Posts tagged with Ku Basketball
Even playing without Joel Embiid, the rubber match in the season series with Oklahoma State went to Kansas, which knocked off the Cowboys 77-70 in overtime on Thursday at Sprint Center behind 30 points from Andrew Wiggins.
The victory moved KU into today's semifinals against Iowa State, another team eager to take another shot at the Jayhawks and pushed the Jayhawks to 24-8 overall.
While Wiggins was by far the best player in the gym, the Jayhawks got big-time contributions from several other players, including senior starter Tarik Black, who took Embiid's spot in the starting lineup and looked more like the guy who showed up on Senior Night and less like the guy who disappeared at West Virginia.
Freshman guard Wayne Selden also was sensational, scoring nine first-half points — 14 for the game — and playing tough defense on OSU's Marcus Smart throughout.
Whether you look at it from the perspective that games like Thursday's are the kinds of games teams face in the NCAA Tournament or the perspective that the Jayhawks gained some much-needed confidence and momentum playing without Joel Embiid, KU's most recent win against Oklahoma State was huge for the Jayhawks. Andrew Wiggins did exactly what he needs to do the rest of the way for the Jayhawks to have a shot and nearly everyone on the rest of the roster contributed something positive to the result. Beyond the two biggest gains mentioned above, the young Jayhawks also got a nice taste of what high-pressure, intense tournament action feels like, which can only help them in the coming weeks.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – You might have known it before, but we definitely know it now: Andrew Wiggins is, without question, not afraid of any moment. For the second game in a row, the freshman forward put the Jayhawks on his back and carried them to victory with an impressive scoring night. But more impressive than the points, the shots or the impact Wiggins had on the KU offense was the fact that time after time the young man took the ball in a crucial moment and attacked without hesitation. Sometimes that put him on the free throw line. Others it resulted in a nasty, step-back swish from the baseline with the game on the line. All were big moments. And Wiggins was at his best in each of them.
2 – It looks like there might be life after Joel Embiid. KU's big man rotation of Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas did a solid job throughout this one, pouring in 22 points and 30 rebounds while helping the Jayhawks outrebound the Cowboys, 46-30, and finishing with three blocks compared to zero for the entire OSU team. None of these guys can replace Embiid on the floor by himself. And even together it's a challenge because of the vast and versatile skill set Embiid has. But more nights like Thursday — particularly the way they avoided foul trouble — will go a long way toward making life without Embiid easier and maybe even play long enough to get him back this season.
3 – The Jayhawks turned it over 14 times and forced just five Oklahoma State turnovers yet still won. Imagine if the turnover margin had been a little closer to even. KU might have won this one by double digits. There's no question that the Jayhawks could stand to force a few more turnovers, but their defense was solid even though they didn't. OSU shot just 38 percent from the game and often operated away from the basket with the shot clock winding down. As for KU's turnovers, the best part about those was the fact that five of them came from the best player in the game, Andrew Wiggins. Outside of that, no one had more than two, including Naadir Tharpe, who had and off shooting night but dished seven assists against two turnovers. When the guy who leads your team in turnovers shoots 9-of-17 from the floor, 3-of-6 from three-point range, 9-of-10 from the free throw line and adds eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and a block, you tend to get over the five give-aways.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Naadir Tharpe's defense continues to be a concern. It's not that the guy isn't willing to play hard, just that he's struggling to keep guys in front of him. On Thursday, even Phil Forte, known primarily as an outside bomber, was able to put the ball on the floor and drive by Tharpe. It's hard to say exactly what's happening here, but Tharpe needs to take a step back and do whatever he has to do to keep guys in front of him. I know you don't want to give up room for clean looks from jump shooters but closing on them and getting a hand up is better than watching your big guys get in foul trouble behind you or, worse, giving up layups.
2 – Perry Ellis had moments on Thursday when he looked like the Perry Ellis of last year's Big 12 tournament. But in a game where 45 minutes per player was possible, Ellis barely played half of them. Foul trouble was a major reason for Ellis' limited minutes and he still contributed nine points on 4-of-7 shooting and eight rebounds in 28 minutes. Ellis needs to stay on the floor and engaged in the offense if for no other reason than to help take some of the burden off of Wiggins, who can put the team on his back and carry the scoring load but should not have to do it to the tune of 30 plus points every night.
3 – For the third time this season, the Jayhawks gave up a double-digit second-half lead to Oklahoma State. It only cost KU in one of the three games, as they held on for a two-point victory in Lawrence and outscored OSU 10-3 in overtime on Thursday. Sure, part of giving up those kinds of leads has to do with the Cowboys and how they play and how talented they are, but KU also made it way too easy at times, as well. That was particularly true of the stretch when the Jayhawks coughed up it twice in a 30-second span and watched OSU trim an eight-point lead to one in the snap of your fingers. It didn't cost them, but it definitely made things much more difficult and forced the Jayhawks to surrender control, which they had from the 11-minute mark of the first half to midway through the second half.
One thought for the road:
KU's quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State on Thursday:
• Improved KU to 24-8 on the season, giving the Jayhawks 24 victories for the eighth-straight season (starting in 2005-06).
• Upped KU’s record to 17-1 in Big 12 Championship first games.
• Advanced Kansas to the tourney semifinals for the 16th time in Big 12 history and 34th time overall.
• Improved KU to 66-24 in league tournament play and 36-8 at the Big 12 Championship.
• Made Kansas 10-7 this season in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Improved the Jayhawks to 1-1 in overtime games this season, making KU 62-55 all-time in overtime games.
• Moved the Kansas-Oklahoma State series to 109-55 in favor of Kansas.
• Pushed the Jayhawks record to 23-4 all-time at Sprint Center, including 2-0 this season and 10 in a row.
• Changed head coach Bill Self’s record to 13-9 all-time against his alma mater, 324-67 while at Kansas and 531-172 overall. Self is also 31-9 in conference tournament play (22-4 at Kansas).
• Moved Kansas to 2,125-820 all-time.
The Jayhawks will face Iowa State in today's Big 12 semifinals at 6 p.m. at Sprint Center. Iowa State knocked off Kansas State, 91-85, in Thursday's opening quarterfinal game.
It doesn't take one of the players or coaches involved in this year's Big 12 men's basketball tournament in Kansas City, Mo., to tell you just how wide open and difficult the event figures to be this year.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to hear from them either, and Kansas University coach Bill Self on Monday best summed up the task ahead in one sentence.
“I think we've always had very competitive Big 12 tournaments,” Self said when asked about the stacked nature of this year's bracket... “But I don't know if I can ever remember where if there's a final between (two lower seeds), it would be absolutely not a major surprise to anybody. When you look at our side, you've got a No. 1 (Kansas) playing No. 8 (Oklahoma State), and No. 8 was picked to win the league.”
In order to get the rubber match with Kansas, of course, Oklahoma State first will have to get past Texas Tech on Wednesday. If they do, the Cowboys and Jayhawks will tangle in the 1-8 match-up at 2 p.m. Thursday at Sprint Center.
Given the distance between the seeds of those two preseason favorites and the fact that a bunch of good teams fall in between there, it's conceivable to think that as many as eight teams head into this week thinking they have a legit shot to win the thing.
I see it more like four, with Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State (4) and then possibly Baylor (7) being the most likely teams to get hot and wind up on top.
Of course, Oklahoma (2), Texas (3) and Kansas State (5) also figure to be tough outs and West Virginia (6), which just rocked Kansas last weekend, has to like its chances on the better side of the bracket and with the edge of knowing it has to make a deep run to get into the NCAA Tournament.
With that in mind, here's my guess at what's in store for the entire week ahead, starting with today's 7-10, 8-9 match-ups all the way through Saturday's 8 p.m. championship tilt.
No. 9 Texas Tech vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State, 6 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. OSU lost by 4 at Texas Tech in the game in which Marcus Smart was thrown out and later suspended for shoving a fan. And the Cowboys won the rematch by 22 in Stillwater, Okla., in Smart's return from a three-game suspension.
Breakdown: It doesn't sound like many people give the Red Raiders a chance in this one, and that's understandable. Tech has some talent and athleticism and will scrap on defense, but Oklahoma State has too much offensively to go home early.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 81, Texas Tech 69
No. 10 TCU vs. No. 7 Baylor, 8:30 p.m.
Season series: Baylor 2-0. Bears rocked the Horned Frogs by a combined total of 59 points in two meetings this season.
Breakdown: The Horned Frogs have shown some heart at times this season but they've been overmatched every night and they're in desperate need of the chance to hit the reset button and to head into the offseason hoping for better things in the future.
Prediction: Baylor 88, TCU 63
No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 11:30 a.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. Wildcats lost by 6 in Ames in late January and won a grinder by 7 in Manhattan on March 1.
Breakdown: This might be the best match-up of the entire tournament, as these two teams played absolute gems in Ames and Manhattan and seem to match up so well against each other. Three-point shooting was key in both match-ups and the battle between Marcus Foster and DeAndre Kane is a pleasure to watch. The 'Cats haven't been great away from home this season and even though there figure to be a lot of KSU fans in Sprint Center for this one, Iowa State's fans always have traveled well for this event, too. Besides that, the early tip could neutralize some of the KSU crowd advantage. Melvin Ejim's the difference.
Prediction: Iowa State 76, Kansas State 71
No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Kansas, 2 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. KU won by two in Lawrence and had a 10-point lead with 11 minutes to play in Stillwater, but lost by 7 on OSU's home floor.
Breakdown: The blow of losing Joel Embiid for the next couple of weeks certainly stings, but I look for the Jayhawks, and the partisan Sprint Center crowd, to rally around each other, play crisp and focused basketball and knock off the Cowboys in a doozy. OSU beat KU with Embiid less than two weeks ago, so it they'll have plenty of confidence that they can do it without him. On the flip-side, KU will be looking to prove it can beat a quality opponent with or without their big man.
Prediction: Kansas 77, Oklahoma State 74
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 6 p.m.
Season series: Oklahoma 2-0. Bears lost by 2 at home and then by 16 in Norman, three weeks apart.
Breakdown: Since losing to OU for the second time this season on Feb. 8, Baylor has won seven of eight games and looked like a much better team than it did during the stretch of eight losses in 10 games that came before it. Not content to simply slide into the NCAA Tournament, the Bears are hungry to prove they're worthy and are also playing to improve their seed.
Prediction: Baylor 72, Oklahoma 67
No. 6 West Virginia vs. No. 3 Texas, 8:30 p.m.
Season series: Texas 2-0. Longhorns won by 11 in Morgantown in mid-January and by 15 in Austin in mid-February.
Breakdown: Confidence is a crazy thing and the Mountaineers, who seem to be the lone Big 12 team playing for their NCAA Tournament lives this weekend, have a ton of it after drubbing Kansas and seeing guard Juwan Staten earn first-team all-Big 12 honors last weekend. They'll play with a nothing-to-lose mentality and the Longhorns, who tend to get more fired up for the more traditional rivalries — Kansas, Oklahoma, etc. — will be caught sleeping.
Prediction: West Virginia 83, Texas 75
No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Kansas, 6 p.m.
Season series: Kansas 2-0. Jayhawks picked up a big, early conference victory in Ames in mid January and won by 11 at home two weeks later.
Breakdown: Getting past Oklahoma State on emotion is doable, but this is where the loss of Embiid will hurt the Jayhawks. In two wins against Iowa State this season, Embiid combined for 30 points, 20 rebounds and 6 blocks on 12-of-17 shooting. More impactful than the numbers he put up was the presence he provided. Iowa State has no answer for that kind of size, but with Embiid out, they'll be better prepared to attack the rim and kick out to their dangerous three-point shooters. Beating KU means a lot to the Cyclones and this could be their best shot to get it done.
Prediction: Iowa State 79, Kansas 74
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 6 West Virginia, 8:30 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. Each team won on the other's home floor, with Baylor winning by 13 in Morgantown in late February and WVU winning by two in Waco in late January.
Breakdown: West Virginia gets the edge in the backcourt, but the Bears have an advantage in the front-court in this one. Neither team is known for its defense, but the Bears' ability to play tough and disrupt things in the paint could be the difference here. In order for Baylor to make it this far, Cory Jefferson is going to have to have a huge tournament. He's one of the more underrated players in the league and I think his passion and power along with the hot shooting of gunner Brady Heslip (who likes the Sprint Center) could be enough to carry the Bears into the title game.
Prediction: Baylor 85, West Virginia 77
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 8 p.m.
Season series: Split 1-1. Iowa State won by 15 in early January in Ames and Baylor won the rematch by 13 in early March in Waco.
Breakdown: Playing four games in four days is no easy task and that's what the Bears will have to do if they reach the title game. Knowing that they've solidified their spot in the NCAA Tournament and running on fumes, the Bears get out-athleted in this one and simply cannot handle Iowa State point guard DeAndre Kane.
Prediction: Iowa State 84, Baylor 73
It's crazy to think that the next piece of significant news we get about Kansas University freshman Joel Embiid could come with him sitting at a table in the Allen Fieldhouse media room, a microphone in front of face and his decision about the NBA on the tip of his tongue.
That reality became true in a very harsh manner on Monday evening, when KU coach Bill Self revealed the results of Embiid's second-opinion visit with back specialists in California, news that indicated Embiid was out for the Big 12 tournament and likely would miss the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.
The 23-8 Jayhawks are not the same team without Embiid on the floor. Opponents aren't as intimidated to drive to the rim. Points in the paint aren't as easy to come by. Heck, even as corny as they may have looked at times, the Jayhawks even miss the moments when Embiid liked to fire his long-fingered guns after a particularly big or even strong bucket.
So, yeah, there's reason to worry about KU's postseason chances without their most valuable player because the Jayhawks are not the same team without him. That might even be putting it mildly. They're a different team altogether.
But they are still talented. Very. And they are still deep. Luxuriously. And they do still have Self. Confidently. So they do still have a chance.
Playing, no advancing, without Embiid is not a simple equation. It's not as easy as saying Tarik Black has to step in and perform well in Embiid's absence because in basketball terms, mathematical equations or any other form of measurement Black does not equal Embiid. But Kansas can.
Andrew Wiggins can — and should — play more like he did against West Virginia last Saturday. He doesn't have to score 41 points each night out as long as he's that aggressive and competitive and dominant. If he is, whatever offense Black and Jamari Traylor can give in Embiid's spot will be gravy.
Defensively, the Jayhawks could tinker with a zone defense or even press more. That seems to fuel Wiggins and likely would ensure that he plays with fire. It also would limit the number of times KU would have to sit down and guard in the half court, something that has been several levels below the Kansas standard throughout the season.
There's no way to sugar coat the loss of Embiid. It's a blow. A big one. And it turns Kansas from a team that would likely be one of the favorites to win it all into just another in a big pile of worthy contenders that have to play extremely well to make it to Dallas.
Good offense won't be enough anymore. Improved defense won't either. The Jayhawks have to be impressive on both ends without Embiid if they hope to see him suit up, well and rested, for what could be a couple of pretty important games down the stretch.
The talent is there, though. And it's the will of his teammates that will determine whether Embiid's stay-or-go press conference will be the next time we hear from him or if there are still a few finger pistols to fire before the season ends.
The Kansas University basketball team's latest game — a 92-86 loss at West Virginia on Saturday — seems to be a classic example of one that can be looked at completely differently by two very different groups of people.
The pessimists will say that the Jayhawks were awful, embarrassing and deserved to lose because they lacked energy, fire, passion and intelligence.
The optimists will say that the way the Jayhawks closed the game — particularly Andrew Wiggins — is what matters most because the team showed heart and nearly battled all the way back from 25 points down while playing without their best big man.
They're right, too.
So what do you do when you've got two groups of people standing in opposite corners who are both right while saying the opposite thing? Throw the game out and move on to the ones that really matter?
Sounds like as good a plan as any.
It was obvious where the Jayhawks came up short in this one and, frankly, if those same issues continue to plague them, this March probably won't be very memorable.
As ugly as Saturday's loss was at times, the whole experience has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Jayhawks were missing one of their top players (Joel Embiid) and were facing a desperate team that needed a signature victory to have even a prayer of making the tournament. Throw in the fact that it was the regular season finale on the road and Senior Night at WVU, and you're looking at a pretty basic recipe for an upset. That said, it has to be considered frustrating — if not something more severe — that, even with those things stacked against them, the Jayhawks did not come out with a more inspired effort until things got really bleak. KU's pride and heart showed up when it counted and the Jayhawks salvaged a day that, for a while, looked destined to become a total embarrassment and may actually be able to take something positive out of the way they closed the game. The loss likely ended KU's hopes of landing a 1 seed, but they should still be in good shape for a 2, which might wind up being the better road anyway. If Embiid can return and Wiggins can play with the kind of drive and aggression he showed against the Mountaineers, KU is very much still alive.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – I'm sure the votes were already in, given the fact that the winner of the Big 12's player of the year award will be announced a little later today, but those who voted for someone other than Andrew Wiggins probably were wishing they could have their vote back while watching this one. Wiggins was the only KU player who showed up from start to finish and his 41 points, 12 field goals, 15 free throws, 5 steals and 4 blocks all were career-highs. When he's locked in the way he was on Saturday, there's very little that anyone else can do about it. Had he gotten even just one other guy to give KU the same kind of effort from start to finish, the Jayhawks probably would've survived even while playing poorly. Embiid may be KU's most valuable player, but Wiggins is the team's best and he showed Saturday that he can be a guy who can almost single-handedly win a game for you. That's a good thing.
2 – Although Wiggins was the only one who showed up all day, there were a few other guys who deserve some credit for that late second-half comeback that nearly stole KU the victory. Frank Mason picked it up on the defensive end and hit a couple of big shots. Landon Lucas and Jamari Traylor had a couple of good moments, as well. And KU's overall team athleticism really created some havoc in scramble-mode. It might have been enough to make KU coach Bill Self think about employing some more of that into the game plan even when KU's not playing from way behind and desperate to avoid embarrassment.
3 – These are the types of games KU will face in the tournament. Good guards, no pressure on the underdog and a nothing-to-lose mentality can make life tough for any favorite. Given the fact that the Jayhawks are so young and many of these guys are going through that type of thing for the first time, getting a taste of it early might not have been the worst thing in the world. Now they know what it looks like, feels like, sounds like and tastes like. And, most importantly, now they know what can happen if they don't bring it from the jump. You can bet Self will use this as a big-time teaching tool and, as frustrated as I'm sure he was throughout Saturday's game, he'll swallow hard and find a way to use it without shredding his guys' confidence.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – What could have been a real confidence builder for KU's point guards became an absolute disaster. Naadir Tharpe played poorly and looked overmatched and intimidated and Frank Mason looked sloppy and careless until he final figured out a way to make a positive impact by tightening up his defense during that second-half surge. On a day and in a situation in which KU's leader should have played 30-plus minutes himself, Tharpe played just 16 scoreless minutes and watched Mason and Conner Frankamp take their turns while combining for 33 minutes. Frankamp, though off offensively, played his 15 minutes because he showed he was at least willing to try to defend. And Mason's athleticism and toughness earned his minutes. By now, everyone knows that Tharpe is such a critical part of this team. The good news for KU fans about his line — if you can believe there is one — is that Tharpe's a mentally tough dude, who will not let this define him. Only way he can prove that, though, is by bouncing back with a better effort on Thursday.
2 – KU's offense was bad throughout most of the game, but the Jayhawks defense was equally as poor when the game got away. That was especially true in the first half, when KU played passive defense, with little energy and gave up open jump shots, which WVU just kept knocking down (West Virginia shot 56 percent (9-of-16) from three-point land). When the Mountaineers didn't settle for jumpers, KU's big men gave up ground and allowed things to be way too easy inside for the West Virginia bigs. That's to say nothing of WVU's crazy first-half field goal percentage (63 percent & 53 percent for the game) or the fact that KU — guards and bigs — could not keep anyone in front of them on the perimeter all day.
3 – Body language was a big problem for the Jayhawks on Saturday. I know what you're thinking — how could it not have been? And that's a valid point. But it was about more than just shrugged shoulders or long faces. These guys actually looked uncomfortable in their own skin and nearly every one of them was affected by it. At times, particularly after missed free throws or easy attempts inside, it looked as if the player who misfired wanted to unleash the “gee, that's not fair,” phrase. I'm sure that's just part of their competitiveness and they were disgusted by the way they were playing, but there are plenty of competitors out there who respond to that by playing harder, not pouting. KU eventually got there, but it was too little too late.
One thought for the road:
KU's regular-season ending loss to the Mountaineers:
• Dropped KU to 23-8 on the season and 14-4 in Big 12 play.
• Gave West Virginia (1-3) and head coach Bob Huggins (1-7) their first wins against Kansas.
• Moved the Kansas-West Virginia series to 3-1 in favor of Kansas.
• Changed head coach Bill Self’s record to 3-1 all-time against West Virginia, 323-67 while at Kansas and 530-172 overall.
• Moved Kansas to 2,124-820 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,133 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,113), Duke (2,025) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks will get some much-needed time off to watch film, regroup and get ready for the win-or-go-home portion of their schedule. Kansas will open play in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., at 2 p.m. Thursday, when they face the winner of the Wednesday match-up between the No. 8 (Oklahoma State) and No. 9 seeds (Texas Tech).
A home game against an overmatched Texas Tech team proved to be just the tonic the Kansas University men's basketball team needed to get over its tough loss at Oklahoma State last weekend.
Behind a monster night from Tarik Black and the good vibes that always come with Senior Night in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks rolled the Red Raiders, 82-57, in a game that was never close after the 8-minute mark of the first half.
The victory gave Kansas an chance to celebrate its 10th straight regular season conference title with its home fans — a scene that included T-shirts, hats and all 10 Big 12 trophies being brought onto the floor after the game — and provided the perfect backdrop for the feel-good sendoff for seniors Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley, as well as freshman Andrew Wiggins and possibly freshmen Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden.
Embiid did not play because of a back injury, a move that appears to be in the Jayhawks' best interest, but his absence opened the door for Black to step up and assert himself as yet another KU offensive weapon.
If Embiid sitting out sparks a strong finish for Black, it could make a huge difference for the Jayhawks and their national title aspirations and the injury to the 7-foot center could go down as a blessing in disguise.
In a span of just 15 days, against the very same Texas Tech team, the Jayhawks showed the two sides of themselves that have fans and analysts alike scratching their heads over what this team's potential really is. The first, which came in a 64-63 victory at Tech on Feb. 18, had KU fans concerned about consistency, mental toughness and point guard play. The second, which came Wednesday without Embiid, made those same folks believe that this team has as good a shot as any to make a deep run and possibly win it all. The mere fact that things could be so different against the same team just two weeks later speaks to that consistency question, but one of the biggest differences in the two games was the play of junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, who had 6 points, 2 assists and 4 turnovers on 1-of-7 shooting in Lubbock and 16 points, 5 assists and 0 turnovers on 4-of-7 shooting (3-for-6 from three-point land). Like it or not, it's becoming abundantly clear that this team will go as far as Tharpe will lead them when the postseason arrives.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Speaking of Naadir Tharpe, the junior guard did two things in this one that made me believe he's ready to lead this team on a postseason run. The first was knock down his three-point shot. After struggling of late and misfiring on a couple of his first tries in this one, Tharpe knocked in three of his final four three-point shots and finished at 50 percent for the night. No matter who the Jayhawks play, that shot is going to be there and Tharpe is going to need to take it and make it. The other thing he did, which may be even more important, was show some pride in the way he played defense. After being torched by Robert Turner in Lubbock, Tharpe showed up with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove in this one and played with the kind of defensive intensity we've come to expect from a Bill Self point guard. The last time this happened was in the Texas game at home, when Tharpe responded to getting schooled by UT's Isaiah Taylor in Austin by shutting him down at Allen Fieldhouse. Sounds to me like his teammates need to start making up lies about opposing guards and their disrespect for Tharpe because when he plays with that kind of a chip on his shoulder his defense is noticeably better.
2 – A little credit also should go to KU's team defense in this one, as the Jayhawks held the Red Raiders to 20.8 percent shooting (5-of-24) in the first half, marking the second game in a row — and third time in four games — that KU's defense limited an opponent to first-half shooting in the 20-percent range (Texas shot 20.7 percent on Feb. 22 and Oklahoma State shot 24 percent last Saturday). Holding TTU to that 20.8-percent clip marked KU's second-best first-half performance of the season, just behind the 20.7-percent mark it forced from both UT (6-of-29) and Towson (6-of-29). What's most important to remember about this one was that it came without Embiid on the floor.
3 – Regardless of how you feel about the walk-ons and the whole Senior Night scene, you couldn't help but feel good for the KU seniors, particularly Niko Roberts, who started the first game of his career, held his own while he was out there and even scored while being showered with love from the KU fans. It's easy to forget about these guys because of how stacked the KU roster is year in and year out, but guys like Roberts show up to practice and work just as hard as the rest of them and they deserve a chance to feel the love. No place is better about dishing that love out than KU and Allen Fieldhouse.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Even if it is the best thing for him and the team, it has to make KU coaches, players and fans a little nervous seeing Joel Embiid in street clothes. Embiid's health is critical for this team and his presence on the floor gives KU something that no other team in the country has. Because of that, resting the injured back and making sure he's as close to 100 percent for the postseason makes the most sense. At the same time, though, you have to worry about rust and rhythm the longer he sits.
2 – Although the Jayhawks' four fast-break points in this one could be a reason to sigh, given how good the Jayhawks are in transition and how much they like to run, it also could be looked at as a reason to smile since it clearly shows that the Jayhawks did enough in the half-court to put up more than 80 points against a stingy defense. KU continues to average in that 8-12 range in fast-break points and while that number is good, this game proved that it's not imperative for KU to get out and run if it wants to have success. It does, however, make scoring easier for these guys, which never is a bad thing and eliminates some of the pressure of having to knock down outside shots.
3 – The Jayhawks were really pretty good in all areas in this one. They shot well, shared the ball (16 assists), limited turnovers (no player had more than two) and delivered good percentages from the floor (52), free-throw line (72) and three-point range (33). Because of that, looking for reasons to sigh was pretty tough. So for this last one, we'll go with the fact that senior Justin Wesley was scoreless in his last game at Allen Fieldhouse. Wesley played nine minutes and recorded a block but missed all three shots he attempted, including a pair of three-pointers, one of which rattled out and looked good the whole way. I'm sure Wesley did not care too much that he failed to crack the scoring column, but it would've been a nice way to go out.
One thought for the road:
KU's senior-night victory over Texas Tech:
• Improved KU to 23-7 on the season and gave Kansas at least 23 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and 29th time in the last 30 years dating back to 1984-85.
• Gave KU a 14-3 Big 12 and marked the sixth-straight season the Jayhawks have won 14 games in conference play.
• Closed out the home conference slate a perfect 9-0 in Big 12 games in Allen Fieldhouse, the sixth time in the Bill Self era that the Jayhawks completed an unblemished league slate.
• Marked Kansas’ 31st-straight home season finale, including 30-consecutive Senior Nights (the 2006-07 roster did not have a senior).
• Moved the Kansas-Texas Tech series to 27-4 in favor of Kansas, including 14-0 in Lawrence with all meetings in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Improved Kansas to 14-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 175-9 in the venue under Bill Self and 713-109 all-time in the arena.
• Improved Self to 14-6 all-time against Texas Tech. He advanced to 323-66 while at Kansas and 530-171 overall.
• Moved Kansas to 2,124-819 all-time.
The Jayhawks will close out the 2013-14 regular season at 11 a.m. Saturday in Morgantown, W. Va., where they will look to sweep the season series with the Mountaineers. KU clubbed Bob Huggins' squad 83-69 Feb. 8 in Lawrence, behind 19 points from Andrew Wiggins.
Now that Wichita State has completed the perfect regular season, it seems that people are starting to really wonder if the Shockers have what it takes to get back to the Final Four and threaten to become college basketball's first perfect team since Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana squad ran the table and finished 32-0.
There's still a long road ahead for WSU to reach that point — starting with this week's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis — but the signs are starting to point toward more and more people believing it's possible.
For starters, WSU is now considered a virtual lock to be one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Some folks still need to see WSU win the Valley tourney before they'll anoint them a top seed, but many already are convinced.
Consider ESPN analyst Jay Bilas' justification for ranking WSU 2nd in his latest Bilas Index, which singles out the country's top 68 teams:
“This team is one of four in the nation ranked in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Eight of the past 10 NCAA tournament champs have also had that distinction. This is a good team. Period.”
Beyond Bilas' belief in them, the Shockers (31-0) are ranked No. 2 in both major polls, sit 7th in the RPI standings despite a strength of schedule in the triple digits (110), are 4th in the BPI rankings, which takes into account factors such as scoring margin, blowouts and game sites, and 6th in analyst Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which lean heavily on advanced statistics to determine the top teams.
In short, it seems that Wichita State's impressive regular season run has made a believer out of nearly everyone and the only thing left for the Shockers to do is to prove that they're worthy of that in the pressure-packed win-or-go-home atmospheres that await.
With that in mind, and because the strength of their opponents has left many to question how they would match up against the nation's top teams, it seems like everyone wants to speculate on how WSU would fare against the big boys. No place is that more true than in Kansas, where the topic of whether KU and WSU would ever wind up on each other's schedule has gained serious steam throughout the season.
Earlier today, I received an email from the folks at www.bovada.lv, which provided the gambling web site's current odds to win it all and an interesting look at a few imaginary lines if the Shockers were to face 12 of the top teams in the country.
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks (22-7), who still are in the running for a No. 1 seed themselves, are currently the second favorite to win the national championship at 8/1. KU is tied with Arizona (8/1) and behind only Florida (5/1) while staying just ahead of Wichita State (9/1), Duke (10/1), Syracuse (10/1), Michigan State (12/1), Louisville (14/1) and Virginia (14/1) as the top favorites.
As for how Bovada sees a potential match-up between Kansas and Wichita State, — which, most likely, would only happen in the Elite Eight, Final Four or national championship game (wouldn't that be something!) at the earliest — the Jayhawks are listed as a hypothetical two-point favorite.
Here's a quick look at the rest of Bovada's hypothetical Wichita State lines, in which the Shockers are underdogs against six teams, even money against two others and favored against the other four.
Interesting stuff. Here's hoping we get to see at least a couple of the match-ups play out later this month.
HYPOTHETICAL WICHITA STATE LINES (from Bovada.lv)
Wichita State +4 vs. Arizona
Wichita State +4 vs. Florida
Wichita State +3.5 vs. Virginia
Wichita State +3 vs. Duke
Wichita State +2 vs. Kansas
Wichita State +1.5 vs. Wisconsin
Wichita State pk vs. Louisville
Wichita State pk vs. Creighton
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Villanova
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Syracuse
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Michigan
Wichita State -3.5 vs. Cincinnati
It's hard to imagine that the day after this one was anything but somber for the Kansas University basketball team, which clinched the outright Big 12 title thanks to losses by Texas and Iowa State, lost at Oklahoma State after holding a 10-point lead midway through the second half.
No celebration. No elation. Just disappointment over a loss that should have never been, one that featured 22 turnovers, ugly point guard play and an inability to make plays down the stretch.
Of course, to put it all on KU would be unfair to Oklahoma State, which played hungry and desperate and got excellent contributions from Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and especially Marcus Smart, who poured in 20 points in the second half.
The loss dropped Kansas to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in the Big 12. But with a three-game lead over four teams and just two regular season conference games to play, the conference title is KU's outright, even if it didn't quite feel like it on Saturday night.
As poorly as KU played at times in Stillwater, and as much as it probably stung to give up a 10-point lead the Jayhawks worked hard to build, the latest outcome was not a total disaster. Oklahoma State has talent — a lot of it — and had a lot to play for, its postseason life and one more show for the home fans at the top of the list. Beyond that, the Jayhawks' bottom line didn't really change after this loss. They're still on pace to be a top seed in the big dance — a 2 or even a 1 still seem most likely — and they are the top seed in the upcoming Big 12 tourney, which will follow games at home against Texas Tech and at West Virginia. Don't get me wrong, if KU plays, and especially closes games, the way it did on Saturday, a deep postseason run will be in jeopardy. That's the bigger question at this point, but given the way these guys have performed all year, a bounce-back seems more likely than a collapse.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Andrew Wiggins had an off night shooting the ball from the outside and couldn't get much to fall in close either, but he competed his butt off especially on the glass. The one scrum midway through the second half where KU came away with three loose balls or rebounds in the paints and Oklahoma State kept turning them away was a perfect indication of just how hard both teams played and wanted this one. Wiggins wound up at the free throw line and pushed KU's lead to 52-42. Things slowly went downhill from there, though.
2 – KU's first-half defense was pretty fantastic. And tough. Oklahoma State made just six field goals during the game's first 20 minutes and had just one player with more than one bucket at the break. What's more, the lockdown defense came when KU really needed it. Behind three early buckets from Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State had jumped out to a 14-7 lead and, with KU's offense struggling, was in position to create some serious distance between the home team and the visitors on the scoreboard. But the Jayhawks locked in — especially on sharp-shooter Phil Forte who was 1-of-4 in the first half and 1-of-6 for the game — scrapped their way back into it on the offensive end and led 26-25 at halftime despite shooting just 35 percent themselves.
3 – Had it not been for offensive rebounds, the Jayhawks might have been blown out of the gym. KU outdid OSU 15-3 on the offensive glass, which led to a 13-4 advantage in second-chance points. Two Jayhawks (Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins) had more offensive rebounds (5) than all but one of the OSU players had in total rebounds.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Foul trouble was a big factor in this one and the Jayhawks were guilty of a lot of hacking. That led to 33 free throw attempts for Oklahoma State, which cashed 27 of those, and OSU outscored Kansas by 13 points at the free throw line. Not only that but Wiggins and Joel Embiid both had to sit for a stretch in the second half with three fouls. KU's reserves did a nice job during that stretch but you can't help but think that seeing those two sitting instead of trying to throw the knockout punch helped Oklahoma State believe they still had a shot.
2 – When KU didn't foul, they gave up some pretty high-percentage shots, especially in the second half. Much of Oklahoma State's run that brought the Cowboys back from 10 down and eventually pushed them over the top came on the strength of free throws or buckets at the rim, a few of them real crowd pleasers that only added to OSU's ability to overcome that double-digit deficit. The Cowboys shot an incredible 64 percent in the second half after shooting just 24 percent in the first.
3 – Naadir Tharpe proved once again just how important he is to this team. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the junior has proven it almost as often with poor performances as he has with good ones. Saturday's was certainly a poor one. Tharpe's had plenty of games where he didn't shoot well but still found a way to positively impact the game with leadership, passing and, occasionally, defense. None of those were working against the Cowboys, as Tharpe finished with six points, six turnovers and five assists. He made a couple of plays, but generally looked frustrated, overwhelmed and out of sorts all night.
One thought for the road:
KU's seven-point loss at Oklahoma State:
• Gave KU the outright Big 12 regular-season title, the 10th-straight crown for the Jayhawks and the 14th in the 18-year existence of the league. Overall, Kansas has collected 57 conference titles, the most in NCAA history.
• Dropped KU to 22-7 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule, and 13-3 in Big 12 play.
• Pushed the all-time series record to 108-55 in favor of KU. The Jayhawks are now 33-32 inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
• Made Self 12-9 all-time against his alma mater (11-6 at KU), 322-66 while at Kansas and 529-171 overall.
• Made KU 2,123-819 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,132 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,112), Duke (2,024) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks return home Wednesday for a rematch with Texas Tech at 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU survived a scare from the Red Raiders two weeks ago in Lubbock, Texas. Before the Senior Night game, the Jayhawks will recognize Tarik Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley.
The lights came on around Thanksgiving (if not sooner) and will stay up for another couple of weeks, but after the usual build-up and anticipation, Christmas has come and gone.
Just like that, weeks worth of picking, purchasing and wrapping presents is now a thing of the past – at least for another 300-plus days.
I hope those of you who celebrate the holiday had a wonderful day with friends, family and loved ones and that, sprinkled in there among the gifts, goodies and overeating, you had an opportunity to remember the true meaning of Christmas.
My moment came in the form of a gift from my aunt, who, in honor of my late uncle (who passed away one year ago) paid off the layaway bill for several families in the Denver area. She then wrote a letter to each of us in the family and explained that the families had been taken care of in our honor and through my uncle's inspiration. He once did that for her gift, years ago, and she always said it was one of her favorites.
I now know why.
Anyway, in keeping with the theme of great gifts, here's a quick look back at the top 10 moments given to Jayhawk fans during 2013.
Enjoy! And, once again, Happy Holidays!
1. Women's track and field brings home a national championship — There are tons of good things on this list and most of them drew a lot more attention than this, but it'll be hard to argue with putting this No. 1 because hanging banners is what it's all about. The women's track team, which was loaded with talented athletes and wonderful people, dominated in Oregon last spring and brought home a trophy that inspired a billboard on I-70. Big-time stuff.
2. Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas — Recruiting is no joke around these parts and the day of Wiggins' announcement was full of the usual bag of mixed emotions. Many feared he would pick Florida State, North Carolina or Kentucky. Others were certain he was Kansas-bound. When the time came for Wiggins' announcement, he told a gym full of supporters in Huntington, W.Va., that he would play his one season of college hoops in Kansas. It's been a Beatles-esque run of Wiggins-mania since then and the 6-foot-8, 200-pound Canadian forward currently leads the Jayhawks in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Wiggins was merely the headliner of a class that included Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp and Frank Mason. It also should be pointed out that the recruiting crazies went nuts again in November, when top-five big man Cliff Alexander picked Kansas.
3. Make it 9 straight Big 12 titles for Bill Self — The unprecedented streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles continued in 2013, as Self's Jayhawks held off serious charges from Oklahoma State and Kansas State to win it again. Just in case anyone disputed whether the Jayhawks were really the champs, KU went ahead and won the Big 12 conference tournament title, too, dispatching K-State for the third time in the semifinals to put the icing on the cake.
4. KU football snaps conference losing streak — After 27 consecutive losses in Big 12 play, a streak that dated back to the 2010 season, the KU football team finally broke through with a dominating, 31-19 victory over West Virginia at Memorial Stadium in November. The victory set off a wild celebration on the field between the players and the fans in the stands and, as is customary with big wins, the students ripped down the goal posts and sent them swimming in Potter Lake.
5. KU volleyball makes 1st ever Sweet 16 — Inpsired by the disappointment of getting so close and coming up short last season, a senior-heavy KU volleyball team finished second in the Big 12 Conference for the first time ever and followed that up by winning first- and second-round matches at Allen Fieldhouse to advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Although the run ended there, this team, which featured All-American Caroline Jarmoc, Big 12 setter of the year Erin McNorton and Big 12 coach of the year Ray Bechard (who won the honor for the second year in a row), will likely be remembered for a long, long time over at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
6. Sweet 16 times 2 for KU hoops — For the second year in a row, the Kansas basketball programs each reached the Sweet 16, with the men falling to Michigan in a heartbreaker and the women getting back to the Sweet 16 for a second time after being one of the last at-large teams put into the tourney field.
7. Another No. 1 seed for the KU men — Despite their shocking loss to Michigan, the men achieved a heck of an accomplishment at the Big Dance's outset when they earned a No. 1 seed for the 11th time in school history and the fifth time in 10 seasons under Bill Self.
8. Tier-3 TV deal puts KU in more homes — Although it produced some anger locally, KU's partnerships with Time Warner Cable and ESPN3 brought to homes across the country 70 live KU events, more than 600 hours of shoulder programming and several pre- and post-game shows highlight KU sports. “This is the backbone of providing Jayhawk fans with access to all of our sports in a way that they've never experienced before,” athletic director Sheahon Zenger said of the deal.
9. KU football lands more transfers — In May it was Nick Harwell, the all-time leading receiver in Miami (Ohio) history who said yes to KU coach Charlie Weis. And just last week it was Florida tight end Kent Taylor. Weis' experience and coaching pedigree continue to attract big-time talent and, although the ones who have made their way to Lawrence thus far have not been stars, it might just be a matter of time before a few of them pan out.
10. Professional Jayhawks continue to make noise — Whether it's Gary Woodland on the PGA Tour, Chris Harris with the Denver Broncos or a record number of former KU basketball players in the NBA, 2013 was a good year for Jayhawks on the professional map. Woodland won a tournament title again, Harris is a key part of a defense on a team with the best record in the NFL and others like Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings), Aqib Talib (New England Patriots), Darrell Stuckey (San Diego Chargers), Xavier Henry (Los Angeles Lakers) and many, many more are doing their part to represent their school well at the highest levels.
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.
Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said Thursday that freshman guard Frank Mason would start for the Jayhawks in Boulder, Colo., this weekend, when they take on CU.
So, naturally, as president and founder of the #TharpeFanClub, I, once again, caught some flack for KU junior Naadir Tharpe being sent to the bench.
I'm not sure I'll ever understand why fans so much enjoy trashing players on the teams they root for — this happens way more often with KU football than KU hoops — but that's neither here nor there. And, really, to each his own. It's everyone's right as a fan to cheer, criticize and follow the team however they see fit.
As for the move itself, I am a little surprised that Self pulled the trigger so early in the season, but I more than understand why he did it. And I think there are a couple of reasons.
No. 1, I think he's rewarding Mason and I think Mason deserves to be rewarded. He's played beyond his years, been one of the tougher players on the team thus far — if not the toughest — and shown that he brings an extra dynamic to the floor that KU really benefits from at this point in the season.
No. 2, I think Self is making this move now because he believes Tharpe can take it. Remember last year when everyone was saying that Tharpe should be starting ahead of Elijah Johnson later in the season? I think one of the big reasons Self never pulled the trigger was because sending Johnson to the bench might have lost him for the season. In this case, I'm guessing Self believes that Tharpe will be able to keep his head in there and still serve a key role as the team's sixth or seventh man. If that's true, Tharpe deserves credit, not criticism.
When people first began speculating on whether the move would or should be made, my opinion was that it was too soon. My read was this: Mason's a stud. He deserves to play more and he should be out there a ton of minutes. But you don't have to start a guy to make that happen. Remember that old adage... "It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it that matters." Besides, Mason's been great with the role he's been in so why risk changing that by putting the pressure tag of "starter" on him?
That was a couple of weeks ago, though, and things have changed since then. Tharpe's played a couple of poor games, made more than a few bad decisions and not looked like the confident, solid player I've always known him to be.
So, from where I sit, I think the move could benefit KU tremendously. But that's as much because I believe Tharpe can handle it as I believe Mason deserves it. And that's just one of the reasons the #TharpeFanClub exists in the first place.
Turn in your memberships if you want, but don't be surprised if Tharpe delivers plays as the season goes on that make you wish you hadn't.
If Tharpe tanks because of this and becomes a terrible teammate who pouts about playing time and can't be used, I'll eat crow. But I wouldn't bet even a penny that that'll happen. The guy cares, he's all about KU and winning and he'll do whatever is asked of him to help the team succeed.
It should be fun to see how this one plays out.