If you’re looking for Devonte’ Graham these days, he’s most likely inside an NBA practice facility, at an airport, on a plane or somewhere in between.
The four-year point guard from Kansas finds himself bouncing from coast to coast on what amounts to a debunking tour. Graham’s out on a mission to prove to every franchise willing to look at him that it’s OK to draft a proven college graduate over a less experienced prospect who may — or may not — have upside.
After working out for Washington in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Graham, a 23-year-old prospect in a draft class full of younger players, challenged the notion that college basketball veterans have peaked before they even arrive in the NBA.
“I feel like every year in the league people develop,” Graham told a group of reporters. “Like LeBron’s playing his best game right now in his 15th year in the league. So I don’t think (age) has anything to do with it.”
The All-American from KU pointed to the 30th overall pick in the 2017 draft, four-year Villanova standout Josh Hart, as a recent example of a seasoned college player helping a team immediately. Hart shot 46.9% from the floor, 39.6% on 3-pointers and averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“You can always develop your game and get better,” Graham said. “No matter how long you was in college.”
On ESPN’s most recent mock draft, Graham, projected as the No. 43 overall pick, is the second-oldest player listed — younger than only TCU forward Kenrich Williams, by a couple of months. ESPN’s top 100 list includes just two other players older than Graham: Colorado’s George King (24) and Cincinnati’s Gary Clark (born 3 months before Graham).
With those few extra years of basketball and life experience comes wisdom. Graham didn’t bring up his 3-point shooting (40.6% as a senior) or passing (7.2 assists per game while leading KU to the Final Four) when discussing what he tries to prove to NBA coaches and executives during workouts.
“Just be aggressive, show I can compete, defend,” Graham explained of his strategy. “A lot of teams know what you can do offensively. So I just try to show them the little things that help a team win.”
Playing four years for Bill Self helped Graham’s confidence, too, which ultimately allowed him to enter the pre-draft process at his best.
“I could just see him believing in me, so I believed in myself a lot more,” Graham related, while getting into what molded him into the player he has become. “Just having that chip on my shoulder like I have something to prove. Because I was supposed to be at Appalachian State. So I just carried that with me and took it to the gym every day.”
Self, Graham added, “definitely” required much from him as a point guard.
“But he felt like I was one of the best leaders, so he demanded a lot more out of me,” Graham added.
KU’s most recent Big 12 Player of the Year called upon his predecessor, Frank Mason III, for advice before embarking on his workout and interview journey. Like Mason, who became the 34th pick in the 2017 draft, Graham will have to take care of his body in the weeks ahead while jetting to and from a long list of destinations.
Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday and the Wizards on Wednesday, and will do the same with Phoenix Friday. Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and many other teams remain on his docket.
“I’ve got like 13, 14 workouts,” Graham said with a shrug, “so I’ve got a good amount.”
Washington owns the 44th pick in the draft, a spot where Sports Illustrated’s mock draft predicts Graham could end up.
“I like the way they play,” Graham said of the Wizards, a team led by star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. “That’s the way we tried to play at Kansas. Fast. They’ve got good guards that can handle it, pass it, shoot it. I feel like I can do that pretty well. Just come off the bench and do my role.”
As the NBA Draft Combine gets underway in Chicago, it’s important to remember that not all analysts are as high on this year’s crop of Kansas prospects as others.
While ESPN long has included Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk among its list of projected second-rounders for 2018, the newly unveiled mock draft at The Ringer only expects two Jayhawks to earn selections.
A little more than a month ahead of the draft, The Ringer’s guide forecasts Newman as the first Kansas player off the board, with the 21-year-old guard going 44th overall (14th in the second round).
Unlike ESPN’s mock, which currently values Graham as the best player from KU, The Ringer slotted the 23-year-old point guard at No. 53 in the 60-pick draft.
Graham’s four-year year teammate and on-and-off-the-court running mate, Mykhailiuk, didn’t appear on the list.
Ringer draft pundit Kevin O’Connor, who provided scouting reports on the likely draftees, touted Newman for his “spark-plug scoring,” describing the redshirt sophomore guard who helped KU reach the Final Four as “a pure bucket-getter who can generate offense off the bench, though his defense limits his upside.”
And because it’s officially player comp season, The Ringer’s comprehensive guide includes a handy profile of each draft hopeful. Likely in order to tone down any basketball-internet backlash against the analysis, instead of straight comparisons — which typically are unfair anyway — each profile includes names of past or current NBA players who one might see “shades of” while watching a prospect.
When inspecting video of Newman, O’Connor noticed some similarities to Monta Ellis, Dion Waiters and Seth Curry.
As far as Graham’s potential is concerned, his main selling point was described as “gritty defense.”
O’Connor’s scouting report described the KU All-American as “a high-energy, hard-nosed defender who improved his point guard skills as a senior.”
In Graham’s footage, he saw “shades of” a “lean” Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Wilbekin.
O’Connor lists Newman as the No. 41 prospect in the draft class, and Graham at No. 48. Ringer staffers Danny Chau and Jonathan Tjarks also provided their own big boards. Chau placed Newman 48th, with Graham 50th. Tjarks gauged Newman as the 42nd-best player, and had Graham 44th.
The good news for Newman and Graham, as well as Mykhailiuk, and former KU teammates Billy Preston, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike is the pre-draft process is just beginning. The days and weeks ahead — and how they perform in workouts, scrimmages and interviews — will ultimately determine their draft stock. Now it’s up to them to prove themselves to NBA coaches and executives.
San Antonio — When Kansas couldn’t come up with any solutions for Villanova’s bombs-away offensive attack Saturday night at The Alamodome, an ultimately successful season came to a close two victories shy of a national title and enduring glory.
The Jayhawks’ faulty 3-point defense proved costly in a 95-79 defeat. Still, plenty of other subplots shaped the result, sending Villanova to the NCAA Tournament championship game and KU back to Lawrence.
Here are five statistics that stood out — four that led to a Final Four loss and one a glimmer of promise for next year — in the 39th and final game of another memorable Kansas basketball season.
Not much offensive flow
For all the defensive problems Kansas encountered against Villanova, the offense didn’t exactly help the Jayhawks’ chances of keeping up, either.
Over the course of 40 minutes, KU made 28 field goals in the national semifinal, and only 8 of those were set up by an assist.
The Wildcats’ well-positioned help defense made it difficult for even All-American senior point guard Devonte’ Graham to drive, force help and kick the ball out for open shots. Instead, Graham had to take on a bulk of the scoring load (23 points) without making his typical impact as a facilitator.
Kansas went nearly 10 full minutes into the game without an assist, and trailed by 14 by the time Graham passed to Lagerald Vick for the team’s first.
In the final game of his distinguished Kansas career, the senior from Raleigh, N.C., only distributed 3 assists, a season low for Graham, who entered the Final Four averaging 7.3 per game.
His friend and fellow senior, Svi Mykhailiuk, also contributed 3 assists. Sophomore Malik Newman and freshman Marcus Garrett had 1 apiece.
The previous low for assists in a game for Kansas this season was 10, in a January home loss to Texas Tech.
Villanova assisted on 20 of its 36 field goals.
In order to have a chance to beat Villanova — one of the best offensive teams in the country, if not the best — Kansas needed to maximize the impact of its starting center.
Based on measurements alone, it seemed 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike might be too much for the Wildcats’ bigs — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree all are listed at 6-9 or smaller — to handle in the paint.
Even though Azubuike was close to unstoppable when he got the ball in his hands in the paint, those opportunities rarely presented themselves thanks to Villanova’s active, denying and helping defense. As usual, Azubuike shot a high percentage, making 4 of 6 attempts. But Villanova made sure a potential mismatch inside didn’t turn into a disaster. KU’s 7-footer finished with 8 points in 26 minutes.
Azubuike played more minutes against Villanova than he had since Feb. 24 against Texas Tech. But he never dominated inside enough to force Villanova defenders to leave KU’s skilled 3-point shooters on the perimeter. When the Wildcats did have to collapse, their rotations were too sound to be harmed.
No stopping Paschall
The Villanova starter who entered the Final Four with relatively little buzz quickly became one of the keys to the Wildcats’ unstoppable offense.
Junior forward Eric Paschall, who made 31 3-pointers all season before arriving at The Alamodome, drained 4 of 5 from outside and didn’t miss a single attempt inside the arc en route to a 10-for-11 shooting night and a game-high 24 points.
When Paschall, once a protege of KU assistant Fred Quartlebaum, wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, his powerful takes inside provided Villanova with three dunks, a layup and two more buckets.
The versatile junior transfer, playing in his first Final Four game after sitting out in 2016, easily bested previous career highs of 19 points and 8 field goals made.
A threat to shoot from outside or drive and finish in the paint, Paschall more than made up for a relatively subpar night for All-Big East forward Mikal Bridges (4-for-8 shooting, 10 points).
The Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t account for every Villanova player on the floor because the Wildcats’ lineups were so multi-dimensional. As a result, Paschall had as much to do with Villanova running away from KU as anyone.
The antithesis of Villanova’s offense in the opening minutes of the national semifinal, the Jayhawks couldn’t settle in and get comfortable the way their opponents did.
Kansas took a short-lived lead at 2-0 on the opening possession. However, what followed set the stage for the Wildcats’ 16-point dismantling of KU in the Jayhawks’ second-largest defeat of the year (they lost by 18 at Oklahoma State to close the regular season).
Kansas missed 9 of its next 11 shots after Azubuike’s early score, and turned the ball over five times in the first 6:49 of play.
Before the Jayhawks could regroup offensively, their fifth giveaway led to — what else — a Villanova 3-pointer, and an 18-point deficit. All before KU made its fourth basket of the game.
Some promise for De Sousa’s future
Not every stat that jumps off the box score in a loss has to come with negative connotations.
One of the seldom KU bright spots came in the activity of a freshman reserve who could be a massive part of coach Bill Self’s future plans.
Whether by coincidence or as a direct result of his presence, the Jayhawks finally settled down and got to see the ball go through the net every once in a while once backup big Silvio De Sousa checked into the game.
Making just his 20th appearance for Kansas after arriving mid-season as an early prep graduate, De Sousa relieved Azubuike and began hitting the offensive glass and providing Kansas with some life.
In just six first-half minutes, De Sousa grabbed five offensive rebounds and scored 7 points, going 2 for 3 from the floor and making 3 of 4 free throws.
De Sousa tipped in his own miss, as well as one by Graham, as the 6-foot-9 forward from Angola scored all 7 of KU’s second-chance points in the first half.
By the end of the night, De Sousa didn’t score another basket, but finished with seven points and seven boards (six offensive) in just 10 minutes of action.
De Sousa grew much more comfortable in the past several weeks after an anticipated adjustment period for his first semester at Kansas. His confidence and effectiveness will only grow in the months ahead.
When the big man’s sophomore season begins this coming November, he will have Final Four experience, instead of no college basketball points of reference whatsoever.
The offensive lifeblood of a four-guard lineup, 3-pointers — sometimes just the mere threat of them — space the floor for Kansas, give 7-footer Udoka Azubuike space to dominate on touches in the paint and have helped make a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 possible.
Of their 81.4 points per game this year, the Jayhawks average 30.1 from behind the arc (22nd in Division I). In other words, their opponents know KU’s guards would like nothing more than to drown them in a deluge of 3-pointers.
With foes doing everything within their powers to limit one of this Kansas team’s most effective weapons, timing and precision are vital for getting the best look at the basket possible while rising up from long range. Within an offense that revolves around ball screens, dribble hand-offs and drive-and-kicks it sure helps to have senior point guard Devonte’ Graham penetrating and distributing.
Among the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament, Graham’s 7.5 assists per game on the season lead all players. While plenty of those dimes come on fast breaks or alley-oops for KU bigs, the guards who play alongside Graham are thankful his kick-out passes allow them to consistently catch and shoot in one fluid motion.
So what percentage of Graham’s deliveries to 3-point shooters are perfect?
Junior Lagerald Vick briefly paused to calculate before responding, with a grin: “I would say about 99.7 of those are right on the money. I definitely think he’s a good passer, especially off penetration and kick.”
A more generous grader, senior Svi Mykhailiuk went ahead and gave Graham a 100.
“I think every time,” Mykhailiuk said. “He knows where I’m going to be and he just passes to me and I’m gonna make a shot.”
In KU’s second-round victory over Seton Hall, Graham didn’t have his typical shooting touch, but he assisted on 4 of his team’s 9 successful 3-pointers.
Two days earlier, the Jayhawks only made 7 from deep while defeating Penn. Graham assisted on three and made two 3-pointers.
Per Synergy Sports, Kansas has averaged 17.76 points in its first two NCAA Tournament victories off Graham assists alone — 2.4 points for every dish that sets up a basket.
Playing to his roster’s strengths, coach Bill Self has the Jayhawks (29-7) run a lot of ball-screen offense. While Graham is a strong 3-point shooter (his 40.4% accuracy ranks 60th in the country), it often falls on the lead guard to make sure senior Mykhailiuk (45.5%, 10th nationally), sophomore Malik Newman (40.9%) and Vick (37.8%) get the ball in advantageous situations once he begins attacking off the dribble.
“You’ve got to make the defense commit to you and I’ve got to find my guys for open shots,” Graham said.
Occasionally, every step of the process comes easily. On one possession against Penn, Graham turned the corner off a Mitch Lightfoot ball screen, drove to the paint and hit Vick, spotting up nearby in the right corner, for a perfect look.
Other times, Graham has to get more crafty.
In one second-half sequence versus Seton Hall, Graham dribbled left off a pick from Azubuike, drawing the attention of four Pirates defenders as he made his way into the paint. Their resulting rotation accounted for Vick in the right corner, which is where his opponents assumed Graham would look.
Instead he bounced a pass through a gap in the defense, all the way out to the right wing for a wide-open Newman 3-pointer.
Of course, Graham knows how to set up teammates for 3-pointers in every way imaginable.
While facing Penn, Graham misfired on a floater he released in the paint. When the ball rimmed out and found its way back to his hands for an offensive rebound, a little court awareness and quick improvisation paid off.
Graham knew where Vick was when he released his shot, so he easily kicked the ball out to his teammate near the left corner upon securing the rebound. Making the best of his circumstances, the point guard’s hustle set up an easy 3-pointer.
“He’s been a pretty good passer since I’ve known him, even when I came my freshman year when he was at the 2,” Vick said, referring to Graham’s days playing with Frank Mason III. “He’s a good passer.”
Graham’s recognition and vision prove valuable in transition, as well. Off a defensive rebound against Seton Hall, with nine players in front of him on the court, Graham knew KU had the spacing on the break for Newman to get an open 3-pointer on the left wing.
The senior point guard also trusted the shot would drop, raising his hands into the air to signal a successful 3 as Newman went into his shooting motion.
Graham’s familiarity with his fellow guards leads to such trust — as well as to so many accurate passes.
“Just playing with them, game experience, knowing where they like the ball at,” Graham said of how his passes so often generate 3-pointers, “and just tying to get it to them where they can just catch and shoot it before the defense goes out.”
Ahead of Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown with Clemson, in Omaha, Neb. (6:07 p.m., CBS), Vick, Mykhailiuk and Newman have combined to make 13 of 26 3-pointers in the tournament. Vick said their confidence as shooters is growing as a result, “especially with the big fella (Azubuike) back.”
Although Graham missed all four of his 3-point tries against Seton Hall after making 3 of 8 in the first round, his fellow guards have him to thank for much of their offensive impact.
“I would just say he knows how to play,” Mykhailiuk said, “and knows how to pass. He’s been doing this his whole life, so I guess he’s pretty good at it.”
Not even Naismith Award finalists can do it all every single night.
When Kansas star guard Devonte’ Graham’s shots weren’t falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks knew they could look elsewhere and find the scoring they needed to survive.
After Graham knocked down a jumper in the opening minutes Saturday night versus Seton Hall, not one of the six field-goal attempts that followed would drop for KU’s leading scorer.
No big deal. The other three guards in the starting lineup had their floor general’s back. Graham may have only provided eight points, but sophomore Malik Newman, senior Svi Mykhailiuk and junior Lagerald Vick combined for 57 as Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16.
“That’s what we do,” Graham, who averages 17.4 points a game, said matter-of-factly following the fourth single-digit scoring outing of his senior season. “If somebody’s having an off night, somebody’s got to step up, and they did a good job of knocking down shots and being aggressive.”
During a nine-assist night for Graham, he liked the way fellow senior Mykhailiuk (7-for-16 shooting, 2 of 5 on 3-pointers, 16 points, three assists) kept getting to the paint and making plays.
In the final four minutes of the victory that moved top-seeded Kansas on to the Midwest regional semifinals, it was Newman (8-of-14 shooting, 4 of 8 from 3-point range, 28 points, two assists) hitting a must-have 3-pointer, going 8 of 8 at the foul line and finding Mykhailiuk for a clutch 3-pointer that stretched the lead to eight with 1:20 to go.
“Everybody was just being aggressive and being a threat,” Graham said proudly.
Following his fifth straight double-digit scoring game, Vick (5-for-9 shooting, 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, 13 points) echoed the point guard’s reference to an assertive backcourt approach. The 6-foot-5 junior from Memphis scored eight points in a row for Kansas during a 2:09 stretch of the second half.
“We just, all us guards had a talk. We’re the head of the team so we knew everybody had to step up and make plays for each other,” Vick said. “We all just played off each other and were bringing energy.”
Even though Graham went from the 7:57 mark of the first half until the 7:52 mark in the second half without scoring a point for Kansas (29-7), Mykhailiuk said his four-year teammate’s floor game kept Graham as an essential component of KU’s success.
“If he’s on the court he just gives us confidence. He just controls the tempo of the game. He’s a point guard, so he doesn’t need to score, he doesn’t need to get assists,” Mykhailiuk added. “He just needs to do what he does and tell us what to do.”
During the regular season, a low-scoring game from Graham only cost KU a victory once — Dec. 6, when he shot 1 of 8 and scored three points against Washington’s 2-3 zone in a 74-65 defeat. The Jayhawks rolled against South Dakota State in November, when Graham finished with eight points, and they won an SEC-Big 12 Challenge encounter at Allen Fieldhouse with Texas A&M, when Graham’s 2-for-11 shooting left him with eight points.
Every aspect of the regular season prepares college basketball teams for the madness that awaits in March — even if those lessons don’t seem helpful at the time.
As Kansas moves on to Omaha, Neb., for a Friday matchup with Clemson (25-9), Graham’s teammates aren’t exactly worried about his scoring output moving forward. And if they need to pick up the slack in the points column, they won’t have any reason to panic.
“He still did good,” Mykhailiuk said of the team leader’s uncharacteristic showing in the second round. “He did all he could, and sometimes shots are just not falling down. So it’s a part of the game. I bet he’s gonna play better next time.”
Graham followed his three regular-season single-digit scoring games with 17 points against Texas Southern in a home win, 19 points versus Arizona State in a home loss and 16 points in a road victory at Kansas State.
Wichita — The hot shooting hand of guard Malik Newman and a resurgent Udoka Azubuike helped No. 1 seed Kansas get past feisty No. 8 Seton Hall, 83-79, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
But plenty more went into the Jayhawks’ survive-and-advance victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
Here are five statistics that helped send KU on to Omaha, Neb., and a spot in the 2018 Sweet 16.
No offensive missteps in final minute
The Jayhawks’ season could have ended ahead of schedule had they not handled their business at the foul line in crunch time, when their lead shrank to as little as three points.
As Seton Hall senior guard Khadeen Carrington did everything within his power to will the Pirates to an improbable comeback, scoring 13 points in the final 1:06 — no, that’s not a typo — KU guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman combined to make all 10 of their free-throw attempts in the game’s final 53 seconds.
Add a press-break out of a timeout that concluded with Graham finding Mitch Lightfoot for a two-handed slam and KU had just enough to move on.
Seton Hall outscored Kansas 16-12 in the final 1:06 thanks to Carrington’s heroics and a last-second Myles Powell 3-pointer. Had the Jayhawks turned the ball over or missed free throws, the game could have flipped.
Vick in rhythm in March
Lagerald Vick continued trending upward in the postseason in KU’s second-round victory.
For the fifth consecutive game — a stretch that began with the Jayhawks’ Big 12 quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State — the junior guard provided double-digit scoring to the Kansas attack.
Against Seton Hall, Vick scored 13 points and, as he has in every Big 12 and NCAA tournament game this March, made at least 50% of his shot attempts, going 5 of 9.
Vick also made more than two 3-pointers for the first time since KU’s home romp over Oklahoma, knocking in 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Shutting down Rodriguez
Two nights after Seton Hall’s leading scorer, senior Desi Rodriguez, went for 20 points in a first-round win over North Carolina State, the 6-foot-6 senior never got rolling against the Big 12 champions.
KU stymied Rodriguez, who entered averaging 17.9 points per game, limiting him to 2-for-10 shooting and 6 points in 35 minutes.
Vick spent portions of the game defending Seton Hall’s typical double-digit scorer, but other Jayhawks checked him at times, too, as switches occurred within the half court.
Rodriguez went 2 of 7 in the first half and barely even found opportunities to take shots in the second, despite playing 18 minutes.
Surviving Seton Hall’s offensive rebounding
The Jayhawks have run into their fair share of strong offensive rebounding teams this season and they continued to escape the wrath of devastating second-chance points in their matchup with Seton Hall.
Although the Pirates grabbed 15 of their missed shots against Kansas, they only cashed in on 14 second-chance points in a tight, loser-goes-home game.
Senior center Angel Delgado often operated as he pleased within the paint, en route to 24 points and a career-best 23 rebounds (9 on the offensive glass). But the key for Kansas was handling the Pirates when someone other than the skilled 6-foot-10 big controlled the offensive boards.
When Delgado snatched Pirates misses, the ball found its way through the net on those possessions — either by immediate putback, eventual basket or free throws — on six of eight occasions.
However, when a different Pirate came down with an offensive rebound, Kansas repeatedly found its way to a stop. On six possessions, one of Delgado’s teammates got credited with an offensive rebound. The Pirates scored just one basket as a result.
More second-chance points could have swung the game in Seton Hall’s favor, but KU found a way to move on, despite finishing with only 23 defensive rebounds on 38 opportunities.
Graham in set-up role
KU star guard Graham wasn’t himself versus the Pirates, going 1 of 7 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-pointers and finishing with 8 points.
As the senior has shown in the past, though, an off shooting night didn’t get him down. Kansas needed Graham running the show and making plays that led to his teammates scoring. Throughout the second half Graham did just that.
KU’s leader assisted on 7 of his team’s 15 field goals in the second half to finish with 9 assists in the victory.
The Jayhawks built a double-digit lead in the second half, not only because of Udoka Azubuike’s presence, but also through Graham’s distributions.
His passes led to a Svi Mykhailiuk layup, an Azubuike slam, a Newman lay-in, a Vick 3-pointer, a Mykhailiuk 3-pointer, a 3 from Newman and the aforementioned Lightfoot jam.
And, after a 4-turnover first half by Graham, he only coughed the ball up once while playing the entirety of the second half.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Seton Hall
- Dominant Dok: Azubuike plays big role to lift Jayhawks past Seton Hall
- Tom Keegan: Nudge in right direction awakens Malik Newman
- Graham survives injury scare, breaks program record for minutes in a season
- Angel Delgado’s historic performance not enough to beat Kansas
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman shoots Kansas into Sweet 16, tops ratings
- KU’s supporting cast pushes Jayhawks past Seton Hall and into Sweet 16
Kansas City, Mo. — Just as West Virginia learned twice during the regular season against eventual Big 12 champion Kansas, the Jayhawks can be a difficult team to put away.
The Mountaineers didn’t establish a double-digit lead against KU like they did in their previous two meetings, but WVU once again couldn’t shut down a hot Kansas offense late in the second half of Saturday’s Big 12 title game.
The Jayhawks, who trailed by as many as eight in the second half, beat West Virginia, 81-70, to capture KU’s 15th conference tournament championship overall and 11th in the Big 12.
Here are five statistics that drove a victory that almost certainly cemented Kansas as a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
De Sousa key to 1st-half stretch run
Silvio De Sousa — the same player coach Bill Self didn’t trust enough to put on the court the last time Kansas squared off with West Virginia — was the only Jayhawk in uniform who could score inside most of the first half.
As West Virginia spent more than 11 minutes before halftime with the lead, the Jayhawks weren’t finding many chances for quality looks at the basket unless they came on 3-pointers.
Enter suddenly-super sub De Sousa.
When the 6-foot-9 freshman from Angola checked in with 14:49 to go until halftime, KU had 2 points in the paint. It turned out De Sousa was the only Jayhawk who could get the job done, as he proceeded to score 10 of KU’s 12 points in the paint before the break.
De Sousa shot 5 for 5 in 13 first-half minutes with two tip-ins, two slam dunks and a layup. His teammates combined to make 4 of 10 attempts at the rim.
By the end of De Sousa’s perfect 8-for-8 shooting night he accounted for 16 of KU’s 24 points in the paint.
Red-hot second half
It seemed as if every shot KU put up at Sprint Center in the second half was going to end up dropping through the net.
The Jayhawks made their first three shot attempts out of halftime, including a 3-pointer each for Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick. And even though the next few minutes featured a 1-for-4 stretch with two missed layups, the Kansas offense exploded soon after.
KU connected on 14 of its final 18 field-goal attempts en route to 72-percent shooting in the final 20 minutes. It was the fourth time this season the Jayhawks shot 70 percent or better in a half, and what a half in which to pull it off again, with the Big 12’s postseason championship up for grabs.
Senior leader Devonte’ Graham put on quite a show, hitting 6 of 7 shots in the decisive stretch. But his supporting cast was nearly as effective. De Sousa (3 of 3) didn’t miss, and both Newman and Vick shot 3 for 4.
As a result, KU poured in 48 second-half points and finished the victory with a 56.4 field-goal percentage. The Jayhawks are 13-0 this year when reaching the 50-percent mark.
Power of the 3-ball (again)
As important as their 3-pointers were against Kansas State the night before at the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks inflicted far more damage on WVU in the championship game from long distance.
KU’s four starting guards combined to bury 15 of 26 3-pointers, meaning the regular-season and postseason Big 12 champions scored 56% of their points from beyond the arc against West Virginia.
In three days at the league tournament, Kansas made 34 shots from long range — the most 3-pointers by a team that only played three games in Big 12 tournament history. (Oklahoma State made 35 over four games in 1999.)
KU improved to 15-2 this season when making at least 10 shots from 3-point range.
Although West Virginia hurt Kansas much of the night with its offensive rebounding, gathering 17 of its own misses for 14 second-chance points, the Jayhawks proved much more diligent on the glass when it mattered most.
When Sagaba Konate scored a second-chance bucket with 9:37 to play, it pushed the WVU lead to 63-56. However, the Jayhawks only allowed the Mountaineers to secure one more offensive rebound on 11 missed shots the rest of the way.
De Sousa (3 defensive boards in the final 9:00), Newman (3), Vick (2) and Mykhailiuk (1), cleaned the glass in crunch time, as West Virginia failed to score another second-chance point.
Graham smooth under pressure
Although, as usual, Graham played 40 minutes and owned far more ball-handling responsibilities than any of his teammates, the senior point guard only committed two turnovers against the always-assertive WVU defense, while also supplying a career-high 13 assists.
In 120 minutes this season versus the Mountaineers and two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter, Graham turned the ball over 7 times and assisted on 26 of his teammate’s baskets.
The Jayhawks’ senior point guard set a new Big 12 title game record with his 13 assists against WVU, as well.
Kansas City, Mo. — When Kansas lost starting center Udoka Azubuike for the Big 12 tournament due to a left knee injury, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham knew the top-seeded Jayhawks would need Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa to produce in the 7-footer’s absence.
What Graham didn’t realize before Thursday’s quarterfinal against Oklahoma State, though, was KU would even lean a little bit on basketball walk-on and football scholarship player James Sosinski — in the first half no less.
Two fouls apiece on fill-in starter Lightfoot and backup big De Sousa before intermission forced Bill Self to turn to Sosinski for just the fourth time this season.
“I was surprised when he got in,” Graham said. “It’s funny, because coach did tell him, ‘James, you better be ready.’ I thought he was just joking.”
It was at that point in the discussion that Graham, enjoying the team’s 82-68 victory over the Cowboys, spotted Lightfoot walking nearby in KU’s locker room and let it be known Sosinski had the Jayhawks’ sophomore big man to thank for his unexpected role.
“But numbnuts over here, when he’s fouling, when Mitch’s fouling and Silvio comes in and fouls, you’ve got to put somebody in,” Graham said toward Lightfoot, who grinned in response. “We might as well get James to come in and get a foul off. He used to playing football, so he just hacked him when he got in.”
Indeed, the Cowboys’ Yankuba Sima drew a foul on Sosinski, put in two free throws, and scored another basket inside during the 6-foot-7 KU reserve’s 1:25 of playing time.
“He fouled as soon as he got in,” Self said afterward, before joking a yellow flag might have landed on the Sprint Center court in response to the KU tight end’s aggressive play. “It should’ve been 10 yards.”
Before De Sousa got comfortable, finishing with 6 points and 8 rebounds in 15 minutes, Self didn’t think the freshman played very well in his first opportunity off the bench. KU’s coach even thought about turning to Sosinski earlier than he did in the first half. The next time Self needed to sub out Lightfoot, he wanted to insert Sosinski, before his assistants talked him out of it.
“I’m probably glad I made the decision I did,” Self said. “It’s nice to have James, but I never thought going into this season, when you’ve got Udoka and you’ve got Billy Preston, that James Sosinski may be important in the postseason,” he added with a chuckle.
In truth, Sosinski's presence didn’t make or break KU. The only statistic he recorded in his minute-plus was a personal foul. In the final seconds of the half, Sosinski looked to be positioned for an offensive rebound on a missed Marcus Garrett 3-pointer. However, senior Svi Mykhailiuk came crashing in from the weak side, soaring above the low-to-the-floor football/basketball player. Mykhailiuk scored a buzzer-beating layup for a 43-42 halftime lead.
“I was thinking I was gonna get it and Svi got it,” Sosinski said. “I just kind of let him shoot it, that’s his go-to. It was a big momentum swing going into the second half.”
Just a bad-luck situation for the seldom-used backup to KU’s backup bigs? Not according to Graham.
“No, that was a good-luck situation,” a smiling Graham countered. “I’m glad Svi got it and scored. No telling what James would’ve done with it.”
It’s not that the Jayhawks don’t appreciate Sosinski and his contributions. De Sousa said he never looks forward to his encounters with the scout team big during Kansas practices. When they match up, De Sousa thinks to himself, “Man, why you gotta guard me right now?”
“He’s really hard to score on,” De Sousa added. “He just plays hard. He goes after every single ball. That’s how he is.”
“He always plays great in practice. If he gets in I’m pretty confident he’s not going to let his guy score easily, and if he had to foul he’s gonna foul really hard,” Mykhailiuk said. “He’s a good player, and he definitely helped us today.”
The two-sport athlete from Chandler, Ariz., has played sparingly, with two similarly brief appearances, since getting four minutes of playing time Dec. 18 versus Omaha and scoring 4 points in mop-up duty.
Sosinski left the arena Friday feeling grateful for his short cameo and a rare chance to chip in.
“Even though it was a minute and a half, every minute’s important in games like this,” Sosinski said. “Since I know I’m not going to play any minutes, I’ve just got to play as hard as I can.”
The Big 12 champions didn’t strike any fear into the hearts of the Oklahoma State Cowboys Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
In an 82-64 defeat, its worst of the season, No. 6-ranked Kansas proved once again it doesn’t match up well with OSU, which became the first Big 12 team to sweep Bill Self during his 15 years leading the Jayhawks.
Here are five statistics that contributed to the Jayhawks’ troublesome dud of a regular-season finale.
Where’s the support?
Not even Devonte’ Graham, the Big 12’s Player of the Year, can be expected to do it all every single game. So it’s hard to knock the senior point guard for an off shooting performance (4 of 14) at OSU.
How about a little help for the guy? Graham led Kansas with 15 points, but not one other Jayhawk reached double figures. It was the first time this season KU didn’t benefit from multiple double-digit scorers.
When KU lost at Allen Fieldhouse to this same Oklahoma State team a month ago, four different players put up 16 or more points.
Previously, Kansas (24-7 overall, 13-5 Big 12) had three or more players contribute 10 or more points in all but two games. KU only got double-digit points from two players in losses to Washington and Baylor.
It’s not as if this is a deep rotation capable of spreading the offensive wealth. Self relies on five starters and two bench regulars, and sometimes calls upon freshman big Silvio De Sousa. The scoring has to come from not only Graham, but also Svi Mykhailiuk, Udoka Azubuike and Malik Newman, all of whom are averaging more than 12 points a game in Big 12 play.
Shooting from beyond the 3-point arc tends to be one of the Jayhawks’ best weapons, but on Saturday the Cowboys (18-13, 8-10) out-performed the Big 12 champs from long range.
Oklahoma State made more 3-pointers than Kansas and shot a higher percentage from deep. The Jayhawks finished on the wrong end of both categories in the same game for the seventh time this season.
Kansas fell to 3-4 when being out-scored and out-shot from 3-point range. Below are the totals and percentages from those outcomes.
Washington: 9 of 21, 42.9% | KU: 5 of 20, 25% (UW win)
Nebraska: 8 of 22, 36.4% | KU: 7 of 22, 31.8% (Kansas win)
Oklahoma State: 12 of 27, 44.4% | KU: 8 of 22, 36.4% (OSU win on Feb. 3)
TCU: 10 of 25, 40% | KU: 7 of 21, 33.3% (Kansas win)
Baylor: 8 of 15, 53.3% | KU: 6 of 31, 19.4% (BU win)
West Virginia: 14 of 26, 53.8% | KU: 7 of 22, 31.8% (Kansas win)
Oklahoma State: 10 of 24, 41.7% | KU: 7 of 20, 35% (OSU win on March 3)
Somewhat troubling for Kansas, five of these occurrences came in the final nine games of the regular season.
Not much of a fight
Most games swing back and forth at least a little bit in terms of momentum. The home team starts hot. The visitors respond. The home team counters. We’ve all seen it before.
Saturday’s KU-OSU matchup mostly lacked such distinct runs and comebacks — at least for the Jayhawks.
The Cowboys’ Mitchell Solomon scored the game’s first basket in the second minute of the first half and Oklahoma State led for the remaining 38:25, marking the second time this season Kansas failed to take a lead in a game. The other occasion was in KU’s Jan. 2 home loss to Texas Tech.
The Jayhawks’ largest spurt of the entire debacle came in the first half, when an Azubuike dunk, a Marcus Garrett layup and a Graham 3-pointer provided the visitors, already down 10 less than seven minutes in, with a 7-0 spark.
The Cowboys answered with a 13-0 run over the next three-plus minutes, pushing their lead to 16.
Late in the second half, OSU extended its margin to 23 points, the largest deficit Kansas has faced all season.
In Big 12 play this year, Kansas averaged 11.5 turnovers a game, the lowest mark among the league’s 10 teams.
However, Oklahoma State feasted on KU miscues. The Cowboys’ 11 steals were the most by a KU opponent in any game this season. The Jayhawks committed 17 turnovers in all, their highest total in 18 league games and most since committing 20 versus Tennessee State in the season opener.
Mykhailiuk and Azubuike hurt KU the most at OSU, with 4 turnovers apiece.
Oklahoma State scored 21 points off turnovers in a must-have victory.
OSU swat team
Kansas converted a low percentage of its shots inside — 9 of 21 on layups and 6 of 8 on dunk attempts — as a result of OSU’s active defense around the rim.
The Cowboys’ eight blocked shots tied for their best in a league game this year. Similarly, it tied for the most swats by a KU opponent this year. OSU even pulled it off without the luxury of having a soon-to-be NBA lottery pick, like Mo Bamba, who sent eight Kansas shots away in the Big 12 opener.
In the first half, Tavarius Shine blocked Newman, Cameron McGriff got a piece of a Mykhailiuk jumper and swatted a Newman layup, Yankuba Sima denied Marcus Garrett at the rim and Solomon stymied Garrett inside.
In the closing 20 minutes, Solomon rejected Graham on a layup, Thomas Dziagwa blocked De Sousa and McGriff successfully stuffed a De Sousa dunk attempt.
KU (25 of 60 from the floor, for 41.7% shooting) played so poorly offensively that Oklahoma State walked away with its first double-digit win in conference action all season.
It only took 21 minutes Monday against Texas for center Udoka Azubuike to supply Kansas with one of the most productive games of his young career.
The 7-foot sophomore yielded 20 points and often seemed invincible in his domination of the Longhorns’ front line. Defenders have looked overmatched versus Azubuike before, but the big man from Nigeria completely crushed the Longhorns, succeeding on 10 of his 11 attempts in the paint, a foray that included six dunks.
The Jayhawks’ colossus shot 90.9% from the field, the highest mark for KU since Perry Ellis made 11 of 12 (91.7%) versus Iowa State in the 2014 Big 12 Tournament. Azubuike’s 10-for-11 shooting also represented the best outing in a conference game by a Jayhawk since Julian Wright posted the same line against Baylor, in 2006.
Even better for No. 6 Kansas (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12), Azubuike looked lively on the defensive end of the court, as well, tying his career high with 5 blocked shots.
The commanding performance left KU’s senior point guard, Devonte’ Graham, wanting more.
“That’s exactly how he should play,” Graham said, noting assistant coach Norm Roberts went up to Azubuike at shoot-around the day of the game and conveyed the absence of Longhorns star center Mo Bamba (injured) didn’t mean KU’s center could take the day off.
“You should want to go even harder because you’ve got a mismatch now,” Graham related of Roberts’ directive. “So he played exactly how Coach Rob wanted him to play.”
After watching his 18-year-old center’s thrashing of UT bigs Jericho Sims and Dylan Osetkowski, KU coach Bill Self, of course, appreciated not just the point production, but Azubuike’s overall effort, which Self agreed is becoming more consistent late in the season.
“I think he’s playing with a lot more energy and a lot more oomph, probably, than what he was earlier,” Self appraised, calling Azubuike as active as he has seen him this season.
What’s more, the massive sophomore pulled down 8 rebounds for Kansas, the sixth time in 17 Big 12 games he gathered at least that many.
But there was one aspect where Azubuike, Self was quick to point out, seemed to regress. An 18-for-31 free-throw shooter in the nine games following his infamous 1-for-8 night at Oklahoma, in February, KU’s big man missed all four of his attempts at the foul line versus Texas.
“I hadn’t seen him shoot like that in a while,” Self said, after Azubuike even air-balled one try. “So we’ve got to get back in the gym and do a lot (of work) on that.”
In order to maximize Azubuike’s impact in March, Self indicated he and his staff might need to start more closely monitoring how long KU leaves the 285-pound center on the floor.
“He gets his second foul because he’s tired,” Self said of a defensive play on the perimeter, when Azubuike didn’t move his feet quickly enough while trying to hedge against Matt Coleman on a ball screen. The whistle kept Azubuike, a game-altering talent, on the bench the final 6:55 of the first half.
“That worries me a little bit,” Self said. “I probably need to not let him play as long of stretches.”
Azubuike had been on the floor for 5:03 worth of game clock when he showed fatigue and picked up his second foul.
He didn’t get called for any fouls while playing 12 second-half minutes, a stretch during which Azubuike made 6 of 7 shots, swatted 3 UT attempts and gathered 5 rebounds.
The mightiest presence on the KU roster played for stretches of 6:33 and 4:04 during the second half, as well as a brief 0:20 stint late in the win.
No one else in a Kansas uniform possesses the same potential as Azubuike to influence outcomes on both ends of the floor. As critical as Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are for Kansas, a “turned-up,” as Self likes to say, Azubuike will be equally paramount in the weeks ahead in order for the Jayhawks to reach their ceiling.