Kansas City, Mo. — Perennial league champion Kansas improved to 13-6 all-time in the Big 12 tournament semifinals on Friday, with an 83-67 victory over rival Kansas State at Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks only shot 44% from the floor and allowed the Wildcats to hit 53.6% of their shots in the second half, but advanced to the conference championship game for the sixth time in nine seasons.
Here are five stats that stood out — four good for Kansas, one not — in the Jayhawks’ semifinal victory over K-State.
Offense recovers in crunch time
A better opening to the second half would’ve helped the Jayhawks avoid putting the game’s outcome in danger, but they did manage to close the game appropriately.
A key Marcus Garrett steal and layup made sure of that. The freshman’s timely bucket ignited the Jayhawks, who converted 8 of their final 13 shot attempts over the course of the final 10 minutes. Up to that point, Kansas had made just 3 of 12 from the floor in the final half.
Suddenly energized after a lethargic stretch, especially for postseason basketball, KU’s players finished off the win by following Garrett’s lay-in with more high-percentage looks:
- 2 putbacks by Silvio De Sousa
- 2 Malik Newman 3-pointers
- A Lagerald Vick dunk
- Another Vick bucket
- A Mitch Lightfoot jam
Those baskets turned a 2-point Kansas lead into 12 before the Jayhawks spent most of the game’s final 2:00 at the foul line, going 8 for 10.
Controlling the glass
For the fourth time in the past six games, Kansas out-rebounded its opponent. Not bad for a team that did the opposite in 15 of 16 games before that.
The Jayhawks won the battle of the boards, 37-30. Even more impressive, though, they only let K-State gather 5 offensive rebounds on 32 missed field goals. The Wildcats only managed 2 second-chance points.
Big 12 opponents averaged 14.3 second-chance points a game against Kansas in the regular season and each of KU’s past eight foes scored at least 10 points in that category.
De Sousa’s 8 defensive boards led the team, and Newman secured 5 on that end. Both Devonte’ Graham and Garrett added 4 defensive rebounds.
Power of the 3-ball
For the 16th time this season, KU made 10 or more 3-pointers.
By knocking down 11 of 28 (39%) versus K-State, the Jayhawks improved to 14-2 when scoring at least 30 points from beyond the arc. K-State, meanwhile, made just 2 of 13 from 3-point range (15%) — the fewest makes and worst percentage by a KU opponent this season.
Both Newman (5 of 8) and Svi Mykhailiuk (4 of 8) routinely exploited the Wildcats for leaving them open.
Bench (and former sub) scoring
Between KU’s four regular members of the starting five, each contributed double-digit points in Friday’s win.
But Kansas nearly had three more players join Newman (22), Graham (15), Mykhailiuk (12) and Vick (10) in double figures.
A starter in just 4 games this season, Lightfoot added 8 points for the Jayhawks, who also picked up 8 points apiece from backups Garrett and De Sousa.
Newman carried the load offensively, but every other member of the rotation found opportunities to score, too, giving Kansas some balance in its distribution, making the attack less predictable.
No resistance in the paint
KU typically fares well inside or at least goes toe to toe with opponents in terms of making baskets around the hoop.
The Jayhawks averaged a +7.5 points in the paint margin during the regular season (+2.2 vs. Big 12 foes) and even outscored Oklahoma State by 10 inside without Udoka Azubuike in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
However, the Jayhawks lost the battle for the paint against K-State. The Wildcats scored 42 points inside, matching the most by any KU opponent this season.
Confident in taking their chances against Kansas bigs Lightfoot and De Sousa, the Wildcats finished with a 42-28 advantage in points in the paint, stimulated by Makol Mawien’s 29-point explosion, 16 of which came at the rim.
You know West Virginia will try to inflict even more damage against KU’s interior defense in Saturday night’s Big 12 title game.
Kansas City, Mo. — When Kansas lost starting center Udoka Azubuike for the Big 12 tournament due to a left knee injury, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham knew the top-seeded Jayhawks would need Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa to produce in the 7-footer’s absence.
What Graham didn’t realize before Thursday’s quarterfinal against Oklahoma State, though, was KU would even lean a little bit on basketball walk-on and football scholarship player James Sosinski — in the first half no less.
Two fouls apiece on fill-in starter Lightfoot and backup big De Sousa before intermission forced Bill Self to turn to Sosinski for just the fourth time this season.
“I was surprised when he got in,” Graham said. “It’s funny, because coach did tell him, ‘James, you better be ready.’ I thought he was just joking.”
It was at that point in the discussion that Graham, enjoying the team’s 82-68 victory over the Cowboys, spotted Lightfoot walking nearby in KU’s locker room and let it be known Sosinski had the Jayhawks’ sophomore big man to thank for his unexpected role.
“But numbnuts over here, when he’s fouling, when Mitch’s fouling and Silvio comes in and fouls, you’ve got to put somebody in,” Graham said toward Lightfoot, who grinned in response. “We might as well get James to come in and get a foul off. He used to playing football, so he just hacked him when he got in.”
Indeed, the Cowboys’ Yankuba Sima drew a foul on Sosinski, put in two free throws, and scored another basket inside during the 6-foot-7 KU reserve’s 1:25 of playing time.
“He fouled as soon as he got in,” Self said afterward, before joking a yellow flag might have landed on the Sprint Center court in response to the KU tight end’s aggressive play. “It should’ve been 10 yards.”
Before De Sousa got comfortable, finishing with 6 points and 8 rebounds in 15 minutes, Self didn’t think the freshman played very well in his first opportunity off the bench. KU’s coach even thought about turning to Sosinski earlier than he did in the first half. The next time Self needed to sub out Lightfoot, he wanted to insert Sosinski, before his assistants talked him out of it.
“I’m probably glad I made the decision I did,” Self said. “It’s nice to have James, but I never thought going into this season, when you’ve got Udoka and you’ve got Billy Preston, that James Sosinski may be important in the postseason,” he added with a chuckle.
In truth, Sosinski's presence didn’t make or break KU. The only statistic he recorded in his minute-plus was a personal foul. In the final seconds of the half, Sosinski looked to be positioned for an offensive rebound on a missed Marcus Garrett 3-pointer. However, senior Svi Mykhailiuk came crashing in from the weak side, soaring above the low-to-the-floor football/basketball player. Mykhailiuk scored a buzzer-beating layup for a 43-42 halftime lead.
“I was thinking I was gonna get it and Svi got it,” Sosinski said. “I just kind of let him shoot it, that’s his go-to. It was a big momentum swing going into the second half.”
Just a bad-luck situation for the seldom-used backup to KU’s backup bigs? Not according to Graham.
“No, that was a good-luck situation,” a smiling Graham countered. “I’m glad Svi got it and scored. No telling what James would’ve done with it.”
It’s not that the Jayhawks don’t appreciate Sosinski and his contributions. De Sousa said he never looks forward to his encounters with the scout team big during Kansas practices. When they match up, De Sousa thinks to himself, “Man, why you gotta guard me right now?”
“He’s really hard to score on,” De Sousa added. “He just plays hard. He goes after every single ball. That’s how he is.”
“He always plays great in practice. If he gets in I’m pretty confident he’s not going to let his guy score easily, and if he had to foul he’s gonna foul really hard,” Mykhailiuk said. “He’s a good player, and he definitely helped us today.”
The two-sport athlete from Chandler, Ariz., has played sparingly, with two similarly brief appearances, since getting four minutes of playing time Dec. 18 versus Omaha and scoring 4 points in mop-up duty.
Sosinski left the arena Friday feeling grateful for his short cameo and a rare chance to chip in.
“Even though it was a minute and a half, every minute’s important in games like this,” Sosinski said. “Since I know I’m not going to play any minutes, I’ve just got to play as hard as I can.”
Kansas City, Mo. — This season’s Kansas basketball team is no stranger to getting beat on the glass. So the top-seeded Jayhawks should feel right at home this week at Sprint Center, where they will try and navigate the Big 12 tournament without injured 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike.
Without question, KU’s offense will miss the high-percentage shots Azubuike, out with a medial collateral ligament sprain, provides with regularity. But the Jayhawks also will look like a lesser version of themselves on the boards, because the sophomore big is the best rebounder on a team that oftentimes struggles to finish stops by securing an opponent’s missed shot.
A massive presence in the paint, Azubuike started every game for Kansas (24-7) this season up to this point, and led the team in rebounding 18 times.
KU won the rebound margin in three of its final four regular-season games — +13 versus Oklahoma, +7 vs. Texas and +7 at Oklahoma State. But the Jayhawks lost that battle in 15 of the 16 games that preceded their more successful stretch.
Against Power 5 competition this season (25 games), KU out-rebounded its opponent five times — the other two came against Arizona State and Kansas State.
So what does the team that finished 9th in the Big 12 in rebound margin (-2.9 a game) look like without its best rebounder? To try and get a sense of what to expect at the conference tournament, let’s look at a few of Azubuike’s less impactful games this season on the glass.
Occasionally, Azubuike, who averaged 7.1 boards on the year and 6.6 a game in league action, finished with 4 or fewer rebounds. That occurred four times during Big 12 play:
at TCU: 1 rebound in 13 minutes (fouled out); TCU scored 14 second-chance points — KU won 88-84
at Kansas State: 3 rebounds in 18 minutes; K-State scored 9 second-chance points — KU won 70-56
at Baylor: 4 rebounds in 19 minutes; BU scored 14 second-chance points — KU lost 80-64
at Iowa State: 3 rebounds in 22 minutes; ISU scored 10 second-chance points — KU won 83-77
At TCU, Mitch Lightfoot (7 rebounds) and Marcus Garrett (6 boards) helped carry the load. At K-State, Malik Newman came through with 10 rebounds and Svi Mykhailiuk grabbed 7 more. At ISU, Newman and Devonte’ Graham tied for the team lead (6 apiece).
The Jayhawks lost at Baylor when no one stepped up to fill the void. Mykhailiuk, Newman and Lagerald Vick each finished with 4 boards.
KU’s rebounding numbers — and chances of advancing in the Big 12 tournament — will look a lot worse unless Azubuike’s teammates use his absence as incentive to really attack the glass.
“We’ve been a poor rebounding team by good rebounding team standards all year long,” KU coach Bill Self said Wednesday at Sprint Center.
It doesn’t sound as if Self is expecting Lightfoot and De Sousa to suddenly start rebounding like Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson.
“So we’re just going to have to have our guards rebound more,” Self said. “You know, Malik’s done a good job. Svi and Lagerald have got to become better rebounders probably as much as anyone.”
The numbers indicate Kansas should be able to count on Newman to get inside and clear some defensive rebounds. The 6-3 guard, per sports-reference.com, is KU’s second-most consistent rebounder on that end, gathering an estimated 15.6% of available defensive rebounds (Azubuike leads the team with a 20.2% defensive rebound percentage.)
Newman can look for some help on that end from Garrett (15.6%). Lightfoot enters the postseason with a 12.4% mark, while De Sousa, with far fewer minutes to give a better sense of his ceiling, owns a 12.3% defensive rebound percentage.
It’s unrealistic to expect any Jayhawks to match Azubuike’s offensive impact. But, chipping in as a committee of rebounders at Sprint Center will be necessary for them to get by without their game-changing center.
— Udoka Azubuike 2017-18 season game log —
Less than two weeks ago Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, while discussing a recent uptick in Malik Newman’s play, stated how proud he was of the starting guard’s progress.
The sophomore transfer from Mississippi State was coming off one of his best offensive showings as a Jayhawk, going for 20 points and 5 assists in a rout of Oklahoma. It was Newman’s third time posting at least 20 points and ninth time in double figures over a stretch of 10 games.
Even more encouraging, the 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., looked better handling the ball. Newman had shown he could be more than a spot-up 3-point shooter by driving to the paint to either draw contact, score or set up teammates. In a five-game span that concluded with the OU game on Feb. 19, Newman averaged 4.2 assists and 0.6 turnovers — far better than his current season averages of 2.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers.
While Self appreciates the headway Newman has made to become a more complete player than what he showed back in the non-conference portion of the schedule and Self is happy the shooting guard won the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year award, KU’s coach is hoping for a Newman resurgence with the postseason’s arrival.
In the Jayhawks’ final three games of the regular season, Newman, who is supposed to complement Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham in the backcourt, didn’t always deliver on his potential, and his numbers began trending in the wrong direction.
At Texas Tech, Newman was solid, with 12 points and 5 defensive rebounds, but he made just 1 assist (in the first half) — his lowest ball distribution total in three weeks — and committed 1 turnover. Against Texas in KU’s home finale, Newman provided 9 points, 4 defensive boards and 1 assist, with 1 turnover. He bottomed out in the Jayhawks’ loss at Oklahoma State, with 7 points, 3 defensive rebounds, 0 assists and 3 cough-ups.
After averaging 4.2 free-throw attempts a game in the previous 12 contests, Newman didn’t get to the foul line once in his final two games of the regular season.
“I think he's shown flashes of being, of showing a lot of progress,” Self said of Newman, who averaged 12.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists in Big 12 play, while shooting 43.4% from the field and making 33 of 88 3-pointers (37.5%). “And then I honestly think he's shown flashes of not. I would like more consistency.”
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Newman needs to revive the versatility that made him so valuable in late January and most of February now that it’s March. Newman has stated a number of times how important it is for he and other Jayhawks to help take some of the burden off Graham’s shoulders.
If Newman wants to make that happen on a regular basis in the weeks ahead, he can just recall some of Graham’s advice. The senior point guard said when Newman was at his best recently it was all about taking an assertive approach on offense and trying to reach the paint off the bounce.
“I keep telling him that,” Graham related. “Just look to score. Don’t worry about nothing else. Because once you start thinking you just get all messed up. So just look to score, be aggressive on the offensive end and it just takes care of itself.”
Just more than half of Newman’s shot attempts this season have come from behind the arc. A 36.9% 3-point shooter on the year (37.5% in Big 12 action), spotting up isn’t always Newman’s best play. When he is more diverse with the ball in his hands, it tends to benefit both him and his teammates.
Plus, Self wants Newman contributing in less trackable manners. As you might expect, those areas where the coach would like to see more consistency directly tie to relieving Graham of some of his duties. KU’s 15th-year coach finds himself examining what Newman does on a game-by-game basis to help Graham.
“I’d love to see Malik be able to say, ‘I want to guard the other team's best perimeter player.’ I would love to see us be able to initiate offense with Malik, so Devonte' doesn't have to,” Self said. “And those don't have anything to do with stats, but those are things that would help our team a tremendous amount. He's shown he can do that, but I think he can be more consistent with that.”
Newman’s first crack at a late-season renaissance comes Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., when the top-seeded Jayhawks face either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
The words March and madness so easily roll off the tongue because postseason college basketball so often delivers the upsets and wild finishes fans crave.
Those searching for such chaos in the days ahead need look no further than this week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
The conference’s depth means more intriguing matchups, for sure. But the atmosphere Wednesday through Saturday at Sprint Center figures to benefit even more from the fact so many of the league’s teams need a win (or wins) to cement their invitations to the Big Dance.
Entering the week, eight of the Big 12’s 10 teams project as NCAA Tournament worthy, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, with a ninth painfully close to joining the fray.
What’s more, half of the Big 12 field is comprised of bubble teams, so the results will directly impact their postseason livelihoods.
Solidly in the field
Kansas (24-7): No. 1 seed, West
Texas Tech (23-8): No. 4 seed, South
West Virginia (22-9): No. 4 seed, East
TCU (22-10): No. 6 seed, East
Some work left to do
Oklahoma (18-12): No. 10 seed, Midwest
Kansas State (21-10): No 10 seed, South — 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 Byes
Baylor (18-13): No. 11 seed, South — 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 Byes
Texas (18-13): No. 11 seed, West — 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 In
Oklahoma State (18-13): 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 Out
Kansas coach Bill Self wouldn’t go as far Monday as to say the Big 12 tournament will be unpredictable, but he wasn’t about to rule it out, either.
“I will tell you this. I think it’s going to be predictable in this sense, that you will have teams playing harder this weekend than they’ve played all year long,” Self said, “and this is a very hard-playing league.”
While Self’s Jayhawks, Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU all will use the Big 12 stage to try and improve their seeding for the national tournament, players from Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State all enter with sufficient incentive to show the NCAA selection committee they deserve invites to the 68-team field.
Saturday in Stillwater, Okla., the Jayhawks experienced firsthand what a team playing for its postseason life looks like. The Cowboys had to complete a regular-season sweep of Kansas just to get into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
KU, the 14-time defending league champion, will face either OSU or Oklahoma on Friday, in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
“They’re going to play harder — whoever we play — than Oklahoma State did against us on Saturday,” Self predicted.
Such intensity should show up in every Big 12 tournament game this week, particularly when considering how evenly teams match up.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who square off Wednesday in the first round, split their regular-season series. Same for Kansas State and TCU, who meet up Thursday.
KU split with OU and was swept by Oklahoma State. Texas Tech, which will take on either Texas or Iowa State in the quarterfinals, went 1-1 against both.
The outcomes are uncertain, but it’s safe to expect heated games and at least a little mayhem.
“There’s something about getting groups together and playing amongst your peers in one setting like that that drives the competitive spirit of everyone,” Self added. “I certainly think it’s going to be off-the-charts good.”
Over the course of the past couple of months every coach in the Big 12 spoke about the quality and depth of the league this year. Yet as the postseason begins this week, some college basketball observers might hesitate to pick any of the Big 12’s best teams to make a deep run in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
On Monday’s coaches conference call, Bill Self addressed the notion that the Big 12 lacks a nationally elite team this season.
“Usually the appearance of the best leagues are the ones that are top-heavy and bottom-heavy, because you have guaranteed — not guaranteed — but you have W’s built in supposedly if you’re not good. In our league, if you play poorly you lose,” Self explained.
In his 15 seasons coaching KU, Self certainly has fielded more complete and/or deeper teams, as well as faced some Big 12 opponents better suited for longterm March success.
“I don’t know that the teams at the top are maybe as talented as some of the teams that we’ve had in the past at the top,” Self admitted. “But all the other teams (this season) are more talented.”
That is what has made the Big 12 so unique and intriguing this season. The worst team in the conference turned out to be Iowa State, and the Cyclones defeated both West Virginia and Texas Tech in Ames, and even gave the Jayhawks a scare in Lawrence.
One could argue that speaks to the teams atop the conference lacking dominance this season. But when Self observes the national landscape, he notices more parity than supremacy.
“So I think you could say, on paper, there may not be a (Big 12) team that stands out that could make a Final Four run. You could say that, but I don’t believe that’s absolutely true at all either, because I think all leagues across America are somewhat similar,” Self said. “There’s a lot of really, really, really good teams, but there’s few dominant teams like there have been in the past years.”
Final Big 12 standings
Texas Tech, 11-7
West Virginia, 11-7
Kansas State, 10-8
Oklahoma State, 8-10
Iowa State, 4-14
Here’s a look at this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings. Each team’s best victories and its losses — good, bad and in between — are considered in this process, using KenPom.com’s ratings to classify the league’s most and least impressive squads to date. Results from all league games also are listed.
Big 12 Power Rankings — March 5, 2018
No. 1 - Kansas (24-7)
Kenpom ranking: No. 12
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +2.5
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 23 Kentucky, No. 51 Syracuse, at No. 40 Texas, at No. 20 TCU, No. 104 Iowa State, No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 13 West Virginia, No. 33 Baylor, No. 32 Texas A&M, at No. 44 Kansas State, No. 20 TCU, at No. 104 Iowa State, No. 13 West Virginia, No. 43 Oklahoma, at No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 40 Texas
Losses: No. 97 Washington, No. 38 Arizona State, No. 10 Texas Tech, at No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 57 Oklahoma State, at No. 33 Baylor, at No. 57 Oklahoma State
No. 2 - West Virginia (22-9)
Kenpom ranking: No. 13
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +5.9
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 39 Missouri, No. 1 Virginia, at No. 57 Oklahoma State, at No. 44 Kansas State, No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 33 Baylor, No. 40 Texas, No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 20 TCU, at No. 33 Baylor, No. 104 Iowa State, No. 10 Texas Tech
Losses: No. 32 Texas A&M, at No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 20 TCU, No. 23 Kentucky, at No. 104 Iowa State, No. 57 Oklahoma State, at No. 12 Kansas, at No. 40 Texas (OT)
No. 3 - Texas Tech (23-8)
Kenpom ranking: No. 10
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +3.6
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 19 Nevada (OT), No. 33 Baylor, at No. 12 Kansas, No. 44 Kansas State, No. 13 West Virginia, No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 40 Texas (OT), at No. 20 TCU, No. 104 Iowa State, at No. 44 Kansas State, No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 20 TCU
Losses: No. 29 Seton Hall, at No. 43 Oklahoma, at No. 40 Texas, at No. 104 Iowa State, at No. 33 Baylor, at No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 13 West Virginia
No. 4 - TCU (21-10)
Kenpom ranking: No. 20
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +2.9
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 19 Nevada, at No. 33 Baylor (OT), No. 104 Iowa State, No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 40 Texas, No. 57 Oklahoma State, at No. 104 Iowa State, No. 33 Baylor, No. 44 Kansas State
Losses: No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 40 Texas (2OT), at No. 43 Oklahoma (OT), at No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 84 Vanderbilt, No. 10 Texas Tech, at No. 12 Kansas, at No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 10 Texas Tech
No. 5 - Kansas State (21-10)
Kenpom ranking: No. 44
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -0.9
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: at No. 104 Iowa State, No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 20 TCU, at No. 33 Baylor, at No. 40 Texas, at No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 104 Iowa State, No. 40 Texas, No. 33 Baylor
Losses: No. 38 Arizona State, No. 102 Tulsa, No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 10 Texas Tech, at No. 12 Kansas, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 13 West Virginia, No. 10 Texas Tech, at No. 43 Oklahoma, at No. 20 TCU
No. 6 - Baylor (18-13)
Kenpom ranking: No. 33
Average point differential in Big 12 play: +0.5
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 27 Creighton, No. 40 Texas, No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 104 Iowa State, at No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 40 Texas (2OT), No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 43 Oklahoma
Losses: at No. 15 Xavier, No. 17 Wichita State, at No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 20 TCU (OT), at No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 104 Iowa State, at No. 12 Kansas, No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 21 Florida, at No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 20 TCU, at No. 44 Kansas State
No. 7 - Texas (18-13)
Kenpom ranking: No. 40
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -2.1
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 24 Butler, at No. 104 Iowa State (OT), No. 20 TCU (2OT), No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 104 Iowa State, No. 43 Oklahoma, at No. 43 Oklahoma, No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 13 West Virginia (OT)
Losses: No. 3 Duke (OT), No. 8 Gonzaga (OT), No. 9 Michigan, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 33 Baylor, at No. 57 Oklahoma State, at No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 10 Texas Tech (OT), No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 20 TCU, No. 33 Baylor (2OT), at No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 12 Kansas
No. 8 - Oklahoma State (18-13)
Kenpom ranking: No. 57
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -2.8
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 35 Florida State, No. 104 Iowa State (OT), No. 40 Texas, No. 43 Oklahoma (OT), at No. 12 Kansas, at No. 13 West Virginia, No. 10 Texas Tech, at No. 104 Iowa State, No. 12 Kansas
Losses: No. 32 Texas A&M, No. 17 Wichita State, No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 43 Oklahoma, at No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 33 Baylor, at No. 10 Texas Tech, at No. 37 Arkansas, No. 20 TCU, No. 33 Baylor, No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 20 TCU, at No. 40 Texas
No. 9 - Oklahoma (18-12)
Kenpom ranking: No. 43
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -2.7
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 46 USC, at No. 17 Wichita State, at No. 20 TCU, No. 57 Oklahoma State, No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 20 TCU (OT), No. 12 Kansas, No. 33 Baylor, No. 44 Kansas State, No. 104 Iowa State
Losses: No. 37 Arkansas, at No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 44 Kansas State, at No. 57 Oklahoma State (OT), at No. 53 Alabama, at No. 40 Texas, No. 13 West Virginia, at No. 104 Iowa State, at No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 40 Texas, at No. 12 Kansas, at No. 33 Baylor
No. 10 - Iowa State (13-17)
Kenpom ranking: No. 104
Average point differential in Big 12 play: -6.8
Top-50 & Big 12 wins: No. 33 Baylor, No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 13 West Virginia, No. 43 Oklahoma
Losses: at No. 39 Missouri, No. 207 Milwaukee, No. 44 Kansas State, No. 40 Texas (OT), at No. 57 Oklahoma State (OT), at No. 12 Kansas, at No. 20 TCU, at No. 40 Texas, No. 14 Tennessee, at No. 33 Baylor, at No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 12 Kansas, at No. 44 Kansas State, No. 20 TCU, at No. 13 West Virginia, No. 57 Oklahoma State, at No. 43 Oklahoma
The Big 12 champions didn’t strike any fear into the hearts of the Oklahoma State Cowboys Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
In an 82-64 defeat, its worst of the season, No. 6-ranked Kansas proved once again it doesn’t match up well with OSU, which became the first Big 12 team to sweep Bill Self during his 15 years leading the Jayhawks.
Here are five statistics that contributed to the Jayhawks’ troublesome dud of a regular-season finale.
Where’s the support?
Not even Devonte’ Graham, the Big 12’s Player of the Year, can be expected to do it all every single game. So it’s hard to knock the senior point guard for an off shooting performance (4 of 14) at OSU.
How about a little help for the guy? Graham led Kansas with 15 points, but not one other Jayhawk reached double figures. It was the first time this season KU didn’t benefit from multiple double-digit scorers.
When KU lost at Allen Fieldhouse to this same Oklahoma State team a month ago, four different players put up 16 or more points.
Previously, Kansas (24-7 overall, 13-5 Big 12) had three or more players contribute 10 or more points in all but two games. KU only got double-digit points from two players in losses to Washington and Baylor.
It’s not as if this is a deep rotation capable of spreading the offensive wealth. Self relies on five starters and two bench regulars, and sometimes calls upon freshman big Silvio De Sousa. The scoring has to come from not only Graham, but also Svi Mykhailiuk, Udoka Azubuike and Malik Newman, all of whom are averaging more than 12 points a game in Big 12 play.
Shooting from beyond the 3-point arc tends to be one of the Jayhawks’ best weapons, but on Saturday the Cowboys (18-13, 8-10) out-performed the Big 12 champs from long range.
Oklahoma State made more 3-pointers than Kansas and shot a higher percentage from deep. The Jayhawks finished on the wrong end of both categories in the same game for the seventh time this season.
Kansas fell to 3-4 when being out-scored and out-shot from 3-point range. Below are the totals and percentages from those outcomes.
Washington: 9 of 21, 42.9% | KU: 5 of 20, 25% (UW win)
Nebraska: 8 of 22, 36.4% | KU: 7 of 22, 31.8% (Kansas win)
Oklahoma State: 12 of 27, 44.4% | KU: 8 of 22, 36.4% (OSU win on Feb. 3)
TCU: 10 of 25, 40% | KU: 7 of 21, 33.3% (Kansas win)
Baylor: 8 of 15, 53.3% | KU: 6 of 31, 19.4% (BU win)
West Virginia: 14 of 26, 53.8% | KU: 7 of 22, 31.8% (Kansas win)
Oklahoma State: 10 of 24, 41.7% | KU: 7 of 20, 35% (OSU win on March 3)
Somewhat troubling for Kansas, five of these occurrences came in the final nine games of the regular season.
Not much of a fight
Most games swing back and forth at least a little bit in terms of momentum. The home team starts hot. The visitors respond. The home team counters. We’ve all seen it before.
Saturday’s KU-OSU matchup mostly lacked such distinct runs and comebacks — at least for the Jayhawks.
The Cowboys’ Mitchell Solomon scored the game’s first basket in the second minute of the first half and Oklahoma State led for the remaining 38:25, marking the second time this season Kansas failed to take a lead in a game. The other occasion was in KU’s Jan. 2 home loss to Texas Tech.
The Jayhawks’ largest spurt of the entire debacle came in the first half, when an Azubuike dunk, a Marcus Garrett layup and a Graham 3-pointer provided the visitors, already down 10 less than seven minutes in, with a 7-0 spark.
The Cowboys answered with a 13-0 run over the next three-plus minutes, pushing their lead to 16.
Late in the second half, OSU extended its margin to 23 points, the largest deficit Kansas has faced all season.
In Big 12 play this year, Kansas averaged 11.5 turnovers a game, the lowest mark among the league’s 10 teams.
However, Oklahoma State feasted on KU miscues. The Cowboys’ 11 steals were the most by a KU opponent in any game this season. The Jayhawks committed 17 turnovers in all, their highest total in 18 league games and most since committing 20 versus Tennessee State in the season opener.
Mykhailiuk and Azubuike hurt KU the most at OSU, with 4 turnovers apiece.
Oklahoma State scored 21 points off turnovers in a must-have victory.
OSU swat team
Kansas converted a low percentage of its shots inside — 9 of 21 on layups and 6 of 8 on dunk attempts — as a result of OSU’s active defense around the rim.
The Cowboys’ eight blocked shots tied for their best in a league game this year. Similarly, it tied for the most swats by a KU opponent this year. OSU even pulled it off without the luxury of having a soon-to-be NBA lottery pick, like Mo Bamba, who sent eight Kansas shots away in the Big 12 opener.
In the first half, Tavarius Shine blocked Newman, Cameron McGriff got a piece of a Mykhailiuk jumper and swatted a Newman layup, Yankuba Sima denied Marcus Garrett at the rim and Solomon stymied Garrett inside.
In the closing 20 minutes, Solomon rejected Graham on a layup, Thomas Dziagwa blocked De Sousa and McGriff successfully stuffed a De Sousa dunk attempt.
KU (25 of 60 from the floor, for 41.7% shooting) played so poorly offensively that Oklahoma State walked away with its first double-digit win in conference action all season.
It’s not that uncommon for a team to come out of nowhere and reach college basketball’s biggest stage, the Final Four — think No. 7 seed South Carolina a year ago, 10th-seeded Syracuse in 2016, No. 9 seed Wichita State in 2013 or 11th seed VCU in 2011
But every once in a while one of those teams actually cuts down the nets at the completion of the Big Dance as national champions.
Kansas coach Bill Self wouldn’t exactly be floored if this year’s NCAA Tournament concluded with such mayhem.
Appearing recently on Andy Katz’s podcast, March Madness 365, Self’s conversation with Katz included some discussion of the 2014 tournament, when senior guard Shabazz Napier guided seventh-seeded Connecticut, a team that finished third in the American Athletic Conference, to six straight wins and a national title.
Katz wondered whether this might be a year when some under-the-radar team outside of the top five, or even the top 10, catches fire and surfaces as the NCAA champion.
“There’s no question that can happen,” Self replied. “And when you say may not be in the top five, you could talk about in the country or you could talk about in the seeds. There may be a six seed, or a seven, or an eight or a nine, whatever, that could challenge and get hot at the right time. That has happened in the past — it’s been rare.”
Self correctly recalled UConn faced a No. 8 seed, Kentucky, in the 2014 title game. The Wildcats, who had lost three of their last four regular-season games, recovered for a postseason run with a typically youthful-yet-talented lineup, led by freshmen Julius Randle, James Young and Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
“That could happen again. I don’t think that’s far off,” Self continued, “if the right players get hot at the right time. You would still think the percentage play would be the ones that have shown consistency throughout the year, but as we’ve all found out, you know, 1988 Kansas won it on Danny’s back. It’s just a six-game tournament. They had 11 losses that year.”
As KU’s 15th-year coach referenced, 30 years ago Naismith and Wooden award-winner Danny Manning carried the sixth-seeded Jayhawks to glory, highlighted by a regional final victory over No. 4 seed Kansas State and Final Four wins against No. 2 seed Duke and No. 1 seed Oklahoma.
“I think it’s very possible that this could be a year that somebody like that could do it,” Self said.
Among the country’s top candidates for player of the year, most are not in position to pull off something as miraculous as Manning and KU back in 1988, or even as unexpected as what Napier and UConn did four years ago.
Between the 10 Naismith Trophy semifinalists (listed below), only two of them play for teams currently projected by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi as heavy underdogs to make a lengthy March run toward San Antonio.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona — No. 4 seed
Marvin Bagley III, Duke — No. 2 seed
Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State — No. 4 seed
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier — No. 1 seed
Miles Bridges, Michigan State — No. 2 seed
Jalen Brunson, Villanova — No. 1 seed
Keenan Evans, Texas Tech — No. 4 seed
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas — No. 1 seed
Jock Landale, St. Mary’s — No. 9 seed
Trae Young, Oklahoma — No. 10 seed
Assuming the Sooners make the field when it is announced in a little more than a week, it would take a string of remarkable performances by freshman point guard Trae Young as well as some vastly improved defense by OU as a team to pull off a Final Four run.
Similarly, while 6-foot-11 St. Mary’s senior center Jock Landale has overmatched opponents inside, averaging 21.5 points and 10.2 rebounds this year, the Gaels also would need to bolster their team defense to do real damage in the tournament.
Still, plenty of other Cinderella candidates for 2018 exist, including:
Nevada, a projected No. 6 seed led by junior forward Caleb Martin (19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 43.8% 3-point shooting)
Houston, a projected No. 7 seed featuring senior guard Robert Gray Jr. (17.7 points, 4.7 assists)
Creighton, a projected No. 7 seed powered by senior guard Marcus Foster (20 points, 2.7 assists, 43.4% 3-point shooting), a transfer from Kansas State, and junior wing Khyri Thomas (15.2 points, 2.9 assists, 41.4% 3-point shooting), who is considered a first-round talent by NBA scouts
Arkansas, a projected No. 7 seed with two productive senior guards, Jaylen Barford (18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 43.5% 3-point shooting) and Daryl Macon (17.3 points, 4 assists, 44.3% 3-point shooting), as well as a potential first-round draft pick inside with freshman Daniel Gafford (11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks)
Butler, a projected No. 8 seed led by senior forward Kelan Martin (20.7 points, 6.4 rebounds)
Missouri, a projected No. 9 seed featuring senior guard Kassius Robertson (16.6 points, 2.4 assists, 43.2% 3-point shooting), senior forward Jordan Barnett (13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 41.1% 3-point shooting) and — possibly (?) — soon-to-be NBA lottery pick Michael Porter Jr.
Alabama, a projected No. 10 seed with the services of a likely top-10 draft pick, freshman point guard Collin Sexton (18.1 points, 3.5 assists)
Middle Tennessee, a projected No. 12 seed led by senior forward Nick King (21.3points, 8.3 rebounds)
Sometimes his athleticism makes him look like the best player on the floor. Other games he can go an entire half — or longer — mostly unnoticed.
Junior Lagerald Vick’s impact from game to game is even too erratic for 15th-year Kansas head coach Bill Self to predict.
A little over a week ago, Vick scored 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the Jayhawks’ home drubbing of Oklahoma, his third straight game contributing double figures.
In the two games that followed, at Texas Tech and at home versus Texas, the 6-foot-5 guard combined to make 3 of 10 shots and score 6 points in 67 minutes of playing time.
Vick at least contributed 6 rebounds and 4 assists against the Longhorns, two days after giving Kansas 1 board and 0 assists at Texas Tech.
Naturally, Self wants the best version of Vick showing up on a regular basis — the Vick who opened Big 12 play with 21 points and 4 rebounds at UT or the one who provided 16 points and 4 rebounds at Iowa State — instead of seeing that variation of the junior from Memphis once every few weeks or so.
Obviously, no player is going to perform at his peak every single game. No. 6 KU (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12) doesn’t need Vick to be impeccable to win, but Self would like to see Vick’s below-average games not dip so severely.
KU’s senior point guard, Devonte’ Graham is as steady as they come. Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike’s effectiveness can vary.
“With Lagerald,” Self said, “there’s a pretty big gap.”
|Lagerald Vick 2017-18 splits|
|In 24 wins||50.4%||43.2%||64.1%||12.3||5.3||2.5||1.6||32.1|
|In 6 losses||44.4%||15.4%||62.5%||12.2||3.8||2.0||2.2||34.7|
By far the most noteworthy correlation between Vick’s struggles and KU winning or losing show up in his 3-point shooting. A 37.2% shooter from beyond the arc as a junior, Vick knocks down 43.2% of his long-range shots in Kansas wins but connects on only 15.4% of 3-pointers in losses.
Self has witnessed Vick’s play energize his teammates at times this season, and that’s really what he wants out of the third-year guard more than anything for the season’s stretch run.
“I think Lagerald’s kind of like our X-factor. When he’s really good he gives us a whole different element as a team, because he can drive it, he can force help, he can shoot it, he could be as good a perimeter defender as we have,” Self said. “I don’t think he’s played poorly (of late). I just don’t think he’s played consistently well as he was earlier in the season. But hopefully he’ll get that back here at the end.”
Before Big 12 play began, Vick averaged 17.1 points on 56.1% shooting and made 46.8% of his 3-pointers, in 33.2 minutes a game. He hasn’t been able to replicate such production in conference games, averaging 9.1 points on 42% shooting, while hitting 30% from 3-point range.
His teammates know KU is at its best when Vick is locked in and reaching his potential.
“I think we’re way better,” sophomore Mitch Lightfoot said of the Jayhawks with a prime Vick at their disposal. “Lagerald's a great player and he offers several different threats. Gives you a four-guard front that’s kind of hard (to defend), four-headed dragon, because you’ve got opportunities to score from everywhere.”
Indeed, the KU offense can look pretty menacing to adversaries, with Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Vick playing around a 7-foot force in Azubuike.
“The hardest thing to guard is four shooters around the big,” Self said. “We're just going to play four guards that can shoot. It doesn't always work out well, but it's worked out OK so far.”
Now that it’s March, KU needs a stable Vick more than ever.
“He’s been pretty good recently,” Lightfoot said, in reference to a three-game stretch preceding Vick’s latest two games, “and he was really good at the beginning of the year, so it’s encouraging.”
Added Self: “He could really elevate our team play.”
It only took 21 minutes Monday against Texas for center Udoka Azubuike to supply Kansas with one of the most productive games of his young career.
The 7-foot sophomore yielded 20 points and often seemed invincible in his domination of the Longhorns’ front line. Defenders have looked overmatched versus Azubuike before, but the big man from Nigeria completely crushed the Longhorns, succeeding on 10 of his 11 attempts in the paint, a foray that included six dunks.
The Jayhawks’ colossus shot 90.9% from the field, the highest mark for KU since Perry Ellis made 11 of 12 (91.7%) versus Iowa State in the 2014 Big 12 Tournament. Azubuike’s 10-for-11 shooting also represented the best outing in a conference game by a Jayhawk since Julian Wright posted the same line against Baylor, in 2006.
Even better for No. 6 Kansas (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12), Azubuike looked lively on the defensive end of the court, as well, tying his career high with 5 blocked shots.
The commanding performance left KU’s senior point guard, Devonte’ Graham, wanting more.
“That’s exactly how he should play,” Graham said, noting assistant coach Norm Roberts went up to Azubuike at shoot-around the day of the game and conveyed the absence of Longhorns star center Mo Bamba (injured) didn’t mean KU’s center could take the day off.
“You should want to go even harder because you’ve got a mismatch now,” Graham related of Roberts’ directive. “So he played exactly how Coach Rob wanted him to play.”
After watching his 18-year-old center’s thrashing of UT bigs Jericho Sims and Dylan Osetkowski, KU coach Bill Self, of course, appreciated not just the point production, but Azubuike’s overall effort, which Self agreed is becoming more consistent late in the season.
“I think he’s playing with a lot more energy and a lot more oomph, probably, than what he was earlier,” Self appraised, calling Azubuike as active as he has seen him this season.
What’s more, the massive sophomore pulled down 8 rebounds for Kansas, the sixth time in 17 Big 12 games he gathered at least that many.
But there was one aspect where Azubuike, Self was quick to point out, seemed to regress. An 18-for-31 free-throw shooter in the nine games following his infamous 1-for-8 night at Oklahoma, in February, KU’s big man missed all four of his attempts at the foul line versus Texas.
“I hadn’t seen him shoot like that in a while,” Self said, after Azubuike even air-balled one try. “So we’ve got to get back in the gym and do a lot (of work) on that.”
In order to maximize Azubuike’s impact in March, Self indicated he and his staff might need to start more closely monitoring how long KU leaves the 285-pound center on the floor.
“He gets his second foul because he’s tired,” Self said of a defensive play on the perimeter, when Azubuike didn’t move his feet quickly enough while trying to hedge against Matt Coleman on a ball screen. The whistle kept Azubuike, a game-altering talent, on the bench the final 6:55 of the first half.
“That worries me a little bit,” Self said. “I probably need to not let him play as long of stretches.”
Azubuike had been on the floor for 5:03 worth of game clock when he showed fatigue and picked up his second foul.
He didn’t get called for any fouls while playing 12 second-half minutes, a stretch during which Azubuike made 6 of 7 shots, swatted 3 UT attempts and gathered 5 rebounds.
The mightiest presence on the KU roster played for stretches of 6:33 and 4:04 during the second half, as well as a brief 0:20 stint late in the win.
No one else in a Kansas uniform possesses the same potential as Azubuike to influence outcomes on both ends of the floor. As critical as Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are for Kansas, a “turned-up,” as Self likes to say, Azubuike will be equally paramount in the weeks ahead in order for the Jayhawks to reach their ceiling.