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Posts tagged with Devonte' Graham

Jayhawks must follow Cole Aldrich’s example and defend their home court

Kansas center Cole Aldrich waves to the Allen Fieldhouse crowd after he was announced the NCAA Basketball Academic All-American of the Year Monday, Feb. 22, 2010.

Kansas center Cole Aldrich waves to the Allen Fieldhouse crowd after he was announced the NCAA Basketball Academic All-American of the Year Monday, Feb. 22, 2010. by Nick Krug

If Kansas doesn’t find a way to beat West Virginia on Saturday inside Allen Fieldhouse, Cole Aldrich might not know how to react.

Once an ultimate defender of James Naismith Court, Aldrich will be back in Lawrence for the game, and to watch his jersey join those of various other former KU greats in the rafters.

While reflecting on his time with the Jayhawks during a media conference call Thursday, Aldrich spoke of the pride he feels every time he steps foot on KU’s home floor.

“You kind of sit back and you think about all the times and all the games you went through in the fieldhouse. One of the most special things about walking in that building is I never lost at home in three years,” Aldrich shared.

Indeed, the 6-foot-11 center from Bloomington, Minn., was part of KU’s longest home-court winning streak in program history — 69 games — a stretch that began in February of 2007, before his arrival, and concluded in January of 2011, after he left for the NBA.

The Jayhawks went 19-0 inside Allen Fieldhouse during Aldrich’s freshman season, when he was a role player for a national championship team. But KU was just as difficult to beat when the big man took on a starring role as a sophomore (18-0) and a junior (18-0).

Following Aldrich’s final season at Kansas, the program lost just one game (four years) or went unbeaten in the fieldhouse (three years) each of the ensuing seven campaigns.

Then came this season.

With three games remaining on the home schedule, the 2017-18 Jayhawks already have dropped three games in Allen Fieldhouse, the most in Bill Self’s 15 seasons as head coach.

“You kind of look at this year with them losing three at home,” Aldrich said of KU’s 11-3 mark entering Saturday’s matchup with West Virginia (5:15 p.m., ESPN). “Most teams around the country would be happy with losing just three games at home. This year for us it’s kind of a rarity.”

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets caught in a stranglehold by Texas Tech center Norense Odiase (32) while tied up for a loose ball during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets caught in a stranglehold by Texas Tech center Norense Odiase (32) while tied up for a loose ball during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

No one, of course, is more keenly aware of that than KU’s current team leader. Kansas senior point guard Devonte’ Graham went close to three seasons before experiencing his first fieldhouse loss, against Iowa State, in February of his junior year.

At times former players such as Aldrich or Sherron Collins, who now lives in town and will watch his jersey go up in the fieldhouse on Monday, come around and offer advice. Graham said those discussions don’t typically involve past greats emphasizing the importance of protecting KU’s home court.

“But we’ve definitely talked about it as a team, how we’ve been losing games at home and it’s just not normal,” Graham said of his discussions within the Kansas locker room. “It’s not normal for the team or the fans that experience it. And we’ve done it way too much this year.”

Self said Thursday he hadn’t at that point laid out any specific plans for former players, including other members of the 2008 national title team, who will be in town this weekend to address his current Jayhawks. But you have to think some “this is our house” type of pep talks are on the way, and just in time. The Jayhawks (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) must defeat WVU, Oklahoma and Texas inside the fieldhouse to put themselves in position to extend the program’s Big 12 title streak to a record 14 seasons.

Finding some gratification in closing out the home schedule in style would be a great step for this KU team, already 6-2 in road games and 3-0 on neutral floors (note: the Sprint Center loss to Washington technically counts as a home game, too).

“You know, you usually don’t lose that many at home — maybe one,” Aldrich said of Allen Fieldhouse. “And every once in a while you’ll have a few years when you don’t lose at all. So going 55-0 at home was really kind of a testament to how good our fans were.”

And how well the Jayhawks defended and rebounded when Aldrich manned the paint.

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5 stats that popped for Kansas in a must-have road win at ISU

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) defends against a shot from Iowa State guard Donovan Jackson (4) during the first half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) defends against a shot from Iowa State guard Donovan Jackson (4) during the first half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

AMES, IOWA — No. 13 Kansas accomplished Tuesday night what West Virginia, Oklahoma and even Texas Tech could not this season, beating Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum.

Udoka Azubuike was too massive for the Cyclones to handle in the paint and Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick proved they could play with energy in their return to the starting lineup.

Coming off a loss at Baylor and trailing the Red Raiders (22-4 overall, 10-3) in the Big 12 standings, the Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4) had to find a way to win. Here are five statistics that helped KU get out of Ames with a victory.

Graham the floor general

Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham had one of his more difficult shooting nights at ISU, going 3 of 16 overall and making just 1 of 7 from 3-point range.

But, just as he did in the eight previous games, Graham played all 40 minutes. And even though the team leader from Raleigh, N.C., almost never goes a possession without handling the ball Graham didn’t commit a single turnover against Iowa State.

Responsible for 5 of KU’s 14 assists in the crucial road win, Graham is far too valuable for coach Bill Self to be interested in giving him a rest. Thanks to some offensive support from Azubuike, Newman and Vick, Graham was able to run the show, defend (his primary assignment, Donovan Jackson, made only 1 of 9 attempts) and not worry about his own shots misfiring.

Points off turnovers

Iowa State didn’t exactly get undignified in terms of taking care of the basketball, committing 12 turnovers in the loss, and Kansas didn’t really make a living off intercepting passes or swiping away dribbles, with 5 steals.

But, boy, did the Jayhawks hit the Cyclones back when the home team turned it over.

KU scored 21 points off ISU’s 12 miscues, and the Cyclones only mustered 4 points off turnovers with the Jayhawks giving it away just seven times.

None of those outcomes seemed likely when Kansas had 4 turnovers in the first seven-plus minutes. But the Jayhawks cleaned things up in a timely fashion.

Layups and dunks

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) comes in to finish a lob jam during the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) comes in to finish a lob jam during the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Self and the Jayhawks knew ISU’s defense was suspect, so they made a point to attack it and get the ball inside, especially in the second half.

KU shot 61.5% from the field after intermission, when it scored 24 points in the paint on the strength of 6 layups and 3 dunks (all from Azubuike).

KU reached 40 points in the paint for just the second time since the start of Big 12 play and edged ISU, 42-40, in the category.

With 51% of their point production coming in the paint, the Jayhawks kept their offense rolling by seeking out high-percentage shots.

Limiting Wigginton’s impact

Sensational Cyclones freshman Lindell Wigginton torched KU for 27 points in his Allen Fieldhouse debut a little over a month ago. But the 6-foot-2 guard from Canada couldn’t replicate that production in the rematch.

Wigginton, guarded much of the night by Newman, only managed to make 3 of 12 shots and, like Graham, went 1 of 7 on 3-pointers, scoring 12 points in 35 minutes.

He didn’t often resemble the player that made 10 of 20 at KU.

Is non-conference Vick back?

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) swoops in for a bucket against Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) swoops in for a bucket against Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Reinserted into the starting lineup because Self reached a point where he just wanted to have his five best players on the floor as much as possible, Vick put up 16 points and shot above 50% from the floor for just the third time in the past 13 games.

Getting three quality looks at 3-pointers to fall in the opening six minutes of the second half definitely helped Vick’s cause. He hadn’t made more than two in a game from beyond the arc since the Big 12 opener at Texas, when he hit a career-best five.

Since that 21-point night in Austin, Texas, Vick’s offense mostly went missing. With eight single-digit scoring totals in KU’s previous 11 league games, the Jayhawks often seemed incomplete.

The 16-point night might be a step in the right direction for Vick, who averaged 17.1 before conference play began.







By the Numbers: Kansas 83, Iowa State 77

By the Numbers: Kansas 83, Iowa State 77

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5 stats that popped for Kansas in a problematic loss at Baylor

Baylor Bears forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) flexes next to Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) after a bucket during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2018 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Baylor Bears forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) flexes next to Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) after a bucket during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2018 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Almost nothing went right for Kansas on Saturday, in an 80-64 loss at Baylor.

From a pre-game black eye for senior Svi Mykhailiuk to failing to match the Bears’ energy, Bill Self’s team had far more problems than solutions during its trip to Waco, Texas.

And a 40-percent shooting performance for the offense was just one cause for concern for the Jayhawks.

Here are five stats that stood out from a defeat that Kansas will have to find a way to put behind it quickly.

No stops to be found

As poorly as Kansas played offensively in the first half (20 points), the defensive end proved even more costly for the Jayhawks during the final 20 minutes.

The Bears converted on 17 of 26 field goal attempts (65.4%) in the second half to drop another 50 points on a faltering Kansas defense.

Both Manu Lecomte and Nuni Omot hit KU with 4-for-5 shooting in the closing half.

The Bears made 14 of their final 20 attempts from the floor. Although they turned the ball over 8 times in the second half, at no point did Kansas manage to make Baylor miss consecutive shots.

BU’s 57%-shooting in the victory was the best marksmanship by a KU opponent this season.

No easy points

While the free-throw line hasn’t always been kind to Kansas (69.3 percent in Big 12 play), getting there with regularity had at least become a strength for the Jayhawks, who struggled to do so during much of the non-conference schedule.

KU, which came in averaging 21.4 free-throw attempts in league games, took a step backward against Baylor, with only 9 shots taken at the foul line.

The Bears’ zone defense often flummoxed the Jayhawks, and they didn’t attack enough to consistently draw fouls.

Though Kansas made 8 of 9 free throws, it marked the team’s fewest attempts in a league game (previously 13 against Iowa State).

Speaking of easy points, KU didn’t get any in transition. The general lack of quick-change opportunities off steals (3) and blocks (3), certainly didn’t help.

Mr. 40 Minutes

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to get around Baylor Bears guard Manu Lecomte (20) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2018 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) tries to get around Baylor Bears guard Manu Lecomte (20) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2018 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

For the eighth consecutive game, Kansas senior point guard Devonte’ Graham never subbed out.

Easily KU’s best and most important player, Graham put in 8 of 17 shot attempts (4-for-10 shooting on 3-pointers) to lead Kansas with 23 points.

The Jayhawks had such an off-kilter offense against BU, though, that even Graham could only come up with 4 assists, a season-low for the floor general. His 3 turnovers were only slightly above Graham’s season average of 2.8.

As awry as Kansas looked offensively with Graham playing the entire way, it’s kind of frightening to think about how poorly things would have gone had he come out of the game even for a minute or two in either half.

Dreaded double-digit deficit

Baylor Bears forward Mark Vital (11) puts up a shot after drawing contact from Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2018 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Baylor Bears forward Mark Vital (11) puts up a shot after drawing contact from Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2018 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Once Baylor achieved a 10-point lead just before halftime you figured the Jayhawks might be in trouble. Unlike last year’s KU team, which routinely climbed out of holes, this group hasn’t been so fortunate.

The Bears built their lead as large as 16 points in the final minute, and became the seventh KU opponent this season to lead by double figures. As was the case for Kansas against Washington, Arizona State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big 12) came up short.

This season, only West Virginia, which led by 16, has taken a double-digit lead against Kansas and lost.

The Jayhawks are now 1-6 when trailing by 10 or more points in a game.

Another fruitless De Sousa cameo

When both Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot had 4 personal fouls on their stat lines with more than 11 minutes left in the game, Self decided to give first-semester freshman big Silvio De Sousa another look.

Earlier in the week, in KU’s home win over TCU, the 6-foot-9 freshman never got off the bench. The foul trouble and situation —KU down six points on the road in the second half — almost forced Self to at least give De Sousa a chance.

Upon checking in, De Sousa started off positively enough, deflecting an inbound pass underneath the hoop. But that proved to be the apex of his brief appearance. On the ensuing defensive sequence, De Sousa was manning the paint but failed to step up and effectively contest a successful King McClure floater.

When KU headed to the other end of the floor on offense, Lagerald Vick hit De Sousa with an entry pass on the right block but the young big man used a blatant extended left forearm to try and fend off Jo Lual-Acuil as he went in for a layup, that was called off due to an offensive foul.

The stoppage allowed Self to re-insert Azubuike, and De Sousa checked out having played 28 seconds and contributed nothing statistically, other than a foul and a turnover.

In each of De Sousa’s previous six appearances he has played 2 or fewer minutes. The Jayhawks actually needed him on this occasion, but Self didn’t trust the freshman to do anything other than hurt his team’s chances.

In six of his eight games for KU, De Sousa has come away with 0’s in both points and rebounds.

Reply 20 comments from Surrealku Carsonc30 Dirk Medema Bradley Sitz Len Shaffer Lin Rahardja Pius Waldman Jerry Walker Shannon Gustafson Dale Rogers and 2 others

5 stats that popped from KU’s Sunflower Showdown road victory

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) rolls through a pick as he defends Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) rolls through a pick as he defends Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the first half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. by Nick Krug

Kansas maintained its spot atop the Big 12 standings Monday night by catching rival Kansas State off guard with some zone defense in a 70-56 road victory.

The Jayhawks (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big 12) could have fallen into a tie for first place with the Wildcats (16-6, 5-4) had K-State successfully defended its home floor.

Instead, KU hit the midway point of the conference schedule in a familiar position — with the rest of the Big 12 looking up at the perennial champion.

Here are five statistics from the Jayhawks’ latest Sunflower Showdown victory that stood out.

Defending the ’Cats

K-State had a chance to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldlhouse earlier this month because the Wildcats shot 49 percent from the field and went 13-for-26 in the second half.

The Jayhawks didn’t allow their rivals to get so comfortable in the rematch. K-State converted just 21 of 65 shots in the home loss, as KU came away with its second-best field goal percentage defense of the season, 32.3 percent. It was also the second-worst shooting performance for K-State.

Although junior Dean Wade still put up 20 points, KU did enough to get Wade, a 56.6-percent shooter on the season, to miss 10 of his 18 shots.

Barry Brown’s tear through the Big 12 hit a major bump, too, as KU became the first conference opponent to limit him to single digits, with 9. Brown, the second-leading scorer in league play (21.2 points per game), shot 4-for-16 and only got to the foul line for one free-throw attempt.

K-State’s 56 points were the second-fewest by a KU opponent this season.

The streak is over

Not the Jayhawks’ run of Big 12 titles, of course. That streak looks like it could reach 14 in the weeks to come. Actually, KU put an end to an unattractive slump Monday in Manhattan.

In each of the 10 games before it, Kansas players gathered fewer rebounds than their foes. The skid ended at K-State with the Jayhawks securing 41 boards to their rivals’ 31. The importance of that tally wasn’t lost on seniors Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham when they spotted it on the post-game box score.

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KU’s offense — in good ways and bad — actually helped make the winning rebound margin possible. The Jayhawks’ 14-for-20 shooting in the first half meant there weren’t many misses available for the Wildcats. Same goes for KU’s 12 turnovers — no shot attempt, no chance at a rebound. As a result, Kansas out-boarded K-State, 22-12, in the first half, when the home team only had 8 defensive rebounds.

The Jayhawks drew even on the glass in the second half, allowing them to maintain the big margin.

Malik Newman’s career-high 10 rebounds led the team, while Mykhailiuk grabbed seven and Mitch Lightfoot added five off the bench in 20 minutes.

The +10 differential in KU’s favor put an end to the longest rebound-margin losing streak in the Bill Self era.

Double-double backcourt

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) runs the ball up the court past Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed (20) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) runs the ball up the court past Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed (20) during the second half, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. by Nick Krug

The 2017-18 KU roster doesn’t feature the type of double-double frontcourt players that highlighted teams of years past.

However, KU’s backcourt proved it can put up big numbers in multiple categories, as well. Both Graham (16 points, 11 assists) and Newman (13 points, 10 rebounds) achieved double-doubles at K-State.

It was the first such achievement of Newman’s career and the third for Graham (every one coming this season).

All of their Kansas teammates combined have posted nine double-doubles over the course of their college careers. Udoka Azubuike leads the way with five. The big man’s most recent one came at Texas in the Big 12 opener (13 points, 13 rebounds).

Graham and Newman became the first KU teammates to record double-doubles in the same game since Landen Lucas and Kelly Oubre Jr. (2015).

De Sousa still playing catchup

Self, since freshman forward Silvio De Sousa arrived on campus in late December, has pointed to early February as the first time the Jayhawks will really know what kind of team they have. Self said that because he knew De Sousa’s assimilation from the high school game to the Big 12 would not be easy. It would inevitably take time for the freshman big man to adjust to everything.

Kansas will play its first February game on Saturday against Oklahoma State (11 a.m. tip-off, CBS). And De Sousa still has a long way to go before making a real impact.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward logged only 2 minutes Monday at Kansas State, contributing nothing statistically — unless you count his 1 foul and 1 turnover.

Twenty seconds after checking into the game in the first half, De Sousa didn’t get out to the perimeter in time to defend a successful Wade 3-pointer.

Next, in a less-than-20-second span, De Sousa turned the ball over and fouled Wade as the K-State veteran scored on the first-semester Jayhawk.

De Sousa might have the size and tools to give Kansas more in a few weeks, but he isn’t there yet.

Disparity in shot attempts

It’s a good thing the Jayhawks came through with one of their better defensive efforts, because K-State attempted 19 more shots than the visitors.

Kansas was not just better defensively than the Wildcats on the night, it had a far more effective offense, too. While both teams made 21 field goals, KU did it on 46 attempts and K-State put up 65.

Various factors led to the discrepancy: KU’s 16 turnovers to K-State’s 7; K-State’s 11 offensive rebounds to KU’s 7; the Jayhawks shot 26 free throws, while the Wildcats only attempted 11.

But the bottom line was Kansas made the most of its possessions, scoring on 31 of its 67 (46.3%). K-State came away with points on 25 of its 66 possessions (37.9%). And the Jayhawks did it while posting season-lows in both field goals made (21) and attempted (46).







More news and notes from Kansas vs. Kansas State


By the Numbers: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

By the Numbers: Kansas 70, Kansas State 56

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5 stats that popped in KU’s loss at Oklahoma

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) is called for a foul on Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) while trying to knock away a pass from Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin (3) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) is called for a foul on Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) while trying to knock away a pass from Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin (3) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Norman, Okla. — When taking into consideration all that led to Kansas suffering a Tuesday night road loss at Oklahoma, certain factors loomed much larger than others.

The dawning of the Hack-a-Dok era notwithstanding, some numbers other than sophomore center Udoka Azubuike’s 1-for-8 free-throw shooting stood out in the defeat.

Here are five statistics that shaped an entertaining evening of Big 12 basketball that ultimately cost Kansas a game’s worth of cushion in the league standings.

Crunch-time slump

Leading by 6 points on the road with 7:03 left in the second half, KU picked a bad time to hit an offensive funk.

After freshman Marcus Garrett drove in for a layup to give KU a 76-70 lead, the Jayhawks tailspun down the stretch, as Oklahoma implemented a Hack-A-Dok strategy that at the very least ravaged KU’s offensive flow.

From that point on Kansas made just 2 of 10 field-goal attempts, went 0-for-6 at the free-throw line — all six misfires by Azubuike — and turned the ball over once.

The Sooners finished the victory on a 15-4 run, as Trae Young went 6-for-8 at the foul line down the stretch and 3-pointers by Christian James and Brady Manek assured OU of a victory.

Off night for Graham

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) comes in for a shot against Oklahoma forward Brady Manek (35) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) comes in for a shot against Oklahoma forward Brady Manek (35) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

KU’s best player, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, wasn’t able to replicate his typical scoring production. Graham entered the anticipated matchup at OU averaging 20.4 points in Big 12 play, but matched his lowest output of conference action to date, with 11, equalling his total in a win over Iowa State.

Graham — a 42.7% shooter on the year — went 4-for-19 (21.1%) at Oklahoma. It was his second-lowest field goal percentage of year (1-for-8, 12.5 % in a loss to Washington).

A 41.7% 3-point shooter this season, Graham connected on just 1 of 9 (11.1%) against the Sooners. It was his least successful 3-point showing of his senior year.

Of course, Graham did plenty to help KU, too, with 9 assists and only 2 turnovers in nearly 40 minutes — not to mention the task of chasing around Young (26 points, 9 assists) much of the night.

Out-rebounded yet again

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) battles for a ball with Oklahoma guard Kameron McGusty (20) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) battles for a ball with Oklahoma guard Kameron McGusty (20) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

The Jayhawks’ losing streak on the battle of the boards continued in Norman.

Oklahoma’s 40 rebounds outnumbered KU’s 35, marking the ninth consecutive game KU has come up on the losing end in that category.

Indicative of the guard-heavy Jayhawks’ struggles on the glass, senior guard Graham (7 boards) led the team in rebounding for the second straight game.

KU has not had a double-digit rebounder since Azubuike grabbed 13 in the Big 12 opener at Texas.

Free-throw woes

For the second time this season Kansas didn’t even make half of its foul shots. Thanks in large part to OU fouling Azubuike and the big man going 1-for-8 on the night at the line, Kansas hit just 6 of 15 (40%).

KU actually fared even worse at the line at home against Iowa State two weeks earlier, when the Jayhawks shot 5-for-13 (38.5%) in a win. Azubuike wasn’t great that night either, going 1-for-4, but his teammates helped out — even Svi Mykhailiuk went 1-for-3.

At OU, though, only two other Jayhawks shot free throws: Graham went 2-for-4 and Malik Newman (20 points) made all three of his tries.

In the meantime, Oklahoma hit 20 of 25 in the win, led by Trae Young’s 10-for-12 night. The Sooners made 13 of 17 in the second half.

Svi’s second half

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts a shot past Oklahoma center Jamuni McNeace (4) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts a shot past Oklahoma center Jamuni McNeace (4) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

The Jayhawks might not have ever looked capable of winning at OU Tuesday night had it not been for Svi Mykhailiuk’s second-half scoring.

Mykhailiuk began cranking up his offense after intermission. The senior from Ukraine looked like one of the most experienced players on the floor nearly every time the ball reached his hands in the first portion of the second half, which he opened for KU with a 3-pointer, providing the Jayhawks their first lead since the midway point of the first.

Every spurt KU made during the opening 10 minutes of the second half featured either a Mykhailiuk drive and layup or 3-pointer, as he put up 13 of his 24 points during that post-halftime stretch.

Mykhailiuk accounted for five of KU’s first 13 second-half baskets, went 5-for-10 from the floor, made 3 of 7 shots and looked — per usual — like every shot that left his hands had a better shot of falling than rimming out. The 6-foot-8 shooter reached 20 points for the seventh time in his senior year.

He missed a potential go-ahead 3 with 0:52 to play and another that could’ve cut OU’s lead to 2 with 0:15 left, but Mykhailiuk was hardly to blame for the loss that snapped a five-game KU winning streak.

Reply 11 comments from Etnkc Eastbayhawk Robert  Brock David McNickle Mvjayhawk Doug Fogleman Surrealku Benny Armstrong Jaylark John Brazelton

Point guards taking over the Big 12, a league once dominated by bigs

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) throws a pass to the wing while defended by Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti, left, and Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) throws a pass to the wing while defended by Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti, left, and Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith (2) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

During the Big 12’s first 20 years of existence, a point guard emerged as the conference’s Player of the Year just twice. Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley took home the honor in 2001, and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart proved worthy of the distinction in 2013.

Four games into the 2018 league schedule, though, back-to-back seasons culminating with a point guard collecting the Big 12’s most coveted individual trophy seems inevitable.

Obviously, Kansas All-American Frank Mason III became the third lead guard to win Big 12 Player of the Year in 2017. The unmistakable front-runners for the prize this season all play point guard, too: Oklahoma’s Trae Young, KU’s Devonte’ Graham, Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans and West Virginia’s Jevon Carter.

The league’s list of influential ball-handling specialists doesn’t end there, either. As No. 12 Kansas (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) navigates its way through conference play, head coach Bill Self anticipates game-planning for and facing a strong point guard every step of the way.

“I’m sure it will end up being 9 for 9,” Self predicted. “Plus our guy, Devonte’. It’s a great guard league.”

The 15th-year Kansas coach wouldn’t go as far as to agree with the notion this current crop of point guards is as good as the conference has seen, but he admitted there seems to be a noticeable shift in which type of players are standing out and taking over.

“We’ve had good guards in our league, it seems like forever, but it seems like the most dominant players have usually been the bigs,” Self said, naming former players of the year Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin and referencing former KU big men such as Thomas Robinson, Wayne Simien and Marcus Morris, all of whom won Big 12 Player of the Year, as well. “But it seems the smaller player has been the more dominant player for sure last year and certainly this year, without question, with what Trae’s doing and with what other guards are doing.”

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) shoots while being defended by West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) shoots while being defended by West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Young, a sensational freshman and likely All-American for Oklahoma, has posted such eye-popping numbers it will be difficult for any other guard in the league to outshine the 6-foot-2 shooting dynamo. Young torched TCU for 39 points in his Big 12 debut and enters this weekend’s rematch with the Horned Frogs, in Norman, Okla., averaging 30.5 points and 9.8 assists in league play.

In his senior season at KU, Graham is scoring (18.1 points per game) and dishing (7.5 assists) more than ever before, while also handling on- and off-court leadership responsibilities with ease. After an uncharacteristic shooting night in a win over Iowa State (4 for 14) earlier this week, Graham didn’t look like he would lose sleep over scoring only 11 points.

“I had nine assists, so I’m still satisfied with the night,” Graham said. “I feel like everybody played pretty well.”

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) puts up a three over Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) puts up a three over Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

At Texas Tech, Self said senior Evans has proven himself to be one of the premier players in the conference. Evans’ 19.9 points in Big 12 games have keyed the Red Raiders’ 3-1 start.

Surprisingly, West Virginia senior Jevon Carter posted single-digit scoring nights in wins over Kansas State and Baylor, leading to his 10.0 points-per-game average in conference. But the Mountaineers enter Saturday’s game at Texas Tech owners of the Big 12’s only unblemished conference record (4-0), and Carter’s season numbers — 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 steals — serve as a reminder of what he’s capable of over the course of the next couple of months.

Like Carter, Baylor senior Manu Lecomte’s scoring has dipped in league play thus far, but he has averaged 16.5 points overall and knocked down 3.3 3-pointers a game, while shooting 41.5 percent from long range.

Iowa State freshman Lindell Wigginton looks like a point guard who will give the rest of the league fits for years to come. Wigginton, a 6-2 lead guard from Canada, torched Kansas for 27 points on Tuesday by getting to the rim for layups in the first half and nailing three of his four successful 3-pointers in the second half.

TCU sophomore Jaylen Fisher’s 3-point shooting (43.9%) makes him difficult to defend on the perimeter and he’s second among all Big 12 players in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7), trailing only Kansas senior Graham (2.9).

Kansas State is going to miss the point guard play of junior Kamau Stokes, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury, when the Wildcats (12-4, 2-2) visit Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. Stokes assisted on 28 percent of K-State’s field goals prior to suffering the injury and buried seven 3-pointers earlier this year against Arizona State.

Even in Stokes’ absence, however, the Wildcats don’t seem to be in awful shape. Redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra replaced him Wednesday and contributed 17 points, four assists, one steal and three turnovers, while going 2 for 3 on 3-pointers in first career start, an 86-82 K-State home win over Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys, though off to a 1-3 start in Big 12 play, have seen graduate transfer Kendall Smith step in this season and make an impact when he scores. Wednesday’s defeat at K-State marked the first time Smith put up double-digit points and OSU lost.

Self thinks highly of Texas true freshman Matt Coleman, predicting the traditional point guard will be great for the Longhorns one day. Coleman already looked more than capable in UT’s double-overtime win over TCU this week, scoring 17 points and distributing a career-best 12 assists on the day the Longhorns announced point guard Andrew Jones has been diagnosed with leukemia.

The man who has coached Kansas to 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles thinks the best teams in the league this season will feature complementary big men, too — not just a great point guard. But it’s clear to Self and everyone else that, at least for now, it’s little man’s conference.

“Our league is so good — you can’t even say from top to bottom. Our league is just so good, period,” Self said of the 2018 race.

Big 12 point guards

Trae Young — Oklahoma freshman

29.2 points, 10.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 4.5 turnovers, 58-for-149 on 3-pointers (38.9%)

Devonte’ Graham — Kansas senior

18.1 points, 7.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 2.6 turnovers, 51-for-118 on 3-pointers (43.2%)

Keenan Evans — Texas Tech senior

17.3 points, 3.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.7 turnovers, 23-for-70 on 3-pointers (32.9%)

Jevon Carter — West Virginia senior

16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 2.8 turnovers, 32-for-81 on 3-pointers (39.5%)

Manu Lecomte — Baylor senior

16.5 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 49-for-118 on 3-pointers (41.5%)

Lindell Wiggington — Iowa State freshman

15.6 points, 2.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 2.2 turnovers, 29-for-70 on 3-pointers (41.4%)

Jaylen Fisher — TCU sophomore

11.7 points, 5.4 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 25-for-57 on 3-pointers (43.9%)

Kamau Stokes (out, foot) — Kansas State junior

13.4 points, 4.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 33-for-79 on 3-pointers (41.8%)

Cartier Diarra — Kansas State redshirt freshman

5.1 points, 1.7 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 1.4 turnovers, 13-for-29 on 3-pointers (44.8%) [17 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 2-for-3 on 3-pointers in first career start]

Kendall Smith — Oklahoma State graduate transfer

11.3 points, 3.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 17-for-50 on 3-pointers (34%)

Matt Coleman — Texas freshman

8.7 points, 5.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 12-for-52 on 3-pointers (23.1%)

Reply 1 comment from David McNickle

Shot selection, Texas Tech defense led to KU’s worst 3-point showing of season

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) puts up a three over Texas Tech guard Justin Gray (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) puts up a three over Texas Tech guard Justin Gray (5) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

A domain so welcoming to the Kansas basketball team this season, the territory behind the 3-point line didn’t yield typical results for the Jayhawks in their Big 12 home opener Tuesday night.

KU experienced its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season — 6-for-26, 23.1 percent — in an 85-73 loss to Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse.

Shockingly, after opening the game 6-for-12 from long range, the home team’s final successful 3 of the game came 2:23 before the two teams left the court for halftime. The Jayhawks missed their final 14 3-point tries of the loss, which included an 0-for-12 second half.

Afterward, KU senior guard Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 2-for-8 on 3-pointers) was asked if going 0-for in the final 20 minutes had anything to do with the Red Raiders’ defense.

“Nah, just off shooting basically. I didn’t know we missed all 12, but, yeah, it was just an off shooting night,” Graham replied.

The team’s leader had reason to remain so self-assured. Even after the slump-filled night, Kansas remained ranked 21st nationally in 3-point accuracy (40.9 percent) on the season.

Still, considering No. 10 KU (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) has experienced such ruts before — 8 of 28 versus Kentucky, and 5 of 20 against Washington are the other sub-30 percent performances — and the team relies on 3-pointers as a weapon (see: the Jayhawks’ double-digit makes from downtown in eight games) it seemed worthwhile to look back at the 3-pointers that did and didn’t drop for Kansas in the loss to No. 18 Texas Tech (13-1, 2-0).

Below is a sequential recap of the long-distance misfires and hits (X = miss; √ = make).


FIRST HALF

X (19:03) — On KU’s opening possession Lagerald Vick settled for a contested step-back 3 from the left wing with the shot clock approaching 5 seconds.

√ (16:54) — Off a baseline out of bounds set, Graham drove into the paint and kicked out to the right corner for a wide-open Svi Mykhailiuk.

X (15:02) — Graham rose up early in the shot clock when given too much space, and just left it short.

X (14:15) — With the shot clock around seven, Graham opted to take a contested 3-pointer up top.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three before the Texas Tech bench during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a three before the Texas Tech bench during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

√ (9:58) — KU beat Tech’s transition defense as Graham threw ahead for Mykhailiuk on the right sideline, in front of the Red Raiders’ bench.

X (8:50) — Garrett kicked to Vick on the left half of the floor, but Keenan Evans was right there to outstretch his left arm and contest.

√ (8:32) — Another Graham push with Mykhailiuk out in front of him on the right wing provided an open look, yet again in front of the Tech bench.

√ (7:12) — Graham saw an open window up top when Niem Stevenson gambled, trying to swipe a Mitch Lightfoot pass, and Graham stepped into a 3-pointer

X (6:13) — Malik Newman caught a Graham pass on the right wing and tried to jab-step Justin Gray to create space for a step-back 3, but Gray stayed low, then got his hand in Newman’s face

√ (4:54) — Graham, whose feet stood on the beak of the giant mid-court Jayhawk logo, simply ball-faked on a catch to give himself room, took one dribble to his left and nailed a long 3 before Gray could recover.

X (4:09) — When Tech smothered Graham with a trap in the left corner, it left Vick wide open 10 feet away. Despite the extra space, Vick’s 3 rimmed out.

Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe (3) puts up a three from the corner against Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver (23) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe (3) puts up a three from the corner against Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver (23) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

√ (2:23) — Azubuike caught an entry pass in the paint just below the free-throw line. When Tech’s defense shifted its focus toward the 7-footer, the center spotted backup wing Sam Cunliffe open in the left corner for as open a look as he’ll see all year.

X (1:18) — Following a timeout, Graham dribbled up the floor and Mykhailiuk set a ball screen for the point guard before popping open for a quality 3, which hit the back of the iron.

X (0:43) — Graham tried to exploit Tech’s retreating transition defense by pitching the ball to Mykhailiuk on the perimeter for a third time. When Tech closed out and forced him to drive, the senior from Ukraine kicked to Vick, who had a great look from the right side rim out.

SECOND HALF

X (16:59) — Mykhailiuk effectively slipped a ball screen for Graham and found an opening in the right corner. A pump fake sent Jarrett Culver flying by Mykhailiuk, who rose up and missed a high-percentage shot, leaving it short.

X (15:45) — A ball screen at the top of the key courtesy of Azubuike allowed Mykhailiuk to reach the apex of his jumper before his defender could recover. However, the 3 only made it as far as the front of the rim.

X (14:57) — Vick’s baseline drive gave him a lane to make a skip pass out to the right wing for Mykhailiuk, who missed his fourth 3 in a row.

X (10:04) — KU tried running Mykhailiuk off an Azubuike pick near the right block, and the 280-pounder gave the Ukrainian senior ample space for a right-corner 3, which refused to fall through the cylinder during a tough second-half stretch for Mykhailiuk.

X (7:03) — Thinking he might have caught Brandone Francis off guard as Marcus Garrett attempted to get open a few feet away, Graham pulled up with 21 seconds on the shot clock and misfired while fading away from Francis on a 3.

X (5:41) — Utilizing no action, Newman attempted to go one-on-one versus Francis on the left side of the floor, settled for a well-defended 3 with 17 left on the shot clock and missed to the left.

X (5:19) — A hard dribble and step-back gave Mykhailiuk the clearance he desired near the right corner momentarily, but Culver regrouped to get a hand in the shooter’s face.

X (5:17) — Mykhailiuk’s long offensive rebound of his own missed 3 allowed him to shovel a pass out to an open Graham at the top of the arc, but his fellow senior missed as a defender flew past him.

X (4:11) — Newman drove and passed to nearby Vick on the left wing. Though the junior from Memphis made a quick dribble to get more open, Francis’ extended arm obstructed Vick’s look at the 3.

X (1:54) — Down eight with less than two minutes to play, Graham tried to deliver a needed 3 from the right corner off a Newman pass. But he did so knowing Zhaire Smith was right there, and left the attempt short.

X (1:07) — With the Red Raiders’ lead up to 10, Vick dribbled into a pull-up 3 on the right side, but Culver went up to defend it and make sure KU got nothing easy.

X (0:11) — The game was all but over, and Graham raced up the floor and missed a 3 defended by Culver.


Unsurprisingly, KU fared far better when it found quality looks at 3-pointers (6-for-10 in the first half, 6-for-15 overall), as opposed to attempts that qualified as less-than-ideal (0-for-4 in the first, 0-for-11 overall).

Asked for his assessment of what his Red Raiders — now 14th nationally, with a 29.3 percent 3-point defense — did to take away one of KU’s strengths, Chris Beard said some good luck played a part in it.

“They got some good looks. We made some mistakes on some switches, so we were fortunate tonight,” Beard said. “But I think you’ve got to give our players credit. I do feel like there was an urgency to guard the 3-point line. With that came the opportunity for Kansas to drive the ball against us in the second half. But luckily we had a lead big enough to where we could sustain that.”

Bill Self, when discussing how Tech’s defense of the 3-point line might have differed from other opponents, cited how the Red Raiders defended ball screens. Beard’s players iced or downed in those situations at times — a strategy that, when successful, takes away the potential to even attempt a 3-pointer, because the defenders aren’t going under picks, gifting shooters with clear lines of vision.

“They are a pressure defensive team. Chris has done a great job of getting them up the floor and playing their man before he catches it and all that stuff. So I would say they did a good job of playing higher on the floor and not letting us get a lot of wide-open looks,” Self said.

“To me, the first half we made six 3’s and I thought three of them were awful shots, they just happened to go in,” KU’s coach added.

Mykhailiuk, who went 3-for-4 from 3-point distance in the first half and 0-for-5 in the second, said the Red Raiders’ defensive activity made them unique.

“Definitely. It started with denying the ball,” said Mykhailiuk, who is shooting 38-for-84 (45.2 percent) on 3’s this year. “They didn’t let us catch anything. It was breaking down everything.”

The Jayhawks will look to rediscover their 3-point touch Saturday at No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1). The Horned Frogs have held opponents to 33.3 percent 3-point shooting (128th in the country).

Reply 1 comment from Carsonc30

KU’s perimeter defense exposed by Arizona State trio

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) defends against a shot from Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) during the first half, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) defends against a shot from Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) during the first half, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.”

Reply 3 comments from Surrealku Zabudda

Graham can follow examples of Hield and Mason to upgrade NBA stock as senior

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against Purdue guard Ryan Cline (14) during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against Purdue guard Ryan Cline (14) during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

The likelihood of Kansas reaching the 2018 Final Four, in San Antonio, increased significantly when Devonte’ Graham decided to return for his senior season in Lawrence.

And while the offseason strength, conditioning and skill work Graham, a 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., will put in over the next several months is geared toward helping the Jayhawks reach college basketball’s national semifinals for the first time since 2012, for him that training will have as much to do with transforming himself into a player more NBA teams will want to draft.

Graham, who has to be a leading candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year next season, need look no further than the league’s last two P.O.Y-winners for examples of how a strong senior season can improve your draft stock.

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield projected as a second-round pick before he set the college basketball world on fire as a senior, and eventually became the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Graham’s KU teammate, Frank Mason III, won’t go that high this coming June, but the tireless lead guard went from not even being considered by NBA types a year ago to a probable late second-round pick.

With more than a year to go before Graham’s draft day, in 2018, his post-junior year situation is closer to Hield’s than Mason’s. So Graham finds himself in a favorable starting point headed into his final season of college basketball.

DraftExpress.com currently ranks Graham as the No. 33 overall pick — third in the second round — in 2018. It’s hard envisioning his stock skyrocketing in duplicate fashion to Hield’s, unless the 22-year-old’s final year at KU is accompanied by a growth spurt. Held measured 6-5 in shoes with a wingspan of 6-9.3, after his days at OU concluded. His body type, coupled with his 25.0 points per game as a senior, made it easier for scouts, coaches and general managers to picture Hield excelling in a league where the world’s tallest, fastest, strongest and most-skilled basketball players make a living.

Not as many will believe the same about Graham, due to his 6-2 height, even if he turns out a Mason-esque senior year filled with 3-point marksmanship and regular scoring outputs of the 20-plus-points variety. But a dominant final run at KU for Graham easily could propel him into the first round, and a guaranteed contract, so that will be one of his numerous goals for the offseason months ahead.

Graham won’t be able to get into the lottery conversation with the likes of the nation’s best incoming freshmen — Missouri’s 6-foot-10 Michael Porter or Arizona’s 7-footer, DeAndre Ayton — or 18-year-old Real Madrid sensation Luka Doncic (6-8). Graham’s objective should be to become the best small guard (let’s say 6-4 or under for the purposes of this exercise) in his draft class.

Here’s a glance at Graham’s competition in that category, according to DraftExpress.com’s 2018 projections:

  • 6-3 PG Trevon Duval — undecided 5-star prospect; age: 18; DX projection: 11th pick

  • 6-4 SG Lonnie Walker — 5-star freshman-to-be at Miami; age: 18; DX projection: 12th pick

  • 6-3 SG Bruce Brown — averaged 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists as freshman at Miami; age: 20; DX projection: 15th pick

  • 6-4 PG De’Anthony Melton — averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as freshman at USC; age: 18; DX projection: 18th pick

  • 6-4 PG Andrew Jones — averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists as freshman at Texas; age: 19; DX projection: 20th pick

  • 6-4 PG Frank Jackson — averaged 10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists as freshman at Duke; age: 19; DX projection: 21st pick

  • 6-4 SG Grayson Allen — averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as junior at Duke; age: 21; DX projection: 27th pick

  • 6-1 PG Aaron Holiday — averaged 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists as sophomore at UCLA; age: 20; DX projection: 43rd pick

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. by Nick Krug

At this point in time, Graham, who averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists for KU as a junior, is one of just nine guards listed at 6-4 or below in the mock draft. It’s safe to guess he would rank higher on this Draft Express list had his 3-point shooting as a junior — 94-for-242, 38.8% — resembled the next-level accuracy he displayed as a sophomore — 75-for-170, 44.1%.

If Graham wants to surpass all those other small guards in his way of becoming a mid-first-round pick next summer, showcasing his 3-point mastery as a senior would be his best bet. Long-range precision is more valued than ever in the NBA, and if you’re already smaller than most of your on-court competitors, owning expertise in some facet of the game is a must.

Kansas will need Graham’s 3-pointers as a weapon next season with Mason’s departure. If Graham is a deadeye shooter as a senior, it will benefit both his college program and his NBA chances.

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Table_rock_jayhawk Brett McCabe

Stock watch: Where does Devonte’ Graham’s NBA candidacy stand after his junior year?

None

From the moment Josh Jackson decided to play at Kansas, everyone knew he would spend one season with the Jayhawks before becoming an NBA lottery pick. And now that his freshman year is done, we can see Jackson’s a near lock to go in the first three picks this coming June.

The immediate future of KU junior guard Devonte’ Graham — and his whole should I stay or go conundrum — qualifies as far more cloudy.

At various points before and during the Jayhawks’ now completed 31-5 season, Graham’s name appeared on mock drafts near the bottom of the first round and/or hovering close to the top of the second round. At DraftExpress.com, his stock peaked at 28th overall, in October.

However, in a Draft Express projection updated this past weekend, the name of the 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., didn’t appear until near the bottom third of the two-round mockup, with Graham predicted as the 50th overall selection, by the Denver Nuggets.

What’s to be made of him going from a possible first-round pick to the 20th choice in Round 2? It could have to do with Graham’s shooting.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts up a three over Purdue guard Dakota Mathias (31) during the first half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) puts up a three over Purdue guard Dakota Mathias (31) during the first half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

In his third season at Kansas, Graham took 32 more 3-pointers than he did in his first two years combined, but only totaled two more 3-point makes than when you add up his freshman and sophomore numbers. In other words, his accuracy took a noticeable dip.

Here’s a look at his percentages from beyond the arc at Kansas:

- Freshman year: 17-for-40, 42.5% (29 games, 17.8 minutes)

- Sophomore year: 75-for-170, 44.1% (38 games, 32.5 minutes)

- Junior year: 94-for-242, 38.8% (36 games, 35.3 minutes)

Graham definitely has other qualities that will help him as he tries to make an NBA roster, but his 3-point marksmanship a year ago made the idea of selecting a 6-2, 185-pound guard more appealing. Graham’s mark of 38.8% this season wasn’t bad by any means — it currently ranks tied for 52nd nationally — but that 44.1% really made him stand out as a shooting prospect.

We still don’t know whether Graham will enter the draft or return to Kansas for his senior year. He could opt to test the waters without hiring an agent. Should he choose option No. 3, Graham could go to the NBA Draft Combine in May, get feedback on his status from various franchises and determine then what to do next.

Withdrawing from the draft in order to pad a pro résumé worked well over the past year for Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan, North Carolina wing Justin Jackson, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Villanova’s Josh Hart and Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame.

A late second-round draft pick isn’t guaranteed anything, so Graham could be more interested in returning to Kansas for the 2017-18 season and another run at a Final Four next March if his stock doesn’t take a jump upward in the next several weeks.

Of course, it’s ultimately his decision, and if Graham is ready to become a professional, Bill Self won’t stop him. The coach only will help his 22-year old guard make the most informed resolution possible.

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