Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

NCAA Tournament 2017: Breaking down the Midwest bracket

Midwest Region in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

Midwest Region in the 2017 NCAA Tournament by Matt Tait

Sunday was a busy night, tracking down as much information as possible about not one but two potential first-round opponents for the Kansas men’s basketball team in this year’s NCAA Tournament and recapping the thoughts and emotions conveyed to the media by KU coach Bill Self and senior forward Landen Lucas.

Because of that, I haven’t had much time to study the full bracket yet — and I rarely do these days, which merely means that I’m a guy you want in your bracket pool and, in related news, I’ve found myself entering fewer and fewer of them each year.

But I have taken a fairly good look at the Midwest region, where Kansas enters as the No. 1 seed and will look to win two games in Tulsa, Okla., before returning to Kansas City, Mo., for two more and a chance to win a trip to this year’s Final Four.

The following are a few of my initial thoughts on the region along with a quick glance at each team in 20 words or less.

Hard to believe the time has arrived. But it’s here. Merry Madness, everybody.

• First up, good for the committee for not overreacting to KU’s loss to TCU and making things harder than they had to be. The Jayhawks were one of the nation’s best and most consistent teams all season and to punish them for losing a meaningless game which they played without their most talented player would have been brutally wrong. They didn’t. KU got the seed and region it both earned and deserved and now it’s up to the Jayhawks to make it pay off.

• Now, as for the regional as a whole, I think KU fans should be pleased with how this one worked out. Sure, Purdue and Louisville loom as tough challenges in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, but the way I’ve always looked at these things is by looking at the 1 through 4 seeds in each region and trying to decide how Kansas fared in a relative sense. In this case, I think the Jayhawks were hooked up. And it’s about time, too. It seems as if Kansas has faced a few brutal brackets in recent years and this one looks like payback for that. Louisville, though tough and talented, is a much better 2 seed to draw than Arizona, Duke or Kentucky, all three of which are red hot and just won conference tournaments. After that, Oregon, with a recent tough-break injury to one of its top players, looks like a much better 3 to draw than offensive juggernaut UCLA, ACC-tested Florida State or even Baylor. And Purdue as the 4 might actually be a better match-up for Kansas than ultra-athletic Florida, Press Virginia or even Butler. The bottom line is this: They’re all tough. Every team has speed bumps on its road to glory. But, when you look at it in a relative sense, I think Kansas got a nice draw.

• Speaking of Kansas’ draw, I will admit that the potential Sweet 16 showdown with Big 12 rival Iowa State was an eye-opener for me, as well. But fear not, KU fans. If the two teams advance that far, it would be Kansas that enters that game with extra motivation, both aiming to avenge a home loss that ended a 50-plus game home-court winning streak and desiring to end the claims from Iowa State fans that Sprint Center is Hilton South. It would be a tough game. And I think Monte Morris is capable of getting the Cyclones to compete with anybody. But if I’m Kansas, I’d take it — a team you know well that you’re facing with a huge chip on your shoulder. I hope we get to see it.

• Tom Izzo be damned. It seems to me that if you’re a Kansas fan, the best move you could make in Round 1 (not that it matters) is to root for Michigan State to knock off Miami, Fla., in the 8-9 game. The irony here is that it seemed fairly obvious to me last year that KU wanted Miami to knock off Villanova in the Sweet 16 in Louisville and now Jayhawk fans are staring at a scenario where they should be hoping for someone else to knock off the Hurricanes. Izzo’s team struggled with turnovers all season and dropped 14 games against a Big Ten schedule. Eight of those came in Big Ten play and a ninth came against Northeastern. The rest of the MSU losses are legit, but still... FOURTEEN LOSSES?!?!? Miami, meanwhile, played 11 games against Top 5 seeds in this year’s field, winning 3 and dropping 8. The ‘Canes are athletic and physical and also coached hard by Jim Larranaga. Both teams are tougher opponents than anybody would want to see in Round 2, but if you’re trying to pick the better match-up for Kansas, it’s Go Sparty all the way.

• Sleeper rankings in the Midwest region: 1. (5) Iowa State. 2. (11) Rhode Island. 3. (13) Vermont. If Iowa State were in any other bracket and facing a different looking road, I’d probably pick them to go pretty far. (I’m always a damn Big 12 homer with my bracket, though, so take that for what it’s worth). Still, the Cyclones have talent, they have an absolute stud leading them and they’re hot right now. As for Rhode Island, I’ll always take a team that likes to play defense and few do that as well as the Rams. Not the most consistently sound team throughout the season, but if URI can get its offense going, that D could win them a couple of games. And then there’s Vermont. Wouldn’t it be funny if, after all of this talk about KU facing Iowa State or Purdue in the Sweet 16, it’s actually the Catamounts who are sitting there waiting? Vermont plays solid D and attacks the paint on offense, which could spell trouble for Purdue’s bigs and Iowa State’s depth. It’s a long shot, but, isn’t that why they call it Madness?

17 teams in the Midwest region in 20 words or less.

1 – Kansas: Recent loss was a wake-up call and the Jayhawks are driven and focused. Playing in KC certainly wouldn’t hurt.

2 – Louisville: Cards emphasize defense and do it with length. Six of top eight players are 6-7 or taller.

3 – Oregon: Guard Dillon Brooks is as fiery and emotional as any player in the tournament. He’s got game, too.

4 – Purdue: Double-double machine Caleb Swanigan and Boilermakers’ offensive prowess overshadow weaknesses on D and the glass.

5 – Iowa State: Monte Morris, Monte Morris, Monte Morris. And if that’s not enough, Google Naz Mitrou-Long to Deonte Burton.

6 – Creighton: Few teams will be as dependent on the rims and arena as the Bluejays. If they’re not hitting, they’re done.

7 – Michigan: They’ll either make a run or run out of gas. I’m going with the latter.

8 – Miami, Fla.: Tied for 7th in ACC despite wins over Carolina, Duke and Virginia. Scoring 70-plus will beat them.

9 – Michigan State: Sparty regularly goes 10 deep and does it without much drop-off. There’s good and bad in that.

10 – Oklahoma State: They were red hot a couple weeks ago. Can they rekindle the flame against white-hot Wolverines?

11 – Rhode Island: Defensive style and tenacity could make life miserable for any number of opponents.

12 – Nevada: Mountain West champ ranks 52nd in NCAA in offensive rebound percentage. Iowa State ranks No. 288. 5-12 upset?

13 – Vermont: We’re going streaking! Catamounts have won 21 straight games and haven’t lost since before Christmas at No. 13 Butler.

14 – Iona: Sneaky super-upset pick. Won’t be afraid to run or score with the Ducks. Can they rebound and defend, though?

15 – Jacksonville State: It’s not good when your best wins are vs. Belmont and at Tulsa & you’re playing in your first tourney.

16a – NC Central: To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Are you experienced?” Eagles start five seniors and play seven in top eight of their rotation.

16b – UC Davis: First trip to the Big Dance likely ends as one of 68 not one of 64. Still, baby steps.


Should the Jayhawks be worried about their No. 1 seed?

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III stand side by side during a pair of free throws in the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III stand side by side during a pair of free throws in the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

With the top-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team losing in Thursday’s Big 12 quarterfinal game in Kansas City, Mo., one of the biggest questions surrounding Jayhawk Nation is not what went wrong, why it happened or how KU will fix it.*

* More on all of that a little later today.

Instead, Jayhawk fans everywhere are wondering if the loss did anything to impact KU’s chances at a No. 1 seed, and, perhaps more specifically, KU’s chances of returning to Kansas City for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight at Sprint Center should the Jayhawks be fortunate enough to survive Rounds 1 and 2 in Tulsa.

All of this will be sorted out on Selection Sunday, of course, but KU fans aren’t used to waiting this long and having this much time to think about it. Most years, Kansas plays into the Big 12 semifinals or finals, which has allowed those games to take most of the focus. But now the speculation and worry has taken center stage.

According to ESPN.com writer Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology update — dated March 10 — the four teams owning the four 2 seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament are Baylor, Kentucky, Louisville and Oregon.

Lunardi still has Kansas as a No. 1 seed in the Midwest, as do most of the other NCAA Tournament gurus who make this sort of thing their lives this time of year. That’s good sign No. 1.

Good sign No. 2 comes from the fact that there’s almost no way to imagine Kansas being passed up by any of those teams currently projected as 2 seeds. (For what it's worth, Lunardi's current 3 seeds are Arizona, Duke, Florida State and UCLA)

Like KU, Louisville and Baylor are also done playing until the Big Dance, with the Cardinals falling in the ACC Tournament to Duke on Thursday and Baylor losing in the Big 12 nightcap to K-State. So cross both of them off of the list. Their resumes weren’t better than KU’s going in and there’s nothing they can do now to make them better from here.

That leaves Kentucky and Oregon. Well, Kentucky’s resume is nowhere near as impressive as KU’s and, as if that weren’t already enough, the Jayhawks went into Rupp Arena and beat the Wildcats head to head earlier this season. So, even if UK runs through the SEC Tournament, all that will do is solidify the Wildcats’ place as a No. 2 seed. The SEC just isn’t a strong enough conference for a late run by the ‘Cats to push them past Kansas. Not even close.

That leaves Oregon, which won the Pac-12 regular season title and could make things interesting if they were to win the Pac-12 postseason title. Because of the way the bracket out west shapes up, though, the Ducks are only able to pick up one more quality win, not two. Oregon plays Cal in today’s semifinal while No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Arizona play in the other semifinal.

Had Oregon been matched up with Arizona today and then faced UCLA tomorrow — and won both games — you might have been able to make a case that KU should be a little concerned about the Ducks stealing a 1 seed after a nice tourney run.

Mind you, I did say might there. Because even if that were to happen — which it can’t, so I’m not even sure why I’m still writing about it — the Jayhawks would still have a better overall resume than Oregon, which has an RPI strength of schedule of 55, compared to 29 for Kansas, and a 4-2 record against the Top 50, compared to 9-2 for the Jayhawks.

All things considered, it would be a pretty shocking development if the committee were to look at things and deem Oregon more worthy of a No. 1 seed than Kansas at this point. And, really, that’s about the only way I could see KU getting moved out of the Midwest region.

North Carolina will be No. 1 in the South. Villanova, which likely now will enter as the No. 1 overall seed, will be No. 1 in the East. And it looks as if one-loss Gonzaga will be No. 1 in the West. The Midwest is the only other place for Kansas to land unless the committee drops them, which I just can’t see happening.

Consider one more possibility: If Oregon’s Pac-12 tourney run is deemed impressive enough to merit consideration for a 1 seed, I think it would be more likely that the committee would drop Gonzaga to a 2 in the West and put Oregon as the 1 out there before dropping Kansas.

Seeding for the NCAA Tournament is a big picture sort of thing, built over weeks and months of work and competition. It’s not based solely on what happens one weekend or one day in early March. And because of that, the Jayhawks should rest easy the next couple of days and prepare for a path to the Final Four that includes stops in Tulsa and Kansas City.


Postgame Report Card: TCU 85, KU 82

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to get around TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky during the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. At right is TCU guard Desmond Bane (1).

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to get around TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky during the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. At right is TCU guard Desmond Bane (1). by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 85-82 Big 12 quarterfinal loss to TCU on Thursday at Sprint Center.

Offense: B+

As KU coach Bill Self pointed out after the game, KU scored plenty of points to win this game. Even without second-leading scorer Josh Jackson, Kansas scored inside and out and topped 80 points. The Jayhawks fall just short of an A grade for their percentages. KU shot 44 percent for the game and 33 percent from 3-point range, making just 10 of a whopping 30 attempts. The plus comes for KU’s .815 clip (22 of 27) from the free throw line.

Defense: D

The Jayhawks may have scored 82 but they also gave up 85 to a team that finished eighth in the conference and, as of today, still isn’t in the NCAA Tournament field. It was so much the fact that KU gave up easy buckets and lots of points to the Horned Frogs as it was the way they did it. TCU got a ton of easy looks, got to the basket with ease most of the night and .492 for the game and .567 in the first half. Not the kind of defensive effort KU wanted or needed, but at least part of it could be chalked up to the fact that two of KU’s worst defenders — Svi and Lagerald Vick — were asked to handle the workload of one of their best in Jackson.

Frontcourt: C

Landen Lucas was terrific and did all he could to help this team win. He shot 5-of-7 from the floor, tallied 13 points and 14 rebounds and grabbed a game-high six offensive rebounds. One problem: The Jayhawks got just one other offensive rebound the entire day. Beyond that, Carlton Bragg Jr. and Dwight Coleby struggled to make an impact in their 18 combined minutes on the floor. Lucas was better than those guys were bad, though, and that salvaged the C grade.

Backcourt: B

Frank Mason was the man once again, but he clearly can’t do it all by himself. Svi chipped in with 13 points in the first eight minutes but then finished with just five points the rest of the way and made a couple of costly mistakes late. Vick did OK at times on both ends, but never really seemed to be into the game, a possible result of him being asked to play Jackson’s spot at the 4 instead of his normal position and role as this team’s sixth man. Devonte’ Graham could’ve done a lot to help this team but shot just 2-of-10 from the floor and did not attempt a 2-pointer. KU’s guards recorded just three steals while TCU guard Alex Robinson swiped five himself. Mason was A material but the group as a whole was not nearly as good and clearly missed Jackson.

Bench: D-

Coleby blocked a couple of shots (on the same possession) and delivered a nice bucket in the first half on a strong post move. He also picked up a steal and used his three fouls wisely in 6 minutes. Those facts were the only thing that saved KU’s bench from an F on a day when the TCU bench outscored KU’s reserves, 34-3. Mitch Lightfoot turned it over once in his lone minute of play and Bragg missed four shots, including an airball at the end of the first half and a free throw while also turning it over twice. With Vick forced into action for the suspended Jackson, KU’s bench took a major hit.


What will Kansas look like without Josh Jackson on Thursday?

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15), Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33), Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) converse together during a break from action in the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15), Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33), Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) converse together during a break from action in the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Wednesday morning, word came down from KU coach Bill Self that Josh Jackson would miss Thursday’s Big 12 tournament opener to serve a one-game suspension for his role in mismanaging a traffic incident back in February.

While the news certainly did Kansas no favors in the eyes of the public, particularly those who are becoming more and more curious about just what is going on with the Jayhawks and their off-the-court issues, it also dealt a blow to the KU basketball team, which now will try to advance to Friday’s semifinals without its second leading scorer and all-around most talented player.

Legal questions and concerns aside, the biggest question many want answered now is this: What does this Kansas basketball team look like without Josh Jackson?

In a few words? Much the same, just not as talented.

Self told the Journal-World on Wednesday morning that sophomore guard Lagerald Vick would start in Jackson’s place against the winner of tonight’s TCU-OU game at Sprint Center. Given KU’s depth at the position, with starters Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk all still available, the Jayhawks still figure to go with their four-guard look most of the time.

Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr., has shown progress in recent weeks and his minutes certainly could increase, perhaps even climbing above 20, if Bragg shows up and plays well on Thursday. And Vick, who has played 21 minutes or more in seven of KU’s last eight games, figures to see his time on the court climb into the 30s with Jackson in street clothes.

Playing without Jackson is not an entirely new adventure for this Kansas team. Throughout the season, but especially early on, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Detroit has struggled with foul trouble and been forced to sit on the bench for long periods of time in several games this season.

Most notable among them was a 12-minute showing at TCU back on Dec. 30, when Jackson never got into the game and Vick played 34 minutes in his place.

Coincidentally, KU could very well be facing that same TCU team on Thursday afternoon, which not only would give Vick a little extra confidence — he scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line) in KU’s December victory over TCU — but also provide the rest of the team with some confidence, knowing they can get by the Horned Frogs without their freshman All-American on the floor.

Jackson was much better in two games against OU, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes in the win at Oklahoma and with 11 points and 12 rebounds (along with 8 turnovers) in KU’s home victory over the Sooners on Feb. 27.

KU’s biggest concern about not having Jackson on the floor is probably on defense. Because of his length and ability to hit the glass, Jackson has helped Landen Lucas handle several tall and talented front lines this season. Mykhailiuk and Vick, at 6-8 and 6-5 are both capable of doing the job, but neither does it quite as well as Jackson.

“I can if I need to,” said Mykhailiuk, earlier this season, when asked about guarding opposing big men. “But also we have Josh. Me, Lagerald and Josh are like 6-8, 6-5, 6-8, so we can if we have to.”

Asked to share the biggest keys to guarding big men instead of checking guards, Mykhailiuk pointed to quickness as the key.

“Just try to get in front so they don’t get the ball, run from both sides, just try to confuse the guy with the ball,” he said. “You use that (quickness) to get in front faster.”

If he’s caught in the post with a big man backing him down, Mykhailiuk said deception was the key at that point.

“You just need to give distance, let ’em feel you and then just back off sometimes so they don’t know where the contact is,” he said.

Believe it or not, Jackson has played fewer than 30 minutes 12 times this season. Only two of those have come in the past 12 games, however, so not having him in the lineup likely will seem strange at times.

But it’s possible that Jackson’s absence — though not coming in a way that anyone in the program would want — could actually go a long way toward helping this team in the long run.

Not only will Jackson get an extra day of rest, but Mykhailiuk, Vick and Bragg also will be counted on more heavily, a reality that, if they deliver, should take their confidence up a notch entering the rest of the weekend and into the NCAA Tournament.

Worst case scenario? Kansas loses without Jackson and the whole team gets a few extra days of rest while waiting for Selection Sunday.


Predicting what promises to be a wild Big 12 tournament in KCMO

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a big smile as time runs out in the Jayhawks' 81-71 win over West Virginia, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a big smile as time runs out in the Jayhawks' 81-71 win over West Virginia, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

It’s Big 12 tournament time in Kansas City, Mo., and that means — among other amazing things like gathering at Power & Light for a few cold ones under abundant sunshine on a warm afternoon — it’s time to take a stab at predicting this year’s Big 12 tourney bracket.

I know what you’re thinking. Good luck, right? I mean, after all of those close games we saw in the conference this season — and, believe it or not, there were more than a dozen that didn’t involve Kansas — how can anyone possibly predict how this year’s tournament is going to go?

Good question. Tough question. Tough exercise. But let’s go for it.

— Wednesday, March 8 —

(8) TCU vs. (9) Oklahoma, 6 p.m. — A rematch of the regular season finale for both teams, won by Oklahoma, I’m going with the Sooners again this time around. This match-up features two teams headed in opposite directions and the young Sooners seem to have figured a few things out in the latter stages of conference play. I like OU in a game that might actually be the most lopsided outcome of any all weekend. The pick: Oklahoma.

(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Texas, 8:30 p.m. — The Longhorns have good athletes, a nice mix of talent at key positions and some hope for the future. But, for whatever reason (and there may be many), it just has never clicked this season. The Red Raiders on the other hand have a real nice team that, could be in a much different position had it not been involved in a so many of those agonizingly close games (most of them losses) throughout the season. I think this will be a good one, but Tech is better and has more to play for. The pick: Texas Tech.

— Thursday, March 9 —

(4) Iowa State vs. (5) Oklahoma State, 11:30 a.m. — These two played during the final week of the regular season and it was Iowa State who came away with a hard-fought victory at home on Senior Night. I’m going to say those two factors created the final outcome and give the nod to Okie State in the rematch. Jawun Evans is a wizard, Jeffrey Carroll is a beast and OSU was as hot as just about anybody down the stretch. This could very easily be the game of the tournament, though, and should be a lot of fun to watch. The pick: Oklahoma State.

(1) Kansas vs. (9) Oklahoma, 1:30 p.m. — A little more than a week ago, OU had Kansas down 12 with less than 10 minutes to play in its own gym. And then the Jayhawks woke up and ran the Sooners out of the gym at the finish line. Even without Josh Jackson, who was suspended for Thursday’s Big 12 tourney opener, I think that’s the way this one starts and Kansas wins with relative ease, even if the Sooners don’t stop fighting. The pick: Kansas.

(2) West Virginia vs. (7) Texas Tech, 6 p.m. — Tech picked up a huge upset early in Big 12 play over the Mountaineers but a lot has happened since then and the Red Raiders will be asked to take on Press Virginia less than 24 hours after closing out Texas. Talk about a tough task. The pick: West Virginia.

(3) Baylor vs. (6) Kansas State, 8 p.m. — This is one of the more intriguing match-ups heading into the tournament. These two teams split during the regular season, with each winning on the other team’s home floor, and K-State is going to have to have this one in order to boost its chances at becoming the sixth team from the Big 12 to get into the Big Dance. I think the Wildcats have it in them. They looked like a Top 25 team at times this season — most notably in both match-ups with Kansas — and are playing not only for their postseason lives but for head coach Bruce Weber’s job. That’s a ton of motivation and a whole heck of a lot more to play for than anything Baylor can come up with. The Bears finished the year dropping three of their last six games (and five of their last 10) and will head into the NCAA Tournament as a 3 seed without a ton of confidence. Getting the game in Kansas City certainly doesn’t hurt the Wildcats here. The pick: K-State.

— Friday, March 10 —

(1) Kansas vs. (5) Oklahoma State, 6 p.m. — A rematch of the regular season finale in Stillwater, it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys playing as well as they did in a building that will be 80 percent full of Kansas fans. The Jayhawks have done a nice job of bottling up sharp-shooter Phil Forte and have the speed, athleticism and depth to match up with Evans and Carroll. I think it’ll be another terrific game, but I think it’ll look a lot like the match-up between these two at Allen Fieldhouse back in mid-January. The pick: Kansas.

(2) West Virginia vs. (6) Kansas State, 8 p.m. — An all-Sunflower State final and third clash between Kansas and Kansas State sure would be fun, but so would a third meeting between the best two teams in the Big 12. The Mountaineers force K-State into a ton of mistakes and Weber gets out-coached by Huggy Bear as West Virginia, which won the women’s tournament, cruises into the final for the second year in a row. The pick: West Virginia.

— Saturday, March 11 —

(1) Kansas vs. (2) West Virginia, 5 p.m. — Not only is this a rematch of that epic game in Lawrence earlier this season, where Kansas came from 14 down in the final three minutes to pull out an improbable victory, but it’s also a rematch of last season’s Big 12 tournament title game. Cue Devonte’ Graham. After hitting the Mountaineers for 27 points on 10 shots in last year’s title game, Graham goes off again, helping Kansas overcome another tough game against WVU by Frank Mason III and lending further support to Bill Self’s claim that, if you’re gonna get to the title game and play three games in three days, you might as well win the whole darn thing. Kansas stays red hot and prepares to enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed with a hard-fought win over a dangerous team and an assist from the Sprint Center crowd. The pick: Kansas.


Kansas men’s basketball team headed to Italy in August

The KU men's basketball team will play four exhibition games in Italy in August.

The KU men's basketball team will play four exhibition games in Italy in August. by Matt Tait

Arrivederci, Lawrence, Kansas. The Kansas Jayhawks are headed to Italy.

Long after the current Kansas men’s basketball team wraps up what has been an amazing 2016-17 season, the encore edition of those players who remain, along with any newcomers in the fold, will make a trip across the Atlantic Ocean for four exhibition games in Italy this summer.

The trip, which is slated for four games on Italian soil — two in Rome and two in Milan — will take place in early August and will be like past foreign trips taken by Kansas, which also has traveled to Canada, Switzerland, France and South Korea in recent years.

KU’s Williams Education Fund has put together travel packages for active members interested in joining the Jayhawks overseas, and the packages include tickets to all four games, air and ground transportation, hotel accommodations, guided tours, a reception with the team and more.

While the trip offers a wonderful chance for fans to explore Italy with a Kansas flare, the week-long escape to the heart of Italy (July 31-August 8) represents an opportunity for what figures to be a new-look team to come together on the basketball court, as well.

The Jayhawks are certain to lose seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas to graduation. Freshman Josh Jackson is likely NBA bound. And KU coach Bill Self has said that he expects both juniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk to at least test the NBA waters. Positive feedback from the pro ranks about their draft stock could lead to the departure of either or both of those players, as well.

The Jayhawks will have transfer guards Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe eligible to play in Italy and also should have big man Udoka Azubuike back in the mix from his injured wrist.

A trip like this will give that trio, along with newcomers Marcus Garrett, Billy Preston and whoever else Self signs in the 2017 recruiting class an opportunity to develop some chemistry and get used to playing together a couple of months before the official kickoff of the 2017-18 season.

KU’s games in Italy are scheduled for Aug. 2 and 3 in Rome and Aug. 5 and 6 in Milan.

For more information, contact the Williams Fund.


Big-time honors already rolling in for KU’s Frank Mason III

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) waves goodbye to the Baylor student section following the Jayhawks' 67-65 win , Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) waves goodbye to the Baylor student section following the Jayhawks' 67-65 win , Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

There’s still some voting to be done on the ones everybody will talk about, but now that the regular season is over and postseason play is under way, a number of national player of the year honors are starting to roll in.

And if the early returns are any indication of what’s to come, Kansas senior Frank Mason III better clear some space in his dorm room.

Mason, who led Kansas with 20.5 and 5.1 points and assists per game during KU’s 28-3 regular season, which ended with a 13th consecutive Big 12 title and No. 1 national ranking, already has picked up some serious praise for his sensational season that earned him Big 12 player of the year honors on Sunday.

Bobby Nightengale did a great job of looking back at why all of the Big 12 coaches voted for Mason as their conference player of the year — Mason was a unanimous pick, meaning he got the vote from the nine coaches allowed to vote for him — following the 2016-17 regular season.

And Bleacher Report on Sunday night named Mason their national player of the year. By mid-day Monday, NBC Sports had joined them. USA Today and The Sporting News followed suit on Monday by naming Mason a first-team All-American. Josh Jackson was named a second-team All-American by both publications.

Here are a couple of quick blurbs that support Mason earning the season honors.

From Bleacher Report:

The numbers are awesome, but what truly makes Mason the pick here is how clutch he’s been. He started the year with a buzzer-beater to take down Duke in the second game of the season. Kansas has also made a habit of playing from behind, and when the outlook looks bleak, Mason calmly rips the opponent's heart out.

He has the moments. He has the numbers. He has the wins. He made this pick easy. Frank Mason III is the Bleacher Report National Player of the Year.

From USA Today:

Frank Mason III, Sr., G, Kansas: There’s a very high bar to clear at Kansas. To become one of the Jayhawks' all-time greats — which coach Bill Self believes Mason is, and that his jersey will hang in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse — you have to be somewhat legendary. And Mason, an under-recruited kid who originally committed to Towson, has turned into just that over the course of a storied four-year career in Lawrence.

Perhaps most impressive: Just how consistently excellent Mason has been this year, as a senior, starting with a 30-point effort against Indiana and a buzzer-beater to beat Duke to open the year and 16 other games in which he scored at least 20 points. He’s averaged 20.5 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.2 apg this year.

From The Sporting News:

Mason’s consistency was staggering. He scored 20 points or more in 18 of Kansas’ 31 games, made at least 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in 17 games, passed for at least five assists in 19 games. He almost never had a bad night, which is the primary reason Kansas lost only three times. And let’s be honest about this: By the time the season’s final weeks arrived, Mason was no longer the Jayhawks’ obviously best player. Josh Jackson was dominant in that stretch. But Mason not only didn’t fight Jackson’s ascendance, he fueled it without ever losing a grip on what was making his own season extraordinary.

From NBC Sports:

Kansas isn’t as dominant as Kansas teams in the past have been. They’ve actually had some struggles this season, too often finding themselves trailing by double-figures in games they shouldn’t be trailing by double-figures. Ask people around that program, however, and what they’ll tell you is that Mason is probably the biggest reason why they were able to win some of the games that they won. He led the charge in the two biggest Kansas comebacks this season — coming from 14 points down in the final three minutes against West Virginia, or six points down in the final two minutes at Baylor — and was the guy who had the ball in his hands on the biggest possessions of a close game.

He was great in the biggest games of the year. He’s had his ‘Player of the Year Moments,’ whether it be the game-winning bucket against Duke, or the 21 points he had at Kentucky, or the 23 points and eight assists he had at Baylor. There are, without question, better NBA prospects in college basketball this season. But I don’t think there are any better college basketball players.

Stay tuned for more. This is likely just the beginning.


Postgame Report Card: Kansas 90, Oklahoma State 85

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets in for a lob dunk during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets in for a lob dunk during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 90-85 road win at Oklahoma State in the regular season finale in Stillwater, Okla.

Offense: A+

90 points, 55.7 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 76.5 percent from the free throw line (11 percentage points better than their season average), all in a hostile environment. The Kansas offense was terrific from start to finish and, perhaps most importantly, had an answer every time OSU made a run.

Defense: B

KU surrendered 85 points, but part of that was the product of Oklahoma State just flat-out playing. The Cowboy’s offense was nearly as good as Kansas’ but one of the biggest differences in the game was KU’s ability to string together stops. OSU shot 42.3 percent from the floor and made just 12 of a season-high 36 3-point attempts. Kansas also out-rebounded Oklahoma State, 42-30.

Frontcourt: A

Landen Lucas was rock solid, especially as a scoring threat in the post, and he even got help from Carlton Bragg Jr., in this one. Bragg finished with 11 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes and served as the perfect complement to Lucas, who finished with 10 points and 7 boards in 29 minutes.

Backcourt: A

Mason, Graham and Jackson all had big nights and Lagerald Vick’s only blemish on a 9-point, 8-rebound night was his three turnovers. Still, KU’s guards carried the day, all with another sub-par performance from struggling junior Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 3 points on two shots, four fouls and one turnover in 12 minutes.

Bench: B+

If KU gets the rest of the way what it got from Bragg and Vick in this one, the Jayhawks will be tough to beat. Both came off the bench and provided energy, production and a little spark in helping KU holding off the Cowboys.


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

Kansas guard Frank Mason III

Kansas guard Frank Mason III by Nick Krug

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

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

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

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

None by Dick Vitale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Offense: B

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

Defense: B+

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

Frontcourt: B

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

Backcourt: B+

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

Bench: B-

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


Senior Night at Kansas special for underclassmen too

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

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

Senior Night at Kansas is a special event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senior Nights Under Bill Self:

2017 - Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas, Tyler Self

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

2015 - Christian Garrett

2014 - Tarik Black, Niko Roberts, Justin Wesley

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

2012 - Tyshawn Taylor, Conner Teahan, Jordan Juenemann

2011 - Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Mario Little

2010 - Sherron Collins

2009 - Brennan Bechard, Matt Kleinmann

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

2007 - No Seniors on KU Roster

2006 - Jeff Hawkins, Stephen Vinson, Christian Moody

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

2004 - Brett Olson, Bryant Nash, Jeff Graves


Postgame Report Card: Kansas 87, TCU 68

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

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

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

Offense: A

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

Defense: B-

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

Frontcourt: B

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

Backcourt: A

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

Bench: B

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


KU’s favored by how many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two big moments should have the Fieldhouse bumping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should be a fun night either way.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time will tell. Stay tuned...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But props to Myers for speaking up.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Jackson after the game on the play:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The reason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Big 12 standings (as of Feb. 14)

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


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

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

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

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

Offense: B-

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

Defense: A-

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

Frontcourt: B-

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

Backcourt: A-

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

Bench: B

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