Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Class of 2017 forward Billy Preston, the No. 8-ranked player in his class according to Rivals.com, learned Sunday night that he was selected to be a McDonald's All-American.
Preston joins a long list of current and former Jayhawks to earn a spot in the prestigious high school all-star game and was joined on the West squad by KU target Trae Young, one of the top point guards in the class who remains one of the Jayhawks' top targets in the current class.
Point guard Trevon Duval, who also remains undecided and on the Jayhawks' radar was named to the East squad.
Preston, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound five-star forward from Oak Hill Academy, chose Kansas over finalists Indiana, Syracuse and USC and did so on the strength of his stellar visit during Late Night in the Phog in early October.
He becomes the 41st Jayhawk to earn McDonald's All-American honors, a feat that also was accomplished by three members of the current roster — Carlton Bragg Jr. in 2015 and Udoka Azubuike and Josh Jackson in 2016.
While Preston — and potentially Young and/or Duval — was the only Jayhawk-to-be to land on this year's 24-player roster, a look at the 23 other names to earn the honor proves yet again just how strong KU's recent recruiting efforts have been.
Several players on the 24-man roster considered Kansas or had the Jayhawks on their final list, including center DeAndre Ayton, point guard Collin Sexton and small forward Troy Brown.
This year's McDonald's All-American game will take place March 29 at United Center in Chicago.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 87-80 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Too many missed free throws and a really rough start to the game, both from the floor and behind the three-point line, pulled this usually excellent offensive team down to the B range. The Jayhawks were not their typical lights-out selves from three-point range (5-of-20) in this one from start to finish.
Oklahoma State did whatever they wanted to do in the first half and KU had a tough time stopping Mitchell Solomon of all people in the second half.
KU got next to nothing from the bigs on the offensive end, but, led by Landen Lucas, got enough on the glass to out-rebound the Cowboys 45-36 overall after being out-rebounded in the first half.
Mason and Graham were so tough and so clutch so many different times during this one. It was far from a perfect game for the KU backcourt, but they were good when they needed to be. Same goes for Josh Jackson, who delivered a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
At some point we’re going to have to start grading the KU bench on a curve, one that begins with low expectations. Another quiet day from the two Jayhawks who came in, though both Vick and Bragg did a few things to aid KU’s victory.
Historically speaking, trailing at halftime has not been good news for the Kansas men’s basketball team under Bill Self, who has just a .500 record in games in which the Jayhawks have trailed at the half.
Self, as you all surely know by now, racked up his 400th victory as the head coach at Kansas on Tuesday night in Norman, Oklahoma. And it took a second-half comeback to make it happen.
Trailing by a season-high nine points at the break, KU outscored the Sooners by 20 in the second half en route to the 11-point victory that featured, arguably, KU’s best half of the season.
The win moved second-ranked Kansas to 15-1 overall and 3-0 in games when they were trailing at halftime. Earlier this season, KU also beat Duke, which led 34-29, and Davidson, which led 43-42, despite trailing after the game’s first 20 minutes.
The win pulled KU teams coached by Self to a 55-55 record in games in which they trailed at the break, compared to a 333-25 mark in games in which Kansas has led at halftime. Self’s Jayhawks are 12-4 in his 13-plus seasons when tied at halftime.
While KU’s 3-0 mark this season after trailing at halftime, though a small sample size, seems to be a sign of overall mental strength of this year’s squad, KU senior Landen Lucas said the opportunity to face that kind of adversity was great for this team, which, in some ways, is still finding itself and coming together.
“I think it’s good, as a team, to kind of get that mindset back and, moving forward, you can always use those experiences, especially if you end up getting the (win),” Lucas said.
Asked if trailing at halftime triggered any sort of muscle memory moments from having found ways to come back in the past, Lucas said there was an element of battling back from halftime deficits that was like riding a bike but added that finding ways to get it done was different for each team.
“It’s something that you do have to work towards again,” he said. “We have to kind of relearn that. We had it down pretty good last year, how to not panic, how to put teams away when we’re ahead, different things like that. So we just gotta kind of relearn that and get our confidence back, knowing that we can do that.”
KU’s most recent victory (81-70 over OU) should go a long way toward delivering that confidence. Not only did the Jayhawks erase the nine-point halftime lead in impressive fashion, but they also followed up their lowest offensive output in a single half this season (27 points) by delivering their highest points in a half (54).
No. 2 Kansas is 12-1 when leading at the half this season — KU led Indiana 46-42 at the break in the season opener — and has yet to be tied at the break during the 2016-17 season.
Next up: KU will play host to 10-6 Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
For more about KU’s upcoming clash with Oklahoma State:
Weather permitting — and, at this point, that’s a fairly big question mark — the Kansas men’s basketball team will have an important visitor in the building this weekend when they take on Oklahoma State on Saturday at 1 p.m.
With Trae Young, the No. 14-ranked player and one of the top point guards in the 2017 recruiting class, potentially closing in on a decision about where he will play his college basketball the Jayhawks have turned up their recruitment of the star guard, who officially visited KU’s campus in October.
Trae's father, Rayford Young, told Matt Scott of TheShiver.com that the family would make the trip to Lawrence this weekend as long as travel conditions allow them to do so.
Kansas, which has always been at or near the top of Young’s list, remains very much in the running and many recruiting analysts believe that the battle to land the Norman, Oklahoma, native is a two-school contest between KU and Oklahoma.
Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi said Monday night that he did not expect a decision real soon and also recently added that, in his opinion, KU has at least pulled even with the Sooners in pursuit of the talented point guard.
Young was not in attendance at the KU-OU game in Norman on Tuesday night, but KU’s coaches have maintained tight contact with the 6-foot-2, 170-pound, five-star prospect throughout the winter. KU coach Bill Self traveled south a couple of weeks ago to watch Young light up an opponent for 40 points, 5 assists and 11 steals. And assistant coach Norm Roberts was in attendance on Monday night, when Young went for 43 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals in a win.
Young said last Fall that he was eyeing a January decision date, which leaves him still almost three weeks to make a decision. Of course, should he need it, Young has every right to take as much time as necessary and, although it’s not likely, the possibility exists that he could take this thing well into March or April as the spring signing period does not open until April 12.
It’s looking more like a decision could come in late-January or early February and Young’s visit to KU’s campus this weekend, should he be able to travel, or at a later date if a reschedule is necessary, could play a huge role in the timing of Young announcing his decision.
It may still be early — although the halfway point of the 2016-17 regular season has arrived — but Kansas senior Frank Mason III has put himself in position to do something generally considered unthinkable under Bill Self at Kansas.
And he’s doing it in a way that is getting a lot of national pundits and die-hard college basketball fans to take notice.
He has become a regular fixture in national player of the year conversations around the country and seems to get more and more serious consideration for first-team All-American honors by the game.
Sixteen games into his senior season, Mason is averaging 20.4 points per game for the 15-1 Jayhawks, who have raced out to an early lead and 4-0 record in the Big 12 Conference title race.
If Mason is able to hold that average — or perhaps even improve upon it — he would become just the second Jayhawk during the Bill Self era to average more than 20 points per game during a single season. The first? Former All-American Wayne Simien, who averaged 20.3 points per game during Self’s second season in town.
Simien also led Self’s first KU team (2003-04) with a 17.8 points-per-game average, which still ranks as the third highest single-season total during Self’s 14 years at Kansas.
The average of the eight different players who have led KU in scoring during Self’s first 13 seasons in charge is 16.3 points per game, a number that KU’s leading point producer topped during just seven of those 13 seasons.
While nothing is guaranteed for Mason or the Jayhawks the rest of the way, topping 16.3 ppg seems likely and his pursuit of a 20-point season or better also seems well within reach given the way this team plays and the make-up of the supporting cast around him.
The Jayhawks were led in scoring by a big man five times during that 13-season stretch. But with no real offensive threat in the post to throw the ball into and run offense through, this team’s action will continue to go through its guards. More often than not that will mean Mason, who has the ball in his hands more often than any player on this team and also is the player the Jayhawks automatically look to late in the shot clock, late in games and with the game on the line.
He beat Duke with his game-winning jumper in New York City and was the No. 1 option in the final seconds against K-State.
Self has had a true point guard lead his KU teams in scoring just twice during his first 13 years in Lawrence — Sherron Collins did it in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. In addition, KU’s lead guard has finished in the top two on KU’s season-scoring list twice, Tyshawn Taylor in 2012 and Mason as a sophomore.
None of this matters, of course, to KU’s bottom line, which is winning and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Heck, if Self and the Jayhawks could find a way to ensure victory by getting freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot 25 points a game, they’d do it — in a second.
The unselfish nature of the players on the Kansas roster and the win-at-all-costs mentality of the man leading them make this about more than any one player or specific agenda.
But that unselfish tone, which has been a core principle of Self’s Kansas teams and a big reason why each season’s leading scorer has averaged in the low-to-mid-teens more often than not, is also the same thing that makes Mason a candidate to challenge the 20-point mark by season’s end.
His teammates are smart. They know he’s locked in right now and, more importantly, that few people in the country can stop him. So electing to get the ball to their senior leader is an easy choice and an often profitable decision.
No one, least of all Mason, is going to force the action to try to get his. But the way this season is playing out and the way Mason is performing, his may come one way or the other.
• Bill Self’s best
The top two scorers from each of Self’s first 13 seasons at KU
|2003-04||Wayne Simien, 17.8||Keith Langford, 15.5|
|2004-05||Wayne Simien, 20.3||Keith Langford, 14.4|
|2005-06||Brandon Rush, 13.5||Mario Chalmers, 11.5|
|2006-07||Brandon Rush, 13.8||Mario Chalmers, 12.2|
|2007-08||Brandon Rush, 13.3||Mario Chalmers, 12.8|
|2008-09||Sherron Collins, 18.9||Cole Aldrich, 14.9|
|2009-10||Sherron Collins, 15.5||Xavier Henry, 13.4|
|2010-11||Marcus Morris, 17.2||Markieff Morris 13.6|
|2011-12||Thomas Robinson, 17.7||Tyshawn Taylor, 16.6|
|2012-13||Ben McLemore, 15.9||Jeff Withey, 13.7|
|2013-14||Andrew Wiggins, 17.1||Perry Ellis, 13.5|
|2014-15||Perry Ellis, 13.8||Frank Mason, 12.6|
|2015-16||Perry Ellis, 16.9||Wayne Selden, 13.8|
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 81-70 victory at Oklahoma on Tuesday night.
It might be best to break the grades for this game into two halves and would be fairly easy to do — F for the first half, A for the second. KU’s offense, which missed 14 of its final 17 shots in the first half, was lights out to open the second and looked much more like the Kansas offense we’ve become used to seeing, fast, free, unselfish and scary.
The Jayhawks battled in both halves but looked much better — and played with more of a purpose — in the second half. The Sooners got whatever they wanted at times in the first half and out-toughed the Jayhawks on the glass.
This one’s all Lucas and he was darn good. 10 points, 13 rebounds and all kinds of effort. He’s still limited in some ways, but does what he does best as well as anybody.
Mason’s the man. What more needs to be said? He finished two points off of a career-high and knocked in 11 of 19 shots and 5 of 6 from three-point range. Jackson, Graham and Mykhailiuk chipped in 38 points to back up their leader.
Vick and Bragg did little and Lightfoot and Coleby weren’t in long enough to do much. When they were, though, neither player looked all that comfortable or impressive.
It’s easy to gloss over a victory as historically significant as all-time win No. 2,200 when you consider the fact that the most experienced players on the current roster who delivered it only have been around for an average of less than 100 of those and the coach leading the way only 400.
But just because two of the players wearing KU uniforms today have been a part of just 14 of those 2,200 victories does not mean that the win — 85-68 over Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse — was not a major milestone to the thousands and thousands of KU fans who have screamed, yelled, cheered and rejoiced about more than half of those wins during their lifetimes.
Give the current Jayhawks credit for both recognizing the significance of Saturday’s 2,200th win and for having the respect to realize it’s not in any way about them and only them. And give senior point guard Frank Mason III major credit for offering the following four words as his final comment on the matter: “there’s more to come.”
Talk about a guy who gets it. Sure, being a part of win No. 2,200 was nice and likely will be something these guys look back on — many years from now — as one of the many, many cool parts of their Kansas careers.
But the objective today, as it has been year in and year out, week in and week out, for as long as anyone can remember is to find a way to bring more victories not celebrate wins gone by.
Bill Self now has been around for four milestone victories and if he's still the Kansas coach when the Jayhawks reach win No. 2,300, he'll tie Phog Allen and Roy Williams as the head coaches to deliver the most milestone wins in Kansas history.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at the major milestone wins, from 1 to 2,200, that Kansas basketball has achieved in the past 118 years.
|1||Feb. 10, 1899||Lawrence||James Naismith||31-6 vs. Topeka YMCA|
|100||Jan. 15, 1910||St. Louis||W.O. Hamilton||34-13 vs. Washington (Mo.)|
|200||Jan. 24, 1917||Lawrence||W.O. Hamilton||27-19 vs. Kansas State|
|300||Feb. 9, 1925||Lawrence||Phog Allen||33-18 vs. Iowa State|
|400||Jan. 2, 1933||Lawrence||Phog Allen||34-28 vs. Stanford|
|500||Jan. 18, 1939||Lawrence||Phog Allen||37-32 vs. Missouri|
|600||Jan. 30, 1945||Lawrence||Phog Allen||39-36 vs. Kansas State|
|700||Dec. 29, 1951||Kansas City, Mo.||Phog Allen||75-65 vs. Missouri|
|800||March 15, 1957||Dallas||Dick Harp||73-65 vs. SMU|
|900||Dec. 1, 1964||Fayetteville, Ark.||Ted Owens||65-60 vs. Arkansas|
|1,000||Feb. 3, 1969||Lawrence||Ted Owens||64-48 vs. Oklahoma State|
|1,100||Jan. 25, 1975||Lawrence||Ted Owens||71-60 vs. Oklahoma State|
|1,200||Dec. 1, 1980||Lawrence||Ted Owens||81-67 vs. Pepperdine|
|1,300||Dec. 3, 1985||Lawrence||Larry Brown||86-71 vs. SIU-Edwardsville|
|1,400||Feb. 25, 1989||Lawrence||Roy Williams||111-83 vs. Colorado|
|1,500||Jan. 16, 1993||Louisville, Ky||Roy Williams||98-77 vs. Louisville|
|1,600||Nov. 27, 1996||Maui, Hawaii||Roy Williams||80-63 vs. Virginia|
|1,700||Jan. 8, 2000||Boulder, Colo.||Roy Williams||84-69 vs. Colorado|
|1,800||March 29, 2003||Anaheim, Calif.||Roy Williams||78-75 vs. Arizona|
|1,900||March 3, 2007||Lawrence||Bill Self||90-86 vs. Texas|
|2,000||March 11, 2010||Kansas City, Mo.||Bill Self||80-68 vs. Texas Tech|
|2,100||March 24, 2013||Kansas City, Mo.||Bill Self||70-58 vs. North Carolina|
|2,200||Jan. 7, 2017||Lawrence||Bill Self||85-68 vs. Texas Tech|
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 85-68 victory over Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.
The Jayhawks shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent from three-point range and made five consecutive shots during the decisive run that put the game out of reach with around five minutes to play.
The effort, activity and tenacity were all there and Kansas also limited the Red Raiders to 41 percent shooting from the floor. The only reason for the minus was KU’s inability to keep Tech from getting open looks from three-point range. Overall, though, a much, much better effort on the defensive end of the floor.
None of KU’s big men — all two of them — did much in this one. Bragg and Lucas combined for 11 points and 12 rebounds but also had a few forgettable moments, especially Bragg who struggled inside and occasionally got lost on defense.
Devonte’ Graham (20 points) was hot early, Mason (26) was hot late and the Jayhawks got a big time effort from the three-headed monster of Graham, Mason and Jackson (63 of 85 points). Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk did not have much of an encore performance to his game-winner against K-State on Tuesday, finishing with five points and four rebounds before fouling out in 21 minutes.
Neither Bragg nor Lagerald Vick did much to write home about and both sent Bill Self looking to the bench to plug a starter back in a few too many times throughout this one.
Sam Cunliffe, a 6-foot-6, 195-pound shooting guard who was ranked No. 36 overall in the Rivals.com recruiting class of 2016, was in Lawrence this week to visit Kansas and left with a great feel for the KU program.
"It was amazing," Cunliffe told TheShiver.com's Matt Scott following his visit, which included a trip to the KU-K-State game on Tuesday night. "That game was insane!!!! I loved every minute of it."
So much so that Cunliffe, who started 10 games for Arizona State this season but decided at semester to transfer, has chosen to shut down his recruiting.
"No more visits," Cunliffe told Scott on Wednesday. "Deciding real soon. No more than 3 days," he added.
If that timeline holds, Cunliffe should have a decision by the end of the week and the whole situation certainly has the feel of the young man picking Kansas.
Named the Seattle Times’ State Basketball Player of the Year following his senior season at Rainier Beach High, Cunliffe picked Arizona State from serious interest from California, Colorado, Gonzaga, Minnesota, Oregon, UNLV, Utah, Washington, Washington State and others.
A Seattle native who was the highest rated recruit landed by the Sun Devils since James Harden, announced in December that he was leaving ASU despite starting the first 10 games of his freshman season and averaging 9.5 points in 25.4 minutes.
In other recruiting news... Scott and other recruiting analysts are reporting that KU coach Bill Self will travel to Oklahoma today to watch Class of 2017 point guard Trae Young, who remains one of the top targets in KU's current class.
Young said last Fall that he wanted to take his time with the decision and get an opportunity to see each team in the mix play and watch how their seasons play out a little bit.
“I’m getting near to the end of my recruitment and I’m starting to look at these teams play and come to a conclusion what school I want to choose so it was a really big thing for them to come out and I’m really happy for that," Young told A Sea of Blue, SB Nation's Kentucky site, in late November.
Asked when he might announce, Young said, “Probably early January. Don’t have a date set yet, but probably early January.”
Other programs remain in the mix, but most analysts believe Young's recruitment is a hot contest between Kansas and in-state school Oklahoma.
Tuesday night, following KU’s thrilling, 90-88 victory over Sunflower State rival Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse, one thing rattled around inside my brain about junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Yes, Svi traveled. Nobody’s disputing that. The closest anybody even came to doing so on Tuesday night were those who said they hadn’t seen it yet.
So, we know Svi traveled. We know, travel or not, that it was still a pretty impressive play to get a layup despite having to go the length of the floor in five seconds. And we know that, again, travel or not, Svi’s hanging scoop shot was no easy play, especially with the game on the line.
But none of that was what stuck with me following Tuesday’s game.
What stuck with me was the fact that, for the last time, travel or not, the shot was probably one Svi would not even have attempted a couple of months ago.
That’s how much confidence can help a player, and few players are playing with as much confidence right now as KU’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who, on Tuesday, reached double digits in scoring for the eighth consecutive game and 10th time overall this season.
Let’s take another quick look at the play and see what route a less-confident Svi could have taken instead of the one he chose, which won the game.
Svi wins it for KU at the buzzer -- with contact. It is near-impossible to steal one from Kansas at the Phog. pic.twitter.com/b85I4ttPt1— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) January 4, 2017
There’s a point, just across halfcourt, when K-State’s Wesley Iwundu is closing in and, under different circumstances, easily could’ve been enough of a bother to coerce Svi into getting rid of the ball, especially when you consider that his only option from this position would’ve been to toss it back and to his right to Frank Mason III, who was crossing the mid-court stripe at about the same time and has a recent history of hitting game winners.
Mason even put his hand up briefly, calling for the ball. But Svi either never saw it or disregarded it because he felt good enough about his own ability to go win the game.
Let’s keep moving.
Once Svi reached the free throw line, where two KSU defenders greeted him and two others trailed closely, it would have been easy for him to (a) decide to throw a lob to Landen Lucas on his left or (b) zip a pass to Josh Jackson on the right for a baseline jumper to win the game.
A pass to Lucas would have made sense given the fact that the Jayhawks love lobs and Lucas delivered a career-high 18 points against the Wildcats. But it also might have taken too much time and there’s a chance Svi sensed that, with his internal clock surely a half-second or so ahead of the actual game clock thanks to adrenaline and the chaotic nature of those final few seconds.
Finding Jackson, who was more in Svi’s line of sight, also would have made sense because the KU freshman is known as a terrific scorer and has a knack for getting to the rim. That, too, might have taken a tad too long and such a decision could’ve cost the Jayhawks their shot to win it in regulation.
That’s three separate options — all of which would have made sense — that Svi passed up in order to put the game on his shoulders.
Again, there’s little-to-no chance he makes that decision a couple of months ago.
And the fact that he made it (both the shot and the decision) on Tuesday night should be viewed as perhaps the best news of all to come out of a game that people will be talking about for quite some time.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has finally become a player. And I can’t help but get the feeling that the best is yet to come for KU’s most recent hero.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s thrilling, 90-88 victory over Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
They scored 52 points in the first half and, somehow, led by 10 after the Wildcats shot 54 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range during the same 20-minute period. It’s to the point now where it’s newsworthy if the Jayhawks’ offense isn’t an A.
The Jayhawks had plenty of opportunities to bury the Wildcats but kept letting them off the hook by breaking down against dribble penetration and good ball movement. KU did grind out just about every possession and that saved them from getting a C-minus here. Some of the credit for this effort has to go to K-State's players for being absolutely fearless all night.
Lucas was so good yet again (18 points and 12 rebounds) and delivered some of his biggest buckets and rebounds when the Jayhawks needed them most.
Jackson was sensational in the first half and Frank Mason was Frank Mason. But the big bucket came from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk at the buzzer and the Jayhawks would’ve been blown out of not for their backcourt. Such is life.
Vick and Bragg were merely average — good moments mixed with bad — and Lightfoot did not play enough to factor too heavily into this grade.
It hasn’t mattered who was on the team, what the rotation looked like or how deep and talented the Kansas men’s basketball team has been.
Almost every year, without fail, there has been a small but impactful stretch, usually during conference play, when the Jayhawks have struggled and KU fans has questioned what in the heck was going on.
Last year, a team that gave eventual national champion Villanova an absolute street fight in the Elite Eight lost three of five games during mid-to-late January, all on the road and all by double digits.
One year before that, the Jayhawks lost three of six, including twice in a seven-day span, before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round.
And three seasons ago, the Jayhawks lost three of four early in the season — including back-to-back games at Colorado and Florida — and finished the season losing two of their last three to close the regular season and four of its final seven overall.
Heck, even the 2007-08 team, which finished 37-3, dropped two of those three in a 12-day span in February, right around the time when you want to start building momentum for a postseason run.
Each of those teams won the Big 12 Conference and one of them won the national championship. The point? Good teams lose games. Heck, even great teams lose games or have lulls or struggle through adversity. It’s part of what makes college basketball so great and part of what makes what the Jayhawks have done in winning a dozen straight Big 12 titles so impressive.
Before we tip things off for Game No. 2 of 18 in the Jayhawks’ quest to make that 13 straight — 8 p.m. tonight vs. Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse — let’s just take a moment to accept and embrace that this team is probably going to have its rough patch, too.
If you’re the type of fan that would rather know when these stretches are coming instead of being blindsided by a loss you never expected, continue reading.
The Jayhawks’ conference schedule this season is pretty well set up, with KU two in a row on the road just one time — Monday, Feb. 6 at Kansas State and Saturday, Feb. 11 at Texas Tech. Back-to-back home games ease the Jayhawks into that doubleheader and a follow-up home game against West Virginia sits on the back end.
But it’s that fairly lengthy period, beginning Jan. 16 and ending Feb. 18, that actually presents a couple of stretches in which the Jayhawks could be bitten by the loss bug more than once.
The first and most obvious stretch is a five-game run that starts in Ames, Iowa, includes road games at West Virginia and Kentucky (not a Big 12 team, but still) and ends with Baylor at home on Feb. 1.
Tom Keegan wrote Monday that Baylor and West Virginia pose the biggest threats to KU continuing its Big 12 title streak, so having to play one of them away and the other at home around the same time as the always-tough trip to Iowa State and an unknown journey to Kentucky very well could present the Jayhawks with their toughest challenge of the season.
Right after that run is another sequence that features three nasty games in a four-game stretch, with the fourth and seemingly easiest game of the group still coming on the road.
KU plays at K-State on Feb. 6, travels to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech five days later and follows that week up by hosting West Virginia and traveling to Baylor.
There’s no way the Jayhawks will lose all of those, but a case could be made for dropping two or perhaps even three of them, especially because West Virginia seems, at least to me, to be the Big 12 team most poised to come into Allen Fieldhouse and leave with a victory.
Don’t worry. I’m not predicting doomsday for the Jayhawks here. I still think they’ll go undefeated at home and I also still think they’ll win the Big 12. The biggest reason? It’s not because Baylor and West Virginia aren’t worthy challengers but more because of the overall strength of the league and the much higher likelihood of Baylor or WVU slipping up in a game they shouldn’t instead of Kansas doing the same.
Either way, it should be a fun couple of months and if you’re one of those KU fans that doesn’t handle losses very well, keep an eye out for the two stretches in the schedule that I mentioned above.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 71-53 victory over UNLV in Las Vegas on Thursday night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-71 Sprint Center victory over Davidson on a cold and crummy Saturday night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”