After passing summer classes last year, Kansas safety Mike Lee finalized his decision to enroll early at KU.
Lee, reclassifying from the 2017 class, graduated early and opted to skip his senior year of high school.
That meant he had an earlier start to his collegiate career, and he proved himself as one of the top up-and-coming defensive backs in the Big 12 Conference. Athlon Sports named Lee on their college football all-freshman team.
An earlier start to college football meant missing out on some of the perks of his final year at Landry Walker in New Orleans. His high school won its first state football title in December.
But Lee won’t miss out on everything. Earlier this month, Lee said he had plans to attend his senior prom this weekend.
“I don’t have a date, but I have a tux,” Lee said. “I’ll wear all white with a pink polo and some sparkling pink, white shoes.”
Living 13 hours away from his hometown New Orleans, Lee said it would be a fun opportunity to spend time with his friends and family — especially his mom.
Before finalizing plans to attend prom, Lee cleared the trip with his coaches and academic advisors.
“I was like, well, might as well go to my prom — see if I can,” Lee said. “When they say I can, I was excited.”
Lee, who also plans to walk across the stage at his school’s graduation ceremony in May, has stayed connected to his former school throughout his time in Lawrence.
He arrived at KU in August, just ahead of fall camp. He sat out most of the first three games before playing in the Big 12 opener against Texas Tech. A few games later and he was penciled into the starting lineup and his hard hits were a regular occurrence on Saturdays.
Throughout the season, Lee constantly heard from familiar faces back home, which only made the transition to his freshman season easier.
“When I got here, every day either my principal or all of my teachers called me and asked how I’m doing,” Lee said. “I’m like, ‘I’m doing great.’ He was like, ‘I’ll be watching you on Saturday.’ I would be like, ‘I’ll be looking forward to that.’ Every time I had a good game or a bad game, they would call me tell me what my mistakes was or what I did good.”
Happy with his decision to reclassify, Lee is thrilled to have the best of both worlds when he returns to his high school.
“Really, people were just like,” Lee said, “‘If you leave early, just go and do what you do. Just play your game.’"
In a move that didn’t surprise many people around the program, Kansas junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk announced Wednesday that he was testing the waters for the NBA Draft.
What kind of feedback will the 6-foot-8, 205-pound guard from Cherkasy, Ukraine receive? That’s what he will find out over the next couple of weeks, especially if he’s one of the 70-or-so players invited to the NBA combine, which takes place from May 9-14 in Chicago.
Mykhailiuk didn’t sign with an agent, allowing himself an opportunity to return for his senior season if he chooses before the NCAA’s May 24 deadline.
During the 2016-17 season, Mykhailiuk averaged 9.8 points and 3.0 rebounds on 44.3 percent shooting from the floor, including a 39.8 percent mark behind the 3-point line in 36 games (25 starts). He had 46 assists compared to 40 turnovers.
Nearly all of the top mock draft websites have Mykhailiuk in the 2018 draft class, assuming he will return to Kansas for his senior season — at least before Wednesday’s announcement.
In Draft Express’s latest 2018 mock draft, updated Wednesday, Mykhailiuk is the 29th pick overall, three slots ahead of KU guard Devonté Graham. NBADraft.net has Mykhailiuk a little lower — 46th overall, second round — in the ’18 draft, again slightly ahead of Graham.
Mykhailiuk projects well into the NBA because of his size, ability to spot up from behind the arc, and the fact that he’s only 19 years old — four months younger than Kansas freshman Josh Jackson.
Playing for Ukraine’s Under 20 national team last summer in the 2016 adidas Eurocamp, Mykhailiuk showcased himself as a point guard, which included a triple-double against a USA Select Team (12 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists).
At the FIBA U20 European Championship in Finland, Mykhailiuk led Ukraine with 14.9 points per game.
So there definitely is some intrigue when Mykhailiuk sets up workouts with NBA teams on how he will grade out. Draft Express once had Mykhailiuk slated as a lottery pick for last year’s draft throughout parts of 2015.
“It’s everyone’s dream to play in the NBA," Mykhailiuk said in Wednesday's statement.
“I have matured a lot in my three seasons at KU as a player and a person, playing for great coaches and with great teammates, many who are in the NBA," he added. "I have got a lot stronger under coach (Andrea) Hudy and have improved my overall game every year."
When Kansas guard Devonté Graham announced earlier this week that he was going to return for his senior season, it put into question whether that would end KU's recruitment for five-star point guard Trevon Duval.
In an interview with 247Sports’ Andrew Slater, Duval said it wouldn’t be a problem to play alongside Graham, transfer Malik Newman or anybody else on KU’s roster.
“I don’t really care who’s there,” Duval told Slater. “I can play with anyone. I’ve played with everyone. As long as everyone plays the game the right way, I’m not worried about playing with anyone.”
Along with the Jayhawks, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Duval is considering Duke, Seton Hall, Arizona and Baylor. He told USA Today that he was planning on making a decision sometime this month.
Duval, ranked No. 3 in the country by Rivals, is the highest remaining unsigned senior in the Class of 2017, presumably waiting to see how teams look after players transfer and/or declare for the NBA Draft. He averaged 16 points and eight assists during his senior season.
When asked by Slater whether it mattered that Graham returned when he was weighing his options, he responded, “No, cause Frank (Mason) did it.”
Duval visited Kansas at the beginning of February, traveling to Allen Fieldhouse to watch KU’s 73-68 win over Baylor.
“Their atmosphere was at an 11, Duke was at a 10,” Duval said. “Kansas was great. It was nice. It’s unbelievable, especially for a big game. I went to Kansas-Baylor, so that’s big time.”
The main message from Self and the rest of the coaching staff?
“That they need someone to come in and kind of take Frank’s spot,” Duval said.
Duval, a Delaware native, ended his high school career at IMG Academy in Florida. He had eight points and three assists in the McDonald’s All-American Game and is set to play in the Jordan Brand Classic in New York this week.
In the interview with Slater, Duval dished on his other top contenders:
Duke — “Duke is different. They have a lot of different guys that are declaring, so just trying to see and wait, but they’re a really good school. The visit I took there was really good. They played against North Carolina and I feel as if their atmosphere was off the charts.”
Seton Hall — “Seton Hall, that’s home for me, basically. You know, my best friend goes there … and the majority of them are all juniors and next year, if I were to go there, they need a point guard, that could be good. And the Big East is the Big East. It has a lot of good history and a lot of basketball and the Big East Tournament is also something that’s really big.”
Arizona — “Arizona, it was a really good visit. They talk to me. They try to talk to me every day. The decision’s starting to get closer and closer…. The best thing about the visit I would say is the weather is just like amazing. It’s hard to not include that in your decision. It’s just that great.”
Baylor — “Baylor’s campus was humongous and their facilities were really good. I feel like their weight program was the best thing that they had.”
More than a week after the Kansas basketball season ended with an Elite Eight loss to Oregon, some the decisions involving next season’s roster could begin this upcoming week.
Likely following the conclusion of the Final Four in Arizona, KU coach Bill Self will meet with players to discuss their potential early-entrant NBA Draft decisions.
Under the newest rules, players must declare for the draft and file paperwork by April 23, which will allow them to attend pre-draft camps and individual team workouts.
The NBA draft combine will take place from May 9-14 in Chicago, and players will have the next 10 days (May 24) to make a decision on whether they want to withdraw from the draft and return to their school.
KU freshman Josh Jackson, one of the top prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft, is widely expected to declare for the draft. When he arrived in Lawrence, it was assumed he would be a one-and-done prospect and his play on the court did nothing to change those thoughts.
Next up are decisions from juniors Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Graham is projected as the 50th pick in the latest mock draft from DraftExpress.
In an interview with Brian Hanni on Spectrum Sports’ Jayhawk Insider, Self said that he will meet with players to discuss their NBA feedback, but it’s easy for them to gather information on their own if they go through with the draft process.
“If they declare, then the NBA is going to make a list of 60 or 70, or whatever it is, of the best prospects that they invite to the combine,” Self explained. “If they are not on that list, then they know it’s probably not a great move to stay in. If they are on the list, then they’ll go and perform and get immediate feedback from those teams on where they think they are.”
The Jayhawks had three underclassmen declare for the NBA Draft last season: Cheick Diallo, Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene.
Diallo was the only one drafted — 33rd overall, second round — in a pick that was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Selden went undrafted but recently signed a contract with the Memphis Grizzlies after averaging 18.5 points in the D-League and playing on a 10-day contract with the Pelicans.
“The reality is it’s OK to be drafted in the second round,” Self said. “It’s OK not to get drafted. Those things are all OK. But the path to get there is a little bit different.
“If you have a chance to be a first-rounder either this year or if you were to come back and improve your position to be next year, that’s the best path because you’re guaranteed (through contract) three years. That’s the best path. If you can’t do that, then you decide to go, you can still get in but it’s a little bit different path and it’s harder.”
If players don’t sign with an agent after declaring for the NBA Draft, they have the opportunity to return to school if they aren’t satisfied with their draft stock.
According to ESPN, there were 117 early entrants last season and 57 of those college players opted to return to school.
“I just want the guys to make the best decisions for them and their families,” Self said. “I think Svi and Devonte are both very mature kids. They haven’t announced they were going to do this yet, but the reality is there are a couple of guys who have a decision to make.”
After each college basketball team ends its season, focus quickly turns ahead to next season’s roster situation.
It’s certainly the case with Kansas, which enters the offseason with a few question marks, including potential NBA decisions from Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and whether it can land a few extra recruits.
But Kansas is far from the only school that entered the offseason with some question marks. Most of the Big 12 schools started to deal with transfers and NBA decisions in the past week and here’s a quick recap of all of the moves around the conference:
Baylor: Guard Al Freeman opts to transfer
Fourth-year junior guard Al Freeman is set to graduate from Baylor this spring and will opt to use the grad transfer rule to play elsewhere.
Helping the Bears to the Sweet 16, the 6-foot-3 Freeman averaged 9.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 31 games (22 starts). He scored 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a first-round win over New Mexico State, but combined for just four points in 33 minutes in NCAA Tournament games against USC and South Carolina.
"Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we're thrilled that he's going to complete his degree at Baylor," Baylor coach Scott Drew said in a statement. "He'll always be part of the Baylor family, and we'll be rooting for him as he continues his career."
Freeman’s stats were slightly down from his sophomore season when he averaged 11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He was suspended for three games this season for a violation of team rules.
He redshirted during the 2013-14 season because of a broken wrist.
Texas: Jarrett Allen going through NBA Draft process, Tevin Mack transfers
Standout freshman forward Jarrett Allen announced he was testing the waters for the NBA Draft last week. He didn’t hire an agent, which will allow him to return to Texas if he chooses.
Named third-team All-Big 12, Allen averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds on 56.6 percent shooting, adding a team-high 51 blocks. He recorded 12 double-doubles, including eight in conference play.
“I want everyone to know that I am testing the waters with this decision, but I will not be signing with an agent,” Allen said in a statement. “Going through this process will allow my family and I to make the best decision possible for my future.”
The 6-11 Allen averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in Big 12 play, including 22-point, 19-rebound performance inside of Allen Fieldhouse.
Allen is projected as the 13th pick in the latest NBA mock draft from Draft Express.
Before the end of the season, 6-7 swingman Tevin Mack was given his release to transfer. He led the Longhorns with 14.8 points per game in 15 games, but was suspended in January for a violation of team rules and never returned.
In a recent interview with The State, Mack’s mother said he will likely attempt to transfer to an SEC or ACC school.
Oklahoma State: Named Mike Boynton head coach, Jawun Evans and Jeffrey Carroll declare for NBA Draft
In a move that sent shockwaves around the college basketball-sphere, Brad Underwood left Oklahoma State to coach at Illinois. Last week, 35-year-old Mike Boynton, an assistant to Underwood, was named as the head of the program.
Boynton played at South Carolina and spent 12 years as an assistant at five schools, including South Carolina and Stephen F. Austin before his time in Stillwater.
“Coach Boynton’s got a different demeanor than Coach Underwood,” former OSU guard Phil Forte told the Oklahoman, “not good or bad, but a good basketball mind and a calming demeanor that I think brings a confidence about him. He knows when to get on you, when not to.”
After Underwood left the program, star point guard Jawun Evans and Jeffrey Carroll announced their intention to test the waters for the NBA Draft. It’s believed that neither player has hired an agent, allowing them to potentially return.
Evans was a first-team all-Big 12 selection, averaging 19.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Carroll, more likely of the two to return and a second-team all-Big 12 pick, averaged 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Draft Express has Evans projected to be picked 26th in its latest mock draft.
Oklahoma: Darrion Strong-Moore set to transfer
Junior guard Darrion Strong-Moore will reportedly transfer after averaging 3.8 points and 1.4 assists in 29 games this season.
Strong-Moore started the final seven games when Jordan Woodard suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The former Coffeyville Community College player scored seven points in 28 minutes in his final meeting against Kansas. He shot 3-of-7 from the floor with four rebounds and three turnovers.
Iowa State: Simeon Carter transferring
Little-used sophomore forward Simeon Carter announced his decision to transfer last week.
Carter played in six games, but never stepped on the court against Kansas.
Kansas City, Mo. — In the first half of Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup at Sprint Center, everything was going to plan for Purdue except in one spot.
Kansas had an edge in rebounding, which led to an edge on the scoreboard.
It didn’t matter that the Boilermakers were shooting the ball well and forcing the Jayhawks into some tough shots. The Jayhawks kept scoring off of their own misses until they eventually stopped missing in a 98-66 victory to advance to the Elite Eight.
Purdue’s trio of big men, 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan, 6-8 Vincent Edwards and 7-2 Isaac Haas, combined for 37 points and 13 rebounds — a big drop from their output of 55 points and 25 rebounds against Iowa State in the second round.
The Jayhawks out-rebounded the much taller Purdue, 36-29. Freshman Josh Jackson had a game-high 12 boards (four offensive).
“Those guys, especially Caleb on the glass, it's hard to keep 'em off,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “If you look at Landen (Lucas’) stats he only got four rebounds, but the story is Caleb only got seven. And if you had told this before the game that would be the give and take I would have sold out for that because he does a really good job of making sure neither one of them got it for the most part.”
Swanigan’s seven rebounds were his second-lowest total this season — and only the seventh game he failed to record a double-double.
Kansas senior point guard Frank Mason III had seven rebounds (two offensive), matching Swanigan on the glass. Reserve forward Carlton Bragg Jr., snagged six boards (two offensive) in 10 minutes, while Lucas added four (two offensive) and Dwight Coleby had one defensive rebound.
“I would say if you look at the threes that were taken, 55 3's were taken in the game, so it ends up being longer rebounds and a lot of times it's being quick to the basketball and opportunistic,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
Off of 12 offensive rebounds, the Jayhawks scored 16 second-chance points, their most since an overtime, home loss to Iowa State on Feb. 4.
KU has won the rebounding battle in seven of its last eight games, the only exception being a Big 12 Tournament loss to TCU without Josh Jackson available because of a one-game suspension.
“Our defense and rebounding and everything was good the second half,” Self said, “and, of course, we made a ton of shots and that always helped.
“Obviously, Dwight bought us a ton of minutes whenever Landen was in foul trouble. But I thought Carlton came in and did a good job, too. You add those guys together you get 23 key minutes out of that position when Landen can't be in the game. So I think they both kind of bailed us out.”
Entering Thursday, the Boilermakers (27-8) had a 6-4 record when they were out-rebounded by an opponent.
“We've been able to dominate the boards in our first two games and (Kansas) did a good job on the glass,” Painter said. “Seemed like every time they got an offensive rebound they made us pay and every time we turned it over they were so fast in transition of going the other way and converting. Hats off to them. They played a great game.”
Back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, Purdue’s basketball team has its eyes set on improving on one of the best seasons in school history.
The Boilermakers, known for all of their size, will tip off against top-seeded Kansas around 8:40 p.m. Thursday (CBS) at Kansas City’s Sprint Center.
Purdue, which won an outright Big Ten title, ranks sixth nationally in 3-point shooting (40 percent) and eighth in defensive rebounding.
“We have confident players,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We have some guys that can really shoot the basketball.”
Interesting note: Last weekend in Milwaukee, Purdue scored 80 points in back-to-back tournament games for the first time since 1998.
Series history: Kansas leads 3-2. The last three meetings have been in the NCAA Tournament, including KU’s 63-60 win in the second round of the 2012 tourney.
Vegas says: Kansas by 5.
No. 11 — G P.J. Thompson | 5-10, 185, jr.
Known for his defense and reliability with the ball, Thompson is averaging 7.2 points and 3.0 assists per game. He ranks second on the team with 33 steals.
Thompson is second in the nation with a 4.25 assist-to-turnover ratio. In the last two seasons combined, he’s committed 47 turnovers in 1,763 minutes.
The Indianapolis native is shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line and is connecting on 70.5 percent of his free throws. He was a 29-percent 3-point shooter during his freshman year.
His father, LaSalle, played basketball at Indiana State and Ball State before playing several years overseas.
QUOTE: "We want him to be aggressive," Painter said. "We want him to look for his shot, drive the basketball and still take care of it. That’s what you want from your point guard…. He’s a steady hand. He gets us where we need to go on offense, but he also needs to hit that 3."
No. 31 — G Dakota Mathias | 6-4, 200, jr.
Purdue’s top 3-point shooter, Mathias has drained 45.8 percent of shots from deep, averaging 9.9 points. According to hoop-math.com, he only attempts 10.5 percent of his shots around the rim.
Averaging 3.9 rebounds and 3.71 assists per game, Mathias has scored 12 or more points in four of the last seven games.
Mathias posed for a picture during Wednesday’s practice with Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. Mathias says Miller is one of the reasons that he wears the No. 31 jersey.
Pronunciation: muh-thigh-us. The Elida, Ohio native played through ankle injuries, mononucleosis and vertigo during his freshman season.
QUOTE: “Dakota’s been great,” Painter says. “Where he’s improved the most is defensively. As a coach, you can’t have enough people you trust. A lot of times, players don’t understand that. Can the coaches trust you? Can you follow your assignment? Just be accountable. He’s gotten better. There were some tough lessons.”
No. 14 — G Ryan Cline | 6-6, 195, soph.
Averaging 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, Cline is almost exclusively a 3-point shooter. He’s connected on 41 percent of his shots from behind the arc.
According to hoop-math.com, Cline has attempted a minuscule 3.1 percent of his shots at the rim. Of his 130 shot attempts this season, 106 are from behind the 3-point line.
He was suspended for the first three games of the season after being charged with possession of marijuana during the offseason.
His father, Michael, played basketball at Ohio State from 1976-79 and was a team captain for two seasons.
QUOTE: "My awareness and my positioning has always been pretty good, especially coming from Carmel and coach (Scott) Heady," Cline said. "Being able to move laterally and be able to contain my man has gone really well."
No. 12 — F Vincent Edwards | 6-8, 225, jr.
Averaging 12.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting, which includes a 42.5 percent clip from behind the 3-point line. He makes 82 percent of his free throws.
A strong passer out of the 4-man position, Edwards actually ranks second on the team with 110 assists this season (3.2 per game).
On a tear at the end of the season, Edwards has scored 21 points in both of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. He’s shooting 19-of-30 from the floor and 2-of-6 from deep.
His dad, Bill, starred at Wright State before playing overseas. Both of his older brothers played college basketball. Bill Jr. played at Penn State and Darius was at Miami of Ohio.
QUOTE: “I’m just playing hard,” Edwards said. “I’m just going hard. I think that’s one thing that’s changed for me is I’ve just been focused on playing hard because if I’m playing hard, everything else takes care of itself. When I get my motor going, I’m able to get myself going, offensive rebounding really helps me out.
No. 50 — F Caleb Swanigan | 6-9, 250, soph.
A national player of the year candidate, Swanigan is tied for third in single-season NCAA history with 28 double-doubles this season. He’s averaging 18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds.
Swanigan is shooting 52.7 percent from the field, including a 43.2 percent mark from behind the 3-point line. He’s third on the team with 103 assists and leads with 28 blocked shots. According to hoop-math.com, he’s converting on 79.2 percent of his shot around the rim.
He declared for the NBA Draft last season, but withdrew after less-than-positive reviews from scouts. He originally committed to Michigan State in high school, but said he switched to Purdue because he wanted to play power forward instead of center.
ESPN wrote a feature on Swanigan’s childhood, who stayed at homeless shelters before being adopted by sports agent Roosevelt Barnes, a former Purdue football standout. Nicknamed “Biggie” by his aunt after rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s hit song “Hypnotize.”
QUOTE: “When he steps on the court, he knows without a shadow of a doubt, ‘There is not one dude out here that works harder than me. I’ve earned the right to go put up 20 and 20,’” said Josh Bonhotal, Purdue’s strength and conditioning coach.
No. 44 — C Isaac Haas | 7-2, 290, jr.
From Hokes Bluff, Ala. (pop. 4,286), Haas is averaging 12.6 points and 5.1 rebounds off of the bench. He’s shooting 58 percent from the floor.
During the NCAA Tournament, Haas is averaging 11 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game.
Haas ranks sixth in minutes on Purdue’s roster but he’s second in free throws attempted, a credit to his ability to draw fouls. He’s a 71.3 percent shooter at the charity stripe.
His younger sister, Erin, has epilepsy, “My sole purpose, honestly, is to help Erin have the best life she possibly can,” he said in a feature from ESPN. He originally committed Wake Forest (before Danny Manning), switching at the end because of Painter’s reputation developing bigs. He wears size 22 shoes.
QUOTE: “I’ve done a better job growing into my body and understanding my body, the conditioning needs, the rebounding and physical aspects you have to go into detail with as a big guy,’’ he said. “It’s like coach always says, you don’t put regular gas in a Lamborghini. You have to use premium. It’s about the right time and work.”
No. 3 — Carsen Edwards | 6-0, 190, fr.
Averaging 10.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on 39 percent shooting from the floor.
The Atascocita, Texas native combined for 21 points in 39 minutes during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. He has 354 points on the season, the seventh-most for a Purdue freshman in school history.
A pesky defender, Edwards leads the Boilermakers with 35 steals.
His brother, Jai, plays football at Blinn Junior College.
QUOTE: “I’m just trying to do my job, honestly,” Edwards said. “I’m just trying to improve on doing my job more and more every game and eliminating mistakes. I’m just going to continue to watch film and seeing what I need to continue to keep working on.”
No. 55 — G Spike Albrecht | 6-0, 180, r-sr.
A graduate transfer from Michigan, well known for his 17-point performance in the 2013 NCAA title game (and his post-game tweet to supermodel Kate Upton), Albrecht is averaging 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game off of the bench.
In the NCAA Tournament, he hasn’t attempted a shot in 20 minutes, dishing two assists. He shot 6-for-25 from the 3-point line (24 percent) throughout the season.
He only appeared in eight games for Michigan last season before missing the rest of the season to rehab from double hip surgeries. He suffered from a painful genetic condition, diagnosed as a hip impingement. He played his junior season at Michigan through a torn labrum.
First name is Michael. Nicknamed Spike after he wore his baseball spikes everywhere when he was 8 years old.
QUOTE: “Having this opportunity to come back and play again, I may not have had the best year for me individually, but I’ve been a part of a team that’s had a lot of success with a great group of guys,” Albrecht told USA Today. “It’s everything I was looking for in a fifth year.”
More news and notes previewing Kansas vs. Purdue
- Star players illustrate contrasting styles in KU-Purdue, Sweet 16 showdown
- Tom Keegan: Passing key to Kansas running game
- Notebook: No extra motivation necessary for Jayhawks in Sweet 16
- Boilermakers bracing for KU-friendly environment at Sprint Center
- Kansas set to face Caleb ‘Biggie’ Swanigan — or Mr. Double-Double
- Former Gene Keady players wearing suits and ties on both benches of Purdue-Kansas game
- Most player of the year votes counted before Mason and Swanigan tip off
- Gameday Breakdown, Sweet 16: KU vs. Purdue
There’s no secret when it comes to Purdue’s style of play. There’s plenty of height and the Boilermakers like to make the most of it.
Purdue, which will face No. 1 seed Kansas in the Sweet 16 on Thursday at Sprint Center (8:40 p.m., CBS), is led by Big Ten player of the year Caleb Swanigan, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound presence in the post. He’s surrounded by 6-8 forward Vincent Edwards and 7-2 center Isaac Haas.
Swanigan is more than your prototypical center. He fights for every inch in the paint and he’s capable of drilling shots from the outside, connecting on 43 percent of his 3-pointers this season. He’s even a 78.5 percent shooter at the free-throw line.
But facing talented post players is nothing new for the Jayhawks, and they are confident it won’t be as big of a mismatch as it looks when they stand next to each other.
“I think we match up fine,” Kansas senior center Landen Lucas said. “We have played big teams before in our league. We play big teams all year. So it is nothing new for us and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
The Jayhawks will try to combat Purdue’s height advantage with their versatility in the post featuring the 6-10 Lucas and 6-8 Josh Jackson, with 6-10 Carlton Bragg and 6-9 Dwight Coleby off of the bench.
Swanigan, Edwards and Haas all average more than 12 points and five rebounds per game, and the trio combined for 55 points, 25 rebounds and 11 assists in Saturday’s 80-76 win over Iowa State.
The Jayhawks watched most of that game waiting for their own matchup against Michigan State’s star freshmen forwards on the following day.
“I was really impressed because, when you think of it right now going into it, I mean, they've got some guys that we haven't seen down low yet,” KU coach Bill Self said. “We haven't gone against an inside presence scoring like Caleb and of course the big fellow off the bench. We recruited him, and he's a load.”
Along with a strong frontcourt, the Boilermakers (27-7) are smart with the ball. They rank second in the country in assists per game (18.3) only trailing UCLA.
In their win over Iowa State, they had an incredible 27 assists on 31 made baskets — “There's nobody that would execute in the half-court or share the ball any better than that,” Self said.
Junior point guard P.J. Thompson ranks second in the nation with a 4.25 assist-to-turnover ratio, only behind Monte Morris, who he matched up against Saturday.
“We’ve got to come up with a way to eliminate post touches and still get to their shooters because they can stretch it from all the spots to the perimeter,” Self said.
The Boilermakers didn’t know if they’d be playing Kansas or Michigan State after Friday’s win, but they knew there was a chance they would be entering a tough environment in Kansas City, Mo.
Playing at the Sprint Center should give the Jayhawks as close to a home-court advantage as possible in the NCAA Tournament, and the Boilermakers will do their best to use it to motivate themselves.
"We enjoy playing on the road," Purdue guard Dakota Mathias told the Lafayette Journal & Courier. "We like all the boos and the hatred coming towards us. We've won in a lot of hostile environments, a lot of big-time places, so this isn't going to be any different.”
Haas added: "You draw energy from that. That’s what makes basketball fun. I look forward to stepping on that court and hopefully making them silent.”
Tulsa, Okla. — Matched up against each other for the majority of Sunday’s second-round game at BOK Center, Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges enjoyed the opportunity to play each other on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Kansas freshman Jackson had the upper hand over one of his good friends, scoring a game-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in KU’s 90-70 win against Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16. He added three rebounds and two blocks in 36 minutes.
Bridges led the Spartans with 22 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-15 shooting in 34 minutes. He briefly went to the locker room in the first half with a hip pointer.
The sight of Jackson and Bridges dominating in a game was nothing new to MSU coach Tom Izzo, who noted he saw it plenty while recruiting both of them.
“I give all the credit in the world to Josh. I thought he's improved his jump shot a lot,” Izzo said. “And he does play hard, but I look at the stats and I look at the game and I think about the injury and the time he missed, I'm really, really proud of Miles. And you know what, I'm proud of Josh.”
Jackson scored 14 points in the second half and put the finishing touches on KU’s victory with a right-handed slam down the lane in the final minutes for a 15-point lead.
Before facing Bridges and childhood friend Cassius Winston (seven points, eight assists), Jackson said Kansas coaches told him not to be too amped up when the game started.
“I came out and was still just a little too excited. I tried to force stuff a little bit,” Jackson said. “But as the game went on, I felt like the game started slowing down, it came to me a little bit more. And I just had to realize it was just another game, and it was about Kansas basketball versus Michigan State, and it wasn't about me versus Miles.”
In his first — and likely only — NCAA Tournament, Jackson is averaging 20 points and five rebounds on 17-of-28 shooting (61 percent).
Both Jackson and Bridges, potential lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft, played with and against each other since the sixth grade in AAU games. Jackson grew up in Detroit, Bridges in Flint, Mich.
“I knew it was going to be a fun game before it even started,” Jackson said. “So it was just really fun to be able to go out there and play against those guys and really proud to see them here and having success.”
Bridges, the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year, opened the game with a 3-pointer over Jackson and backed up some of his trash-talking with strong play in the post.
“It's always good playing against Josh,” Bridges said. “It gets a little physical at times. We compete every time we play against each other. He's a great player. He's going to have huge success in the league, so it's always good playing against him.”
For fans, it was an opportunity to see an NBA preview, where both players could have big roles for the next decade.
But Sunday, the main focus for each player was just trying to find a way to win and keep his season alive.
“Two great players going at it,” Izzo said. “The stats were somewhat the same, but I think Josh has really played well. He's really come on."
Tulsa, Okla. — Earlier this season, the Kansas basketball team had trouble with its interior defense against talented big men.
There were the standout games from Reid Travis, Jarrett Allen, Vlad Brodizansky, and a couple of other opponents in the first half of the year.
Heading into the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Michigan State on Sunday (4:15 p.m., CBS), the Jayhawks will attempt to slow down freshmen forwards Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.
Bridges, 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, is a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, averaging a team-best 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He’s scored at least 15 points in seven straight games.
“He's an unbelievable athlete, but he's got unbelievable feel,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Bridges. “I mean just making the extra pass or just knowing when to cut. And they play through him a lot. They play through him probably about as much as they play through well, I guess Denzel (Valentine) last year, but they put the ball in his hands a lot to make decisions.”
Kansas freshman Josh Jackson will likely draw the primary defensive assignment against Bridges, a good friend of his, which would match senior center Landen Lucas versus the 6-8, 250-pound Ward (13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds per game).
Of course, KU’s team defense will rely on more than one-on-one match-ups in the post. Guards are expected to do their part to help through help defense and ball pressure.
“I think the toughest part is you can tell guys what to do, but when you play against good guys that are hard to handle, the execution isn't always what you tell (them),” Self said. “It's hard to simulate athletic ability.”
Adding a wrinkle to the difficulty of preparing for Bridges and Ward is the one-day turnaround in the second game of the tournament’s weekend.
It goes both ways for all teams, but it doesn’t make it any easier to stop two of the top freshmen in the Big Ten.
“They run so many plays and got so many sets that one day of preparation, you really can't get a good feel for all the stuff they run or try to memorize a lot of their plays,” KU junior guard Devonte’ Graham said. “But we just had practice and we just went over the scouting report kind of in depth and we'll go back to the hotel and do the same thing. So it's just trying to get a good feel for a lot of the sets that they run.”