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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Reply 5 comments from Surrealku Dirk Medema Dane Pratt Cassadys Layne Pierce

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.

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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.”

Reply 1 comment from Robert  Brock

Getting to know: Northeastern basketball (NCAA Tournament)

Northeastern head coach Bill Coen watches over practice 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.

Northeastern head coach Bill Coen watches over practice 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

Two teams with contrasting styles will square off in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, which is admittedly the beauty of March Madness.

Northeastern, the No. 13 seed in the Midwest region, will play a four-guard lineup that generates most of its scoring production from 3-point range. Fourth-seeded Kansas, meanwhile, has the talent advantage in the frontcourt and will try to get a bulk of its points from inside.

The Huskies (23-10) are also looking for their first win in the big dance since 1982. The Jayhawks (25-9) have won their last 12 NCAA Tournament first-round games, a string which started in 2007.

Northeastern needed to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament just to be here. KU, meanwhile, has made 30-consecutive NCAA Championship appearances, which is the longest active streak.

The game, set for approximately 3 p.m. Thursday, will be televised on TNT with Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), Steve Lappas (analyst) and Lisa Byington (reporter) calling the action.

Series history: This is the first time these two programs have ever met.

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 NORTHEASTERN

TOP PLAYER

No. 4 — G Vasa Pusica | 6-5, 210, rSr.

Northeastern guard Vasa Pusica shoots during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Northeastern guard Vasa Pusica shoots during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) by Associated Press

Northeastern has a ton of balance, but Pusica is the most-dangerous weapon on the offensive end.

Pusica, who played high school basketball at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas, leads the Huskies with an average of 17.8 points per game. He’s also averaged 4.7 assists per game in his two seasons with NU, which ranks third in program history.

Pusica has connected on 57 3-pointers this season, and is a big reason why Northeastern has already netted a school-record 9.8 triples per contest.

“Kansas is a big name, so we know we are facing a talented team,” Pusica said. “We are talented as well. We are experienced. I feel confident coming into tomorrow’s game.”

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — G Shawn Occeus | 6-4, 195, jr.

Northeastern guard Shawn Occeus (1) pulls back for a dunk 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.

Northeastern guard Shawn Occeus (1) pulls back for a dunk 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

Injuries forced Occeus out of the lineup twice this season, as he missed 19 games in total.

On the year, Occeus is averaging 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a team-leading 1.4 steals. Occeus, who was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year last season, returned during the conference tournament last week. He didn’t start any of the three games, but logged 32 minutes in the championship game against Hofstra.

The Huskies have not played particularly well on the defensive end this season, but it has been trending in the right direction for them since Occeus returned.

“We buckled down the last half of the season. Whoever was on the court was ready to play and step into their roles,” Occeus said.

No. 12 — G Jordan Roland | 6-1, 171, rJr.

Northeastern guard Jordan Roland (12) pulls back for 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.

Northeastern guard Jordan Roland (12) pulls back for 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

In his junior campaign, Roland is averaging 14.7 points per contest for Northeastern.

Roland has connected on a school-record 97 shots from long range this year, which is 40 more than any other NU player. Five times this year, Roland has connected on the rare four-point play. His four-point plays have come against Virginia Tech, Davidson, Syracuse, Delaware and UNCW.

“If you are going to knock someone off, I’d rather it be a program with as much history as Kansas,” Roland said.

No. 30 — F Anthony Green | 6-10, 252, sr.

Northeastern center Anthony Green (30) pulls back to dunk 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.

Northeastern center Anthony Green (30) pulls back to dunk 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

Green will be the last line of defense against a Kansas team that likes to get points in the paint. Green, who has a Big 12-like frame at 6-foot-10, 252 pounds, has started in all 33 games for Northeastern.

The Huskies run four guards around him and like to call a lot of lobs with the big man. Green has recorded 75.9 percent of his team’s slams with 63 total dunks this year. Only six players in the country have recorded more dunks this year.

"I think it helps me a lot, it makes it easier for me to go one-on-one in the post if I get that opportunity,” Green said of the smaller lineup. “If teams start to double, or have a bigger guard that sinks, I can just kick it out to one of our guards who is ready to shoot it."

In his final year, Green is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 68.4 percent from the floor, and has recorded 25 blocks.

ONE THING NORTHEASTERN DOES WELL

The Huskies can shoot the ball at high rate. Northeastern’s effective field goal percentage of 57.2 ranks fifth in the nation, according to KenPom. NU also shoots 38.8 percent from long range, which is the 13th-best clip in the country.

ONE AREA NORTHEASTERN STRUGGLES

Although Northeastern has improved on the defensive end, its overall numbers are still quite poor. Opposing teams are hitting 52.5 percent of 2-point shots against the Huskies. KU should be able to get plenty of points in the paint.

MEET THE COACH

Northeastern is coached by Bill Coen who is 224-96 in his 13th season as a head coach, all at NU.

VEGAS SAYS…

Kansas has been considered a 6.5-point favorite over the last two days after opening up as an 8.5-point favorite. I understand that this type of team has caused problem for KU, but Northeastern doesn't’ have the same athletes as those teams. I’ll gladly cough up the points, since the Jayhawks will win by double-digits.

My prediction: Kansas 79, Northeastern 65

Reply 5 comments from Dirk Medema Robert  Brock Chad Smith Runningbeakers84 Len Shaffer

Battle at center position could be pivotal when Kansas takes on Northeastern

The Kansas big men work in the post 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.

The Kansas big men work in the post 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

Salt Lake City — Northeastern center Anthony Green had a solid scouting report on Kansas before head coach Bill Coen even talked to the team ahead of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

During media availability Wednesday afternoon at at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Green admitted he has seen plenty of the Jayhawks on TV before he even knew the Huskies were going to play them.

As a result, the senior big man believes the key to claiming the program’s first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 1982 is pretty simple.

“The biggest obstacle is just keeping them out of the paint,” Green said. “Their best game is when they score 40-plus points in the paint, so that's something we have to try and stop."

Those duties will likely fall on the broad shoulders of Green, who has a Big 12-like frame at 6-foot-10, 252 pounds.

At least from the start, Green will be tasked with guarding 6-foot-10 center David McCormack of Kansas. The first few minutes of the contest, which is slated to begin at approximately 3 p.m. Thursday, could go a long way in determining which team will dictate the style of play.

Fourth-seeded Kansas (25-9) believes it could have an advantage with its talented frontcourt, while 13th-seeded Northeastern (23-10) will try to thrive in a four-guard lineup around Green.

“We can cut them up if they go four out,” Green said. “I feel like it is going to be a good game, going down to the wire."

Northeastern center Anthony Green (30) pulls back to dunk 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.

Northeastern center Anthony Green (30) pulls back to dunk 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

Don’t expect Green to be intimated by KU’s length, despite playing in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Green has already had multiple battles with UNC Wilmington center Devontae Cacok, who leads the nation with a 33.5 defensive rebounding percentage. Green has handled nearly every type of opponent during his 33 starts this season.

In his final year, Green is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 68.4 percent from the floor, and has recorded 25 blocks.

“Anthony is a really important piece for us,” junior guard Donnell Gresham said. “He’s obviously really big, athletic and can move. I think when there are four guards around him, he tends to play pretty good and we try to feed off him.”

Green is the biggest reason Northeastern ranks 12th in the nation with an average 2.52 dunk per game.

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This season, Green has recorded 75.9 percent of his team’s slams with 63 total dunks this year. Only six players in the country have recorded more dunks this year. In fact, Green is ranked one spot ahead of Duke freshman Zion Williamson, who has 52 slams.

“He gives you another option coming off a screen,” junior guard Jordan Roland said. “He’s a guy that you can just throw the ball up anywhere around the rim and he can go catch that and dunk it.”

McCormack is no stranger to facing that type of player, as he squared off against Jaxson Hayes of Texas and Derek Culver of West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament just last weekend. That could be the difference in the pivotal battle in the opening round.

“I just have to make sure I'm quick and can stay under him,” McCormack said. “I feel like if we start out strong then we can dictate the game how we want.”

Reply 4 comments from Robert  Brock Surrealku Len Shaffer

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.”

Reply 3 comments from James Donnell Michael Maris Armen Kurdian

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

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