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Friday, March 24, 2017

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Kansas proves it has tournament’s best backcourt

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) help up Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after Graham hit a three during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) help up Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after Graham hit a three during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

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— On a wildly entertaining display of fast-break basketball Thursday night at Sprint Center, Kansas showed why it has the best backcourt in America, Frank Mason III buried any debate as to the most deserving candidate for national player-of-the-year honors, and Devonte’ Graham established himself as one of the favorites to win them next year.

Mason, the tireless introvert, and Graham, the happiest face on the basketball planet, never played better together than when they left Purdue with no shot at making an early lead hold up on the way to a Kansas blowout, 98-66.

Mason and Graham shared scoring honors with 26-point nights. Toss in Josh Jackson’s 15 points and the trio alone outscored Purdue.

“It was great to see Devonté do the things he did,” Mason said afterward. “He was great out there, probably one of the best games I've seen him play and I'm just happy for him, and hopefully he can continue that in the next game.”

Mason was right about Graham having a great night, but he was only the second-best player on the floor, not that they keep score. They consider themselves one backcourt, not two guards, and that’s the way they go about it.

“He is never going to talk about himself, but he played a great game, too,” Graham said.

Mason made 9 of 11 shots, soared for seven rebounds, and dished seven assists.

He couldn’t miss even when he wasn’t trying to make it. Twice, Mason soared up for a defensive rebound right next to Purdue’s 10-inches-taller Caleb Swanigan and the ball glanced off of Mason’s fingers and into the hoop.

“I thought he did,” Jackson said, smiling at the memory. “But hey, the guy knows how to put the ball in the hole, huh?”

Yes, he does, and in so many different ways. On one basket that Mason made look easy, he dribbled from right to left, squared himself in the air and put a rainbow runner through the hoop. He scored another on a mid-range, baseline jumper. Fearless Frank also figured out how to weave his way in among the trees and throw shots off the glass for buckets.

How does he do that?

“I really don’t know,” Jackson said. “I want to know so bad. The way he’s able to finish around the basket against bigger guys just amazes me.”

Graham drove aggressively to the hoop as well, which led to him making 7 of 9 free throws. He also continued his hot 3-point shooting, making 5 of 9 to make him 13 of 22 from 3-point range in three NCAA tournament games.

Graham plays with a contagious pep in his step, on his face, with his waving arms.

“His emotions definitely rub on off us, make us want to play harder, and I think it really showed tonight,” Jackson said.

The freshman sensation described the veteran guards as “polar opposites. It’s good to have both because we feed off Devonte’ a lot, but we feed off Frank’s energy just as much. Even though you don’t see Frank do too many (emotional) things, the way he plays, how hard he plays and the way he scores, it really gives us a lot of energy.

I think they go perfect together, I think they do. Those two guards are perfect for our team.”

Jackson said the personalties the guards show on the floor are “exactly the same, exactly the same,” in the locker room and that Mason, “doesn’t say anything. He’ll give you a little smile or a little laugh every now and then but it’s kind of rare.”

Mason brings out emotions in those who watch him. The Sprint Center was loud.

Mason and Graham supplied so many thrills that it’s conceivable you could poll 20 different people to name a favorite play from one of the guards and hear 20 different answers.

My favorite: Midway through the second half, Jackson blocked a shot at the rim and Mason picked up the loose ball and immediately shifted into turbo mode. He tore down the right side of the court as if he were in fast-forward and the Boilermakers were on pause.

No time for a changeup, Mason stayed in fast-forward and whistled a one-handed pass across his waist to an all-alone Lagerald Vick in the left corner. Swish.

“Don’t know what it would be like to play against them,” Jackson said of Mason and Graham. “Don’t even want to think about it, to be honest. They’re two great players. And I don’t feel like they get enough credit for the things that they do.”

Jackson and Landen Lucas said the evening Mason treated the crowd to should have settled any discussion on national honors.

“That guy over there, absolutely,” Jackson said pointing to Mason’s locker. “Any doubt? No. I don’t think there should be.”

Jackson also endorsed the idea of Graham keeping the awards in Kansas.

“Devonte’s definitely got a shot (next year),” Jackson said. “He does.”

At the moment they all have their focus trained on the shot they have at getting to the Final Four, with Oregon as the remaining hurdle in the way. So far, there hasn’t been a more impressive team in the tournament than the one with the best backcourt.

“We we have two point guards and Frank is on the ball probably 65, 70 percent of the time, but Devonté, we saw tonight, that he's awfully good on the ball, too,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

The last four national champions have started two point guards. Kansas has three down and three to go to extend that winning-it-all formula to five years in a row.

By the Numbers: Kansas 98, Purdue 66

By the Numbers: Kansas 98, Purdue 66

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


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Purdue


Comments

Brian Wilson 3 months ago

Again, let's not get a big head. Our backcourt is great but we still have Oregon, UCLA, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Gonzaga, to mention a few others left in this tournament. Keep up the good work Jayhawks and let's keep our head about ourselves! RCJHKU!

Steve Zimmerman 3 months ago

Our dynamic guards duo have been excellent in the tournament. When they contributed half of the scoring, we can keep scoring in the 90s all the way to the NC. Let's hope there's no stopping this team... rock chalk!!

Dirk Medema 3 months ago

I don't think it is this team, but I do remember a UK team I believe back in the 90's IIRC that was the media darling through the first 3 or 4 games because they were scoring 90 or more and winning by 30 against everyone - until they lost.

Again, I don't think it is this team.

Harlan Hobbs 3 months ago

Always good to be cautious and not get ahead of ourselves. However, KU on all cylinders is clearly the best team in the country. The good thing is that there are at most only 3 teams left in the tournament that we have to beat. Obviously, Oregon comes first, then the winner of the South (either UNC, UK, or UCLA, most likely) and then whoever comes out the East and West regional champions matchup.

This article touches on KU's strengths by highlighting the guards. I would phrase it a little differently. When was the last time that we had a team with 5 or more "alpha dogs?"

Nobody can argue that Frank, Devonte, and Josh don't fit that label. Also, I would put at least Landen and Lagerald in that category given their enthusiasm, athletic ability, and "all for the team" attitudes. Then, when Svi flashes signs of his magnificent talent, I am comfortable with just about everyone having their hands on the ball in crunch time.

Another lesser recognized piece of the puzzle in my opinion is Dwight Coleby. With Carlton struggling and out of position if playing the "5" spot, Dwight is a key component because of 1) potential foul trouble, and 2) Landen does need his rest times.

It isn't a great analogy, but I am somewhat having a flashback to 2008 with Dwight. That year, Cole Aldrich started coming into his own in the Final 4, as the job he did against Tyler Hansbrough was outstanding. Then, next year in a rebuilding year, he and Sherron Collins essentially took over the team and led them to a surprising Sweet Sixteen appearance, as well as a conference championship.

Certainly, I am not comparing Dwight to Cole, other than for the fact that they were "surprises" in the tournament, a factor that often is present for winning teams. Like they say, if you only focus on the big boys, sometimes the "gnats" make a huge difference.

Lastly, I hope that the team insiders know something that we don't about Devonte which is that he will return next year. I wouldn't bet on that, especially if KU wins it all. Nevertheless, whatever he decides is in his best interest is certainly fine with me. What he has given the program in three years is marvelous, and he should pursue and hopefully reach his dreams on his time schedule.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 3 months ago

It will be oh-so sweet if they do win it all, no doubt, but just a tiny bit bitter because Devonte almost surely would leave for the league too.
I hope he plays well enough in the next three games to justify the jump. What a way to go.

Chris DeWeese 3 months ago

Devonte still has a lot of untapped potential in my opinion. He is starting to remind me of Mario Chalmers in some ways, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is drafted.

Mallory Briggans 3 months ago

Looks like Missouri may be getting Porter .......they offered his dad a job.........Kansas and Missouri were his 2 choices ....with Kansas a close second ........

Marius Rowlanski 3 months ago

It's a done deal. UM gets three Porters as the younger brother recertifies to play next season.

Brian Mellor 3 months ago

They feel a lot like Nova did last year. A good team all season who just dialed it up to 11 for the tourney. They blew out everybody but us and UNC. Hopefully we can keep it going, and hopefully for when we don't score the socks off of the opponents, our toughness and experience in crunch time will pay off like it did for Nova last year.

John Fitzgerald 3 months ago

ESPN throwing shade at KU .... again.

ESPN throwing shade at KU .... again. by jmfitz85

Harlan Hobbs 3 months ago

Will be interesting to see how the Porter thing plays out. I don't see KU getting him under any circumstance, but a lot could depend upon who Washington hires to replace Romar, if they already haven't.

If Washington goes "outside the box" and hires Brandon Roy, a former UW standout who is Porter's current high school coach in Seattle of the #1 high school team in the country per some polls, then everybody may stay put.

Speaking of UW, if you get a chance, watch the Sweet Sixteen game in the women's OKC regional where UW will be playing. Their star, Kelsey Plum is a remarkable player who has set new NCAA single season and career scoring records surpassing Jackie Stiles who played at one of the Missouri colleges. Kelsey is an all-around player who is as good with assists as she is with scoring.

Marius Rowlanski 3 months ago

Porter has already committed to UM.

http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/18995284/no-1-prospect-michael-porter-jr-commits-missouri-tigers

His younger brother, Jontay, recently decommitted from Washington. He is ranked No. 26 in the ESPN 60 for 2018 but could reclassify to the 2017 class.

Lonnie Ross Dillon 3 months ago

I just did the math on scoring: Mason/Graham/Jackson: 67 Points (26+26+15) Purdue: 66 Points

Mike Greer 3 months ago

Anyone watching UNC? Ole Rory's guys are playing pretty well. They could be our FinalFour matchup.

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