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Senior RB Khalil Herbert compares KU’s backfield to his favorite superheroes

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) and Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) celebrate a touchdown by Williams by bowing to each other during the fourth quarter on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) and Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) celebrate a touchdown by Williams by bowing to each other during the fourth quarter on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Arlington, Texas — Senior running back Khalil Herbert has always been enthralled with the superhero universe.

Herbert is a fan of both Marvel and DC, which has been the case for as long as he can remember. He has a collection of comic books and his walls are draped with posters in his room. And, of course, he has watched all the movies as well. Herbert’s favorite superhero is Flash.

But when asked to assign a superhero to each of the three Kansas running backs, Herbert didn’t even give himself Flash. He assigned that to soon-to-be sophomore Pooka Williams Jr., who exploded for 1,660 all-purpose yards as a freshman last year.

“Pooka is definitely the Flash,” Herbert said. “Pooka is fast.”

Williams was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year last season after rushing for 1,125 yards and seven scores on 161 carries. It marked the second-most rushing yards by a KU freshman in a single season, and is tied for eight all-time in program history.

So who does Herbert think he is then? Iron Man, of course.

“He’s pretty balanced,” Herbert said. “He’s smart, strong, fast and moves pretty good.”

Last season, Herbert had the second-most rushing attempts with 113. Herbert turned that into 499 yards and five touchdowns. It was a complementary role due to the emergence of Pooka, though Herbert has shown he’s capable of leading a superhero cast.

In fact, Herbert ran for a career-best 291 yards against West Virginia in 2017, which ranks third on KU’s single-game rushing list. He will be the likely starter for the season opener, when Pooka serves his one-game suspension.

As for Dom Williams, Herbert gave the 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior back the title of Captain America.

“I’d say Dom is Captain America, because Dom is really strong (and has a) big chest,” Herbert said.

Dom Williams carried the ball 55 times for 231 yards as a sophomore last year. In his freshman campaign, Williams ran for 176 yards and three scores on 51 attempts. Herbert even gave a superhero title to head coach Les Miles, who will try to get the most out of KU’s backfield in 2019.

“Probably the Hulk,” Herbert said. “He’s cool, calm and collected. Something happens, and he can just flip the switch.”

Superheroes or not, the three-headed backfield figures to be the strength of KU’s offense during Miles’ first year at the helm. Given Miles’ history running the ball, it may just be the perfect match for the Jayhawks this year.

“I feel like we have the best RB unit in the nation,” Herbert said. “Me, Pooka and Dom. We got some young guys coming up too. There is no drop-off when one of us goes into the game.”

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Conference odds released, KU football at 80/1 to win Big 12 title

Blue team running back Dom Williams falls into the end zone for a touchdown during Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

Blue team running back Dom Williams falls into the end zone for a touchdown during Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

It won’t be much longer before the college football season is finally here.

I know this because the Big 12 conference released its preseason poll today, and Big 12 Media Days will take place next week. But also more betting information has become available as of late, which is always interesting to look at.

Last week, over/under win totals were released on FanDuel for most FBS teams.

Today, I looked at odds to win a conference title over at BetOnline.ag. The online sportsbook has several different conference title odds listed.

For now, though, let’s breakdown the 10-team conference that the Kansas football program belongs to.

I'll also offer up a few of my key takeaways, which includes the team with a line that's too good to pass up.

Odds to win Big 12 title — Via BetOnline.ag as of Wednesday afternoon

Oklahoma: -125

Texas: +300

Iowa State: +1200

West Virginia: +1200

Baylor: +1800

Oklahoma State: +1800

TCU: +1800

Texas Tech: +2000

Kansas State: +3300

Kansas: +8000

KU is beyond a long shot

Let’s start with the obvious, Kansas was always going to be last on this list. On Wednesday, the league announced that the Jayhawks were voted last in this year’s preseason poll. It marks the ninth season in a row that KU has been voted at the bottom of the conference by the media.

Kansas is also dead last among Big 12 teams in win totals, as the team has an over/under of three victories for the 2019 season. All nine other squads in the league have an over/under of at least five victories, according to FanDuel’s online sportsbook.

That being said, it is surprising to see that large of a gap between KU and Kansas State. Both programs have new coaches at the helm, and last year’s Sunflower Showdown came down to the wire in an eventual 21-17 win by the Wildcats in Manhattan.

K-State also was the lowest scoring offense in the league last year, which marked the first time this decade that KU did not hold that title. It is not that I believe KU is better than Kansas State this year, but I do believe the gap is closer than these odds would indicate. As a result, I'd say the Jayhawks are a better bet than the Wildcats.

But don’t put money down on either. Please gamble responsibly.

Stay away from West Virginia

Neither in-state school is the worst bet, however. West Virginia having the third-highest odds among these 10 teams does not make sense to me whatsoever. In fact, the Mountaineers are much closer to the bottom tier of the league than they are a title contender.

Last season, WVU came so close to playing for the Big 12 title game, but this year’s team is nowhere near that level at this point. The Mountaineers not only have to replace Will Grier at quarterback, but they are installing a whole new system under Neal Brown, who went 4-9 in his first year Troy.

West Virginia has the second-lowest win total (5.0), so there is no reason this team should have the same odds to win a league crown as Iowa State.

Put money on TCU

It is tough to bet against Oklahoma or even Texas, but TCU’s odds are rather intriguing. The Horned Frogs are coming off a 7-6 campaign, but were decimated with injuries last fall.

In addition, recent history would suggest they are primed for a bounce back. Following a 6-7 clip in 2016, Gary Patterson led TCU to an 11-win season. After going 4-8 in 2013, the Horned Frogs responded with a 12-1 record en route to a win in the Peach Bowl during the 2014 campaign.

Early win totals would suggest that TCU will be in the thick of it this year, and the program was just voted fourth in the preseason poll. In fact, the last two times the Horned Frogs were picked fourth or lower was 2014 and 2017. They won a Big 12 Championship in the former and played in the Big 12 Championship Game in the latter.

Keep in mind that you are currently getting 18/1 odds on the Horned Frogs. It is hard to find something better than that, and I'm more than willing to take my chances on Patterson and that TCU defense.

Reply 2 comments from Armen Kurdian Len Shaffer

Why Les Miles might bring stability at QB for Kansas football

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks with offensive lineman Api Mane and quarterback Thomas MacVittie on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at the indoor practice facility.

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks with offensive lineman Api Mane and quarterback Thomas MacVittie on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at the indoor practice facility. by Nick Krug

Only two teams will be bringing a quarterback to Big 12 Media Days next week.

Kansas obviously was not going to be one of those programs, though it is surprising to see how few signal callers will be in attendance. KU head coach Les Miles has yet to name a starter, and he does not have to commit to one player under center anytime soon.

At the conclusion of spring ball, however, Miles did admit that Thomas MacVittie has a slight lead in the battle to be KU’s starting quarterback.

"I think there is a real quality group there. I think MacVittie might have an edge. Carter Stanley is right there,” Miles said. “From that point forward, there are some good guys that can step in and play well in games. I'm not really ready to name anybody.”

A quarterback competition is nothing new with KU, especially during this decade. But understanding Miles’ historical background with signal callers might put fans at ease this time around.

Similar to what I did with the running back blog earlier this week, I went back to collect data from quarterbacks under Miles during his time at Oklahoma State and LSU. The thing that initially stood out to me was the lack of production backup quarterbacks have had under Miles.

In his last full season as a head coach, which was 2015, only one quarterback threw every single one of LSU’s 277 pass attempts. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a backup quarterback that threw more than 45 passes in a single season with Miles at the helm.

For comparison, KU’s backup quarterback has thrown more than 45 pass attempts in each of the previous seven seasons.

What does that mean exactly? Well, it appears that Miles will commit to his signal caller when he picks a winner of the starting quarterback competition. That alone could provide some much-needed stability to a program that has been the lowest scoring offense in the Big 12 in eight of the previous nine seasons.

The only year that KU did not finish last in the league in scoring this decade was actually 2018, when the team averaged 23.8 points per game. Peyton Bender played 11 games and threw 321 pass attempts, while Stanley threw just 47 attempts in four games.

Yet that could resemble what this year’s passing numbers look like, given how Miles has typically operated in his career.

During his 15 full seasons as a head coach, Miles has only had three backup quarterbacks throw at least 75 pass attempts in one year. The Jayhawks have had six such No. 2 signal callers do that in the previous nine seasons.

Miles’ backup quarterback has thrown an average of 43.5 pass attempts in a single season. Since 2010, KU’s No. 2 signal caller has recorded an average of 95.4 pass attempts each year.

All of this could be a pointless exercise, especially during the first year with Miles at the helm. He did not recruit Stanley or Miles Kendrick, and might not be as likely to give either of them a long leash if they emerged as the starter by August. Injuries could also play a factor at any point.

Still, Miles’ track record would suggest he’s more likely to stick with one quarterback. Considering these last several years, that mindset could be a step in the right direction for this football program.

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Eeakins1 Mike Auer

Why KU’s rushing production should improve under new coaching staff

Blue team running back Khalil Herbert runs in a touchdown during Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

Blue team running back Khalil Herbert runs in a touchdown during Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Since taking over the Kansas football program, Les Miles has not revealed many details about his offensive scheme during any of his press settings.

There is a reason for that, of course. Miles, like most head football coaches, would like an element of surprise for his 2019 opponents. That is probably something even more important for a coach that has been out of the game since 2016.

In early March, Miles was asked about his offensive philosophy during the start of spring ball.

"The ability to throw bubbles and RPOs and have the ability to throw the ball down the field certainly would be things that we would start with,” Miles said. “The ability to rush the football and control the ball when time would suggest that you can win the game by running out the clock.”

While that particular quote suggests Miles is embracing more of a modern offense, it is worth noting his track record during his 15-plus seasons as a head coach would suggest otherwise. After all, history might be the best indicator of what is to come for the Jayhawks with Miles at the helm.

For this exercise, I looked at data from all the way back to Miles’ first year as a head coach in 2001 with Oklahoma State. I kept track of percentage of offensive plays that ended up being a rushing attempt as well as what the team’s top running back accomplished in that particular season during Miles’ tenure at Oklahoma State and LSU.

For comparison, I also looked at the same statistical categories for Kansas during this decade when the team has had multiple different head coaches.

Right away, the biggest thing that stood out was the run percentage. The Jayhawks have run the ball at least 58% of the time on three different occasions since 2010. A Miles-led team has done that 10 different times, including each of his previous six full seasons.

Since 2010, KU’s top running back has only eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark three times. Miles, meanwhile, has had nine different campaigns — and four this decade — where his top running back ran for over 1,000 yards.

Miles has had a number of talented backs, which has led to that level of rushing production. But he’s also shown the ability to feed his guy the rock. With Miles at the helm, the top running back has averaged 196 carries per season. KU’s top running back has only amassed 196 carries twice and averaged 166.8 carries per season since 2010.

(Side note: If you remove 2006 from the pool, when Jacob Hester led the team with 94 carries, Miles’ top running back has averaged just over 203 carries per season.)

All of this is obviously good for sophomore running back Pooka Williams, who recently rejoined the team after a strong freshman campaign. Williams will serve a one-game suspension, but figures to be an important part of Kansas’ offense when he returns.

But this could also be a favorable system for running backs Khalil Herbert and Dom Williams as well. Both could see a significant uptick in carries if the Jayhawks run the ball more than last year’s mark of 35.2 rushing attempts per game.

Even offensive coordinator Les Koenning’s track record would suggest that will be the case.

Koenning’s most-recent stop was UAB in 2017, when the team ran the ball 60.7 percent of the time and Spencer Brown led the team with 1,329 yards on 250 carries. Koenning’s top rusher has averaged 184 attempts per season during his time at Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and UAB.

Sure, the Big 12 tends to be more pass-happy and more teams are utilizing a spread-style offense in today’s game. KU also won’t likely have the luxury of playing with the lead, which usually warrants more passing attempts.

But if the history of the new coaching staff is any indication — as well as the talent on the 2019 roster — then KU should expect a significant bump in the rushing production this fall.

Reply 7 comments from Gerry Butler Dillon Davis Steve Corder Len Shaffer Dirk Medema Jim Stauffer

How Kansas football has fared against new Big 12 coaches

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks with his players after Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks with his players after Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

On the surface, Kansas might have an easier schedule than normal. At least as easy as it can be for a power five football team trying to finish higher than last in the Big 12 for the first time since 2014.

A common response from a blog about KU’s win total was the fact that the team will play three new head coaches in the Big 12 this season, all three of which will take place in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

There could be some truth to that, seeing how rare it is that four coaches of the 10 teams in the conference are in their first year at their respective programs. It gives off a perception that those select teams — West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State and Kansas — might be on the same playing field.

Perhaps that is the case, and it allows Les Miles to lead the Jayhawks to four or more wins for the first time since 2009. KU will face WVU on Sept. 21 to kick off the conference slate, looking to end a nine-game skid in Big 12 openers. Kansas will also play host to Texas Tech (Oct. 26) and Kansas State (Nov. 2) on back-to-back weeks.

The Wildcats are under the leadership of Chris Klieman, who moves up to the power five level after claiming four national titles at North Dakota State. Matt Wells takes over for the Red Raiders after posting a 44-34 record at Utah State. West Virginia tabbed Neal Brown as its head coach after he went 36-16 at Troy.

All four new coaches, including Miles, were ultimately ranked at the bottom of the coaching power rankings by CBS Sports in May. While no other year has seen as much coaching turnover, I thought it would be interesting to see how Kansas has fared against new Big 12 coaches to see if there is reason for optimism after all.

I went back to 2000, which is a sample that includes teams that are no longer in the Big 12 conference. It is worth stating the obvious that Kansas has went a total of 6-42 in the first year under four different coaches since 2000. Turner Gill’s 3-10 clip in 2010 is the best record of a group that includes Mark Mangino (2-10 in 2002), Charlie Weis (1-11 in 2012), and David Beaty (0-12 in 2015).

That being said, this is about KU’s record against coaches in their first year with their respective program during their time in the Big 12 conference. Since 2000, Kansas has an overall record of 5-12 against such coaches. The last time the Jayhawks defeated a first-year head coach was against Paul Rhoads of Iowa State in 2009, which was a 41-36 home win on Oct. 10.

For this blog, I threw out Bill Snyder’s return season from the sample. But KU did record a 39-20 victory against Kansas State, which was coached by Ron Prince, on Nov. 18, 2006. It is the only time KU has faced a new coach in the Sunflower Showdown since 2000.

Texas Tech, meanwhile, has had three different coaches post winning records in their first season at the helm. The Red Raiders have never lost to the Jayhawks with a new coach during that span. This will be West Virginia’s first year facing Kansas with a new coach since joining the conference.

Now, of course, there is some truth to the notion that Kansas is fortunate to get all three teams at home in 2019. All five of KU’s wins against new coaches have come at home, including a 4-8 record against teams currently in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have wins over Kansas State (2006), Iowa State (2007 and 2009), Baylor (2003) and Colorado (2006).

For comparison, Kansas is 0-6 against new coaches on the road. KU’s average margin of victory in its five wins is 14.8 compared to an average margin of defeat of 19.2 in the 12 losses against new coaches.

What all does this mean exactly? Well, to be honest, not a lot. I just thought it would be interesting to see if history was on KU’s side in these situations. Kansas has never defeated a new Big 12 coach with its own new coach, but the program also hasn’t had someone like Miles at the helm.

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

Over/under win totals released, KU projected to finish last in Big 12

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks with quarterbacks and running backs during football practice on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 within the new indoor practice facility.

Kansas head coach Les Miles talks with quarterbacks and running backs during football practice on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 within the new indoor practice facility. by Nick Krug

Why is FanDuel giving away money?

That was my first thought when FanDuel Sportsbook released 2019 win totals for a majority of the FBS teams on Tuesday. I immediately scrolled to the team I cover to see what the number was. And, I must admit, I was shocked.

Kansas opened with a 3.5 over/under win total for the 2019 season, which marks the first year under Les Miles. It has since been dropped to 3.0, as the under is +102 and the over is -120.

I’m less confident that FanDuel is giving away money with the updated odds, because a push with three wins is a likely outcome. If a bettor got the original odds, however, then the under seemed far too easy.

With Miles at the helm, there is undoubtedly more buzz around the program than in recent memory.

But buzz doesn’t always mean success, especially not at first. Based on the current roster, and historical data, it is hard to imagine the Jayhawks winning four or more games. At the very least, it would be tough to put a significant amount of money on them doing so.

For starters, KU hasn’t accomplished that feat since 2009 when the team went 5-7. That is nine consecutive seasons of the Jayhawks winning three or fewer games, so it would be tough to bet on any coach breaking that trend in his first year.

Miles won four games in his first year at Oklahoma State in 2001, but the team had just three consecutive losing seasons before he took over. The Cowboys only lost more than six games once in those three years as well.

To top it off, Kansas will have more roster turnover than last season. The Jayhawks return just 10 starters, five on each side of the ball. As a result, a pair of prominent college football insiders predicted that KU would match its win total from 2018.

In his preseason magazine, Phil Steele projected Kansas to finish 10th in the Big 12 with a 3-9 record. Steele ranked the Kansas running backs as the team’s best unit, which was listed sixth out of 10 teams. No other positional group is ranked higher than eighth by Steele.

Bill Connelly recently moved to ESPN from SB Nation. His final story for SB Nation was a preview for KU, in which he projected a 3-9 clip with an 107th overall S&P+ ranking.

According to S&P+, the Jayhawks have a 72% win probability against Indiana State and a 64% win probability against Coastal Carolina. KU’s next-highest win probability is against Kansas State, and that is just 23%.

Both Connelly and Steele tend to know they are talking about, so I’d trust them when it comes to putting down any sort of money on win totals. With the updated odds, I’d prefer to stay away completely since three wins seems reasonable.

If I had to bet, though, I’d take the under.

Big 12 win totals

Oklahoma: 10.5 (Over -130, Under +112)

Texas: 9.5 (Over +102, Under -120)

Iowa State: 8 (Over +106, Under -124)

TCU: 7.5 (Over -120, Under +102)

Baylor: 7 (Over -156, Under +132)

Oklahoma State: 6.5 (Over -130, Under +110)

Texas Tech: 6.5 (Over +116, Under -136)

Kansas State: 5.5 (Over -108, Under -108)

West Virginia: 5 (Over -146, Under +124)

Kansas: 3 (Over -120, Under +102)

Reply 22 comments from Jim Stauffer Mark Wooden Brett McCabe Armen Kurdian Jhawki78 Joe Ross Steve Corder Dirk Medema Michael Maris Bryce Landon and 6 others

Experienced secondary posts impressive showing in KU’s spring game

White team safety Bryce Torneden watches the handoff during Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

White team safety Bryce Torneden watches the handoff during Late Night Under the Lights on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The odds were always going to be stacked against the defense during Saturday’s spring game at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

After all, it took a defensive score off a turnover to get the “white” team on the scoreboard. The offense, which was considered the blue team for the event, abused this loophole by scoring 45 unanswered points en route to a 45-7 win in the first spring game of the Les Miles era.

Sophomore safety Davon Ferguson gifted the defense its only points of the night with less than seven minutes remaining. After a tip at the line by senior safety Shaquille Richmond, the ball ended up in Ferguson’s hands. He was off to the races after that, scoring on a 74-yard pick six to get his unit on the scoreboard.

via GIPHY

It was a fitting finish for a group that proved it could be KU’s best unit for the 2019 season.

Ninety-six. That’s the number of total games that the first-team secondary of Bryce Torneden, Mike Lee, Hasan Defense, Corione Harris and Ferguson have played in during their KU career. The five players have accumulated a combined 507 tackles for the Jayhawks.

That experience was on display in multiple key moments Saturday night, even though the final score didn’t reflect it.

KU quarterbacks were not afraid to test the secondary with deep throws for much of the night. Most of the time, the Jayhawks’ secondary came out on the right end of those matchups.

Ferguson deflected a pass at the 7:35 mark in the first quarter, while Elmore Hempstead Jr. provided good coverage on the following play. Ricky Thomas broke up a sure-reception midway through the second quarter, and Elijah Jones deflected a deep pass the following play.

Torneden, who settled in at his nickel back position last fall, made multiple stops in the open field during the first quarter. With five-plus minutes remaining in the opening period, Torneden forced a third-and-long attempt after shutting down an outside rush. He kept the edge, making the solo tackle in open space.

via GIPHY

Later in that same drive, Torneden tallied a similar stop on the other side of the field on a run that looked destined for a score. Once again, Torneden held the edge and made the tackle after a teammate whiffed on his own attempt.

via GIPHY

Other than Torneden’s two stops behind the line in the first quarter, KU’s defensive unit struggled to contain the rushing attack.

The Jayhawks rushed for 454 yards, as four different players recorded a run of at least 38 yards. Takulve Williams, who is listed as a receiver, scored on a 70-yard run. Running backs Dom Williams and Khalil Herbert had runs of 52 and 61 yards, respectively.

But, more often than not, the defense won the battle through the air. KU’s secondary was physical with the larger receivers, playing more aggressive on the line.

In total, the Kansas secondary finished with 14 pass breakups. The Jayhawks recorded 10 in the first half when a majority of members from the two-deep roster competed. Ferguson led the way with three such breakups. Thomas and Torneden each notched two pass breakups.

Not a bad day for a team that knew it was going to lose before the spring game even started.

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

A look back at key moments from Dedric Lawson’s lone season as a Jayhawk

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) takes questions from media members in the team locker room on Friday, March 22, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) takes questions from media members in the team locker room on Friday, March 22, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. by Nick Krug

After a year of putting up numbers on a nightly basis, redshirt junior Dedric Lawson has declared for the 2019 NBA Draft.

Kansas fans may not have fully appreciated what Lawson accomplished this season, especially given the fact the team was unable to make it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Lawson, who was a consensus third team All-American, averaged 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

It was evident from his debut that Lawson had an uncanny ability to get his numbers. He dropped 31 points and 15 rebounds in 23 minutes during the exhibition opener against Emporia State, and Kansas coach Bill Self called it “the ugliest 31 he’s ever seen.” Lawson agreed.

Lawson failed to hit double figures in just two of his 36 games as a Jayhawk. He recorded 22 double-doubles en route to earning 2019 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and unanimous all-Big 12 First Team honors.

To not appreciate that absurd level of consistency would be foolish. With that, let’s look back on some of Lawson’s top moments in his lone season with the Jayhawks.

He made a shot from hit butt

It was so long ago that I thought we’d start with arguably his most ridiculous bucket. By the way, this was within the first two minutes of the game against Louisiana.

Lawson drove through the lane to attempt a tough shot near the rim, falling to the ground as he did. The ball bounced back to Lawson, who immediately fired up the shot and made it from his position on the floor.

None by Shane Jackson

It gave Kansas a 5-0 lead in an eventual 89-76 win over Louisiana at Allen Fieldhouse. Seriously, imagine being a member of the visiting team and knowing how hard it is to defeat KU in Allen Fieldhouse. Then the Jayhawks start off with a basket like that. It is just mean.

Overtime slams against Tennessee

Another early-season feat by Lawson is worthy of a mention.

Lawson, who was often described as having an old-man game by broadcasters, showed the ability to get up during an overtime win against Tennessee. Lawson recorded his first slam off an alley-oop pass from Lagerald Vick. He later flushed the ball in transition to put the finishing touches on an 87-81 win.

None by Shane Jackson

Not counting the exhibition games, or the ones that didn’t count, those two dunks were the only slams by Lawson of his brief Kansas career. That’s why the second one, where Lawson had to beat everyone down the court in transition, seemed so significant at the time.

Impressive dime against Kentucky

Before Lawson even stepped on the court, Self lauded the Memphis native for his passing ability.

KU fans didn’t get a good chance to see Lawson’s passing prowess, because he was forced to move inside after Udoka Azubuike was sidelined. Lawson became the focal point of the offense, and that prevented him from having very many chances to show off his ability as a set-up man.

Still, his assist against Kentucky was a nice glimpse of what could have been. Lawson, who was under the basket, somehow threaded a pass around multiple Kentucky defenders to freshman Ochai Agbaji in the corner.

None by Shane Jackson

Best performance as a Jayhawk?

According to Torvik, Lawson’s best single-game performance via offensive rating was against Villanova.

Lawson posted an offensive rating of 157.4 in 38 minutes during the 74-71 home win against the 2018 national champs. He recorded a 25.3 percent usage rate for the game, which was below his 28.5 usage rate on the season. It marked his second game as KU’s center, as Lawson scored 28 points and collected 12 rebounds. He was 10-for-15 from the floor.

None by Shane Jackson

In terms of points, Lawson only had three better games. He scored a personal-best 31 points to go along with 14 rebounds against TCU on Jan. 9. He took 19 shots to do so, however. Perhaps there were better games than his showing against Villanova, but that was the first real look at what life would be like without Azubuike for the Jayhawks.

NCAA Tournament debut

Lawson made the most of his first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, helping Kansas quickly remove any concern of a possible upset against 13th-seeded Northeastern in the first round.

The Jayhawks thrashed the Huskies by an 87-53 margin behind a combined 38 points, 14 rebounds from Dedric Lawson and his brother K.J. Lawson, who has elected to transfer. Dedric Lawson scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He also drilled a trio of 3-pointers in his first and only win in the NCAA Tournament.

After the game, Lawson admitted to reporters that he went to bed early because he was so excited for the game. And he ultimately delivered, just as he did so many other times throughout his one season with the Jayhawks.

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Getting to know: Auburn basketball (NCAA Tournament)

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl talks with media members during a press conference on Friday, March 22, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl talks with media members during a press conference on Friday, March 22, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. by Nick Krug

Salt Lake City — A Sweet 16 berth and a trip to Kansas City is on the line when Kansas and Auburn square off tonight at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

The Jayhawks, who are the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, can notch their fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 with a win. Auburn, meanwhile, would claim its fifth such appearance in program history and first since 2003.

Both teams are evenly match, as should be the case when the No. 4 seed and No. 5 seed meet in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers have won nine games in a row, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak of teams entering the second round. Kansas, meanwhile, is 9-3 since moving to a starting lineup that features four freshmen.

AU has won the only meeting with KU in program history, which took place in the NCAA Tournament in 1985.

Tipoff is slated for approximately 8:40 p.m.

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 AUBURN

TOP PLAYER

No. 2 — G Bryce Brown | 6-3, 198, sr.

Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2) lines up a shot on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Auburn guard Bryce Brown (2) lines up a shot on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games. by Nick Krug

Brown is at the forefront of Auburn’s reliance on the long ball this season.

Brown set a school record for most 3-pointers in a single season with 124. Lance Weems connected on 108 3-pointers during the 1995-96 season. In addition, Brown is also fourth in SEC history with 365 career triples. Pat Bradley of Arkansas is third on that list with 366.

For the season, Brown is averaging 15.7 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting.

The senior was named MVP of the SEC Tournament after averaging 16.5 points on 18-of-43 (41.9 percent) shooting beyond the arc in the tournament. Brown was the only Tiger to score in double figures in all four games in Nashville.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — G Jared Harper | 5-11, 175, jr.

Auburn guard Jared Harper (1) puts up a shot on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Auburn guard Jared Harper (1) puts up a shot on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games. by Nick Krug

The Tigers' point guard is seventh in the SEC with 15.3 points per game and third in the SEC (27th nationally) with 5.7 assists per game. He’s also playing 32.9 minutes per game, which is sixth in the SEC.

Harper has a team-best 24.7 usage rating, and has scored in double figures in 19 of his last 22 contests.

Earlier this year, the NCAA Twitter account released a story that featured the five fastest point guards in the country. That list included Harper, but it did not feature KU freshman point guard Devon Dotson.

No. 5 — F Chuma Okeke | 6-8, 230, so.

Auburn forward Chuma Okeke smiles as he talks about growing up playing basketball with Kansas forward Dedric Lawson during a press conference on Friday, March 22, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. At left is Auburn guard Bryce Brown.

Auburn forward Chuma Okeke smiles as he talks about growing up playing basketball with Kansas forward Dedric Lawson during a press conference on Friday, March 22, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. At left is Auburn guard Bryce Brown. by Nick Krug

Okeke, who was previously AAU teammates with Dedric Lawson of Kansas, is averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Last time out, Okeke scored 13 points and collected five rebounds. He has reached double figures in 18 of last 21 games. He has also led Auburn in rebounding 20 times this season, and will be involved in an intriguing battle with KU’s posts.

Okeke was named to the SEC All-Tournament team along with Brown and Harper.

No. 4 — G Malik Dunbar | 6-6, 230, sr.

New Mexico State guard Clayton Henry (5) dives out of bounds for a ball during the first half, Thursday, March 21, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

New Mexico State guard Clayton Henry (5) dives out of bounds for a ball during the first half, Thursday, March 21, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. by Nick Krug

In his last game, Dunbar scored just five points in the narrow win over New Mexico State.

Auburn is 11-3 when Dunbar scores in double figures in his career. He’s averaging 7.3 points per contest for the Tigers. He’s one of two seniors in the starting lineup, which also includes a pair of juniors.

After being one of the youngest teams in the NCAA last year with one senior, Auburn boasts 13 upperclassmen and has 4,182 career points returning for the 2018-19 season, which is the eighth-highest clip in the country.

ONE THING AUBURN DOES WELL

Nobody in the country forces more turnovers than the Tigers. Auburn’s turnover rate of 25.3 on the defensive end ranks first in all of college basketball.

ONE AREA AUBURN STRUGGLES

Tigers struggle on the glass, particularly on the defensive end. Opposing teams are posting a 33.1 offensive rebound rate against Auburn, as the DI average is 28.4.

MEET THE COACH

Auburn is coached by Bruce Pearl, who is 97-71 in his fifth season at Auburn and 559-216 in his 24th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS…

After opening as a pick em, Auburn has been a 2-point favorite over the last day or so against Kansas. I’m sticking with my gut reaction on this one, I just don’t think this is a favorable matchup for KU. I do think it will be close for much of the night, but the Jayhawks will come up short in the end.

My prediction: Auburn 77, Kansas 74

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KU freshman Devon Dotson prepared for enticing matchup with Auburn’s Jared Harper

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11), Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5) and Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) celebrate a late three-pointer from Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot during the second half, Thursday, March 21, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11), Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (5) and Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) celebrate a late three-pointer from Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot during the second half, Thursday, March 21, 2019 at Vivint Smart Homes Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. by Nick Krug

Salt Lake City — Kansas freshman Devon Dotson got a chance to show off his 3-point celebration during his NCAA Tournament debut.

Late in the second half, Kansas was leading Northeastern by 30 points when Dotson canned a spot-up triple from the left wing. Dotson’s routine reaction was brief, but to the point, during KU’s 87-53 win in the opening round of the tournament Thursday afternoon at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Dotson stuck his tongue out for a moment, something he has started doing after each successful 3-pointer as of late.

"I would say it is just something in the moment,” Dotson said. “I just wanted to do something and it happened. It is just something that if I feel good, I will do it.”

There are conflicting reports about when Dotson’s 3-point celebration began. Sophomore Marcus Garrett believed it was introduced at a home game during Big 12 play, while freshman Ochai Agbaji first saw it during KU’s win at TCU on Feb. 11.

“Ever since then, I just see him sticking his tongue out and I’m like, ‘OK, do your thing,’” Agbaji said. “It just shows that there is some passion and emotion, it always nice to see that and pumps us up.”

None by We good?

Regardless of when it was formed, Dotson’s animated response is a sign of his growing confidence as a freshman point guard for the Jayhawks.

But that will be put to the test when the KU rookie squares off against Auburn junior point guard Jared Harper in the Round of 32 at approximately 8:40 p.m. Saturday. Harper is second on the team in scoring with an average of 15.7 points per game.

“I just have to keep him in front at all times, I can’t play behind him,” Dotson said. “If I gamble or make a mistake, he will take advantage with his quickness. I feel like I can take advantage if he makes a mistake on the defensive end.

In a lot of ways, though, these two point guards are similar as floor generals for their respective teams.

Both Dotson and Harper rely on their speed, showing their ability to get to the rim with ease. Dotson has scored 80 points over his last five games, netting 21 of his 27 baskets via shots at the rim over that span.

Dotson has shouldered more responsibility since KU employed a starting lineup that features four freshmen back in early February. In the 12 games since that switch, Dotson has scored at least 13 points all but three outings.

“He’s a great player,” Harper said. “He does a great job of getting downhill and getting to the basket. He can finish with either hand. It is going to take a team effort.”

Harper, meanwhile, has been the focal point of Auburn’s attack for much of the season. Harper has a team-best 24.7 usage rating, and has scored in double figures in 19 of his last 22 contests.

Earlier this year, the NCAA Twitter account released a story that featured the five fastest point guards in the country. That list included Harper, but it did not feature Dotson.

None by NCAA March Madness

Neither point guard was ready to admit who was faster during Friday's media availability. But that could be determined Saturday night, which might have an impact on which team is headed to Kansas City for the Sweet 16.

“It could be very fun,” Dotson said. “It could be up and down with just two quick guards going at it.”

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