Big 12 M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2015

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  1. Coming into the season, Texas looked like the team that would finally end Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns’ roster combines NBA talent like Myles Turner with hardened veterans like Jonathan Holmes, but in the teams’ first meeting on Saturday, Kansas bullied the Longhorns in a 75-62 win at the Erwin Center. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star called it, “Kansas’ most complete victory in a season-long hunt for an unprecedented 11th straight Big 12 title.” The Jayhawks only turned the ball over three times in the entire game; Cliff Alexander (15 points and nine rebounds) was the best player on the floor; and Jamari Traylor made the best play Bill Self’s seen in his time at Kansas. Perhaps we all made a mistake in underestimating the Jayhawks.
  2. The most surprising game of the weekend happened in Lubbock where Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State, 78-73. The Red Raiders entered the contest as the only team without a win in the Big 12 and had spent most of the conference season looking like they’d finish that way, but a hot start allowed them to jump out to big lead against the Cyclones. Now, the calls for change are coming. Jameel McKay has been a revelation for Fred Hoiberg, and his energy levels are causing some to wonder whether he should be inserted into the starting lineup. It’s a reasonable consideration given McKay’s play, but the timing makes this feel like a bit of an overreaction. McKay is a very good player and perhaps he deserves a chance to start, but basing those decisions off of one loss doesn’t seem like the Hoiberg way.
  3. After a rough ride during their non-conference schedule, Kansas State now sits just a half game back of the top spot in the Big 12 standings after a 63-53 win over Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have been playing much better defense in conference play, as Bruce Weber’s squad currently has the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the Big 12. Phil Forte spoke of Kansas State’s aggressiveness and physicality saying, “Any time you play K-State, you know you’re playing against one of the best defensive teams not just in the league but in the country.” We should get a better sense of where the Wildcats stand in relation to the rest of the league this week when they take on West Virginia and Kansas.
  4. Oklahoma is now just 3-4 in Big 12 play after losing at Baylor on Saturday, having now lost four of their last five including their two most recent games. Although Oklahoma’s defense has slipped in league play — now allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions — it’s not time to panic just yet. The Sooners played a good non-conference schedule and picked up some nice wins before Big 12 play began. They have also played their conference road games at Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, and Baylor already, and have yet to play a game against either Texas Tech or TCU. Oklahoma will surely find its way into the NCAA Tournament and Lon Kruger’s team has the talent to make a run once it gets there.
  5. Tonight gives us another fantastic matchup in the Big 12 as Texas travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams are coming off of a loss and will need a win to stay in the race for the regular season title. It’s a fantastic contrast of styles with the Cyclones’ high tempo offense and the Longhorns’ stout defense anchored by their massive front line. Be sure to tune into ESPN at 9:00 PM ET to catch the action — just another loaded week of games in the best basketball conference in America this season.
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Big 12 Weekend Look-Ahead

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2015

It’s a full Saturday in the Big 12 this weekend, with five games on the schedule spaced throughout the day. Let’s take a look at each, digging into what’s on the line during conference play’s second weekend.

  • Iowa State at West Virginia (8:00 ET) – The last time the Cyclones met the Mountaineers in Morgantown, an otherwise disappointing West Virginia team blew the doors off of Iowa State with a 25-point win. In the closing minutes, if you recall, Dustin Hogue let emotions get the best of him as he karate-kicked Nathan Adrian, causing former Mountaineer Eron Harris to respond by punching Monte’ Morris in the neck. This year, Bob Huggins’ team is fueled by a more controlled brand of chaos (not that scuffles like last year’s were regular occurrences), and it just so happens that Iowa State is in a mini-funk, having scored just 0.86 points per possession over its last two games. West Virginia has already brushed off Texas Tech and TCU, so this will mark the reinvented Mountaineers’ first game against a Big 12 team on their level both in overall effectiveness and pace. The best game of the day should make for a fun nightcap.
Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

  • Texas at Oklahoma State (5:00 ET) – The Longhorns are talented and cohesive enough this season that Monday’s drubbing by Oklahoma should probably just be chalked up as a fluke, but it did underscore some questions about Rick Barnes’ roster. Isaiah Taylor is getting re-acclimated to the team (and vice versa) after returning from his wrist injury, and while the frontcourt is very deep it is also penetrable, at least until Myles Turner becomes a stronger defensive presence in the low post. I wrote in last week’s conference catch-up that Oklahoma State didn’t make much progress in its non-conference slate, but the Cowboys have since easily handled Kansas State at home and limited Iowa State’s offense at Hilton Coliseum (despite a loss). It’s therefore safe to stay that they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. Will they keep it up and notch what would be — to this point — their best win of the season? Tune in Saturday evening to find out.
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma (7:00 ET) – After a brief stay, Marcus Foster is out of Bruce Weber’s doghouse and it couldn’t come at a more important time. A win at Oklahoma, while impressive, wouldn’t undo all the harm the Wildcats have brought on themselves so far, but they need to get moving if they want to get back in the picture for an at-large bid. Wednesday’s win over TCU started a stretch when five of their next seven games will be played at home, so there will be plenty of opportunities to start making waves before desperation hits. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has clearly surged ahead of Texas as the top challenger to end Kansas’ reign of dominance with a decisive win over the Longhorns on Monday, so this is a game they should win decisively if they’re the dark horse Final Four contender some are claiming.

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Big 12 M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Kansas defeated Baylor by a single point in Waco on Wednesday night. The loss makes the Bears 0-2 in conference play, but their upcoming schedule at TCU, at home vs. Iowa State, and at Kansas State will give them an opportunity to pick up some wins. Baylor controlled the tempo as they have done all season, and the result was a game that featured only 52 possessions. While Baylor’s 17 offensive rebounds played a role in lowering the official possessions count, the low number also reflects a Big 12 trend this season. The conference ranks 21st in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo statistic, which measures the pace of play for a league’s teams, and puts the league behind the oft-maligned, plodding Big Ten. It’s time for college hoops officials to rethink the length of the shot clock in order to increase the number of possessions in a game and make it more exciting for the fans.
  2. Baylor and Kansas also shed light on another absurd college basketball rule – the block/charge call. With 3:06 remaining in the first half, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley unleashed the best dunk I have ever seen in person with a ferocious one-handed slam over the Jayhawks’ Jamari Traylor. Bears’ fans immediately broke into a frenzy without noticing that the official under the basket had simultaneously called the move a charge. Kansas’ Evan Manning even called it from the bench. The call took away what was the highlight of the night, and with the way the game finished, also ended up costing Baylor two points that could have made a difference in the game’s outcome. College basketball is meant to be fun and the block/charge call steals some of that from the fans. It’s time for a change.
  3. Also on Wednesday night, Kansas State picked up its first win of the conference season with a 58-53 victory over TCU. For Wildcats fans, that win will hopefully mark a turning point for sophomore guard Marcus Foster. After scoring only two points in 38 minutes in the prior two games, Foster exploded for 23 points on 5-of-11 shooting against the Horned Frogs. Bruce Weber may have finally lit the fire that he was looking for from Foster, which may help Kansas State rebound from its poor non-conference record with some wins during Big 12 play.
  4. It seems college basketball is back in the state of Oklahoma, as hoops competes against football for the time and attention of many Oklahomans during non-conference play and early in the new year. Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman argues that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are making a case to the state’s residents to invest in basketball a bit earlier than usual. It’s hard to disagree with him. The Sooners defeated Baylor at home in their Big 12 opener and then picked up a huge road win against one of the league’s favorites, Texas, in their second game. And although the Cowboys lost at Iowa State on Tuesday, they had a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession. Quality college hoops is definitely back in the Sooner State and it’s time for Oklahomans to start paying attention.
  5. The debate over the nation’s best conference rages on, with most people siding with either the Big 12 or the ACC for one reason or another. Either way, there’s no doubt that the Big 12 is going to provide viewers with a number of fantastic games this season. There have already been a number of one-possession games during conference play, and with six teams ranked in the Top 25, there are surely more to come. Our own Brian Goodman put it in perspective on Wednesday morning when he tweeted that there is at least one game between two of those six teams on 24 of the 34 days remaining on the Big 12 schedule. It’s a great time to be a Big 12 hoops fan.
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Utah vs. Kansas: Three Keys on Each Side

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 12th, 2014

One of the bigger games of the weekend takes place in Kansas City on Saturday, with Utah riding its recent success to take a shot at the Jayhawks. Below, Pac-12 microsite writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) and Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) break down the keys for the Utes and Jayhawks, respectively.

Three Keys for Utah

The Glass. Given recent history and if you didn’t know anything about these teams’ current rosters, you’d figure that the Kansas roster is filled with glass-eating big men while the Utes were made up of undersized, scrappy kids along the front line. Instead it is Utah that has the seven-footer in the middle, long and athletic wings littering the roster, and a 6’5” future pro running the point. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is the best offensive rebounder in the nation (grabbing more than 20 percent of his team’s misses when he’s on the floor), while the rest of the Utah bigs go equally hard to the boards on offense, and their guards even chip in a bit too. Priority one, as Utah faces a Kansas team with its own future lottery pick in the middle (Cliff Alexander), is to continue to outrebound its foe, especially on the offensive end. Guys like Poeltl and Chris Reyes and Brekkot Chapman (to name just a few) may not be all that polished on the offensive end, so getting easy hoops in the paint will be a prerequisite to any hopes of a Utah win in Kansas City.

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah's chances of beating Kansas tomorrow (USA TODAY Sports)

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah’s chances of beating Kansas. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Star. Delon Wright is undeniably very good. He does almost everything on the court: He scores in the paint and in transition, sets up teammates with easy hoops, rebounds the ball on both ends of the floor, grabs steals, blocks shots, provides on-court leadership, and even gets to the line and knocks in his freebies. But in Utah’s one loss this season, he was, well, not good. Against San Diego State, he made just two of his 13 field goal attempts (both in the waning moments of a comeback attempt), turned it over three times, and was generally ineffective in helping his team put points on the scoreboard. That can’t happen against Kansas tomorrow. He needs to play within himself, set up his teammates and, when the opportunity presents itself, get his own. If Wright has a subpar game, Utah cannot win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

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  1. On Monday’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, the idea of pushing the start of the regular season to mid-December or even January in light of poor attendance in early season match-ups picked up some steam, at least among some of the conferences’ coaches. This silly notion seems to come up a few times every year, and each time, it’s shot down by the basic economics of the sport’s biggest media deal. Specifically, the NCAA’s TV partners (especially CBS and Turner) are reliant on hundreds of hours of valuable postseason coverage to fill their March and early April calendars. Despite some grievances by coaches and certain members of the media, a big part of the beauty of college basketball is that it has an untouchable stranglehold on three-plus weeks of the American sports calendar. While it can definitely be frustrating to see intriguing non-league match-ups shoved aside in the national spotlight in favor of football coverage, it would be nonsensical to reposition the season to force its crown jewel to compete with the NBA and NHL Playoffs.
  2. Texas is still the leading contender to unseat Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings, but if you think a healthy Isaiah Taylor is all that’s missing, you need to study up. Big man Cameron Ridley‘s contributions have been lacking as of late, according to Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation. Haley took a close look at both data and film on the junior center and concluded that a surprising number of turnovers, limited results on the offensive glass and the absence of a face-up move when positioned outside the lane, have held him back. Texas has been very good even with teams neutralizing Ridley, so if he can break out, the Longhorns could be on their way to bigger and better things than a moral victory against Kentucky.
  3. Bill Self maintains that Jamari Traylor‘s arrest and subsequent suspension will be a learning experience for Kansas as it prepares for tonight’s tilt against Josh Smith and Georgetown. As Big 12 microsite contributor Chris Stone noted on MondayCliff AlexanderLanden Lucas and potentially Hunter Mickelson figure to absorb Traylor’s minutes, which means it’s very likely that Kansas won’t be in any worse position than if Traylor had been available. The Jayhawks have won the last two battles against Smith’s teams (against Georgetown in Allen Fieldhouse last season and against his UCLA team in Lawrence in 2010), so they’ll look to continue that success at the Verizon Center.
  4. Bryce Dejean-Jones had a reputation as a wildcard in his time with UNLV. It was tough to tell when he was going to put up an efficient 15- or 20-point game and when he would go ice cold on his way to a less impressive output. With Iowa State, however, Dejean-Jones is enjoying tremendous success thanks to a trademark of Fred Hoiberg‘s offense: The abandonment of the long two-pointer. Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune has an interesting interview with the transfer guard in which he details the benefits of his newfound shooting tendencies. We’ll have more on Dejean-Jones’ emergence later today in our Big 12 revelations after the first month of the season piece.
  5. One under-the-radar team to watch out for in the Big 12 is the Baylor Bears, which handled Texas A&M Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center. Baylor’s frontcourt was the story, as they shut out an SEC team on the offensive glass, a feat which hadn’t been done in 19 years. Johnathan Motley paced the Bears’ attack with career highs of 22 points and 11 boards. Scott Drew‘s team now possesses three wins against SEC teams (the others being road wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt), and are quietly looking more formidable than many expected.
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Morning Five: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2014

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  1. Most people think of December as a time to spend with family, but it is also one of the most popular times of the year for players to announce that they will be transferring. This typically happens when players go home for Christmas break and presumably have friends and family telling them how much better they are than the starters. This year, a few players go an early jump on transferring as they aren’t even waiting for the end of the semester. at Marquette, sophomores Deonte Burton and John Dawson will be transferring leaving the Golden Eagles with just eight scholarship players. While Dawson is a seldom-used reserve, Burton was a top-50 recruit in the class of 2013, but has played less than expected and with Marquette’s highly-touted incoming class he probably felt it was best to move on. At Wake Forest, sophomore guard Miles Overton will also be transferring. While Overton, only averaged 3.4 points per game during his time there he did have a 14-point and 8-point game in the past two weeks.
  2. Louisville finally received word from the NCAA about freshman Shaqquan Aaron as it was announced that he will be suspended for nine games (30 percent of the regular season) of which he has already missed eight including last night’s win over Indiana. The NCAA ruled that Aaron’s family had received “extra benefits related to housing” along with other undisclosed things. Aaron, a borderline top-30 recruit last year, will have to sit out Sunday’s game against UNC-Wilmington before making his debut against Western Kentucky on December 20.
  3. Kansas junior forward Jamari Traylor (3.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game) will not play in tonight’s game against Georgetown after being suspended following his arrest early on Sunday morning for interfering with a police officer. The details around the incident are unclear, but Traylor was arrested with a Kansas football player following a fight where someone was assaulted with the police still investigating the matter. Based on Bill Self’s comments it appears that Traylor was a bystander, who was arrested for essentially not complying with a police officer rather than being an active participant in the assault.
  4. One of the common complaints with early-season schedules is the fact that many teams play meaningless games to boost their records presumably to make both coaches (hello, bonus money) and athletic directors look better. Fortunately some programs appreciate the importance of playing big-name programs for the good of both their own program and the sport. So whenever we see schools scheduled is big-time match-ups we appreciate it. As such we have to applaud both Kentucky and UCLA, the two most historically significant programs in the sport, for agreeing to play a home-and-home in 2015 and 2016. The schools, which will play each other this season in the CBS Sports Classic on December 20 in Chicago will play at Pauley Pavilion on December 3, 2015 and Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016. While it is hard to believe, this will be the first time that either program has played at the other’s home arena.
  5. Speaking of Kentucky, one of the remarkable things about the team (outside of how talented they are and their platoon system) is just how dominant their defense has been. As Gary Parrish points out, this Kentucky team has a chance to be one of the best defensive teams in college basketball history. This is certainly high praise, but the numbers, which admittedly don’t go that far back, seem to support the argument. While this Kentucky team might lack the signature defender like previous Kentucky teams had with Anthony Davis or Nerlens Noel or looking even further back Georgetown with Patrick Ewing, they do have much more length (at least in terms of numbers/depth) than almost any team that we can remember. So while it is still very early to be asking the undefeated question, the one thing the Wildcats have in their favor is a defense that will probably require a team getting very hot from beyond the arc to make an upset a realistic possibility.
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Jamari Traylor’s Suspension Offers a Frontcourt Opportunity

Posted by Chris Stone on December 8th, 2014

As Brian Goodman noted in today’s Big 12 Morning 5, Kansas forward Jamari Traylor was arrested early Sunday morning for interfering with the duties of a police officer at a Lawrence nightclub. On Monday afternoon, head coach Bill Self doled out the punishment for his transgression by announcing that Traylor would be allowed to travel with the Jayhawks to Washington D.C. for Wednesday’s game against Georgetown, but he will not play. That appears to be the extent of Traylor’s sentence on the basketball court. Self closed the matter by saying, “Hopefully it’ll be a situation where we can put it behind us.”

Jamari Traylor will be on the bench when Kansas takes on Georgetown (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Jamari Traylor will be on the bench when Kansas takes on Georgetown (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Traylor’s suspension means Kansas will be without the junior forward for its first true road game of the season. The Hoyas’ frontcourt is anchored by 6’10”, 350-pound senior Josh Smith, who averages 12.7 points per game as Georgetown’s most used player (28.4 percent of their possessions while on the floor). Traylor’s loss will be felt most acutely as Kansas tries to defend the burly but talented Smith in the paint, as his presence off the bench provides Self with another experienced body to utilize should Landen Lucas or Cliff Alexander end up in foul trouble. In the absence of Traylor, the Jayhawks may now need to rely on little-used big man Hunter Mickelson instead. The 6’10” junior transfer has played only 4.6 percent of his team’s minutes this season, but he could be called on for more significant duty on Wednesday. If Mickelson can contribute like he did during a freshman year at Arkansas when he blocked 13.5 percent of opponents’ shots, then Kansas shouldn’t miss Traylor much defensively.

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Big 12 M5: 12.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2014

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  1. Early Sunday morning, Kansas forward Jamari Traylor was arrested for interfering with the duties of a police officer as authorities responded to an incident at a Lawrence bar. While Traylor wasn’t a highly-regarded recruit when he arrived on campus, he hasn’t developed all that much and it should be noted that he has a history of less-than-great behavior. Still, with two games this week against prominent big men in Georgetown’s Joshua Smith and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, this is an especially inopportune time to get into trouble. If Bill Self decides to hand Traylor a suspension, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson figure to be the most likely candidates to absorb his minutes, although Self may simply give a bigger workload to Cliff Alexander after the freshman logged an impressive game against Florida on Friday.
  2. Speaking of that Florida win, it wouldn’t have been possible without sophomore Wayne Selden snapping out of his season-long scoring funk. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star thoroughly breaks down the myriad ways in which he turned the tables against the Gators, whether it was by attacking the rim or hitting his jumpers. As mentioned in the point above, the road doesn’t get easier for Kansas anytime soon, so it will be interesting to see if Selden can keep things rolling offensively.
  3. While Oklahoma has had a nice start to the season, the Sooners haven’t looked like the team many expected in the early going (us included). Last season’s potent offense wasn’t all there, but the defense appeared to be much improved. On Friday night, however, Oklahoma’s attack was much more balanced as they blew out a bad Missouri team at the Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners have this week off for exams, but they have an interesting road test on tap Saturday, when they travel to play a Tulsa team that beat the same Creighton squad that dropped Oklahoma a few weeks ago.
  4. Through the first few weeks of the season, the Big 12 has gotten off to a great start (more on that in a minute), but if any team has been a disappointment, it’s been Kansas State. The Wildcats already have four losses, including one to Long Beach State and two others to average Pittsburgh and Tennessee squads. It’s worth pointing out that some of the team’s struggles have come under tough circumstances: The loss to the Panthers came in the consolation bracket of the Maui Invitational, when both teams were running on fumes and playing for the third straight day; and Saturday’s game against Tennessee wouldn’t have been scheduled at all had it not been fueled by ESPN’s presentation of the Big 12/SEC challenge. That’s not to excuse Kansas State’s lackluster body of work – those games are part of the deal of being in a big conference – but context always helps. The results are the results, though, so with their biggest non-conference tests now behind them, it will be important for Bruce Weber‘s team to maximize a Big 12 slate filled with opportunity to build a reasonable case for an at-large bid.
  5. Due to final exams, the slate is quiet this week, though road games for Kansas and Iowa State (at Georgetown and Iowa, respectively) will breathe some life into the schedule. That said, it’s a good time to evaluate the conference as a whole, and the Big 12 looks terrific through three and a half weeks. The conference has wins over Michigan State, UConn and Arkansas, with two of those wins coming away from campus. Additionally, the league has no truly inexcusable losses, and while that may not sound like much at first blush, it’s more than the other power conferences around the country can say. The Big 12’s success is also evident in the computer ratings, as seven of the conference’s ten teams rank in KenPom’s top 27, and five rank in Sagarin’s top 20. For the unlikely cherry on top, perennial doormat TCU will probably be undefeated when conference play revs up next month. Of course, it’s silly to expect the Horned Frogs to carry those results very far into conference play, but it is a sign that there will be very few off nights in the Big 12, which has a clear edge in the national picture over the bloated ACC and Big Ten.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas.

Kansas

Strengths: Coaching and talent. It sounds simple, but when you’ve won 10 straight conference titles, why complicate things? Consider this: Last season, the Jayhawks won the Big 12 by two games and had two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft, yet the season was considered by many to be the most disappointing of Bill Self‘s tenure (and not just because of the early NCAA Tournament flameout to Stanford, though that certainly had a lot to do with it). That’s a major testament to Self’s ability to coach and develop talent, but it also speaks to the annual expectation his track record breeds. The Jayhawks reload yet again, with Kelly Oubre replacing Andrew Wiggins on the wing and Cliff Alexander taking Joel Embiid’s spot down low. Wayne Selden is back with a healthy knee and Perry Ellis is a reliable stalwart in the post. Add a high-ceiling wild card in Svi Mykhaliuk, who Self says is sometimes the best player on the floor in practice, and you’re looking at yet another Kansas team that will be expected to win the Big 12 and, come March, should be among the smartest picks to make a run to Indianapolis.

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (The Kansas City Star)

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Weaknesses: The Jayhawks have enjoyed tremendous success since Sherron Collins left the program in 2010, but ask fans and people close the program and they’ll tell you they’d feel even better if their team had steady play at the point guard spot. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying, though. Since Collins’ departure, the Jayhawks have been connected in various degrees to several of the top floor generals available, including Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones, Mark Lyons, Gabe York and Cat Barber. For assorted reasons, though, all of them found other landing spots, leaving Kansas to make do with a group of which each had their share of moments and headaches — Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe. The Jayhawks have proven that they can succeed in spite of the point guard issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s a preferable position. Additionally, Kansas needs to rebound from a pedestrian defensive showing (by their standards). The Jayhawks finished last season with their worst defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era (#31), due to a combination of a brutal schedule, inexperience, injuries and uncharacteristically poor backcourt defense. This year’s non-conference schedule isn’t less daunting nor is this year’s team significantly more experienced (if at all), but on the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Self team letting him down on the defensive end for a second straight year. Still, Kansas will have to quiet those concerns if it is to live up to its potential.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kansas 80, #15 Eastern Kentucky 69

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

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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.

Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky late. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky late. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  1. Kansas avoided the biggest upset of them all. With Mercer taking down Duke, and Harvard, North Dakota State and Dayton picking up surprising wins in the NCAA Tournament’s first two days, it looked to be the year of the upset. Eastern Kentucky had Kansas on the ropes deep into the second half before Kansas finally used its athleticism to pull away late. Andrew Wiggins and Jamari Traylor were aggressive attacking the basket and the offensive glass down the stretch, leading to several second-chance opportunities, including two putback jams from the latter.
  2. Eastern Kentucky wasn’t scared. The Colonels took it right at the Jayhawks, not backing down one bit. The three-point ball kept EKU in it, as the Colonels hit 12 bombs from long range. Kansas went 0-of-7 from deep. Glenn Cosey scored 14 quick points while going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to hand EKU an early 23-14 lead. EKU attacked the rim and stayed aggressive on defense while forcing 13 first half turnovers, as the game was tied at 32 heading into intermission. And just when it looked like Kansas would pull away in the second half — leading 45-38 — a 10-0 run from the Colonels put them back ahead. The Colonels cut another seven-point lead to just three before running out of steam down the stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
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Will Defensive Issues Spell Doom for Kansas?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 19th, 2014

The biggest question surrounding Kansas as it begins the 2014 NCAA Tournament later this week is whether standout center Joel Embiid will be available sometime in the next few weeks, and if so, when his availability might occur. When news about the stress fracture in his lower back came to light early last week, Self indicated that the first weekend of the tournament was a “long shot” but the Jayhawks were hopeful he could return later in the tournament if they were fortunate enough to advance. While we continue to remain in the dark over Embiid’s status, the next biggest question now becomes what can keep Kansas from surviving this weekend’s trip to St. Louis?

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively.

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively. (Photo: KUSports.com)

If you’ve spent any time at all watching Kansas over the last few weeks without the services of their center from Cameroon, the answer to this question is the stark inability of Kansas to lock down the defensive end of the floor. Even typing that last sentence feels odd, given Self’s track record of defensive excellence throughout his tenure as the head coach in Lawrence. Consider that every year from 2006 to last season, the Jayhawks have finished #3, #1, #1, #9, #9, #11, #3, and #5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. This season, Kansas currently sits 45th in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings, illustrating just how much this team has struggled on that end of the floor.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Kansas 77, Oklahoma State 70 (OT)

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014

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Here are three key takeaways from Kansas’ thrilling win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Andrew Wiggins is heating up at the right time for Kansas (sportschump.net).

Andrew Wiggins is heating up at the right time for Kansas (sportschump.net).

  1. How about that for a follow up performance from Andrew Wiggins? After scoring 41 in a loss to West Virginia last Saturday, the freshman scored 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting in his third, and likely final, game against Oklahoma State. For most of the game the Cowboys did a good job in taking the baseline away from Wiggins and forcing him to beat them with his jump shot. And beat them he did, going 3-of-6 from three, and hitting a stepback jumper to tie the game at the end of regulation. Wiggins found more space going to the rim in the second half, and finished off an elevator of an alley-oop. He was also tasked with guarding Markel Brown the majority of the game, and forced the senior into a 5-of-13 shooting afternoon. This occurred after Brown had an efficient 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting the night before. In these last two games Wiggins has played the type of basketball that can carry a team deep into the postseason. That’s pretty good timing on his part.
  2. Wiggins took the headlines today, but the bigger story is how Kansas fared against a quality opponent without Joel Embiid in the lineup. Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor combined for 21 rebounds, 13 points and two blocks, and production like that will go a long way in allowing the Jayhawks to weather the absence of the seven-foot difference-maker. It’ll need to be an all hands on deck mantra for the Kansas big men, and it was this afternoon. Embiid is a dynamic defensive player, but Kansas may feel his loss just as much on the offensive end. Foul trouble limited Perry Ellis to just eight second half minutes, and without him in the game the Jayhawks had no one to draw the Cowboys’ defensive attention in the low post. If not for Wiggins’ scoring heroics, Kansas likely wouldn’t have been able to weather the Oklahoma State comeback. Though raw offensively, Embiid still demands attention, and that will be missed for as long as he’s out.
  3. Number one seeds now might be able to breathe a sigh of relief. The Cowboys’ late season surge (with wins over Kansas and Kansas State), paired with their solid performance this afternoon, may have served to bump them off of the rumored #8/#9 seed line. Given their star power and reputation going into the season, it wouldn’t be surprising if the committee gives them the benefit of the doubt this weekend. That’s good news for any potential top seed. As Bill Self said after the game, if the Cowboys avoid foul trouble, they are good enough to play with just about anyone in the country. Neither Brown nor Marcus Smart shot the ball well today, but Le’Bryan Nash displayed why he’s a such a tough match-up problem. He’s developed into a capable low post scorer, but by nature is more of a slasher. Contending with both of these styles is a tough task for any big man attempting to guard him.

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