Big 12 M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2014

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  1. Iowa State lost a lot of production with the departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim from last season’s Sweet Sixteen squad, but the team is hoping that a big loss of a different variety helps the Cyclones topple Kansas atop the Big 12 this year — the disappearance of 30 pounds from senior Georges Niang‘s frame. Weight fluctuations are always a big discussion point around this time of year, but with many players on this year’s squad stepping into new roles, Iowa State expects to lean heavily on its experienced match-up nightmare. At the very least, Niang’s weight loss (from 240 pounds to 210) should help his agility to average more than the 4.5 rebounds per game he tallied a year ago.
  2. The career turnaround Rick Barnes engineered for himself was one of last season’s biggest stories, not just in the Big 12 but nationally. Now, firmly off the hot seat and with blue-chip big man Myles Turner also in tow, Barnes returns to an atmosphere where his team will shoulder expectations beyond simply making the Big Dance. The Longhorns have a deep, talented roster that will have as good a chance of knocking Kansas off its perch as any challenger has during the Jayhawks’ reign, so it will be interesting to see how Texas builds on last season’s surprise run to the Round of 32.
  3. Speaking of Kansas, Bill Self hasn’t forgotten how porous his team was on the defensive end last year, and he’s adjusting his practices to be more rigorous defensively. The Jayhawks could definitely use a shot in the arm on that end of the floor, after finishing 31st in the country in defensive efficiency on the heels of an eight-year stretch of no worse than 11th in that category.
  4. At last week’s Big 12 Media Day festivities, Curtis Shaw, who oversees the league’s officiating, opened up about the lightning rod that is the block/charge call. Shaw admitted in an interview that poor calls in block/charge scenarios happen more often than good ones, which was reflective of most fans’ perception last winter. It’s unrealistic to expect officials to get every call right, but the hope is that increased accuracy this season will deter defensive players from trying to draw charge calls by sliding into the path of an airborne offensive player.
  5. It wasn’t all that long ago that only the nation’s biggest programs participated in Midnight Madness. Now everyone is in on the act, and as a result, we’ve seen some well-intentioned yet regrettable moments from coaches as their grand entrances have become cheesier and more contrived. Last week, Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith became the latest victim of the Midnight Madness spotlight, as he fell from a motorcycle (don’t worry, it was moving at a low speed) while leading the Red Raiders onto the United Supermarkets Arena floor. The last few times Texas Tech has made the college hoops news cycle, it hasn’t exactly been flattering (we all remember the Jeff Orr debacle), so here’s hoping that Smith can get the Red Raiders pointed in the right direction after a tough first year at the helm.
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Big 12 Media Day Recap: A Photo For The Ages

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 16th, 2014

If you haven’t heard, Kansas City’s a happening place these days. Aside from that ALCS thing in town yesterday, the Big 12 also held its annual men’s basketball media day at the Sprint Center (here’s all that stuff, if it tickles your fancy). It was your run-of-the-mill media day: Reporters asked bland questions, players and coaches gave calculated answers, and no one really learned anything new. The apex of the festivities came, however, when the Big 12’s Twitter account tweeted out a group photo will all 10 of the conference’s head coaches. Here it is below:

Bask in all its glory (photo via @Big12Conference on Twitter)

Bask in All of its Glory (photo via @Big12Conference)

Instead of breaking down the nonstop action from media day, the following were the “thoughts” that went through each coach’s mind at the time the above photo was taken.*

  • Baylor’s Scott Drew: “I hate coming here when the Tournament is in an odd-numbered year. (sighs) OK, what should I do here, hands together or apart? Together? Apart? Wait, did I use all my timeouts yet? [camera takes photo] Ah heck, they’re apart.”
  • Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: “Put me in the back, will ya? That’s fine. I’ll end up dreamier than I was before.”
  • Kansas’ Bill Self: “Really wanted to wear Wiggins’ draft day suit again. Knew I shouldn’t have had that glass of butter with dinner.”
  • Kansas State’s Bruce Weber: (chuckles to himself) “I can’t believe Ford was in ‘The 6th Man.’ That’s the best movie of all-time! I bet that made a heckuva lot of money in theaters!”
  • Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger:  “I would take another coaching job right now if it meant I didn’t have to take this photo.”
  • Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford: “This contract I have means that I’m pretty much bulletproof. I could pull down Drew’s pants right now and I’d STILL get that check next week. [mulls it over] Nah, I won’t do that to ‘em. He’s probably worried that he has to call a timeout here or something.”
  • Texas’ Rick Barnes: “I bet if I left media day, traveled the world and missed the entire year, we’d still have a better record than the football team.”
  • TCU’s Trent Johnson: “I don’t know why this camera guy told me to move this far up. He could have gotten a much better shot of me if I stood at half-court like I wanted.”
  • Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith: “I should have been more direct with people calling me Orlando instead of Tubby.”
  • West Virginia’s Bob Huggins:  “I don’t think anyone here gets my E. Gordon Gee Halloween costume.”

*thoughts confirmed by unnamed sources

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Five Takeaways From the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2014

We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.

  1. Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
  2. Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

  3. Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
  4. What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
  5. At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
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Morning Five: 07.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 16th, 2014

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  1. The big college basketball news of the week was the decision by Emmanuel Mudiay to back out of his commitment to play at Southern Methodist to play overseas. As Mike Lemaire points out in his piece on the news it is a huge blow to SMU and Larry Brown’s plan for a quick turnaround. Outside of Mudiay’s concern for his family’s financial well-being during his year at college, which will probably be allayed in the near-term as he heads to Europe, there were also questions as to whether issues regarding financial compensation or academic concerns would have already made him ineligible to play in college anyways. With Mudiay’s talent, he has the potential to make the transition back to the NBA eventually like Brandon Jennings did in 2009, but we will miss seeing his talents try to reinvigorate the SMU program.
  2. Sean Miller might not be John Calipari on the recruiting trail yet, but he is still doing a pretty good job. His latest addition is Ray Smith, the #26 prospect according to ESPN in the class of 2015. Smith, a 6’8″ small forward, verbally committed to Arizona soon after tearing his ACL. Although Smith might miss his entire high school senior season recovering from the injury it could be a blessing for the Wildcats, who beat out several other prominent schools to land Smith, who might not have committed to them if he had more chances to showcase his talents. As Adam Finkelstein notes, the Wildcats have already had four straight top-10 classes, but this one has the potential to be a top-5 class or even #1 overall if things break right for them.
  3. There were interesting pieces of news that will lead players to miss some time next season. Butler transfer guard Austin Etherington, who averaged 2 points and 1.6 rebounds at Indiana last season, is expected to miss 3-4 months after undergoing surgery on his right foot. Georgia dismissed Brandon Morris after the junior forward was arrested on felony charges of intent to sell marijuana. Morris averaged 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last season, but also missed three games due to an undisclosed violation of team policies. Iowa suspended Peter Jok after he was arrested for driving his moped with a revoked license. Jok, a sophomore, already had his license revoked after receiving a DUI on his moped in April so this will be a second strike against him. Although Jok only averaged 4.4 points per game as a freshman last season he was expected to pick up many of Roy Devyn Marble’s minutes and production. We are assuming that Fran McCaffery will let Jok back on the team, but if he doesn’t it would be a big loss for the Hawkeyes.
  4. We were not even aware Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg had a pacemaker (or any cardiac issues for that matter) until he had a battery replaced in the pacemaker yesterday. The pacemaker was put in at the time of his surgery for an aortic root aneurysm as the result of a complication from surgery (injury to the bundle of His) that necessitated the need for a pacemaker. Apparently, Hoiberg noticed that his heart rate was not elevating to the normal range leading to the replacement of his pacemaker battery. According to Hoiberg and the school the replacement appears to have been uneventful, which is not surprising given how straightforward it is, but is still good to hear.
  5. Lost in the media onslaught around LeBron’s decision to come home was its impact on college basketball. Or at least the impact that it nearly had. Everybody knows about the reports that John Calipari, Tom Izzo, and Billy Donovan had been contacted about the Cleveland job, but it appears that Bill Self was also approached by the Cavaliers about the vacancy. All four stayed at their current jobs, but we wonder if they might have felt differently had they been offered the job with LeBron there. So although there were no college coaches moving on to the NBA we would keep an eye on Cleveland as a potential destination particularly if things do not work out between LeBron and David Blatt.
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Morning Five: 06.19.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 19th, 2014

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  1. Most college sports fans probably aren’t following the day-by-day action in the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA case taking place in Oakland, California, this month, and why would they? First of all, there’s no nifty “doink doink” Law & Order plot mover to let us know we are moving on to a more important part of the proceedings, and secondly, many people probably don’t believe that the outcome will amount to much change in their annual sports viewing habits anyway. Fair points, both, but if you’re interested in summarily catching up through the better part of two weeks of proceedings and following along in the future, SI.com‘s Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples have you covered with their daily updates. The big fish scheduled on the line this week, of course, is NCAA president Mark Emmert, who will be called to testify today and possibly beyond (if necessary). Emmert has been a staunch public supporter of the NCAA’s amateurism model throughout his four-year tenure, and you have to wonder if he will fall victim to fits of hubris while on the stand defending what is widely becoming disparaged as an indefensible system. His testimony could be a key tipping point in the ultimate outcome of this case, so keep an eye on it.
  2. The underlying force driving the O’Bannon case, of course, is money. It’s always money, and specifically, who is getting their grubby little hands on it. To most Americans just getting by, the division of tens of millions of dollars between the NCAA, schools and the television networks doesn’t much move the needle — in their view, it’s just a case of rich people enriching other rich people. But even their fur gets a little raised when a clearly successful business model that can produce a third of a billion dollars (“B”) in a single year doesn’t give a taste of the steady stream of money to those whose backs on which all those dollars were made — the athletes. And yet, the Pac-12, as Dennis Dodd reported this week, produced $334 million in 2012-13 — the most of any conference in college sports history — disseminating around $18.5 million back to each school as a result. Once you start to add ticket sales, bowl games, NCAA Tournament shares and other revenue producers to each school’s athletic pie, you start to see some very large numbers generated at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Good luck with your arguments for amateurism, NCAA.
  3. Kansas basketball got some really interesting news earlier this week when it was announced that Bill Self’s team will represent Team USA in next summer’s 2015 World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. Typically, the WUG teams have consisted of some of the top rising stars in college basketball, but the all-star model with limited practice time for players to get to know each other has resulted in only one gold and two bronze medals in the last seven events (Team USA won six straight golds from 1989-99, for some perspective). The Jayhawks have another loaded team coming into next year’s college basketball season, but a number of those players such as Cliff Alexander and Wayne Selden, are unlikely to still be in uniform for international competition a year from now. Still, perhaps the knowledge of Self’s system and the resultant familiarity among the remaining players will allow Team USA to improve on its ninth-place finish in 2013. We can only hope.
  4. It wouldn’t be summer without some transfer news, and there were a couple of name-brand players who found new destinations this week. First, LSU guard Anthony Hickey, a solid if not spectacular player whose senior-year scholarship was not “renewed” by head coach Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge, has resurfaced at Oklahoma State and was deemed eligible to play for the Cowboys immediately. This is a major boon for an upcoming year where head coach Travis Ford is in dire need of a reliable point guard after the losses of both Marcus Smart and Stevie Clark from his team. It may not save Ford’s job in Stillwater, but it gives him a fighting chance. In other news, Maryland guard Nick Faust has decided to finish his career across the country at Long Beach State. Unlike Hickey, who took advantage of the NCAA’s “run-off” rule to become eligible for next season, Faust will have to sit out 2014-15 before playing his senior year with The Beach. We wish both the best of luck in their new environments.
  5. You probably heard about the too-soon passing of the late great baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn earlier this week, and while every American sports fan recognizes the ridiculous batting prowess of the man who hit safely 3,141 times with a .338 average over two decades in the majors, they may not realize that Gwynn was a college hoops star before he ever became one of the friendliest and most beloved faces of Major League Baseball. As SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton explains in this piece, Gwynn to this day remains one of the best point guards to have ever played at San Diego State, a two-time all-WAC selection on the hardwood that featured the best single-season assist average in program history (8.2 APG in the 1979-80 season). We never saw him play hoops, but we have to imagine that he brought the same passion and respect for our game as he did to the baseball diamond. RIP, Tony Gwynn.
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Morning Five: 06.04.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 4th, 2014

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  1. If you’re a regular reader, even in the offseason, you may have noticed that we have decided to cut back the national M5s a bit during the long summer months. The objective is to get a couple of them published each week, but we might go for three if we’re feeling a little frisky. The biggest news of the last several days in the college basketball universe was the weekend announcement that the settlement between video game maker EA Sports and over 100,000 former and current student-athletes for the unauthorized use of their likenesses was finalized. The settlement calls for $40 million to be divided among a huge number of class action members, but even if the individual payouts will be relatively small (the named plaintiffs would top out in the low five figures, while most would be in the hundreds), the notion that players deserve some sort of recompense for the use of their images is clear. Note that this settlement does not impact the impending lawsuit between Ed O’Bannon and others against the NCAA, set to begin Monday in US District Court in San Francisco, although some of the evidence from this settlement will certainly come to bear in that case as well.
  2. From a coaching comings and goings standpoint, several high-profile names remained in the news over the last several days as NBA teams seek to fill their open positions. Guys like UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg appear to the collegiate coaches du jour, but the biggest names are always floating around the periphery of those conversations. Kansas’ Bill Self and Kentucky’s John Calipari said in separate conversations with ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz on Monday that they were both incredibly happy with their current situations and had not been contacted this offseason about any open positions. Cue Mitch Kupchak on line two, coach? In keeping with the theme, Florida’s Billy Donovan last week basically said “never say never,” but as SI.com‘s David Gardner writes, he could probably satisfy his itch to coach the world’s best players by following the Coach K model with the US Men’s Basketball team. There’s certainly something to be said for capstone jobs in all three of their cases, but the competitive drive and instincts that got them there keeps them looking for even better opportunities, hard as they might be to come by.
  3. One current college coach who has had no problem finding a better opportunity just around every turn for the better part of five decades is SMU’s Larry Brown. The 73-year old who has completely rebuilt the Mustangs’ program in Dallas and will be in everyone’s Top 25 next preseason (especially with Xavier transfer Justin Martin en routeis rumored to be in the running for the open Los Angeles Lakers job. A number of other names are also under consideration — including Scott Skiles, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins and Mike Dunleavy — but Brown is perhaps the most intriguing given that he already has an excellent thing working at SMU in contrast with the train wreck awaiting the next coach in LA. With nine NBA franchises already on his resume as a head coach (but none with the Lakers’ pedigree), the job would no doubt be attractive to him, but would the Lakers really want to hire someone that the franchise could only expect to have on board for a couple more years? Let’s hope the itinerant LB sticks around to see through the job in DFW.
  4. One coach that we can’t imagine will be thinking NBA anytime soon, or ever, is Virginia’s Tony Bennett. While a brilliant basketball mind, his system involving shutdown defense and a glacial tempo likely wouldn’t translate very well to the League. Irrespective of that, UVA rewarded its head coach for a #1 seed, 30-win, ACC championship season, with a seven-year extension to his current deal. The new contract locks him into Charlottesville through the 2018-19 season and increases his annual salary to just shy of a couple million dollars per year. Not bad for a guy who was projected to have trouble recruiting ACC-caliber players. Ahem.
  5. This is a neat story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a young man named Marvin Clark, a Kansas City kid who will be an incoming freshman at Michigan State this fall. The story chronicles the many ups and downs of his year-long recruitment, where he rode a roller coaster of ups and downs as schools from Oregon to Seton Hall and everywhere in-between expressed interest before backing off and picking back up on him again. Raised in a hard-knock situation with no father figure and a mother battling addiction, Clark’s story represents how recruiting can go for many of the kids not rated in the consensus top 25 of the rankings (Clark fell in and out of the top 150), and how perception and relationships can drive as much of the decision-making process as anything else. It’s a good, quality read, and a reminder to most of us readers that, no matter how bad your day might have gone, it probably was better than many of those that Clark faced growing up.
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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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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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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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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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