Norman, Okla. — When taking into consideration all that led to Kansas suffering a Tuesday night road loss at Oklahoma, certain factors loomed much larger than others.
The dawning of the Hack-a-Dok era notwithstanding, some numbers other than sophomore center Udoka Azubuike’s 1-for-8 free-throw shooting stood out in the defeat.
Here are five statistics that shaped an entertaining evening of Big 12 basketball that ultimately cost Kansas a game’s worth of cushion in the league standings.
Leading by 6 points on the road with 7:03 left in the second half, KU picked a bad time to hit an offensive funk.
After freshman Marcus Garrett drove in for a layup to give KU a 76-70 lead, the Jayhawks tailspun down the stretch, as Oklahoma implemented a Hack-A-Dok strategy that at the very least ravaged KU’s offensive flow.
From that point on Kansas made just 2 of 10 field-goal attempts, went 0-for-6 at the free-throw line — all six misfires by Azubuike — and turned the ball over once.
The Sooners finished the victory on a 15-4 run, as Trae Young went 6-for-8 at the foul line down the stretch and 3-pointers by Christian James and Brady Manek assured OU of a victory.
Off night for Graham
KU’s best player, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, wasn’t able to replicate his typical scoring production. Graham entered the anticipated matchup at OU averaging 20.4 points in Big 12 play, but matched his lowest output of conference action to date, with 11, equalling his total in a win over Iowa State.
Graham — a 42.7% shooter on the year — went 4-for-19 (21.1%) at Oklahoma. It was his second-lowest field goal percentage of year (1-for-8, 12.5 % in a loss to Washington).
A 41.7% 3-point shooter this season, Graham connected on just 1 of 9 (11.1%) against the Sooners. It was his least successful 3-point showing of his senior year.
Of course, Graham did plenty to help KU, too, with 9 assists and only 2 turnovers in nearly 40 minutes — not to mention the task of chasing around Young (26 points, 9 assists) much of the night.
Out-rebounded yet again
The Jayhawks’ losing streak on the battle of the boards continued in Norman.
Oklahoma’s 40 rebounds outnumbered KU’s 35, marking the ninth consecutive game KU has come up on the losing end in that category.
Indicative of the guard-heavy Jayhawks’ struggles on the glass, senior guard Graham (7 boards) led the team in rebounding for the second straight game.
KU has not had a double-digit rebounder since Azubuike grabbed 13 in the Big 12 opener at Texas.
For the second time this season Kansas didn’t even make half of its foul shots. Thanks in large part to OU fouling Azubuike and the big man going 1-for-8 on the night at the line, Kansas hit just 6 of 15 (40%).
KU actually fared even worse at the line at home against Iowa State two weeks earlier, when the Jayhawks shot 5-for-13 (38.5%) in a win. Azubuike wasn’t great that night either, going 1-for-4, but his teammates helped out — even Svi Mykhailiuk went 1-for-3.
At OU, though, only two other Jayhawks shot free throws: Graham went 2-for-4 and Malik Newman (20 points) made all three of his tries.
In the meantime, Oklahoma hit 20 of 25 in the win, led by Trae Young’s 10-for-12 night. The Sooners made 13 of 17 in the second half.
Svi’s second half
The Jayhawks might not have ever looked capable of winning at OU Tuesday night had it not been for Svi Mykhailiuk’s second-half scoring.
Mykhailiuk began cranking up his offense after intermission. The senior from Ukraine looked like one of the most experienced players on the floor nearly every time the ball reached his hands in the first portion of the second half, which he opened for KU with a 3-pointer, providing the Jayhawks their first lead since the midway point of the first.
Every spurt KU made during the opening 10 minutes of the second half featured either a Mykhailiuk drive and layup or 3-pointer, as he put up 13 of his 24 points during that post-halftime stretch.
Mykhailiuk accounted for five of KU’s first 13 second-half baskets, went 5-for-10 from the floor, made 3 of 7 shots and looked — per usual — like every shot that left his hands had a better shot of falling than rimming out. The 6-foot-8 shooter reached 20 points for the seventh time in his senior year.
He missed a potential go-ahead 3 with 0:52 to play and another that could’ve cut OU’s lead to 2 with 0:15 left, but Mykhailiuk was hardly to blame for the loss that snapped a five-game KU winning streak.
The Lagerald Vick who scored 20 or more points six times during the season’s first two months has yet to be seen in the Kansas basketball lineup so far in January.
After opening Big 12 play with a bang on Dec. 29, scoring 21 points and shooting 5-for-8 on 3-pointers in the Jayhawks’ win at Texas, Vick’s scoring impact has suffered a severe drop-off.
KU coach Bill Self used three words to describe the difference in Vick’s contributions of late, compared to the impact he was making before: “not even close.”
In non-conference play, Vick averaged 17.1 points on 56.1% shooting and made 46.8% of his 3-pointers, in 33.2 minutes a game.
In the Jayhawks’ past five games, the 6-foot-5 junior guard has broken into double digits once — 10 points against Kansas State — and averaged 7.4 points on 37.5% shooting, while going 5-for-20 from 3-point range (25%), in 32.2 minutes.
Self reached a point with Vick earlier this week, ahead of KU’s Big Monday showdown with West Virginia, that the coach decided not to start the athletic guard from Memphis for the first time this season — not because of his plummeting numbers, but due to Vick’s perceived lack of focus during Sunday’s practice; a decision Self later described as “rash.”
A sixth man in name only for what proved to be a crucial KU road win, Vick played 36 minutes off the bench against the Mountaineers. But his production matched his recent trend: 9 points, 4-for-12 shooting, 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
Self at least saw Vick contributing in other ways for No. 10 KU (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12).
“I did against West Virginia. To be honest with you, I hadn’t in games prior to that,” Self said. “You know, K-State he stepped up and made two big 3’s and scored some baskets when we had to have them, late-game situation. But his activity level hasn’t been good at all there for about a week-and-a-half stretch, three-game stretch.”
Most of the offensive positives Vick provided at West Virginia came in the first half, when he shot 4-for-8, and scored all 9 of his points. Vick hit a 3 less than a minute after checking in. His second basket came shortly after a Mitch Lightfoot steal. He scored a layup off a Svi Mykhailiuk pass in response to the Mountaineers taking their largest lead of the game (16). Later, Devonte' Graham set him up for his fourth basket. In his 19 first-half minutes he also secured all three of his rebounds.
In the second half, though, Vick shot 0-for-4 and contributed no points or rebounds. He stole the ball twice in one 45-second stretch midway through the half. Vick also set up Mykhailiuk for a 3-pointer that cut WVU’s lead to 57-51, and assisted a Graham 3 to narrow the margin to one with 4:54 to play.
“I thought against West Virginia it was a lot better,” Self assessed of Vick’s activity level. “I thought he made winning plays throughout the game that gave us a chance, and that doesn’t always translate to scoring, but I certainly thought he was more aggressive.”
Although Vick has proven to be a proficient 3-point shooter this year (32-for-75, 42.7%), he likely settled too much in the second half at WVU, when he missed three 3-pointers. He’s shooting 58.3% inside the arc this season. Per hoop-math.com, Vick makes 71.8% of his attempts that come at the rim and shoots 41.1% on 2-point jumpers.
It’s clear Self wants Vick making more of an impact in the scoring column. The coach offered a recommendation for how the junior can get back on track in that category while becoming more impactful overall.
“If he’s our best athlete, play to your athletic ability,” Self said. “And I thought he did a little bit better job against West Virginia.”
In the first half at WVU at least, Vick attempted four shots in the paint. Kansas needs him scoring easy points inside either by driving it, crashing the offensive glass or getting out in transition, where he can soar for dunks that should energize both the slumping guard and his teammates.
As for that athletic ability Self referenced, the Jayhawks will benefit as well if Vick uses his speed and explosiveness to hound opposing guards defensively and attack the glass, as well.
Obviously, Vick doesn’t have to score 20 points a game. But Kansas does need him “turned up,” as Self has been known to say. An energetic, locked-in Vick can provide KU with a little bit of everything: scoring, passing, rebounding and defense.
Thus far in Big 12 play, the springy junior guard is averaging 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks and 1.5 turnovers, in 33.2 minutes, and shooting 42.6% from the floor, 35.7% on 3-pointers, and 40% at the free-throw line. Vick’s next chance to start improving those statistics comes Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, versus Baylor (12-6, 2-4).
Human nature used to lead Bill Self to look ahead — at least for a little peek — when it came to Big 12 play.
Of course the Jayhawks’ head basketball coach and his staff prepared their players as if the next game on the schedule was the only one left. But Self inevitably found himself thinking three steps ahead, as well.
An expert at winning conference championships, Self simply got in the habit of mapping out the exact route Kansas needed to navigate in order to win its next league title.
Until this year.
Self revealed a shift in his philosophy shortly after his Jayhawks eked out a one-point home victory over rival Kansas State this past Saturday. The coach said at the time he knew KU’s next game would be at West Virginia and the following matchup would be with Baylor, at Allen Fieldhouse.
“And I have no idea after that,” Self claimed.
The coach’s disclosure spoke to the turbulent nature of the Big 12 this year, when no outcome can be assumed and even a victory over one of the league’s lesser teams is valued more than ever before.
Texas Tech was humming along, before losing, 67-58, at Texas on Wednesday night — a loss that provided KU (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12) a one-game lead and sole possession of first place headed into this weekend.
The Red Raiders (15-3, 4-2) are now in a three-way tie with West Virginia and Oklahoma for second place a third of the way through conference action. Often over the first couple of weeks of league play, Texas Tech won convincingly, with three Big 12 victories by double digits — including one in Lawrence. Even so, the Red Raiders haven’t been invincible. Tech lost by 10 at Oklahoma just over a week before their road setback at UT.
Sure, Kansas is off to a 5-1 start in the ruthless league, but none of its wins have been by more than six points. And Self predicted bluntly before the start of league play that KU would lose back-to-back games at some point between now and the end of the regular season.
The high-scoring Sooners already have topped 90 points three times against Big 12 competition, but currently sit a game behind KU in the standings after their trip to Kansas State this week ended with a 22-point defeat.
Four of West Virginia’s six league games have been decided by six or fewer points, including both of its losses, consecutive setbacks at Texas Tech, 72-71, and to Kansas, 71-66.
The conference’s new reality has forced Self, the man who has guided 13 Kansas teams in a row to regular-season titles, to be a little less forward-thinking in terms of the calendar. In past years, he would study KU’s schedule and always know the identity of the Jayhawks’ challengers during an upcoming two-week span.
“‘These are our next four’ or whatever,” he explained. “I haven’t done that at all.”
His players, Self insisted, have “no idea” on one Saturday who they will be playing seven days from then.
“It’s just what’s in front of us,” Self said. “And it’s not a knock to anybody (upcoming foes), because they’re not looking ahead at all. They’re not at all.”
The 10th-ranked Jayhawks (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12) must know that after Saturday’s home matchup with Baylor (12-6, 2-4) they have another massive road game this coming Tuesday, at No. 4 Oklahoma (14-3, 4-2). But, to Self’s point, thinking ahead any further than that is only safe for fans and observers; not those actively trying to win the league.
Because we’re not in the same boat as Self and his players, here’s a rundown of the next four league games (plus the Big 12/SEC Challenge matchups) for each of the conference’s top four teams, all of which seem capable of winning the Big 12 crown this year.
No. 10 Kansas (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12)
Saturday vs. Baylor
Tuesday at No. 4 Oklahoma
Jan. 27 vs. Texas A&M
Jan. 29 at Kansas State
Feb. 3 vs. Oklahoma State
No. 4 Oklahoma (14-3, 4-2)
Saturday at Oklahoma State
Tuesday vs. No. 10 Kansas
Jan. 27 at Alabama
Jan. 30 vs. Baylor
Feb. 3 at Texas
No. 8 Texas Tech (15-3, 4-2)
Saturday at Iowa State
Tuesday vs. Oklahoma State
Jan. 27 at South Carolina
Jan. 31 vs. Texas
Feb. 3 at No. 24 TCU
No. 6 West Virginia (15-3, 4-2)
Saturday vs. Texas
Monday at No. 24 TCU
Jan. 27 vs. No. 18 Kentucky
Jan. 31 at Iowa State
Feb. 3 vs. Kansas State
Thanks to Oklahoma freshman Trae Young’s somewhat unexpected sensational play and hot starts for both West Virginia and Texas Tech, the rest of the college basketball world has been forced to pay attention to Big 12 teams not named Kansas this season.
The conference appears in great shape as of early January, with five programs currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and seven teams in position to land NCAA Tournament invites.
These developments — as well as the ongoing waiting game KU is going through regarding the eligibility of freshmen Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa — have made the Jayhawks’ chances of winning their 14th consecutive Big 12 title appear anything but concrete.
While the regular-season championship is one intriguing plot, so is the potential for numerous Big 12 teams to make serious March Madness runs toward the Final Four, in San Antonio.
It’s that big-picture, end-of-the-season, how-many-nets-can-you-cut-down potential that we hope to examine by checking out the résumés of the league’s 10 teams in the first installment of Big 12 Power Rankings.
Each team’s best victories and its losses — good, bad and in between — were considered, using KenPom.com’s ratings, to classify the league’s most and least impressive squads to date.
With so many quality lineups in the conference this season, the rankings are bound to fluctuate between now and the Big Dance. We will monitor it all each week in order to attempt to have a better grasp come March on which teams are best qualified to survive the coming madness.
Big 12 Power Rankings — Jan. 9, 2018
No. 1 - West Virginia (14-1)
Kenpom ranking: No. 10
Top-50 wins: No. 44 Missouri, No. 3 Virginia, at No. 43 Kansas State, No. 13 Oklahoma
Loss: No. 26 Texas A&M
No. 2 - Texas Tech (14-1)
Kenpom ranking: No. 4
Top-50 wins: No. 31 Nevada (OT), No. 36 Baylor, at No. 7 Kansas, No. 43 Kansas State
Loss: No. 18 Seton Hall
No. 3 - Oklahoma (12-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 13
Top-50 wins: No. 47 USC, at No. 11 Wichita State, at No. 23 TCU
Losses: No. 29 Arkansas, at No. 10 West Virginia
No. 4 - Kansas (12-3)
Kenpom ranking: No. 7
Top-50 wins: No. 22 Kentucky, at No. 23 TCU, at No. 37 Texas, No. 50 Syracuse
Losses: No. 109 Washington, No. 20 Arizona State, No. 4 Texas Tech
No. 5 - TCU (13-2)
Kenpom ranking: No. 23
Top-50 wins: No. 34 SMU, No. 31 Nevada, at No. 36 Baylor (OT)
Losses: No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 7 Kansas
No. 6 - Baylor (11-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 36
Top-50 wins: No. 19 Creighton, No. 37 Texas
Losses: at No. 21 Xavier, No. 11 Wichita State, at No. 4 Texas Tech, No. 23 TCU (OT)
No. 7 - Texas (10-5)
Kenpom ranking: No. 37
Top-50 win: No. 38 Butler
Losses: No. 6 Duke (OT), No. 9 Gonzaga (OT), No. 32 Michigan, No. 7 Kansas
No. 8 - Oklahoma State (11-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 55
Top-50 wins: No. 24 Florida State
Losses: No. 26 Texas A&M, No. 11 Wichita State, No. 10 West Virginia, No. 13 Oklahoma
No. 9 - Kansas State (11-4)
Kenpom ranking: No. 43
Top-50 wins: N/A [Best win = at No. 84 Vanderbilt]
Losses: No. 20 Arizona State, No. 121 Tulsa, No. 10 West Virginia, at No. 4 Texas Tech
No. 10 - Iowa State (9-5)
Kenpom ranking: No. 104
Top-50 wins: N/A [Best win = No. 54 Boise State]
Losses: at No. 44 Missouri, No. 200 Milwaukee, No. 43 Kansas State, No. 37 Texas (OT), at No. 55 Oklahoma State (OT)
On its climb to the No. 1 ranking in the nation, the Kansas basketball team hasn’t played perfectly over the past several weeks. Even so, at times it seems as though Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas and company are just genetically predetermined to win.
The Jayhawks’ penchant for overcoming even the grimmest scenarios reinforces the team’s bravado. They may lack the depth and the rim protector of Bill Self teams of the past, but the more often they scrap their way out of a jam, the less such situations worry them.
Through 30 games, KU (27-3 overall, 15-2 Big 12) has fallen behind by double digits in eight games. But the Jayhawks’ interminable resolve allowed them to escape seven of those with a victory.
“You know, I don’t know if I’ve been a part of a team that’s done it this many times and has been so consistent at it,” fifth-year senior center Lucas said. “And I would really just say each time it happens it gets more and more comfortable with us. I think the first couple of times it was just because we had good experience, good leadership, want-to and toughness. And then the more we do it the more it becomes kind of, ‘All right. This is nothing new,’ and we’re very capable of doing it.”
There’s a part of Self that loves seeing his players master the art of the comeback. But KU’s tough-minded coach isn’t about to throw a party for them.
“It's good. I mean, it's good that no matter what happens, you know, the guys haven't panicked,” Self said on the subject of KU winning after trailing by double figures. “It's bad that we’ve put ourselves in a position to be behind in some of those deficits, but when you're playing in a league that is as balanced as our league, I don't think that's totally unusual.”
The coach on Thursday then guessed aloud the Big 12’s other top teams — West Virginia, Baylor and Iowa State — had most likely experienced similar ups and downs during the courses of individual games.
“You know, Iowa State, a 10-point lead at Iowa State means nothing, nor does a 10-point deficit,” Self explained. “And I think offenses have changed so much and defenses and rules and everything's changed so much, it's easy for an offensive team to get on a little bit of a roll — especially early in the game, because you play a little defensive on defense and that kind of stuff.”
In fact, ISU, Baylor and WVU have combined to win eight games in which they trailed by double digits this season (see list below).
KU DOUBLE-DIGIT DEFICITS OVERCOME THIS SEASON
Dec. 30 at TCU: 10 | Final: 86-80
Jan. 14 vs. Oklahoma State: 11 | Final: 87-80
Jan. 28 at Kentucky: 12 | Final: 79-73
Feb. 6 at Kansas State: 12 | Final: 74-71
Feb. 13 vs. West Virginia: 14 | Final: 84-80 (OT)
Feb. 18 at Baylor: 12 | Final: 67-65
Feb. 27 vs. Oklahoma: 12 | Final: 73-63
IOWA STATE DOUBLE-DIGIT DEFICITS OVERCOME THIS SEASON
Dec. 30 vs. Texas Tech: 14 | Final: 63-56
Jan. 21 at Oklahoma: 19 | Final: 92-87 (2OT)
Feb. 4 at Kansas: 15 | Final: 92-89 (OT)
BAYLOR DOUBLE-DIGIT DEFICITS OVERCOME THIS SEASON
Nov. 24 Battle 4 Atlantis vs. Michigan State: 10 | Final: 73-58
Nov. 25 Battle 4 Atlantis vs. Louisville: 22 | Final: 66-63
Jan. 28 at Ole Miss: 15 | Final: 78-75
WEST VIRGINIA DOUBLE-DIGIT DEFICITS OVERCOME THIS SEASON
Dec. 3 at Virginia: 11 | Final: 66-57
Feb. 20 vs. Texas: 10 | Final: 77-62
Ten times during Big 12 play alone Kansas has trailed by nine or more points, posting a 9-1 record. The Jayhawks’ only loss in those games came at West Virginia, when they fell behind by 19, on Jan. 24.
On the season as a whole, KU has trailed by eight or more points 12 times, with an 11-1 record.
“But we've gotta correct it,” Self said of falling behind and putting themselves in such tough spots, what with the postseason one game a way.
Lucas, as well, said he hopes the Jayhawks don’t have any more mega-recoveries in their immediate future.
“But we do understand if that is the situation in any of the games,” the senior added, “that we’re very capable.”
When No. 3 Kansas plays at No. 4 Baylor Saturday in Waco, Texas, the nation will be able to tune in (noon, CBS) and check out not only the top two teams in the Big 12, but also two potential No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Still, KU coach Bill Self doesn’t want those unfamiliar with the conference to get the idea the Big 12 is top-heavy. Ahead of the marquee meeting at Ferrell Center, Self shared Thursday afternoon he thinks “the strength of our league is the middle of our league.”
To his point, the five teams trailing the Big 12’s top three — KU, Baylor and West Virginia — in the standings all have a shot at making The Big Dance in March, too.
“The difference between the middle and the teams that are perceived to be at the top is not very much at all,” Self said, “as evidenced by (Baylor’s) scores and also by our scores.”
Baylor just lost at Texas Tech this week, and in February one-possession games dropped one at home against Kansas State and beat Oklahoma State, in Stillwater.
KU, as you’ll recall, only won by a single point at Texas Tech this past Saturday, clawed its way to a three-point victory at rival K-State and suffered a rare Allen Fieldhouse defeat at the hands of Iowa State during the past couple of weeks.
“I do think it’s a monster league,” Self said, “because 18 games, round-robin, and even home games, as you guys well know with us, they’re not a cinch by any stretch.”
The overall quality and depth of the Big 12 could get as many as eight teams into the NCAA Tournament in March, depending on how the next few weeks play out. As of Thursday, ESPN’s Bracketology projected seven Big 12 teams in the tourney:
Kansas: 1 seed in Midwest region
Baylor: 1 seed in South
West Virginia: 4 seed in West
Oklahoma State: 8 seed in East
Iowa State: 9 seed in West
TCU: 10 seed in East
Kansas State: 11 seed in South
Texas Tech: “Next four out,” behind “first four out”
The NCAA Tournament selection committee identified Kansas and Baylor as No. 1 seeds (as of Feb. 11), this past Saturday. Self said, in the case of this year’s Big 12 makeup, there isn’t a “bottom-heavy” factor, where teams such as Kansas and Baylor can pencil in three or four automatic victories.
Coach Socrates — oh, sorry, Coach Self, that is — said the Big 12 may be undervalued by outsiders because “the appearance of parity breeds the thought of mediocrity.” In the conference KU calls home, though, nothing comes easily this season. Just look at the average margin of victory for the top two teams in the league: Kansas (11-2 in Big 12) is at +4.1 and Baylor (9-4) at +3.9.
“But having two teams this late in the year,” Self said, “that are projected as one seeds — and even though we KNOW that that’s gonna change from week to week — I think speaks well for our league.”
BIG 12 STANDINGS — As of Feb. 16
1. Kansas, 11-2 (23-3 overall)
2. Baylor, 9-4 (22-4)
3. West Virginia, 8-5 (20-6)
4. Iowa State, 8-5 (16-9)
tie-5. Oklahoma State, 6-7 (17-9)
tie-5. TCU, 6-7 (17-9)
tie-7. Texas Tech, 5-8 (17-9)
tie-7.Kansas State, 5-8 (16-10)
9. Texas, 4-9 (10-16)
10. Oklahoma, 3-10 (9-16)
As astonishing as the Kansas basketball team’s do-or-die comeback was in the final minutes Monday night against West Virginia, the Jayhawks’ absurd rally and overtime victory helped preserve an equally staggering example of the program’s dominance.
The Mountaineers, up 14 points with less than three minutes to play in regulation, had a chance to do something no team has pulled off since Bill Self became the head coach at Kansas before the 2003-2004 season: sweep KU.
That’s right. No Self-coached Kansas team has ever suffered two regular-season losses to the same Big 12 opponent. The Jayhawks, in the 14th season of the Self era, now have played 88 home-and-home series. KU has swept 60 of them, split 28 and never come away 0-2.
As one might predict from the program’s toughness-preaching coach, Self said after KU’s 84-80 overtime win against WVU he and his players take pride in the fact that Big 12 foes just don’t sweep his teams.
“Sure we do. They probably should’ve,” Self added, of WVU ending the sweep-less streak this season. “They were better than us in Morgantown and they were better than us tonight for the most part — for the large part of the game.”
However, with the Allen Fieldhouse crowd growing more rambunctious by the second as the No. 3 Jayhawks (23-3 overall, 11-2 Big 12) chopped away at the West Virginia lead, KU preserved a less-discussed aspect of its conference dominance. What’s more, it marked the fifth occasion in Self’s tenure that KU thwarted a sweep with an overtime victory.
The last team to sweep Kansas was Iowa State, in 2001.
Below is a rundown of the Jayhawks’ avenging ways over the course of the past 14 seasons. When Big 12 opponents won the first meeting with Kansas, Self’s teams are a perfect 16-0 in rematches.
Lost at Iowa State, 68-61 | Won rematch, 90-89 (OT)
Lost at Nebraska, 74-55 | Won rematch, 78-67
Lost at home to Kansas State, 59-55 | Won rematch at K-State, 66-52
Lost at Missouri, 89-86 (OT) | Won rematch, 79-46
Lost at Kansas State, 84-75 | Won rematch, 88-74
Lost at Missouri, 62-60 | Won rematch, 90-65
Lost at Missouri, 74-71 | Won rematch, 87-86 (OT)
Lost at home to Oklahoma State, 85-80 | Won rematch at Oklahoma State, 68-67 (2OT)
Lost at TCU, 62-55 | Won rematch, 74-48
Lost at Texas, 81-69 | Won rematch, 85-54
Lost at Iowa State, 86-81 | Won rematch, 89-76
Lost at West Virginia, 62-61 | Won rematch, 76-69 (OT)
Lost at West Virginia, 74-63 | Won rematch, 75-65
Lost at Oklahoma State, 86-67 | Won rematch, 94-67
Lost at Iowa State, 85-72 | Won rematch, 85-78
Lost at West Virginia, 85-69 | Won rematch, 84-80 (OT)
In the old days of the Big 12, when Kansas only played the teams from the south division once in the regular season, the Jayhawks didn’t even encounter any potential sweeps in 2005, 2007, 2010 or 2011. Still, in both 2008 and 2011, KU earned retribution for losses to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament.
Since the round-robin, 18-game schedule went into effect in 2012, KU has overcome a potential 0-2 mark against a league team at least once every season.
The Jayhawks’ latest star freshman, Josh Jackson, obviously has only been around for a few weeks worth of Big 12 battles. But the culture Self long ago established was apparent to Jackson and his teammates on Big Monday, with a West Virginia sweep in play.
“Sometimes it’s not our night, like tonight I don’t really think it was,” Jackson said after chipping in 14 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and three assists. “But you’ve just gotta get it done on the defensive end. As long as we make our opponents play bad, I think we’ll be fine.”
Now 408-86 as KU’s head coach, Self’s teams thrive on pulling off the preposterous, particularly at Allen Fieldhouse, where he improved to 218-10. On the rare occasions when an opponent looks like it has KU’s number, that’s when Self can employ atypical tactics.
“I didn’t talk once about the league race. I didn’t talk about any of that stuff,” Self said of his message leading up to the West Virginia rematch. “All I told ’em was, ‘You’ve got a chance to play a team that put a pretty good knot on your head the last time we played.’ And they were motivated. I think they just tried too hard early on in the game.”
— Addendum: On the subject of losing twice to the same team in a season, it has happened in the Self era — just not in terms of a regular-season sweep. Below are the teams who pulled off multiple victories over Self teams during one campaign, over the past 14 years.
Lost at Texas 82-67 | Lost Big 12 Tournament rematch, 64-60, in Dallas
Lost at Michigan State, 75-62 | Lost Sweet 16 rematch, 67-62, in Indianapolis
Lost to Kentucky, 75-65, in New York | Lost NCAA title game rematch, 67-59, in New Orleans
Iowa State, after splitting in the regular season, won Round 3, 70-66, in Big 12 title game, in Kansas City
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and veteran Jayhawks such as Frank Mason III, who have been through more conference encounters than they can count off the top of their heads, will tell you there is nothing easy about winning the Big 12 — even if the Jayhawks have done so 12 years in a row.
The first couple of stops on what many imagined would be an uneventful journey to KU’s 13th consecutive league crown, though, back up the case made by those responsible for the conference dominance some observers have taken as a foregone conclusion.
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks couldn’t ever completely bury TCU on the road in their Big 12 opener, and it took a controversial buzzer-beater at the end of regulation for them to defeat rival Kansas State inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Victories, of course, often are considered more important than the minutia that made them possible. But Self said opening league play with back-to-back taxing outings should give his players something to think about as they prepare for a Saturday home game against Texas Tech (12-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) and the next couple of months in front of them.
“But I think there’s been a lot of nice reminders for our guys on just how hard it is to win,” the 14th-year KU coach said, “and especially in a league where — I mean, this is no disrespect to anybody — but I think most, in fans’ minds, think if you go to TCU, based on the past few years, that that should be a game that you should for sure win. And as coaches, we know that we're gonna have to play to win, because they’re so much improved.”
This week, the Big 12 has three teams — No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 KU and No. 7 West Virginia — ranked among the top seven in the country in the AP poll. Even the unranked teams have generated some buzz just two games into the conference schedule. The Red Raiders knocked off WVU on Tuesday, in Lubbock, Texas, on the same night K-State had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds at Kansas. The next day, Iowa State lost by two at Baylor. Eight of the league’s 10 teams have at least one Big 12 victory already, and only Kansas and Baylor enter the weekend without a conference loss.
KenPom.com ranks the Big 12’s eight best teams among the top 40 in the country: No. 2 WVU, No. 6 BU, No. 7 KU, No. 27 ISU, No. 28 Tech, No. 30 K-State, No. 38 TCU and No. 39 Oklahoma State. And even the Cowboys lost at No. 79 Texas, which has struggled to a 7-7 start in Shaka Smart’s second season.
“Well, I think there's no question that our league is underrated,” Self said, “and it's rated very high, and it's still underrated. I think you could say, you could make a strong case, that the ACC has more good teams in their league than anybody else. But that's also in large part the numbers are so much bigger. They've got five more teams … to pick from.
“But I think our league is a monster,” Self continued. “And you know, coaches after games sometimes can be emotional and mad or happy, and there's been a time or two I've been that way, as well. But the TCU win was a good win. They're gonna beat a lot of people at TCU.”
An even stronger argument along those lines could be made for K-State (12-2, 1-1), and Self said the Jayhawks (13-1, 2-0) don’t have to apologize for eking out a win against the Wildcats — even if KU avoided overtime because the officials didn’t whistle Svi Mykhailiuk for traveling.
“Although I didn't think we played well, I think Kansas State's a really good team. I think they did some things that didn't allow us to play well,” Self explained. “So I think winning at home is going to be a premium again. But I don't think the home wins are gonna come as easy as a lot of people perceive them to be as they have in year's past, because there’s just more good teams in our league.”
To his point, the latest NCAA Tournament projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi place six Big 12 teams in the field: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and TCU. Plus, Lunardi lists Texas Tech among the “first four out” and K-State in the “next four out” — so eight league teams, at least in early January, are in the mix for March Madness.
Mason, KU’s senior point guard who is averaging 18.5 points and 5.5 assists in Big 12 action, said there are easy lessons to take away from his team’s two narrow conference wins.
“Even when we’re not playing good we still have to rebound the ball and make the other team play as bad as we are,” Mason began. “You know, we have to stay coachable, keep ptichin' the ball ahead, execute on the offensive end. And we have to make free throws, and just make the right play, make the extra pass.”
Quickly this season, the Jayhawks have been reminded it’s not easy to win in the Big 12. Their coach, as one might expect, plans on hammering that message home, and letting the players know there are no certainties in league play.
“And I think that's the one thing that we really need to sell to all our players, and I think that other coaches will sell to their respective players is that, hey, everybody's better than they were last year — for the most part,” Self said. “Everybody's better. So don't look at an opponent based on what happened last year. Everybody's improved. Everybody's added some nice pieces.”
Perhaps it is far too early to claim Player A will beat out Player B and Player C for some college basketball award that will be handed out 10 months from now. Maybe we should save such discussions for weeks before the season starts, instead of months.
Whatever your take on that front, it is at least noteworthy that those debates already are taking place in some circles, and a Kansas veteran might be in line for some major hardware by the end of the 2016-17 season.
While looking ahead to next year in the Big 12, NBC Sports predicts not only a 13th consecutive regular-season championship for Bill Self’s Jayhawks, but also a Player of the Year honor for senior-to-be Frank Mason III.
It’s not too farfetched of a conclusion when you consider all the talent the Big 12 has lost from this past season.
All five members of the 2016 All-Big 12 first team won’t be around next year, thanks to Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor unexpectedly entering the NBA Draft, joining Buddy Hield, Georges Niang, Perry Ellis and Taurean Prince as professionals.
Only Iowa State point guard Monté Morris and Mason return from the All-Big 12 second team, with Wayne Selden Jr. and Devin Williams turning pro, and Jaysean Paige done with his college career.
Even the all-conference third team featured three players who won’t be back next season: seniors Rico Gathers, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Baylor’s Johnathan Motley and Wesley Iwundu of Kansas State will have a crack at making bigger names for themselves and contending for a first-team spot in 2017, or perhaps even challenging the Big 12’s other top talents for the honor of Player of the Year.
So if Mason is one of the top contenders for the coveted award next season, who else might push him or surpass him in the race?
You have to start with Morris. The Cyclones, like the rest of the mostly rebuilding Big 12, honestly, don’t seem likely to threaten KU for a league championship. However, if ISU can finish in the top three or four and Morris puts up big numbers — and he’ll have a chance to lead Iowa State in scoring while still distributing as much as ever — the Cyclones’ lead guard could turn out to be the favorite.
Athletic Baylor big man Motley could become one of the league’s breakout stars next season, now that Prince and Gathers won’t be part of the Bears’ frontcourt.
Looking at other younger players in the conference poised for a leap in productivity, one would think West Virginia’s Jevon Carter will become Bob Huggins’ featured guard next season, and the Mountaineers seem to remain competitive in the Big 12 regardless of who Huggins puts on the floor.
With all the upperclassmen Shaka Smart is losing at Texas, a blossoming player will have to carry the load. Here’s a vote for Kerwin Roach Jr. emerging as a havoc-inflicting guard. The Longhorns might be a year or two away from really challenging KU for a Big 12 title, but next season Texas will start looking more like a Smart VCU team and less like a Rick Barnes team.
Implausible as it sounds, Oklahoma State, which finished ninth in the Big 12 in Travis Ford’s final season as head coach, might have a pair of dark horse candidates for player of the year. If either veteran Phil Forte III (who only played 3 games last season after suffering a ligament tear in an elbow) or young dynamo Jawun Evans put up eye-popping enough numbers and new coach Brad Underwood gets the Cowboys back into the top half of the league, don’t count out one of these explosive guards.
If you think about it, though, Mason’s toughest challenger in the race for Big 12 Player of the Year just might be in his own locker room. Should the Jayhawks roll through the conference as expected it would be hard to make a case for a player from another school winning. But it isn’t too difficult to see Devonté Graham becoming just as legitimate a candidate as Mason for the league’s top individual honor.
Plus, can we really count incoming KU freshman Josh Jackson out of this conversation? Probably not at this point. Should Jackson indeed come in and essentially play as much as Selden did this year on the wing, while at least matching the freshman-year production of Andrew Wiggins, Jackson would deserve some consideration, too.
If Self has the team dominating all season, the discussion might not be if a KU player will win Big 12 Player of the Year. The better question could be: which one?
It’s difficult enough to win three college basketball games in three days. Beating three different Big 12 teams in three days? Now that’s a superb accomplishment — even if you’re the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
The Jayhawks (27-4) are in Kansas City, Mo., this week trying to add to their already striking résumé by winning the 2016 Big 12 Tournament. They last left Sprint Center as tourney champions in 2013. Each of the past two seasons, Iowa State took home the title, defeating KU in the 2014 semifinals and 2015 championship game.
Even with those losses, 13th-year Kansas coach Bill Self has a 24-6 record in Big 12 Tournament games. When the conference postseason wars are played at Sprint Center, Self’s record is even better: 16-3.
Self, who has led Kansas to 6 postseason Big 12 championships, knows nothing about this weekend will be easy for the Jayhawks, even if they won the regular-season title by two games and haven’t lost since Jan. 25, at Iowa State.
“I think it's got to be — and I've heard other people say it — it's got to be as good a postseason conference tournament as there is in the country,” Self said earlier this week. “I think the competitive nature of it, everybody wants to show that they are the best. I think that drives it.”
With all of that in mind, here are five potential obstacles the Jayhawks might have to overcome in the days ahead in order to extend their 11-game winning streak to 14 and add another trophy to the program’s many cases.
More poor free-throw shooting
Entering the postseason, the Jayhawks haven’t been great at the free-throw line. They’re hitting 70% on the year — which ranks 6th in the Big 12 and 163rd in the nation.
Even more troubling, Kansas has shot below 70% in four of its last five games:
- 18 of 30 at Kansas State: 60%
- 12 of 17 at Baylor: 70.6%
- 10 of 15 vs. Texas Tech: 66.7%
- 11 of 24 at Texas: 45.8%
- 9 of 15 vs. Iowa State: 60%
Now that it’s the postseason, Self said missing free throws could be disastrous.
“But we've got to make them. You know what, we've been a good free-throw shooting team when it counted,” Self said. “We haven't been a very good free-throw shooting it seems like to me when it didn't count, so maybe that's a positive sign. But certainly that could bite us. You don't make free throws in the postseason, the chances of you advancing against a comparable team is not very good.”
So who are KU’s best free-throw shooters when it count? Here are the individual numbers for free throws taken in the last 5 minutes of a game or overtime (as a team, KU shoots 70.3% in those situations, and opponents have made 74.1%):
Brannen Greene: 9/11, 90%
Devonté Graham: 20/24, 83.3%
Perry Ellis: 14/17, 82.4%
Frank Mason III: 40/54, 74.1%
Svi Mykhailiuk: 5/7, 71.4%
Cheick Diallo: 7/10, 70%
Landen Lucas: 11/18, 61.1%
Wayne Selden Jr.: 15/25, 60%
Jamari Traylor: 3/6, 50%
Hunter Mickelson: 1/3, 33.3%
Carlton Bragg: 0/0
In each of KU’s 4 losses this season, the opposition had a better shooting night at the free-throw line.
Opponents pounding the offensive glass
The Jayhawks have finished with fewer offensive rebounds than their opponent in 6 of their last 10 games. During that same stretch KU got out-scored in second-chance points five times and won the margin by 1 on 2 occasions.
In 9 of KU’s 18 Big 12 games, they lost second-chance points. Sometimes, KU’s first-shot defense leads to those opportunities (see: Texas missed 44 field goals, shot 30.2% and gathered 18 offensive rebounds, leading to 13 second-chance points). But it’s still an area of concern, because second-chance attempts often come from point-blank range, meaning easy points.
In Norman, Okla., the Sooners scored 22 second-chance points on 15 offensive rebounds. Looking at KU’s last five games, four opponents scored double digits via offensive rebounds: K-State (12), Baylor (14), Texas Tech (14) and Iowa State (13).
Beware of Shaka
Now, there is no guarantee that Kansas will run into Texas in the Big 12 semifinals. Obviously, both KU (versus K-State) and UT (versus Baylor) will have to handle their business to make that happen. But the past success of first-year Longhorns coach Shaka Smart makes one think a UT-KU meeting will start things off Friday night at Sprint. And that Self’s Jayhawks shouldn’t take the ’Horns lightly — despite a regular-season sweep.
In his six seasons at VCU, Smart’s Rams won two conference tournament titles (Colonial Athletic Association Tournament in 2012, and Atlantic-10 Tournament in 2015) and posted a 15-4 record.
What’s more, VCU won at least two games at every conference tournament in Smart’s time there.
2010 (CAA) 2-1
2011 (CAA) 2-1
2012 (CAA) 3-0
2013 (A-10) 2-1
2014 (A-10) 2-1
2015 (A-10) 4-0
Smart has a way of getting the best out of his players in March. And there is a chance massive, 6-foot-10 center Cameron Ridley will be back for the Longhorns this weekend.
Sure, KU blew out Texas a little more than a week ago. But they call it March Madness for a reason. Sometimes the unthinkable plays out right in front of your eyes.
An off night for Devonté Graham
The youngest member of KU’s starting five, sophomore Devonté Graham has emerged as a reliable scorer (11.2 points per game, 45.9% shooting) and the Jayhawks’ best high-volume 3-point marksman.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., has made 43.7% of his 135 attempts from beyond the arc (second to Wayne Selden Jr.’s 156 tries). While Perry Elis (45.6% on 57 attempts) and Brannen Greene (51.7% on 58 shots from downtown) are better percentage-wise, Graham has been more productive.
KU has enough depth and talent that an off night from one player shouldn’t mean doom for the team, but Graham has been below his normal production in the Jayhawks’ four losses this season.
- vs. Michigan State: 4 points, 1/9 FGs, 0/4 3s, 2/2 FTs
- at West Virginia: 7 points, 2/7 FGs, 2/3 3s, 1/4 FTs
- at Oklahoma State: 10 points, 4/9 FGs, 1/4 3s, 1/1 FTs
- at Iowa State: 7 points, 3/7 FGs, 1/3 3s, 0/0 FTs
A below-average outing from Graham doesn’t automatically mean a KU loss. He had three single-digit point totals in February, and Kansas still won every game last month.
It’s just Graham seems to have an infectious energy that propels Kansas when he is playing well. If he goes cold in a game and other problems pop up for KU, that could mean trouble.
Can KU respond to adversity?
KU has been on such a roll, what happens if an opponent gets hot and the Jayhawks find themselves down by double digits?
That hasn’t happened to Kansas since Jan. 25, at Iowa State. That’s a long time to go without playing from behind while in legitimate trouble.
Will the players buckle down and get stops? Will pride take over and validate just how good KU is?
Or will the physical and mental grind of the regular season finally catch up with the players in such a scenario? In the back of their minds, they know a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament already is essentially wrapped up. Will they have the fire to exert extra energy with a big comeback if it doing so doesn’t have an impact on where they stand entering the Big Dance? Maybe we find out. Maybe we don’t.
For what it’s worth, KU has a pair of neutral-floor recoveries on its schedule this season. Kansas came back from a 14-point deficit to beat Oregon State at Sprint Center in December. Before that, the Jayhawks recovered from a 10-point hole against Vanderbilt to win the Maui Invitational final.