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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Keegan

Column: Mason, Graham play well together

Kansas players Jamari Traylor, left, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis surround Frank Mason before a pair of free throws by Mason during the second half on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players Jamari Traylor, left, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis surround Frank Mason before a pair of free throws by Mason during the second half on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Watching Frank Mason and Devonté Graham play together for the final 10:34 Saturday, turning a one-point lead over Texas into a 75-62 Kansas University victory in the Erwin Center felt a little like watching the Royals’ stress-free bullpen work.

Mason and Graham have a knack for taking pressure off of each other and putting it on opposing defenses.

“When we’re in the game at the same time, that’s our job,” Graham said. “Coach always tells us we’ve got to get a good shot every possession, so taking care of the ball is the key to getting a good shot every possession. We can’t just be out there turning the ball over as point guards.”

Graham has proof that he values possessions, both preserving them and stealing them. He not only has a 3.4-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio, he has more steals (11) than turnovers (8).

The hand Self played for the final 10:34 Saturday in Austin wasn’t available to him in six games this season, including a 25-point loss at Temple, because Graham was lost to injuries. He won’t go in that direction for such a long stretch in every game, but the coach has nothing but confidence in the tandem.

The two small guards played together for 12 minutes in all Saturday, and the statistics backed up what everybody’s eyes saw. The Jayhawks play more aggressively, move the ball better and get better shots when Graham and Mason form the backcourt.

In the 28 minutes that either Mason or Graham was on the court, but not both, Kansas and Texas played to a stalemate, 44-44. KU shot .386 from the field and had three turnovers with one point guard, and shot .556 with no turnovers with two point guards.

Clutch free-throw shooting is another factor that gives Graham and Mason a Wade Davis/Greg Holland feel to them.

In the final five minutes of games, Graham has made 22 of 24 free throws (.917), Mason 19 of 23 (.826). Those numbers scream composure and conditioning.

Now that Perry Ellis is playing with restored confidence, Cliff Alexander has a better understanding of what it takes to stay on the court and Graham is healthy, Kansas has made a big leap in a short time and has established itself as the favorite to make it 11 Big 12 titles in a row.

Of course, as soon as the players believe the race is over, it won’t be, because any team in the conference is capable of staging a major upset, as was illustrated Saturday when Texas Tech shocked Iowa State.

No doubt, though, Kansas will be as tough to catch from behind in the Big 12 race as it is in games.

Comments

John Randall 2 years, 10 months ago

Across the board toughness is showing more than it ever did last year, and 2/3 of the conference schedule is yet to be played. I'm about to put this year's group high on my list of favorites.

Allison Steen 2 years, 10 months ago

Agreed. And i really enjoyed this group when we were blowing it. Its even more fun now.

Michael Sillman 2 years, 10 months ago

For the first time in a long while, we seem to have two guards that value the basketball and a shooting guard/forward (Greene) who can hit the three in pressure games.

That could be huge in March.

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

Keegan indicates Kansas has the inside track to repeat as conference champs. I don't disagree. Here is an outlook on the remaining schedule, rating the difficulty of games (from 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult) and predicting the win/loss vs the opponent:

Wed, Jan. 28 Kansas at TCU Rating: 3, Prediction: Win

Sat, Jan. 31 Kansas State at Kansas Rating: 5, Prediction: Win

Mon, Feb. 2 Iowa State at Kansas Rating: 9, Prediction: Win (barely)

Sat, Feb. 7 Kansas at Okla. St. Rating: 9, Prediction: Loss

Tue, Feb. 10 Kansas at TT Rating 4, Prediction: Win

Sat, Feb. 14 Baylor at Kansas Rating: 7, Prediction: Win

Mon, Feb. 16 Kansas at West Virginia Rating: 8, Prediction: Loss

Sat, Feb. 21 TCU at Kansas Rating 2, Prediction: Win

Mon, Feb. 23 Kansas at Kansas State Rating 7, Prediction: Win

Sat, Feb. 28 Texas at Kansas Rating: 9, Prediction: Loss

Tue, March 3 West Virginia at Kansas Rating: 8, Prediction: Win

Sat, March 7 Kansas at Oklahoma Rating: 10, Prediction: Loss

Conference Race Prediction: Kansas makes it 11 Straight with a 13-5 Conference Record (tie: Iowa State)

I also think whichever team wins the Big 12--whoever that is--should have its coach voted conference COTY.

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

Disagreement is welcomed. Wouldnt be a fun site to visit if everyone agreed all the time. For the OSU game in AFH, I dont think we really "shut down" Forte. Dude got 18 points on one leg. He's going to be deadly in Gallagher-Iba, where he's perhaps more comfortable as a shooter. Kansas is on the rise, but they still give too much space to perimeter shooters. Cant do that. As far as the Tex-ISU game tonight, I'll be watching that too! Im interested in the development of Myles Turner between now and our game against the Longhorns a month from now. He could make a difference in the outcome of the game. Of course you could correctly point out that our freshmen will also improve in that time and I couldnt argue with you.

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

Yes. But imagine the stat line if he weren't hurt. You gotta figure he'd have made at least 2 or 3 more triples. That's a near-30-point performance if he doesnt get cramps. I agree about Texas though. Im watching the game now and ISU is up 69-48. What happened to Texas?

Tom Jones 2 years, 10 months ago

KU had shut him down anyway, before the cramps. He got one cheapy in transition when he ended up with a big covering him and he faked his way into a 3 shot foul. And shot a bunch of technical foul shots. He was very lucky to get that many points pre cramps. No way he sniffs 30 the way we were playing him defensively that night.

Things will be different in Stillwater, though. They always are.

Mike Riches 2 years, 10 months ago

Agree on the COTY point.

Glad to see you're predicting KU as a winner. The only way I see KU losing at OU (where they're 5-1 in their last six trips) is if they have already locked up the conference, much like at WV and OSU last year or Baylor two years ago. That very will may be the case. I'll be at that game in Norman, and they've never lost when I'm there. (I'm sure those two are related...)

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

Then root your head off, because Id love for you to prove me a liar.

Jonathan Allison 2 years, 10 months ago

I don't think that Kansas loses to OSU; they're not that good of a team.

I too am worried about upcoming games against ISU, UT, @WVU, and @OU. I'm also worried about our trip to Manhattan.

I think that we'll drop 3 more games against those 5 opponents, but I have no confidence to say which 3 we'll lose. I'll be a lot less concerned about going to KSU if they lose 4+ before that game on Feb 23.

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

Yeah...it's a tough stretch of games ahead. And the last three on the schedule are absolutely killer. Of course I think that's what you want at that time of the year. Gotta be battle tested for March.

Rodney Crain 2 years, 10 months ago

I disagree with some of the difficulty numbers, WV is much more difficult to beat there than they will be in AFH for example. I also think we will have one bad loss we should have won and one should not have won that game win, but 13-5 seems very realistic.

4 more loss's will give us 7, with a very possible 8th in the tourny. For the NCAA's this looks like a 3-4 seed even with a great RPI/BPI. Maybe the last 2 seed...

My hope is we finish the season with no more than 6. This would mean winning both the Conference and the B12 Tourny. From the way we can play, Texas, this is possible now.

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

Interestingly, if we finish with only 6 losses we will have a better record this year than last, when we had more talented players and an easier schedule by comparison.

Rodney Crain 2 years, 10 months ago

Last years non con was more difficult and we got 7 in the big dance so you could say the B12 was just as hard to win as it will be this year. My hopeful 6 loss's would be Great for this years team, but it is just a hope. I would be surprised if ISU loses 3 more times this season in conf play. They have 3 tough road games left, as well as at KSU so it is possible.

It is still way to early to count chickens, but we have positioned ourselves to win it, Playing the parlay game is just fun to do while we wait for the next game, it does not mean too much with 12 more games to go.

TCU TCU TCU :)

Aaron Paisley 2 years, 10 months ago

13-5 won't win the Big 12 this year. I think KU goes 15-3 with losses at WVU and at OU in a game that doesn't mean anything to the standings.

Joe Ross 2 years, 10 months ago

You might be right. It's just hard for me to imagine that with the talent level of the teams this year in the Big 12 that anyone could run that gauntlet and get out of it with only three L's.

Waylon Cook 2 years, 10 months ago

Finally have 2 guards that when they have the ball I am not holding my breath to turn it over!

Page Butler 2 years, 10 months ago

I think the real test of our team will come when we face Texas. I think their big men will cause us all kinds of trouble just like Kentucky did...

Where are all the "doomsdayers" now?

Tom Jones 2 years, 10 months ago

Pretty sure we just beat Texas handily.

Harlan Hobbs 2 years, 10 months ago

Good insight, Joe. Can't really quibble with any of your predictions, except probably the Texas game at Lawrence. As you point out, a lot of tough road games remain. However, if we hold serve at home, which we usually do, we will be tough to beat.

You're right as well Page. However, the conventional wisdom before the game clearly was that Texas would beat us in Austin. Of course, who could have predicted that KU would give such a good performance, especially related to turnovers.

For me, the biggest thing about the Texas game is simply what the title of this article suggests, that KU has developed into a team with many weapons. When you can play like this with Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden on the bench, you know that you are gelling. We now have a clear 8 man rotation, with possibly a little help from Landon, Hunter, and Svi on the side.

Mike Riches 2 years, 10 months ago

Anything can happen in the Big 12 this year. Not only did Tech knock off ISU on Saturday, but TCU SHOULD HAVE beat West Virginia in Morgantown (talk about a wild ending). KU needs to be mentally ready for every game, including this Wednesday in Ft. Worth (I'm so excited to be at this game in an arena that only holds about 4000 people, over half of whom should be KU fans!)

I predicted at the beginning of the season that KU would lose two non-conference games and four conference games. I'm sticking with that. They may do better than that in conference, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of their losses came against a lower-tier team, if one even exists in this conference....

Rodney Crain 2 years, 10 months ago

I beleive both Mason and Graham will be here for 2 more years after this season. There is just no way Mason leaves early.

With a solid back court anything is possible with these two valuing the rock, making good decisions, as well having the ability to drive and shoot the ball.

We need to keep adding wings and length but tthis season abd the future does look very bright indeed.

Mick Allen 2 years, 10 months ago

Rodney, don't you think Graham will be here 3 more years after this season? Hard for 6'2" guards to go in the lottery if he declares after his junior year.

Jonathan Allison 2 years, 10 months ago

I agree. He's got a similar build to Chalmers. Rio was ranked higher as a recruit, and left when his stock was at an all-time high after being MOP. Still he slipped to the 2nd round.

However, if Graham is more of a true point guard than Rio, then he may end up with a higher draft value. Could be be Aaron Miles with a jump shot? I still can't believe Miles never caught on the NBA. He shot a good percentage as a Sr.

I guess to be Captain Obvious: Winning a championship will help him get drafted.

Rodney Crain 2 years, 10 months ago

Sorry for the confusion. Let me restate "Mason and Graham will be here for 2 more years after this season". Key word being "and". Graham will be here for 3 after this season. Graham is a four year player too.

I had posted the same thought on another article and someone said Mason was going to go pro after next year. Which I disagree with.

I believe we will have these two till they both graduate, which is going to be a pleasure to watch. They are great playing together now and will only get better.

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