Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

Frank Mason III gaining serious support for national player of the year honors

Kansas guard Frank Mason III

Kansas guard Frank Mason III by Nick Krug

The official announcements are still a couple of weeks away, but Kansas senior Frank Mason III is already starting to garner some pretty impressive support for national player of the year honors.

As KU coach Bill Self mentioned recently, there are a handful of different player of the year honors handed out each season, from the most popular Naismith and Wooden Awards down to the similar honors handed out by organizations like ESPN, CBS Sports and others in between.

While it seems incredibly likely that Mason will walk away with at least one of those — given his strong season and the lack of a run-away choice on any other team — it certainly does not hurt Mason’s chances for winning several of them to get the kind of support he got this week.

College basketball guru/ambassador/broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter to reveal Mason as his choice for player of the year on Thursday.

None by Dick Vitale

And, earlier in the day, ESPN.com ran the results of its player poll, in which the 20 players named on the Wooden Award's list of semifinalists were asked to vote for player of the year. Players were not allowed to vote for themselves, only 18 responded and Mason led the way with seven votes, by far the most of anyone on the list.

These kinds of things certainly don’t guarantee anything for Mason when it comes to actually winning the awards. But they do shape public opinion and they do influence voters.

Let’s say there are a few voters out there who can’t decide between Mason and Villanova’s Josh Hart or others who are star-struck by the name Lonzo Ball.

Seeing a guy like Vitale pick Mason or reading that the players who actually play the game also favor Mason can help change or make up their minds for them.

Beyond that, a small percentage of several of these awards are based on fan voting, and it’s easy to see a scenario in which people who haven’t followed individual players that closely this season go cast their vote for Mason simply because Vitale sang his praises.

Time will tell how all of this shakes out. And, again, Mason seems destined to win at least one or two of the national player of the year honors.

For my money, though, I think Mason should win them all. He checks all of the boxes — great stats, great character, team leader, clutch and signature moments and shots, top player on the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, etc. — and has had a terrific season from start to finish with very few off nights.

Mason enters the regular season finale — 5 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma State — averaging 20.3 points per game, 4.9 assists per game and 4.0 rebounds per game. He also ranks second on the team in steals (41), is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range (67-for-134) and has played a team-high 36.1 minutes per game.

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2 through 4 seeds up for grabs in Big 12; and why Kansas should care

The Kansas Jayhawks sing the Alma Mater prior to tipoff against Oklahoma.

The Kansas Jayhawks sing the Alma Mater prior to tipoff against Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Monday night, at around the same time that the Kansas men’s basketball team was battling back from the dead against last-place Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor were battling in a Big 12 basketball game in Waco, Texas.

Three weeks ago, that game looked like it might mean a whole heck of a lot in the race for the Big 12 title. But Kansas, as it always seems to do, slapped a Heisman-trophy-style stiff arm on the rest of the competition, ran away with a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and rendered that game nearly meaningless.

Meaningless to the very top of the league standings, that is.

By pulling out the victory, the Bears kept alive their hopes of securing the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (I know; I can’t believe it’s here either!)

Iowa State, at 12-5 in Big 12 play, currently holds that distinction, with Baylor and West Virginia tied at 11-6 right behind them.

The Cyclones play at West Virginia this weekend in the regular season finale for both teams while Baylor closes Big 12 play at last-place Texas.

So now I’m guessing we’ve reached the point where most of you are wondering why the heck you’re reading this and what the heck it has to do with Kansas.

The answer? Nothing immediately. But if you’re into looking ahead at all, the musical chairs played by these three teams could have a big time impact on the Jayhawks a week from now.

As the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tourney, Kansas, as you all know, will play the winner of Wednesday’s 8-9 game at 1:30 p.m. next Thursday in the Big 12 quarterfinals at Sprint Center.

A win there puts KU into the semifinals, where they could — or could not — face the No. 4 seed and that’s why this is all at least mildly interesting to Kansas fans.

Right now, Iowa State would be the 2, Baylor the 3 and West Virginia the 4. At least in my mind, that seems like it would be the absolute worst order for the Jayhawks, given that the Mountaineers beat KU by double digits in Morgantown and controlled Kansas for 37 minutes of the 45-minute overtime thriller in Lawrence a couple of weeks ago.

The thinking there goes like this: If you’re going to have to play the Mountaineers again, you’d probably prefer for it to be in the Big 12 title game.

There is an easy way to fix that. Have WVU beat Iowa State this weekend. Let’s say that happens — on West Virginia’s Senior Day, no less — and let’s say Baylor beats Texas, which also seems logical and likely.

That would leave all three teams with 12-6 records and in a three-way tie behind Kansas.

According to the Big 12’s web site, ties involving more than two teams are broken for seeding purposes by taking the teams that are tied and looking back at their head-to-head games as a mini-round-robin tournament. The team with the best winning percentage in that exercise wins the seed up for grabs.

In this case, should those three teams finished tied, West Virginia would get the 2 seed (3-1 in mini-round-robin exercise), Baylor would get the 3 (2-2) and Iowa State would be the 4 (1-3).

Again, this is just my opinion, but that outcome would be the best possible set up for Kansas. Even though the Cyclones were one of just three teams to beat KU all season — at home, no less — ISU’s lack of size poses a much better match-up and playing the Cyclones in the semis would prevent Kansas from an absolutely nasty two-games-in-two-days scenario of facing Baylor or West Virginia on Friday and the other in Saturday’s title game.

The folks at Oklahoma State, which, as the 5 seed, has an interest in all of this for its first-round match-up, put out this handy graphic which shows all of the different scenarios from the various possible outcomes of this weekend’s games.

Even though there’s no drama at the top of the conference standings, there’s still plenty to monitor on the final day of regular season play in the Big 12.

Tracking the seeding scenarios during the final weekend of Big 12 basketball.

Tracking the seeding scenarios during the final weekend of Big 12 basketball. by Matt Tait

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Postgame Report Card: No. 1 Kansas 73, Oklahoma 63

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) celebrates a three during the second half, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) celebrates a three during the second half, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 73-63, Senior Night win over Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B

Making 10-of-10 down the stretch to finish at 50 percent for the night saved what, for a while, looked like it might be the Kansas offense’s first C grade of the season.

Defense: B+

Oklahoma got a ton of layups and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, but KU suffocated the Sooners down the stretch. Even in the first half, when KU’s offense was lousy, the Kansas defense forced OU to shoot 25 percent from the floor to keep Kansas in the game.

Frontcourt: B

Forward Landen Lucas was good in his home finale, finishing 3-of-3 from the floor, 2-of-2 at the free throw line and with eight points and eight rebounds. Add a few more rebounds to that line and you’ve got the signature Lucas line. The best news here was, because of foul trouble, Lucas was limited to fewer than 30 minutes (28) for the second game in a row, giving the big man some much needed rest.

Backcourt: B+

Mason had a rough first half and a strong finish. Devonte’ Graham did not assert himself until the end and Josh Jackson turned it over eight times. Those uncharacteristic traits from KU’s top trio certainly made things harder, but, as usual, there’s no way they win this one without all of them.

Bench: B-

Outside of Lagerald Vick’s 11 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes, the Jayhawks didn’t get much from a bench that, for one night, included regular starter Svi Mykhailiuk. Sitting so senior Tyler Self could make the lone start of his career, Svi was 1-of-4 from the floor, 0-of-2 from 3-point range. Recently strong big men Dwight Coleby and Carlton Bragg Jr. both struggled, finishing 0-of-4 from the floor with 6 rebounds in 17 minutes. Bragg did grab three offensive rebounds.

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Senior Night at Kansas special for underclassmen too

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) gets up for a rebound over Texas forward Shaquille Cleare (32) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44).

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) gets up for a rebound over Texas forward Shaquille Cleare (32) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44). by Nick Krug

Senior Night at Kansas is a special event.

The memories live for lifetimes, the photos are a part of history and the framed jerseys and pictures that are presented to each player often hang on their walls well into their adult lives.

But it’s not just the seniors who Senior Night means something to. Of course it’s special for the fans, families and coaches of those Jayhawks being honored. But it also means something to their teammates, some of whom are taking notes for when their big night rolls around.

Freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot is one of those players. After immersing himself in everything Kansas basketball from an early age — and all over again in a whole different way this season — Lightfoot is looking forward to being one of the thousands of people clapping and honoring KU seniors Landen Lucas, Frank Mason III and Tyler Self following tonight’s 8 p.m. game against Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Those guys have been incredible inspirations for me,” Lightfoot said.

Specifically, Lightfoot was asked what he would remember about his time with Mason and Lucas, two of KU’s unquestioned leaders this season who have introduced Lightfoot into the culture of Kansas basketball.

“How hard they worked,” Lightfoot answered. “Those guys are workhorses and they’re always willing to do the little things. Frank does so much for this team that you guys do see and he does so much for us that you guys don’t see. Same with Landen.”

Although the 14-man Kansas roster has allowed Lightfoot to learn a lot of things from a lot of people during the past nine months, the lessons he has taken from Lucas, who plays the same position, have been life-changing.

“Learning from him, just being humble, rebounding the heck out of the ball and defending the other team’s best big every time,” Lightfoot began. “I’m kind of in the same position as he was. The guy paid his dues before he (got) his time to shine and, obviously, he’s shining right now.”

In an era of one-and-done players dominating headlines, transfers taking place at record-setting rates and early entries into the NBA Draft becoming more and more common, four-year players like Lucas and Mason are true commodities and more appreciated than ever.

For Lightfoot, who still has three seasons ahead of him at Kansas, getting a chance to go through a season with guys like that has been invaluable.

“I obviously see myself as being one of those Frank and Landen type of guys, who stays here the entire time," Lightfoot said. "And I’ve found some inspiration in that. They’re willing to pay their dues.”

Senior Nights Under Bill Self:

2017 - Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas, Tyler Self

2016 - Perry Ellis, Evan Manning, Hunter Mickelson, Jamari Traylor

2015 - Christian Garrett

2014 - Tarik Black, Niko Roberts, Justin Wesley

2013 - Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Kevin Young

2012 - Tyshawn Taylor, Conner Teahan, Jordan Juenemann

2011 - Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Mario Little

2010 - Sherron Collins

2009 - Brennan Bechard, Matt Kleinmann

2008 - Roderick Stewart, Jeremy Case, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Brad Witherspoon

2007 - No Seniors on KU Roster

2006 - Jeff Hawkins, Stephen Vinson, Christian Moody

2005 - Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, Wayne Simien, Michael Lee

2004 - Brett Olson, Bryant Nash, Jeff Graves

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 87, TCU 68

The Kansas bench erupts after a dunk by Dwight Coleby during the second half, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Kansas bench erupts after a dunk by Dwight Coleby during the second half, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 87-68 victory over TCU that clinched a 13th consecutive Big 12 title.

Offense: A

The Jayhawks scored 87 points and didn’t even need to shoot above 50 percent to do it. Four players reached double figures and the Jayhawks were good from inside and out, with crisp passing leading to easy buckets, strong transition play and a 10-of-23 clip from 3-point range.

Defense: B-

Nothing real impressive about this effort, but KU’s offense made sure it didn’t matter. If I had a dollar for every time KU coach Bill Self looked shocked, dismayed, angry or upset about something his defense allowed TCU to do, I’d be able to upgrade to the Early Bird Boarding on this weekend’s flight to Austin. That said, KU did hold TCU to 39.1 percent shooting and also out-rebounded the Frogs, 43-38, after getting out-rebounded 26-18 in the first half. Those two facts elevated this from C+ range into B territory.

Frontcourt: B

Landen Lucas was decent but far from great in his least amount of playing time since returning to the starting lineup (17 minutes) and Carlton Bragg Jr., more than made up for it with a monster night.

Backcourt: A

Three of KU’s four double-digit scorers were guards, including Frank Mason III’s game-high 20 points and 17 from Devonte’ Graham and 15 from Josh Jackson. Lagerald Vick cooled off and Svi Mykhailiuk continued to be quiet.

Bench: B

Bragg (7-of-10 shooting for 15 points and 7 rebounds) was spectacular but Vick struggled for just 3 points and 3 rebounds in 26 minutes. The rest of the bench, though all entering the game contributed precious little to the cause, save for Dwight Coleby’s big time slam with attitude late in the game.

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KU’s favored by how many?

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets fired up as the Jayhawks close in on the West Virginia lead during the second half, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets fired up as the Jayhawks close in on the West Virginia lead during the second half, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Out playing a round of golf this morning on an unseasonably warm February game day, one of the guys I was playing with asked me what the betting line for tonight's KU-TCU game at Allen Fieldhouse was.

Always curious about those sorts of things, no matter which teams are playing, I logged on to my go-to site for lines and took a peek.

Expecting to see it somewhere around 7 or 8, I was a little surprised when I saw the number. KU opened as a 13-point favorite and, as of noon Wednesday, was still sitting right at 12.5 points.

I get it. That number makes sense. After all, TCU is 6-8 in the Big 12 and just 17-10 overall and this one's at Allen Fieldhouse on a night when there should be an extra level of excitement in the gym than normal given KU's chance to clinch a 13th consecutive Big 12 title and the fact that the No. 25 jersey worn by Brandon Rush will be added to the rafters at halftime.

Two big moments should have the Fieldhouse bumping.

But, still, 12.5 points? I've never been one to question the oddsmakers in Vegas. It seems they're right about 99.9999999 percent of the time and know way more about these things than I do. But tonight's number certainly was higher than I expected.

Trying to figure out just how unusual that number seemed, I looked back at KU's 14 previous Big 12 games this season — including an 86-80 win at TCU to kick conference play off back in December — and found out that Kansas has played exactly one game in the Big 12 this season that would've covered that line.

That came on Jan. 7, when KU topped Texas Tech 85-68 at home and even that one was a 5-point game inside the final 10 minutes.

Other than that game, KU's other margins of victory in conference play all have been 12 points or less, including a wild and ongoing stretch of six conference victories by 6 points or fewer.

That, of course, doesn't mean the Jayhawks won't win by 13 or more tonight. In fact, I could easily see it happening. But I also probably wouldn't bet on it.

In KU's six Big 12 victories at home this season, the Jayhawks have won by an average margin of 7.8 points. That includes a two-point win over K-State, a 7-point win over Oklahoma State and last week's wild, 4-point, overtime win over West Virginia.

The Horned Frogs have played well on the road this season, particularly shooting the ball and on the glass. And Kansas has not been quite as dominant at home as in year's past.

Those two factors, along with the expectation that this season's general trend is likely to continue, have me thinking that the Frogs will stay within 13 points tonight, even while Kansas finishes on top to make it 13 consecutive Big 12 titles in a row.

Should be a fun night either way.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out this fun look back at the career of Brandon Rush while you wait for tonight's tip-off...

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How Kansas can clinch more than a share of Big 12 title No. 13 on Wednesday night

The Kansas bench celebrates a three from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk during a surge by the Jayhawks in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

The Kansas bench celebrates a three from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk during a surge by the Jayhawks in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

As everyone reading this surely knows, the Kansas men’s basketball team currently holds a three-game lead over three Big 12 teams with four games to play.

That means, with a win Wednesday night, Kansas can clinch at least a share of its 13th consecutive Big 12 title.

But did you know that it’s possible that the Jayhawks could clinch the league title outright with a win at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night at home against TCU?

It will take some help and it’s probably a big time long shot, but it is possible.

Both West Virginia and Iowa State play Monday night. Each would need to lose to keep this scenario alive. If either wins — WVU hosts Texas and Iowa State plays at Texas Tech — then the best Kansas can do on Wednesday is clinch a share.

For the sake of this blog, though, let’s say the Mountaineers and Cyclones cooperate and both lose. That would bring Baylor into the picture and the Bears, who dropped from 4th to 9th in this week’s AP Poll, would need to lose to Oklahoma at home on Tuesday to set up the KU-clinches-outright scenario.

Like I said, it’s probably a long shot at best, but KU has received more help than this during this incredible run of consecutive conference titles so I’m not counting anything out.

More likely, though, KU will be able to celebrate a league title next Monday, when the Jayhawks host Oklahoma for Senior Night at Allen Fieldhouse.

For my money, though, I’d like to see it happen Wednesday so the Jayhawks can keep the home finale about the seniors and spread out the celebrations.

Then again, knowing how Landen Lucas and Frank Mason III think and have operated throughout their KU careers, they’d probably prefer to have the title-clinching celebration on Senior Night because, for them, the good of the team has always come before any of their own personal interests.

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With Trae Young off the board, where do the Jayhawks go next?

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Trae Young, Collin Sexton, Quade Green and Tremont Waters — all are point guards ranked in the Top 36 of the Rivals 150 for 2017 and all were players that the Kansas men’s basketball program recruited on one level or another during the past several months.

With Young’s announcement today that he is staying home in Norman, Oklahoma, to play for the Sooners, the Jayhawks now have missed out on several of the top point guard targets in a class loaded with talent at the position.

All four of those players chose colleges that allowed them to stay close to home. And sometimes there’s just no competing with location.

However, all of those misses would be forgotten in a millisecond if the Jayhawks can entice five-star point guard Trevon Duval to pick Kansas.

Duval, a 6-foot-3, 189-pound point guard from IMG Academy in Florida, is the highest ranked point guard in the 2017 class. Slotted at No. 3, four spots above Sexton in the overall rankings and 11 spots in front of Young, Duval picking Kansas would be a big time get for the Jayhawks and likely push KU’s 2017 Class, which already includes five-star forward Billy Preston (No. 8 overall) and four-star combo guard Marcus Garrett (No. 37), into the Top 3 in the country.

With that said, landing Duval won’t be easy. Along with Kansas, the fast and physical flier from New York City also lists Arizona, Baylor, Duke and Seton Hall as finalists, but it’s not as if the Jayhawks are a long shot here.

In fact, after what KU showed Duval and his family during his official visit earlier this month, there are plenty of people out there who believe that KU is alive and well in their pursuit of Duval.

Shay Wildeboor, of JayhawkSlant.com, told The Journal-World that KU is expected to visit Duval today.

Obviously, had Young chosen Kansas today, KU’s chances at landing Duval would’ve been diminished. But since he didn’t, a case could be made that the Duval-to-Kansas odds might now actually be slightly better.

With Young out of the mix and Kansas losing Frank Mason III — and potentially Devonte’ Graham — after the season, there is a clear opening for a lead guard in the Kansas program.

Even with transfers Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe (2nd semester) in the mix alongside Svi Mykhailiuk (another candidate to leave early), Lagerald Vick and Garrett, it appears that KU still would need true point guard to run the show.

If Graham returns for his senior season, he could be that point guard, but he also has shown this season that he is just as effective playing off the ball with another player handling the point.

The idea of Duval playing point with Graham and Newman starting next to him brings visions of a Top 5 preseason ranking and yet another title-contending Kansas team.

Maybe that’s how all this will play out and the Jayhawks, who have been relentless in their pursuit of Duval to this point, will wind up singing the praises of the slogan, “Good things come to those who wait.”

"There is heavy competition (for Duval) and Duke has been seen as the team to beat of late," wrote Eric Bossi of Rivals.com on Thursday. "But there’s nothing to suggest Kansas isn’t a real player here and they’ll certainly be turning up the heat.... It is never easy to miss out on a top 15 prospect like Young, but given that the majority of highly rated prospects are off the board, the timing isn’t the best and the pool of available players to choose from is pretty shallow. That said, Kansas is still Kansas and Bill Self is Bill Self, meaning that there are still options out there."

Having said that, it’s entirely possible that they’ll miss on Duval too, an ending that would bring a fair amount of uncertainty to next year’s Kansas roster.

Don’t substitute uncertainty for fear, however. Whenever you’ve got Bill Self running your program, you’re going to be OK. After all, did anyone think that Self’s decision to take a couple of kids named Mason and Graham, who once appeared to be headed to Towson and Appalachian State, would wind up producing one of the best backcourts the school has ever seen?

Maybe missing out on the Class of 2017’s crop of talented point guards is just the college basketball gods’ way of evening things out.

Then again, maybe Kansas will land Duval and all will be well that ends well.

Time will tell. Stay tuned...

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K-State president has heard enough of vulgar anti-KU chant

Kansas State fans watch with disbelief after the Wildcats are whistled for a foul during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas State fans watch with disbelief after the Wildcats are whistled for a foul during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. by Nick Krug

Around here, the popular profanity-laced chant unleashed by K-State students at home basketball games, whether they're playing KU or not, has become the butt of many jokes, with Kansas fans pointing to what they believe is an inferiority complex by the Wildcats.

Whether that is accurate or not is up for debate and depends on who you're talking to and whom you're talking about, but administrators at K-State evidently have heard enough.

Released at high volume during the riot-inducing sounds of the popular techo beat "Sandstorm," the "F— KU" chant, as it has become affectionately known throughout the state, has been a fixture at Kansas State basketball games during recent seasons.

It showed up again this year, when the Jayhawks knocked off the Wildcats 74-71 on Feb. 6 in Manhattan and even was audible earlier in the season, when the Wildcats played Texas at home.

While the chant has become part of the rivalry and is a source of pride for many K-Staters, first-year KSU president Richard Myers would like to see it end.

Myers, on K-State's official web site on Thursday, released the following statement about the chant and sportsmanship in general.

"As the first year of my presidency unfolds, I continue to be even more impressed by the wonderful accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff. I hear daily about a student's accomplishment or a faculty member's significant research. What a pleasant surprise to discover our university is even better than I knew. This is why I decided to compete to become your president.

One surprise that has not been pleasant is hearing a vulgar chant at sporting events targeted at our in-state rival. It's easy to see how one can get caught up in the moment. However, many of my friends across the nation reached out to me following last week's men's basketball game and expressed their dismay. The chant was clearly heard from coast to coast on national television. It was personally embarrassing and not what one expects from a world-class university.

The strength of the Wildcat family lies in passing our legacy from one generation to the next. K-Staters are known for doing the right thing. Whether our fans are 8, 18 or 80, they deserve the best fan experience in the Big 12. I think about those younger fans sitting in the stands or watching on television and know they represent our next generation. As we continue the spring competition season, let's show them the Wildcat Way."

Whether the words above, or others like them from other K-State dignitaries, are enough to get rid of the chant remains to be seen and likely won't be known for at least another year. It's also not the biggest deal in the world. Fans will be fans and sometimes fans of all teams just can't control their emotions.

But props to Myers for speaking up.

The K-State fan base is one of the best in the country and consistently brings great energy and excitement to the rivalry with KU. They're clever, loud, passionate and proud and those traits should be enough without having to make blatant, loud and prolonged profanities a part of their regular routine.

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Josh Jackson’s bounce pass from his butt a microcosm of KU’s comeback

It wasn’t the play of the game, it did not save the Jayhawks from doom and despair, but it did deal a serious blow to West Virginia’s chances and wound up being the signature play that demonstrated just how right things went for Kansas down the stretch in Monday night’s thrilling, 84-80, overtime victory at Allen Fieldhouse.

With Kansas leading by five with 2:40 to play in overtime, the Jayhawks took possession after yet another WVU turnover and looked to add to their lead.

A bucket here, and the Mountaineers, who led by 14 with 2:58 remaining in regulation, would be reeling.

With the shot clock approaching 10 and Carlton Bragg Jr., in trouble in front of the Kansas bench, Bragg’s tall frame allowed him to see Josh Jackson wide open between the 3-point line and mid-court on the opposite side of the floor and Bragg calmly flipped a pass Jackson’s way.

After the game, KU coach Bill Self said Bragg made the right play and even called it a terrific skip pass to Jackson, who, had he caught it clean, would have had plenty of time and space to attack the paint off the dribble before the shot clock expired.

One problem. As the pass floated his way, Jackson fell. With the clock still ticking down and the Mountaineers’ defense approaching, Jackson gathered himself, sat calmly on his rear end and bounced a perfect left-handed pass around the defense to a charging Bragg, who flashed to the top of the key to help Jackson.

Bragg didn’t have the best night by any stretch of the imagination. His stat-sheet totals looked like a ghost town and he had more muffed plays than memorable ones. But in this sequence, the sophomore from Cleveland made three terrific decisions and executed each to perfection to help the Jayhawks pull off the remarkable victory.

First was the pass. Second was his flash to help Jackson. And the third good move by Bragg on the play was to immediately get rid of the ball after catching it so one of KU’s other play makers could make a play.

On this occasion, that happened to be Devonte’ Graham, who put on a dribbling clinic and elevated for a dagger of a 3-pointer with :02 on the shot clock and 2:13 on the game clock.

Graham’s second 3-pointer of OT, released right in front of Self, gave Kansas a 79-71 lead and sent Allen Fieldhouse into a frenzy.

Here’s Jackson after the game on the play:

“I was trying to catch the ball and I slipped,” he said, noting the floor was wet in that spot. “I was just waiting for somebody to get open. I wasn’t sure if we had a timeout or not, so I didn’t want to call one. I just seen Carlton just running to the ball and immediately I just threw it to him.... I was just waiting for somebody to come flash to the ball and help me out. Thankfully Carlton did.”

In the video, you can see Jackson charging to the rim on the back side as Graham released his shot. Asked why, he pointed out that he had a ton of confidence that Graham would make the shot, but added, “But I’m still going to the glass, trying to rebound, in case he doesn’t.”

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Jayhawks in prime position to earn 13th straight Big 12 title

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) flashes a smile as the Jayhawks close out the game against West Virginia in overtime, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) flashes a smile as the Jayhawks close out the game against West Virginia in overtime, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

If you followed along with my Gameday Chat yesterday you’d know that I made a light case that the Jayhawks already had locked up at least a share of Big 12 title No. 13 in a row.

That was before the epic comeback vs. West Virginia and it seems even more certain now.

Sure, the Baylor loss on Monday night helped. A two-game lead with five to play is a pretty good spot to be in. But it’s an even more pleasant place when you consider this: Kansas could lose at Baylor on Saturday and still not be worried.

The reason?

Since Big 12 play began back in December, no conference team (other than Kansas, which opened Big 12 play 7-0) has ripped off five consecutive conference wins, which is likely what it would take for the Bears to dethrone Kansas.

Taking that notion one step further, half of the Big 12’s 10 teams have just five conference wins or fewer this entire season.

West Virginia is too far back now to be a factor and Baylor still has to navigate home games with Kansas and WVU and a road trip to Ames, Iowa. A loss in any one of those games pretty much ends it for the Bears.

But let’s say Baylor gets red hot and wins all five games. Kansas then would have to go 2-3 to not win a share of the title. For a team that sits 11-2 through 13 games, it’s hard to envision them losing 3 of 5 to close the season.

What’s more, if you’re looking at schedules alone, you’d have to give the advantage to Kansas in that department, too.

With home games remaining against Oklahoma and TCU and road games at Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State, Kansas likely needs only to win the two games at Allen Fieldhouse to maintain its position at the top of the Big 12 standings.

Baylor still has to play 3 of the Top 4 teams in the current standings and, like Kansas, also plays at Texas.

The combined Big 12 record of KU’s five remaining opponents is 26-35. The record of Baylor’s five remaining foes? 32-30. Advantage Kansas.

A case could be made for KU losing two of the five games fairly easily. At Baylor at Saturday will be a bear, no pun intended, and closing the season at Oklahoma State looms as a difficult task, as well. KU has lost three straight in Stillwater.

But, again, even if KU were to drop those two games, Baylor would have to win out to move into a tie with Kansas. If Baylor loses even just one game, Kansas would then have to lose at Texas or home against TCU or Oklahoma to finish in a tie.

And, on the flip side, if Baylor loses one of its five remaining games, Kansas could lose both at Baylor and at OSU and still win the thing outright, which is exactly the goal this team has in mind year after year.

Even though Kansas sits in the perfect position to keep its Big 12 title streak alive, it has been a crazy season in the Big 12 and the conference is tough from top to bottom so it’s not safe to take anything for granted and you can bet the Jayhawks will not.

But regardless of what lies ahead and all of the scenarios that still could play out, one thing is certain: Kansas can basically lock it up with a win on Saturday at Baylor.

A win in Waco would put the Jayhawks up three games with four to play.

As a parting note, here’s a quick look at each team's longest 2016-17 conference winning streaks in the Big 12 this season:

Kansas – 7
Baylor – 4
Oklahoma State – 4
TCU – 3
West Virginia – 3
Iowa State – 2
Kansas State – 2
Oklahoma – 2
Texas – 1
Texas Tech – 1

Current Big 12 standings (as of Feb. 14)

Kansas — 11-2
Baylor — 9-4
West Virginia — 8-5
Iowa State — 7-5
TCU — 6-6
Kansas State — 5-7
Oklahoma State — 5-7
Texas Tech — 5-8
Texas — 4-8
Oklahoma — 2-10

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 84, West Virginia 80, OT

The Jayhawks come together with seconds remaining during the second half, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks come together with seconds remaining during the second half, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s ridiculous, 84-80, overtime victory over No. 9 West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B-

Grading all things on a relative scale, the Jayhawks’ offense got a D for their stat-sheet performance and an A+ for their heart. Down but not out, Kansas found its shooting touch just in time and finished the game on fire, shooting 50 percent from the floor in OT and 67 percent from 3-point range in that same span.

Defense: A-

KU’s defense was poor early, as the Mountaineers pushed Kansas around and got just about anything they wanted. But that stretch was short-lived, as the Jayhawks started guarding midway through the first half to keep WVU close and then finished with some of their best defense of the season, forcing turnovers and tough shots over the game’s final 7 or 8 minutes.

Frontcourt: B-

Landen Lucas’ 8 points and 13 rebounds were all big, but he could’ve been better from the floor (3-of-6, including three misses in close) and at the free throw line (2-of-7). Mitch Lightfoot and Dwight Coleby, in 10 combined minutes, did enough to get noticed, which was more than could be said for Carlton Bragg Jr., who had another rough night despite playing 18 minutes.

Backcourt: A-

Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson just found a way. It wasn’t always pretty, but KU’s lead trio combined for 56 points and some of the biggest plays of the night. An off night by Svi Mykhailiuk accounts for the minus, but after that battle, this group gets an A for willing Kansas to a comeback that won’t soon be forgotten.

Bench: B

Lagerald Vick played some big minutes in the first half and would’ve played more if not for foul trouble. Self said as much after the game and his strong night — 14 points in 18 minutes — led KU’s bench. As mentioned above, the three bigs who came off the bench delivered a mixed bag of production.

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 80, Texas Tech 79

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0), forward Landen Lucas (33) and guard Devonte' Graham (4) come together during a Texas Tech surge in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0), forward Landen Lucas (33) and guard Devonte' Graham (4) come together during a Texas Tech surge in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 80-79 victory at Texas Tech on Saturday.

Offense: A

The Jayhawks shot 49.2 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and turned it over just nine times while getting to 80 points. There were times in the first half where KU’s crisp passing and willingness to make the extra pass — or in some cases two or three extra passes — looked like an absolute clinic.

Defense: C+

Texas Tech shot 48.3 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3-point range and did most of its damage right at the rim. The Red Raiders did hit a bunch of tough, mid-range jumpers, but also got a bunch of layups on drives to the basket and went to the free throw line 21 times.

Frontcourt: B+

Landen Lucas was solid from start to finish — save for his 3-of-6 showing at the free throw line — and came up with several big buckets and big rebounds during KU’s win. Carlton Bragg Jr., also gave a few good minutes, but also sprinkled in a few too many head-scratching mistakes, too.

Backcourt: B-

KU’s top two guards got outscored 47-18 by Texas Tech’s top two guards (Evans and Stevenson) and the Jayhawks consistently watched the TTU guards blow by their perimeter defense. Still, KU’s defense played big when it mattered down the stretch and Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk combined to score 40 points to aide KU’s typically solid duo of Graham and Mason.

Bench: C

Lagerald Vick had a huge transition dunk and scored five straight points during one stretch in the first half. And Bragg scored a big bucket out of a timeout. Other than that, neither player factored too much into the game during their 37 combined minutes.

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Trae Young’s father says 5-star 2017 PG is still undecided

Kansas basketball recruit Trae Young (11) weaves his way though traffic as he drives to the hoop  during AAU competition Saturday afternoon at Lawrence Sports Pavilion.

Kansas basketball recruit Trae Young (11) weaves his way though traffic as he drives to the hoop during AAU competition Saturday afternoon at Lawrence Sports Pavilion. by John Young

College basketball recruiting can be a pretty cut-throat business, full of back-stabbing, trashing other schools and coaches and sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t always belong.

That’s why it was so cool to see the picture of Kansas coach Bill Self and Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger sitting together last night at a game in Norman, Oklahoma, where five-star target Trae Young put on yet another show and filled up the stat sheet.

Many recruiting analysts believe that Kansas and Oklahoma are the two finalists for Young, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard who is ranked No. 14 by Rivals.com in the Class of 2017. So it would have been very easy for Self and Kruger to steer clear of one another and focus only on making sure they got what they needed out of the trip.

Instead, the two veteran Big 12 coaches, who have a ton of respect for one another, watched the game together. Get this: As someone pointed out on Twitter, you’ve got a native Oklahoman trying to convince Young to leave the Sooner State for Kansas and a native Kansan trying to tell Young to shun the Sunflower State to stay in Oklahoma. Recruiting in a nutshell right there.

Young’s recruitment has been one of the most closely watched by KU fans and the whole thing is now a little more than a week away from being over.

Young announced last week that he would reveal his decision at noon on Feb. 16, which means one week from tomorrow, at noon central, we’ll know whether all of that time and effort put into recruiting Young by Self, KU assistant Norm Roberts and the rest of the staff was worth it.

Until then, this is what we know today — Young remains truly undecided and is still trying to sort out which one of those choices is the best for him.

His father, former Texas Tech star Rayford Young, confirmed as much on KLWN’s Rock Chalk Sports Talk on Monday.

“He hasn’t made a decision yet,” Ray Young told Nick Schwerdt during a 15-minute radio interview. “That’s one thing I can tell you. He’s still praying about this thing every night.... I would be lying to you if I said that I’m not ready for this thing to be over with, but, at the same time, I’m kind of sad too because we really care for all these schools that have been putting in their time recruiting him. It’s gonna be a bittersweet day when we have to tell a couple of those schools no.”

Ray Young listed Oklahoma State in the mix, as well, but the Cowboys, at least to those who cover these things closely, appear to be a long shot at best.

Ray Young went on to explain just how difficult the entire process has been for Young, who appears to be weighing the decision of staying home and becoming the next great Sooners savior or joining the Jayhawks and competing for a national title on a stacked roster.

“Now it’s at the point where he just wants to make sure whatever school he goes to it’s a good fit for him and he’s gonna have the role that he deserves, that he should have,” Ray Young said. “Kids these days, they want to step on campus and have an impact from Day 1, especially a kid like Trae, one of the top two or three point guards in the nation, a McDonald’s All-American. So he wants to go play right away and make an impact and help the team win. I’ll be honest, one thing about Kansas is they’ve got Frank Mason playing the point and he’s a senior, that’s very intriguing to my son. Why wouldn’t it be intriguing to any senior in high school?”

While all of those factors, and so many more, have weighed heavily on Young’s mind during this whole process, Ray Young said Self’s style and the manner in which he has gone about recruiting Young have been refreshing and made things much easier to handle.

“It’s been a really, really tough decision,” Ray Young said. “But Coach Self’s been great. He doesn’t put any pressure on Trae, he just tells it like it is and tells him what his role’s gonna be and now it’s up to Trae.”

That last part seems to be a true indication of just how this process has gone down. Unlike some parents, who get overly involved and start to act and feel as if they are the ones being recruited, Ray Young, has left this decision in the hands of his son.

“My role is to try to let him make his own decision, but, at the same time, guide him in those decisions,” Ray Young said, noting that his experience in recruiting and playing in the Big 12 have provided good insight for his son. “Trae and I are really close and he’ll ask me questions every day about, ‘What do you think about this situation, what do you think if I did this, would this be the right thing to do?’ I think it’s great that we have that relationship but, at the same time, he’s not gonna be in our house forever.”

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Although he’s capable of scoring more, does KU guard Devonte’ Graham need to?

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

So far this season, Kansas junior Devonte’ Graham has made up one half of the best backcourt in college basketball and done so without having the kind of season anybody expected he would.

A common pick for player most likely to lead the 2016-17 Jayhawks in scoring before the season began, Graham has done that exactly one time in 24 games this season (Jan. 21 vs. Texas).

Graham’s partner in crime, national player of the year candidate Frank Mason III, has led KU’s offensive attack 17 times and currently leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.4 points per game. If he keeps up his current pace, Mason will become the first player in Big 12 history to average 20 points and five assists per game during an entire season.

For now, though, let’s focus on Graham. There will be plenty of time to write and read about Mason in the coming weeks.

While Mason has done a lot of the heavy lifting for KU’s offense this season, freshman Josh Jackson has led the Jayhawks in scoring five times and reserve sophomore Lagerald Vick is right there with Graham in leading KU in scoring once, Nov. 29 vs. Long Beach State.

Which brings me to the whole point of this blog. Monday night in Manhattan, where the Jayhawks completed the season sweep of the Wildcats with a hard-fought, 74-71 victory, Graham was one of three Kansas players in double figures, joining Mason (21) and Jackson (18) to lead KU to the victory.

Graham’s 10 points came on just five shots, as he hit 2-of-5 from the field, including two clutch 3-pointers and all four free throws he attempted.

When you consider the fact that he added seven rebounds and six assists, you can’t classify Graham’s outing as anything other than a wildly productive night.

My issue, though, wasn’t his production. It was the number of shots. I get that Graham has settled into a role where he defers to the red-hot Mason, clears the way for the crazy-talented Jackson and finds other ways to impact the game, be it by keeping the ball moving, defending, picking specific spots to score or some combination of the three.

But is Graham taking five shots really a good thing, especially on a night when Vick attempted seven?

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

Graham has played the second-most minutes (827) and attempted the third-most shots (243) on the team to date, so it’s not like this is some kind of epidemic. Far from it, in fact.

All three players who make KU’s offense go have settled very nicely into their specific roles and seem to be comfortable letting things play out the way they will. That’s an advantage for Kansas every night because it makes the Jayhawks difficult to prepare for and even more difficult to stop.

There’s no doubt that Graham is a willing and capable scorer. He has shown that throughout his career and has had stretches, even halves, this season when he shot lights out only to pull back and focus on other aspects of the game — most notably, winning — the rest of the time.

Graham is averaging 13.3 points per game — good for 13th in the conference — so he’s making the most of his shots when he takes them. I just think he could stand to take more. Not at the expense of Mason or Jackson, of course, but there should not be another game the rest of the way where Vick takes more shots than Graham. That now has happened five times this season, but, prior to Monday, had not happened since KU topped Davidson on Dec. 17. It would be good news for Kansas if it was merely a fluke and not a sign of things to come.

This team needs Graham to factor heavily into the offense and put pressure on opposing defenses from start to finish, if for no other reason than to continue to ease the squeeze opponents can put on Mason and Jackson.

One final point about Graham’s season thus far, for those of you who made Graham your pick when asked before the season who would lead KU in scoring, present typists included. Consider this about Graham’s current 13.3 points per game average: In four of the previous 13 Kansas seasons under Bill Self, that total would have been right there in the mix to finish as KU’s leading scorer. And two other times a 13.3 average would have put Graham just a couple of points behind the team leader.

There are a dozen other ways to do it, but those facts, at least to me, further hammer home just how special of a season Mason is having.

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Postgame Report Card: KU 74, K-State 71

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) and Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) compete for a ball during the second half, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) and Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) compete for a ball during the second half, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 74-71 victory at Kansas State on Big Monday.

Offense: A-

The way this game was played for most of the night, it looked like it was destined to be one of those slugfests in the 50s or 60s. But KU got to 74 points, thanks largely to 47 percent 3-point shooting and the right guys going to the free throw line most of the night. Josh Jackson continues to struggle on the freebies, but KU was good everywhere else.

Defense: B+

The Jayhawks showed a great deal of toughness and physical play throughout the game and did enough on the defensive end to impress their coach. Self said after that game that, outside of the Jayhawks’ effort on the defensive glass, KU really guarded well. That’s good enough for me, but not quite good enough for the A.

Frontcourt: B+

Carlton Bragg returned to the lineup and was a big factor and Landen Lucas (7 points, 7 rebounds) played a solid and easy-to-overlook game from start to finish. K-State’s DJ Johnson was the best big on the floor in the first meeting between these two, but not Monday night.

Backcourt: A

Frank Mason led with 21 points and a giant heart, Devonte’ Graham quietly flirted with a triple-double (10 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) and Josh Jackson finished with 18 points and teetered on the brink of taking the game over all night. In short, just another night for the ultra-talented KU backcourt.

Bench: B

Ten points, eight rebounds, three assists and a one block in 39 minutes. That’s the kind of production KU will gladly take from its bench every night, particularly if Bragg and his physical presence inside leading the way. Bragg finished with 6 points and 3 rebounds on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor and Lagerald Vick, who shot just 2-of-7 from the floor, delivered a huge dunk and grabbed five big rebounds.

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Class of 2017 PG Trae Young to reveal choice Feb. 16

And just like that, as quick as one can click “Tweet” on their phone, February 16 has become a monster day for the Kansas men’s basketball program.

That’s the day that Class of 2017 point guard Trae Young has pegged to make his decision on where he will play his college basketball.

Young announced the date Friday on Twitter, calling it "Commitment Day" and setting a noon, central, time for the announcement.

Young, one of the top remaining point guard targets in the class who has been at or near the top of KU’s wish list for months, is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound, five-star prospect from Norman (Okla.) North High, who is the son of former Texas Tech standout Rayford Young.

Recruiting analysts have believed for weeks that Young is down to Kansas and Oklahoma as his final two, and, if that is, in fact, the case, his decision will come down to choosing his hometown program or a blue blood to the north.

It’s not unlike the dilemma faced by four-star Lawrence High football prospect Amani Bledsoe, who juggled the decision to stay home and help the rebuilding Kansas program reach new heights or head to Oklahoma, where he was sure to play for a perennial contender in the national spotlight.

Young, who made an official visit to Kansas in the fall, was slated to make one final unofficial visit to campus during the past couple of weeks, but bad weather and bad luck — a rescheduled game eliminated the possibility of him visiting this weekend — took those opportunities away.

Because Kansas plays just one more home game before Feb. 16 — Monday, Feb. 13 vs. West Virginia — it could be tough for Young to get to Lawrence again before decision day. One thing of note about that WVU game: It comes on the anniversary of Young's father scoring 41 points against Kansas for Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.

Asked what he thought KU’s chances were of landing Young, recruiting analyst Matt Scott, of TheShiver.com, said:

“Led by Kansas coach Bill Self and assistant coach Norm Roberts, the Jayhawks have done a great job in the recruitment of Trae Young,” Scott said. “Kansas has been recruiting Young for about three years and the Jayhawks have remained one of the schools to beat. The Sooners have also done a great job in recruiting Young. I believe it’s a two-school race and I also believe that the race is as close to dead even as you can get.

“Having Young on campus again would certainly help the Jayhawks, especially since he recently met with the OU coaching staff and went to the OU-OSU game. This one will likely go down to the wire.”

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What a week for Kansas basketball

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) jumps up to receive KU students gathered over the scoreboard in the northwest tunnel following the Jayhawks' 73-68 win over Baylor,  Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) jumps up to receive KU students gathered over the scoreboard in the northwest tunnel following the Jayhawks' 73-68 win over Baylor, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

As sports writers tend to do, Tom Keegan and I recently found ourselves talking sports on a road trip to Ames, Iowa, in mid-January.

A good chunk of the KU topics we cover during these moments find their way into our work somewhere along the way, be it a column, a blog, a podcast or even coverage from an actual game.

But the topic of choice that day had yet to find a home.

To help kill time on the 4-hour drive and prepare for the Big Monday showdown with the Cyclones, which Kansas won 76-72, we were discussing this Kansas basketball season and trying, for the lives of us, to identify Kansas’ second best victory of the season.

The Champions Classic win over then-No. 1 Duke in New York City in November was the team’s obvious best victory (Duke playing severely shorthanded then the way KU is now notwithstanding) but after that things got tough.

At that point in the season, there weren’t many road games to look at, which, for my money, is always the best place to start when you’re looking for a team’s best wins. At the time, KU had true road wins over just three teams — UNLV, TCU and Oklahoma — and those were not the kind of victories that you write home about.

After that KU had a couple of wins at Sprint Center over decent teams — Davidson and Georgia — that were worthy of discussion, but neither of those victories got more than 15-20 seconds of consideration. And, of course, with winning at Allen Fieldhouse nearly automatic, KU’s nine home wins to date were barely worth mentioning.

There was actual thought given to KU’s win over K-State, which ended in controversial fashion, being KU’s second best win of the season to that point.

Boy, how things have changed today.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still tough to identify KU’s second best win of the season. But it’s no longer because there aren’t options.

In the last 6 days alone, Kansas has notched victories over No. 4 Kentucky at their place and No. 2 Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse. Both were terrific games against terrific teams. Both required some serious soul-searching and 100-percent effort and intensity. Both were sealed when KU closed better down the stretch.

And both likely kicked the win over Duke down to No. 3 on the list.

Regardless of how you rank them, consider this one fact for just a brief second: Kansas now boasts victories over No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 this season. How many teams have been able to say that throughout the years? (And if you’re going to bother looking, start in the ACC and go from there).

These two most recent victories — which easily could have gone the other way and left Kansas on the wrong end of a three-game losing streak — more than erased the pain that came from dropping a game in Morgantown. In fact, even though that loss was never considered a bad one in the first place, given the talent possessed by WVU, a case could be made that even the loss played to KU’s advantage, refocusing them and forcing them to realize what type of effort will be required moving forward.

With a one-game lead in the Big 12 race and just nine games remaining in the regular season, Kansas is well on its way to achieving everything it hoped to achieve this season — Big 12 champs, No. 1 seed, becoming a national title contender.

The resume is in place.

The biggest question now is can this group of Jayhawks, which head coach Bill Self said as recently as Monday was still searching for its identity, continue to deliver night after night, with a short bench, limited front court depth and little to no margin for error?

A couple of weeks ago, when KU’s second-best win of the season may actually have been a Sprint-Center victory over Davidson at the Jayhawks’ home away from home, the answer to that question might have been tough to spit out.

Today? You won’t find me betting against them.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) dunks during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) dunks during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 73, Baylor 68

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) and Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) trap Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) creating a turnover by Motley with seconds remaining in the game, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) and Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) trap Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) creating a turnover by Motley with seconds remaining in the game, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of No. 3 KU’s 73-68 victory over No. 2 Baylor Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B

Putting 73 points on the board is only going to win games if your defense is good enough to allow that to happen. It was in this one and KU’s 45 percent shooting from 3-point range and four players in double figures provided just enough offense.

Defense: A

This very well might have been KU’s best defensive game of the season and it certainly was the Jayhawks’ most impressive close to a game on the defensive end. Kansas was tough, intense, scrappy and turned up. You could tell that getting stops meant something to these guys tonight.

Frontcourt: B-

Landen Lucas was not great early, but delivered late and also came away with a game-high 11 rebounds, four on the offensive end. Add to that the fact that the 11 minutes that Kansas got from the combo of Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot delivered 2 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks and you’re looking at a group that, though still not ideal, is starting to show small signs of improvement.

Backcourt: A

Frank Mason III was clutch, Josh Jackson was spectacular and Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk combined to make 6 of 11 3-pointers. All four also played 34 minutes or more and, yet, still delivered time and time again.

Bench: C+

Lagerald Vick gave the Jayhawks very little and continues to struggle, but Coleby and Lightfoot may be starting to find where they fit on this team. Take the good with the bad, I suppose.

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Kentucky still the favorite to win it all?

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) swoops under Kentucky forward Edrice Adebayo (3) for a bucket during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) swoops under Kentucky forward Edrice Adebayo (3) for a bucket during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

Any time two of the Top 5 teams in college basketball get together in February or later, you start to hear people talk about potential national championship runs and how either or both teams could be Final Four contenders.

That certainly holds true for tonight's 2 vs. 3 clash between Baylor and Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, where sole-possession of first place in the Big 12 Conference at the midway point of the Big 12 schedule will be on the line.

Kansas comes into the game at 19-2 overall and 7-1 in Big 12 play and on the heels of arguably the best win by any team in college basketball this season. KU went down to Kentucky last weekend and knocked off the fourth-ranked Wildcats in their gym in one of the most hyped games of the season.

Baylor, meanwhile, sits at 20-1 overall and 7-1 in Big 12 play, with its only loss of the season coming in blowout fashion at West Virginia, the same place Kansas suffered its lone Big 12 setback thus far.

Both teams have parts that make it easy to envision a run to a Final Four and beyond, but, according to oddsmakers at Bovada.lv, neither team, despite its lofty ranking, is the current favorite to win the 2017 national title.

That distinction belongs, believe it or not, to the very Kentucky team that the Jayhawks just beat.

KU's odds of winning it all have improved since the last time Bovada sent out the updated odds on Jan. 6, as the Jayhawks are now 8-1 favorites as opposed to the 11-1 shot they had back in early January.

None of it means much, of course, with half a conference season to play and March Madness still ahead. But it is at least interesting to take a look at how things stand heading into February, and, perhaps more importantly, heading into tonight's Big 12 showdown at Allen Fieldhouse.

Below is a list of the 15 teams that currently have better than 50-1 odds of winning it all, along with a look at the four other Big 12 teams that join Kansas, West Virginia and Baylor on the list.

Texas, Texas Tech and TCU were all left off Bovada's latest update.

| Team | | Odds as of Jan. 6 | | Odds as of Feb. 1 |
Kentucky 6-1 11-2
Gonzaga 20-1 15-2
KANSAS 11-1 8-1
North Carolina 11-1 9-1
UCLA 5-1 9-1
Arizona 50-1 10-1
Duke 5-1 10-1
Villanova 11-1 10-1
West Virginia 33-1 14-1
Baylor 22-1 20-1
Florida State 33-1 20-1
Louisville 25-1 20-1
Virginia 28-1 25-1
Oregon 22-1 28-1
Wisconsin 22-1 28-1
Oklahoma State 150-1 150-1
Iowa State 200-1 300-1
Kansas State 300-1 Off the board
Oklahoma 300-1 Off the board
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