Naadir Tharpe Era at Kansas Comes to a Close

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 1st, 2014

Over the last two seasons, the hope for Kansas was that Naadir Tharpe would grow into a steady, reliable point guard after previous seasons had been characterized by up-and-down play from Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. While he wasn’t without his positive contributions from time to time, Tharpe in three seasons cemented a legacy of ill-advised shots and other questionable on-court decisions (as well as a big one off the court), all of which came to a head in a 2-of-8, two-turnover dud in Kansas’ Round of 32 loss to Stanford in this season’s NCAA Tournament. Thursday afternoon, ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman tweeted that Tharpe will transfer out of Lawrence rather than return for his senior season, and head coach Bill Self confirmed the report to Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd later in the day.

Citing a need to be close to his daughter, Naadir Tharpe and The University of Kansas are parting ways.

Citing a need to be close to his daughter, Naadir Tharpe is parting ways with The University of Kansas.

Tharpe arrived at Kansas in 2011 as a four-star recruit from prep powerhouse Brewster Academy. While his playing time, assists and shooting percentages rose in each of his three seasons, he arrived at those numbers through a series of rollercoaster performances, and his erratic play and defensive lapses turned him into a lightning rod among fans and a source of constant frustration for Self. The Kansas head coach shuffled through his other options at the position, including Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp, in the hope that either could jump-start the Jayhawks’ offense, but they didn’t prove to be markedly better.

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Myles Turner Commits to Texas, Shrinking the Gap Between Kansas and the Rest

Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 30th, 2014

Rick Barnes just became a better coach this afternoon. His Texas program just secured the commitment of five-star center Myles Turner — the top uncommitted prospect in the Class of 2014 — which means the longtime Longhorns coach might have the best frontcourt in the Big 12 next season. Turner, a 6’11”, 225-pound senior, picked Texas over SMU, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, with most experts saying it came down to Texas, Kansas and SMU for his services. Turner is ranked ninth overall in his class at Rivals.com but his popularity soared over the last few months as he eventually became the last big-name recruit to commit to a school. A skinny big man with range from deep, it is no surprise that Myles, a native Texan, might now get a chance to replicate his idol Durant’s historic 2006-07 season in Austin. And if Turner does in fact have dreams of spending some time on the perimeter, Texas was clearly the school for him. It’s hard to imagine coaches like Bill Self or Larry Brown throwing Turner in at the three position and sacrificing his defensive prowess in the paint, but Barnes seems more than willing to experiment with that idea.

Myles Turner Makes Texas a Big 12 Title Favorite.

Myles Turner Makes Texas a Big 12 Title Favorite.

So what does this mean for Texas basketball next season? The Longhorns weren’t supposed to do much this year, as many wondered if Barnes was already on the hot seat before the year began. But five months later, one of the youngest teams in the country had won 24 games and playing in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Everyone on the roster is set to return next season, including sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor, senior forward Jonathan Holmes, junior forward Cameron Ridley, and junior guard Javan Felix. Ridley could become the team’s sixth man with Turner starting at the four while occasionally showcasing his other skills on the perimeter. The trio of Turner, Ridley and Holmes would challenge Kansas for the best frontcourt in the Big 12.

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Baylor’s Frontcourt Depth Takes a Hit With Loss of Isaiah Austin

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 23rd, 2014

This year’s round of early entry decisions has almost come to a close. On Tuesday afternoon, Julius Randle announced that he was leaving Kentucky, and while we wait for official word from a few of his former teammates, we can officially say goodbye to another accomplished collegiate big man. Last week, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Baylor center Isaiah Austin planned to declare himself eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft, and on Tuesday night, Austin confirmed that he would leave Baylor to take the next step in his career.

Austin came to Waco in 2012 as a highly-touted recruit and put forth a solid freshman campaign. While Baylor as a team fell flat and missed the NCAA Tournament despite fielding a talented group, Austin was hardly the problem. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and while he did most of his damage down low, he also stretched defenses by hitting 33 percent of his three-point attempts.

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Bryce Dejean-Jones Becomes Fred Hoiberg’s Next Reclamation Project

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 14th, 2014

It’s been a pretty good weekend for Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. On Friday, Iowa State announced that it would give him a $600,000 annual raise on his current contract which runs through 2023, and on Sunday afternoon, former UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones announced that he will join the Cyclones. Dejean-Jones is set to graduate from UNLV this summer, which would make him immediately eligible to suit up for Iowa State. Like DeAndre Kane before him, Dejean-Jones arrives in Ames with a history of incidents involving his attitude getting the best of him, so Hoiberg will have another opportunity to mold an embattled player into a key contributor.

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Dejean-Jones led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring last season (13.6 PPG), but his year ended on a sour note. He was suspended for the final game of UNLV’s regular season against Wyoming for a violation of team rules, and reportedly yelled at teammates following the team’s season-ending loss against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament on March 14. We don’t know specifically what that outburst involved, but whatever it contained was enough for UNLV head coach Dave Rice to decide that a parting of ways was the best course of action for both parties.

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Another Year, Another Doughnut: What’s Wrong With the Big 12?

Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 10th, 2014

The Big 12 has a problem. It spent most of the regular season perceived as the best conference in the country but went another year without a national champion. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984, only two Big 12 teams have won the national title. Both teams were Kansas (1988 and 2008). That represents fewer titles than any other Big Five conference and just one more than UNLV. In the last decade, in fact, Kansas is the only school to make a Final Four appearance as a member of the Big 12 (West Virginia made the Final Four in 2010 while still in the Big East). Since then, the ACC has sent five schools to the Final Four, the SEC seven, and the Big Ten eight. Even the one year-old American Athletic Conference has had a national champion, thanks to Connecticut. This is partly a Kansas problem, as the Jayhawks have missed good opportunities for Final Fours at least four times in the last 10 years. But without the Jayhawks the rest of the Big 12 would resemble Conference USA. It has been full of teams that were good but never considered great, and there is no better example of that than this season.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Texas spent time together in the Top 25 this season, but only the Jayhawks were considered legitimate threats to go deep in March. Iowa State, for example, cruised to a 13-0 start with a few good wins over Michigan and Iowa, so when they lost to Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners must be good. Or so we thought. And after Kansas State — which lost to Northern Colorado and Charlotte in November — beat a couple of ranked teams like Oklahoma State and Texas, people thought the conference was full of really good teams beating up on one another. But after another disappointing March, it’s time to realize that the Big 12 has one great program and a bunch of other ones capable of playing well for a few weeks at a time. Michigan State has Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. North Carolina has Duke and Syracuse. Kentucky has Florida. Kansas has a handful of teams capable of upsetting them in their building and disappearing a week later. This is most evident in the fact that Kansas has won 10 straight regular season titles. Bill Self is a future Hall of Fame coach and is on one of the best regular season runs we have seen in decades, but would he have 10 straight titles in any other major conference? Not a chance. And with Self’s prowess on the recruiting trail lately, it’s hard to see any Big 12 team ending the Jayhawks’ run of conference titles.

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Joel Embiid Headed to the NBA: What Does Kansas Do Next?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on April 9th, 2014

Joel Embiid officially declared his intention to enter the 2014 NBA Draft in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Embiid is projected as a top three pick in the upcoming draft despite missing seven games at the end of this season because of a stress fracture in his lower back. Given how rare it is for big men to come along with a demonstrated ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, it should come as no shock that the seven-footer from Cameroon has decided to leave Kansas after just one abbreviated season.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

The most optimistic Kansas fans, however, were holding out hope that Embiid’s comments to ESPN earlier this year would convince him to stick around in Lawrence for another season. In that January article, Embiid talked about studying other talented big men and cited how many years they stayed in school as a contributing factor to become the best at his position one day. But make no mistake about it, the game isn’t the same as when Olajuwon, Duncan, and Shaq were dominating college campuses. Players now more than ever are drafted on potential, and in Embiid’s case, he has it in spades. In the end, this announcement comes down to making a sensible business decision, and capitalizing on the opportunity to make life-changing money — something that could be significantly hindered if he were to return to campus and experience another year of back problems.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Big 12 Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 9th, 2014

While the Big 12 catapulted a league-record seven teams into the Big Dance this season, the absence of a Final Four team among the ranks marked the latest in a series of missed opportunities for the conference to assert itself in the national conversation. The NCAA Tournament is chaotic by nature, but failing to send a single team to the final weekend eight times in the last 10 years is not the kind of distinction that the league’s administrators and coaches pride themselves on. Still, the Big 12 remains a very good league, and even though the statuses of a few NBA Draft hopefuls remain up in the air, there’s enough continuity remaining for us to ballpark the conference’s pecking order heading into next season. This is far from a predicted order of finish, but in the second week of April, here is how we think things stand.

1. Kansas

Betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool's errand, but if they want to make noise in March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

Everyone knows that betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool’s errand, but if the Jayhawks want to make noise next March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

  • Departures of Note: Andrew Wiggins, Tarik Black, Joel Embiid (probable)
  • Notable Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Conner Frankamp, Naadir Tharpe, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason
  • New Additions: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Hunter Mickelson (Arkansas transfer)
  • Outlook: The back line should be very solid once again, especially if the Jayhawks can land Myles Turner. That possibility only figured to be an option if Joel Embiid left, and all indications are that the Cameroonian center will announce his departure later today. Perhaps of greater note is that there’s no imminent cure for the Jayhawks’ backcourt problems, though they do have options in Mason and Frankamp.

2. Texas

  • Departures of Note: None
  • Notable Returnees: Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Conner Lammert, Prince Ibeh
  • New Additions: Jordan Barnett, Obinna Oleka (JuCo transfer)
  • Outlook: The Longhorns figure to return everyone from the cohesive group that got Rick Barnes comfortably off the hot seat and in the direction of conference Coach Of The Year accolades. Texas will be good again next year, but swaying the commitment of in-state standout big man Myles Turner could provide the program the opening it needs to dethrone Kansas.

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Three Questions: Where Does Kansas Go From Here?

Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 1st, 2014

It’s been a week since another tough NCAA Tournament loss for Kansas and fans are still scratching their heads at how the Jayhawks went out this season. Few people expected a Final Four berth if freshman center Joel Embiid remained sidelined with his back injury, but a third round loss to #10 seed Stanford was still a shocker. The Cardinal weren’t a particularly good team this season and didn’t appear to pose much of a threat heading into last Sunday’s game. But for the second straight season, the Jayhawks were reminded of how important guard play becomes in March. Starting point guard Naadir Tharpe finished with five points on 2-of-8 shooting with only two assists and two turnovers in the loss. Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden combined to shoot 2-of-11 with six points, and that was all she wrote for the Jayhawks in Saint Louis. Bill Self has plenty of talent coming back and a few top recruits arriving in Lawrence, but he will have some substantial holes to fill as well. Andrew Wiggins has already announced his departure, while Joel Embiid is still reportedly undecided, but it is expected that both players will enter the NBA Draft as high-lottery picks. Here are three questions surrounding the status of the Kansas program heading into the offseason.

Will Naadir Tharpe improve enough next season? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Will Naadir Tharpe improve enough next season for a run in March? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

1. Will Point Guard Troubles Doom Next Year’s Team Too? Kansas was sent packing early for the second straight season largely because of mediocre point guard play. Elijah Johnson was forced to play out of position at that spot last year because Self didn’t yet trust Tharpe in that role. Self had no other realistic choice at the position this time around, but his averages of 4.5 PPG and 2.5 APG against Eastern Kentucky and Stanford weren’t good enough for this time of year. Looking to next season, Kansas could remain in trouble at the slot. Tharpe will have another year of experience under his belt, but he also loses two of the better offensive weapons in the country. His backups — rising sophomores Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp — dabbled at the position but were unable to outplay him, leaving Self to go with Tharpe in the NCAA Tournament. On the recruiting trail, Tharpe’s just-good-enough game may have scared some better prospects away. Kansas went hard after five-star point guard Tyus Jones, but did the talented freshman want to risk losing playing time to a senior in Self’s system? Heading to Duke might have been the safer bet.

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Oklahoma State AD Reveals Misgivings About Extending Travis Ford

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 1st, 2014

With a dearth of live games this week, the biggest stories around college basketball from the teams not prepping for a trip to Dallas this weekend have involved the annual rite of spring known as the coaching carousel. “One Shining Moment” won’t air for another six nights, but we’ve already seen switches at the top of several programs including Auburn, Virginia Tech, South Florida, Washington State and a handful of mid-majors, while leadership at other programs like Boston College, Wake Forest and California are in the midst of finding their next coaches. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has resigned himself to the fact that he’s bound to his current head coach Travis Ford because of an extension agreed to in 2009. Things have gone about as poorly as could be since then, and in an article by Berry Tramel posted Saturday for The Oklahoman, Holder was surprisingly candid about the struggles and shortcomings that have become all too pervasive for the Cowboys over the last five years.

Despite another disappointing season from Travis Ford, the Cowboys are bound to him for another five seasons.   (Mark D. Smith/US Presswire)

Despite another disappointing campaign from Travis Ford, the Cowboys are bound to him for another five seasons. (Mark D. Smith/US Presswire)

Oklahoma State fans may want to look away for this next part, even though they’re probably already familiar with what has happened since Holder locked up Ford following the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Despite the intervening gift of two years from Marcus Smart and solid seasons from the complementary core of Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, Oklahoma State has suffered a pair of NCAA Tournament misses followed by three straight losses in the Big Dance. This season in particular brought further indignities: Smart’s suspension for shoving a fan; a season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins; promising freshman Stevie Clark’s run-ins with the law resulting in dismissal. This season, anything that seemingly could have gone wrong went wrong, whether it was due to bad luck or other reasons, but a quick turnaround doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

“We certainly expected a better season than what we had. There are multiple reasons people are frustrated. I don’t think anyone foresaw it playing out like it did.”

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Reflecting on the Andrew Wiggins Era at Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2014

There was never a shred of doubt that this would be Andrew Wiggins‘ only season at Kansas, but with his time in Lawrence officially coming to a close at today’s news conference, we can now safely look back at the mark he left in Lawrence over the last five months. To start off, it’s necessary to frame Wiggins’ season in the context of proper expectations coming into the season. Wiggins was never going to be a Durant-like scoring superstar that many thought he could be when he committed to the Jayhawks last May. Bill Self’s philosophy of sharing the ball and using a balanced offensive attack doesn’t allow a single player to contribute eye-popping stats, no matter how good he might be. There’s a reasonable discussion to be had over whether Self should have done more to take advantage of a unique individual asset like that of Wiggins, but that’s a separate conversation. As much fun as it would have been to see Wiggins running repeated isolations and pick-and-rolls, anyone who has followed Kansas during the Self era knows that that’s just not how the head coach does things. He wasn’t going to make significant changes to a system that has led him to 10 consecutive Big 12 titles, a national championship, and future Hall of Fame status.

Andrew Wiggins handled the spotlight well in his first and only season at Kansas, despite an early tournament exit. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

Andrew Wiggins handled the spotlight well in his first and only season at Kansas, despite an early NCAA Tournament exit. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

What we did see, though, was a very successful season for a freshman in a program that has had mixed results with one-and-done talents. Wiggins was the leading scorer at 17.1 points per game for a team that won its conference (again) and he gave us quite a few eye-popping reasons why scouts have been drooling over his potential for years. Like most freshmen, he needed some time to get used to his role within the offense, ultimately settling in despite some unfair criticism as the young team navigated a brutal non-conference schedule. Once he became more comfortable, he became a more consistent player, one that allowed him to make the all-Big 12 first team at season’s end. Whether he was finishing lobs in traffic, coming from out of nowhere to get an offensive rebound and putback, willing his team back from impossible deficits, or putting the brakes on the opposition’s top scorer as Kansas’ best defender, he did nothing to dissuade us from the idea that he is a top-tier talent with a legitimate chance to become the top overall NBA Draft pick in June. That Wiggins was able to accomplish so much for a team that was highly unstable at the point guard position only raises the impression he left with us over the course of a single collegiate season.

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How Will Kansas’ NCAA Tournament Flops Affect Bill Self’s Legacy?

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 31st, 2014

My 62-year-old uncle said something interesting while discussing the picks he made in his bracket a couple of days after Selection Sunday. He said he considered picking #2 Kansas to lose its Second Round game against #15 Eastern Kentucky. Still, like all but a minuscule fraction of the bracket-filling populace, I picked Kansas. Then I told my uncle that he was crazy, that I had the Jayhawks advancing to the Elite Eight, and asked why he would consider picking the Colonels to upend a team with the likely 2014 No. 1 NBA draft pick in its starting lineup. “I don’t buy Kansas,” he said. I didn’t pay much mind to his comment. Kansas was going to beat EKU anyway, I thought. Then, after the Jayhawks fell last weekend in the round of 32 to #10 Stanford, my uncle called me. The first thing he said was, “I warned you about Kansas.” That he did. His lack of confidence in Kansas is not a product of what he had seen this season from the Jayhawks. It’s a feeling that he has developed over the past 10 years of NCAA Tournaments.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

Bill Self was introduced as the head coach at Kansas in April 2003, less than a month removed from his predecessor, Roy Williams, guiding the Jayhawks to the national championship game (a loss to Syracuse). The former Illinois boss came right in and guided Kansas to an Elite Eight appearance in his first season in charge. But since 2005, Kansas has seen five of its 10 Tourney runs end at the hands of a team seeded at least eight spots lower.

  • In ’05, #3 Kansas fell to #14 Bucknell in the round of 64.
  • In ’06, #4 Kansas was clipped by #13 Bradley in the round of 64.
  • In ’10, #1 Kansas advanced past the opening round, but lost to #9 Northern Iowa (thanks, in large part, to a shot and a last name college hoops fans will never forget).
  • In ’11, #1 Kansas was undone by #11 VCU in the Elite Eight.
  • And the latest upset — #2 Kansas losing to #10 Stanford – came a week ago Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »
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No Matter What Happens Tonight, Scott Drew Deserves a Fair Shake

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 27th, 2014

Ever since Baylor blew the doors off of Creighton on Sunday, the public tide has started to turn in Scott Drew’s favor. He hasn’t shaken all of the criticisms — that he’s underachieved with top-flight talent in previous seasons and that he’s toed a fine line with his recruiting strategies (as if other programs don’t)  — but with every postseason win he continued to chalk up, the noise has definitely quieted. On Wednesday night alone, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd and Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg posted columns detailing why the doubters have it all wrong about Drew. While Dodd and Eisenberg aren’t the first to defend the Baylor head coach, their points remain that regardless of what you think about his tactics, the results he’s produced deserve acclaim among some of the best coaching jobs in the country — no matter what happens tonight against Wisconsin.

No matter what happens tonight, it's time to evaluate Scott Drew with fairness. (AP)

You don’t have to like Scott Drew, but it’s past time to evaluate his tenure at Baylor with fairness. (AP)

The Bears are one win away from a chance to play in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, so if they beat the Badgers this evening, they’ll have cracked the Elite Eight with three very different teams. While one of the prevalent knocks on Drew is that last season’s group — which had a similar look and feel to this year’s team in terms of roster construction — failed to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s also true that three of his best players this season were guys who were passed over by bigger programs. In other words, if you’re going to penalize Drew for missing out on a Dance card with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and a senior Pierre Jackson, that’s fine; but if you’re going to do that, it’s only fair to also credit him for getting the most out of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale and parlaying that player development into postseason success. Going back even further, he’s offset the lukewarm contributions of hyped recruits Perry Jones and Quincy Miller by getting great value from low-level prospects like Jackson, Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh, all three of whom are now playing professionally.

Even if Drew loses tonight, he’ll still find himself among rarefied air in the coaching community. Only six other programs have made the Sweet Sixteen three times in the last five years: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Not Kansas, not Duke, not Syracuse, not Connecticut. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Waco 11 years ago with the unenviable task of rebuilding a D-I program from essentially scratch. No matter what the narrative says you should think about him, stop thinking it. The guy can coach.

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