hook by breaking down against dribble penetration and good ball movement. KU did grind out just about every possession and that saved them from getting a C-minus here. Some of the credit for this effort has to go to K-State's players for being absolutely fearless all night.

Frontcourt: B+

Lucas was so good yet again (18 points and 12 rebounds) and delivered some of his biggest buckets and rebounds when the Jayhawks needed them most.

Backcourt: A

Jackson was sensational in the first half and Frank Mason was Frank Mason. But the big bucket came from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk at the buzzer and the Jayhawks would’ve been blown out of not for their backcourt. Such is life.

Bench: C

Vick and Bragg were merely average — good moments mixed with bad — and Lightfoot did not play enough to factor too heavily into this grade.


Next 5 weeks feature 2 key stretches for Kansas basketball

Kansas guard Frank Mason Jr., (0) jumps to make a cross court pass and break a press in a game between the Jayhawks and the Mountaineers at the WVU Colliseum in Morgantown, W.V. Tuesday.

Kansas guard Frank Mason Jr., (0) jumps to make a cross court pass and break a press in a game between the Jayhawks and the Mountaineers at the WVU Colliseum in Morgantown, W.V. Tuesday. by Mike Yoder

It hasn’t mattered who was on the team, what the rotation looked like or how deep and talented the Kansas men’s basketball team has been.

Almost every year, without fail, there has been a small but impactful stretch, usually during conference play, when the Jayhawks have struggled and KU fans has questioned what in the heck was going on.

Last year, a team that gave eventual national champion Villanova an absolute street fight in the Elite Eight lost three of five games during mid-to-late January, all on the road and all by double digits.

One year before that, the Jayhawks lost three of six, including twice in a seven-day span, before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round.

And three seasons ago, the Jayhawks lost three of four early in the season — including back-to-back games at Colorado and Florida — and finished the season losing two of their last three to close the regular season and four of its final seven overall.

Heck, even the 2007-08 team, which finished 37-3, dropped two of those three in a 12-day span in February, right around the time when you want to start building momentum for a postseason run.

Each of those teams won the Big 12 Conference and one of them won the national championship. The point? Good teams lose games. Heck, even great teams lose games or have lulls or struggle through adversity. It’s part of what makes college basketball so great and part of what makes what the Jayhawks have done in winning a dozen straight Big 12 titles so impressive.

Before we tip things off for Game No. 2 of 18 in the Jayhawks’ quest to make that 13 straight — 8 p.m. tonight vs. Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse — let’s just take a moment to accept and embrace that this team is probably going to have its rough patch, too.

If you’re the type of fan that would rather know when these stretches are coming instead of being blindsided by a loss you never expected, continue reading.

The Jayhawks’ conference schedule this season is pretty well set up, with KU two in a row on the road just one time — Monday, Feb. 6 at Kansas State and Saturday, Feb. 11 at Texas Tech. Back-to-back home games ease the Jayhawks into that doubleheader and a follow-up home game against West Virginia sits on the back end.

But it’s that fairly lengthy period, beginning Jan. 16 and ending Feb. 18, that actually presents a couple of stretches in which the Jayhawks could be bitten by the loss bug more than once.

The first and most obvious stretch is a five-game run that starts in Ames, Iowa, includes road games at West Virginia and Kentucky (not a Big 12 team, but still) and ends with Baylor at home on Feb. 1.

Tom Keegan wrote Monday that Baylor and West Virginia pose the biggest threats to KU continuing its Big 12 title streak, so having to play one of them away and the other at home around the same time as the always-tough trip to Iowa State and an unknown journey to Kentucky very well could present the Jayhawks with their toughest challenge of the season.

Right after that run is another sequence that features three nasty games in a four-game stretch, with the fourth and seemingly easiest game of the group still coming on the road.

KU plays at K-State on Feb. 6, travels to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech five days later and follows that week up by hosting West Virginia and traveling to Baylor.

There’s no way the Jayhawks will lose all of those, but a case could be made for dropping two or perhaps even three of them, especially because West Virginia seems, at least to me, to be the Big 12 team most poised to come into Allen Fieldhouse and leave with a victory.

Don’t worry. I’m not predicting doomsday for the Jayhawks here. I still think they’ll go undefeated at home and I also still think they’ll win the Big 12. The biggest reason? It’s not because Baylor and West Virginia aren’t worthy challengers but more because of the overall strength of the league and the much higher likelihood of Baylor or WVU slipping up in a game they shouldn’t instead of Kansas doing the same.

Either way, it should be a fun couple of months and if you’re one of those KU fans that doesn’t handle losses very well, keep an eye out for the two stretches in the schedule that I mentioned above.


Jayhawks on radar of 2 potential transfers

Recruiting never stops in the fast-moving world of college basketball. And during the same week that the Kansas men’s basketball team learned it was losing a player, when former transfer Evan Maxwell announced he was leaving the program, the Jayhawks also surfaced as potential landing spots for a couple of transfers.

The first, Arizona State shooting guard Sam Cunliffe, was expected to arrive in Lawrence on Monday evening and will be in attendance at Allen Fieldhouse for the KU-K-State game on Tuesday night.

Cunliffe recently told Shay Wildeboor of JayhawkSlant.com that he was “beyond excited for the Kansas visit.”

A 6-foot-6, 195-pound Seattle native who was the highest rated recruit landed by the Sun Devils since James Harden announced recently that he was leaving ASU despite starting the first 10 games of his freshman season and averaging 9.5 points in 25.4 minutes.

"The current speculation about Me leaving ASU is just that,” Cunliffe Tweeted on Dec. 12. “I'm coming home to Seattle for personal and family reasons. Any decisions about my future beyond coming home right now have yet to be made. I understand the current media interest, but I ask that you respect the privacy of me and my family right now."

Named the Seattle Times’ State Basketball Player of the Year following his senior season at Rainier Beach High, Cunliffe picked Arizona State from serious interest from California, Colorado, Gonzaga, Minnesota, Oregon, UNLV, Utah, Washington, Washington State and others.

According to Wildeboor, Cunliffe, Rivals.com’s No. 36-ranked player in the Class of 2016, does not yet have any other visits lined up and it will be worth keeping an eye on him during the next couple of days to see how his visit with the Jayhawks went.

Cunliffe already has been removed from the Arizona State official roster and been granted a release.

Another potential transfer worth tracking is Georgetown’s Isaac Copeland, a 6-9, 220-pound forward who was ranked No. 23 in the Class of 2014 by Rivals.com and spent one season at famed Brewster Academy a la current Jayhawk Devonte’ Graham and former Jayhawks Thomas Robinson and Naadir Tharpe.

Copeland, a junior who started five games and appeared in seven for the Hoyas this season, is hoping to have two years of eligibility remaining following his transfer. He will apply for a medical red-shirt for this season and plans to have back surgery, which will keep him out of action for the next two to three months.

“Yes, the coaching staff at Kansas is trying to figure out a good time to visit if possible,” the former five-star prospect recently told Wildeboor via text message. “If everything works out, I am going to visit Kansas. I am looking to find out if I can make it out to Kansas for a visit. When I make my decision on a school, I plan to enroll at the beginning of the spring semester.”

For his career, Copeland has appeared in 73 games, averaging 8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

According to Wildeboor, Copeland recently narrowed his list of schools down to Arizona State, Cincinnati, Illinois, Kansas, NC State, Nebraska, Texas and Connecticut.


Postgame Report Card: Kansas 86, TCU 80

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) floats to the bucket against TCU forward JD Miller (15) during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) floats to the bucket against TCU forward JD Miller (15) during the first half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 86-80 victory over TCU in the Jayhawks’ Big 12 opener Friday night in Fort Worth, Texas.

Offense: B-

The Jayhawks topped 80 points, saw five players reach double figures and shot 80 percent from the free throw line. But a miserable 1-of-9 stretch to open the game and 43 percent shooting overall balanced out those positive numbers.

Defense: C

TCU controlled portions of this one offensively and Kansas was never able to put the Horned Frogs away because TCU simply kept scoring, most of it coming at the rim or behind the three-point line.

Frontcourt: A

Only two true big men played and those two players combined for 20 points and 26 rebounds in 46 minutes. Landen Lucas (17) and Carlton Bragg Jr. (9), were both terrific on the glass from start to finish.

Backcourt: B+

KU coach Bill Self referred to his guards as one-dimensional players on Friday night, good on offense and not-so-good on defense. But the good side far outweighed the bad side on a night when the Jayhawks needed every point they scored.

Bench: A

Carlton Bragg Jr. still looked off offensively, but he played hard, grabbed nine boards and hit a big bucket late to help the Jayhawks hang on. Lagerald Vick, meanwhile, poured in 17 points and was huge in the first half as KU crawled out of a 10-point hole and led by four at the break. No other KU bench players entered Friday’s game.


KU’s rotation still intact despite disappearance of depth

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) floats in for a shot against Stanford forward Michael Humphrey (10) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) floats in for a shot against Stanford forward Michael Humphrey (10) during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

A little more than a week ago, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self during an appearance on the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference shared his thoughts about his ideal rotation and how it related to this year’s team.

“I’ve always thought that eight or nine was the number, depending on your particular team,” Self said then. “Five perimeter players, with the fifth one playing the least amount of minutes, and you need four big guys, with the fourth one playing the least amount of minutes.”

Because of strong recruiting, strategic depth and the team-first mentality of nearly all of the players he has brought to Lawrence, Self, more often than not, has enjoyed the luxury of playing to that number while still having bodies on reserve in the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency role.

Even with the recent, season-ending injury to freshman center Udoka Azubuike, nothing really has changed regarding Self’s rotation and the way he would like to use it. What is gone is the Jayhawks’ margin for error and any depth this team once appeared to have.

“Each situation’s different,” Self said. “When I was at Illinois, we had four really good bigs so I didn’t care about fouls. We played extra aggressive and when a guy got two fouls in the first half he basically took himself out, which was great for team chemistry because it forced us to play everybody.”

The Azubuike injury very well may force Self to play “everybody” in the coming weeks, but the playing time tiers for each available Jayhawk seem to be clearly defined.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at where the Jayhawks’ rotation sits 12 games into the season with the beginning of Big 12 play less than a week away.

Believe it or not, the Jayhawks have used four different starting lineups so far this season, with guards Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson being the only players to start all 12 games thus far.

After starting the season with the traditional two-big-man approach, Self went to the four-guard lineup in Game 6 and has played some version of his four-guard lineup the majority of the time since.

After tinkering with sophomore Lagerald Vick in the starting lineup for three games, Self has moved on to Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk in that fourth guard role and the junior from the Ukraine who stayed in Lawrence for Christmas has responded with some of the best games of his career.

Because of that, at least right now, it seems as if Mykhailiuk has a hold on that fourth perimeter player spot and Vick sits at No. 5. Most years, that would put Vick on the outside looking in for minutes. But because of the four-guard approach, Vick still stands to get plenty of playing time and enters Big 12 play averaging 25 minutes per game, just 0.9 minutes per game less than Mykhailiuk.

Up front, things might be even clearer.

With Azubuike out, Lucas slides back into a starting role and, barring foul trouble figures to play 30-plus minutes per night.

Sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr., who remains in search of some consistency and comfort, is the obvious No. 2 big man both because of his potential and experience and all of a sudden could be one of the most important players on the team, even while struggling. Self talked after the Jayhawks’ victory over UNLV about needing Bragg to play big because of the Jayhawks’ lack of depth in the front court.

Freshman Mitch Lightfoot, who opened the season strong before getting stuck on the bench, has returned to action of late and is KU’s clear No. 3 big with junior transfer Dwight Coleby working as the No. 4 forward.

Unlike Vick as the team’s fifth perimeter player, Coleby seems more likely to fit into Self’s ideal vision of what a fourth big man would be. Coleby is averaging just six minutes per game and has played just eight minutes combined in the last five games.

Although that nine is now set in stone — even if some shifting occurs — Self said the impending arrival of Big 12 play might tighten the rotation a little on its own, which, barring further injury or foul trouble, would give KU’s suddenly thin lineup the appearance of more depth.

“I don’t know if your bench shortens,” Self said of the start of conference play. “But I do think you probably play your most productive players a couple or three minutes more than what you would during non-conference play.”

The third-ranked Jayhawks (11-1) will open Big 12 play at 8 p.m. Friday at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.