Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

Oklahoma State has chance to achieve rare feat of back-to-back wins at Allen Fieldhouse

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We all know that losing at Allen Fieldhouse is a rarity for the Kansas University men's basketball team, but Saturday's opponent, ninth-ranked Oklahoma State, has an opportunity to do something even more rare than just beat the Jayhawks.

The Cowboys (14-2) have a chance to beat No. 15 Kansas (12-4) on its home floor for the second time in a row, when the two preseason Big 12 Conference favorites square off in a highly anticipated showdown at 3 p.m. on CBS.

Behind a breakout game from guard Marcus Smart, the Cowboys' upended Kansas at home a season ago, 85-80 on Feb. 2. The loss was the first in a three-game losing streak for the Jayhawks, who snapped out of the funk and went on to win their ninth consecutive Big 12 title even with the hiccup along the way.

A quick check of the KU basketball media guide shows that the last team to accomplish back-to-back wins in Allen Fieldhouse was Iowa State, in 2000 and 2001 (shown above). To find the unlikely feat before that, you have to go back to 1989 and 1990, when Missouri knocked off the Jayhawks twice in a row in Allen Fieldhouse.

In the 116-year history of Kansas basketball, the Jayhawks have lost back-to-back games or worse at home just 34 times. Not surprisingly, most of those losing streaks came against conference foes, with Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all knocking off the Jayhawks in back-to-back trips to Lawrence at least once.

Still, very few of those teams did it more than once and the fact that it has only happened 34 times in nearly 3,000 games is just another remarkable element of the storied tradition of Kansas basketball.

A few more facts about KU's rare home losing streaks:

• Missouri's stretch of 10 straight victories in Lawrence from 1917-1922 is the longest in history.

• Kentucky won five straight in Lawrence from 1975-83; Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Mizzou all have won four straight games in Lawrence; Nebraska and K-State also enjoyed a stretch of three straight victories.

• Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville and Notre Dame are the only non-conference programs to win back-to-back games or better in Lawrence.

• A couple of teams, who, like Oklahoma State, are currently sitting on the potential to start a winning streak include: Oral Roberts, which last won in Lawrence in 2006 and has not been back; Vanderbilt, which last won in Lawrence in 1972 and has not been back; Duke, which won in overtime in Lawrence in 1988 and has not been back; Iowa, which won in Lawrence in 1998 and has not been back; Louisville, which won in Lawrence in 1992 and has not been back; Nevada, which won in Lawrence in 2005 and has not been back; North Carolina, which won in Lawrence in 1960, has not been back and won't be coming back as long as Roy Williams is still the Tar Heels' head coach; Northwestern, which won in Lawrence in 1964 and has not been back; and, of course, San Diego State, which won in Lawrence earlier this season.

• Current Big 12 Teams and their total victories in Allen Fieldhouse all-time: Baylor (0), Iowa State (9), Kansas State (18), Oklahoma (7), Oklahoma State (9), Texas (1), Texas Tech (0), TCU (0) and West Virginia (0).

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The Day After: Iowa State

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe huddles his teammates in the first half against Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe huddles his teammates in the first half against Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

As it turns out, road losses in tough environments like Colorado and Florida may have paid off for the Kansas University men's basketball team, which went into arguably the toughest place to play on its entire schedule Monday night — Hilton Coliseum — and knocked off Iowa State, 77-70.

KU took charge with great starts to each half and got superb play from Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Naadir Tharpe, each one taking a different moment to shine.

It's still early, there's no doubt about that. But KU has taken as much control of the Big 12 Conference race as a team can take in three games, based largely on the strength of its two road victories.

Success in the Jayhawks' next two games — 3 p.m. Saturday vs. Oklahoma State and 8 p.m. Monday vs. Baylor — could make it an all-out stranglehold.

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Quick takeaway:

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It baffles me that Iowa State, which lost to KU three times last season and had every reason in the world to take the floor with more hunger, anger and intensity than the visiting Jayhawks on Monday night, actually got out-hungered by Kansas. Credit KU coach Bill Self and veteran point guard Naadir Tharpe for explaining to the young guys on this roster just how hostile Hilton would be and for preparing them to feel like the underdog with everything to prove. It worked brilliantly and KU got one of its best games of the season in terms of pure effort.

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Three reasons to smile:

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1 – Naadir Tharpe, the guy some KU fans said they wanted to see thrown off the team for missing shots earlier this season, showed that none of the negativity around his play has had a negative impact on his ability to develop his game and lead this team. Games like Monday can only make Tharpe's confidence soar and a more confident Tharpe is a more comfortable Tharpe, which is a great thing for Kansas.

Kansas center Joel Embiid delivers a dunk against Iowa State during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas center Joel Embiid delivers a dunk against Iowa State during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

2 – The Jayhawks were sensational out of timeouts Monday night, whenever Iowa State showed signs of making a run. I can recall at least three or four times when Iowa State closed the gap to six or so points and appeared to be poised for a big run, only to watch Kansas calmly call timeout and respond by getting an easy bucket right at the rim, most often from Embiid. That's clearly solid coaching but it also showed incredible poise by Self's players.

3 – In back-to-back games to open Big 12 play, freshman guard Wayne Selden finished among the Jayhawks' leading scorer and looked great doing it. Monday, Selden had an off night offensively — finishing with just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting — but more than made up for it by leading the team with six assists in 33 minutes.

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Three reasons to sigh:

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1 – Perry Ellis definitely did not have one of his best nights. Forget the 4-of-13 shooting or the 0-of-3 mark from the free throw line, the thing that surprised me the most about Ellis' sluggish night was how he let a bad play on one end lead to another on the other end. I can remember one time specifically where Ellis missed an easy shot in close and then went down and committed a silly foul. As he went to the bench, Self uttered something to the effect of “It's OK to miss the shot but don't make it worse on the other end.” We've become so used to Ellis being so steady that we sometimes forget that he's in his second season of college ball and still developing in his own right.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis battles for the ball with Iowa State guard Monte Morris during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. At left is ISU forward Georges Niang.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis battles for the ball with Iowa State guard Monte Morris during the first half on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. At left is ISU forward Georges Niang. by Nick Krug

2 – If you would've said before the game that KU would turn it over 24 times and Iowa State just 8, nobody would've guessed that KU would have come out on top. Iowa State swiped a dozen steals but the rest of the turnovers were the result of sloppy ball-handling. The Jayhawks got away with it because they dominated on the glass — which only came because Iowa State was so cold from the floor — but they can't make a habit of giving it up that many times, especially on the road.

3 – For the second game in a row, Joel Embiid got busted for retaliating after bodies got tangled up and was hit with a technical foul for a little extra physical contact. Against K-State, the incident cost Embiid the rest of the game and against the Cyclones it forced him to the bench for a five-minute stretch in which ISU turned a 15-4 KU lead into a 21-19 KU advantage. Embiid's an emotional guy out there and that's good when it leads to him aggressively taking the ball to the basket on offense or feeling like nobody in the gym can stop him. But these extra-curricular fouls can't become a regular part of his ever-advancing game.

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One thought for the road:

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The Jayhawks' impressive victory over an angry Iowa State team on Monday: • Kept Kansas the only undefeated team in conference play, making KU 3-0 for the eighth-straight time and the 10th time in the 11-year Bill Self era.
• Extended Kansas' win streak over Iowa State to four-straight.
• Increased the Jayhawks’ series lead to 174-59 all-time against the Cyclones, including a 30-8 advantage in the Big 12 era and 24-19 in Hilton Coliseum.
• Marked KU’s 50th victory on ESPN’s Big Monday. The Jayhawks are 50-16 in Big Monday games since the start of the Big 12 era.
• Moved Kansas head coach Bill Self to 20-3 all-time against Iowa State, 312-63 while at Kansas and 519-168 overall.
• Pushed KU's all-time record to 2,113-816.

Next up: The Jayhawks continue their crazy stretch against ranked teams when they return to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday for a 3 p.m. game against No. 9 Oklahoma State.

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The Day After: Kansas State

Kansas guard Wayne Selden celebrates a Jayhawk run against Kansas State during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden celebrates a Jayhawk run against Kansas State during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Prior to Saturday's 86-60 beat-down of Kansas State, the Kansas University men's basketball team struggled in its last home game and the Wildcats came in ranked for the first time all season and riding a 10-game winning streak.

Didn't matter.

It was business as we've come to know it in the Sunflower Showdown hoops rivalry on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, with the Jayhawks handling everything KSU could throw at them and delivering the knock-out blow early to improve to 2-0 in Big 12 Conference play.

If you've seen any of the previous Sunflower Showdown match-ups at Allen Fieldhouse, you can guess how it went. But in case you want more details, here's our latest installment of “The Day After.”

Quick takeaway:
The KU offense really looks like it's starting to click. Wayne Selden has put back-to-back solid games together and is smiling more than ever, Joel Embiid is hitting jumpers and Andrew Wiggins looks more comfortable pulling the trigger when it's there. Even if the KU defense never quite comes around, if the offense can continue to play like this, the Jayhawks will have the chance to make a serious run.

Three reasons to smile:
1 – The fact that Selden and Wiggins are starting to feel more comfortable asserting themselves on the offensive end is really good news for point guard Naadir Tharpe. Early on, I think Tharpe felt the burden — real or imagined — of needing to be a scorer, but he's always been at his best as a facilitator. Never was that more evident than Saturday, when Tharpe dished nine dimes and had zero turnovers. That's 17 assists and 1 turnover in his last three games. Speaking of turnovers, how about the team going 23:16 without a turnover against a good defensive club? Very good sign for the young squad.

Kansas forward Tarik Black flexes after a rebound and put-back bucket by teammate Perry Ellis during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Tarik Black flexes after a rebound and put-back bucket by teammate Perry Ellis during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

2 – The chemistry between big men Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor is an incredible luxury for this team. The two combined for 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists in limited minutes. That kind of performance on a consistent basis will keep Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid from feeling too much of the burden inside. Plus, Traylor and Black both bring a more physical edge to the floor.

3 – KU's three-point shooting is really on the rise of late. The Jayhawks hit 8 of 18 threes against K-State and have hit 32 of 78 three-point attempts (41 percent) dating back to the Georgetown game. Three-point shooting was a big concern early in the season, but with Wiggins, Selden and even Conner Frankamp looking more comfortable with the deep ball, KU's offense is benefiting tremendously. KU's six second-half threes tied a season high.

Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It hardly mattered, but K-State got a ton of points at the rim on Saturday. 43 percent of KSU's points (26 of 60) came from point-blank range, a fact that points to both the absence of a Jeff Withey type guy in the paint and KU's struggles with on-the-ball defense. Self said they were good for 30 minutes in this one, but there's no question that they still need to get better.

2 – It was masked a bit by KU's offensive explosion, but the Jayhawks continue to struggle with takeaways. KSU committed just 10 turnovers in the game and only four of those were true take-aways by the Jayhawks. It's nit-picking a little, but for a program so used to forcing turnovers and getting steals, it's a little odd. KU has fewer steals (83) this season than its opponents (90).

3 – Naadir Tharpe, whom players and coaches insist is a good shooter in practice, made just one of seven attempts during the run-away victory over K-State. I trust his teammates and I like the way Tharpe's shot looks, it's just a matter of shot selection that continues to be an issue. KU coach Bill Self will be the first to let you know that, as he's never shy to tear into Tharpe after he pulls the trigger on a bad thought. Even with that, Self seems to think Tharpe is doing most things right these days and he has been awfully complimentary of his point guard's recent toughness and ability to close.

One thought for the road:
KU's most recent convincing victory over K-State...
• Gave Kansas its eighth-straight, home-conference-opening win and its 30th league home-opening victory in the last 31 seasons.
• Made Kansas 2-0 in conference play for the 10th time in the 11-year Bill Self era.
• Extended Kansas’ win streak over Sunflower Showdown rival K-State to six games.
• Improved the Jayhawks to 44-18 all-time against the Wildcats in Allen Fieldhouse, including the last eight meetings.
• Moved Kansas head coach Bill Self to 23-3 all-time against K-State, 311-63 while at Kansas and 518-169 overall.
• Pushed KU’s all-time record to 2,112-816.

Next up: The Jayhawks will travel to Ames, Iowa, on Monday for a Big Monday, 8 p.m. match-up with No. 9 Iowa State, which lost at Oklahoma on Saturday for its first loss of the season.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins battles for a rebound with Kansas State guard Jevon Thomas during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins battles for a rebound with Kansas State guard Jevon Thomas during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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Former Jayhawks, teammates and roommates to face off Sunday in NFL playoffs

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When the San Diego Chargers visit the Denver Broncos at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, the game will pit three former Kansas University football players vying for a spot in the AFC championship game.

The meeting between San Diego's Darrell Stuckey (25 above) and Denver's Chris Harris (16 above) and Steven Johnson represents arguably the biggest NFL game in quite some time that features former Jayhawks on both sides.

And the reunion is made even cooler by the fact that the trio of KU alums played on the same Jayhawk teams for two seasons and even lived together for a short time during their college careers.

Although Sunday's meeting brings the three former teammates together at the same key point in time, their paths to get there were significantly different.

Stuckey was the first of the three to reach the NFL, drafted by San Diego in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

During his first four seasons in the league, the Kansas City, Kan., native has made a name for himself as a special teams standout. His 12 special teams tackles in 2012 were tops on the team and his total of nearly 40 special teams tackles during the past three seasons rank in the Top 10 in the NFL despite Stuckey having played in fewer games than most players on the list above him.

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Of late, Stuckey has begun to make a greater impact on defense, as well, finishing last week's playoff victory over Cincinnati with a career-high five tackles and two passes defended. His 26 tackles this season came through both defense and special teams, where he has garnered mention for a spot in the pro bowl during the past couple of seasons.

"Stuck might be the best I've seen in my 11 years," San Diego punter Mike Scifres said in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Some of the things he can do, the way he can change games, it's almost second to none right now."

Added Chargers place kicker Nick Novak: "He's virtually unstoppable because his technique is that good. He's such a student of the game. He just has, it seems, a counter move for every move they're bringing at him. Of course, he's human, but sometimes you think he's made for special teams."

Harris followed Stuckey into the league in 2011 but went the route of joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent following the NFL lockout. Like Stuckey, the Bixby, Okla., native first made his mark on special teams, but when the Broncos' secondary endured key injuries, Harris was tossed into the lineup on defense and quickly became one of the team's top utility men, thanks largely to the many roles he played while at Kansas.

He has been referred to by some as the NFL's best coverage guy on slot receivers and his intelligence, physicality and tackling ability have made him one of the most valuable defensive players on the AFC's top seeded team that finished 13-3 during back-to-back seasons.

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Harris' contributions to the Mile High City have reached far beyond the field. He's one of the team's most active members in the community and, recently, was given the Darrent Williams Good Guy award by the Denver media.

"He’s a stand-up guy even when times aren’t going real well," Denver coach John Fox said of Harris. "He’s, I think, mature beyond his years. I think he’s done a tremendous job just where he came from and what he’s accomplished in a short time here with the Broncos. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Johnson, who, like Stuckey, was invited to the NFL combine, went undrafted but quickly agreed to a free-agent deal with Denver following the completion of the 2012 draft.

The former Jayhawk, who led Kansas in tackles during his junior and senior seasons, said Harris' trailblazing paved the way for him to land in Denver.

“It actually meant a lot,” Johnson told the Journal-World at the time. “He was the one who called me and told me they were trying to draft me. He called me and told me all about Denver and told me they were a team on the rise, and I wanted to go to a team that could contend and win Super Bowls and stuff like that.”

Johnson spent his early days at Kansas as a walk-on desperate for an opportunity. He spent a chunk of time living on teammates couches and had to overcome a couple of major injuries prior to college that slowed his development. Despite all the adversity, Johnson stuck it out and wound up becoming one of the top tacklers in the Big 12 before leaving college.

That relentless style and attitude seems to be serving him well in the NFL, too.

"He's the guy that if anything happens, he's so into the game he's like, 'Now, Coach? I'm ready,' " Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told the Denver Post.

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Sunday is not the first NFL meeting between these three former Jayhawks. The Broncos and Chargers played twice during the regular season in 2012 and twice this season, as well. Denver won three of the four meetings, but San Diego emerged victorious during the most recent match-up, which has added significant intrigue to the showdown between the AFC's top-seeded and bottom-seeded teams this weekend.

Because of each team's Jayhawk ties, that showdown figures to be even more interesting for Kansas football fans.

As an appetizer, former KU All-American Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots will face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the weekend's other AFC playoff game. If Talib and the Patriots prevail, they'll play the winner of the San Diego-Denver game on Jan. 19 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and the book of biggest pro football games between former Jayhawks will include another chapter.

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The Day After: Oklahoma

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor celebrates a steal by the Jayhawks before Oklahoma forward D.J. Bennett during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor celebrates a steal by the Jayhawks before Oklahoma forward D.J. Bennett during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

The beginning of Big 12 Conference play is as good a time as any to roll out this new feature. So, just as we did with our new pregame feature from Benton Smith, here's a little postgame flavor for those of you who wake up still thinking about KU's latest game.

We won't go into intense detail or labor over this stat or that one, but we will give you a few things to chew on before you move past the latest game and onto the next one.

Obviously, by now, you're well aware of how big KU's 90-83 victory at Oklahoma on Wednesday was for this team, especially when you consider it came on the heels of its first non-conference home loss since 2006 just a few days earlier.

KU coach Bill Self said the victory was KU's second best of the season — right behind Duke — and seemed pleased with the way a couple of his younger guys stepped up when KU really needed them to.

That leads perfectly into the meat of this feature, so, without further ado, I give you the first installment of “The Day After.”

Quick takeaway:
If nothing else, KU proved, once again, that it is capable of responding to a setback with a solid effort. The Jayhawks really needed a good showing at OU and they got it. If this win goes down as the game that jump-started solid seasons for Wayne Selden (24 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-10 from downtown) and Conner Frankamp (5 points on 2-of-3 shooting in 13 minutes), the Jayhawks just got a lot better.

Three reasons to smile:
1 - There were still a couple of times when KU let OU push them around, but, for the most part, the Jayhawks were much better inside in this one, out-rebounding the Sooners by 14 and limiting OU to several one-and-done possessions. OU had out-rebounded its previous six opponents by an average of 10 boards per game.

2 - Freshman Conner Frankamp proved that he could be a reliable and productive option at point guard when Naadir Tharpe was forced to sit with three first-half fouls. I'd say giving Frankamp an excessive amount of credit here could be making too much of it, but you've gotta consider all of the factors. The guy did it on the road, against a good team with tough, experienced guards despite entering the night averaging less than seven minutes per outing.

3 - Top-three scorers Andrew Wiggins (1st at 15.3 ppg) and Joel Embiid (3rd at 10.5 ppg) had off nights offensively — combining to shoot just 4-for-13 — yet the Jayhawks still managed to put up 90 points. All of that quality depth that we've talked about all season finally showed up when it truly mattered.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis fights for a rebound with Oklahoma defenders Tyler Neal (15), Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis fights for a rebound with Oklahoma defenders Tyler Neal (15), Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Three reasons to sigh:
1 - If not for 55 percent shooting for the game, including 64 percent shooting in the first half, KU probably would've lost this one. The reason? Defense. Oklahoma got into the paint way too easily and got a lot of open three-point looks. In addition, the Sooners turned it over just nine times. KU isn't going to be able to outscore everybody it plays and the Jayhawks are going to have to toughen up defensively, particularly on the ball, if they want to resemble the teams we've gotten used to seeing around here.

2 - After a breakout game against Georgetown in late December, senior forward Tarik Black has not taken the next step. In the three games since his 17-point, 6-rebound, 20-minute effort against the Hoyas, Black has played just 18 minutes combined and committed six fouls in that time.

3 - Things don't get any easier at any point in the near future. KU returns home for three of its next four games, but those three games come against in-state rival Kansas State (Saturday), No. 11 Oklahoma State (Jan. 18) and No. 7 Baylor (Jan. 20). Sprinkled in between there is a trip to No. 9 Iowa State on Monday.

One thought for the road:
A few quick records of note following Wednesday's victory, which: • Extended KU’s conference-opening winning streak to 23 games dating back to the 1991-92 season
• Made the Kansas-Oklahoma series 140-65 in favor of KU
• Gave the Jayhawks the 18-16 edge over the Sooners in games played in the Lloyd Noble Center
• Improved Bill Self to 12-4 all-time against Oklahoma, 310-63 while at Kansas and 517-169 in his 21st season overall
• Made KU 2,111-816 all-time

Next up:
KU plays host to K-State at 1 p.m. Saturday in what promises to be another fun and exciting edition of the Sunflower Showdown.

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Oddsmakers still believe in Kansas, Wiggins

For all of the struggles that the non-conference schedule brought — four losses, tough road environments, a month away from Allen Fieldhouse — the folks in the betting industry still seem to have a great deal of faith in the Kansas University basketball team.

According to a press release sent out by Bovada.com, the Jayhawks currently sit as the fourth favorite to win the 2014 national championship.

KU registers as a 15-2 favorite, down slightly from the 11-2 mark they held in May.

Arizona, which opened the season as a 15-1 favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas, currently is the top favorite at 11-2. Michigan State (6-1) and Kentucky (7-1) are second and third and Louisville and Syracuse are tied at 10-1 to round out the top five.

KU's place in the Top 5 certainly suggests that the Jayhawks have the potential for plenty of good days ahead. And, really, I don't think the non-conference results are an indication of rough days behind. KU lost to four ranked teams, two of them on late three-pointers and two in hostile environments.

Sure KU's players and head coach Bill Self might feel better about themselves heading into Big 12 play — 6 p.m. tonight at Oklahoma — if they had one or two fewer losses. But with the Big 12 possibly as good as it's ever been, there's still plenty to gain in the weeks ahead.

Beyond KU's standing with oddsmakers as one of college basketball's favorites is the presence of freshman forward Andrew Wiggins as a Top 6 favorite for national player of the year. Wiggins, who leads KU in scoring at 15.8 points per game on 45 percent shooting (and also is third on the team in rebounding at 5.4 boards per game), is a 10-1 favorite to win the award, behind only Duke's Jabari Parker (4-1), Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart (7-1), Kentucky's Julius Randle (8-1), Creighton's Doug McDermott (8-1) and Louisville's Russ Smith (8-1).

These Jayhawks have flaws and are far from a polished product. But with a legitimate player of the year candidate who figures to continue to improve and a veteran coach like Bill Self, it's easy to see why Kansas remains one of the favorites for big things come March.

Before we get to that point, the Jayhawks will begin their quest for a 10th straight Big 12 title tonight in Norman, Okla. If they get it, their odds of winning it all figure to be even better than they are today.

Here's a quick look at the both lists sent out by Bovada.

In the first list of national championship favorites, the second column lists each team's odds as of May 15, 2013 and the third column is the current odds.

Odds to win 2013-2014 National Championship:

Arizona           —              15/1      —                        11/2
Michigan State       —        12/1         —                      6/1
Kentucky            —           5/1             —                    7/1
Kansas                 —         11/2          —                     15/2
Louisville                 —      17/2           —                    10/1
Oklahoma State      —       50/1           —                    10/1
Syracuse            —           25/1        —                       10/1
Duke                   —          14/1        —                       12/1
Ohio State         —            20/1           —                    12/1
Wisconsin              —        50/1        —                       16/1
Florida                 —          18/1             —                  20/1
North Carolina     —           16/1            —                   25/1
Wichita State      —            66/1             —                  28/1
Iowa                 —             50/1              —                 40/1
Pittsburgh        —              50/1           —                    40/1
UCLA                  —           40/1              —                 40/1
Villanova        —                66/1                —               40/1
Colorado          —             40/1                  —             50/1
Connecticut         —           33/1                  —             50/1
Iowa State      —                100/1              —               50/1
Memphis          —              33/1                —               50/1
Michigan            —            33/1                  —             50/1
Oregon             —             100/1                 —            50/1
San Diego State    —         100/1           —                  50/1
Creighton       —                50/1              —                 66/1
Gonzaga          —              50/1              —                 66/1
Missouri       —                  50/1            —                   66/1
VCU              —                50/1                 —              66/1
Baylor             —               50/1               —                75/1
Cincinnati         —              100/1             —                100/1
Georgetown      —             50/1                 —              100/1
St. Louis         —               50/1               —                100/1
Virginia          —                66/1                —               100/1
UMass              —             Off the Board        —         100/1
Florida State       —           75/1                   —            150/1
Illinois               —             66/1                —               150/1
Indiana            —               33/1                —               150/1
Kansas State       —          100/1                —             150/1
New Mexico        —           50/1                —               150/1
Oklahoma          —            200/1              —               150/1
Tennessee        —             66/1               —                150/1
LSU                 —              150/1              —               150/1
Butler              —               66/1                —               200/1
Harvard           —               200/1             —                200/1
Minnesota       —               66/1               —                200/1
Texas             —               100/1              —               200/1
Xavier              —              200/1                 —            200/1
George Washington   —     Off the Board      —           200/1
Boise State          —         150/1                 —           250/1
Dayton              —            150/1                —             250/1
Marquette          —            50/1                —               250/1
Notre Dame        —           75/1                 —              250/1
Ole Miss             —           100/1                —             250/1
Arizona State     —            100/1              —               300/1
Clemson             —           250/1               —              300/1
NC State             —           50/1                  —             300/1
St. John's          —            66/1                —               300/1
St. Mary's            —          150/1                   —          300/1
Stanford              —          100/1                   —          300/1
Texas A&M           —         200/1                  —           300/1
Wake Forest         —         250/1                   —          300/1
Alabama              —          100/1              —               500/1
Arkansas            —           150/1                —             500/1
BYU                    —          100/1                 —            500/1
California            —           100/1               —              500/1
Maryland             —           200/1               —              500/1
Miami Florida       —          100/1                  —           500/1
Purdue                 —          100/1                —             500/1
UNLV                  —           66/1                    —           500/1
USC                   —           150/1                    —         500/1
Vanderbilt           —           100/1                  —           500/1
Virginia Tech       —           250/1                —             500/1
Washington           —         200/1                —             500/1
West Virginia        —          100/1                 —            500/1
George Mason        —       Off the Board       —          500/1
Boston College        —      500/1                 —            1000/1
Colorado State      —         150/1                 —            1000/1
Georgia                —         200/1                —             1000/1
Georgia Tech       —          200/1                 —            1000/1
Northwestern      —            500/1              —               1000/1
South Carolina     —          250/1               —              1000/1
St. Joe's            —            250/1                —             1000/1
Temple              —            150/1               —              1000/1
Washington State    —       200/1               —              1000/1
La Salle          —               Off the Board      —           1000/1
Richmond          —            Off the Board     —            1000/1
St. Bonaventure    —         Off the Board       —          1000/1
Rhode Island      —            Off the Board     —            1000/1
Fordham            —            Off the Board      —           1000/1
Davidson             —          250/1                —             2000/1
Mississippi State   —         500/1              —               Off the Board

Odds to win 2013-2014 Associated Press Player of the Year:
Jabari Parker (Duke)               —                4/1
Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)     —         7/1
Julius Randle (Kentucky)                —         8/1
Doug McDermott (Creighton)    —              8/1
Russ Smith (Louisville)          —                 8/1
Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)      —                 10/1
C.J. Fair (Syracuse)              —                  12/1
Shabazz Napier (UConn)      —                   12/1
Aaron Craft (Ohio State)        —                 15/1
Chaz Williams (UMass)          —                 15/1
Aaron Gordon (Arizona)             —             15/1
Keith Appling (Michigan State)     —           20/1
Nick Johnson (Arizona)          —                 20/1
Cleanthony Early (Wichita State)      —        20/1
Gary Harris (Michigan State)        —            25/1
Kyle Anderson (UCLA)              —              33/1
Marcus Paige (North Carolina)       —          33/1
Casey Prather (Florida)            —               33/1
T.J. Warren (N.C. State)          —                33/1
Adreian Payne (Michigan State)        —       33/1

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In case you missed it: KU coach Charlie Weis joined Keith Olbermann to break down national title game

Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis joined ESPN analyst Keith Olbermann, in studio, last night following the national championship game to break down the big moments and major adjustments delivered by Florida State and Auburn in the final game of the BCS era.

Weis was introduced as the head coach at the University of Kansas and he wore a crimson and blue Jayhawk tie.

These types of things are not necessarily life-altering but they definitely do not hurt the KU program and, believe it or not, can do wonders for recruiting. Weis appeared to be very comfortable breaking down the game that he had just seen live one time and flashed his vast knowledge of offense, schemes and adjustments. He also knew and discussed many players and coaches by name, which showed that he either (a) did his homework or (b) simply knew a lot of these guys to begin with. Perhaps both.

Either way, he definitely represented himself and KU very well.

Among the topics Weis touched on were:

• Halftime adjustments by FSU, which looked shell-shocked in the first half.

• The flag thrown on an FSU player that forced the Seminoles to kick an extra point at 21-19 instead of attempting a two-point conversion to tie.

• Breakdown of Tre Mason's touchdown run that gave Auburn a lead with less than two minutes to play.

• The big pass play from Jameis Winston on the final drive that turned a five-yard slant into a 40-yard gain.

• How Auburn's defense bottled up FSU in the first half and what Winston and the Seminoles did to overcome it.

• His views on the end of the BCS era and the ushering in of a playoff system.

Here's the full video, if you're interested.

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Mark Mangino back in the Big 12

According to a report from Bobby LaGesse, of the Ames Tribune, Iowa State is poised to announce the hiring of former Kansas coach Mark Mangino as its new offensive coordinator under head coach Paul Rhoads.

A press conference is set for 4:30 p.m. today.

“I am beyond thrilled to welcome Coach Mangino to the Cyclone football family,” Rhoads said in a press release. “He has an imaginative offensive mind, an ability to play to his players’ strengths, a track record of winning and a tremendous familiarity with the Big 12 Conference. In terms of calling plays and executing a game plan, he is top shelf. He has learned from a ‘Who’s Who’ of college coaches, effectively led his own championship program and is respected throughout the coaching ranks.”

Mangino, who was the head coach at Kansas from 2002-09 and led the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory in 2007 while being named national coach of the year, spent the past year working at Youngstown State and has long been rumored to want back into coaching.

His Jayhawk teams were 50-48 overall, played in four bowls and won three. He is the only coach in KU history to win bowls in consecutive seasons (2007 and 2008). Kansas was ranked a school-record 19 straight weeks between 2007-08, set home attendance records five years in a row and produced the top three total offenses in school history.

He left Kansas as the result of an internal investigation into improper treatment of players carried out by former KU athletic director Lew Perkins. He spent three years out of coaching before returning to YSU, his alma mater, for the 2013 season.

Before coaching at KU, Mangino worked on Bob Stoops' staff in Oklahoma and also on the staff of Bill Snyder at Kansas State.

Mangino's first year back in the Big 12 also will signal a return to Lawrence as the Cyclones are schedule to play at KU on Nov. 8.

Stay right here for more on the move to bring Mangino back to the Big 12.

The following link takes you back to August, when Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan caught up with Mangino at Youngstown State.

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Charlie Strong a rock solid hire for Texas

I have to admit when I first heard the reports that Texas had zeroed in on Louisville's Charlie Strong as its new football coach, I was a little surprised.

Not because I don't think Strong is a fantastic coach, an energetic dude and a great face for any program. He's all of those things and more. My surprise stemmed from the fact that, in comparison to Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Jim Harbaugh, Art Briles and others, Strong's name doesn't carry the weight I would've expected UT to want— perhaps even demand — in a successor to Mack Brown.

Maybe I just can't get the idea out of my head that at one point, not that long ago, Strong was on the list of potential replacements for Mark Mangino. Think about that. In late 2009, Strong, then an assistant at Florida, was on KU's radar and today he's the head coach at Texas. Wild stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think Strong was that close to being a finalist for the job that went to Turner Gill — and then Charlie Weis two years later — but he was a hot target at the time and there's no doubt that KU kicked the tires.

In Strong, who went 37-15 in four seasons at Louisville and 23-3 during the past two seasons, UT is getting everything I think KU fans were told they were getting in Gill. A player's coach who would do things the right way. A great recruiter. A man of strong morals and values. An intelligent football mind with the capability of putting together a top notch staff around him.

We all know how that played out with Gill and Kansas but I see no reason at all to think anything close to the same will happen for Strong and Texas.

This seems like a fantastic hire for the Longhorns and an absolute nightmare for the rest of the Big 12. Strong will get players. At Texas they always do. And I believe under his leadership the best of the best will again have UT as an automatic entry on their recruiting lists.

More than that though, Strong will evaluate, develop and motivate those players at a level Texas hasn't seen in quite some time. The man radiates pride, intensity & character all at once. Now that he's taking over a blueblood program he'll get a great opportunity to show just how talented he really is.

There are questions about Strong. He doesn't love dealing with the media and may not be the perfect fit to handle the insane exposure that comes from The Longhorn Network. But in terms of football acumen, Strong is everything you could want.

Credit the UT administration for ultimately understanding that a big-time name was not needed to replace Brown. A big-time coach was. And, in Strong, I think they found exactly that.

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KU basketball press conference notes: Jan. 3

Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and a couple of KU players will talk to the media at 2:30 p.m. today.

Stay logged in right here for a blow-by-blow account of what Self and the Jayhawks have to say about this weekend's match-up with No. 21 San Diego State — 3:30 p.m. Sunday on CBS — and the current state of the program.


Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor will talk before Self....

Ellis up first:

Perry Ellis says KU knows that San Diego State is really solid defensively and that one of the big focal points this week has been on handling the press.

Ellis says that KU will get a lot better defensively itself when the young guys don't worry as much about messing up. He went through that his freshman year and he sympathizes.

Ellis said Naadir Tharpe is so critical to this team as a vocal leader and from the standpoint of getting everyone ready every day, every game. Not a lot of people know that.

Ellis says he's much stronger this year than he was last year. That came from hard work during the summer and he said it has brought more confidence because he feels more explosive.

Ellis is 3-of-6 from three-point range this season. He said he's been working a lot on shooting those, especially as a trailer on the break, but that he's easing into the idea and making sure that he doesn't force them up.

Ellis said the team had some great practices over the break and that they've been playing great defense in practice. He's hoping it carries over to what's next on the schedule.

Ellis said he's still a little numb from the blow to the head he took against Georgetown but he's not worried about it because it doesn't impact how he feels or plays.

Ellis said the non-conference portion of the schedule has gone by incredibly fast but that he's really looking forward to the Big 12 games.

Traylor's turn:

Traylor says the biggest key for KU's defense going to the next level is finishing possessions all the way through the box out and the rebound. No fouls, stay down, work hard and finish.

Traylor said KU should use its energy to inspire the crowd to help them create turnovers by their opponents.

Traylor said the past couple of days of practice haven't focused much on offense at all. All defensive drills and a lot of them. He said the split was 80 percent defense, 20 percent offense. And the 20 percent number might be high.

Traylor said Ellis was in the weight room a lot throughout the offseason. Every time he went to the gym Perry was in there and he thinks that might be why Ellis has been so much more effective at the rim this season.

Traylor said he doesn't guard Joel Embiid much in practice and he doesn't mind that one bit.

Traylor said the versatility of KU's bigs is huge for this team and makes it hard on Self to figure out a way to divvy up the minutes.

Traylor, like Ellis, said a lot of good things about SDSU's defense and said they're really, really athletic.

Traylor said the tough non-conference schedule should pay off now that conference play is here.

Now Self:

Self backs up his players' claims that defense has been the focal point lately but added that defense is always an emphasis.

Self also said getting better on defense is not something that you just decide to do and then go up and make it happen in a day or two. It takes time. It's a process. And he's pleased with how KU has handled the process this season.

Self said the players have not really been out of position during defensive breakdowns, more that their mindset and intensity have allowed opponents to get things easier than they should.

Self said he has not gone to drastic measures like practicing without a ball. He's done that before but not this year. "I figured out practices can be more game-like when you use a ball."

Self said SDSU is one of the premier defensive teams in the country and that's where they hang their hat. Largely because they're athletic and well coached.

Speaking of coaching, Self said the tiff between he and SDSU coach Steve Fisher over the recruitment of Kevin Young is water under the bridge and he has nothing but respect and admiration for Fisher, who he says is an outstanding coach who has proven it for a long time. He added: In recruiting, those things happen. You don't always get what you deserve. And the things that happen to you in a negative way often happen in a positive way at some point down the road. Self thinks that's the case with Fisher but says he understands the disappointment because it always hurts when you lose a kid you put so much time into recruiting.

Self said SDSU's defensive switches will be good prep for Oklahoma, which also switches a ton on defense. Reinforces that non-conference schedule is played to prepare teams for conference play so he loves how the timing worked out with this one. KU opens Big 12 play at OU on Jan. 8.

Self said Perry Ellis' strong season down low is due mostly to him being a year older. He said Ellis is stronger and more aggressive than he was as a freshman but added that he's still not quite as aggressive as they'd like him to be.

As for Ellis from three-point land, Self said he's never told Perry that he does or does not have the green light to shoot those but added that he wouldn't mind seeing Ellis average one or two a game because he's a good shooter.

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14 Questions about KU football as we enter 2014

The new year is just a couple of days old, the beginning of football season is still eight months away and college basketball is dominating the thoughts of KU fans at the moment.

But that doesn't mean it's too early to look ahead to the coming year of Kansas football.

The 2014 season will be the third for head coach Charlie Weis at KU and there's no doubt that it's a big year for the program.

A defense that enjoyed drastic improvement during 2013 returns nearly everyone and also figures to get some help in the form of eligible red-shirts and reinforcements. Same goes for the offense, with senior wide receiver Nick Harwell and offensive coordinator John Reagan being the biggest additions.

While the Jayhawks will return several known commodities at key positions, uncertainty remains all over the field. Here's a quick look at the 14 most interesting questions facing KU football in 2014:

1 – Who will play quarterback? Jake Heaps is back for his senior season, Montell Cozart will be a sophomore and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will be eligible. This has the makings of a heck of a battle, but I'd give Heaps the nod as the early favorite.

2 – What will the new offense look like? New offensive coordinator John Reagan will be bringing his offense to KU and it figures to look awfully familiar to KU fans who enjoyed the Todd Reesing era. How similar it is remains to be seen, but I think you can expect an up-tempo style that leans heavily on both the running and passing games. Also worth watching closely is how well Reagan works with the offensive line, a major area of concern for KU entering 2014.

3 – How good can Nick Harwell be? The all-time leading receiver in Miami (Ohio) University history has one year of college ball remaining before giving it a go in the NFL. Will his addition be the fix for a passing game that has struggled during the past two seasons? Everything I've heard tells me yes.

4 – Who replaces James Sims? For four seasons, Sims was a staple in the KU backfield and led the team in rushing. Now that he's gone, who will step up as the top back? There are plenty of options, old and new. From returners Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to freshman Traevohn Wrench and Colin Spencer. And don't forget Tony Pierson could still take a handoff or two. Clearly, KU again is expected to enjoy great depth at an important position. I think Cox could be the most Sims-esque player in the bunch.

5 – What happens with the coaching staff? We already know that Tim Grunhard is out and Reagan is in. But will there be any other changes on Weis' staff? The smart money says yes.

6 – What can we expect from defensvie end Andrew Bolton? From the sound of it, quite a bit. Bolton red-shirted the 2013 season to get healthy and, in the process, got bigger and stronger. His presence as a pass-rushing threat would be huge for a KU defense that will not be short on confidence heading into the season.

7 – What can we expect from cornerback Kevin Short? I heard a couple of times last summer that Short was one of the two or three most talented players on KU's roster. NCAA shenanigans kept us from seeing that in 2013 but Short stuck it out, worked on his fundamentals and frame during practice and should be itching to go in 2014. Where he'll play remains to be seen, but expect him to be a fixture in the secondary and also make an impact in the return game.

8 – What can we expect from linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore? Jenkins-Moore's knee injury on the first day of summer workouts in 2013 was a big-time disappointment for both the player and the fan base. He's been out of action for a long time and I haven't heard much about his rehab so I think he's definitely a question mark heading into the 2014 season.

9 – What's this team's leadership look like? In a word, solid. Although Sims is gone, the three other captains from the 2013 campaign will be back. Assuming Ben Heeney, Keon Stowers and Jake Heaps keep their roles and the fourth captain spot goes to an offensive player, I'd look at senior tight end Jimmay Mundine as an early favorite to inherit a leadership role.

10 – Speaking of Mundine, will he be a big part of next season's offense? During the 2013 season, Rice's tight ends accounted for just 15 receptions and 165 yards. A year earlier, however, Vance McDonald, who became a second-round pick in the NFL Draft, caught 36 balls for 458 yards and two touchdowns. Mundine has talent and can become a productive weapon. Remember, even while struggling, he finished 2013 with 229 yards and five TDs on 20 receptions. He just has to catch the football.

11 – How does the 2014 schedule look? Tough as always is the easy answer, but I'll give you a little more than that. Non-conference home games against Southeast Missouri and Central Michigan should give KU a good shot at a nice start. But a road game at Duke, which finished the 2013 season at 10-4, seems much tougher today than it did when the game was scheduled. Duke brings back nearly everyone and proved that it could play with the big boys in 2013. After those three, it's Big 12 Conference time, opening with Texas at home and closing at Kansas State. Unlike last year, KU will have a bye week in the middle of conference play, between road games at Texas Tech and Baylor. Four of the first six games are at home, so playing tough in Memorial Stadium will be huge.

12 – Speaking of Memorial Stadium, will there be any signs of renovations to the old venue in 2014? If there are, it won't be until after the season and even that appears to be a reach right now. Conversations are ongoing and plans are being laid out but I can't see any major moves happening until the money is there. And, right now, it's not there yet.

13 – What streaks are still in tact? The biggest is the road losing streak, which sits at 27 games and dates back to the 2009 season. Thanks to KU's victory over West Virginia on Nov. 16, 2013, the Big 12 and overall losing streaks are both tiny two-gamers, so it's the road streak that will get all of the pub in 2014. KU will get six cracks to snap the skid in 2014 — at Duke, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State. None will be easy, so ending the madness will be big news for the program. In addition to trying to get over the hump away from home, KU also will be looking to snap its streak of five consecutive sub-.500 seasons.

14 – Is there any hope for better days ahead? I said this throughout 2013 and I'll say it again today: If you're an optimist by nature, there are plenty of areas you can point to that make you smile and support the claim that Weis is taking Kansas football in the right direction. At the same time, if you're naturally pessimistic, there are still a few elements of the program that make you look awfully intelligent for doubting the Jayhawks. The way the 2014 season plays out will be huge for KU, both in terms of stability and upward movement. After generally showing patience and understanding during Weis' first two seasons in town, the majority of the fan base figures to be expecting more in 2014. And who can blame them?

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Top 10 gifts given to KU fans in 2013

The lights came on around Thanksgiving (if not sooner) and will stay up for another couple of weeks, but after the usual build-up and anticipation, Christmas has come and gone.

Just like that, weeks worth of picking, purchasing and wrapping presents is now a thing of the past – at least for another 300-plus days.

I hope those of you who celebrate the holiday had a wonderful day with friends, family and loved ones and that, sprinkled in there among the gifts, goodies and overeating, you had an opportunity to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

My moment came in the form of a gift from my aunt, who, in honor of my late uncle (who passed away one year ago) paid off the layaway bill for several families in the Denver area. She then wrote a letter to each of us in the family and explained that the families had been taken care of in our honor and through my uncle's inspiration. He once did that for her gift, years ago, and she always said it was one of her favorites.

I now know why.

Anyway, in keeping with the theme of great gifts, here's a quick look back at the top 10 moments given to Jayhawk fans during 2013.

Enjoy! And, once again, Happy Holidays!

1. Women's track and field brings home a national championship — There are tons of good things on this list and most of them drew a lot more attention than this, but it'll be hard to argue with putting this No. 1 because hanging banners is what it's all about. The women's track team, which was loaded with talented athletes and wonderful people, dominated in Oregon last spring and brought home a trophy that inspired a billboard on I-70. Big-time stuff.

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2. Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas — Recruiting is no joke around these parts and the day of Wiggins' announcement was full of the usual bag of mixed emotions. Many feared he would pick Florida State, North Carolina or Kentucky. Others were certain he was Kansas-bound. When the time came for Wiggins' announcement, he told a gym full of supporters in Huntington, W.Va., that he would play his one season of college hoops in Kansas. It's been a Beatles-esque run of Wiggins-mania since then and the 6-foot-8, 200-pound Canadian forward currently leads the Jayhawks in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Wiggins was merely the headliner of a class that included Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp and Frank Mason. It also should be pointed out that the recruiting crazies went nuts again in November, when top-five big man Cliff Alexander picked Kansas.

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3. Make it 9 straight Big 12 titles for Bill Self — The unprecedented streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles continued in 2013, as Self's Jayhawks held off serious charges from Oklahoma State and Kansas State to win it again. Just in case anyone disputed whether the Jayhawks were really the champs, KU went ahead and won the Big 12 conference tournament title, too, dispatching K-State for the third time in the semifinals to put the icing on the cake.

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4. KU football snaps conference losing streak — After 27 consecutive losses in Big 12 play, a streak that dated back to the 2010 season, the KU football team finally broke through with a dominating, 31-19 victory over West Virginia at Memorial Stadium in November. The victory set off a wild celebration on the field between the players and the fans in the stands and, as is customary with big wins, the students ripped down the goal posts and sent them swimming in Potter Lake.

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5. KU volleyball makes 1st ever Sweet 16 — Inpsired by the disappointment of getting so close and coming up short last season, a senior-heavy KU volleyball team finished second in the Big 12 Conference for the first time ever and followed that up by winning first- and second-round matches at Allen Fieldhouse to advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Although the run ended there, this team, which featured All-American Caroline Jarmoc, Big 12 setter of the year Erin McNorton and Big 12 coach of the year Ray Bechard (who won the honor for the second year in a row), will likely be remembered for a long, long time over at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

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6. Sweet 16 times 2 for KU hoops — For the second year in a row, the Kansas basketball programs each reached the Sweet 16, with the men falling to Michigan in a heartbreaker and the women getting back to the Sweet 16 for a second time after being one of the last at-large teams put into the tourney field.

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7. Another No. 1 seed for the KU men — Despite their shocking loss to Michigan, the men achieved a heck of an accomplishment at the Big Dance's outset when they earned a No. 1 seed for the 11th time in school history and the fifth time in 10 seasons under Bill Self.

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8. Tier-3 TV deal puts KU in more homes — Although it produced some anger locally, KU's partnerships with Time Warner Cable and ESPN3 brought to homes across the country 70 live KU events, more than 600 hours of shoulder programming and several pre- and post-game shows highlight KU sports. “This is the backbone of providing Jayhawk fans with access to all of our sports in a way that they've never experienced before,” athletic director Sheahon Zenger said of the deal.

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9. KU football lands more transfers — In May it was Nick Harwell, the all-time leading receiver in Miami (Ohio) history who said yes to KU coach Charlie Weis. And just last week it was Florida tight end Kent Taylor. Weis' experience and coaching pedigree continue to attract big-time talent and, although the ones who have made their way to Lawrence thus far have not been stars, it might just be a matter of time before a few of them pan out.

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10. Professional Jayhawks continue to make noise — Whether it's Gary Woodland on the PGA Tour, Chris Harris with the Denver Broncos or a record number of former KU basketball players in the NBA, 2013 was a good year for Jayhawks on the professional map. Woodland won a tournament title again, Harris is a key part of a defense on a team with the best record in the NFL and others like Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings), Aqib Talib (New England Patriots), Darrell Stuckey (San Diego Chargers), Xavier Henry (Los Angeles Lakers) and many, many more are doing their part to represent their school well at the highest levels.

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Bill Self press conference notes: Dec. 20

Kansas University men's basketball coach Bill Self joined the media on Friday morning to preview KU's upcoming Georgetown game and the winter break.

Here's a blow-by-blow look at Self's comments:

Self says he expects Georgetown to play great on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse (11 a.m. tipoff). Their reputation speaks for itself and they have great tradition. They've added some nice pieces lately and it should be a big-time college basketball game.

Self on Georgetown big man Josh Smith, who transferred from UCLA: I just know he's big. And he's an unbelievable athlete for a man that size. It'll be a good challenge for anybody to go against a player like that, Joel Embiid or whoever.

Self said Andrew Wiggins has had a great week of practice, particularly on the defensive end. The New Mexico game was one of the least effective defensive games for Wiggins, according to Self. He wasn't bad, you're just used to his man never scoring and he was guarding a really good player (Kendall Williams). He's getting it and he's getting better every day.

Overall defensively, Self says there's been a lot of improvement made and he still thinks the team can get to the point where it is excellent defensively.

Self said he did not see a common thread in the games where Perry Ellis doesn't put up as big of numbers as he does in wins. He added, "I know we're a better team when he's playing aggressive and scoring the ball."

Self said team will all head home for winter break Saturday night. They'll reconvene on Dec. 26 and from that point to the first day of classes (mid-January), practice time is unlimited and KU will work on all aspects of the game extensively, film, fundamentals, philosophy, etc. Likely to practice twice a day during that stretch, 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. or something like that.

Self says over Christmas is the toughest time to be a student-athlete because if you're here working, no one else is... no friends, no girlfriends, no classes, no classmates, etc.

Self says "We've always gotten better over Christmas. Last year was the one year we didn't."

Self: Sure there's a role for Tarik Black. We're going to start Joel, but absolutely Tarik still has a role... and an important role.

Self said he thought Wayne Selden was the best newcomer KU had when they first started practicing. Since the Duke game he's been up and down. Big reason for that is his health hasn't been great. Nothing major, but this and that, here and there. Self says Selden is a guy who will really benefit from both the time off and the extra time in the gym.

There have been teams with bigger breaks between games at Allen Fieldhouse (Self challenged our own Gary Bedore to research it, and, yes, Gary did) but Self said outside of the icecapades or a rodeo, there's no reason to go this long without playing home games. Adds, "I'm excited to be back home."

Self says the Big 12 is a darn good league this season, top to bottom. Points out KU's large distance of strength of schedule, but adds that Baylor is No. 2 in the country. Loves seeing so many Big 12 teams in the Top 25 and says that will make it tough to keep the consecutive Big 12 titles streak alive.

Self says he thinks Naadir Tharpe has a great opportunity to keep that starting PG spot for the rest of the season. "We definitely need him to be the quarterback for us."

Self on Embiid: When you think about gifted, with hands and feet and size and all that, I don't think anything really surprises you. Still, you have those moments -- probably once a day -- where you say, "Did he really just do that?" He and Andrew Wiggins both have a lot of those moments.

Self says Embiid's moves are different every time... you can teach him a move but he always has a different way of getting there. Says he's not robotic and that's a good thing and tough for defenses to prepare for him and guard him.

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Sunday, Monday night football intros of Jayhawk alums not necessarily a snub toward KU football

I didn't catch it, but more than a few people brought to my attention the fact that former Kansas University offensive lineman Anthony Collins, now a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, introduced himself with his high school (Central High in Beaumont, Texas) instead of his college during the Bengals' loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night.

This has become a bit of a trend for former KU players lately and one that has been met by disappointment from KU fans.

Understandably so.

In a world in which every other player on these introductions is from USC, Alabama or “The Ohio State University,” hearing Kansas represented surely would be not only a nice treat for Jayhawk fans but also a huge lift for KU's recruiting.

One of the biggest culprits is New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who, for years, has been saying “North Dallas, Texas,” in place of the school he became an All-American. But evidently Collins has joined in on the fun now, too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNpLxqR9jiI

It should be noted that, until recently, not many former Jayhawks were in the position of announcing anything during Sunday or Monday night football intros because very few had become starters, so it's not like the list of guys snubbing KU is all that long. In a sense, though, that may be why it stings the fan base in the first place.

Denver defensive back Chris Harris is one former Jayhawk who has been a fixture in these pre-game introductions during the past couple of years and he has continued to say “Kansas University” each time.

I caught up with Harris quickly the other night for a little insight into why the other guys might be choosing to leave out KU and his answer was nothing short of hilarious. “You never know with those cats,” he said of Talib and Collins, his former Orange Bowl teammates.

Short of asking Talib or Collins themselves, I can't really pick out a good answer. But there are a few options.

  1. They truly might just love their high schools. Many guys, especially athletes, are proud of where they come from and enjoy the opportunity to give the school that got them started a little shout-out. Nothing wrong with that.

  2. It's possible they're just trying to be funny. I can't remember who started it, but a few years ago, guys started repping their preschools or their kindergarten teachers. Nothing wrong with that either.

  3. The last thing I can think of may very well be the reason here and it's something that current KU coach Charlie Weis has talked a lot about since he arrived in town a couple of years ago. When reaching out to former KU football players, Weis found that many guys identified themselves with the coaches for whom they played. They were Glen Mason guys, Mark Mangino guys or Terry Allen guys instead of being Jayhawks. Weis has taken steps to eliminate the division and has hopes of getting all former Jayhawks to view themselves as exactly that. It'll take time, though. And maybe, since they don't know Weis or any of the coaches who came after Mark Mangino, those two are doing it as a way of showing their support for the man who was forced out after one of the most successful stints in KU football history. I know there were a lot of guys who played for Mangino who were upset about how his whole departure went down, so that could very easily be a factor, too.

Regardless of the reason, it's definitely nothing to get worked up about, but it is worth pointing out that them changing their tune certainly would not hurt KU in recruiting and would give KU football fans a reason to smile.

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KU’s three-point struggles impacting Perry Ellis’ offensive flow

Kansas forward Perry Ellis is covered by the Florida defense during the first half on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 at O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis is covered by the Florida defense during the first half on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 at O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. by Nick Krug

Counting the Jayhawks' two exhibition games, sophomore forward Perry Ellis scored in double figures in six consecutive games to open the season and averaged 16 points per night.

In the past five games (three of them losses) Ellis has reached double digits three times and has averaged just over 10 points per game.

For the season, Ellis is averaging 13.3 points per game in 30 minutes, but it's clear that teams have started to figure out Perry's importance to this Kansas offense.

In KU's three losses, Ellis attempted just 17 shots, including just three in the most recent loss at Florida. That fact would not be quite as alarming if not for the reality that the rest of the Jayhawks — outside of leading scorer Andrew Wiggins (16.4 ppg) — are struggling to put points up around Ellis, who seems to be the most versatile scoring threat on KU's roster.

Given the fact that the Jayhawks have seen so much zone from opposing defenses lately, Ellis' quiet games make sense. The sophomore from Wichita loves to operate in the short corners — the area halfway between the lane and the sideline that is critical to attacking zone defenses — and Ellis mentioned Thursday that he noticed teams were making a concerted effort to keep him away from those spots.

“They try to really keep me out (of there) and try not to let me catch it on the post a lot,” Ellis said. “That's something I've noticed. That's the main thing.”

Fixing that and giving Ellis more of a chance to get back to his favorite spots on the floor is a matter of breaking down the zones. And the easiest way to do that is to have shooters knock down shots. Until they do, teams likely will continue to funnel everything to KU's jump shooters on the outside and, in a sense, tell KU's offense that they would rather live with the Jayhawks shooting three-pointers, where KU is hitting 31 percent, versus letting Ellis catch the ball in the short corners and create easy points.

Of course, there are other factors in play here, as well, most notably the struggles of the KU point guards to (a) get the team into its half-court sets and (b) keep from turning the ball over. But those things will hurt any offensive player anywhere on the floor.

We all know by now that Ellis is as good as it gets at finishing around the rim, but even if he cannot put the ball in the basket, one of the best ways to create points is by getting to the free throw line. Attacking the rim from the short corners has led to a bunch of free throws for Ellis, who has made a team-best 80 percent from the line this season but is just third on the team in free throws attempted.

During the past two games — both losses — Ellis failed to reach the free throw line one time.

While Ellis' stats are trending the wrong way during recent weeks, this, by no means, is a reason to panic. Ellis is a smart and skilled basketball player with a loaded offensive repertoire and he and the KU coaching staff no doubt will figure out a way to put him in position to score even if teams continue to take away the short corner.

But whether that comes from the high post or from attacking the rim more off the dribble, Ellis' recent numbers are just another indicator of how important finding three-point shooting is for this Kansas team.

Perry Ellis game-by-game

• PITT STATE (exhibition) --- FG: 7-10 — FT: 2-2 — Pts: 16 — Min: 23
• FORT HAYS STATE (exhibition) --- FG: 3-4 — FT: 7-7 — Pts: 13 — Min: 20
• LOUISIANA MONROE --- FG: 3-5 — FT: 6-8 — Pts: 12 — Min: 29
• DUKE --- FG: 9-13 — FT: 5-6 — Pts: 24 — Min: 35
• IONA --- FG: 9-11 — FT: 3-4 — Pts: 21 — Min: 32
• TOWSON --- FG: 4-7 — FT: 2-2 — Pts: 10 — Min: 22
• WAKE FOREST --- FG: 3-8 — FT: 3-4 — Pts: 9 — Min: 23
• VILLANOVA --- FG: 3-8 — FT: 5-7 — Pts: 11 — Min: 39
• UTEP --- FG: 6-12 — FT: 7-8 — Pts: 19 — Min: 32
• COLORADO --- FG: 5-6 — FT: 0-0 — Pts: 10 — Min: 31
• FLORIDA --- FG: 2-3 — FT: 0-0 — Pts: 4 — Min: 24

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Former Jayhawk Micah Brown provides an inside look at KU football recruiting

Former Kansas University football player and current Steven Spielberg in the making, Micah Brown, was at it again recently on behalf of his alma mater.

Brown, whose video production company, Second Wind Creative, has created some incredible documentary-type projects at schools such as Kansas, Michigan State and Notre Dame, recently released an updated recruiting video for the Jayhawks.

The 5-minute video directly targets KU's recruits, but it also offers a nice inside look at the program and the direction KU coach Charlie Weis and his coaching staff plan to take the task of mining for talent in the coming years.

It's definitely worth a look for KU fans and, production-wise, is probably worth watching for non-KU fans, as well. Micah does great work and he and his company are only going to get bigger.

Here's the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-RAeFDg_C4&feature=youtu.be

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My take on why this KU volleyball team has been so much fun to cover

Kansas players celebrate their victory during their second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Creighton, Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks downed the Bluejays, 3-1, and with the win, avenged a loss to Creighton earlier in the year.

Kansas players celebrate their victory during their second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Creighton, Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks downed the Bluejays, 3-1, and with the win, avenged a loss to Creighton earlier in the year. by John Young

Unless this is your first visit to KUsports.com in the last month, you're surely aware by now that the Kansas University volleyball team has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history and will take on Washington on Friday in Los Angeles.

It's a great story about a great team and one that cannot be told too many times.

As is the case with any team that gets hot — at any level — we've jumped all-in with this squad and covered them inside and out during the past few months, partly because they're winning and playing at a high level and partly because they're an awesome bunch.

I've been a volleyball fan for a long time. My wife played volleyball in college, Olympic beach volleyball has taken off in recent years and even when I was covering high school sports volleyball was one of my favorites to watch and write about.

As for the Jayhawks, I've been a fan of this team since the middle of the 2012 season, and I figured now was as good a time as any to explain why.

The No. 1 thing I enjoy about Ray Bechard's 16th squad at Kansas is how hard it competes. It never matters who they're playing or how they're feeling, they always bring it. That's the case when they're up two sets to none and are looking to close out the match with a three-set sweep and also the case when they're down two sets to one and need to win the last two sets to win the match.

Kansas' Caroline Jarmoc (9) hits a spike past Wichita State's Ashley Andrade (28) and Katie Reilly (7) during their volleyball match in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Shockers, 3-1, and will face Creighton Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Kansas' Caroline Jarmoc (9) hits a spike past Wichita State's Ashley Andrade (28) and Katie Reilly (7) during their volleyball match in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Shockers, 3-1, and will face Creighton Saturday at 6:30 p.m. by John Young

It's not just a couple of players either. It's all of them. I'm sure some of that comes from the fact that they're as close as a team can possibly be — five key players even live together — and I'm sure some of it is just who they are and how they're coached.

“The chemistry on our team is so awesome,” said senior libero Bri Riley. “It's funny, when we talk to other girls at other schools it's, 'I hate so and so and I hate so and so,' and I love everyone on our team. It's hard to be mad at someone who you love so much and I think that really does carry over onto the court.”

Another thing I enjoy about this year's roster is their personalities. These girls have fun out on the floor and they're always smiling, laughing, joking around and messing with each other however and whenever they can. That demeanor has helped keep them loose when things have been at their most intense and helped them plow through the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament at Allen Fieldhouse last weekend instead of tightening up and letting the moment and opportunity get the best of them.

Beyond their general personalities, this team has all the parts you would want. A jokester or two, a super-focused senior, a bubbly newcomer, an All-American badass and a lot more.

To help illustrate that, I sought the input of a handful of people inside the program for a couple of quick buzzwords about each of the KU regulars. The words they came up with were a perfect representation of what this team is all about and why they've saved their best for last — fun, ferocious and fearing no one.

Here's a quick look at the way some folks inside the program view the girls who will go down in history as some of the most important volleyball players ever to come through Lawrence:

Senior libero Brianne Riley – immature, pretty, tan

Senior setter Erin McNorton – sleepy, "Eeyore," witty

Senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc – blunt, engineering phenom

Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers – ridiculous, inappropriate

Senior outside hitter Catherine Carmichael – animated

Freshman middle blocker Tayler Soucie – gullible, delicate

Sophomore outside hitter Tiana Dockery – social, therapist, popular

Junior outside hitter Sara McClinton – squeaky, baby giraffe

Senior defensive specialist Jaime Mathieu – miniature ginger

Freshman defensive specialist Cassie Wait – buff, apologetic

As you can see, most of those responses came off the cuff and were shared with an eye toward this team's comedic nature. But as the pressure of following up last season — which, until now, had been the best season in KU volleyball history, statistically speaking — landed on their shoulders from Day 1 of the 2013 season, this team's ability to stay loose and laugh helped allow them to dig in when it mattered most and lighten up when needed.

“Over the summer, we were all thinking, 'Can we do it twice,'” Riley admitted. “Can we figure it out and put all the work in and execute to do it a second time?'”

The answer to that question has been a resounding yes, as the Jayhawks are playing deep into the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever and competing with a keen and hard-to-corral mindset that is equal parts relaxed and driven.

“I think we're really good at focusing on the now,” McNorton said. “Coach B always says the next game is the most important game of the year.”

Never has that been more true than today.

Kansas' Cassie Wait (5), Jamie Mathieu (14) and the rest of the Jayhawks wave to fans following Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Creighton, Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks downed the Bluejays, 3-1, and with the win, avenged a loss to Creighton earlier in the year.

Kansas' Cassie Wait (5), Jamie Mathieu (14) and the rest of the Jayhawks wave to fans following Kansas' second round NCAA volleyball tournament match against Creighton, Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks downed the Bluejays, 3-1, and with the win, avenged a loss to Creighton earlier in the year. by John Young

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A quick look at some of KU football’s top recruiting targets in the Class of 2014

With a week remaining until the mid-year transfer signing day (Dec. 18) and the Kansas University football coaches, including new offensive coordinator John Reagan, still out on the road in search of talent, the clock is ticking on KU's 2014 recruiting class.

Unlike a year ago, when KU coach Charlie Weis signed nine junior college players in December, the next couple of weeks figure to be a little more quiet — no top-ranked players, no Dream Team talk, no unusually large haul.

In fact, it's entirely possible that just a couple of mid-year transfers will sign with KU next week, with the rest of the class waiting until national signing day in February to make it official.

High school prospects are not allowed to sign until February so, with eight of the 11 players currently committed to KU coming from the prep ranks, the Jayhawks would have to pick up commitments from the juco ranks in a hurry in order for too many of them to sign on Dec. 18.

Although getting guys on campus in time for spring practice is always a good thing, it's not uncommon to have a small crop of signees during December.

With 11 spots full in a class that theoretically could bring in 14 more players, the Jayhawks are out in full force scouring the country for talent.

Here's a quick look at some of the Jayhawks' top known targets, many of whom have taken or set up visits recently. Not surprisingly, many of them are offensive linemen:

• A.J. Allen, OL, Grossmont C.C. — 6-7, 315
The offensive tackle from El Cajon, Calif., has both Kansas and Kansas State on his long list of finalists and the Jayhawks have thrown California recruiting guru Jeff Blasko at the huge lineman. Some have said that Kansas State is the favorite for Allen, who was scheduled to visit Kansas during Sunflower Showdown weekend. He is a likely December graduate with offers from more than a dozen schools, so he's entering the nitty gritty of decision-making time.

• Matthew Boatang, CB, IMG Academy — 6-0, 180
The native Canadian, who moved to Bradenton, Fla., to get better exposure, has offers from Bowling Green, Indiana, Marshall, Nevada and Villanova. He made an official visit to KU during the weekend in which the Jayhawks snapped their 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a victory over West Virginia, and all indications are that he loved every second of the visit. Other schools, including Baylor, Florida State and Mississippi, are showing interest in the high school senior, but Boateng told JayhawkSlant.com's Jon Kirby that KU would remain near the top of his list.

• Jimmie Gipson, DE, East Mississippi C.C. — 6-0, 255
Gipson, a two-star prospect who fits the mold of KU's Buck position, recently received a visit from Weis and is in the process of wading through two dozen offers, mostly from mid-major programs.

• Craig James, CB, Edwardsville (Ill.) High — 5-11, 170
The coaching staff has been busy with James during the past several days. He had an in-home visit with Reggie Mitchell and Dave Campo late last week and followed it up with an official visit to Lawrence. James currently has scholarship offers from: Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Missouri and Syracuse.

• Kelby Johnson, OL, ASA College — 6-8, 315
The Jayhawks also have jumped in on this offensive lineman who has aspirations of playing after college, something that could favor KU's NFL-experienced coaching staff. Johnson played tackle in junior college and is expected to graduate in May. Rob Ianello is the lead recruiter for Johnson, who also has offers from East Carolina, South Florida and UAB and is receiving interest from several others.

• Dontae Levingston, OL, Santa Monica C.C. — 6-5, 285
The Jayhawks are making a late push for the offensive tackle from Santa Monica, Calif., who visited Lawrence last week for the first time. As expected, the push from KU was playing time and Levingston told Kirby that the opportunity to make an immediate impact was intriguing. He also noted that most of the programs recruiting him are small college towns and, being from Los Angeles, he was just trying to pinpoint which one had the best feel. Levingston is an expected mid-year transfer, who is expected to choose a school before next Wednesday. His list of offers include Kansas State, Memphis, Texas Tech and several others.

• Anthony Olobia, DE, Arizona Western C.C. — 6-5, 230
Olobia, another one of those hybrid, D-End/linebacker types, is headed to Lawrence for an official visit this weekend. The Jayhawks have landed a couple of players from Arizona Western during recent years so their familiarity with the program could help here. The three-star recruit also has offers from Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Utah and he is receiving interest from more than a dozen others.

Class of 2014 Commitments (as of Dec. 11, 2013)
• Jacob Bragg, 6-4, 308, OL, Nacogdoches (Texas) High -- 3-star
• Joe Dineen, 6-2, 197, DB, Free State High -- 3-star
• Bobby Hartzog, 5-11, 182, WR, Westside (Houston) High -- 2-star
• Keyon Haughton, 6-2, 295, OL, Georgia Military
• Damani Mosby, 6-3, 235, DE, Mesa C.C. -- 3-star
• Tyler Patrick, 5-11, 171, WR, The Woodlands (Texas) High -- 2-star
• Austin Stevens, 6-4, 245, DE, Montclair (N.J.) High -- 2-star
• Apa Visinia, 6-5, 380, OL, Grandview (Mo.) High -- 2-star
• Kyron Watson, 6-0, 226, LB, East St. Louis (Ill.) High -- 3-star
• Devon Williams, 6-5, 335, OL, Georgia Military
• Traevohn Wrench, 6-0, 180, RB, Gardner-Edgerton High -- 4-star

• All bio information courtesy Rivals.com.

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Despite win total, KU football boasts a handful of All-Big 12-worthy performers

In the coming days, various media organizations that cover college football will be releasing their all-conference teams and a year's worth of hard work, sweat and sacrifice will pay off for a whole bunch of college athletes.

For some, landing on this all-conference team or that one will represent just another accolade in a long list that has been growing since they first started playing the game as teenagers.

For others, the honor will go down as the highlight of their career, the one memory they'll keep talking about until they're old and gray.

Often times, the teams that turn in the best seasons also produce the most all-conference players and that seems logical given the fact that the best players typically produce the best teams. But it's not always the case. And it's a shame when top-tier talent gets overlooked because it plays for a team that struggled to win games.

That's the story with Kansas football, which finished 2013 with a 3-8 record, 1-8 in Big 12 Conference play. Despite those low win totals, the Jayhawks had at least a handful of guys worthy of being placed on the all-Big 12 teams, be it the first, second, third team or honorable mention.

Here's a quick look at the most worthy candidates in order of most likely to least.

• Junior punter Trevor Pardula •
For much of the 2013 season, the first-year punter from De Anza College in California was among the best in the country. His net averages soared well into the 42-44-yard range and his ability to flip the field and pin opponents deep was a bona fide weapon. While Pardula was penalized by the national awards committees because he did not land enough punts inside the 20, it's worth pointing out that the struggles of the KU offense often forced Pardula to punt from deep in his own end, making the task of dropping kicks inside the 20 next to impossible even for NFL punters. By season's end, Pardula finished with a 43.7-yard average. He has a strong case for first-team all-Big 12 honors.

• Sophomore safety Isaiah Johnson •
It's entirely possible that I'm overlooking someone on another Big 12 team, but I think Johnson has as good a case as anyone for the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year award. The former Iowa Western safety started all 12 games during his first season of Div. I football and finished second in the Big 12 in interceptions (5), 21st in tackles (73) and also added three tackles for loss. Johnson was definitely one of the bright spots for the Jayhawks' defense this season, a game-changer, who still has two years of eligibility remaining and should become one of those guys that opponents can't quite believe is "still around."

• Senior running back James Sims •
Although he did not rattle off 100-yard game after 100-yard game during his final season as a Jayhawk, James Sims was every bit as productive as he had ever been, despite running behind an offensive line that experienced its share of growing pains and in an offense that struggled to throw the ball. Sims' 1,110 yards ranked first in the Big 12 and represented a career-high for the fourth consecutive season. In topping the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 and 2013, he became the first running back in KU history to rush for quadruple-digit rushing yards in back-to-back seasons and came within a couple hundred yards of eclipsing June Henley for the top spot on KU's career rushing list. As was the case throughout his career, Sims gained most of his yards against defenses that knew what was coming. The fact that he still was able to churn out productive games and finish with 7 touchdowns and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average speaks to his skill and desire. A strong case could be made for Sims to land on the all-Big 12 first team. I know I'd put him there, but because of KU's win total he could be a second-teamer.

• Junior linebacker Ben Heeney •
If not for a midseason injury that forced him to miss two games, Heeney no doubt would've racked up triple-digit tackles for the second year in a row and kept his spot near the top of the Big 12 tackle list. As it turned out, Heeney still enjoyed a monster season, finishing with 87 tackles in 10 games and 11.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and three interceptions. But it's more than Heeney's stats that make him a virtual lock for inclusion on one of the all-Big 12 teams. Anyone who watches him play, whether it's opposing coaches, media members or even his own teammates, easily can recognize that Heeney is one of the top players in the Big 12 and plays harder than nearly everybody.

• Junior cornerback Dexter McDonald •
McDonald was one of the top cover corners in the Big 12, especially early in the season. There were several games where opposing quarterbacks chose not even to test the junior-college transfer who returned to KU for a second go-around this season. And his size, speed and physicality made him a tough match-up for opposing wide receivers. McDonald finished with two interceptions and 10 pass break-ups (7th in the Big 12) and also should be given credit for helping JaCorey Shepherd — KU's starter on the other side of the field — develop his corner skills, both from a perspective of showing him the ropes and also from encouraging opponents to attack Shepherd instead.

• Junior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd •
The former wide receiver's 13 pass break-ups and two interceptions put him third in the Big 12 in passes defended, no small feat for a guy who entered fall camp still adjusting to his new position. Last season, Shepherd showed he had the raw skills to hang in the secondary and this season he showed he could play cornerback. Tested on a weekly basis, Shepherd always seemed to be up for the challenge. He may not land on any of the teams but I think he deserves at least honorable mention. Another area he could make an appearance is at kick returner, where he finished fifth in the conference with an average of 22.8 yards per kick return.

• Junior punt returner Connor Embree •
Three guys finished ahead of him in the Big 12 Conference punt return rankings and he wasn't nearly as good late in the season as he was early on, but the former walk-on at least deserves mention as a possible honorable mention candidate for his 11.4-yard average in 16 attempts.

Before we close this one down, here's a little deeper look at the job McDonald and Shepherd did this season at the cornerback position, which, in my eyes, merits both of them spots on the all-conference teams.

The following is a look at the Big 12's top pass catchers, their season averages and how each performed against Kansas:

Player (Receptions-Per-Game, Yards-Per-Game) — vs. Kansas

• Antwan Goodley, Baylor (5.4, 109.5) — 2 catches for 43 yards
• Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (6.5, 104.2) — 3 catches for 43 yards
• Jace Amaro, Texas Tech (8.2, 103.3) — 9 catches for 96 yards
• Mike Davis, Texas (4.6, 70.1) — 1 catch for 5 yards
• Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma (4.6, 55.9) — 4 catches for 47 yards
• Josh Stewart (4.5, 55.5) — 0 catches (left with injury)
• Eric Ward, Texas Tech (6.7, 75.3) — 7 catches for 122 yards and 1 TD
• Jaxon Shipley, Texas (4.7, 51.8) — 6 catches for 77 yards
• Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State (4.0, 56.3) — 3 catches for 63 yards
• Tevin Reese, Baylor (4.1, 103.0) — 4 catches for 110 yards
• Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech (5.4, 64.3) — 7 catches for 92 yards

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Bill Self’s decision to start Frank Mason at PG not the end of the road for Naadir Tharpe

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/photos/2013/11/28/ku_bkc_wake_01.jpg

Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said Thursday that freshman guard Frank Mason would start for the Jayhawks in Boulder, Colo., this weekend, when they take on CU.

So, naturally, as president and founder of the #TharpeFanClub, I, once again, caught some flack for KU junior Naadir Tharpe being sent to the bench.

I'm not sure I'll ever understand why fans so much enjoy trashing players on the teams they root for — this happens way more often with KU football than KU hoops — but that's neither here nor there. And, really, to each his own. It's everyone's right as a fan to cheer, criticize and follow the team however they see fit.

As for the move itself, I am a little surprised that Self pulled the trigger so early in the season, but I more than understand why he did it. And I think there are a couple of reasons.

No. 1, I think he's rewarding Mason and I think Mason deserves to be rewarded. He's played beyond his years, been one of the tougher players on the team thus far — if not the toughest — and shown that he brings an extra dynamic to the floor that KU really benefits from at this point in the season.

No. 2, I think Self is making this move now because he believes Tharpe can take it. Remember last year when everyone was saying that Tharpe should be starting ahead of Elijah Johnson later in the season? I think one of the big reasons Self never pulled the trigger was because sending Johnson to the bench might have lost him for the season. In this case, I'm guessing Self believes that Tharpe will be able to keep his head in there and still serve a key role as the team's sixth or seventh man. If that's true, Tharpe deserves credit, not criticism.

When people first began speculating on whether the move would or should be made, my opinion was that it was too soon. My read was this: Mason's a stud. He deserves to play more and he should be out there a ton of minutes. But you don't have to start a guy to make that happen. Remember that old adage... "It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it that matters." Besides, Mason's been great with the role he's been in so why risk changing that by putting the pressure tag of "starter" on him?

That was a couple of weeks ago, though, and things have changed since then. Tharpe's played a couple of poor games, made more than a few bad decisions and not looked like the confident, solid player I've always known him to be.

So, from where I sit, I think the move could benefit KU tremendously. But that's as much because I believe Tharpe can handle it as I believe Mason deserves it. And that's just one of the reasons the #TharpeFanClub exists in the first place.

Turn in your memberships if you want, but don't be surprised if Tharpe delivers plays as the season goes on that make you wish you hadn't.

If Tharpe tanks because of this and becomes a terrible teammate who pouts about playing time and can't be used, I'll eat crow. But I wouldn't bet even a penny that that'll happen. The guy cares, he's all about KU and winning and he'll do whatever is asked of him to help the team succeed.

It should be fun to see how this one plays out.

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