Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-74 victory over Stanford on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
A low turnover total, terrific transition numbers and a great percentage from the floor and even better mark from three-point range. Easy A, approaching an A+.
Stanford shot 50 percent in the first half and big man Reid Travis had his way with the Jayhawks down low. KU’s defensive intensity went up tremendously in the second half, when Stanford shot just 34.6 percent from the floor.
Landen Lucas returned from injury and played with a good spark in the first half. But his struggles returned a little in the second half and Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike remained inconsistent. You know the final stat line for Stanford big man Travis (29 points, 9 rebounds, 19-of-22 at the FT line) will not sit well with KU coach Bill Self.
Devonte’ Graham was sensational, Frank Mason was right there with him and Josh Jackson did his thing, as well. Probably could copy and paste that sentence for every one of these the rest of the way. KU’s guards were red hot from three-point range in this one, as well.
Svi hit a couple of threes and Lucas did a nice job in the first half. Other than that, though, not a lot to write home about from the bench on a night when Dwight Coleby fouled out in just seven minutes.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 91-61 victory over Long Beach State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks hit 9 of their first 14 three-pointers and 14 of 26 for the night. Beyond that, KU was insanely good in transition and shared the ball so well. There were a couple of ill-advised shots and a few too many turnovers (19) but this was a solid A effort.
KU limited LBSU to 40 percent shooting, forced 15 turnovers and used those turnovers to create transition offense. But the 49ers scored a few buckets right at the rim and shot 42 percent from three-point range.
Udoka Azubuike played hard, played aggressive and played a lot. Carlton Bragg Jr. did not, picking up two fouls in the first 1:13 he was on the floor. Bragg came around in the second half and played much harder — not necessarily much smarter — and Dwight Coleby gave a few decent minutes, as well, on a night when Landen Lucas did not play.
Throwing star of the game Lagerald Vick into the backcourt mix certainly did nothing to hurt the Jayhawks in this one. Vick was great from minute one and Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, who combined for 20 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds in 28 & 29 minutes apiece, did everything they could to keep his flow going.
Svi knocked down a few jumpers and Bragg played a strong second half. Other than that, the bench did not provide much to write home about.
Welcome to the first edition of our This Week in the Big 12 blog, a short and sweet conference notebook of sorts that keeps tabs and catches you up on what’s going on with the teams that KU will play 18 games against to close the 2016-17 regular season.
We’re not going to go into great depth here nor is this going to be overly analytical. That may change when Big 12 play gets rolling, but, for now, we’ll keep this merely to observations and interesting happenings from around the Big 12 Conference.
Although this seems like it’s going to be a down year for the Big 12, there are still plenty of intriguing teams and interesting talents that make the conference worth keeping up with. Besides, you never know when a team or player is going to explode out of nowhere and become a true challenger to KU’s streak of 12 straight Big 12 titles.
Speaking of becoming a challenger, let’s get to right to it...
• Don’t look now, but Kansas has company in the Top 10 of this week’s AP Poll. Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears, which have raced out to a 6-0 start, checked in at No. 9 this week and even received one first-place vote.
The reason? The Bears made it through a murderer’s row type of week, knocking off No. 24 Michigan State by 15 one day and then topping No. 10 Louisville, 66-63, one day later to claim the Battle for Atlantis title. That, after already owning a victory over then-No. 4 Oregon earlier in the season.
Baylor did not receive a single vote in either the AP or preseason coaches’ poll before the year began. But the Bears are getting plenty of love now.
Baylor plays No. 7 Xavier on Dec. 3, but if it can navigate that game, the Bears stand a great chance to take an unbeaten record into Big 12 play. Their strong start has been due mostly to the big time play of Jonathan Motley and a better-than-expected defense.
• Speaking of defense, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad lived up to its “Press Virginia” nickname on Monday name by forcing a school-record 40 turnovers in a win over Manhattan.
The Mountaineers, who have been playing this specific frantic style for the past three seasons now, turned opponents over 28 percent of the time in Year 1, 25 percent of the time last season and are sitting at a whopping 35 percent of the time this season. That’s hard to even comprehend.
So let’s say you’ve got a game where each team has 80 possessions. The Mountaineers are either taking the ball from you or forcing you to cough it up on 28 of those possessions. And that’s on average. Incredible stuff and a clear sign that the Mountaineers, currently sitting at 4-1 and ranked No. 25, will be a legitimate challenger in the Big 12 this season.
My favorite part about WVU’s 40-turnover night? That had to be Huggins’ response. “I thought we did a pretty good job,” he said.
• The only other Big 12 team currently ranked is No. 19 Iowa State, whose only blemish in a 5-1 start was a tough and dramatic loss to No. 11 Gonzaga in the final of the Advocare Invitational in Atlanta, 73-71.
Outside of that game, the Cyclones have not truly been tested and have been a bit of a mixed bag so far this season. They knocked out Miami, Florida, by 17 but also barely squeaked by Indiana State by two in the Advocare semis. Beyond that, ISU has had games where they’ve scored big — 130 and 113 are their season-highs — and games where they’ve been stuck in the 70s.
So clearly, Year 2 of the Steve Prohm takeover is still a work in progress, but give the ’Clones credit for using their veteran backcourt to get out to a great start.
• I didn’t think it was possible for a building to seem more lifeless and empty than the Sprint Center when UAB played George Washington last week before KU’s match-up with Georgia. But then I saw highlights from the K-State-Boston College game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and realized I was wrong.
That place was empty, but that didn’t bother the Wildcats, who rolled to a 72-54 victory.
That’s something the Wildcats have done more than a little of so far this season. The Wildcats’ five victories so far this season have come by an average of 20 points and KSU might very well still be undefeated itself if not for allowing a layup to Maryland’s Melo Trimble with 6.6 seconds to play in the championship game of the Barclays Classic.
• It’s still early, but nobody in the Big 12 has gotten off to a disastrous start. The conference, as a whole, opened the day with a 49-9 record and featured two unbeatens (Baylor and TCU are both 6-0) and just one team with two losses — Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.
With the big fella slated to start his second consecutive game for the 5-1 Kansas men's basketball team, KU coach Bill Self has been fielding an increased number of questions about 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike during the past week or so.
But few questions have resulted in better answers than the one Self gave Monday when he was asked if Azubuike reminded him of anyone from the past.
“Shaq in the movie Blue Chips would be the only one," joked Self, with laughter filled the room around him. "You know, just dunk it. And if you go back and watch it, there’s a lot of similarities. But that would be the only thing that (Azubuike) reminds me of.”
That character from the 1994 movie starring Nick Nolte was named Neon Boudeaux. And like Azubuike, whenever Neon got anywhere near the rim, he rose up and tried to bring it down.
It was a bit hokey in terms of sports movie standards, but left nothing to the imagination about the impact of a player of Neon Boudeaux's caliber, which Shaq, of course, delivered on the NBA stage for the better part of nearly 20 NBA seasons.
Azubuike, of course, is just getting his career started. Still incredibly young (17) and raw, the Nigerian already has reached the point in his KU career where his improvement comes in bunches and shows up big time on the big stage. That's not to say he has moved past the point where he can make silly mistakes or forget an assignment here or there. But whether you're talking about conditioning, knowledge of the game or execution on the floor Azubuike is growing fast and Self continues to marvel at some of the things he can do.
“His skillset isn’t one that’s gonna leave you going crazy," Self said. "But what is unbelievable is how quick he is off his feet and how long he is and how big he is and how well he moves.”
Asked what Azubuike's ceiling could be during his time at Kansas, Self had no problem pencilling him in between two very concrete categories.
“He’s not Joel (Embiid)," said Self, almost offended that anyone might even consider thinking that. "Not close. But he does have a chance to be as good as any big man we’ve had here that I’ve coached other than Joel.”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 95-57 victory over UNC Asheville at Allen Fieldhouse on Friday, Nov. 25.
The Jayhawks were fast, efficient and relentless on offense, with four players finishing in double figures, including both first-time starters Lagerald Vick (15) and Udoka Azubuike (17). Frank Mason continued his torrid start by leading all scorers with 21 points.
The Jayhawks limited Asheville to 36 percent shooting and destroyed the Bulldogs on the boards, 49-23. The minus comes for forcing just 8 turnovers.
Coming off the bench, Bragg and Lucas did a better job of going after the ball on the glass, finishing with nine combined rebounds. Add that to the monster night turned in by Azubuike and the KU frontcourt finally gets a passing grade.
Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson did what they tend to do and Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk contributed, as well, for this deep and talented KU backcourt.
Normally, big nights from Azubuike and Vick would mean good things for the KU bench, but with those two starting, that made the bench look a little different. Lucas, Bragg and Svi were good at times but also had their share of bonehead moments.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 65-54 victory over Georgia in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on Tuesday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
At this point, this team’s offense is coming from its four guards, so if you’re grading on that kind of a scale and not expecting much from the KU big men, you can’t give the offense anything other than an A. We'll throw in the minus for the poor contributions from KU's frontcourt and Svi's off night shooting the ball.
Foul trouble forced KU to try a 2-3 zone for much of the night and Georgia’s cold shooting allowed the Jayhawks to stay in it. It’s not the defense of choice for anyone in crimson and blue, but the fact that they don’t like it and don’t practice or play it often is reason enough to give it a solid grade considering how well it worked.
To give the KU frontcourt an F would be a discredit to junior Dwight Coleby, who got the most out of his body and his minutes and, according to Self, “bailed out” KU’s bigs. So give Coleby a solid B or B+ and give the rest of the bunch an F. That equals a D on the final grade sheet.
Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson were more than just all-tournament team selections. They were awesome. They play so fast, so hard and so well together.
Lagerald Vick played with great effort, gave some good minutes and finished with solid numbers (9 points and 8 rebounds) and Coleby came in and played well beyond what anyone would’ve expected from him. Svi (1-of-7 from the floor in 23 minutes) and Udoka Azubuike (next to nothing in five minutes), left more than a little to be desired.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Georgia
- Perimeter-oriented attack carries KU past Georgia
- Keegan: Mason outplays height once again
- Notebook: Coleby steps up to contribute inside
- Report Card: KU 65, UGA 54
- Coleby surprises father with nice gift — playing time
- Keegan Ratings: Mason delivers another big night
Well, that was a first.
After setting the college basketball world on fire during the first couple of weeks of the season with big time performance after big time performance, Kansas senior Frank Mason III finally surrendered his spot as the Jayhawks’ top scorer, giving way to freshman Josh Jackson, who led everyone with 22 points in KU’s 83-63 win over UAB at Sprint Center in the CBE Classic.
Surpassing Mason wasn’t easy, though.
The 6-foot-8 freshman needed every one of his monster dunks and timely free throws to outscor his senior teammate, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three-point range.
Mason, who entered Monday’s game averaging 23 points per night, led Kansas with 30 points vs. Indiana, 21 points vs. Duke and 18 points in the home opener against Siena.
While his 20-point night against UAB certainly keeps him in line with those strong performances, it also prompted one media member to ask KU coach Bill Self about Mason’s role as more of an “unsung hero” on this Kansas team.
Self saw it differently.
“It’s really, really nice,” said Self said of having someone as steady as Mason running his team. “But I don’t think he’s an unsung hero. He was National Player of the Week, so I don't see him being unsung at all. I know he’s not in our mind. I know everybody in our room understands and appreciates his value.”
If there’s one area in which Self would like to limit Mason, it’s playing time. Although he loves having his tough-as-nails point guard on the floor as much as possible, Self also recognizes the importance of keeping him fresh and not wearing him down.
There’s more to it than that, though.
“I do think we need to limit his minutes,” Self admitted. “To let other guys play better, we’ve got to limit his and Devonte (Graham’s) minutes.”
Despite the Jayhawks winning by 20 points on Monday, Mason played 35 minutes against UAB and, as he always seems to do, took a couple of hard shots and hit the floor more than his share of times.
Late in the game, Mason tumbled to the ground and stayed down for a few minutes, grabbing his lower right leg before getting up and heading to the bench. Self said after the game that Mason was fine and did not need any kind of special treatment.
Although Mason has yet to play fewer than 35 minutes in a game this season, that clearly has not hurt his production.
As much as Self would like to rest Mason more, and as much as Mason might benefit from it, don’t expect it to happen all that often. The senior from Petersburg, Virginia, has been a workhorse for this team for three seasons and it’s hard to imagine him surrendering that role now during his final season of college basketball.
Mason and the Jayhawks will take on Georgia (3-1) at 9 p.m. tonight in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic championship game at Sprint Center.
• — For a preview of what to expect in tonight's match-up, join our Gameday Chat with Matt Tait to talk KU-Georgia. Submit questions early or join the live chat at 2 p.m. central time. — •
Because the Kansas men’s basketball program is a perennial title contender, claims the Big 12 crown like it’s a birth right every season and wins games at an alarmingly high rate, it has become easy for many backers of Kansas athletics to focus most, if not all, of their attention on the hoops program that brings more smiles than frowns.
Doing so takes time and, intentionally or otherwise, has allowed a good chunk of the fan base to overlook the goings on of other KU teams, even in sports as big as football, baseball and volleyball.
That’s kind of just the way it goes around here. And, because the football team has struggled so mightily during the past seven seasons, dismissing fall football and pining for basketball season to be a year-round passion hardly even gets a second thought from those who are doing it.
I’ve often wondered what it would take — outside of winning, of course — for the fan base to be more all-inclusive and, on Saturday, I may have found my answer.
Saturday was a monster day for Kansas athletics and more than a few people noticed. The Jayhawks knocked off Texas at Memorial Stadium in thrilling fashion, picking up the football program’s first win over UT since 1938.
A few hours earlier, KU’s volleyball team clinched the Big 12 title, adding yet another chapter to the awesome run by Ray Bechard’s squad during the past few seasons. And KU also enjoyed high-level success in cross country and swimming.
In short, there were no shortage of reasons to be proud to be a Jayhawk on Saturday and some of the most high-profile Jayhawks on the planet were happy to point that out.
One of them even included a cool hashtag that I hadn't seen before: #ISupportAllJayhawks
If these guys can show up and get behind the other programs at Kansas, you can’t help but wonder what kind of impact that could have on the rest of the Kansas fan base.
Can’t hurt, right?
It's rare that a coach can comment on a player as soon as he commits, but in the case of five-star forward Billy Preston, who announced Friday on ESPNU that he would play his college basketball at Kansas, that was exactly the way it went down.
The reason? Even though Preston revealed his decision on Friday, he actually had made up his mind much sooner.
Preston told Matt Scott, of TheShiver.com, that he knew Kansas was the place for him a week or 10 days ago. That allowed him to sign his official letter of intent in the early signing period, which ended Wednesday, even though he waited for the national television audience to announce his choice.
All of that allowed KU coach Bill Self to offer his thoughts about the No. 8 player in the 2017 Class according to Rivals.com. And it's clear that Self thinks the Jayhawks landed a good one.
"Obviously, we are very excited," Self said in a press release. "I don't think we've ever had the opportunity to coach a taller, more athletic, skill player than Billy. He has guard-type athletic ability and skills but, at 6-foot-10, he can be a force inside as well. We are thrilled to have Billy joining our basketball program."
Preston said his connection with Self and KU assistant Kurtis Townsend played a huge role in him picking the Jayhawks and Self said Townsend worked hard to land the Jayhawks' second commitment in the 2017 class.
"Coach Townsend was the point man and did a great job with Billy and his family," Self said. "I think what actually sold them was on his official visit he saw the interest level and the love our fans have for our players."
With senior big man Landen Lucas struggling so far this season, to the tune of 13 points, 8 rebounds and 9 fouls in just 49 minutes in KU’s first two games, the natural tendency of the KU fan base is to look to the bench to see who might be able to do better.
Add to that the fact that freshman center Udoka Azubuike was one of the top performers and a key part of KU’s Champions Classic win over No. 1 Duke on Tuesday night and the looks from the fans start to become less exploratory and more insistent.
Two games in to this 2016-17 season —and Azubuike’s college career — I already have heard all kinds of people ask if Azubuike should be starting in Lucas’ spot.
I don’t blame them for the inquiry. Azubuike has a ton of potential and his style of play is exciting. Beyond that, fans are gonna fan. But that’s why they’re fans and not head coaches making millions of dollars per year to run the program.
The man in charge of doing that, KU’s Bill Self, is not anywhere near ready to sit Lucas in favor of Azubuike and it’s because there’s so much more that goes into playing that spot — or any spot — for the Jayhawks than Azubuike even knows at this point.
Factors such as conditioning, IQ, experience and others all play into how much — and how quickly — Azubuike can have handle a bigger role on this team. Lucas is a pro in all of those areas and, as we saw last season, has a way of making things better for the other four players on the floor even if his numbers aren’t jumping off the page while he’s out there.
So the right move for fans wanting to see more of Azubuike is to pull for him to develop but not at the expense of Lucas’ minutes. Lucas will be fine. And Azubuike will get better. Perhaps quickly. But the whole thing is a process and one Self is just fine with thus far.
“No, probably not ahead,” said Self when asked if Azubuike’s early production had surprised him. “I don’t think he’s behind. He’s about what we thought. I think he’s improving so much so quickly and I think we thought that would happen so I’d say he’s right on schedule of what we thought he’d be.”
One thing that could change that is if he takes his performance against Duke — 6 points, 12 rebounds in 15 minutes — and uses that to springboard his development. I asked Self the other day if he thought playing that well against a team of that caliber could end up delivering 4 or 5 games worth of confidence and experience for the freshman big man and Self supported that thought.
“I think so,” he said. “I think he learned a lot. Conditioning’s important and he got tired. He’s worked his tail off conditioning, but he’s got another step he can take there. Offensively, all our bigs are too slow to catch, gather and go. They’re allowing small guys to basically become a defender on ’em. He’s gotta get better at that. As far as going after balls, he may have knocked some guys over to get ’em, but he went after some balls the other day that were pretty impressive.”