Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
On the heels of a victory in Chicago over then-No. 7 Kentucky, the Kansas men's basketball team moved up one spot to No. 3 in this week's Associated Press poll.
The top two spots remained the same, with Duke (4-0) and Arizona (3-0) staying put, and Kansas leapfrogged Michigan State (2-1), which fell from No. 3 to No. 4 following its loss to Duke in Game 1 of the Champions Classic last week in the Windy City.
Kentucky (3-1), meanwhile, fell for the second consecutive week, dropping to No. 8 after its loss to KU and an uninspired home victory over East Tennessee State last Friday night.
Kansas (3-0) returns to action this week for a pair of games, starting with Tuesday's home matchup with Texas Southern and a Friday night clash with Oakland at Allen Fieldhouse.
In all, the latest AP poll features three teams from the Big 12 Conference ranked in the Top 25 and four others who are receiving votes.
As has been the norm, Kansas is far and away the torch bearer for the Big 12, with the Jayhawks holding down a spot in the Top 5 and Baylor and West Virginia coming at No. 22 and No. 23.
Complete AP Preseason Poll:
1 - Duke (54)
2 - Arizona (11)
3 - Kansas
4 - Michigan State
5 - Villanova
6 - Wichita State
7 - Florida
8 - Kentucky
9 - North Carolina
10 - USC
11 - Miami, Fla.
12 - Cincinnati
13 - Notre Dame
14 - Minnesota
15 - Xavier
16 - Texas A&M
17 - Gonzaga
18 - Purdue
19 - Louisville
20 - Seton Hall
21 - Saint Mary's
22 - Baylor
23 - West Virginia
24 - UCLA
25 - Alabama
Others receiving votes: Virginia 93, Texas Tech 81, TCU 36, Northwestern 20, Nevada 19, Providence 11, Maryland 9, Michigan 9, Texas 7, Creighton 6, Oklahoma 5, Temple 4, Arkansas 3, UT-Arlington 2, Rhode Island 1, Belmont 1, Stephen F. Austin 1.
When taking my regular look through the game notes for Kansas' next contest — 7 p.m. Friday vs. Texas Southern at Allen Fieldhouse — a few things jumped out at me.
For one, Texas Southern is coached by former Indiana boss Mike Davis, who once led the Hoosiers to the national title game back in 2002.
For two, the Tigers are playing their first 13 games of the 2017-18 season on the road, an experiment that has been done before — even by at least one recent KU opponent — but always seems so incredible to me given the fact that KU plays nearly all of its non-conference games in cozy Allen Fieldhouse.
But while those two nuggets were interesting, by far the most notable of the bunch was the section called “This Day In Kansas Basketball History.”
It's a regular feature in the game notes, but rarely does it deliver such an interesting trip down Memory Lane.
On Nov. 21, 2003, 14 years ago, Kansas coach Bill Self coached in and won his first game as a Jayhawk.
Since that night, Self has racked up 418 more victories, two trips to the Final Four, two appearances in the national title game, one national championship, 13 consecutive Big 12 titles and a short trip to Springfield, Mass., to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, coached his first game as a Jayhawk.
Looking back at the game revealed that the Bill Self era got off to a less than memorable start.
Kansas trailed visiting Tennessee-Chattanooga early on, 24-14, and, seemed to be still searching for its identity under Self, who, that night, became the first man not named Roy Williams to walk the KU sidelines since the 1987-88 season.
After the victory, which was sparked by a 28-6 run late in the first half, Self even joked about his first few minutes in charge of the Jayhawks.
“We got off to such a great start,” Self dead-panned of the beginning of his first game as leader of the Jayhawks. "We didn't play as bad as the score, and they played really well.”
While Kansas went on to win, 90-76, delivering Self his first of 419 KU victories (and counting), most of the talk after the game was about how energized the former Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts coach was to get his career going with the Jayhawks.
“He was so pumped up, if he could have put on a uniform, he'd have been out there,” said junior guard Keith Langford of KU's then-40-year-old, first-year coach.
Added junior forward Wayne Simien: "We wanted to make sure he'd get his career here off on the right foot. We showed how hard we could play, getting loose balls. You saw us hit the floor three or four times. There was a sense of urgency tonight for everybody, not just coach Self, but us, too.”
Self admitted after the victory that his KU debut had a different feeling than nearly all of the 300-plus games he had coached leading up to that point. But he also said he felt very few nerves and sounded an awful lot like the man who has Kansas out to a 3-0 start in his 15th season in charge.
“I was excited,” he said. “I don't think I was over-excited," "They (players) knew I was excited, probably. We were so bad in practice yesterday, I almost felt I had to kind of be that way tonight, kind of make sure everybody's spirits were up because yesterday wasn't quite as pleasant as some other days we've had. “I'm glad the way this turned out. I'll be extra glad if the second one turns out as well.”
As it turned out, it did, with Kansas topping Michigan State, 81-74, at Allen Fieldhouse just four days later.
For what it's worth, KU is 6-1 all-time on Nov. 21.
Kansas coach Bill Self has coached and recruited a couple dozen supremely talented players who went on to enjoy success in the NBA and beyond during his coaching career.
In the past month, one of those helped five-star guard Quentin Grimes, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound combo guard from The Woodlands, Texas, who committed to and signed with Kansas on Wednesday night.
In the press release announcing Grimes' signing, Self said the newest Jayhawk reminded him a lot of Deron Williams, whom he had recruited and coached at Illinois.
Williams, you may remember, was an All-American at Illinois, earned multiple all-Big Ten honors, led his team to the NCAA championship game in 2005 and became the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
So, obviously, that kind of comparison qualifies as high praise for Grimes, who Self actually said was a better scorer at the same age than Williams.
The news was nothing new for Grimes.
“He tells me that all the time,” Grimes said with a laugh.
But the Williams-Grimes connection did not stop with Self simply explaining how the two were similar.
“I actually talked to Deron Williams probably two, three weeks ago, and he just explained to me how much he loves Coach Self and how I would fit in great with their program,” Grimes said. “It was kind of a wow moment because I got to pick his brain a little bit, ask him a few questions about Coach Self and also about non-Kansas stuff like the NBA and find out what you have to do to get your game ready for that next level.”
As for what he asked Williams about Self specifically, Grimes said he just appreciated the opportunity to run KU's recruiting pitch by someone who had been in his shoes before to see if the pitch and actually playing for him matched up.
It sounds like it did.
“I asked him a lot,” Grimes said of his phone conversation with Williams. “How is Coach Self on the court, off the court, if he really lets you play your game. And he kept it real with me the whole time so that was kind of another big factor that went into my decision.”
While the Williams comparison is somewhat new to Grimes, looking to NBA stars for help with his game is not. Although he's never had the chance to get them on the phone, Grimes named four NBA players — three current and one past star — as players he looks to when trying to develop and piece together his own individual game.
“I kind of look at a lot of players,” Grimes said. “I like to look at Penny Hardaway. I like the way Chris Paul can control a game. I'm watching Russell Westbrook, the way he attacks and I watch James Harden, the way he kind of lulls defenders to sleep and also can get to the bucket and make plays for his teammates.”
Now that Grimes has signed with Kansas, he can add Williams to that list and actually get some of the same coaching that the three-time NBA All-Star once got.
CHICAGO — The closest Trevon Duval came to sharing a locker room with the Jayhawks, at least by proximity, came on Tuesday night.
Deep inside the corridors winding throughout the basement level of United Center, the Duke and KU locker rooms were separated by a matter of feet. After surviving his first test, a win over No. 2 Michigan State in which Grayson Allen tallied 37 points, the point guard and former KU target sat in — not in front of, but in — his locker, flashing a smile that revealed a busted lip as he spoke.
"We can always get better," Duval said. "We all feel like we didn't play our best today, as a whole, but this game is over so now it's on to the next one."
That next-play type of mentality was a constant for the freshman.
Asked about all the great teams in the Champions Classic and prompted by the topic of Kansas being among his final schools, Duval simply volunteered that, "Yeah, Kansas was in there."
Asked about the details of his recruitment and how close he was to picking the Jayhawks, Duval volunteered little more.
"Uh, Kansas. I liked Kansas a little bit," Duval said. "But I'm here now, so I really liked Duke. That's all that really matters."
In that regard, he wasn't the only player who preferred to keep the focus on the game.
While Duval was magnificent against the Spartans, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists, 6 steals and 3 rebounds, Malik Newman's night was more of a mixed bag.
On one hand, the guard hit arguably KU's biggest shot and two important late free throws in the 65-61 win. Plus, he led the Jayhawks with nine rebounds on a night in which they crushed a bigger Kentucky squad on the offensive glass.
On the other, the red-shirt sophomore tallied more shot attempts (14) than points (12) and was swatted on several occasions at the rim. In fact, after Newman was rejected on two closely-occurring sequences, KU fans on Twitter seemed to be having flashbacks to the last meeting between the two teams in the event, when then-sophomore Frank Mason III made just one of 10 field goal attempts in a 32-point KU loss.
But this blog isn't about that. If you want to read about the game, there's plenty for you right here.
This is about what happened next.
In the post-game press conference, Newman answered questions about a variety of topics. He was even a good sport when he was asked how KU could build off the win, joking the next step was to get back in the gym and start shooting.
The one question he didn't answer, though, was completely unrelated.
On what was supposed to be the final question of the press conference, Newman was asked by a reporter why Mississippi State wasn't the right fit and why Kansas was.
As the words "Mississippi State" left the reporter's mouth, Newman's demeanor changed. He reached over at a stat sheet to his right and moved over a couple feet, staring down at it before picking his head up to deliver his answer.
"I have no comment on that," Newman said.
At this point, where the games actually matter and the mistakes and big shots all count for real, who could blame him?
With an elite point guard and two Top 40 big men already signed, sealed and delivered, the Kansas men's basketball program's 2018 recruiting class added another gem on Wednesday, when five-star shooting guard Quentin Grimes orally committed to KU during a ceremony at College Park High in The Woodlands, Texas.
Grimes, 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, picked KU over finalists Kentucky, Marquette and Texas and said simply that it was his relationship with the KU coaching staff that inspired him to become a Jayhawk.
After thanking his friends, family, teammates, coaches and all of the schools that recruited him, "especially my final four," Grimes said simply, "I'd like to announce that next year I'll be attending the University of Kansas."
With that, and with his parents Tonja and Marshall sitting on each side of him, Grimes stood up, flashed a huge smile and held up a white No. 5 KU jersey.
His parents then joined the fun and removed their top layers to reveal their crimson and blue KU clothing. Several members of the audience then broke into the Rock Chalk chant to thunderous applause from the rest of the gym.
Grimes' commitment comes on the final day of the early signing period and ends a recruitment that had strong Kansas flavor from start to finish.
“They were real straight up and straightforward with me that I’m the best guard in the country,” Grimes told Rivals.com's Eric Bossi after a visit with Kansas during the recruiting process. “They basically told me that I have to sign with them.... They said have to get me, they were very clear on that.”
Ranked No. 11 in the class by Rivals.com and No. 16 overall in 247 Sports' composite rankings, Grimes is a gifted athlete known for his versatility and unselfish style, which makes him a terrific fit to play alongside true point guard Devon Dotson, who signed his letter of intent with Kansas last week.
The addition of Grimes adds symmetry to KU's current recruiting class, with two elite perimeter players and two physically imposing big men on their way to becoming Jayhawks.
The good news for Kansas, which is playing the current season with an open scholarship, — although that could change next month if five-star big man Silvio De Sousa is cleared to come to college early and allowed to play during the second semester — is that there's still time and room to add more to an already stellar class.
With senior guards Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk graduating and underclassmen Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azbuike all potentially NBA-bound after this season, the Jayhawks not only would need to fill the spots vacated by those departures but also would have the scholarships available to do so.
That gives Self and company room to continue pursuing Top 10 talents Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford in the 2018 recruiting class.
While landing Dotson (6-1, 180, No. 17 per Rivals.com), De Sousa (6-9, 245, No. 25) and David McCormack (6-10, 280, No. 33) put the Jayhawks in the No. 2 or No. 3 spots in many recruiting sites' team rankings for the Class of 2018, the addition of Grimes is expected to be enough of a splash to move Kansas into the No. 1 position.
According to 247 Sports analyst Jerry Meyer, Grimes “is the most physical player of all the top lead guards in the class and has the versatility to play the two and the three. He gets where he wants on the court, is a three-level scorer, has great court vision and is a solid defender and rebounder.”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 65-61 victory over No. 7 Kentucky in the 2017 Champions Classic at United Center in Chicago.
The Jayhawks made a couple of big shots and plays when they had to have them. And Devonte' Graham and Malik Newman delivered at the free throw line in the closing minutes on an otherwise miserable free-throw-shooting night. Those two factors saved the passing grade. Otherwise, KU had a major off night, shooting just 35.3 percent for the game and struggling to work good offensive possessions time and time again.
KU coach Bill Self said after the game that his team dirtied up the game in order to survive and a big chunk of that came on defense. KU limited Kentucky to 41.8 percent shooting and snagged a dozen steals while playing even on the glass. Beyond that, the Jayhawks allowed Kentucky to hit just three 3-pointers all game.
They had just one big man for the most part, as Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot combined to play 40 minutes, but Azubuike came through when his team needed him most. His production was much bigger than his 13 points and eight rebounds suggests and, by far the most important thing he did was stay out of foul trouble.
The Kansas guards hit some big shots at clutch times, but overall endured a miserable shooting night. Devonte' Graham and Malik Newman combined to make just 7 of 28 attempts and Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk weren't much better. The guards did enough to win on a night when Kansas didn't have anyone else to go to. And the fact that they still found a way to beat a Top 10 team on such an off shooting night illustrates how well they did in others areas.
Marcus Garrett hit a big 3-pointer in the second half and swiped a couple of steals. Mitch Lightfoot competed but didn't produce much in his six minutes on the floor. Given that fact, the bench production, which came from an extremely thin crew, was merely average at best.
Matt Tait's game day thoughts from The Windy City ahead of Kansas vs. Kentucky in the 2017 Champions Classic in Chicago.
Ever since Kansas fans started really looking ahead to today's Champions Classic showdown with Kentucky in The Windy City, one of the most popular rants I've heard has been about how KU allllwwwaaays seems to play the late game in the Champions Classic.
They're not wrong.
Five of the six times KU has played in the event, the Jayhawks have been the late game, which usually tips off between 8 and 9 p.m., depending on where the game is played and how quickly the first game wraps up.
That will again be the case tonight for the sixth time in seven tries, when No. 4 Kansas (1-0) takes on No. 7 Kentucky (2-0) at approximately 8:30 p.m. from United Center in Chicago.
In reality, the game figures to tip-off closer to 9 p.m. than 8:30, but by that time of day, the extra 20-30 minutes is pretty much meaningless.
We know what fans of all four teams will do while waiting for tip-off — Duke and Michigan State will square off at 6 p.m. in the early game — but what about the players and coaches?
Kansas senior Devonte' Graham, who has been through three previous Champions Classic contests — all of them late tips — has the routine down.
“Coach and them do a good job of having a little layout for us,” Graham said. “We usually have shoot-around in the morning, get up and get a nice breakfast, come back and watch film and stuff like that. And then a lot of guys will just go back and take a nap. That's usually what I do, take a nice little nap.”
Music, social media, a few Z's and down time with teammates account for most of the Jayhawks' non-basketball game day routine.
There is, of course, also plenty of time for extra film work, a final walk-through and anything else the KU coaches and players think might help their preparations in the 11th hour.
But no matter what they're doing, KU coach Bill Self said he thought that waiting all day for a big game surrounded by a lot of hype was not the worst thing by any means.
“It's probably not bad experience for everybody because there's a great chance you could play a conference tournament game that late or you could play an NCAA Tournament game that late,” Self said. “You're talking about, if everything goes perfect, an 8:30 tip or something like that, which doesn't seem ridiculously bad. It seems worse if you're playing on the east coast, it'd be a 9:30 tip and then it'd seem much longer.”
The Jayhawks have been there. In fact, just last year, after the long haul from Hawaii to New York just a couple of days earlier, KU and Duke tipped off from the Big Apple right around 9 p.m.
KU won that game and tonight will be looking to improve its all-time record in the early-season, elite showcase to 3-4 with a win over the Wildcats.
To date, Kansas is 0-2 vs. Kentucky in this event, 0-2 vs. Michigan State, and 2-0 vs. Duke.
“It makes for a long day,” Self said. “But I don't think it's going to be anything where we have to change too much. Maybe let 'em sleep an hour longer or something like that.”
If you've watched Kansas play Kentucky even just once in the past 10 years, you know the game means a little more than a regular game.
Whether you're talking about the media hype leading up to tipoff, the craziness the game brings out in fans from both sides or just the incredible number of elite athletes and future pros on the floor, these KU-UK showdowns feature pretty much everything that's right about college basketball.
That extends to the sideline, where the coaching staffs at both schools are among the most accomplished and talented in the history of the game.
Bill Self and John Calipari are both in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Both have national title rings and both represent the cream of the crop when it comes to recruiting.
The rivalry, between both the schools and the coaches, will be renewed at approximately 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at United Center Chicago, where the two programs will square off for the third time in the history of the early-season showcase. Kentucky has won both of the previous meetings (2011 and 2014) and owns an all-time edge of 22-8 in head-to-head matchups with Kansas.
Because of those factors, and the fact that the game means so much to so many people, it's not uncommon for Self and Calipari to get a little crazy during these contests. Add that to the list of what's right in college basketball.
In seven meetings against each other — six for Self at Kansas and one at Illinois — Calipari owns a 4-3 advantage against Self.
All three of Self's victories against Calipari have come at Kansas, with the Jayhawks winning in each of the past two seasons and also in the 2008 national title game over Calipari's Memphis team.
Calipari's four victories over Self include one with Memphis against Self's last Illinois squad during the 2002-03 season, two with the Wildcats during the 2011-12 season (including Calipari's lone national title in 2012) and a 32-point drubbing over Kansas in the 2014 Champions Classic.
So after all these epic matchups with one another, what is the relationship like between these two blue blood bosses?
Self explained it a little on Sunday.
“There's absolutely zero ill feelings,” he said. “I certainly respect the amazing job he and his staff have done, not only at Kentucky but also at Memphis and then at UMass, as well. He's done an unbelievable job, been fabulous.”
Though the two coaches took slightly different paths to reach their spot at the top of the college basketball mountain, they both started in the same place — as graduate assistants at Kansas under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.
“We're somewhat connected,” Self conceded, “because we both got our start at KU. Our paths never crossed there, but I certainly have a lot of respect for everything they've done and accomplished. How could you not? I can't speak for him, but I'd say the feeling is mutual.”
Although the two elite coaches, who both serve on the board of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, figure to share a few laughs, a couple of handshakes and maybe even an icy glare or two as Tuesday's matchup unfolds, their spot on the sidelines is hardly the most competitive environment in which these two coaches find themselves operating.
Year after year, blue-chip prospect after blue-chip prospect, many of the top players in each recruiting class have Kansas and Kentucky on their shortlists. Though the two programs often are looking for different traits in their players, staples such as athleticism, speed, explosiveness and elite skill lead Calipari and Self to a lot of the same gyms and living rooms to watch and recruit a lot of the same players.
Though the scoreboard in that realm is about 50-50, like it is on the floor, Self admits that the two are equally as competitive in recruiting as they are when their teams hook up on the hardwood.
“There's absolutely no ill will or hard feelings,” Self said. “But there is something very competitive when you get Kentucky and Kansas together and, of course, if that's the case, then you'd probably think the coaches are pretty competitive, too, because we do recruit against each other quite often.”
Because they aren’t in the same conference, they do not play each other every year, although some quality scheduling during recent years has made the matchup more common.
The two teams enter Tuesday’s clash at the Champions Classic in Chicago as the No. 1 and No. 2 winningest college basketball programs of all time, separated by just 20 victories in more than 6,000 contests.
And because both are media darlings and supported by proud and rabid fan bases, any time these two get together, the scene before, during and after their showdown is as much more Hollywood as it is hardwood.
“These are the type of games that players live to play for and I'm sure Kentucky players do, as well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And to be part of the Champions Classic, which is such a high-profile event, certainly is very, very cool. But the reality of it is, I'm not sure that this event, whether you win or you don't win, is going to dictate what kind of season you have.”
Kentucky vs. Kansas. The mere sound of it rings so sweet in the ears of college basketball fans everywhere. And Tuesday night, at approximately 8:30 p.m. inside United Center, the two bluebloods will hook it up for the 31st time in their storied histories.
Kentucky leads the all-time series, 22-8, and holds a 21-game advantage (2,239-2,218) over Kansas in all-time victories.
Self said Sunday afternoon that freshman forward Billy Preston, who missed KU's season opener to serve a one-game suspension, was on pace to play against Kentucky on Tuesday night. And Self added that he had not yet decided what to do about his starting lineup, which, last Friday, featured freshman Marcus Garrett starting in place of expected starter Malik Newman.
"We'll see after a couple practices," Self said.
While many of the names and faces are fresh and new chapters in this unique rivalry are waiting to be written, here’s a look back at five of the most memorable Kansas-Kentucky showdowns of all-time.
1 – Dec. 9, 1989 – No. 2 KU shreds Kentucky 150-95 at Allen Fieldhouse
Way back in 1989, during then-KU coach Roy Williams' second season in charge of the Jayhawks, Kentucky and head coach Rick Pitino came to town for an early December showdown and left on the wrong end of one of the biggest beatings in KU history. Despite Pitino's insistence on pressing the entire game, the Jayhawks shredded the UK defense for easy bucket after easy bucket from start to finish. The point total (150), first-half total (80), number of field goals made (52) and total KU assists (36) are still Kansas records. And the Jayhawks, led by 31 points from sharp-shooter Terry Brown, enjoyed a day in which six players scored at least 16 points.
2 – April 2, 2012 – KU and Kentucky meet for the national championship in New Orleans
Five months after topping Kansas 75-65 in the Champions Classic in New York City, these two teams met again on the final Monday of the season at the Superdome, with a national title on the line. UK's lineup of future NBA draft picks and stars, led by Anthony Davis, overwhelmed the Jayhawks and built an 18-point first-half lead that stayed as high as 15 in the second half. However, behind Thomas Robinson's 18 points, 17 rebounds and huge heart, KU trimmed the Kentucky lead to 62-57 with 1:37 to play before falling, 67-59.
3 – Jan. 30, 2016 – No. 4 Kansas knocks off No. 20 Kentucky in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse
This one should have been dubbed Wayne Selden Jr. Night. In the first Allen Fieldhouse meeting between these two storied programs since 2006, Selden exploded for 33 points, on 12-of-20 shooting, in a game in which he played 44 of 45 minutes to lead the Jayhawks to a thrilling, 90-84, overtime victory. That was the night the Jayhawks rolled the newly acquired original rules of basketball onto the court at halftime and also the night that KU overcame a 46-40 halftime deficit to survive a scare from Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats.
4 – Nov. 18, 2014 – No. 1 Kentucky drills No. 5 Kansas in Indianapolis in the Champions Classic
KU's second matchup with Kentucky in the early-season showcase also was its most forgettable. The worst loss of the Bill Self era, which prompted the KU coach to crack a joke about how he wished there was vodka in the cups at the postgame podium instead of water, featured a young Kansas squad scoring just 12 points in the second half and shooting 19.6 percent from the floor for the game. Joked Self on Sunday: “After several years of seeing my psychiatrist I've kind of gotten past this, so I'm not going to talk about the past much. But that was a beat-down right from the beginning.”
5 – Jan. 28, 2017 – Second-ranked Kansas travels to Lexington and beats No. 4 Kentucky on its home floor
Back together for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, this time at Rupp Arena, the Jayhawks and Wildcats again delivered a matchup marked by incredible hype, an amazing atmosphere and elite talent. KU freshman Josh Jackson and future national player of the year Frank Mason III out-dueled Kentucky's talented freshman trio of D'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo, 79-73, coming from 10 down in the first half to emerge victorious. But the thin Kansas lineup also got major contributions from senior Landen Lucas and juniors Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte' Graham, as KU's starting five played 168 of a possible 200 minutes to grab the win.
KU-Kentucky All-Time Series: (UK leads 22-8)
Dec. 16, 1950 - Kentucky 68, Kansas 39 in Lexington
Dec. 14, 1959 - Kentucky 77, Kansas 72 in Lawrence
Dec. 6, 1969 - Kentucky 115, Kansas 85 in Lexington
Dec. 4, 1971 - Kentucky 79, Kansas 69 in Lawrence
Dec. 23, 1972 - Kentucky 77, Kansas 71 in Lexington
Dec. 3, 1973 - Kansas 71, Kentucky 63 in Lawrence
Dec. 23, 1974 - Kentucky 100, Kansas 63 in Louisville
Dec. 13, 1975 - Kentucky 54, Kansas 48 in Lawrence
Dec. 11, 1976 - Kentucky 90, Kansas 63 in Lexington
Dec. 10, 1977 - Kentucky 73, Kansas 66 in Lawrence
Dec. 9, 1978 - Kentucky 67, Kansas 66 in Lexington
Dec. 12, 1979 - Kentucky 57, Kansas 56 in Lawrence
Dec. 13, 1980 - Kentucky 87, Kansas 73 in Lexington
Dec. 12, 1981 - Kentucky 77, Kansas 74 (OT) in Lawrence
Dec. 29, 1982 - Kentucky 83, Kansas 62 in Louisville
Dec. 10, 1983 - Kentucky 72, Kansas 50 in Lawrence
Dec. 31, 1984 - Kentucky 92, Kansas 89 in Louisville
Dec. 14, 1985 - Kansas 83, Kentucky 66 in Lawrence
Dec. 9, 1989 - Kansas 150, Kentucky 95 in Lawrence
Dec. 8, 1990 - Kentucky 88, Kansas 71 in Lexington
Dec. 1, 1998 - Kentucky 63, Kansas 45 in Chicago (Great Eight Tournament)
March 14, 1999 - Kentucky 92, Kansas 88 (OT) in New Orleans (NCAA Tournament)
Jan. 9, 2005 - Kansas 65, Kentucky 59 in Lexington
Jan. 7, 2006 - Kansas 73, Kentucky 46 in Lawrence
March 18, 2007 - Kansas 88, Kentucky 76 in Chicago (NCAA Tournament)
Nov. 15, 2011 - Kentucky 75, Kansas 65 in New York (Champions Classic)
April 2, 2012 - Kentucky 67, Kansas 59 in New Orleans (NCAA title game)
Nov. 18, 2014 - Kentucky 72, Kansas 40 in Indianapolis (Champions Classic)
Jan. 30, 2016 - Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 (OT) in Lawrence (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Jan. 28, 2017 - Kansas 79, Kentucky 73 in Lexington (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 92-56 season-opening victory over Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse.
It would’ve been an A+ if not for the 20 turnovers. The Jayhawks shot 60 percent from the floor, dished 23 assists on 36 field goals, knocked in 12 of 28 3-pointers and had six players reach double figures. Efficient and flat-out dangerous from start to finish.
Tennessee State was overmatched from the jump and the Jayhawks never let up. KU swiped eight steals, forced 15 turnovers and limited the Tigers to 32.8 percent shooting, a number that actually went down in the second half even though the game evened out. Kansas also out-rebounded TSU 45-23, including a 35-8 mark on the defensive end.
With just two forwards playing in the game thanks to Billy Preston’s one-game suspension, KU got solid but unspectacular showings from Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike. The two combined for 19 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting, but also turned it over six times.
Devonte’ Graham threatened to record a triple-double, Lagerald Vick scored anywhere and everywhere he wanted and Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk combined to knock down 5 of 10 3-point shots. And then there was freshman Marcus Garrett, who was a surprise starter and recorded a double-double in 29 minutes.
Newman and Lightfoot, along with walk-ons Clay Young and Chris Teahan were the Kansas bench in this one and they combined to shoot 8-of-17 from the floor for 21 points and nine turnovers. Outside of his four turnovers, Newman showed the kind of effort and intensity Self was searching for. And Lightfoot, when he played within himself, was the solid presence KU needs him to be. When he didn’t, he turned it over four times.
The college basketball staff at ESPN this week released its predictions for this seasons’s Final Four, national champion, player of the year and coach of the year.
Not surprisingly, Kansas received more than a little love.
Of the 26 staffers who gave their picks, seven had Kansas advancing to the Final Four and one had the Jayhawks walking away with another national championship.
Get this, though: Twelve of the 26 had Wichita State reaching the Final Four and two prognosticators even had Kansas and Wichita State both going to the Final Four.
Wouldn’t that be a wild way to cap off KU coach Bill Self’s 15th season in charge of the program and the 120th season of Kansas basketball?
For a point of reference, 24 of the 26 prognosticators have Michigan State in their Final Four, 15 of the 26 have Duke in their Final Four, 14 have Arizona and 4 have Kentucky.
Real quick, here’s a look at the seven ESPN personalities who believe the Jayhawks are due for a return to the Final Four in the city where they won it all in 2008. Somewhat amazingly, three of them had the exact same Final Four and national champion...
• Jay Bilas – Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and KU, with Michigan State winning it all.
• Kyle Bonagura – Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and KU, with Michigan State winning it all.
• Dino Gaudio – Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and KU, with Michigan State winning it all.
• Dan Murphy – Duke, Michigan State, Wichita State and KU, with Duke winning it all.
• Mark Schlabach – Duke, Michigan State, Villanova and KU, with Michigan State winning it all.
• John Thompson III – Michigan State, Wichita State, Kentucky and KU, with Michigan State winning it all.
And the one ESPN personality who has KU winning it all this season is former Purdue forward Robbie Hummel, who saw first-hand in 2012 just how good the Jayhawks could be when Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor survived a second-round scare from Hummel’s Boilermakers en route to the national title game.
Hummel’s Final Four: Kansas, Arizona, Michigan State and Villanova.
But Hummel’s faith in the Jayhawks does not stop with him picking them to be the last team standing at the end of the Big Dance.
Hummel also pegged KU senior Devonte’ Graham as his pick for national player of the year AND Bill Self as his coach of the year.
We won’t know for months if either of those predictions — or any of the others — will come true, but we will officially get the race under way at 8 p.m. tonight, when KU hosts Tennessee State in the season opener for both teams.
A handful of Twitter messages that surfaced Thursday suggesting that Class of 2018 power forward Silvio De Sousa had been authorized to join the Kansas basketball program in time for the second semester of the current season were not accurate, according to a source with knowledge of De Sousa's recruitment.
But the Tweets, which came from what appears to be some kind of KU fan account and have since been deleted, were not completely unfounded.
While announcing his commitment to Kansas to the Journal-World back in August, De Sousa said then that he wanted to explore the idea of graduating from IMG Academy early in time to join the Jayhawks this season.
“Of course I want to play for my team in high school this year,” De Sousa told the Journal-World in August. “But if I get a chance to go straight to Kansas, I would love to just go to Kansas.”
Although IMG’s Facebook account posted a live video of De Sousa shown signing what appeared to be his letter of intent to Kansas on Wednesday — the first day of the early signing period — it's not yet known whether De Sousa and his legal guardian Fenny Falmagne have signed the letter yet.
KU officials are unable to comment on anything regarding De Sousa until that letter is in hand and cleared through KU’s compliance office.
Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, De Sousa told the Journal-World he would be available sometime after school.
At this point, it’s hard to know whether De Sousa actually could complete the necessary academic steps to get to KU this season. But if it’s possible, adding the 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward would be a huge boost for a thin Kansas front court and a roster that features just eight scholarship players who are eligible to play during the first semester.
Stay in touch with KUsports.com for updates on De Sousa's situation.
When Devonte’ Graham lobbed the ball toward Udoka Azubuike, what the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse saw made them cheer. Bill Self had a different reaction.
The play he was stewing over came two trips earlier down the floor.
The sequence that started the fast break for Kansas actually originated from a KU mistake. Svi Mykhailiuk had the ball on the left wing. It was poked away and into the hands of a defender.
As Fort Hays State dribbled the other way, Mykhailiuk took a haphazard swipe at the ball, leaving KeShawn Wilson with a one-on-one shot to the hoop.
Malik Newman, who had already picked up a foul, defended the layup well and the shot missed. The ensuing break resulted in the lob, but Mykhailiuk still found himself on the bench.
"It's not that complicated to me. If you're going to make a mistake, at least make it going full speed," Self said. "When you try not to screw up, that's when you screw up the most. We just need those guys more aggressive, playing with more reckless abandon."
That was the way the first half went more often than not for Mykhailiuk. The film didn’t do him any favors.
Early in the first half, Fort Hays State had the ball out of bounds with just seven seconds on the shot clock. The inbounds was eventually redirected to Trey O'Neil, who Mykhailiuk pressured all the way out to half court.
O'Neil turned and dribbled back to his right, easily getting by Mykhailiuk and scoring on a layup. It was far from his only defensive lapse.
Mykhailiuk was a half-step slow reacting to an off-ball cut but still recovered well enough to make a play. Billy Preston, however, didn’t make enough of a path for Svi to step through on the handoff, and Mykhailiuk didn't fight through the traffic hard enough to prevent the layup.
In a later stint on the court, Mykhailiuk found himself matched up with the Tigers' Marcus Cooper. He tried to cheat on a screen and was burned by a simple left-to-right crossover, again for a layup.
"Defensively we were bad," Self said after the game. "We've certainly got to do a better job of guarding the ball."
Offensively, it wasn’t much better.
Mykhailiuk shot just 1 for 5 in the first half, missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Even so, it was an attempted layup that stuck in Self's craw.
Nearing the midway point in the half, Mykhailiuk executed on a backcut and MItch Lightfoot delivered a perfect pass to put him in at the hoop.
Mykhailiuk went up for the layup and, perhaps sensing potential contact, contorted his body to try and lay it in left-handed. The shot bounced off the rim.
“Guy comes to contest, he flinched,” Self said. "He's a senior. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."
To be fair, Mykhailiuk wasn’t the only one to draw the ire of Self.
Newman, who picked up a cheap foul early in the game, did himself no favors later in the half, as he drove into heavy traffic and nearly turned it over.
The Jayhawks got the ball back and worked it around to Mykhailiuk, who launched a contested 3. At the next stoppage, both returned to the bench.
"You don't play with activity and people minus Devonte' go 3 of 21 from 3," Self said. "That is a formula to get your butt handed to you."
Perhaps it all would’ve been forgivable, though, if the swingman found other ways to contribute.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with eight rebounds and five assists, with a majority of those numbers coming in the second frame.
As for the first half, he had the chance to thread an easy entry pass to Udoka Azubuike, but his pass sailed by the big man and out of bounds.
"When you're not making shots and you don't give us any activity, there's absolutely no reason to play," Self said.
So to start the second half for the second straight game, Self went with Marcus Garrett and Preston over Mykhailiuk and Newman.
He doubled down on the move after the game, noting that Garrett made plays neither of the other two older players could make. Self did, however, make an even stronger statement.
Just over five minutes into the second half, Self turned to his bench to put in a wing. He opted for walk on Clay Young, continuing to leave Mykhailiuk and Newman on the bench for some time.
If it wasn't obvious as to why, Self made it perfectly clear after the game.
"No, I really did think, 'Now Clay, we need you to play a certain way,' " Self joked, before shedding the sarcasm for a more serious tone. "I just didn't really think that Svi or Malik deserved to be out there, to be honest with you.
"I think they got the message."
The 2017-18 KU men's basketball season is right around the corner.
Before KU gets things started at home against Tennessee State on Friday, our staff came together to answer 21 fun questions about KU basketball. The topics range from things in pop culture to specifics about lineups and projected minute totals.
The entirety of the list was discussed on two recent episodes of our KU Sports Hour podcast. The links to those episodes are below.
Part 1: Questions 1-10
Part 2: Questions 11-21
Here is the list of questions. Feel free to comment your own answers below!
1. Pick the most important word for Billy Preston: Fouls, interior, rebounding or other (list).
Matt Tait (@mctait): Other (consistency)
Tom Keegan (@TomKeeganLJW): Other (versatility)
Benton Smith (@BentonASmith): Interior
Bobby Nightengale (@nightengalejr): Interior
Scott Chasen (@ChasenScott): Other (mentality)
2. Pick the most important word for Udoka Azubuike: Fouls, stamina, turnovers or other (list).
Matt Tait: Fouls
Tom Keegan: Other (underhanded)
Benton Smith: Stamina
Bobby Nightengale: Other (rebounding)
Scott Chasen: Fouls
3. Rank KU’s scoring leaders 1-5.
Matt Tait: 1. Malik Newman, 2. Devonte’ Graham, 3. Udoka Azubuike, 4. Lagerald Vick, 5. Svi Mykhailiuk
Tom Keegan: 1. Malik Newman, 2. Devonte’ Graham, 3. Billy Preston, 4. Lagerald Vick, 5. Udoka Azubuike
Benton Smith: 1. Devonte’ Graham, 2. Malik Newman, 3. Lagerald Vick, 4. Svi Mykhailiuk, 5. Udoka Azubuike
Bobby Nightengale: 1. Malik Newman, 2. Lagerald Vick, 3. Devonte’ Graham, 4. Udoka Azubuike, 5. Svi Mykhailiuk
Scott Chasen: 1. Malik Newman, 2. Devonte’ Graham, 3. Lagerald Vick, 4. Svi Mykhailiuk, 5. Udoka Azubuike
4. Over/under 26.5 minutes per game for Marcus Garrett?
Matt Tait: Under
Tom Keegan: Under
Bobby Nightengale: Under
Benton Smith: Under
Scott Chasen: Under
5. Who will have the quickest foul out (player, minutes)?
Matt Tait: Billy Preston, 14 minutes
Tom Keegan: Mitch Lightfoot, 14 minutes
Benton Smith: Udoka Azubuike, 9 minutes
Bobby Nightengale: Mitch Lightfoot, 6 minutes
Scott Chasen: Billy Preston, 12 minutes
6. What movie title describes what KU needs out of Devonte’ Graham?
Matt Tait: The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Tom Keegan: Walker, Texas Ranger (pilot, 1993)
Benton Smith: Step Brothers (2008)
Bobby Nightengale: Iron Man (2008)
Scott Chasen: Phone Booth (2002)
7. What player shocks KU fans the most and how?
Matt Tait: Lagerald Vick’s dunks drop jaws of KU fans
Tom Keegan: Lagerald Vick throws down a ridiculous in-game dunk
Benton Smith: Udoka Azubuike goes end to end and destroys a rim
Bobby Nightengale: Svi Mykhailiuk plays like a first-round talent
Scott Chasen: Lagerald Vick has a monster season
8. Assign a Halloween costume to describe Mitch Lightfoot’s season.
Matt Tait: U.S. postal worker
Tom Keegan: Jack Nicholson with an ax from The Shining
Benton Smith: Scream costume
Bobby Nightengale: Rocky Balboa
Scott Chasen: Headless Horseman
9. More technicals: KU basketball players, Bill Self or push?
Matt Tait: Players
Tom Keegan: Players
Benton Smith: Bill Self
Bobby Nightengale: Bill Self
Scott Chasen: Push
10. Who is KU's most replaceable player between Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike?
Matt Tait: Malik Newman
Tom Keegan: Lagerald Vick
Benton Smith: Lagerald Vick
Bobby Nightengale: Lagerald Vick
Scott Chasen: Lagerald Vick
11. What will KU’s best late game defensive lineup be at the end of the year?
Matt Tait: Graham-Garrett-Vick-Preston-Azubuike
Tom Keegan: Graham-Garrett-Vick-Preston-Azubuike
Benton Smith: Graham-Mykhailiuk-Vick-Garrett-Azubuike
Bobby Nightengale: Graham-Garrett-Vick-Lightfoot-Azubuike
Scott Chasen: Graham-Garrett-Vick-Preston-Azubuike
12. What will be Bill Self’s biggest adaptation this year?
Matt Tait: KU shooting a higher percentage of 3s
Tom Keegan: Living with mistakes
Benton Smith: Playing bigs through foul trouble
Bobby Nightengale: Five-guard lineups
Scott Chasen: Malik Newman
13. What will Sam Cunliffe’s biggest play this year look like?
Matt Tait: Dunk-contest moment in a game
Tom Keegan: Put-back dunk in a game
Benton Smith: Late-game 3 on the road in Big 12 play
Bobby Nightengale: Dunk in warmups
Scott Chasen: First-half 3 in an early NCAA tournament game
14. Will Chris Teahan’s first FGM come before or after January 1?
Matt Tait: Before
Tom Keegan: Before
Benton Smith: Before
Bobby Nightengale: Before
Scott Chasen: After
15. Predict KU basketball’s worst day in the 2017-18 season?
Matt Tait: Day after Stanford game (Dec. 22)
Tom Keegan: Elite Eight loss
Benton Smith: Sweet Sixteen loss
Bobby Nightengale: FBI investigation resurfaces in college basketball
Scott Chasen: Non-conference injury
16. What odds would you have to be given to bet $50 against KU winning the Big 12?
Matt Tait: 50-to-1
Tom Keegan: 12-to-1
Benton Smith: 50-to-1
Bobby Nightengale: 11-to-1
Scott Chasen: 25-to-1
17. Which player’s success will hinder another’s the most?
Matt Tait: Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk
Tom Keegan: Billy Preston, Svi Mykhailiuk
Benton Smith: Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk
Bobby Nightengale: Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick
Scott Chasen: Marcus Garrett, Svi Mykhailiuk
18. What anthem should Bill Self have for the 2017-18 season and why?
Matt Tait: Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), returning to the Final Four
Tom Keegan: Down by the River (Neil Young), Final Four in San Antonio
Benton Smith: I am a God (Kanye), Self has total control of the program
Bobby Nightengale: What is Love (Haddaway), "Baby don't hurt me"
Scott Chasen: Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), KU's best lineups will be 3-guard, 2-big
19. More losses for KU: vs. the SEC (Kentucky, Texas A&M) or in the rest of non-conference play?
Matt Tait: Rest of non-conference play
Tom Keegan: Rest of non-conference play
Benton Smith: Push
Bobby Nightengale: SEC games
Scott Chasen Push
20. What former Jayhawk and former Big 12 player from the streak would cause KU the most trouble to play against?
Matt Tait: Josh Jackson, Michael Beasley
Tom Keegan: Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant
Benton Smith: Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant
Bobby Nightengale: Joel Embiid, Blake Griffin
Scott Chasen: Thomas Robinson, Kevin Durant
21. Pick one player in the nation to add to KU.
Matt Tait: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Tom Keegan: DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
Benton Smith: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Bobby Nightengale: Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Scott Chasen: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Kansas commitment Silvio De Sousa made his pledge to join the Jayhawks official on Wednesday morning during a signing ceremony at IMG Academy on the first day of the early signing period.
De Sousa, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward who was the first in the 2018 class to commit to Kansas, and he signed Wednesday morning in a no-frills manner, wearing a blue Under Armour T-Shirt in front of several IMG classmates from multiples sports, faculty and family members.
De Sousa, a native of Angola, officially committed to Kansas in late August while traveling back home to compete for his country in FIBA Afrobasket 2017.
Ranked No. 18 by Rivals.com, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who also does a lot of international scouting, told the Journal-World back then that De Sousa was one of the Top 10 players entering college in the 2018 class in his eyes.
The explosive, athletic and powerful forward has drawn comparisons to former Kansas standout Thomas Robinson as well as former Kentucky star Julius Randle.
De Sousa is the first of three 2018 commitments expected to sign national letters of intent with Kansas this week.
The early signing period began Wednesday and runs through next Wednesday. After that, any unsigned or future commitments will have to wait until the regular signing period next Spring to make things official.
With this trio already in the fold, KU’s 2018 recruiting class is ranked No. 2 overall by most national recruiting sites.
There’s a chance that soon could go up, as all four of Rivals.com’s national recruiting analysts recently predicted that five-star guard Quentin Grimes also would pick Kansas.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 86-57 victory over Fort Hays State on Tuesday night in the exhibition finale at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas was sluggish and sloppy in the first half and turned the ball over almost as many times as the Jayhawks recorded an assist. That led to just a 38-33 lead at the break. In the second half, however, thanks to some red hot shooting by Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 8 assists), Kansas was much more efficient and effective on offense, which allowed the Jayhawks to open up a big lead and cruise to victory.
Even when Fort Hays State missed, they found a way to get open looks. Beyond that, KU gave up far too many open jumpers and struggled to use its superior size and athleticism to suffocate the overmatched Tigers. The intensity was much better in the second half, but the guess here is that Bill Self will remember more what his defense looked like in the first half. The second half showing is what he expects.
Udoka Azbuike and Billy Preston both had some great moments and both showed a willingness and understanding that hanging out down low is where they need to be. That led to a combined line of 26 points and 12 rebounds, both numbers that probably should’ve been a tick higher considering Fort Hays State’s lack of size.
Graham and Vick were pretty good from start to finish. Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk struggled for most of the night. Marcus Garrett’s workman-like effort was the tiebreaker and led to this grade landing as a low A instead of a high B.
Preston and Garrett both earned second-half starts, which shows both the fact that Self was pleased with their play and disappointed in the play of Mykahiliuk and Newman. Mitch Lightfoot logged limited playing time and had just 3 rebounds to show for it, but Garrett and Preston did enough to give KU’s bench a solid grade.
One week ago, during the Kansas basketball program’s second of three exhibition games this season, the Jayhawks rode out the final few minutes of their 100-54 blowout victory over Pittsburg State with regular rotation players Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot on the floor.
Don’t be surprised if you see that or something awfully similar again the rest of the season.
Kansas coach Bill Self on Monday said he was not actively seeking any additional walk-ons to join Clay Young and Chris Teahan on the 2017-18 roster. But Self added that he would be open to bringing another player on board if everything fell into place.
“The only way we would take somebody else is if he was big and could defend better than what Teahan or Clay could,” Self said, referring mostly to a potential player’s practice role. “You’d rather have some big bodies in practice. There’s no question about that. But I’m not going to take a guy just to take a guy. But if there’s somebody that falls in our lap, whether it be from the walk-on tryouts that we just had or if somebody were to get hurt, we’ve got guys that we could call. But I’m not interested in doing that.”
One reason he isn't is because the bodies are there for practice. They just can't play in the games. Transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore all represent quality options for KU's scout team in practices so adding more players for that reason is not on the table. And, if you think about it, each season includes a lot more time practicing than it does closing out games.
Even still, for a team that features precious little depth in the front court and is working with just eight scholarship players in all during the first semester of the 2017-18 season, it was a little strange to see such prominent players on the floor so late in a lopsided game.
Normally, moments such as those, both during exhibition play and the regular season, are the time for walk-ons and seldom-used scholarship to shine. And, throughout the years, most KU squads have had no shortage of walk-ons and seldom-used scholarship players.
Just think back to the 2014-15 season, when Self could toss this group onto the floor at the end of games — Christian Garrett, Josh Pollard, Evan Manning, Tyler Self and Hunter Mickelson. Or, the year before, when Niko Roberts, Justin Wesley and a young Landen Lucas could be added to that group. Even last year’s team had Tucker Vang, Tyler Self, Clay Young, Dwight Coleby and a freshman Lightfoot to play at the end of games.
The point was, Self didn’t have to worry much about any of those guys playing in garbage time because they weren’t critical parts of KU’s lineup during the rest of the game and could usher in the early celebration of another victory with some fun moments and memorable highlights.
But last Tuesday, Self had no choice but to play three of his rotation guys. And it figures to be that way at least for the near future.
The KU coach said he kept Azubuike on the floor for conditioning purposes. And it may play out that way again early in the season. But no matter how it goes, he’s going to have to pick three of his top eight players to join Young and Teahan in the game’s final moments.
It’s safe to assume that it won’t often be Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick or Azubuike. Those four, in some order, would probably get the most votes for most valuable players on this team.
That leaves Garrett, Lightfoot, Svi Mykhailiuk and Billy Preston as the most likely players to join KU’s walk-on duo in closing out games. All four of those players would compete for starting spots at most schools and could find themselves starting for Kansas a time or two this season.
When the first semester ends and transfer guard Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible, he figures to be a prime candidate to join Young and Teahan as regulars in the late-game lineup, but even that will force the Jayhawks to use two rotation regulars along with them.
But Self seems content to do that before crowding his bench by adding another walk-on.
“We’ve taken some guys in the past out of the student body and it’s worked out well for us and we’ve taken some guys in the past that it hasn’t worked out well for us,” Self said. “But we don’t need another guard. He’d have to be another big guy.”
The Kansas basketball team’s recent exhibition victories over Missouri at Sprint Center and Pittsburg State at Allen Fieldhouse carried with them a bunch of good signs and exposed a few areas of concern for the 2017-18 team.
While many of those were of the big picture, team variety, there were more than a few individual efforts that left people encouraged about the upcoming season.
Senior point guard Devonté Graham went off and showed that he’s ready for the bigger role he’ll have this season. 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike showed promise on both ends of the floor and gave Kansas that inside scoring presence it has lacked in recent years. And freshman forward Billy Preston demonstrated, in limited minutes both times, that he was both able and willing to hang next to the basket and do some of the dirty work inside for a team that needs to develop its frontcourt depth as quickly as possible.
However, one of the more overlooked aspects of KU’s first two exhibition games — the Jayhawks will play their final exhibition game of the season at 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Fort Hays State at Allen Fieldhouse — came from sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot.
The most experienced forward on KU’s roster in terms of college games played, Lightfoot spent the summer working on all aspects of his game in an attempt to make a bigger impact during his second year as a Jayhawk. As is the case with most athletes, getting bigger, stronger and faster were major focuses for Lightfoot, but so, too, was the ability to expand his offensive game.
Lightfoot spent countless hours in various gyms working on his outside shot, hoping to become a smoother shooter with better range to give KU coach Bill Self the option of putting his size out there while still operating with a small ball mentality.
Although he no doubt became a better shooter during those months, it has not yet translated to game-type situations.
He struggled to shoot the ball from the outside during the team’s four-game trip to Italy in August and did not really show much in that department during KU’s summer camp scrimmages, or at Late Night, either.
So where’s the good news? Easy. Lightfoot barely even thought about attempting an outside shot during KU’s wins over the Tigers or Gorillas, pulling the trigger from the outside just once in the two games combined.
And, as we approach the start of the regular season — now just four days away — Lightfoot seems to know that the easiest way for him to log meaningful minutes is to be a scrapper, hit the glass, play tough defense and score on easy opportunities inside, off of assists from teammates and put-backs near the rim.
“I’m a pretty confident person,” Lightfoot said Monday. “But when you’ve got, like, Svi (Mykhailiuk) out there, I’m pretty sure he’s a better shooter than me, so I’m gonna get him a shot. If that means an extra pass (or a screen) then so be it.”
This whole scenario reminds me a lot of Landen Lucas last season. After a strong junior year in which he became known for his defense and rebounding, Lucas spent the summer before his senior year working tirelessly to expand his offensive game.
He worked on post moves, drilled with both hands, tried to extend his range a little and emphasized a different mentality that would paint him as a player who could catch the ball in the post and get a bucket for his team.
But those improved skills and Lucas’ expanded mindset too rarely showed up in games, and Lucas, partly because of his offensive struggles and partly because of a nagging foot injury, often appeared frustrated during the first few weeks of the 2016-17 season.
You might remember that Lucas’ progress was almost a daily story line and questions about his “funk” were asked constantly. In time, Lucas climbed out of that funk and turned in an equally strong senior season.
The biggest reason? He got back to doing what he did best and being himself. He ditched the offensive mindset and went back to work on the boards and defense, allowing his points to come off of the hard work he was putting in and positioning himself in the right place at the right time on the offensive end.
Lightfoot seems to be on that same path. And if the 6-foot-8 sophomore, who is regarded as an overall better athlete than Lucas, already has reached that point mentally, it’s definitely a sign of more good things to come.
“I’m just embracing that role of being the energy guy and helping the guards get good shots ... because we have great guards,” said Lightfoot, entertaining comparisons to former Jayhawks such as Kevin Young and Jamari Traylor. “Being a big guy, I can know the big man position, the 4 and the 5, but I also have some quickness to me so I can rebound better, bring some energy, maybe defend smaller players and stuff like that.”
Added Self, who seemed to like the sound of Lightfoot’s understanding of his role this season: “He’s going to play as a big guy; he’s not going to play another spot on the floor. He’s going to play as a 4 man 80 percent of the time when he’s out there, and he may have to play as a 5 man some. But he’s never going to play as a 3 man, at least this year, I wouldn’t think. We’ve got too many other guards.”
As Kansas basketball coach Bill Self continues to visit basketball gyms and living rooms across the country in search of more future Jayhawks, it’s important to remember exactly what Self is out there looking for.
With physical big men Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack already committed in the 2018 recruiting class and at least two more all but guaranteed to be returning to Kansas for the 2018-19 season — Mitch Lightfoot will be a junior and Dedric Lawson will again be eligible — the Jayhawks appear to be set up front.
And although that will be a welcome relief from the thin days of the past couple of seasons — including the 2017-18 campaign, which officially tips off Friday, Nov. 10 against Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse — the focus will shift, and already has shifted, to replenishing the backcourt, which figures to look drastically different a year from now.
Top 20 prospect Devon Dotson, a five-star guard from Charlotte, N.C., already has committed to be KU’s point guard of the future and, together, Dotson, De Sousa and McCormack, along with Self and his staff, are in the process of trying to entice more guards and wings to join them.
At the top of KU’s current wish list in the 2018 class are names you’ve already heard dozens of times. Romeo Langford, Quentin Grimes and Zion Williamson are all currently undecided and are still considering Kansas, and landing any one of them, or perhaps some combination of the three of them, would merely add gold stars to KU’s already stellar 2018 recruiting class.
Some of the usual suspects remain the Jayhawks’ top competition for all three perimeter players (Kentucky, Texas, Duke, etc.), but perhaps more important than convincing these young men that Kansas can offer them more than those other schools is Self’s ability to sell these players, and countless other future versions of them, that coming to Kansas to play in the backcourt means coming to a system that features freedom, flexibility and multiple paths to playing time.
In so many words, and not talking about any players specifically, Self explained this recently during a radio appearance on 1320 KLWN.
“I tell all our recruits, and I mean it, I want to recruit positionless players,” Self said. “Guys you can put out there and everybody can play with them.”
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The current KU team is full of examples of that, with Devonté Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk and Marcus Garrett all capable of playing multiple positions and in different lineups.
The 2016-17 team had a similar makeup, with Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson also adding versatility to the roster.
Although the past two KU teams have featured an abundance of these such players, the whole concept is far from new for Self.
Dating all the way back to his days at Illinois, with Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head, as well as to some of his earliest KU teams, including the 2008 national champions, with Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush, Self has favored versatility in his backcourts.
“I never believed in kind of pigeon-holing a guy, saying he’s a one, a two, a three, a four or a five,” Self said. “I like to have guys where who you do the same thing for multiple guys on your team. Once you get into half-court offense, we ball screen for the three man, ball screen for the two man, we can ball screen for the four man like we did last year with Josh. I like that. I do think we’re a little versatile.”
Versatility means options. Options create uncomfortable afternoons for opponents. And uncomfortable afternoons for opponents often lead to Kansas victories. A lot of them.
“I think we’re going to be a little light at the point guard position,” Self said. “We’re gonna be counting on Devonté. But I am excited. I think this has a chance to be a very fun team.”
After closing out the exhibition season on Tuesday night at Fort Hays State, KU will get going for real when it welcomes Tennessee State to Allen Fieldhouse on Nov. 10 before traveling to Chicago for the Champions-Classic clash with Kentucky on Nov. 14.