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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Keegan

Opinion: KU not perfect but still deserving of No. 1 spot

Kansas guard Travis Releford raises up the fieldhouse during a Jayhawk run against Oklahoma in the second half on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013.

Kansas guard Travis Releford raises up the fieldhouse during a Jayhawk run against Oklahoma in the second half on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self talks after win over Oklahoma

Kansas coach Bill Self talks after his team's 67-54 win over Oklahoma on Jan. 26, 2013.

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Box score

KU-OU

Generally, the chant “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!” starts loud, grows louder and ultimately shakes the building.

Not now. Not in college basketball. Not anywhere in the country.

After his team again defended like a champion, Kansas coach Bill Self was asked if it is ready for a No. 1 ranking.

“No,” Self said. “Nor are we deserving.”

Then the mental Rolodex of other highly ranked schools swiftly spun and he took his answer in another direction.

“You know, somebody’s got to be it though,” he said.

Bingo. The weekly Associated Press college basketball poll measures today’s teams against each other, not against top-ranked juggernauts from years past.

Michigan, should it win at Illinois — the Big 10 school where Self and the two coaches he defeated this past week used to coach — likely will remain one spot ahead of Kansas and top the AP poll and Kansas would probably rank No. 1 in the far less prestigious coaches’ poll. (Can’t tell I’m a voter in the AP version, can you?)

“If they’re (No.) 1 in both of them, that wouldn’t bother me much at all,” Self said of the Wolverines. “But you know, somebody’s got to do it, and if it’s us, that would be great.”

Kansas (18-1 overall, 6-0 in the Big 12) pushed its winning streak to 17 games with Saturday’s 67-54 victory against Oklahoma.

“You know I never would have thought before the season that this team could be No. 1 at any point in time,” Self said. “That’s great for our kids and everything, but I think after today our guys know our success winning will be short-lived if in fact we don’t come in with better focus than we did today.”

Unlike a year ago, when Kentucky had a band of stars now making nice livings in the NBA even though some aren’t old enough to drink, this could be one of those years in which age and experience could trump pure talent. Why? It’s a shallow talent pool across the country, much less on any one particular team.

“We’ve had a lot of teams in here that didn’t have their ‘A’ game focus-wise but they were so talented they could still get by. This team’s not like that. This team has less margin for error. So that’s why it disappoints me,” Self said.

At a school that draws No. 1 seeds on a near-annual basis, it’s tough not to compare today to yesterday. The best recent standard is the 2008 national-championship team.

“We had seven NBA players on one team,” Self said. “If those guys didn’t have their ‘A’ game, their ‘B’ game or ‘C’ game focus-wise we would still be OK because their talent was so high. We’re not like that now.”

Shaky point-guard play — Elijah Johnson watched half the first half with two fouls and had his pocket picked twice late — kept Kansas from running away with this one and was a particular point of dismay for the coach.

“We can’t afford to make mental mistakes and not play with the same energy and things like that,” Self said. “It doesn’t mean we’re awful by any stretch. It doesn’t mean they’re trying not to be focused or anything, but we didn’t have that. We weren’t razor-sharp today by any stretch. And then I think you get real average real fast.”

Kansas plays extraordinary defense and finishes exceptionally well on the fast break, but it’s far from a perfect team, especially when trying to score from its half-court offense. Perfection is not a prerequisite of a No. 1 ranking.

I’ll put Kansas at the top of my ballot because it won on Ohio State’s home court, the site of Michigan’s lone loss. But if Michigan defeats Illinois, the argument that the Wolverines deserve the top spot because it’s easier to win in the Big 12 than the Big Ten certainly has merit as well.

Put on the spot after Saturday’s game, Kruger endorsed the Jayhawks after being asked: Does Kansas look like a typical No. 1 team?

“Yeah, I think they’re great,” he said. “They’ve got terrific athletes on the perimeter, big shot-blocker inside. They’ve got guys who are very unselfish. Bill does a terrific job. They play the game. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. They move the ball and they’re great defensively. Yeah, they’re deserving. I hope they are No. 1.”

Well, what else would you expect a gentleman’s gentleman possibly on his way to coaching a fifth different school into the NCAA Tournament to say?

Besides, as Self said, somebody has to be No. 1. It’s not Duke, which lost by 27 points to Miami earlier in the week.

Or Louisville, which has lost three games in a row. Or Syracuse, upset in overtime Saturday at Villanova.

And it’s sure not Northern Illinois, which in Saturday’s 42-25 loss to Eastern Michigan made 1 of 31 field-goal attempts on the way to four first-half points. Definitely not Northern Illinois.

Comments

Andrew Dunlap 1 year, 7 months ago

we may be the best team this week, but we are not the best that we can be, it's not about AP rankings, it only matters in April.

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mae 1 year, 7 months ago

wrong. being number 1 helps recruiting year round. it is why the cream of the crop look at us instead of kstate, mizzou and others.

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Mark Lindrud 1 year, 7 months ago

Being #1 isn't that big for recruiting. We are in the top 5 every year and either a 1 or 2 seed yearly. Also, we are on tv more than any team in our conference, and finally we have The Phog with the best fans in the nation.

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klineisanazi 1 year, 7 months ago

Good grief. We are not competing with K-State for players. KU does not need publicity. Recruits know all about the Jayhawks.

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ironhead80 1 year, 7 months ago

Yes, KU deserves the #1 spot considering how the other top bball schools get more PUB than KU. That has always been the case even though this year I believe KU is in the top 5 of the bball top programs. To be a dominate #1 we need more of scorer at the 4 position.

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actorman 1 year, 7 months ago

It seems logical to me: #1 in FG percentage defense = #1 at the polls.

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Hank Cross 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree with the 'someone's got to be No.1' attitude. All that matters is getting a good seed in the tourney and barring some completely unforseen blow up, KU is on track for that. Being No. 1 during the season means nothing unless you're Mizzou who would hang a banner or K-State who would make a commerative dvd.

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KULA 1 year, 7 months ago

Duke has banners in their arena commemorating No. 1 poll rankings, lol.

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Jonathan Allison 1 year, 7 months ago

I could see a single banner that commemorates how many weeks the program has been ranked number 1 overall, or in Kansas' case, how many years the program has achieved a number 1 ranking for at least one week. But to dedicate more than one banner for it would be a waste of precious rafter space.

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Boouk 1 year, 7 months ago

If Elijah gets back to playing like he was at the end of last season, this is clearly the best team in the country. If he continues to struggle, we're probably in the 2-5 range.

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Kye Clark 1 year, 7 months ago

Your point about EJ is spot on. He is clearly the wild card on this team. Which is odd considering many thought (myself included) that he was at worst going to be the rock of this team - meaning steady, if not spectacular - and at best was going to play himself onto NBA draft boards. It hasn't worked out that way, as he's been very erratic and hasn't come close to "starring" for even stretches let alone entire games, and I'm asking myself "when is it time to worry?"

Some have speculated that it's lingering injuries holding him back, some say it's because he's playing out of position. To the first theory, if that's the case, what's the solution? Will rest even help him? We've had a week off between a couple of games this season and it hasn't seemed to matter. Of course, time off between games doesn't mean time off from practice, so it's hard to say how much "rest", if any, he's actually gotten during these stretches. Might be a case where Self has to shelve him at practice and hope that puts some bounce back in his step on game days. Again, if nagging injuries are dragging down his play.

If it's the second theory, some posters have suggested maximizing his minutes at the 2 and play Tharpe more. That's not ideal either, as Tharpe is still deficient on defense and we saw today is still prone to carelessness. The other problem with this is that you're most likely taking minutes away from Travis, BMac, Ellis, or Young to get Tharpe in the game more (the latter two players losing minutes if Self decides to go small and play Travis at the 4).

Here's to hoping he can regain that level of play we saw last season. If so, I agree that this team is as good as any this year.

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Boouk 1 year, 7 months ago

I think he'll be fine if he doesn't shoot as many 3's and quits making those 2 to 3 bonehead passes a game. Hopefully with more experience at PG he'll start cutting down on the bad passes and improve his shooting and shot selection.

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Ben Kane 1 year, 7 months ago

I think it's more the second than the first. I believe the solution is to keep him focused on what he already is: getting teammates involved, playing defense, and taking care of the ball. the shooting will fall into place if he maintains the other 3, i have no fears about that.

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Jonathan Allison 1 year, 7 months ago

To expound on the second issue a little more.

There is an innate weakness in playing Tharpe and EJ together. You touched on that it reduces minutes for Trav, BMac, Ellis, Young. This is critical because our best players are BMac, Withey, and Trav. So in order for our three best players to all continue to play that means we are going with the "small" lineup. Which has proven well for us situationally this year. But as Jaybate pointed out before the K-State game if we play the 4 guard lineup then we become very thin for guards on the bench. Foul trouble would force us to go back to Young/Ellis or bring in Rio or White. No one is suggesting that we shouldn't play Young/Ellis, but if we do have the 4 guards in the game together for more minutes there's also the issue of they will all be getting winded at the same times in the game. So we may need multiple guard players needing a breather at the same time. I see the 4 guard lineup as a situational strategic advantage, but I don't think that it will become a major part of Self's gameplan. So, having Tharpe and EJ on the court together likely means that either Trav or BMac is catching a breather. Which is exactly what you were indicating, and is precisely the fundamental flaw and reason that Self will play Tharpe and EJ independently moreso than he plays them concurrently.

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Boouk 1 year, 7 months ago

He wasn't playing good last year until the end of the season, when he was probably our best player in the NCAA tournament.

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KatnissHawk 1 year, 7 months ago

He's playing like he's injured. Not all here and he's been like that all season.

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KatnissHawk 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree. I think he's not close to 100%.

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Boouk 1 year, 7 months ago

By the way, Michigan plays at Illinois tomorrow on the Big 10 network at 5.

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jaybate 1 year, 7 months ago

Thanks for the feed. Got to catch up on the Wolverines and Behlein.

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bville_hawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Wow, a dozen or so posts up already and not one bitching about Keegan's Northern Illinois comments in the last couple sentences. The Keegan Bashers on this board are slipping.

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Jack Jones 1 year, 7 months ago

I've re-read the Northern Illinois comments a number of times, and have yet to see anything to bitch about. Maybe that explains your observation.

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Ben Kane 1 year, 7 months ago

it's not worthy of being mentioned...

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KatnissHawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Let Michigan have the 1, and we should be happy with anything between 1 and 5. Need the 1 seed in March.

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Jack Jones 1 year, 7 months ago

It's way, way, way to early to be getting excited about being #1, or #2, or # anything. Yes, it makes for excitable conversation > and that's why it will continue ad infinitum. Being a Jayhawk for 60+ years > history reminds me that rarely, rarely does a team maintain a top 1,2,3,4 ranking this early in a season throughout the balance of the schedule. That's exactly why the #1, Golden Mantra of the coaching profession is > ONE GAME AT A TIME!!

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David Leathers 1 year, 7 months ago

There are 3 types of coaches and teams:

The first of which are the teams that make it to the top of the polls every once in a while -- your Villanovas, USCs, and Georgetowns. (Probably bad examples, I'm too tired to do any research)

The second (and the group that I would place KU and HCBS in) is the group that has the yearly potential to be in the number one spot, but once (and if) they do get there, play pretty poorly. This group, however, is one of the most dangerous groups in the Tournament because they've been there. They know what to expect. Also, these types of teams spend a great majority of the season improving from game to game, and tend to peak at the right time.

The last and rarest of them all is the group of teams that spend nearly all year at the top. These teams do one of two things in the NCAAs: they either win it all as the favorite, or they flop and mess up a lot of people's brackets. Last year's Kentucky team fits into this group, as does the Joakim Noah-led team looking for the repeat a few years back.

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John Randall 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm not sure three categories cover the spectrum. Any single elimination crapshoot like the NCAA tourney rewards luck and clutch performance almost as much as which officiating crews are assigned to which games.

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hotrodm 1 year, 7 months ago

Forget about the polls. Win the regular season Big 12 championship and make a 6 game run in the NCAA tourney. Anything less would be a disapointment.

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jhawkrulz 1 year, 7 months ago

Bring on the #1 ranking...It is awesome to be the best.

I was waiting for Tom to explain why Duke should be #1. Personally, I think they didn't drop enough after their first lost, and I think they won't drop much even after one of the biggest beatdowns I've seen by a "good" team. Personally, that loss alone should drop them out of the top 10, but it won't happen, because people like Keegan who vote in the "prestigious" AP poll wouldn't want to vote what they really saw against the Miami game, a team that is one dimensional on offense and doesn't have an inside defensive presence. They were down by 32 when Miami put in their scrubs.

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Jim Roth 1 year, 7 months ago

We had seven NBA players on the 2008 team. How many are on this team? Two are obvious; any others? Not just next year, but eventually...

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fansincewilt 1 year, 7 months ago

In 2008, there were three or four teams that stood out from the rest. Last year, there was one team and then four or five after that. This year is different from those kinds of years. There really isn't a team that stands out as the best team in the country. I do think Michigan has the most big wins with wins over KSU and NC State at home, and wins over Minnesota and Bradley on the road. Their loss at Ohio State is significant since KS won there. KS has wins over Ohio State and KS State on the road and a loss to Michigan State on a neutral court. I think the Ohio State resume is a little more impressive unless they lose tonight. At this point I think they should be #1 and #2. There is a lot of basketball left and KS has much to work on but they just might be the two best teams in the country. Michigan has a tougher road than the Jayhawks to ending up the #1 team in the nation. Because of that, I think KS ends #1. They could probably lose another game or maybe even two and still end #1. I think the #1 team will probably have at least three loses at the end of the season. The article is very good.

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Mark Lindrud 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't care about being #1, it's almost like an albatross midway through the season, ill take #2 and improved play by us as the season progresses. Will we end up #1 eventually? Probably, but the season is a journey and that's my focus, because we've still got a ways to go to get where we want to be, but Coach Self is keeping the boys focused on the task at hand. Bring in West Virginia Monday and lets get that Big 12 Title so we can say Nine is Fine.

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akgjenkintown 1 year, 7 months ago

Use the eye test. There is not one person that can claim that this team is good at all facets of the game and is the best team in the country; at least as of today. Defense, Self's staple has KU surviving and winning. There are still too many glaring weaknesses that the opposing teams continue to exploit. And after each game, opposing coaches continue to modify their game plans, which will now include pressuring the ball to half court, to go with double teaming Withey and making McLemore work for his shots. In the OU game, Ben created his own shots and we as KU fans are lucky to have such an elite player capably of scoring when blanketed. There will be a game, and potentially soon when the defense cannot overcome the costly turnovers and sporadic outside shooting.

I want KU to be #1 when it counts and that is on April 8 in Atlanta. This season's team has more depth than last year but lacks good ball handling (not just Elijah) leading to more costly turnovers and transition points by the opposing team than I can remember in a long time. KU's turnovers are not deadball, but lead to fastbreaks the other way. That is normally a KU staple - transition points. That is something that stands out and is a huge concern even though this team continues to do just enough to win against good but not great teams (best wins OSU and KSU on the road and ISU at home). Since Big XII play other teams have focused on sticking close to our guards to slow transition and overplaying the passing lanes and KU has obliged by throwing the ball careless. Matchups will be the key going forward. Although OU kept it close I never thought they had the three point shooters to challenge KU. But if you look at the basketball landscape outside of ISU in the Big XII, there are many teams that shoot the three well enough on a given evening and could pull an early round upset if KU continues to play loose with the ball and keep the opposing teams close.

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TexasRockChalk 1 year, 7 months ago

Let Michigan have #1. I don't like WVU needing any more ammunition for Big Monday than necessary. We seem to play to the level of our competition (see Ohio State, Baylor & the Kitty Cats) as of late. We're spoiled. How many coaches would give an arm and a leg to be 18-1 and winning 16-17 in a row, and "complaining" about how we're vastly underperforming (on offense)? :)

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Sam Constance 1 year, 7 months ago

I agree that being #1 essentially doesn't matter, but I stop short of saying that I don't care if Michigan is #1 instead of us. And at that point, it's more a matter of respect than anything else.

If there's one thing we know about the polls, they tend to operate on a set process--teams advance in the polls as teams in front of them lose and drop in the polls. To suggest that the polls are any kind of "who is the best overall team right now" barometer is simply incorrect, because if that was the case, you would see the order of the polls fluctuate from week to week, as teams had impressive wins and weeks to demonstrate their overall worthiness. So we have a strange sort of queue, where getting to the #1 spot is more a factor of where you start and when you lose than anything else.

And given that understanding, it's a slight to Kansas to sit behind Michigan, because the Wolverines have lost MUCH MUCH MUCH more recently than us, and it just so happens that the team they lost to was the same team KU controlled, start to finish--Ohio State.

Kansas deserves the #1 ranking in the context of how the rankings are traditionally assigned and modified. Even though they still have plenty of flaws to work on--for example, I am extremely worried that the end of this team will be on the back of two things: leaving shooters open from the perimeter and passes that are either ill-advised, or aren't crisp enough--this team has the resume that deserves the top spot at this point in the season and given the losses of the other top teams over the past few weeks.

But we all know how this is going to work: KU won't leapfrog Michigan in the AP poll, so come Monday, we will likely have a split #1 team: Michigan in the AP and Kansas in the Coaches' Poll.

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BPSkelly 1 year, 7 months ago

To me the polls are largely irrelevant. As far as KU folks are concerned rankings should only matter as it concerns to seeding. Getting a #1 seed at this point seems possible. Lets just keep it at that and not worry about the opinion brigade at this point. Polls do play a part in that of course. But odds are it wont a whole lot to the committee in the room that picks.

This team seems less talented than most the KU teams the past 5 years. It's hard to argue otherwise really. It also speaks to the dearth of talent in the NCAA right now. We're fortunate in big sense though. We have 4 Seniors, whom have all improved appreciably from where they were when they showed up here. They've also all gone through the battles all the way to last years Final Four. When you thrown in an uber talented guy like McLemore it makes it even better.

One of my favorite quotes ive seen from Self this year is the fact that Ben benefits from playing with the 4 seniors as much as the 4 seniors benefit from playing with him. And its true to the Nth degree. It also explains why we are where we are nationally. It doesnt make sense to me when I watch it with my own eyes. But when you see other supposed 'good' teams go down constantly, it does tell you how things are out there.

Survive and advance.

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 7 months ago

At the end of the regular season, there will be four #1 seeds. The highest of those will play closest to home. The last #1 seed might play quite some distance from home. Should a #2 or #3 seed be playing much closer to home than the #1 seed, any advantage of being a #1 seed will quickly disappear.

I attended the 2007 elite eight game played between #1 Kansas and #2 UCLA. The game was played in San Jose. It was a virtual home game for the Bruins as their crown far outnumbered our crowd. They beat us soundly. Had we been a stronger #1 seed, we could have played our games in St. Louis instead of California. (All four of UCLA's games leading up to the Final Four were played in California while the team coming out of St. Louis, Florida, went on to be champs.) I'd hate to be a #1 seed placed in Indianapolis if Indiana winds up being a #2 seed. That fate might fall to the lowest of the #1 seeds. So, yes, being #1 overall does matter.

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Kent Richardson 1 year, 7 months ago

The way I see it is being ranked highly is an ego stoke for us. Validation that we are right when we scold/screech (whatever a Jayhawk does). It feels good , we are proud, we are right, we care. When we are not ranked #1 I can understand and justify that. When we are ranked #1 I like it but it makes CS and myself nervous. You're right, there are more important times in the season but it sure feels good in the moment. I think it helps recruiting in the same vein that an early round loss hurts recruiting. This is the best thread in the country.

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