Kansas’ Backcourt Leads the Way But Questions Abound Inside

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2016

The biggest question facing Kansas as it entered this season centered around the team’s frontcourt. The loss of stalwart Perry Ellis was going to loom large until Bill Self could turn his rotation of big men into a serviceable enough unit to balance a supremely skilled backcourt. Now two weeks into the season and with the toughest part of the Jayhawds’ non-conference schedule in the books, that question remains unanswered. It may even be blurrier than it was in October. In addition to newcomers Dwight Coleby and Udoka Azubuike struggling to earn consistent minutes in Self’s rotation, veteran Landen Lucas has regressed and sophomore Carlton Bragg has yet to find a rhythm as well.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Needs to Solve Its Interior Issues but the Backcourt is Excelling (USA Today Images)

Kansas’ frontcourt issues came to a head last night despite a 65-54 victory over Georgia at the CBE Classic in Kansas City. Bulldogs forward Yante Maten roasted every big man Kansas threw at him, dominating the back line with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Lucas, who expertly used his intelligence and size to pull away with the starting center spot last season, was saddled with foul trouble, his latest in a string of lackluster outings. Azubuike, a freshman who logged an inspiring performance against Duke just a week ago, played only five minutes. Collectively, the Jayhawks’ four big men were a mess: five points on 2-of-5 shooting, seven rebounds and 15 fouls, although Coleby gave admirable energy and effort in his first extended run of the season, blocking four shots and grabbing four rebounds. Kansas’ struggles to defend Georgia without fouling led to another rare sighting from a Self-coached team: the deployment of a 2-3 zone. To the team’s credit, the defensive maneuver keyed a decisive second-half run, but that may have had more to do with the fact that it wasn’t a look Georgia had prepared for. These were extenuating circumstances indeed.

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Kansas Already Battle Tested Just Five Days Into Season

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 16th, 2016

Only two games into the new season, Kansas has already endured one crushing defeat and one thrilling victory. The Jayhawks responded from a 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana on Friday night in Hawaii to outlast top-ranked Duke 77-75 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last night. No high-major team outside of arguably Michigan State has been challenged nearly as much. Senior guard Frank Mason has stolen the show to this point, scoring 30 points against Indiana and hitting the game-winning jump shot last night against Duke.

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

The Kansas program has never shied away from testing itself early against elite programs and this year is no exception. (Getty)

What Adjustments Did Kansas Make? Even with Duke’s three highly-touted freshman sidelined, Bill Self’ needed to make some adjustments from the Indiana game to avoid falling to 0-2. The biggest shift came in the contributions of 6’11” freshman Udoka Azubuike off the bench. After playing only seven minutes and failing to score against the Hoosiers, Azubuike added six points and pulled down 12 big rebounds against Duke. It was clear that Self wanted to expose Duke’s lack of size down low with 6’10” Harry Giles and 6’11” Marques Bolden sitting on the bench. After being the only Kansas starter to not foul out in the game against Indiana, freshman Josh Jackson played much more aggressively for most of last night’s game before fouling out. Still, he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, putting all three Kansas starting guards into double figures (Mason, 21; Devonte’ Graham, 15). Using Jackson on the wing and Azubuike inside to balance things offensively is the formula Kansas needs rather than relying on Mason, who scored 30 points against Indiana, to consistently contribute such a heavy load. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Gametime: Key Questions in Duke vs. Kansas

Posted by Chris Stone & Brad Jenkins on November 15th, 2016

College basketball got underway with a pair of hotly contested Top 25 match-ups on Friday night. The heat will rise tonight as the ESPN Tip-off Marathon reaches its climax with the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. Because we’re so excited about what tonight’s headliner has to offer, we’ve gotten the ACC and Big 12 microsites together to preview the event’s evening contest between Duke and Kansas. Questions and answers were provided by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Questions for Kansas

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Bill Self and Frank Mason against a talented Duke team? Sign us up. (USATSI)

The Blue Devils look vulnerable in the paint given all their current injuries. Bill Self teams have traditionally been dominant in the post, but is Kansas equipped to take advantage of Duke’s depleted frontcourt?

Unless something surprising happens, probably not. This game should ultimately be a battle of the backcourts. Although the Jayhawks have historically feasted on the interior by utilizing Self’s high-low offense to find open looks near the rim, Kansas doesn’t have the frontcourt players required to do that this season. Big men accounted for just 19.7 percent of Kansas’ total field goal attempts against Indiana last week, even as starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg shot a combined 9-of-11 from the field. Don’t expect that pair to suddenly become high usage players tonight. Lucas is fundamentally sound and more than capable of sealing off defenders for easy looks, but he lacks the post game necessary to be a go-to option. Bragg’s repertoire of post moves is considerably more complete, but his best offense is still played in the mid-range. With a full complement of talented perimeter players, look for Self to base his offense tonight around the likes of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham rather than Lucas and Bragg. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

all-big-12

Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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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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What Happened To Kansas’ Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 27th, 2016

When Kansas was regularly discussed among a handful of national title contenders early on in the season, one aspect of the Jayhawks’ roster stuck out more than anything else: its depth. Even head coach Bill Self acknowledged the fact that his talent pool contained 10 or 11 potential rotation players. Given that wealth of talent, a reasonable roster development plan would have looked something like this: Freshman Cheick Diallo receives clearance from the NCAA and becomes the Jayhawks’ motor, a rim protector and rebounding machine that would fill Kansas’s biggest hole in the front court. Fellow freshman Carlton Bragg grows into an offensive threat that could help spread the floor as a sort of Diet Perry Ellis off the bench. Together, Bragg and Diallo would displace many of the minutes devoted to the Jayhawks’ other solid, but unexciting front line options – guys like Hunter Mickelson, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas. Meanwhile, guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk would begin to fulfill some of his potential as a possible NBA lottery pick by turning into a dangerous scoring option off the Kansas bench.

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Self and the Jayhawks. Last Friday, Self met with his four co-captains to help sort out the team’s rotation going forward. The results have been hard to miss. Over the Jayhawks’ past two games, Self has shrunk his rotation down to basically seven players–Ellis, Lucas, and Traylor in the front court along with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, and Brannen Greene. The trio of youngsters expected to help Kansas reach its peak have combined to play just 16 of the 400 available minutes in those two contests. Bragg is the only one of the three to see the floor in both games.

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West Virginia Crashes the Big 12 Contender Party

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2016

At Big 12 Media Day last October, the usual suspects sat at the top of the pecking order. Kansas was tabbed to once again lead the pack while veteran-laden squads at Oklahoma and Iowa State loomed as the Jayhawks’ primary challengers. West Virginia‘s revamped style and fourth-place finish in 2014-15 was a nice story, but the league’s coaches didn’t exactly bank on Bob Huggins pulling it off again, as the Mountaineers were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s annual preseason poll. After last night’s start-to-finish 73-64 win over Kansas, West Virginia has showed that it too should be viewed as a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.

Press Virginia is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

“Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

While last night’s game in Morgantown never reached blowout status, the Mountaineers’ vaunted press generated 22 Kansas turnovers and they were in control for most of the night. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, whose ball-handling skills have played a key role in the Jayhawks’ offensive success this season, were shellshocked by West Virginia’s defense. Wayne Selden looked good early, but six crippling turnovers reflected his status as a liability for the remainder of the game. Perry Ellis turned in another strong performance with 21 points and seven rebounds, but he could only do so much, especially after West Virginia started doubling on him. West Virginia sophomore Jaysean Paige enjoyed a career night for the Mountaineers with 26 points and some fantastic on-ball defense, while Devin Williams played a great all-around game, chipping in 12 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Late three-pointers by Mason, Carlton Bragg and LaGerald Vick made the score more respectable than it otherwise would have been, but this was no close finish.

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