Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Let me start by saying I thought Wayne Selden's announcement — via press release — that he was returning to Kansas University for his junior season was handled perfectly.
Selden, who enjoyed a solid freshman season but took a step back in a few areas as a sophomore, sounded sincere, outlined several good reasons for his return and even addressed how motivated he was by his rough 2014-15 season.
Good on ya.
The problem, though — at least in my eyes and surely many of yours — is that I'm not really sure Selden needed to announce that he was returning in the first place.
The stay-or-go question posed to Selden after his freshman season was legitimate given his recruiting ranking, his productive season and the inevitable departure of his then-teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. But that same question was not really on the minds of those who follow KU basketball this time around.
Selden has talent. He has good size, can shoot the ball, is a terrific passer and has been trustworthy enough in the eyes of Bill Self to average roughly 30 minutes per game during his first two seasons as a Jayhawk. That last part is no small feat.
But I've often wondered what's driving Selden as a college athlete, and Friday's announcement only added to my curiosity.
To me, it seems Selden spends too much time worrying about his image — how he looks when he plays, how he's perceived in the eyes of all kinds of people and how he's talked about as a prospect. If he worried as much about consistently playing hard as he did about looking hard, I think he could become a serious impact guy and a future pro.
As it stands, he's been a pretty good college player and may very well be on his way to becoming a four-year player. Remember when that wasn't a bad thing?
Taking this a step further, this whole thing seems to be a cultural problem, though, not just a Selden problem.
So many college players these days, talented and otherwise, seem to feel like they're missing out or falling behind their peers — or, worse yet, the high school guys coming behind them — if they're not constantly thrusting themselves into the national conversation or following the ever-growing trend of self promotion that has turned college basketball into a spectacle at which even Hollywood would blush.
On the handful of 2015 NBA mock drafts I searched, Selden was listed on just one — and that was as a late second-round pick. No way that guy's going to jump to the NBA unless there were some extenuating circumstances that would make such a move necessary. With Selden there are none, which made his return to KU not only the right move but also the obvious one.
No need to announce it. No need to give it a second thought. Just get into the gym and go to work. Maybe doing that will make the question relevant again next year.
Regardless of how it was announced or whether it even needed to be, at least Selden made the right move and didn't allow outside influences or his own ego to send him down the wrong path.
That's something. And it should be very interesting to see what the Wayne Selden Experience 3.0 looks like.
Wayne Selden By The Numbers
2013-14: 9.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 53% 2pt, 36% 3pt, 25 steals, 66 turnovers
2014-15: 9.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 39% 2pt, 37% 3pt, 21 steals, 70 turnovers
With Cliff Alexander officially announcing his decision to leave school after one season on Tuesday, we can finish the chapter of Kansas University's one-and-done players, at least for another year.
Alexander and teammate Kelly Oubre, who announced his decision to turn pro a week earlier, become the sixth and seventh KU players to go the one-and-done route and, as many of you surely know, the results of those one-year runs by some incredibly talented players have been fairly mixed.
Despite the high rankings, McDonald's All-American tags and enormous hype and hope surrounding all seven of these players, very few of them actually lived up to what you expect from these types of players or, in some ways, what you see from one-and-done ballers at other schools.
There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is simply bad luck, but it's definitely not necessarily a KU problem.
Take Alexander, for instance. He would've been welcomed onto the roster of pretty much any program in the country, and, although he might have performed better at different places, his overall adjustment to the college game seemed like a struggle. It's safe to say then that Alexander may just have ended up being a bust no matter where he went to school. Then again, maybe not.
Such is life when covering, coaching and predicting one-and-done players. And it will be that way until something drastic changes, which may never happen.
With that in mind, here's a quick look back at the one-and-dones KU has welcomed into the fold throughout the past several seasons along with my ranking of how they performed while at Kansas.
• JOEL EMBIID • Injury limited the 7-footer from Cameroon to just 28 games during his lone season at Kansas, but boy was he impressive during those 28 games. After a relatively slow start in which he came off the bench for the first seven games of the 2013-14 season, Embiid finished with 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Modest numbers, to be sure, but when you project those out over 40 minutes (19.4, 14.0, 4.5) or 100 possessions (28.2, 20.5, 6.5) it clearly demonstrates the impact that Embiid had on the game. Of course, you did not need numbers to see that for yourself. It was very obvious that KU was a completely different team with Embiid and without him and his absence in the NCAA Tournament played a huge role in the Jayhawks going home early. As good and as important to that team as Andrew Wiggins was, one could make the case that had he been the one who was injured and Embiid stayed healthy, KU would've advanced to the second weekend. Drafted: No. 3 overall in 2014 draft by Philadelphia.
• BEN MCLEMORE • McLemore was on a darn good team during the one season he was eligible to play at Kansas, but his all-around game was a huge reason for that. The smooth shooting St. Louis native averaged 15.9 points per game and made 42 percent of his three-point shots. There were times during the middle of the 2012-13 season when McLemore was in such a zone that it seemed like 15 points per night was automatic. He also rebounded well for his position (5.2 per game) and worked defensively. Sure, he fit well into the veteran team around him, but McLemore rarely passed up shots he needed to take and was an absolute highlight machine in transition. Drafted: No. 7 overall in 2013 draft by Sacramento.
• ANDREW WIGGINS • As was the case throughout his time at KU, Wiggins probably fell to third on this list because it was impossible for him to live up to the ridiculous hype that surrounded him when he arrived in Lawrence. I was never one who thought Wiggins was anything other than fantastic as a Jayhawk, I just think those two guys above him had better seasons. Wiggins' importance to his team was undeniable. He led KU in scoring, free throw shooting, played lock-down defense and ripped down six rebounds a game, many of them coming on the offensive end on his own misses. The truth of the matter is Wiggins and McLemore finished their KU careers with incredibly similar single-season statistics, but because McLemore's came without much hype and Wiggins' numbers were “disappointing” given that most of the free world believed he would average 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 dunks per game. Unfair? You bet. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that Wiggins' one season in Lawrence was anything other than extremely solid. The early tournament exit and his no-show in his final game in a KU uniform certainly hurt people's memory of his time here. Drafted: No. 1 overall by Cleveland.
• XAVIER HENRY • On a team loaded with veterans, Henry was actually pretty solid. He finished with 13.4 points-per-game average and also chipped in 4.4 rebounds, a couple of steals and a couple of assists per game, all while drilling 42 percent of his three-point shots. The thing is, on a different team or even in a different time, Henry could have — and likely would have — been a guy that a coach built an entire offense around. He was a great spot-up shooter, had the frame needed to drive to the rim, hit 78 percent of his free throws and was athletic and quick in transition. He could've been an amazing player who put up huge numbers and delivered highlights night in and night out. But because he was such a good dude, such a solid team player and, let's face it, still such a kid, he happily deferred to guys like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. Henry left KU with tears. Based on the way his pro career has played out, it might not have been a bad idea for him to come back for his sophomore season and fine-tune those alpha dog skills. Drafted: No. 12 overall by Memphis.
• KELLY OUBRE • It took Oubre a while to get going, but once he did, he had plenty of nights where he looked like the Jayhawks' most valuable player. For the first 10 or so games of the season, Oubre could barely get off the bench. But after cracking the starting lineup mid-way through the season, Oubre started every Big 12 game except one (Senior night) and started every game of the postseason. When he was on, he was on, whether that meant getting to the free throw line or raining from three-point range. And, defensively, he used his length and drive to frustrate opponents and help on the boards. But he never truly developed into a highly skilled offensive player and struggled to use his off hand throughout the season. Those skills are the type that can be honed in the NBA, where working on his game will be his full-time job, and Oubre's time as KU likely will be remembered by most as solid but not spectacular. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• CLIFF ALEXANDER • Alexander avoided the cellar on this list because of his solid production out of the gate and the way he impacted games when he was able to play double-digit minutes or greater. His double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse was critical and his early-season strategy of go-get-the-rebound-and-dunk-it helped him break out quickly. But as the demands from the coaching staff grew, Alexander struggled to stay caught up and that left him watching from the bench more often than not. Add to that his eligibility mess that kept him out of the final eight games of the season and it's hard to call Alexander's lone season as a Jayhawk anything other than a disappointment. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• JOSH SELBY • The No. 1 ranked player in his recruiting class sure knew how to make an entrance. But after his hot-shooting, 21-point game against USC in his first game as a Jayhawk (after a nine-game suspension due to eligibility concerns) Selby pretty much disappeared for the rest of the 2010-11 season. A lingering foot injury contributed to some of his lack of production, but the Baltimore native never appeared to fully buy in or get into the flow during his one year of college ball. He averaged 7.9 points per game and made 36 percent of his three-point attempts but played just 20.4 minutes per game and shot just 38 percent from the field overall. Drafted: No. 49 overall by Memphis in second round of 2011 NBA Draft.
Other than the 80-plus degree temperatures that made the Memorial Stadium turf feel like it would in the middle of a summer day, the main thing that jumped out to me at Monday and Tuesday's sixth and seventh spring practices for the KU football program was the attention to detail and fundamentals stressed by every coach during every drill.
On Tuesday — as is the case on most days — special teams coach Gary Hyman was the man flying around the field yelling and screaming about technique, steps, shoulders and leverage.
He's a blast to watch because he's so passionate about what he does and he puts every ounce of what he's got and who he is into every rep. The Jayhawks would be in great shape if they had a bunch of Gary Hymans to suit up and play this fall.
But they don't, so he's doing the best he can to mold them into guys who have his personality. I can't imagine what it's like to play for him, but it's a lot of fun and very informative to watch him work. He's equal parts praise and critique and you have to listen carefully to the words to determine which is which because his voice and tone rarely change.
Whether it's “Goooood, that's the way to do it, son,” or “Why did you let him get outside of you,” Hyman puts his signature roar on each teaching point.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye during Monday and Tuesday's practices:
• One of Monday's most interesting special teams drills involved a volleyball. Yep. A volleyball. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane was working with guys on rushing the punter and instead of using a football, the mock punter had a volleyball and simply flipped it with his hands whenever guys got close enough to get a block. They did this drill from a full 10 yards back and also did it from a couple of feet away, where they simulated running with their arms and then just flipped their hands out when Kane blew the whistle. This was just one of the many special teams drills that they did during the past two days, but it was cool to see how seriously the guys were taking it. Fundamentals reign supreme.
• In case you missed it, also on Monday, 5-star Antioch, California, running back Najee Harris, 6-2, 220 pounds, was on campus for an official visit. It was Harris' second visit to KU in a month and, although he's just a sophomore, the interest in the program seems to be genuine.
• Moving on to Tuesday, tackling was a huge emphasis of the portion of practice that we were able to see. I'm sure it is every day in a number of different ways, but the focus on wrapping up and bringing guys down really jumped out to me during this one. Kevin Kane ran a station that focused solely on wrapping up at the line of scrimmage. Every position group but the offensive line and quarterbacks came through it, even the wide receivers. Clint Bowen and Kenny Perry also ran tackling drills with mats and bags. The one thing Kane kept yelling over and over — other than great things like, “Holy Moses,” after a poor rep — was: “Guys, you've gotta get better at tackling. You've gotta get better at tackling.” Continued effort like they showed on Tuesday certainly won't hurt.
• Speaking of Kane, by far the most hilarious portion of Tuesday's practice came when “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival blared over the loud speaker. Kane, who must be a CCR fan, started barking at the players at his station at the time, “Who sings this?” “Who sings it?” “Who. Sings. This. Song.” Each time, the Jayhawks delivered a shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders. I can't say I expected any of them to know the answer, but watching Kane try to coach it out of them was hysterical. Finally, after about a minute, he gave up and told them. I'm not sure the actual answer rang any bells either. Good stuff.
• This is really nothing new, but it's pretty impressive what kind of shape this coaching staff is in. These guys look good, they move well and they clearly have made fitness an important part of their lives. It's easy, when you work the kind of hours that these guys work, to let that area of your life slip, but these guys — many of them young dudes — have not done that. That kind of example can only help, especially when it allows them to jump into drills and join in the conditioning elements of practice.
• As for specific players who have stood out the past couple of days, defensive end Damani Mosby continues to look like a man possessed. He goes hard every single rep (at least the ones that I've seen) and, physically, looks like the kind of guy who could make a significant impact on the field this fall. Another guy who looks good is Ronnie Davis. He's still a work in progress in some areas, but, physically, he's put together well and, like Mosby, he goes all out all the time.
• To be fair to the KU wideouts, who have struggled with drops at times this spring, there was a deep ball fade and back-shoulder drill they did while we were out there and I only saw one ball hit the turf. They ran this on one side of the field from the 40 yard line in and then lined up in the end zone on the other side of the field and ran it from the goal line out. Minor detail, but it's this kind of efficiency that KU coach David Beaty has always been impressed by and it's no surprise that he's incorporating a whole bunch of it into his first practices as a college head coach.
• Now at the halfway point of spring football, the Jayhawks will be off Wednesday and Thursday and return to the field on Friday for practice No. 8 of 15 scheduled for the spring. The final date will be the annual spring game, which is scheduled for April 25.
The 2014-15 college basketball season may just have ended — in thrilling fashion, no less; I mean, how about those Kentucky-Wisconsin and Duke-Wisconsin games to finish things off! — but there are plenty of people already looking ahead to the 2015-16 season, which is still six months away.
The folks in Lawrence, Kansas, certainly make up a large chunk of that group, as Jayhawk fans are always in basketball mode and the intensity only grows after a disappointing tournament exit like the one the Jayhawks suffered a few weeks ago.
With that in mind, let's take a quick ride down Prognosticator Place, where several national college basketball writers were bold enough to post their “way too early Top 25” lists for the 2015-16 season.
As you'll see, the Jayhawks were given a lot of love from these guys, just like they seemingly always are.
8. Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks will look awfully familiar in 2015-16. Freshman wing Kelly Oubre Jr. began the season in shaky form, turned into a reliable slasher, and still provided a minor shock when he announced his decision to turn pro. That may be the Jayhawks' only notable departure. Oubre's highly touted classmate, Cliff Alexander, proved to be too raw to play a major role as a freshman; he could benefit as much as any player in the the sport from another year in the Bill Self developmental churn. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III and Brannen Greene -- who should slide into Oubre's spot, and provide more 3-point shooting in the exchange -- are the same group that fended off a brutal Big 12 for KU's 11th straight regular-season title. Throw in Top-25 recruit Carlton Bragg, and there's no inherent reason to expect anything less from the Jayhawks in the year to follow.
Key losses: F Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander (projected to leave)
Key returners: G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, F Perry Ellis, G Devonte Graham, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Brannen Greene G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Notable newcomers: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Thanks to the anticipated return of point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wings Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas appears pretty loaded on the perimeter. What will determine whether the Jayhawks extend their Big 12 title streak and make a deeper NCAA tournament run next March is how they address a series of questions about their frontcourt. Will all-conference forward Perry Ellis return for his senior season? Can heralded incoming freshman Carlton Bragg make an immediate impact? Will Kansas further bolster its frontcourt by landing spring targets Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo or Thon Maker? The return of Ellis would be critical because he was Kansas’ lone low-post scoring threat this past season. Undersized forward Jamari Traylor and reserves Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson are all back too, but each are better suited for backup roles. If Ellis returns and Kansas adds another big man to its class, the Jayhawks could be poised for a special season. If Ellis unexpectedly turns pro, there will be pressure on Bragg and any other incoming freshmen to develop a college-ready low-post game quickly.
Notable players definitely gone: Kelly Oubre
Others expected to leave: Cliff Alexander
Notable players expected to return: Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Jamari Traylor, Brannen Greene, Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Landen Lucas
Others expected to join the roster: Carlton Bragg
Why the Jayhawks are ranked here: KU's roster will lack starpower. But so many quality pieces from a Big 12 championship team are returning that it would be silly to have Kansas outside of the top five. In other words, yes, the Jayhawks should win a 12th straight league title next season -- unless one of the next two teams listed wins the Big 12 instead.
No. 7 Kansas
Why They're Here: Consistency. Even with losing Kelly Oubre and likely Cliff Alexander, Kansas has a veteran core returning. As long as Perry Ellis doesn't leave for the NBA as well, Bill Self will have four of the five guys back who were starting at the end of the season. The Jayhawks will also be banking on a big jump for Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Even though he only played 11.2 minutes per game and had 10 DNPs this year, NBA scouts considered the Ukrainian KU's best pro prospect. Mykhailiuk turns 18 in June and has the ability to be an All-Big 12 wing if he's able to relax and just play—he often looked sped up and nervous as a 17-year-old freshman.
Greatest Asset: Guard play. Frank Mason made a huge leap his sophomore season—averaging 12.6 points and 3.9 assists per game—and he should continue to improve. Wayne Selden has been a bit of a disappointment at Kansas because of his inconsistencies, but there's a reason scouts once viewed him as a first-round prospect. If Mykhailiuk doesn't assert himself, Self has plenty of options. Backup point guard Devonte' Graham came on strong at the end of the year, and Brannen Greene is a knockdown shooter who is a nice asset when his shot is falling.
Will Change If... Ellis leaves or Self adds another blue-chipper or two. There are rumblings that Ellis will consider skipping his senior season. Self is also still in the mix for several of the top unsigned players.
And, of course, we can't forget Joey Brackets, who already has unveiled the first edition of his ESPN.com feature, Bracketology, which has KU listed as a 3 seed in the Midwest, where North Carolina and Roy Williams loom as the No. 1 seed.
Let the countdown begin!
We've reached April, known in NFL circles as draft month, and it's time to do some quick inventory on the former Jayhawks hoping to get their chance to catch on with an NFL team for the 2015 season and possibly beyond.
As you know, Ben Heeney and JaCorey Shepherd are the former Jayhawks most likely to get drafted in the April 30-May 2 draft, which will take place in Chicago, but there are more than a few other guys from last year's team who figure to get their shot.
Let's start with Heeney and Shepherd and go down the list. As you may have seen, both guys continue to show up on various mock drafts that attempt to predict how this year's draft will play out. The most recent deep mock draft I've seen, a five-round mock draft done by Eddie Brown of the San Diego Union-Tribune, had both Heeney and Shepherd hearing their names called in this year’s draft. Brown has Heeney going as a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals at pick No. 123 overall. He has Shepherd slotted one round later, as the fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos at pick No. 164. As you know, Denver already has former Jayhawks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib in its secondary (along with Steven Johnson at linebacker), but the Broncos snagged Harris as an undrafted free agent and went after Talib during free agency two years ago. Maybe it's time they actually drafted a Jayhawk. Time will tell.
Speaking of Shepherd, it's worth noting that the former KU wide receiver turned cornerback who was invited to the NFL Combine but could not participate because of a hamstring injury ran his 4.65-second 40-yard dash time at KU's pro day in late March with a torn hamstring. Several scouts on hand that day came solely to see what Shepherd could do, and even though his 4.65 time was slower than the 4.4 range he had hoped, the fact that he ran that decent of a time with a severe injury showed the scouts plenty.
According to his Kansas City-based trainer, Dexter McDonald's Pro Day, which included some of day's best numbers and times across the board, may have been enough to get teams seriously interested in drafting him. Joseph Potts, a former KU football player and owner of Top Speed Sports Performance, said McDonald's agent recently told him that a few teams have mentioned the possibility of taking McDonald in rounds 3-5 and added that both Oakland and Arizona were planning to fly McDonald out to their headquarters to meet with him and show him around. McDonald, who was fabulous in 2013 and merely solid in 2014, definitely has the athleticism, size, ball skills and toughness to get a shot. Whether that comes via the draft or not remains to be seen.
Former KU defensive tackle Keon Stowers is another guy hearing good things from a few NFL clubs. Stowers, who tore his right pectoral muscle during the bench press portion of KU's pro day after appearing to be well on his way to 25 or 30 reps, is stuck rehabbing now and won't be able to go full speed for at least a few more weeks. Still, several scouts told Stowers that they liked what they had seen on film and that he should expect a phone call following the draft.
I haven't heard too much about KU's trio of wide receivers — Nigel King, Nick Harwell and Tony Pierson — but it seems like a safe bet that at least two of the three will get invited to a camp if they're not drafted. Because of his size, great hands and solid pro day numbers, King figures to be the guy with the best shot in this bunch. But Harwell was productive throughout his career and is a dependable route runner with good hands, so it seems like he should at least get a shot, as well. Pierson, though blazing fast, is probably a bit of a long shot given his size, lack of a true position and injury history.
Tight end Jimmay Mundine is another guy who could be flying under the radar a little bit. I've heard that several teams are intrigued by his physical make up and versatility. He could be used as a second tight end or even flipped to fullback or H back in the right offenses. Mundine really helped himself at pro day, with numbers and times that were better than most expected.
Other than those guys, Victor Simmons, Cassius Sendish, Michael Reynolds, Tedarian Johnson and Trevor Pardula (a combine invitee) also are hoping to catch the right eye during the next few weeks and earn an invitation to show what they can do.
Thursday's KU football practice included the first full-on scrimmage of the spring, which, according to the feedback gathered from social media, went pretty well.
We were only able to stay for the first 20 minutes of practice, so we did not get to see how the 11-on-11 action looked when things were run full speed and the hitting was live. That's probably just as well. It's far too early — and there are way too many players missing, either because of injury or because they have not enrolled yet — to make too many definitive calls on what this team looks like or how it plays.
That said, there were plenty of things that caught my eye prior to our departure and the beginning of the scrimmage.
Here's a quick recap:
• Like the defense with the red pants the other day, the offense suited up for practice in gray pants on Thursday. Who knows why? And it's clearly not that big of a deal. Could be as simple as if you've got 'em, you may as well use 'em. But I'll definitely ask to see if there's any more to it.
• Strength coach Je'Ney Jackson hit the field with a bull horn during the early portion of practice. Word is, he was tired of trying to yell over the music. Can't blame him, either. Even with the bull horn, it was hard to hear him. But you can be sure that the players have no difficulty knowing exactly what he wants and expects, booming voice or not.
• Thursday's practice took place entirely in Memorial Stadium, most likely because they were going to scrimmage and did not want to waste time moving from one field to the other. Most days, KU starts on the practice fields and then moves into the stadium for the final 30-45 minutes, when they run seven-on-seven drills and live 11-man offense. It's during this part of practice when they keep track of how many plays they run in how many minutes. Earlier this week, OC Rob Likens said he did not keep track the same way head coach David Beaty does, so the only numbers we have to go on are still those 94 plays in 44 minutes and 92 plays in 42 minutes that we heard after the first two days of spring. By comparison in terms of tempo and urgency, it looks as if they've done about that same number during the days since. Likens said he would start to keep track more when fall camp rolls around but right now his entire focus is on fundamentals and installation.
• The KU defense was flying around like wild men during Thursday's practice. It may have just been a coincidence and it may have just been for that drill, but the way KU's DBs and Linebackers were practicing on Thursday leads me to believe that group has plans to be ultra-aggressive this fall. Several guys in both units recorded multiple pass break-ups and even when a receiver caught a ball, he was smacked immediately. This makes sense given the fact that the coaching staff, so far, has identified the D-Line as the strength of this KU defense. The faster the guys up front can get to the quarterback and force the ball out, the more aggressive the guys behind them can be without fear of getting burned or having to cover too long. Should be interesting to see how that holds up, but it's quite clear that both Kenny Perry and Clint Bowen want this group to play physical, aggressive football.
• Speaking of this drill, there were quite a few wide receiver drops during the time we were out there. Now that's not the end of the world and it was just one or two drills, but it just gives you an indication of how far that group has to go and how wide open that competition for playing time truly is. At this point, it looks as if the guys who can make plays on a consistent basis — regardless of age, size or experience — will be the guys who get on the field the fastest.
While the addition of new Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart to the Big 12 certainly figures to have a major impact on the balance of power in the conference, it still will take the new kid on the block several years to unseat KU coach Bill Self as the best in the league.
That much is almost impossible to argue, save for a few Iowa State fans who probably really like their guy and even a few Baylor people who believe Scott Drew does not get enough credit.
Outside of that, though, it's Self and everyone else. I mean, look no further than the 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles for all the support you need. Oh, and Self's record outside of the conference, in the tournament and on the recruiting trail is pretty decent, as well.
Having said that, adding Smart to the Big 12 is an incredibly exciting prospect that got me thinking about just how good the coaches in this league were. I hopped on Twitter a couple of nights ago to explain how impressive I thought the top-tier trio of Self, Fred Hoiberg and Smart was and, while several of my fabulous followers whole-heartedly agreed, others quickly came to the defense of the guys I did not mention. What about this guy? What about that guy?
What about a blog explaining exactly how I think the men's basketball coaching rankings unfold in the Big 12.
I asked a couple other guys in the office to give me their lists as well and will include those at the end. For now, though, here's how I think the Big 12's hoops bosses stack up.
In case you can't tell, I'm incredibly excited about seeing Smart join the conference and I don't think I'm alone.
1. BILL SELF, KANSAS – For the reasons outlined above and so many others, the guy easily sits at the top of the coaching food chain in what has proven to be a heck of a regular season conference. His accomplishments speak for themselves, but one thing that really hammers home his place at the top of this list is the fact that Self won Big 12 title No. 11 this year, guided an incredibly young team to 27 victories against the nation's toughest schedule, entered the Big Dance as a 2 seed — the sixth year in a row KU had been either a 1 or a 2 — and yet the season was wildly regarded throughout Jayhawk nation and in other parts of the world as an extreme disappointment. That's incredible. That's some Godfather stuff, right there.
2. FRED HOIBERG, IOWA STATE – You can't argue with what Hoiberg has done at his alma mater. He's a fantastic X's and O's coach, recruits the right players for his system and is a master at finding talented transfers to plug into his roster in order to assure that there will be no drop off from year to year. His head-to-head record against Self is pretty impressive during the past few years and you kind of get the feeling that Hoiberg's only getting better.
3. SHAKA SMART, TEXAS – I think this guy will be a beast at Texas. He'll get players. His players will love him. And he'll bring a tenacious style of play and provide the program with a serious and much-needed dose of excitement and enthusiasm that, basically overnight, could turn UT back into a place that will be incredibly tough to play and a potential sleeping giant on the national scene. It may not happen immediately, but don't be surprised if it does. How cool is it that Shaka's coming to Allen Fieldhouse every year for the foreseeable future.
4. LON KRUGER, OKLAHOMA – All he's done everywhere he's been is win. From K-State to Florida, to Illinois, UNLV and now OU, you don't rack up 561 victories over 29 seasons without knowing what you're doing and doing it well. And you don't get jobs at all of those places without being the kind of guy who gets kids to play the right way and also takes care of all of those other elements of what it means to be a student-athlete unless you can flat-out coach. Kruger's teams typically are tough, gritty teams that run good offense and always find a way to win ballgames. Kruger-coached teams have won fewer than 20 games just one time in the last nine years. And that was his first season at OU, where he has increased his win total during each of his four seasons.
5. BOB HUGGINS, WEST VIRGINIA – A master at taking the players he has and fitting them into a system that can win, Huggins, despite his wild and crazy persona, is so often overlooked in today's game. This guy is still one of the best in the business and the reason is simple — he demands perfection from his players and settles for nothing less. That doesn't mean he always gets it, but more times than not he gets the kind of effort that can lead to some seriously good basketball.
6. SCOTT DREW, BAYLOR – KU fans like to clown Drew, but I think it's tough to argue that the guy's pretty good at what he does. Of late, this season notwithstanding, Drew's Baylor teams, of all the squads in the conference, have most consistently played deep into the NCAA Tournament. Two Elite Eights and one Sweet 16 in five seasons has a pretty nice ring to it. And I don't think anyone will argue his ability to get talented players to Waco.
7. TRENT JOHNSON, TCU – This guy should probably be higher. He's a fantastic coach who started at TCU with a light deck and has scratched and clawed and grinded his way into fielding competitive teams. The jump the Frogs made from 2013-14 to 2014-15 was as impressive as any team in the conference. Part of that was Johnson working his butt off on the recruiting trail and the other part of it was the way he runs his program, practices, in-game coaching and off-the-court responsibilities. A demanding coach with winning records at Nevada, Stanford and LSU, Johnson is well on his way to following suit in Fort Worth.
8. TRAVIS FORD, OKLAHOMA STATE – It's not just our site that has its doubts about Ford, just last week news broke out of Stillwater that said the school was looking into whether moving forward with Ford as the leader of the basketball program was the right move. Ouch. Ford's had some great moments at OSU, and he, too, has been able to attract some serious talent to a not-so-attractive place. But his ability to get that talent playing on the same page consistently and with the kind of effort needed to be a top-half program night in and night out has left a little to be desired. That said, he still has a darn good basketball mind and the fact that he's listed eighth here is just another sign of how good of a basketball conference the Big 12 is.
9. BRUCE WEBER, K-STATE – Give him some talent and he'll coach it to great things. Ask him to build something of substance that will stand the test of time and you might find yourself wishing you hadn't. That's been the book on Weber at both Illinois and K-State and it's hard to call it anything other than fair. He did a great job with Self's players at Illinois and with Frank Martin's guys at K-State, but as soon as those wells ran dry, things got a little testy and people started to question Weber. He heads into his fourth season desperately needing to reverse the trend of watching his win total dip each season. If he doesn't, it could be on to head coach No. 4 in the past 10 seasons for the Wildcats.
10. TUBBY SMITH, TEXAS TECH — Unfortunately for Smith, we're talking about Big 12 coaches as they stand today. Otherwise, with his track record, he clearly would be higher on this list for his achievements at Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia and Tulsa. But now is now and Smith definitely does not seem like the same coach he once was. Don't get me wrong, the Red Raiders should be thrilled to have him and you never know, with all of that past success, when he'll be able to get things rolling again. But the Red Raiders roster I saw this season was among the worst I've seen since the Big 12 was formed and it doesn't exactly look as if that's going to change drastically any time soon.
With that, I give you a quick look at the way Benton Smith and Tom Keegan rank the Big 12's men's basketball coaches.
— BENTON SMITH —
- Bill Self, KU
- Shaka Smart, UT
- Fred Hoiberg, ISU
- Bob Huggins, WVU
- Lon Kruger, OU
- Scott Drew, BU
- Trent Johnson, TCU
- Tubby Smith, TTU
- Travis Ford, OSU
- Bruce Weber, KSU
— TOM KEEGAN —
- Bill Self, KU
- Bob Huggins, WVU
- Fred Hoiberg, ISU
- Shaka Smart, UT
- Lon Kruger, OU
- Trent Johnson, TCU
- Tubby Smith, TTU
- Scott Drew, BU
- Travis Ford, OSU
- Bruce Weber, KSU
Although the first things that truly caught my eye at Tuesday's KU football practice — No. 4 of the spring season — were the red pants worn by the defense (first time I can recall seeing that in the past six years), the presence of a former KU quarterback stole the show while the Jayhawks stretched and warmed up.
Mark Williams, who engineered that solid 10-2 season in 1995 and helped KU finish ranked ninth in the final AP poll, was in attendance to watch his alma mater run through drills, albeit in an entirely new environment than anything he remembered seeing during his playing days.
Williams, 42, recently relocated back to Lawrence by transferring within his job and said he was thrilled to be back.
As far as him showing up for practice, Williams said KU had done a great job of reaching out to him during the past few years and added that he often found something from Kansas waiting for him in his mailbox.
Williams seemed thrilled to be back on the field and even looked like he could still play if given the chance.
Here's the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice, the first of the spring in which we were asked to leave early as had been normal in the past.
• Quick look at the updated offensive line: The first stringers on Tuesday, left to right, were Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, Junior Visinia and Larry Mazyck. The second group included: Devon Williams, Joe Bloomfield, Jacob Bragg, D'Andre Banks and Jayson Rhodes. Again, don't read too much into any of this, but it's always worth keeping an eye on. As for guys who stood out. Shelley-Smith looks to be getting more comfortable every day and I thought Peters moved well, especially on some of the guard pulls and running plays where he had to cover some distance.
• As Beaty mentioned on Day 1, Corey Avery has been very limited this spring because of a shoulder injury and that has opened the door for some other guys to get some solid reps. Juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner lined up with the ones on Tuesday and Taylor Cox ran with the twos. Kinner has been getting first-team reps throughout the spring and it looks like his speed could help the KU offense replace Tony Pierson. At quarterback, Montell Cozart ran with the first offense (at least for the portion of practice we saw), followed by Michael Cummings. That battle, as you surely know by now, will be ongoing and will not be limited to just those two guys.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, I haven't been able to see too much of the offense yet, but what I have seen has included a lot of movement by the quarterbacks. Both Cummings nad Cozart have been asked to keep the ball and run, roll out and throw and move the pocket. Even with that, the ball has come out quick and KU really seems to be emphasizing quick passes to easy targets and taking care of blocks down the field to get those guys positive yardage.
• As is common, Tuesday's practice began with a heavy dose of special teams work. Even though that's not that unusual, the way these guys work is. The whole thing is incredibly well organized and seems to have more of a game-prep, walk-through feel to it than a meaningless drill in a spring practice. Everywhere at every moment, these coaches are urging their guys to find a way to get better even in the smallest area.
Saturday afternoon news broke that the Texas Longhorns were prepared to move on from men's basketball coach Rick Barnes after 17 seasons.
Regardless of whether it goes down as a firing, a resignation or a force-out, the mere fact that Barnes is moving on and the UT job is open ushers in a wildly exciting time for the Big 12 Conference.
That job, because of a talented returning roster, UT's relatively solid history of success and the resources and money available to turn that program into a force, will attract some of the best candidates in college basketball.
We're not just talking about guys who are looking to make a nice little jump. We're talking about guys who would be candidates at some of the country's best basketball schools if those jobs were open.
Kansas. North Carolina. Duke. Michigan State. Shaka Smart. Gregg Marshall. Ben Jacobson. Archie Miller. And more.
But forget about the candidate pool, which guys have a real shot and what direction the Longhorns want to go. That, right now, is anybody's guess and all those of us observing from afar have to go off of is the recent hiring of Charlie Strong as UT's football coach. Given that the hoops job is a completely different animal, I'm not sure that helps lead us to any quality predictions.
What we can predict, though, is how much the hire — whoever it ends up being — will impact the Big 12 and Kansas.
Let's say, for a second, that Marshall is the guy. Just like that, KU coach Bill Self will go from not knowing when he'll get another crack at Marshall, whose Wichita State team ended Self and KU's season a week ago in Omaha, to two guaranteed match-ups with the guy year in and year out.
That's an awesome scenario to envision. And could immediately breathe life back into the KU-Texas battles and make it the marquee rivalry in the conference.
If it's not Marshall and the Longhorns go with a guy like Smart, you're looking at a scary situation in which a sleeping giant could be awoken.
Smart is so beloved by his players, would be able to recruit top-tier talent to Austin and, beyond that, would bring a nasty style of play to the conference that could give teams fits.
If it's me making the hire, I'm going after Smart and not taking no for an answer.
But regardless of who the Texas administration goes after, they'll have enough high-quality candidates to make it nearly impossible to mess this one up.
All that remains to be seen is how big of a splash the new UT hoops coach will make on the rest of the Big 12.
Reports have said they'd like to make the hire quickly, perhaps by the end of the coming week. Can't wait to see who it is.
Here's the deal about Saturday's 10 a.m. KU football practice which wound up lasting three hours and featured a — it neither looked like an early-morning practice nor one that took place on the third day of spring ball.
The energy was way up, even by David Beaty's standards, the intensity was through the roof and the effort, emotion and urgency were all as good as I've seen so far this spring.
Credit a lot of that to the fact that today's practice was the first for the Jayhawks in full pads, but credit the rest of it to the coaching staff for demanding it and the players for delivering.
After the stretching portion of practice, the Jayhawks ran over to huddle up for their pre-practice instructions. Not good enough. Beaty made them go back to their spots and do it again, with assistant coaches yelling all around, “Urgency, urgency, urgency.” “I better see some energy out here today.” “Let's go get it.”
Pretty soon, this will merely be the standard for this KU team. But until everyone is used to it, it will still seem pretty impressive.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Saturday's practice:
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens is a master communicator. He speaks clearly, makes it known exactly what he's looking for at all times and has the patience to explain it thoroughly — even going as far as to show it himself if he has to — when guys don't quite get something. This was evident throughout the day, but particularly during a drill designed to teach slant keys and concepts to the wide receivers. With each rep, Likens barked out orders: “Better toe stick. Eyes back. Look the ball in.” That last request was another theme of the day for Likens, who actually took his sunglasses off while yelling at a running back at one point so they didn't fall off of his face when he screamed, “Look the ball all the way in to your tuck.” He kept yelling it. But it didn't take the Jayhawks long to understand the importance of following those orders and carrying them out.
• KU coach David Beaty stepped in to play a little quarterback during a drill for the cornerbacks. Not surprisingly, Beaty had a little zip on his ball and even overthrew it a few times. Probably too jacked up. This concept of coaches jumping into drills is commonplace all over the field. Likens served as a defensive end and Klint Kubiak worked as a cornerback during an option drill. Calvin Thibodeaux and Kevin Kane jumped in and did up-downs with the defense after the offense got the better of a short-yardage drill in which the offensive line helped KU's running backs score four times out of seven against the D-Line in a heated competition at the mid-point of practice that featured the offensive players not participating crowding the 50 yard line and the defensive players not involved crowded the 45 yard line. It made for a hostile scene and tempers and emotions ran hot. As Beaty said the other day, there's a competition aspect in just about everything the Jayhawks do out there.
• I thought It was pretty cool how much the coaches emphasized communication. A lot of these players have been role players during the past few seasons and have not had to be vocal leaders. But the coaches are trying to change that. At one point, at almost the exact same time, I heard Likens yell from one field, “You're too quiet, guys,” while co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry yelled from the other field, “I didn't hear a thing,” to his cornerbacks. Again, soon that will be something the coaches don't have to remind these guys of. But, for now, they're not taking anything for granted.
• Speaking of Perry and yelling, during one drill, he jumped on his veteran cornerbacks for letting a walk-on who had been in the program for just three days jump to the front of the line ahead of them to start a drill. It's not that Perry didn't want the young guy to get the reps, he just wanted to see the veterans want to be the guys who led things off. They did the rest of the practice.
• Junior defensive end Anthony Olobia continues to look sharp and quick out there, but on Saturday he showed some toughness, too. After landing awkwardly following a rep in a D-Line drill, Olobia came up limping and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen immediately sent Damani Mosby in to take his spot. Rather than running off, however, Olobia waved Mosby back to the sideline, turned around to yell to Bowen that he was OK and stayed in and finished the drill. It's a small detail but a clear sign that these guys want to play for these coaches.
• Cornerback Ronnie Davis makes his share of mistakes, but he's got great feet. That might be one of the reasons the coaches ride him so much. With feet like his — which former cornerbacks coach Dave Campo always marveled at, as well — Davis is a guy who should be playing as long as he can execute his assignments, make plays and remain efficient.
• Speaking of cornerbacks, newcomer Brandon Stewart looks like he's got some solid skills but he's smaller than I expected. Listed at 6-foot, 171 pounds, Stewart might just look a little on the light side because he's being asked to replace veterans JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. There's still plenty of time for Stewart to get bigger and he already looks good in terms of physical play and coverage skills.
• The first-string offensive line looked the same — Larry Mazyck at right tackle, Junior Visinia at right guard, Jacob Bragg and center, Bryan Peters at left guard and Jordan Shelley-Smith at left tackle. Nothing new there. But the second string O-Line shaped up like this, right to left: Jayson Rhodes, D'Andre Banks, Keyon Haughton, Joe Bloomfield and Devon Williams. Still all kinds of time for movement up there — especially when you consider a couple guys (Joe Gibson and Will Smith) are coming back from injuries — but that's how things look right now.
• Former Jayhawk great Darrell Stuckey was on hand for Saturday's practice with his son. They hung in there for two-thirds of the practice and did equal amounts of watching, playing catch and dancing. Stuckey looks great. Several former Jayhawks from last year's team were out there again today, too.
Day 2 of KU Football's spring practices brought more of the same elements that we saw on Day 1 on Tuesday — lots of energy, impressive tempo and fiery coaches getting after guys in both good moments and bad.
By far, though, the most memorable aspect of the day came during one-on-one drills between receivers and defensive backs, when co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry, who was hanging out in the middle of the field where a referee normally be, intercepted a pass and began to return it up the field after the catch.
Perry initially bobbled the ball but hauled it in and then turned it up field without hesitation. It was a big moment for the former TCU assistant, who had been all over his DBs to “make a play.” After seeing him do it, they had very little excuse for not making similar plays happen themselves.
Later in the day, after practice moved over to the stadium for 7-on-7 and full team offensive drills, Ronnie Davis and Tevin Shaw each followed in Perry's footsteps by picking up an interception during live action.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye from Thursday's practice...
• Other than special teams drills and full team activities, Perry spent his time working with the cornerbacks and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, who has coached just about every position during his days with the Jayhawks, spent his time working with the safeties. This set up was what most people expected and I think it takes advantage of each guy's area of expertise. Both guys are fired up throughout practice and don't give their guys even a moment to breathe. The expectation is perfection and if a guy missteps or isn't doing something right, he's going to hear about it.
• One of the more enjoyable things to watch during the first couple of days has been wide receivers coach Klint Kubiak's hands-on approach to coaching. Kubiak, 27, is young enough to get out there and run with his guys and he's not afraid to show them how to stick a route, how to break press coverage or how to get off the line and down the field during punt coverage drills. Huge asset for the program. You can just tell that this guy is well on his way to being a hell of a coach and I'm definitely looking more to seeing more in the coming weeks, months and years.
• Speaking of guys who are on their way to becoming great coaches, I think D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux is another one. He's full of energy, doesn't take or make any excuses and gets his guys to flat-out work. One of his favorite tools to inspire that great work ethic seems to be sarcasm. I heard, on more than one occasion, Thibodeaux laughing to himself and telling his guys, “Don't be last in line now, son.”
• With several former Jayhawks still in town following pro day, getting ready for the upcoming NFL Draft and free agent opportunities, a few of them showed up to practice again on Thursday. Nick Harwell, Nigel King, Tony Pierson and Charles Brooks all watched at least an hour of practice and I thought it was funny (and made sense) how King and Harwell spent nearly all of their time watching the wide receivers, sort of like the old veterans watching to make sure the torch had been passed properly. There are a bunch of bodies out there at WR for Kansas, but it's still too early to see how talented the group is. Most of them are young dudes still learning the game. Having said that, senior Tre' Parmalee definitely has stood out so far as a guy who has been there and done that. Rodriguez Coleman appears to be the most naturally talented guy in the group. And a walk-on, red-shirt freshman Ryan Schadler, who came to KU after running track at Wichita State, also impressed me with his pure speed. The guy is lightning quick and runs every drill full speed. Still plenty to watch at that position in the coming weeks.
• I didn't really notice this too much because when they're running team offense and seven-on-seven, we're pretty far away, but it caught my ear when Beaty said after practice that the biggest area the Jayhawks improved from Day 1 to Day 2 was in committing fewer penalties, particularly the five-yard false start and offsides penalties. It's just one day, but you'd definitely rather see that kind of rapid improvement than watching it take a week or two to get fixed.
• Speaking of improvement, a guy who looked much better on Day 2 than Day 1 was tight end Kent Taylor. Taylor looked a step slow on Tuesday and dropped a few balls. On Thursday, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior looked to be moving much better and caught everything thrown his way. I think the guy has a chance to be a big-time weapon for this offense.
• Practice wrapped with a few different ball security drills. It was probably about 10-15 minutes and guys rotated through different stations that emphasized taking care of the football. Before spring drills began, Beaty said this would be a big emphasis for the team so it would be a safe bet to predict that every practice will end this way.
• The Jayhawks are off on Friday and will return to the practice fields for Practice No. 3 on Saturday morning. That practice will be the first in pads and, as you might expect, Beaty said he and the coaching staff were looking forward to seeing what some of these guys can do in full pads.
Tuesday marked the third time I've seen a new coaching staff kick off spring practices with the KU football program and the one thing that stood out above all else was that there was very little about Tuesday that looked a spring practice at all.
The coaches and players operated with urgency, energy and intensity and reacted to mistakes with much more fire than an aw-shucks, oh-well attitude.
A big part of that likely came from the fact that everything is up for grabs on this team. The coaches and players are in the process of learning about one another and proving things to each other and each guy wearing a helmet is competing for a job he likely truly believes he can win.
That reality can only help the Jayhawks in their latest rebuilding process but also serves as a reminder that there's a long way to go.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye from Day 1 of spring drills.
• Several former Jayhawks, many in town to go through Wednesday's pro timing day in from of NFL scouts, were on hand to watch the early portion of Tuesday's practice. The guys I saw included: Jake Heaps, JaCorey Shepherd, Keon Stowers, Nigel King, Nick Harwell, Trevor Pardula, Tedarian Johnson, Pat Lewandowski and one or two others. Pretty cool to see those guys show up to support their former teammates and the future of the program.
• KU coach David Beaty jumped right into the thick of all kinds of drills during Tuesday's practice and was all over the field. He seemed most fired up during the special teams drills — which he deems incredibly important — and even said after practice that it was tough for him to not be able to fully dive into the drills the way he could as a position coach.
• Beaty said not to read too much into which guys went out there with the first unit, but also said that those who were out there first were there for a reason. And I couldn't help but pay close attention to what things looked like at offensive line. The first group — at least for Tuesday — included: right tackle Larry Mazyck, right guard Junior Visinia, center Jacob Bragg, left guard Bryan Peters and left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith. Versatile center/guard Joe Gibson is currently recovering from an injury and could be another guy who factors into the mix along the O-Line before it's all said and done.
• Speaking of Jacob Bragg, the red-shirt freshman center looks pretty thick and put together. Several guys looked bigger than I remember (safety Fish Smithson was another who looked noticeably bigger), something that Beaty said was the product of the work strength coach Je'Ney Jackson and his staff had done with the physical make up of this team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I thought juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner looked thinner than I expected, but also blazing fast. Josh Ehambe (a monster) and Bazie Bates IV (a newcomer who's clearly ready to play) also caught my eye in terms of physical size.
• Several coaches really emphasized the pace and tempo of practice throughout the day with subtle but pointed instructions that included, “Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry,” (O-Line coach Zach Yenser), Don't walk, don't walk,” (Yenser) and “I like that tempo,” (Special teams coach Gary Hyman). They weren't the only ones to talk about tempo, but they were two of the loudest.
• Speaking of the coaches, I thought it was interesting that Hyman, Yenser and offensive coordinator Rob Likens all wore head sets during one particular offensive drill. Looking forward to finding out the reason behind that when we talk to one of them.
• Cornerbacks coach/co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry is fiery. I mean, real fiery. And it's pretty awesome to watch. He's not simply content with these guys trying hard. He expects them to pay attention, retain instruction and then execute what's asked. And if they don't, he rips into them. On one particular play, Perry got after cornerback Ronnie Davis after Davis jumped to break up a pass and let the ball hit the turf instead of intercepting it. “Make a play,” Perry screamed. “That's gotta be picked.” The emphasis on turnovers was in line with what Beaty said Monday would be an important part of the spring.
• There's definitely no hurry on the part of the coaching staff to identify the starting quarterback. Michael Cummings was the first guy to go out there during most offensive drills, followed by Montell Cozart (who looked pretty good with the deep ball) and T.J. Millweard (whose intelligence Beaty marveled at). Those three, along with a few others and the newcomers who arrive in June, will all get a fair shot at winning the job, but I thought it was particularly cool to see how much Cummings and Cozart communicated during Tuesday's practice. Remember, these guys are (a) friends and teammates and (b) trying to learn a new offense at the same time. Good for them for using every resource available to them.
• KU will be off on Wednesday and get back after it on Thursday for practice No. 2 of the 15-practice spring. We'll be there and will bring you plenty more reaction, analysis and information nuggets.
Today marks the opening day of the first spring football season under new KU football coach David Beaty.
And although there's still more than five months ahead for this program to get ready for the 2015 season, a good chunk of the work will begin starting today as the new KU coaches and players begin installing fresh offensive and defensive schemes and putting in the basis of what the program under Beaty will be all about.
There's plenty of time ahead to learn, examine and analyze all of that, but, for now, let's take a quick look at a dozen players I'm most looking forward to seeing this spring.
A lot of them are newcomers — big surprise – but a few of them are names you know and I'm just as eager to see what those guys have done to position themselves for more playing time or bigger roles.
Although spring football does not officially begin until the first practice at 4:20 p.m. today, this we know already — don't expect much in the way of a depth chart at the start of the spring and maybe not even by the end of it.
The coaching staff is not interested in tossing out names of guys they know little about or ramping up expectations for specific players. They're more interested in waiting to see which players develop, which players best fit the new offense and defense and which guys separate themselves by outworking others on a daily basis.
Just because several players did not make this list does not mean I'm not fired up to see what they look like. There are plenty of guys, both proven and unproven, who should be fun to keep an eye on this spring. This group though is likely to be the 12 guys my eyes wander to first when we're out there at practice later today.
Enough build up. Here's the list.
1. Safety Bazie Bates IV — The guy with one of the coolest names on the team is going to play. It's just a matter of how much and where. Athletic dude with good size and speed should stand out quickly as Jayhawks attempt to revamp a secondary that lost four starters from last season.
2. Cornerback Brandon Stewart — One of the most highly sought after players in the incoming class, Stewart has a golden opportunity to step into the starting cornerback vacancy left by the departure of JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. The question is how long will it take him to prove himself?
3. Wide Receiver Chase Harrell — I truly cannot wait to see this kid. Good-sized receiver who's supposed to have good hands and ball skills, Harrell, who graduated high school early so he could go through spring ball, has a chance to emerge as an immediate contributor at an unproven position.
4. Defensive Lineman D.J. Williams — Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen mentioned Williams' name late in the 2014 season as one of the guys who red-shirted who he was looking forward to having on the field in 2015. That's good enough for me. KU lost a lot up front on defense so Williams' development will be crucial.
5. Quarterback Montell Cozart — Michael Cummings may very well start out as the favorite to win the quarterback job and incoming freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis might have something to say about the battle when they arrive in the summer. But there's just something that still intrigues me about Cozart. We already know he's got the athleticism and a little bit of experience. The reason I'm looking forward to seeing him is because I want to see if he took the necessary steps toward becoming a true QB and not just an athlete trying to play the position. How Cozart fits into this new offense ranks as one of the most intriguing questions surrounding this team.
6. Offensive Lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith — The last time I saw Shelley-Smith he was well on his way to transforming from a tight end to an offensive linemen. I'm guessing that transformation has reached the point where he'll almost be unrecognizable, which would be a good thing for Kansas because the Jayhawks likely will need the athletic yet equally physical Shelley-Smith to be ready to play right — maybe even left — tackle this fall.
7. Running Back Taylor Cox — This one's more of a sentimental pick. The guy has been through two seasons worth of injuries but is still out there grinding away hoping for one last chance to help his team. That's a cool story in itself, but add to that the fact that Cox is a fantastic young man and you're looking at a guy you can't help but pull for.
8. Tight End Kent Taylor — Freak athlete who could go a long way toward helping fill the void left by the departure of nearly all of KU's impact pass catchers from 2014. Gone are Nigel King, Nick Harwell, Jimmay Mundine and Tony Pierson. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior who transferred to KU from Florida and sat out the 2014 season could be an option to fill in at whichever one of those positions needs him the most.
9. Offensive Lineman De'Andre Banks — I've heard nothing but good things about this guy's power, size and versatility. Who knows if he'll be ready to play right away or not, but if he is, O-Line coach Zach Yenser and offensive coordinator Rob Likens surely will view the fact that he can play multiple positions as a huge luxury and a big break.
10. Defensive End Anthony Olobia — Former junior college stud came in with some serious hype last season but arrived late and then got injured. Did the year off provide even more motivation for the No. 2 ranked juco player at his position in the Class of 2014?
11. Offensive Lineman Jacob Bragg — Another guy who Bowen mentioned as a potential breakout player who red-shirted in 2014, the highly-touted center, if he's ready, could provide a huge lift in helping KU's offensive line take shape sooner rather than later.
12. Defensive End Damani Mosby — Like Olobia, Mosby was one of those guys the Jayhawks expected to bolster their pass rush in 2014. However, his late arrival from junior college forced him to red-shirt. With the Jayhawks seeking to replace the terrific season turned in by departed senior Michael Reynolds in 2014, Mosby figures to get a crack at a big role provided he has put in the work during the past seven months.
If you really think about it, Sunday's 78-65 loss to Wichita State was probably about as fitting of an end for this Kansas team as anything.
The problems that plagued the Jayhawks all year were the same ones that showed up against the Shockers — no mental edge, a lack of a leader, struggles scoring on offense and stopping the drive on defense.
I picked Kansas to win because the Jayhawks looked so sharp on Friday — and also because Wichita State labored a little to beat Indiana — but, if you've been following along here all year, the unceremonious ending to an up-and-down season was probably one you saw coming.
Wichita State's veterans outplayed the Jayhawks in just about every way and even the KU players said after the game in the locker room that they thought the Shockers wanted it more. That's a tough pill for any team to swallow and was the most obvious reason why the Jayhawks' season ended in the Round of 32 for the second year in a row.
As you've heard KU coach Bill Self say time and time again, the Jayhawks had a good season but fell short of making it a season to remember by falling flat in the NCAA Tournament. Since making that memorable run to the 2012 NCAA title game, the Jayhawks are just 4-3 in the past three NCAA Tournaments and have had more rough moments in those seven games than positive ones. Everyone knows that the tournament is a crap shoot and can be cruel to even the most talented and accomplished teams, but the Jayhawks lack of experience, leadership and a couple of badly time breaks — Perry Ellis' injury, Cliff Alexander's ineligibility, etc. — proved to be too much for that kind of roster to overcome and KU, though able to recall fond memories of Big 12 title No. 11 in a row, begins its inevitable countdown to Late Night in October.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You can't help but love the way Devonte' Graham finished his initial season at Kansas. Like Conner Frankamp a season ago, Graham played two of his better games of the season in the NCAA Tournament and was the Jayhawks' best player on Sunday. He was one of the few guys who showed a sense of urgency and competitiveness and his stats matched. He finished with 17 points, 5 steals, 3 assists and 1 turnover.
2 – For the first 15 minutes of the game, the Jayhawks had the Shockers right where they wanted them. KU was clicking on offense, controlled the glass on the defensive end and did what this team had become known to do — made the opponent play bad. But KU's offense began to struggle and KU's chance to take control disappeared.
3 – Give Perry Ellis credit for playing through both the knee injury that gave him trouble the past few weeks and a nasty shot to the face midway through the first half that drew blood and briefly sent Ellis to the locker room. Ellis wasn't his normal spectacular self and former teammate Evan Wessel canceled out most of Ellis' advantage in the match-up with a fantastic game, but no one can question Ellis' toughness after a game like that. Even on a day when he didn't look his best, the KU junior led the team in scoring and added eight boards and 10 trips to the free throw line.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Like Andrew Wiggins against Stanford a season ago, KU sophomore Wayne Selden did next to nothing on the stat sheet in the final game of the season. No points. One rebound. One foul. Two turnovers. And one steal in 23 minutes. Tough way to end a tough season. It's going to be very interesting to see where Selden takes his game from here.
2 – Wichita State's 13-2 run to close the first half was clearly not the way KU had hoped to end the half, but it only put the Jayhawks behind by three points. Several Jayhawks said in the locker room after the game that they still believed they would win and were fine during the break. That certainly appeared to be the case when Frank Mason opened the second half with an easy layup that cut the WSU lead to one. From there, however, KU folded and folded quickly. As soon as the Shockers hit KU back and built a four, six and seven point lead, KU looked shell-shocked and never really got back into it. The same team that looked — and played — loose in an impressive opening-round victory all of a sudden tightened up again and that led to another early exit.
3 – I still don't understand why Hunter Mickelson didn't get more of a shot. Every time he played during the past couple of weeks, he delivered positive things. He's not a 20-plus minutes a game guy and he's not going to single-handedly win KU a game, but in a contest when the Shockers scored 49 second-half points and had no problem getting to the rim during that stint, it would've been interesting to see what Mickelson, an accomplished shot blocker, could have done to impact the game. That's especially true given KU's foul trouble.
One for the road
KU's season-ending loss to Wichita State:
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 27-9.
• Made Kansas 21-10 in second games played in the NCAA Tournament, including an 7-3 record in the round of 32 for head coach Bill Self.
• Snapped the Jayhawks’ win streak against the Shockers at five games, narrowing the advantage in the all-time series with Wichita State to 12-3.
• Made Kansas 97-43 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• Marked KU’s first NCAA Tournament loss in Omaha. Including games played in the 2008 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments, KU is now 5-1 in the city.
• Made Self 352-78 while at Kansas, 37-16 in the NCAA Tournament and 559-183 overall.
• Made KU 2,153-829 all-time.
For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks bow out of the tournament without advancing past the first weekend. KU finishes the season 27-9 and, as is the case just about every year no matter when the season ends, will head into the offseason wondering who will leave, who will be back and how Bill Self will reload.
It's been a while since I remember seeing the Kansas University basketball team play such a care-free first-round NCAA Tournament game.
Typically, in recent years, the Jayhawks have been a little tight and struggled to get going during the early rounds. But that was not the case during Friday's 75-56 victory over New Mexico State.
Following up a day in which upsets and lower seeds rocked the tournament, Kansas jumped out and set the tone early with some hot shooting and high energy and never gave New Mexico State a chance.
The Aggies' had enough elements and pieces to give KU trouble in some areas, but Frank Mason stepped up and led the way offensively and the rest of the team followed to move KU into the next round with relative ease.
Bottom line, that's as complete of a game as I remember this team playing in weeks. KU played with great energy and toughness, shared the ball, scored inside and out and played fantastic defense, particularly inside against New Mexico State's big front line. The whole thing seemed to be the result of a team that showed up loose and confident, ready to have fun. If the Jayhawks can keep that attitude from here on out, there's no telling how far they could advance.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU's outside shooting returned with a vengeance. The Jayhawks' 9 of 13 shooting from three-point range marked the highest three-point percentage by a KU team since the 1996-97 team made 5 of 7 (71.3 percent) in a victory over Virginia in Maui. Five different Jayhawks made three-pointers in the win over NMSU, and four of those five made two triples. One of the most important people in that equation was Brannen Greene, who misfired on his first two attempts of the day and then drained a couple in the second half.
2 – Kansas continued to play aggressive offensively, with Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Frank Mason and even Jamari Traylor and Devonte' Graham attacking the paint with the dribble more often than not. That only led to 15 free throw attempts on Friday, but it opened up some other things in KU's offense, set the tone for the entire game and has to be the mentality Kansas has the rest of the way.
3 – KU's post defense was sensational. Every time the Aggies dumped it into to their big guys, the Jayhawks trapped the post with two big guys and that really forced NMSU out of its offense. NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said after the game that even though the Jayhawks aren't necessarily the tallest dudes, their length and active nature made it seem like the NMSU post players were being trapped by “two seven footers.”
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Perry Ellis was pretty quiet overall and only played 23 minutes. He looked fine at times and showed that nothing bad has happened to his jump shot. But his touch in close along with his ability to explode off the floor still seems a bit off. KU led by double digits for the entire second half, so maybe this was just a good time to rest Ellis a little in anticipation of Sunday's showdown. Ellis finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers and 1 steal, block and assist.
2 – New Mexico State's press and harassing D certainly had something to do with it, but the 14 turnovers for Kansas was a little higher than anyone in crimson and blue would like to see, particularly when you consider that nine of those 14 came from the guys who handle the ball the most.
3 – It's a pretty minor point and wasn't really a big deal, but a couple of guys picked up fouls a little too easily. Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis finished with four fouls apiece and KU will not be able to afford to have either guy hack too much against Wichita State on Sunday.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' solid, opening-round victory over New Mexico State:
• Made Kansas 27-8 on the season, giving KU 27 victories for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
• Marked KU's ninth-straight NCAA Tournament first-game victory.
• Kept Kansas unbeaten against New Mexico State in three tries.
• Improved Kansas to 97-42 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• Kept Kansas perfect in Omaha. Including Friday's win and appearances in Omaha during the 2008 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments, KU is now 5-0 in Omaha.
• Pushed Self to 352-77 while at Kansas, 37-15 in the NCAA Tournament and 559-182 overall.
• Made KU 2,153-830 all-time.
The win advanced the Jayhawks to Sunday's Round of 32, where they'll meet No. 7 seed Wichita State at 4:15 p.m. It's a game that everyone has been wanting to see for years now and one that will be as hyped up as any game the Jayhawks have played this season.
We'll never know how Bill Self reacted behind closed doors but here's guessing he took Saturday's 70-66 Big 12 title game loss to Iowa State pretty hard.
Not just because KU lost and not even because it lost a game it probably should've won. But because for a half Self looked as proud of and pleased with this team as I'd seen him at any point all year — and we're talking by far — and then, poof!, just like that old KU nemesis, Mr. Inconsistency, reared his ugly head again and did the Jayhawks in.
Self has said that winning the Big 12 tournament is not the greatest feeling in the world and that losing it is not the biggest heartbreaker because Selection Sunday trumps everything the very next day.
But it sure looked like he was thrilled about the toughness and fight and signs of life his team showed in that sensational first half against a very good Iowa State team, and watching that disappear completely in the second-half collapse had to sting a little more than he might have let on.
If you've seen it once, you've seen it a thousand times with this team, so the extremes the Jayhawks delivered on Saturday evening at Sprint Center probably were not all that surprising to most. Sure, they won't last long in the NCAA Tournament if they can't fix that. And, yeah, they're probably a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight team at best if such issues continue to plague them. But those issues have plagued them all season and been a big part of the reason this has been such a wild and unpredictable season from a team that has struggled to find consistency and its identity. This is new territory for Self and the Jayhawks. Usually by now they've long known what kind of team they are and what they're going to get on most nights. Not with this group. It looks as if this team's best chance is to make the other team play ugly, and these guys are pretty good at that. How far that can take you in the Big Dance is anyone's guess, but I'm guessing we're going to find out.
Three reasons to smile
1 – That's two games in a row where things appeared to click for Wayne Selden and that's great news for Kansas. Even though it wasn't always pretty, Selden was terrific in the way he attacked during the Big 12 tournament and inspired others to follow his lead. The guy can be a match-up problem for opponents if he's locked in, and his ability to get to the rim and/or the free throw line could provide a huge lift for this team and an offense that at times looks incredibly passive and stagnant. Selden earned his spot on the all-tournament team in Kansas City. Now the challenge is to keep him playing this way while getting Perry Ellis, Kelly Oubre and Frank Mason going with him.
2 – Give KU credit for getting back into it and tying the game at 63 with about minute left after yet another insane Iowa State run brought the Cyclones all the way back from 17 down and put them up a few possessions in the blink of an eye. KU could've folded there very easily but didn't.
3 – Devote' Graham and Frank Mason are playing pretty well together right now. Both dished four assists vs. one turnover and both made some big shots for the Jayhawks en route to building that 17-point lead. KU is going to need both guys to continue to look to score but not at the risk of failing to get others involved. Having the both be able to run the point and attack with their own offense helps keep things balanced. It's a nice one-two punch for KU to have and those guys could be critical to KU's success in the next couple of weeks.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I'm not sure if the psyche of this team is built for March. They're fantastic when things are going well. They play with good energy, play together and play hard. But as soon as things stop going well, they change their look completely. You can see it in their eyes and on their faces. I'm not saying it's easy to play through rough patches, but some teams flourish in those moments. This is not one of them. This group has been in and won a ton of close games and flashed some incredible comebacks — at Allen Fieldhouse, mind you — but it looks to me like a group that will need to start hot and fast in every game from here on out or risk going home no matter what round we're talking.
2 – Injuries. Nobody's “fresh” at this time of the season, but not everybody's as beat up as Kansas either. Self said he anticipated having everyone healthy and ready to go by Friday, when the Jayhawks are likely to open NCAA Tournament play in Omaha, but as much as a few days off will help, I'm not sure that's nearly enough time to get everybody back to full health. Perry Ellis is going to be playing through pain the rest of the way. It looks like the toll of unexpected heavy minutes has worn down Landen Lucas and limited his effectiveness and Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are both less than 100 percent. All the more reason for Self to at least consider giving a few more minutes here and there to guys like Hunter Mickelson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who actually are fresh. Both played well as recently as this weekend and giving them 10-12 minutes a game to limit the wear and tear on KU's ailing rotation guys might help.
3 – KU got beat on the boards — only by three (37-34) — and gave up two offensive rebounds at the most crucial time, with the game tied at 63 and after two Iowa State misses. It wasn't just that the Cyclones beat them to the glass in those instances as much as it was that they did it easily. Part of that was KU being beat up or short-handed, but those are just excuses. This team needs all five guys on the floor to box out and crash the glass in order to make up for some of its shortcomings in that area, and on Saturday, on perhaps the game's most critical possession, they came up short twice.
One for the road
KU's fall-from-in-front loss in the Big 12 title game:
• Handed the Jayhawks just their second loss in the Big 12 title game, and its first since 2002, when they lost the tournament to Oklahoma.
• Made Kansas 26-8 on the season and 11-8 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 6-2 on neutral floors).
• Dropped the Jayhawks’ record to 13-6 in conference tournament championship games. Overall, KU’s record is now 68-26 in conference tournament play and 38-10 in the Big 12's postseason event.
• Dropped Kansas’ record in Sprint Center to 27-6 all-time and 3-1 this season.
• Moved Self to 351-77 while at Kansas, 33-11 in conference tournament action (24-6 while at KU in the Big 12 Championship) and 558-182 overall.
• Made KU 2,152-830 all-time.
It's tournament time and Kansas will learn its fate just after 5 p.m. tonight when the CBS Selection Show unveils the bracket. KU will almost assuredly head to Omaha for its first two games, but whether those will be played as a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed, as well as which region the Jayhawks are in, remains to be seen.
At this point, there's more than a fair chance that KU will wind up in the same region as Kentucky. That's incredibly likely if they're a 2 seed. And while that will undoubtedly upset hundreds, if not thousands, of KU fans from coast to coast, there's one important thing to remember about being paired up with UK that might help — in order for that to matter, this team has to get to the Elite Eight first, and, although that's certainly possible, it's far from a lock, maybe not even likely.
It all will depend on match-ups and which Kansas team shows up. The Jayhawks should — SHOULD — win their first two games and reach the Sweet 16. Anything short of that would have to be viewed as a failure. Anything beyond that, though, might actually be this team overachieving. Should be fun to follow it and find out what happens.
Be sure to check back with KUsports.com this evening for all kinds of reaction and insight into KU's draw.
Three games in three days... That's what the Jayhawks will have played following Saturday's Big 12 championship game against Iowa State, a destination they reached with a 62-52 victory over fourth-seeded Baylor in Friday's semifinals.
There was some talk among fans about whether KU, which is banged up at a lot of different positions, would be better off to lose early in the Big 12 tourney so it could get some rest ahead of next week's NCAA Tournament run.
But I think this is the better outcome. KU's confidence has risen and Perry Ellis has returned and now knows what he can do with that knee brace. Both are great news for the Jayhawks, who more than any KU team in recent memory, need to have a lot of things lined up just right to play their best basketball.
It's very clear that this team understands the importance of defense. They're offensively challenged in a couple of ways and, unless they catch lightning in a bottle or enjoy a ridiculously hot shooting night (which could come) this group of guys really seems to have figured out the recipe they need to stir together to win games. It includes great effort and energy, a lot of toughness and some grind-it-out plays on both ends. It also includes mistakes, which are going to come, but if you think about it these guys actually do a pretty decent job of playing through those and moving on to the next play.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU's defensive intensity and overall effort was fantastic from start to finish and the Jayhawks clearly answered the challenge laid out by Bill Self one night earlier. Now that Kansas is in the Big 12 title game and will be playing for its life in every game that follows it, it will be very interesting to see if this squad finally brings that energy to the table without being called out to do so. Perry Ellis' return certainly had something to do with lifting the entire team's intensity.
2 – KU's defensive game plan was so solid and so simple. It basically involved throwing bodies at players and doubling the post in an attempt to make Baylor over-think, over-pass and panic. I don't know if Baylor ever panicked, but they definitely were affected by KU's active defense and it showed up in the form of missed shots all over the place. Baylor made just 4 of 22 three-pointers, but also missed from point-blank range and did not convert very many of the 14 offensive rebounds it got. The fact that Kansas out-rebounded Baylor without Cliff Alexandder and with Perry Ellis at less than 100 percent shows you what kind of team effort Friday's victory was.
3 – Hunter Mickelson continues to impress. He only played six minutes and was probably too overmatched physically to be out there for much longer than that, but you couldn't exactly tell that by watching him. All he did was score a bucket on a nifty reverse layup, block two shots — including Baylor big man Rico Gathers in a one-on-one situation — and snag two steals. He's playing in the NCAA Tournament. How much depends on how the other guys play.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Too many turnovers. And it was not really the number that was troubling, (though 18 is crazy high) it was the way many of them came. Too many times KU just coughed it up right to a Baylor defender or got too sped up and lost control. That can kill seasons from this point on. Luckily for Kansas, the Bears were equally as careless with the ball on Friday, and a good chunk of that had to do with the KU defense.
2 – KU's Wayne Selden was great in this one, especially in terms of just finding ways to put points on the board, but he was just 6-of-12 from the free throw line and the Jayhawks, as a whole, missed 10 free throws. The off night from the line never created grave danger, but Kansas would not have even had to sweat this one out at all had they just made five or six more from the line.
3 – Kelly Oubre and Perry Ellis knocked in the first two three-pointers Kansas attempted on Friday night but the Jayhawks finished just 1 for their next 10 and went home with a 3-of-12 shooting night from three-point range. Not awful. And you can bet these guys felt good about seeing a couple of them finally fall. But the problem is not fully fixed and probably won't be until Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene find their strokes again.
One for the road
KU's semifinal victory over Baylor on Friday night:
• Made Kansas 26-7 on the season, giving the Jayhawks 26 wins for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
• Improved KU to 11-7 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Jumped the Jayhawks’ record in the Big 12 Championship to 19-16 in conference tournament semifinal games (11-6 in the Big 12 era).
• Moved Kansas into the conference tourney finals for the 11th time in Big 12 history and 19th time overall.
• Pushed KU’s record in 68-25 in conference tournament play and 38-9 in the Big 12 Championship.
• Improved Kansas’ record in Sprint Center to 27-5 all-time and 3-0 this season.
• Moved Self to 351-76 while at Kansas, 33-10 in conference tournament action (24-5 while at KU in the Big 12 tournament) and 558-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,152-829 all-time.
KU will play in tonight's Big 12 title game against No. 2 seed Iowa State at 5 p.m. KU and ISU split the regular season and got both games out of the way by mid-January.
There was very little pretty basketball involved in Thursday's 64-59 victory by top-seeded Kansas over No. 9 seed TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
But even as hard as it was to watch the game through all of the whistles and mistakes, it was exactly the kind of game that makes March great.
A loss to the Horned Frogs would have been a bad sign for the Jayhawks — Perry Ellis or no Perry Ellis — and would've sent the Jayhawk Nation into the weekend searching for answers.
Instead, freshman Kelly Oubre stepped up and played like a veteran and sent the Jayhawks into the Big 12 semis with a career-high 25 points, including 15-of-19 shooting from the free throw line.
Aside from the long stretches of bad basketball from both teams, the game came with all of those feelings that normally accompany games at this time of year — clutch makes and crucial misses, anxious coaches, uneasy fans in the building and the general feeling that things could change completely at just about any minute.
While we wait to do it all over again tonight, when the Jayhawks take on No. 4 seed Baylor in the semifinals at 6 p.m., let's look back at some more of the highs and lows from Thursday.
KU won yet again despite not hitting a single three-pointer. That marks the second time in the past three outings that Kansas finished 0-for from behind the arc, yet the Jayhawks won both of those games. For all the talk earlier this season about this team's incredible three-point shooting and how it might need to consider shooting more three-pointers per game, these guys are absolutely desperate for one to fall. Three guys (Oubre, Brannen Greene and Svi) missed multiple three-point looks on Thursday and Selden missed the only one he attempted. One triple did go through for Kansas against TCU — a wing shot by Svi — but it came on a dead ball after a whistle. Kansas has proven that it can win games without the three ball, but doing so makes things much more difficult. And these guys don't want to see how long that luck can last.
Three reasons to smile
1 – It wasn't pretty — not by a long shot — but it also wasn't full of panic, like these March games between high seeds and low seeds tend to be. Kansas can thank Kelly Oubre for that. Every time TCU closed, tied or threatened to make it very interesting, Oubre put the ball on the deck and made his way to the free throw line. That not only led to easy points but also kept the pace calm and less frantic.
2 – Kansas blocked nine shots in this game, with Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas each recording three and Hunter Mickelson adding one. Considering those were the only big guys Self had to work with, the high number of blocks is pretty impressive. Clearly, having a short bench did not take away their defensive tenacity.
3 – Despite not doing or playing much in weeks, freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk proved he might still be able to help this team before this season is finished. The Svi that took the floor against the Frogs on Thursday was the most aggressive and confident Svi I've seen in a while. Self liked what he gave the Jayhawks so much that he started him the second half. Even if the guy only plays a few minutes here and there the rest of the way — however long that winds up being — he should do so with a ton of confidence.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The numbers just don't paint a five point victory over the ninth-seeded team in the Big 12. KU out-rebounded TCU by six, out-shot TCU 49 percent to 41 percent and only turned it over two more times. What's more, TCU made just 1-of-6 three-pointers on a day when KU missed all eight threes it attempted. There's no question that the Frogs came to fight, but just going off the numbers — although several other metrics would also work — the final score's a bit of a head scratcher.
2 – Yes, KU won this game without Ellis, but, no, it wasn't easy. The Jayhawks desperately need Ellis back, not only because of the numbers he brings to the floor, but also because he changes the way this team runs offense and the way opposing teams defend. All that said, imagine what a lift it will be when Ellis does return, even if he's not 100 percent when he does. These guys, who have been grinding for everything they've gotten the past few games without him, will probably be so relieved they'll finally relax and light up the scoreboard.
3 – The bottom line with this team — still — is that you, me and especially Bill Self still just do not know what it is going to give. On any given night they could be locked in or spaced out, fired up or barely breathing, offensively efficient or offensively challenged, defensively dominant or a defensive doormat. That's not a good recipe for a team hoping to make some noise in March. And even though the talent and potential is still there for any kind of run imaginable, I think we'll know/learn all we need to about what lies ahead for this team based off of what kind of effort it puts forward in the semifinal game vs. Baylor. Self said after the loss that “it gets old” waiting for his guys to bring energy. If they don't respond to that — with a berth in the conference championship game on the line — by doing it in over-the-top fashion, I think you'll know what's coming in the next week or so.
One for the road
KU's Big 12 tournament victory over TCU:
• Made Kansas 25-7 on the season, marking the 10th-straight season that the Jayhawks have tallied 25 wins, beginning in 2005-06.
• Improved KU to 10-7 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Pushed the Jayhawks’ record in the Big 12 tourney to 18-2 in opening games (1-0 in first round and 17-2 in quarterfinals).
• Advanced Kansas to the conference tourney semifinals for the 17th time in Big 12 history and 35th time overall.
• Improved KU’s record in 67-25 in conference tournament play and 37-9 in the Big 12 tournament.
• Made KU 26-5 all-time at Sprint Center, including a 2-0 mark this season.
• Moved Self to 350-76 while at Kansas, 32-10 in conference tournament action (23-5 while at KU in the Big 12 Championship) and 557-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,151-829 all-time.
The win moved the Jayhawks into today's 6 p.m. semifinal, where they'll play Baylor, which knocked off West Virginia by 10 in Thursday's first game at Sprint Center. The Jayhawks swept the Bears during the regular season, winning a one-point dog fight in Waco and holding off a strong Baylor push in Lawrence in mid-February.
Whether you want to talk about the defensive breakdown in the final seconds or the fact that a short-handed KU team nearly walked out of Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday with a surprising victory, the so-called meaningless final game of the regular season gave us plenty of material.
The Jayhawks clearly are and should be proud of the effort they put forth without Perry Ellis (knee), Cliff Alexander (eligibility) and Brannen Greene (suspension), three regular rotation guys who missed the game. But one of the best signs for this up-and-down KU team was that no one walked out of there feeling too good about the moral victory.
Landen Lucas and Frank Mason, who both played fantastic games, focused on the bottom line — a loss — and Bill Self said he was pleased with the team's effort but not as pleased with its execution.
In many ways, that's a best case scenario right now. Had KU won, some of those execution breakdowns might have been easier to overlook or, at the very least, might not have had the same impact. Instead, the Jayhawks lost and came away from the game hellbent on tightening those areas up instead of feeling too good about coming oh-so-close in difficult circumstances.
That's the kind of adversity that tends to pop up from here on out, and this team, at least to me, seems as focused as it's been all season.
It remains to be seen how well the Jayhawks will play this postseason, but you can't question the fact that they're ready. The past three games — two victories and one loss — have all resembled Big 12 or NCAA Tournament games, with both teams fighting and scrapping for every possession, point or advantage they could get. The two victories were at home and the Jayhawks won't have that advantage the rest of the way. But Sprint Center is close to home and their showing at Oklahoma, without three regulars, has to at least be a little encouraging when they think about playing away from Allen Fieldhouse.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You can't say enough good things about what Landen Lucas did on Saturday. He was a monster on the glass, he played tough on both ends of the floor and, seemingly out of nowhere, even gave KU an offensive presence in the post that was missing with Ellis out. Lucas' confidence and production are rising to new heights every time out, which can only help this team in the win-or-go-home weeks ahead. Lucas played a team-high 33 minutes in the loss to OU and showed, as long as he continues to play like that, that he can give productive minutes not just fill in as a stop-gap option.
2 – KU's offensive rebounding was insane... at least early. The Jayhawks grabbed 16 offensive boards total in this one and had 14 of them by late in the first half. Landen Lucas grabbed six offensive boards by himself and Kelly Oubre (3) and Hunter Mickelson (2) also chipped in to give KU multiple extra possessions. OU coach Lon Kruger tweaked his rebounding match-ups in the second half, which emphasized big guys blocking out instead of helping on the drives of KU's guards, and that kept Kansas from adding to its total. Still, had the Jayhawks not done that kind of work on the glass, they probably would've been down double figures at halftime instead of just two.
3 – Even though he wound up getting the game-winning tip-in, KU's guards did a good job of making OU junior Buddy Hield work for his 18 points. Hield shot just 6-of-20 from the floor and even though Wayne Selden did next to nothing offensively, his work, in limited time, guarding Hield was very valuable. Every shot Hiled took was contested — he was 2-of-7 from three-point range — and he only got to the free throw line five times, making four. If there was an issue here, it was the fact that Hield got seven boards, one of which won the game.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Brannen Greene's last-minute suspension is a real problem. Not only did it hurt KU's chances on Saturday — Greene likely would've gotten most if not all of the 13 minutes Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played and given his experience may have knocked down an extra shot or two that Svi missed, which could have changed the outcome — but it's also a recurring problem. Self suspended Greene for “just being irresponsible,” and every time the guy has been in trouble during his two years at KU so far, that has been the basic reason behind it.
2 – Those who want to will blame the ankle injury, and that's a legit excuse especially when you consider it limited him to just 18 minutes, but Wayne Selden's confidence has to be a concern right now. He missed all seven shots he took, including a pair from behind the arc, and did not score a point or grab a rebound. There are enough other options, especially when Ellis returns, for this team to overcome Selden's struggles, but one can't help but wonder what it would look like if he were clicking.
3 – It's a shame that the Jayhawks' defense on Oklahoma's final possession took away from the fantastic play call and clutch free throws by Frank Mason that tied the game. After watching the replay a few times, several guys were way too passive on that final drive by Jordan Woodard. It's a tough spot to be in because you definitely don't want to foul, but you can't allow a guy to split two defenders and get an open look either. Mykhailiuk came over to challenge the shot after Woodard got by Mason and Oubre and that left Hield all alone to crash the rim for the game-winner. The only good thing to come from the failure to get a stop was that the Jayhawks were absolutely sick about it. That might be what it takes to help get it fixed.
One for the road
KU's loss at Oklahoma in the regular season finale:
• Marked the first time in 10 years that the Jayhawks dropped three-straight regular-season conference road games. In late 2005, KU lost at Texas Tech (80-79, 2OT, 2/14/05), at Oklahoma (71-63, 2/21/05) and at Missouri (72-68, 3/6/05).
• Made Kansas 24-7 overall and 13-5 in Big 12 play, its lowest conference win total since going 13-3 in 2005-06.
• Dropped KU's all-time series lead vs. Oklahoma to 142-66, including 50-42 in Norman.
• Moved Self to 349-76 while at Kansas, 14-5 against Oklahoma (14-3 while at KU) and 556-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,150-829 all-time.
The Jayhawks will head to Kansas City, Missouri, where they'll open play in the Big 12 tournament at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Sprint Center as the top seed against the winner of the Wednesday game between the conference's No. 8 (Kansas State) and No. 9 (TCU) seeds.
With temperatures warming and March Madness nearly upon us, those in the Kansas University football program have turned their eyes toward upcoming spring practices.
First-year KU coach David Beaty announced earlier this week that the Jayhawks would kick off their 15-practice spring schedule on March 24. Beaty's first spring in charge of the program will wrap up with the April 25 spring game, scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium.
Portions of the spring practices will be open to the media and both Beaty and his assistant coaches will be available for interviews. According to the schedule released by KU earlier this week, no players will be made available to the media this spring.
Beaty and the Jayhawks enter the spring will all kinds of questions to answer and holes to fill. Although quarterback Michael Cummings distinguished himself as the better option in 2014, the battle for the starting job in 2015 appears to be an open competition. In addition, KU lost nearly all of its pass catchers and questions remain about the make-up and talent of the offensive line.
Returning running backs Corey Avery, De'Andre Mann and Taylor Cox highlight the known commodities on the KU offense.
Defensively, the Jayhawks will be looking to replace three of the five starters in the secondary along with productive defensive linemen Keon Stowers, Michael Reynolds and Tedarian Johnson, and, of course, all-Big 12 linebacker Ben Heeney.
That leaves both questions and opportunities all over the field for Clint Bowen's defense.
Several KU assistant coaches have taken to Twitter recently to announce their excitement for the upcoming spring drills and the theme of the program, at least for now, seems to be "earn it" as several recent Tweets have been accompanied by the hashtag #earnit.
Shepherd honored again
Falling under the “stop me if you've heard this one” category, former KU cornerback JaCorey Shepherd is in line to collect some more hardware for his off-the-field efforts. Shepherd, a senior from Mesquite, Texas, has been named one of 15 KU Men of Merit for 2015.
According to the release, the group includes “students, faculty and staff positively defining masculinity through challenging norms, taking action and leading by example while making contributions to university and/or the community.”
Shepherd is on schedule to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in management and leadership with an emphasis in entrepreneurship.
He is a three-time Academic All-Big 12 Second Team honoree and a four-time Athletic Director's Honor Roll member. He recently was named the Lee Roy Selmon Community Spirit Award and Haier Achievement Award winner and was a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. He took home the Rock Chalk Choice Award for Best Jayhawk in a Supporting Role and was the KU nominee for the 2013-14 Big 12 Conference Male Sportsperson of the Year. Shepherd is also active in the community through Big Brothers, Big Sisters where he has established a relationship with a "little brother" Christopher and at local schools where he volunteers as a reader and at carnivals, field days and football clinics.
A reception celebrating this year's Men of Merit honorees will take place Monday from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Big 12 Room of the Kansas Union.
McDougald inks with Bucs Former KU safety Bradley McDougald, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2013, has re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team announced Wednesday.
McDougald, who became a starter for Tampa Bay toward the end of last season, logged 42 tackles (36 solo) during the final six weeks of 2014. New Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith raved about McDougald down the stretch last season and several outlets who cover the Buccaneers believe McDougald is in position to enter 2015 as the team's starting strong safety.
McDougald is one of four former KU defensive backs making significant contributions for their current NFL teams. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib are starting cornerbacks in Denver and Darrell Stuckey, a back-up safety and special teams captain in San Diego, just earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Powlus back at Notre Dame Former KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus, who once starred and later coached at Notre Dame, has returned to his alma mater in an off-the-field role on Brian Kelly's staff.
Powlus, earlier this week, was named the Fighting Irish's director of player development. Before coming to Kansas to work for former KU coach Charlie Weis, Powlus was an assistant at Notre Dame and Akron.
During his playing days at Notre Dame, he set 20 school records from 1994-97.