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Posts tagged with 2013-14 Season

The Day After: Elimination at the Big 12 tourney

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins loses the ball as he is fouled by Iowa State forward Georges Niang during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins loses the ball as he is fouled by Iowa State forward Georges Niang during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

Kansas University's hopes for a postseason Big 12 basketball title to go with the regular season hardware already resting in KU's trophy case came to an end Friday night in Kansas City, Mo., thanks to the hot-shooting Iowa State Cyclones, who snapped a five-game losing streak to KU, 94-83, at Sprint Center.

The loss, KU's third in its last six games, dropped the Jayhawks to 24-9 overall and puts the them in wait-and-see mode for the unveiling of this year's NCAA Tournament bracket, which will take place Sunday afternoon.

The guess here is that the Jayhawks' win over Oklahoma State on Thursday — along with what the rest of the country is doing or has done — was enough to keep KU on the 2 line. But there's definitely some uncertainty surrounding what they'll be seeded, where they'll be sent and what the match-ups for the do-or-die tournament will look like.

None of that matters today, though, so let's jump back into the game that was on Friday night.

Quick takeaway:

KU's defense was pretty poor for most of this one and it's now obvious what a huge difference having Joel Embiid in the lineup makes for Kansas. Having said that, the Cyclones are good. Real good. And the way they played on Friday — particularly the way they shot the ball (54 percent for the game, 68 percent in the second half, 58 percent from three-point range) — they would have knocked off most teams. KU played pretty well offensively, particularly in the wildly entertaining first half, and got back to doing what they do best — pushing the pace, playing tough and scoring in transition. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they didn't do nearly enough of that and their sub-par defensive effort made things way too easy for the Cyclones throughout the decisive second half.

Three reasons to smile:

1 – Andrew Wiggins shot 33 percent from the floor, made just one three-pointer, generally looked just a little bit off all night and still wound up with a line that included 22 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. When his shots didn't fall, Wiggins showed some frustration on his face, but it was good to see that the freshman didn't let an off shooting night prevent him from being a factor on the scoreboard for a team that needs him to be the man in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins pulls up for a shot against Iowa State forward Daniel Edozie during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins pulls up for a shot against Iowa State forward Daniel Edozie during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

2 – There were moments in this one when junior point guard Naadir Tharpe looked a little bit like Tyshawn Taylor. Let me explain. During KU's big run in the first half that turned a nine-point deficit into a 10-point lead, Tharpe pushed the tempo without hesitation and drove to the paint looking to make a play. Such moves had a higher percentage of success when Taylor did them because he had the size and skill to rise above (or around) people and finish at the rim. While Tharpe is a little challenged in that department, he seemed to figure out that good things can happen when he attacks the paint and at least puts the ball up above the rim. On a couple of occasions, teammates scooped up the rebound as Tharpe forced the defense to collapse on him and it led to easy buckets for KU. KU coach Bill Self used to talk all the time about how sometimes Taylor's ability to put shots up on the glass — even if he often missed — was considered good offense. Tharpe's shot has disappeared of late, but maybe this method can help him get back into a rhythm.

3 – No team in the currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 has more losses than Kansas, yet the Jayhawks enter Selection Sunday very much alive for a No. 2 seed. According to ESPN's Bracketology, the four other teams in the Top 25 that have nine losses like the Jayhawks are projected to be seeded 4th (North Carolina), 5th (Oklahoma), 8th (Memphis) and 10th (SMU). That's a credit to the Big 12 Conference and the tough schedule the Jayhawks have played this season and it could be enough to position this team to survive into the second weekend of the tournament, where they may get Embiid back from injury.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis works his way to the bucket against Iowa State forward Georges Niang during the second half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis works his way to the bucket against Iowa State forward Georges Niang during the second half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

Three reasons to sigh:

1 – The 94 points surrendered to the Cyclones were the most in regulation by a Bill Self team at Kansas, and they came less than a week after Self's team gave up 92 in a road loss to West Virginia. To say the Jayhawks are struggling defensively without Embiid would be putting it mildly. As is the case with a jump shooter or a scorer, playing defense requires confidence and the Jayhawks don't appear to have much of that on the defensive end without Embiid in the lineup. That's not to say they didn't have their moments. There were plenty. But a consistently strong and stingy defensive effort is something this team is missing right now and that goes as much for allowing easy buckets at the rim as it does giving up open jumpers on the perimeter. Yeah, the Cyclones were red-hot from downtown, hitting 11 of their first 16 three-point attempts, but many of them were open looks.

Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim pulls up for a shot over Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim pulls up for a shot over Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins during the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

2 – The Jayhawks hit 81 percent of their free throws (21-of-26) so it's hard to say their misses were something to sigh about. But a few of them were pretty big. Wiggins, Ellis and Tharpe all missed their first free throw during a stretch in which KU went to the free-throw line three out of five possessions and that left as many as four points out there that KU could have had. When a team is trailing by six-to-nine points for an extended stretch of the second half, those easy points could have been the difference between making this one close and keeping ISU comfortably in front.

3 – Naadir Tharpe's shot has gone M.I.A. At times this season, the junior point guard was one of the better scoring options and one of the top shooters on the team. He hasn't been lately and that continued on Friday when he missed all three shots he attempted and didn't look real confident stepping into any of them outside of the opening shot of the game. Tharpe's nine assists, two turnovers and 5-of-6 free-throw-shooting performance were all positives. But this team needs him to find his stroke again in a hurry so that guys don't have to go for 30 or more points every night to give KU a chance.

One thought for the road:

KU's semifinal loss to Iowa State on Friday night:

• Moved KU to 24-9 on the season.

• Changed KU’s record to 10-6 in Big 12 Championship semifinals and 18-16 in all-time conference tourney semifinals.

• Made KU to 66-25 in league tournament play and 36-9 at the Big 12 Championship.

• Dropped Kansas to 10-8 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 5-2 on neutral floors).

• Ended the Jayhawks’ win streak at five-straight against the Cyclones and made the Kansas-Iowa State series to 175-60 in favor of Kansas.

• Made the Jayhawks record to 23-5 all-time at Sprint Center, including 2-1 this season.

• The loss was KU’s first in Sprint Center since falling to Baylor 81-72 in the Big 12 Championship Semifinals on March 9, 2012 – ending a 10-game KU win streak in the venue.

• Changed head coach Bill Self’s record to 21-4 all-time against Iowa State, 324-68 while at Kansas and 531-173 overall. Self is also 31-10 in conference tournament play (22-5 at Kansas).

• Moved Kansas to 2,125-821 all-time.

Next up:

The Jayhawks now will await their fate in the NCAA Tournament and will open play next Thursday or Friday in the second round. KU will find out where it's headed on Sunday and, if their destination for the first two rounds is St. Louis, as expected, they'll open NCAA Tournament play on Friday.

Frustrated, Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins turns back toward an official wanting a foul called during a break along side teammate Wayne Selden in the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Frustrated, Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins turns back toward an official wanting a foul called during a break along side teammate Wayne Selden in the first half on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

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The Day After: OT with Oklahoma State

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins takes off with a steal from Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy during the first half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins takes off with a steal from Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy during the first half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

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.

Quick takeaway:

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.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins drives against Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart during the second half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins drives against Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart during the second half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas forward Tarik Black heads to the bucket under Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy during the first half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas forward Tarik Black heads to the bucket under Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy during the first half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas defenders Tarik Black, left, and Jamari Traylor defend against a final shot from Oklahoma State forward Le'Bryan Nash during overtime on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas defenders Tarik Black, left, and Jamari Traylor defend against a final shot from Oklahoma State forward Le'Bryan Nash during overtime on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

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.

Next up:

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.

The Kansas bench reacts to a lob dunk by Andrew Wiggins over several Oklahoma State players late in the second half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Kansas bench reacts to a lob dunk by Andrew Wiggins over several Oklahoma State players late in the second half on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

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Breaking down the Big 12 Tournament, game by game…

Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., site of this weekend's Big 12 Tournament.

Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., site of this weekend's Big 12 Tournament. by Matt Tait

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.

WEDNESDAY

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY

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

SATURDAY

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

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Embiid absence a big blow for KU basketball, but not all hope is lost

Joel Embiid, KU freshman center. Photographed during KU's men's basketball media day Wed. Sept. 25, 2013.

Joel Embiid, KU freshman center. Photographed during KU's men's basketball media day Wed. Sept. 25, 2013. by Mike Yoder

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.

Kansas center Joel Embiid fires off a couple of "pistols" in celebration after finishing a bucket after a TCU foul during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas center Joel Embiid fires off a couple of "pistols" in celebration after finishing a bucket after a TCU foul during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas center Joel Embiid rejects a shot by Texas center Cameron Ridley during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Joel Embiid rejects a shot by Texas center Cameron Ridley during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

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The Day After: Morgantown Madness

Kansas forward Tarik Black throws out his arms as the Jayhawks try to regroup in a huddle during a run by West Virginia in the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas forward Tarik Black throws out his arms as the Jayhawks try to regroup in a huddle during a run by West Virginia in the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

They're right.

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.

Quick takeaway:

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.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins elevates for a dunk over West Virginia guard Eron Harris during the first half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins elevates for a dunk over West Virginia guard Eron Harris during the first half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor and West Virginia forward Brandon Watkins get tangled as they battle for a rebound during the first half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor and West Virginia forward Brandon Watkins get tangled as they battle for a rebound during the first half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas players Andrew Wiggins, left, Jamari Traylor and Tarik Black, go for a putback bucket over West Virginia forward Kevin Noreen during the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas players Andrew Wiggins, left, Jamari Traylor and Tarik Black, go for a putback bucket over West Virginia forward Kevin Noreen during the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas players Naadir Tharpe, left, Conner Frankamp, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black react to a foul called against the Jayhawks in the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas players Naadir Tharpe, left, Conner Frankamp, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black react to a foul called against the Jayhawks in the second half on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

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.

Next up:

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).

The 2014 Big 12 men's basketball tournament bracket.

The 2014 Big 12 men's basketball tournament bracket. by Matt Tait

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The Day After: Texas Tech

Kansas head coach Bill Self addresses the fieldhouse next to the program's ten consecutive conference titles following the Jayhawks' 82-57 win over Texas Tech.

Kansas head coach Bill Self addresses the fieldhouse next to the program's ten consecutive conference titles following the Jayhawks' 82-57 win over Texas Tech. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins, who most likely will enter the NBA Draft waves to the fieldhouse prior to the senior speeches on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins, who most likely will enter the NBA Draft waves to the fieldhouse prior to the senior speeches on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas forward Tarik Black hoists a shot over Texas Tech forward Alex Foster during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Tarik Black hoists a shot over Texas Tech forward Alex Foster during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Quick takeaway:

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.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe takes a swipe at a ball handled by Texas Tech guard Randy Onwuasor during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe takes a swipe at a ball handled by Texas Tech guard Randy Onwuasor during the first half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas senior guard Niko Roberts smiles as he delivers his senior speech on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas senior guard Niko Roberts smiles as he delivers his senior speech on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene comes in for a jam past Texas Tech forward Jaye Crockett during the second half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene comes in for a jam past Texas Tech forward Jaye Crockett during the second half on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Next up:

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.

Kansas seniors Justin Wesley, left, Tarik Black and Niko Roberts are applauded by the fieldhouse during a ceremony honoring them with their families prior to tipoff against Texas Tech on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas seniors Justin Wesley, left, Tarik Black and Niko Roberts are applauded by the fieldhouse during a ceremony honoring them with their families prior to tipoff against Texas Tech on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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Gambling site has KU as hypothetical 2-point favorite over Wichita State

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe huddles his teammates in the first half against Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe huddles his teammates in the first half against Iowa State on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

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

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The Day After: A sad Saturday at Oklahoma State

The Oklahoma State student section explodes behind Kansas center Joel Embiid following a bucket by the Cowboys late in the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State student section explodes behind Kansas center Joel Embiid following a bucket by the Cowboys late in the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

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.

Quick takeaway:

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:

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins tries to save a loose ball from going out-of-bounds over Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy during the first half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins tries to save a loose ball from going out-of-bounds over Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy during the first half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas player Joel Embiid, right, and Andrew Wiggins try to tie up Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown during the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas player Joel Embiid, right, and Andrew Wiggins try to tie up Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown during the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas forward Tarik Black tangles in the paint with Oklahoma State defenders Mason Cox, back right, and Marcus Smart during the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas forward Tarik Black tangles in the paint with Oklahoma State defenders Mason Cox, back right, and Marcus Smart during the second half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

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.

Next up:

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.

An Oklahoma State fan hoists a sign celebrating the Jayhawks' demise on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

An Oklahoma State fan hoists a sign celebrating the Jayhawks' demise on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

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Bill Self press conference notes: Dec. 20

Kansas University men's basketball coach Bill Self joined the media on Friday morning to preview KU's upcoming Georgetown game and the winter break.

Here's a blow-by-blow look at Self's comments:

Self says he expects Georgetown to play great on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse (11 a.m. tipoff). Their reputation speaks for itself and they have great tradition. They've added some nice pieces lately and it should be a big-time college basketball game.

Self on Georgetown big man Josh Smith, who transferred from UCLA: I just know he's big. And he's an unbelievable athlete for a man that size. It'll be a good challenge for anybody to go against a player like that, Joel Embiid or whoever.

Self said Andrew Wiggins has had a great week of practice, particularly on the defensive end. The New Mexico game was one of the least effective defensive games for Wiggins, according to Self. He wasn't bad, you're just used to his man never scoring and he was guarding a really good player (Kendall Williams). He's getting it and he's getting better every day.

Overall defensively, Self says there's been a lot of improvement made and he still thinks the team can get to the point where it is excellent defensively.

Self said he did not see a common thread in the games where Perry Ellis doesn't put up as big of numbers as he does in wins. He added, "I know we're a better team when he's playing aggressive and scoring the ball."

Self said team will all head home for winter break Saturday night. They'll reconvene on Dec. 26 and from that point to the first day of classes (mid-January), practice time is unlimited and KU will work on all aspects of the game extensively, film, fundamentals, philosophy, etc. Likely to practice twice a day during that stretch, 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. or something like that.

Self says over Christmas is the toughest time to be a student-athlete because if you're here working, no one else is... no friends, no girlfriends, no classes, no classmates, etc.

Self says "We've always gotten better over Christmas. Last year was the one year we didn't."

Self: Sure there's a role for Tarik Black. We're going to start Joel, but absolutely Tarik still has a role... and an important role.

Self said he thought Wayne Selden was the best newcomer KU had when they first started practicing. Since the Duke game he's been up and down. Big reason for that is his health hasn't been great. Nothing major, but this and that, here and there. Self says Selden is a guy who will really benefit from both the time off and the extra time in the gym.

There have been teams with bigger breaks between games at Allen Fieldhouse (Self challenged our own Gary Bedore to research it, and, yes, Gary did) but Self said outside of the icecapades or a rodeo, there's no reason to go this long without playing home games. Adds, "I'm excited to be back home."

Self says the Big 12 is a darn good league this season, top to bottom. Points out KU's large distance of strength of schedule, but adds that Baylor is No. 2 in the country. Loves seeing so many Big 12 teams in the Top 25 and says that will make it tough to keep the consecutive Big 12 titles streak alive.

Self says he thinks Naadir Tharpe has a great opportunity to keep that starting PG spot for the rest of the season. "We definitely need him to be the quarterback for us."

Self on Embiid: When you think about gifted, with hands and feet and size and all that, I don't think anything really surprises you. Still, you have those moments -- probably once a day -- where you say, "Did he really just do that?" He and Andrew Wiggins both have a lot of those moments.

Self says Embiid's moves are different every time... you can teach him a move but he always has a different way of getting there. Says he's not robotic and that's a good thing and tough for defenses to prepare for him and guard him.

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Bill Self press conference notes from Nov. 18

Bill Self's weekly press conference just wrapped.

Here's a quick look back at some of the highlights, as the Jayhawks prepare to take on Iona at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Full audio here

• Self: It's not too early to have an idea of what kind of team you are, but it's too early to know what you have.

• Self: We didn't play great early, but I did like how our guys responded on big stage against Duke. I'm excited. I'm not thrilled where we're at, but I do see a lot of potential. I think you can use Duke game as a barometer because there's no question that Duke will be a Top 5 team when it's all said and done.

• Self: If teams are gonna shoot 50% against us, we've got no chance. There's a lot we can do to improve that. We've been fortunate because we've been exposed, but we've also won."

• Self: We've had a good week of practice. Took Sunday off. Guys are more confident and comfortable because of how they played — and the win — against Duke.

• Self: Tharpe has taken Mason under his wing. Naadir is one of Frank's biggest fans. Just like Tarik Black has taken Joel Embiid under his wing a little bit, as well.

• Self: If you've got a guy who can beat a guy off the bounce, you're probably ahead. And I do think we have some guys who can beat guys off the bounce.

• Self on Iona: We haven't gone against zone yet, so this'll be the first time we play a team that's predominantly a zone team. And they play faster than anybody we've played so far. They're also small, so we'll have bigs guarding on the perimeter.

• Self on Perry Ellis: I thought he got a lot of confidence toward end of last season and he's been terrific so far. I do think he needed that Duke game because that was against big-time guys and a big-time team. Especially true of the Parker-Ellis match-up. Those were two really good players going against each other.

• Self: If a guy played good in that game the other day, they're automatically a draft pick. I get a kick out of that. We're two games in and there are 90 guys who are going in the first round and their are only 30 teams. And that number will go to 120.

• Self on D: I'd really like to guard the ball better and our interior post D was really lacking against Louisiana Monroe. I think the mindset of not relaxing during possessions will be something we can improve on.

• Self on missing Withey: We miss Jeff. Of course, if the rules were the way last year that they are this year, a lot of fouls would've been called before they got to Jeff and it would've taken away a lot of his block opportunities.

• Self on Black: He's pressing. I do think you'll see a more relaxed and comfortable Tarik Black on Tuesday vs. Iona.

• Self: There's no stress in dividing minutes because I'm happy with who I'm starting. If anything, it's a good kind of stress because at least we have options. Do we know what we're gonna do 1-8, 1-9? No. We don't. A lot will depend on how guys play and it'll kind of clear itself out along the way. This isn't anything that unusual. We do have more guys, though.

• Self on Cliff Alexander: Without a doubt he's one of the best big men we've signed. His ceiling is remarkably high. If I say he's a monster then that'll be the headline: "Alexander a monster" so I'll say that he plays much more aggressive that most 18 year olds. Self said he's been recruiting Alexander since 9th grade and can remember seeing him run for conditioning in the halls of his school during winter months because it was too cold to go outside.

• Self on recruiting: We're really happy, but we're still recruiting. We're off to a good start because we've got two of the Top 10 guys (Alexander and Kelly Oubre) and that's a pretty good start.

• Self on latest poll, where KU is ranked No. 2: If you guys don't tell the guys, they won't know. Unless people are blowing them up on Twitter. How'd we move ahead of Louisville? That doesn't make any sense to me. But I like it.

• Self's Wayman Tisdale memory: Played together one time, didn't know who he was in their first game together, Self had 26 and Tisdale had 2. He remembered thinking, "Yes, I'm going to start getting recruited," but after the game not one coach talked to Self and Tisdale had a line 26 guys long waiting to tell him great game. It was like a receiving line at a wedding reception. It was recently announced that Self will receive the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award at a banquet in April.

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