Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
The list of the most read stories on KUsports.com during 2017 and the most memorable KU basketball stories of the year differs dramatically with almost no carry over.
While the reason for that is somewhat unknown — though we suspect that many KU fans worry and obsess more about the future and the unknowns than living in the moment — that reality makes for a difficult challenge when trying to look back on the biggest stories of the past year.
So instead of going with just one or the other, what we offer here is a little bit of both.
First, my Top 10 most memorable KU basketball stories of 2017, complete with some once-in-a-lifetime moments and memorable games.
I'll follow that up with a quick look at what you guys clicked on most often during the past 12 months. Some of it might absolutely shock you. It certainly surprised me.
With that in mind, let's get right to it. Thanks for all of your loyal readership, wonderful comments, important criticisms and questions and top-tier engagement from January through December. We greatly appreciate it and value our KUsports.com community as much as anything.
Here's my list:
1 - Frank Mason III sweeps national player of the year awards
It was one of the most impressive and enjoyable seasons by an individual player in the history of Kansas basketball and Mason racked up the hardware as a result. In addition to winning every national POY award, Mason also became the first player in Big 12 history to average 20 points and 5 assists per game and inspired KU coach Bill Self to call him the best guard he has ever coached.
2 – KU ties UCLA's record with 13th straight conference title
The streak was impressive before, but there was something about tying the UCLA dynasty — which actually reached 13 in a row back in its day under the direction of three separate coaches — that put a little extra shine on KU's incredible accomplishment. As always, the season began with questions about whether this would be the year the Jayhawks slipped up and all they did was roll to a 16-2 record in Big 12 play while running away with conference title No. 13 in a row.
3 – Bill Self inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
He learned it was official at the Final Four in April and was inducted into the Hall in early September. For a coach who has won at an unprecedented level and has more hardware and rings in his trophy case than most, this humbling individual honor was something that had a profound impact on Self. He was joined at the ceremony in Springfield, Mass., by more than 120 former players and coaches from all four of his head coaching stops and delivered an A-plus speech to kick off the night at his induction.
4 – Epic comeback leads KU past West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse
For a program that wins so often, and often by so many, it's hard to include single victories on these types of lists. But this one absolutely belonged. Down 14 with 2:58 to play to the No. 9 team in the country that had had KU's number all night, the Jayhawks dug deep, used a wild press and some timely 3-point shooting to force overtime and then sealed the deal on a comeback for the ages with a dominant performance in OT. Devonte' Graham was red hot down the stretch and Landen Lucas, Mason and Josh Jackson all played key roles in the comeback that made this game every bit as memorable and entertaining as that triple-overtime victory over Buddy Hield and Oklahoma a couple of years earlier.
5 – KU, Mizzou lock horns for Border War revival for charity
There were plenty of people who believed these two would never set foot on the same floor again. But it happened in 2017, when Self and Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin came together to dream up the idea of renewing the Border War for one day to raise money for hurricane victims throughout Florida and the Caribbean. Played at Sprint Center and shown to thousands via a live-stream pay-per-view option that added to the final haul, the Jayhawks and Tigers raised more than $2 million for hurricane relief. Self emphasized throughout the process that this was a one-time thing and that it did nothing to change KU's view about playing Mizzou during a regular season game. But the event, which was won by Kansas, was cool enough that it's not hard to envision something similar happening in the future.
6 – Off-the-court issues hang over KU program
From multiple Carlton Bragg Jr., suspensions to an incident at the Yacht Club involving Josh Jackson, Lagerald Vick and a member of the women's basketball program and rape allegations at the dorm where the men's basketball players live, there were plenty of non-basketball headlines that captured people's attention throughout 2017.
7 – Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk announce they'll be back for senior seasons
Graham's announcement came a week or so after KU ended its season in the Elite Eight with a tough loss to Oregon in Kansas City, Mo., and Mykhailiuk's decision went down to the final day of the deadline to pull your name out of the NBA Draft pool. Regardless of the timing or the reasons why they made their decisions, both ultimately decided to return to Kansas for one more run, news that proved to be as big as any on the “recruiting trail” for the 2017-18 season.
8 – The waiting game with KU's 2017-18 roster
The Jayhawks are off to an 11-2 start and poised to make a run at a record 14th consecutive Big 12 title, but so far a lot of the talk about this team has been about players who have not yet played in a single game — freshmen Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston. De Sousa graduated early from IMG Academy and just recently joined the Jayhawks' roster. He is still waiting to have his amateurism certified by the NCAA so he can play in a game. And Preston, who joined the Jayhawks in the summer, has been held out of games while awaiting clarification on a compliance issue involving his vehicle. While both cases dragged on, fans hung on every update or non-update throughout November and December.
9 – KU dives deep into transfer life to remake roster
Carlton Bragg Jr., and Dwight Coleby both left. Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore all came. Malik Newman became eligible. And Jack Whitman both joined the Jayhawks and then left. And then there was walk-on football player turned reserve KU big man James Sosinski. In short, Self and company dabbled in the transfer game more than ever before, both in an attempt to add to this year's team and also to set the stage for the 2018-19 season, as well.
10 – Jayhawks perfect during 4-game Italian exhibition
It had been four years since KU's trip to Switzerland and France (and just two since winning the World University Games in South Korea), but the Jayhawks were at it again in 2017 for an overseas adventure in Italy designed to give the Jayhawks a head-start on building chemistry for the 2017-18 season. Against less-than-ideal competition, the Jayhawks rolled through four exhibition games over Italian competition, with Graham, Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick providing an early glimpse at just how dangerous — and fast — that trio could become.
And here's a quick look at the Top 10 most clicked on stories of 2017:
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 92-86 win at Texas Friday night in Austin.
There's just no other grade to consider here. And it's deserving for far more than KU's 17-of-35 showing from 3-point range. The Jayhawks were efficient inside and out, took care of the ball to the tune of just eight turnovers and even got to the free throw line 15 times, knocking down 13 of them.
The Longhorns — particularly Mo Bamba — got a lot right at the rim and also put up 86 points while turning it over just nine times. KU's 2-3 zone wrinkle was a nice touch and the Jayhawks got a couple of big rebounds when they needed them. Other than that, though, this one was won by the Kansas offense and the defense remains a work in progress, although winning on the road in a conference game can do wonders for a defense's confidence.
Udoka Azubuike delivered his fourth straight solid game — and yet another double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) — and played through some serious back pain to do it. The only area in which he struggled was early on when he was still trying to figure out how to solve Mo Bamba's defense, which he ultimately did. After getting his shot blocked twice early, Azubuike started going into Bamba's body and through him to the rim. That led to easier buckets and a couple of fouls.
KU's lead dogs combined to shoot 16 of 30 from 3-point range and KU coach Bill Self said Devonte' Graham controlled the pace and flow of the game the way a senior point guard is supposed to. He also said junior Lagerald Vick may have been the best player in the game and celebrated Svi Mykhailiuk's hot shooting touch. He even praised surprise starter Marcus Garrett for solid minutes and sophomore Malik Newman for responding well to a spot on the bench. In short, there was not much to not like about the Jayhawks' backcourt in this one.
With Sam Cunliffe getting the DNP, coach's decision tag in this one and Silvio De Sousa in the building but not in uniform, the Jayhawks still used just seven players. But the 39 combined minutes from Malik Newman and Mitch Lightfoot were more than enough to help give KU a lift off the bench.
Austin, Texas — As the Kansas men's basketball team prepares to tip off Big 12 Conference action tonight at Frank Erwin Center against Texas, KU coach Bill Self is in search of answers.
“Who are we? How do we make people play bad? Are we only going to win when we make shots,” Self pondered this week when asked to assess his squad entering conference play. “That's kind of the personality that we have right now and we've got to get out of character a little bit to get tougher. We're not as tough as we need to be.”
After going 10-2 through what, on paper, seemed to be an easier-than-normal non-conference slate, the 11th-ranked Jayhawks are still in search of a true identity. Self has said for the past couple of weeks that, outside of a bad five-day stretch that led to upset losses to Washington and Arizona State, the Jayhawks have been pretty consistently good.
But producing teams described by words like “pretty” and “good” are not what Self strives for year after year and the veteran KU leader is hoping that the tougher competition that awaits his team in the coming days and weeks will inspire the kind of elevated focus and play that takes the Jayhawks from good to great.
“I know we're just coming off of break, but this is not a team that is anywhere close to being a championship caliber team yet in our league,” Self said this week. “Not even close. We make so many mistakes and our energy level's still average and we've got to get a couple individuals pumping some energy into the room. I like our guys a lot, but we are still a big time work in progress.”
So just what could this team's identity look like if everything starts to click? Well, that depends on who's on the floor. With 6-foot-9 freshman forward Silvio De Sousa now officially on the roster and the Jayhawks still hoping to get 6-10 freshman Billy Preston back sooner rather than later, the Jayhawks have a chance, with those two in the mix, to become more of a true Bill Self type of team that plays through its big men and beats people up in the paint and on the glass.
But saying that will be this team's identity is putting an awful lot of faith in the development of two young players starting from behind and might not even be possible to achieve until Feburary.
So what else is there?
Obviously, this team is loaded on the perimeter and its guards are as talented as just about any in the country. They play well together, move the ball like magic and feature four players who all can knock down 3-pointers at an impressive clip.
But jump-shooting teams have never been clubs Self is comfortable relying on and that figures to remain true even with this group and even if that ends up being the identity that this team has to embrace.
That leaves defense. And it's probably the one personality trait that Self believes can be obtained no matter who is on the roster or what style the Jayhawks are playing.
So far, the Jayhawks have struggled in half-court defensive sets with keeping the ball in front of them and preventing opposing guards — particularly smaller, quicker guards — from getting to the rim.
Fixing that overnight is not a given, nor is it easy. And this group, perhaps as much as any in recent memory, probably will have to rely on superior team defense over terrific individual defense if it hopes to play the kind of D that Self typically demands.
Getting De Sousa and Preston back would go a long way toward helping this team defensively in that it would add bodies in the paint that could help protect the rim and control the glass. But neither player is known for his defense and 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike remains a bit of project in becoming that true presence in the paint that the Jayhawks both want and need.
At this point, the smart money appears to be on this team's identity continuing to be tied to its offensive production, particularly long-distance shooting. There are varying points of view on whether that can be a recipe for success, but the way I see it is this: It's better to know what you do well and do it than to try to force something you're not as good at and pay for it.
That's not to say this team won't get better defensively or strive to play through its bigs if/when they're on the floor. But added bigs or no bigs, better defense or not, it's hard to beat the experience and talent of Devonte' Graham, Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk, who, when they're playing well and together, are about as tough of a trio to contain as any in the country.
Besides, if those are the guys upon which KU relies for its identity, the odds increase that the rest of the team will watch its confidence grow simply by playing with them.
“Ultimately, everything's up to the players,” Self said. “If you take a test, you can get tutored for it, but still the ultimate responsibility is to take that tutoring or studying and go perform well on it. So I think the ultimate responsibility is on the guys, but that is coaching — getting guys to believe that they're actually something that they may be a little bit better at than they actually are. We're a little ways from that, but I think a lot of teams are.”
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self told the Journal-World late Tuesday night that all of his Jayhawks made it back to campus on Tuesday to begin preparations for Friday's matchup with Texas.
Several but not all of the Jayhawks returned to their hometowns for a couple of days following last week's victory over Stanford in Sacramento to celebrate the holidays with friends and family.
Included in Tuesday's on-campus arrival was new freshman Silvio De Sousa, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward from IMG Academy, who just last week learned that he had become eligible to join the Jayhawks for the second semester of the 2017-18 season after graduating from IMG a semester early.
De Sousa arrived in Lawrence near the end of KU's Tuesday night practice and will have to pass a physical exam Wednesday morning before joining the Jayhawks on the practice floor.
His status for Friday's game remains up in the air as he first has to have his amateurism certified by the NCAA before he is allowed to participate in competition.
As soon as he passes the physical, though, De Sousa will be eligible to participate in team practices.
The photo De Sousa attached in the Tweet that announced his arrival in Lawrence (see above) was taken during his official visit to campus back in August. The new KU big man will wear No. 22 when he does finally suit up with the Jayhawks, which was the number he wore at IMG.
While there clearly are issues and elements of this team that need to be addressed as the Jayhawks continue to try to piece their team together and find a way to fully click, it's also clear that the team leaders are locked in on getting everyone ready for the Big 12 portion of KU's schedule.
“We feel pretty good," Devonte' Graham said after the Stanford victory. "We get to go home for Christmas and have a few days with our family and then we come back and it's time to ramp it up a couple notches and go on this nice little conference run.”
As the Kansas men's basketball team prepares to dive into the meat of its 2017-18 schedule, with Big 12 Conference play tipping off Friday night in Austin, Texas, the 11th-ranked Jayhawks (10-2) enter yet another Big 12 title defense with more than a couple of questions.
But few of them — whether about depth, experience, defense or eligibility — loom as large and ring as loud as the question about this team's free throw shooting. Specifically, why don't the Jayhawks shoot more of them?
Twelve games into the 2017-18 season, the Jayhawks have shot just 142 free throws, an average of 11.8 trips to the free throw line per game.
That puts them 42 shy of the number of free throws shot by their opponents during the first 12 games of the season a whopping 160 attempts off the pace of the average number of trips to the line during the past four seasons, when KU's low through 12 games was 262 a year ago, with the high coming in 2013-14, when Andrew Wiggins led the Jayhawks to the line 364 times during the first dozen games of the season.
While those numbers are more than a bit eye-popping — “alarming” was the word KU coach Bill Self recently used to describe it — they should not come as a major surprise.
Sure, the number of trips to the line so far seems low, but the current season marks the fourth consecutive non-conference season in which KU's free throw attempts dropped from the year before it.
In 2013-14, KU went to the line 30.3 times per game in the first 12 games of the season. A year later that number dipped to 25.4 and then again to 23.2 in 2015-16 and 21.8 in 2016-17.
So it's not the fact that the number has declined this season that has Self scratching his head as much as it is the fact that it has declined by so much.
KU's 11.8 free throw attempts per game are 10 fewer than last season's number and almost half as many as in 2015-16.
There was a recent four-game stretch, just prior to KU's win over Stanford last Thursday night, in which the Jayhawks had attempted just 34 free throws in that time. Want some perspective on that number? The Jayhawks attempted 34 or more free throws in a single game eight different times during the previous four seasons.
“We go to Nebraska and, granted, they didn’t shoot free throws either, but we shoot eight free throws against Nebraska and we shoot nine (against Omaha),” Self said. “When is the last time a Kansas team in two consecutive games shot a total of 17 free throws?”
The answer to that question and to KU's inability to get to the free throw line is not easy to find.
In Self's mind, the easiest way to change the trend and start getting to the line more is by simply driving the ball into the paint with a purpose. But that is easier said than done.
“Who drives it for us to get in there,” Self said. “Devonte' (Graham) does a little bit, but he's not like Frank (Mason) and nobody's like Josh (Jackson). You know, we shoot it pretty well, which can kind of cover some things, but in a tight game where you're not shooting the basketball (well), you have to figure out a way to get to the line.”
For what it's worth, the Jayhawks enter Friday's game at Texas shooting .725 from the line so far this season. But that percentage, while among the better marks in recent Kansas history, did not have Self overly thrilled.
“You better shoot a good percentage because you're not getting to the line ever,” he said.
In their most recent outing, a 75-54 victory over Stanford in Sacramento, the Jayhawks got to the line just 10 times — making six — but did not need the freebies because of the way their defense controlled things.
But that does not mean Self's squad has not spent time talking about and working on ways to increase its free throw attempts.
“I think you can coach it some, but the reality of it is that’s not who we are,” Self said. “Malik (Newman) doesn’t do that. Malik’s shot 11 free throws this year. Eleven! Total. Going into (the Omaha) game, 'Dok (Azubuike) had shot one free throw in his last five games. One! If it’s not for Devonte’, we don’t shoot any free throws, and we should be a decent free throw shooting team.”
|KU Season||Free Throws Attempted
through 1st 12 games
|Free Throw Attempts Per Game
through 1st 12 games
through first 12 games
|FT made||FT attempted||FT percentage|
In what will go down as the final game of his prep career, newly eligible Kansas big man Silvio De Sousa delivered a monster effort and nearly led IMG Academy to victory in a clash with fellow prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Saturday's Chick-Fil-A Classic championship game in Columbia, S.C.
De Sousa's squad fell 73-71, but the 6-foot-9 future KU forward, who learned Friday night that he had completed all of the coursework and received the necessary grades to join the Jayhawks next week, more than did his part to give his team a chance and end his IMG career on a high note.
In 31 (of 32) minutes, De Sousa delivered 25 points and 11 rebounds while also recording two blocks, two steals and an assist. The high-energy, aggressive power forward drained 9-of-18 shots from the floor and also hit 7-of-8 free throws.
While he does not figure to see numbers anywhere close to those during his time with the Jayhawks — particularly this season — De Sousa displayed plenty of skills that will help the 14th-ranked Jayhawks immediately even if he only plays 10 or so minutes per game.
He plays with a motor that never stops and that style led to several of those 11 rebounds on Saturday night, as he often gathered his own misses for second-chance points or hit the glass to clean up misses from his teammates.
Although his 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame and chiseled look might suggest otherwise, De Sousa moves well and has a fluid style that make him a handful on offense and a capable defender of players big and small.
ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla, a well-respected international talent evaluator, told the Journal-World back when De Sousa committed that the one area that he thought the IMG big man might need the most work was with the ball in his hands on offense.
“He tends to want to make plays off the dribble sometimes, in the open court, and can get a little ahead of himself,” Fraschilla said. “But I find that stuff to be very coachable.”
Again, such moments are probably not going to present themselves to De Sousa that often at KU during the rest of the season, thus limiting his potential for mistakes and increasing the odds that he will find some type of niche role to focus on and try to perfect.
But if he's able to be the kind of player who can clean up misses for easy points, hit the glass on both ends of the floor and — gasp! — possibly even get to the free throw line, De Sousa will get decent minutes right away and only see them increase as he gets more comfortable with KU's style and system.
In related future-Jayhawk news, De Sousa spent a fair amount of time matched up with Oak Hill power forward David McCormack in this one and McCormack more than held his own.
The Class of 2018 big man, who will report to Kansas next summer, tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. He finished just 6-of-15 from the floor and was one of four Oak Hill players to log 30 minutes or more.
Here are a few recent highlights of De Sousa's from the Chick-Fil-A Classic and one from McCormack at the end...
KU’s biggest issue with Stanford wasn’t going to be "the" matchup so much as it was "a" matchup.
Most KU fans were at least familiar with big man Reid Travis before Thursday’s game, a 75-54 KU win. It wasn’t long ago — just over a calendar year, in fact — the big man posted a career-best 29 points for the Cardinal in a 15-point KU win in Allen Fieldhouse.
It wasn’t just that he scored 29 points, it was how he scored those 29.
“We didn’t do anything with him,” said KU coach Bill Self immediately following the 2016 matchup. “That was a total beat-down by him on our big guys.
"Whenever one guy can set the all-time record for most free throws ever shot against Kansas and the most free throws ever made against Kansas, in the history of the school, home or away, (it) means that we probably didn’t guard. He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys."
Reid tallied 22 free throw attempts in the loss, knocking down 19.
Those numbers were in Self’s mind following the Jayhawks’ last game before the Stanford matchup this season, as both Self and senior Svi Mykhailiuk referenced them following a blowout win over Omaha.
That set the stage for Thursday. This time, things were different.
Rather than defend Travis straight-up and risk foul trouble to Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, Self attacked the big man with smaller players.
Svi Mykhailiuk drew the matchup first, defending Travis from the start of the game on.
The senior guard — listed at 6-foot-8 on the roster, though he gave a smaller number when asked about it at KU media day — was giving up some size in the matchup, with Travis outweighing him by about 40 pounds. However, Mykhailiuk more than held his own.
On the first defensive possession, Mykhailiuk denied the ball all the way out to the perimeter. He boxed out on the eventual shot attempt and KU came up with the ball.
The next possession, Mykhailiuk worked back in transition and was forced to help on a different man. After a missed Stanford layup and offensive rebound, though, the offense reset.
Mykhailiuk, who was still out of position, was late recovering to an open Travis at the 3-point line. Travis, who had made three 3-pointers in his last two games, missed what was a fairly open shot. It was arguably his best look of the half.
The only other candidate came when he had a big on him.
After a variety of action at the top of the key, Lightfoot found himself guarding Travis.
Lightfoot, KU’s most aggressive defender at the rim — arguably to a fault — had the same problem the KU bigs had last year.
Travis barely even up-faked, but Lightfoot left his feet and had to contort his body to avoid a foul. With Lightfoot out of the picture, Travis laid the ball up and in.
Travis scored six points in the first half. All six came with Lightfoot guarding him.
All-in-all, the Jayhawks primarily used multiple smaller defenders to guard the Stanford big man, which changed the way he was able to play.
The smaller KU guards were able to slide and stay in front of Travis, like a few minutes into the game, when Mykhailiuk — not known for his lateral quickness — slid into the lane and kept Travis from getting to the rim on a drive.
On another possession, Sam Cunliffe kept his footing and forced a travel. When tasked with boxing out the big on the ensuing possession, Cunliffe used his vertical leap to tip the ball away.
Other defenders had their moments too.
Just about everyone got their shot guarding the big man in the first half. With KU switching out on the perimeter, even Malik Newman ended up briefly guarding Travis.
At a significant size disadvantage, Newman fronted Travis in the post and relied on Azubuike to help had a pass come over the top.
Azubuike’s man eventually floated out behind the arc and was able to get a 3-point look, but the shot missed. KU survived the mismatch.
Late in the first half, with Newman again switched onto Travis, the big man was able to post up and the pass came in over the top.
With the KU coaches barking “help him” from the sidelines, Marcus Garrett got the message and slid into position, leaping up and knocking the ball away.
The KU guards also did their part in keeping Stanford from getting the angles to work the ball into the post, which Devonte’ Graham said after the game was a key emphasis.
And when Travis did catch the ball with a smaller defender on him, KU trapped almost immediately.
It was all part of the first-half effort that saw KU take control of the game and never look back.
The biggest problem for the Jayhawks in guarding Travis last time around was fairly simple. KU couldn’t keep him off his spot and lacked the ability to recover and wall up in the post.
After that game, Self gave Azubuike a pass, since he was just a freshman, but said he expected more from then-sophomore Carlton Bragg, redshirt-junior Dwight Coleby and redshirt-senior Landen Lucas.
That was clearly a bigger emphasis this time around, even when the ball was outside the perimeter.
Early on, most of Travis’ touches were on the outside. He caught passes at the top of the key and swung the ball to get Stanford into its offense.
Mykhailiuk, in turn, somewhat overplayed when Travis was one pass away from the action. With just over two minutes gone and Stanford with the ball on the perimeter, Mykhailiuk turned and faced Travis, extending all the way out beyond the 3-point line to deny the pass.
The plan wasn’t for Mykhailiuk to face-guard Travis for a full 40 minutes, but it did seem like denying the pass to Travis in the first place was a key focus for the KU wings.
At the very least, they showed more focus and awareness out on the perimeter than had typically been the case this season.
Just watch Marcus Garrett (No. 0) on this possession...
And Sam Cunliffe (No. 3) on this one…
As for post defense — seen a little bit in the clip above — the Jayhawks primarily kept a man in front of Travis in the post, relying on help to come from the back-side.
Part of Self’s criticism in the last Stanford game had come from a lack of attention to the scouting report.
“You’ve got to play your man before he catches it,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go where he wanted to go."
Mykhailiuk did have some lapses in focus throughout the game, over-helping at points in the first half and allowing Travis to post up late, but the Stanford guards didn’t always find him.
Travis’ first 2-point shot attempt didn’t come until more than six minutes into the game. Once again, it was Mykhailiuk sliding his feet to get in front of Travis and forcing him into a mid-range attempt that fell off the mark.
That possession actually carried with it all of the principles described.
Mykhailiuk got in front of Travis in the post and denied the entry. He followed him out to the perimeter and forced the miss and then even came up with the rebound, although the play was blown dead due to a Stanford technical foul.
Regardless, all of that played a role in the Jayhawks holding Travis to such a quiet outing.
The big man finished with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He got to the line for only three free throws, which marked his lowest since a February 22 matchup with Oregon State the year before.
And best of all, the effort earned a thumbs up from the coach.
“I thought,” Self said, “we did a great job defensively on him."
Sacramento — Sure, Thursday's Kansas-Stanford game was about the Jayhawks trying to close out the non-conference portion of their schedule on a high note, taking some momentum into the holiday break.
But in reality, it turned out to be all about Frank Mason III.
Mason, the reigning national player of the year who starred for Kansas a season ago and now is off to a terrific start to his rookie season in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings, was the featured guest of sorts during KU's 75-54 victory Thursday night.
I'll admit that I spent more than a little time Thursday wondering just how Mason was going to handle watching his old team play a game without him on Thursday night at Golden 1 Center, Mason's new NBA home in Sacramento.
It's not that Mason had not seen the Jayhawks (10-2) play a game without him already this year. He had. And he gets into it while watching on TV and sharing his thoughts on Twitter.
But it's a whole different thing to see your old teammates, who you battled and bled, cried and cracked with, actually playing in person right in front of you, just nine months after you were in that same uniform with him.
But like just about everything else in his life, Mason handled it like an absolute pro and even flashed even more of his ever-evolving personality while doing so.
“I think so,” said KU coach Bill Self when asked after the game if he thought Mason enjoyed being back around his old teammates. “I just had a chance to talk to him in the locker room. I said, 'How's life?' He said, 'Life is great, coach.' I said, 'Is it better than it was in Lawrence?' And he said, 'It's great, but it's not better than it was in Lawrence. But the pay is different.'”
Sitting at mid-court, dressed in all black and bright red shoes with family members flanking him and Kings teammates Buddy Hield and Harry Giles nearby, Mason took in every bit of the action the way many KU fans do on a regular basis.
He clapped when things went well and slapped his hands together — different gestures — when they didn't. He hopped out of his seat when a big shot soared toward the rim and often turned skyward to the massive video board that hung above the court to catch a replay of a particularly pleasing highlight.
In the first half, during the second television timeout, Mason made his way from his seat to the ESPN broadcast table to spend a few minutes on the air with the play-by-play and color guys. On his way, he stopped to fire T-Shirts into the stands and even peeked into the KU huddle for a quick second.
Remember, this was during the game. Good thing, too, because that was the one thing that forced former Mason running mate Devonte' Graham (14 points, 6 assists) to stay locked in instead of clowning around with his old pal.
“Nah, not really,” Graham said when asked if it felt weird to see Mason out there watching instead of playing. “He might've felt a little weird sitting over there watching us. It was just he was there watching us. It's Frank. We were in his building.”
Mason's mother and son have moved out to Sacramento to be closer to him and he clearly has adjusted quickly and fully to life in the NBA.
“He's doing great,” Self said. “And I think the Kings people absolutely love him, from what everyone we've talked to (has said). They've been very high on him.”
The crowning achievement for Mason on Thursday night came during a halftime promotion that pulled spectators out of the stands to shoot half-court shots to win gift cards. After a few rounds of the seven or so competitors coming up short, Mason hopped out there and tried himself. After missing his first five or six attempts, Mason drilled his last one.
Nothing but net. Gift cards for everybody.
It was that kind of night for the former KU great and it ended in KU's locker room, with Mason giving his assessment of Self's current squad with that bulldog mentality he became known for during his playing days in Lawrence.
“He was addressing the team,” Self recalled. “I asked him, 'What do you think of the guys?' and he said, 'Well, we could be a lot more aggressive on both ends, but especially defense, coach.'”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 75-54 victory over Stanford at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Thursday night.
62.5 percent shooting from the floor in the first half, including 46 percent from 3-point range, was all Kansas needed to run away from Stanford. The fact that it came from a monster effort in the paint and some hot shooting from the outside just made Kansas that much harder to beat on Thursday. The ball moved effortlessly, guys played under control and on the same page and Stanford's defense stood no chance of slowing the Jayhawks down.
The plan to put smaller, quicker players on 6-foot-8 forward Reid Travis worked to perfection, as Svi Mykhailiuk, Sam Cunliffe, Marcus Garrett and a couple of other Jayhawks all did a masterful job of frustrating Travis to just four first-half points on four shots. The Cardinal got buckets from other spots on the floor, but taking Travis away completely stifled everything Stanford wanted to do offensively and helped Kansas cruise.
Udoka Azubuike scored KU's first 10 points and finished with 24 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. Mitch Lightfoot had an up-and-down night, with a couple of unnecessary fouls combined with terrific effort on the offensive glass. Lightfoot was not quite as good as he had been in KU's past two games, but he did not take a major step backwards by any means. Toss the work Svi and Cunliffe did as big men into this grade and it's an easy A.
Devonte' Graham set the tone early with some deep 3-pointers to stake Kansas to a double-digit lead and Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick took it from there. KU's upperclassman trio all reached double digits and also played great defense on Stanford's young, inexperienced and overmatched guards.
Marcus Garrett had another hot-and-cold night, Sam Cunliffe played some terrific first-half minutes and Lightfoot did what Kansas needs Lightfoot to do for the most part. There was not really anything wrong with KU's bench effort other than scoring just three points.
Normally, the conversation between a fan and announcer is one-sided.
Fans can bark at their TVs, but the announcers will never hear them. Announcers can talk on the broadcast waves, but the fans can’t really respond.
Thanks to Twitter, we now know what at least one announcer would say if he could hear what was being said.
ESPN announcer and personality Dan Dakich was on the call for the recent KU drubbing over Omaha. Almost instantly, fans erupted on social media with tweets and posts voicing their displeasure. The tweets became so plentiful, in fact, that they were addressed on air in a segment called, “Not so mean tweets.”
Here are some of the actual tweets they used in the segment:
- @TheFoyeEffect: Dan Dakich is impressively stupid
- @BallmanMcG: I hope Dan Dakich never announces another basketball game ever again.
- @BradLoganCOTE: Who is Dan Dakich? I’m dead serious.
Dakich responded on air, joking back and forth with the users. Then he took it a step further, retweeting and responding to several users on Tuesday.
That just so happened to be the perfect opportunity for one radio host.
Joshua Brisco, host of (Almost) Entirely Sports on ESPN Kansas City, was spending his Tuesday broadcast discussing the Kansas City Chiefs when one of his friends told him another was “Twitter sparring” with Dakich.
Brisco then took to Twitter and engaged with Dakich, ultimately leaving the phone number to his show as an open invitation.
“I didn’t expect him to call, but I thought there was a chance,” Brisco told the Journal-World. “There was another national broadcaster — who shall remain nameless — who declined an offer to come on the show in a similar circumstance, so I figured that Dan would do the same thing just to avoid a potential ambush. He had no idea who I was or what my agenda was.”
The ensuing segment was filled with plenty fireworks.
You can listen to it in full by clicking here.
Dakich didn’t back down from any of his comments on the broadcast — more on that in a second — but he did say he expected some of the heat he got from KU fans.
“I catch hell every time I do a game,” Dakich said on the show. "And everybody knows, like everybody in the world knows, that, with all due respect, very few fan bases whine more than Kansas.”
Dakich referred to a conversation he had with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Tuesday about how fans tend to hear only what they want.
"I must have said 8,000 glowing things about Kansas, because I really like Kansas basketball,” Dakich said. "Like I really like Bill (Self).”
Still, it was another comment about the coach that stuck in the minds of KU fans.
After praising Self and KU’s streak of 13-conseuctive Big 12 championships, Dakich took exception to a no-call on a drive by an Omaha player.
Specifically, Dakich said “there’s nothing more disgusting” than the disparity in officiating between big and small schools, adding that the referees are paid differently depending on the game, and thus they want to keep coaches like Self happy.
Some KU fans were upset by that comment.
"That’s all I’ve heard today is, 'You can’t say they’re in Self’s pocket,' ” Dakich told Brisco. "I can say it, I’ve said it and I’ll keep saying it because they’re in (Tom) Izzo’s too. They were in (Bob) Knight’s too when I was there. It’s just the way the world works.”
The basis of that statement appears to be accurate. In 2012, Syracuse.com’s Mike Waters wrote a story about the wear and tear on officials.
In it, he noted an official can earn “roughly $3,000 for working a Big East or Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)” game, compared to smaller conferences like the MAAC, in which that total might drop to about $1,500.
"I did say, and this is a fact — this is every coach that coaches at a mid major — when you play at a Kansas, you know you’re going to get screwed,” Dakich said. "I was an assistant at Indiana for Bob Knight I used to tell him, like if we’re playing Central Michigan, 'Coach, you’ve got to stand up and change the game.’
“Look, officials make about $2,000 doing a Kansas game and about $750 doing an Omaha game. So who the hell you think they’re going to try to keep happy? It’s human nature.”
Dakich's comments didn’t stop there.
Aside from defending his own words, Dakich picked a fight with quite a few KU fans.
One user tweeted at Dakich to tell him “Malik (Newman) and Svi (Mykhailiuk) probably have more talent in their pinkies than you ever did.”
Then Dakich responded, calling out the user and comparing her hair to “lettuce."
“You guys are so, like, uptight and insecure and nuts, so I wanted crazy lady to know that I was just kind of joking around,” Dakich told Brisco. “I would imagine (that my reasoning) escaped her. That’s why I did that, because she seemed to be a very hateful person.”
Dakich also called out several people who didn’t even tag him on the platform.
He said he got into the habit of searching for his own name because former NFL punter Pat McAfee warned him to do so. Dakich noted that he has now caught someone trying to falsely use his name for publicity on four separate occasions.
“I was one of those 6 a.m. to midnight guys,” Dakich said. “Now I work three hours a day so hell, I’ve got to fill my time. And what the hell? It’s what I do.
“I love getting people to the point where they’ve got to swear at me. And then I kind of laugh and go about my business."
As for some other highlights of the conversation, Dakich called out one Twitter user on air who responded to Brisco’s initial post to announce the interview.
“You better be careful because — let me see here, hold on a second — some (jerk) named Joe Davis says, 'No, No Josh,’ " Dakich said. "He (doesn’t) want to listen when I’m on. So you might have just lost a listener for some dude named Joe Davis. That might come back to crush you.
“Hey Joe Davis, you’re going to miss a hell of a segment if you don’t want to listen to me and Josh, brother. Cause this is — ha, I almost swore right there — this is going to get good Joe Davis.”
Brisco, on the other hand, took it all in stride.
“I so respect him for (calling in). I loved every minute of it,” Brisco said. “He’s opinionated and confrontational and he has his own personality that reaches far beyond a KU-Omaha blowout.
“And that’s why many KU fans didn’t like him on that game. I saw people say that, ‘He made it about himself.’ … I just wish basketball fans had a little bit of a stronger stomach for that kind of personality.”
Really, Brisco was just concerned about getting the name of his impromptu guest right.
“I realized that, moments before he called in, that I wasn’t 100 percent confident I had been pronouncing Dakich correctly,” Brisco said. “So I was thrilled when he said his own name in the third-person a few minutes into our conversation."
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 109-64 rout of Omaha on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Svi Mykhailiuk was lights out from the outside and Udoka Azubuike was too much inside. Beyond that Devonte' Graham, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick all made quality decisions with the ball for most of the night and knocked down a few shots of their own. Easy A.
Omaha still got to the rim a few too many times and had more than a couple of possessions where they got second and even third chances. Overall, though, Kansas was intense and aggressive on the defensive end, which is no small feat considering the Jayhawks had just played two days ago and were facing an opponent that would have been easy to overlook.
Azubuike recorded the third double-double of his KU career and his second in a row, proving that both the big fella and this team are starting to figure out how to run more of their offense through the 7-footer. It should be noted that Omaha offered little resistance to Azubuike's massive size, but the effort and execution were there and that's all that mattered. Mitch Lightfoot chipped in with 15 solid minutes and also continues to look more and more comfortable in his role as the season goes on.
The trio of Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick looked so in sync throughout this one and played loose and free leading to easy baskets for themselves and their teammates. Add to that the fact that Sam Cunliffe gave good effort on both ends and Marcus Garrett, though still struggling offensively, got back to his utility-man ways, and this was an easy A.
It might not look like much, but Cunliffe's 9 points and the fact that KU had another option to give guys a rest was big not necessarily for this game but for the future. It was the perfect game for Cunliffe to really get his feet wet and gain some confidence. Nothing but dog fights from here on out.
I hesitate to share too many stories about Kansas basketball from the national media because, too often, those writers, though terrific at what they do, are writing from a position of limited information and second-hand knowledge.
That's not their fault, nor is it a knock by any means. After all, those of us on the beat who make covering KU a massive part of our day-to-day lives should have more insight, information and anecdotes about the Jayhawks than those who are only around the program from time to time.
But I thought this latest story from Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com was absolutely worth sharing — and very well done — because Goodman used his national status and contacts to talk to other coaches about what is currently ailing Kansas.
I realize the Jayhawks won on Saturday night and snapped out of their mini-funk and also figure to get right again tonight when 3-10 Omaha comes to town.
But there are still plenty of issues with this team and plenty of areas where it needs to improve if the Jayhawks are going to make the kind of run at Big 12 and national titles like we've come to expect.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying that and I think Bill Self and his players themselves have admitted as much in the past few weeks.
Goodman, in this latest story, went beyond what Self and the Jayhawks are saying about their weaknesses and talked to opposing coaches who have faced Kansas this season to get a feel for what's up with the Jayhawks.
Everything from depth issues and a heavy reliance on 3-point shooting to Malik Newman's early struggles and what might happen from here are included in this and it's a great look at KU's struggles through the eyes of those outside of the program.
There's no doubt that Kansas will continue to work on its deficiencies and the smart money is on the Jayhawks getting better, perhaps even much better, as the season goes along. Getting Billy Preston or Silvio De Sousa — or both — into the rotation certainly would be a huge lift toward making that happen.
But right now, this is a somewhat flawed team that is learning how to work with what it has. It worked against Syracuse, didn't against Washington and Arizona State and was just enough to survive Nebraska.
After tonight's meeting with Omaha, which should be an easy win, the Jayhawks are down to the nitty gritty, with Stanford on Thursday and then Big 12 Conference play beginning next week.
Self has said in recent weeks that he really hoped his team could start making serious strides toward improvement right after Christmas. And there's no debating that what Udoka Azubuike did against Nebraska last Saturday was a huge step in the right direction.
But will it all come together soon enough and in time for Kansas to do what Kansas does? That's the big question. That's what a few of these coaches Goodman talked to are wondering. And that will be the biggest question surrounding the Jayhawks, who get no favors from the Big 12 schedule, with their first three road games in conference play being tough, tough matchups against guard heavy teams Texas (Dec. 29), TCU (Jan. 6) and West Virginia (Jan. 15).
Let the fun begin.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 73-72 squeaker over Nebraska on Saturday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb.
This was a half-court game with a lot of jump shots and very few fastbreak points or free throws for either side. Still, Kansas got the better of the Cornhuskers in both of those areas — 4-2 in fastbreak points and 8-6 in free throws — and that helped offset NU's better shooting night and higher number of 3-point makes.
The defense was markedly better in terms of effort and intensity, but the Jayhawks still gave up far too many buckets on drives to the rim and also allowed Nebraska to flirt with 50 percent shooting at 49.2 percent for the game. But on effort alone, the Jayhawks were much better in this one than in either of their back-to-back losses, which not only led to a passing grade but also to victory.
A career night of 26 points, 10 rebounds and one huge block for Udoka Azubuike when KU absolutely had to have him and an underrated night for sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot, who did all of the things he's supposed to do and did them well.
Svi Mykhailiuk's clutch 3-pointer that proved to be the game winner stole the show, but Devonte' Graham's steady and solid night and Lagerald Vick's quality all-around effort were just as important. With that said, Malik Newman, Marcus Garrett and Sam Cunliffe combined to go scoreless in 49 minutes and that kept things in the B range.
Lightfoot was good but not incredible, Garrett had his moments of ups and downs and Cunliffe played just two minutes in his Kansas debut. It worked Saturday, but the Jayhawks are going to need more from their bench at some point.
For the past week, Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe has been viewed as a bit of a Twitter savior in the eyes of Kansas basketball fans.
But the Arizona State transfer who sits on the brink of playing his first game as a Jayhawk at 7 p.m. Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska, has not seen any of it.
A short while before KU's recent game against his old team, Cunliffe deleted the Twitter app from his phone and, therefore, has not seen much of the hype surrounding his return to eligibility after a year away from live action.
Cunliffe said Thursday that his mom mentioned a few of the funnier posts to him and others have told him about the buzz around his much-anticipated debut. But Cunliffe, who started his career and made 10 starts at Arizona State during the first semester of last season, has been far more concerned about being ready to help Kansas and less concerned about people's hopes, hype and expectations for him.
The reason for his move was two-fold and had as much to do with eliminating the distractions from former Arizona State friends and fans as it did quieting the noise from KU fans about his debut.
“I actually deleted my Twitter app for a little bit because I was getting a lot of stuff from my previous school and from here,” Cunliffe said Thursday. “Positive mainly, from here, but I just kind of wanted to block all that out. But I've heard a lot. I think it's cool. I think I have the fans behind me and it's always good when you have that.”
Cunliffe said Thursday that even though he has experience playing Power 5 college basketball, the year away from competition cut into most of what he learned during the short time he played for the Sun Devils.
“I kind of feel like I'm still a freshman as far as playing goes,” said Cunliffe, admitting that his first couple of games at ASU left him wondering if he could cut it. “(But I learned) definitely just not getting too high, not getting too low. I just want to make sure I do keep my head level and always give my best.”
If he can do that, his chances to help the 13th-ranked Jayhawks go up considerably.
KU coach Bill Self on Thursday said Cunliffe still had a ways to go in several areas, particularly on defense, and added that he only expected the 6-foot-6 guard to play a few minutes each half.
“If he can give us 5-10 (minutes), that would be a bonus,” Self said. “If he's playing well, maybe more than that. But just to get Svi and Lagerald and Devonte's minutes down may bode well for us.”
Regardless of when his name is called that first time or how he does when he actually gets out there, Cunliffe seems to be approaching his opportunity with a terrific mindset.
His goal is to come in and help the team in whatever ways he can, not to hit the floor and be the show.
“I think we have a great team already,” he said. “I think I'm just going to add a lot to it. And I think we're going to start getting it going in the right direction.”
Beyond simply finally being able to play again, Cunliffe is most excited about the opportunity to see how much he has grown as a player, mentally and physically, and how much he has matured during the past year.
“I don't know, actually,” he admitted when asked how he thought he'd react at game time. “But I know I am super excited. Normally when we have a game, I'm like, 'All right, I'm just going to sit there and chill.' But when you play, you get this adrenaline rush. It adds a different level. So I actually don't know what I'm like in a game.
“I haven't played a game for a year. So I don't know what my body's going to be like, how much more athletic, springy and ready I'm going to be. I've done a lot of work in the weight room with (Andrea) Hudy, and just off-the-court stuff, making sure my body's right. So I'm excited to see a lot about myself and how I react when I get on the court. No necessarily mental, but just how my body feels and how much more alert I am.”
In Bill Self's 15 seasons at Kansas, the Jayhawks have lost three games in a row just twice.
Three other times the Jayhawks thwarted potential three-game losing streaks by stopping the slide at two games with convincing victories the next time out.
But while those numbers sound somewhat astonishing, it's worth pointing out that, in both of the instances when the two-game skid turned to three, Game No. 3 was on the road, which will be the case Saturday night, when the Jayhawks travel north to Lincoln, Nebraska, for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Cornhuskers.
The last time Kansas faced Nebraska on the heels of back-to-back losses was during the 2005-06 season, Self's third at KU. That game followed a home loss to Kansas State and an overtime road loss to Missouri. And the Jayhawks took out their frustrations from those two setbacks by drubbing the Huskers, 96-54 at Allen Fieldhouse.
While none of those past performances have any real bearing on this team or its current skid, the two road losses that turned losing streaks from two games to three are worth noting given the location of KU's next game.
Sure, the two Oklahoma teams that handed Kansas a third consecutive loss — both in Norman, one in 2005 and another in 2013 — were better than the current Nebraska team. But the one major difference that makes this week's game such a challenge is the fact that Saturday will mark KU's first true road game of the 2017-18 season. By the time those past KU teams faced and lost to OU, they had played plenty of road games.
For what it's worth, KU endured eight two-game losing streaks in the 15-year Roy Williams era that preceded Self, and two of those also turned into three-game skids, with the 1993-94 team dropping three in a row to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Nebraska, and the 1988-89 team (Williams' first at Kansas) losing eight in a row from Jan. 28 through Feb. 24 of 1989.
With that in mind, here's a quick look back at the five previous two-game losing streaks under Self.
• 2013-14 •
Two true road games and a team full of freshmen — even if Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were two of them — makes this the least surprising of the two-game losing streaks. But don't let that New Mexico score fool you. That was a tougher game than the final score indicates.
L — 75-72 loss at Colorado on Dec. 7, 2013
L — 67-61 loss at Florida on Dec. 10, 2013
W — 80-63 win over New Mexico on Dec. 14, 2013 at Sprint Center
• 2012-13 •
This stretch featured the Marcus Smart back flip at Allen Fieldhouse and Self dropping the now famous Topeka YMCA line after a miserable performance in Fort Worth, Texas. KU snapped the skid with a 21-point home whipping of Bruce Weber's K-State Wildcats, two days after falling in Norman, Oklahoma.
L — 85-80 loss vs. Oklahoma State on Feb. 2, 2013
L — 62-55 loss at TCU on Feb. 6, 2013
L — 72-66 loss at Oklahoma on Feb. 9, 2013
• 2005-06 •
Another freshman-heavy Kansas squad — which featured a bunch of future national champions — struggled in two games in three nights against its top two rivals but stopped the skid at two games with a thrashing of Big Red. The KSU loss snapped a 31-game KU winning streak over the Wildcats and the Mizzou game was the one where Christian Moody missed two free throws with four-tenths of a second to play in a tie game. That's how close KU is to having just five two-game skids in Self's 15 seasons.
L — 59-55 loss vs. Kansas State on Jan. 14, 2006
L — 89-86 overtime loss at Missouri on Jan. 16, 2006
W — 96-54 win over Nebraska on Jan. 21, 2006
• 2004-05 •
Game winners in the final seconds by Tech's Darryl Dora and ISU's Curtis Stinson delivered two emotionally draining losses and KU responded by scoring just 22 first-half points in a loss in Norman. The Jayhawks dropped four of their final six Big 12 games during this season yet still won a share of the Big 12 title. KU barely avoided dropping a fourth straight game with a two-point home win over Oklahoma State, six nights after the OU loss.
L — 80-79 double-overtime loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 14, 2005
L — 63-61 overtime loss vs. Iowa State on Feb. 19 2005
L — 71-63 loss at Oklahoma on Feb. 21, 2005
• 2003-04 •
This mini-streak started with Self's 12th-ranked squad falling to No. 10 OSU in his first trip to Oklahoma State as the leader of the Jayhawks and ended with a KU win in the first game in which Kansas wore red uniforms at Allen Fieldhouse.
L — 80-60 loss at Oklahoma State on Feb. 9, 2004
L — 74-55 loss at Nebraska on Feb. 15, 2004
W — 74-54 win over Baylor on Feb. 18, 2004
The anticipated KU debut of Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe — which is expected to come Saturday night at Nebraska — is off the charts and is a direct result of the Jayhawks' back-to-back losses, limited depth and recent struggles.
And it's clear that Cunliffe himself also is more than ready to get back on the floor after sitting out an entire year while waiting to suit up for KU.
But it's important to remember one thing about the addition of Cunliffe to the Kansas lineup — While he will add to this team's depth, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound sophomore is not expected to play 20-plus minutes a game and fill up the stat sheet.
That does not mean, however, that Cunliffe will not have the opportunity to make a major impact on this Kansas team. And there's one incredibly easy way for him to make sure he does.
Go all out.
Treat every time he checks into the game like a line change in hockey, with Cunliffe hopping over the boards with fresh legs and fierce drive, prepared to give it hell for the full 90 seconds he's out there (or in this case four or five minutes) only to return to the bench and wait for another turn.
Don't worry about scoring. Don't worry about fouling. Don't worry about anything other than playing with as much energy, intensity and passion as possible, a move that, if Cunliffe delivers, surely would rub off on his Jayhawk teammates.
Here's the thing about the luxury that Cunliffe represents for Bill Self's lineup. Recent losses notwithstanding, the Jayhawks have been just fine without Cunliffe on the floor when it comes to foul trouble. In fact, just two Jayhawks have fouled out of a game all year — Svi Mykhailiuk against Washington and Mitch Lightfoot against South Dakota State.
And while foul trouble has been a concern from time to time, it has not crippled the Kansas lineup to the point of not being able to function the way Self and company want to.
So Cunliffe's five fouls are essentially bonus fouls. And that's why he can go wild when he's out there and not worry about the whistle.
Does that mean he should foul 90 feet from the basket or bump his man every time he brings the ball across mid-court? Of course not. You still have to play smart for Self or else you're not going to play and this whole concept becomes moot.
But when it comes to hitting the offensive glass, trying to take charges or doing all of those little things that steal extra possessions and change momentum, Cunliffe should feel free to function as if he has unlimited fouls to give. Because even if he picks up four in the first half — which will never happen, by the way — it's not as if that will put the Jayhawks in any kind of foul trouble they have not experienced already.
In fact, if Cunliffe somehow were to get four fouls in the first half, it probably would mean that one or two of the seven other Jayhawks who have been playing all the minutes so far this season does not have a foul or two. And that, in a weird way, would actually help KU's rotation.
Cunliffe's a good player and a great athlete and he has skills that could help, provided his head is in the right place and he's willing to play team basketball and do the dirty work that Self and company love to see from their bench guys.
That's all he needs to be for his addition to make a difference for the 2017-18 Jayhawks — a hard-working, high-energy spark.
Points, clutch baskets, key reads... Whether they come or not is irrelevant. Some nights they might and other nights they won't. But whether they do or don't, Cunliffe can bring incredible energy every time he's in the game.
The KU defense — and its reputation — took a beating over the last week.
Some fans have gone as far as to long for the days of last season, lest we all forget that team was, at times, so poor on that end it prompted several rants from coach Bill Self.
After a game against TCU last season, Self proclaimed, “We don’t guard,” three times within the same answer. After a game against K-State, in which KU allowed 88 points and nearly gave up a game-winner on a blown switch, Self took it a step further.
“We’ve had stretches where we didn’t guard very well other times during our tenure here over 13 years, but we’ve never had a team this poor on that end,” Self said. “I mean this is without question probably — not probably — it is the poorest defensive team that we’ve ever had.
“It took us a while to get this poor. You just don’t get this bad overnight, defensively,”
So assuming KU’s defense right now is somewhere in between “the poorest defensive team” KU has had and actually fairly OK given it held its first eight opponents to 74 or fewer points and is only playing with seven scholarship players at the moment, it probably isn’t the worst idea to look all over the box score to find out why the last two games went the way they did.
One number jumps out in that regard.
Points off turnovers:
- Dec. 6, 2017: Washington 16, KU 8
- Dec. 10, 2017: Arizona State 25, KU 9
Compared with some of KU’s other wins, those margins are cause for concern.
In the gut-it-out win over Kentucky, 65-61, KU tabbed 17 points off 18 Kentucky turnovers. In the game against Syracuse, where Devonte’ Graham’s 35 points and seven 3-pointers led KU to a 16-point win, KU forced 17 turnovers and tabbed 16 points.
Doing some quick math, you can put KU down for about one point off each turnover per game. That makes sense, considering some turnovers result in easy runouts and others, like charges or passes that fall out-of-bounds, let the defense reset and are harder to score after.
In trying to separate those out, one category that helps is “fastbreak points.” I’d caution against gleaning too much from that statistic by itself, considering the definition of what is and isn’t a fastbreak is entirely arbitrary. But in context, it’s a pretty solid way to break things down.
Against Washington, KU forced 12 turnovers. Off those 12 turnovers, KU scored eight points. Only three of those were on fastbreaks. Let's dive a little deeper.
KU tabbed six steals against Washington, likely the best chances for easy fastbreak buckets. The first was with just a few seconds left in the first half when Marcus Garrett single handedly blew up the Huskies’ play.
That play shouldn’t have produced any KU points so we can remove it.
The second-to-last steal was actually a jump ball and the last came in a 14-point game with less than a minute left, so those probably aren’t ones to dwell on. The remaining three, however, showcase a bit of a problem.
First, with 18:55 to play in the first half, Graham deflected a pass to start a fastbreak. Malik Newman came up with the ball and had Graham open for a split second, but instead held onto it and drove.
Graham, with nowhere to go, backtracked to the 3-point line. Newman put up a shot in traffic and was swatted at the rim.
“I think if (Newman) would just worry about things that have an impact on us winning or not, I think he’d be better off,” Self said after that game. “Missed Devonte’ a couple times wide open in transition.”
The next instance was the opposite case of that, by all accounts.
With 12-and-a-half minutes left in the second half, Mykhailiuk knocked a ball away and Graham dove on the floor to get it. He bounced it back to Mykhailiuk, who pushed it up the floor.
Multiple Washington players stared at the ball on the play and made no attempt to get back on defense. That left Lagerald Vick running wide open to the hoop, but Mykhailiuk’s pass was off the mark and flew into the stands.
Vick took the blame for the play, patting his chest, but it wasn’t at all his fault.
As for steal No. 3, it came with just over two minutes to play and the Jayhawks desperately trying to make the comeback.
Garrett poked the ball away into the hands of Vick, who tried to pitch it ahead to Newman.
Vick's pass traveled too far down the court. Garrett was actually credited for the turnover on the play, likely due to an error by the scorekeepers, but it was another opportunity KU couldn’t afford to waste.
Now the Arizona State game was somewhat different. KU actually made the right play a few times early on.
The first instance was in fact so well executed that it’s worth watching the entire sequence.
KU’s defense — yes, that defense — first did an impeccable job swarming to the ball and helping and switching when necessary. Arizona State couldn't get anything going and the result was a turnover, as Graham easily intercepted a pass along the baseline.
Graham started the break, taking three dribbles and firing the ball up the court to Mykhailiuk. Mykhailiuk dropped it backward for Newman, who drilled the 3-pointer in rhythm.
KU took a 10-2 lead. Arizona State called timeout.
Every opportunity didn’t go that smoothly.
With 14-and-a-half minutes to play in the first and the Sun Devils on an 8-0 run, Newman poked a ball away and Graham recovered it to start a break. KU didn’t have numbers, so a basket was no guarantee, but Vick and Mykhailiuk essentially ended the opportunity by running to the exact same spot on the floor.
Graham passed the ball up the court, but Vick had to slow down to keep from colliding with Mykhailiuk. The KU offense had to reset.
Instead of an easy bucket, KU settled for a Vick floater in traffic on the possession. The shot was swatted away, marking the fourth of six straight scoreless KU possessions.
That was a theme of the day.
The next steal came at the rim, so KU didn’t really have numbers. Even if they did, Graham was slow getting down the floor so KU couldn’t capitalize on a quick 5-on-4 break to create a mismatch somewhere.
That was less true on the next chance, as Newman poked a ball away and Mykhailiuk recovered it and dribbled into the frontcourt.
Udoka Azubuike put his hand up for the ball in the paint. Mykhailiuk didn’t pass and instead spun around at the top of the key.
On the wing, Arizona State’s Remy Martin saw Mykhailiuk dribbling and abandoned Graham, his original assignment. Mykhailiuk could’ve passed Graham the ball, only Martin was quick enough to poke it away.
KU should’ve ended up with an easy layup or 3-pointer. Instead it went down as a turnover.
“They said every time Svi has the ball to crowd him, try to take his ball,” Self said. “His ball handling was very, very weak today.”
Perhaps the worst mishap of either game, though, wasn’t off a steal. It may have been a player trying to atone for a mistake the game before.
With less than five minutes left, Newman grabbed a rebound off an Arizona State miss. He dribbled up the court and tried a 50-foot pass to Graham, but there was no real lane to do so.
After the game, Graham said the idea for the pass was OK, the execution was just lacking. Self’s description, coming in an unrelated answer, was a little less forgiving.
“(A) terrible, bone-head, full court pass that went out of bounds,” Self said.
By themselves, those opportunities weren’t what caused the two losses.
While KU only scored 65 against Washington, the offense was far more free flowing against a team that played exclusively man-to-man defense in Allen Fieldhouse
“You score 85 at home,” Self said. “You expect to win.”
And that’s certainly true. But KU can still do more a lot on that end.
Against Washington, the easiest way for KU to score against the adjusted zone would’ve been to avoid it all together — simply running down the floor before it could set up.
And against Arizona State, even if both teams wanted to run, the Jayhawks still could’ve done more of it on their own terms to break through dry spells and make things more difficult for the competition.
“It just unbelievable,” Self said. “Whenever you control tempo and control pace, the basket grows, and it shrinks on the other end.”
In the last two games, that’s one thing KU certainly hasn’t done. You can't forget about the other side of it, either.
The Jayhawks have allowed 41 points off 29 turnovers in the last two games, a rate (1.41 points per possession) far higher than the clip they've scored at. They've also been outscored in transition, 24-13, despite being a team that should be built to get out and run, even off misses and long rebounds.
Again it was Self, speaking to a different topic, who said it best.
"There's not that dog or competitive juice," Self said, "that guys need to have when the game's on the line."
If his latest comments are accurate, Friday could be a monster day in the Kansas basketball program's pursuit of Class of 2018 signee Silvio De Sousa.
Speaking with Kyle McFadden of marylandsportsaccess.com following a recent IMG Academy victory, De Sousa said he believed he would know the results of his latest SAT test on Friday. And, as many KU fans speculated recently about a generic Tweet sent out by De Sousa that read, “Imma be there sooner than u thought,” the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Angolan is optimistic about his chances of receiving good news.
“I feel great about it,” De Sousa told McFadden of the SAT score. “At least, that’s what I think. I’m just waiting now. … I’m still trying to figure it out.”
At this point, this whole situation really has become crystal clear. If Friday is the date that De Sousa receives his score, he will know then one of two things: Either he passed and he'll be in Lawrence in time for Big 12 Conference play this season. Or he didn't and he'll stay at IMG Academy for the remainder of the current season and will report to KU this summer.
De Sousa told McFadden that he wanted to come to KU for the second semester, “really, really bad,” and added that he thought he could make an immediate impact.
IMG coach Sean McAloon recently told 247 Sports that he thought it was a 50-50 proposition and that De Sousa would leave if he got the score and would stay if he didn't.
That has been De Sousa's goal since August, when he first told the Journal-World that he had committed to Kansas. The minute he made the call to Bill Self and his coaching staff, De Sousa had an early arrival in mind and it now appears as if he is on the brink of finding out whether that goal can become a reality or not.
There's no question that the Jayhawks would benefit from De Sousa's arrival. Regardless of whether he suited up completely prepared for big time college basketball, adding a player of his physical size, with the motor and skill set that De Sousa possesses, would be a huge lift for an undermanned KU front court.
Would De Sousa be a 20-plus minutes a game guy who would flirt with a double-double night in and night out? Probably not. But would he offer more, in terms of a physical presence and brute strength than what KU is currently getting from reserve forward Mitch Lightfoot? Probably.
That's not to say Lightfoot would all of a sudden disappear. He certainly would still play an important role on this team. But instead of having to use his 6-foot-8, 215-pound frame to battle inside, Lightfoot could slide into more of a role both he and Self envisioned for him when he signed with Kansas.
So Friday's the day. Unless, of course, it isn't. But, at least for now, we've heard from the horse's mouth that that is the date that is circled on his calendar.
So you now can circle it on your calendars, as well.
A few random thoughts about the Kansas men's basketball team as it navigates its way through finals week and a two-game losing streak.
• A lot of the talk during the past couple of days has been about how miserable practice might be for this Kansas team this week. And while that might be true in many ways, it's not exactly as if KU coach Bill Self can run these guys ragged.
Remember, they're still just seven deep — six while Malik Newman recovers from the concussion he suffered during Sunday's loss — and Self twice on Sunday mentioned second-half fatigue as a potential reason for the Jayhawks' defensive struggles.
The intensity will be up. Expectations will be elevated. And Self will almost certainly be more demanding of the Jayhawks in practice this week. But the idea that he's just going to run them until they drop does not seem entirely possible.
• Early on, freshman Marcus Garrett looked poised beyond his years and got his freshman season off to a terrific start. However, in the past three contests — all against more talented, Power 5 opponents — Garrett has looked like a different player and his confidence seems to be down considerably.
In three games against Syracuse, Washington and Arizona State, Garrett played his three lowest minute totals of the season (8, 15 and 15) and made just one shot in that time while recording just eight rebounds.
The Dallas freshman had more rebounds than that combined total in two single games earlier this season. What's more, he committed three fouls in each of those games, a statistic that suggests the game might be speeding up a little for him right now.
• On Monday night, KU assistant coach Norm Roberts suggested that newly eligible guard Sam Cunliffe — 6-foot-6, 200 pounds — might most be able to help the Jayhawks on the offensive glass. That would be a much welcomed contribution considering Kansas has not done much in that area during the past three games.
In fact, just 22 percent of KU's total rebounds during its three most recent games have come on the offensive end, with big men Udoka Azubuike (6) and Mitch Lightfoot (4) leading the team in that category during this recent stretch.
Considering KU pretty much plays just one of those guys at a time, the performance of the KU guards on the offensive glass has been somewhat of a let down and needs to improve. Cunliffe, an outstanding athlete with terrific leaping ability, could help in that department, but only if he logs enough minutes.
The easiest fix for this issue continues to rest with Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk doing a better job of hitting the offensive glass. In the past three games, the two veteran wings have just eight combined offensive rebounds.
• Speaking of Vick, he seems to be on the cusp of really taking that next step. Granted, the entire Washington game plan was designed to give Vick easy buckets, but in his past three games alone the KU junior is averaging 24.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor and topping 20 points each time out.
Vick is now leading the Jayhawks in scoring, at 18.7 points per game, shooting 45 percent from 3-point range and 56 percent overall and also ranks second on the team in rebounds, just six behind Azubuike.
It's not just the numbers that look impressive. Vick really appears to be more confident than ever out there, and, offensively, seems to be in constant attack mode, looking for any way possible to put pressure on opposing defenses.
If he can translate that approach to offensive rebounding and defense, Vick, no doubt, will be one of the best players in the Big 12.
• Roberts on Monday night brought up one other key area that he thought the Jayhawks had fallen short in during recent outings — intangibles.
“Right now we've got guys out there that kind of score, score, score, score,” Roberts said while filling in for Bill Self on Hawk Talk. “And no one's doing the intangibles. We've got to do more of the intangible things, so (we) may have to get guys out of their comfort zone.”
While Garrett seems to be the best option to become this team's Mr. Intangible — given the fact that his role in the offense is not nearly the same as others — Roberts pointed out that positive contributions in the area of intangibles can come from anyone and should come from everyone.
A hustle play here, a blocked shot there, a charge taken one moment and stealing an extra possession the next. Those are all examples of the types of plays Roberts says this team needs more of, and he pointed to past Jayhawks Josh Jackson, Travis Releford and Jamari Traylor as some of the best intangible guys this program has had in recent years.
• Finally, in case you missed it, here's a quote from Josh Jackson, who was asked back in Phoenix this week about Arizona State walking into Allen Fieldhouse and knocking off his Jayhawks.
After telling AZ Central, "Good for Arizona State. They got a good win. But it'll never happen again," Jackson said he would bet that KU goes farther than the Sun Devils in this year's NCAA Tournament and added, "I'm putting myself out there. I think I'm safe on that one."
All confidence aside, Jackson admitted that he was perplexed by what his former teammates have done — or not done — during the past two outings.
"I don't know what's going on with my team right now," Jackson said. "One thing I do know is I'd hate to be them right now. I definitely don't want to be playing for Kansas basketball right now because I know Bill (Self) is not happy."