In a rare Allen Fieldhouse loss Sunday to surging Arizona State, no potential defect for the now 13th-ranked Kansas basketball team leapt off the court quite like the Jayhawks’ perimeter defense.
KU’s defenders uncovered no real solutions for hindering either the paint-bound drives or 3-point bombs of Sun Devils guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Remy Martin.
The trio accounted for 72 of ASU’s 95 points in a road victory that propelled the Pac-12 program to a No. 5 national ranking. Holder (29 points), a 6-foot-1 senior, shot 4-for-7 from long range and scored eight points in the paint. Evans, also a 6-1 senior, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and scored four points off layups. Martin, a 6-1 freshman, drained both of his attempts from beyond the arc and added 10 points at the rim.
Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham shined some light on the defensive conundrum he and his teammates faced while trying to stop Arizona State’s dynamic guards.
“They were really tough, because they were so quick and they could shoot the ball really well. It was hard to guard both,” Graham began. “You know, you wanted the short close-out because you were worried about the drive. And then they could shoot it. They did a great job knocking down shots.”
Especially in cases when Holder or Evans spotted up on the perimeter and waited for a kick-out, Kansas defenders found it hard to decide whether to fly at a shooter or close their ground under control to better limit an attack off the dribble.
At other points, ASU coach Bobby Hurley asked Holder to attack off ball screens, and those situations harmed the Jayhawks, as well, even if it wasn’t one of the guards finishing the play. Five of 6-8 freshman forward Romello White’s six buckets came at the rim. Improperly defending a White screen-and-roll with Holder meant an assist for the senior ball-handler and a layup for the young big man.
After Kansas dropped its second game in a row, 15th-year head coach Bill Self — without naming any specific culprit — deplored the way Graham, Lagerald Vick, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk guarded their ASU counterparts.
“(ASU) ran some actions to create switches and, you know, our ball-screen defense wasn’t any good today,” Self began. “But basically they were better with the ball, which they’ve been with everybody. They put it on Xavier pretty good, too. They’re good. And they were better with the ball than we were obviously, physically being able to stay in front of them.”
The defensive malfunctions throughout the second half allowed Arizona State (9-0) to put up 58 points in the final 20 minutes, on 58% shooting, as the visitors converted 11 layups or dunks and shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
The display is likely to become a favorite of the most talented guards remaining on KU’s schedule, who will watch the video evidence of how to attack the Jayhawks picturing themselves doing the same. The more quick-off-the-bounce drivers and shooters a team has on its roster, the better its coaches and players will feel about matching up with Kansas.
Even when KU’s offense finally rallied late in the second half, its defense couldn’t stop Evans during a critical stretch, when he nailed three 3-pointers in less than four minutes.
The Jayhawks either gave him too much space or flew right past him, allowing Evans to flourish and further embolden his teammates for crunch time.
Really, the only portion of the game in which Kansas played effective defensively came in the opening minutes, when the Jayhawks built a 13-point lead they couldn’t sustain.
“I thought the first half, early in the half we did a pretty good job,” Self said. “They’re going to score points. I don’t see how you keep them from scoring points, especially if they shoot the ball like that.”
Of course, that defensive success proved short-lived. Once KU’s breakdowns on the perimeter allowed ASU back in the game, its talented guards kept exposing their opponent’s weaknesses, paving the way for a 51% shooting performance from the field and 14-for-28 accuracy from 3-point range.
At times, it was simple as Holder, Evans or Martin blowing by the Jayhawk in front of him for a layup.
“They played take-em a lot in the second half,” Self said, “and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
By the end of a stressful afternoon for KU’s perimeter defenders, the Sun Devils had foisted the Jayhawks into so many missteps it seemed like every shot ASU put up was bound to drop through the net.
Even a Steph Curry-range dagger.
Avenues toward an improved KU defense obviously still exist, even as the team tries to maximize minutes from its starting five while incorporating just two rotation players, Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett, off the bench.
As a jumping off point, Self said his players need to learn how to defend in a fashion that makes their opponents uneasy on offense.
“A lot of it is toughness. When things aren’t going well you kind of grind through it a little bit, and we just don’t have that right now,” Self said. “That’s what we’ve got to get as much as anything else. We’ve got to get to the point where we can make others play bad. See, they could make us play bad because they could tell Remy Martin to go guard the ball and he’d get a deflection or a steal (five takeaways at KU) or what not. We don’t have people that can do that. So we’ve got to figure out a way to collectively not let people be comfortable as a team. That’s not working right now.”
KU’s senior leader and best player, Graham understands the Jayhawks must enhance their defense. They might have held Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern, Oakland and Syracuse below 37% shooting, but Washington converted 48% of its shots in an upset at Sprint Center, and Arizona State, the best team Kansas has faced so far, out-scored KU 93-70 in the final 36-plus minutes at the feildhouse.
“We’ve got to work on it a lot,” Graham said of KU’s defense. “We’re just not guarding the ball really well right now. We’ve got to get better, especially on that end of the court. We’ve got a whole week until our next game and we’re going to get better.”
We all now recognize how flammable the shooting hand of Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham can get, in wake of his back-to-back 35-point performances this past week, spearheading victories over Toledo and Syracuse.
It’s safe to say any one of the Jayhawks’ starters, Graham confirmed, could put up 20 points and no one would experience an iota of astonishment. But which of his teammates is most capable of exploding for 30 or more points like the senior point guard has?
“There’s no telling,” Graham replied, when asked for his opinion. “It could be Lagerald, could be Svi, could be Malik. Udoka could go crazy one night. … Anybody could have a hot night any given night. If everybody’s being aggressive, somebody’s gonna probably get hot.”
Spoken tactfully, like a true veteran leader. Maybe junior wing Lagerald Vick could slash and shoot his way to 30. Or senior Svi Mykhailiuk might bombard an opponent with 3-pointers en route to a huge night. Perhaps sophomore guard Malik Newman gets hot, while also scoring in bunches in transition for a career performance. It’s conceivable 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could be so overpowering against a front line that he dunks, lay-ups and jump-hooks his way to a massive scoring total.
Who knows? Well, actually, KU head coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea.
Asked which of Graham’s running mates is most likely to go off in the fashion his senior point guard did, Self didn’t have to ponder the inquiry at all.
“Svi,” Self replied, even before the question was completed. “Svi. I think Svi’s shown that.”
As KU’s coach referenced, Mykhailiuk nearly reached 30 a few weeks ago, on a night he shot 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and put up 27 against South Dakota State. But that doesn’t mean Self determined the 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine is the only plausible candidate for the high-scoring, No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (91.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country).
“I think Lagerald can, too,” Self added of the 6-5 guard from Memphis, who produced 20 points against Syracuse while only hitting one 3-pointer.
“And Dok, I’m a little disappointed in Dok in the last game,” Self said of the mammoth post man from Nigeria, who is shooting 77% from the floor and already has finished 26 slams on the season, “because he never put himself in position to score — he never ducked in one time, he never posted up. It’s like the zone messed with his head. And he’s got to be able to play through that.”
Although Azubuike is averaging 14.6 points as a sophomore, Self expressed his dismay about the center’s season-low 6 points versus Syracuse’s 2-3 zone most likely because Kansas is about to face that type of defense again Wednesday night vs. Washington, in Kansas City, Mo.
The Jayhawks (7-0) also could use a bounce-back performance from Newman. The former Mississippi State guard registered his first single-digit scoring game at KU in Miami, going 1-for-8 with just 2 points.
“And Malik’s obviously a guy that can get 20 any night if he’s playing well,” Self added. “And, of course, that wasn’t one of his better games obviously.”
The key takeaway from the who-else-can-get-hot discussion, though, was what an enviable position this team is in from an offensive standpoint.
“The good thing about having five guys that are capable of doing that is you don’t have to have all five guys the same night,” Self said. “You can just have two or three have big nights.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach pointed out Graham, Vick and Mykhailiuk (11 points) combined to contribute 66 of KU’s 76 points in the win over the ACC’s Orange.
“And to be honest with you the other — I could be off on this — the other 10 points we scored, four of them were uncontested lob plays. Not baskets you have to earn,” Self said. “And Malik got an offensive rebound and a put-back on a layup. That’s it. To think we could beat Syracuse when we only have three guys contribute offensively statistically, I think that hopefully is a good sign.”
It seems most fans would agree with Self’s judgment that Mykhailiuk is the most likely Jayhawk to catch fire offensively. Fifty percent of those who voted on Twitter selected the senior marksman as most likely to join Graham as a 30-point scorer at some point this season.
Mykhailiuk definitely qualifies as the most probable to go off. But don’t rule out Newman. The 6-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., hasn’t even reached 20 points yet at Kansas, but he has the confidence and shooter’s mentality to erupt when he inevitably has a game where he’s feeling it.
Newman isn’t a gunner as a rule, but if there’s a matchup that favors him and his teammates aren’t at their offensive peak, he wouldn’t have any trouble becoming the go-to scorer when needed.
Here’s a further look at each of the candidates.
Season stats: 14.6 PPG, 77% FGs, 40% FTs
Career highs: 21 points, vs. Oakland (Nov. 21); 10 FGs, vs. Oakland; 4 FTs, vs. UMKC (Dec. 6, 2016)
Season stats: 17.1 PPG, 51% FGs, 54% 3s, 63% FTs
Career highs: 27 points, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17); 10 FGs, vs. South Dakota State; 6 3-pointers, vs. Chaminade (Nov. 23, 2015); 5 FTs, vs. Baylor (Jan. 2, 2016)
Season stats: 11.9 PPG, 46% FGs, 40% 3s, 100% FTs
Career highs: 25 points, vs. Ole Miss (while at Mississippi State, Jan. 23, 2016); 8 FGs, vs. Ole Miss; 7 3-pointers, vs. Ole Miss; 6 FTs, vs. Tulane (Dec. 18, 2015)
Season stats: 16.4 PPG, 54% FGs, 47% 3s, 71% FTs
Career highs: 23 points, vs. Tennessee State (Nov. 10); 9 FGs, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17) and Long Beach State (Nov. 29, 2016); 4 3-pointers, vs. Tennessee State and Long Beach State; 4 FTs, vs. West Virginia (Feb. 13, 2017) and TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)
Back before he became the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, defensive end Julius Peppers spent his football offseasons in Chapel Hill, N.C., helping the University of North Carolina’s vaunted basketball program win ACC and postseason games.
So when the Kansas basketball team this season ran into such depth issues that head coach Bill Self only played six Jayhawks 20 or more minutes in each of the first three games it stood to reason some multi-skilled athlete from the KU football team with a basketball past might become useful inside Allen Fieldhouse.
I was convinced Kansas junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. was the perfect man for the job. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Armstrong might not be quite as imposing at the 6-7, 290-pound Peppers was, but it’s the same idea: put a freakishly athletic, muscle-bound pass-rusher on the court, let him intimidate opponents and/or wreak havoc on the rim. In other words: Grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
That was basically my pitch to Armstrong recently during one of his weekly interview sessions. So had the former big man at Houston’s North Shore High, where he played on a 5A state championship team in 2014, ever entertained the idea of going back to his hoops roots at Kansas?
“Nuh-uh,” Armstrong replied, while shaking his head and grinning. “No.”
Armstrong has to be one of the most hulking individual’s on KU’s campus. And you have to admit, it seems like the basketball roster could use another big body.
“I don’t know. I don’t really get into it. My focus is all here. I feel like they’ve got everything taken care of over there,” Armstrong assessed. “So I’ll keep my focus over here and try and get this thing flipped.”
But what about Peppers? That’s proof it could work, right? The defensive end/power forward averaged 7.1 points and and 4.0 rebounds in his second (and final) basketball season at UNC (2000-01).
“No, my basketball days are over with,” Armstrong said with a laugh. “I haven’t been on the court in a minute. Can’t even run up and down that thing no more.”
Armstrong actually scored in double figures several times during his final prep season at North Shore. But as it turns out, an even more skilled basketball player existed on the KU football roster: backup sophomore tight end James Sosinski.
Longtime Self assistant Norm Roberts told his boss about Sosinski, who played previously at South Mountain Community College, in Phoenix, Ariz., after Roberts ran into the tight end’s father at a KU football game. Then Self called KU football coach David Beaty to inquire further.
“Of course David’s great, and he was totally open to him coming out,” Self added.
Armstrong never was going to be the KU basketball equivalent of Peppers at UNC, and Sosinski won’t be either. Self is giving the 6-7 former club teammate of Mitch Lightfoot a look at practices to see how the tight end might fit in and be of use in KU’s shallow front court. If it ever reaches a point where Sosinski is checking into a game for Self’s Jayhawks, the coach predicts it wouldn’t be more than “maybe a minute or two here or there,” no different than when he goes to walk-ons Clay Young and Chris Teahan.
Self revealed this won’t be the first time he borrowed some talent from a football program.
“We did it at Illinois,” Self said. “Illinois had a wide receiver who actually played in the NFL, a kid named Walter Young, and he was a good high school player. For whatever reason we were short on depth — in practice, not in games.”
Young played sparingly for Self’s Illini in the 2001-02 season, averaging 1.0 points and 2.5 minutes per game before becoming a seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2003.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with that he played football,” Self added. “I think it was just that that was the best possibility on campus.”
Sosinski falls into the same category now for Kansas. Even though it would’ve been fascinating to see a second-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman like Armstrong out in transition for a break-away jam. We’ll just have to settle for a backup tight end.
Kansas coach Bill Self never has been one to give much thought to national rankings and where his Jayhawks land on such lists.
But considering KU enters Tuesday’s home game against Toledo at 5-0, with an average scoring margin of roughly 94-62 in its victories, Self didn’t mind sharing his opinion on where his team stands among the country’s best when asked whether the Jayhawks are playing at a level worthy of their No. 2 ranking.
“I don’t have any idea,” Self began, before providing his observations of non-conference matchups across the country. “You know, you watch the games this past weekend and those teams have had an opportunity to play comparable level of teams and we’ve only had that once.”
As Self referenced, many of college basketball’s top teams spent a part of Thanksgiving week playing in destination tournaments, providing them with a national stage and name-recognition opponents. Kansas, meanwhile, played two games inside Allen Fieldhouse against teams from the SWAC and Horizon League.
No. 1 Duke, which already had a Champions Classic victory over No. 3 Michigan State on its résumé, padded it with wins in Portland, Ore., over Texas and No. 6 Florida.
No. 3 Michigan State, with its only loss coming on a neutral floor to Duke, added wins over UConn and No. 13 North Carolina.
No. 4 Villanova won The Battle 4 Atlantis with victories against unranked Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Northern Iowa.
No. 5 Notre Dame won the Maui Invitational by defeating host Chaminade, LSU and No. 8 Wichita State.
Though No. 6 Florida lost to Duke, it also gained a victory over No. 15 Gonzaga at Nike’s PK80 mega-event, in Portland.
However, No. 7 Kentucky, like Kansas, has run through a series of non-conference opponents who operate outside of the Power 5 conferences since the two met in Chicago earlier this month.
While most of KU’s wins aren’t exactly eye-catching — Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern and Oakland — its preeminent victory to date came against UK at the Champions Classic.
“But you really look at it, when you look at those teams that are ranked really high in the top 10 most of them have only had two games like that,” Self said. “We’ve had one. So very few have had three or whatever yet. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t get there.”
The Jayhawks’ various blowout victories in non-conference play actually have propelled them to the No. 1 spot in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. According to KenPom.com, Kansas currently has the sixth-most efficient offense and fifth-most efficient defense in the country, numbers good enough to offset a strength of schedule that ranks 201st at this juncture.
“But I think based on who we played, I think we’ve played pretty well considering who we played. If it was somebody else and we played pretty well but we won by 10 I’d say the same thing,” Self said, referencing his disregard for the actual final margin in KU’s wins. “The teams that we beat are better than what the score indicated, so I think we’ve played pretty well.”
Does that mean Kansas deserves its No. 2 ranking in the nation, according to both the AP and coaches polls?
“Probably not. Probably not,” Self repeated, “but it’s still too early. I don’t know who exactly does deserve it just yet if you haven’t really had a chance to play the quality competition that you need to in order to be ranked that high.”
AP TOP 25 (Nov. 27, 2017)
No. 1. Duke
No. 2. Kansas
No. 3. Michigan State
No. 4. Villanova
No. 5. Notre Dame
No. 6. Florida
No. 7. Kentucky
No. 8. Wichita State
No. 9. Texas A & M
No. 10. Miami
No. 11. Cincinnati
No. 12. Minnesota
No. 13. North Carolina
No. 14. USC
No. 15. Gonzaga
No. 16. Baylor
No. 17. Louisville
No. 18. Virginia
No. 19. West Virginia
No. 20. Arizona State
No. 21. Xavier
No. 22. Texas Tech
No. 23. TCU
No. 24. Alabama
No. 25. Creighton
The days of NBA commissioner Adam Silver shaking the hands of one-and-done draftees from Kansas, such as Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Josh Jackson, could be over in the not-too-distant future.
Since 2006, the league has not allowed players to enter the NBA Draft directly out of high school, meaning most of America’s elite basketball prospects end up playing at least one season of college basketball. But Silver said during a press conference at the NBA Finals he — and many others impacted by the current structure — would like to put a “better system” in place.
The topic of the league’s current age requirement — 19 years old and one year removed from high school graduation — came up, Silver pointed out, during the latest collective bargaining negotiations. The NBA’s formal position, Silver stated, is in favor of raising the minimum age to 20. The NBA’s players association wants it lowered to 18, allowing the most coveted rookies to maximize their career earning potential.
The NBA’s owners and players tabled the issue when the sides last got together. Silver said in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday further study on the matter is needed.
“This year the projection is that we're going to have 20 one-and-done players coming, actually being drafted this year. When we first changed the minimum age from 18 to 19, the following year in 2006 we had two one-and-done players,” Silver began. “So my sense is it's not working for anyone. It's not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They're not happy with the current system.”
From the NBA’s perspective, its leader said franchises aren’t happy about the present one-and-done format, either. Silver related the feeling among organizations that the youngest incoming rookies aren’t arriving with the training teams expect to see out of top picks.
What’s more, Silver said veteran players have voiced their concerns that rookies often don’t enter the league game-ready, the way some of them did out of college.
“And we're also seeing a dichotomy in terms of the international players,” he added. “They're coming in, when they come in at 19, many of them have been professional for up to three years before they come into the league and have a very different experience than what we're seeing from American players coming through our college programs.”
With all sides apparently unsatisfied, Silver plans to get together with the interested parties — “whether it be the colleges, the, of course, our union, agents, lots of points of view out there, and see if we can come up with a better system,” he said.
Asked for a timetable regarding said age-requirement discussions, the commissioner anticipated they would take place over the course of the coming year.
“To be honest, I'm not standing here today saying I have the perfect solution,” Silver admitted.
The issue is far from resolved, but it appears Bill Self and other top college coaches might one day have either the benefit of keeping top prospects such as Wiggins and Jackson for two seasons — or return to the days of not recruiting the NBA-bound LeBron James and Kobe Bryant types.
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