Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Even playing without Joel Embiid, the rubber match in the season series with Oklahoma State went to Kansas, which knocked off the Cowboys 77-70 in overtime on Thursday at Sprint Center behind 30 points from Andrew Wiggins.
The victory moved KU into today's semifinals against Iowa State, another team eager to take another shot at the Jayhawks and pushed the Jayhawks to 24-8 overall.
While Wiggins was by far the best player in the gym, the Jayhawks got big-time contributions from several other players, including senior starter Tarik Black, who took Embiid's spot in the starting lineup and looked more like the guy who showed up on Senior Night and less like the guy who disappeared at West Virginia.
Freshman guard Wayne Selden also was sensational, scoring nine first-half points — 14 for the game — and playing tough defense on OSU's Marcus Smart throughout.
Whether you look at it from the perspective that games like Thursday's are the kinds of games teams face in the NCAA Tournament or the perspective that the Jayhawks gained some much-needed confidence and momentum playing without Joel Embiid, KU's most recent win against Oklahoma State was huge for the Jayhawks. Andrew Wiggins did exactly what he needs to do the rest of the way for the Jayhawks to have a shot and nearly everyone on the rest of the roster contributed something positive to the result. Beyond the two biggest gains mentioned above, the young Jayhawks also got a nice taste of what high-pressure, intense tournament action feels like, which can only help them in the coming weeks.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – You might have known it before, but we definitely know it now: Andrew Wiggins is, without question, not afraid of any moment. For the second game in a row, the freshman forward put the Jayhawks on his back and carried them to victory with an impressive scoring night. But more impressive than the points, the shots or the impact Wiggins had on the KU offense was the fact that time after time the young man took the ball in a crucial moment and attacked without hesitation. Sometimes that put him on the free throw line. Others it resulted in a nasty, step-back swish from the baseline with the game on the line. All were big moments. And Wiggins was at his best in each of them.
2 – It looks like there might be life after Joel Embiid. KU's big man rotation of Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas did a solid job throughout this one, pouring in 22 points and 30 rebounds while helping the Jayhawks outrebound the Cowboys, 46-30, and finishing with three blocks compared to zero for the entire OSU team. None of these guys can replace Embiid on the floor by himself. And even together it's a challenge because of the vast and versatile skill set Embiid has. But more nights like Thursday — particularly the way they avoided foul trouble — will go a long way toward making life without Embiid easier and maybe even play long enough to get him back this season.
3 – The Jayhawks turned it over 14 times and forced just five Oklahoma State turnovers yet still won. Imagine if the turnover margin had been a little closer to even. KU might have won this one by double digits. There's no question that the Jayhawks could stand to force a few more turnovers, but their defense was solid even though they didn't. OSU shot just 38 percent from the game and often operated away from the basket with the shot clock winding down. As for KU's turnovers, the best part about those was the fact that five of them came from the best player in the game, Andrew Wiggins. Outside of that, no one had more than two, including Naadir Tharpe, who had and off shooting night but dished seven assists against two turnovers. When the guy who leads your team in turnovers shoots 9-of-17 from the floor, 3-of-6 from three-point range, 9-of-10 from the free throw line and adds eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and a block, you tend to get over the five give-aways.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Naadir Tharpe's defense continues to be a concern. It's not that the guy isn't willing to play hard, just that he's struggling to keep guys in front of him. On Thursday, even Phil Forte, known primarily as an outside bomber, was able to put the ball on the floor and drive by Tharpe. It's hard to say exactly what's happening here, but Tharpe needs to take a step back and do whatever he has to do to keep guys in front of him. I know you don't want to give up room for clean looks from jump shooters but closing on them and getting a hand up is better than watching your big guys get in foul trouble behind you or, worse, giving up layups.
2 – Perry Ellis had moments on Thursday when he looked like the Perry Ellis of last year's Big 12 tournament. But in a game where 45 minutes per player was possible, Ellis barely played half of them. Foul trouble was a major reason for Ellis' limited minutes and he still contributed nine points on 4-of-7 shooting and eight rebounds in 28 minutes. Ellis needs to stay on the floor and engaged in the offense if for no other reason than to help take some of the burden off of Wiggins, who can put the team on his back and carry the scoring load but should not have to do it to the tune of 30 plus points every night.
3 – For the third time this season, the Jayhawks gave up a double-digit second-half lead to Oklahoma State. It only cost KU in one of the three games, as they held on for a two-point victory in Lawrence and outscored OSU 10-3 in overtime on Thursday. Sure, part of giving up those kinds of leads has to do with the Cowboys and how they play and how talented they are, but KU also made it way too easy at times, as well. That was particularly true of the stretch when the Jayhawks coughed up it twice in a 30-second span and watched OSU trim an eight-point lead to one in the snap of your fingers. It didn't cost them, but it definitely made things much more difficult and forced the Jayhawks to surrender control, which they had from the 11-minute mark of the first half to midway through the second half.
One thought for the road:
KU's quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State on Thursday:
• Improved KU to 24-8 on the season, giving the Jayhawks 24 victories for the eighth-straight season (starting in 2005-06).
• Upped KU’s record to 17-1 in Big 12 Championship first games.
• Advanced Kansas to the tourney semifinals for the 16th time in Big 12 history and 34th time overall.
• Improved KU to 66-24 in league tournament play and 36-8 at the Big 12 Championship.
• Made Kansas 10-7 this season in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Improved the Jayhawks to 1-1 in overtime games this season, making KU 62-55 all-time in overtime games.
• Moved the Kansas-Oklahoma State series to 109-55 in favor of Kansas.
• Pushed the Jayhawks record to 23-4 all-time at Sprint Center, including 2-0 this season and 10 in a row.
• Changed head coach Bill Self’s record to 13-9 all-time against his alma mater, 324-67 while at Kansas and 531-172 overall. Self is also 31-9 in conference tournament play (22-4 at Kansas).
• Moved Kansas to 2,125-820 all-time.
The Jayhawks will face Iowa State in today's Big 12 semifinals at 6 p.m. at Sprint Center. Iowa State knocked off Kansas State, 91-85, in Thursday's opening quarterfinal game.
It doesn't take one of the players or coaches involved in this year's Big 12 men's basketball tournament in Kansas City, Mo., to tell you just how wide open and difficult the event figures to be this year.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to hear from them either, and Kansas University coach Bill Self on Monday best summed up the task ahead in one sentence.
“I think we've always had very competitive Big 12 tournaments,” Self said when asked about the stacked nature of this year's bracket... “But I don't know if I can ever remember where if there's a final between (two lower seeds), it would be absolutely not a major surprise to anybody. When you look at our side, you've got a No. 1 (Kansas) playing No. 8 (Oklahoma State), and No. 8 was picked to win the league.”
In order to get the rubber match with Kansas, of course, Oklahoma State first will have to get past Texas Tech on Wednesday. If they do, the Cowboys and Jayhawks will tangle in the 1-8 match-up at 2 p.m. Thursday at Sprint Center.
Given the distance between the seeds of those two preseason favorites and the fact that a bunch of good teams fall in between there, it's conceivable to think that as many as eight teams head into this week thinking they have a legit shot to win the thing.
I see it more like four, with Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State (4) and then possibly Baylor (7) being the most likely teams to get hot and wind up on top.
Of course, Oklahoma (2), Texas (3) and Kansas State (5) also figure to be tough outs and West Virginia (6), which just rocked Kansas last weekend, has to like its chances on the better side of the bracket and with the edge of knowing it has to make a deep run to get into the NCAA Tournament.
With that in mind, here's my guess at what's in store for the entire week ahead, starting with today's 7-10, 8-9 match-ups all the way through Saturday's 8 p.m. championship tilt.
No. 9 Texas Tech vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State, 6 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. OSU lost by 4 at Texas Tech in the game in which Marcus Smart was thrown out and later suspended for shoving a fan. And the Cowboys won the rematch by 22 in Stillwater, Okla., in Smart's return from a three-game suspension.
Breakdown: It doesn't sound like many people give the Red Raiders a chance in this one, and that's understandable. Tech has some talent and athleticism and will scrap on defense, but Oklahoma State has too much offensively to go home early.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 81, Texas Tech 69
No. 10 TCU vs. No. 7 Baylor, 8:30 p.m.
Season series: Baylor 2-0. Bears rocked the Horned Frogs by a combined total of 59 points in two meetings this season.
Breakdown: The Horned Frogs have shown some heart at times this season but they've been overmatched every night and they're in desperate need of the chance to hit the reset button and to head into the offseason hoping for better things in the future.
Prediction: Baylor 88, TCU 63
No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 11:30 a.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. Wildcats lost by 6 in Ames in late January and won a grinder by 7 in Manhattan on March 1.
Breakdown: This might be the best match-up of the entire tournament, as these two teams played absolute gems in Ames and Manhattan and seem to match up so well against each other. Three-point shooting was key in both match-ups and the battle between Marcus Foster and DeAndre Kane is a pleasure to watch. The 'Cats haven't been great away from home this season and even though there figure to be a lot of KSU fans in Sprint Center for this one, Iowa State's fans always have traveled well for this event, too. Besides that, the early tip could neutralize some of the KSU crowd advantage. Melvin Ejim's the difference.
Prediction: Iowa State 76, Kansas State 71
No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Kansas, 2 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. KU won by two in Lawrence and had a 10-point lead with 11 minutes to play in Stillwater, but lost by 7 on OSU's home floor.
Breakdown: The blow of losing Joel Embiid for the next couple of weeks certainly stings, but I look for the Jayhawks, and the partisan Sprint Center crowd, to rally around each other, play crisp and focused basketball and knock off the Cowboys in a doozy. OSU beat KU with Embiid less than two weeks ago, so it they'll have plenty of confidence that they can do it without him. On the flip-side, KU will be looking to prove it can beat a quality opponent with or without their big man.
Prediction: Kansas 77, Oklahoma State 74
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 6 p.m.
Season series: Oklahoma 2-0. Bears lost by 2 at home and then by 16 in Norman, three weeks apart.
Breakdown: Since losing to OU for the second time this season on Feb. 8, Baylor has won seven of eight games and looked like a much better team than it did during the stretch of eight losses in 10 games that came before it. Not content to simply slide into the NCAA Tournament, the Bears are hungry to prove they're worthy and are also playing to improve their seed.
Prediction: Baylor 72, Oklahoma 67
No. 6 West Virginia vs. No. 3 Texas, 8:30 p.m.
Season series: Texas 2-0. Longhorns won by 11 in Morgantown in mid-January and by 15 in Austin in mid-February.
Breakdown: Confidence is a crazy thing and the Mountaineers, who seem to be the lone Big 12 team playing for their NCAA Tournament lives this weekend, have a ton of it after drubbing Kansas and seeing guard Juwan Staten earn first-team all-Big 12 honors last weekend. They'll play with a nothing-to-lose mentality and the Longhorns, who tend to get more fired up for the more traditional rivalries — Kansas, Oklahoma, etc. — will be caught sleeping.
Prediction: West Virginia 83, Texas 75
No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Kansas, 6 p.m.
Season series: Kansas 2-0. Jayhawks picked up a big, early conference victory in Ames in mid January and won by 11 at home two weeks later.
Breakdown: Getting past Oklahoma State on emotion is doable, but this is where the loss of Embiid will hurt the Jayhawks. In two wins against Iowa State this season, Embiid combined for 30 points, 20 rebounds and 6 blocks on 12-of-17 shooting. More impactful than the numbers he put up was the presence he provided. Iowa State has no answer for that kind of size, but with Embiid out, they'll be better prepared to attack the rim and kick out to their dangerous three-point shooters. Beating KU means a lot to the Cyclones and this could be their best shot to get it done.
Prediction: Iowa State 79, Kansas 74
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 6 West Virginia, 8:30 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. Each team won on the other's home floor, with Baylor winning by 13 in Morgantown in late February and WVU winning by two in Waco in late January.
Breakdown: West Virginia gets the edge in the backcourt, but the Bears have an advantage in the front-court in this one. Neither team is known for its defense, but the Bears' ability to play tough and disrupt things in the paint could be the difference here. In order for Baylor to make it this far, Cory Jefferson is going to have to have a huge tournament. He's one of the more underrated players in the league and I think his passion and power along with the hot shooting of gunner Brady Heslip (who likes the Sprint Center) could be enough to carry the Bears into the title game.
Prediction: Baylor 85, West Virginia 77
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 8 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. Iowa State won by 15 in early January in Ames and Baylor won the rematch by 13 in early March in Waco.
Breakdown: Playing four games in four days is no easy task and that's what the Bears will have to do if they reach the title game. Knowing that they've solidified their spot in the NCAA Tournament and running on fumes, the Bears get out-athleted in this one and simply cannot handle Iowa State point guard DeAndre Kane.
Prediction: Iowa State 84, Baylor 73
There's a heck of a reunion taking place in the Mile High City and, believe it or not, at the center of it are a couple of former Kansas University football players.
When news broke Tuesday night that the Denver Broncos had reached an agreement with free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib on a six-year, $57-million deal, my mind immediately shifted to the 2008 Orange Bowl, where Talib lined up at one corner position and true freshman Chris Harris lined up at the other.
Together, Harris and Talib helped lead the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl championship that capped off a magical 12-1 season. Harris recorded an interception and four tackles in that game and Talib, never one to be outdone, made the most memorable play of the game, a pick-six interception in the first quarter that, after the game, led to these four famous words: “I felt like Deion!”
With Talib joining Harris in the Broncos secondary, the move qualifies as an instant upgrade at one of the biggest areas of weakness for the team that represented the AFC in last year's Super Bowl.
According to a report from the Denver Post's Mike Klis, in the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Talib, the Broncos have secured the kind of big, physical cornerback that Broncos general manager John Elway has coveted since he took control of the team's football operations three years ago.
Talib, 28, snagged four interceptions and 14 pass break-ups during the 2013 season with the New England Patriots, who often lined him up on the opponent's best wide receiver.
While all of that — the age, the talent, the size, the swagger — is great news for the Broncos' defense, I can't help but think about how pumped Harris must be about reuniting with his old KU teammate. Because of the timing of Harris' one season with Talib in Lawrence — Talib was a junior and Harris just a freshman — the relationship between the two always felt like one of big brother, little brother. Harris had great admiration for Talib's skills and always appreciated how he helped him along as a true freshman playing big-time college football for the first time.
Now that both are starters in the NFL, it doesn't to figure to be that way in Denver, but, in Harris, Talib will have a friendly face who can help him break into the Broncos' culture and show him the ropes of how to play for head coach John Fox, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and, perhaps most importantly, a team led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
The early days of Talib's career were marred by off-the-field incidents and immaturity but his talent and ability were never questioned. After leaving Tampa Bay midway through the 2012 season, Talib latched on in New England, where Patriots coach Bill Belichick helped him clean up his image and focus on making plays and helping the team win. Although Belichick and Manning will never be mistaken for one another, being under Manning's eye figures to help keep Talib on the straight and narrow the way playing for Belichick did during the past season and a half.
Of course, being around an old running mate like Harris, who is wildly respected in the Denver community and arguably was the Broncos' most important player on defense last season, won't hurt either.
And, of course, having a pair of starters in the secondary of one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, is nothing but good news for Kansas football.
The Kansas University football team went through its third day of spring practices on Tuesday — the first of the spring in full pads — and, although we weren't able to watch any of the action, we did get our first chance to talk with a few of the players about how the spring has gone before they hit the practice field.
Here's the latest installment of the slightly modified “What caught my ear,” blog, with a focus on the rumblings from the first few days of spring drills.
• Ben Heeney has been an animal this spring. As you might expect, the senior linebacker has been flying all over the field and making plays like we have become accustomed to seeing, but he's also upped his game in pass coverage and actually had two interceptions during one early-spring practice. That kind of thing can be contagious and it sounds like the entire defense is following Heeney's lead.
• Wide receivers Rodriguez Coleman and Nick Harwell already have made a significant impact in KU's passing game, both in terms of getting open and making catches and becoming big-play threats.
• Based on talks with the players and coaches, if I had to pick one word to describe KU's new offense it would be "simple." Now that's not simple in that it will be easy for defenses to scheme against or figure out. That's simple in that the players grasp it, understand it and can execute it. What's more, it sounds like they like it a lot.
• Speaking of the new offense, senior quarterback Jake Heaps said it's basically a no-huddle system and that, even though the Jayhawks did some no-huddle at times last year, it was usually something they put in that week or for a specific opponent. Making the no-huddle approach the foundation of their offensive system makes it easier to learn and grasp and Heaps said the goal, particularly of the upperclassmen, is to get to the point where they know what the calls are going to be on the field before they even look over to the sideline to confirm it.
• In that same vein, Keon Stowers said the biggest difference between spring this season and spring the past couple of seasons was maturity and leadership. Now that so many key players are veterans, the question of right and wrong or responsibility is not as big of an issue. That's on the field and off the field. As Stowers put it, “It's almost like we're the coaches,” and because of that the veterans have taken some of the burden of having to watch every sprint or every on-time arrival at every meeting off of KU's coaches.
• I talked with Brandon Bourbon about his opportunity at running back and the senior who opened the spring No. 1 on the depth chart said the entire stable of running backs believes that their opportunity is a little more legitimate and real now that James Sims is gone. Sims led the Jayhawks in rushing during each of his four seasons and was the workhorse rock in the Kansas backfield. Bourbon, who is coming off of his most healthy and productive season in 2013, said the group Sims left behind has a list of lofty goals but added that the only way for the Jayhawks to enjoy continued success from their running backs was for each player to remain selfish internally while striving for the best results for the team externally. Sounded like a much more eloquent way of putting the cliché about competition bringing out the best in everyone.
• I asked several offensive players in the room about new offensive coordinator John Reagan and what they saw as his primary strengths. Here were a few of the words I heard in response: 1. Coach Reagan is very engaging. He's so into everything he does that if you're not into it right there with him, he's going to pull you into it and make you a part of it. 2. Coach Reagan has a way of communicating the ins and outs of the new offense that's easy to understand. He's fun to work with and he knows what he's doing. 3. Coach Reagan is very meticulous in the way he goes about coaching. He takes his time during installation days to make sure that we're getting it and is willing to sit down with us and go over every aspect of every play in meetings if that's what it takes for us to get on the same page.
• The Jayhawks will go through their fourth of 15 spring practices on Thursday before taking 9 days off for spring break. KU's next practice after Thursday is slated for March 23.
It's crazy to think that the next piece of significant news we get about Kansas University freshman Joel Embiid could come with him sitting at a table in the Allen Fieldhouse media room, a microphone in front of face and his decision about the NBA on the tip of his tongue.
That reality became true in a very harsh manner on Monday evening, when KU coach Bill Self revealed the results of Embiid's second-opinion visit with back specialists in California, news that indicated Embiid was out for the Big 12 tournament and likely would miss the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.
The 23-8 Jayhawks are not the same team without Embiid on the floor. Opponents aren't as intimidated to drive to the rim. Points in the paint aren't as easy to come by. Heck, even as corny as they may have looked at times, the Jayhawks even miss the moments when Embiid liked to fire his long-fingered guns after a particularly big or even strong bucket.
So, yeah, there's reason to worry about KU's postseason chances without their most valuable player because the Jayhawks are not the same team without him. That might even be putting it mildly. They're a different team altogether.
But they are still talented. Very. And they are still deep. Luxuriously. And they do still have Self. Confidently. So they do still have a chance.
Playing, no advancing, without Embiid is not a simple equation. It's not as easy as saying Tarik Black has to step in and perform well in Embiid's absence because in basketball terms, mathematical equations or any other form of measurement Black does not equal Embiid. But Kansas can.
Andrew Wiggins can — and should — play more like he did against West Virginia last Saturday. He doesn't have to score 41 points each night out as long as he's that aggressive and competitive and dominant. If he is, whatever offense Black and Jamari Traylor can give in Embiid's spot will be gravy.
Defensively, the Jayhawks could tinker with a zone defense or even press more. That seems to fuel Wiggins and likely would ensure that he plays with fire. It also would limit the number of times KU would have to sit down and guard in the half court, something that has been several levels below the Kansas standard throughout the season.
There's no way to sugar coat the loss of Embiid. It's a blow. A big one. And it turns Kansas from a team that would likely be one of the favorites to win it all into just another in a big pile of worthy contenders that have to play extremely well to make it to Dallas.
Good offense won't be enough anymore. Improved defense won't either. The Jayhawks have to be impressive on both ends without Embiid if they hope to see him suit up, well and rested, for what could be a couple of pretty important games down the stretch.
The talent is there, though. And it's the will of his teammates that will determine whether Embiid's stay-or-go press conference will be the next time we hear from him or if there are still a few finger pistols to fire before the season ends.
The Kansas University basketball team's latest game — a 92-86 loss at West Virginia on Saturday — seems to be a classic example of one that can be looked at completely differently by two very different groups of people.
The pessimists will say that the Jayhawks were awful, embarrassing and deserved to lose because they lacked energy, fire, passion and intelligence.
The optimists will say that the way the Jayhawks closed the game — particularly Andrew Wiggins — is what matters most because the team showed heart and nearly battled all the way back from 25 points down while playing without their best big man.
They're right, too.
So what do you do when you've got two groups of people standing in opposite corners who are both right while saying the opposite thing? Throw the game out and move on to the ones that really matter?
Sounds like as good a plan as any.
It was obvious where the Jayhawks came up short in this one and, frankly, if those same issues continue to plague them, this March probably won't be very memorable.
As ugly as Saturday's loss was at times, the whole experience has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Jayhawks were missing one of their top players (Joel Embiid) and were facing a desperate team that needed a signature victory to have even a prayer of making the tournament. Throw in the fact that it was the regular season finale on the road and Senior Night at WVU, and you're looking at a pretty basic recipe for an upset. That said, it has to be considered frustrating — if not something more severe — that, even with those things stacked against them, the Jayhawks did not come out with a more inspired effort until things got really bleak. KU's pride and heart showed up when it counted and the Jayhawks salvaged a day that, for a while, looked destined to become a total embarrassment and may actually be able to take something positive out of the way they closed the game. The loss likely ended KU's hopes of landing a 1 seed, but they should still be in good shape for a 2, which might wind up being the better road anyway. If Embiid can return and Wiggins can play with the kind of drive and aggression he showed against the Mountaineers, KU is very much still alive.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – I'm sure the votes were already in, given the fact that the winner of the Big 12's player of the year award will be announced a little later today, but those who voted for someone other than Andrew Wiggins probably were wishing they could have their vote back while watching this one. Wiggins was the only KU player who showed up from start to finish and his 41 points, 12 field goals, 15 free throws, 5 steals and 4 blocks all were career-highs. When he's locked in the way he was on Saturday, there's very little that anyone else can do about it. Had he gotten even just one other guy to give KU the same kind of effort from start to finish, the Jayhawks probably would've survived even while playing poorly. Embiid may be KU's most valuable player, but Wiggins is the team's best and he showed Saturday that he can be a guy who can almost single-handedly win a game for you. That's a good thing.
2 – Although Wiggins was the only one who showed up all day, there were a few other guys who deserve some credit for that late second-half comeback that nearly stole KU the victory. Frank Mason picked it up on the defensive end and hit a couple of big shots. Landon Lucas and Jamari Traylor had a couple of good moments, as well. And KU's overall team athleticism really created some havoc in scramble-mode. It might have been enough to make KU coach Bill Self think about employing some more of that into the game plan even when KU's not playing from way behind and desperate to avoid embarrassment.
3 – These are the types of games KU will face in the tournament. Good guards, no pressure on the underdog and a nothing-to-lose mentality can make life tough for any favorite. Given the fact that the Jayhawks are so young and many of these guys are going through that type of thing for the first time, getting a taste of it early might not have been the worst thing in the world. Now they know what it looks like, feels like, sounds like and tastes like. And, most importantly, now they know what can happen if they don't bring it from the jump. You can bet Self will use this as a big-time teaching tool and, as frustrated as I'm sure he was throughout Saturday's game, he'll swallow hard and find a way to use it without shredding his guys' confidence.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – What could have been a real confidence builder for KU's point guards became an absolute disaster. Naadir Tharpe played poorly and looked overmatched and intimidated and Frank Mason looked sloppy and careless until he final figured out a way to make a positive impact by tightening up his defense during that second-half surge. On a day and in a situation in which KU's leader should have played 30-plus minutes himself, Tharpe played just 16 scoreless minutes and watched Mason and Conner Frankamp take their turns while combining for 33 minutes. Frankamp, though off offensively, played his 15 minutes because he showed he was at least willing to try to defend. And Mason's athleticism and toughness earned his minutes. By now, everyone knows that Tharpe is such a critical part of this team. The good news for KU fans about his line — if you can believe there is one — is that Tharpe's a mentally tough dude, who will not let this define him. Only way he can prove that, though, is by bouncing back with a better effort on Thursday.
2 – KU's offense was bad throughout most of the game, but the Jayhawks defense was equally as poor when the game got away. That was especially true in the first half, when KU played passive defense, with little energy and gave up open jump shots, which WVU just kept knocking down (West Virginia shot 56 percent (9-of-16) from three-point land). When the Mountaineers didn't settle for jumpers, KU's big men gave up ground and allowed things to be way too easy inside for the West Virginia bigs. That's to say nothing of WVU's crazy first-half field goal percentage (63 percent & 53 percent for the game) or the fact that KU — guards and bigs — could not keep anyone in front of them on the perimeter all day.
3 – Body language was a big problem for the Jayhawks on Saturday. I know what you're thinking — how could it not have been? And that's a valid point. But it was about more than just shrugged shoulders or long faces. These guys actually looked uncomfortable in their own skin and nearly every one of them was affected by it. At times, particularly after missed free throws or easy attempts inside, it looked as if the player who misfired wanted to unleash the “gee, that's not fair,” phrase. I'm sure that's just part of their competitiveness and they were disgusted by the way they were playing, but there are plenty of competitors out there who respond to that by playing harder, not pouting. KU eventually got there, but it was too little too late.
One thought for the road:
KU's regular-season ending loss to the Mountaineers:
• Dropped KU to 23-8 on the season and 14-4 in Big 12 play.
• Gave West Virginia (1-3) and head coach Bob Huggins (1-7) their first wins against Kansas.
• Moved the Kansas-West Virginia series to 3-1 in favor of Kansas.
• Changed head coach Bill Self’s record to 3-1 all-time against West Virginia, 323-67 while at Kansas and 530-172 overall.
• Moved Kansas to 2,124-820 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,133 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,113), Duke (2,025) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks will get some much-needed time off to watch film, regroup and get ready for the win-or-go-home portion of their schedule. Kansas will open play in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., at 2 p.m. Thursday, when they face the winner of the Wednesday match-up between the No. 8 (Oklahoma State) and No. 9 seeds (Texas Tech).
No open practices this spring for the Kansas football program, so the "What caught my eye" blogs of the past are going to have to be replaced by these "What caught my ear" blogs until we can see these guys play for ourselves.
I should be able to bring plenty of information to the table, I just won't be able to get much of a feel for the physical abilities and make-up of the players and the team dynamic. No sweat, though. It's still just spring.
With that said, four members of KU coach Charlie Weis' staff were made available to the media today and each made it incredibly clear that they're ready to go.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, Offensive coordinator John Reagan, Defensive backs coach Dave Campo and Wide Receivers coach Eric Kiesau spent about 30 minutes chatting with various media members about the outlook for this spring.
I spent most of my time with Kiesau, who impressed me a great deal. I like his attitude, I like his philosophies and I like that he seems fired up to be here. I'll have a story on him in tomorrow's paper (and online) so be sure to check that out.
With that in mind, here are a few other tidbits from the day that caught my ear...
• Campo said it's great to go into a spring knowing your personnel and having seen what they can do…. Said they feel good about KU's secondary because so many guys who played well last year are returning this year.
• Bowen said he and the staff have a much better grasp on who the leaders of the D will be this spring vs. last spring. Mentioned specifically Ben Heeney, Ben Goodman, Cassisus Sendish and Isaiah Johnson. And there's no doubt that Keon Stowers is a part of that group, as well.
• Bowen also said having a year of the defensive system that KU runs under their belts & in place gives players & coaches a lot of confidence and allows them to start the spring way ahead of where they started last season with installation and things basic philosophies.
• Kiesau said the process of getting hired by KU was a whirlwind and came, pretty much, in one day. He visited campus right before a family vacation to Hawaii and liked what he saw. Also admired Weis and Reagan and wanted to work with them.
• Kiesau said has 3 key things he likes in WRs: 1. Natural hands. 2. Precise route runner. 3. Able to release at the line. There's a lot more that goes into coaching the position than that, of course, but those are the things he looks for first.
• Even though everyone and everything here is new to him, Kiesau said he was going to set the bar very high & push and inspire the KU WRs to catch up to that standard. Sounds like a sound approach and won't allow for much wasted time.
Here's a quick video that Benton Smith of Smithology and Hawks in the NBA fame threw together from today's availability...
A home game against an overmatched Texas Tech team proved to be just the tonic the Kansas University men's basketball team needed to get over its tough loss at Oklahoma State last weekend.
Behind a monster night from Tarik Black and the good vibes that always come with Senior Night in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks rolled the Red Raiders, 82-57, in a game that was never close after the 8-minute mark of the first half.
The victory gave Kansas an chance to celebrate its 10th straight regular season conference title with its home fans — a scene that included T-shirts, hats and all 10 Big 12 trophies being brought onto the floor after the game — and provided the perfect backdrop for the feel-good sendoff for seniors Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley, as well as freshman Andrew Wiggins and possibly freshmen Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden.
Embiid did not play because of a back injury, a move that appears to be in the Jayhawks' best interest, but his absence opened the door for Black to step up and assert himself as yet another KU offensive weapon.
If Embiid sitting out sparks a strong finish for Black, it could make a huge difference for the Jayhawks and their national title aspirations and the injury to the 7-foot center could go down as a blessing in disguise.
In a span of just 15 days, against the very same Texas Tech team, the Jayhawks showed the two sides of themselves that have fans and analysts alike scratching their heads over what this team's potential really is. The first, which came in a 64-63 victory at Tech on Feb. 18, had KU fans concerned about consistency, mental toughness and point guard play. The second, which came Wednesday without Embiid, made those same folks believe that this team has as good a shot as any to make a deep run and possibly win it all. The mere fact that things could be so different against the same team just two weeks later speaks to that consistency question, but one of the biggest differences in the two games was the play of junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, who had 6 points, 2 assists and 4 turnovers on 1-of-7 shooting in Lubbock and 16 points, 5 assists and 0 turnovers on 4-of-7 shooting (3-for-6 from three-point land). Like it or not, it's becoming abundantly clear that this team will go as far as Tharpe will lead them when the postseason arrives.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Speaking of Naadir Tharpe, the junior guard did two things in this one that made me believe he's ready to lead this team on a postseason run. The first was knock down his three-point shot. After struggling of late and misfiring on a couple of his first tries in this one, Tharpe knocked in three of his final four three-point shots and finished at 50 percent for the night. No matter who the Jayhawks play, that shot is going to be there and Tharpe is going to need to take it and make it. The other thing he did, which may be even more important, was show some pride in the way he played defense. After being torched by Robert Turner in Lubbock, Tharpe showed up with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove in this one and played with the kind of defensive intensity we've come to expect from a Bill Self point guard. The last time this happened was in the Texas game at home, when Tharpe responded to getting schooled by UT's Isaiah Taylor in Austin by shutting him down at Allen Fieldhouse. Sounds to me like his teammates need to start making up lies about opposing guards and their disrespect for Tharpe because when he plays with that kind of a chip on his shoulder his defense is noticeably better.
2 – A little credit also should go to KU's team defense in this one, as the Jayhawks held the Red Raiders to 20.8 percent shooting (5-of-24) in the first half, marking the second game in a row — and third time in four games — that KU's defense limited an opponent to first-half shooting in the 20-percent range (Texas shot 20.7 percent on Feb. 22 and Oklahoma State shot 24 percent last Saturday). Holding TTU to that 20.8-percent clip marked KU's second-best first-half performance of the season, just behind the 20.7-percent mark it forced from both UT (6-of-29) and Towson (6-of-29). What's most important to remember about this one was that it came without Embiid on the floor.
3 – Regardless of how you feel about the walk-ons and the whole Senior Night scene, you couldn't help but feel good for the KU seniors, particularly Niko Roberts, who started the first game of his career, held his own while he was out there and even scored while being showered with love from the KU fans. It's easy to forget about these guys because of how stacked the KU roster is year in and year out, but guys like Roberts show up to practice and work just as hard as the rest of them and they deserve a chance to feel the love. No place is better about dishing that love out than KU and Allen Fieldhouse.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Even if it is the best thing for him and the team, it has to make KU coaches, players and fans a little nervous seeing Joel Embiid in street clothes. Embiid's health is critical for this team and his presence on the floor gives KU something that no other team in the country has. Because of that, resting the injured back and making sure he's as close to 100 percent for the postseason makes the most sense. At the same time, though, you have to worry about rust and rhythm the longer he sits.
2 – Although the Jayhawks' four fast-break points in this one could be a reason to sigh, given how good the Jayhawks are in transition and how much they like to run, it also could be looked at as a reason to smile since it clearly shows that the Jayhawks did enough in the half-court to put up more than 80 points against a stingy defense. KU continues to average in that 8-12 range in fast-break points and while that number is good, this game proved that it's not imperative for KU to get out and run if it wants to have success. It does, however, make scoring easier for these guys, which never is a bad thing and eliminates some of the pressure of having to knock down outside shots.
3 – The Jayhawks were really pretty good in all areas in this one. They shot well, shared the ball (16 assists), limited turnovers (no player had more than two) and delivered good percentages from the floor (52), free-throw line (72) and three-point range (33). Because of that, looking for reasons to sigh was pretty tough. So for this last one, we'll go with the fact that senior Justin Wesley was scoreless in his last game at Allen Fieldhouse. Wesley played nine minutes and recorded a block but missed all three shots he attempted, including a pair of three-pointers, one of which rattled out and looked good the whole way. I'm sure Wesley did not care too much that he failed to crack the scoring column, but it would've been a nice way to go out.
One thought for the road:
KU's senior-night victory over Texas Tech:
• Improved KU to 23-7 on the season and gave Kansas at least 23 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and 29th time in the last 30 years dating back to 1984-85.
• Gave KU a 14-3 Big 12 and marked the sixth-straight season the Jayhawks have won 14 games in conference play.
• Closed out the home conference slate a perfect 9-0 in Big 12 games in Allen Fieldhouse, the sixth time in the Bill Self era that the Jayhawks completed an unblemished league slate.
• Marked Kansas’ 31st-straight home season finale, including 30-consecutive Senior Nights (the 2006-07 roster did not have a senior).
• Moved the Kansas-Texas Tech series to 27-4 in favor of Kansas, including 14-0 in Lawrence with all meetings in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Improved Kansas to 14-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 175-9 in the venue under Bill Self and 713-109 all-time in the arena.
• Improved Self to 14-6 all-time against Texas Tech. He advanced to 323-66 while at Kansas and 530-171 overall.
• Moved Kansas to 2,124-819 all-time.
The Jayhawks will close out the 2013-14 regular season at 11 a.m. Saturday in Morgantown, W. Va., where they will look to sweep the season series with the Mountaineers. KU clubbed Bob Huggins' squad 83-69 Feb. 8 in Lawrence, behind 19 points from Andrew Wiggins.
Now that Wichita State has completed the perfect regular season, it seems that people are starting to really wonder if the Shockers have what it takes to get back to the Final Four and threaten to become college basketball's first perfect team since Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana squad ran the table and finished 32-0.
There's still a long road ahead for WSU to reach that point — starting with this week's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis — but the signs are starting to point toward more and more people believing it's possible.
For starters, WSU is now considered a virtual lock to be one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Some folks still need to see WSU win the Valley tourney before they'll anoint them a top seed, but many already are convinced.
Consider ESPN analyst Jay Bilas' justification for ranking WSU 2nd in his latest Bilas Index, which singles out the country's top 68 teams:
“This team is one of four in the nation ranked in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Eight of the past 10 NCAA tournament champs have also had that distinction. This is a good team. Period.”
Beyond Bilas' belief in them, the Shockers (31-0) are ranked No. 2 in both major polls, sit 7th in the RPI standings despite a strength of schedule in the triple digits (110), are 4th in the BPI rankings, which takes into account factors such as scoring margin, blowouts and game sites, and 6th in analyst Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which lean heavily on advanced statistics to determine the top teams.
In short, it seems that Wichita State's impressive regular season run has made a believer out of nearly everyone and the only thing left for the Shockers to do is to prove that they're worthy of that in the pressure-packed win-or-go-home atmospheres that await.
With that in mind, and because the strength of their opponents has left many to question how they would match up against the nation's top teams, it seems like everyone wants to speculate on how WSU would fare against the big boys. No place is that more true than in Kansas, where the topic of whether KU and WSU would ever wind up on each other's schedule has gained serious steam throughout the season.
Earlier today, I received an email from the folks at www.bovada.lv, which provided the gambling web site's current odds to win it all and an interesting look at a few imaginary lines if the Shockers were to face 12 of the top teams in the country.
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks (22-7), who still are in the running for a No. 1 seed themselves, are currently the second favorite to win the national championship at 8/1. KU is tied with Arizona (8/1) and behind only Florida (5/1) while staying just ahead of Wichita State (9/1), Duke (10/1), Syracuse (10/1), Michigan State (12/1), Louisville (14/1) and Virginia (14/1) as the top favorites.
As for how Bovada sees a potential match-up between Kansas and Wichita State, — which, most likely, would only happen in the Elite Eight, Final Four or national championship game (wouldn't that be something!) at the earliest — the Jayhawks are listed as a hypothetical two-point favorite.
Here's a quick look at the rest of Bovada's hypothetical Wichita State lines, in which the Shockers are underdogs against six teams, even money against two others and favored against the other four.
Interesting stuff. Here's hoping we get to see at least a couple of the match-ups play out later this month.
HYPOTHETICAL WICHITA STATE LINES (from Bovada.lv)
Wichita State +4 vs. Arizona
Wichita State +4 vs. Florida
Wichita State +3.5 vs. Virginia
Wichita State +3 vs. Duke
Wichita State +2 vs. Kansas
Wichita State +1.5 vs. Wisconsin
Wichita State pk vs. Louisville
Wichita State pk vs. Creighton
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Villanova
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Syracuse
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Michigan
Wichita State -3.5 vs. Cincinnati
Despite the disappointing numbers that have been put up by Kansas University quarterbacks during the past few seasons, it's still the position everybody wants to talk about — for better or worse — and one that, at Kansas, has more drama and intrigue than at any time since the QB showdown between Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier prior to the 2007 season.
If you've been following along at all, you know how I feel about 2013 starter Jake Heaps, his ability as a player and the lack of support he received last season, be it from the offensive line early or his pass catchers throughout.
With that said, I think the upcoming spring and summer sessions could deliver one heck of a three-man race for the Jayhawks' starting QB nod heading into 2014.
By now, you likely know the candidates: Jake Heaps, who will be a senior; Montell Cozart, who will be a sophomore; and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard, who will be a sophomore, all figure to get a long, hard look from the coaching staff during spring ball and fall camp.
It's far too early to make even a decent guess about which guy will win the job — a solid case could be made for all three — and several things could change between now and the time that naming a starter really becomes necessary.
I'm anticipating a serious competition to unfold between these three guys, each of whom no doubt believes he's the right choice. That can only help KU's offense and it also can make for an interesting few months.
While the decision is still several weeks away, it's never too early to start looking at the options. So here's a quick look at the strengths, weaknesses and outlook of each of the quarterbacks heading into the offseason along with my early hunch on who the guy will be.
--- This is not to discount the other QBs on the roster, as both Michael Cummings and Jordan Darling are right there with these three in terms of work ethic, dedication and team-first mentality. It just seems that there's a clear divide between the top three and the rest that stems from a combination of experience, potential and measurables. ---
• JAKE HEAPS — 6-foot-1, 210-pound, senior
Strengths: We already know Heaps is a great leader, well respected by teammates and the kind of guy who won't give in or get down no matter how bleak things look. Beyond that, he's got a cannon for an arm — which he was able to show when he actually got protection — and has more game experience at the Div. I level than all of the other QBs on the roster combined. Heaps is a confident player and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take to John Reagan's offense quickly and make it awfully tough for the others to beat him out.
Weaknesses: If there's one area that Heaps is vulnerable, it's mobility. He's not all that fast and never really showed a desire to get out and run. Last season he showed a tendency to wait too long for plays to develop — which could be a knock on his receivers — which too often allowed the pocket to collapse around him. In addition, that rifle arm isn't always a good thing, as he occasionally would put too much zip on short passes that required more touch.
Outlook: Given his experience and big arm, Heaps has as good a shot as anyone to win the job and, through my eyes, is the guy to beat. A new offense puts all three on more of an equal playing field, but if Reagan's offense is at all predicated on quickly getting the ball out to playmakers in space, Heaps seems to be the right guy for that role.
• MONTELL COZART — 6-foot-2, 189-pound sophomore
Strengths: By far the most mobile quarterback on KU's roster, Cozart showed in limited time last season that his ability to take off in the open field puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses. Cozart runs with a sort of fluid stride that makes it look like he's not in an all-out sprint. But because of his long strides and powerful legs, he still manages to eat up yards in a hurry. As for his arm, he's got enough there to make all of the throws.
Weaknesses: The issue with Cozart's passing during the few appearances he made in 2013 had to do with accuracy and decision making. He overthrew wide open receivers too often and never reached the point where opponents seemed to truly respect his ability as a passer. Part of that could have been the nerves and head-spinning stuff associated with being a true freshman under fire in the Big 12 Conference. But it was there. KU coach Charlie Weis has said consistently that he has total confidence in Cozart's ability as a passer, so perhaps that little taste of experience along with an offseason devoted to getting better helped the Bishop Miege graduate reach the next level as a college quarterback.
Outlook: Cozart has the look of a guy who, with some time, could put the Jayhawks on a more even playing field with what the rest of the Big 12 Conference throws out there year after year – big, fast, athletic, agile and a nightmare to account for. He's got a big arm that needs some cultivation, incredible athletic ability that makes him a dangerous weapon all over the field and the confidence you need from your quarterback. If after this battle Cozart has not separated himself as the clear-cut No. 1 or No. 2 guy, I think it'd be a great idea to move forward with the hope of red-shirting him in 2014 and giving him a chance to become a three-year starter down the road.
• T.J. MILLWEARD — 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore
Strengths: Millweard's biggest advantages in this race appear to be frame and mobility. He's bigger than both Heaps and Cozart and seems to be the kind of guy who can scramble both to gain yards and to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage. Though not blazing fast, moving around with the football certainly seems to come naturally for him.
Weaknesses: Millweard has not taken a single snap in a real college football game so the first time he goes out there — whenever that may be — will be his first time on the field with live action and opponents looking to rip his head off. If he demonstrates that he's clearly better than the others in terms of his command of the offense, ability to make accurate throws and not turn the ball over, then that won't matter. If it's close, his inexperience could cost him.
Outlook: I can't help but think about Millweard when I look at the Rice offense and what Reagan did with Owls QB Taylor McHargue, who stands 6-2 and weighs 220 pounds. Like McHargue, who was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country during the past couple of seasons, Millweard is mobile, can spin it and has a good frame that can withstand the beating that comes with playing outside of the pocket. Reagan said comparing anybody to McHargue and thinking that meant something was a bad idea, given the fact that the Rice offense was built around what McHargue could do and not the other way around.
• Early Hunch
I think this is Jake Heaps' job to lose. I do think he'll be pushed a ton and I think both Cozart and Millweard have a legitimate shot to overtake him. But I like Heaps' combination of arm strength and experience along with the sense of urgency that comes with not only being a senior and playing his last season of college football but also wanting to atone for a largely disappointing season in 2013.
It's hard to imagine that the day after this one was anything but somber for the Kansas University basketball team, which clinched the outright Big 12 title thanks to losses by Texas and Iowa State, lost at Oklahoma State after holding a 10-point lead midway through the second half.
No celebration. No elation. Just disappointment over a loss that should have never been, one that featured 22 turnovers, ugly point guard play and an inability to make plays down the stretch.
Of course, to put it all on KU would be unfair to Oklahoma State, which played hungry and desperate and got excellent contributions from Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and especially Marcus Smart, who poured in 20 points in the second half.
The loss dropped Kansas to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in the Big 12. But with a three-game lead over four teams and just two regular season conference games to play, the conference title is KU's outright, even if it didn't quite feel like it on Saturday night.
As poorly as KU played at times in Stillwater, and as much as it probably stung to give up a 10-point lead the Jayhawks worked hard to build, the latest outcome was not a total disaster. Oklahoma State has talent — a lot of it — and had a lot to play for, its postseason life and one more show for the home fans at the top of the list. Beyond that, the Jayhawks' bottom line didn't really change after this loss. They're still on pace to be a top seed in the big dance — a 2 or even a 1 still seem most likely — and they are the top seed in the upcoming Big 12 tourney, which will follow games at home against Texas Tech and at West Virginia. Don't get me wrong, if KU plays, and especially closes games, the way it did on Saturday, a deep postseason run will be in jeopardy. That's the bigger question at this point, but given the way these guys have performed all year, a bounce-back seems more likely than a collapse.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Andrew Wiggins had an off night shooting the ball from the outside and couldn't get much to fall in close either, but he competed his butt off especially on the glass. The one scrum midway through the second half where KU came away with three loose balls or rebounds in the paints and Oklahoma State kept turning them away was a perfect indication of just how hard both teams played and wanted this one. Wiggins wound up at the free throw line and pushed KU's lead to 52-42. Things slowly went downhill from there, though.
2 – KU's first-half defense was pretty fantastic. And tough. Oklahoma State made just six field goals during the game's first 20 minutes and had just one player with more than one bucket at the break. What's more, the lockdown defense came when KU really needed it. Behind three early buckets from Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State had jumped out to a 14-7 lead and, with KU's offense struggling, was in position to create some serious distance between the home team and the visitors on the scoreboard. But the Jayhawks locked in — especially on sharp-shooter Phil Forte who was 1-of-4 in the first half and 1-of-6 for the game — scrapped their way back into it on the offensive end and led 26-25 at halftime despite shooting just 35 percent themselves.
3 – Had it not been for offensive rebounds, the Jayhawks might have been blown out of the gym. KU outdid OSU 15-3 on the offensive glass, which led to a 13-4 advantage in second-chance points. Two Jayhawks (Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins) had more offensive rebounds (5) than all but one of the OSU players had in total rebounds.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Foul trouble was a big factor in this one and the Jayhawks were guilty of a lot of hacking. That led to 33 free throw attempts for Oklahoma State, which cashed 27 of those, and OSU outscored Kansas by 13 points at the free throw line. Not only that but Wiggins and Joel Embiid both had to sit for a stretch in the second half with three fouls. KU's reserves did a nice job during that stretch but you can't help but think that seeing those two sitting instead of trying to throw the knockout punch helped Oklahoma State believe they still had a shot.
2 – When KU didn't foul, they gave up some pretty high-percentage shots, especially in the second half. Much of Oklahoma State's run that brought the Cowboys back from 10 down and eventually pushed them over the top came on the strength of free throws or buckets at the rim, a few of them real crowd pleasers that only added to OSU's ability to overcome that double-digit deficit. The Cowboys shot an incredible 64 percent in the second half after shooting just 24 percent in the first.
3 – Naadir Tharpe proved once again just how important he is to this team. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the junior has proven it almost as often with poor performances as he has with good ones. Saturday's was certainly a poor one. Tharpe's had plenty of games where he didn't shoot well but still found a way to positively impact the game with leadership, passing and, occasionally, defense. None of those were working against the Cowboys, as Tharpe finished with six points, six turnovers and five assists. He made a couple of plays, but generally looked frustrated, overwhelmed and out of sorts all night.
One thought for the road:
KU's seven-point loss at Oklahoma State:
• Gave KU the outright Big 12 regular-season title, the 10th-straight crown for the Jayhawks and the 14th in the 18-year existence of the league. Overall, Kansas has collected 57 conference titles, the most in NCAA history.
• Dropped KU to 22-7 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule, and 13-3 in Big 12 play.
• Pushed the all-time series record to 108-55 in favor of KU. The Jayhawks are now 33-32 inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
• Made Self 12-9 all-time against his alma mater (11-6 at KU), 322-66 while at Kansas and 529-171 overall.
• Made KU 2,123-819 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,132 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,112), Duke (2,024) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks return home Wednesday for a rematch with Texas Tech at 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU survived a scare from the Red Raiders two weeks ago in Lubbock, Texas. Before the Senior Night game, the Jayhawks will recognize Tarik Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley.
By now, it seems as if most Kansas University basketball fans have given up the stance — if they ever took it — that KU freshman Andrew Wiggins has been underwhelming.
At this point, Wiggins has produced enough, both offensively and defensively, and on a consistent enough basis to be classified as this team's best player.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound phenom leads the team with a 16.3 points-per-game average, is first in minutes played (904) by more than two full games, ranks third with 5.8 rebounds per game, third in assists (45), second in blocks (25), first in steals (29) and has attempted the most shots (145-of-324), most free throws (132-of-174) and second most three-pointers (35-of-98) while also owning the unofficial title of the team's best defensive player.
So forget whether he's disappeared for 10-minute spurts here and there or that he doesn't dunk it enough or finish consistently when he attacks the basket. None of that matters. What Wiggins has delivered has been nothing short of amazing, especially when taking into account the insane expectations that followed him to Lawrence and how well he has done at both handling those and inserting himself into the locker room as just another one of the guys.
It's genuine, too, by the way. There is no ego here. Wiggins is not all about Wiggins. In fact, he seems most comfortable during interviews when he's being asked about teammates or something other than himself.
All of this got me thinking.... What if Wiggins never came to Kansas? What if he picked Florida State or Kentucky or North Carolina last May and left the Jayhawks to fend for themselves with the roster they already had? First of all, KU would have been just fine, even without the steady dose of highlight-reel dunks, long arms on defense and lightning fast strides in transition.
But would Bill Self's bottom line have remained the same? Would the players who absorbed Wiggins' minutes — and it likely would have been several of them — have been able to produce the same results?
It's not likely. But here's a look.
(Note: I realize it's fully possible that Self might have scrambled to add another rotation guy had Wiggins chosen to go to school somewhere else, but, for the sake of this blog, we're going to say that Self would've had to move on with the roster he had.)
For this exercise, I've divvied up Wiggins' minutes to the five most likely Jayhawks who would have seen an uptick in playing time if the Canadian never came to town.
Here's how the numbers translated.
• G BRANNEN GREENE •
Increase in minutes: 40% or 362 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.38
Projected additional points: 138
• PG FRANK MASON •
Increase in minutes: 30% or 272 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.36
Projected additional points: 98
• G CONNER FRANKAMP •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.29
Projected additional points: 26
• PF JAMARI TRAYLOR •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.29
Projected additional points: 26
• G ANDREW WHITE III •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.43
Projected additional points: 38
As you can see, the difference between the total points produced by these five players in Wiggins' absence (326) and the number of points Wiggins has tallied in those same minutes (457) would have dropped KU's overall total by 131 points and lowered its per-game average from 79.8 points per game (with Wiggins) to 75.1 points per game (without Wiggins).
Given that KU has won three games by fewer than five points this season — 67-63 over UTEP in the Bahamas; 80-78 over Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse; and 64-63 over Texas Tech in Lubbock — you could make a case that Wiggins picking another school would have cost the Jayhawks at least three victories.
If that were true, not only would a 10th straight Big 12 regular season title still be up in the air, the Jayhawks, at 19-9 instead of 22-6, would be staring more at a seed in the 3-5 range in the upcoming NCAA Tournament instead of sitting in their current position where they appear to be close to a lock as a 2 and still alive for a 1.
All of this is purely speculative, of course, and there's no telling how things would have played out had Wiggins not worn crimson and blue this season. Maybe Brannen Greene would've been an instant star. Maybe another prospect would have taken the spot and filled the role admirably. Of course, this does not take into account all of the ways Wiggins' defense has impacted KU's win-loss record or the fact that, when playing more minutes, the points-per-minute number of the five guys mentioned above might actually have gone down or up.
Either way, it's a pretty compelling case for something I'm guessing we all know anyway — Wiggins has had a fantastic season and he is, without question, the MVP of the Big 12 this season.
Believe it or not, the early stages of another Kansas University football season are right around the corner as spring practices start next week.
We'll have plenty of time to dive deeper into each position group when spring ball arrives and throughout the spring and summer, but, for now, let's look briefly at a few of the most intriguing positions heading into Year 3 of the Charlie Weis era.
We'll start with running back, where the Jayhawks, despite losing stud James Sims, remain stacked with depth, talent and options.
It's far too early to tell how the carries will be divvied up this fall, but know this: the two newest KU running backs — juco transfer De'Andre Mann and incoming freshman Traevohn Wrench — are both legitimate candidates for playing time.
Here's a quick player-by-player breakdown of the guys who make up what has been KU's most productive and consistent position in the post-Mark Mangino era.
• Corey Avery, Fr., 5-foot-10, 170 pounds •
Skinny: Avery comes to Kansas as one of the most highly touted prospects in the Dallas area and one of the top “athletes” in Texas, a bona fide weapon who can be used all over the field and on both sides of the ball. He played running back, receiver and safety in high school, where he ran for 1,600 yards in limited time last season, and seems to be from the Tony Pierson mold.
Top Asset: Natural playmaking ability. The speedy, athletic offensive weapon makes everything he does look easy and has all the tools you'd want in a home run hitter — speed, quickness, vision and toughness.
Early Prediction: I think Avery will play as a true freshman, but, with KU's backfield loaded, I think we'll see the man high school teammates called “Superman” spend most of his time as a slot receiver and possibly even as the Jayhawks' Wildcat QB.
• Brandon Bourbon, Sr., 6-foot-1, 225 pounds •
Skinny: Weis said briefly on signing day that Bourbon would enter the spring as the top running back on the depth chart. Staying there will be his challenge. Gifted with good size, power and speed, Bourbon is coming off of his most productive (and healthy) season and is looking to close his career with a bang. He's always had the right attitude and work ethic to be a featured back, but staying healthy has been a problem.
Top asset: Bourbon became one of KU's better pass catchers last season, so seeing him carve out a role in the passing game this season is not out of the question.
Early Prediction: Enjoys a season similar to last year, when he received 61 touches (41 carries and 20 receptions) and tallied 300-plus yards while scored three touchdowns as a relevant but not vital part of KU's offense.
• Taylor Cox, Sr., 5-foot-11, 212 pounds •
Skinny: Cox had the opportunity to red-shirt heading into the 2013 season but chose to compete for playing time instead. As it turned out, the red-shirt was meant to be because just a couple of games into the season he tweaked a hamstring and could never recover to the point where it was worth burning his final season of eligibility. Rehabbed and hungry, Cox is a definite candidate for
Top asset: Cox runs with good vision and keeps his legs churning at all times. His extra burst makes him more dangerous in the open field than you might expect for a guy his size.
Early Prediction: As he was during the one year he played with Sims and company, Cox figures to be sound insurance and a reliable option KU's offense can turn to when in need of a spark or as part of a rotation to keep fresh legs in the backfield.
• De'Andre Mann, Jr., 5-foot-9, 195 pounds •
Skinny: The powerful back who earned first-team juco All-American honors after rushing for 1,706 yards and 30 touchdowns for Hartnell College during 2013, said the opportunity to be tutored by coaches with NFL ties and test himself in a power conference played big roles in his decision to come to Kansas.
Top asset: Mann considers himself to be a complete running back and his ability to run inside and out, catch the ball out of the backfield and both gain tough yards and run away from people makes him an every down type of back.
Early Prediction: Mann will be a big-time surprise for casual fans and will quickly show why Weis and company could not pass on signing him even though they had no intention of adding a juco running back in the class.
• Darrian Miller, Jr., 5-foot-10, 185 pounds •
Skinny: Miller is one of the biggest wildcards in this year's bunch. Blessed with all the talent in the world and a good chunk of experience, it's not his skills that are a question mark but his ability to stay on the field. He missed most of the second half of 2013 because of personal issues and, although Weis said earlier this month that he expected Miller to be part of the equation, the Blue Springs, Mo., back has been hot and cold since his promising freshman season.
Top asset: Ability to make defenders miss with exceptional balance and good vision. Miller flashed those skills often during his freshman season, when he finished just behind Sims with 559 yards and 4 touchdowns on 136 carries.
Early Prediction: Miller is back in town and still on the roster but what kind of role he'll have is unknown. His recent personal issues make him a hard player to rely on and he'll likely have to prove a lot to the coaching staff before he is handed any kind of featured role in KU's backfield. Still, with Weis, the best players play, so if Miller is healthy and happy and can find that freshman magic again, he could make a huge contribution.
• Traevohn Wrench, Fr., 6-foot, 190 pounds •
Skinny: One of the top-rated players in KU's incoming recruiting class, Wrench, a four-star back out of Gardner-Edgerton High is the kind of player that any program would have gladly added to its roster. Already blessed with good size and the ability to add weight and muscle, the guy was a work horse in high school and showed consistently that he could handle a heavy work load. He has the power to run through guys and the speed to run away from them. Whether he plays right away or not, he'll be a cornerstone of the KU offense for years to come.
Top asset: Excellent vision, which allows him to hit holes quickly and get to top-end speed in a hurry. Because of his quick-cut running style, Wrench rarely had carries go for negative yardage, which is all the more impressive when you take into account what a high-volume running back he was.
Early Prediction: The best thing for both the program and the player here would be for Wrench to red-shirt and spend the 2014 season getting bigger, stronger, faster and absorbing the playbook. If it plays out that way, he's got the potential to be KU's next four-year starter, a la Sims.
Note of interest: It should be pointed out that both Tony Pierson and Colin Spencer have been moved to WR on KU's official roster. Pierson was a RB at KU during his first two seasons and a hybrid WR/RB last season. Although he still could get a few carries out of the backfield in 2014, it appears that his primary role will be as a receiver, which will allow the KU offense to better utilize him in space.
It would have been almost impossible for the Kansas University men's basketball team to follow up its nearly flawless performance against Texas over the weekend with a similar showing against Oklahoma on Big Monday.
But that might wind up being a good thing for the Jayhawks, who were not firing on all cylinders against the Sooners but still found a way to scrap out an 83-75 victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
Balanced offensive production ruled the day for KU, as all five starters reached double figures in scoring. And KU's defense improved steadily throughout the game, with its best defensive possessions coming in the game's most critical minutes.
When it was all rolled together, it produced the Jayhawks' 22nd victory of the season and moved the Jayhawks to 13-2 in Big 12 play, which earns them at least a share of an incredible 10th straight Big 12 title.
Regardless of how hard they had to fight, how tough the opponent was or how physical and exhausting the game became, KU's victory over Oklahoma will go down in history as the night the Jayhawks clinched their 10th straight Big 12 title. In many ways, the fashion in which this victory came was perfect for a Bill Self squad, as the Jayhawks had to show grit, toughness and perseverance to survive a tough OU team. In the end, when the game was on the line, the Jayhawks made the plays they needed to win — on both ends of the floor — and, perhaps most importantly, got critical contributions from a variety of players on the roster, young and old.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe sure picked a nice time to snap his shooting slump. After hitting just 2 of 19 shots in the past three games and 10 of 39 in the past five, Tharpe drilled 6 of 7 against the Sooners and connected on his only three-point attempt and all four free throw tries while willing the Jayhawks to a hard-fought victory. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the last 10 minutes of the game was as good as he's seen Tharpe play since he's been at Kansas. Hard to argue. Tharpe was direct, decisive, in full-on attack-mode and confident. Say what you will about the guy, but throughout all of the ups and downs of his career, the one thing that has never changed is his belief in himself. That's why he's playing the best ball of his career right now and that's why Kansas is winning. In addition to leading this team in assists by nearly double the next closest teammate, Tharpe also leads Kansas in three-point percentage among players with more than 20 attempts (39.4 percent), free throw percentage (82 percent) while averaging 30.1 minutes per game.
2 – He barely registered on the stat sheet, but I thought this was Brannen Greene's best game since Kansas State. The on-again-off-again reserve forward brought great energy to the floor during the 9 minutes he was out there, which was especially noticeable on the offensive glass, where he stole two extra possessions for the Jayhawks and gave the offense a lift on a night when the home fans were grumbling and the energy was lacking. Greene missed both shots he attempted and made just 1-of-2 free throw tries, but his contributions in the other aspects of his game — offensive rebounding, pushing the pace in transition, not turning the ball over once — showed not only his continued growth but also why Self continues to look his way even after off nights or disappointing days. By now it's clear that Greene is not the kind of player who will win a game by himself (at least not yet). But when he figures out how to do more good things than bad things during the limited time he's out there, it usually impacts the game and the outcome a great deal.
3 – We've reached that time of the year where freshmen are no longer freshmen and youth is no longer an excuse for mistakes, miscues, lapses or any other slip ups. Few players embody that the way KU freshman Wayne Selden does. Selden has been a solid but understated leader in his own right throughout the 2013-14 season, but it has become clear lately that he has no problem taking that leadership to the next level. On Monday, Selden barked at fellow-freshman Conner Frankamp when he elected not to shoot the ball with 6:30 to play in the first half and KU up by two. Not pulling the trigger resulted in a three-second call on KU during a time when the Jayhawks were trying to gain some separation. Credit Frankamp for not crying about it and Selden for having the ability to say something when something needed to be said. A couple of possessions later Selden put his money where his mouth was by burying a three-pointer from the same spot to pull KU within 29-28 with 4:30 to play in the first half. Self said after the game that Selden could become one of the better leaders KU has had here. The reason? “He gets it,” Self said. And he's getting it a little more every time out.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – The Jayhawks started slow in the second half yet again, this time allowing Oklahoma to turn a nine-point KU lead into a one-point lead cushion barely three minutes into the second half. Self said after the game that his team is a little tired right now and that the good thing about playing Monday and then not again until Saturday is that it gives him a chance to give his guys a couple of days off. Maybe that fatigue is the reason for these second-half stutter steps, but it sure seems like it has as much to do with their mental approach as anything else. It's not that the Jayhawks gave up the lead that is a concern, rather how quickly they let it happen. Coaches often say the the first five minutes of each half are as important as anything to the outcome of any given game. If that's true, KU's has to find a way to start the second half with the same urgency and energy that it often closes the first half.
2 – It's been a while since we've seen him lose his cool, but the physical nature of OU's big men momentarily got under the skin of KU center Joel Embiid on Monday night. Not only did Embiid's frustration lead to back-to-back charging calls early in the second half, but it also was apparent on his face throughout the game as he consistently looked to the refs to voice his displeasure with the way OU's arms were flailing and bodies were banging. To Embiid's credit, he did not let the nature of the game get the best of him. After the back-to-back charges, he took a deep breath, settled in and delivered a strong finish without so much as a peep. There's a theme developing in this “Day After” and it seems to be centered around the seemingly endless examples of maturity shown by KU's youngest players.
3 – The Jayhawks were at their best in this one when they were patient in their halfcourt sets. For a team that loves to run and was coming off of a 26-0 advantage over Texas in fastbreak points over the weekend, being patient can be tough. And the Jayhawks showed that a few too many times in this one, firing up quick shots or forcing things that weren't there. When they did settle down, though, be it while waiting for Embiid to do work on the block or when Tharpe would pick and choose his spots to attack the lane, offense became a whole lot easier and the Jayhawks looked a whole lot better. There are going to be nights when the shots don't fall. That happens to every team. But KU could definitely use the film from this game as an obvious example of both what to do and what not to do when those nights pop up.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' hard-fought victory over Oklahoma:
· Improved KU to 22-6 on the season, gave Kansas 22 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and for the 30th time in the last 31 years dating back to 1983-84.
· Gave KU a 13-2 Big 12 record and marked the ninth-straight year the Jayhawks have won 13 or more conference games beginning in 2005-06.
· Gave Kansas at least a share of its 10th-straight, 14th Big 12 and 57th overall conference regular-season championship. The 57 titles also added to KU’s all-time NCAA best.
· Including the 2014 campaign, three of Kansas’ 10-consecutive Big 12 titles were accomplished with no returning starters from the previous season (2005-06, 2008-09, 2013-14).
· Made KU the fifth team in NCAA history to win 10 or more consecutive conference championships (UCLA-13, 1967-79) (Gonzaga-11, 2001-11) (Connecticut-10, 1951-60) (UNLV-10, 1983-92).
· Made the Kansas-Oklahoma series 141-65 in favor of Kansas, including 71-16 in Lawrence and 44-7 in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Elevated the Jayhawks to 52-17 in ESPN Big Monday games, 28-1 in Allen Fieldhouse and 32-9 under Bill Self.
· Gave KU its 13th-straight win versus OU in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Made KU 13-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 174-9 in AFH in the Bill Self era and 712-109 all-time in the facility.
· Made Bill Self 13-4 all-time against Oklahoma (13-2 while at KU), 322-65 while at Kansas and 529-170 overall.
· Made KU 2,123-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will travel to Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday for an 8 p.m. clash with Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks held off the Cowboys 80-78 in a game they led big but had to hold on down the stretch to win as OSU sharp-shooter Phil Forte knocked in 7-of-10 three-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points, two more than KU's Naadir Tharpe.
I don't know about you, but I definitely did not see a 31-point Kansas victory over Texas coming when I walked into Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday evening for what was billed as a key Big 12 Conference clash with potential title implications.
After watching Texas manhandle Kansas inside in the first meeting in Austin while guard Isaiah Taylor did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to, I figured the Jayhawks would have their hands full again with a tough and underrated Texas team.
I was mistaken.
Don't get me wrong, I expected KU (21-6 overall, 12-2 Big 12) to prevail, but I thought it would be a nip-and-tuck, hard-fought, character-building victory. Instead, it turned out to be a celebration of the highlight and appeared to be a rather enjoyable evening for everyone in crimson and blue.
A big reason for that was the performance of the Kansas defense, which stifled Taylor and held the Longhorns' offense 23 points below its season average.
An impressive victory all the way around, one that set up the opportunity to clinch at least a share of consecutive Big 12 title No. 10 on Monday night against Oklahoma.
Whether it was pride, revenge, what was at stake in the Big 12 race or a combination of all of the above, the Jayhawks played one of their most impressive games of the season and did it with the kind of bounce and confidence that makes them tough for anyone to beat anywhere at any time. Although KU's defense played a big part in the victory, the game was basically a never-ending highlight reel of Kansas dunks and frenzy-inducing transition plays that buried the Longhorns before they even knew what hit them. Let's not forget that this was a ranked Texas team that absolutely owned Kansas a few weeks ago in Austin, and KU made them look like a bad mid-major team. The scoring was balanced, the defense was stifling and KU's three stud freshman were sensational, all without a single player having to play 30 minutes or more. This one had the feel of a victory that could help a team turn the final corner and serve as a key moment of clarity for what it takes to make a serious run when it counts the most.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Kansas has a killer instinct and they weren't afraid to use it. Embarrassed in Austin, just three weeks earlier, the Jayhawks made this one personal and came out with every intent of one-upping the Longhorn domination they suffered in Austin in front of a frenzied home crowd that had been waiting a while for this one. After a semi-slow start, KU flipped the switch and went into attack mode the rest of the night.
2 – The Jayhawks' 26-0 dominating performance in fast-break points shows that the Jayhawks are starting to understand that tougher defense leads to easier offense. The 26 fast-break points scored against Texas were the second most for the Jayhawks this season — KU outscored Towson 29-8 in a 30-point victory in December — and it marked just the third time all season that KU has held an opponent to zero transition buckets. This becomes all the more important considering KU scored zero fast-break points itself in a one-point victory in Lubbock, Texas, just four days earlier. What's even more impressive is that KU has tallied single digits in fast-break points 17 times this season and Saturday's 26-point open-court explosion more than tripled KU's average heading into Saturday.
3 – Andrew Wiggins, man. The KU freshman was so good in getting the KU offense going in this one that he simply could not catch and shoot the ball quick enough during one stretch in the first half when he appeared to be in the zone and feeling it perhaps as much as at any point this entire season. His numbers were good — 21 points and 6 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting, 3-of-5 from three-point range — his defense was great and the whole package moved Wiggins higher on some pretty impressive freshman lists at KU. He now has 442 points this season, which puts him two points behind Brandon Rush for fourth place on the all-time freshman scoring list. With at least six games remaining and potentially as many as 13 more, expect Wiggins to continue to climb that list. He already owns the top spot for KU freshmen in free throws made (128), free throws attempted (169) and freshman scoring average at 16.4 points per game.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Let's let out a big sigh of amazement for the night Tarik Black turned in, including a Blake-Griffin-esque throw-down over UT's Cameron Ridley and a monster finish of an alley-oop pass from Jamari Traylor. Black finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds and a steal in 15 minutes and has really carved out a nice role on this team. Something Tom Keegan and I talked about after the game was how interesting it would be to see Black play with Joel Embiid a little more. Maybe that's coming. Maybe it's not. Either way, it certainly appears that Black is playing with as much confidence as he's had all season.
2 – It hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things, but the Jayhawks opened both halves of this one with pretty sloppy play. UT's Jonathan Holmes scored six of the Longhorns first eight points and got them with ease. He also opened the second half with a mini-run, scoring five points in the first few minutes of the final frame while Kansas struggled to get into rhythm on offense and turned it over a couple of times. Neither sluggish stretch lasted long and, perhaps most impressive, Holmes only scored six points during the rest of the game.
3 – Naadir Tharpe's shot all of a sudden just won't go in. Although Tharpe did what was needed and then some on defense and added five assists, the junior point guard scored just 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting, including an 0-for-5 clip from three-point land. Most, if not all, of his shots were smart shots and looked good in the air, they just didn't fall. If you think about it, this could actually be a reason to smile, too, as the Jayhawks rolled and put up 85 without one of their top five scorers doing anything to put points on the board. Still, if KU is going to have much success in March, Tharpe is going to have to regain his stroke at some point in the next couple of weeks. In his last three games, the KU PG has made just 2-of-19 shot attempts, a number that improves only slightly — to 10-of-39 — during the past five outings.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' rout of Texas:
• Improved them to 21-6 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule.
• Gave them 21 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and for 30th time in the last 31 years dating back to 1983-84.
• Made them 12-2 in Big 12 play, the 14th-straight year the Jayhawks have won 12 or more conference games (beginning in 2000-01).
• Pushed the all-time series record to 23-8 in favor of KU and 12-1 in Lawrence.
• Improved their home record to 12-1 at Allen Fieldhouse this season, 173-9 in the Bill Self era and 711-109 all-time in the facility.
• Made Self 13-8 all-time against Texas (13-6 at KU), 321-65 while at Kansas and 528-170 overall.
• Made KU 2,122-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will jump back into action at 8 p.m. Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, where they will face Oklahoma for the second time this season. KU kicked off its Big 12 schedule with a 90-83 victory at Oklahoma on Jan. 8, when Wayne Selden went off for 24 points and drained 5-of-10 three-point shots.
Here are a few highlights, in case you missed any of them or just want to see them again...
Perry Ellis was sensational and the Kansas University offense hung a season-best 95 points on an overmatched TCU squad in a 30-point victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.
It was exactly the kind of game the Jayhawks needed to bounce back from a tough, overtime road loss at Kansas State five days earlier, but did not always look as easy and as pretty as the final score might indicate.
Ellis did, though. The Wichita sophomore had one of his best all-around games in a Kansas uniform, finishing with 32 points on 13-of-15 shooting and adding 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals to his stat line. Ellis' big day came in 31 minutes and featured a 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line and a career-best three-point mark of 2-for-2 from downtown.
There's no question that TCU entered this game overmatched, but they sure didn't look like it in the first half. Thanks to bad energy and sloppy defense, the Horned Frogs were able to score with the Jayhawks during the game's first 20 minutes, but, even with that being the case, there was no point when it looked like KU was in trouble. Bill Self's squad made sure that was the case with a fast start to the second half that made the final 15 minutes or so merely a formality. The Jayhawks were incredibly efficient offensively in the second half, as they shot 61.3 percent (61.5 percent for the game) from the floor, 90 percent from the free throw line and scored 34 of their 48 second-half points in the paint.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – After a sluggish start that had those in the Allen Fieldhouse stands grumbling with disapproval, the Jayhawks woke up at halftime and came out with much better energy and intensity in the second half. That showed on TCU's opening possession of the final 20 minutes, when KU made life miserable for the TCU player throwing the ball inbounds and then forced the Horned Frogs into a timeout five seconds after they got the ball in. The same five that started the game — Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black — started the second half, so they deserve credit for setting the tone for KU's improved effort on the defensive end. Those who checked in from there quickly followed that lead, as KU held the Horned Frogs to just 33 percent shooting and 25 points in the second half after giving up marks of 56.5 and 40 in the first.
2 – Wayne Selden was as aggressive as I can ever remember seeing him and he flipped the switch at go. On the game's opening possession, after KU won the tip, Selden took a quick pass from Naadir Tharpe and exploded to the rim in an attempt to begin the game with a rim-rattler. He came up short thanks to a foul, but the aggressive play paved the way for a strong afternoon from Selden, who finished with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, numbers that included 11 points and 4 assists on 5-of-9 shooting in the first half. It wasn't just Selden's desire to attack the rim that showed his attack-mode mindset. The freshman guard aggressively looked for his shot in KU's half-court offense, went after his own misses with reckless abandon and really appeared to assert himself during the portions of the game when he was one of the top scoring options on the floor.
3 – Selden said there was no issue with adjusting to a new rotation with Joel Embiid (injury) and Brannen Greene (discipline) on the bench in street clothes — “Everybody on the team knows how to do their job and the job is going to get done no matter who is on the court,” he said. — but I still think KU deserves credit for showing no signs of weakness, offensively, with two potentially high-minute, regular-rotation guys on the bench. The ball movement was crisp and quick, guys played unselfishly and really looked to be playing for each other, consistently passing up potential shots for easier shots for teammates. Four Kansas players finished with four or more assists, with the man who poured in 32 points leading the way with five dimes.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It may be merely a coincidence, but Saturday's game was the second in a row in which Kansas took the floor with very little energy and bounce against a team it had drubbed by 20-plus points just a few weeks earlier. It makes sense on the road, but it was weird to see in Allen Fieldhouse. The Big 12 Conference schedule is a grind — particularly this season — and it's human nature to overlook a team you had no trouble with the first time you played them. This only becomes an issue if the slow starts continue. Self talked after the game about not really knowing why his team can't or doesn't play with the same intensity in the opening minutes as it does in the final minutes, and you can bet finding a way to fix that is high on his list of priorities.
2 – It hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things, but KU's free throw shooting matched its lack of energy in the early going. The Jayhawks missed their first six free throws and made just 1 of 8 attempts from the foul line in the first half. Those missed opportunities allowed TCU to hang closer than they should've and they came from four different players. The home team's struggle at the free throw line in the early going was so noticeable that when Landen Lucas finally ended the drought by making the second of two free-throw attempts at the 11:34 mark of the first half, the Allen Fieldhouse faithful let out a wail of a Bronx cheer. KU cleaned things up in this area in the second half to the tune of a 9-of-10 mark from the foul line. But many of their second-half free throws had absolutely no pressure attached to them and, for the game, KU still shot just 58.8 percent. On the season, Kansas is now shooting 69.5 percent from the free throw line, just slightly better than the 66.7 percent mark turned in by KU's opponents.
3 – For the second game in a row, a key member of KU's roster was benched for disciplinary reasons, as freshman forward Brannen Greene did not suit up because of a “pattern of irresponsible behavior.” There's no telling what Greene did to draw Self's wrath, but the timing couldn't be worse. The versatile freshman who fought hard to get into the rotation last Monday at K-State played just his second game of 15-plus minutes and was a huge reason KU forced overtime in that one. Given that Greene's one-game suspension came right after Jamari Traylor suffered a similar fate, it's worth noting that, with the most critical part of the season right around the corner, it's time for these guys to tighten things up so their actions don't have a negative impact on what the team is trying to accomplish.
One thought for the road:
Saturday's home-court beatdown of TCU:
• Improved KU to 19-6 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule.
• Made Kansas 10-2 in Big 12 play, the 20th-straight year the Jayhawks have won 10 or more conference games (beginning in 1994-95).
• Gave the Jayhawks their third-straight win against TCU and pushed the all-time series to 7-1 in favor of KU.
• Handed Kansas its 112th-consecutive win against unranked opponents inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Made Bill Self 11-4 all-time against TCU (5-1 at KU), 319-65 while at Kansas and 526-170 overall.
• Made KU 2,120-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will travel to Texas Tech on Tuesday night for their first match-up with the Red Raiders this season. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m.
An interesting rule proposal for the 2014 college football season could impact the way Kansas University and others defend the fast-paced offenses that have created havoc during recent seasons.
According to a report on the NCAA's official website, the proposed rule suggests that a five-yard delay-of-game penalty would be enforced any time an offense snaps the ball with 29 seconds or more showing on the play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half. The idea is to allow defenses to substitute during the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock without offenses being able to hold them hostage with fast tempo and quick snaps.
Under the current rules, defensive players are not guaranteed an opportunity to substitute unless the offense substitutes first.
“This change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who chairs the NCAA Football Rules Committee. “As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”
Although several offensive coaches around the country probably dislike the proposed change, defensive coaches are probably crossing their fingers in hopes that the new rule is adopted.
That's particularly true of defensive coordinators in the Big 12 who, almost weekly, are tasked with trying to find a way to slow down lightning-fast offenses that make their living spreading the field and snapping the ball as quickly as possible.
According to the report, “the committee believes that 10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock. This rules proposal also aligns with a request from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that sport rules committees review substitution rules in regards to player safety.”
In other rules news, the NCAA proposed an alteration to the instant-replay review on targeting rules first implemented last season.
According to the report, “the committee recommended that if the instant replay official rules that a disqualification should not have occurred, and if the targeting foul is not accompanied by another personal foul, the 15-yard penalty for targeting should not be enforced.”
KU had its share of run-ins with the targeting rule, as well, but the substitution tweak, should it be adopted, would have a much bigger impact on the Jayhawks.
All rules proposals must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which will discuss the football rules changes March 6.
If you've been paying attention at all, you know by now that this year's Kansas basketball team has left a little to be desired when it comes to three-point shooting.
It's not that the 2013-14 Jayhawks don't have solid three-point shooters — Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp have pure strokes and Naadir Tharpe can knock down the long-range shot with regularity, as well — more that the team has not utilized the three-point shot the way past Kansas teams have.
Part of the reason for that is both Greene and Frankamp have played limited minutes through the first 24 games of the season (both are averaging around 7 minutes per game) and the Jayhawks (18-6 overall, 9-2 in Big 12 play) have relied heavily on pounding the ball inside to a deep and talented group of big men and the free-lance abilities of freshman forward Andrew Wiggins for their offense.
Overall, the KU's three-point percentage has remained solid. Through 24 games, the Jayhawks are hitting 35.9 percent of its shots from downtown, which puts them tied for 111th in the country and 5th in the Big 12.
It also is right on par with the percentage shot by KU's three most recent teams — the 2012-13 shot 36.4 percent; the 2011-12 team shot 34.5 percent; and the 2010-11 team shot 38.2 percent.
So while this year's Jayhawks are on pace to finish in the same ballpark as their recent counterparts in terms of percentage, they are quickly falling behind in terms of three-point makes.
This year's team has made 132 three-pointers and attempted 368. That averages out to 5.5 makes per game in 15.3 attempts per game. Both numbers are the lowest through 24 games in the past four seasons.
Here's a quick look back at what each of the past four KU teams (including this season) had done from downtown by this same point in the season, complete with a look at the top four three-point shooting options on each team.
— All stats below through 24 games —
• 2013-14 •
Three-point makes: 132
Three-point attempts: 368
Three-point percentage: 35.9
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 3
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 9
Naadir Tharpe: 35-80
Wayne Selden: 30-83
Andrew Wiggins: 29-83
Frank Mason: 11-37
• 2012-13 •
Three-point makes: 140
Three-point attempts: 394
Three-point percentage: 35.5
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 4
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 7
Ben McLemore: 47-108
Elijah Johnson: 34-108
Travis Releford: 26-60
Naadir Tharpe: 23-70
• 2011-12 •
Three-point makes: 147
Three-point attempts: 423
Three-point percentage: 34.8
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 4
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 8
Tyshawn Taylor: 41-91
Conner Teahan: 38-102
Elijah Johnson: 37-131
Travis Releford: 20-55
• 2010-11 •
Three-point makes: 179
Three-point attempts: 454
Three-point percentage: 39.4
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 3
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 11
Tyrel Reed: 48-125
Josh Selby: 27-62
Brady Morningstar: 20-55
Marcus Morris: 18-51
As you can see by looking at the numbers, KU's top three-point shooters this year are taking and making fewer three-pointers than the top four long-range bombers from each of the past three seasons.
What's more, if you took the best pure three-point shooters on this year's KU roster (Frankamp, Greene & Andrew White) and combined them into one player, that player still would have low totals of makes (23) and attempts (68) due to limited playing time.
Given the increased importance of three-point shooting in today's college game, along with the correlation between hot shooting teams and their chances at victory, KU's numbers through the first 24 games of the 2013-14 season have to be at least a bit of a concern. There's no doubt that KU coach Bill Self and those on the roster would like to knock in a few more three-pointers per game, a feat that, if it came, would both loosen up things inside for KU's big men and give guys like Wiggins more room to work on drives to the rim.
But while KU's volume of makes and attempts might lag behind that of its predecessors, the fact that the Jayhawks still are knocking in a quality percentage is a good sign. The problem with lower volume is that it increases the importance of each attempt, making the misses sting more and the makes more critical.
In KU's most recent game — an 85-82 overtime loss at Kansas State on Monday in which the Jayhawks made just 3 of 17 three-pointers — both Frankamp and Greene logged the second most minutes they have played all season, at 15 apiece, more than doubling their season averages.
Both players have a ways to go on the defensive end to make receiving double-digit minutes a more regular thing, but their presence on the floor certainly would help KU's chances of bringing its three-point totals closer to where Self's teams have been at this point in the past.
There are a lot of factors that will determine just how well this team finishes the season and how far it advances in March, but getting better and more consistent three-point shooting from the entire roster figures to be as important as any of them.
It was a wild night in Manhattan, with the home team — not to mention the atmosphere — winning out in an 85-82 overtime victory for Kansas State, just the fourth win for the Wildcats over Kansas in the past 52 games.
Despite 10 ties and 20 lead changes, K-State controlled things most of the way, taking advantage of poor Kansas defense and a cold shooting night from most of the Jayhawks' big guns.
KU never led by more than two points and only forced overtime because of a frantic stretch in the final two minutes. The Jayhawks opened the overtime with a Tarik Black layup to take a 71-69 lead, but Kansas State scored 11 of the next 15 points to take an 80-75 lead with 1:14 to play and then salted the game away at the free throw line.
There are a million stats you can point to that illustrate the reason Kansas came up on the short end of this one. The Jayhawks missed 11 free throws. They shot just 3-of-17 from three-point range (and one of the makes was a meaningless swish at the buzzer) and they allowed K-State to shoot 49.2 percent for the game, including 57.7 percent in the second half and 66.7 percent in OT. For my money, though, this one came down to the fact that the team that played harder and seemed hungrier came out on top. Credit the Wildcats and their coaching staff for that, along with the impact of the frenzied fans who filled Bramlage Coliseum.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – When you look at the aforementioned statistics and consider the way Kansas played out of sync all night, it's pretty wild to think they still almost came away with the victory. I don't think KU played all that well and I definitely think more than a few guys had really odd nights. But enough Jayhawks fought hard enough to force overtime and give KU a chance to win despite a pretty awful night on both ends of the floor. The fight shown by Andrew Wiggins, Naadir Tharpe, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black and Brannen Greene was the biggest reason.
2 – Speaking of Brannen Greene, he definitely made his case for more playing time if for no other reason than the heart he showed to help Kansas erase a nine-point deficit in the final 1:58. Greene's put-back dunk and steal and layup in a six-second stretch single-handedly gave KU hope. The freshman forward played just 15 of 45 minutes yet finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. He leaves a little to be desired defensively and occasionally falls victim to mental lapses, but he's a gamer and he almost always carries himself with poise. I'm not saying start him, but it's cool to see him becoming more and more reliable.
3 – After being virtually non-existent in the first half, Naadir Tharpe's second half was rock solid. His clutch buckets in the waning minutes kept KU breathing and took some of the pressure off of Wiggins having to do it all. Tharpe, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with 13 points and 10 assists in 38 minutes. He didn't shoot it that well (he was just 6-of-13 and 1-of-5 from downtown) but the ones he made came in tough spots.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – For the second time this season, the Wildcats exposed KU's half-court defense and scored a ton of points right at the rim. Forty percent of K-State's points (34 of 85) came on either dunks or layups, including 22 of 40 second-half points, good for 55 percent. A month ago, in Lawrence, the Wildcats had similar success (26 of 60 points at the rim for 43 percent) but it didn't matter because Kansas was great offensively and the Wildcats did not shoot the ball as well from outside the paint. In this one, though, it mattered a ton, as each KSU layup not only made it tougher for KU to crawl back into it but also appeared to deliver a significant mental blow.
2 – It was another slow night for Joel Embiid, who contributed just 6 points and 6 rebounds in 18 injury-plagued minutes. It's not so much the production here that's a concern. It's the fact that Embiid is pretty banged up. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the 7-foot center needed some time off and whether that means taking it easy in practice or perhaps even missing a game or two remains to be seen. Either way, it's definitely necessary because Embiid is not very effective right now and the team is suffering because of it.
3 – Although the details of his benching remain unclear, sophomore forward Jamari Traylor did enough to anger his coach and earn a permanent spot on the bench in this one. All kinds of rumors about how and why Traylor ticked Self off exist. They're irrelevant. What matters is that Traylor's poor judgement put his team in a bad spot, a fact of which he's very aware. After the game on Twitter, Traylor wrote to his followers: “I will never put myself in this position again...” On a night when Perry Ellis fouled out, Tarik Black reinjured his ankle and Embiid could only play 18 minutes, the athletic big man could have made a major impact for Kansas.
One thought for the road:
KU's overtime loss at its in-state rival:
• Moved KU to 18-6 on the season, against the nation's most difficult strength of schedule.
• Made Kansas 9-2 in Big 12 play.
• Made Kansas 61-55 all-time in overtime games.
• Ended a six-game Kansas winning streak over Kansas State.
• Made KU's all-time series record against the Wildcats 187-92, including a 40-4 mark in the Big 12 era and 23-3 inside Bramlage Coliseum.
• Made Bill Self 23-4 all-time against KSU (22-4 while at KU).
• Gave Wildcats' head coach Bruce Weber his first career win against Kansas. He's now 1-5.
• Changed Bill Self's record to 318-65 while at Kansas and 525-170 overall.
• Made KU 2,119-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks return home at 3 p.m. on Saturday to take on TCU, which currently is winless in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks rocked TCU 91-69 in Fort Worth, Texas, on Jan. 25 and will be looking to sweep the season series.
After a 1-1 road trip through Texas, the Jayhawks returned to the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday and came away with a hard-fought 83-69 victory over West Virginia.
The game was much closer and tougher than the final score indicates and the Jayhawks (18-5 overall, 9-1 Big 12) made several winning plays at crucial moments to hold off the hot Mountaineers.
A big reason for that was KU's bench, which simply threw too much depth at West Virginia and helped the Jayhawks hold off a WVU team that just kept coming.
Given the final score and where the Mountaineers have been in recent years, those who didn't watch the game will likely think it was just another easy win at home for Kansas. Those who watched it know otherwise.
Credit Andrew Wiggins for being the difference maker in this one. That may be obvious given his 19 points, but it wasn't as much his stats that impressed me as it was his mindset. He was aggressive and in attack-mode on both ends from the jump and really put the pressure on West Virginia's defense while taking the pressure off of his teammates at the same time. Jamari Traylor and Tarik Black were great in relief of Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, but Wiggins had a lot to do with KU's huge advantage in points in the paint, as well. West Virginia's the kind of team that could've caused KU trouble, but the Jayhawks played to their strengths and got an A-performance from their best player.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Tarik Black may have taken a little while to find his role but he has definitely found it and is playing it perfectly. In 21 minutes against WVU, Black made all three shots he attempted, his 5-of-7 free throws and grabbed four rebounds while scoring 11 points. He also recorded four fouls, only one of which was that old Tarik-can't-help-but-foul style that delayed him from settling into his role. Black plays like a man who knows what he's supposed to do, and, better yet, he often does it well. His post moves look smoother and are becoming more effective, which makes him more than just another big body. Gifted with a great attitude and improving skills, Black is the kind of guy with whom teammates like to play.
2 – After dotting the Jayhawks for 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half, KU tightened up its defense on WVU guards Eron Harris and Juwan Staten and forced them into enough tough shots to change the game. Even when Staten and Harris did score, it came on tough buckets or at the free throw line. Andrew Wiggins spent most of the game guarding Harris and, after letting him get loose for three straight three-pointers in the first half, took it as a challenge to make life tougher. He did. And it was the perfect tune-up for what Wiggins figures to see from K-State guard Marcus Foster on Monday night.
3 – Speaking of Wiggins, if this is the only season we'll get to see him in Allen Fieldhouse, I think we should all enjoy the little things he does a little more and worry less about his shot or the bottom line of his final statistics. The guy is an amazing athlete and, on a nightly basis, does a handful of things that you might never see again. One such play came late in the first half, when Wiggins drove to the rim and was bumped into a fade-away jumper in the paint by the WVU defense. They could have called a foul but didn't. That's not the point, though. Despite, being forced to fade away from the rim as he shot, Wiggins still was the first guy to get his hand on the ball as it bounced off the rim. That's scary quickness. And, perhaps more importantly for KU fans, that shows just how driven and competitive this guy really is. Forget how hard he plays or what he looks like when he's out there doing his thing, it's these kinds of things that make NBA general managers salivate over Wiggins and his potential.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – For this sigh, we'll do one of those roll-your-eyes and throw-your-hands-up deals for the night turned in by KU freshman Joel Embiid. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who said anything other than the fact that Embiid struggled against the Mountaineers, yet he still wound up with a double-double of 11 poitns and 12 rebounds in 17 minutes. When is a guy is that naturally gifted and that talented than he can record a double-double on an off night while playing six minutes below his average, all you can do is sigh.
2 – It wasn't a good three-point shooting night for the Jayhawks, who made just 4-of-14 from downtown for 29 percent. Other than Wayne Selden, who finished 3-of-5 from three-point range, KU got just one other three-point make from its roster. On a night when you dominate your opponent 46-18 in the paint, that's not such a big deal. But this team's inconsistent three-point shooting can't be overlooked and is still a bit of a concern. For the season, KU has made 129 of 351 three-pointers, good for a 37-percent shooting clip. But it's the total number of makes that is the bigger sign of where they're at. The 129 three-pointers made is the lowest total in the past four seasons, trailing last year's mark of 132 by just a couple, but way off the pace set by the 2011-12 team (141) and the 2010-11 team (168).
3 – Since winning national player of the week honors after shooting 7-of-8 and 7-of-9 in back-to-back games earlier this season, KU junior Naadir Tharpe has taken a step back with his shot. That's not to say Tharpe has played poorly since then, just that he hasn't looked to shoot as often and hasn't made them as much either. Part of it could be his desire to get everyone else involved. He's always claimed that that's his No. 1 goal every time out an I believe him. But this team seems to play at a higher level when he's scoring. Maybe Saturday was just balancing out his hot performance against Baylor, where he was 9-of-13. Combined, that's 11-for-20. Very good. But in the other games since that hot streak (not counting Baylor) Tharpe made just 8 of 21 shots. I'm not worried about the percentage there, more than number of shots. That's an average of just four attempts per game.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks ninth win in conference play:
• Improved them to 18-5 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule.
• Made them 9-1 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
• Kept the Jayhawks undefeated in three meetings with West Virginia, including two double-digit wins inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Was the Jayhawks’ 111th straight win against unranked opponents inside Allen Fieldhouse dating back to the 2006-07 season.
• Made them 10-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 171-9 under Bill Self and 709-109 all-time in the venue.
• Made Bill Self 3-0 all-time against WVU, and dropped Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins to 0-7 against Kansas.
• Improved Bill Self to 318-64 while at Kansas and 525-169 overall.
• Made KU 2,119-817 all-time.
The Jayhawks travel to Manhattan on Monday for a rematch with Kansas State at 8 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum. KU dismantled K-State 86-60 Jan. 11 at Allen Fieldhouse.