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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Kansas and Oklahoma Carry Burden of Big 12 Reputation

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Last season’s NCAA Tournament resulted in a huge black mark on the Big 12’s reputation. The conference entered March ranked as KenPom‘s top league in the nation and yet three of its top teams — Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas — were all eliminated before the second weekend, and no Big 12 school made it past the Sweet Sixteen. At the time, Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called it a “colossal failure” that would “live with the league for a while.” It was a defensible sentiment. Last year’s postseason collapse was just the most recent example of the Big 12’s failings on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s now been four seasons since the conference’s last Elite Eight team and Kansas is the only school to make the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend since 2004. To call the Big 12’s recent NCAA Tournament performance underwhelming would be completely accurate.

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Is this the season when the Big 12 finally bounces back. Exhibit A of such a shift in fortunes came on Monday night when fans were treated to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory. Kansas head coach Bill Self gave the game his highest praise, calling it “probably the best game I have ever been a part of during the regular season,” and comparing last night’s 109-106 triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma with Kansas’ final Border War battle against Missouri in 2012 (won by the Jayhawks in overtime, 87-86). The contest had everything we want from a college basketball game. It featured an otherworldly individual performance from All-American Buddy Hield, a 46-point virtuoso performance so sublime that Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation after the game. Allen Fieldhouse was so wild that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale went so far as to call it the loudest game he had called in his 37 years of announcing. But perhaps most importantly, the game featured arguably college basketball’s two best teams taking each other’s hardest punches before countering back with their own.

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Brannen Greene’s Suspension Deals a Blow to Kansas’ Hopes in Maui

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2015

The continuation of Kansas’ offensive struggles from last year have been a huge lightning rod for discussion, and it looks like they’ll continue for at least another few weeks. News released this morning that Bill Self had suspended forward Brannen Greene for the next six games because of conduct detrimental to the team.

This isn’t the first time Greene has found himself in trouble off the court. In July 2013, he was cited by Lawrence police for leaving the scene of a car accident, an incident for which team discipline was handled internally. Last March, he was held out for the final game of the regular season against Oklahoma, with Self citing “irresponsibility” as the culprit.

The length of Greene’s current suspension means that he will miss three games in addition to the Jayhawks’ three contests next week at the Maui Invitational. The opponents for those games will be Loyola (MD), Harvard and Holy Cross, with all three tilts taking place in Lawrence. Greene’s return is currently pegged for December 12, when the Jayhawks are scheduled to face Oregon State in Kansas City.

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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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Big 12 Preview: Kansas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on November 10th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can this Kansas team put together a deep NCAA Tournament run? 

Very few teams in college basketball carry the weight of expectations that Kansas does each season. Since Bill Self took over the program in 2003-04, Kansas is one of only three schools (along with Duke and North Carolina) to have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll 10 or more times. Of the three times the Jayhawks weren’t in the top 10, the Jayhawks had played in the National Championship Game the year before and had lost significant roster pieces to the NBA. With the Big 12 regular season title streak now at 11 and counting, Kansas winning the league has become about as certain as death and taxes. And yet, it somehow still feels as though the Jayhawks have underachieved during Self’s tenure.

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Kansas has failed to make it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, losing to Stanford and Wichita State in its second game of the event. This isn’t the first bout of postseason failure under Self, either, as the Jayhawks suffered opening round defeats to Bucknell (2005) and Bradley (2006) prior to his national title in 2008. Self’s teams tend to bounce back, but can this group rebound from these recent early NCAA exits with a deep run this coming March? 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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Bill Self Struggling to Establish His Starting Lineup

Posted by Chris Stone on November 11th, 2014

On Monday afternoon, Bill Self announced his likely starters for Tuesday’s exhibition game against Emporia State. Four of those players — Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, and Jamari Traylor — also started in Kansas’s first exhibition last week against Washburn University. However, the third guard spot has been in a bit of disarray for Self and the Jayhawks in recent weeks. Initially, the final spot in the starting lineup against Washburn was supposed to be filled by sophomore Conner Frankamp, but his decision to transfer threw a wrench in those plans. Self then had planned to start sophomore Brannen Greene before a bad practice on the defensive end caused him to settle on freshman Devonte’ Graham instead. The Kansas head coach will now turn to his fourth potential starting guard after naming freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk the likely starter for Tuesday’s final tuneup against Emporia State before the regular season starts on Friday.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been named a likely starter for Tuesday's exhibition. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been named a likely starter for Tuesday’s exhibition. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

The construction of Self’s starting lineup is particularly important given the looming match-up against #1 Kentucky as part of the Champions Classic a week from today. The Jayhawks will need all of their players on the same page if they hope to pull off an upset over the talented Wildcats, and the cohesiveness of their starting lineup will be a necessary component. During the past three seasons leading up to this event, Self has only made alterations to his starters because of injuries and suspensions. His continued fiddling with the guard position clearly suggests he has not yet solved the problem.

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Morning Five: 05.22.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2014

morning5

  1. As we head into Memorial Day weekend, the long summer of college basketball purgatory awaits — June, July and August are fun months for many other reasons, but getting your college hoops fix isn’t one of them. Message boards and social media will remain active, of course, and we’ll do our part here from time to time as well, but at the end of the day, we’re all daydreaming about how next season will play out. The Sporting News waited a little longer than most outlets to release its post-early entry Top 25 for the preseason, but the timing works because it gives us something to chatter about. Perhaps the most surprising selection here is that TSN went against the grain in choosing a team not named Kentucky as its overall #1 team, but there are a few other surprises scattered about the list (particularly at #5). If you need a comparison Top 25, here’s RTC’s version from about a month ago.
  2. One of the teams looking to reload after losing Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to next month’s NBA Draft will be Kansas. With another elite recruiting class headed to Lawrence, however, headlined by star forwards Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, the Jayhawks populate most pundits’ preseason top 10s. Bill Self’s squad might find itself rising in everyone’s mind by October, as Kansas on Wednesday added another impressive piece to the class in Ukrainian guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk — good luck pronouncing that one — a tall but talented shooting guard who has been favorably compared with former Michigan star Nik Stauskas. With a ton of frontcourt talent on board as well as Wayne Selden and now Mykhailiuk joining the program, Self only needs to figure out his point guard situation in order to roll out another big-time National Championship contender.
  3. Speaking of one-and-dones, seemingly everyone who has a stake in the game is sick of them. Whether you’re in favor of going back to the preps-to-pros of the multi-year NFL model, people seem to agree that something needs to change. For the good of the game and all that. The Pac-12 on Wednesday took its own shot across the bow of the NBA’s dominion by releasing a letter addressed to ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools suggesting as one of its key reforms the following admonition: “Address the “one and done” phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.” Of course, the NBA, under the new leadership of Adam Silver, appears to have prioritized a two-and-through model for its next round of player negotiations, but there’s certainly no guarantee that such a change in rookie eligibility will occur. But freshman ineligibility as a measure of pushback? It would only serve to further marginalize college basketball as a major American sport. 
  4. Remember Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s former VP of Enforcement who was run out of the organization on a rail after the disastrous investigation of Miami (FL) athletics and the influence of Nevin Shapiro? After a 14-month hiatus doing consulting work, she’s back in college athletics, now as the new Deputy Commissioner of the Horizon League. Her new responsibilities will include oversight of the league’s 19 championships, student-athlete development, finances, corporate sponsorship and branding, all interesting and important aspects of an organization that has little to do with her previous role involving enforcement. Still, her breadth of experience and without question also her ties to the inner workings of the NCAA right down the street from HL offices are attractive qualities, and everyone deserves a second chance to prove their value and integrity. We wish her and the conference well on their new endeavor.
  5. Some transfer news from the midweek: Creighton picked up Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow; Michigan State’s Russell Byrd plans to play at NAIA school Master’s College; and the nation’s top returning scorer, Niagara’s Antoine Mason, is on the move for his final season of eligibility. All three will be eligible to play next season (Kreklow and Mason are set to use the graduate transfer exception next season, while there is no transfer penalty for Byrd to drop to the NAIA), but it is the free agency of Mason that might be the most interesting of this group. The 6’3″ guard and son of former New York Knick Anthony Mason will no doubt be a hot commodity in coming weeks for schools seeking to add some immediate scoring punch to their backcourts. The caveat with Mason, of course, is that he’s a high-volume, low-efficiency guy who took as many shots as he liked for a 7-26 MAAC team last season. If a high-major coach can get through to him to cut way back on his three-point attempts (28.6% on 168 attempts last season) and focus on driving the lane to draw fouls and get to the line (where he shoots a much nicer 72.8%), then Mason could become a key contributor on a contender next season.
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