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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Josh Smith Again Shows His Talent Despite Georgetown Loss

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2014

Games like Wednesday’s 70-75 loss to Kansas have to sting for a team like Georgetown. The Hoyas managed to come back from a 12-point deficit and take a late two-point lead against the Jayhawks, but failed to play enough mistake-free basketball down the stretch to seal the resume-enhancing win. But John Thompson III can take solace in some encouraging signs from his team’s performance, as it was apparent to anyone watching the game that the Hoyas played generally as well as Kansas, with the outcome of the game coming down to the discrepancy in three-pointers (Kansas: 10-of-17; Georgetown 5-of-16). One especially bright spot was the dominant performance from Hoyas’ center Joshua Smith. It must have been performances like this that Thompson had envisioned when he sought the Washington native and UCLA transfer almost two years ago. With Big East play on the horizon, Smith’s growing assertiveness still paints a bright picture for the season despite this week’s disappointing defeat.

Joshua Smith kept the Hoyas in the game against Kansas (USATSI).

Joshua Smith kept the Hoyas in the game against Kansas (USATSI).

The battle Smith faced inside against Jayhawks’ leading scorer Perry Ellis and super-recruit Cliff Alexander presented the biggest challenge to Smith so far this season (Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky challenged Smith by pulling him away from the basket). The Georgetown center finished with 20 points and five rebounds and dominated Alexander by going right at the rookie’s chest and establishing better position underneath the basket. The freshman Jayhawk couldn’t do much of anything to stop the 350-pound senior from getting wherever he wanted in the paint. Georgetown rightly exploited this mismatch as much as possible by running the offense through Smith – he was involved in a team-high 34 percent of its possessions – and keeping the senior big man on the court for 27 minutes, a season high. It was Smith’s play that, despite an off-shooting night by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (3-of-15) and a career shooting night for Kansas’ Brennan Greene’s (5-of-5 from the three-point line), kept the Hoyas in the game and gave them a chance to win.

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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Big 12 M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 5th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. The Naismith Trophy Top 50 watch list was released on Wednesday, and the Big 12 had nine players make the cut. They are: Kansas’ Cliff Alexander, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, Kansas State’s Marcus Foster, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, and Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and Myles Turner. Some of these guys have better chances of winning the trophy than others; for example, it’s hard to imagine Selden or Hield doing so after poor shooting starts this season, but the freshman Turner could very well win this award. Turner is seventh in the nation in block percentage (16%) and has blocked at least five shots in three games already. Ellis hasn’t been too bad, either, as the senior is averaging 15.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG and ranks eighth on Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year watch list.
  2. Gary Parrish over at CSBSports.com updated his Top 25 (And One) yesterday (like he does every morning) and Kansas (#8) and Texas (#9) each jumped up a spot in his daily rankings. West Virginia (#18) and Oklahoma (#19) were the other two Big 12 schools on his list, but all this will change soon. Kansas takes on Florida tonight in Allen Fieldhouse; Texas takes on No. 1 Kentucky in Lexington; and West Virginia lost at home to LSU last night. Oklahoma should take care of Missouri tonight in Norman, and Kansas will probably win a close one against the Gators. Texas is the team I’m most intrigued about, though — if the Longhorns play Kentucky close or somehow manage to win the game, they might be reasonably considered the favorites to win the Big 12 this season.
  3. Will the Big 12 win the SEC/Big 12 Challenge? ESPN‘s Andy Katz thinks so, and he doesn’t think it will be close. Texas Tech started things off with an ugly 46-44 win over Auburn on Wednesday night, and the Big 12 went 3-1 last night: TCU beat Ole Miss; Baylor beat Vanderbilt; and Iowa State beat Arkansas. LSU was the lone SEC school to pick up a win after beating West Virginia in Morgantown. Things pick up tonight, with the elite programs battling it out. I think Kansas and Oklahoma help improve the Big 12’s lead while Kentucky beats Texas by 10 points.
  4. There was always a distinct possibility that Iowa State would run Arkansas out of the gym last night. The Razorbacks play as quickly as almost anybody (12th in the country in adjusted tempo) and rely on turnovers via their full-court press to fuel their offense. If that doesn’t happen, though, a team like Iowa State can thrive. That’s exactly what happened as the Cyclones dropped 95 points on the Hawgs in a 95-77 win. Bryce Dejean-Jones and Georges Niang combined for 53 points in one of the fastest games of the season, and the Cyclones improved to 5-1.
  5. Last night was definitely a big setback for a rising West Virginia team. The Mountaineers came into their meeting with LSU undefeated, were up five points at halftime, and led by as many as 14 points in the second half. However, a layup by Josh Gray with 7.3 seconds left gave the Tigers the 74-73 win. West Virginia was ranked #16 going into the game but they will probably drop significantly next week as a result. Depending on what happens with LSU, this could end up being a costly loss for the Mountaineers down the road. LSU’s best win before last night came against UMass earlier this week, and they have already dropped games to Old Dominion and Clemson.

 

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Evaluating the Kansas Backcourt a Month Into the Season

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 4th, 2014

It has now been 16 days since Kansas suffered its worst loss of the Bill Self era, a 72-40 clubbing at the hands of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. Luckily for Jayhawks fans, the team has rebounded about as nicely as you could expect, winning four straight, including an Orlando Classic title after a five-point victory of Michigan State on Sunday. Still, there are plenty of questions about this team. Will Perry Ellis continue his recent surge when faced with bigger frontcourts? Will Kelly Oubre impress Self enough to earn decent minutes? What exactly is wrong with Wayne Selden? There is one thing we know for certain, though: Sophomore point guard Frank Mason III looks like the guy who will lead this team going forward. Since a disastrous outing at the Champions Classic where he was 1-of-10 from the field and largely invisible in his 32 minutes, Mason has made a strong case to become Self’s starting point guard. He has a 134.5 offensive rating since the Kentucky game, a very good mark for someone who uses fewer than 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

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

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

I don’t want to discount the night against Kentucky out of hand, though, because maybe it was indicative of how Mason will perform against the highest level of Division I competition. But Mason has been miles ahead of Devonte’ Graham, a player who many thought could supplant Mason in the starting lineup at some point this season. Self doesn’t appear to see it that way, as Graham has only played 13.4 MPG thus far and is no realistic threat to take Mason’s job from him anytime soon. In Orlando last week, Mason looked nothing like the player who went barreling into the lane with no apparent plan against the Wildcats. Instead, he picked his spots for aggressiveness, shooting 11-of-18 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range over three games. He also grabbed 10 rebounds in the match-up against Michigan State and averaged 5.6 APG. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 3rd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. A surprise to few after his big weekend in the Orlando Classic, Kansas forward Perry Ellis was named the Big 12 Player of the Week on Monday. Ellis scored at least 17 points in all four games last week, which was capped off with a win over Michigan State on Sunday. Ellis, who is now averaging 18.8 PPG and 7.5 RPG on the season, is also ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year rankings. While in Orlando, Ellis shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and was named tournament MVP. He had a pretty good Feast Week.
  2. West Virginia forward Jonathan Holton also received honors from the Big 12, being named conference Newcomer of the Week. The junior college transfer already has two double-doubles on the season and is a big reason why the Mountaineers have raised quite a few eyebrows around the Big 12 with their 7-0 start. Last week Holton averaged 17.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG in a pair of West Virginia wins, and he is averaging 12.9 PPG on the season. West Virginia hosts LSU Thursday night in Morgantown.
  3. Iowa State was a sexy pick to compete and potentially win the Big 12 this season, and so long as Fred Hoiberg and Georges Niang are still in Ames, it is not a terrible prediction. But after losing to Maryland last week, the Cyclones slipped quite a bit in the weekly polls. “Guys really forgot how much hard work it was to be how good we were last year,” Niang told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The Cyclones rebounded nicely last night, dropping 96 points in a 37-point beat down of Lamar, and are set to face Arkansas tomorrow night in what should be one of the more exciting non-conference games around the Big 12.
  4. Brian Spaen over at ClonesConfidential.com has a fair Big 12 Power Rankings heading into this week. Undefeated Texas tops the list, while Kansas follows the Longhorns in second place. We should have a somewhat good idea of where both teams stand after Texas travels to Lexington to take on Kentucky on Friday night. If (when) the Longhorns don’t lose by 32 to the Wildcats, it won’t mean they are the difference better than Kansas; but how the Texas front line handles Kentucky’s size could tell us how they might fare against Kansas in their two (possibly three) upcoming meetings this season.
  5. Kansas State didn’t have the best trip to Maui last week. The Wildcats played Arizona tough in the semifinals, but ended up losing their last two games on the island. They are now 3-3 on the year and have a few potentially tough non-conference games remaining, beginning at Tennessee on Saturday. “We’ve just got to keep moving forward,” senior forward Thomas Gipson told Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star on Monday. The four-point loss to Arizona was followed by a 23-point blowout against Pittsburgh, before they got back in the win column in Manhattan against Nebraska-Omaha last night. The Wildcats don’t look like a team capable of winning the Big 12 championship, but they have several more opportunities to pile up solid wins before heading into conference play.
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Grading the Big 12’s Feast Week Performances

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2014

With much of the Big 12 participating in competitive, neutral-court tournaments last week, we were able to get a solid litmus test for most of the conference’s squads. All in all, the league had a good showing, but it wasn’t spectacular. Here are some grades relative to how each team was expected to perform during Feast Week:

  • Texas (wins vs. St. Francis and UConn): A. In the Longhorns’ first action since Isaiah Taylor broke his wrist (minus the game against Cal the following night at MSG), Rick Barnes’ team rolled over the Red Flash without a problem, as they were paced by Myles Turner’s 25 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. All they did was follow that up by handing UConn its first non-conference loss at Gampel Pavilion since 1993, when current Husky guard Sam Cassell, Jr.’s dad helped Florida State beat UConn in Storrs. Big ups go out to Jonathan Holmes, who, with this game-winner from Sunday, is now shooting an eye-popping 61.9% from distance.
Jonathan Holmes' late heroics in Storrs kept Texas undefeated.

Jonathan Holmes’ late heroics in Storrs kept Texas undefeated. (Getty)

  • Kansas (wins over Rhode Island, Tennessee and Michigan State in the Orlando Classic): A-. After the big Kentucky loss, Kansas’ last game against venerable competition before the holiday weekend, the Jayhawks had their fair share of unanswered questions. With this still being the first week in December, the rotation still has some kinks to iron out, but fans should be happy about Perry Ellis‘ improved rebounding to complement his scoring ability as well as Frank Mason‘s overall progress, though I’m still a little bearish because we’ve seen both these movies before and because I’m not sure Michigan State is all that good. The keys moving forward are whether Ellis and Mason can maintain that level of play, and whether Bill Self‘s leash on Cliff Alexander has truly lengthened. It would also be helpful if Wayne Selden could bust out of a big scoring funk (6.8 PPG on 24.1% shooting over his last four games).

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas in the Orlando Classic

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 27th, 2014

In a loaded Feast Week of action, several Big 12 schools will head to a neutral site to take on all comers and hopefully build their resumes. Let’s take a look at each, this time with Kansas in the Orlando Classic.

Catching Up: Bill Self claimed that his team would eventually forget all about that 32-point drubbing at the hands of Kentucky last week in the Champions Classic. An Orlando Classic championship would certainly help. So far, the Jayhawks have really only proved they can beat bad teams, defeating UC-Santa Barbara and Rider at home. Self has mixed up his starting lineup so far and its unclear if or when he will settle on the same five guys every night. Junior forward Perry Ellis leads the team with 11.3 PPG. Five-star freshman forward Cliff Alexander is second on the team with 5.3 RPG and had 10 points on 4-4 shooting in just 13 minutes earlier this week against Rider. Freshman point guard Devonte Graham sat out last game with a sprained shoulder, but he should be able to go this week in Orlando. Ukrainian freshman guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk received his first career start against Rider and did not disappoint, going 4-for-7 from the field with 10 points and five rebounds.

Bill Self is still trying to find the right rotation this year. (KUSports.com)

Bill Self is still trying to find the right rotation this year. (KUSports.com)

Opening Round Preview: The Jayhawks open up the tournament against Rhode Island, an undefeated Atlantic-10 club which most recently defeated #21 Nebraska. The Rams are 13th in the country with 45 RPG and are led in scoring by sophomore guard E.C Mathews, who is averaging 16.3 PPG. Mathews had 26 points in the win over Nebraska, but it took him 20 shots to get there. As a team the Rams are first in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (19.1) and their opponents have shot just 20.7 percent from three. They haven’t done much better themselves, however, shooting 21.9 percent from beyond the arc through three games. In the win over Nebraska, both teams combined to shoot 6-39 from three-point range. It’s hard to imagine Rhode Island staying in this game if Kansas can reach the 70-point mark. The Rams scored 72 against Umass-Lowell and 53 in regulation against Nebraska. They were able to win both games because of their defense, and they will have to play even better defensively to keep the Jayhawks in that neighborhood.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 72, #5 Kansas 40

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic games tonight.

Three Key Takeaways:

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

  1. Kentucky’s size is peerless. Kentucky ranks first in the nation in effective height, but it doesn’t take an advanced statistician to know that the Wildcats are really, really big. That size and length proved the difference against Kansas tonight, as Bill Self’s club was unable to find consistent looks near the basket and shot poorly from the outside – an obviously lethal combination. Altogether, Kentucky blocked 11 shots and held the Jayhawks to eight – yes, eight – two-point baskets on the night (19.5% 2FG). With five contributors standing 6’9’’ or taller, including two seven-footers, the Wildcats’ interior defense is seemingly impregnable. The only way to beat Calipari’s group may be from the outside, and even that remains to be seen.
  2. The platoon remains for now. After the game, Calipari noted, “we’ll figure it out as we go, as far as ‘are we going to be able to play this way?’” and suggested that a more conventional lineup – one based on performance – could develop over time. But after a 32-point thrashing, on a night filled with so much national attention and fanfare, the fact that postgame conversations seemed less about ‘egos’ and ‘one-and-dones’ and more about “just how good can this team be?” suggests that the platoon system will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Five guys in, five guys out.
  3. This is more about Kentucky and less about Kansas. Sure, the Jayhawks were dominated, but Bill Self’s club is and should remain a top-10 team and perceived Big 12 favorites. Fact is, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Cliff Alexander will be far more productive against normal-sized front lines; the team won’t shoot 20 percent from behind the arc each night; and Frank Mason will develop into a more consistent point guard. Considering Kansas’ talent and Bill Self’s track record, there are numerous aspects about tonight’s game that his staff might be better off just ignoring, moving on from, and chalking up to the fact that Kentucky is just ridiculously talented. There are better days ahead in Lawrence.

Star of the Game: Karl-Anthony Towns. There are no stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Or, there are many stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Either way, freshman center Towns was excellent tonight, logging nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 17 minutes and 34 seconds on the court. It’s all about efficiency for Kentucky this year, and efficient he was.

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Wooden Award Watch List Features Plenty of Big 12 Talent

Posted by Chris Stone on November 18th, 2014

The 2014-15 Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 watch list released on Monday features 10 players from the Big 12. League favorite Kansas leads the conference with four selections — a number matched only by the top-ranked (and tonight’s opponent in the Champions Classic) Kentucky Wildcats. Five other Big 12 schools are also represented on the list, including Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. The conference most recently won the award when Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin took home the honor at the end of the 2008-09 season.

Juwan Staten is one of ten Big 12 players on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 watch list.

Juwan Staten is one of 10 Big 12 players on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 watch list.

This year’s watch list features three Big 12 freshmen, all of whom were top 10 recruits according to Rivals. Kansas’ Cliff Alexander began the season by playing 12 minutes in a 69-59 victory over UC Santa Barbara last Friday, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds behind the more experienced frontcourt players, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. The second Kansas freshman on the list, Kelly Oubre Jr., played only four minutes in Friday’s contest. Oubre has struggled to find his place in Bill Self’s rotation, playing behind sophomore Brannen Greene and freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and having a minimal impact against UCSB. While Oubre struggled, Texas center Myles Turner opened the season with a bang against North Dakota State, scoring 15 points and pulling down six rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time in the 85-50 victory. He followed up that performance with a 10-point, seven-rebound, six-block game in an 85-53 win over Alcorn State on Sunday night.

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Kentucky vs. Kansas: Previewing Tonight’s Champions Classic Battle

Posted by Kory Carpenter & David Changas on November 18th, 2014

When it was introduced in 2011, the Champions Classic quickly rose to become the crown jewel of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. The event was such a success that last November, all four teams – Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State – renewed the deal without hesitation. Tonight marks the start of the second rotation, and the nightcap will pit the two winningest college hoops programs of all-time (4,269 wins, at last count) against each other. Big 12 microsite writer Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) and SEC microsite writer David Changas (@dchangas) took some time to preview the matchup.

Kory Carpenter: Few coaches have a shared history like Bill Self and John Calipari. Each began his career as a Larry Brown disciple at Kansas in the 1980s, and they were famously reunited over 20 years later in the 2008 National Championship game, with Self (thanks to Mario Chalmers) taking the first championship match-up between the two. Calipari got even with Self four years later (thanks to Anthony Davis), beating Self and Kansas in the 2012 National Championship game. Aside from Coach K at Duke, there is nobody in the country recruiting like these two; and, depending on whom you ask, they could easily be considered the two best coaches in the country. In the first year of the Champions Classic in 2011, Kentucky cruised to a 75-65 win behind 17 points from Doron Lamb and seven blocks from future NPOY Anthony Davis. Kentucky is favored once again, thanks to a roster that includes more McDonald’s All-Americans than Calipari might know what to do with. Blue-blood problems, indeed.

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight's contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight’s contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

Both teams should contend for the National Championship this season, but there are always questions this early, especially when facing teams of this caliber. The biggest concern for Kansas has to be post play, specifically rebounding. Kentucky starts three guys as tall or taller than anyone in Kansas’ starting lineup. Then you have 6’9” Marcus Lee, 6’10” Trey Lyles, and 7’0″ Dakari Johnson coming off the bench. The Jayhawks started a pair of 6’8” guys — Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis — against UC Santa Barbara on Friday night. Beyond that, Landen Lucas (6’10”) and Cliff Alexander (6’8”) combined for 21 more minutes. As a result, UCSB forward Alan Williams had a field day against the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. But with all due respect to the future mid-major draft pick, he’s got nothing on players like Lyles, Johnson, and Towns. Kansas’ Ellis has struggled in the past against bigger, physical players, but that will have to change quickly if Kansas has a chance here, because Traylor doesn’t have a polished offensive game and Alexander looks like he will take some time to become a dominant player. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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