Another Spring Surprise: Josh Jackson Commits to Kansas

Posted by Chris Stone on April 10th, 2016

Kansas head coach Bill Self has shown a knack for shoring up his roster with springtime signings of top-five recruits. After losing freshman Ben McLemore to the 2013 NBA Draft, Self secured a commitment from top-ranked recruit Andrew Wiggins that May. While the head coach signed his top two recruits in the fall during the next cycle, it wasn’t until April 2015 that he received a commitment from Cheick Diallo to replace Cliff Alexander. Self has done it again this spring, as the top-ranked recruit in the class according to 247 SportsJosh Jackson, announced via Twitter that he will attend Kansas. Jackson’s commitment solidifies a team that was already the likely favorite to win a 13th straight Big 12 regular season title and will once again be among a handful of favorites to cut down the nets next April.

Josh Jackson will help solidify the wing position for Kansas in 2016-17. (Credit: USA Basketball)

Josh Jackson will help solidify the wing position for Kansas in 2016-17. (Credit: USA Basketball)

Standing at 6’8″ with a 6’10” wingspan and 8’3″ reach, Jackson has the prototypical frame of elite wings at the NBA level. His size is coupled with outstanding athleticism that allows him to move quickly in every direction on the court, facilitated by a relentless intensity. His skill set is still a work in progress — he’s not yet a polished shooter and, according to DraftExpress, he was just a 61 percent free throw shooter during U-19 competition — but Jackson is unmistakably a tremendous talent. He typically plays harder than his competition and has great court vision both in transition and in the half-court. When you combine his work ethic with his physical tools, he has the potential to become a versatile defender for the Jayhawks.

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Early Draft Declarations Create Uncertainty at Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2016

Although Kansas fell short of expectations in failing to reach this weekend’s Final Four, the Jayhawks enjoyed another hugely successful season. They won the Maui Invitational, took home their 12th straight Big 12 title, broke a three-year Big 12 Tournament championship drought and earned the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. When a team typically has that kind of year, it has at least a couple players talented enough to enter the NBA Draft. Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene have their warts as prospects, but they remain skilled players in the eyes of talent evaluators, and for that reason (among others, in Greene’s case), neither will be returning to Kansas next season. Their decisions could mean that Bill Self‘s method of addressing the openings created by his two departing wings could come to define his team’s offseason.

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

The Jayhawks’ tremendous depth this season means the team may be able to shoulder the losses of Selden and Greene with an in-house solution. Svi Mykhailiuk is a dynamic rising junior who can blow games open with his shooting — in a similar fashion to Greene — while possessing the ball-handling skills and court vision Greene lacked and Selden didn’t need. Of course, those attributes, in addition to Mykhailiuk’s young age (he doesn’t turn 19 until this June), make him a candidate for early entry as well. However, with Selden and Greene already officially gone from Kansas’ roster, the sophomore might see the situation as an opportunity to hone his skills for 20-plus minutes a night next season.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 64, #1 Kansas 59

Posted by Will Tucker on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

And With This Steal, Villanova Was Off to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

And With This Steal, Villanova Was Off to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis peaked too early in the week. Two days after delivering a memorable 27-point performance that had Bill Self philosophizing about his legacy, Ellis was frustrated all night by the defense of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, and Mikal Bridges. He went into halftime scoreless with four turnovers, and remained quiet in the second half even after Jenkins went to the bench with four fouls around the 14-minute mark. After the game he conceded that Villanova did a good job trying to “swarm” him in the paint, but equally costly were a few missed boxouts on the defensive end that led to Villanova baskets. Ellis finished with as many turnovers as points – four – but it didn’t diminish from his accomplishments this season or his decorated career as a Jayhawk.
  2. The South Regional finally delivered a close game. Thursday night’s winners romped to victory by a combined 39 points after taking control in the second half. Tonight finally flipped the script with a neck-and-neck nailbiter that came down to free throws and late-game dramatics after Kansas and Villanova exchanges leads five times. It was a welcome reprieve from the Sweet Sixteen, and likely reassured many fans that their trip to Kentucky was money well spent.
  3. Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets (and don’t forget a blanket). It’s getting down to 45 degrees tonight in Louisville, and you might find a few guards from both of these squads seeking shelter under the Second Street Bridge after their teams shot a combined 10-of-40 (25 percent) from beyond the arc for the game. What made the difference was Villanova’s ability to score in different ways: The Wildcats hit 18-of-19 free throws and held a 13-to-6 advantage in points off turnovers. The three-point shooting prowess Kansas demonstrated all season had eluded them during the NCAA Tournament — a concern we noted on Thursday — and that finally came back to bite them when it mattered most.

Star of the Game. Villanova forward Kris Jenkins did a tremendous job shutting down Perry Ellis in the first half and leading the way offensively while Ryan Arcidiacono got it going. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists, and although foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half, his early impact and perfect free throw shooting was enough to earn the Most Outstanding Player award for the South Regional.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (32-4). Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. Kansas did nothing over the weekend to diminish its stature as the #1 overall seed and clear Final Four favorite out of the South Region, dropping 105 points on Austin Peay on Thursday before handing Kevin Ollie his first NCAA Tournament loss two days later. In that contest, a 73-61 victory over #9 seed Connecticut, the final margin didn’t even do the Jayhawks justice; Bill Self’s bunch led by 20 points at the half and limited the Huskies to just 27.5 percent two-point shooting for the game. The defense has been sharp, focus doesn’t seem to be an issue and Perry Ellis is playing Most Outstanding Player-level basketball (21.0 PPG, 15-of-21 FG). Even with Maryland and (possibly) Villanova looming next weekend, it would be silly to consider anyone else as the favorite to reach Houston out of this region.

Wayne Selden and the Jayhawks look better than ever. (Associated Press)

Wayne Selden and the Jayhawks look better than ever. (Associated Press)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Miami (27-7). Can we really designate a #3 seed as a dark horse? In this case, yes – the Hurricanes were actually underdogs against #11 seed Wichita State on Saturday, and their hopes seemed grim after coughing away a big first half lead. But Miami (FL), led by point guard Angel Rodriguez, came up with enough big shots to hold off the MVC champs, and now stands just two wins away from its first Final Four appearance in program history. Despite finishing tied for second in the ACC this season, Jim Larranaga’s experienced group was not the subject of much pre-NCAA Tournament chatter. That will change if the Hurricanes take down Villanova on Thursday.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 73, #9 Connecticut 61

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Kansas Seniors Frank Mason and Perry Ellis Made Sure UConn's March Run Came To An End Saturday (Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas Seniors Frank Mason and Perry Ellis Made Sure UConn’s March Run Came To An End Saturday (Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas was excellent in the first half. The Jayhawks started tonight’s game with a considerable surge. Offensively, Bill Self’s group shot 55.6 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from beyond the arc en route to scoring 44 first half points. In building a 20-point halftime lead, Kansas also had to be fantastic on the other end of the court. The aggressive Jayhawks’ defense forced Connecticut into shooting an anemic 25.8 percent from the field in the opening stanza. Kansas is fortunate it did turn in such a dominant first half, because the Jayhawks were a bit sloppy in the second half and allowed Connecticut to hang around longer than they should have.
  2. Landen Lucas’ emergence has solidified the Kansas frontline. National pundits have been in agreement all season that this Kansas team does not have a “star.” It has many “good” players, but no star. While that may be true, Kansas guard Wayne Selden and forward Perry Ellis have both shown on many occasions that they are capable of delivering their team a marquee performance. One member of the Jayhawks who has quietly turned in several tremendous performances during the back half of the season is junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas is never going to be a guy who is going to dominate a game offensively, but his rugged defense and knack for making things happen on the glass have been crucial in Kansas’ emergence as national title favorites. It was a quintessential Lucas effort tonight: six points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots.
  3. Kevin Ollie is no longer undefeated in the NCAA Tournament. A national title run in 2014 and a victory over Colorado in the first round had Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s NCAA Tournament record at 7-0. That hot start came to a screeching halt tonight. Ollie figures to have a great opportunity to get back on the winning track next March, as the Huskies return dynamic guards Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis, and Jalen Adams. The future remains bright for Connecticut. Tonight’s loss should just be seen as a small bump in the road.

Player of the Game. Perry Ellis, Kansas. The senior big man was the portrait of efficiency tonight, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also grabbed eight rebounds and played great interior defense all evening. When Connecticut cut the lead to nine at the 9:32 mark of the second half, it was Ellis who made a couple of key baskets to keep the Huskies from making a substantial comeback.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 105, #16 Austin Peay 79

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Bill Self's Crew Keeping On (USA Today Images)

Bill Self’s Crew Keeping On (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas had an overwhelming talent advantage. There is always a pretty substantial talent mismatch in games between #1 and #16 seeds, but the talent differential between Kansas and Austin Peay was even greater than usual. The Jayhawks are known for having great depth and Bill Self’s team used that to their advantage all afternoon. Starters Wayne Selden and Devonte’ Graham battled foul trouble for much of the game, but that was no issue as Svi Mykhailiuk turned in a career-best performance, and seldom used freshman Legerald Vick also gave his team some very productive minutes. While Kansas was able to mine its bench for reinforcements, Austin Peay’s troops looked exhausted for much of the afternoon and Governors coach Dave Loos did not have the luxury of quality depth.
  2. Svi Mykhailiuk and Jamari Traylor were great off the bench. Great teams often get strong performances from their bench, and Kansas received that and more in the victory today. Sophomore swingman Svi Mykhailiuk turned in a career-best performance that displayed why NBA scouts are so enamored with his long-term potential. The sophomore finished with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from three) and looked to be the best player on the court for most of the afternoon. Traylor, a rugged veteran, provided the Jayhawks with some much-needed first half energy that helped get over an early lull. Though he  finished the afternoon scoreless, Traylor finished with nine rebounds (four offensive), two blocks and two steals. If Kansas can continue to get Mykhailiuk and Traylor to perform in spot duty from the bench, the sky is the limit for this talented squad.
  3. Austin Peay deserves credit for making it this far. It needs to be stressed that Austin Peay was not even supposed to be in this game. The Governors were the #8 seed in the Ohio Valley Tournament and needed to string together consecutive victories over the #5 seed, #4 seed, #1 seed and #2 seed to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Governors were a hard-playing, gritty unit, headlined by the herculean efforts of senior big man Chris Horton in the post and on the glass. Austin Peay may have been out of its league this afternoon, but it must be remembered what it did to even get here at all.

Player of the Game. Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas. The talented sophomore was easily the best player on the floor this afternoon. The Ukrainian swingman finished with a team-high (and personal career-best) 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from three) and made some awe-inspiring defensive plays to assist with the winning effort. Mykhailiuk’s minutes have been a bit inconsistent this season, but performances like today show he cannot be taken lightly.

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Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

Region: South

Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4, 15-3 Big 12). Who else? With perhaps his least talented squad in recent memory (from an NBA perspective), Bill Self led Kansas to yet another Big 12 regular season title – its 12th in a row – and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks enter the Dance on a 14-game winning streak and its 30 wins include victories over Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia (twice), and Baylor (twice). One of only two teams with four losses, Kansas possesses such a complete resume, such a cohesive roster, and such strong advanced metrics that it’s hard not to consider the Jayhawks odds-on National Championship favorites, much less favorites in the South. Self’s group ranks #1 in KenPom – with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers near the top – and boasts one of the country’s best players in 6’8” forward Perry Ellis (16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Scoring is seldom an issue with Ellis, Devonte’ Graham (44% 3FG) and Wayne Selden Jr. (13.3 PPG) in tow, and nearly every player on the roster plays consistently stingy, team-oriented man-to-man defense. Even if it faces a high-talent opponent like #4 seed California or an experienced, spread-you-out club like #2 seed Villanova, Kansas easily remains the best bet from the region to reach Houston.

Expect more smiles from Kansas in the coming weeks. (Nick Krug)

Expect more smiles from Kansas over the next few weeks. (Nick Krug)

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (29-5, 16-2 Big East). If you’re down on the Wildcats, don’t be. Sure, they lost to Seton Hall in the Big East title game, and yes, their recent NCAA Tournament record isn’t great – Jay Wright’s team has not reached the second weekend since 2009 despite being a #2 seed or better three times. But if past performance is no sure indicator of future results, then there’s also no reason to think that Villanova – with one of college basketball’s most balanced rosters – cannot make a very deep run. The Big East regular season champions rank among the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with five players averaging more than 9.7 PPG and a true rim protector in 6’11’ senior Daniel Ochefu (7.8% block rate). The bottom half of the South is not swelling with raw talent, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the Wildcats and their spread attack to push deep into March.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Temple (21-11, 14-4 American Athletic). Temple’s inclusion as a #10 seed seems to be proof that the committee simply didn’t give a darn about advanced metrics – nor quality non-conference wins, for that matter. The Owls enter the NCAA Tournament as the lowest-ranked at-large selection in KenPom (#86 overall) by a staggering 26 spots, with perhaps their best non-conference victory being a five-point neutral court win over 8-23 Minnesota. If its KenPom number holds, Temple will finish the season as the lowest-ranked at-large unit since Colorado State in 2012 (95th). Yuck.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 81, West Virginia 71

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

Kansas Does the Double Big 12 Championship Thing (USA Today Images)

Kansas Does the Double Big 12 Championship Thing (USA Today Images)

  1. Devonte’ Graham shows out once again. Kansas’ sophomore guard has never been particularly bad, but he’s been a completely different player over the last month of the season. He routinely broke West Virginia’s trademark press and hit plenty of big shots, finishing with 27 points on 16 attempts en route capturing the Big 12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Graham also capitalized on some suspect decision-making by the Mountaineers, adding four steals to his stat line, and was the most expressive player for a team that has been criticized by Bill Self for not having vocal leaders. There may not be a player who epitomizes Kansas’ loose style of play down the stretch of this season more than Graham, and it’s getting easier with each passing game to nod your head with Chris Stone’s prediction that the Raleigh, North Carolina native will have one shining moment in the Dance.
  2. Devin Williams finds rhythm, but not help. West Virginia’s best player has struggled to find consistency against top-flight opponents as of late, but he was tremendous throughout the game — regularly going up strong against Kansas’ big men and showing a smooth jumper when the Jayhawks gave him space. Williams finished with a game-high 31 points, but his supporting cast completely let him down. Though the Mountaineers came into the game on an extended hot streak from deep, they shot just 2-of-15 there tonight, and Daxter Miles was the only Mountaineer other than Williams who scored more than six points. We know that fouls may be an issue next week with West Virginia playing in neutral environments, but this is also too deep a team for it to rely so heavily on one guy.
  3. West Virginia exposes Kansas’ liabilities defending the interior. The Jayhawks’ biggest strength is their incredibly deep rotation of perimeter players, but its interior (especially on the defensive end) carries more questions. Landen Lucas has been the team’s best post defender over the last few weeks, but Kansas struggled to maintain a lead in the first half as Williams got Lucas into early foul trouble. Jamari Traylor didn’t provide any answers behind him, and for all the talent and potential Carlton Bragg brings to the table, his four fouls in just 10 minutes of action show that he’s still a long way off. All of that comes before getting into why Cheick Diallo and Hunter Mickelson haven’t given Kansas meaningful minutes. It’s much easier said than done, but if an opponent can get Lucas into foul trouble or make him defend in space, the Jayhawks’ less effective and experienced players will be pressured to perform above their norms. It’s far from the only thing needed to send Kansas home early in the next couple weeks, but when it comes to considering key ingredients for an upset, making Lucas uncomfortable should be at the top of the list.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 70, Baylor 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

  1. Kansas extends its run of success against Baylor. Kansas has had Baylor’s number in recent years, having won eight of the last nine meetings heading into Friday night’s Big 12 semifinal. Although they had to withstand a frantic last-minute rally, the Jayhawks extended their domination of the Bears with a 70-66 win. Bill Self’s offense didn’t execute at the level to which it has gotten accustomed, but they proved once again who the kings of the Big 12 are.
  2. Baylor fails to cash in on opportunities. Bill Self, who espouses the importance of toughness at every opportunity, wasn’t pleased with his team’s rebounding effort in its last meeting with the Bears. Self clearly got through to his team, as Baylor, which entered Friday’s contest with the nation’s third-best offensive rebounding rate, pulled down just two of its 14 misses in the first half and finished with a season-worst 20.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. The Bears also shot themselves in the foot by failing to capitalize at the free throw line (56%), reducing their margin for error in the other facets of the game. By failing to build on Thursday’s inspired offensive effort against Texas, Baylor showed that scoring will remain a huge question mark for them entering the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason continue to give Kansas a two-headed monster at the point. Self said earlier this week that he would continue to approach recruiting with the goal of playing two point guards at the same time, and the play of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham has been a big reason behind that attitude. Though the Jayhawks scored just 21 first-half points, Graham was seemingly everywhere on the floor. The Jayhawks made only nine baskets before halftime, but the junior scored or assisted on seven of those and finished the game with a versatile stat line of 14 points, eight assists and five steals. While Mason wasn’t Kansas’ best player Friday night, he continued to be an asset, finishing with nine points and hauling in six rebounds despite a huge disparity in size. Having to account for Mason and Graham’s respective playmaking abilities will be one of the biggest challenges for any team facing Kansas from here on out.

Star Of The GameDevonte’ Graham. Without Graham’s steady play, Baylor’s furious second-half run may have been enough to send the Jayhawks home without the Big 12 Tournament title for the third straight year. He was the only Kansas player to have a solid first half, and though he finished with four turnovers, his positive contributions far outweighed his miscues.

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Handing Out Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2016

To say that the Big 12 had a good year would be a massive understatement. According to KenPom‘s advanced metrics, the league was the nation’s toughest. Not a fan of advanced metrics? That’s fine too, because the conference treated us to a surplus of intense games and is home of one of the two top contenders for National Player of the Year. Furthermore, the Big 12 is expected to propel seven good teams to The Big Dance — including a prohibitive favorite for the top overall seed — for the third straight season. It was a banner year regardless of what happens next, but before we look ahead to the postseason, let’s take some time for the Big 12 microsite to hand out some hardware.

All-Big 12 Team Selections

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Player Of The Year – Buddy Hield (unanimous)

Chris Stone: Perry Ellis and Georges Niang are a pair of worthy contenders, but everyone in the Big 12 is playing for second behind Oklahoma’s Hield. The Oklahoma senior averaged 25.1 points per game during Big 12 play and finished with a league-leading 65.2 percent true shooting rate, all while logging the conference’s second-highest usage rate. For a guard to attempt nearly 31 percent of his team’s shots while making them as efficiently as Hield did is exceptional, especially when you consider that almost 60 percent of his field goal attempts came from behind the three-point arc.”

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