Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

Breaking down KU forward Dwight Coleby’s big night

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby, whose nine second-half minutes in Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Michigan State were as important as any played by any player in the game, prides himself on being ready.

But more than that, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound native of the Bahamas prides himself on his easy-going personality.

It’s hard to say that there was a direct correlation between Coleby’s island upbringing and his performance during Sunday’s 90-70 victory, but Coleby believes it could have played a role.

“Yeah, that’s my personality, just calm, relaxed and just focused,” he said. “It probably comes from where I grew up.”

A city of nearly 300,000 people on the island of New Providence, Coleby’s hometown of Nassau is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region and is a popular stop for cruise ships and tourists seeking good snorkeling.

The KU junior who is majoring in communications studies, attended high school in Mississippi (The Piney Woods School) before playing two seasons at Ole Miss and then transferring to Kansas.

Always the biggest and tallest player on his teams growing up, Coleby said he considers himself more of a power player than anything else and always has enjoyed games that feature physical play inside.

“I think I’ve got some kind of muscles for something,” he joked. “More power. I’ve always been that, one that wants to play physical and with contact.”

It was not just his muscles that propelled Coleby into the player of the game conversation following top-seeded KU’s latest victory. He also used his head, and not just on the floor either.

“That was a thing I talked about to him before the game, and this is from my experience of coming off the bench when I was doing that at the time,” said KU senior Landen Lucas, who played sparingly during his first two NCAA Tournaments. “When you’re on the bench early on, you gotta watch the game and understand how you can be effective, see what’s working for the other guys out there. He might’ve picked up on a couple things, and once he got out there, it was just fun to watch at that point in time. The whole team was playing well together and he did a lot of little things that didn’t show up in the stat book that ended up being the difference in the game.”

Just for fun, let’s take a look back.

• Coleby checked into the game for the first time at the 12:14 mark of the second half, nearly 30 minutes into the game and more than 90 minutes after the opening tip. His first stint on the floor was uneventful and lasted just 23 seconds, as Lucas came back in for him at the 11:51 mark.

• Coleby checked back in for Lucas at the 10:38 mark and, within his first minute on the floor, grabbed two big defensive rebounds in a game in which Kansas led by just five points at the time. The second rebound came after a missed jumper by Frank Mason and Coleby immediately went back up with it to put Kansas up 62-55 with 9:42 to play.

• His third of four rebounds came at the 8:39 mark, nearly two minutes after checking back in, and led to a huge roar of approval from an appreciative KU crowd and a pure free throw that put Kansas up 65-57. Coleby missed the second, but it hardly mattered. His work came on the other end where he kept Michigan State’s Nick Ward from grabbing the offensive board and also drew Ward’s fourth foul, which sent him to the bench.

• At the 7:27 mark, 3 minutes and 11 seconds of clock after he checked back in, Coleby went to the bench and Lucas returned. Forty-four seconds later, Lucas picked up foul No. 4 and had to sit with 6:43 to play and Kansas leading by just six. No one knew at the time that Lucas would not be needed again. During his next stint on the floor, Coleby picked up a steal that led to a layup by Josh Jackson (77-65, Kansas) and an offensive rebound of a missed 3-pointer by Jackson that turned into a 3-pointer by Devonte’ Graham (80-67, Kansas). “Huge. Huge,” said Lucas of Coleby’s offensive rebound, which he called one of the biggest plays of the game. “That’s the little things that end up making a big difference in the game. Go from a missed 3 that could’ve been a run-out and, instead, Devonte’ hits the 3. That’s big. That’s what I try to do when I’m in there and he came in and replaced me and I’m proud of him.”

• So charmed was Coleby in this game that even plays that might draw grumbles during most games drew applause and positive nods. The most obvious was his foul on MSU freshman Miles Bridges with 3:12 to play. Instead of letting Bridges go up for an easy two, Coleby hammered him and made him earn the points at the line. Bridges made one of two free throw attempts and Kansas answered with another 3-pointer by Graham on the other end. Net two points for KU.

• From the 6:43 mark to the time he sat for good, Coleby played the game’s next 5 minutes and 16 seconds and did not check out until Kansas led 87-70 with 1:27 to play. Lucas, still with four fouls, came in for him then, but, at that point, it was as much so Coleby could walk off to a hero’s ovation as getting Lucas back in the game. The game was over.

With Coleby’s confidence sky high and his teammates’ faith in him now even higher, the Jayhawks could not help but flash huge smiles of pride and joy when discussing all that Coleby did to help the Jayhawks get back to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

“Perfect timing,” said sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr., who struggled against Michigan State’s physicality. ““He’s been working all year and tonight he stepped up when his jersey was called.”

Added Coleby: “I always wanted to do something like this on the biggest stage, and to have an opportunity to do it is just great.”

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 90, Michigan State 70

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to trap Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to trap Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 90-70, second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Michigan State on Sunday night at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Offense: A

Scoring 100 points in the first round was one thing, but following that up with 90 in Round 2, against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, no less? That’s downright impressive. KU coach Bill Self agreed, even if he wished it had come from better execution. “I thought we made hard shots. I don’t know that it was great offensive execution, I thought it was great individual play.”

Defense: A

KU’s biggest runs featured the Jayhawks getting defensive stops and hitting the glass. Kansas out-rebounded Michigan State 36-28, not the most impressive number, but more than enough to control the game. The Spartans shot a decent percentage (44) but had to earn absolutely everything and occasionally got swallowed up and watched the Jayhawks sprint the other way for easy transition buckets. Speaking of fast-breaks, KU’s transition D also was solid most of the night. Oh, yeah, and then there were those two blocks by Josh Jackson. Wow.

Frontcourt: A-

Reserve Dwight Coleby got the glory and absolutely deserved it for coming up huge in a big spot, but Landen Lucas was terrific. Absolutely, positively, sensationally terrific. He was strong when he posted up, scored with ease, grabbed nine rebounds in the first half alone and played the kind of defense that must’ve made Michigan State think there were two or three No. 33’s on the floor for Kansas. He walled up and played tall inside, showed strong help on ball screens and even trapped a time or two. Just a terrific performance to build even more confidence and head into next week’s showdown with Purdue Caleb Swanigan. Bragg’s rough night accounts for the minus.

Backcourt: A+

Mason didn’t have a great night shooting the ball, but who cares. He finished with 20 points and 5 assists — right on his season averages — and set up his teammates in good position to make plays all night. Beyond that, Josh Jackson (23) and Devonte’ Graham (18) put up big time point totals and buried the Spartans inside and out. Svi Mykhailiuk (9) came within one point of making it two games in a row that the starting five all reached double figures in scoring and also played some of his best defense of the season early in the game.

Bench: B+

As mentioned above, Carlton Bragg had another rough night. Nick Ward was just too big, strong and powerful for Bragg to hold up. But Dwight Coleby and Lageral Vick both played very well for Kansas and contributed some positive minutes and memorable plays. With the good showings out-numbering the bad, 2-1, and one of them coming as at least a little bit of a surprise, this grade gets bumped all the way up to the high-B range.

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KU-Michigan State by the numbers

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a shot over UC Davis forward Garrison Goode (44) during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a shot over UC Davis forward Garrison Goode (44) during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

In the past couple of days, we’ve used a bunch of words and thoughts, characters and quotes to set up today’s second-round clash between top-seeded Kansas (29-4) and No. 9 seed Michigan State (20-14) at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

And while a key hustle play, clutch adjustment or subtle benefit from a little extra attention to the scouting report and tendencies of an opponent can help decide games such as these, most of the time, more than words or thoughts or strategies or breakdowns, the games are decided by the numbers.

Those are the things that matter most, more so than the way the game is officiated, coached or even the style with which it's played.

While their records differ drastically, the numbers for these two teams are awfully similar in many areas, in terms of both overall team statistics and some of the individual match-ups that figure to be key in this one.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at today’s 4:15 p.m., head-to-head match-up between the Jayhawks and Spartans through the eyes of the most relevant season-long statistics posted by both teams.

Points per game

KU: 83.2 MSU: 71.9

FG percentage

KU: 48.9 MSU: 47.1

3-point FG percentage

KU: 40.6 MSU: 37.4

Free throw percentage

KU: 67.1 MSU: 66.9

Rebounds per game

KU: 39 MSU: 36.7

Offensive rebounding percentage

KU: 38.6 MSU: 32.6

Assists per game

KU: 16.4 MSU: 17

Blocks per game

KU: 4.7 MSU: 4.7

Steals per game

KU: 6.9 MSU: 4.4

Scoring defense

KU: 72.1 MSU: 68.1

FG percentage defense

KU: 41.7 MSU: 40.6

3-point FG percentage defense

KU: 35.3 MSU: 34.4

Turnover margin

KU: +4.5 MSU: +3.9

vs. current AP Top 25

KU: 6-2 MSU: 3-7

The names are in, the story lines are written, the stage is set.

From here, it’ll be the numbers above and how each team performs and executes in many of those areas that determines which team moves on to next week’s Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Mo.

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Let’s be Frank: Mason’s importance vs. Michigan State goes well beyond scoring

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets down on defense as UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) brings the ball up the court during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets down on defense as UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) brings the ball up the court during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

By now, everyone in the country knows that Kansas senior Frank Mason III is a stone-cold scorer.

His 3-point shot is a bona fide weapon, his transition game is relentless and flat-out frightening and his willingness to throw his body into, over, through and around bigger, stronger, taller opponents is the stuff of legends inside KU circles.

So there’s no questioning that another good scoring day from Mason would go a long way toward helping the top-seeded Jayhawks stand tall against tough No. 9 seed Michigan State at 4:15 today in a second-round, NCAA Tournament clash at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

But this appears to be one of those match-ups in which it might best help the Jayhawks (29-4) if Mason scores only when he has to and focuses on the rest of his game the rest of the night. Mason knows that. And, as he has been all season long, he’s more than willing to do exactly that if that’s what gives his team the best shot of heading to the winner’s circle.

“I would say creating easy shots for my teammates, getting them involved early, playing great defense and making me feel me every possession,” answered the seemingly-always-stoic Mason when asked what, from his position, was the key to beating the Spartans (20-14). “It starts with the point guard and (I just want to focus on) getting out in transition, running and trying to get easy baskets before their defense sets up, showing great leadership skills and just being coachable and leading our younger guys.”

Looking at it through those words alone, Mason carries a huge load into the Jayhawks’ second game of what they hope will be a long NCAA Tournament run. But, as anyone who has followed this team — up close or from afar — has seen all season, no weight has proven to be too heavy for the Jayhawks’ bulldog point guard and no challenge has been too stiff for him to answer.

In 33 games this season, Mason has tallied 20 points or more 20 times, including seven of the last eight. What’s more, in the 13 games in which he did not reach the 20-point mark, Mason came within a single shot of touching 20 six different times.

While numbers like that, which have Mason racking up national player of the year honors left and right, certainly seem solid, it’s the rest of the stat sheet that shows not only how valuable Mason is to this Kansas team — even just writing that carries that, ‘OK, Captain Obvious’ vibe with it — but also just how impressive his ability to deliver, day after day, week after week, game after game, from start to finish, has been.

The rebounds (4.2 per game), the assists (5.2 per game), the minutes (36.1 per game) and the long list of clutch shots. All have been crucial for Kansas in reaching this point. And they’ll need more of all of them to continue to advance.

But the one thing that does not show up on the stat sheet, the one thing that can’t be measured or stacked up against anybody else’s numbers in any advanced metrics or projected numbers is the one thing that Mason’s teammates value most about their veteran leader.

“Big comfort level," said junior running mate Devonte' Graham when asked what Mason brings to this team. "We know we can give him the ball at any time and he can make a play, late clock, early clock, transition.... At this time of year, the best players gotta be on the court making plays and doing whatever we can to help the team win.”

Added freshman phenom Josh Jackson: “We all have a lot of confidence in Frank. And just to have him on the team makes us so much more comfortable. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like being on the opposite team, trying to guard that guy. He’s a monster.”

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) tries to recover a loose ball from UC Davis guard Siler Schneider during the first half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At right is UC Davis guard Brynton Lemar (0).

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) tries to recover a loose ball from UC Davis guard Siler Schneider during the first half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At right is UC Davis guard Brynton Lemar (0). by Nick Krug

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KU Sports Extra: Jayhawks’ NCAA Tourney Run Off to a Terrific Start

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Road To The Final Four - The Journey Begins Today

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Why Josh Jackson thinks KU is “the best team in the country”

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle at the start of practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle at the start of practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

With a bright NBA future waiting just around the corner, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson enters his first — and likely last — NCAA Tournament in an enviable position.

Jackson, who for the first time since March 4 will be back in the lineup with the Jayhawks at 5:50 p.m. tonight in Round 1 against No. 16 seed UC Davis at the BOK Center, said Thursday that he feels like he’s a part of “the best team in the country right now.”

When asked to explain why, the 6-foot-8 guard from Detroit pointed to a number of reasons.

“I feel like we got the best guards,” Jackson began. “I feel like we have things that some teams just don’t have. Like, in (senior forward) Landen (Lucas), we’ve got a really good glue guy who does so many things that don’t show up in the stat book. I feel like we all just care so much and want to win more than anything. So I feel like we’re all gonna do whatever we need to do in order to make that happen.”

Jackson, of course, is better equipped than most players on his team — or any other team for that matter — to deliver those things in a number of different areas. But instead of taxing himself by worrying about the stakes and the stage, Jackson said he planned to treat his NCAA Tournament debut like any of the 31 games he played in that came before it.

“It’s exciting,” Jackson said. “And I’ve just gotta maintain my composure and stay focused and just remember it’s a game and just come out and play like I would any other game.”

Doing that won’t be easy. Jackson said he had been waiting for this moment since he was a kid, growing up rooting for Michigan State and watching the NCAA Tournament on television each year.

So now that he’s here, how has the experience lived up to his expectations?

“So far, it is everything I thought it would be,” Jackson said. “I think it’s gonna get a lot more exciting as it goes on. It’s also gonna get a lot harder, but that makes it more fun.”

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Tulsa one of several special places in a state full of them for KU coach Bill Self

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches with the bench as the Jayhawks make a run against Illinois during the second half on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at the BOK Center in Tulsa.

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches with the bench as the Jayhawks make a run against Illinois during the second half on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at the BOK Center in Tulsa. by Nick Krug

Long before the killer recruiting class at Illinois that wound up in the national title game two years after he left and years ahead of his remarkable stretch at Kansas, where he has more conference titles than home losses, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self spent seven years building toward moments like those in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Forty miles due north of Okmulgee, a town of 12,000 people where Self and his sister, Shelly, were born, Tulsa has become as much a part of Self’s Oklahoma roots as any of the several small towns he once called home.

“I don’t remember much of it,” joked Self of his actual birth day in 1962. “We lived in a small town called Morris, which, obviously Morris didn’t have a hospital so we went 11 miles or 10 miles down the road and Shelly and I were both born there. My dad and mom were teachers and dad was a coach.”

From his days as a child in Okmulgee, Morris and Claremore, to his high school days in Edmond and college days in Stillwater, all of them combine together to make for some of Self’s favorite memories and foundational moments in the game of basketball.

“Seven years in Stillwater (as a player and coach at Oklahoma State) and then seven years in Tulsa (as a head coach at Oral Roberts and Tulsa) and we saw the full gamut,” Self recently recalled. “We go from losing 18 in a row to winning 31 of our last 38 at Oral Roberts to being an average, average team, at best, our first year at Tulsa to a couple years later (making) a pretty good run to the Elite Eight.... Tulsa is obviously a place that’s very fond to us and we always look forward to going back, although this one will not be social at all but we certainly still have a lot of great friends there.”

This week, while leading his 14th Kansas team into the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time — again as a No. 1 seed for the seventh time in the past 11 years — Self will wake up, go to bed, eat, drink, sleep and sweat in Tulsa, where his Jayhawks (28-4, ranked 3rd in the country) will take on UC Davis at 5:50 p.m. Friday and, if things go well there, will follow that up with a second-round game on Sunday against the Miami-Michigan State winner at a to-be-determined time at BOK Center.

“This is pretty much home,” Self said. “Even though I guess we spent most of our childhood years in Edmond, but still we spent a lot of time in this area.... It feels good. You know, Tulsa, I grew up, part of my youth was in Claremore, which is just down the road, and coached in Tulsa for seven years. Got a ton of friends here. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see very many of ’em but I’m sure some of ’em will swing by practice and it’ll be good to see ’em.”

Returning to Oklahoma to coach has not been all good for Self since leaving Tulsa before the 2000-01 season for Illinois. Although the Illini never played in Self’s home state during his three years leading the program, Self’s Kansas teams lost three in a row in Stillwater from 2014-16, before ending the streak with a win 12 days ago, and also have lost in Norman three times since Self took over at Kansas. Beyond that, Self is just 4-3 at Kansas in Oklahoma City, including a 1-2 record in the NCAA Tournament, with losses to Bucknell and Northern Iowa.

But Tulsa specifically has been good to Self, who led KU to two victories over Boston University and, of all teams, Illinois in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

“I love Tulsa,” Self said. “And I will tell you this; I'd much rather be in Tulsa than Oklahoma City, because we haven't played very well in Oklahoma City. We actually played well in Tulsa last time we were there.”

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KU’s Mason prominently displayed on SI cover

If you're the type that believes in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, the magazine did you a favor this week.

Instead of featuring one player or one team on its annual March Madness cover, SI went back to its old iconic days of the tournament edition and put representatives from every team that made the tournament onto the cover.

Kansas, of course, is included in the mix, with senior guard Frank Mason III prominently displayed as one of the focal points of the cover. Mason, high center, is joined by one player from the other three No. 1 seeds in this year's tournament as being a little larger than life.

That's a good way to go about it if you're Sports Illustrated because now nobody can claim they were the victim of the cover jinx. Well, nobody and everybody at the same time.

Joining the athletes themselves on this year's cover are coaches, mascots, women's players and women's coaches. Heck, even popular halftime act Red Panda made it onto the cover. Let's hope that's not a jinx for her.

I haven't devoured every inch of it yet, but from what I can tell, Mason is the only Jayhawk represented on the cover.

Kansas, seeded No. 1 in the Midwest, will open NCAA Tournament play at 5:50 p.m. Friday in Tulsa, Okla., against the winner of Wednesday's First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, between North Carolina Central and UC Davis.

I'm not sure if Seth Davis' picks are the same that appear in the magazine. We'll find out later this week. But Davis picks Kansas, UCLA, Gonzaga and Duke as his Final Four.

This year's Sports Illustrated March Madness cover.

This year's Sports Illustrated March Madness cover. by Matt Tait

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Scouting an unknown opponent adds new wrinkle, but overall process familiar for Kansas

Kansas head coach Bill Self leads his players through an inbounding scenario during a practice on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas head coach Bill Self leads his players through an inbounding scenario during a practice on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

Sure, it’s possible that Kansas and Iowa State will meet in the Sweet 16 or Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the Elite Eight or UCLA and Oregon in the Final Four or Duke and North Carolina in the national championship game.

And if any of those, or others like them, wind up being the case, then scouting reports won’t be as important for each coach to come up with because those teams all know each other so well from having competed in the same conference and faced each other multiple times already this season.

That’s not the case for the early rounds, though, where teams are facing each other for the first time this season — sometimes the first time in years or ever — and are currently in the process of scouring over notes and video to get a good read on their upcoming opponent.

Although the Kansas men’s basketball team does not yet know who it will face in the first round in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday — the winner of UC Davis vs. North Carolina Central at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday plays Kansas on Friday — the Jayhawks are busy scouting a number of different opponents.

KU coach Bill Self talked about the process Monday morning on the Big 12 coaches teleconference and sounded like a man comfortable with not knowing the identity of that first opponent because he and the Jayhawks have experienced similar situations so many times before in other tournaments.

“Same thing we do if we played in Maui, for instance,” said Self, outlining his scouting game plan for the week. “I wouldn’t go to Maui just looking at the first opponent. I would spend early in the week looking at the second-round opponent and then, as you get closer to the game, focus on the first opponent. The NCAA Tournament allows you to do that because each weekend’s a two-game tournament.”

Self confirmed on Sunday that teams were not allowed to send assistant coaches to Dayton, Ohio, to watch that NC Central-UC Davis match-up live. But assistant coach Norm Roberts has spent the past couple of days devouring every available bit of information on both teams and Self personally will move into that phase of his preparation tomorrow.

“We divide the scouts up, obviously,” Self said. “Norm has the first game, regardless of who it is, and Jerrance (Howard) and Kurtis (Townsend) have the second game if we’re fortunate enough to advance. Me personally, I’m watching (potential second-round foes) Michigan State and Miami. That’s what my focus is right now because I don’t know who we’re playing (Friday) yet. My focus, beginning (Tuesday) night, wiIl probably be both UC Davis and North Carolina Central. I want to have the best deal possible. I want my own scouting report done on the potential Sunday game before Wednesday because Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I want my total focus to be on the first game.”

While the scouting report procedure will provide Kansas with a detailed look at the specific teams the Jayhawks could and will face, Self said the big-picture thinking is to expect tough games from start to finish.

“All the teams in the field are saying, ‘God, we got a tough path,’ because the reality is you do,” he said. “You don’t have as many dominant teams, or any dominant teams, compared to what you’ve had 15 or 20 years ago, and even though parity may not be the right word, you have more evenly balanced teams. The difference between a 5 and a 12, a 3 and a 10, a 1 and a 5 or however you go about it is less now than probably it ever has been. It makes for some great match-ups, especially early in the tournament that first weekend.”


More from Selection Sunday


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NCAA Tournament 2017: Breaking down the Midwest bracket

Midwest Region in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

Midwest Region in the 2017 NCAA Tournament by Matt Tait

Sunday was a busy night, tracking down as much information as possible about not one but two potential first-round opponents for the Kansas men’s basketball team in this year’s NCAA Tournament and recapping the thoughts and emotions conveyed to the media by KU coach Bill Self and senior forward Landen Lucas.

Because of that, I haven’t had much time to study the full bracket yet — and I rarely do these days, which merely means that I’m a guy you want in your bracket pool and, in related news, I’ve found myself entering fewer and fewer of them each year.

But I have taken a fairly good look at the Midwest region, where Kansas enters as the No. 1 seed and will look to win two games in Tulsa, Okla., before returning to Kansas City, Mo., for two more and a chance to win a trip to this year’s Final Four.

The following are a few of my initial thoughts on the region along with a quick glance at each team in 20 words or less.

Hard to believe the time has arrived. But it’s here. Merry Madness, everybody.

• First up, good for the committee for not overreacting to KU’s loss to TCU and making things harder than they had to be. The Jayhawks were one of the nation’s best and most consistent teams all season and to punish them for losing a meaningless game which they played without their most talented player would have been brutally wrong. They didn’t. KU got the seed and region it both earned and deserved and now it’s up to the Jayhawks to make it pay off.

• Now, as for the regional as a whole, I think KU fans should be pleased with how this one worked out. Sure, Purdue and Louisville loom as tough challenges in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, but the way I’ve always looked at these things is by looking at the 1 through 4 seeds in each region and trying to decide how Kansas fared in a relative sense. In this case, I think the Jayhawks were hooked up. And it’s about time, too. It seems as if Kansas has faced a few brutal brackets in recent years and this one looks like payback for that. Louisville, though tough and talented, is a much better 2 seed to draw than Arizona, Duke or Kentucky, all three of which are red hot and just won conference tournaments. After that, Oregon, with a recent tough-break injury to one of its top players, looks like a much better 3 to draw than offensive juggernaut UCLA, ACC-tested Florida State or even Baylor. And Purdue as the 4 might actually be a better match-up for Kansas than ultra-athletic Florida, Press Virginia or even Butler. The bottom line is this: They’re all tough. Every team has speed bumps on its road to glory. But, when you look at it in a relative sense, I think Kansas got a nice draw.

• Speaking of Kansas’ draw, I will admit that the potential Sweet 16 showdown with Big 12 rival Iowa State was an eye-opener for me, as well. But fear not, KU fans. If the two teams advance that far, it would be Kansas that enters that game with extra motivation, both aiming to avenge a home loss that ended a 50-plus game home-court winning streak and desiring to end the claims from Iowa State fans that Sprint Center is Hilton South. It would be a tough game. And I think Monte Morris is capable of getting the Cyclones to compete with anybody. But if I’m Kansas, I’d take it — a team you know well that you’re facing with a huge chip on your shoulder. I hope we get to see it.

• Tom Izzo be damned. It seems to me that if you’re a Kansas fan, the best move you could make in Round 1 (not that it matters) is to root for Michigan State to knock off Miami, Fla., in the 8-9 game. The irony here is that it seemed fairly obvious to me last year that KU wanted Miami to knock off Villanova in the Sweet 16 in Louisville and now Jayhawk fans are staring at a scenario where they should be hoping for someone else to knock off the Hurricanes. Izzo’s team struggled with turnovers all season and dropped 14 games against a Big Ten schedule. Eight of those came in Big Ten play and a ninth came against Northeastern. The rest of the MSU losses are legit, but still... FOURTEEN LOSSES?!?!? Miami, meanwhile, played 11 games against Top 5 seeds in this year’s field, winning 3 and dropping 8. The ‘Canes are athletic and physical and also coached hard by Jim Larranaga. Both teams are tougher opponents than anybody would want to see in Round 2, but if you’re trying to pick the better match-up for Kansas, it’s Go Sparty all the way.

• Sleeper rankings in the Midwest region: 1. (5) Iowa State. 2. (11) Rhode Island. 3. (13) Vermont. If Iowa State were in any other bracket and facing a different looking road, I’d probably pick them to go pretty far. (I’m always a damn Big 12 homer with my bracket, though, so take that for what it’s worth). Still, the Cyclones have talent, they have an absolute stud leading them and they’re hot right now. As for Rhode Island, I’ll always take a team that likes to play defense and few do that as well as the Rams. Not the most consistently sound team throughout the season, but if URI can get its offense going, that D could win them a couple of games. And then there’s Vermont. Wouldn’t it be funny if, after all of this talk about KU facing Iowa State or Purdue in the Sweet 16, it’s actually the Catamounts who are sitting there waiting? Vermont plays solid D and attacks the paint on offense, which could spell trouble for Purdue’s bigs and Iowa State’s depth. It’s a long shot, but, isn’t that why they call it Madness?

17 teams in the Midwest region in 20 words or less.

1 – Kansas: Recent loss was a wake-up call and the Jayhawks are driven and focused. Playing in KC certainly wouldn’t hurt.

2 – Louisville: Cards emphasize defense and do it with length. Six of top eight players are 6-7 or taller.

3 – Oregon: Guard Dillon Brooks is as fiery and emotional as any player in the tournament. He’s got game, too.

4 – Purdue: Double-double machine Caleb Swanigan and Boilermakers’ offensive prowess overshadow weaknesses on D and the glass.

5 – Iowa State: Monte Morris, Monte Morris, Monte Morris. And if that’s not enough, Google Naz Mitrou-Long to Deonte Burton.

6 – Creighton: Few teams will be as dependent on the rims and arena as the Bluejays. If they’re not hitting, they’re done.

7 – Michigan: They’ll either make a run or run out of gas. I’m going with the latter.

8 – Miami, Fla.: Tied for 7th in ACC despite wins over Carolina, Duke and Virginia. Scoring 70-plus will beat them.

9 – Michigan State: Sparty regularly goes 10 deep and does it without much drop-off. There’s good and bad in that.

10 – Oklahoma State: They were red hot a couple weeks ago. Can they rekindle the flame against white-hot Wolverines?

11 – Rhode Island: Defensive style and tenacity could make life miserable for any number of opponents.

12 – Nevada: Mountain West champ ranks 52nd in NCAA in offensive rebound percentage. Iowa State ranks No. 288. 5-12 upset?

13 – Vermont: We’re going streaking! Catamounts have won 21 straight games and haven’t lost since before Christmas at No. 13 Butler.

14 – Iona: Sneaky super-upset pick. Won’t be afraid to run or score with the Ducks. Can they rebound and defend, though?

15 – Jacksonville State: It’s not good when your best wins are vs. Belmont and at Tulsa & you’re playing in your first tourney.

16a – NC Central: To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Are you experienced?” Eagles start five seniors and play seven in top eight of their rotation.

16b – UC Davis: First trip to the Big Dance likely ends as one of 68 not one of 64. Still, baby steps.

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Should the Jayhawks be worried about their No. 1 seed?

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III stand side by side during a pair of free throws in the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Frank Mason III stand side by side during a pair of free throws in the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

With the top-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team losing in Thursday’s Big 12 quarterfinal game in Kansas City, Mo., one of the biggest questions surrounding Jayhawk Nation is not what went wrong, why it happened or how KU will fix it.*

* More on all of that a little later today.

Instead, Jayhawk fans everywhere are wondering if the loss did anything to impact KU’s chances at a No. 1 seed, and, perhaps more specifically, KU’s chances of returning to Kansas City for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight at Sprint Center should the Jayhawks be fortunate enough to survive Rounds 1 and 2 in Tulsa.

All of this will be sorted out on Selection Sunday, of course, but KU fans aren’t used to waiting this long and having this much time to think about it. Most years, Kansas plays into the Big 12 semifinals or finals, which has allowed those games to take most of the focus. But now the speculation and worry has taken center stage.

According to ESPN.com writer Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology update — dated March 10 — the four teams owning the four 2 seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament are Baylor, Kentucky, Louisville and Oregon.

Lunardi still has Kansas as a No. 1 seed in the Midwest, as do most of the other NCAA Tournament gurus who make this sort of thing their lives this time of year. That’s good sign No. 1.

Good sign No. 2 comes from the fact that there’s almost no way to imagine Kansas being passed up by any of those teams currently projected as 2 seeds. (For what it's worth, Lunardi's current 3 seeds are Arizona, Duke, Florida State and UCLA)

Like KU, Louisville and Baylor are also done playing until the Big Dance, with the Cardinals falling in the ACC Tournament to Duke on Thursday and Baylor losing in the Big 12 nightcap to K-State. So cross both of them off of the list. Their resumes weren’t better than KU’s going in and there’s nothing they can do now to make them better from here.

That leaves Kentucky and Oregon. Well, Kentucky’s resume is nowhere near as impressive as KU’s and, as if that weren’t already enough, the Jayhawks went into Rupp Arena and beat the Wildcats head to head earlier this season. So, even if UK runs through the SEC Tournament, all that will do is solidify the Wildcats’ place as a No. 2 seed. The SEC just isn’t a strong enough conference for a late run by the ‘Cats to push them past Kansas. Not even close.

That leaves Oregon, which won the Pac-12 regular season title and could make things interesting if they were to win the Pac-12 postseason title. Because of the way the bracket out west shapes up, though, the Ducks are only able to pick up one more quality win, not two. Oregon plays Cal in today’s semifinal while No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Arizona play in the other semifinal.

Had Oregon been matched up with Arizona today and then faced UCLA tomorrow — and won both games — you might have been able to make a case that KU should be a little concerned about the Ducks stealing a 1 seed after a nice tourney run.

Mind you, I did say might there. Because even if that were to happen — which it can’t, so I’m not even sure why I’m still writing about it — the Jayhawks would still have a better overall resume than Oregon, which has an RPI strength of schedule of 55, compared to 29 for Kansas, and a 4-2 record against the Top 50, compared to 9-2 for the Jayhawks.

All things considered, it would be a pretty shocking development if the committee were to look at things and deem Oregon more worthy of a No. 1 seed than Kansas at this point. And, really, that’s about the only way I could see KU getting moved out of the Midwest region.

North Carolina will be No. 1 in the South. Villanova, which likely now will enter as the No. 1 overall seed, will be No. 1 in the East. And it looks as if one-loss Gonzaga will be No. 1 in the West. The Midwest is the only other place for Kansas to land unless the committee drops them, which I just can’t see happening.

Consider one more possibility: If Oregon’s Pac-12 tourney run is deemed impressive enough to merit consideration for a 1 seed, I think it would be more likely that the committee would drop Gonzaga to a 2 in the West and put Oregon as the 1 out there before dropping Kansas.

Seeding for the NCAA Tournament is a big picture sort of thing, built over weeks and months of work and competition. It’s not based solely on what happens one weekend or one day in early March. And because of that, the Jayhawks should rest easy the next couple of days and prepare for a path to the Final Four that includes stops in Tulsa and Kansas City.

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Postgame Report Card: TCU 85, KU 82

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to get around TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky during the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. At right is TCU guard Desmond Bane (1).

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to get around TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky during the second half, Thursday, March 9, 2017 at Sprint Center. At right is TCU guard Desmond Bane (1). by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 85-82 Big 12 quarterfinal loss to TCU on Thursday at Sprint Center.

Offense: B+

As KU coach Bill Self pointed out after the game, KU scored plenty of points to win this game. Even without second-leading scorer Josh Jackson, Kansas scored inside and out and topped 80 points. The Jayhawks fall just short of an A grade for their percentages. KU shot 44 percent for the game and 33 percent from 3-point range, making just 10 of a whopping 30 attempts. The plus comes for KU’s .815 clip (22 of 27) from the free throw line.

Defense: D

The Jayhawks may have scored 82 but they also gave up 85 to a team that finished eighth in the conference and, as of today, still isn’t in the NCAA Tournament field. It was so much the fact that KU gave up easy buckets and lots of points to the Horned Frogs as it was the way they did it. TCU got a ton of easy looks, got to the basket with ease most of the night and .492 for the game and .567 in the first half. Not the kind of defensive effort KU wanted or needed, but at least part of it could be chalked up to the fact that two of KU’s worst defenders — Svi and Lagerald Vick — were asked to handle the workload of one of their best in Jackson.

Frontcourt: C

Landen Lucas was terrific and did all he could to help this team win. He shot 5-of-7 from the floor, tallied 13 points and 14 rebounds and grabbed a game-high six offensive rebounds. One problem: The Jayhawks got just one other offensive rebound the entire day. Beyond that, Carlton Bragg Jr. and Dwight Coleby struggled to make an impact in their 18 combined minutes on the floor. Lucas was better than those guys were bad, though, and that salvaged the C grade.

Backcourt: B

Frank Mason was the man once again, but he clearly can’t do it all by himself. Svi chipped in with 13 points in the first eight minutes but then finished with just five points the rest of the way and made a couple of costly mistakes late. Vick did OK at times on both ends, but never really seemed to be into the game, a possible result of him being asked to play Jackson’s spot at the 4 instead of his normal position and role as this team’s sixth man. Devonte’ Graham could’ve done a lot to help this team but shot just 2-of-10 from the floor and did not attempt a 2-pointer. KU’s guards recorded just three steals while TCU guard Alex Robinson swiped five himself. Mason was A material but the group as a whole was not nearly as good and clearly missed Jackson.

Bench: D-

Coleby blocked a couple of shots (on the same possession) and delivered a nice bucket in the first half on a strong post move. He also picked up a steal and used his three fouls wisely in 6 minutes. Those facts were the only thing that saved KU’s bench from an F on a day when the TCU bench outscored KU’s reserves, 34-3. Mitch Lightfoot turned it over once in his lone minute of play and Bragg missed four shots, including an airball at the end of the first half and a free throw while also turning it over twice. With Vick forced into action for the suspended Jackson, KU’s bench took a major hit.

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What will Kansas look like without Josh Jackson on Thursday?

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15), Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33), Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) converse together during a break from action in the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. (15), Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33), Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) converse together during a break from action in the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Wednesday morning, word came down from KU coach Bill Self that Josh Jackson would miss Thursday’s Big 12 tournament opener to serve a one-game suspension for his role in mismanaging a traffic incident back in February.

While the news certainly did Kansas no favors in the eyes of the public, particularly those who are becoming more and more curious about just what is going on with the Jayhawks and their off-the-court issues, it also dealt a blow to the KU basketball team, which now will try to advance to Friday’s semifinals without its second leading scorer and all-around most talented player.

Legal questions and concerns aside, the biggest question many want answered now is this: What does this Kansas basketball team look like without Josh Jackson?

In a few words? Much the same, just not as talented.

Self told the Journal-World on Wednesday morning that sophomore guard Lagerald Vick would start in Jackson’s place against the winner of tonight’s TCU-OU game at Sprint Center. Given KU’s depth at the position, with starters Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk all still available, the Jayhawks still figure to go with their four-guard look most of the time.

Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr., has shown progress in recent weeks and his minutes certainly could increase, perhaps even climbing above 20, if Bragg shows up and plays well on Thursday. And Vick, who has played 21 minutes or more in seven of KU’s last eight games, figures to see his time on the court climb into the 30s with Jackson in street clothes.

Playing without Jackson is not an entirely new adventure for this Kansas team. Throughout the season, but especially early on, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Detroit has struggled with foul trouble and been forced to sit on the bench for long periods of time in several games this season.

Most notable among them was a 12-minute showing at TCU back on Dec. 30, when Jackson never got into the game and Vick played 34 minutes in his place.

Coincidentally, KU could very well be facing that same TCU team on Thursday afternoon, which not only would give Vick a little extra confidence — he scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line) in KU’s December victory over TCU — but also provide the rest of the team with some confidence, knowing they can get by the Horned Frogs without their freshman All-American on the floor.

Jackson was much better in two games against OU, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes in the win at Oklahoma and with 11 points and 12 rebounds (along with 8 turnovers) in KU’s home victory over the Sooners on Feb. 27.

KU’s biggest concern about not having Jackson on the floor is probably on defense. Because of his length and ability to hit the glass, Jackson has helped Landen Lucas handle several tall and talented front lines this season. Mykhailiuk and Vick, at 6-8 and 6-5 are both capable of doing the job, but neither does it quite as well as Jackson.

“I can if I need to,” said Mykhailiuk, earlier this season, when asked about guarding opposing big men. “But also we have Josh. Me, Lagerald and Josh are like 6-8, 6-5, 6-8, so we can if we have to.”

Asked to share the biggest keys to guarding big men instead of checking guards, Mykhailiuk pointed to quickness as the key.

“Just try to get in front so they don’t get the ball, run from both sides, just try to confuse the guy with the ball,” he said. “You use that (quickness) to get in front faster.”

If he’s caught in the post with a big man backing him down, Mykhailiuk said deception was the key at that point.

“You just need to give distance, let ’em feel you and then just back off sometimes so they don’t know where the contact is,” he said.

Believe it or not, Jackson has played fewer than 30 minutes 12 times this season. Only two of those have come in the past 12 games, however, so not having him in the lineup likely will seem strange at times.

But it’s possible that Jackson’s absence — though not coming in a way that anyone in the program would want — could actually go a long way toward helping this team in the long run.

Not only will Jackson get an extra day of rest, but Mykhailiuk, Vick and Bragg also will be counted on more heavily, a reality that, if they deliver, should take their confidence up a notch entering the rest of the weekend and into the NCAA Tournament.

Worst case scenario? Kansas loses without Jackson and the whole team gets a few extra days of rest while waiting for Selection Sunday.

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Predicting what promises to be a wild Big 12 tournament in KCMO

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a big smile as time runs out in the Jayhawks' 81-71 win over West Virginia, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) flashes a big smile as time runs out in the Jayhawks' 81-71 win over West Virginia, Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

It’s Big 12 tournament time in Kansas City, Mo., and that means — among other amazing things like gathering at Power & Light for a few cold ones under abundant sunshine on a warm afternoon — it’s time to take a stab at predicting this year’s Big 12 tourney bracket.

I know what you’re thinking. Good luck, right? I mean, after all of those close games we saw in the conference this season — and, believe it or not, there were more than a dozen that didn’t involve Kansas — how can anyone possibly predict how this year’s tournament is going to go?

Good question. Tough question. Tough exercise. But let’s go for it.

— Wednesday, March 8 —

(8) TCU vs. (9) Oklahoma, 6 p.m. — A rematch of the regular season finale for both teams, won by Oklahoma, I’m going with the Sooners again this time around. This match-up features two teams headed in opposite directions and the young Sooners seem to have figured a few things out in the latter stages of conference play. I like OU in a game that might actually be the most lopsided outcome of any all weekend. The pick: Oklahoma.

(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Texas, 8:30 p.m. — The Longhorns have good athletes, a nice mix of talent at key positions and some hope for the future. But, for whatever reason (and there may be many), it just has never clicked this season. The Red Raiders on the other hand have a real nice team that, could be in a much different position had it not been involved in a so many of those agonizingly close games (most of them losses) throughout the season. I think this will be a good one, but Tech is better and has more to play for. The pick: Texas Tech.

— Thursday, March 9 —

(4) Iowa State vs. (5) Oklahoma State, 11:30 a.m. — These two played during the final week of the regular season and it was Iowa State who came away with a hard-fought victory at home on Senior Night. I’m going to say those two factors created the final outcome and give the nod to Okie State in the rematch. Jawun Evans is a wizard, Jeffrey Carroll is a beast and OSU was as hot as just about anybody down the stretch. This could very easily be the game of the tournament, though, and should be a lot of fun to watch. The pick: Oklahoma State.

(1) Kansas vs. (9) Oklahoma, 1:30 p.m. — A little more than a week ago, OU had Kansas down 12 with less than 10 minutes to play in its own gym. And then the Jayhawks woke up and ran the Sooners out of the gym at the finish line. Even without Josh Jackson, who was suspended for Thursday’s Big 12 tourney opener, I think that’s the way this one starts and Kansas wins with relative ease, even if the Sooners don’t stop fighting. The pick: Kansas.

(2) West Virginia vs. (7) Texas Tech, 6 p.m. — Tech picked up a huge upset early in Big 12 play over the Mountaineers but a lot has happened since then and the Red Raiders will be asked to take on Press Virginia less than 24 hours after closing out Texas. Talk about a tough task. The pick: West Virginia.

(3) Baylor vs. (6) Kansas State, 8 p.m. — This is one of the more intriguing match-ups heading into the tournament. These two teams split during the regular season, with each winning on the other team’s home floor, and K-State is going to have to have this one in order to boost its chances at becoming the sixth team from the Big 12 to get into the Big Dance. I think the Wildcats have it in them. They looked like a Top 25 team at times this season — most notably in both match-ups with Kansas — and are playing not only for their postseason lives but for head coach Bruce Weber’s job. That’s a ton of motivation and a whole heck of a lot more to play for than anything Baylor can come up with. The Bears finished the year dropping three of their last six games (and five of their last 10) and will head into the NCAA Tournament as a 3 seed without a ton of confidence. Getting the game in Kansas City certainly doesn’t hurt the Wildcats here. The pick: K-State.

— Friday, March 10 —

(1) Kansas vs. (5) Oklahoma State, 6 p.m. — A rematch of the regular season finale in Stillwater, it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys playing as well as they did in a building that will be 80 percent full of Kansas fans. The Jayhawks have done a nice job of bottling up sharp-shooter Phil Forte and have the speed, athleticism and depth to match up with Evans and Carroll. I think it’ll be another terrific game, but I think it’ll look a lot like the match-up between these two at Allen Fieldhouse back in mid-January. The pick: Kansas.

(2) West Virginia vs. (6) Kansas State, 8 p.m. — An all-Sunflower State final and third clash between Kansas and Kansas State sure would be fun, but so would a third meeting between the best two teams in the Big 12. The Mountaineers force K-State into a ton of mistakes and Weber gets out-coached by Huggy Bear as West Virginia, which won the women’s tournament, cruises into the final for the second year in a row. The pick: West Virginia.

— Saturday, March 11 —

(1) Kansas vs. (2) West Virginia, 5 p.m. — Not only is this a rematch of that epic game in Lawrence earlier this season, where Kansas came from 14 down in the final three minutes to pull out an improbable victory, but it’s also a rematch of last season’s Big 12 tournament title game. Cue Devonte’ Graham. After hitting the Mountaineers for 27 points on 10 shots in last year’s title game, Graham goes off again, helping Kansas overcome another tough game against WVU by Frank Mason III and lending further support to Bill Self’s claim that, if you’re gonna get to the title game and play three games in three days, you might as well win the whole darn thing. Kansas stays red hot and prepares to enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed with a hard-fought win over a dangerous team and an assist from the Sprint Center crowd. The pick: Kansas.

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Kansas men’s basketball team headed to Italy in August

The KU men's basketball team will play four exhibition games in Italy in August.

The KU men's basketball team will play four exhibition games in Italy in August. by Matt Tait

Arrivederci, Lawrence, Kansas. The Kansas Jayhawks are headed to Italy.

Long after the current Kansas men’s basketball team wraps up what has been an amazing 2016-17 season, the encore edition of those players who remain, along with any newcomers in the fold, will make a trip across the Atlantic Ocean for four exhibition games in Italy this summer.

The trip, which is slated for four games on Italian soil — two in Rome and two in Milan — will take place in early August and will be like past foreign trips taken by Kansas, which also has traveled to Canada, Switzerland, France and South Korea in recent years.

KU’s Williams Education Fund has put together travel packages for active members interested in joining the Jayhawks overseas, and the packages include tickets to all four games, air and ground transportation, hotel accommodations, guided tours, a reception with the team and more.

While the trip offers a wonderful chance for fans to explore Italy with a Kansas flare, the week-long escape to the heart of Italy (July 31-August 8) represents an opportunity for what figures to be a new-look team to come together on the basketball court, as well.

The Jayhawks are certain to lose seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas to graduation. Freshman Josh Jackson is likely NBA bound. And KU coach Bill Self has said that he expects both juniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk to at least test the NBA waters. Positive feedback from the pro ranks about their draft stock could lead to the departure of either or both of those players, as well.

The Jayhawks will have transfer guards Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe eligible to play in Italy and also should have big man Udoka Azubuike back in the mix from his injured wrist.

A trip like this will give that trio, along with newcomers Marcus Garrett, Billy Preston and whoever else Self signs in the 2017 recruiting class an opportunity to develop some chemistry and get used to playing together a couple of months before the official kickoff of the 2017-18 season.

KU’s games in Italy are scheduled for Aug. 2 and 3 in Rome and Aug. 5 and 6 in Milan.

For more information, contact the Williams Fund.

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Big-time honors already rolling in for KU’s Frank Mason III

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) waves goodbye to the Baylor student section following the Jayhawks' 67-65 win , Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) waves goodbye to the Baylor student section following the Jayhawks' 67-65 win , Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

There’s still some voting to be done on the ones everybody will talk about, but now that the regular season is over and postseason play is under way, a number of national player of the year honors are starting to roll in.

And if the early returns are any indication of what’s to come, Kansas senior Frank Mason III better clear some space in his dorm room.

Mason, who led Kansas with 20.5 and 5.1 points and assists per game during KU’s 28-3 regular season, which ended with a 13th consecutive Big 12 title and No. 1 national ranking, already has picked up some serious praise for his sensational season that earned him Big 12 player of the year honors on Sunday.

Bobby Nightengale did a great job of looking back at why all of the Big 12 coaches voted for Mason as their conference player of the year — Mason was a unanimous pick, meaning he got the vote from the nine coaches allowed to vote for him — following the 2016-17 regular season.

And Bleacher Report on Sunday night named Mason their national player of the year. By mid-day Monday, NBC Sports had joined them. USA Today and The Sporting News followed suit on Monday by naming Mason a first-team All-American. Josh Jackson was named a second-team All-American by both publications.

Here are a couple of quick blurbs that support Mason earning the season honors.

From Bleacher Report:

The numbers are awesome, but what truly makes Mason the pick here is how clutch he’s been. He started the year with a buzzer-beater to take down Duke in the second game of the season. Kansas has also made a habit of playing from behind, and when the outlook looks bleak, Mason calmly rips the opponent's heart out.

He has the moments. He has the numbers. He has the wins. He made this pick easy. Frank Mason III is the Bleacher Report National Player of the Year.

From USA Today:

Frank Mason III, Sr., G, Kansas: There’s a very high bar to clear at Kansas. To become one of the Jayhawks' all-time greats — which coach Bill Self believes Mason is, and that his jersey will hang in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse — you have to be somewhat legendary. And Mason, an under-recruited kid who originally committed to Towson, has turned into just that over the course of a storied four-year career in Lawrence.

Perhaps most impressive: Just how consistently excellent Mason has been this year, as a senior, starting with a 30-point effort against Indiana and a buzzer-beater to beat Duke to open the year and 16 other games in which he scored at least 20 points. He’s averaged 20.5 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.2 apg this year.

From The Sporting News:

Mason’s consistency was staggering. He scored 20 points or more in 18 of Kansas’ 31 games, made at least 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in 17 games, passed for at least five assists in 19 games. He almost never had a bad night, which is the primary reason Kansas lost only three times. And let’s be honest about this: By the time the season’s final weeks arrived, Mason was no longer the Jayhawks’ obviously best player. Josh Jackson was dominant in that stretch. But Mason not only didn’t fight Jackson’s ascendance, he fueled it without ever losing a grip on what was making his own season extraordinary.

From NBC Sports:

Kansas isn’t as dominant as Kansas teams in the past have been. They’ve actually had some struggles this season, too often finding themselves trailing by double-figures in games they shouldn’t be trailing by double-figures. Ask people around that program, however, and what they’ll tell you is that Mason is probably the biggest reason why they were able to win some of the games that they won. He led the charge in the two biggest Kansas comebacks this season — coming from 14 points down in the final three minutes against West Virginia, or six points down in the final two minutes at Baylor — and was the guy who had the ball in his hands on the biggest possessions of a close game.

He was great in the biggest games of the year. He’s had his ‘Player of the Year Moments,’ whether it be the game-winning bucket against Duke, or the 21 points he had at Kentucky, or the 23 points and eight assists he had at Baylor. There are, without question, better NBA prospects in college basketball this season. But I don’t think there are any better college basketball players.

Stay tuned for more. This is likely just the beginning.

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 90, Oklahoma State 85

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets in for a lob dunk during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) gets in for a lob dunk during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 90-85 road win at Oklahoma State in the regular season finale in Stillwater, Okla.

Offense: A+

90 points, 55.7 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 76.5 percent from the free throw line (11 percentage points better than their season average), all in a hostile environment. The Kansas offense was terrific from start to finish and, perhaps most importantly, had an answer every time OSU made a run.

Defense: B

KU surrendered 85 points, but part of that was the product of Oklahoma State just flat-out playing. The Cowboy’s offense was nearly as good as Kansas’ but one of the biggest differences in the game was KU’s ability to string together stops. OSU shot 42.3 percent from the floor and made just 12 of a season-high 36 3-point attempts. Kansas also out-rebounded Oklahoma State, 42-30.

Frontcourt: A

Landen Lucas was rock solid, especially as a scoring threat in the post, and he even got help from Carlton Bragg Jr., in this one. Bragg finished with 11 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes and served as the perfect complement to Lucas, who finished with 10 points and 7 boards in 29 minutes.

Backcourt: A

Mason, Graham and Jackson all had big nights and Lagerald Vick’s only blemish on a 9-point, 8-rebound night was his three turnovers. Still, KU’s guards carried the day, all with another sub-par performance from struggling junior Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 3 points on two shots, four fouls and one turnover in 12 minutes.

Bench: B+

If KU gets the rest of the way what it got from Bragg and Vick in this one, the Jayhawks will be tough to beat. Both came off the bench and provided energy, production and a little spark in helping KU holding off the Cowboys.

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Frank Mason III gaining serious support for national player of the year honors

Kansas guard Frank Mason III

Kansas guard Frank Mason III by Nick Krug

The official announcements are still a couple of weeks away, but Kansas senior Frank Mason III is already starting to garner some pretty impressive support for national player of the year honors.

As KU coach Bill Self mentioned recently, there are a handful of different player of the year honors handed out each season, from the most popular Naismith and Wooden Awards down to the similar honors handed out by organizations like ESPN, CBS Sports and others in between.

While it seems incredibly likely that Mason will walk away with at least one of those — given his strong season and the lack of a run-away choice on any other team — it certainly does not hurt Mason’s chances for winning several of them to get the kind of support he got this week.

College basketball guru/ambassador/broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter to reveal Mason as his choice for player of the year on Thursday.

None by Dick Vitale

And, earlier in the day, ESPN.com ran the results of its player poll, in which the 20 players named on the Wooden Award's list of semifinalists were asked to vote for player of the year. Players were not allowed to vote for themselves, only 18 responded and Mason led the way with seven votes, by far the most of anyone on the list.

These kinds of things certainly don’t guarantee anything for Mason when it comes to actually winning the awards. But they do shape public opinion and they do influence voters.

Let’s say there are a few voters out there who can’t decide between Mason and Villanova’s Josh Hart or others who are star-struck by the name Lonzo Ball.

Seeing a guy like Vitale pick Mason or reading that the players who actually play the game also favor Mason can help change or make up their minds for them.

Beyond that, a small percentage of several of these awards are based on fan voting, and it’s easy to see a scenario in which people who haven’t followed individual players that closely this season go cast their vote for Mason simply because Vitale sang his praises.

Time will tell how all of this shakes out. And, again, Mason seems destined to win at least one or two of the national player of the year honors.

For my money, though, I think Mason should win them all. He checks all of the boxes — great stats, great character, team leader, clutch and signature moments and shots, top player on the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, etc. — and has had a terrific season from start to finish with very few off nights.

Mason enters the regular season finale — 5 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma State — averaging 20.3 points per game, 4.9 assists per game and 4.0 rebounds per game. He also ranks second on the team in steals (41), is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range (67-for-134) and has played a team-high 36.1 minutes per game.

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2 through 4 seeds up for grabs in Big 12; and why Kansas should care

The Kansas Jayhawks sing the Alma Mater prior to tipoff against Oklahoma.

The Kansas Jayhawks sing the Alma Mater prior to tipoff against Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Monday night, at around the same time that the Kansas men’s basketball team was battling back from the dead against last-place Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor were battling in a Big 12 basketball game in Waco, Texas.

Three weeks ago, that game looked like it might mean a whole heck of a lot in the race for the Big 12 title. But Kansas, as it always seems to do, slapped a Heisman-trophy-style stiff arm on the rest of the competition, ran away with a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and rendered that game nearly meaningless.

Meaningless to the very top of the league standings, that is.

By pulling out the victory, the Bears kept alive their hopes of securing the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (I know; I can’t believe it’s here either!)

Iowa State, at 12-5 in Big 12 play, currently holds that distinction, with Baylor and West Virginia tied at 11-6 right behind them.

The Cyclones play at West Virginia this weekend in the regular season finale for both teams while Baylor closes Big 12 play at last-place Texas.

So now I’m guessing we’ve reached the point where most of you are wondering why the heck you’re reading this and what the heck it has to do with Kansas.

The answer? Nothing immediately. But if you’re into looking ahead at all, the musical chairs played by these three teams could have a big time impact on the Jayhawks a week from now.

As the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tourney, Kansas, as you all know, will play the winner of Wednesday’s 8-9 game at 1:30 p.m. next Thursday in the Big 12 quarterfinals at Sprint Center.

A win there puts KU into the semifinals, where they could — or could not — face the No. 4 seed and that’s why this is all at least mildly interesting to Kansas fans.

Right now, Iowa State would be the 2, Baylor the 3 and West Virginia the 4. At least in my mind, that seems like it would be the absolute worst order for the Jayhawks, given that the Mountaineers beat KU by double digits in Morgantown and controlled Kansas for 37 minutes of the 45-minute overtime thriller in Lawrence a couple of weeks ago.

The thinking there goes like this: If you’re going to have to play the Mountaineers again, you’d probably prefer for it to be in the Big 12 title game.

There is an easy way to fix that. Have WVU beat Iowa State this weekend. Let’s say that happens — on West Virginia’s Senior Day, no less — and let’s say Baylor beats Texas, which also seems logical and likely.

That would leave all three teams with 12-6 records and in a three-way tie behind Kansas.

According to the Big 12’s web site, ties involving more than two teams are broken for seeding purposes by taking the teams that are tied and looking back at their head-to-head games as a mini-round-robin tournament. The team with the best winning percentage in that exercise wins the seed up for grabs.

In this case, should those three teams finished tied, West Virginia would get the 2 seed (3-1 in mini-round-robin exercise), Baylor would get the 3 (2-2) and Iowa State would be the 4 (1-3).

Again, this is just my opinion, but that outcome would be the best possible set up for Kansas. Even though the Cyclones were one of just three teams to beat KU all season — at home, no less — ISU’s lack of size poses a much better match-up and playing the Cyclones in the semis would prevent Kansas from an absolutely nasty two-games-in-two-days scenario of facing Baylor or West Virginia on Friday and the other in Saturday’s title game.

The folks at Oklahoma State, which, as the 5 seed, has an interest in all of this for its first-round match-up, put out this handy graphic which shows all of the different scenarios from the various possible outcomes of this weekend’s games.

Even though there’s no drama at the top of the conference standings, there’s still plenty to monitor on the final day of regular season play in the Big 12.

Tracking the seeding scenarios during the final weekend of Big 12 basketball.

Tracking the seeding scenarios during the final weekend of Big 12 basketball. by Matt Tait

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