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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Jayhawks need Bragg to take step forward, just like WVU needed Ahmad

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to pump up teammate Carlton Bragg (15) in front of West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to pump up teammate Carlton Bragg (15) in front of West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum.

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— West Virginia’s unencumbered procession to the hoop for easy buckets in Tuesday’s 85-69 bullying of Kansas at packed WVU Coliseum might have had a little to do with the same players’ procession to the treadmill in the wake of consecutive losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State.

It made the Mountaineers a highly motivated, dangerous opponent, all right, but the easy buckets had plenty to do with KU’s lack of defensive help for center Landen Lucas, who can’t do it all alone under the hoop.

Carlton Bragg Jr. needs to give so much more than he again gave in a loss that ended an 18-game winning streak. One leg into an eight-game stretch that features five contests against ranked opponents, Bragg remained the biggest surprise on the team, and not in a good way.

He gets in foul trouble quickly and tends to stay there. Physical skills that should translate to strong rebounding seldom do. This is a surprise isn’t it? It’s not just me, is it?

“I’m a little surprised, just because of his talent, but I also know he’s right there,” Lucas said. “I mean, we see it in practice. We see flashes in games. He’s always in the right spot at the right time with the right mind-set. It’s just not 100 percent coming together, but he’s making strides. He’s better now than he was a couple of games ago and you just have to understand each game is another step forward. Obviously, we could use him for many reasons.”

Such as rebounding, where West Virginia had a 39-32 advantage, points in the paint, where West Virginia dominated, 34-20, and bench points, where the Mountaineers outscored KU, 21-7.

“If he goes out there and worries about the defense and the rebounding, the rest will come,” Lucas predicted. “He’s such an offensive talent that he’s able to do some things. He’s just got to be able to do the things that coach is looking for to be able to stay on the court.”

Bragg’s announcement that he was coming to Kansas was greeted with such glee by Jayhawk Nation that it was not held against him that he nervously said “Kentucky,” his second choice, and then quickly corrected himself when he made the announcement.

Tuesday’s game showed the inexact nature of recruiting in that the star of the game, West Virginia’s 6-foot-8, 225-pound sophomore Esa Ahmad scored 27 points, Bragg two points with one rebound and four personal fouls in 11 minutes.

Both forwards played their high school basketball in Cleveland.

Ahmad was a four-star recruit ranked No. 72 in nation by Rivals.com and offered a scholarship by several Big Ten schools, plus Oregon and Xavier.

Ahmad didn’t receive the invitation to play in the McDonald’s All-American game that Bragg did, but Ahmad, twice named player of the year by Cleveland.com, made more of an impression on local observers.

As a freshman, he averaged 4.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.

He has made the big step forward as a sophomore that Kansas needs from Bragg.

Not that it’s been all forward steps for Ahmad, who leads West Virginia in scoring with 12.1 points per game. He was mired in a four-game slump heading into Tuesday, averaging just 5.3 points during that stretch.

Ahmad said that he was guilty of playing “passive” basketball during his slump and was urged by teammates and coaches to play more aggressively, especially against Kansas because his greatest strength, taking it to the rim, matches up with KU’s greatest weakness, protecting it.

The Mountaineers ran the first play of the game for him and he scored the team’s first eight points.

“He had two good days of practice,” Huggins said. “And he’s our best guy at attacking the rim. He has more size. He’s wider. He has those huge hands.”

His fingerprints were all over the game, something Bragg hasn’t figured out how to do yet.

Huggins mentioned something else he thought was the key to Ahmad breaking out.

“He kind of rededicated himself to the game after Kansas State,” Huggins said. “He wasn’t very good in the Kansas State game, wasn’t very good in the Oklahoma game. He got in the gym. I know you guys get tired of me saying that, but he got in the gym. He was in the gym last night at 9 o’clock, after being in early before practice and staying after practice. That’s kind of what it takes.”

Ahmad did much of his damage when guarded by KU freshman Josh Jackson, who led his team with 22 points. Jackson thus far this season has provided the most interior defensive help for Lucas. It’s not enough. Bragg will need to find a path to improvement for Kansas to avoid more road losses that involve such smooth roads to the hoop for opponents.

By the Numbers: West Virginia 85, Kansas 69.

By the Numbers: West Virginia 85, Kansas 69.

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia


Comments

Suzi Marshall 4 months, 4 weeks ago

I may be late to this realization but it's becoming fairly clear Bragg is just not a very good player. With lots of work, he may become serviceable but I seriously doubt he ever will be an elite player.

Rae Bricil 4 months, 4 weeks ago

i dont think that is true at all. He came in a 4 with a mid range tailored game. Now he is thrown in at the 5 and expected to bang down low. I think once he gets over his learning curve he will be able to hold his own at the 5 which will allow him to excel outside. I think he still going to be a great player--maybe i am too optimistic.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Bragg isn't a center. He might fill in reasonably well this year. Dok will play the five next season. If Bragg is faced with backing him up and not playing his natural position, he'll be gone.

Rae Bricil 4 months, 4 weeks ago

agreed--i think these minutes at the 5 will help his overall game and make him more well rounded as a 4.

i really hope he is back next year though it is going to be interesting to see how the minutes are divided between Bragg and Preston next year at the 4 position. Obviously when Dok is on the floor it is clear but it could be an interesting line-up with Preston and Bragg on the floor at the same time. Both, by then, would have the ability to play low or high therefore creating match up problems.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

That's a great observation. If Svi leaves, next season could be a complete reversal with "playing big" replacing "4 guard" at times.

Brian Steward 4 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm honestly a fan of that. Bragg will get some good exercise down low and learn to play a bit on the block; then, maybe next year work on his outside game. It would be interesting to play a starting lineup with no one under 6'2", if Devonte stays that is. Graham at the point, Vick/Newman at the 2, Svi/Bragg/Preston at the 3, Bragg/Preston/Lightfoot at the 4, and Doke/Coleby/Preston at the 5. BIG lineup. Not likely, but would be fun to see!

Suzi Marshall 4 months, 4 weeks ago

I've thought about that but Bragg can't seem to defend anybody anywhere on the court, regardless of the position. In this regard, several of our other players including Jackson, are not much better. Even as a stretch 4, Bragg must rebound, defend his man...and hold onto the ball.

Freddie Garza 4 months, 4 weeks ago

He's talented. But he's soft. Remember, we also thought Jeff Withey was always going to be a stiff, he turned out alright.

Steve Zimmerman 4 months, 4 weeks ago

How come the coach doesn't get to be seen as a factor in a player's degrading performance? Have you thought about putting Bragg in Huggins' club? I guarantee he will do much better there. He will likely fit just fine under Huggins' system. It's not too late to turn things around, but it all depends on whether the coach realize his players strengths and fully utilize them effectively.

Shannon Gustafson 4 months, 3 weeks ago

How in the heck would a player who is incapable of playing defense and is prone to fouls when attempting to flay defense someone who would flourish in Huggin's club? You must live in an alternative universe than the rest of us.

Dee Shaw 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Bragg is weak. Carlton couldn't last a day under Bob Huggins coaching. Not only is he physically weak but mentally weak. Bob Huggins has players that have a nastiness to them. Whatever it takes attitude. I wish Carlton would figure it out and get that "IT" factor. He just doesn't have it.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm going to side with Steve. If Bragg got the minutes and was allowed to grow through some mistakes he'd be far more developed. Huggins gives his players that. He allows his players to play their game. Bragg would have been a prototype WVU pick and pop 4 with outside range. Huggins would encourage him to shoot the 3.

The priorities of the home winning streak/percentage and the conference title streak over player development is certainly worth noting. Bragg is a casualty. After every play he's looking to the bench expecting to be pulled and scolded. He's been handled so badly that if I was his father he would have been a mid semester transfer a month ago. Carlton Bragg is Bill Selfs biggest failure.

Rae Bricil 4 months, 4 weeks ago

just checking--is this meant as sarcasm?

Glen Miller 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Wow......... talk about ignorance. You're full of it Jay. Not everyone gets to play and grabs a participation trophy in college basketball. They get a scholarship to perform. If you don't perform, you sit. It's been that way from the first day Self arrived.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Players are also free to leave. Many have. Self has shown that he doesn't believe in Bragg. If he were my kid he'd already be somewhere else. I love coach Self but he's destroyed Bragg. Other kids left because they were stuck behind Wiggins, Mason, Graham etc. Bragg is just sitting because Self has chosen purely not to use him. Vick is playing over Bragg. So is Lightfoot at times. That's frankly not a positive message to send a player.

Is it ignorant to compare how Bragg is used vs Ahmad when that's what the article is about? How is Bragg to "step forward" when he doesn't play? And when he's playing out of position? The comparison and the answer to the article is simple. It's what Keegan was fishing for. Bragg has played half as much as Ahmad. Bragg's numbers are as good per minute. Huggins lets Ahmad play. That's the point.

Cedric Spire 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Really he's going there with this article? Bragg played well in the first half until he got in foul trouble. All Lucas did was rebound he provided nothing on D and nothing in the way of offense. Josh had a great offensive night but his D was pathetic. I understand that help defense is part of the game but we didn't have one player that kept his man in front of him. Every individual on this team is responsible on the defensive end. You can't honestly say we have one player that is going to stop his guy on D.

Robert Brock 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Carlton Bragg is a nice kid who should be playing for a mid-major.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Every power 5 team in the country would take him as a transfer this second.

Caleb Boulware 4 months, 4 weeks ago

You guys have to be joking. Bragg is a great player. He is down on himself and is having a hard time getting out of his own way. He is 100% a D1 kid, Self knows what he is doing. Reading above where people say "if it was my kid he would be gone", really? What message are you sending kids? If things don't go the way you want run away. He is fine, he is a great athlete and is still passionate about KU watch him on the sideline. With our lack of big guys he is playing in ways that may not fit him. It is easy to put someone down behind a computer, the kid has game, it has shown and will show again.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

I agree he has game. NBA game. He needs to play. That was the point of the article. A less talented kid is leading WVU in scoring, BECAUSE HE PLAYS. If he can't earn playing time when the team is this thin, when can he? What's the future? Why stay and languish? Based on what NBA scouts and media saw last season, he was picked to bust loose this year. What happened? His numbers per minute are good.

If he was your kid, and by all accounts he busts his butt, what would you do? You would be looking at a transfer.

HOPEFULLY..here's what happens. IF Self continues to value the Big12 title more than developing Bragg, they wrap it up with a couple of games left. Bragg suddenly gets the playing time in the final games and Big12 tourney to get confident. He puts up big number in the early NCAA rounds and is rolling when it counts...Hopefully..

Shannon Gustafson 4 months, 3 weeks ago

While I can agree with or at least see where you are coming from with most of this, I'm not sure I agree Bragg is more talented. The article states Ahmad was chosen as player of the year in Ohio over Bragg and that that's voted on by people who had more opportunities to see both of them. They may be similarly talented but I'm not sure you can say Bragg is definitively more talented.

Harlan Hobbs 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Frankly, KU's entire game plan wasn't effective at all. That seems to be our pattern at Morgantown.

We had practically no inside offense, and our defense and effort for the loose balls wasn't there.

WVU is not as good as they have been in past years, but they certainly were good enough last night. They know that Frank Mason is the heart of the team, and they shut him down, just like Villanova did to Perry Ellis in the last Elite 8.

Brian Wilson 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Jay you are right on! Self needs to just put in Bragg and let him get 2 fowls in the 1st half and then in the second half play him until he fowls out. We basically play without him anyway so get everything you can out of him while he learns. Then come March maybe he will have learned something.

Tony Bandle 4 months, 4 weeks ago

KU could have a whole new line up next year with Frank, Devonte, Josh, Landon and Svi all graduated, NBA or Europe bound. Trae, Malik, Carlton,, Billy and Azu....fascinating.

Jay Scott 4 months, 4 weeks ago

...or they could have Graham, Svi, Vick, Newman and Cunliffe returning in the backcourt and Bragg, Dok, Coleby and Lightfoot returning at forward... with Preston, Young, Garrett and one more....who knows?

James Hubin 4 months, 4 weeks ago

You never know buttercup? The sky could always fall on Kansas.

Nathan Scholl 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Yeah, this is the most obvious headline ever written. News flash: humans need air to breathe! The sky is blue! Basketballs are inflated! Come on Keegs. Unstoppable, right?

Doug Clark 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Bragg is in a funk, he can't get out of his own way, he has a target on him right now that attracts fouls like flies on crap, he goes for a rebound and makes slight contact and gets called for a foul, his confidence is really low, he having to play out of position, and most thought he would make huge improvement from last year like most talented players do after their freshman year, hasn't happened for him yet, I hope it does at some point. This team is just not very good defensively, can't keep quick guards out of the lane, as good as Mason and Graham are offensively they haven't been able to handle quick agressive guards since they have been here. Our depth is a huge problem and we have won games mostly because we outscored teams but the pressure all game wore our guards down to the point that our main weapon, jump shots, just wasn't there in the 2 ND half. We get no offensive production from our bigs, we got outhustled by wvu again, and let an average half court offensive team score 85 points. We have had a somewhat easy schedule to start conference play but have still struggled against the bottom teams of the league, they better hope their energy holds up because we are beginning the toughest stretch of games in recent memory, if #13 happens they will have definitely earned it. Get some rest it's, we are about to find out what you are made of.

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