Since coming to the Big 12, Shaka Smart has yet to earn a win against Bill Self — like he did as the coach of VCU. Today's 1-3-1 blog explores the coaching matchup between the two, plus a play by Malik Newman that brought back memories of another five years ago. If you have any plays or sequences you’d like to see GIFed please tweet @ChasenScott or comment below.
Previous breakdowns can also be found at the bottom of this story.
Play of the game: Hit the deck! —
The Jayhawks were never really in danger of dropping Monday's game against Texas, yet they weren't able to put it entirely out of reach until late.
For that, every time Texas crawled to within six or eight — or some similar score — the Jayhawks had an answer. Some of them were louder than others.
In a game where coach Bill Self praised the energy of Udoka Azubuike, it was exactly that on display to start the sequence. With the Jayhawks unable to secure the rebound initally, the 7-foot, 280-pound Delta, Nigeria native dove on the floor to grab a loose ball.
Azubuike kept his composure and flipped the ball to Newman, who brought it up the court to begin the weave. Azubuike, who was late down the court, eventually caught the ball at the top of the key, becoming part of the weave as he took a dribble to his right.
Azubuike handed the ball off to Newman, who was initially guarded by Kerwin Roach. Roach was screened by Azubuike and wasn't able to fight through it.
Perhaps he was expecting to switch since Texas defended the initial action between the guards by switching, but he almost certainly wouldn't have been supposed to switch onto Azubuike. Teams will often defend the weave by switching either 1-through-3 or 1-through-4, meaning they'll switch at every position except with the big men on the floor.
Newman pulled up from 3 and knocked down the shot. KU, which had seen its lead cut to six less than 90 seconds earlier, went back up by 11.
It was that kind of game.
A trend: Creating a mismatch —
Shaka Smart does something that absolutely baffles me.
When the other team has the ball out of bounds on the baseline, he sticks the tallest player on the inbounder, creating a mismatch from the jump.
- The first time Texas tried it, KU got a layup.
- The second time. Graham isolated big man Mo Bamba and KU missed a shot, but Texas wasn’t able to initially secure a rebound.
- The third time, Graham pulled Bamba away from the hoop, drove by him and drew a foul.
Point being, KU took advantage — over and over and over.
The rematch was no different.
On the first instance, Graham was guarded by 6-9, 240-pound Texas big man Jericho Sims. Graham passed the ball to the corner and Sims doubled, which forced Texas’ other big in the game to rotate onto Graham.
The action left the two Texas big men — and one guard — guarding KU’s two smallest players. It looked as though Matt Coleman, the guard, should've stayed on Newman with the two bigs dropping back down into the paint, but that would've left Sims on Graham, which would have been a total mismatch.
Regardless, the end result was a wide-open Azubuike under the hoop. Clay Young found him with a perfect chest pass and the rest was easy.
Things went a little differently the second time, but the result was the same.
Graham inbounded the ball and pulled 6-10, 240-pound James Banks away from the basket. He isolated him on the right wing and settled for a long jumper.
Objectively, you’d have to say Texas won the exchange. But it wasn't over.
Because Banks had to turn and chase the rebound from the perimeter, he wasn’t able to box anyone out or get into position to haul in the board. In the meantime, Lagerald Vick was matched up with a smaller Jacob Young.
Vick sidestepped Young and grabbed the board. He kicked the ball out to the perimeter to Graham, who swung it to Mykhailiuk. The Texas defense was already scrambling at that point, and it was nothing but target practice for a wide-open Mykhailiuk.
The crazy thing is, it wasn’t even the last time KU scored off the Smart-inbound-defending strategy…
… in the first 10 minutes of the game.
On the third instance, Graham pulled 6-9, 245-pound Dylan Osetkowski away from the hoop by simply running to the 3-point line. Osetkowski initially pointed for someone else to take Graham, but with no one in position to do so, he had to guard the KU senior.
Graham noticed the mismatch and called for an isolation.
Note how he waves away the potential Azubuike screen.
He blew by Osetkowski off the bounce, which forced Sims to help. Graham dropped the ball off to Azubuike, who collected it and threw down a dunk.
You'd think at some point the Longhorns might try something a little different. Maybe in the Big 12 tournament.
One that stood out: Ring a bell? —
It’d be difficult to imagine a more salivating opportunity for a guard.
Malik Newman caught the ball in the right corner with a Texas big closing out on him. Newman had to know that there was no chance of the defender staying with him if he put the ball on the floor, meaning he was essentially a dribble away from getting to throw down an emphatic slam.
If you’re like me, the dunk made you think of one from about five years ago.
Late in the first half of a 2013 revenge game against TCU, Ben McLemore caught the ball on the wing. There was a TCU player closing out to him, but he had no chance to actually get a stop.
McLemore took two dribbles and exploded to the rim for a dunk. The basket gave him 11 points on the game. At that point, TCU had only nine, but I digress.
I didn’t just bring up that play to talk about the history. Rather, it felt worth noting how KU was able to get such an easy opportunity in the first place.
Off the Texas miss, Mitch Lightfoot executed on a boxout and Graham rebounded the ball. The sequence was similar to a strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder, where the big men would leave rebounds for Russell Westbrook, so he could start the break the other way upon catching the ball.
That wasn’t always the case for KU this year.
After the Iowa State game in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, I wrote about a sequence in which Newman actually boxed out an opposing big man so Azubuike could get an easy rebound. That didn't allow KU to break, since there were three KU players standing 90 feet from the hoop by the time Azubuike passed the ball ahead.
But this time, with Lightfoot doing the hard work, Graham was able to get the board and start the break immediately. That left the defense scrambling and set Newman up with the easiest two points of his career.
Perhaps the flashiest, too.
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 74, Tech 72
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 104, OU 74
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 77, WVU 69
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 83, ISU 77
1-3-1 breakdown: Baylor 80, KU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 71, TCU 64
1-3-1 breakdown: OSU 84, KU 79
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, K-State 56
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 79, TAMU 68
1-3-1 breakdown: OU 85, KU 80
1-3-1 breakdown: KU 70, Baylor 67
It isn’t often a player can score 27 points — a career-high at that — yet the most impressive part of his performance comes elsewhere.
Malik Newman’s outburst against Iowa State, an 83-78 Kansas win, was a welcome sign for KU fans. It was the same way for the redshirt sophomore, who knocked down 10 of his 21 field goal attempts in the win.
“It was a good one,” Newman said of his game. “Yeah, I can say (it was a breakout performance). Maybe.”
Some of Newman's struggles had been overstated. For instance, he had shot a respectable 17-for-35 in the four games leading up to the previous contest, against TCU, far from the numbers you'd expect going off some of the reactions on social media.
Other criticisms, however, were completely valid.
Newman shot 50 percent from 3 in his first six games, but saw his numbers tail off shortly after. In fact, after sustaining a head injury against Arizona State, Newman shot 4-for-19 from 3 over his next six contests. He was held without a made basket twice in that span.
The one thing he did consistently, though? Rebound.
Aside from the TCU game, arguably the worst of Newman’s collegiate career, the 6-foot-3 guard had snagged at least three rebounds in all but one of the Jayhawks' previous outings.
He grabbed four or more rebounds 11 times in KU's first 14 games and five or more rebounds seven times.
For reference, Udoka Azubuike, who is nine inches taller than Newman and outweighs him by nearly 100 pounds, has had the same number of games this year with two or fewer rebounds (two). In 16 games this season, Newman has actually grabbed more defensive rebounds than Azubuike four times, the same number of defensive rebounds twice and one or two fewer than Azubuike an additional five times.
“The reality of it is, Dok and Mitch (Lightfoot have) got to rebound better,” KU coach Bill Self said in a press conference leading up to the TCU game. “Dok gets four rebounds when there are 38 missed shots. That’s not good enough. He’s got to rebound the ball better.”
Said another way, KU has played 16 games this season. In five of them, Newman has posted an even or better defensive rebound rate than Azubuike — meaning he’s grabbed at least the same percentage of available defensive rebounds when he’s been on the court in about one-third of KU's games.
“The thing about it is, with Dok, there are so many more ways to impact the game (than scoring),” Self said after the win over Iowa State. “He’s got to rebound the ball. There were some possessions there in the first half where he never jumped. That doesn’t bode very well when you’re small and your team doesn’t rebound the ball very well.”
Still, if those numbers seem a little fishy to you, the last game provided plenty of visuals as to why they shape out that way.
No rebound illustrated KU’s woes in that area more than Azubuike’s board with 5:12 to play in the first half.
As a shot went up from the right wing, Newman put his body into Iowa State’s Hans Brase, who had a six-inch, 40-pound advantage.
Azubuike, with a decisive size advantage on his man — the 6-9, 225-pound Carmeron Lard — simply held his ground, reached up and grabbed the easy board.
Such a sequence was the polar opposite of the strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, when the team's big men would go out of their way to shield off defenders so that Russell Westbrook, the eventual NBA MVP, could snag easy boards and bring the ball up the court in transition.
But what happened on the KU play wasn’t some kind of a strategy. It was more representative of Azubuike's struggles.
Earlier in the season, Self called Azubuike out for his rebounding, adding that KU doesn’t have enough players rebounding the ball above the rim, which should be a strength of the 7-footer.
If there’s one player who can — and does — rebound above the rim, though, it’s definitely Newman.
One of Newman’s more emphatic rebounds on Tuesday came with just under seven minutes to play in the first half.
After an Iowa State 3-point attempt, Azubuike was too far out of position to get a body on Solomon Young. Devonte’ Graham came off his man to knock Young back just a touch, but it would’ve been an easy Iowa State offensive rebound if not for Newman swooping in and collecting the ball over two big men.
“I just wanted to try to get in there and rebound,” said Newman. “I notice that we’ve been struggling this season with rebounding, so I wanted to get in there and help the big fella’.”
Newman continued to fight for boards into the second half, even as he started to light up the scoresheet.
With just over 16 minutes to play, Lindell Wigginton took a shot from the right side of the key. Azubuike got back toward the hoop, but again just stood around rather than trying to put a body on his man, who ran back into the paint.
Newman, the only KU player to box out on the play, was shoved in the back, but still came up with the rebound.
“He played great,” Graham said. “He was just active. That’s what coach has been asking of him.”
The final highlight rebound of Newman’s day was far more in the Oklahoma City-style.
Five minutes after Newman’s leaping snag, he stood at the top of the key while Lard took a jumper late in the shot clock. Newman ran back toward the hoop and grabbed an athletic, albeit easy, rebound, since Marcus Garrett did his job boxing out Brase.
This time, things came together perfectly.
Newman sprinted down the court to the right wing. He took a step-back 3, perhaps an ill-advised shot given his shooting woes entering the game, but he shot it with plenty of confidence and it fell through the net.
All in all, Newman snagged eight defensive boards, five of which came in the second half. Of those five, the Jayhawks scored on four of the following offensive possessions.
Newman's eight rebounds tied for the team lead against Iowa State and came up one short of a career-best total he notched in a win over Kentucky earlier this season. Yet he was hesitant to declare himself fully back based off just one performance.
“At the end of the day, you just have to keep grinding,” Newman said, “get yourself out of that hole.”
KU’s biggest issue with Stanford wasn’t going to be "the" matchup so much as it was "a" matchup.
Most KU fans were at least familiar with big man Reid Travis before Thursday’s game, a 75-54 KU win. It wasn’t long ago — just over a calendar year, in fact — the big man posted a career-best 29 points for the Cardinal in a 15-point KU win in Allen Fieldhouse.
It wasn’t just that he scored 29 points, it was how he scored those 29.
“We didn’t do anything with him,” said KU coach Bill Self immediately following the 2016 matchup. “That was a total beat-down by him on our big guys.
"Whenever one guy can set the all-time record for most free throws ever shot against Kansas and the most free throws ever made against Kansas, in the history of the school, home or away, (it) means that we probably didn’t guard. He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys."
Reid tallied 22 free throw attempts in the loss, knocking down 19.
Those numbers were in Self’s mind following the Jayhawks’ last game before the Stanford matchup this season, as both Self and senior Svi Mykhailiuk referenced them following a blowout win over Omaha.
That set the stage for Thursday. This time, things were different.
Rather than defend Travis straight-up and risk foul trouble to Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, Self attacked the big man with smaller players.
Svi Mykhailiuk drew the matchup first, defending Travis from the start of the game on.
The senior guard — listed at 6-foot-8 on the roster, though he gave a smaller number when asked about it at KU media day — was giving up some size in the matchup, with Travis outweighing him by about 40 pounds. However, Mykhailiuk more than held his own.
On the first defensive possession, Mykhailiuk denied the ball all the way out to the perimeter. He boxed out on the eventual shot attempt and KU came up with the ball.
The next possession, Mykhailiuk worked back in transition and was forced to help on a different man. After a missed Stanford layup and offensive rebound, though, the offense reset.
Mykhailiuk, who was still out of position, was late recovering to an open Travis at the 3-point line. Travis, who had made three 3-pointers in his last two games, missed what was a fairly open shot. It was arguably his best look of the half.
The only other candidate came when he had a big on him.
After a variety of action at the top of the key, Lightfoot found himself guarding Travis.
Lightfoot, KU’s most aggressive defender at the rim — arguably to a fault — had the same problem the KU bigs had last year.
Travis barely even up-faked, but Lightfoot left his feet and had to contort his body to avoid a foul. With Lightfoot out of the picture, Travis laid the ball up and in.
Travis scored six points in the first half. All six came with Lightfoot guarding him.
All-in-all, the Jayhawks primarily used multiple smaller defenders to guard the Stanford big man, which changed the way he was able to play.
The smaller KU guards were able to slide and stay in front of Travis, like a few minutes into the game, when Mykhailiuk — not known for his lateral quickness — slid into the lane and kept Travis from getting to the rim on a drive.
On another possession, Sam Cunliffe kept his footing and forced a travel. When tasked with boxing out the big on the ensuing possession, Cunliffe used his vertical leap to tip the ball away.
Other defenders had their moments too.
Just about everyone got their shot guarding the big man in the first half. With KU switching out on the perimeter, even Malik Newman ended up briefly guarding Travis.
At a significant size disadvantage, Newman fronted Travis in the post and relied on Azubuike to help had a pass come over the top.
Azubuike’s man eventually floated out behind the arc and was able to get a 3-point look, but the shot missed. KU survived the mismatch.
Late in the first half, with Newman again switched onto Travis, the big man was able to post up and the pass came in over the top.
With the KU coaches barking “help him” from the sidelines, Marcus Garrett got the message and slid into position, leaping up and knocking the ball away.
The KU guards also did their part in keeping Stanford from getting the angles to work the ball into the post, which Devonte’ Graham said after the game was a key emphasis.
And when Travis did catch the ball with a smaller defender on him, KU trapped almost immediately.
It was all part of the first-half effort that saw KU take control of the game and never look back.
The biggest problem for the Jayhawks in guarding Travis last time around was fairly simple. KU couldn’t keep him off his spot and lacked the ability to recover and wall up in the post.
After that game, Self gave Azubuike a pass, since he was just a freshman, but said he expected more from then-sophomore Carlton Bragg, redshirt-junior Dwight Coleby and redshirt-senior Landen Lucas.
That was clearly a bigger emphasis this time around, even when the ball was outside the perimeter.
Early on, most of Travis’ touches were on the outside. He caught passes at the top of the key and swung the ball to get Stanford into its offense.
Mykhailiuk, in turn, somewhat overplayed when Travis was one pass away from the action. With just over two minutes gone and Stanford with the ball on the perimeter, Mykhailiuk turned and faced Travis, extending all the way out beyond the 3-point line to deny the pass.
The plan wasn’t for Mykhailiuk to face-guard Travis for a full 40 minutes, but it did seem like denying the pass to Travis in the first place was a key focus for the KU wings.
At the very least, they showed more focus and awareness out on the perimeter than had typically been the case this season.
Just watch Marcus Garrett (No. 0) on this possession...
And Sam Cunliffe (No. 3) on this one…
As for post defense — seen a little bit in the clip above — the Jayhawks primarily kept a man in front of Travis in the post, relying on help to come from the back-side.
Part of Self’s criticism in the last Stanford game had come from a lack of attention to the scouting report.
“You’ve got to play your man before he catches it,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go where he wanted to go."
Mykhailiuk did have some lapses in focus throughout the game, over-helping at points in the first half and allowing Travis to post up late, but the Stanford guards didn’t always find him.
Travis’ first 2-point shot attempt didn’t come until more than six minutes into the game. Once again, it was Mykhailiuk sliding his feet to get in front of Travis and forcing him into a mid-range attempt that fell off the mark.
That possession actually carried with it all of the principles described.
Mykhailiuk got in front of Travis in the post and denied the entry. He followed him out to the perimeter and forced the miss and then even came up with the rebound, although the play was blown dead due to a Stanford technical foul.
Regardless, all of that played a role in the Jayhawks holding Travis to such a quiet outing.
The big man finished with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting. He got to the line for only three free throws, which marked his lowest since a February 22 matchup with Oregon State the year before.
And best of all, the effort earned a thumbs up from the coach.
“I thought,” Self said, “we did a great job defensively on him."
The KU defense — and its reputation — took a beating over the last week.
Some fans have gone as far as to long for the days of last season, lest we all forget that team was, at times, so poor on that end it prompted several rants from coach Bill Self.
After a game against TCU last season, Self proclaimed, “We don’t guard,” three times within the same answer. After a game against K-State, in which KU allowed 88 points and nearly gave up a game-winner on a blown switch, Self took it a step further.
“We’ve had stretches where we didn’t guard very well other times during our tenure here over 13 years, but we’ve never had a team this poor on that end,” Self said. “I mean this is without question probably — not probably — it is the poorest defensive team that we’ve ever had.
“It took us a while to get this poor. You just don’t get this bad overnight, defensively,”
So assuming KU’s defense right now is somewhere in between “the poorest defensive team” KU has had and actually fairly OK given it held its first eight opponents to 74 or fewer points and is only playing with seven scholarship players at the moment, it probably isn’t the worst idea to look all over the box score to find out why the last two games went the way they did.
One number jumps out in that regard.
Points off turnovers:
- Dec. 6, 2017: Washington 16, KU 8
- Dec. 10, 2017: Arizona State 25, KU 9
Compared with some of KU’s other wins, those margins are cause for concern.
In the gut-it-out win over Kentucky, 65-61, KU tabbed 17 points off 18 Kentucky turnovers. In the game against Syracuse, where Devonte’ Graham’s 35 points and seven 3-pointers led KU to a 16-point win, KU forced 17 turnovers and tabbed 16 points.
Doing some quick math, you can put KU down for about one point off each turnover per game. That makes sense, considering some turnovers result in easy runouts and others, like charges or passes that fall out-of-bounds, let the defense reset and are harder to score after.
In trying to separate those out, one category that helps is “fastbreak points.” I’d caution against gleaning too much from that statistic by itself, considering the definition of what is and isn’t a fastbreak is entirely arbitrary. But in context, it’s a pretty solid way to break things down.
Against Washington, KU forced 12 turnovers. Off those 12 turnovers, KU scored eight points. Only three of those were on fastbreaks. Let's dive a little deeper.
KU tabbed six steals against Washington, likely the best chances for easy fastbreak buckets. The first was with just a few seconds left in the first half when Marcus Garrett single handedly blew up the Huskies’ play.
That play shouldn’t have produced any KU points so we can remove it.
The second-to-last steal was actually a jump ball and the last came in a 14-point game with less than a minute left, so those probably aren’t ones to dwell on. The remaining three, however, showcase a bit of a problem.
First, with 18:55 to play in the first half, Graham deflected a pass to start a fastbreak. Malik Newman came up with the ball and had Graham open for a split second, but instead held onto it and drove.
Graham, with nowhere to go, backtracked to the 3-point line. Newman put up a shot in traffic and was swatted at the rim.
“I think if (Newman) would just worry about things that have an impact on us winning or not, I think he’d be better off,” Self said after that game. “Missed Devonte’ a couple times wide open in transition.”
The next instance was the opposite case of that, by all accounts.
With 12-and-a-half minutes left in the second half, Mykhailiuk knocked a ball away and Graham dove on the floor to get it. He bounced it back to Mykhailiuk, who pushed it up the floor.
Multiple Washington players stared at the ball on the play and made no attempt to get back on defense. That left Lagerald Vick running wide open to the hoop, but Mykhailiuk’s pass was off the mark and flew into the stands.
Vick took the blame for the play, patting his chest, but it wasn’t at all his fault.
As for steal No. 3, it came with just over two minutes to play and the Jayhawks desperately trying to make the comeback.
Garrett poked the ball away into the hands of Vick, who tried to pitch it ahead to Newman.
Vick's pass traveled too far down the court. Garrett was actually credited for the turnover on the play, likely due to an error by the scorekeepers, but it was another opportunity KU couldn’t afford to waste.
Now the Arizona State game was somewhat different. KU actually made the right play a few times early on.
The first instance was in fact so well executed that it’s worth watching the entire sequence.
KU’s defense — yes, that defense — first did an impeccable job swarming to the ball and helping and switching when necessary. Arizona State couldn't get anything going and the result was a turnover, as Graham easily intercepted a pass along the baseline.
Graham started the break, taking three dribbles and firing the ball up the court to Mykhailiuk. Mykhailiuk dropped it backward for Newman, who drilled the 3-pointer in rhythm.
KU took a 10-2 lead. Arizona State called timeout.
Every opportunity didn’t go that smoothly.
With 14-and-a-half minutes to play in the first and the Sun Devils on an 8-0 run, Newman poked a ball away and Graham recovered it to start a break. KU didn’t have numbers, so a basket was no guarantee, but Vick and Mykhailiuk essentially ended the opportunity by running to the exact same spot on the floor.
Graham passed the ball up the court, but Vick had to slow down to keep from colliding with Mykhailiuk. The KU offense had to reset.
Instead of an easy bucket, KU settled for a Vick floater in traffic on the possession. The shot was swatted away, marking the fourth of six straight scoreless KU possessions.
That was a theme of the day.
The next steal came at the rim, so KU didn’t really have numbers. Even if they did, Graham was slow getting down the floor so KU couldn’t capitalize on a quick 5-on-4 break to create a mismatch somewhere.
That was less true on the next chance, as Newman poked a ball away and Mykhailiuk recovered it and dribbled into the frontcourt.
Udoka Azubuike put his hand up for the ball in the paint. Mykhailiuk didn’t pass and instead spun around at the top of the key.
On the wing, Arizona State’s Remy Martin saw Mykhailiuk dribbling and abandoned Graham, his original assignment. Mykhailiuk could’ve passed Graham the ball, only Martin was quick enough to poke it away.
KU should’ve ended up with an easy layup or 3-pointer. Instead it went down as a turnover.
“They said every time Svi has the ball to crowd him, try to take his ball,” Self said. “His ball handling was very, very weak today.”
Perhaps the worst mishap of either game, though, wasn’t off a steal. It may have been a player trying to atone for a mistake the game before.
With less than five minutes left, Newman grabbed a rebound off an Arizona State miss. He dribbled up the court and tried a 50-foot pass to Graham, but there was no real lane to do so.
After the game, Graham said the idea for the pass was OK, the execution was just lacking. Self’s description, coming in an unrelated answer, was a little less forgiving.
“(A) terrible, bone-head, full court pass that went out of bounds,” Self said.
By themselves, those opportunities weren’t what caused the two losses.
While KU only scored 65 against Washington, the offense was far more free flowing against a team that played exclusively man-to-man defense in Allen Fieldhouse
“You score 85 at home,” Self said. “You expect to win.”
And that’s certainly true. But KU can still do more a lot on that end.
Against Washington, the easiest way for KU to score against the adjusted zone would’ve been to avoid it all together — simply running down the floor before it could set up.
And against Arizona State, even if both teams wanted to run, the Jayhawks still could’ve done more of it on their own terms to break through dry spells and make things more difficult for the competition.
“It just unbelievable,” Self said. “Whenever you control tempo and control pace, the basket grows, and it shrinks on the other end.”
In the last two games, that’s one thing KU certainly hasn’t done. You can't forget about the other side of it, either.
The Jayhawks have allowed 41 points off 29 turnovers in the last two games, a rate (1.41 points per possession) far higher than the clip they've scored at. They've also been outscored in transition, 24-13, despite being a team that should be built to get out and run, even off misses and long rebounds.
Again it was Self, speaking to a different topic, who said it best.
"There's not that dog or competitive juice," Self said, "that guys need to have when the game's on the line."
CHICAGO — The closest Trevon Duval came to sharing a locker room with the Jayhawks, at least by proximity, came on Tuesday night.
Deep inside the corridors winding throughout the basement level of United Center, the Duke and KU locker rooms were separated by a matter of feet. After surviving his first test, a win over No. 2 Michigan State in which Grayson Allen tallied 37 points, the point guard and former KU target sat in — not in front of, but in — his locker, flashing a smile that revealed a busted lip as he spoke.
"We can always get better," Duval said. "We all feel like we didn't play our best today, as a whole, but this game is over so now it's on to the next one."
That next-play type of mentality was a constant for the freshman.
Asked about all the great teams in the Champions Classic and prompted by the topic of Kansas being among his final schools, Duval simply volunteered that, "Yeah, Kansas was in there."
Asked about the details of his recruitment and how close he was to picking the Jayhawks, Duval volunteered little more.
"Uh, Kansas. I liked Kansas a little bit," Duval said. "But I'm here now, so I really liked Duke. That's all that really matters."
In that regard, he wasn't the only player who preferred to keep the focus on the game.
While Duval was magnificent against the Spartans, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists, 6 steals and 3 rebounds, Malik Newman's night was more of a mixed bag.
On one hand, the guard hit arguably KU's biggest shot and two important late free throws in the 65-61 win. Plus, he led the Jayhawks with nine rebounds on a night in which they crushed a bigger Kentucky squad on the offensive glass.
On the other, the red-shirt sophomore tallied more shot attempts (14) than points (12) and was swatted on several occasions at the rim. In fact, after Newman was rejected on two closely-occurring sequences, KU fans on Twitter seemed to be having flashbacks to the last meeting between the two teams in the event, when then-sophomore Frank Mason III made just one of 10 field goal attempts in a 32-point KU loss.
But this blog isn't about that. If you want to read about the game, there's plenty for you right here.
This is about what happened next.
In the post-game press conference, Newman answered questions about a variety of topics. He was even a good sport when he was asked how KU could build off the win, joking the next step was to get back in the gym and start shooting.
The one question he didn't answer, though, was completely unrelated.
On what was supposed to be the final question of the press conference, Newman was asked by a reporter why Mississippi State wasn't the right fit and why Kansas was.
As the words "Mississippi State" left the reporter's mouth, Newman's demeanor changed. He reached over at a stat sheet to his right and moved over a couple feet, staring down at it before picking his head up to deliver his answer.
"I have no comment on that," Newman said.
At this point, where the games actually matter and the mistakes and big shots all count for real, who could blame him?
When Devonte’ Graham lobbed the ball toward Udoka Azubuike, what the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse saw made them cheer. Bill Self had a different reaction.
The play he was stewing over came two trips earlier down the floor.
The sequence that started the fast break for Kansas actually originated from a KU mistake. Svi Mykhailiuk had the ball on the left wing. It was poked away and into the hands of a defender.
As Fort Hays State dribbled the other way, Mykhailiuk took a haphazard swipe at the ball, leaving KeShawn Wilson with a one-on-one shot to the hoop.
Malik Newman, who had already picked up a foul, defended the layup well and the shot missed. The ensuing break resulted in the lob, but Mykhailiuk still found himself on the bench.
"It's not that complicated to me. If you're going to make a mistake, at least make it going full speed," Self said. "When you try not to screw up, that's when you screw up the most. We just need those guys more aggressive, playing with more reckless abandon."
That was the way the first half went more often than not for Mykhailiuk. The film didn’t do him any favors.
Early in the first half, Fort Hays State had the ball out of bounds with just seven seconds on the shot clock. The inbounds was eventually redirected to Trey O'Neil, who Mykhailiuk pressured all the way out to half court.
O'Neil turned and dribbled back to his right, easily getting by Mykhailiuk and scoring on a layup. It was far from his only defensive lapse.
Mykhailiuk was a half-step slow reacting to an off-ball cut but still recovered well enough to make a play. Billy Preston, however, didn’t make enough of a path for Svi to step through on the handoff, and Mykhailiuk didn't fight through the traffic hard enough to prevent the layup.
In a later stint on the court, Mykhailiuk found himself matched up with the Tigers' Marcus Cooper. He tried to cheat on a screen and was burned by a simple left-to-right crossover, again for a layup.
"Defensively we were bad," Self said after the game. "We've certainly got to do a better job of guarding the ball."
Offensively, it wasn’t much better.
Mykhailiuk shot just 1 for 5 in the first half, missing all three of his 3-point attempts. Even so, it was an attempted layup that stuck in Self's craw.
Nearing the midway point in the half, Mykhailiuk executed on a backcut and MItch Lightfoot delivered a perfect pass to put him in at the hoop.
Mykhailiuk went up for the layup and, perhaps sensing potential contact, contorted his body to try and lay it in left-handed. The shot bounced off the rim.
“Guy comes to contest, he flinched,” Self said. "He's a senior. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."
To be fair, Mykhailiuk wasn’t the only one to draw the ire of Self.
Newman, who picked up a cheap foul early in the game, did himself no favors later in the half, as he drove into heavy traffic and nearly turned it over.
The Jayhawks got the ball back and worked it around to Mykhailiuk, who launched a contested 3. At the next stoppage, both returned to the bench.
"You don't play with activity and people minus Devonte' go 3 of 21 from 3," Self said. "That is a formula to get your butt handed to you."
Perhaps it all would’ve been forgivable, though, if the swingman found other ways to contribute.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with eight rebounds and five assists, with a majority of those numbers coming in the second frame.
As for the first half, he had the chance to thread an easy entry pass to Udoka Azubuike, but his pass sailed by the big man and out of bounds.
"When you're not making shots and you don't give us any activity, there's absolutely no reason to play," Self said.
So to start the second half for the second straight game, Self went with Marcus Garrett and Preston over Mykhailiuk and Newman.
He doubled down on the move after the game, noting that Garrett made plays neither of the other two older players could make. Self did, however, make an even stronger statement.
Just over five minutes into the second half, Self turned to his bench to put in a wing. He opted for walk on Clay Young, continuing to leave Mykhailiuk and Newman on the bench for some time.
If it wasn't obvious as to why, Self made it perfectly clear after the game.
"No, I really did think, 'Now Clay, we need you to play a certain way,' " Self joked, before shedding the sarcasm for a more serious tone. "I just didn't really think that Svi or Malik deserved to be out there, to be honest with you.
"I think they got the message."