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Getting to know: Iowa State basketball

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, left, greets Kansas head coach Bill Self before an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, left, greets Kansas head coach Bill Self before an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Ames, Iowa. by AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The Kansas men’s basketball team prepares for a rare back-to-back stretch against the same opponent, starting tonight when it welcomes Iowa State to Allen Fieldhouse.

After tonight’s battle in Lawrence, KU and Iowa State will have just one day off before both teams square off again. The rematch will then take place at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa on Saturday.

There are benefits and challenges for both teams to have to play such a stretch. Fortunately for each squad, they will be on an even playing field in that regard.

These teams are not even in terms of where they are at in the standings, however. While winning the Big 12 is probably off the table, Kansas (13-7, 7-5) is still aiming for a high finish in the conference.

Iowa State, meanwhile, is just looking to get in the win column during league play. The Cyclones are 0-9 against conference opponents after winning just two games in nonconference action. ISU is 2-12 overall on the year.

Tipoff for tonight is slated for 6 p.m., while Saturday’s game will begin at 2 p.m. The former will be televised on ESPN, while the latter will be televised on ABC.

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 IOWA STATE

TOP PLAYER

No. 45 — G Rasir Bolton | 6-3, 185, jr.

Bolton has been Iowa State’s best player during a rough season because of what he provides as a scorer.

This season, Bolton is leading the team in scoring with an average of 16.6 points per game while shooting 46.1% from the floor. Bolton has reached double figures in 13 of the 14 games this year for the Cyclones.

Bolton, who has eclipsed over 1,000 points in his career, is actually averaging 20 points per outing over the last four contests. He averaged 14.7 points per game last year after transferring from Penn State, which led to him making the All-Big 12 honorable mention team.

In addition, Bolton leads this year’s Iowa State squad in rebounds (5.3 per game), assists (4.5 per game) and steals (1.8 per game) entering this series against Kansas.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 5 — G Jalen Coleman-Lands | 6-4, 187, sr.

As one of four players to average double figures for the Cyclones, Coleman-Lands is second on the team in scoring ahead of this week’s two-game stretch.

Coleman-Lands, who has played in 13 contests this year, is averaging 11.9 points per game. It’s worth noting that two other ISU players average 11.8 points per outing and 11.7 points per game, so Coleman-Lands’ claim for second-leading scorer isn’t very strong.

The graduate transfer has scored 1,215 points in his career and ranks seventh among active players with 123 career games played. He has reached double figures in all but two games this season for the Cyclones.

Prior to coming to Iowa State, Coleman-Lands was at DePaul for a few seasons after originally starting his collegiate career at Illinois. For his career, Coleman-Lands has averaged 10.0 points per game with this season being his best scoring mark.

None by NCAA March Madness

No. 33 — F Solomon Young | 6-8, 255, sr.

Young is fourth on the team in scoring with an average of 11.7 points per contest for the Cyclones.

This year, Young has played in 12 games after missing contests against Oklahoma State and Mississippi State due to health and safety protocols. This is Young’s fifth season with the program after taking a medical redshirt in 2018-19.

Young, who has a wingspan of 7-foot-1 according to Iowa State’s game notes, is averaging 4.9 rebounds per outing to go along with nearly a block per contest.

ONE THING IOWA STATE DOES WELL

The Cyclones have done a solid job at the free throw line, shooting 75.1% from the charity stripe on the year. It is a mark that ranks 52nd in all of college basketball.

ONE AREA IOWA STATE STRUGGLES

Opposing teams have dominated the glass against the Cyclones, who have allowed opponents to record an offensive rebound rate of 36.1% this year. For comparison, the national average offensive rebound rate is 28% and ISU’s mark actually ranks 343rd in the country.

MEET THE COACH

Iowa State is coached by Steve Prohm, who is 97-85 in his sixth season at ISU and 201-114 in his 10th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

As of Thursday morning, Kansas is a 15-point favorite over Iowa State on FanDuel’s Sportsbook. That number is a bit higher than KenPom has it, as his system projects a 78-65 win for KU. KenPom currently projects a 76-67 victory for Kansas on Saturday as well.

In terms of this game, though, the 15-point spread seems a bit too high for me. The Cyclones have been more competitive of late, suffering single-digit losses to West Virginia, Oklahoma and TCU over the last three games.

So I’m taking the points, but expecting a comfortable KU victory in the end.

Prediction: Kansas 79, Iowa State 68

Reply 2 comments from John Strayer Robert  Brock

Getting to know: Baylor basketball

Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) gets around Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) as he heads to the bucket during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) gets around Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) as he heads to the bucket during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

After getting the weekend off, No. 9 Kansas is set to face No. 2 Baylor in a Big Monday matchup in Waco, Texas. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.

The Jayhawks (10-3, 4-2 Big 12) had their home game against Iowa State postponed due to COVID-19 protocols in the ISU program. That means it has been nearly a week since KU dropped a 75-70 decision at Oklahoma State on Jan. 12.

Some extra rest could be a good thing because Baylor (12-0, 5-0 Big 12) is the last remaining undefeated Power Five program. BU is coming off a 68-60 road win over Texas Tech this past weekend. The Bears are the nation’s only team to win every game by at least eight points this season.

Eight of the previous 10 meetings between these two teams have been decided by eight points or less, but nobody seems to believe that will be the case this time around. KenPom gives Baylor a 80% chance of victory and a projected victory of 76-66.

Kansas opened as a 10-point underdog in Vegas, but that line is down to 8.5 points on FanDuel Sportsbook as of Monday afternoon.

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 BAYLOR

TOP PLAYER

No. 12 — G Jared Butler | 6-3, 195, jr.

It is no secret that any hope of stopping Baylor should begin with a game plan against Jared Butler.

Butler is back after becoming Baylor’s first underclassman to earn All-America or All-Conference first-team honors since 1980. And he’s even better this year. Butler ranks top-8 in the Big 12 in steals (1st), assists (3rd), scoring (5th), FG% (5th) and A-T ratio (8th).

Through 12 games, Butler is averaging 15.6 points per game to go along with 5.2 assists and 2.5 steals per contest. He’s shooting 47.2% from the floor, including a clip of 41.5% from beyond the arc.

Butler has 13 career games with at least 20 points, which includes a pair of 30-point performances. According to KenPom, Butler’s steal rate (5.0) ranks 17th in the nation and his assist rate (31.1) is 76th in the country.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 31 — G MaCio Teague | 6-4, 195, sr.

The difficult thing about defending Baylor is that containing Butler is not nearly enough. MaCio Teague is averaging 15.3 points per contest during his senior season. That clip ranks sixth in the Big 12 in scoring.

Teague has earned all-conference honors in all three collegiate seasons thus far, and likely will make it four for four. He was All-Big South First Team in 2017 and 2018 at UNC Asheville and All-Big 12 Second Team last year at Baylor.

Teague is the nation’s only active player with 1,500+ career points (1,653), 400+ rebounds (479), 225+ assists (244), 125+ steals (126) and 200+ made 3-pointers (250). He has also led the Bears in scoring in 11 of his last 24 games, which includes five different outings this season.

According to KenPom, Teague has a true shooting percentage of 60.3% and he plays 76.9% of Baylor’s minutes.

No. 45 — G Davion Mitchell | 6-2, 205, jr.

Back for another year as the starting point guard, Mitchell leads the conference in assists with an average of 5.9 per game.

Mitchell, who came off the bench for Auburn in 2017-18, has started in all 42 games at Baylor since joining the program. He was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, while also earning a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive Team and the All-Big 12 third team.

Mitchell also ranks second in the league in steals with an average of 2.2 per game. He’s made a 3-pointer in 30 of his last 38 games, shooting 37% from long range over that span.

Per KenPom, Mitchell has a true shooting percentage of 63.4% and ranks 131st in the nation in that department.

ONE THING BAYLOR DOES WELL

Baylor does a lot of things well, but 3-point shooting is the lone offensive category that Baylor is in the top-five on KenPom. The Bears are hitting 42.3% of their attempts from long range, which ranks fourth in the nation.

ONE AREA BAYLOR STRUGGLES

The Bears are allowing opposing teams to post a 9.4% block rate, a number that ranks 214th in the country. For comparison, the D1 average block rate is 8.8%. Yes, it was hard to come up with a way that Baylor struggles.

MEET THE COACH

The Bears are coached by Scott Drew, who is 354-213 in his 18th season at BU and 373-224 in 19th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

This just feels like a trap. The Jayhawks are obviously never underdogs like this, and it almost feels like you are being tricked into taking the points because of that. At the same time, Baylor is a very good basketball team and there is a reason why it has won every game by at least eight points.

All that said, I’m falling for the trap. I’m taking the points for a Bill Self-led team coming off a loss and having a few extra days to prepare. There really is no other logic behind this pick.

Prediction: Baylor 78, Kansas 72

Reply 4 comments from Surrealku Robert  Brock

Getting to know: Iowa State basketball (postponed)

Kansas forward David McCormack reacts after dunking over Iowa State forward Solomon Young, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Kansas forward David McCormack reacts after dunking over Iowa State forward Solomon Young, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) by Associated Press

KU-IOWA STATE POSTPONED

Saturday's home game between No. 6 Kansas and Iowa State was postponed Friday evening because of COVID-19 protocol issues within the ISU program. No make-up date has been announced, but the schools plan to work with the Big 12 Conference to reschedule the game. KU now will play next Monday night at No. 2 Baylor in Waco, Texas.

———

No. 6 Kansas will look to put Tuesday’s loss in the rearview mirror when it plays host to Iowa State Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks are coming off a 75-70 road loss to Oklahoma State, marking their second conference defeat this month. KU has dropped two of its last four games, and is 10-3 on the year with a 4-2 clip in Big 12 play.

Iowa State (2-7, 0-5 Big 12) is looking to end a three-game losing skid after its 91-64 loss to No. 18 Texas Tech last weekend. The Cyclones have also fallen to Baylor and Texas over this recent stretch. Those are the only three games ISU has played in during the month of January thus far.

According to KenPom, Kansas has a 87% chance of victory against Iowa State this weekend. KU is projected to earn a 77-64 win in its final game before facing Baylor on Monday.

Tipoff will begin at 1 p.m., and the game will be televised on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

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 IOWA STATE

TOP PLAYER

No. 45 — G Rasir Bolton | 6-3, 185, jr.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson, center, drives to the basket between Iowa State's Rasir Bolton, left, and Tre Jackson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Kansas guard Devon Dotson, center, drives to the basket between Iowa State's Rasir Bolton, left, and Tre Jackson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) by Associated Press

Bolton is off to a strong start to his junior season, leading the Cyclones in multiple statistical categories through nine games.

Entering this weekend, Bolton is averaging 14.8 points per game to go along with 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest. He’s also averaging 1.8 steals per outing, while shooting 48.6% from the floor.

Bolton, who averaged 14.7 points per game a year ago, has scored in double figures in 20 of his last 22 appearances. He ranks among the top-10 in school history shooting 84.8 percent at the charity stripe in his Cyclone career.

Last time out, Bolton scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the loss to Texas Tech. He has scored in double figures in three consecutive contests ahead of this weekend.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 33 — F Solomon Young | 6-8, 255, r-sr.

The Iowa State big man is back for a fifth season, and he’s putting together a solid campaign in the process.

Young is averaging a career-best 12 points per game this season. He’s one of four ISU players to average double figures in scoring. Young is also providing a team-high 5.2 rebounds per contest and shooting 57.3% from the field.

During this recent stretch, Young has really seemed to get things going. He’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, which matches the longest streak of his career. Young registered 15 points against TTU last weekend.

No. 5 — G Jalen Coleman-Lands | 6-4, 187, sr.

Ranked second on the team in scoring, Coleman-Lands is averaging 12.7 points per contest for the Cyclones this year.

In nine games, Coleman-Lands is playing 33.4 minutes per outing and contributing in more ways than one. He’s averaged 4.3 rebounds per contest, while knocking down 46.3% of his shots and 100% of his attempts at the charity stripe this season.

Coleman-Lands has been a nice addition for the Cyclones as a graduate transfer, providing experience in the backcourt. He actually ranks among the nation’s leaders in career games played and 3-pointers made.

Coleman-Lands has even drilled a 3-pointer in every game this season for ISU.

ONE THING ISU DOES WELL

The Cyclones do a good job of defending the 3-point line so far this season. Opposing teams are shooting 28.3% from three-point range, a number that ranks 26th in the nation.

ONE AREA ISU STRUGGLES

Iowa State doesn’t do well on the glass on either end of the floor. ISU has an offensive rebound rate of 23.8%, which ranks 266th in the country. ISU is also allowing an offensive rebound rate of 33.3%, and that ranks 309th in all of college basketball.

MEET THE COACH

Iowa State is coached by Steve Prohm, who is 97-80 in his sixth season at ISU and 201-109 in his 10th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

According to FanDuel’s Sportsbook, Kansas is a 13.5-point favorite over Iowa State as of Friday evening. The Cyclones are struggling, and the Jayhawks will be looking to put their recent loss behind them. But this is too many points, even at home. I’ll take Iowa State to cover, but KU still wins by a comfortable margin.

Prediction: Kansas 77, Iowa State 68

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Getting to know: Oklahoma State basketball

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) comes out to defend against a three from Oklahoma State guard Isaac Likekele (13) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) comes out to defend against a three from Oklahoma State guard Isaac Likekele (13) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

No. 6 Kansas is back on the road Tuesday when it travels to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on Oklahoma State inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

This conference clash will begin at 7 p.m. and will be broadcasted on Big 12 Now over on ESPN+.

Kansas (10-2, 4-1 Big 12) has won back-to-back games since falling to Texas at home. KU defeated a shorthanded Oklahoma squad by a 63-59 margin on Saturday.

The Jayhawks would break a league record of consecutive road conference victories with a win tonight. Kansas has won 11 in a row away from home against league opponents, a stretch that matches its previous record.

Oklahoma State (8-3, 2-3 Big 12), on the other hand, is coming off a 70-54 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. OSU connected on its final 13 shots to ultimately finish off Kansas State for its second league win of the season.

KenPom gives Kansas a 56% chance of victory tonight. His model projects KU to earn a 72-71 win in Stillwater.

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 OSU

TOP PLAYER

No. 2 — G Cade Cunningham | 6-8, 220, fr.

The scouting report on Oklahoma State has to start with Cade Cunningham, who is currently projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

So far in 11 games at the collegiate level, Cunningham has been as advertised. He’s averaged 17.4 points per game to lead the way for OSU, while also posting an average of 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest. Cunningham is averaging 33.4 minutes per outing.

Cunningham can get to the rim with ease, and he’s a phenomenal passer. Cunningham’s best performance so far was when he poured in 29 points on Oral Roberts. It was the most by an OSU player since Jawun Evans scored 30 against UNC in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 22, 2016.

Cunningham was the 2020 Naismith High School Player of the Year in his final prep season.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 13 — G Isaac Likekele | 6-5, 215, jr.

The Cowboys only have two players averaging in double figures in scoring and Isaac Likekele is one of them.

Likekele is averaging 12.3 points per contest, but his rebounding as a guard is especially impressive. Likekele is third in the Big 12 in rebounds per game with an average of 8.1 rebounds per contest. He’s also dishing out 3.5 assists per game.

In addition, Likekele takes efficient shots. He’s first in the league with a 59.6% field goal percentage. He was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore last season, but he has taken a big leap this year.

No. 14 — G Bryce Williams | 6-2, 180, sr.

There is plenty of balance for the Cowboys after their top-two players, so let’s highlight Bryce Williams because of his defensive play.

Williams is averaging 1.4 steals per game, which ranks 11th in the Big 12. He’s a pesky defender that should create problems for members of KU’s backcourt tonight. Because of his defensive play, Williams is among the OSU leaders in plus/minus per 40 minutes with a mark of +8.3.

The Cowboys in general have had a solid defense. They force 14.4 turnover per game and are holding opponents to a 39.8% field goal percentage from the floor.

ONE THING OSU DOES WELL

The Cowboys do a good job of crashing the glass. They have a 32.2% offensive rebound rate, which ranks 67th in the nation.

ONE AREA OSU STRUGGLES

Oklahoma State is not a great 3-point shooting team, to say the least. The Cowboys are hitting 31.6% of their shots from long range, which ranks 232nd in the nation.

MEET THE COACH

The Cowboys are coached by Mike Boynton Jr., who is 59-52 in his fourth season at OSU.

VEGAS SAYS

According to FanDuel’s Sportsbook, Kansas is considered a 3.5-point favorite over Oklahoma State as of Tuesday morning. I know KenPom has this closer, but I’m going to lay the points in this one. Jalen Wilson didn’t have his best game on Saturday, and a strong bounce back by him should lead to more of a comfortable win for KU.

Prediction: Kansas 75, OSU 69

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Getting to know: TCU basketball

TCU guard RJ Nembhard (22) shoots after getting past North Dakota State guard Maleeck Harden-Hayes, rear, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

TCU guard RJ Nembhard (22) shoots after getting past North Dakota State guard Maleeck Harden-Hayes, rear, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) by Associated Press

Coming off a conference loss, No. 6 Kansas will look to bounce back on the road against TCU on Tuesday. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. in Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

Last time out, the Jayhawks (8-2, 2-1 Big 12) suffered a 84-59 loss to Texas in Allen Fieldhouse this past weekend. TCU (9-2, 2-1 Big 12), meanwhile, is riding a five-game win streak after its 67-60 victory at Kansas State on Saturday.

Despite recent results, KU is expected to win this game. According to KenPom, Kansas has a 65% chance of victory and is projected to win by a 71-67 margin. Torvik gives the Jayhawks a 60% chance to defeat the Horned Frogs.

All of that makes sense when you consider how good KU has been coming off a loss under Bill Self. With Self at the helm, KU is 97-13 following a defeat and is even better over the last six-plus seasons by posting a 46-5 clip over that span.

The game will air on ESPN with Mark Neely and Fran Fraschilla on the call.

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 TCU

TOP PLAYER

No. 22 — G RJ Nembhard | 6-5, 195, jr.

TCU has a talented backcourt, which is led by junior guard RJ Nembhard.

Nembhard leads the Big 12 in scoring with 18.7 points per game, which includes a really impressive stretch as of late. Nembhard has netted 20 or more points in four consecutive games. Last time out, Nembhard scored 21 points on 50% shooting from the floor.

Nembhard ranks sixth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage (48.8%) and is also sixth in assists per game (4.4) so far this season. Nembhard is an athletic scoring guard that can really produce off the dribble, but he can also be careless with the ball at times.

Last season, Nembhard was second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.1 points per game.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — G Mike Miles | 6-2, 195, fr.

The other piece of that talented backcourt tandem is freshman guard Mike Miles.

Miles has three 20-point games this season and ranks ninth in the Big 12 in scoring with an average of 14.8 points per contest. Among freshmen, Miles’ scoring average is second in the Big 12 and 10th nationally. He is also converting on 46.8% of his shots, which ranks ninth in the Big 12.

Coming out of high school, Miles is the 114th-ranked prospect in the Class of 2020 and the 27th-best point guard by Rivals. Miles has really good handles, and excellent playmaking ability in his first year with TCU.

No. 21 — C Kevin Samuel | 6-11, 255, jr.

To complete a nice balance, the Horned Frogs have a reliable veteran presence in the paint.

Junior center Kevin Samuel is the only other TCU player to average in double figures with a scoring average of 10.2 points per game through 11 contests. He’s also averaging 10.2 rebounds per contest and 2.6 blocks per outing.

Samuel is TCU’s career leader with 191 blocked shots. He leads the Big 12 and ranks 20th nationally with 2.6 blocks per game. Samuel tallied seven blocks against Oklahoma State on Dec. 16, which was the most by a TCU player in 20 seasons.

In addition, Samuel’s rebounding average paces the Big 12 and ranks 20th nationally.

ONE THING TCU DOES WELL

TCU has fared well on 2-point shots so far this season, hitting 54.5% of such attempts from the floor. That clip ranks 57th in the country, according to KenPom.

ONE AREA TCU STRUGGLES

The Horned Frogs won’t get much production from the charity stripe. TCU’s 64.2% clip from the free throw line ranks 292nd in the nation. TCU averages 11.9 made free throws per contest.

MEET THE COACH

The Horned Frogs are coached by Jamie Dixon, who is 93-59 in his fifth season at TCU and 421-182 in his 18th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

Kansas is a 6.5-point favorite at the FanDuels Sportsbook as of Tuesday morning. KU has obviously done a good job of bouncing back after a loss, but I think this is too many points to lay on the road. TCU does a good job of protecting the rim, an area where KU has struggled so far this season.

Give me Kansas in a close one.

Prediction: Kansas 76, TCU 73

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Three observations from KU’s 84-59 loss to No. 8 Texas

Kansas head coach Bill Self calls a play during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self calls a play during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

No. 3 Kansas trailed from start to finish of its 84-59 loss to No. 8 Texas Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse. Limited crowd or not, that’s not the sort of thing that happens to the Jayhawks in Lawrence.

In fact, KU’s 25-point loss is the team’s largest margin of defeat in Allen Fieldhouse in the Bill Self era and largest by the program since 1989.

But the sky is not falling for the Jayhawks, who are now 8-2 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play.

Almost a year ago to the exact date, Kansas dropped a 67-55 decision to Baylor at home. The performance highlighted some limitations that the Jayhawks had at the time, though they never lost again and ended up winning 16 in a row after that.

It is not fair to expect that level of response from this year’s squad, of course, but it illustrates the importance of not overreacting from one game. With that said, here are a few observations from what was the first KU game of 2021:

**

KU’s poor transition offense led to slow start

**

Entering Saturday, Texas ranked fourth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. The Longhorns’ length and athleticism was supposed to make life more difficult for the Jayhawks, and they ended up shooting 20-for-65 from the floor.

Kansas missed its first eights shots from the floor, and never really got into a rhythm after that. But KU’s decision making in transition certainly played a part in all that, especially when the team couldn’t buy a bucket out of the gate.

Following a missed layup by Texas, Kansas had a chance to hit its first field goal in a four-on-two situation. Jalen Wilson, who collected the defensive rebound on the other end, fired a pass to Ochai Agbaji along the perimeter.

Agbaji missed the 3-pointer, which was KU’s eighth miss of the game.

A wide-open 3-pointer is usually a good shot, but KU could have attacked the rim to get a better look in this scenario.

None by Shane Jackson

It merely highlighted some of Kansas’ struggles in transition, however.

Just over one minute later, Wilson had a two-on-one with Christian Braun and chose to do it all himself. He ended up getting the foul call, but it was a sequence that could have been a lot easier had Wilson dished the ball to Braun for an easy layup.

For the game, KU only had 6 fastbreak points against Texas. On a day where hitting shots was so difficult, more success in transition could have ultimately led to some easy buckets for the hosts.

**

Agbaji got too comfortable taking mid-range jumpers

**

The junior guard was the only source of offense for the Jayhawks in the early going. By the second media timeout, Agbaji had made all three of KU’s shots to that point in the game.

Agbaji finished with 11 points in the loss. He was the only other player to finish in double figures along with Wilson, who paced the team with 20 points. Agbaji was 5-of-14 from the floor, including 1-of-6 from long range.

But Agbaji could have helped himself by getting better looks, too. Agbaji hit a couple mid-range jumpers in the first half that served as one of the rare offensive bright spots for KU. At the 5:38 mark, Agbaji hit a pull-up jumper over 6-foot-10 Texas forward Jericho Sims.

Because of that, Agbaji probably took more of those types of shots than he should have. Agbaji ended up missing four of his six total jumpers (inside the arc) against Texas. He did not score at all in the second half, missing all five of his attempts from the floor.

Entering this weekend, Agbaji was 4-of-16 on “Far 2” shots, according to Torvik. As a team, Kansas is 43-for-145 (29.7%) on such attempts – not counting the Texas game – on the year.

**

Mitch Lightfoot delivers two big blocks

**

The Jayhawks’ lack of rim protection is nothing new, but it was obvious against a team like the Longhorns that can play above the rim. A total of 13 of Texas’ 30 made field goals came at the basket, with the visitors recording seven layups and six dunks on the day.

Coming off the bench, Mitch Lightfoot did his best to deter Texas from getting easy looks. He recorded two blocks in his five first-half minutes, including this nice recovery swat late in the first half.

That showing, along with David McCormack’s rough stretch to end the first half, was enough for Lightfoot to earn playing time to begin the second half. McCormack didn’t check back into the game until nearly 13 minutes had passed in the second half.

Lightfoot didn’t record another swat in the second half, but his play was worth mentioning given how Kansas has fared at protecting the rim this year. Entering Saturday, KU had a block rate of 8.6% and that number ranked 155th in the country on KenPom.

For the season, Lightfoot has netted a team-high nine blocks in 80 minutes of action.

Reply 5 comments from Surrealku Blake Brown Shimsham Robert  Brock Layne Pierce

Big 12 stock report: KU basketball is trending up in league race entering January

Kansas sophomore Tristan Enaruna looks to make a move past a defender during a game against Texas Tech Thursday night in the United Supermarkets Arena on Dec. 17, 2020. Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Athletics.

Kansas sophomore Tristan Enaruna looks to make a move past a defender during a game against Texas Tech Thursday night in the United Supermarkets Arena on Dec. 17, 2020. Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Athletics. by Texas Tech Athletics

With the calendar flipping to January and a new year, the Big 12 race will take center stage as is usually the case during the first two months of every year.

Like most years, the Kansas men’s basketball team is expected to be in the mix for a league title. The Jayhawks have actually started off 2-0 in conference play, with a road win against Texas Tech and a home victory against West Virginia.

But this year’s Big 12 race figures to be as compelling as ever, with five different teams ranked inside the top-13 in the country in the latest AP poll. Because of that, I figured it would be interesting to monitor this riveting race on a regular basis.

Things will likely change a bunch over the next eight weeks, and the Big 12 stock report will help keep track of all that. In this blog, we will take a look at teams trending up and trending down as we continue to get more information over the next two months.

To help do that, I’m going to use KenPom’s projected Big 12 standings for the purpose of this blog. I think it will be interesting to see how certain results impact his projections.

So before all the Big 12 teams return to action on Saturday, let’s take a look at where the league stands after December.

KenPom’s projected Big 12 standings (on Dec. 31)

Baylor 14-3

Kansas 13-5

Texas 11-6

Texas Tech 11-7

West Virginia 11-7

Oklahoma 8-10

TCU 7-11

Oklahoma State 7-11

Kansas State 4-14

Iowa State 4-14

*Please note that projected conference records may not sum to .500 due to rounding

These were KenPom’s projections for the Big 12 as of Thursday afternoon. For comparison, here is what KenPom had projected nine days earlier ahead of KU’s 79-65 win over West Virginia on Dec. 22.

KenPom’s projected Big 12 standings (on Dec. 22)

Baylor 13-4

Kansas 12-6

Texas 11-6

West Virginia 11-7

Texas Tech 10-8

Oklahoma 9-9

TCU 7-11

Oklahoma State 7-11

Kansas State 4-14

Iowa State 4-14

Stock up: Kansas

There wasn’t much of a difference in the entire race based on the Dec. 22 games, but the Jayhawks managed to separate themselves from a strong tier of teams that includes West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech.

How did KU do that exactly? Well, by picking up wins against two of those teams.

Baylor is deservedly the favorite, but the first week of league action really showed that KU is very much in the mix. Bill Self’s mastery really led to Kansas stealing a win on the road against Texas Tech in the Big 12 opener. KU then buried 16 3-pointers to run away from West Virginia at home.

Had Kansas gone 1-1 during that stretch, which was certainly plausible, maybe we’d be talking about how Baylor is the clear favorite entering January. The Bears probably still are the favorite, but I’m not so sure that it is as obvious as it was at the start of the season.

KU won’t face Baylor until Jan. 18, but it at least distanced itself from a good group of Big 12 squads. Kansas will face Texas next, and a win on Saturday could really give KU the inside track to making this a two-team race.

Stock down: Iowa State

The Cyclones’ projection didn’t really change, but it is clear that this was not the start they had hoped for. For one, Iowa State suffered a 74-65 loss to Kansas State at home in the Big 12 opener. And that showing came exactly one week after K-State suffered a 81-68 loss to Fort Hays State.

ISU followed that up by dropping a 70-65 decision to West Virginia on the road. The Cyclones are now 2-4 on the year following a nonconference win over Jackson State. Needless to say, there is a lot of red (which means bad) on Iowa State’s KenPom page.

To make matters worse, Iowa State will have to face Baylor on Saturday in its first game back from break. The Cyclones will need to do a better job of taking care of the ball moving forward. They currently have a turnover rate of 23.5%, a number that ranks 297th in the country.

Key stat: Close game percentage

It is still obviously early, but four of the nine Big 12 games have been considered close on KenPom. That means four contests have either gone to overtime or have been decided by four points or fewer.

The 44.4% close-game percentage is the highest mark among all conferences. No other league has a higher rate than 33.3% thus far. Again, it is still early, but that number should illustrate why this will be a compelling conference race this year.

Big 12 games on Saturday, Jan. 2

Kansas (2-0 Big 12) vs. Texas (1-0 Big 12)

Iowa State (0-2) vs. Baylor (1-0)

Texas Tech (1-1) vs. Oklahoma State (0-2)

Oklahoma (1-1) vs. West Virginia (1-1)

Kansas State (1-1) vs. TCU (1-1)

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Getting to know: West Virginia basketball

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins yells at his players late in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins yells at his players late in the second half, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

There are no nights off in the Big 12, but tonight’s matchup between No. 3 Kansas and No. 7 West Virginia figures to be especially taxing in the final game before the break.

Not only is it another battle between two top-10 teams, but the style of play for WVU would suggest that this is going to be a slugfest. KU’s toughness will likely determine its fate in a classic Big 12 battle at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks (7-1, 1-0 Big 12) have won seven consecutive games since losing their season opener to No. 1 Gonzaga. Kansas is coming off a 58-57 road win over Texas Texas in the Big 12 opener.

On the other side, West Virginia (7-1, 1-0 Big 12) has won its last four games following its 70-65 victory against Iowa State.

KU holds a 14-5 advantage in the all-time series with West Virginia, which includes eight wins in the last nine meetings between these two teams. Kansas is 8-0 against West Virginia in games played in Allen Fieldhouse.

According to KenPom, Kansas has a 57% chance of victory against West Virginia in tonight’s conference clash. The Jayhawks are projected to win by a 71-69 margin on KenPom. The contest will begin at 8 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.

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, jr.

Culver is a well-known player by now, as he is in third year with the Mountaineers. And he’s a big reason behind West Virginia’s physical style of play.

Through eight games, Culver is averaging a double-double in 27.3 minutes per outing. He has a scoring average of 14.4 points per game to go along with 10.9 rebounds per contest. Culver is shooting 47.8% from the floor so far this year.

It is no secret that Culver is going to be an integral part of this team. Per KenPom, Culver is taking 26.3% of the shots and is involved on 26.9% of the possessions. Both of those numbers lead WVU among players getting at least 50% of the team’s minutes.

Culver has appeared in 65 career games, which includes 47 starts in his tenure. He has posted five consecutive double-doubles, including an outing of 18 points and 12 rebounds against Iowa State.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 4 — G Miles McBride | 6-2, 200, so.

At this point in the year, McBride is leading the team in scoring with an average of 15 points per game.

Not only does McBride lead West Virginia in points, but he’s such an important player because of how often he is on the floor. He is leading the team in minutes with an average of 33.1 minutes per outing.

Per KenPom, McBride plays 82.8% of the team’s minutes and has an offensive rating of 118.6. Both of those numbers are the best on this West Virginia squad.

Last time out, McBride scored 18 points and collected six rebounds against Iowa State. He has started all eight games this year after making just two starts a season ago.

No. 34 — F Oscar Tshiebwe | 6-9, 260, jr.

Last but not least, it is time to introduce the 6-foot-9, 260-pound big man for WVU.

Tshiebwe is only averaging 20 minutes per game, but he’s managed to produce an average of 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per outing. Tshiebwe’s offensive rating of 116.5 on KenPom is the second-best mark on the team.

In addition, Tshiebwe’s rebounding rate is a big part of what he provides. He’s 16th in the nation in offensive rebound rate of 17.5%, while also posting a 21% clip in defensive rebounding.

Tshiebwe, who has started all 38 games of his career, was named to the preseason All-Big 12 team entering this year. He’s coming off a 12-point performance against Iowa State.

ONE THING WEST VIRGINIA DOES WELL

Given West Virginia’s size, it is no surprise that this team has an offensive rebound rate of 38.2% and ranks 12th in the nation in that category. Limiting second-chance opportunities will be key for the Jayhawks.

ONE AREA WEST VIRGINIA STRUGGLES

The Mountaineers simply aren’t shooting well this year, and that’s evident by their 45.3% effort on 2-point attempts through eight games. That mark ranks 246th in all of college basketball, so it is a good thing WVU tends to get extra shot attempts on offense.

MEET THE COACH

The Mountaineers are coached by Bob Huggins, who is 298-162 in his 14th season at WVU and 888-373 in his 39th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

According to FanDuel’s Sportsbook, Kansas is a 2.5-point favorite over West Virginia as of Tuesday morning. Home court doesn’t mean anything to me this season, but it is worth mentioning how difficult it has been for West Virginia to win in Lawrence.

That said, I’m taking West Virginia to win and cover. I just don’t think this is an ideal matchup for KU. The Jayhawks probably can’t play small against the Mountaineers’ lineup, and I don’t believe the best version of this team is playing big — at least as of late December.

As we saw in the Big 12 opener, it is hard to count out Bill Self because he is so incredible at in-game adjustments and late-game situations. That's obviously not news, but worth something in a likely intense Big 12 race.

But I’m picking Huggins and company to get a win in Allen Fieldhouse tonight.

Prediction: West Virginia 69, Kansas 67

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Getting to know: Texas Tech basketball

Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) is called for a foul on Texas Tech guard Kyler Edwards (0) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) is called for a foul on Texas Tech guard Kyler Edwards (0) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The season really begins tonight, when the Kansas men’s basketball team travels to Lubbock, Texas to take on Texas Tech in the Big 12 opener. The game is slated to begin at 6 p.m. in United Supermarkets Arena.

Both teams enter this league opener with the same 6-1 record and similar expectations. No. 5 Kansas and No. 14 Texas Tech both have aspirations of contending for a Big 12 title in what figures to be the toughest league race yet.

While it is just one game, it has also been a long time since the Jayhawks dropped a conference opener. They have won 29 consecutive Big 12 openers, which is a streak that dates back to the 1991-92 season. Of those 29 wins, 17 of them have come away from Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas also enters the matchup on a nice win streak, having won six games in a row since falling to top-ranked Gonzaga in the season opener. Texas Tech, meanwhile, has won four in a row and is now 5-0 at home to start the 2020-21 campaign.

KU leads the overall series with Texas Tech, 37-6, which began in 1959.

According to KenPom, the Jayhawks are actually projected to lose to the Red Raiders tonight. KU is given a 41% chance of victory, with a projected score of 68-65 going in Texas Tech’s favor for this matchup.

The game will be televised on ESPN with Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas calling the action.

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 TECH

TOP PLAYER

No. 0 — G Mac McClung | 6-2, 185, jr.

McClung has led the Red Raiders in four of seven games in scoring, including a 20-point performance in the opener and 20 points against Troy.

Through seven games, McClung is pacing Texas Tech with an average of 14.1 points per game to go along with 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per contest. It is the type of instant impact that the Red Raiders expected from their junior guard in his first season with the program.

McClung transferred to Texas Tech after he averaged 14.2 points, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.8 rebounds in 50 career games at Georgetown University. He is coming off a sophomore season where he led Georgetown by averaging 15.7 points per game.

It is why McClung was named to the All-Big 12 preseason honorable mention squad entering the year, and why he’s the top player on the team thus far.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — G Terrence Shannon Jr. | 6-7, 210, so.

As one of three players on the team averaging in double figures, Shannon is scoring 11.8 points per contest in six games so far this season. He is also averaging 4.7 rebounds per game for TTU.

Shannon missed the game against Abilene Christian due to an ankle injury, but has started every other game and was back on the court in a big way last time out.

Shannon led the Red Raiders with 15 points and seven rebounds last Saturday against Corpus Christi. He was 5-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line to lead the team in scoring for the first time this season and the third in his career.

Shannon is on the Julius Erving Award Watch List for the top forwards in college basketball.

No. 11 — G Kyler Edwards | 6-4, 195, jr.

In seven contests, Edwards is third on the team in scoring with an average of 11.3 points per game. He also leads the team in assists with an average of 3.6 assists per contest.

As a starter in 38 consecutive games, Edwards has been a familiar face for a quality program. Edwards played a reserve role in all 38 games as a freshman during the Final Four run and started all of Texas Tech’s games last year as a sophomore.

Edwards is a key player, but he’s always willing to do whatever it takes for the team. He wore No. 0 the first two years of his career, but offered to give that number to McClung over the summer.

For his career, Edwards has scored 641 points, accumulated 162 assists and knocked down 92 3-pointers in 76 career games.

ONE THING TEXAS TECH DOES WELL

The Red Raiders are once again a really good defensive team this season. KenPom actually has Texas Texas as the No. 1 team in adjusted defensive efficiency (85.1) in the country.

ONE AREA TEXAS TECH STRUGGLES

Texas Tech has seven new players on this year’s roster, which probably is hard to deal with in a year where Big 12 play is starting earlier and the offseason was more limited. TTU has an average experience of 1.36 years on KenPom, a mark that ranks 260th in the nation.

MEET THE COACH

Texas Tech is coached by Chris Beard, who is 100-45 in his fifth season at Texas Tech and 196-75 in his ninth season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

According to FanDuel’s Sportsbook, Texas Tech is a 3.5-point favorite as of Thursday morning. I know what KenPom projects. I know this is a tough conference, and winning on the road in this league is never a given with or without fans.

But picking against KU in a Big 12 opener seems silly.

Prediction: Kansas 73, Texas Tech 70

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Getting to know: Creighton basketball

Creighton's Marcus Zegarowski brings the ball up as Kennesaw State's Terrell Burden defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Kayla Wolf)

Creighton's Marcus Zegarowski brings the ball up as Kennesaw State's Terrell Burden defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Kayla Wolf) by Associated Press

In an unusually early college basketball showdown, No. 5 Kansas is slated to square off with No. Creighton in Allen Fieldhouse today. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN.

The tip time shouldn't take away from what figures to be a really good college basketball game. The Jayhawks are 4-1 with their lone loss coming at the hands of top-ranked Gonzaga. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are 3-0 after three double-digit victories to start the season.

It is the second Big 12/Big East battle for Kansas, which dropped a 56-55 decision at Villanova last season. KU is 8-4 in conference challenges entering this matchup. It will also be KU’s third ranked opponent through the first six games of the season.

This will be the first meeting between Kansas and Creighton since 1974.

KenPom gives the Jayhawks a 61% chance of victory, despite their scare over the weekend against North Dakota State. KU is projected to win by a 76-72 margin on KenPom.

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 CREIGHTON

TOP PLAYER

No. 11 — G Marcus Zegarowski | 6-2, 180, jr.

Let’s start with Marcus Zegarowski, who is the team’s top player ahead of this highly-anticipated showdown.

Zegarowski was named the preseason Big East player of the year and was a preseason first-team all-american by multiple outlets. Through three games, Zegarowski is actually second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.3 points per game after he was the leading returning scorer in the conference with an average of 16.0 points per outing last year.

So far this season, Zegarowski is averaging 7.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per contest. While the numbers have dropped a bit, this would seem like the perfect opportunity for Zegarowski to get going since he thrived in big moments a year ago.

Creighton went 6-2 against top-25 opponents last year because of the play of Zegarowski. He averaged 18.9 points per game while shooting 60.4% from the field (58-for-96) and 51.4% from 3-point range (18-of-35) against top-25 competition.

None by Mike Schmitz

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 24 — G Mitch Ballock | 6-5, 205, sr.

There is no need to really introduce Mitch Ballock, who is a former Eudora High School standout. I actually remember covering a game where Ballock scored 29 in high school, and he thought he struggled in that game.

Ballock has continued to have a knack for scoring at the collegiate level. He surpassed 1,000 career points in the season opener against North Dakota State, and now ranks 40th on the all-time list with 1,022 points in his Creighton career.

This season, Ballock is averaging 8.7 points per game and shooting 29.4% from beyond the arc. He actually ranks fifth in Creighton history with 238 career 3-pointers, and is the only player in program history to have 90+ triples in back-to-back seasons.

Creighton has more players from the state of Kansas (4) than any other state, including Ballock who has started every game for the past two seasons.

No. 13 — F Christian Bishop | 6-7, 220, jr.

Christian Bishop, a Lee’s Summit native, has also started every game for Creighton over the past two seasons.

Head coach Greg McDermott has called Bishop the most-improved player on the team, and it has certainly shown through the early part of the season. He led Creighton in scoring in each of the first two games with 16 against North Dakota State and 18 against Omaha.

As of right now, Bishop paces the Blue Jays in scoring with an average of 15.0 points per game to go along with 5.3 rebounds per contest. He’s also shooting 81% from the floor, which leads the conference.

Last season, Bishop led Creighton with 38 dunks and 35 blocked shots. So look for him to be a presence around the rim on both ends of the floor.

No. 23 — F Damien Jefferson | 6-5, 220, sr.

Through three games, Damien Jefferson is one of six players averaging in double figures for the Blue Jays.

Jefferson ranks sixth in scoring with an average of 10.0 points per game in 24.7 minutes per contest. He is shooting 52.4% from the floor, including 44.4% from long range. Jefferson is averaging just 3.7 rebounds per contest after leading Creighton in rebounding a year ago.

According to Creighton’s official game notes, Jefferson flirted with the NBA Draft before withdrawing and had two SportsCenter top-10 plays against Seton Hall.

ONE THING CREIGHTON DOES WELL

Always worth noting when a team is coming into Allen Fieldhouse, but Creighton can really take care of the rock. The Blue Jays have a turnover rate of 10.8% on offense, which ranks third in the nation on KenPom.

ONE AREA CREIGHTON STRUGGLES

The smaller lineup does mean less of a chance to get second looks. Creighton has an offensive rebound rate of 19.8% through three games. According to KenPom, that mark ranks 262nd in all of college basketball.

MEET THE COACH

The Bluejays are coached by Greg McDermott, who is 234-116 in his 11th season at Creighton and 514-311 in his 27th season overall.

VEGAS SAYS

According to FanDuel’s Sportsbook, Kansas is a 4.5-point favorite in this matchup between a pair of top-eight teams. Most of the money seems to be going on the over, which means we should expect a high-scoring game. Because of that alone, taking the points is the smart play in this one.

But I actually do think the Blue Jays could win this thing outright, especially in an Allen Fieldhouse that has limited attendance. We all saw a tired KU team survive a scare against North Dakota State over the weekend, while Creighton has had an extra day of rest and could just be a bad matchup based on its 3-point shooting and experience.

I think it will be a good game that could come down to the final possession. For now, give me the team that has a definitive go-to option in a game that comes down to the wire.

Prediction: Creighton 76, Kansas 74

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