Once a national championship opponent of the Kansas Jayhawks, Memphis hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in three years. So you get a pass if you weren’t particularly familiar with a couple of second-year Tigers by the names of Dedric and K.J. Lawson before news of their plans to transfer to KU came out Monday.
Who are the Lawsons, exactly? Well, they’re brothers, as you likely guessed. Though they’re both in the same class from a student-athlete perspective, K.J. is actually a year older than Dedric, who reclassified to join Memphis at the same time as his brother.
Between them they combined to average more than 31 points per game this past season for Memphis (19-13) and head coach Tubby Smith.
Dedric, a 6-foot-9 guard/forward, proved to be more prolific offensively for the brothers’ hometown program, while nearly averaging a double-double — 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds — as a sophomore. He only shot 27% from 3-point range (30-for-111) but converted much more effectively on 2-point shots (52%) before he and his brother decided to move on. Dedric made himself a presence on defense, too, averaging 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals a game.
K.J., a 6-foot-7 guard/forward improved his production with a leap in minutes — and health — between his freshman and sophomore years. K.J. only played 10 games as a freshman, due to a foot injury, and averaged 8.8 points and 3.5 boards in 19.7 minutes.
Able to play 32 games the following year, his sophomore numbers improved to 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 33.7 minutes. This past season, K.J. was more accurate from 3-point range than his brother, connecting on 22 of 67 attempts (32.8%). K.J. shot 39.9% from the floor overall in 2016-17, while Dedric converted 46.1% of his field goals.
Dedric got to the free-throw line a lot more, hitting on 152 of 205 attempts (74.1%) as a sophomore. K.J. made 82 of 118 free throws (69.5%) this past year.
Considered the more talented of the two, Dedric tested the NBA Draft waters in 2016 after becoming the American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year and returned to school after attending the draft combine and hearing from NBA decision-makers about his stock.
Though his sophomore production wasn’t enough to make him an NBA player after two college seasons, Dedric and K.J. likely had their professional futures in mind when deciding to transfer to a high-profile program and play for Bill Self at Kansas.
Here’s a look at one of Dedric’s more effective games of his sophomore season — when he went for 26 points and 6 rebounds against Tulsa — which includes various examples of why he was named First Team All-AAC.
K.J. made it back-to-back AAC Rookie of the Year awards for the Lawson household as a sophomore. His 8.1 boards ranked him third in the conference, behind Dedric’s league-leading 9.9. Like his brother, who averaged 2.9 offensive rebounds a game, K.J. attacked the glass on that end of the floor, gathering 2.3 a game.
Though he wasn’t featured in the Tigers’ offense as much as his brother, he showed a smooth handle and shooting touch in spots, and put together a 19-rebound outing in January versus East Carolina.
“I think my strongest skill set is just my aggressiveness and my rebounding skills,” K.J. said in an interview after picking up his rookie hardware. “Just playing and just enforcing my will on people.”
The Lawson brothers, per NCAA rules, won’t make their KU debuts until the 2018-19 season, after sitting out this coming season as transfers.
Tulsa, Okla. — Going into any given game, Kansas backup big man Dwight Coleby never knows how much — or how little — head coach Bill Self will decide to use him.
Twelve times so far during his junior season, the 6-foot-9 reserve from Nassau, Bahamas, never ventured to the scorer’s table to check in for the Jayhawks. So one can imagine his surprise and delight when Coleby, after watching the entire first half of KU’s second-round matchup with Michigan State from the bench Sunday at BOK Center, heard his name called in the midst of a tight second half, in the NCAA Tournament.
What began as an opportunity to give starting center Landen Lucas a breather evolved into a much larger responsibility when Lucas picked up his third foul midway through the second half. Before long, Coleby, who entered the game averaging 5.1 minutes and 1.7 points on the season, began finishing defensive stops with rebounds and extending possessions with offensive boards.
Few would have predicted as much prior to tip-off, but Coleby played as big a part in Kansas advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 90-70 victory as anyone wearing a KU uniform.
“He saved my career,” senior center Lucas said after his understudy contributed three points, four rebounds and a steal in 9 second-half relief minutes. “He made some big plays. I’m not trying to go home. We’re trying to win a championship and that’s what it takes, guys being ready and he was ready.”
Two days earlier, Coleby only logged seven minutes in a game that never was in doubt versus UC-Davis, in the opening round. Though he fully understands his role with the team, the backup big said he always hopes to earn more time.
“It’s the brightest stage and I want to play,” Coleby said, when asked how he stays mentally focused while never being sure what will be asked of him, “so I’m just ready the whole time.”
A studious observer, he doesn’t mind doing much of his research from his seat on the bench.
“I just watch Landen, and everything he does and how he defends,” Coleby shared. “Whatever he does, I just try to pick up on it and ask him questions.”
It’s a quality that can be difficult to master but Coleby said he felt prepared long before his coach called his name.
Listed at 6-9 and 240 pounds, Coleby looks more the part of a prototypical Michigan State post player than KU sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr. During one second-half sequence, Bragg couldn’t finish over MSU’s Nick Ward after snagging an offensive rebound. When the teams switched ends of the floor, Ward posted up Bragg, spun off him for a layup and a foul, and cut KU’s lead to four.
Bragg only spent one minute on the court in the second half, and Self said after the victory he probably should have went to Coleby even sooner.
“One thing about Dwight, he's not that tall, but he is strong and can hold his position,” said Self, echoing words he often has used while praising Lucas. “And I thought he did a really nice job of holding his position. And also, his ball-screen defense was super, probably as good as any big guy we had today.”
Exerting yourself while college basketball fans across the country are watching sure beats Coleby’s usual contributions.
“It was great to be in and actually help the team,” Coleby said, wearing a huge smile in the locker room. “All the celebration with the bench is cool and all, but actually being on the court and doing it, it’s way much better.”
After a moment in the postseason spotlight, Coleby said he could feel the crowd’s excitement growing with his hustle plays, which also fueled his teammates in a crucial stretch of the win.
“Yeah, everybody was hyped and jumping up and down,” Coleby said of the support he saw. “It lifted us up, so that was great.”
Lucas told Coleby and the rest of his KU teammates before the game they should be prepared for anything. Clearly Coleby listened.
“It obviously takes a pretty strong mental person to be able to do that,” Lucas said of Coleby’s approach, “and he showed us today he’s prepared for that. And that’s great to see moving forward.”
Added Coleby: “We just needed energy and I brought it.”
Tulsa, Okla. — After missing his first Kansas basketball start of the season due to a suspension at the Big 12 tournament a week ago, star freshman Josh Jackson, whose off-the-court issues have led to outsiders scrutinizing both the guard and the program, Jackson told reporters Thursday he’s ready to put any distractions behind him.
According to his teammates who have been around the 6-foot-8 guard throughout KU’s eight-day break from actual games, Jackson shouldn’t have any problem bouncing back after disappointing himself, the Jayhawks and members of the fan base with his actions.
Jackson hasn’t played in nearly two weeks, but at practices since he served his one-game suspension, senior Landen Lucas said the freshman has proven to be assertive and vocal.
“Trying to be even more of a leader than he already was, and I think that was important for all of us to see, because we knew he felt bad after that last game and we were all disappointed by it,” Lucas said. “But he came out with a whole other level to him, and I’m just excited to see him carry it over into the games.”
The Detroit native and projected top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft, Jackson will get a chance to prove Lucas right in the NCAA Tournament, beginning Friday evening against UC-Davis (23-12).
Starting junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk expects a great response from Jackson in his postseason debut, and said Jackson will pick up right where he left off, prior to his suspension.
“Definitely, because he’s a great competitor,” Mykhailiuk said. “He’s a winner, and he always wants to play, he always wants to win. I think he’s gonna be really hungry in the game, and he’s gonna show his best.”
KU head coach Bill Self repeatedly has supported Jackson publicly, and did so again on the eve of KU’s tourney run, saying he had no concern about Jackson’s approach to the game moving forward.
“I think Josh is focused. I do,” Self said. “He's a tough-minded individual. I think he's focused. And certainly his role or playing time or whatnot, whatever will only be dictated by what happens between the lines. It won't be dictated by anything else. And I think he's ready to go.”
KU’s senior leader and point guard, Frank Mason III said Jackson has handled lingering off-the-court issues and various allegations well.
“Josh is a great kid. We all love him. We all know he has great experience and things like that,” Mason said. “So we just tell him to focus on the things that he can take care of and that's exactly what he does. And we're just proud of how far he came so far throughout his year, and we're just focused on today and we're not really worried about anything off the court.”
Obviously, Kansas missed Jackson’s athleticism, defense, passing, scoring and rebounding in its Big 12 tournament loss to TCU. Lucas emphasized the importance of the freshman’s presence as the Jayhawks begin what they hope will be a lengthy journey through March Madness.
“We were confident in our team in the game that he missed that we should’ve won, but he just adds so much to this team,” Lucas said, “especially with the four-guard lineup that we like to go with so much. His presence is definitely important to us. He brings a lot of energy during runs and spurts that we really need. He’s a top three, five pick in the NBA, so it’s always nice to have somebody like that on your team.”
Tulsa, Okla. — It has been a decade since Tim Jankovich called Lawrence, Kansas, home. But SMU’s head basketball coach is excited for a little bit of a reunion this weekend at the BOK Center.
After heading the program at North Texas and before lead positions at both Illinois State and SMU, Jankovich spent five seasons working with Bill Self — one at Illinois and four at Kansas, from 2002 to 2007.
The second-year coach of the Mustangs, who has the program in the NCAA Tournament as the No. 6 seed in the East region after regular-season and postseason American Athletic Conference championships, said at his Thursday afternoon press conference he was happy to get the chance to work in the same building as his old friends from Kansas again.
“We’ve been texting,” Jankovich said of his interactions with his former boss, Self, since the brackets came out on Sunday. “I don’t know if we’re gonna get together for dinner — we’re a little bit busy.”
Jankovich will try to guide SMU (30-4) past No. 11 seed USC on Friday afternoon, while Self’s Jayhawks, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, will face UC-Davis later that night.
The head coach in waiting while former KU head coach Larry Brown led SMU the past four years, Jankovich has the program back in the tournament after the NCAA hit the Mustangs with a postseason ban in 2016. He went 106-64 in five seasons at Illinois State after leaving KU.
His winning ways (SMU is on a 16-game win streak and has already set a program record for victories in a season) are reminiscent of Self, and Jankovich showed Thursday a little bit of his sense of humor while fielding questions — a staple of Self Q & A’s. The SMU coach, of course, paid close attention to Wednesday night’s First Four matchup between Providence and USC, when the Trojans trailed by 17 points in the first half before hammering the Friars, 46-27, in the final 20 minutes.
A reporter asked Jankovich for his assessment of how USC (25-9) looked in the two halves of its First Four victory.
“My thoughts are I wish they would play two halves like their first half,” Jankovich joked of the Trojans’ Friday game versus his Mustangs. “That's kind of what I'm hoping. I like their team way better in the first half, and I recommend they stay with that plan.”
Certainly at some point before the former KU assistant and Self leave Tulsa, they will get to cross paths. And if teams play to their seeding, Self might even be able to help Jankovich with a scouting report on Baylor — a potential hurdle for SMU in the Round of 32.
“But I’m excited that Kansas is here,” Jankovich said. “Hopefully we’ll get to run into a lot of people. I haven’t been back in a while. So it’s a little extra-exciting for me that they’re here.”
In 2014, one-and-done Kansas star Andrew Wiggins became the No. 1 pick in the draft after leading the Jayhawks in scoring. Yet, as this year’s KU team prepares to begin its postseason run, one gets the sense Kansas expects even more out of its latest NBA-bound freshman wing, Josh Jackson.
Three years ago, coach Bill Self needed Wiggins to score, draw fouls (he got to the free-throw line 227 times during his one year of college basketball), help the Jayhawks on the glass and use his athleticism and wingspan to defend all over the floor.
Self requires all of that and then some from the 6-foot-8 Jackson, who is a far more polished driver and passer for KU than Wiggins was before turning pro.
Wiggins definitely did a better job of staying out of trouble off the court during his brief stay in Lawrence. Jackson will serve a one-game suspension for KU’s Big 12 tournament opener on Thursday after backing into a parked car last month and failing to leave proper contact information. This display of poor judgment came in the same month Jackson was charged with criminally damaging a car in a separate incident.
Self has to be perturbed by Jackson’s actions, which led the coach to keep him out of the lineup for a postseason game. Fortunately for Self and the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (28-3), Jackson has looked far more shrewd on the court and even has overcome a tendency earlier this season to draw a technical foul here or there.
Speaking with media members on Monday, prior to news of Jackson’s suspension, Self cited his star freshman’s mental approach to basketball as a reason the explosive wing from Detroit has been able to set himself apart from past one-and-done prospects who passed through KU.
“In crucial situations, he’s got a calmness about him,” Self said of the 20-year-old Jackson. “I think that his intangible makeup is as good as any that I’ve ever been around, especially at that age.”
Wiggins was definitely the better athlete — which is saying something when you’re being compared to Jackson — but Self might trust Jackson as a player more than any freshman he has ever coached.
Jackson and Wiggins arrived at Kansas in very different situations. Jackson gets to play in a four-guard lineup with all-league veterans Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. The most experienced guard Wiggins played alongside was Naadir Tharpe. Still, it’s difficult to envision Jackson’s college season — and career — ending with a 4-point outing in a loss, which turned out to be the case for Wiggins.
Jackson seems too competitive — and maybe it’s easier to be that way when you’re rolling with a national player of the year candidate like Mason — to not find multiple ways to impact the game every time he steps on the floor.
The freshman from Detroit has overcome the pressure of arriving at Kansas with the expectations of a rabid fan base hovering over him, too. Self said earlier this season playing under some duress might have led to some early struggles, such as 3-point shooting. A 37.7-percent 3-point shooter on the season, Jackson has knocked down 12 of 25 (48 percent) from deep since the end of January.
“But, you look at it, he’s been pretty consistently good in defense, rebounding, extra possessions, energy, making plays for others, passing,” Self said. “And you know he’s been a consistent scorer.”
Those skills and Jackson’s personality make him look like a far more dangerous player, capable of improving KU’s postseason chances, than Wiggins was three years before him.
The Canadian sensation came through with scoring outputs of 30, 22 and 19 points in the 2014 postseason prior to KU’s loss to Stanford in the first weekend. Jackson is so versatile he could put up big points like Wiggins or not and still give the Jayhawks a chance to win by doing the other things he’s shown all season.
Jackson might not end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, but he seems to have the kind of mental makeup and array of skills to do more for Kansas this postseason than Wiggins could in 2014.
Below is a look at the regular-season statistical output from both Wiggins and Jackson, prior to the start of the Big 12 tournament.
|Andrew Wiggins' stats
entering 2014 postseason
|Josh Jackson's stats
entering 2017 postseason
While Frank Mason III’s extraordinary senior year has elevated Kansas to the No. 1 ranking in the nation and allowed the Petersburg, Va., native to accumulate a growing collection of individual awards, it also could pave his way to the NBA — which appeared far less likely before Mason’s supreme run through the 2016-17 season began.
Listed at 5-foot-11, Mason’s size, more than anything else, inspires evaluators at the next level to hesitate rather than assume his game translates perfectly to the NBA, where players are taller, stronger and faster than in the college ranks.
But Mason’s numbers this season — 20.5 points a game, 5.1 assists, 48.8 percent shooting from the floor, 49.3 percent accuracy from 3-point range — have forced his name into the NBA Draft conversation.
His college coach, Bill Self, who undoubtedly will go to bat for Mason via conversations with scouts, general managers and coaches in the months ahead, said Monday his tough-minded senior point guard has helped his case in another way, as well.
“I think winning trumps everything,” Self said. “I think Frank would agree with that. But also, you know, the naysayers would say, ‘Look, he's only 5-10.’ But the league is getting a little bit smaller and there’s more guys having success, whether it be a Yogi Ferrell or whatnot that's not that big.”
In the 2016 draft, the entire league passed on Ferrell, the Indiana point guard Self referenced. Now the 6-foot rookie is starting for Dallas and has a guaranteed contract.
Mason is so diminutive by NBA standards that he even lacks Ferrell’s size — unless you add Mason’s hair to the equation. As Self mentioned, Mason probably is closer to 5-10. Fair or unfair, the league the KU senior aspires to join always has been one of giants. Self is right that the NBA is trending toward more guard-and-wing-heavy lineups, but the fact is very few roster spots are occupied by players similar to Mason.
So far this year in the NBA, only six players under 6-feet have appeared in games. One, Boston’s 5-9 dynamo, Isaiah Thomas, is enjoying an all-NBA-level campaign, which in theory could inspire some decision-makers to give Mason a longer look.
|John Lucas III||5-11||34||MIN||5||0||2.2||0.0||0.2||0.4||0.0||0.4||.250||.000||.250||.250|
Although Thomas’ success is an outlier, the NBA once had serious questions about his chances, too, before Sacramento took him with the final pick in the 2011 draft. Self understands Mason will have to overcome similar skepticism.
“I don't think anybody has ever questioned his toughness or the fact that he's a good player. I just think they questioned can he do what he does against bigger guys and NBA players” Self said.
“The way he finishes and now the way he shoots it, it certainly puts you in a situation where you’ve gotta guard him,” KU’s coach added, championing his point guard’s ability and referencing Mason’s remarkable 70-for-142 shooting from 3-point range. “Now if you guard him, all you do is open up driving angles, which we all know he's very good at touching the paint off the bounce.”
The good news for Mason is the more of a name he makes for himself at KU, the more those who doubt him in the NBA will have to reevaluate their opinions. Entering the postseason, DraftExpress.com has Mason as the No. 58 choice (two picks before the final spot) in this June’s draft.
Mason began transforming himself into a legitimate NBA prospect this past summer. He said he learned a lot by going through pro-type workouts with players who had experienced the game at that level.
“And I think it really paid off for me,” he said.
Of course, Mason’s NBA future is not even in the driven senior’s field of vision right now, with his Jayhawks (28-3) gearing up for what they hope will be a March full of cutting down nets.
“I haven't really been thinking about that,” Mason said Monday in response to a question regarding his draft chances. “I’ve just been enjoying college and just focusing on the season. I haven't been thinking about the NBA.”
When discussing the strengths of the top-ranked Kansas basketball team, one of the last facets likely to come up is the Jayhawks’ bench.
KU’s substitutes definitely haven’t derailed the team’s efforts — Kansas enters its regular-season finale Saturday at Oklahoma State at 27-3 overall and 15-2 in the Big 12. It’s just the backups haven’t blown anyone away, either.
Even so, coach Bill Self has to feel more positive than negative about the state of his bench with the postseason approaching, due to the recent resurgence of sophomore Lagerald Vick. The 6-foot-5 guard from Memphis has established himself as the clear sixth man.
Reserve bigs Carlton Bragg and Dwight Coleby, though, have not left the same kind of impression on their coach. Asked earlier this week what he likes about what the Jayhawks are getting from Vick, Bragg and Coleby, KU’s coach mentioned his big men only to acknowledge each had one memorable performance over the past few weeks.
“Dwight was great against Texas, Carlton was great against TCU. But it's been inconsistent,” Self said, prior to speaking at length about Vick’s qualities.
A 6-10 sophomore from Cleveland, Bragg turned in his best performance of the season against TCU, going for 15 points and 7 rebounds. The very next game, at Texas, 6-9 junior transfer Coleby had his foremost showing in a KU uniform, posting 12 points and 4 boards in 13 minutes.
Still, Self wants more from them, and he doesn’t even worry that much about how many points Bragg or Coleby — or even Vick — add to the Kansas mission. KU’s coach, who has navigated the program to 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, referred to bench scoring as a statistic that is “way, way, way, way overrated.” So he couldn’t care less that the Jayhawks’ bench players out-scored their counterparts in six straight games before losing that battle by 2 against Oklahoma earlier this week.
Vick’s scoring and shooting aren’t always there, but Self mentions him as the vital component of the bench unit because the springy sophomore can inject the lineup with energy.
Obviously, Bragg and Coleby can’t fly around the court the way Vick does. But they could win their coach’s favor by emulating the least showy player on the roster, starting center Landen Lucas.
So much of a glue guy it wouldn’t be surprising to see his face on a bottle of Elmer’s, Lucas provided an easy guide for Bragg and Coleby. According to the starter, here’s what KU needs out of either relief big when the fifth-year senior is on the bench:
- “Just to come in and defensively be in the right positions, making sure that it’s tough for the other team’s bigs to score,” Lucas began.
- “You know, use your fouls wisely — if you’re gonna foul, foul somebody. Make sure there’s not and-ones.”
- “Making sure that you just make the people that surround you better. That’s what I try to do and hopefully when I come out the game they can come in and continue to make the other guys better.”
- “And that really starts with the defensive end … and also rebounds and doing the small things.”
There you have it, straight from an expert on the subject. Bragg and Coleby can impact KU victories by taking the Lucas approach. When big men do that type of dirty work, the more enjoyable rewards, such as dunks and blocked shots, tend to follow, as well.
Vick might be the most reliable member of the Kansas bench right now, but there’s no reason Bragg and Coleby can’t try to catch up. Self knows Vick can make winning plays even without scoring. Now it’s time for the backup big men to do the same.
Said Self: “You know, we talk about people a lot of times as a team saying, you know, you can breathe life into the room or you can suck all the energy out of the room. And a guy off the bench needs to breathe life, breathe life into his team.”
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.”
Had they come in another setting, instead of during the final home game for seniors Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas and walk-on Tyler Self, the 19 turnovers Kansas committed against Oklahoma would have put head coach Bill Self in a grumpier mood Monday night.
Following the Jayhawks’ late recovery and Senior Night victory, though, the head coach went out of his way to deliver more positives than negatives in his post-game message.
Still, it’s not in Self’s nature to ignore plays he deems soft, sloppy or conducive to forming bad habits. So the 14th-year KU coach, while reviewing a first half versus OU in which he thought the Jayhawks (27-3 overall, 15-2 Big 12) played as poorly as they had all season, acknowledged ball security contributed to that forgettable stretch.
“Just throw the ball away, give it to ’em,” the coach said of KU’s apparent offensive approach at times against the Sooners.
It marked the second game in a row in which Self followed a victory by bringing up his thinking that turnovers are one of his team’s flaws. When you’re coaching the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, of course, complacency isn’t an attribute you’re striving for, either — that’s why Self initiates these types of discussions.
“With this team, if you have 11 turnovers you think you handled it like Princeton did back in the glory days,” Self joked shortly after KU’s 11-giveaway evening at Texas on Saturday.
So just how much of a concern is KU’s ability to maximize possessions? Given it will be March the next time the Jayhawks play — Saturday’s regular-season finale at Oklahoma State (5 p.m., ESPN) — there’s no better time to fine-tune your offense.
Entering Tuesday, Kansas ranked 154th in the country in turnovers per game (13.0). That doesn’t read too favorably when you think about the fact that only 68 teams make the NCAA Tournament. But the Jayhawks aren’t awful, either. Per sports-reference.com, they rank 98th out of 351 Division I teams in turnover percentage — an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays — at 15.5%.
Kansas encountered some luck versus OU, because the Sooners only turned KU’s 19 gifts into 11 points. The Jayhawks weren’t so fortunate a few weeks earlier, when Iowa State pulled off an almost unheard of road victory at Allen Fieldhouse by scoring 22 points on 19 KU turnovers. The other league loss for the Big 12 champions, at West Virginia, featured 19 points for the Mountaineers via 13 Kansas mistakes.
“We can definitely not be very good, which is a negative,” Self said Monday, in reference to some stretches this season, such as the prolonged one vs. OU, when the offense — ranked fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom.com — has sputtered.
Among KU’s top nine players, three upperclassmen guards rank as the surest ball-handlers statistically. From sports-reference.com, here are the individual turnover percentages for the Jayhawks who are on scholarship and healthy:
Svi Mykhailiuk: 12.3%
Frank Mason III: 13.2%
Devonte’ Graham: 13.3%
Dwight Coleby: 13.8%
Lagerald Vick: 15.2%
Josh Jackson: 15.9%
Carlton Bragg Jr.: 16.3%
Mitch Lightfoot: 21.7%
Landen Lucas: 22%
Playing in what was sure to be his final home game, too, Jackson’s turnover issues flared up against the Sooners, when the freshman committed eight. Mason, likewise, was uncharacteristically lax with the ball, losing a possession four times.
For the most part, Self trusts his skilled four-guard lineup to deliver winning plays game after game. He’s right, nevertheless, to remind them when they’re trending more atypically careless, as he did following a largely clean win at Texas, rebuking cross-court passes that gave the Longhorns layups.
Steering the Jayhawks as close as possible to a mistake-free offense isn’t nitpicking, it’s a ploy to increase KU’s chances of getting where every team wants to go this year: Glendale, Arizona, for the Final Four.
This season, Self’s team repeatedly has displayed late-game poise and a collective belief that the Jayhawks will figure out a way to win. Those qualities also allow their coach to worry a little less, while emphasizing the need to never stop improving.
“We’re not always gonna play well,” Self said, “but usually at game point these guys compete about as hard as anybody I’ve had.”
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)