Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 89, Nebraska 72

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

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

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

Offense: A-

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

Defense: C+

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

Frontcourt: B

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

Backcourt: A

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

Bench: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick takeaway

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

Three reasons to smile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three reasons to sigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up

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

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


More news and notes from Kansas vs. UMKC


By the Numbers: Kansas 105, UMKC 62.

By the Numbers: Kansas 105, UMKC 62.

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 105, UMKC 62

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

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

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

Offense: A

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

Defense: B+

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

Frontcourt: C+

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

Backcourt: A

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

Bench: B

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

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This Week in the Big 12 Conference…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 89, Stanford 74

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

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

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

Offense: A

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

Defense: B-

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

Frontcourt: C-

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

Backcourt: A

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

Bench: B-

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

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Postgame Report Card: KU 91, Long Beach State 61

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

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

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

Offense: A

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

Defense: B+

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

Frontcourt: B

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

Backcourt: A

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

Bench: B-

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

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This Week in the Big 12 Conference…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Neon Udoka Azubuike?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 95, UNC Asheville 57

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

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

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

Offense: A

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

Defense: A-

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

Frontcourt: A

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

Backcourt: A

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

Bench: B-

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

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 65, Georgia 54

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) slaps hands with Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) after getting a bucket and a foul during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) slaps hands with Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) after getting a bucket and a foul during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 during the championship game of the CBE Classic at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 65-54 victory over Georgia in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on Tuesday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Offense: A-

At this point, this team’s offense is coming from its four guards, so if you’re grading on that kind of a scale and not expecting much from the KU big men, you can’t give the offense anything other than an A. We'll throw in the minus for the poor contributions from KU's frontcourt and Svi's off night shooting the ball.

Defense: B

Foul trouble forced KU to try a 2-3 zone for much of the night and Georgia’s cold shooting allowed the Jayhawks to stay in it. It’s not the defense of choice for anyone in crimson and blue, but the fact that they don’t like it and don’t practice or play it often is reason enough to give it a solid grade considering how well it worked.

Frontcourt: D

To give the KU frontcourt an F would be a discredit to junior Dwight Coleby, who got the most out of his body and his minutes and, according to Self, “bailed out” KU’s bigs. So give Coleby a solid B or B+ and give the rest of the bunch an F. That equals a D on the final grade sheet.

Backcourt: A

Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson were more than just all-tournament team selections. They were awesome. They play so fast, so hard and so well together.

Bench: C+

Lagerald Vick played with great effort, gave some good minutes and finished with solid numbers (9 points and 8 rebounds) and Coleby came in and played well beyond what anyone would’ve expected from him. Svi (1-of-7 from the floor in 23 minutes) and Udoka Azubuike (next to nothing in five minutes), left more than a little to be desired.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Georgia


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Mason finally surrenders spot as KU’s top scorer

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) looks for an outlet under the bucket as he is defended by UAB guard Dirk Williams (11) during the first half of the CBE Classic on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) looks for an outlet under the bucket as he is defended by UAB guard Dirk Williams (11) during the first half of the CBE Classic on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Well, that was a first.

After setting the college basketball world on fire during the first couple of weeks of the season with big time performance after big time performance, Kansas senior Frank Mason III finally surrendered his spot as the Jayhawks’ top scorer, giving way to freshman Josh Jackson, who led everyone with 22 points in KU’s 83-63 win over UAB at Sprint Center in the CBE Classic.

Surpassing Mason wasn’t easy, though.

The 6-foot-8 freshman needed every one of his monster dunks and timely free throws to outscor his senior teammate, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three-point range.

Mason, who entered Monday’s game averaging 23 points per night, led Kansas with 30 points vs. Indiana, 21 points vs. Duke and 18 points in the home opener against Siena.

While his 20-point night against UAB certainly keeps him in line with those strong performances, it also prompted one media member to ask KU coach Bill Self about Mason’s role as more of an “unsung hero” on this Kansas team.

Self saw it differently.

“It’s really, really nice,” said Self said of having someone as steady as Mason running his team. “But I don’t think he’s an unsung hero. He was National Player of the Week, so I don't see him being unsung at all. I know he’s not in our mind. I know everybody in our room understands and appreciates his value.”

If there’s one area in which Self would like to limit Mason, it’s playing time. Although he loves having his tough-as-nails point guard on the floor as much as possible, Self also recognizes the importance of keeping him fresh and not wearing him down.

There’s more to it than that, though.

“I do think we need to limit his minutes,” Self admitted. “To let other guys play better, we’ve got to limit his and Devonte (Graham’s) minutes.”

Despite the Jayhawks winning by 20 points on Monday, Mason played 35 minutes against UAB and, as he always seems to do, took a couple of hard shots and hit the floor more than his share of times.

Late in the game, Mason tumbled to the ground and stayed down for a few minutes, grabbing his lower right leg before getting up and heading to the bench. Self said after the game that Mason was fine and did not need any kind of special treatment.

Although Mason has yet to play fewer than 35 minutes in a game this season, that clearly has not hurt his production.

As much as Self would like to rest Mason more, and as much as Mason might benefit from it, don’t expect it to happen all that often. The senior from Petersburg, Virginia, has been a workhorse for this team for three seasons and it’s hard to imagine him surrendering that role now during his final season of college basketball.

Mason and the Jayhawks will take on Georgia (3-1) at 9 p.m. tonight in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic championship game at Sprint Center.

• — For a preview of what to expect in tonight's match-up, join our Gameday Chat with Matt Tait to talk KU-Georgia. Submit questions early or join the live chat at 2 p.m. central time. — •

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KU men’s basketball players send support toward fellow Jayhawks

Because the Kansas men’s basketball program is a perennial title contender, claims the Big 12 crown like it’s a birth right every season and wins games at an alarmingly high rate, it has become easy for many backers of Kansas athletics to focus most, if not all, of their attention on the hoops program that brings more smiles than frowns.

Doing so takes time and, intentionally or otherwise, has allowed a good chunk of the fan base to overlook the goings on of other KU teams, even in sports as big as football, baseball and volleyball.

That’s kind of just the way it goes around here. And, because the football team has struggled so mightily during the past seven seasons, dismissing fall football and pining for basketball season to be a year-round passion hardly even gets a second thought from those who are doing it.

I’ve often wondered what it would take — outside of winning, of course — for the fan base to be more all-inclusive and, on Saturday, I may have found my answer.

Saturday was a monster day for Kansas athletics and more than a few people noticed. The Jayhawks knocked off Texas at Memorial Stadium in thrilling fashion, picking up the football program’s first win over UT since 1938.

A few hours earlier, KU’s volleyball team clinched the Big 12 title, adding yet another chapter to the awesome run by Ray Bechard’s squad during the past few seasons. And KU also enjoyed high-level success in cross country and swimming.

In short, there were no shortage of reasons to be proud to be a Jayhawk on Saturday and some of the most high-profile Jayhawks on the planet were happy to point that out.

One of them even included a cool hashtag that I hadn't seen before: #ISupportAllJayhawks

If these guys can show up and get behind the other programs at Kansas, you can’t help but wonder what kind of impact that could have on the rest of the Kansas fan base.

Can’t hurt, right?

None by Frank Mason

None by Frank Mason

None by Landen A. Lucas

None by Landen A. Lucas

None by Tyler Self

None by Mitch Lightfoot

None by Dwight Coleby

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 86, Siena 65

Siena guard Kadeem Smithen (14) falls backward as Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is whistled for a charge during the first half, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Siena guard Kadeem Smithen (14) falls backward as Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is whistled for a charge during the first half, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 86-65 victory over Siena in the home opener Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

Offense: B-

The Jayhawks were so good in transition and really responded to Siena’s threats with some big buckets when they needed them, but again struggled from three-point range (3-of-12) and the free throw line (17-of-26). KU did shoot 57 percent from the floor overall.

Defense: B-

If you just watched how many times Bill Self rubbed his temples in frustration after watching his team miss an assignment, you might’ve given them an F. But if you looked at Siena’s 37 percent shooting from the floor you’d probably go higher. KU recorded 10 blocks, five coming from Landen Lucas.

Frontcourt: C-

Carlton Bragg had a great night, but his two running mates (Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike) struggled, scoring just 7 points and grabbing 8 rebounds combined.

Backcourt: A-

There were times when the KU guards were outplayed by Siena guard Marquis Wright. But they always seemed to answer when they needed to, they got a big time game from Lagerald Vick and there were just so many of them.

Bench: B-

Vick carried the grade for the bench, as Azubuike played just seven minutes and Svi gave Self at least seven headaches.

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Bill Self reacts to Billy Preston signing

It's rare that a coach can comment on a player as soon as he commits, but in the case of five-star forward Billy Preston, who announced Friday on ESPNU that he would play his college basketball at Kansas, that was exactly the way it went down.

The reason? Even though Preston revealed his decision on Friday, he actually had made up his mind much sooner.

Preston told Matt Scott, of TheShiver.com, that he knew Kansas was the place for him a week or 10 days ago. That allowed him to sign his official letter of intent in the early signing period, which ended Wednesday, even though he waited for the national television audience to announce his choice.

All of that allowed KU coach Bill Self to offer his thoughts about the No. 8 player in the 2017 Class according to Rivals.com. And it's clear that Self thinks the Jayhawks landed a good one.

"Obviously, we are very excited," Self said in a press release. "I don't think we've ever had the opportunity to coach a taller, more athletic, skill player than Billy. He has guard-type athletic ability and skills but, at 6-foot-10, he can be a force inside as well. We are thrilled to have Billy joining our basketball program."

Preston said his connection with Self and KU assistant Kurtis Townsend played a huge role in him picking the Jayhawks and Self said Townsend worked hard to land the Jayhawks' second commitment in the 2017 class.

"Coach Townsend was the point man and did a great job with Billy and his family," Self said. "I think what actually sold them was on his official visit he saw the interest level and the love our fans have for our players."

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Azubuike’s development right on track; no need to rush it

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) pulls a rebound from Duke forward Amile Jefferson (21) during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. At left is Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2).

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) pulls a rebound from Duke forward Amile Jefferson (21) during the second half of the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. At left is Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2). by Nick Krug

With senior big man Landen Lucas struggling so far this season, to the tune of 13 points, 8 rebounds and 9 fouls in just 49 minutes in KU’s first two games, the natural tendency of the KU fan base is to look to the bench to see who might be able to do better.

Add to that the fact that freshman center Udoka Azubuike was one of the top performers and a key part of KU’s Champions Classic win over No. 1 Duke on Tuesday night and the looks from the fans start to become less exploratory and more insistent.

Two games in to this 2016-17 season —and Azubuike’s college career — I already have heard all kinds of people ask if Azubuike should be starting in Lucas’ spot.

I don’t blame them for the inquiry. Azubuike has a ton of potential and his style of play is exciting. Beyond that, fans are gonna fan. But that’s why they’re fans and not head coaches making millions of dollars per year to run the program.

The man in charge of doing that, KU’s Bill Self, is not anywhere near ready to sit Lucas in favor of Azubuike and it’s because there’s so much more that goes into playing that spot — or any spot — for the Jayhawks than Azubuike even knows at this point.

Factors such as conditioning, IQ, experience and others all play into how much — and how quickly — Azubuike can have handle a bigger role on this team. Lucas is a pro in all of those areas and, as we saw last season, has a way of making things better for the other four players on the floor even if his numbers aren’t jumping off the page while he’s out there.

So the right move for fans wanting to see more of Azubuike is to pull for him to develop but not at the expense of Lucas’ minutes. Lucas will be fine. And Azubuike will get better. Perhaps quickly. But the whole thing is a process and one Self is just fine with thus far.

“No, probably not ahead,” said Self when asked if Azubuike’s early production had surprised him. “I don’t think he’s behind. He’s about what we thought. I think he’s improving so much so quickly and I think we thought that would happen so I’d say he’s right on schedule of what we thought he’d be.”

One thing that could change that is if he takes his performance against Duke — 6 points, 12 rebounds in 15 minutes — and uses that to springboard his development. I asked Self the other day if he thought playing that well against a team of that caliber could end up delivering 4 or 5 games worth of confidence and experience for the freshman big man and Self supported that thought.

“I think so,” he said. “I think he learned a lot. Conditioning’s important and he got tired. He’s worked his tail off conditioning, but he’s got another step he can take there. Offensively, all our bigs are too slow to catch, gather and go. They’re allowing small guys to basically become a defender on ’em. He’s gotta get better at that. As far as going after balls, he may have knocked some guys over to get ’em, but he went after some balls the other day that were pretty impressive.”

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Class of 2017 PF Billy Preston to announce today

It's another big day for KU on the recruiting trail and, depending on how you look at things, the Jayhawks seem to be due for one of these to go their way.

Oak Hill forward Billy Preston, the No. 8 ranked player in the 2017 class according to Rivals.com said on Twitter earlier today that he was going to make his decision/announcement between 3-4 p.m. central time and it will be televised on ESPNU.

Sources have said that KU feels pretty good about their chances with Preston, who was one of several visitors at Late Night in early October.

Should Preston — 6-9, 220 pounds — pick the Jayhawks, they would be getting a versatile forward with power and the potential to deliver guard type skills from the position, as well.

Preston is down to KU, Syracuse, USC and Indiana and recently broke down all four schools with HoopPhenomReport.com:

On Kansas: “Coach Self and Coach Townsend are both great coaches. I couldn’t say anything bad about them because they have been recruiting since my 8th grade year. All through adversity, they still stayed with me through the process and the coaches want me to come there and play my game.”

On Syracuse: “Coach Jim Boeheim is a legend. He’s one of the greatest coaches to ever do it and you really can’t turn that down. Coach Autry has also been great to me since he’s my main recruiter up there and he tells me that there has been many guys like me that have been successful there and that I could be next.”

On Indiana: “Coach Crean is a great coach. He coached Dwyane Wade at Marquette. He really focuses on player development and I think as a player you don’t have any limits when it comes to developing and I think overall he could be a great coach for me.”

On USC: “It’s home. I’ve known Coach Enfield and Coach Hart since my 8th grade year and they have stayed loyal to me all throughout this process. Just like Kansas, I couldn’t say anything bad about them… I love those guys.”

Stay tuned to KUsports.com later today for coverage and reaction from Preston's decision.

None by Billy Preston♕

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