Rushed Reactions: Kansas 70, Baylor 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2016

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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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Oklahoma And Kansas Meet With First Place At Stake

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2016

Tomorrow’s 2:30 p.m. ET rematch between Oklahoma and Kansas has been on our radar since the conference schedule was released, but the anticipation skyrocketed when the final horn sounded late into the night following the two teams’ first battle on January 4. From there the hype has only increased, as the Sooners and Jayhawks have fought to a draw through 11 conference games. At the end of the regular season, we could end up looking back on tomorrow’s game as the day the Jayhawks’ decade-long grip on the conference finally loosened. Or, we could learn that the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence, despite Oklahoma’s deadly trio of shooters and National Player Of The Year frontrunner, Buddy Hield.

To answer two key questions facing each team, we brought in Big 12 microsite contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield will face one another for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield face one another tomorrow for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Two Questions Facing The Sooners:

Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis has been on a roll lately, converting 17 of his last 19 shots inside the arc. Last month, he carried Kansas after halftime in the instant classic and will be leaned upon heavily to have another big game tomorrow. Meanwhile, Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin leads the Big 12 in blocks percentage during conference play, but he had trouble staying on the court in the Sooners’ last two games against Kansas State and Texas. What do you make of Lattin and Oklahoma’s chances of getting the better of Ellis the second time around?

Chris Stone: Ellis has averaged 18.5 points per game in four matchups against the Sooners since his freshman season (he wasn’t much of a factor in the Kansas offense back then), so how Oklahoma defends him will be a crucial factor in this game. In the first meeting, Lattin and Spangler did a good job of turning Ellis into an inefficient scorer. Although he finished with 27 points in the win, it took him 28 shots to get there. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar kind of night from Ellis in Norman. Bill Self is intent on making him the focal point of the offense, but if the game in Lawrence is any guide, Lattin’s length will make it difficult for Ellis to get as many of the easy buckets he’s used to.

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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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Reactions From Last Night’s Game of the Season: Kansas vs. Oklahoma

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2016

Last night, Oklahoma and Kansas treated us to the best game of the season — an epic triple-overtime thriller won by the Jayhawks, 109-106. It won’t be a surprise at all if that description holds until the nets come down in Houston three months from now. This game had pretty much everything: An NPOY candidate going off for 46 points, clutch moments everywhere and huge calls (and non-calls) shifting the tides of key possessions all the way to the final buzzer. At the end of the night, though, the Jayhawks protected home court as they so often do in conference play. There’s so much to cover from such an outstanding game, so we’ll have more to come a later today, but here are the three biggest takeaways from Monday night’s basketball masterpiece.

Buddy Hield's Sooners and Frank Mason's Jayhawks gave us the game of the decade. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield’s Sooners and Frank Mason’s Jayhawks gave us the game of the year. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Buddy Hield scored 46 points, but Kansas actually did a decent job defending him! Normally, there would be no way those two notions could coexist, but very little about last night’s game was normal. Hield put together an outstanding 22-point first half reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s lone appearance at Allen Fieldhouse, but Frank Mason stuck to the All-American like glue after the intermission. Hield didn’t even take another shot until 11:45 remained in regulation, but once he got going again, he hit tough shot after tough shot, sometimes right in Mason’s face. In a cruel twist of fate, the star senior turned the ball over with 8.6 seconds left in the third overtime and missed a game-tying three-pointer on the next possession to seal Kansas’ win. In spite of those late miscues, though, he came away with the biggest statement any National Player of the Year candidate has made to this point in the season. Hield’s performance is unlikely to be topped — his 46 points came in 54 minutes of action and included an 8-of-15 effort from three-point range; just for good measure, he also added eight rebounds and seven assists, but it was an outing you had to see to believe.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016

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  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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Big 12 M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2015

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  1. The Kansas offense is humming, thanks in large part to its dual point guard lineup, posits Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. With a more traditional lineup last season, the Jayhawks really struggled to find a balanced attack, particularly when Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre had down nights. With Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at the controls this season, though, the Jayhawks are flying. They aren’t immune to the occasional slump as we saw in the first half of last weekend’s win over Oregon State, but we’ve seen enough to know that they’re going to bring it more often than not.
  2. A tip of the cap goes to Texas Tech for their 79-67 win over South Dakota State. Senior Toddrick Gotcher led the way with 17 points including 3-of-6 shooting from distance to go along with five boards. The Red Raiders lost the rebounding battle, but overcame it thanks to ten steals and just nine turnovers on offense. The win is significant for Texas Tech because coming into the game, the Jackrabbits were ranked higher in KenPom than schools like Georgetown, Syracuse, Providence and Saint Mary’s.  Tubby Smith‘s team had been on the hunt for a marquee win after missing their chance against Utah last month, so it was nice to see them pick one up Wednesday night. They still don’t project to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but significant improvement on last season’s measly three conference wins is a goal that should be within sight.
  3. The only other action from the Big 12 saw Baylor take down non-D-I foe Hardin-Simmons 104-59 in the first regular season college game ever played at Fort Hood in TexasJohnathan Motley, whose name can be seen peppering NBA Draft boards, paced the Bears with 23 points. Hardin-Simmons didn’t offer much in the way of competition, but it was still reassuring for Baylor’s chances to see Lester Medford play well, as he finished with 13 assists against two turnovers in just 18 minutes of action. Then again, pretty much everyone for Baylor had a good night handling the ball as they piled up 40 assists on 45 made baskets and committed just 15 turnovers as a team. Next up for Motley, Medford and the Bears is a big road game at Texas A&M on Saturday.
  4. TCU‘s administration opened up the newly-renovated Schollmaier Arena (formerly Daniel-Meyer Coliseum) to the media for tours in advance of the facility’s grand re-opening this weekend, and it’s a huge step up from the previous accommodations which were, to be kind, lacking. In addition to some of the standbys of renovated arenas like widened concourses and new bathrooms and concession stands, the Horned Frogs’ new digs include posh circular locker rooms, a brand-new video board, a club with floor-to-ceiling TVs and an area where boosters can watch postgame press conferences through a glass wall. Pretty swanky if you ask us. The Horned Frogs christen their made-over home Sunday against Abilene Christian.
  5. We discussed the loss of Iowa State sharpshooter Naz Mitrou-Long yesterday, but CBSSports.com took a closer look at what his absence means for transfer Deonte Burton, who is set to make his Cyclones debut on Saturday. Burton arrived in Ames from Marquette, where he had a reputation as a rim-rocking attacker, but Steve Prohm may need a more diverse array of contributions from the 6’3″ guard if Burton is to help Hallice Cooke and Matt Thomas shoulder Mitrou-Long’s production.
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Big 12 M5: 12.15.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2015

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  1. Texas came into the weekend in need of a signature win, and boy did it get one in Saturday’s thrilling victory over #3 North Carolina. In addition to Javan Felix‘s last-second heroics, the Longhorns’ big win can also be attributed to a standout effort on the defensive glass. On Saturday, Texas collected 83 percent of North Carolina’s misses, with Cameron Ridley fending off Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson in a season-high 33 minutes of action. And yet, even after topping the Tar Heels, the Longhorns still rank among the bottom 50 teams nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, proving how effective Saturday’s effort was.
  2. It was only a year or so ago that Kansas was wondering if it could field a team with a steady point guard at the helm. Frank Mason has more than admirably filled that role, but now it’s the crowded Jayhawks’ frontcourt that has head coach Bill Self searching for answers. He might be somewhat closer to solutions after his team’s recent win over Oregon State, however. While Self admitted that his rotation may still fluctuate from game to game, senior transfer Hunter Mickelson and freshman Carlton Bragg made the biggest strides in Kansas City on Saturday night. With three games remaining until conference play begins, the big man situation in Lawrence is definitely something to monitor.
  3. Speaking of the Kansas frontcourt, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star wrote a terrific in-depth piece on the long, winding journey that brought Cheick Diallo from war-torn Mali all the way to Lawrence. Among many other qualities, Bill Self claims in the article that “nobody since I’ve been here, for 13 years — tries harder academically than [Diallo] does. Nobody.” In an odd twist of fate, it’s the effort Diallo gives in the classroom that made the NCAA eligibility center’s slog to clear him all the more frustrating, but it’s great to see the young rim protector on the floor and thriving these days.
  4. In keeping with the backstories of some of the young talent around the conference, John Walker of The Oklahoma Daily gives us the lowdown on how Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger swayed freshman Rashard Odomes to play for the Sooners. In classic Kruger fashion, the basketball lifer didn’t point to his accomplishments on the court; rather, to the family culture he’s fostered in Norman. It may be a year or two before Odomes plays a regular role on the team, but he’s a player we’ll be rooting for.
  5. Last week’s court rush in Ames following Iowa State‘s thrilling comeback win over Iowa kickstarted another round of debate about the fan-inspired practice, with an injury to a reporter heightening the conversation’s volume. On Friday, however, the Big 12 ruled that Iowa State’s staff operated within the league’s code of conduct, putting an end to speculation that any punishment would come their way. While we feel for anyone — player, coach, media member, or fan — who gets injured in court rushings, the ritual still holds a unique place in college basketball’s culture. There may come a time when a school will need to face repercussions, but outright bans are generally unenforceable and would end up stinging in the long run.
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Big 12 M5: 11.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 27th, 2015

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  1. After falling to intrastate rival Texas A&M in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Texas bounced back in its revenge game against Washington. The key to the Longhorns’ ultimate success this year may be senior big man Cameron Ridley. Entering the season, Ridley was expected to be the player most likely to struggle with the transition to Shaka Smart’s system, but he’s proving everyone wrong. As we mentioned on Monday, Ridley has instead become a focal point of the Longhorns’ offense. His usage rate is up six percent from last season and his per 40 minutes numbers (20.7 points and 16.3 rebounds per game) are impressive. The one concern is that the senior is struggling to adjust to the new rules, fouling out in the Longhorns’ two losses. But assuming the big man can find a way to stay on the floor, it’s clear that he’ll be an important piece for Texas this season.
  2. Another Big 12 big man putting together an incredible run early this season is West Virginia’s Devin Williams, as the junior scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 67-59 victory over Richmond in Thursday’s semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational. “The turning point was every time we threw it to Devin Williams,” head coach Bob Huggins said after the game. “He was just great, scoring for us. And when we missed, he was rebounding. He was terrific.” Williams has recorded a double-double in all five of the Mountaineers’ games this season.
  3. After a woeful performance against Michigan State last week in the Champions Classic, many analysts rightfully questioned Wayne Selden’s role in Kansas’ offensive attack. The junior shot just 3-of-12 from the field with only one assist against the Spartans, but what a difference a week makes. After a victory over Vanderbilt in the finals of this week’s Maui Invitational where the junior wing averaged 19.3 PPG and shot 71 percent from three-point range, Selden was named Co-MVP of the tournament (along with teammate Frank Mason). While those numbers won’t hold up over the course of the full season, it looks like the controversial player is returning to the form he found in South Korea during the World University Games. This development certainly makes him the “ultimate X-factor” for a team that, with the addition of freshman big man Cheick Diallo, can certainly challenge for a national title.
  4. Five Big 12 teams will hit the floor today. Baylor should cruise against Arkansas State; Oklahoma State returns to Stillwater for the second game of its back-to-back with Long Beach State; and Iowa State faces Virginia Tech prior to its potential NCAA Tournament rematch with UAB on Sunday. The two most interesting contests belong to Texas and West Virginia, however — two teams looking to pick up some resume-building wins. The Longhorns will take on Michigan in the fifth-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis while the Mountaineers get San Diego State in the Las Vegas Invitational final. Both teams are expected to finish in the middle of the pack in Big 12 play, so picking up a couple of solid non-conference victories will be key to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
  5. Finally, one interesting statistical note coming out of the first two weeks of the season. While Big 12 football is known nationally for its lack of defense, that shouldn’t be the case when it comes to basketball. All 10 of the league’s teams rank among the top 100 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, and seven of those are currently in the top 40. If even the bottom of the league is playing good defense, we could be setting up for an exciting conference season that features a number of nail-biting contests that come down to one play.
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Failure to Innovate Offensively Will Limit Kansas In March

Posted by Chris Stone on November 18th, 2015

After last night’s 79-73 loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, Kansas head coach Bill Self lamented his team’s inability to score inside the paint–a staple of Self’s high-low offensive scheme. The Jayhawks astonishingly made just 13 of their 33 layups: “The one thing, in order for us to win big consistently, is we’ve got to be able to score with our back to the basket some,” Self told the media after the game. It’s not the first time he has raised this concern. After nearly every loss last season either Self or one of his players made reference to the team’s inability to play through the team’s bigs and score on the inside.

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

There’s a cliche for situations like this. The one about insanity being defined as doing the same things over and over and over again, and expecting different results. But nobody likes cliches. They’re overused — a less-than-nuanced way of dealing with a problem. Yet cliches are often accurate, which is really what makes us uncomfortable with them. We don’t want to be perceived as insane, so we dismiss the cliche as irrelevant, overused, or simple. For Self and Kansas, their overwheleming drive to pound the ball into the paint is quite possibly the definition of insanity.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Michigan State 79, #4 Kansas 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion's Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion’s Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

  1. Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
  2. Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
  3. Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.

Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.

Quotable:

  • “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
  • “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
  • “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
  • “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
  • “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine 

Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.

What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).

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