Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

10 reasons why Bill Self is not leaving Kansas for the Houston Rockets

ESPN’s Marc Stein sent a jolt through the Kansas University basketball world on Wednesday when he Tweeted that the Houston Rockets are “intrigued” by the idea of Bill Self as their next head coach.

As many have mentioned on Twitter already, just because the Rockets are intrigued by Self does not mean Self is intrigued by the Rockets’ opening. What’s more, Stein has a long list of names on the Rockets “wish list” and most of them are guys with NBA experience, which the Rockets seem to value in their search.

Sure, it’s possible that Self could one day explore the idea of coaching in the NBA. Many believe that it’ll happen eventually in San Antonio, where his good buddy R.C. Buford runs the team. And even Self has talked about what a special situation Oklahoma City is, in his home state, with a couple of world-class talents like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But those jobs are not available at the moment and I just can’t imagine Houston being the situation that makes Self jump.

So, without further ado... 10 reasons why Bill Self is not leaving Kansas for the Houston Rockets:

1. Josh Jackson – There’s no way Self worked as hard as he did to land Jackson to say goodbye before he ever gets the chance to coach him. Especially not in exchange for the roster the Rockets have.

2. Big 12 title streak still in tact – We all know that it’s March success that gets remembered, but this Big 12 title streak is a big deal and there’s no reason to think it’s going to end any time soon. It’s not like he’ll stay to see it through the 27 in a row (or will he?) but I think passing UCLA and putting that kind of stamp on the history books is meaningful.

3. Have you seen James Harden “play defense” – Enough said. The guy is an amazing offensive talent, but he has no interest in playing defense — or even faking it — and I can’t imagine Self or anyone else getting through to him and changing that. And we all know how Self feels about players who don't play D.

4. More hardware, please – I’ve always thought (and heard) that winning a second national championship means a lot to Self. And until he gets one, I can’t see him going anywhere. There have been a lot of college coaches who have won one title. A lucky run, a hot streak or one strong recruiting class or player can deliver the trophy. But the coaches who have won multiple NCAA titles put themselves in elite company and I believe Self wants to be and belongs in that group. Add to that the fact that KU is positioned to be right there again at the end of the 2016-17 season and it’s easy to see him sticking around.

5. Tyler Self – It’s not as if Self’s son still being on the roster would prevent the coach from taking an amazing opportunity elsewhere. But it is a factor and this is not an amazing opportunity. Tyler has come this far and I can’t imagine Self choosing to bail during his son’s final season on the team.

6. Dwight Howard has to be a factor – Self loves big guys, but I don’t think he would love Howard. The Houston center has been a big time problem everywhere he’s been for the past several years and, even though he possesses all the talent and physical skill in the world, there’s just something missing there and I can’t imagine adding the Howard headache to your daily duties would be something anyone who already has a great job would want to take on.

7. Seniors matter – Much the same way Roy Williams had a hard time saying goodbye to Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison the first time he was offered the job at North Carolina, I think it would be tough for Self to say goodbye to guys like Frank Mason and Landen Lucas. Those two might not be as talented as Hinrich and Collison, but Self has been through a lot with both of them and respects them so much. Ditching them would be tough to do.

8. Money – I’m not sure what the Rockets could or even would offer to pay Self, but you can bet Kansas would do everything in its power to get close to that number to keep him around. So don’t think that this decision — if and when it ever happens — will be about money.

9. Big fish, little pond – Self likes being the man and as long as Kansas is winning he always will be the man in Lawrence, not to mention college basketball. Moving to Houston puts him in the position of having to compete — in a much bigger market — with the likes of the up-and-coming Houston Astros and the Houston Texans. Sure, Houston will support a winner in any and every sport, but those two programs are in great shape right now and definitely steal some of the thunder from the Rockets on an annual basis. There’s nothing stealing Self’s thunder in Lawrence and it just keeps rumbling louder and louder year after year.

10. Because he’s the friggin head coach at Kansas – Year after year, people love to discuss Self heading to the NBA. And it may happen some day. But it also may not. Self has a great gig, is king of the world in Kansas and has this thing rolling. Besides, just last year he talked about how he thought the program was on the verge of turning a corner for landing a ton of big time recruits. Why would anyone leave a situation like that?


Former KU QB Jake Heaps getting another shot at the NFL

Do your best to hide your shock after reading this, but former Kansas University quarterback Jake Heaps is getting another shot at the NFL.

Earlier this week, Heaps revealed that he had signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks — his hometown team — and will attend minicamps and attempt to make the Seahawks’ roster or practice squad this offseason and preseason.

It’s a long shot, sure, but it is a shot and I’m well aware that many people — mostly likely many of you reading this — never believed that Heaps would do much after leaving Kansas following his junior season.

In reality, he didn’t, but you have to give the guy credit for continuing to chase his dream and play the game he loves.

After leaving KU, following one season as the Jayhawks' starter — as it goes around here lately, he was benched for the final three games of 2013 in favor of Montell Cozart — Heaps played his senior season at Miami, Florida, where he appeared in four games and completed just 6 of 12 passes for 51 yards while serving as the back-up to freshman Brad Kaaya.

That reality continued a trend for Heaps, who saw his production dip every season after his freshman year at BYU, where the former five-star QB began his promising career by setting several BYU freshman passing records.

That 2010 season, in which Heaps threw for 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns went down as easily the best of his college career. During his lone season at KU, Heaps threw for 1,410 yards with 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing just 49 percent of his passes.

Sure, Heaps’ ability was some of the problem, but the bigger issue, at least the way I always saw it, was KU’s inability to protect him and surround him with quality playmakers who could catch the football.

That’s not to put all of the blame for that poor offensive season on Heaps’ supporting cast. It definitely was a shared effort and both parties played a big role in the Jayhawks watching their struggles continue.

But I always thought both Heaps and Dayne Crist got a little too much blame for the KU offense's inability to produce. So it goes with the quarterback position.

Despite not playing much at Miami, Heaps received his first crack at pro football with the New York Jets. He made a couple of cuts, appeared in a preseason game or two and almost made the team. The reason? The guy can throw the football when the offensive line gives him time to do just that. He’s got a live arm and understands offenses very well. He’s just not that great at improvising on the fly and getting out of trouble, which makes Seattle’s decision to add him a head scratcher at the very least. Heaps’ skills in no way remind me of Seattle starter Russell Wilson, unless you’re talking about how both are quality young men with a serious competitive drive and passion for the game of football.

Regardless, it’s cool to see Heaps get another shot just the same as it was to see Crist get his crack at the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens after his rough one-year run at Kansas.

Both are great dudes who did all they could to help Kansas and truly committed to the cause while they were Jayhawks. Both also made some lifelong friends at KU and have nothing but good things to say about their experience here, even with the record and the stats not being what either of them hoped.

That’s the sign of quality individuals and that, along with his rocket right arm, probably has as much to do as anything with Heaps getting this second chance.

Best of luck to him and what a cool opportunity to try out for the team you grew up rooting for.


Breaking down Bill Self’s comments on newly signed KU guard Josh Jackson

Although it never was in doubt, the Kansas basketball fan base no doubt breathed a little sigh of relief on Tuesday, when KU officially announced the signing of freshman-to-be Josh Jackson.

Jackson, the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2016 according to Rivals.com, already is pegged as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and, barring something crazy, will spend just one season as a member of the Jayhawks.

Regardless of how limited his time will be in Lawrence, Jackson still figures to make a major impact on the KU roster, the Big 12 and college basketball in general.

KU coach Bill Self said as much on Tuesday when announcing the signing and it’s clear that the college basketball ceiling for Jackson is as high as any we’ve seen around here in recent years, including Andrew Wiggins.

Since it was the first we’ve heard from Self about his new star-in-the-making, let’s take a little deeper look at what Self said about Jackson and break those comments down into why and how Jackson fits so well at KU.

Self's comments are in bold below, my commentary is in italics after.

Josh Jackson competes in the dunk contest in the Under Armour Elite 24 Skills Competition on Friday, August 21 in Brooklyn, New York.

Josh Jackson competes in the dunk contest in the Under Armour Elite 24 Skills Competition on Friday, August 21 in Brooklyn, New York. by Associated Press

“Josh has been a guy that is so respected in all high school circles the last four years.”

This, to me, is a sure sign that KU is getting a young man who is ready for everything that will be thrown at him in the next 10-12 months. Media barrage? Check. Face of the program? You bet. Pressure of playing at KU? No doubt. Chatter about being KU’s latest one-and-done stud and turning pro? Yep. The maturity seems to be off the charts with this guy and I don’t think this will turn into a case of KU getting a player who is a little immature and not ready for life on his own let alone big time college basketball. Jackson seems already to be a grown man and it should be interesting to observe that in the wake of players like Carlton Bragg, Cliff Alexander and even Wiggins.

“He is very similar to Andrew Wiggins. He’s a tall guard that can do a lot of everything. We feel his impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.”

Many, including our own Tom Keegan, already have written the inevitable Andrew Wiggins comparison, but it was noteworthy that Self went there. He certainly didn’t have to. And comparing Jackson to a player who was the runner-up in the Big 12 player of the year voting and wound up going No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft certainly is no subtle thing. That, to me, tells you exactly how much faith Self has in Jackson’s ability to handle the spotlight. We all know that Self is a master at handling the mental side of the game and pushing exactly the right buttons with his players at precisely the right times. Starting out with Jackson on this note tells me that Self believes this young man can handle anything.

“He’s extremely athletic but, more importantly, extremely competitive.”

This was interesting to me because I’ve seen it debated a few different places among fans on the Internet. Some have called Jackson an incredible athlete and others have said that he’s more of a quality basketball player and not quite in the category of freak athlete. So here you’ve got Self calling the kid “extremely athletic” and I’m guessing that pretty much ends the debate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Jackson is anywhere near as athletic as Wiggins (who is?) and that easily could be the part of the debate that’s getting lost in translation.

“He is probably as highly thought of as any recent player to come out of high school because of his competitive nature. We have a very competitive culture at Kansas, but I think it just got improved with the signing of Josh.”

Throughout the years we’ve heard some big time comment and compliments from Self about his teams and individual players. But this might be one of the best. And the kid hasn’t even suited up in a KU uniform yet. We all know how much competing means to Self so to pay a young player like Jackson this kind of a compliment at this stage in his career is about as big as it gets. The important thing to remember here, too, is that Self already signed him and won the recruiting battle. It’s not as if this was just some comment he made to try to woo him to Kansas.

“He’s a guy that everybody enjoys playing with because he is so unselfish but also a guy that can take a game over.”

I’ve been trying to think of a former KU player who also fit this mold and it’s been difficult. A few guys who come to mind include Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Keith Langford, Wayne Simien, Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis. If Jackson winds up anywhere near that company, his one year at Kansas will be memorable.

“Josh has a great feel for basketball...”

This is one area where Jackson seems to differ a little from Wiggins. Wiggins, as you all know, was a freak athlete who dominated competition both in high school and at Kansas by using his physical tools. Simply put, he could run faster, jump higher, jump quicker, and move better than most players on the floor every time he played. If Jackson truly does have a better feel for the game, he should be able to impact the action in ways that go beyond athleticism. We’ve heard he’s a great passer and a better ball-handler than Wiggins. And based on what I’ve learned and what little I’ve seen, he seems to have very good command of what everyone on the court is and/or should be doing. It will be interesting to see if that same “feel” that he already seems to possess translates to Kansas and major college basketball right away.

“His recruitment was fierce and deservedly so. Coach Townsend has done such a good job for a long period of time of making sure Josh and (his mom) were both comfortable and educated on our situation and how Kansas could be a good fit for them.”

Recruit the parents, land the player. It doesn’t always work this way, of course, but it often plays a huge role. And Self and his staff know this — and do this — as well as anybody out there. I also think it’s worth noting Self’s praise for Townsend in these comments. Clearly, Self is the closer when it comes to landing these types of players. But without a strong effort from his staff to lay the foundation and, more importantly, stick with the recruitment every minute of every day and as much as needed, his success rate of landing these highly coveted one-and-dones would not be near what it is. Cool to see Self share the love. It’s that kind of feedback and praise that keeps these assistant coaches working so damn hard in a cut-throat and never-ending endeavor such as pounding the pavement on the recruiting grind.

Reply 1 comment from Pius Waldman

It never went away, but is Big 12 expansion back in the spotlight?

So here we go again.... again.

As if any of us needed any more proof that it’s college football, and nothing else, that’s driving (and has driven) the seemingly constant changes on the landscape of college athletics, we now have more evidence.

The Big 12 Conference, which in the past five years has lost Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M while adding TCU and West Virginia, recently revealed that data from an in-depth study on expansion and how it relates to the College Football Playoff showed that adding members would upgrade the Big 12’s chances of competing for national championships in football.

Uh oh.

This news and the results of this study are something we’ve been waiting on and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other Big 12 brass have been promising for weeks. And now that it’s here, the Big 12’s reaction to it should get very interesting in a hurry.

According to Bowlsby, the numbers run by Chicago-based Navigate Research show the Big 12 has a 4-5 percent better chance of reaching college football’s final four by adding two teams, playing one less conference game each season and hosting a championship game.

Should the Big 12 deem that data to be significant enough to again get serious about expanding, it would mean that the conference has to (a) agree and finalize its choices for which programs to add to the conference and then move quickly to bring them in and (b) get used to the idea of going back to an eight-game conference schedule with four non-conference games and scrap the whole idea of round-robin play determining its champion, a reality the conference has been beating the drum loudly about during the past few years.

Both developments, as well as the addition of a couple of teams that might not be on the same level as the nasty gauntlet that makes up the current Big 12 schedule, would be good news for Kansas football in the future and would be a significant lift for KU’s hopes of rebuilding its down-in-the-dumps football program.

Now the hard part.

If you’ve been following along at all during the past couple of years, listening to all of the rumors and speculation and wish lists and pipe dreams, you already know that identifying and adding a couple of teams to the conference will not be easy because there are no slam-dunk, obvious, home-run additions available.

BYU seems to be a likely and leading candidate, but beyond that, the all-important second choice is up in the air.

Bowlsby said the research firm that studied the data ran 40,000 simulations to reach its conclusion. The question the Big 12 faces now and into the future is this: Is that 4-5 percent enough to move the needle and make expansion the desired course of action?

Well, do your best to hide your shock when you read this next part, but it seems that the decision won’t be based solely on the on-the-field impact of such a decision. It will be and always has been about money.

“If we do nothing, we’ll fall behind the SEC and the Big Ten in terms of [revenue],” Bowlsby told reporters Monday in Phoenix at the Big 12 spring meetings. “We may be every bit as competitive as we are today, but we’ll fall behind financially.”

Later this month the Big 12 presidents will host their own meetings in Dallas, and that’s where things should get very interesting.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s next for the league, both in long-term and in the short term, as those in favor of expansion, like Oklahoma president David Boren, now have more muscle behind their push for expansion.

How hard will Boren and others recruit the rest of the conference to get on board with the idea based on this data? How difficult will it be for the conference to identify and agree upon the additions should they decide expansion is the right move? How quickly will this actually move? My gut tells me it will take some time and won’t be able to happen as soon as this summer as the pro-expansion crowd certainly would prefer.

Ever since the Big 12 starting losing teams to other conferences, the conference has operated with patience and taken a measured approach to every decision it has made or not made in regard to the long-term future of the league.

Whether that’s the best mode to move in which to move forward now depends on how significant the conference deems this data to be. The guess here is that it is significant enough and the winds of change will start blowing again. After all, doesn’t it seem like an extra 4-5 percent two years ago would’ve helped the conference tremendously when both Baylor and TCU missed out on being included in the first ever College Football Playoff?

There are, of course, other issues still in play — most notably what to do with the Longhorn Network and potential for a Big 12 Network — but the slow and methodical approach to exploring the possibility of expanding back to 12 at some point has eliminated a lot of those and it should be very interesting to see where things go from here. Will we see the Big 12 start to move toward getting serious about expansion or will it be more of the same?


How this year’s draft impacts the Jayhawks in the NFL

Another NFL Draft has come and gone and, not so surprisingly, no Jayhawks were selected in this year’s seven-round draft.

That’s a far cry from a year ago, when three former Jayhawks — Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald — were drafted in the seven rounds.

As is the case just about every year, a handful of former Jayhawks who finished their college careers in 2015 were signed as undrafted free agents following the draft, so there is the possibility that the number of Jayhawks in the NFL could go up by the time August rolls around.

But going the free-agent route makes all of those guys longshots to stick so the better way to examine this year’s draft is through the lens of what the teams with Jayhawks did that might impact the former KU players already in the NFL.

The good news on that front is the answer, in just about every case, is not much.

Here’s a quick look.

Denver Broncos — The Broncos did pick up a pair of defensive backs in this year’s draft, but both were safeties and neither will threaten the status of starting cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Let’s face it; even if the Broncos had drafted a corner, even that would not have threatened Harris and Talib, the former KU teammates who have become two of the top corners in the league and, in many eyes, the top cornerback duo in the NFL.

Denver's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Denver's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

New Orleans Saints — Former KU running back Toben Opurum has spent the past couple of seasons with the Saints, primarily on their practice squad and he appears to be doing enough in that role to keep his bosses happy. The Saints did add a running back in the draft but not until the final round.

New Orleans' 2016 NFL Draft class.

New Orleans' 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Oakland Raiders — The Raiders added two defensive ends and an outside linebacker, but none of those players should impact Heeney, who had a stellar rookie season playing inside and in the heart of the Oakland defense. The talk out of Oakland both immediately after the 2015 season and in the offseason sure made it sound a lot like the Raiders were thrilled with what they had in Heeney and that his role would only increase from here on out. This draft definitely indicates that. The Raiders also stayed away from the cornerback position, good news for Dexter McDonald.

Oakland's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Oakland's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Philadelphia Eagles — I’ve heard nothing but good things about JaCorey Shepherd’s recovery from a torn ACL last preseason as well as the Eagles’ feelings on him as a big part of their future. The Eagles’ draft certainly would lend support to that claim. Phily did add a pair of DBs in the 6th and 7th rounds and one of them, Blake Countess of Auburn, seems to have some steal-type potential. But even at that, Countess seems more like a true cover corner and the Eagles were looking at Shepherd as more of a nickel back. All in all, in could have been worse for Shepherd and he has to be feeling good that the franchise did not feel as if it needed to use a high pick on a player in the secondary.

Philadelphia's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Philadelphia's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Pittsburgh Steelers — Steven Johnson signed with the Steelers this offseason mostly because of the opportunity to not only make the roster but also impact the team. The Steelers added two linebackers in the draft — a sixth-round pick from Washington and a seventh-rounder from Temple — and it’s entirely likely that Johnson, who has spent time with the Broncos and Tennessee Titans after landing in the league as an undrafted free agent, will have to compete with those two players for a possible spot on the 53-man roster. Competing and being in that underdog role is nothing new for Johnson, so don’t expect him to shy away from the challenge. When I caught up with him at this year’s spring game, he seemed ecstatic about the opportunity in Pittsburgh and no doubt will be ready for the battle.

Pittsburgh's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Pittsburgh's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

San Diego Chargers — No safeties in the draft for the Chargers is excellent news for former KU standout Darrell Stuckey, who not only has entrenched himself as a key part of the Chargers’ special teams — he earned a Pro Bowl nod for that role two years ago — but also may be in line for more time in the secondary now that stud Eric Weddle, who mentored Stuckey, is no longer with the team.

San Diego's 2016 NFL Draft class.

San Diego's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs added two cornerbacks but no safeties, which should inspire former Jayhawk Bradley McDougald to release a sigh of relief. McDougald has been rock solid for Tampa during his years with the franchise and continues to improve each season. He’s still young but now trending toward veteran status and seems to be a big part of their defense.

Tampa Bay's 2016 NFL Draft class.

Tampa Bay's 2016 NFL Draft class. by Matt Tait

There are, of course, a handful of other former Jayhawks still trying to hang around with this team or that team, but as for the players who have carved out key roles in pro football, this draft did not seem to hurt any of them.

One quick note about Tanner Hawkinson, who was drafted by Cincinnati and then spent time in Phily before getting picked up by Jacksonville... I saw Hawkinson before this year’s spring game, as well, and he said he was not completely sure what his future held. There’s no doubt that he could still make a roster, but his time in the NFL might have come to an end and he might have been a victim of not catching on in quite the right situation. We’ll keep an eye on it and see what he ends up doing.


It’s gotta be the shoes

When people used to talk (and probably still do) about a school’s footwear of choice playing a role in the decision-making process of top-ranked basketball recruits, I used to think they were crazy.

I mean, are we really living in a world where a young man might pass on going to Kansas because the Jayhawks are an adidas school and he would prefer to wear Nike?

I guess in some ways we are. And as sad as that is for so many reasons, it still is not entirely true.

After all, that was the scuttlebutt during the recruitment of Andrew Wiggins a couple of years ago. Because Wiggins’ Huntington Prep crew wore Nike, there was talk that the Jayhawks had no shot at landing him because he was not going to wear adidas.

That, of course, turned out not to be true. Wiggins came to KU, wore adidas everything for 10 months and, after being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, signed a deal to have his own adidas line and become one of the few faces of the company’s basketball brand, joining such NBA stars as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Damian Lillard and, in years gone by Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant.

I’m not a huge shoe guy. Don’t get me wrong. I like the looks of so many of them and enjoy scouting out who wears what and how they look on the floor. But rarely do I commit such information to memory and, when it comes to slapping sneaks on my own two feet, I keep it pretty simple and shoot for comfort, price and functionality as my main criteria.

Benton Smith is our resident shoe guy here at KUsports.com and while I know his shoe game has helped him build a rapport with all kinds of KU athletes during the past several years, I’ve also heard from more than a few people who believe Benton may have a problem. He tends to do that. If you ever run into him or anyone who knows him, feel free to ask about last summer’s phenomenon known as “Jerseys July.”

Anyway, back to the shoes and why I’m even writing this.

As I said, I used to think that these things did not matter. After all, they’re just shoes. And it’s not as if KU, by signing a lucrative, long-term deal with adidas, is asking its athletes to wear low-top Kangaroos with the zippers on the sides that put them at a disadvantage. Nike, adidas, Under Armor, they all make quality shoes that are worn and trusted by some of the best athletes in the world.

So Nike here, adidas there, who cares, right?

Well, evidently at least one former Jayhawk does. Wayne Selden Jr., who, last month, announced that he would forego his senior year and head to the NBA Draft on Monday night posted a photo of himself working out at a training facility in California.

The post, which popped up on Selden’s Twitter feed (@WayneSeldenJ) highlighted the work Selden has been putting in leading up to the June draft and featured a photo of him shooting a jumper in a gym.

There, toward the bottom of the photo, Selden’s shoes jumped off the screen at me. Instead of the adidas kicks that he’s been wearing for the past three years, Selden was rocking a pair of black Nikes. (I’m sure Benton could tell you in two seconds what kind they were).

What does all of this mean? Nothing, I suppose. I just found it interesting that he would be working out in Nikes when he spent the past three years playing and training in adidas gear.

To be fair, this could have been a one-time thing or Selden could be wearing both brands depending on the type of workout he’s doing.

Either way, I guess the shoes really do matter to these guys.

I'm sure a much bigger concern for Selden today, however, is putting in the work required to be selected in this summer's draft.

As things stand today, DraftExpress.com has Selden listed as a second-round pick, No. 42 overall to Utah. Seems like a safe bet that he'll fall somewhere in that range, but if he does enough to impress teams at the pre-draft workouts, he could slide into the late first round and high 20s.

It should be interesting to track his path along with the paths of fellow former Jayhawks Cheick Diallo, Perry Ellis and possibly Brannen Greene.


Does the extra year of eligibility make it easier to move Montell Cozart?

For the past couple of years a lot of the talk surrounding Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart focused on what other position Cozart could play as much as it did on his qualities as a quarterback.

And given the Bishop Miege graduate’s elite-level athleticism, that type of chatter made perfect sense.

However, as things stood entering the 2016 season — spring football wrapped up last week — I was one of the rare people who still believed that Cozart, incredible athlete or not, actually served this team best as a quarterback.

After all, even though freshman quarterback Ryan Willis showed a ton of potential last season and appears to be poised for big things in the future, he missed most of the spring with an injured wrist and the rest of the position behind him is wildly inexperienced. Therefore, Cozart, even in a back-up type role, can still bring something of value to the roster as a passer. Besides, if he were to move to wide receiver, he’d be plugging himself into a deep and talented position and competing for playing time with teammates who have been running routes and catching passes their entire lives.

Those were my thoughts before Wednesday.

Kansas backup quarterback Montell Cozart watches the scoreboard against Baylor during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

Kansas backup quarterback Montell Cozart watches the scoreboard against Baylor during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. by Nick Krug

But now, in the wake of the news that Cozart, along with fellow KU quarterback Deondre Ford, had been granted a hardship waiver that came with an extra year of eligibility, my mind is starting to go to that place that so many other minds already have been.

Should Montell Cozart switch positions?

Cozart himself was asked this question earlier this spring and, as much as the young man fancies himself a quarterback, he proved that he truly is a team player by saying he inquired about switching positions if that was what the coaches thought was best for the team. It wasn’t then. But it might be now. And that extra year of eligibility has a lot to do with it.

See, with just one year left, it would be tough for Cozart to fully make the jump from QB to wide receiver or DB or wherever else they thought he might be able to help. After all, even former Jayhawk JaCorey Shepherd, who went on to become a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, needed a full year and then some to make the transition from wide receiver to cornerback. And that switch is a much easier transition than going from quarterback to anywhere.

So that’s what is so intriguing about that extra year that Cozart now has at his disposal. If they make the move now, he could spend the summer, preseason camp and all of the 2016 season easing into the transition and then be ready to truly make some noise at his new position heading into next spring.

With young QBs Carter Stanley (red-shirt freshman) and Tyriek Starks (incoming freshman) in place and ready for action — along with Ford and Keaton Perry on the roster for QB insurance — the Jayhawks have the bodies behind Willis to give Cozart a shot somewhere else. Besides, it's not like he couldn't move back if something happened to Willis or the need popped up.

That’s not to say Cozart could not move at a faster pace and contribute in a different role as soon as the 2016 season, but the extra year takes some of the pressure off and gives him time.

The only thing left to do now is to figure out the best spot to move him and then pull the trigger.

Having said all of that, don’t count Cozart out of the QB race just yet. Willis did next to no throwing this spring because of that wrist injury and Cozart has never been anything but supremely confident in his skills.

Like it or not, there exists the real possibility that Cozart could be lined up under center for the first offensive snap of the season just as he was in each of the past two seasons.

The good news, though, is this: If he’s not, it now looks as if there’s time to find him somewhere else to contribute.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart. by Nick Krug


Which version of Frank Mason was better? 2014-15 or 2015-16?

The speculation from most fans and observers regarding Kansas guard Frank Mason throughout the 2015-16 KU men’s basketball season was that some kind of nagging injury might have been bothering him during various portions of the Jayhawks’ run to a 33-5 record and trip to the Elite Eight.

There certainly were times when Mason, a junior from Petersburg, Virginia, looked a little off of his game and did not play at the same level that he had during his stellar sophomore season.

Mason, like the consistently solid player he has proven to be, always found a way to contribute and, more importantly, always bounced back from those rough stretches, but it seemed to me and most of the people I talked to about Mason throughout the season that he was not playing at quite the same level as a junior as he did as a sophomore.

With the season now in the past and my curiosity racing, I checked out Mason’s stats from both seasons to see how they compared.

The result? It turns out Mason is way more consistent than I even realized.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) floats in for a bucket past Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) floats in for a bucket past Texas Tech forward Zach Smith (11) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

In the 25 statistical categories kept every season for each player, Mason stayed the same or improved in 20 of them.

The entire lot will be outlined a little later, but, for now, let’s focus on the five categories in which he took a step backwards.

• FG percentage — Mason shot .434 as a junior, seven tenths of a percentage point lower than his .441 average as a sophomore. The interesting thing about this stat, however, is that Mason both took and made more shots during his junior season, with the higher number of attempts creating the slightly lower shooting percentage. It’s also worth noting here that Mason, who played in and started every game during the past two seasons, received the benefit of two more games as a junior because the Jayhawks advanced two rounds farther in the NCAA Tournament. So keep that in mind when reading these stats.

• Three-pointers attempted — Depending on how you look at it, this, too, could have gone down as an “improvement” because Mason took 113 threes as a junior and just 98 as a sophomore. The reason I tossed it into the “got worse” category, though, was because the higher volume of three-point attempts led to Mason shooting a worse percentage.

• Three-point percentage — Mason shot .429 from behind the three-point line as a sophomore and dipped to a .381 three-point shooter his junior season. As mentioned above, the 15 more attempts (again, remember the two extra games) was a big factor for the lower percentage and it’s interesting to note that Mason made just one more three-pointer (43) as a junior than he did as a sophomore (42). In fact, Mason either tied or missed tying by one in seven of the 25 statistical categories: Games started (all), minutes per game (33.5), three-point makes (43-42), turnovers (73-74), steals (50) and blocks (3-4).

• Free throw percentage — As was the case with his three-point shooting, a higher volume of free throws led to a lower percentage for Mason, who shot .739 as a junior compared to .786 as a sophomore. That .739 clip came in 44 more free throw attempts and Mason made 26 more free throws in 2015-16 than he did during the 2014-15 season. Again, you have to take into account those two extra games when considering these and all of his numbers, but, even with that included, Mason exceeded what a lot of his numbers should have been based on his career averages.

• Personal fouls — Mason fouled a whopping 19 more times during the 2015-16 season, hacking opponents 84 times compared to just 65 the previous season. When you consider that his minutes per game and starts were the same as the year before, this stat is a pretty good illustration of just how the way officials emphasized the new rules for fouls (especially early in the season) impacted the game.

So what does all of this mean? As with most stats, it really can mean whatever you interpret it to mean. But one thing that cannot be argued is that Mason, injured or not, was at least as productive as a junior as he was during his sophomore season.

In fact, even his points-per-game average was nearly identical — 12.9 ppg as a junior and 12.6 ppg as a sophomore.

A couple of reasons it might not have seemed that way throughout the season? 1. The better season turned in by Wayne Selden, who replaced Mason as the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer behind Perry Ellis. 2. The emergence of sophomore Devonte’ Graham, who played a much bigger role during his second season with the Jayhawks than he did during his first, which often allowed Mason to do more blending in rather than leading the charge.

Either way you viewed it then or view it now, Mason, as any coach would like to see from his point guard, has been remarkably consistent during the past two seasons and has been the steady driving force behind the team’s recent success.

So what should we expect from Mason as a senior in 2016-17? Here’s a wild guess — more of the same.

— Here's a quick look at the comparison between the two seasons, first in overall stats and second in numbers per 40 minutes. The only stats of the 25 I referenced not shown in the table below are (totals listed in parentheses, with 2015-16 listed first): Games started (38-36), Average minutes (33.5), Average rebounds (4.3-3.9), Assist per game (4.6-3.9) and Average points (12.9-12.6) —

Mason's past two seasons

2014-15 36 1207 150 340 .441 42 98 .429 110 140 .786 22 119 141 142 50 4 74 65 452
2015-16 38 1272 155 357 .434 43 113 .381 136 183 .743 27 136 163 175 50 3 73 84 489
Career 109 3044 368 848 .434 103 266 .387 293 394 .744 57 293 350 389 118 8 184 214 1132
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 4/18/2016.

Mason's past two seasons per 40 minutes

2014-15 1207 5.0 11.3 .441 1.4 3.2 .429 3.6 4.6 .786 4.7 4.7 1.7 0.1 2.5 2.2 15.0
2015-16 1272 4.9 11.2 .434 1.4 3.6 .381 4.3 5.8 .743 5.1 5.5 1.6 0.1 2.3 2.6 15.4
Career 3044 4.8 11.1 .434 1.4 3.5 .387 3.9 5.2 .744 4.6 5.1 1.6 0.1 2.4 2.8 14.9
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 4/18/2016.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is held back by Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after he was whistled for a foul on Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) with seconds remain during the first half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) is held back by Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after he was whistled for a foul on Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) with seconds remain during the first half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug


What caught my eye at Tuesday’s open KU football practice

Tuesday afternoon’s two-hour practice, which came three days after the annual spring game, represented our final chance to see the 2016 Kansas University football team until preseason camp.

And, at least through these eyes, the 14th session of spring ball offered a much better look at this group of Jayhawks, mostly because we had more time and did not have to worry about trying to keep up with that strange scoring system that decided the spring game.

The biggest difference between Saturday and Tuesday was the fact that the Jayhawks were wearing shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Tuesday instead of full pads and it sounds like that’ll be the case again Thursday, when the Jayhawks close out their spring schedule.

From there, they’ll focus on finishing school, getting through finals and then jumping into the always-grueling summer session, which will be run by the players themselves and strength coach Je’Ney Jackson and his staff.

With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at a few things that caught my eye on Tuesday, both the good and the bad...

• As I wrote in a short article after practice, sophomore QB Ryan Willis was throwing — albeit with a Nerf football — during the early portions of practice and, from the looks of things, the Jayhawks can’t get him back soon enough. Maybe it was just a bad day, but all four of KU’s other quarterbacks showed accuracy issues and failed to consistently put the ball where it needed to be in team drills, on everything from short throws to the flat to deep shots down the field. Willis is not perfect, but he’s got a great arm and he just might believe he is.

• One thing that really jumped out during the entire two-hour session was how much KU’s coaches emphasized good footwork. Sure, fundamentals are stressed every day. And let’s face it; when you’re in the position that KU football is in, you sure better be focusing hardcore on fundamentals. But the specific nature of how much they drilled footwork was interesting to me.

Mini-Jayhawk stickers now adorn the back of the helmets of KU's defensive players.

Mini-Jayhawk stickers now adorn the back of the helmets of KU's defensive players. by Matt Tait

• You know those tomahawk and buckeye stickers that Florida State and Ohio State players (and several other teams with their stickers) put on their helmets when players reach certain goals? It looks as if the Jayhawks are joining the club? I don’t know yet if this is just a practice thing, just a spring thing or something more permanent. But I do know that it’s just a reward for KU’s defensive players right now and that could be the result of the defense getting the better of the offense on a pretty consistent basis throughout the spring. Either way, the tiny Jayhawk stickers look pretty cool.

• Minor detail here, but it definitely stood out: DC Clint Bowen was not at practice because, as Beaty said, he was "as sick as a dog." You know he'd have to be to stay away from one of 15 spring practices that are so valuable to the team. That said, the defense seemed to move fine and work with a business-as-usual attitude and effort without their leader their. Good sign.

• Now for some individual notes.... I’m telling you what, man. This walk-on freshman receiver named Keegan Brewer can really play. He’s physical enough to play right now, runs great routes, has good hands and just oozes confidence. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll see him playing plenty of snaps this fall and during the next four years. And he looks like a pretty dynamic player with great drive and work ethic.

• Return man and former Wichita State sprinter Ryan Schadler was back working with the running backs on Tuesday. Because of a minor injury Schadler did not get any carries (or snaps) during last weekend’s spring game, but him working with the RBs certainly is no surprise. It’s a thin position and Schadler has some skills, so don’t be surprised if that role sticks. One other quick note here: The thin and inexperienced nature of the position should provide a good opportunity for incoming freshman Khalil Herbert to get some carries right away, provided he reports in good shape and picks up the offense quickly.

• I love the look of Fish Smithson and Tyron Miller at safety. Both guys look like natural leaders and bring confidence to the KU secondary. Miller looks about the same, physically, but he appears to be so much more comfortable at his position of choice.

• Remember Chase Harrell? The big, athletic wide receiver who graduated high school early last year and came to KU in time for spring practice? There was a lot of hype around him early on because of that (which might have been unfair) but Harrell went on to red-shirt the 2015 season. I haven’t heard or seen much from him this spring and I can’t help but wonder if he’ll be one of those late bloomers, especially when you consider how many talented receivers are already taking snaps ahead of him. This group of wideouts might not wow the folks at Alabama, but I think there are at least three or four receivers on this team that could play at just about any school in the country. That’s what makes finding the right QB all the more important.

• At the top of that list — though he’s not all that young — is transfer wideout LaQuvionte Gonzalez. You all saw what “Quiv” can do during the spring game, but watching him school the young DBs in KU’s secondary with his quickness and route-running savvy is good entertainment.

• Red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger is a horse. He came in with good size and appears to have gotten much bigger but, and here’s the important part, he does not seem to have lost his athleticism and speed. I think this guy is going to have a big and very versatile role in KU’s offense this season and beyond. He really seems to be a coach’s dream, too — always attentive, always ready, locked in from start to finish.

• Curious about the first-string offensive line? Well, this was the way it looked during the spring game and it stayed consistent during Tuesday’s practice. From left to right: LT Clyde McCaulley, LG Jayson Rhodes, C Joe Gibson, RG Jacob Bragg, RT De’Andre Banks. It’s hard to know whether that’s what it will be this fall or not, especially when you consider last year’s left tackle (Jordan Shelley-Smith) is currently nursing an injury. But that’s the way it looks right now. Having said that, I was surprised to see how many little details the coaches still had to remind these guys about during Tuesday’s practice. I don’t know if this group has worked together most of the spring or not, and that could’ve been part of the problem. But for all of the good things we’ve heard about how far this group has come in the weight room and conditioning, it seems there’s still more than a little work to do on the field.

• One of the strangest things I saw at Tuesday’s practice came in the final 15 or 20 minutes, when it was offense against offense and defense against defense. What I mean by that is this: Wideouts Shakiem Barbel and Steven Sims alternated between receiver and defensive back. Ryan Schadler played some safety. Offensive lineman Will Smith played some linebacker. Weird, huh? Now, it’s important to note that none of these offensive players “playing defense” of the defensive guys posing as point-producers on the other side of the field actually were running things. It seemed to me as if going offense vs. offense and defense vs. defense was merely a way to keep more players engaged and learning, instead of having the offense go against the defense and putting half of the team on the bench or sideline. Can’t hurt, right?


Josh Jackson better set up to succeed than previous KU wings

It’s a dangerous and somewhat foolish endeavor to put expectations of any kind on incoming college freshmen, but most of us just can’t help ourselves, can we?

Whether you’re talking about the type of insane hype that surrounded Andrew Wiggins — which would’ve been there wherever he chose to go to school — or the more tempered hopes put on guys like Wayne Selden, Cole Aldrich, Drew Gooden and dozens of others, fans, media members and even the coaches and players always seem to have some notion of what they expect to get from their shiny new Jayhawks.

That certainly is and will continue to be true of Josh Jackson, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2016, who, minutes ago, picked Kansas over Arizona and Michigan State.

But it seems to me that whatever lofty expectations are tossed onto the shoulders of the 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing player who likely will fill Selden’s role in KU’s starting lineup next season, Jackson is in the best position of any KU wing in recent memory to live up to them.

Here’s why.

Team EZ Pass' Josh Jackson #11 in action against Team Doo Be Doo in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Team EZ Pass' Josh Jackson #11 in action against Team Doo Be Doo in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Jackson will be set up to succeed better at Kansas than any wing player since Ben McLemore because of the supporting cast around him.

And, with all due respect to how great McLemore was as a red-shirt freshman during the 2012-13 season, the hype attached to him was not anything close to what we saw with Wiggins, Selden, Kelly Oubre and, of course, now Jackson.

Like McLemore, though, Jackson will be surrounded by a veteran group of quality players who not only know how to play for KU coach Bill Self but also how to navigate the wild world of college basketball.

That can only help — be it in terms of taking the target off of Jackson’s back or in the mentor-student capacity — as Jackson brings his insane athleticism, killer outside shot and all-around impressive game to Lawrence for what figures to be his only season of college basketball.

Just think about KU’s backcourt for a minute. From Day 1, Jackson will be playing next to Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, a senior and a junior who have the skills and mindset to make plays for themselves and others and the experience to help show Jackson the way and push him to match their focus, tenacity and hunger.

Picture this: Mason attacks the paint and kicks to a wide open Jackson on the wing. After the catch, Jackson will have a few options. 1. Knock down the open jumper with space and time to step into that smooth shot. 2. Attack the rim while the collapsing defense scrambles to recover. 3. Become a facilitator himself by driving to create and then kicking to Mason, Graham or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, all of whom can bury open jumpers from anywhere on the floor.

Beyond those on-the-court, in-game advantages, Jackson also will benefit from playing under the leadership of a couple of strong seniors in Mason and Landen Lucas.

McLemore enjoyed similar riches by being plugged into a starting lineup that included seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young, four Jayhawks who finished the previous season on the doorstep of a national championship.

While that team was crazy talented in terms of toughness and experience, the 2016-17 team figures to have the edge in terms of guards who can make plays off the bounce.

Just think about what having one lead guard like that (Sherron Collins) did for all of those players around him on the 2009-10 team. Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and the Morris Twins all consistently got easy looks and open attack lanes because of the way Collins played the game.

If the combination of Mason and Graham can do that for Jackson — and, in turn, him for them — then KU’s newest one-and-done sensation could easily surpass the production of the others who came before him.

West forward Josh Jackson, from Justin-Siena in Napa, Calif., dunks against the East team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West beat the East 114-107.

West forward Josh Jackson, from Justin-Siena in Napa, Calif., dunks against the East team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West beat the East 114-107.

Here’s a quick look back at the hand dealt to each of KU’s high-profile wings in the past 10 years.

• Wayne Selden (2013-16) — Selden came in at the same time as Wiggins and played with the same lineup. What’s more, because of the presence of Wiggins himself, Selden was forced to play out of position his first season in Lawrence, which not only hurt his own growth and development but also created issues for the team. It was not until his junior year that Selden finally shined and, even then, he had plenty of moments when he disappeared. Though not as physical, Jackson seems to be coming to Kansas with a more advanced game than Selden brought.

• Kelly Oubre (2014-15) — Like Wiggins, Oubre held down the three spot in KU’s lineup and that, again, forced Selden to play the two. Although most of the key players on the roster were a year older than they were when Wiggins played, that did not necessarily make them a year wiser. Mason was much improved, but the Jayhawks replaced the experienced Tharpe with a rookie in Devonte’ Graham and still had a very young core group.

• Andrew Wiggins (2013-14) — Seven players in KU’s rotation during Wiggins’ lone year in Lawrence were sophomores or younger. That includes Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis. The only player on that KU team with any kind of veteran hue to him was junior guard Naadir Tharpe and, although I always thought Tharpe was a good leader, he was not the kind of guard who made others better with his play on the floor. Because of that, Wiggins often had to do too much and even though his insane talent led to some pretty darn good numbers (17 points, 6 rebounds in 33 minutes per game), you can’t help but wonder what those numbers might’ve been with a few tried and tested teammates taking off some of the pressure.

• Ben McLemore (2012-13) — After sitting out the 2011-12 season, McLemore was a star during the 2012-13 season but he benefitted big time from being eased into the role of hot shooter and highlight dunker because of the talent around him. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford were tough proven perimeter players who were deadly in transition. And Jeff Withey and Kevin Young were so go inside (especially on the glass) that it allowed McLemore to roam free and play wherever he was most comfortable. Jackson could enjoy similar freedom.

• Josh Selby (2010-11) — Though more of a true guard than a wing, Selby’s issue (other than his personal shortcomings) was that he joined a team with too many quality veterans. Don’t get me wrong, if Selby had been as good as advertised, he would’ve played a ton and probably would’ve found his way into the starting lineup. But after a one-game explosion, the Baltimore guard who was ranked by some recruiting services as the No. 1 player in his class did little to back up that ranking and, instead, watched heady veterans like Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Travis Releford and Mario Little dominate the minutes on the perimeter.

• Xavier Henry (2009-10) — Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were a dominant one-two, inside-out punch and everything else kind of fell in line around them. In fact, I’ve heard plenty of talk throughout the past several years from people wondering just how much more Henry could have shown/produced if he had been on a team like the one Wiggins was on. Instead of being leaned on as a primary piece, Henry spent most of his short KU career trying to fit in and fill a small role, which he did well.

• Brandon Rush (2005-08) — Many believed Rush was a one-and-done prospect when he came to Kansas, but he quickly showed that he needed at least a couple of seasons. A big reason for that was the fact that he came in with a bunch of guys who also were learning on the fly. Granted, that group made up the core of Bill Self’s 2008 national title team, but not having a single veteran who did not start out as a walk-on (Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody and Stephen Vinson all played an unexpectedly big role on this young team) put Rush in the position of having to do more than he might have been ready for back in an era when other college teams still featured upperclassmen with some regularity.

• Julian Wright (2005-07) — Like Rush, Wright came in with that young core of future national champions and although Wright’s confidence and fearless approach to the game helped make him a lottery pick a year before his classmates won it all, Wright also would have benefitted from playing with a couple of veterans like Jackson will during the 2016-17 season.


What caught my ear during spring football 2016

As you may have read yesterday, the Kansas University football team has changed up its open-practice policy and limited how much we can see this spring.

Because of that, the “What Caught My Eye” blogs that many of you have come to enjoy during the past six years have gone by the wayside, with most of the media portion of practices this spring being limited to stretching and a special teams drill or two — the same thing, day after day.

In an earlier blog, I promised to come up with something to fill the void and that’s what this is. Instead of “What Caught My Eye,” it’s “What Caught My Ear.”

As I hustled around the room to get to as many players and coaches as I could during the player availability sessions this Wednesday and last Wednesday, I did so with the dog days of summer in mind. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few tidbits about the progress of this team at this point along the way.

The Kansas Jayhawks come together for a huddle during the beginning of practice, Thursday, April 7, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

The Kansas Jayhawks come together for a huddle during the beginning of practice, Thursday, April 7, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Here’s a look at a few things that caught my ear...

• LaQuvionte Gonzalez has definitely emerged as a team leader and seems to be dying to hit the field to show what kind of play maker he is. Most guys I talked to said “Quiv” is the fastest dude on this team and Gonzalez himself said, as difficult as it was to sit out last season, it made him appreciate his opportunity to play this game more than ever before and positioned him to make the most of every opportunity, every rep, every drill and every game in 2016. There’s not a ton of known commodities to look forward to with this team this fall, but Gonzalez should definitely land on that list.

• Speaking of speed, I keep hearing about sophomore running back Taylor Martin and how much faster and better he looks this season. Martin, who was a star in Texas at the prep level, didn’t get a ton of opportunities to carry the ball and showcase his game last season, but it sounds like he’s healthy and much more comfortable with the speed and complexities of the college game this spring. Given the lack of depth at KU’s RB position, that qualifies as very good news for this team, provided Martin can carry it over to preseason camp and then the season.

• Speaking of running backs, we learned this spring that juco transfer lead back Ke’aun Kinner played hurt all of last season. He had a torn labrum in his left shoulder entering college and it never fully healed while Kinner stepped into a heavy load with the Jayhawks during his first season in town. I talked to Kinner this week and he said he’s healthy now and feels great. I doubt it will impact much in terms of how he runs, but it should help in areas like pass protection, stiff-arms and those sorts of things.

• As far the quarterbacks go, you know by now that Ryan Willis was severely limited this spring because of a right wrist injury and that wrist issue will keep Willis out of Saturday’s spring game. Because of that, Montell Cozart — who lists himself at 90-95 percent healthy — got the first chance to run as the top quarterback in Beaty’s new “more of a true Air Raid” offense. It should be interesting to see how Cozart looks on Saturday and it will be good to talk to Beaty about Willis’ progress, too. At this point, if you made me bet, I’d bet on Cozart starting at quarterback in the season opener against Rhode Island. But it’s still very early and a lot could change in that department. As for the other QBs, I didn’t hear much about Deondre Ford, Keaton Perry or Carter Stanley this spring and newcomer Dagan Haehn is still recovering from his knee injuries and has been a non-factor. The only other intriguing player at this position is Louisiana athlete Tyriek Starks, who will report to campus in June.

• Here’s a quick look at a few names who have earned “Player of the Day” honors this spring: — Offense — James Sullivan (RB), Emmanuel Moore (WR), Tyler Patrick (WR), Austin Moses (WR), Darious Crawley (WR), LaQuvionte Gonzalez (WR), DeAndre Banks (OL), Jacob Bragg (OL) and Jayson Rhodes (OL). — Defense — Stephan Robinson (CB), Joe Dineen (LB), Damani Mosby (DE), Chevy Graham (CB), Tyrone Miller (S), Anthony Olobia (DE), Fish Smithson (S), Derrick Neal (CB), Osaze Ogbebor (LB) and Greg Allen (S). — Special Teams — Keith Loneker (LB), Joe Dineen (LB), Josh Ehambe (DE), Chevy Graham (CB), Matthew Wyman (K), Damani Mosby (DE) and Ben Johnson (TE). Joe Dineen and Damani Mosby were both two-time winners and Chevy Graham was a three-time honoree.

• Defensive end Dorance Armstrong continues to impress and is looking to build on a solid freshman season. But the biggest thing he’s focusing on right now is adding weight. D-Line coach Michael Slater said he wanted Armstrong to add some bulk so he can stay on the field and hold up.

• New special teams coach Joe DeForest said the vibe around KU today reminds him a lot of the feeling in Stillwater, Oklahoma, when he joined Les Miles’ staff at OSU at the beginning of the Cowboys’ rebuild in 2001.

• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens said the carry-over from last year’s initial installation to this year has been phenomenal. There has not been much time devoted (and/or wasted) on reteaching fundamental things about the Jayhawks’ offensive, defensive and cultural philosophies.

• Regarding the new offense, the main thing I keep hearing over and over about it is, "it's easier." They're also talking about how much fun it is and how it presents great potential for big plays all over the field. That, as much as anything, should be on full display during Saturday's spring game.

• As for last year’s 0-12 season, the Jayhawks have not forgotten about it and are eager to use it to drive them and fuel their fire this season. Having said that, they definitely are not dwelling on it and seem to be operating like a new team with a fresh start. That’s no surprise given the fact that this group actually held up pretty well mentally while going through that winless season. Obviously, none of this means more wins are automatically on the way, but, from the mental side of things, this team appears to be in good shape and continuing to move forward — however slowly — in its attempt to strip away the culture of losing that has hung over the program since the end of the Mark Mangino era.

• The spring game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium and the weather forecast is fantastic. 67 degrees under mostly sunny skies with 0 percent chance for rain. It will be windy, so keep that in mind when looking at kicks and deep balls. And also be forewarned that this year’s spring game won’t actually be a game at all, more of an extended scrimmage. I’ll have a little more on that in my preview story later tonight.


Have we reached the end of the What Caught My Eye era?

Sadly, it seems we might have reached the end of an era here at Tale of the Tait — at least for now.

For the past half a dozen years, as you all well know, I’ve done my best to bring a little bit of insight and analysis from all of the KU football practices that we’ve been allowed to attend.

Sometimes, the input has been rather insignificant and focused on something a coach did or said or how much energy a certain player — or group of players — had to start practice. The always popular song of the day updates also falls into the insignificant category.

Other times, however, we have been able to check out some more interesting stuff such as how an injured player appeared to be moving around, just how big the new lineman really looked in person and what kind of effort was being put forth by the players and coaches during certain drills.

Now, however, those days appear to be done — at least with any consistency.

We’re scheduled to get a chance to see one entire spring practice sometime in mid-April, and that, along with Saturday’s spring game, should give us a decent idea of just how much better the Jayhawks look and perform. Up to this point, we’ve only heard such reports. So you can expect to see some thoughts of my thoughts in the blog after we attend that.

Other than that, though, the portion of practice they have kept open for us has included two things — eight minutes of stretching, five minutes of a special teams/field goal drill followed by a walk to the exits.

We also watched those sessions in the past, but always were able to see at least one or two position drills, as well. From those, you can tell a lot more — though, still, not all that much — about how players were progressing, who was out-working whom and things of that nature.

What we get now is pretty much designed to open the gates for us to get photos and video of certain players and/or coaches we might be writing about and that’s it, which is fine.

It’s completely up to them — specifically second-year head coach David Beaty — how much or little they let the media in, and if they want to keep it limited so their players can just focus on going to work, then so be it.

I just figured you guys should know what’s going on so you don’t think it’s me being lazy when the “What Caught My Eye” blogs are fewer and far between.

No bitterness here. I’ll find something else to occupy my time and also will come up with another blog of some sort to fill the void left by the absence of the What Caught My Eye blog.

Like many of you who I already have heard from on Twitter and via email, I’m bummed, too. But rules are rules so we do the best we can with what access the program does give us.


KU’s NCAA tourney success, failure tied to title game in 14 of past 30 seasons

While watching Villanova celebrate and cut down the nets after Monday night’s thrilling victory over North Carolina in the national title game, a topic popped up on Twitter that I felt was worth looking into a little deeper.

Seeing how Kansas was knocked out of this year’s tourney by the Wildcats, I and dozens of other people in the Twitterverse began wondering how many times that had happened to KU in the past.

The answer? Quite a lot. In fact, since 1991, KU’s tournament fate has been tied to teams playing for the national title on the last Monday of the college basketball season nearly half the time.

Breaking it down further, KU has lost to the eventual national champion 7 times since 1991. What’s more, KU has lost to the eventual runner-up 5 more times in that same stretch. And, of course, the Jayhawks themselves have been the national runner-up 3 times in that span (1991, 2003 and 2012) and, of course, won one national title themselves (2008).

Take it back a few years farther and you can add another national title (1988) and another loss to the eventual runner-up (Duke in 1986).

I know a lot has been made about KU’s early exits, both under Roy Williams and Bill Self, and these facts certainly don’t eliminate those losses. But it sure seems like the following list proves, in yet another way, just how consistently strong Kansas basketball has been in the past 30 years.

Here’s a more detailed look:

1986 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Duke in national semifinals.

1988 – KU beats Oklahoma for the national championship.

1991 - KU loses to Duke in national title game.

1993 – KU loses to eventual national champion North Carolina in national semifinals.

1996 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Syracuse in Elite Eight.

1997 – KU loses to eventual champ Arizona in Sweet 16.

2002 – KU loses to eventual champ Maryland in national semifinals.

2003 – KU loses to Syracuse in national title game.

2004 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Georgia Tech in Elite Eight.

2008 – KU beats Memphis for the national championship.

2009 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Michigan State in Sweet 16.

2012 – KU loses to Kentucky in national title game.

2013 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Michigan in Sweet 16.

2016 – KU loses to eventual champ Villanova in Elite Eight.


Former KU running back Brandon Bourbon on missing persons list

Friends and teammates of former Kansas University running back Brandon Bourbon (2010-14) have become concerned about Bourbon’s safety after attempts to reach his phone for the past two-plus days have been unsuccessful.

Monday afternoon, a missing persons report was filed with the Missouri State Highway Patrol that indicated Bourbon had not been heard from since 7:30 p.m. on April 2.

The former four-star prospect from Potosi, Mo., who came to Kansas after initially committing to Stanford, suffered through an injury-plagued five-year run at KU and finished his career at Washburn University in Topeka.

During a mid-February phone interview with the Journal-World, Bourbon sounded like his usual full-of-life self and expressed excitement about plans to start up a training business for young athletes in and around his hometown, similar to the one former KU running back Jake Sharp has started in Salina.

****MISSING PERSON**** Brandon Bourbon, 24 years of age, missing since April 2, 2016 from Washington County, MO. Ping...

Posted by Office of the Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman on Monday, April 4, 2016

Several friends, family members and former teammates took to social media on Monday to help locate Bourbon.

Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney sent out a handful of Tweets. Former KU wide receiver Josh Ford posted a message on Facebook that was shared by dozens of former Jayhawks. And Bourbon’s mother, Janet, posted the following on her personal Facebook account:

“Looking for my son Brandon K. Bourbon. He's not been heard from by anyone who knows him since Saturday evening. There is some incorrect information on Facebook that he was active a few hours ago. That (he) was on his computer. Please keep an eye out for him!”

According to a Tuesday update from The Associated Press, Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Zach Jacobsen said that Bourbon's family last saw him Saturday evening in the Potosi area, where his family lives. He says Bourbon's car, a silver minivan, is also missing, and that Bourbon's phone is off.

Jacobsen also said, since leaving college, Bourbon had been living in the Potosi area. He said authorities don't suspect foul play but are concerned because it's out of character for Bourbon to leave without contacting his family.

Anyone with information on Bourbon is asked to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 573-438-5478.


KU basketball fans still have rooting interest in Final Four — 3 of them, actually

Kansas fans celebrate during filming of the ESPN College GameDay at Allen Fieldhouse, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, hours before the tip-off between KU and ]Kentucky men's basketball game.

Kansas fans celebrate during filming of the ESPN College GameDay at Allen Fieldhouse, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, hours before the tip-off between KU and ]Kentucky men's basketball game. by Mike Yoder

For those KU basketball fans who have not sworn off college hoops and crawled into a cave until October, when another season rolls around, this weekend’s Final Four offers a trio of intriguing rooting options.

With that in mind, I checked in with a dozen of the most die-hard KU fans I know to find out who they’re pulling for to take home the national title now that their beloved Jayhawks are no longer in the running.

The options:

• Roy Williams and North Carolina — Old habits die hard and if KU can’t win it, why not pull for the man who won 418 games in 15 seasons and led Kansas to four Final Fours. Enough time has passed between Ol’ Roy’s departure and today that going this route has become easier for most.

• Buddy Hield and Oklahoma — Big 12 pride runs deep around here these days and it seems safe to say that many KU fans would pull for just about any Big 12 team in the Final Four. Add to that the fact that OU star Buddy Hield has the utmost respect from the KU fan base and is as good of a guy as there ever has been in college basketball and this option becomes even more appealing. Besides, the Big 12 winning it all only further validates KU’s 12th consecutive Big 12 title and postseason tourney triumph.

• Jay Wright and Villanova — Believe it or not, there are some sports fans out there — even within Jayhawk Nation — who make it a rule to root for the team that knocked their team out. This, of course, makes the season-ending loss easier to swallow even if getting over the heartbreak of losing to said team can be a major challenge.

So there are the options because, as you all know, there’s probably not a single KU fan out there who would pull for Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, even if they are a double-digit-seeded underdog and even if it has been 13 years since that tough loss to the Orange in the title game. Let’s see what a few of these fine folks had to say.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) puts up a shot while guarded by Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) with seconds remaining in the game during the second half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) puts up a shot while guarded by Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) with seconds remaining in the game during the second half, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

“I’m rooting for OU over Nova because I love Buddy and really didn’t enjoy the Nova fans. And I’m rooting for UNC over ‘Cuse because I just like them better overall. If OU and UNC meet in the final, I will pull for Roy because I think it’s time for him to hang it up and go out on top. I still love him and I also don’t want to listen to OU fans throw the national championship in our face.” — 40-year-old female Lawrence resident.

“I am cheering for OU. I like Buddy and (OU coach) Lon (Kruger), plus I think it helps the Big 12 brand a little bit.” — 32-year-old male Shawnee resident.

“I think the best team is North Carolina, but that’s not the team I’m going to root for. I’m going to root for Villanova because I like the way they play better than anyone else and I think their big guys are better than I thought they were.” — 65-year-old male Lawrence resident.

“Oklahoma because I think they always give every game their all and they share the ball a lot. They are great guys and I think they are going to go all the way.” — 11-year-old female New Jersey resident.

“I have some very close connections to North Carolina and, obviously, Roy gave us 15 great years, so I love those guys and I root for them now. So there’s a part of me that wants them to win, but, boy, I like Buddy Hield, too. How do you root against that guy? I don’t think you can. Normally, I would root for UNC, but I probably want Buddy Hield to win a national championship.” — 43-year-old male Lawrence resident.

“I’m not rooting for anyone now. My heart always breaks when the season ends with anyone but Kansas on top. The tournament is over in my mind. It’s also possible I’m a sore loser.” — 31-year-old female Lawrence resident.

“I was hoping Virginia was going to beat Syracuse and then I would’ve been fine with any of the four winning it because I really like all four of those teams and coaches. But I’d like to see Carolina win it. As a KU fan, I think it’d be nice to see the best team left rewarded by winning it all.” — 36-year-old male North Carolina resident.

“Definitely OU. Lon Kruger is nothing but class and has really done an amazing job in Norman. His players reflect his demeanor. They play hard with respect for the game and their opponents. There is no better representative of what college basketball should be than Buddy Hield. If KU isn’t going to have its One Shining Moment then I hope OU does.” — 40-year-old male New Jersey resident.

“My heart says to pull for OU due to conference ties and the class act of the coach and players. And that's probably all that matters. But pocketbook-wise, I’ll finish in second place and win $30 in the the “investment” pool I'm in if Syracuse wins one game or Villanova wins it all.” — 59-year-old female Independence, Mo., resident.

“I’m cheering for Oklahoma because Buddy Hield is the rare non-KU player who you wish was a Jayhawk. And even though they once were at Kansas State, Lon Kruger and Steve Henson are both native Kansans and their success helps make our state look good.” — 38-year-old male Lawrence resident.

“Roy. He's family. Also, watching the Tar Heels makes me nostalgic for his era of Jayhawks. Basically, after we beat the Tar Heels in 2008, it healed all wounds with Roy ever since.” — 36-year-old female Fairway resident.

“I’m actually currently in Norman, Oklahoma, so I will be rooting for OU. However, that is partly because the Nova fans were a bit arrogant in Louisville and that made me want them to lose. If OU does win Saturday, I don’t want them to win it all because I don’t want a Big 12 school to be national champs if it isn’t Kansas.” — 41-year-old male Lawrence resident.


Why KU freshman Cheick Diallo is neither crazy nor delusional

In the hours that followed Monday’s news that Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo was throwing his name into the NBA Draft pool — though not hiring an agent just yet — I must’ve seen and heard from hundreds of KU fans who called him crazy for even thinking he’s ready for the NBA.

The thing is, though, that’s not what Diallo is saying by declaring for the NBA Draft. What he is saying is that he’s ready to start getting ready for pro basketball.

And although that could happen if he elected to return to Kansas for his sophomore season, it would happen a lot faster if he turned pro. So that’s why he’s going to. And KU fans should probably embrace that idea ASAP so they’re not disappointed in late May when Diallo stays in the draft.

Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo walks out for pre-game warm-ups against Loyola Maryland, on Dec. 1, 2015.

Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo walks out for pre-game warm-ups against Loyola Maryland, on Dec. 1, 2015. by Nick Krug

Here’s the deal: Diallo, like so many other talented players before him and undoubtedly many more to come, chose to play at Kansas in large part because he believed KU coach Bill Self could get him ready for the NBA. If he stayed all four years, or even two or three, there’s no doubt that would happen. But it didn’t happen in one, so now Diallo has a choice to make.

If you really think about it, the choice is easy.

Staying at Kansas gives Diallo access to Self and strength coach Andrea Hudy for another season but also forces him to spend part of his time attending classes and comes with restrictions on just how often he can work with his coaches.

Turning pro eliminates the classes, strips away the restrictions and makes becoming a better basketball player Diallo’s full-time job. He can work on his game — and body — morning, noon and night, even if he’s the last man on an NBA bench or plays in the D League. And either of those, if you ask me, is the path to quicker development.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) and the Jayhawk bench celebrate a bucket and a foul by Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) and the Jayhawk bench celebrate a bucket and a foul by Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

I don’t doubt that Diallo enjoyed his one year at Kansas, even with all the crap that came with it. He handled himself great during what can only be described as a rough season and was a good teammate, supportive of everyone in the program and, even when not playing in them, seemed to stay engaged in the games and proved to be a positive influence from the bench.

But he didn’t play much. And a big reason for that was because he never really earned Self’s trust. Although he, no doubt, would be in a better place heading into year two, there’s no guarantee that trust would ever be earned. And if it isn’t, then what? Another year on the bench? Another year wasted when it could have been spent developing the skills that might one day get him paid big bucks?

If I’m Diallo, I’m taking the path that allows me to develop my game as quickly as possible. It has nothing to do with greed or disliking Kansas or even the money, at least not today. But it has everything to do with positioning himself to set up his family for life. And the fastest way for Diallo to do that is to turn pro now.

Both ways he’d be taking a gamble. But Diallo’s a confident kid and he believes in himself. With that in mind, the gamble more worth taking is the one that, if all goes well, ends with him signing a big contract sooner rather than later.

It should be interesting to see how it all plays out for him. But don’t count on having a front row seat.

Kansas University freshman Cheick Diallo sits on the bench with assistant coach Jerrance Howard before the start of the Jayhawks' opening-round game at the Maui Invitational, against Chaminade, on Nov. 23, 2015.

Kansas University freshman Cheick Diallo sits on the bench with assistant coach Jerrance Howard before the start of the Jayhawks' opening-round game at the Maui Invitational, against Chaminade, on Nov. 23, 2015. by Nick Krug


Did Ellis, Selden help or hurt their NBA stock in 2016 NCAA Tourney?

As fans of college basketball, we’ve all seen it a hundred times.

A player who has some ability but may be a little under the radar explodes during the NCAA Tournament and, just like that, finds himself listed as one of the hot draft prospects for the next NBA Draft.

Big time performances on college basketball’s biggest stage have a way of cranking up the hype machine on these types of players and, whether NBA Scouts truly put THAT much stock into an impressive tournament run, it’s impossible to argue that such a stretch does not at least catch their eyes and make them look at a player in a different light.

While the positive side of the equation is the way it goes most often, there also is something looming on the other side. Although it does not happen quite as often — because players are most often judged and evaluated on their full body of work instead of just a bad game or unlucky night — we have seen college players have their NBA draft stock suffer because of poor tourney performances.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it’s undeniable that playing well in the NCAA Tournament can have a major impact in the draft status for a college basketball player. Does a good run turn a no-name into a lottery pick? Not likely. But can a monster showing elevate a future pro from the second round into the first or from the late first into the lottery? You bet.

The Kansas basketball team’s recent 3-1 run in the NCAA Tournament that ended in heartbreak one game shy of the Final Four last weekend, featured some big time games from some of KU’s biggest names.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) gets to the bucket past Maryland forward Robert Carter (4) during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) gets to the bucket past Maryland forward Robert Carter (4) during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

Naturally, now that the season has ended, it only makes sense that we start to wonder what that will mean for their draft status.

For a senior like Perry Ellis, who has no choice but to leave for the NBA, were the three 20-point games enough to validate a career made on consistency even though that career ended with a whimper?

And for a junior like Wayne Selden, who had his best year at Kansas and seems to have so many of the tools the NBA likes to see in its prospects, will the off night in the season’s final game reintroduce doubts into the minds of the scouts?

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and Jamari Traylor celebrate a three from teammate Perry Ellis during the first half against UConn during the first half on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and Jamari Traylor celebrate a three from teammate Perry Ellis during the first half against UConn during the first half on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. by Nick Krug

Because all 32 NBA teams have an entire army of scouts and not just one, it’s impossible to get a feel for this without talking to multiple representatives. But ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford, who has dozens of NBA scouts on speed dial, recently released its Tourney Stock Watch update and both Ellis and Selden were on it, under the heading “Stock Neutral,” which basically means that neither Ellis nor Selden hurt or helped himself that much by what he did in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Here’s a quick look at Ford's blurbs on each Jayhawk:

Perry Ellis, 6-9, 225-pound senior forward

"Ellis had been on fire in the first three rounds of the tournament. He had one of the best offensive games of his career against an athletic Maryland front line, scoring 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting. However, his Kansas career ended on a sour note, as he scored just four points, committed four turnovers and shot 1-for-5 from the field against Villanova.

Ellis's fundamentals and steadiness will get him a good look in the second round. However, that performance against the Wildcats left scouts with a pretty bad taste in their mouths." — Chad Ford

Wayne Selden, 6-5, 230-pound junior guard

"When Selden is aggressive, he can really look the part of an NBA player -- especially when his 3-point shot is falling. He was aggressive against Villanova, but shot 0-for-6 from the field, including missing two wide open 3s in the final minutes that would've put Kansas on top.

I hear he is seriously pushing to declare for and stay in the draft. He's had a solid junior season and may warrant a second-round selection. But for all the talk about him being a lottery pick, I don't think so." — Chad Ford

From my perspective, I think both Ellis and Selden are guys that, in the right situation with the right teams, could enjoy long NBA careers.

Selden probably has a better shot to make a true impact because he has the size and skills you can plug into an actual NBA position. Ellis, though more talented overall than Selden, is not quite suited to play either the 3 or the 4 at the NBA level and, therefore, is going to have to catch a break by landing with the perfect team, of which there might only be 3 or 4 out there.

Picture Ellis on a team like the San Antonio Spurs, for example. His skill set, focus, versatility and appreciation for the finer points of the game could land him a spot on that roster very easily.

Regardless of where they end up or when they're picked, it seems clear that both will get all that any college player can ask for — a chance.

And it should be fun and interesting to watch how things play out for both players, whether Selden leaves this year or not.


The Day After: Elite Eight marks the end of the road

Just like that, another wildly successful Kansas basketball season ended in disappointment for the players and fans in Louisville and around the world on Saturday night.

Villanova 64, Kansas 59.

In a game that featured two veteran teams that could score in such a wide variety of ways, the low-scoring nature of this one showed just how much of a battle it was and how things can get wacky when a trip to the Final Four is on the line.

From the sound of things, it was Villanova’s goal to make it that way and, boy, did the Wildcats succeed.

“We wanted to make it a street fight, make it an ugly game,” said Nova guard Ryan Arcidiacono. "I think we did that.”

There’s no question. And it cost a Kansas team that was on one heck of a roll and appeared to be a real contender to win a national title a great shot at bringing some more meaningful hardware back to Lawrence.

Kansas guards Frank Mason III (0) and Devonte' Graham (4) complain about a call while Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) celebrates in the first half of their NCAA Elite Eight matchup, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas guards Frank Mason III (0) and Devonte' Graham (4) complain about a call while Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) celebrates in the first half of their NCAA Elite Eight matchup, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Mike Yoder

Quick takeaway

The Twitter world certainly did not seem to want to hear it, but I think reasonable people can agree that Kansas lost to a damn good team on Saturday night at KFC Yum! Center. Were there bad calls? Sure. Did the Jayhawks miss shots they normally might have — perhaps even would have — made? You bet. But it’s not as if things went perfectly for Villanova either. And the Wildcats deserve credit for finding a way to make a couple more plays in a game that wound up being exactly what Nova coach Jay Wright predicted it would be a day earlier — a heavyweight battle. The Kansas team we saw in this one was not the same free and loose team that won 17 straight heading into it. And they were still almost good enough to beat a very talented, tough and experienced team. And, oh by the way, Wright is one heck of a coach. Possibly the most underrated in college basketball. So as much as I’m sure this loss stings for KU fans like all the other NCAA Tournament losses before it, that should not be the way this team and this season are remembered. 33-5 and one step shy of another Final Four. That’s a very good year any way you slice it.

Three reasons to smile

1 – The Devonte’ Graham bounce-back effort from a sub-par Sweet 16 game was impressive and crucial to keeping Kansas in the game. The sophomore guard who struggled through illness two days earlier hit 5 of 9 three-pointers and led the Jayhawks with 17 points. So many of his triples were absolutely critical and kept Kansas in the game. It may not mean a lot today, but just the thought of this guy being around — and continuing to improve at a rapid rate — for two more seasons should bring smiles to KU fans’ somber faces.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three in front of Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three in front of Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

2 – I know people will want to talk about how many open three-pointers he missed, but I think Wayne Selden deserves a ton of credit for finding a way to get 16 points on a night he didn’t have it. Selden never stopped attacking, kept shooting and gave all he had to the effort on a night when it would have been very easy to pout about things not going well for him personally. In a related area, Selden also handled the postgame media barrage admirably. He obviously was not thrilled, but he did not project that. In fact, none of the players did. And that says a lot about their growth and maturity.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) is fouled on the way to the bucket by Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu (23) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. At left is Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33).

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) is fouled on the way to the bucket by Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu (23) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. At left is Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33). by Nick Krug

3 – Reeling after a rough first half, KU came out of the locker room with a purpose and completely erased a seven-point deficit — and actually built a couple of five-point leads — in the first nine minutes of the second half. The way Nova was playing, it looked as if it would take more of a slow and steady effort to chip into that lead. But Kansas turned up its defense — Nova shot just 40 percent from the floor for the game — and found a way to get some easy points on offense to momentarily claim control of the game. It didn’t last, of course, but that response to the halftime adjustments was impressive.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – Villanova’s ability to grab 13 offensive rebounds absolutely killed Kansas. In a game as low-scoring and tightly contested as this one was, giving up any free possessions can be devastating. And it was for Kansas. On at least a couple of occasions late, the Wildcats were able to pad their lead from two to four because of offensive rebounds, the biggest coming on a wild rebound and put-back of a missed three-pointer by Mikal Bridges that put Nova up 56-52 with 4:28 to play.

Villanova guard Josh Hart pulls down a rebound between Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) and guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Villanova guard Josh Hart pulls down a rebound between Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15) and guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

2 – Villanova deserves a ton of the credit for it, but there’s no two ways about it, Perry Ellis’ final game as a Jayhawk was a dud. The senior forward, who finished eighth all-time on KU’s scoring list, scored just four points and made just one basket, the unexpected and tough-to-swallow end to one of the best scoring stretches in recent KU memory. Ellis entered the game having scored 20 or more points in seven of his last eight games, but, on this night, he struggled to get the four points he got and KU did not get enough from those around him to save the season.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) gets tied up with Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) and forward Darryl Reynolds (45) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) gets tied up with Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) and forward Darryl Reynolds (45) during the first half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

3 – One shot, one miss, one assist, three fouls, two turnovers and a steal. That, in all its glory, is all Kansas got from a three-man bench that played just 18 minutes combined and looked incapable of impacting the game on either end of the floor. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk missed his only shot of the night, a three from the corner that he aimed instead of shot and Jamari Traylor and Carlton Bragg could not handle Nova’s physical play. In a sense, Kansas getting nothing from its bench in the final game of the season was a fitting end because this team rode its starting five so heavily for most of the year.

One for the road

KU’s Elite Eight loss to Villanova in Louisville...

• Dropped Kansas coach Bill Self to 2-6 all-time in Elite Eight games, his losses at Kansas coming to Georgia Tech, UCLA, VCU and now Villanova.

• Snapped a 17-game winning streak which was the nation's longest active winning streak. That winning streak was the longest of the season and the longest since 2010-11, when Kansas opened the season 18-0.

• Made Kansas 14-7 all-time in Elite Eight games.

• Evened the series against Villanova is tied 3-3.

• Bumped Kansas to 100-44 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

Next up

Now it’s time to take inventory, see who stays, who leaves, which top-tier recruits will pick Kansas and what the Jayhawks will do to retool a team that returns a lot of experience and talent but also will need to fill a few key spots to make another run next season. Stay tuned...

— See what people were saying about KU's Elite Eight loss during KUsports.com's live coverage

More news and notes from KU’s Elite Eight loss to Villanova

By the Numbers: Villanova 64, Kansas 59

By the Numbers: Villanova 64, Kansas 59


Villanova’s Jay Wright once pointed to 2 talented KU freshmen as a prime examples of the importance of coaching

Villanova coach Jay Wright is one of the best in the business when it comes to taking and answering questions from the media.

And the man in charge of finding a way to knock out top-seeded Kansas on Saturday night was at it again on Friday, filling the room with thoughtful answers and interesting anecdotes.

Many of them had to do with his team or this specific match-up, but others focused more on philosophy and the bigger picture of the game of basketball.

One such story that illustrated that second aspect to perfection was born out of Villanova’s upset victory of second-ranked Kansas in the Bahamas early in the 2013-14 season.

Villanova defeated a young Kansas team that featured freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and a handful of players on this year’s team on a late shot by then-sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono.

The three-pointer was Arcidiacono’s only make of that game, but was far from the only thing Wright remembered about the contest.

Here is that story, in Wright’s words...

Villanova head coach Jay Wright talks with media members on Friday, March 25, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright talks with media members on Friday, March 25, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

"The other really unique thing about that game, I think I told Bill this, Wiggins had played, I don't know, maybe one or two games before that, and we were pressing him a little bit. He had five turnovers. I think he was sick that day too.

We, in the scouting report, pumped him up to our guys, how good he was. In the game, he had like five turnovers, didn't play that well. I said to our guys, I said, All right, watch this team. I said, You think they turned the ball over and we just beat them? You don't think they're that good? This is why players need coaching. Wiggins had five turnovers. I guarantee you by the end of this season, this kid will be one of the top picks in the draft. The kid, Embiid, got in foul trouble in that game. I said, When he gets coached by Bill Self for a year, I guarantee you this kid is going to be a great player by the end of the year and this team will be a great team. They didn't look good then, guys were sick.

When teams win a game, they think they're better. Then they watched them. At the end of the year, I said, You see that team now? Is that the same team that played us? They're all like, No. I said, That's why players need coaching. You need to be coached.

It was helpful for our guys, who heard a lot about Embiid and Wiggins, to say, well, those one-and-done guys are getting coached. I better listen and be coached. It really helped our team."

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins hangs in the lane for a shot over the Villanova defense during the second half on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 in Paradise Island, Bahamas.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins hangs in the lane for a shot over the Villanova defense during the second half on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 in Paradise Island, Bahamas. by Nick Krug


The Day After: Trippin’ up the Terps in the Sweet 16

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr., left, and players on the Jayhawks' bench erupt in the second half after a three by KU guard Wayne Selden Jr., Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr., left, and players on the Jayhawks' bench erupt in the second half after a three by KU guard Wayne Selden Jr., Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. by Nick Krug

Maryland was bigger, they said. Kansas out-rebounded them. By a lot.

Maryland may have more overall talent, they said. Kansas had the three best players in the game.

Maryland would be a real test, unlike anything KU saw in Des Moines, they said. And yet Kansas still won by 16 points, 79-63 on Thursday night at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

There may have been more than a few signs pointing to the Sweet 16 match-up with Maryland being a serious challenge for the top-seeded Kansas basketball team, but the Jayhawks did not let any of those change anything about the way they do business.

This team is so focused and on such a mission that, at this point, it seems like it’s going to take a truly special performance by an opponent to derail the train the Jayhawks are rolling on right now.

Quick takeaway

I could not help but keep thinking after this one how it was pretty much the polar opposite of the UConn game. Instead of overwhelming the Terrapins in the first half, the way they did the Huskies last week in Round 2, KU survived a rough first half — with a two-point lead, no less — and then unleashed a second-half barrage that produced seven more points for the Jayhawks and five fewer points for the Terps than what each team had recorded in the opening half. In short, when it mattered most, KU rose to the occasion. And if you hope to keep advancing at this time of year, that’s exactly what you have to do. KU did that, in yet another impressive manner, and the Jayhawks are back in the Elite Eight for the first time in four seasons.

Three reasons to smile

1 – Perry Ellis was good. We all know that by now. But the thing that impressed me most about Ellis’ big night was how well and how willing the Jayhawks were to ride him. For a stretch there in the second half, KU went through Ellis on every single possession and just dared Maryland to stop him. They couldn’t, of course, and that’s just good coaching, good chemistry and the latest crystal-clear sign that this group of guys (a) really plays well together (b) really likes each other and (c) will do anything it takes to win. Thursday night, that was feeding Ellis the rock and they did that over and over.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) gets to the bucket past Maryland forward Robert Carter (4) during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis (34) gets to the bucket past Maryland forward Robert Carter (4) during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

2 – Give Kansas credit for not panicking early on when things weren’t going well. In year’s past — perhaps even earlier this year — KU might have just forced up a bunch of three-pointers on a night when an opponent frustrated their offensive flow. Not Thursday. Not only did KU stay tough and continue fighting to find something that worked, they only took nine three-pointers all night, another sign of how well they understood how dominant Ellis was.

Kansas Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) puts up a floater over Maryland guard Melo Trimble (2) during the second half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) puts up a floater over Maryland guard Melo Trimble (2) during the second half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

3 – It sure is fun to watch Wayne Selden play locked-in, intense basketball. And, boy, what a clutch player he has become. You can tell this run means something to Selden. It shows up in just about everything he does out there. And his numbers and production are matching his mindset. Selden was great again Thursday night (19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be anything but that on Saturday as well.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – There were quite a few silly fouls by Kansas in this game, a couple coming from Jamari Traylor and at least one more coming from Frank Mason. Fouls that come from effort and energy and intensity you can live with. But fouls that come from momentarily losing your focus or laziness with your feet aren’t good. And they really won’t be good if they show up Saturday night against a Villanova team with a veteran backcourt and a roster that made 18 of 19 free throws in its Sweet 16 win on Thursday night.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) lays out for a loose ball with Maryland forward Jake Layman (10) and guard Rasheed Sulaimon (0) during the second half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) lays out for a loose ball with Maryland forward Jake Layman (10) and guard Rasheed Sulaimon (0) during the second half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

2 – It didn’t end up hurting them, but it could down the road. There were a handful of empty possessions in the second half that ended with careless, unforced Kansas turnovers, most of them coming with KU up five and in position to go up seven or eight or up nine and in position to make the lead double digits. On at least a few occasions, that kept the door cracked for Maryland, who never seriously threatened after the first few minutes of the second half. Still, the fact that those moments were the result of self-inflicted wounds is something to sigh about.

Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason III (0) gets airborne to throw a pass across the baseline during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason III (0) gets airborne to throw a pass across the baseline during the first half, Thursday, March 24, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

3 – Devonte’ Graham gets a pass because he was playing through injury and illness, but losing Brannen Greene to injury altogether is not the kind of news you want this time of year. Greene sat out the game because of back spasms and does not appear to be likely to play on Saturday. Although it’s been 10 games since he played more than 11 minutes — and in those 10 games he has made just three shots total — Greene’s still a little bit of a veteran and, even if he’s not hitting or even taking deep threes, he’s a threat to do so. Plus, he’s a terrific free throw shooter. KU can overcome his absence. But it’s definitely not something Jayhawk fans wanted to hear about.

One for the road

Here’s how KU’s Sweet 16 victory over Maryland in Louisville impacted the program...

• WINNING STREAK: Kansas extends its winning streak to 17 games... It is KU's longest of the season and the longest active winning streak in NCAA Division I... KU features 14 winning streaks of 10 games or better during the Bill Self era.

• AWAY FROM HOME: KU is now 18-4 away from Allen Fieldhouse this season... The Jayhawks have won eight-straight neutral-site games, not including the Dec. 12 win over Oregon State at Sprint Center in Kansas City, which was deemed a home game by the NCAA.

• W-L RECORDS: Bill Self improves to 385-82 (.824) while at Kansas, 592-187 (.760) all-time, and 40-16 (.714) in the NCAA Championship (30-11 while at KU)... Kansas is now 2,186-835 all-time.

Next up

The Jayhawks advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2012, when they defeated North Carolina to reach the Final Four. Top-seeded Kansas will play No. 2 seed Villanova at 7:50 p.m. on Saturday at KFC Yum! Center.

— See what people were saying about the Sweet 16 matchup between KU and Maryland during KUsports.com's live coverage

More news and notes from KU’s Sweet 16 victory over Maryland

By the Numbers: Kansas 79, Maryland 63

By the Numbers: Kansas 79, Maryland 63