Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

Jayhawks on radar of 2 potential transfers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 86, TCU 80

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

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

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

Offense: B-

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

Defense: C

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

Frontcourt: A

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

Backcourt: B+

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

Bench: A

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

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KU’s rotation still intact despite disappearance of depth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up front, things might be even clearer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 71, UNLV 53

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham, right, and forward Carlton Bragg Jr. fight for a rebound with UNLV guards Jalen Poyser (5) and Kris Clyburn (1) during the second half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham, right, and forward Carlton Bragg Jr. fight for a rebound with UNLV guards Jalen Poyser (5) and Kris Clyburn (1) during the second half, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 71-53 victory over UNLV in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Offense: B-

The Jayhawks shot just .444 for the game, including .387 in the second half, and got sub-par statistical nights from dynamic duo Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason III. Had it not been for the hot hand of Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and the extreme hustle of Josh Jackson, this easily would have been a straight C kind of night. The 71-point total was KU's second-lowest output of the season (65 vs. Georgia) and snapped a six-game streak of scoring 89 points or better.

Defense: B

Too many layups and uncontested three-pointers allowed the Rebels to kind of crawl back in it. But the Jayhawks did out-rebound UNLV 45-40 and limited the Rebels to .345 shooting for the night.

Frontcourt: B-

Limited tremendously on the offensive end — Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg and Mitch Lightfoot combined to shoot 3-of-7 for the game — the KU big men did enough on the glass and around the rim to creep into B range.

Backcourt: B-

Two of the four starting guards struggled and two of the four were rock solid. That brings us to perimeter player No. 5, Lagerald Vick, who finished with five points, two rebounds, two blocks and an assist to go along with three turnovers and 2-of-5 shooting. Jackson and Svi were better at being good than Mason and Graham were good at being bad, so the backcourt gets hangs on for a B.

Bench: C

Not a night to brag about for the Kansas bench. Carlton Bragg, Mitch Lightfoot, Dwight Coleby and Lagerald Vick combined to play just 46 minutes and, outside of an amazing block by Vick in transition and a couple of timely buckets and rebounds, nothing any of them did really stood out much.

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Jayhawks running college basketball’s version of the spread offense?

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Stanford guard Christian Sanders (1) during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Stanford guard Christian Sanders (1) during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The best part about the Kansas men’s basketball team’s red-hot shooting from 3-point range so far this season is that nobody is settling for outside jumpers or taking the lazy way to an impressive 3-point percentage.

Not the players. Not head coach Bill Self. And not anybody who wants to play significant minutes.

For proof, look no farther than the Kansas bench, where Self continually has encouraged his players to drive the ball downhill possession after possession.

Never was that more evident than in a quiet Sprint Center on Saturday night, where Self’s instructions could be heard by everyone from those sitting courtside to those in the upper deck.

Drive it. Drive it. Drive it.

Two simple words that made a major impact on the outcome and left upset-minded Davidson unable to handle the Jayhawks (10-1) when they were playing at their best.

Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his players during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at Sprint Center.

Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his players during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

A lot has been made about Self expecting his team to shoot a higher percentage from 3-point range because of the team’s increased usage of the four-guard lineup. Four guards means four shooters and four shooters spreading the floor makes things a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Even with a bit of an off night in last Saturday’s 89-71 win over Davidson, the Jayhawks are still shooting .418 as a team and have four players above .411 from downtown through 11 games.

KU’s half-court attack reminds me a little of the Baylor Bears offense in football. For years, under former BU coach Art Briles, the Bears — and other up-tempo offenses like them (including Kansas at times) — lined up their receivers as wide as they could toward the sideline to create space for the playmakers and speed demons in green and gold to put more pressure on opposing defenses and have more room to roam.

Next time you watch a KU basketball game, keep an eye on where at least two of the four non-Frank Mason guards — Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson and Lagerald Vick — stand in the majority of KU’s half-court sets. They’re wide, flat in the corners and nearly touching the out-of-bounds line on each side of the floor.

The reason? It’s simple. When you’ve got a guy like Mason — or even Jackson or Graham as situations sometimes dictate — handling the ball up top, you want to give him as much space to operate as humanly possible.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) floats a shot over Georgia forward Derek Ogbeide (34) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) floats a shot over Georgia forward Derek Ogbeide (34) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

That frees up driving lanes for Mason to get to the rim and also makes it harder for helpers to recover back to the 3-point line, where KU’s perimeter players have been so deadly when they’ve been given open shots so far this season.

Therein lies the beauty of KU’s 10-1 start and is probably the most impressive part about Self’s coaching job with this team.

Reliant on the high-low offense for years — so much so that he often seemed a little uncomfortable when his teams could not run it — Self has adapted to his personnel better than at any time during his Kansas career and is getting the best of both worlds on the offense end — tough, aggressive, relentless attacking of the basket from a variety of guards who can finish and wide open, easy-rhythm three-point jumpers that, even Self will tell you, are far more valuable to an offense than two-pointers because of the efficiency involved with hitting a high percentage of them.

It takes 15 two-pointers to reach 30 points but five fewer 3-pointers to get to that same total.

It's not that Self has gone away from his emphasis of bigs scoring near the rim. The Jayhawks are still throwing it inside and looking to get what they can down there when they do. As of today, though, that's still a work in progress and KU's offense is getting much more from its perimeter players, which makes the Jayhawks unafraid to roll with that.

As long as the 3-pointers continue to be good looks and do not come at the expense of the Jayhawks’ attacking the basket, you can bet this Kansas team will continue to take whichever is more readily available with next to no objection from Self.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets inside for a bucket against Davidson during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets inside for a bucket against Davidson during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 89, Davidson 71

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets in for a bucket past Davidson forward Peyton Aldridge (23) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets in for a bucket past Davidson forward Peyton Aldridge (23) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-71 Sprint Center victory over Davidson on a cold and crummy Saturday night.

Offense: A

The Jayhawks were good in the first half and even better in the second half, bailing out their 0-for-8 first-half three-point shooting slump with a 6-of-13 clip in the second half. Kansas shot .485 from the floor for the game and finished with 23 second-chance points on 15 offensive rebounds.

Defense: B

KU’s first-half defense was slightly below average and its second half defense well above average. That rounded out to a solid B, trending toward a B+ because they saved their best for last and won the game with a strong defensive showing in the final 20 minutes.

Frontcourt: B+

KU coach Bill Self was plenty pleased with the combination of 22 points and 16 rebounds in 50 minutes from four-headed monster Udoka Azubuike, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg Jr., and Mitch Lightfoot. That’s good enough for me.

Backcourt: A

Four of KU’s five guards reached double digits and the unit combined for 67 of KU’s 89 points. But what earned them the A grade was their defense that swiped nine steals and frustrated the Wildcats into 36 percent shooting in the second half.

Bench: B

Lucas, Bragg and Lightfoot all gave good minutes and Lagerald Vick played one good half. There was nothing overwhelming about the bench’s performance but it definitely was as solid as it needed to be.

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KU coach Bill Self rock solid in tough situation

Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles as he barbs an official during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles as he barbs an official during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

We’ve known for years that Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is a master at recognizing an opponent’s zone defense, breaking full-court pressure or running set plays, both during live action or from out-of-bounds sets, that get the Jayhawks easy baskets.

But his handling of the recent Carlton Bragg Jr., situation proved, yet again, that Self is equally as adept when it comes to off-the-court situations.

When the Bragg news first broke last Friday, there were many who believed Self should hand out swift and firm punishment. When Bragg showed up to the Nebraska game wearing street clothes at the end of the bench instead of sulking in his dorm room, many more believed Self had misstepped.

And now that the charge of misdemeanor battery against Bragg has been dropped and the sophomore from Cleveland has been cleared to return to competition, there are many who find themselves apologizing for the way they reacted throughout the whole ordeal.

But not Self. He doesn’t need to. The Kansas coach handled the situation perfectly from the beginning by demonstrating equal parts compassion for his player and respect for the legal process and serious nature of the accusations and never fell on either side of the fine line that exists in such cases.

And it’s not like Self stayed in the clear by avoiding the issue altogether until it was resolved. He spoke with reporters on Friday, just hours after Bragg was arrested, and again for nearly 15 minutes following last Saturday’s game. He did not have to speak at length either time, but, in doing so, showed, in some small way, why he has been so successful as the head coach at Kansas for all these years. He remained calm, in control and sought the absolute facts before making any final decisions.

In a perfect world, situations like the one Bragg found himself involved in would not exist. But we all know this is far from a perfect world and these situations, as well as others, do tend to surface. It happens all the time on campuses across the country with regular college students and, right or wrong, becomes much bigger news when said college students happen to play basketball for one of the country’s powerhouse programs on a team ranked third in the nation.

Because of those last two factors and the national publicity that come with them, situations like these create a lot of tension and put people on edge. But Self never showed it. He spoke clearly, respected the legal process fully and, at the same time, continued to support Bragg, without coddling him, while the investigation remained ongoing.

That’s hard for most parents to do let alone the coach of a basketball program that’s under a constant microscope.

I don’t expect we’ll hear much more from Self on the matter. Now that Bragg has been cleared and the issue is in the past, it’s all about moving on and returning to basketball.

The Jayhawks have two games remaining in non-conference play — Saturday vs. Davidson in KCMO and next Thursday at UNLV in Las Vegas — before jumping into the always-tough Big 12 portion of their schedule and still have plenty of work to do to become the type of team Self believes they can be by season’s end.

As for Bragg, who struggled to find his rhythm on the floor during the first nine games of the season before the incident occurred, he can go one of two ways.

The first has him still shaken by the situation and never fully able to move past it, continuing to battle through frustration on the floor and serving mostly as an extremely talented role player for the remainder of the season.

The second has him operating as a much different player than any we’ve seen to this point in his career. Focused, hungry and even possessed as a basketball player, this incident — and having basketball temporarily taken away from him — could have helped Bragg mature and may lead to him using basketball as an outlet for his frustrations.

If he takes the second path, there’s still plenty of time for Bragg to live up to the enormous expectations that people had for him entering this season. And if that happens, this already-talented Kansas team will get a lot better in a hurry.

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Three-point shot a real weapon for KU’s four-guard lineup

The three-point shot, from any number of Jayhawks, has been a real weapon for Kansas through the season's first 10 games.

The three-point shot, from any number of Jayhawks, has been a real weapon for Kansas through the season's first 10 games. by Matt Tait

It’s no secret that the three-point shot has become a serious weapon for this year’s Kansas basketball team, with four major contributors shooting better than 43 percent from behind the arc so far this season.

The numbers are even more impressive if you break the season into two segments, which is worth doing considering the fact that KU actually got off to a slow start from behind the three-point line.

You might not remember now because the Jayhawks have been red hot of late, but the first week or two of the season actually included frequent questions to KU coach Bill Self and his players about what was wrong with the Jayhawks’ outside shooting. Their answer, every time, was that they were not in any way, shape or form worried about their three-point shooting. And now we see why.

Through the first five games of the 2016-17 season, Kansas made 30 of the 100 three-point shots it attempted, a respectable 30 percent clip, especially after noting that the season began with a 12-of-52 effort (23 percent) through three games.

But 30 percent, though decent, is not anywhere near average in college basketball today. In fact, 316 of the 347 teams in NCAA Div. I entered Tuesday shooting 30 percent or better.

Luckily for the Jayhawks, the next five games brought that number up quite a bit.

Not only did Kansas attempt 11 more threes in the next five-game stretch, but they also made 31 more, making the Jayhawks 61 for 111 (55 percent) for the five-game stretch and 91 for 211 on the season for a .431 mark as a team heading into Saturday’s second-to-last non-conference game with Davidson at Sprint Center in KCMO.

That percentage ranks fifth in the nation, behind only Purdue (.441), Houston (.448), Creighton (.448) and UCLA (.471).

But the Jayhawks are not even in the Top 50 when it comes to three-point attempts. KU’s 211 attempts put the team tied for 55th through Dec. 12, with Savannah State leading the way with a whopping 170 makes in 449 attempts. Clearly, they’re coached by a man who never saw a shot he didn’t like.

Self said recently that one of the reasons for the Jayhawks’ strong performance from behind the arc is the make-up of their lineup.

“Oh there’s no question (we can be a dangerous three-point shooting team),” Self said. “Absolutely. But if you play four guards you better be more dangerous from the outside.”

The KU coach went on to say that it’s not just the presence of four perimeter players on the floor that makes Kansas a good three-point shooting team, as much as it is the experience, style and understanding of those four players.

Whether you’re talking about lead guards Frank Mason III (23-of-42, .548) or Devonte’ Graham (27-of-62, .435) or the supporting cast of guys like Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (22-of-51, .431) and Lagerald Vick (12-of-26, .462), these players all understand how to play within Bill Self’s system and, therefore, are taking good shots within the flow of the offense. That much is obvious when considering that the Jayhawks, while shooting a better percentage, have taken less than half of the attempts of the nation’s biggest chuckers.

And that’s to say nothing of freshman Josh Jackson, who has made just 5 of 21 three-point attempts so far this season — and just 29 of 53 free throw attempts — yet somehow is still managing to score 14.8 points per game.

Self has said for months now that he likes Jackson’s shot, hitch an all, and that he’s not going to mess with it too much, if at all, because of the limited time the one-and-done freshman is likely to be here.

But he also has been wildly impressed with Jackson’s overall play and believes the more comfortable Jackson gets the better his shooting touch will be as the season goes on.

“I think he's going to be a good shooter,” Self said last week. “He hasn't shot it great statistically yet from deep, but I think he's going to be a good shooter. I think he's going to be a good free throw shooter.”

Asked if it was by design that Jackson has chosen most often to attack the rim and not settle for jumpers, Self said he had seen a little bit of both from Jackson during practices.

“We haven't seen it in the games,” Self said. “But in practice you see sometimes he may settle a little bit, but certainly not anywhere close to what I thought he was doing early on. And I think he's understanding his effectiveness when he puts pressure on the defense and so I think a lot of it is just him. I want him to shoot the ball when he's open. But I think a lot of it is just him understanding what would be best for our team.”

Jackson’s ability and willingness to attack the rim has opened up the outside even more for the other perimeter players on the floor. And when those players are shooters like Mason, Graham, Mykhailiuk and Vick, those open jumpers become almost as easy as layups and tend to help the Jayhawks bury opponents in a hurry.

And that’s without the Jayhawks getting much help from the big men down low, another area that Self believes can and will improve as the season goes along.

“I think we can be more dangerous than just about any team we’ve had,” Self said. “We’ve had other teams with good shooters. When we won it in ’08, I really think Mario (Chalmers) and Brandon Rush and Sherron Collins were really good shooters. And Russell (Robinson) was OK. That’s comparable to what we have now. The difference was, we had (big men) Darrell Arthur and Darnell (Jackson) and Sasha (Kaun) and Cole (Aldrich). I mean, that’s the difference. Think if this team had that team’s fourth best post man. It would certainly change some things. Not taking anything away from our guys now, but it would certainly add another dimension.”

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Davidson one of 5 programs to have beaten KU at Sprint Center

Kansas guard Travis Releford steals from Davidson's Nik Cochran (12) in the second half Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Travis Releford steals from Davidson's Nik Cochran (12) in the second half Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Kevin Anderson

In the 10-year history of Kansas City’s aging-but-still-new Sprint Center, just five programs have walked into Kansas basketball’s home away from home and come out victorious.

One of them was Davidson, which was one of two teams to defeat the Jayhawks at Sprint Center during the 2011-12 season. The Jayhawks, of course, wound up reaching the national title game in New Orleans that season, but not before going 1-2 in Kansas City, including a loss to Baylor in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship.

The Davidson loss, which came on Dec. 19, 2011, featured a Kansas team that shot just 40 percent from the floor — including 6 of 23 from three-point range — and did not force a single Davidson turnover in the second half of a game that was tied with 6:33 to play but saw Kansas end up losing by six, 80-74.

Although the rosters have turned over completely since that night, KU coach Bill Self said one thing remained the same about KU’s next opponent, which the Jayhawks will face at 6 p.m. Saturday in Sprint Center — Davidson coach Bob McKillop.

“He’s a great coach,” said Self of the man who became popular in the mainstream for recruiting and coaching Steph Curry but also happens to have racked up 521 victories during his 28-year head-coaching career at Davidson.

Kansas and Davidson have met just one other time throughout the years, with Self and the Jayhawks holding off Curry, McKillop and Davidson in the 2008 Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four en route to the ’08 national title.

Despite that victory, which was and still is monumental in Self’s monster career, the KU coach, true to form, was more focused on the loss to Davidson than the win following KU’s most recent victory last weekend.

“The last time we played them in Kansas City, they beat us,” he recalled. “So we’ve got to play better than we did (vs. Nebraska last Saturday), or at least the second half. That’ll be a tough game and I think one that our guys will look forward to.”

But playing well against Davidson on Saturday night is about more than just winning a single game. With just two non-conference games remaining before the Jayhawks (9-1) open Big 12 play Dec. 30 at TCU, Self wants to see more improvement from his team before it turns the page to beginning its quest for a 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.

“We need to finish the semester off on the right foot because once we get to Christmas there are no guaranteed games before we start hooking up and playing for real,” Self said. “We’ve got to make some improvements before we do that.”

Kansas is 33-6 all-time at Sprint Center, including 2-0 already this season. The Jayhawks defeated UAB and Georgia in Kansas City in November to bring home the CBE Classic title.

The Jayhawks are 6-0 in their last six games at Sprint Center and have not lost in the building since falling to Iowa State in the 2015 Big 12 Championship title game.

KU’s other losses at Sprint Center came to Iowa State in 2014, Syracuse in 2008 and UMass in 2008.

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 89, Nebraska 72

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three from the corner over Nebraska forward Isaiah Roby (15) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three from the corner over Nebraska forward Isaiah Roby (15) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-72 victory over Nebraska on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: A-

One of these days the Jayhawks are going to start making free throws (I think). Until they do, they’re not going to be able to score above an A- no matter how well they shoot elsewhere.

Defense: C+

The Jayhawks weren’t great on the glass (36-35 advantage), let Nebraska get a little too comfortable in the paint in the second half and forced just 12 turnovers.

Frontcourt: B

Landen Lucas had a very productive day and looked a lot less concerned about how he looked or played and just went out there and did the job.

Backcourt: A

If lots of layups and three-pointers from your top four perimeter players is a good thing, KU knocked it out of the park. Lagerald Vick had a second straight quiet day but the likes of Graham, Mason, Jackson and Svi more than made up for it.

Bench: B+

Svi played a great first half, Mitch Lightfoot gave some solid first-half minutes — especially in terms of effort — and Lucas played one of his most solid games of the season.

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The potential impact of Carlton Bragg’s arrest on KU’s lineup

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) gets in for a bucket over UMKC forward Aleer Leek (30) and UMKC guard Broderick Robinson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) gets in for a bucket over UMKC forward Aleer Leek (30) and UMKC guard Broderick Robinson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

A rough start to what was predicted by many to be a breakout season took a terrible turn for the worse early Friday morning, when Kansas sophomore Carlton Bragg, a 6-foot-10 forward from Cleveland, was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery and booked into Douglas County Jail.

Bragg, who opened the season as a starter and was in line to replace the production and fill the role left by the departure of Perry Ellis, got off to a slow start and eventually lost his starting job.

KU coach Bill Self, who told the Journal-World via telephone on Friday morning that this was “obviously a charge that we take seriously,” had remained upbeat and positive throughout the first nine games of the season about Bragg’s ability to turn the corner and develop into the kind of player that many believed he could be.

After adding more than 20 pounds of muscle and possibly even growing an inch or two in the offseason, it was believed that Bragg was ready to be more of the inside presence that the Jayhawks needed instead of a player who floated on the perimeter and favored the jump shot over scoring inside.

But partly because of issues with foul trouble and also the appearance that he was pressing to perform, Bragg has averaged just 16 minutes per game in KU’s first nine contests while posting 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, decent numbers to be sure, but a far cry from the double-digit totals that many believed Bragg had in him.

Although his immediate future with the program remains unclear at this point following Friday’s arrest — a source told the Journal-World on Friday that Bragg was certain to miss Saturday’s 2:15 p.m. game at Allen Fieldhouse with Nebraska — Bragg’s absence for any extended period of time or even possible dismissal from the program would seriously cut into the Jayhawks’ depth in the front court.

Senior forward Landen Lucas' game has struggled so far this season and freshman center Udoka Azubuike, though starting and showing improvement, has been slow to develop because of his young age (17) and raw ability. Without Bragg behind them, the Jayhawks would be forced to lean on freshman Mitch Lightfoot or junior Dwight Coleby as the third big man in the rotation.

Both have played sparingly so far this season — Lightfoot 4.3 minutes per game in eight games and Coleby 7.4 minutes in seven games — but neither was expected to be a critical part of KU’s rotation after the upcoming winter break, both because of Self’s move to play more four-guard lineups so far this season and because Self historically has preferred to trim his rotation to eight players — nine max — when conference play has rolled around.

With Bragg out for the short term or long term, Self either will lean more on Lightfoot and Coleby when the need arises or perhaps choose to play even smaller at times with 6-foot-8, 210-pound junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk seeing his minutes increase from 24.4 per game.

Simple math indicates that if Mykhailiuk were to play 5-10 more minutes a game, either Lucas (17.4), Azubuike (13.2) Coleby or Lightfoot, or some combination of the foursome, would need to take on an additional 5-10 minutes a game to account for Bragg’s minutes on the court.

Self had no further comment on the matter and clearly was far more concerned this morning about gathering more information about the legal side of this issue than what he would do to replace Bragg in the lineup.

When he gets to that, he’ll find he has options but that the Jayhawks have far less depth and less margin for error.

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Josh Jackson’s desire to be coached benefiting both him and the Jayhawks

Kansas guard Josh Jackson jokes around with head coach Bill Self during a kid's clinic on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam fitness center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson jokes around with head coach Bill Self during a kid's clinic on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam fitness center in Honolulu, Hawaii. by Nick Krug

From the perspective of the common fan, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson has proven to be the ultra-talented, incredibly skilled, hard-working competitor that he was deemed to be when he signed with the Jayhawks.

From the perspective of Kansas coach Bill Self, Jackson has been so much more.

Thursday afternoon, during his regular weekly news conference to preview Saturday’s game against Nebraska — 2:15 p.m. tip at Allen Fieldhouse — Self went deeper on the one thing about Jackson that has made him marvel since he began coaching the one-and-done freshman phenom.

“Josh is one of those guys who, even though he's really, really bright, he knows he doesn't know,” Self said. “It's amazing to me, when we do scouting report or whatever, he hangs on every word.”

So much so, in fact, that Self has found himself testing Jackson on purpose just to see how he would answer and react.

“I ask Josh a lot of questions sometimes to see if he'd know the answer,” Self began. “And half the time he does and half the time he doesn't. And he's always totally intrigued on why he doesn't. I mean, it's like, ‘Ohhhh, that makes sense to me.’”

But it’s not just a yes or no question we’re talking here. It’s much, much deeper and includes much greater detail.

“I'm talking about, hey, look at this possession here and I want you to tell me exactly why the other team scored,” Self said. “Break it down.”

Emulating Jackson, Self says, “Well, they didn't show this screen.”

Quickly, Self interjects with, “No, that's not why. Look at it again.”

“He's one of those guys that wants to know those things,” Self continued. “That's one of the things that impresses me the most about him is he wants to get better.... I'm not sure everybody's like that.”

Kansas guard Josh Jackson gets a break on the sidelines as the team works on perimeter defense during a practice on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson gets a break on the sidelines as the team works on perimeter defense during a practice on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. by Nick Krug

Asked if he thought he had learned anything from coaching previous one-and-done standouts that might be helping him reach Jackson on a different level, Self said he wasn’t sure and added that that would be a question for his assistant coaches.

In the same breath, he again pointed toward Jackson’s intelligence, hunger and drive as the biggest reasons it looks — at least through nine games — like Self and the Jayhawks are getting more out of this one-and-done star than any others in the past.

“The thing about Josh that I think is really, really great, and (Andrew Wiggins) was the same way, Joel (Embiid) was for sure the same way.... he wants to be coached,” Self said. “He wants somebody to correct him. Now I'm not saying he wants to be jumped, but I'm saying he'd like somebody to coach him and correct him and be constructive and at the same time push him and try to get the most out of him. He likes that.

“He didn't come in here thinking that he was where he needed to be. He came in here thinking I'm picking this place because I'm not where I need to be. I think sometimes that gets lost.”

“He's so, so, so smart,” Self continued. “But we've always said the best freshmen are the ones that know they don't know, and the ones that are the hardest to coach are the ones that don't know (but) think they do.... We've been fortunate that the majority of our guys that we've had are like (Jackson).”

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) tries to regain a lost ball between the legs of Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) tries to regain a lost ball between the legs of Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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The Day After: An old school rout on a special night

Kansas head coach Bill Self raises up a ceremonial ball commemorating his 600th win as he celebrates with his players and those attending the Jayhawks' 105-62 win over UMKC, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self raises up a ceremonial ball commemorating his 600th win as he celebrates with his players and those attending the Jayhawks' 105-62 win over UMKC, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Tuesday was a special night at Allen Fieldhouse and not just because the Jayhawks scored a season-high for points and absolutely throttled their opponent, UMKC, 105-62.

It marked the 600th victory in the coaching career of KU coach Bill Self and, thankfully for everybody involved, Self actually took time to enjoy that.

And why not? 600 wins, though not the milestone of all milestones certainly is a big deal. And KU fans like big deals and should get to celebrate as many as they can.

In a sport where only one team ends the season truly happy, we often overlook the little moments for joy along the way.

This was no little moment, but it was full of joy and it was cool that both KU and Self embraced it and shared it with the fan base. The game was a delight to watch. Years from now nobody’s going to remember that Josh Jackson had 12 boards against UMKC or that the Jayhawks made 9 of 15 three-pointers in the first half of a blowout win. They will remember Self’s 600th, though, and, who knows, they might be remembering it on the night they’re celebrating his 700th or 800th.

Quick takeaway

Nine games into the 2016-17 season, we’ve seen the KU guards absolutely carry this team night in and night out. A question was posed to me during my Gameday Chat that asked how long they could keep this up and the answer, at least in my eyes, is simple: A long, long time. The biggest reason they can is not because Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson are just better than everyone. Even Superman had his off days. But because the commitment to play that way is there from Bill Self that gives this group a much better chance to establish this style as their true identity. From there, whatever they get from the bigs — which they will and still do need — will be an added bonus.

Three reasons to smile

1 – Josh Jackson is a bad man. And he knows it. One of the coolest things I’ve seen about Jackson thus far is his ability to crank up his competitiveness no matter who the opponent or what the game. It makes sense for guys to be up for big games against Indiana or Duke, but to do it in a game against overmatched UMKC when you’ve already got a 20-point lead is a whole other deal. Jackson has that burning inside of him and it’s based on his unending desire to get better every time out. It doesn’t hurt a bit that he also likes to put on a show while doing it. And what a show it’s been so far.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) reacts to a dunk by Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) reacts to a dunk by Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

2 – How about your three leading rebounders being perimeter players? Jackson had a dozen, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk added seven and Frank Mason grabbed five, including one ridiculous board where it looked like he ripped off a standing vertical jump of 300 inches to grab it over the outstretched and leaping arms of Lagerald Vick. In a perfect world, a team’s big men would lead the way on the rebounding parade. But KU’s bigs continue to struggle and the fact that the guards are hitting the glass not only shows that they’re capable but it also shows that they get the importance. Great sign all the way around.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) handles the ball down low against UMKC during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) handles the ball down low against UMKC during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

3 – Although most of the damage came from behind the arc, the Jayhawks appeared to execute the game plan to perfection, looking inside to Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike whenever they ran halfcourt sets. This is a good sign not only because it shows this team’s ability and willingness to execute the game plan, but also because it shows the team’s willingness to give the big men — especially Azubuike — time to get going. He posts hard and calls for the ball every time he gets position. That’s Step 1. Making quicker, more decisive moves and not dribbling into trouble in the post is going to be Step 2. At one point, after an Azubuike move led to a KU turnover, Jackson came from all the way across the floor, yelled at him on his walk over and said simply, “You’re holding the ball too long.” Leadership. By a freshman. More proof to support Reason to Smile No. 1 in this blog. Jackson’s a bad man.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – We’re not going to talk a lot about it because there’s really not much to say. You either make ’em or you don’t. And right now Kansas is not making their free throws. The Jayhawks were 12 of 22 (.545) against UMKC from the free throw line and that was after starting the game 4-of-4 from the stripe. They may not want to talk about it, but Self is irked and the players are overthinking it.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) gets in for a bucket over UMKC forward Aleer Leek (30) and UMKC guard Broderick Robinson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) gets in for a bucket over UMKC forward Aleer Leek (30) and UMKC guard Broderick Robinson (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

2 – Landen Lucas is by no means all the way back (4 points and 5 rebounds on Tuesday night), but he has passed the frustration torch to Carlton Bragg, who continues to play hard but just cannot catch a break. Part of the reason for that is that Bragg isn’t making any breaks for himself. He looks lost on defense, sped up a little on offense and seems to be thinking way too much instead of just playing. It’s going to take some time still for both of those guys to play through their non-conference funks.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) puts up a shot over UMKC center Darnell Tillman (54) during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) puts up a shot over UMKC center Darnell Tillman (54) during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

3 – With just three non-conference games left to fine tune things for Big 12 play, the Jayhawks are running out of time to get some important minutes and extra on-the-floor emphasis for the guys up front. KU will have seven days between games following their next outing, another five between games after that and then eight more over the winter break. That will give them plenty of practice time to get better, but there is no substitute for doing it in live game action. Right now, though, maybe the confidence needs to come from executing and playing well in practice, because, at least for KU’s bigs, the games have been little more than frustrations thus far.

Next up

Third-ranked Kansas will return to Allen Fieldhouse at 2:15 p.m. Saturday to welcome former Big 12 foe Nebraska to town.

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. UMKC


By the Numbers: Kansas 105, UMKC 62.

By the Numbers: Kansas 105, UMKC 62.

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 105, UMKC 62

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) charges up the court with a steal next to Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) charges up the court with a steal next to Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 105-62 victory over UMKC on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: A

Jayhawks scored a season high and shot lights out while doing it. Came within one make of tying a school record for three-pointers and watched four players score in dobule figures in an easy victory.

Defense: B+

The Jayhawks gave up a few too many easy looks in the first half and allowed UMKC to shoot 53 percent from three-point range in the first half. But the Jayhawks clamped down from the start in the second half and made life miserable for the Roos, inside and out.

Frontcourt: C+

Carlton Bragg, Udoka Azubuike and Landen Lucas all showed glimpses of improved play. But they also showed enough that frustrated their head coach for him to have freshman Mitch Lightfoot in the game in the first half. The big man project is still a work in progress, but the Jayhawks looked inside to Azubuike a bunch and appear to be trying to get him comfortable in the post.

Backcourt: A

A career-high tying 30 points for Frank Mason and 27-of-37 shooting from the floor for the four guards who started. So, yeah. Pretty good night.

Bench: B

Sviatoslav Mykhailuk, Bragg, Lucas and Lightfoot all brought pretty good effort even if their statistics weren’t spectacular. Beyond that, Self was able to empty his bench on a night when he picked up career win 600. Playing those guys at the end, no matter how well they do, always helps the bench grade.

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This Week in the Big 12 Conference…

It was a big weekend in the Big 12 Conference, with the still-unbeaten Baylor Bears knocking off No. 7 Xavier and Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad picking up a huge road victory at No. 6 Virginia.

That and more in the latest edition of This Week in the Big 12.

• It’s never too early to start building your resume for March and the Baylor Bears have done just that. At 8-0, Scott Drew’s team not only sits at No. 4 in the latest AP Poll (one spot behind Kansas), but also already has recorded victories over some big time teams — Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, VCU and, of course, Xavier.

The Bears’ win over Xavier on Saturday (76-61) featured a 24-point night from Miami transfer Manu Lecomte, a 5-foot-11 junior guard who has taken over the reins at PG for Drew’s team. Through eight games, Lecomte is averaging 14 points and 5 assists per night, but, more importantly, has brought a leadership presence that the Bears definitely needed in the backcourt.

With upcoming games against Southern, Jackson State, John Brown College and Texas Southern, the Bears should easily take a 12-0 record into Big 12 play and, at this point, definitely appear to be KU’s No. 1 challenger for the 2016-17 Big 12 title.

To that end, the Bears also have the advantage of not having to face the Jayhawks until February, which could make the Feb. 1, Big Monday match-up in Lawrence and the Feb. 18 rematch in Waco games to circle on this year’s Big 12 calendar.

• The schedule for 6-1 West Virginia is not nearly as impressive as Baylor’s, top to bottom, but that changed a little on Saturday, when the Mountaineers walked into No. 6 Virginia’s home arena and ended a 24-game homecourt winning streak.

So frustrated were the UVA fans about the outcome that many of them began filing for the exits with more than 30 seconds to play and their team down just five. That’s the kind of spoilage that a 24-game homecourt winning streak can have on a place, so it’s possible that Huggins’ crew did the Cavs fans a favor.

As it typically does, West Virginia is getting by on the strength of its defense, but the Mountaineers’ offense also has been solid. Balance has been the key for Huggins’ attack, with six players averaging 8 points per game or more so far this season.

• It started as a cute little story, with TCU alum Jamie Dixon returning to coach his alma mater and ripping off four straight victories in his homecoming. But those wins were against St. Thomas (Texas), Alabama State, Jacksonville State and Illinois State. Not exactly the powerhouse programs of college basketball.

Since then, the Dixon returns to TCU story has turned from cute to cool, as the Horned Frogs have ripped off four more victories and sit at 8-0 through the first month of the season.

Although TCU’s schedule has not included the same names that Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas have played (and beaten), it’s not a complete joke either.

In addition to a road win against UNLV in the Global Sports Classic, a scheduling quirk delivered back-to-back wins over Washington and freshman phenom Markelle Fultz. The first came in the title game of the Global Sports Classic and the second in Fort Worth. Both were by double digits and both, no doubt, gave the rebuilding Frogs a boost of confidence.

TCU plays at SMU Wednesday night and then will not face another stiff challenge until Dec. 30, when it opens Big 12 play at home against the Jayhawks.

• It’s hard to say exactly what’s gone wrong so far — or if it’s too soon to start to panic — but Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era in Austin, Texas, is off to a rough start.

After racing out to a 3-0 start with wins over three nobodies, the Longhorns dropped three straight to Northwestern, Colorado and Texas-Arlington, the last bringing out the feeling of frustration around the program.

Texas responded with a nice win over Alabama and will play four more tough opponents before the start of Big 12 play, including a pair of KU foes, UAB and Long Beach State.

The Longhorns are 4-3 with five non-conference games to go before opening Big 12 play with K-State. If they can get to 8-4 heading into the match-up in Manhattan, it’s likely they’ll have righted the ship.

If not, the non-con struggles and a Big 12 slate that features four road games in the first seven — including back-to-back at Baylor and Kansas — and all four Big 12 teams that are currently ranked could make for a dangerous start for Smart.

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 89, Stanford 74

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts up a three during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts up a three during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-74 victory over Stanford on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: A

A low turnover total, terrific transition numbers and a great percentage from the floor and even better mark from three-point range. Easy A, approaching an A+.

Defense: B-

Stanford shot 50 percent in the first half and big man Reid Travis had his way with the Jayhawks down low. KU’s defensive intensity went up tremendously in the second half, when Stanford shot just 34.6 percent from the floor.

Frontcourt: C-

Landen Lucas returned from injury and played with a good spark in the first half. But his struggles returned a little in the second half and Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike remained inconsistent. You know the final stat line for Stanford big man Travis (29 points, 9 rebounds, 19-of-22 at the FT line) will not sit well with KU coach Bill Self.

Backcourt: A

Devonte’ Graham was sensational, Frank Mason was right there with him and Josh Jackson did his thing, as well. Probably could copy and paste that sentence for every one of these the rest of the way. KU’s guards were red hot from three-point range in this one, as well.

Bench: B-

Svi hit a couple of threes and Lucas did a nice job in the first half. Other than that, though, not a lot to write home about from the bench on a night when Dwight Coleby fouled out in just seven minutes.

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Postgame Report Card: KU 91, Long Beach State 61

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets in for a bucket past Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets in for a bucket past Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams (22) during the first half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 91-61 victory over Long Beach State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: A

The Jayhawks hit 9 of their first 14 three-pointers and 14 of 26 for the night. Beyond that, KU was insanely good in transition and shared the ball so well. There were a couple of ill-advised shots and a few too many turnovers (19) but this was a solid A effort.

Defense: B+

KU limited LBSU to 40 percent shooting, forced 15 turnovers and used those turnovers to create transition offense. But the 49ers scored a few buckets right at the rim and shot 42 percent from three-point range.

Frontcourt: B

Udoka Azubuike played hard, played aggressive and played a lot. Carlton Bragg Jr. did not, picking up two fouls in the first 1:13 he was on the floor. Bragg came around in the second half and played much harder — not necessarily much smarter — and Dwight Coleby gave a few decent minutes, as well, on a night when Landen Lucas did not play.

Backcourt: A

Throwing star of the game Lagerald Vick into the backcourt mix certainly did nothing to hurt the Jayhawks in this one. Vick was great from minute one and Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, who combined for 20 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds in 28 & 29 minutes apiece, did everything they could to keep his flow going.

Bench: B-

Svi knocked down a few jumpers and Bragg played a strong second half. Other than that, the bench did not provide much to write home about.

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This Week in the Big 12 Conference…

Welcome to the first edition of our This Week in the Big 12 blog, a short and sweet conference notebook of sorts that keeps tabs and catches you up on what’s going on with the teams that KU will play 18 games against to close the 2016-17 regular season.

We’re not going to go into great depth here nor is this going to be overly analytical. That may change when Big 12 play gets rolling, but, for now, we’ll keep this merely to observations and interesting happenings from around the Big 12 Conference.

Although this seems like it’s going to be a down year for the Big 12, there are still plenty of intriguing teams and interesting talents that make the conference worth keeping up with. Besides, you never know when a team or player is going to explode out of nowhere and become a true challenger to KU’s streak of 12 straight Big 12 titles.

Speaking of becoming a challenger, let’s get to right to it...

• Don’t look now, but Kansas has company in the Top 10 of this week’s AP Poll. Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears, which have raced out to a 6-0 start, checked in at No. 9 this week and even received one first-place vote.

The reason? The Bears made it through a murderer’s row type of week, knocking off No. 24 Michigan State by 15 one day and then topping No. 10 Louisville, 66-63, one day later to claim the Battle for Atlantis title. That, after already owning a victory over then-No. 4 Oregon earlier in the season.

Baylor did not receive a single vote in either the AP or preseason coaches’ poll before the year began. But the Bears are getting plenty of love now.

Baylor plays No. 7 Xavier on Dec. 3, but if it can navigate that game, the Bears stand a great chance to take an unbeaten record into Big 12 play. Their strong start has been due mostly to the big time play of Jonathan Motley and a better-than-expected defense.

• Speaking of defense, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad lived up to its “Press Virginia” nickname on Monday name by forcing a school-record 40 turnovers in a win over Manhattan.

The Mountaineers, who have been playing this specific frantic style for the past three seasons now, turned opponents over 28 percent of the time in Year 1, 25 percent of the time last season and are sitting at a whopping 35 percent of the time this season. That’s hard to even comprehend.

So let’s say you’ve got a game where each team has 80 possessions. The Mountaineers are either taking the ball from you or forcing you to cough it up on 28 of those possessions. And that’s on average. Incredible stuff and a clear sign that the Mountaineers, currently sitting at 4-1 and ranked No. 25, will be a legitimate challenger in the Big 12 this season.

My favorite part about WVU’s 40-turnover night? That had to be Huggins’ response. “I thought we did a pretty good job,” he said.

• The only other Big 12 team currently ranked is No. 19 Iowa State, whose only blemish in a 5-1 start was a tough and dramatic loss to No. 11 Gonzaga in the final of the Advocare Invitational in Atlanta, 73-71.

Outside of that game, the Cyclones have not truly been tested and have been a bit of a mixed bag so far this season. They knocked out Miami, Florida, by 17 but also barely squeaked by Indiana State by two in the Advocare semis. Beyond that, ISU has had games where they’ve scored big — 130 and 113 are their season-highs — and games where they’ve been stuck in the 70s.

So clearly, Year 2 of the Steve Prohm takeover is still a work in progress, but give the ’Clones credit for using their veteran backcourt to get out to a great start.

• I didn’t think it was possible for a building to seem more lifeless and empty than the Sprint Center when UAB played George Washington last week before KU’s match-up with Georgia. But then I saw highlights from the K-State-Boston College game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and realized I was wrong.

That place was empty, but that didn’t bother the Wildcats, who rolled to a 72-54 victory.

That’s something the Wildcats have done more than a little of so far this season. The Wildcats’ five victories so far this season have come by an average of 20 points and KSU might very well still be undefeated itself if not for allowing a layup to Maryland’s Melo Trimble with 6.6 seconds to play in the championship game of the Barclays Classic.

• It’s still early, but nobody in the Big 12 has gotten off to a disastrous start. The conference, as a whole, opened the day with a 49-9 record and featured two unbeatens (Baylor and TCU are both 6-0) and just one team with two losses — Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.

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Neon Udoka Azubuike?

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike dunks against Duke during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike dunks against Duke during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. by Nick Krug

With the big fella slated to start his second consecutive game for the 5-1 Kansas men's basketball team, KU coach Bill Self has been fielding an increased number of questions about 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike during the past week or so.

But few questions have resulted in better answers than the one Self gave Monday when he was asked if Azubuike reminded him of anyone from the past.

“Shaq in the movie Blue Chips would be the only one," joked Self, with laughter filled the room around him. "You know, just dunk it. And if you go back and watch it, there’s a lot of similarities. But that would be the only thing that (Azubuike) reminds me of.”

That character from the 1994 movie starring Nick Nolte was named Neon Boudeaux. And like Azubuike, whenever Neon got anywhere near the rim, he rose up and tried to bring it down.

It was a bit hokey in terms of sports movie standards, but left nothing to the imagination about the impact of a player of Neon Boudeaux's caliber, which Shaq, of course, delivered on the NBA stage for the better part of nearly 20 NBA seasons.

Azubuike, of course, is just getting his career started. Still incredibly young (17) and raw, the Nigerian already has reached the point in his KU career where his improvement comes in bunches and shows up big time on the big stage. That's not to say he has moved past the point where he can make silly mistakes or forget an assignment here or there. But whether you're talking about conditioning, knowledge of the game or execution on the floor Azubuike is growing fast and Self continues to marvel at some of the things he can do.

“His skillset isn’t one that’s gonna leave you going crazy," Self said. "But what is unbelievable is how quick he is off his feet and how long he is and how big he is and how well he moves.”

Asked what Azubuike's ceiling could be during his time at Kansas, Self had no problem pencilling him in between two very concrete categories.

“He’s not Joel (Embiid)," said Self, almost offended that anyone might even consider thinking that. "Not close. But he does have a chance to be as good as any big man we’ve had here that I’ve coached other than Joel.”

Blue Chips, starring Shaquille O'Neal and Nick Nolte.

Blue Chips, starring Shaquille O'Neal and Nick Nolte. by Matt Tait

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 95, UNC Asheville 57

Kansas freshman Udoka Azubuike finishes a dunk during the first half against UNC Asheville on Friday, Nov. 25, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas freshman Udoka Azubuike finishes a dunk during the first half against UNC Asheville on Friday, Nov. 25, at Allen Fieldhouse. by Mike Yoder

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 95-57 victory over UNC Asheville at Allen Fieldhouse on Friday, Nov. 25.

Offense: A

The Jayhawks were fast, efficient and relentless on offense, with four players finishing in double figures, including both first-time starters Lagerald Vick (15) and Udoka Azubuike (17). Frank Mason continued his torrid start by leading all scorers with 21 points.

Defense: A-

The Jayhawks limited Asheville to 36 percent shooting and destroyed the Bulldogs on the boards, 49-23. The minus comes for forcing just 8 turnovers.

Frontcourt: A

Coming off the bench, Bragg and Lucas did a better job of going after the ball on the glass, finishing with nine combined rebounds. Add that to the monster night turned in by Azubuike and the KU frontcourt finally gets a passing grade.

Backcourt: A

Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson did what they tend to do and Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk contributed, as well, for this deep and talented KU backcourt.

Bench: B-

Normally, big nights from Azubuike and Vick would mean good things for the KU bench, but with those two starting, that made the bench look a little different. Lucas, Bragg and Svi were good at times but also had their share of bonehead moments.

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