From the back tees at Lawrence Country Club, the first hole measures 359 yards. The first time Kansas basketball coach Bill Self played a round of golf with Gary Woodland the PGA touring pro stuck his drive onto the green, 15 feet short of the pin.
Woodland made the eagle putt and somehow Self never caught him and passed him.
Woodland cheers passionately for his alma mater’s basketball team and Self returns the favor. Self said he watched Woodland capture his third and most prestigious PGA tour victory Sunday night in the Waste Management Open in a playoff and then heard from him later in the night.
“I can’t believe that they played the Waste Management Open prior to the Super Bowl. They should have played that after the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was a warmup for that,” Self said. “But no, that was exciting for anybody who supports Kansas and obviously supports Gary. For Gary and his wife, Gabby, who have been through as much as they have in the last calendar year, I’m sure it was an overwhelming feeling of emotion that took place when he was making a 1-footer on the 19th hole to win it, so we’re all proud of him and happy.”
Self is such a Woodland fan that he accurately cited where the former Washburn University guard blessed with a soft 3-point shooting touch stands in the Official World Golf Rankings and Fed Ex Cup standings.
“I saw where he went to 25th in the world on that one win,” Self said. “He’s fifth in the Fed Ex points now, so he’s playing with house money here for a little bit. so hopefully he’ll keep it going.”
Watching him on TV, it was obvious that Gary Woodland kept emotion at bay after he shot a 64 to become the leader in the clubhouse by two strokes and waited to see if anyone could catch him.
Woodland was on the practice range, staying warmed up, when he heard the roar of the gallery at the 18th hole, which let him know that Chez Reavie had caught him and the Waste Management Phoenix Open would be decided in a sudden-death playoff. He twisted open a cold bottle of water, took a sip, and put it back in his bag.
He showed no signs of distress when his drive on the first playoff hole went into one of the church-pew bunkers left of the fairway on No. 18 and his opponent’s was in the middle of the fairway.
Woodland won the hole and the tournament with a par and Reavie, who had birdied the final two holes to force the playoff, made bogey.
After tapping in to win it, Woodland pointed to the sky, then did his CBS interview with son Jaxon in his arms. Woodland and wife Gabby had been expecting twins but lost their daughter midway through the pregnancy.
Woodland finally grew emotional in the press tent after the tourney when discussing why he pointed to the sky.
“Yeah, that was just kind of a tribute to last year,” Woodland said with tear-filled eyes. “Obviously we lost a little girl and being there seeing my wife give birth to her, that's real and just wanted her to know I still love her.”
Jaxon was born 10 weeks premature last June and spent an extended period in the hospital.
“Obviously he's been through a lot and we just didn't want to expose him to too many people,” Woodland told reporters in the press tent. “So it's been nice to have him on the road the last five weeks. We went out to Hawaii early so I've been with him for five straight weeks which is amazing. But he hasn't been out at the courses, he's kind of been at the room all five weeks.”
For a player who went through so much last season Woodland played remarkably well in all areas except one. His putter betrayed him when he contended. It was terrific in the Phoenix Open, Woodland’s third PGA Tour victory, and has been steady all season.
Woodland had been working with noted putter Brad Faxson on his stroke early in his career and made everything he looked at on the final day in winning his first tournament, the Transitions in 2011.
“My first couple years out here spent a lot of time with Fax and played a lot of practice rounds with him and just haven't seen him much since he went to the Champions Tour, but now we're living close to each other,” Woodland said. “I spent some time with him in the offseason just trying to free me up, not really mechanically, but more mentally and the putter has been coming. Strokes gained (statistic) has been really good this year, but I feel like I can make a lot of putts and I haven't felt that way in a long time. And obviously with the way I hit it and now I'm confident with the short game, and the putter starts working, good things will happen.”
Woodland works with world-famous Butch Harmon on his swing and worked with Pete Cowen on his short game at the Shark Shootout.
Woodland, 33, won his first tournament at the age of 26, his second at 28. He had to wait five years for his third, prompting someone to ask him if he thinks he has underperformed.
“There's no doubt about that. Now, I probably got out here too soon. Obviously I came to the game late, but I got through Q-School very quickly,” Woodland said. “Fortunately I got hurt my rookie year in 2009 and I missed a year, which really allowed me to kind of adjust and adapt to being out here. I came from college, I played a year of basketball (at Washburn), four years (of golf) at Kansas, and then really got out here right away and it was an adjustment, because my game wasn't ready, I was just athletic. And I won right away in 2011, so expectations got high. And didn't play great, got hurt again in 2012 and battled injuries for awhile.”
Woodland appears to have put the wrist injuries that dogged him behind him.
“Last three years I've been healthy,” he said. “I haven't put four rounds together, so that's been frustrating. When you win early on you want to, you want that feeling.”
He appeared to want it too badly at times.
“I put myself in a lot of positions to win I have a lot of second place finishes the last four or five years I just haven't done it and that adds up. That adds a lot of pressure.”
Woodland has been a tireless worker throughout his career and nothing makes it all seem worthwhile quite like standing atop a loaded field. Former Oklahoma State golfer Rickie Fowler finished the third round in first place Saturday, hours after his alma mater upset Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson also were in the field. Jordan Spieth and Retief Goosen each missed the cut by a stroke.
“I have a lot of people around me, which is a good thing, but everybody expects you to play well and when you don't have the results, that's tough,” Woodland said. “So this validates that we're doing the right things and I believe I have a long way to go, but I believe I have a lot of time to do that and I'm excited about what the future holds.”
The least discussed aspect of Kansas playing better on the road than at home this season involves the performance of the crowds.
They haven’t brought as much passion and not all of that can be blamed on a shortage of blowouts, which always pump up the volume at Allen Fieldhouse.
Action is needed to make sure Kansas is doing everything it can to take advantage of playing in Allen Fieldhouse, an intimate setting.
Here’s my three-step program to recovery, but it will require the cooperation of athletic administrators, faculty, and parents of students to take it happen, so it’s not going to be easy.
STEP I: Scale back the use of electronic noise in order to allow the human noise to crescendo.
Too often, KU will force a couple of turnovers in a row, leading to dunks and just as the crowd is feeding on itself, getting louder and louder, the opposing coach calls timeout and the loudspeakers blare, having the effect of blasting the fans into silence since they know they can’t compete with electronic-generated decibels. The humans shut up and their senses take such a beating from the electronic noise that without the spectators even knowing it, their energy begins to wither away.
Let the human voices roar, filling the players from the home team with energy.
Naturally, coach Bill Self is not listening during breaks in the action. He’s talking and his players are listening. He knows exactly what he wants to tell his players and gets right to it. That didn’t keep me from asking Self if he ever wondered if the intrusion of electronic noise might kill a crowd’s momentum.
He was amused by the question, but as he tends to do, he treated it as a challenge to come up with a better answer than the question itself.
“I don't listen to see how loud the electronic noise is,” he said. “My first guess would be absolutely not, but I haven't studied it. We may form a committee to talk about that.”
Can I chair it?
“I do think this, and to speak to your point, in athletics, in sports, primarily basketball, the natural old-time crowd noise is a must,” Self said. “But in today's time, I think the piped-in stuff at times is also a must. I think there needs to be a combination of both. I don't know what our percentages are in that, but I think we do a pretty good job with it, from my perspective.”
The man has such laser focus that he doesn’t even notice the negative impact the intrusion of electronics is having on his program’s home-court advantage, so someone else must take up the cause.
STEP II: Professors must do their part by curtailing homework assignments.
Fewer students are attending games and it could be because they’re spending too much time doing homework. The Kansas basketball program goes a long way toward linking alumni forever. Watch parties in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and throughout Kansas ensure that alumni see each other regularly. It serves for them as a constant reminder of the four most enjoyable years of their lives.
But if students are too busy to go to games now, they will be less likely to stay linked to other Jayhawks at watch parties in the future. Donations to the school will drop.
Attending basketball games is an important part of the Kansas student experience, so it’s imperative professors do their part and scale back on homework assignments.
STEP III: Parents need to lighten up on applying pressure on their children to attain high grade-point averages, which they demand of them so that they can brag to friends about their children’s GPAs.
Employers seek verification of diplomas at times, but I’ve never once been asked for my GPA, which explains why I have been able to remain employed. So unless students are planning on attending graduate school, the GPA is an overrated number.
If students focused more on staying on course to graduate and less on attaining a high GPA, they could use more of their time to go to basketball games. They would make more friends, develop better social skills and perhaps even develop better time-management skills, knowing that they must set aside a few hours for each home game.
No problem is without a solution. If everyone can do her or his to follow this three-step road to recovery, KU’s home-court advantage can become greater than ever.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard’s team had just finished defeating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, 85-73, on the second day of January when Beard mentioned the possibility of the Jayhawks playing in the national-title game.
It seemed out of place given that it was KU’s third loss in a seven-game stretch, two of them by double digits in Allen Fieldhouse.
Beard didn’t deliver that opinion in robotic coach-speak fashion. He said it like he meant it. Beard was fresh off dissecting video of KU’s 92-86 victory in Austin in which the Jayhawks made 17 of 35 3-point field goals.
“It’s impossible to stop them,” Beard said. “You just try to contain them. And then you try to contest shots. The way they shot the ball in Austin, they’re not going to get beat. They’ll play on the final Monday because Texas did a good job of contesting them. You have to be fortunate. Tonight we were. They got some good looks and we made some mistakes on some switches, so you have to be fortunate.”
Defended well on the perimeter by the Red Raiders for most of the night, Kansas made just 6 of 26 3-pointers.
This team, more than any other Bill Self, relies on 3-point shots, so an off shooting night could bounce Kansas from the tournament prematurely, but the tougher defense KU has played of late gives it a better shot of surviving bad shooting night. The Final Four doesn’t sound like the reach it once did.
“You didn’t believe me?” Beard said on Thursday’s Big 12 conference call when I asked him about his postgame quote from his team’s big victory.
Not then I didn’t. What made him believe the Jayhawks had “final Monday,” potential?
“They have two or three NBA players,” Beard said. “They have a Hall of Fame coach. They’ve got the best home court in college basketball and they’re playing in the best conference in the country, the Big 12.”
KU can’t play on that home court in March, but the Big 12 battles against schools with contrasting styles help make every member of the conference prepare for the ultimate stage.
And so far this season, Kansas has even tougher on the road than at home.
Beard still thinks Kansas has a chance to play on the final Monday. And what about his Red Raiders, tied with Oklahoma in second place, one game behind KU?
“I think that’s the beauty of college basketball’s single-elimination tournament,” Beard said.
“That’s what makes March Madness March Madness. I’ve coached in one-bid leagues where you had to win your tournament to get in. In the Big 12, you have to survive and win enough games to get in the tournament.”
Once the NCAA tournament arrives, the conference standings don’t matter. As recently as two seasons ago, Beard pointed out, Oklahoma advanced to the Final Four. “If I didn’t think we had a chance to play deep into March I shouldn’t be coaching here,” Beard said.
Tubby Smith left the program in good shape and in just his second season, Beard has elevated it. He'll have his Red Raiders confident and ready for Kansas on Feb. 24.
Plus, he’s pretty good at looking beyond that night’s game and projecting an opponent’s improvement.
In job-saving mode, Kansas football coach David Beaty has loaded up on recruits from junior colleges.
Less than a week from next Wednesday's late signing day, Kansas looks as if it will end up with seven, maybe eight high school signees. Five signed letters of intent in the early period and two others have made verbal commitments.
Plus, Rivals reports that Kansas is battling Missouri for a Nick Bolton, a linebacker from Frisco, Texas, but he's thought to be leaning toward Missouri over Louisiana Tech and Kansas.
Defensive ends Miles Emery of Blue Valley High and Ryan Malbrough of Cecilia, Louisiana have made verbal commitments.
Free State High offensive tackle Jalan Robinson has been offered scholarships, but KU will not, an indication that the job-saving recruiting mode Beaty is in doesn't leave room for players who need time to blossom in the program after spending time reshaping their bodies in the weight room. Mississippi State and Nebraska both have first-year head coaches are building programs, and offered Robinson a scholarship earlier this week.
The KU class of high school recruits grades higher in quality than quantity among.
The five signees, ranked in estimated order of the contributions they'll make to the program:
Corione Harris, cornerback, 6-1, 170, New Orleans: He committed to Kansas early, even though SEC schools recruited him heavily. In the end, he chose Kansas over Mississippi State. Harris will participate in KU's spring football and projects as an immediate starter. Has reputation as hard hitter.
Pooka Williams, running back, 5-10, 165, Boutte, La.: A burner, Williams rushed for 3,120 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior. He chose Kansas over LSU and Nebraska. Williams, also a track star, lost all the toes on his right foot at the age of 9 in a lawn-mower accident.
Jacobi Lott, offensive guard, 6-3, 305, Amarillo, Texas: Stronger than a typical high school recruit, he has a change to play sooner than most O-line recruits. Texas offered him a scholarship the night before the early signing period, but he stayed true to KU, which was in on him from the start.
Nick Williams, offensive lineman, 6-8, 260, Overland, Mo.: Kansas is excited about how he projects as an offensive tackle after spending a couple of years in the weight room.
Mac Copeland, offensive lineman, 6-5, 250, Wichita: Like Nick Williams, will need time to develop his body and technique before contributing and has a frame that should enable him to add weight easily.
Svi Mykhailiuk and BC Igokea rookie Billy Preston both are 20 years old, so neither one is a finished product.
At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Preston is two inches taller, 35 pounds heavier and has an estimated five-inch greater wingspan.
So which player too young to be served a legal beverage would you select first if you were in best-available-player mode?
A native of Cherasky, Ukraine, Mykhailiuk has the emotional-maturity advantage after four years of coaching, bonding with college teammates, and negotiating his way through a full course load in his second language.
Preston, from Inglewood, has a more NBA-ready physique.
Svi projects as a shooting guard or small forward, Preston as a small forward or stretch four. Preston only played in exhibition games. Svi has played in 119 college games, starting 53 of them.
Svi has one exceptional tool: his long-range shooting. He also is a skilled passer, but no easy answer jumps to mind to the question of what NBA position he can guard.
Preston is an exciting prospect because he handles the ball well for a man his size, has a nice shooting touch and is an exceptional athlete.
Svi steadily has improved, as his year-by-year scoring averages indicate: 2.8, 5.4, 9.8, 17. Svi has a better chance of helping the team that drafts him, but Preston’s tools suggest he has a higher ceiling, even he doesn’t come close to reaching it until he’s with his second or third organization in his fifth or sixth season.
If I had the pick, I would draft Svi and follow Preston’s development in the G League, looking for signs of maturity and improvement.
Svi, by the way, passed Terry Brown on KU’s career 3-pointers made list, setting into seventh place.
Kansas basketball top 10 in career 3-pointers made:
|1 - Jeff Boschee
|2 - Billy Thomas
|3 - Devonte' Graham
|4 - Kirk Hinrich
|5 - Sherron Collins
|6 - Brandon Rush
|7 - Svi Mykhailiuk
|8 - Terry Brown
|9 - Frank Mason
|10 Mario Chalmers
Svi has made five or more 3-pointers in nine games this season and has scored 20-or-more points in 6 of 9 conference games, including each of the past three.
Eight consecutive years of anywhere from zero to three victories have put many a Kansas football fan in such a guarded state of mind that to write anything nice about the program is to run the risk of being accused of "hyping" the team.
Consider yourself warned: I am not hyping the Jayhawks, not predicting that KU can contend for a bowl game in 2018 and won't yet even go so far as to predict a victory in the season-opener vs. underrated Nicholls State, but I am going to write something nice about KU football. So if you are afraid that it will lead you to get your hopes up yet again, thus setting yourself up for disappointment, this might be a good time to find something else to read on KUsports.com.
David Beaty made a terrific addition to his coaching staff by bringing veteran linebackers coach Bill Miller on board.
Kansas Athletics hasn't announced Miller's hiring yet, but he's already recruiting for Kansas, both on campus over the weekend, and out of town this week.
Miller has worked for, among others, Nick Saban, Jimmy Johnson, Butch Davis, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Mangino and Jerry Kill, a list of coaches who know how to evaluate assistants.
Miller will coach linebackers, so it will be interesting to see what assignment shifts that sets in motion. One strong possibility: Linebackers coach Todd Bradford will move to cornerbacks, and Kenny Perry, who doubles as recruiting coordinator, will move to special teams coordinator. Bradford has spent more seasons coaching the secondary during his career than any other position group.
Perry's first job after concluding his playing career at Houston came at his alma mater, where he worked with special teams and defensive backs. Plus, he was a head high school football coach for 13 seasons in Texas and has worked with specific special-teams units at TCU and Kansas.
Miller's strong reputation extends beyond his work on the field. His connections Kansas and Florida coupled with his his ability to evaluate talent give him value as a recruiter as well.
At Kansas, Miller received a verbal commitment from Class of 2010 Hutchinson High defensive end Geno Grissom, who would have honored his commitment had Miller been retained by Turner Gill. Upon learning that Miller would not be coaching at Kansas, Grissom switched to Oklahoma, where he eventually became a tight end. A reserve linebacker, Grissom is on the New England Patriots Super Bowl roster.
The Miller hiring is good news for Kansas, such good news that I imagine that Beaty eventually will get around to announcing it, although he too appears a little skittish about being accused of hyping the team yet again.
The loudest way to demonstrate how tough Kansas has been in close Big 12 games lies in looking at the standings and then the scoring margin of the 10 schools.
Kansas takes a one-game lead on four schools tied for second. Yet, the Jayhawks are no better than sixth in scoring margin.
That speaks not only to KU's ability to deliver in the clutch, but also to the depth of the Big 12. But is it the best basketball conference in the country?
"I get a kick out of all coaches saying their league's by far the best when they haven't played anybody in the other leagues or been in those games, but I would say," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
He did say, as have other Big 12 coaches, that the bottom is stronger than any other league's.
Big 12 scoring margin standings:
|West Virginia (5-3)
|Kansas State (5-3)
|Texas Tech (5-3)
|Oklahoma St. (3-5)
|Iowa State (2-6)
"There are absolutely no guarantees anywhere, home or away," Self said. "I don't know if it's the best. You could make a case for the ACC obviously, but I would say it's the deepest when you talk about 10 teams, all of them in the top 85 RPI. There is no other league in America that could rival that."
Computers aren't smarter than humans yet, but they do generate numbers that can be useful in comparing college basketball conferences.
Kenpom.com and Sagarin predictor are the rankings that seem to come closest to betting lines. Sagarin predictor probably has a slight edge. A look at Sagarin predictor numbers for members of the six power basketball conferences shows that Iowa State is last in the Big 12 and has the highest rating (79.26) of any other school ranked at the bottom of its conference, although Mississippi State (78.75) of the SEC is close.
A look at the average rating for schools in each conference, the percentage of schools in each conference with a rating of 80 or higher and the gap between the school at the top of the conference and the school at the bottom:
first to last
|1 - Big 12
|2 - ACC
|3 - Big East
|4 - Big Ten
|5 - SEC
|6 - Pac 12
It's tough to deny that the Big 12 is the best conference in America, but that doesn't equate with the toughest in which to win the championship. It does mean it's the toughest in which to post a high winning percentage.
Sagarin predictor ranks the Big 12 in this order: Kansas (92.93), West Virginia (90.69), Texas Tech (88.02), Oklahoma (87.05), TCU (86.62), Baylor (85.29), Texas (84.75), Kansas State (84.61), Oklahoma State (81.78) and Iowa State (79.26).
Sagarin predictor ranks KU sixth in the nation behind Villanova, Purdue, Duke, Michigan State and Virginia, and West Virginia is ranked eighth.
Per Sagarin, then, the ACC would be the toughest conference to win, the Big 12 the toughest in which to post a winning record.
The best guess as to whether Kansas basketball coach Bill Self will leave Udoka Azubuike on the floor again at the end of a close game is that he won’t.
Self acknowledged that decision cost KU the game in an 85-80 loss at Oklahoma. Afterward, the coach said he didn’t know what he would do next time, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he does it again any time soon.
Now for the tougher question: How can Azubuike improve at the free-throw line in the short term?
The comfortable answers don’t get to the heart of the matter.
You’ve heard the explanations.
He just needs to see a few to go in to develop confidence.
He needs to devote even more time to practicing free throws.
Sure, it’s mental at this point, but it didn’t start that way and it’s not the root of the problem. It’s the one area of the game he can’t improve so he’s putting so much pressure on himself to get better at it that it’s made the problem grow deeper.
A mental fix might elevate him from a percentage of .375 to mid-.400s, although that's even optimistic.
As for just needing to see a few go in, well, if a golfer’s feet are pointing right and his shoulders are pointing left, it would take a swing mistake to hit the ball straight. If the lucky swing mistake happens to occur on three consecutive swings, that doesn’t mean the mistake will occur at a more regular rate.
Azubuike won’t become significantly better at the line unless he fixes the bad mechanics of his shot, which leads us to the next common, wrongheaded solution: He just needs to practice them more often.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.
The more reps of bad mechanics, the harder it will be to replace them with good ones.
“From a technique standpoint, we’re not going to change his shot in February,” Self said.
That’s unfortunate. It would seem changing a free throw in midseason would not be nearly as radical as a jumper, given that there is no defender and no time element to releasing the shot.
“I’ve had boosters say, ‘Shoot them underhanded. Do this. Do that.’ I don’t think that that’s going to be the case moving forward,” Self said.
Bravo to whatever boosters suggested the underhanded method. But not just any random granny-style shot. If the change is made, it needs to be learned from the best teacher of it.
That of course would be Hall of Famer Rick Barry.
An assistant coach from Kansas could reach out to Barry, pick his brain dry on the particulars of his method, teach it to Azubuike, send video of the sessions to Barry to make sure it’s being taught properly and pick his brain for where it needs to be taught better and what bad habits might be creeping into Azubuike's efforts.
A pro-active approach is called for here.
Udoka won’t ever shoot 90 percent from the line the way Barry did because Barry was a great shooter, but the steadily improving sophomore center is an ideal candidate for the Barry method.
Also, seek Barry’s input as to how quickly he thinks Azubuike could master the method well enough to use it in games.
Azubuike wouldn’t be the first big man to make such a change.
Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku played two seasons of college basketball (2014-16). He shot .467 his first season, spent the offseason practicing shooting underhanded and improved to .589 his next. But his method wasn’t exactly like Barry’s or he could have had an even greater improvement.
For now, Azbuike will continue to start with the ball left of his ear and in one motion bring it near his chin and then release it. The granny method is called unconventional, but it’s far more conventional than Udoka’s current style.
This is no easy fix and requires pro-active, original thinking.
Norman, Okla. — If you’re going to be a ball hog, you might as well have range to 30 feet, the confidence of an NBA All-Star and deft passing skills.
And make no mistake, Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young is a ball hog. In his case, that’s a good thing, except when it’s a bad thing.
When Young’s shots are dropping, OU doesn’t lose. When they’re not, the Sooners are vulnerable.
Young never checks his heat and always plays as if he’s on fire. He took 39 shots in his 48-point effort in an 83-81 overtime loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. No other Sooner scored in double figures.
In games Young makes at least as many shots as he misses, the Sooners are 7-0, winning by an average margin of 16 points. They are 7-4 in games he misses more than he makes. The Sooners are 5-0 when Young takes fewer than 18 shots and 9-4 when he takes 18 or more shots.
He leads the nation in scoring (30.5), assists (9.7) and turnovers (5.3) and is second to Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn in 3-point attempts (197).
“The system he is in is perfect for how he plays and the freedom his coach gives him,” Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham said. “It’s going to be hard to guard him. We just have to do our best to keep him from being in that attack mode 24/7.”
Kansas coach Bill Self recruited Young hard and was disappointed when he didn’t land him.
“I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d average 30, but I did think he was a guy who could get 20,” Self said. “I really did feel that way. And I always thought he was a point guard. There is no hesitation in me saying that. And though he can get his own numbers, I always thought he was an unbelievable facilitator and certainly had great vision.”