Kansas City, Mo. — For much of the regular season, those who follow Kansas basketball wondered when freshman Quentin Grimes might turn a corner and become the steady shooter and scorer the Jayhawks needed in the backcourt.
Perhaps turning the page to the postseason will do the trick.
Grimes shot 2-for-10 in his Big 12 tournament debut against Texas, when he scored 12 points in a quarterfinal victory, but he quickly moved on from that performance to set the nets ablaze in the semifinals. Grimes’ 5-for-8 3-point shooting led to an 18-point night for the freshman and the sense that he may finally be trending upward.
Even so, Bill Self wasn’t ready after that showing to place Grimes in the same stratosphere as a recent KU guard who caught fire just in time for March Madness.
One reporter asked Self whether the coach could compare Grimes’ uptick to what Malik Newman pulled off a year ago, during the 2018 postseason.
“No, not yet,” Self said.
“If the guy goes off and gets 30 (in Saturday night’s final versus Iowa State),” the KU coach added, “and is the most valuable player of the tournament, then, yeah, you could say that.”
You may recall that Newman, like Grimes this year, had an up-and-down regular season before turning into “Postseason Leek.” Newman went off for 30 points in his Big 12 tournament debut versus Oklahoma State, then followed it up by pouring in 22 against Kansas State and finishing his three-day run with 20 more in a title game victory over West Virginia.
So Grimes would need to put on an extra-spectacular shooting display in the championship game to give the Newman comparison more weight.
“But what did he get today, 18? What did he have, 12, yesterday? So probably not quite that level, but it is a nice addition,” Self said Friday night at Sprint Center. “And to win three games in a row, especially the situation that we’re in, you’re going to have to have some guys step up that maybe haven’t been asked to do it in the past because they’re so young, and maybe play beyond their years. And Quentin did that today.”
Despite some rough patches as a scorer over the past few months, Grimes has now produced double-digit points in four of KU’s past six games. During that span he’s 17-for-35 on 3-pointers.
Self didn’t think there wasn’t a specific moment when he noticed Grimes shooting the ball with more confidence.
“I think everybody goes through phases like that. If you look at numbers, he’s shot it better in league play than he has for the season. But it’s been a gradual thing,” Self said.
What had stopped Grimes from getting going, Self pointed out, was that he would maybe have a decent night from 3-point range, 2-for-4 or something along those lines, and then go 1-for-6 the next game.
“He hasn’t really been in a real rhythm,” Self said. “We’re saying he’s shooting it better, which he is. He looks better shooting it. He looked better shooting it (Thursday) night, but he was 1 for 6 (Thursday) night, from 3 — is that right?”
“I agree. He’s playing with more confidence, and good shooters shouldn’t remember their misses, they should only remember the makes,” Self concluded. “And I think he’s going through a phase right now where he actually feels that way.”
Grimes enters the Big 12 title game averaging 8.3 points for the season and hitting 35.9% from 3-point range.
Kansas City, Mo. — Prompted Thursday night after his Big 12 tournament debut to take a trip down his personal March Madness Memory Lane, Dedric Lawson’s roots popped up.
A native of Memphis, Tenn., and, of course, a former Memphis Tiger himself, it came as no surprise that his hometown college basketball program left quite an impression on him as a child.
Though Lawson said he didn’t run around Memphis as a youngster wearing a Derrick Rose or Chris Douglas-Roberts jersey, those were his two favorite players when he first started following the game closely.
The Memphis basketball program really began to take off under then-head coach John Calipari when Lawson was in elementary school, and Lawson found himself drawn most to Douglas-Roberts, a versatile small forward not too dissimilar from the player Lawson would grow to become.
“He was more of like a 3,” Lawson said of why as a child he chose the 6-foot-7 Douglas-Roberts as his favorite player instead of the explosive point guard, Rose. “I met those guys when they were at Memphis. We used to go around the program and things like that. They was real cool. Robert Dozier (a Tigers big man), he was real, real cool, too.”
Years later, when Lawson was a member of the Memphis program, playing his first season under coach Josh Pastner and his second for Tubby Smith, some of those Tigers he grew up admiring would come back around.
“We played pickup together and things like that. Those were cool people,” Lawson said.
And with Memphis basketball so much a part of his DNA, Lawson couldn’t help but laugh about the fact that his favorite childhood team lost to Kansas in the 2008 national championship game.
Lawson was 10 years old when the man who is now his head coach, Bill Self, guided the Jayhawks to an overtime victory against Calipari and Memphis.
Was he bitter at the time?
“I definitely was,” a smiling Lawson admitted, adding he remembers it like it was yesterday.
Perhaps unfortunately for Lawson and those old March Madness scars from his time as a fan, he gets a reminder of that pain before every KU home game, when the hype video plays a clip of Mario Chalmers’ iconic 3-pointer that sent the 2008 title game to OT.
“I’m cool with it now,” a laughing Lawson shared. “I’m a part of both cultures. There’s not really too much bitterness no more. And Mario, he’s a cool guy, as well. It was great for Mario. It was something great that happened for him, something sad that happened for Memphis.”
Of course, Lawson and the Jayhawks aim to create their own March Madness memories this weekend and beyond. And right now, their focus is on Friday night’s semifinal at Sprint Center, where they will meet up with an unlikely foe, No. 10 seed West Virginia.
Lawson couldn’t have imagined before the Big 12 tournament began that KU would be facing the Mountaineers.
“Nah. We was definitely expecting Tech,” Lawson said. “Of course, everybody probably was. Just to kind of play them again — we lost to them by like 20 — so we wanted to play against them guys again,” he added, referencing KU’s 91-62 loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 23.
“But it’ll definitely be a competitive game,” Lawson said of facing a WVU team that upset Kansas in Morgantown, W.Va., back in January. “They’re not gonna quit. They’re gonna come out playing with a lot of intensity and very hard.”
Kansas City, Mo. — The four freshmen members of the Kansas basketball team’s starting lineup have experienced plenty over the last four-plus months.
Flourishing and regressing. Achievements and failures. Getting tastes of what it’s like to battle national powerhouses such as Michigan State and Kentucky. Discovering pedigree alone doesn’t assure your team of a victory during conference play.
And now they get their first crack at the postseason, as the Jayhawks (23-8) take on Texas (16-15) in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals.
Quentin Grimes, a starter in all 31 games for KU, can’t wait for the new encounter.
“Just watching it on TV as a kid growing up and finally just getting a chance to be a part of it is real special,” Grimes said of playing in the postseason, beginning with this week’s conference tournament. “Everybody in the locker room’s excited.”
Grimes, for one, thinks KU can be “one of the best teams in the country” when the players are locked in. And even though the Jayhawks finished third in the Big 12 standings when the program’s expectations are first place or bust, Grimes is optimistic about their current trajectory.
“I feel like we’re trending upwards. We had a good couple days of practice, we had a good little 40 minutes out there,” Grimes added of KU’s Wednesday session at Sprint Center.
The 6-foot-5 guard from The Woodlands, Texas, shared that KU’s relatively ho-hum regular-season finale versus Baylor reminded him and his teammates about the importance of entering a game with the proper mindset.
Now that they’re embarking on the postseason, Grimes said the Jayhawks have to be “locked in” on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. Doing so and putting together a run at the Big 12 tournament this weekend, he said, can be accomplished in large part by paying attention to the game plan.
“Not going out there and doing everything on our own,” Grimes emphasized, pointing to the need for KU’s players to trust one another when encountering key potential turning points during a game.
If you ask Grimes, the Jayhawks can be “really good” this postseason. And he said KU coach Bill Self is encouraging them go “just go out there and play free” now that the regular season is behind them.
“He knows what we’re capable of and how we played early on in the season, what we can do as a unit,” Grimes said. “So I feel like he knows how good and special this team can be. Even though we lost a couple of guys, a lot of guys have stepped up.”
Kansas City, Mo. — During his close to 16 seasons at the University of Kansas, Bill Self has coached teams bound for Final Four glory and others that crashed and burned as victims of the Madness known as March.
Sometimes, even the man who has a better feel for the state of a given group of Jayahwks, their trajectory and potential, has no idea how they will respond once they hit the postseason.
Even the most keen observers have found it difficult to gauge how this KU team will play from day to day, let alone week to week. The Jayhawks have only been consistent in their inconsistency away from Allen Fieldhouse.
Though Self jokingly boasted about his team’s 3-0 neutral court record Wednesday afternoon, while speaking with media members outside of KU’s Sprint Center locker room, the truth of the matter is, those victories over Michigan State in Indianapolis, and Marquette and Tennessee in Brooklyn may as well have occurred in another season, not just a different calendar year.
Now-injured center Udoka Azubuike and now-permanently absent shooting guard Lagerald Vick helped — in varying degrees — KU win those games. Even more relevant right now, both Azubuike and Vick also have postseason experience under Self as starters.
When Self looks into the eyes of his Jayhawks before Thursday night’s Big 12 quarterfinal matchup with Texas, he’ll only see two players who know what it’s like to put on a KU uniform and take on the stage that is March and the postseason. And as Self would point out, it’s not as if junior Mitch Lightfoot and sophomore Marcus Garrett were in prominent roles during KU’s most recent tournament runs.
The Jayhawks (23-8), theoretically, could come out against Texas and play on a higher level than seemed possible during the past couple of months. Maybe freshmen Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack, and junior forward Dedric Lawson — who watched from the sidelines during his redshirt year as KU reached the 2018 Final Four — will find themselves injected with new life. Perhaps they’re ready to author their own redemption stories by leading Kansas to its third Big 12 tournament title in the past four years.
If they are, Self wasn’t about to project as much. And why would he? The hall of fame coach has witnessed — in agonizing fashion — how this month can chew up and spit out even a team on the rise.
After agreeing that having a rotation featuring seven Jayhawks who have yet to play a postseason game for the program makes it challenging to assess how they’ll respond to what awaits them, Self recalled a set of March circumstances from much earlier in his tenure that proved how unpredictable college basketball can be this time of year.
“I thought we were as prepared as we ever could be when Mario (Chalmers) and those guys were freshmen, and we win the Big 12 tournament, beat LaMarcus (Aldridge, a standout big at Texas) and those dudes. And then we go to the NCAA Tournament, I promise you we looked good in practice and everything was great,” Self recollected.
The year he was referencing was 2006. And if you’ve followed KU long enough you know what happened next.
As a No. 4 seed, the Jayhawks played in the late Friday game of the first round, having spent at least parts of the two days leading up to a matchup with Bradley seeing or hearing about double-digit seeds such as George Mason, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Montana and Northwestern State pulling off upsets.
“You could see the body language and everything change in the locker room,” Self shared nearly 13 years later. “In fact you could almost cut it with a knife, because they got tight waiting. So who knows if that’ll happen agin. I certainly hope not.”
KU will play a late game against Texas (16-15) to open this postseason, and it won’t be until then that Self learns a little bit about how this group will handle all that comes with being a blue blood program every opponent would love to knock off.
“I do think when you’ve never been through it,” Self said, “there’s a lot of firsts, and, certainly, I think getting through a first game I think is important, whether it be this week or next week, to allow you to have a good tournament.”
Unknowns abound for this KU team, predominantly unschooled in the mayhem lurking around the corner.
And as Self learned back in 2006, even three wins in three days at the Big 12 tournament don't guarantee Kansas a successful Big Dance. Good or bad or somewhere in between, no one knows what will become of KU this week and next. Not yet. Not even Bill Self.
A path through March that could either redeem a Kansas basketball team dissatisfied with the way the past couple of months turned out or further expose the Jayhawks’ flaws begins at the Big 12 tournament.
Awaiting them at Sprint Center for Thursday’s last quarterfinal will be a Texas team that, though imperfect in its own right, handled KU the last time the two clashed, in Austin, Texas, six weeks ago.
In the fifth of KU’s eight road losses this season, the Longhorns’ front line of Jaxson Hayes (6-foot-11, 220 pounds), Dylan Osetkowski (6-9, 250) and Jericho Sims (6-9, 240) generally made life miserable for the Jayhawks’ go-to big, Dedric Lawson.
But the first-team all-Big 12 forward feels like he has some reinforcement on his side this time. In the midst earlier this week of praising UT’s front court players, Lawson brought up how during KU’s double-digit loss at Frank Erwin Center the Jayhawks were still using a four-guard lineup, and Marcus Garrett had to defend one of UT’s bigs.
Lawson’s eyes lit up when that train of thought led him to referencing how different KU’s lineup looks now, with 6-10, 265-pound David McCormack staring next to him.
“With the way Dave is playing, I’m excited to see that matchup,” Lawson said. “And I’m looking for a very fun game.”
An ankle injury suffered by Garrett a few days after the loss at Texas forced Bill Self to adjust his rotation. He would have to tinker yet again just a week later, when Lagerald Vick left the team. And that’s when Self landed on starting two bigs instead of one, and chose McCormack over Mitch Lightfoot for that role.
The Jayhawks are 6-2 since McCormack became a starter, and, as these things so often go, the more comfortable he gets on the court, the more impactful he’s become. The industrious first-year big man said this past week he feels like he set himself up for more minutes and a larger role.
“I think I’ve just been working and listening to coach and proving myself to gain more opportunities,” McCormack said.
At first, even after joining the starting five, McCormack wasn’t playing a ton. And he looked a lot more like a bit performer than someone who could be counted on to deliver in a pressure situation. As recently as the penultimate week of the regular season, McCormack logged only 7 minutes against Kansas State and 11 at Oklahoma State.
However, in the two games that followed, McCormack produced 18 points in a loss at Oklahoma and 12 points in a home win over Baylor, shooting 14-for-20 combined.
The No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament this year, KU (23-8) needs an effective McCormack to counteract a Texas front line that, according to Self, includes “arguably the best” NBA prospect in the conference, Hayes (averaging 10.3 points per game and 5.3 rebounds in league games).
| KU SPORTS HOUR PODCAST: A look at Kansas' chances at the Big 12 tourney and beyond... |
At Texas on Jan. 29, McCormack played all of 9 minutes off the bench. He wasn’t close to the same player then what he is now. And Self expects the freshman big man to prove himself to be a much greater factor on Thursday night.
"I watched the second game where we played Texas, and we were awful offensively. Awful,” Self said. “But we also tried to play four guards the vast majority of the time and we weren't getting really great production in what we were trying to do.”
Self thinks KU has played better since it began sticking with two bigs — some combination of Lawson, McCormack and Lightfoot. And he said those three will have to make their counterparts in UT’s front court respect them defensively.
“I don't think we did that at all the second time we played them,” Self added. “I think they had free traps — we didn't make them pay for trapping — a lot of things that allowed them to be rim protectors when we didn't get them away from the goal. There's a lot of things we didn't do very well, which hopefully we'll be able to combat and do quite a bit better this time."
KU — and Lawson in particular — could look completely overmatched inside earlier this season, with just one big man on the floor and not much help for Lawson off the bench.
As the Jayhawks enter the postseason, though, they’re better equipped to handle teams with long, strong and athletic front court players, because Lawson won’t be going it alone. Many have wondered all season when — or if — McCormack would reach a point where Self trusted him enough to make him a part of the rotation. Necessity forced the coach’s hand, and it took some time for McCormack to acclimate. But he has arrived.
And for the Jayhawks, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
David McCormack stats - February vs. March
February: 3.7 points per game, 3.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 8-for-13 FGs, 6-for-10 FTs, 14.0 minutes a game, in 6 games (DNP at K-State)
March: 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 15-for-24 FGS, 5-for-7 FTS, 16.7 minutes a game, in 3 games
Anyone who has spent spare time during the past couple of months checking in on the always fluid NCAA Tournament bracket projections by now knows the destinations by heart.
First- and second-round games will be played next week in San Jose, Calif.; Hartford, Conn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Des Moines, Iowa; Columbus, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; Columbia, S.C.; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
So where will the University of Kansas men’s basketball team be sent? That all depends on what happens in a few days in Kansas City, Mo.
As of Monday afternoon, ESPN projected Kansas as a No. 4 seed in the East region, playing in Hartford. CBS Sports also forecasted KU on the 4 line in the East, but had the Big 12’s third-place team opening the tournament out west, in San Jose. The Athletic, meanwhile, deemed the Jayhawks a 4 seed in the West regional, with their March Madness road beginning in Des Moines.
The man who will be coaching the Jayhawks in one of those cities or another hasn’t exactly come across as distraught about any of this.
"People have said that we may not be playing close (to Lawrence). To be honest, I don't care,” Bill Self said Monday during his press conference inside Allen Fieldhouse.
What Self is concerned with, though, is getting more out of his Jayhawks (23-8) this month than he did during an, at times, hectic regular season.
Asked if he had an idea about what KU would need to accomplish at this week’s Big 12 tournament to assure itself of a shorter trip for the opening round of the Big Dance, Self didn’t venture into specifics, but gave the sense that he expects the Jayhawks should be in good shape geographically if they avoid disaster in Kansas City.
“If you're a 3 seed, you’re going to be playing close. If you're a 4 seed, the chances are you're probably going to play close — now close meaning Des Moines or Tulsa — but it's not a definite,” he added. “If you're a 1 or 2, it's a lock.”
There are far too many teams in front of the Jayhawks for even a Big 12 tournament title to skyrocket them to such a favorable position. While seeding on Selection Sunday won’t be decided by the NCAA’s new NET rankings alone, KU enters this week at No. 20 on that list used to sort the nation’s best basketball teams.
Obviously that number — and KU’s NCAA seed line — could take a hit, too, should Kansas come out and drop its Thursday night quarterfinal versus Texas.
“So, we've got a lot of work to do,” Self stressed, while discussing his team’s postseason travels beyond this week. “We could certainly fall out of favor with that.”
If the NCAA’s selection committee still used the RPI as a go-to gauge, KU would be in great shape. That formula ranks Kansas No. 1 in the nation, with the No. 1 strength of schedule to boot.
The Jayhawks, of course, could help their standing in the eyes of the committee and in the NET rankings by adding wins to their resume in KC. Eight of the Big 12’s 10 teams rank in the top 50 of the NET, with the only outliers being No. 82 Oklahoma State and No. 110 West Virginia. And Kansas isn’t likely to meet either of them.
Big 12 teams in NET top 50:
No. 9 Texas Tech
No. 20 Kansas
No. 23 Iowa State
No. 24 Kansas State
No. 36 Baylor
No. 39 Texas
No. 40 Oklahoma
No. 47 TCU
A victory over any team not named OSU or WVU at Sprint Center would be what the selection committee refers to as a Quadrant 1 win — a home victory over a team ranked in the NET top 30, a neutral site win against a foe ranked in the NET top 50 or a road win versus an opponent ranked in the NET top 75.
Kansas entered Monday with a 10-7 record in Quadrant 1 games, ranking Self’s team behind only Virginia (11-2) and Michigan State (11-4) in Q1 wins, and tied with Kentucky (10-4) for third most.
“We have an opportunity to get, I think, three more quadrant one wins this week — so does everyone else in the tournament, as well,” Self pointed out. “It would be hard to put us too far down if we lead the country in quadrant one wins and, you know, have played the hardest schedule and all those things.”
Self could be proven wrong, he’s not buying the idea that the selection committee is planning on shipping Kansas to some first-round outpost that won’t be a manageable drive for the program’s fan base.
“I think whether or not we travel will be determined on how we play this weekend,” he said.
No matter how things go for the Jayhawks at Sprint Center on Thursday (and maybe Friday and Saturday), though, don’t count on them being able to return there two weeks from now for the Midwest Regional.
Self isn’t expecting the selection committee to reward the Jayhawks to that extent. Whatever seed line KU ends up on, it is far more likely to be in the South, West or East regions.
“Would I like that? Absolutely,” Self said of a Midwest assignment and potential Sweet 16 game at Sprint Center on March 29. “But the reality of that happening, that may not be. You wouldn't want to put us as a 4 seed in Kansas City where there's a No. 1 seed, potentially. That wouldn't be fair to the 1 seed. So I get that that's probably not going to happen. But we'll see. Who knows?"
If the only objective on the last day of the regular season was to pick up another victory, Bill Self would have been thrilled with the play of his Kansas basketball team on Saturday.
The truth is he was looking for more.
Self had no complaints about the way the Jayhawks handled Baylor’s zone defense in a 78-70 win at Allen Fieldhouse. In fact, the coach thought his players executed solidly for the most part.
With Devon Dotson attacking off the dribble and Dedric Lawson and David McCormack knowing exactly where to locate the Bears’ weak spots, the Jayhawks had few issues finding high-percentage shots.
On a couple of occasions, the Big 12’s third-place team even achieved near perfection in the half court, staging in unison the actions, screening and precise passing that allowed Quentin Grimes to lob alley-oop assists to freshman skywalker Ochai Agbaji.
Still, KU’s 16th-year head coach didn’t think the Jayhawks were “anything exceptional,” he would say afterward.
“We executed OK. It was just that the game didn’t have any oomph,” Self bemoaned of the performance. “Which obviously is a little disappointing, being our last game this year (at home).”
The Jayhawks (23-8 overall, 12-6 Big 12) needed a springboard of a finale to launch them into the postseason on a high note. Instead, they got a ho-hum home victory that didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the idea that they’re about to take off and finally play to their ceiling.
At least during the immediate aftermath of the win, Self was tepid on the state of the Jayhawks’ play following the 31-game regular season.
“I don’t really think I’m in love with how we’re playing, but I also don’t think that I’m ultra-concerned with how we’re playing,” he said. “You’re gonna be concerned this time of year, because from this point forward it’s one-and-done, so to speak, if you lose in both tournaments.”
KU’s most recent three-game winning streak came in mid-January, when the Jayhawks bookended an overtime road win over TCU with home victories against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. You many recognize those three opponents as the Big 12’s eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place teams in 2019.
The Jayhawks also won three in a row in January, beating TCU at home, Baylor on the road and Texas in Lawrence.
Even though Sprint Center often turns into a de facto home game for Kansas during the Big 12 tournament, it’s hard to talk yourself into believing there’s a scenario in which these Jayhawks win three games in three days.
“It’s gonna be hard to do,” Self admitted. “We know that, with playing guys as many minutes as we play them. But we’ve done it before and we’ve done it last year, and certainly we’re capable of going over there and putting together a nice run. I think it’ll be good for us to kind of get our batteries recharged.”
Maybe the Jayhawks didn’t win emphatically versus Baylor because they were still experiencing the hangover of disappointment that accompanied them coming up short in the Big 12 title race.
A first-team all-conference performer as well as the league’s top newcomer, redshirt junior Lawson reiterated Saturday that Self never put pressure on this team to extend KU’s title streak.
“I just wanted to win a Big 12 title just for myself and things like that. Plus, you want to keep the legacy going,” Lawson said. “At the end of the day we fell short and it’s not the end of the world”
The current Jayhawks may not have dominated their peers like their predecessors so often did. But they should at least be able to put all of that behind them now.
“Going forward we’re just trying to be the best team that we can be, have the best year we can have,” Lawson said, “going into the Big 12 tournament and finishing strong, and March Madness from there.”
KU still has close to four full days to prepare for Texas and its postseason debut. We’ll find out Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo., whether the Jayhawks have found the “oomph” needed to outperform their irregular season.
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. — 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 —
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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.