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Ochai Agbaji ending slump could be key to KU’s success in NCAA tourney

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) grabs a rebound between Iowa State guard Marial Shayok (3) and Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) during the first half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) grabs a rebound between Iowa State guard Marial Shayok (3) and Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) during the first half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Forget the fact the game was out of reach, because the outcome was essentially decided by the time Kansas freshman Ochai Agbaji got things going.

But the final 12-plus minutes of KU's 88-74 win over West Virginia Friday night was a promising stretch for the freshman, who has been struggling as of late. Agbaji scored all nine of his points down the stretch, which matched his best scoring performance over the last five outings.

If Agbaji can bottle that up, and play similarly in the NCAA Tournament, it could help KU make a serious run as the fourth seed in the Midwest region.

“I think it helps my confidence just to see that ball go through the net,” Agbaji said. “I feel like that is good moving forward.”

Now, of course, the strong finish against WVU didn't help Agbaji the next day when he scored 5 points in 21 minutes against Iowa State. The entire Kansas team struggled to hit shots during the Big 12 championship game, however.

But that’s not the point. Everyone, including Agbaji, knows he can play better. And that could be the difference in how far Kansas will go.

The lofty expectations for Agbaji are a credit to the way he stormed onto the scene. It didn’t take long for Agbaji to make an impact after having his redshirt pulled on Jan. 9. Agabaji scored in double figures six times in nine games between Jan. 29 and March 2, including three 20-point performances.

Since then, though, Agbaji has hit a slump. He’s scored a total of 31 points over the last five games on 32.6 percent shooting. Agbaji has even heeded advice from fellow freshman Quentin Grimes, who dealt with his own struggles in his rookie season after a dominating debut.

“I talked to Quentin, and he told me to just play my game,” Agbaji said. “I appreciated it so much, because it shows he is looking out for me. I was helping him through his stuff, and he always kept his head up. It is good to have that type of relationship.”

Grimes was the first one to talk to Agbaji when he found out he wasn’t starting the second half of the Big 12 semifinals, as head coach Bill Self replaced the freshman with sophomore Marcus Garrett.

“I think that actually helped me,” Agbaji said. “It just gave me another look coming into the game, and I was able to bring some energy when I came into the game.”

Agbaji checked in at the 13:30 mark against West Virginia, netting his first bucket on a jumper one minute later to put Kansas up by 18. Agabaji connected on a triple with 8:51 left to play after not hitting a 3-pointer in his previous two games.

“It was good to see it go in for once,” Agbaji said. “After that, I think I just started playing more freely and not too tense like I have been playing offensively.”

Agbaji polished things with a pair of dunks, the first of which came off an assist by freshman David McCormack. The second slam came via an alley-oop from freshman Devon Dotson in transition, though Agbaji had to make a late adjustment to finish off the sequence.

via GIPHY

“He’s a freakish athlete, so I don’t put a lot of things past him,” McCormack said.

That might be the easiest way for Agbaji to turn things around, too.

Agbaji recorded a dunk on his very first possession on a designed lob pass from Dotson. In 20 games, Agbaji has registered 15 total dunks. Prior to his two slams against WVU, Agbaji notched just one dunk over his previous six contests.

“It could definitely help him get going, get his confidence going,” Dotson said. “It could get him back to how he was playing. It is great to see when everyone is rolling like that.”

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Bracketology breakdown: A look at where KU stands on Selection Sunday

Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5), Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) walk back onto the court after a timeout during a run by the Cyclones in the first half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5), Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) walk back onto the court after a timeout during a run by the Cyclones in the first half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

It is finally here, happy Selection Sunday everyone.

For the first time in awhile, there is a lot of unknown regarding the NCAA tournament for the Kansas Jayhawks. Not only do we not know KU’s opponent, but watching the Selection Show will be essential to finding out seed and region.

Kansas has been a 1 or 2 seed for nine consecutive seasons. The last time KU was a 3 seed was in 2009, while the team hasn't been a 4 seed since 2006.

As of Sunday morning, a 4 seed is the most common seed for Kansas. Northeastern also remains KU's most common opponent. But the Jayhawks still could be playing at various locations, based on what everyone has thus far.

Here is a look around at 10 different bracketology sites to get an idea where Kansas is headed for the NCAA tournament:

— Joe Lunardi, ESPN

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern in Salt Lake City

Region: East

Bracket: Lunardi's full bracket

— Jerry Palm, CBS

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern in San Jose

Region: South

Bracket: Palm's full bracket

— Michael Beller, Sports Illustrated

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Yale

Region: East

Bracket: Beller's full bracket

— Kerry Miller, Bleacher Report

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: UC Irvine

Region: South

Bracket: Miller's full bracket

— Shelby Mast and Scott Gleeson, USA Today

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Saint Louis in Salt Lake City

Region: Midwest

Bracket: Full USA Today bracket

— Bracketforecast.com

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Kansas in Salt Lake City

Region: Midwest

Bracket: Full bracket by Bracket Forecast

Bracketville

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Old Dominion in San Jose

Region: Midwest

Bracket: Full bracket by Bracketville

BartTorvik.com

Last updated: March 17

The seed: The second-highest 4 seed

The opponent: UC Irvine, Vermont, Northeastern, Old Dominion are the 13-seeds in this bracket

Region: None

Bracket: Full seeding list by Torvik

Bracketmatrix.com

Last updated: March 17

The seed: Top 4 seed

The opponent: UC Irvine, Northeastern, Vermont and Old Dominion are the 13-seeds in this bracket

Region: None

Bracket: Full seeding list by bracketmatrix

The Bracketeer, Rocco Miller

Last updated: March 17

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern in Hartford

Region: East

Bracket: Miller's full bracket

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Bracketology breakdown: Where KU stands ahead of Big 12 championship game

Kansas head coach Bill Self directs his players during the second half, Friday, March 15, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas head coach Bill Self directs his players during the second half, Friday, March 15, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Kansas has just one game left before Selection Sunday.

The Jayhawks (25-8) have won three games in a row, including back-to-back contests in the Big 12 tournament. In the Big 12 semifinals, Kansas took down 10th-seeded West Virginia by an 88-74 margin to advance to the championship game for the second year in a row.

With that, KU’s NCAA tournament projections are starting to become more clear. The Jayhawks certainly could add to their resume tonight with a win over Iowa State in the Big 12 championship, which begins at 5 p.m.

As of Saturday afternoon, though, Kansas has mostly been listed as a 4 seed on bracketology sites. However, a few outlets have KU as a 3 seed. Northeastern, a projected 13 seed, is the most common opponent.

Kansas has been a 1 or 2 seed for nine consecutive seasons. The last time KU was a 3 seed was in 2009, while the team hasn't been a 4 seed since 2006.

Here is a look around at 10 different bracketology sites to get an idea where Kansas is headed for this NCAA tournament:

— Joe Lunardi, ESPN

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern in Salt Lake City

Region: South

Bracket: Lunardi's full bracket

— Jerry Palm, CBS

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern in San Jose

Region: South

Bracket: Palm's full bracket

— Michael Beller, Sports Illustrated

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern

Region: South

Bracket: Beller's full bracket

— Chris Dobbertean, SB Nation

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 3

The opponent: Harvard in Des Moines

Region: South

Bracket: Dobbertean's full bracket

— Shelby Mast and Scott Gleeson, USA Today

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 4

The opponent: Northeastern in Salt Lake City

Region: West

Bracket: USA Today's full bracket

— Tim Krueger, WatchStadium.com

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 3

The opponent: Northern Kentucky in Des Moines

Region: East

Bracket: Krueger's full bracket

— Bracketville

Last updated: March 16

The seed: 3

The opponent: Northern Kentucky in Salt Lake City

Region: Midwest

Bracket: Full bracket by Bracketville

— BartTorvik.com

Last updated: March 16

The seed: Top 4 seed

The opponent: Davidson, UC Irvine, Vermont and Northeastern are the 13-seeds in this bracket

Region: None

Bracket: Full seeding list by Torvik

— Bracketmatrix.com

Last updated: March 16

The seed: Top 4 seed

The opponent: Liberty, UC Irvine, Northeastern and Vermont are the 13-seeds in this bracket

Region: None

Bracket: Full seeding list by Bracketmatrix

— Howie Schwab, Fox Sports

Last updated: March 15

The seed: 3

The opponent: Yale

Region: East

Bracket: Schwab’s full bracket

Reply 1 comment from Adam Bengtson

After early trip to bench, David McCormack helps KU power past West Virginia

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) pulls a rebound from West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) and West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) during the first half, Friday, March 15, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) pulls a rebound from West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) and West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) during the first half, Friday, March 15, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — After 117 seconds, Kansas coach Bill Self had seen enough.

Self pulled starting center David McCormack from the game after the freshman big man committed an early turnover and struggled with his defensive assignment out of the gate. McCormack did not check back into the game until the 14:22 mark in the first half.

“I thought David was not as good as he has been, being candid,” Self said following KU’s 88-74 win over West Virginia Friday night in the Sprint Center. “I didn’t think he came ready to guard and that was his main assignment.”

McCormack was tasked with defending WVU freshman Derek Culver, who was leading the team in scoring entering the Big 12 semifinals.

Early on, Culver was winning the battle of the rookie big men. He powered his way to seven points in the first half, hitting all three shots he took. Culver also collected seven rebounds, as West Virginia hung around with Kansas for much of the first half.

McCormack countered in the second half, forcing Culver to miss six shots over the final 20 minutes. Culver ultimately finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but it took more effort than usual down the stretch.

“Derek Culver is a load, and he still got his numbers, but I thought David did a pretty nice job in the second half,” Self said. “(David) doesn’t have to score for him to play well, but he has to defend and rebound well.”

That was the case Friday night, as McCormack finished sixth on the team in scoring with seven points. McCormack tallied eight rebounds to match a team-high, as well.

Although McCormack flipped the script in the second half, it was a play midway through the first half that really got things going for him.

With 9:30 left in the first half West Virginia passed the ball around the perimeter while McCormack and Culver battled on the left block. McCormack tried to trap a WVU player on the short corner, but was able to get back to Culver when he received the pass with five seconds remaining on the shot clock.

McCormack stayed his ground, avoiding contact, as Culver tried to make multiple moves. Culver was called for a traveling violation, and McCormack flexed his arms in celebration.

“It was definitely a big moment, because coach told me I had to man up and guard him,” McCormack said. “I took pride in that possession to make sure he didn’t get the ball, and he couldn’t do anything with it when he did.”

via GIPHY

It was enough to set the tone for the Jayhawks on the highest-scoring game of the Big 12 tournament.

Kansas recorded over half of its scoring production in the paint, notching 46 interior points against West Virginia. KU out-rebounded WVU by a 43-33 margin, despite Bob Huggins’ squad being a top-10 team in offensive rebounding.

And McCormack was at the forefront of that. He collected eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end, to match Dedric Lawson and Quentin Grimes for the team high. It marked the second consecutive game that McCormack has led KU in rebounding.

McCormack now has at least five rebounds in four consecutive games. Prior to that, McCormack had four such performances through the first 27 contests.

With KU employing more of a two-big lineup, it is is prudent that McCormack continues to have performances like he has had as of late. For now, though, McCormack has his eyes set on helping Kansas clinch a Big 12 tourney title.

“It is a team coming together to win a championship in their conference,” McCormack said. “It is a big deal.”

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

Getting to know: West Virginia basketball (Big 12 tournament)

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) roars as he dunks late in the second half against West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) roars as he dunks late in the second half against West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It has become a familiar matchup in the Big 12 tournament, though this year’s showdown is admittedly surprising.

Kansas and West Virginia will square off in the semifinals Friday night in the Sprint Center in what is a rematch of the last year’s championship game. It is the third time these two teams have met in the event.

The rubber match was made possible by West Virginia, which became the first No. 10 seed to make the Big 12 semifinals since the league went to 10 teams. With another upset, the Mountaineers would advance to the championship game for the fourth year in a row.

“The team I watched play tonight is hungry,” KU coach Bill Self said of West Virginia. “Forget about the records when Kansas West Virginia play, you usually get your money’s worth as a game.”

Tipoff is slated for approximately 8:30 p.m.

Series history: This series started when WVU joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012-13 and KU holds an 11-5 advantage. The Jayhawks have won five of the last six meetings.

Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @bentonasmith & @SJacksonLJW

BREAKING DOWN WEST VIRGINIA

TOP PLAYER

No. 1 — F Derek Culver | 6-10, 255, fr.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and the Jayhawks defend in the paint against West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) and West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and the Jayhawks defend in the paint against West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) and West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

In his rookie campaign, Culver is leading the starting unit with an average of 11.6 points per game.

Culver had eight double-doubles in Big 12 action, which ranked second in the league to Kansas’ Dedric Lawson (11). In Big 12 Conference games only, Culver finished first in the league in offensive rebounds (3.8), first in rebounding (10.9), second in defensive rebounds (7.1) and 12th in scoring (12.5).

Earlier this season, Culver had 22 points and 21 rebounds vs. TCU, becoming the first WVU player to have a 20-20 game since Mo Robinson in 1977.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 15 — F Lamont West | 6-8, 222, jr.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward David McCormack (33) defend against a drive by West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward David McCormack (33) defend against a drive by West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

West is one of two starters to average in double figures, posting 10.7 points per game this year.

In league play, West is taking 22.8 percent of West Virginia’s shots. In his career, West has hit a total of 146 3-pointers. West is shooting 32.4 percent from long range this season, going 56-of-173 from the floor.

West was one of five players to score in double figures last night, posting 10 points in the upset over Texas Tech.

No. 10 — G Jermaine Haley | 6-7, 215, jr.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) soars in to block a shot from West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (10) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) soars in to block a shot from West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (10) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

West Virginia has become a different team as of late, and Haley has been a big reason why.

Haley has scored 123 points in the last seven games, averaging 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest this season. Against the Red Raiders, Haley scored 11 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists.

In the first meeting between KU and West Virginia, Haley’s coast-to-coast layup with seven seconds to play served as the game winner in Morgantown.

No. 11 — F Emmitt Matthews Jr. | 6-7, 195, fr.

Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5) puts up a three over West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5) puts up a three over West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The Mountaineers leaned on Matthews to pull off the upset over the Red Raiders in the quarterfinals.

Matthews dropped a career-high 28 points against Texas Tech, shooting 10-of-14 from the floor. Matthews also hit a pair of 3-pointers, while recording eight rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes.

The 28-point performance by Matthews was the second-most points by a Big 12 freshman this season.

ONE THING WEST VIRGINIA DOES WELL

Just as Bob Huggins’ teams have historically done, the Mountaineers are tremendous on the glass. West Virginia is posting a 37.0 percent offensive rebound rate, which ranks seventh in the nation via KenPom.

ONE AREA WEST VIRGINIA STRUGGLES

West Virginia doesn’t particularly take care of the ball well, which means KU can take advantage with some layups in transition off turnovers. WVU is posting a 21.9 percent turnover rate, a mark that ranks 326th in the country.

MEET THE COACH

Bob Huggins’ record now stands at 859-360 in his 37th season as a head coach. He needs 17 more victories to tie Adolph Rupp for seventh place all-time. Huggins is the fourth-winningest active Division I coach behind Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams.

VEGAS SAYS…

According to Action Network, Kansas is a 10.5-point favorite over West Virginia as of Friday afternoon. That really does seem like a lot of points, and a majority of the bets seem to be on the Mountaineers. I’ll take the points, but I don’t think KU will have to sweat this one out in the end.

My prediction: Kansas 74, West Virginia 65

Reply 3 comments from West_virginia_hawk

Getting to know: West Virginia basketball (Big 12 tournament)

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) roars as he dunks late in the second half against West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) roars as he dunks late in the second half against West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

It has become a familiar matchup in the Big 12 tournament, though this year’s showdown is admittedly surprising.

Kansas and West Virginia will square off in the semifinals Friday night in the Sprint Center in what is a rematch of the last year’s championship game. It is the third time these two teams have met in the event.

The rubber match was made possible by West Virginia, which became the first No. 10 seed to make the Big 12 semifinals since the league went to 10 teams. With another upset, the Mountaineers would advance to the championship game for the fourth year in a row.

“The team I watched play tonight is hungry,” KU coach Bill Self said of West Virginia. “Forget about the records when Kansas West Virginia play, you usually get your money’s worth as a game.”

Tipoff is slated for approximately 8:30 p.m.

Series history: This series started when WVU joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012-13 and KU holds an 11-5 advantage. The Jayhawks have won five of the last six meetings.

Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @bentonasmith & @SJacksonLJW

BREAKING DOWN WEST VIRGINIA

TOP PLAYER

No. 1 — F Derek Culver | 6-10, 255, fr.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and the Jayhawks defend in the paint against West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) and West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and the Jayhawks defend in the paint against West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) and West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

In his rookie campaign, Culver is leading the starting unit with an average of 11.6 points per game.

Culver had eight double-doubles in Big 12 action, which ranked second in the league to Kansas’ Dedric Lawson (11). In Big 12 Conference games only, Culver finished first in the league in offensive rebounds (3.8), first in rebounding (10.9), second in defensive rebounds (7.1) and 12th in scoring (12.5).

Earlier this season, Culver had 22 points and 21 rebounds vs. TCU, becoming the first WVU player to have a 20-20 game since Mo Robinson in 1977.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 15 — F Lamont West | 6-8, 222, jr.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward David McCormack (33) defend against a drive by West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward David McCormack (33) defend against a drive by West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

West is one of two starters to average in double figures, posting 10.7 points per game this year.

In league play, West is taking 22.8 percent of West Virginia’s shots. In his career, West has hit a total of 146 3-pointers. West is shooting 32.4 percent from long range this season, going 56-of-173 from the floor.

West was one of five players to score in double figures last night, posting 10 points in the upset over Texas Tech.

No. 10 — G Jermaine Haley | 6-7, 215, jr.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) soars in to block a shot from West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (10) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) soars in to block a shot from West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley (10) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

West Virginia has become a different team as of late, and Haley has been a big reason why.

Haley has scored 123 points in the last seven games, averaging 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest this season. Against the Red Raiders, Haley scored 11 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists.

In the first meeting between KU and West Virginia, Haley’s coast-to-coast layup with seven seconds to play served as the game winner in Morgantown.

No. 11 — F Emmitt Matthews Jr. | 6-7, 195, fr.

Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5) puts up a three over West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5) puts up a three over West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The Mountaineers leaned on Matthews to pull off the upset over the Red Raiders in the quarterfinals.

Matthews dropped a career-high 28 points against Texas Tech, shooting 10-of-14 from the floor. Matthews also hit a pair of 3-pointers, while recording eight rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes.

The 28-point performance by Matthews was the second-most points by a Big 12 freshman this season.

ONE THING WEST VIRGINIA DOES WELL

Just as Bob Huggins’ teams have historically done, the Mountaineers are tremendous on the glass. West Virginia is posting a 37.0 percent offensive rebound rate, which ranks seventh in the nation via KenPom.

ONE AREA WEST VIRGINIA STRUGGLES

West Virginia doesn’t particularly take care of the ball well, which means KU can take advantage with some layups in transition off turnovers. WVU is posting a 21.9 percent turnover rate, a mark that ranks 326th in the country.

MEET THE COACH

Bob Huggins’ record now stands at 859-360 in his 37th season as a head coach. He needs 17 more victories to tie Adolph Rupp for seventh place all-time. Huggins is the fourth-winningest active Division I coach behind Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams.

VEGAS SAYS…

According to Action Network, Kansas is a 10.5-point favorite over West Virginia as of Friday afternoon. That really does seem like a lot of points, and a majority of the bets seem to be on the Mountaineers. I’ll take the points, but I don’t think KU will have to sweat this one out in the end.

My prediction: Kansas 74, West Virginia 65

Reply

Marcus Garrett shows progress with ankle injury during KU’s win over Texas

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) ducks under Texas forward Jericho Sims (20) for a bucket during the first half, Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) ducks under Texas forward Jericho Sims (20) for a bucket during the first half, Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — For the first time since January, Kansas sophomore Marcus Garrett looked like himself.

Garrett played 20 minutes during KU’s 65-57 win over Texas in the Big 12 quarterfinals Thursday night at the Sprint Center. Garrett was active on the glass, while handling a huge responsibility on the defensive end.

In the locker room after the game, Garrett wasn’t ready to put a percentage on where he is health wise. But he did feel like he was on the right track, which is great news for a young Kansas team during the postseason.

“This is probably the closest I have been to 100 percent,” Garrett said.

Garrett sustained a high-ankle sprain during practice on Feb. 1, putting him on the shelf for five games.

“I was just having constant treatment to get back as fast as I could,” Garrett said. “It was challenging.”

Even when Garrett returned, he was a lesser version of himself. Garrett has played in six contests since returning from the injury. Garrett has yet to play more than 27 minutes in a game after playing at least 30 minutes in six of his eight games before the injury.

Thursday’s win over Texas was a different story, however. Garrett collected a season-best eight rebonds, all of which came on the defensive end. No other KU player posted more than five defensive rebounds.

Garrett was also matched up Kerwin Roach II for much of the time he was on the court. Multiple guards ultimately got a chance to guard the Longhorns’ leading scorer. Roach, who finished with eight points against KU, was averaging 15 points per outing entering the quarterfinals.

“We were just trying to stay in front of him,” Garrett said. “We know he can get off at any moment, he’s a great guard. He can go right or left, so basically we just tried to stay in front of him.”

Yet, it was a play on the offensive end that made Garrett realize he was getting closer to being what he once was.

Late in the first half, Kansas pushed the ball in transition off a Texas turnover. Garrett filled the gap correctly, and freshman point guard Devon Dotson hit him in stride. Not only did Garrett jump off his left foot, but he demonstrated great body control through traffic.

via GIPHY

It was a significant play given what happened in a similar situation less than a week ago.

Midway through the second half against Baylor in the regular-season finale, Garrett ran down the right side of the court on a fast break. Charlie Moore recorded a steal and then fired a pass to Garrett in transition.

For a moment, it looked like Garrett was going to get a layup at the rim. Instead, he shied away from jumping and ultimately was fouled.

via GIPHY

It may seem like a minor thing, but it is important given how Garrett gets a majority of his points. Garrett has just made four shots at the rim in the six games since returning from the injury, according to Torvik. Prior to that, Garrett netted 38 buckets at the rim in 20 games.

“I thought I was going to get to this point sooner,” Garrett said. “With it being my first ankle injury, I didn’t know how serious it was. I just thought I would be back."

But Thursday's performance was the first sign that Garrett is on the right track to being fully back.

Reply

Getting to know: Texas basketball (Big 12 Tournament)

Texas forward Jaxson Hayes (10) celebrates after he scored between Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) and guard Lagerald Vick (24) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas forward Jaxson Hayes (10) celebrates after he scored between Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) and guard Lagerald Vick (24) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) by Associated Press

For the first time since 2004, Kansas will be the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament this week. It ended a 10-season run for Kansas (23-8) as the No. 1 seed.

The Jayhawks, who are the defending conference tournament champions, have won 11 such crowns in the Big 12 era. A deep run this year could go a long way for KU, which had its 14-year stretch of regular-season titles snapped by Kansas State and Texas Tech.

Texas, the No. 6 seed, will be the first-round matchup for Kansas at the Sprint Center. The Longhorns (16-15) are in desperate need of a win, as no .500 team has ever made it to the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection.

In the two-game set between these two teams this year, both Texas and Kansas won its respective home contest. KU bested UT by a an 80-78 margin on Jan. 19 in Allen Fieldhouse before dropping a 73-63 defeat in the rematch on Jan. 29.

Tipoff is set for approximately 8:30 p.m.

Series history: In a series that dates back to 1938, Kansas leads Texas 32-9, including a 4-1 record in the Big 12 Championship with the last meeting a KU 85-73 win in the 2011 championship game.

Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait & @bentonasmith & @SJacksonLJW

BREAKING DOWN TEXAS

TOP PLAYER

No. 12 — G Kerwin Roach II | 6-4, sr.

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) shoots over Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) shoots over Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) by Associated Press

Roach’s return comes at an inopportune time for the Jayhawks.

After serving a five-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, the Longhorns’ leading scorer will make his return when his team is in a must-win situation. Roach leads Texas in scoring with an average of 15.0 points per game. He’s also third on the team in assists and second steals, despite playing 24 of the team’s 31 games.

Roach has scored in double figures in 12 consecutive games, including two meetings with Kansas, dating back to Jan. 8. Over that span, Roach has notched at least 15 points in 10 of his 12 outings.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 10 — F Jaxson Hayes | 6-11, fr.

Texas forward Jaxson Hayes (10) celebrates as he scores over Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) and guard Lagerald Vick (24) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas forward Jaxson Hayes (10) celebrates as he scores over Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) and guard Lagerald Vick (24) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) by Associated Press

Hayes is not only the best pro prospect on his team, but he might be one of the best in the entire Big 12 conference.

In his freshman season, Hayes is averaging 10.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Hayes was named the league’s Freshman of the Year, becoming the sixth UT player to earn the accolade. Myles Turner was the last Texas rookie to do it, earning the honor during the 2014-15 season.

Hayes has converted on 73.2 percent of his shots this year. The UT single-season record for field percentage is 65.4 percent, which was accomplished by Dexter Pittman in 2009-10. Of his 123 made field goals, 74 have been dunks.

No. 2 — G Matt Coleman III | 6-2, so.

Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) tries to steal the ball from Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) tries to steal the ball from Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The UT sophomore point guard earned all-Big 12 honorable mention accolades for his play this season.

Coleman leads the team and ranks fifth in the Big 12 in assists with an average of 3.7 assists per game. He’s also posted a 72-28 assists-to-turnover ratio (2.79) in league play. As a team, the Longhorns have commited just an average of 11.1 turnovers per contest this season.

Coleman is also one of four players to average in double figures, scoring 10.2 points per game.

No. 21 — F Dylan Osetkowski | 6-9, sr.

Texas forward Dylan Osetkowski (21) shoots over Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas forward Dylan Osetkowski (21) shoots over Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) by Associated Press

Osetkowski, who is in his second season at Texas and fifth year of college basketball, has started in 64 of his possible 65 career games.

This season, Osetkowski leads the team in rebounding with an average of 7.4 rebounds per contest and is second in the Big 12. He’s also averaging 10.2 points per contest, playing 28.8 minutes per outing.

Against Kansas on Jan. 29, Osetkowski posted a team-high 16 points on 10 shots and three assists in 35 minutes. He also scored 11 points and collected nine rebounds in 29 minutes against KU on Jan. 14.

ONE THING TEXAS DOES WELL

The Longhorns do a good job taking care of the rock. This season, they are posting a 16.6 turnover rate on the offensive end. That mark ranks 52nd in all of college basketball.

ONE AREA TEXAS STRUGGLES

Texas does not defend the perimeter well, and that’s an area KU has tried to take advantage of as of late. UT is allowing opposing teams to shoot 36.7 percent from long range, which ranks 298th in the country.

MEET THE COACH

Texas is coached by Shaka Smart, who is 66-65 in his fourth season at UT and 229-121 in his 10th year overall. Texas is 2-1 on neutral courts this season.

VEGAS SAYS…

According to Action Network, Kansas is a 2.5-point favorite over Texas as of Thursday afternoon. With a line that small, I’m taking the Jayhawks. I think the players know how important this week is, and a KU-friendly crowd will certainly help the freshmen in their first postseason contest of the year.

My prediction: Kansas 75, Texas 70

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Big 12 tournament will be more compelling with multiple teams capable of winning it all

The Kansas Jayhawks shoot around during an open practice on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at Sprint Center.

The Kansas Jayhawks shoot around during an open practice on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

It has become an annual tradition to mention how wide open the Big 12 tournament is.

Any team, regardless of the seed, is capable of cutting down the nets on the final day of the event. This year is no different, especially with No. 17 Kansas (23-8) listed as the No. 3 seed in the tournament for the first time since 2004.

“It’s been anybody’s ballgame every year,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Every time we come over here, people always say ‘this is the most wide open the field has ever had.’ I’m not sure it wasn’t, but maybe we or Iowa State just played particularly well that weekend.”

But history would suggest that mindset isn’t true, despite how many teams in the field have NCAA tournament aspirations.

Since the Big 12 era began in 1996-97, only four active league members have won enough games to secure a title in this tournament. Kansas leads the way with 11 such crowns, while Iowa State is second with four. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have won three and two, respectively.

The Jayhawks have lost in the championship game two other times, and own a 44-11 record in the league tournament.

“If (Texas) Tech plays great, they can win this tournament easily,” Self said. “If we play our best, I think we can win the tournament. I do think it is more wide open than in years past, but when you really look at it, Tech and K-State won the league by two games. That’s a pretty substantial amount.”

Both the Red Raiders and Wildcats will look to claim their first tourney title this weekend. Most of all, though, they will look to validate their share of the regular season crown, which ended KU’s NCAA-record stretch of 14 consecutive league titles.

“This tournament has always meant something to us, but it’s always been a validation,” Self said. “That’s what Texas Tech and K-State should be saying to each other. Because if it is one of them, they can actually say they are the best team in the league.”

According to TR Brackets, Texas Tech, the No. 2 seed, has the best chance of cutting down the nets with a 32.9 percent winning percentage. Kansas, the No. 3 seed, has the second-highest odds with a 16.64 percent. No. 5 seed Iowa State and No. 1 seed Kansas State are third and fourth on the list at 16.37 percent and 14.51 percent, respectively.

That coupled with the fact that many of the top seeds split the two-game series with each other makes this week’s tournament feel more compelling than usual. TTU split with the other four teams in the top half of the league. Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State all split with three of the top five seeds.

Perhaps this year, it really is anybody’s ballgame after all.

My prediction: Texas Tech over Iowa State in Big 12 championship game

Reply 4 comments from Len Shaffer Shane Jackson Dane Pratt

Kerwin Roach’s return means Longhorns will be ‘at their best’ against Jayhawks

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) shoots over Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) shoots over Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) during the second half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Texas won 73-63. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) by Associated Press

An already tough matchup for the Kansas men’s basketball team got even more difficult.

During the Big 12 teleconference Monday morning, Texas head coach Shaka Smart announced that senior guard Kerwin Roach II will be reinstated this week. Roach, who leads the Longhorns in scoring, served a five-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

With Roach sidelined, the Longhorns (16-15, 8-10 Big 12) dropped four of their final five games. They are now in desperate need of a win, as no .500 team has ever made it the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection. Texas, which is the sixth seed, will face No. 3-seed Kansas (23-8, 12-6) at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

“Certainly, he's a good player,” KU coach Bill Self said during his weekly availability Monday afternoon. “I have no feelings about that other than the fact that we're going to go against them (Texas) at their best."

Roach was certainly clicking before being handed his third suspension of his career.

Prior to his suspension, Roach was leading the team in scoring with an average of 15.0 points per game. He reached double figures in 12 consecutive games, including two meetings against KU, dating back Jan. 8. Over that span, Roach notched at least 15 points in 10 of his 12 outings.

In addition, Roach is third on the team in total assists (74) and second in total steals (31) even though he’s played just 24 of the team’s 31 games.

“The thing that concerns me is when those four or five guards (are) playing, when you add Roach to the mix, they are really good,” Self said. “They didn't have their best game the last game of the season, so they'll be turned up against us, which is the way it should be when it's a one-and-done type of situation.”

To say that the Longhorns are better with Roach would be an understatement. They went 2-5 without him, losing by an average margin of 10.2 points per game in their five defeats without Roach.

According Torvik’s effect of losing a player tool, the Longhorns are ranked No. 29 with Roach compared to No. 40 without him. To put that in comparison, Udoka Azubuike's absence dropped KU nine spots from No. 19 to No. 28 with the same tool. Without Marcus Garrett, Kansas is ranked No. 24.

Either way, Roach is clearly the go-to option, as he has posted a 26.4 usage rage and has taken 26.7 percent of the team’s shots, per KenPom.com.

Roach is also familiar with the Jayhawks, having faced them eight times in his career. He scored in double figures in each of the last four meetings, and is averaging 11.6 points per game in his six career starts against KU. Roach recorded 15 points during Texas’ win over Kansas on Jan. 29.

Even though those numbers don't indicate Roach has been unstoppable, it is clear the athletic guard can pose some problems for the KU defense when he’s playing well. Earlier this season, Roach took over in a win against North Carolina by scoring 32 points.

So make no mistake, with Texas now in desperation mode and its best player back in the mix, this postseason matchup won’t be a cakewalk for a young Kansas team.

Reply 1 comment from Robert  Brock

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