Josh Jackson grew up a fan of Michigan State’s winning basketball program and played a huge part in knocking the Spartans out of the NCAA tournament.
Now it’s Landen Lucas’ turn to do the same to the team for which he rooted.
A native of Portland, Lucas’ father, Richard Lucas, a 6-foot-7 center, played at Oregon from 1987 through 1991. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior, 10.9 and 8.6 as a junior.
Richard wore an Oregon shirt and cheered for the Ducks throughout Thursday's one-point victory against Michigan.
“He had a Kansas shirt under it so he took that off and supported us,” Landen said after Kansas blew out Purdue in the second half Thursday night in Sprint Center. “I told him he needs to get rid that for the next 48 hours.”
Richard tweeted about how his no-lose situation.
Blood is thicker than water, even for a man who doubles as a Duck.
“Obviously, he should be rooting for us in this matchup,” Landen said. “It’ll be nice to play against them.”
Foul trouble limited Lucas to 20 minutes against Purdue, so he should be fresh, even after battling Purdue’s massive post players.
"I grew up watching them all the time, big fan," Landen said. "I’ve watched them a lot. They’re a good team, an athletic team. I feel like we match up well with them, they match up well with us.”
“I’m just going to play my game and I won’t try to force anything, but it’s going to be fun,” Lucas said. “And I’m obviously going to be ready to go because it’s the Final Four on the line, but it does add a little to it because it’s my dad’s school.”
Competitors don’t look at the other side’s strengths and view them with fear. Instead, they see them as opportunities to beat the best.
Purdue has a bigger, more physical front line than any team Kansas has faced, and 6-foot-9, 250-pound Caleb Swanigan is the most productive post player in the nation.
“This is exactly what I like,” KU senior Landen Lucas said. “I couldn’t think of any matchup that I would enjoy more than this, so I’m looking forward to it.”
He wants to play as much as possible and watch as little as possible, one more reason he will try to solve the puzzle of playing a physical brand of basketball without getting into foul trouble.
“It’s tough,” Lucas said. “It really depends on how the refs are calling it. Hopefully, they’ll let us play. If they do and they let me play the way I want to, that’ll be good. And if not, I’ll have to make in-game adjustments.”
He makes those with his ears as much as anything.
“If they’re calling it really tight, I’ve had games where I’ve let that affect me a little about taking away aggressiveness,” Lucas said. “The best I can do is listen to what they’re saying. A lot of times the refs are pretty good, especially after calling a couple of fouls and talking to you, letting you know where you could ease up a little bit more. If you just pay attention to what they’re saying, it makes it easier to adjust.”
Swanigan is a skilled passer who does a great job of passing from the post to the open 3-point shooter. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and especially Lagerald Vick haven’t always done a great job of recovering to shooters after helping out in the post.
Lucas did a nice job of explaining the key to helping without hurting.
“The big part of that is being in the initial position. If your body is already in the right spot to help, it’s easier to recover to your man afterward,” Lucas said. “If you’re helping as an afterthought, a lot of times the momentum of your body is going in the wrong position and it’s hard to get to shooters. So if everybody is in the right position to start, it’s easier to get back to the man.”
Watching Devonte’ Graham play basketball triggers memories of other marquee Bill Self players.
The chemistry between Graham and Frank Mason borders on telepathy, each knowing where the other is at all times and knowing just when to either get him the ball or make himself available to receive it. Watching that can conjure memories of identical twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, front-court versions this season’s best backcourt in the nation.
But most of all, Graham reminds me of Mario Chalmers, another KU guard who excelled at both ends of the floor and especially in transition. Both combo guards play with a great deal of confidence, which comes in handy when taking clutch shots.
Sure, they have plenty of differences. Graham is an inch taller, Chalmers blessed with longer arms. Chalmers, great at stepping into passing lanes for steals, was an even better off-the-ball defender than Graham, who might be even better on the ball than Chalmers.
Graham is more of an extrovert, lighting up an arena with his smile, Chalmers a cooler customer. Chalmers finishes with more explosiveness.
But they have plenty in common as well, including extremely deep shooting range.
Statistically, Chalmers during his KU career and Graham are more alike than different. Chalmers had a career .419 3-point accuracy rate, Graham’s is .414. Chalmers shot .545 inside the arc, Graham .470. Chalmers made at least one 3-pointer in each of the six NCAA tournament games in 2008, shooting at the same .419 percentage as his career mark by making 13 of 31 3-pointers.
Chalmers scored 12.2 points per game during his Kansas career. Since becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore, Graham has averaged 12.3 points. Chalmers averaged 4.3 assists as a junior, as does Graham in this, his junior season.
Graham’s confidence appears to be at an all-time high and he’s on a tear. He has made four 3-pointers in four of the past five games, the exception being in the Big 12 tournament loss to TCU, when he was 2 of 10 without Josh Jackson in the lineup. In the four games excluding that one, Graham has made 12 of 21, a .571 percentage.
Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig (11 made 3-pointers) is the only Sweet 16 players who has hit more 3-pointers in the tournament than Graham’s eight.
Isaac Haas stands 7-foot-2 and weighs 290 pounds and when he’s in the game he’ll be joined by either superstar Caleb Swanigan, 6-9, 250, or Vince Edwards, 6-8, 225, so there’s a reason size is the first thing that comes to mind about Purdue, Kansas’ opponent Thursday night at Sprint Center. But it’s what Purdue puts around that size that makes the Boilermakers difficult to defend. They have shooters who stretch a defense.
“If they had a bunch of non-shooters, their whole team would change,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said the day before the Cyclones lost to Purdue, 80-76. “But they all can make shots. That's why they can put so much pressure on you. Are you going to double? Can they get it out of the double too quick? Now they get a ball-reversal 3?. . . It's a lot more than Swanigan and Haas when you really research them and talk to other coaches. You’ve got to defend the 3-point line as well.”
Purdue ranks sixth in the nation, two spots behind Kansas, with a .404 3-point percentage. Dakota Mathis leads the team with a .458 3-point percentage, followed by Swanigan (.432), Vince Edwards (.425), Ryan Cline (.406) and P.J. Thompson (.402).
Purdue’s size will make it tougher for Kansas to score close to the basket, but if only if the Boilermakers retreat on defense quickly enough to contest shots, not an easy task against KU's unrivaled speed. Kansas played such a clean game at such a fast pace against Michigan State. That and a partisan crowd combine to make Kansas a five-point favorite. Still, Purdue's size is a concern for any team.
The day before losing to Purdue in the first round, Vermont coach John Becker was asked if had tried anything unusual to simulate Purdue’s size, such as holding a broom in the air and having his players try to score over it.
“We could try to score against a brick wall, is probably the closest thing we could do to try to emulate the size of Haas and Swanigan,” Becker said.
Few things amplify the highs and lows of sports quite as loudly as the NCAA basketball tournament.
Nobody need tell that to Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew, who shot Valparaiso onto the national map 19 years ago and who four days ago took the lead role in comforting one of his players who erred in a way that puts him at risk of seeing it replayed every time he turns on the television.
Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis thought his team was down a point when it was up a point and fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh with 17 seconds remaining. The Commodores didn’t recover and just like that, former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew went from having two sons coaching in the NCAA tournament to having one.
Baylor’s Scott Drew is coaching in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in eight seasons. Drew stopped in the Kansas locker room Sunday at BOK Center in Tulsa to offer congratulations on his way to taking the court for the Bears’ game against USC.
Homer Drew was in attendance for Vandy’s loss to Northwestern in Salt Lake City and flew to Tulsa in the middle of the night to watch the Bears represent the Big 12 well with victories against New Mexico State and USC.
For the first time since interviewing him for a column I wrote in 1994 suggesting that the NCAA should investigate Valpo for going to such unethical lengths to land a commitment from that year’s Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana. Namely, Homer was sleeping with the recruit’s mother, Homer’s wife. Bryce Drew could have played anywhere and chose to play for his dad and that decision was rewarded with one of the more memorable moments in NCAA tournament history.
The hug father and son shared after that one still gets air time. So too, will Thursday’s blunder.
“Bryce handled it beautifully in the press conference,” Homer said of his son. “He talked about it takes a team to win and a team to lose and one play does not dictate an outcome. He was really gracious and stood by Matt because without Matt we, don’t get there. He hit some big 3’s and he hit three free throws in a row when he was fouled on a 3-point shot when it got us within one. So at the end he just thought that we were one down, instead of one up, so your heart goes out to him.”
Homer refers to the players by their first names and uses “us” and “we” and “our” when talking about Vanderbilt and Baylor.
“Time heals,” Homer said. “Matt feels really bad, but the teammates came up to him. Basketball’s special in that you have friends you live and die with on campus, going to classes, on the basketball court, traveling. So their compassion back to Matt makes life go on.”
Technically, Bryce coaches his team, Scott his, but in a way Bryce, Homer and Scott join minds to coach two teams.
“Some of the most exciting times have been at about 11, 12 at night and the three of us are talking basketball. I feel very blessed to have kids who ended up not by design but ended up coaching.”
They talk by three-way conference call.
“I have eight grandkids so they helped me learn how to press the buttons and get on one,” Homer said.
Scott and Bryce have not faced each other, but Homer said he hopes to witness that in March or early April one year.
“That would be the first time brothers have ever coached against each other in an NCAA tournament. That would be something special if that would happen,” Homer said. He retired from coaching after the 2011 season and is associate athletic director at Valparaiso, which he coached into the NCAA tournament seven times.
“Bryce and Drew talk a great deal and they’re so close,” Homer said. “It makes mom and dad very proud.”
The next challenge for the Bryce, Homer, Scott brain trust is to try to figure out a way to stop Frank Martin’s South Carolina team, which not only plays tough defense, but has averaged 59.5 second-half points two games into the tournament.
So far, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self’s tree is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas State bounced Danny Manning’s Wake Forest squad in Dayton and Joe Dooley’s Florida Gulf Coast University team fell short in its upset bid against Florida State.
SMU head coach Tim Jankovich can keep the tree from getting skunked. His Mustangs take on USC in a tipoff scheduled for 2:10 p.m. in the BOK Center, a rematch of a Nov. 25 game USC won, 78-73.
Junior forward Semi Ojeleye, an Ottawa High graduate and Duke transfer, was named American Athletic Conference player of the year and a second-team Academic All-American. Jankovich has multiple ties to Kansas. He was an assistant to Bill Self in his first four seasons at Kansas and left to become head coach at Illinois State, hired by current KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
“He’s great,” Ojeleye said of Jankovich, named AAC coach of the year. “He’s a players' coach. He’s just so relaxed. If you didn’t know he was a head coach you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he walks around.”
Ojeleye compared and contrasted Jankovich’s style to that of Larry Brown, under whom Jankovich coached at SMU before taking over for him.
“I think it’s a little more up-tempo,” Ojeleye said. “Coach Brown kind of winced every time someone shot a 3. Coach (Jankovich) wants us to have the offensive freedom. But I think on the defensive end they are pretty much exactly the same. They want us to guard, play together. I think they really hang their hat on the defensive end. They’re similar and different, but they’re both great coaches.”
Jankovich has a brain built for X’s and O’s. A few years before college football teams began running it, Jankovich wondered why they didn’t use what became known as the Wildcat formation. He likes to tinker with offensive basketball X’s and O’s as well.
“I don’t know how many different, not just sets, but base offenses we’ve put in this year,” Ojeleye said. “We’ve tried three out, two in, we’ve tried a high-low offense, four out, one in, ball-screen, I mean we just continue to adapt based on what types of teams we’re about to play in trying to attack matchups. Even during games, if he sees something he’ll put something in real quick to try to go at that matchup, so he definitely adapts to what’s coming at him.”
Ojeleye said Jankovich has the gift of communicating complex things in “the simplest terms, and I think we have a high-IQ team, as he calls it, that can really understand it and implement things on the fly.”
SMU (30-4) is riding a 16-game winning streak and Jankovich throws some of the credit for that the way of Ojeleye for the hard work he put in during his one-and-a-half year layoff after transferring from Duke and then watching the school receive sanctions that included a ban from participating in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
“If you want to be a player what else is there to do?” said Jankovich, who played at Kansas State. “But you know what, there a lot of guys around the country, they have a lot of time, too, and they’re not in there (the gym working on their games).
“Sitting out, after your school work’s done, what else do you have to do? Don’t give me the video games thing. Don’t be good at that. That’s not doing you any good. I don’t care how many you scored in the video game. Get over here and work on your real game, and he definitely does that.”
A conscience pang made Jankovich confess that he too once played video games: Space Invaders (released in 1978) and Pac-Man (1980), which at the time were considered unbelievable advances from Pong (1972).
Lacking the low-post scoring it has most seasons, Kansas has relied more heavily on 3-point shooting than at any point during coach Bill Self’s 14 years at the school and with good results.
Kenpom.com tracks various statistics through the years, including a “style component” that shows what percentage of field goals attempted are of the 3-point variety.
The percentage has been below 30 in eight seasons, above it in six. This season’s 35.5 percent mark is a high, during Self’s tenure, compared to a low of 26.1 percent in 2006-07, a year that ended in San Jose with Kansas losing to UCLA in an Elite Eight game. Last season’s 32.8 percent had been the high mark.
The 3-pointer has served Kansas well this season, with a .405 percentage that ranks eighth in the nation.
The question now becomes will the Jayhawks’ 3-point shooting touch travel well? Thus far, KU has not shot nearly as well away from Allen Fieldhouse (.358) as on campus (.454). Kansas went 14-3 away from Allen Fieldhouse, so the Jayhawks still found ways to win when treys weren’t falling, but the home/away shooting disparity does underscore the importance of playing consistently strong defense throughout the tournament.
In four games in Sprint Center, site of the NCAA Midwest regional, Kansas shot a combined .311 from 3-point range against UAB, Georgia, Davidson and TCU.
A look at individuals' shooting percentages in games played off campus this season and (overall):
Josh Jackson: .463 (.377)
Frank Mason: .392 (.487)
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: .382 (.401)
Lagerald Vick: .317 (.383)
Devonte’ Graham: .292 (.379).
Mason and Graham have the most NCAA tournament experience. Mason, although he made 5 of 7 3-pointers in the tournament as a sophomore, is a .292 3-point shooter in the NCAA tournament for his career. Graham has shot .346 from long distance in the tourney.
Olpe — Kansas enters the NCAA tournament with a 28-4 record, including a 5-2 mark against schools that were ranked at the time the Jayhawks played them.
Since ranked teams generally play better defense than unranked ones, let’s take a look at the relatively small sample to see which KU players’ talents translate the best to tougher competition.
Not surprisingly, Josh Jackson’s performance stands up, even improves in some areas, against ranked teams. Jackson averaged 17 points, 6.3 rebounds and had a .524 3-point accuracy rate in the seven games. Overall, Jackson averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and shot .377 from 3-point range.
Frank Mason also performed at a similar level vs. ranked and unranked foes in most categories, except not nearly as well in 3-point shooting (.487 overall, .310 vs. ranked teams). Mason averaged 20.8 points overall, 21.9 vs. ranked squads. He had a slightly better assists-to-turnover ratio vs. ranked foes (2.3) than overall (2.0).
With the exception of Jackson, the biggest decline when comparing unranked vs. overall came in 3-point shooting: Svi Mykhailiuk (.401/.267), Lagerald Vick (.383/.263), Devonte’ Graham (.379/.321) and the team overall (.405, .325).
Well, that's it for now. I’m going to put the headphones on and Listen to Neil Young’s “The Last Trip to Tulsa,” while wondering if he found himself as badly lost behind the wheel as Matt Tait just found himself on our trip to Tulsa. I no longer need to wonder what all the small Kansas towns I’ve heard about through the years look like. We’ve hit pretty much every one of them. Some are beautiful, others not my thing. Not to worry. Benton Smith has switched seats with M@ T8, so we’ll get there eventually.
Oh well, everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason we strayed so far off the direct path to Tulsa was so that Tait could hear this half of a conversation: “I looked out the window and there was a coyote. So my daughter said, ‘What you going to do, Daddy, shoot it?’ I said, ‘That’s a hell of an idea.’ So I reached behind the front seat, grabbed a rifle and I shot the SOB.’ ”
What a touching family moment. Here’s hoping that inspires a Hallmark card of some sort, perhaps even a holiday special TV show to watch while wrapped in blankets, huddled around the fireplace.
Charles Baldwin's fit-and-trim look grabbed my attention as soon as I walked into into Anschutz Pavilion to catch a glimpse of the first Kansas football spring practice. Baldwin, a big talent with a big question mark next to his name because he was dismissed from Alabama after spending a spring football season with the Crimson Tide, shapes up as a big X-factor for Kansas in head coach David Beaty's third season.
The next thing to grab my attention was how much Baldwin appeared to be enjoying himself as he smiled and interacted with teammates and coaches. A thought occurred: Might Kansas actually have not just one but two ‘Bama transfers who will make big contributions to turning around a football program seemingly cursed since Mark Mangino was shown the door just two seasons after coaching the Jayhawks to a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl championship?
Dayton Charlot, universally praised for his attitude and talent as a wide receiver and punt returner, disappointed Nick Saban when he left the program after his freshman season. It’s a given that he’ll make a difference.
Baldwin, on the other hand, didn’t have a choice but to find another school. And sometimes what coaches don't say about a prospect reveals as much or more than what they do say. In the case of Baldwin, the coaches didn’t seem to say much about Baldwin during his redshirt season.
Beaty had plenty to say Monday about the 6-foot-5, 305-pound native of Windsor, Conn.
“He is actually really nice and slim. He’s s not a big, fat guy,” Beaty said. “He’s done a good job with his weight. He’s gotten serious about that. I think the prospect of playing and it really meaning something has helped him. I know it’s hard on any kid who knows he’s going to have to sit and not get to play.”
Beaty made it sound as if a different player from the one who a year ago didn’t stand out during practice as much as his physical ability suggested he might is ready to get after it this spring.
“You can see a whole different dynamic from him,” Beaty said. “He really cares. Every single play he wants to know how he can get better, which is good. You love to see that attitude that he has, because he’s got some nastiness to him, but he’s also got a lot of want to do well for you, as well.”
A big season from Baldwin would make a huge difference for an offensive line that will be a year older and stronger than last season, when it was the youngest in the Big 12.
I asked left tackle Hakeem Adeniji about where he would rank himself in a sprint and in the weight room compared to the rest of the Kansas offensive linemen.
“I’d probably beat everybody except for Antoine (Frazier) and maybe Charles in a sprint,” Adeniji said. “Weight room? I can lift with pretty much everybody, squat-wise, lifting-wise. Charles and (Jacob) Bragg are probably the only ones ahead of me.”
Adeniji said Baldwin “can be a really special player. He’s incredibly strong, athletic. He’s long. He has all the tools. The sky’s the limit for him."
If Baldwin maintains his get-after-it attitude throughout spring camp, summer conditioning and fall camp, he will make Adeniji look wise for saying, "I think you’re going to see a huge jump in our offensive line.”
Montell Cozart is finishing up his requirements for a degree in sports management with a minor business and is on course to graduate in May, so he won’t have to sit out before using his final year of eligibility as a football player.
He doesn’t yet know where he will do that.
Cozart said he has heard from Fresno State and New Mexico of the FBS, North Dakota State of the FCS and a number of Div. II schools.
He is working an internship with the athletic department’s sports information office. As part of his duties, he worked the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at Sprint Center and will return there for the Midwest regional.
Much of his work has been for the football sports information office.
“I’ve been taking pictures of the guys (football players) working out and playing seven-on-seven,” Cozart said. “I’ve updated player bios, coaching bios. I’ve been updating records of KU vs. other schools.”
One in particular put Cozart in a good mood.
“K-State, that’s the best one,” Cozart said. “I know K-State’s been getting the best of us for years, but we’re still winning the series.”
Kansas shows it has a 65-44-5 record in the series because it does not recognize the forfeit of the 20-18 victory in 1980 imposed by the Big 8 because of issues regarding running back Kerwin Bell’s eligibility.
Anyway, Cozart said he has liked what he has seen so far from quarterback Peyton Bender, a junior-college transfer whose quick release had head coach David Beaty excited to recruit him. “He can spin it,” Cozart said. “And I’ve noticed that quick release too.”
Cozart also praised wide receiver Daylon Charlot, who spent last season as a redshirt after transferring from Alabama.
“I think Daylon will be great,” Cozart said. “He’s one of those guys who loves to practice. When it comes time for game time that switch is going to automatically click for him. We saw as soon as he came here he was one of those energetic guys who always came to practice ready to work. He’ll be great for them. I know he’s ready to get back out there after missing last year.”
The recruitment of Bender and emergence of Carter Stanley and the potential of Tyriek Starks left no room for either Cozart or Ryan Willis, who transferred to Virginia Tech, on the quarterback depth chart. Cozart remains a big fan of the program.
“I think we’ll be really good,” he said. “I believe in the plan coach Beaty and the staff are putting together. I just want everyone to continue to trust in the team and trust in coach Beaty and within the next couple of years it should be back rolling.”
Cozart, also a basketball star at Bishop Miege High, said he hasn’t heard from any schools about using his final year of eligibility to play basketball.
“But if if someone came to me right now and offered me a scholarship to play basketball, I think I might take it,” Cozart said. “I think I would. I’ve still got it. I still go to the Rec every now and then, nowadays just to get some cardio since I’m not running with the team. I still play a little bit. I’d say you give me two months of legit basketball, I’d be right back.”