Sherron Collins was unaware he had been named Big 12 player of the week — for the second straight week — until a media member mentioned it to him Monday afternoon.
“I slept in because I had no class today,” Collins, Kansas University’s junior point guard, said with a sheepish grin, after learning he’d earned earned the award for the third time this season.
The 5-foot-11 point guard by midday Monday had been told the Jayhawks had cracked the Top 10 of both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls for the first time all season.
“I got a text from one of my teammates (informing him KU was ranked No. 9 in both polls),” Collins said of freshman Tyshawn Taylor, who Monday was tapped Big 12 rookie of the week for the fourth time.
“It’s pretty cool. It shows that hard work is paying off. It feels good to be in the Top 10,” added Collins, who averaged 25.5 points a game last week in victories over Oklahoma and Missouri.
“I think it means more this year because we didn’t come in as the No. 3-ranked team in the country. It’s more satisfying to know you worked for something instead of having it given to you.”
KU (24-5, 13-1) opened the season ranked No. 23 by ESPN/USA Today and No. 24 by the AP.
“This is where we wanted to be the whole season,” sophomore guard Tyrel Reed said. “I think it was better for us early on to not have that ranking. Now we are ready to have a little more pressure on us come tournament time.”
Reed said it was “nice to go under the radar” for a good portion of the season.
“For a young team like us, it was good not having a whole lot of pressure early on. Now we are getting used to it. We’ve won some big road games. I think we feel we can handle pressure a little more now. It’s nice to work your way into the Top 10,” Reed said.
KU coach Bill Self doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the rankings.
But ... “If we are going to pick a time to be in the Top 10, this time of year is the best time, obviously,” he said.
That’s because NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday looms on March 15.
Self at this point will accept any and all accolades for his team.
He turned some heads after Sunday’s 90-65 rout of Missouri by saying he thinks he’s “falling in love with this team.”
“That’s probably a little corny, a little ‘soft’ deal,” Self said Monday, then explained why he likes this squad so much.
“Every day they come to work. I think they are unselfish with their thoughts. We don’t always play well. They try. Their body language has been good. It’s been a fun team to watch grow up. Not that we are mature, yet. We are a lot farther along than two months ago. I’ve enjoyed the process the second half of the season.”
• Self finalist for Iba Award: Self is one of 10 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Henry Iba Award, to be given to the country’s coach of the year.
Other finalists: Missouri’s Mike Anderson, Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel, Utah State’s Stew Morrill, Memphis’ John Calipari, Purdue’s Matt Painter, Clemson’s Oliver Purnell, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, Cal’s Mike Montgomery and Butler’s Brad Stevens.
• Slump over?: Mario Little has made three of his last 16 shots over the last five games. He made two of six Sunday versus Mizzou.
“I think I was bragging too much,” Little joked of a stretch earlier this year when he made 11 consecutive shots. “Sometimes it falls. I think the slump should be over now.
“I usually am not streaky,” he added. “Most of my life I’ve been real good shooting the ball.”
• Title on the line: KU can wrap up at least a share of the Big 12 title by winning Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. game at Texas Tech. A KU victory combined with an Oklahoma loss at Missouri on Wednesday would give KU the undisputed title heading into KU’s finale against Texas on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’d be a huge deal to win the league regardless, but we are not in a position to celebrate (Wednesday night) if in fact we have a chance to win it outright (Saturday),” Self said. “Tech’s good. Hopefully our guys will understand it’s the biggest road game we played all year.”
If KU does win the title, it’d be the fifth regular-season crown for senior Matt Kleinmann, who red-shirted in 2004-05.
“Matt has a chance to do something never equaled by a Big 12 basketball athlete — win five regular-season Big 12 titles. It may never be done again in a career because obviously you have to red-shirt,” Self said. “It’d be a big deal for him.”