Without any NBA games or March Madness to discuss, the crew from ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” decided to take a nostalgic approach earlier this week and have former players, including 1997-98 Kansas All-American Paul Pierce, assemble their all-time teams.
The task was an easy one for Pierce and his colleagues, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams: go back through the history of the program for which each played and take any players to build a starting five.
“I’m gonna go big with my squad,” Pierce warned, during the stay-home edition of what’s typically a studio pre-game show. “We’re going old school, 6-8 and up pretty much except for the point guard.”
Indeed, Pierce’s all-time KU team turned out imposing, even if non-traditional, with centers Wilt Chamberlain and Joel Embiid down low, Danny Manning at small forward, Pierce on the wing and Mario Chalmers at guard.
“You can’t leave off Mario Chalmers — Super Mario,” Pierce said. “He won the national championship at Kansas with big shots.”
Williams was impressed: “That’s a squad right there,” he replied. “Ain’t nobody out-rebounding y’all.”
Williams, a two-time All-American at Duke just after the turn of the century, also put himself on his Blue Devils all-time team, along with Kyrie Irving, J.J. Redick, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.
Rose, a member of the fabled Michigan Fab Five in the early 1990s, put the three most prolific players from those Wolverines teams — himself, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard — on his squad, along with Glen Rice and Trey Burke.
(KU fans might remember Burke’s 30-footer to force overtime versus Kansas in 2013. Rose definitely did, sharing he recalled watching the game and spilling hot sake on himself while celebrating.)
March moments aside, the consensus between the “NBA Countdown” crew and host Maria Taylor was that Pierce put together the most impressive lineup.
“I think Wilt, once you start there… it’s tough,” Pierce said.
Added Williams: “That ain’t fair, man.”
However, both Rose, who played in back-to-back national championship games in 1992 and 1993, and Williams, who won a national title in 2001, were able to beat Pierce when it came time for the former players to discuss their personal best March Madness moments.
During Pierce’s three years at KU, the Jayhawks twice earned a No. 1 seed and were a No. 2 seed when he was a freshman. However …. well, just let “The Truth” explain.
“It’s kind of hard to find something memorable, being that we got upset pretty much every year and never made a Final Four,” Pierce said.
His freshman year, KU, as the No. 2 seed in the West regional, lost to No. 4 Syracuse in the Elite Eight, in 1996.
When Pierce was a sophomore, he played on what is still considered one of the best teams in KU history. The Jayhawks finished 34-2 but lost to No. 4 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16.
Pierce’s college career ended in 1998 when No. 1 seed KU got knocked off by No. 8 Rhode Island in the second round.
“There’s not many favorite moments but my favorite game was probably against Arizona,” Pierce said. “We beat Arizona one year to go to the final eight (1996), and then we lost to Arizona the next year (1997) and they ended up being the national champs. But those were two great battles.”
In a Sweet 16 matchup in Denver in 1996, KU beat Arizona, 83-80, and Pierce scored 20 points, going 4-for-6 on 3-pointers.
In the 1997 rematch in the same round, this time in Birmingham, Ala., the Wildcats prevailed, 85-82, despite a 27-point outing for Pierce in which he went 9-for-13 from the floor and 3-for-3 from long range and pulled down 11 rebounds.
College basketball stars such as Kansas point guard Devon Dotson didn’t get to take advantage of the NCAA Tournament as a showcase in front of potential NBA employers this March. And the way everything is trending, future opportunities between now and the 2020 draft — whenever that happens — could be scarce.
According to a Tuesday report from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA sent a memo to NCAA basketball coaches letting them know players could begin submitting applications to get feedback on their draft stock from the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee.
That’s good news for potential early draft entrants such as Dotson, a sophomore, because they can at least start thinking about their basketball future and preparing for what’s next, just days after the unforeseen early conclusion to the college basketball postseason, due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the ESPN report also included some foreboding details about a potentially unrecognizable new normal for draft hopefuls. Per Givony and Wojnarowski, NBA executives “widely agree” that the typical procedures used to evaluate prospects will be “severely limited, if not lost altogether,” because the idea of players and scouts being able to travel all over the country for workouts, pro days and the NBA combine seems “extremely unlikely” at this juncture.
Amid all this unpredictability, the outcome of Dotson’s looming stay-or-go decision looks far more obvious. A year ago, Dotson took a prolonged look at his draft stock before returning to KU. And from the day he decided to play for the Jayhawks as a sophomore, a spot in the 2020 draft looked inevitable for the 6-foot-2 point guard from Charlotte, N.C.
What’s more, Dotson’s current head coach, Bill Self, was discussing during a media teleconference how to properly commemorate the Jayhawks’ 28-3 season when he all but said Monday — without naming Dotson specifically — that the second-year guard will enter the draft.
“You’ve got a couple players — or three players — that will not be back. Two of them are seniors,” Self said, referencing Udoka Azubuike and Isaiah Moss. "One, I’m sure will declare, even though it hasn’t happened yet and he hasn’t made that decision. But the reality is at today’s time that that would probably happen.”
So when Dotson officially declares for the draft, he and other potential draftees, it seems, might not get to go through the usual pre-draft process, bouncing from city to city for workouts and interviews with coaches and general managers.
The annual NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is scheduled for May 21-24, but as ESPN reported, nothing is certain at this point. The NBA season is on hiatus for the foreseeable future, too, so the league might have to cancel the combine, because Wojnarowski has reported a mid- to late-June return to action for the league is currently considered a “best-case” scenario.
If teams aren’t even back to practicing by late May, there’s no way the NBA would be able to have its combine at that point. Like most everything tied to sports during these unsettled times, pre-draft normalcy looks very much in doubt. Will the draft even take place on June 25, as scheduled? Who knows.
At least Dotson can enter his name into the draft pool — if he so chooses (spoiler alert: he will) — with confidence that what scouts saw from him during the Jayhawks’ season has him in much better position than he was a year ago.
If Dotson was considered a lock as a first-round pick for the 2019 draft after his freshman year, he wouldn’t have returned to KU. He still might not be quite at that level, so that’s where the loss of workouts and a combine could hurt Dotson a little.
ESPN’s list of top 100 prospects currently ranks Dotson No. 31 overall. In a 30-team, two-round draft, that could mean an early second round spot for Dotson, if teams value him the same way ESPN’s draft experts do.
Dotson proved while averaging 18.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.1 steals, and shooting 46.8% from the field and 83% at the foul line during his shortened sophomore season that he’s speedy, strong and a tough finisher inside.
The biggest knock on him has been his 3-point shooting. While both teammates and Self say Dotson is a good shooter or has the potential to be one, he only connected on 30.9% of his 3-point tries (38-for-123) during his 30 games as a sophomore. He was more consistent as a freshman (33-for-91, 36.3%), so maybe this year was an anomaly, but teams would still prefer to see better percentages from a guard.
A strong 3-point shooting display during a deep KU run to the Final Four might have helped Dotson’s draft stock. Now he might not even get opportunities to prove himself as a shooter in pre-draft workouts either.
It’s an unfortunate reality for aspiring NBA players, but one Dotson and other could-be first-rounders now have to contemplate.
Life has a way of reminding people about what’s actually important and what’s ultimately of far less consequence.
On a Monday afternoon that many of us would’ve spent scrutinizing the still fresh NCAA Tournament bracket, and maybe even getting into occasionally heated debates about which teams could or should actually advance, many local media members dialed in to a teleconference to hear from Kansas basketball coach Bill Self.
The conversation, of course, had nothing to do with the Jayhawks’ upcoming path to a national championship, but rather the unforeseen and surreal way the postseason came to a conclusion before it even really got started.
The head coach of the No. 1-ranked team in the country spent plenty of time discussing how life has changed for his players and how the canceled tournament could impact what’s to come on a number of fronts. But Self diverted briefly to consider how sports actually might have played a momentous role in this country by getting people to recognize the seriousness of this COVID-19 pandemic.
“How big of a positive was it that Rudy Gobert tested positive?” Self said of the Utah Jazz center contracting the virus and essentially putting the entire NBA season on pause.
Gobert's diagnosis came this past Wednesday, which in its aftermath now feels like a month ago. The NBA suspending play became a tipping point for sports leagues throughout this country. And a worldwide story that might have seemed too far away for some in the U.S. to take seriously just a week ago suddenly became a lot more real.
Self marveled that sports as we know them getting wiped out actually became a driving force behind a movement, with more people paying attention to the virus and the possible repercussions of it spreading.
“I do think that could be a positive that came out of this — a very big one,” he said.
Indeed, this abnormal new reality for the Jayhawks and everyone else comes with some life lessons. According to Self, one that hit home for him is that everything is relative.
“No matter what we’ve got going on or no matter who we think we are, there’s always something more important actually taking place than what we’re doing,” Self said. “Sometimes we get caught up in our own world so much that we think what we’re doing is actually more important and affects more people than what it actually does.”
That’s been one of the most sobering aspects of existing in the sports world this past week. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be tied to the industry in one way or another have been reminded that the drama and intrigue surrounding sports may be captivating at times, but it lacks the gravity of these unpredictable days in which we now exist.
“I do feel so sorry for local businesses and people employed at local businesses,” Self said. “And how do they keep the doors open and stay in business? There are so many things going on in addition to health that it certainly got everyone’s attention. And I do think sports has helped create that.”
Maybe Self’s right, and this country is now a little further ahead of schedule in responding to this outbreak than it would’ve been without the sports world taking the lead. If sports helped just a little, it’s a nice reminder that they have the potential to make a far-reaching impact for good sometimes. Once in a while sports can be more than just a game.
The most crucial portion of the Kansas football team’s offseason was just days away from starting up when the entire sports world came to a breakneck halt.
The Jayhawks were scheduled to start their first spring practice of 2020 at 3:40 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. That was before the threat of the novel coronavirus began shutting down athletic competitions of all sorts worldwide.
Once word came down from the conference offices Friday night that all forms of team activities in the Big 12 were suspended, exactly when KU football players will be allowed to reconvene and start practicing became unclear.
Currently, uncertainty is the new status quo. On-campus classes are canceled at KU through March 22. After that, all classes will move online, and the university laid out a plan that anticipates the need for classes to remain in an online platform “for several weeks.” So KU football coaches at this point don’t even know when the players will be allowed back on campus and be able to go about their normal lives.
The Big 12, in announcing the suspension of both organized and voluntary team activities, including team and individual practices, meetings and other such gatherings, said the situation will be reevaluated March 29. On KU football’s original spring schedule, the Jayhawks were supposed to have six of their allotted 15 spring practices behind them by then.
In an absolute best-case scenario, KU and other football teams would get the go-ahead to get back to some normalcy and start spring practices by early April. The way this COVID-19 threat has developed over the past week, though, such an outcome reads like fantasy.
At the other end of this speculative spectrum is the worst-case scenario: no spring football. Coaches and players everywhere would despise that result. But it would feel like an especially fierce blow for the Jayhawks.
This is just the second offseason since Les Miles came in to try and revamp the program. Spring practices are a critical component of such an extensive renovation project.
Sure, the Jayhawks showed some flashes of advancement during their 3-9 2019 season. But improving upon that mark in Year 2 of the Miles regime is not a foregone conclusion. Seniors from 2019 — such as left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, receiver Daylon Charlot, defensive backs Hasan Defense, Mike Lee, Jeremiah McCullough and Bryce Torneden, linebacker Azur Kamara, center Andru Tovi and quarterback Carter Stanley — played important roles on that team. Spring football practices are generally the time when coaches start to get a true sense of which players can step up and fill in vacated jobs on the depth chart.
What’s more, there is no clear favorite to take the place of Stanley as KU’s starting quarterback. Maybe Thomas MacVittie ends up winning the job. Perhaps it will be Miles Kendrick. The presumptive start of the 2020 season is still months away, so conceivably at least, it’s possible that some dark horse candidate would have time to emerge as well. Every aspiring starter — regardless of position — needs the 15 spring practices to go prove himself.
Plus, it’s likely no one was looking forward to this spring practice time as much as offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. Miles promoted him to OC in the middle of the 2019 season, so Dearmon didn’t really get to run the full-blown version of the RPO offense he loves. KU’s spring practices and the meetings that accompanied them are going to be pivotal for Dearmon and KU’s offensive players, because that’s when the coach will be able to install his system and get the Jayhawks familiar with all of his play calls and cues.
College football is such a moneymaker for FBS programs that it’s hard to fathom spring practices getting completely wiped out. Then again, who would have been able to grasp just a week ago that the NCAA Tournament would be canceled. These are unprecedented times for everyone, let alone college athletics administrators.
As far as spring practices go, all anyone can do is remain optimistic. One would think the Big 12 and other conferences could come up with ways to salvage the spring schedule, even if that means pushing it into the summer.
At KU, the last day of classes is scheduled for May 7, and May 15 is the last day of finals, before a May 17 commencement. If life is back to normal at some point between now and then, maybe teams could at least get the spring practice schedule started late in the semester. And given these unique circumstances, one would figure NCAA and conference decision-makers would be flexible enough to allow practices to take place during summer classes, too, if necessary.
The Jayhawks need those 15 offseason practices before preseason camp gets started in August. KU football is not yet on strong enough ground to withstand the loss of that much preparation time as well as the more established programs in the Big 12 could.
For the time being, all any football player or coach can do is wait. And hope the best.
You thought watching your favorite team get upset in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament was tough. Welcome to the truest form of March Sadness.
The idea of any basketball being played this weekend or in the weeks to come toppled, domino style, beginning Thursday morning. As conferences nationwide canceled their postseason tournaments, the trend reached the Big 12 and the Sprint Center less than an hour before a quarterfinal between Texas and Texas Tech was supposed to tip off.
By the afternoon, the NCAA and its board of governors went ahead and canceled the entire postseason. No Selection Sunday. No brackets to fill out. No buzzer-beaters. No Cinderellas. No Final Four. Not even “One Shining Moment.”
This is all, of course, for the greater good of society. Health experts far more knowledgeable about this novel coronavirus and how it spreads than those of us who wanted to watch more basketball advised against these games and the March traditions that we’ve come to know and love. It was a prudent move, reached with the well-being of people who could be fatally impacted by COVID-19 in mind. Even if it took the NBA, NHL and MLB all suspending their games for the NCAA to take a similar action, the people in charge of the March Madness moneymaker finally followed the ethical route.
But it’s OK to be disappointed in the result, sensible as it was. Imagine the sorrow college athletes throughout the country are still experiencing, and will continue to deal with, in the wake of this unprecedented measure.
It’s hard to dream up a more let down group of players than those on the Kansas basketball roster. The No. 1-ranked Jayhawks hadn’t lost a game since Jan. 11. They were in position to become the No. 1 overall seed in the national championship tournament, with the help of two potential all-Americans, Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, and a defensive guru, Marcus Garrett.
They had zero clue this past Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, when they beat the Red Raiders for an outright Big 12 title that it would be the last time they ever competed together. The Jayhawks looked like a team that could play nine more times — three in the Big 12 Tournament and six more in the NCAA Tournament — cutting down more nets and acquiring more postseason hardware along the way.
Instead, it’s all suddenly over.
For months, the lives of these players revolved around gearing up for this 2020 postseason. Now they’re no doubt left with a sense of emptiness, because the bizarre circumstances of these times meant they didn’t even get a chance to go validate their incredible regular season with some postseason glory.
For Azubuike, a senior, and Dotson, a likely early NBA draft entrant, this must be unfathomable. They were poised to write their own memorable chapters in KU’s storied program. Maybe even leave as legends. Like Danny Manning or Mario Chalmers. Now they and their teammates become an all-time what-if in KU lore.
Unfortunately for college athletes and fans everywhere, this unique brand of March Sadness extends to sports everywhere. President Mark Emmert and the board of governors determined the best way for the NCAA to prevent further spread of COVID-19 was to cancel all remaining winter and spring championships. That means no title runs for college athletes in basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, gymnastics, track and field, lacrosse, baseball, softball, golf and tennis, to name a few.
We’ve never seen anything like this. And hopefully we never will again.
As everyone continues to process this odd non-postseason, it’s OK to both appreciate that people involved in sports are doing everything they can to limit a pandemic, while also expressing regret over how March of 2020 came to an abrupt conclusion.
It's normal for players on Bill Self’s Kansas basketball teams to wind up on All-Big 12 teams in March, but not once in his previous 16 seasons did Self coach a team with two stars so productive that either could easily have won conference player of the year.
Of course, that changed in year No. 17, thanks to Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson.
A 7-foot senior center, Azubuike ended up sweeping the Big 12 player of the year awards, earning the distinction from both the conference’s coaches and the Associated Press.
But that didn’t mean Azubuike was the obvious choice. AP voters gave the big man 10 votes, but seven went to his teammate Dotson, a sophomore point guard.
Azubuike intimidated on the interior, while Dotson reigned on the perimeter. They formed an ideal complementary duo and made up the driving force behind KU’s incredible 17-1 run through the Big 12.
Was one more responsible for the Jayhawks’ success than the other? You could make strong cases for either and still not convince someone on the other side of the argument. Ultimately, both sides are right, because the dominating center and high-speed point guard formed a reciprocal pairing that resulted in KU emerging as the top-ranked team in the country.
Self said earlier this week he never had before coached a tandem with such a hefty one-two punch that it was difficult to discern which player was actually better.
“Yeah, when we had Marcus and Markieff, they were hard to distinguish,” Self joked of the Morris twins. “From a postseason award standpoint, I don't know that we've had anything like this before.”
Just in two of the previous three seasons, Self coached clear-cut All-Americans in Frank Mason III (2017) and Devonte’ Graham (2018) who were obvious choices for Big 12 player of the year. The same was true earlier in the decade, with Marcus Morris (2011) and Thomas Robinson (2012). And even though Mason and Graham were teammates in 2017 and Morris and Robinson played together in 2011, there was always clear separation between those KU duos in those particular seasons. Robinson and Graham each stepped up to become “the guy” after a teammate with a key role moved on.
In Azubuike and Dotson, Kansas (28-3) has two of “the guys” entering the postseason together.
Self thought the only time KU could have had a somewhat similar scenario was 2014, when the Jayhawks’ top two freshmen, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, went on to become two of the top three picks in the draft. Of course, that combo never got to realize its March Madness potential, as Embiid suffered a season-ending injury late in the regular season and KU lost as a No. 2 seed in its second game of the NCAA Tournament.
Azubuike and Dotson are more likely to become two of the top three picks in the second round of the draft, but they’ve turned into highly effective college stars. The Jayhawks haven’t benefited from the presence of such a valuable pair of players since the year before Self arrived. In 2003, big man Nick Collison and fleet-footed guard Kirk Hinrich took KU all the way to the national championship game.
Azubuike and Dotson are the most impactful Kansas duo since, and exceptional enough in this college basketball season that they could take the Jayhawks one step further — and maybe help deliver KU its first national championship since 2008.
With the regular season officially behind them, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks should feel right at home when they’re away from Lawrence this postseason, and not just at their mid-March home in Kansas City, Mo., for the Big 12 Tournament.
Kansas fought its way to a 10-1 road record, bolstering its claim to the No. 1 overall seed on this upcoming Selection Sunday.
By definition, the Sprint Center and every NCAA Tournament venue in which KU could play in the weeks ahead, is a neutral site. But that’s open to some interpretation. Kansas fans could gobble up tickets in Kansas City this weekend, turning those contests into pseudo home games, the same way KU’s annual regular-season dates in Sprint Center masquerade as a home game on the schedule.
Once the Jayhawks (28-3) begin their NCAA Tournament run, though, their experience as road warriors this season should come in handy in high-pressure games, in Omaha, Neb., the opening week, and possibly Houston or Indianapolis the following one.
Even though KU is likely to be well represented in the stands at various stops during the 68-team national tournament, any sense of a home-court advantage will be out the window.
“I think when you're rated high,” KU head coach Bill Self said Monday during his press conference, “a lot of times if the game's close in the NCAA Tournament, the majority of the people in the building that aren’t a KU fan would certainly pull for the underdog or the upset, so to speak.”
It’s in those moments that the tension ratchets up in a hurry, potentially infiltrating even a great team’s collective psyche.
That’s when these Jayhawks can lean on their familiarity with winning games outside of Lawrence.
As Big 12 Player of the Year Udoka Azubuike said Monday, the Jayhawks’ confidence entering the postseason is only reinforced by their impressive record on opponents’ home floors.
“Some of the games, we didn’t really play well,” Azubuike said, regarding KU’s 10 road wins. “But we played good defense and we paid attention to details and that kind of helped us. Moving forward, we know we’re not always going to play well offensively, but we’re going to find a way to grind it out defensively.”
That defense, of course (No. 2 in the nation in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom.com), is what makes the Jayhawks a favorite to win it all. And they’ve been so locked in on that end of the floor this season that getting stops and winning has become second nature, and they don’t need the boost of the Allen Fieldhouse crowd to make it happen.
All-Big 12 point guard Devon Dotson said KU’s run through its road schedule highlighted the players’ resiliency.
“That shows that we have some strength and toughness — like mental toughness — to overcome runs or bad moments that we have,” Dotson said. “We can overcome it. That’s a positive, that we can overcome that.”
Self’s KU teams often fare well on the road, and that doesn’t necessarily guarantee postseason success — we’re talking about March Madness after all. Still, their 10-1 road record this year gives Self confidence about this team’s potential as the Jayhawks head into postseason play.
“We've had some teams here that you knew that we would get a great effort and you knew that you would probably have a great chance to win, because you knew our crowd would be so good and get guys jacked to play,” Self said. “I don't I think this team needs that as much. At least I hope not. We haven't so far.”
KU road records in Self era, and NCAA Tournament result
2003-04 — 5-5; Elite Eight
2004-05 — 6-4; lost in 1st round
2005-06 — 6-2; lost in 1st round
2006-07 — 8-2; Elite Eight
2007-08 — 8-3; National Championship
2008-09 — 6-4; Sweet 16
2009-10 — 9-2; lost in 2nd round
2010-11 — 9-1; Elite Eight
2011-12 — 8-2; National runner-up
2012-13 — 7-3; Sweet 16
2013-14 — 5-6; lost in 2nd round
2014-15 — 5-6; lost in 2nd round
2015-16 — 7-3; Elite Eight
2016-17 — 10-1; Elite Eight
2017-18 — 7-3; Final Four
2018-19 — 3-8; lost in 2nd round
2019-20 — 10-1; ???
Road records of NCAA champions, since 2004
2004 — Connecticut, 6-4
2005 — North Carolina, 8-3
2006 — Florida, 6-4
2007 — Florida, 5-4
2008 — Kansas, 8-3
2009 — North Carolina, 11-2
2010 — Duke, 5-5
2011 — Connecticut, 5-5
2012 — Kentucky, 8-1
2013 — Louisville, 8-3
2014 — Connecticut, 6-4
2015 — Duke, 9-2
2016 — Villanova, 10-2
2017 — North Carolina, 6-5
2018 — Villanova, 9-3
2019 — Virginia, 10-1
(Road records of NCAA champs via teamrankings.com)
There are plenty of better scorers, shooters and rebounders in the Big 12 than Marcus Garrett. The numbers others have put up, though, don’t equal the impact Garrett makes for the league’s undisputed champ, No. 1-ranked Kansas.
That’s what made it so shocking on Sunday when the coaches’ all-conference selections came out and Garrett’s name didn’t appear until the third team.
The junior guard, who has to lead the Big 12 in intangibles such as court awareness, dedication to defense and scouting report knowledge — and, by the way, led all league players with 5.1 assists per game in conference action — warrants far more credit.
One would have figured the league’s coaches, who had to face KU twice and experienced firsthand the type of effect Garrett has on games with his dogged defense and playmaking on offense, would have viewed him as a first-team performer.
No, Garrett doesn’t blow anyone away with his numbers. Except when considering his 9.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals in Big 12 games, it’s necessary to also examine the numbers 17-1 (as in KU’s remarkable conference record) and two (the amount of games the Jayhawks finished ahead of Baylor in the standings). Of course, Garrett’s teammates Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson — both obvious first-team selections — also played crucial roles in that success. But take away Garrett from the lineup and KU doesn’t win the league so convincingly.
There are no mind-blowingly talented, surefire NBA lottery picks in the Big 12 this year, because a broken wrist robbed Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton of the rest of his season in early February. So why not just reward winning with the All-Big 12 team? The league’s coaches will tell you the top-heavy conference has competitive teams throughout. Well, that makes KU’s run through the round robin schedule all the more impressive.
A team that so clearly established itself as the best in the league is worthy of securing three spots on the first team. Garrett is just as important a contributor in what KU already has accomplished this season as Azubuike and Dotson.
Kansas and Baylor had the two best teams in the Big 12 all season and, really, were so much better than the rest of the pack that it would be completely fair to fill the entire first team with Jayhawks and Bears exclusively. This isn’t a deep league this year, and it’s obvious who the most important players are. Azubuike, Dotson, Garrett, Jared Butler and Freddie Gillespie represent best what this league was about in 2020.
Looking at it from another perspective, if the Big 12’s coaches had to put together a five-man lineup in order to battle the five best players from other conferences such as the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, you’d want Garrett on that Big 12 team if you cared at all about beating the best the rest of the country had to offer.
Clearly the coaches respect Garrett’s defense. He was a unanimous choice for the all-defensive team and was voted defensive player of the year. Maybe they thought that was enough of a way to honor his aptitude.
A lot will depend on what’s to come in the postseason for the Jayhawks, but if they play to their potential and make it to the Final Four, people will look back at Garrett’s spot on the third team and laugh. It’s not as egregious as when the Associated Press panel botched its All-Big 12 first team in 2008, failing to get even one Jayhawk on the team. But Garrett as a third-team choice is a misfire.
Garrett makes winning plays and can do so in almost every way imaginable — defensive stops, incredible steals, attacks off the bounce, setting up teammates for high-percentage shots. He’s not a good 3-point shooter (17-for-52, 10-for-32 against the Big 12). Fine. He gives KU everything else his coach, Bill Self, could possibly want out of a player, and when teams leave Garrett wide open behind the arc he’ll take that shot, because that’s the right play.
There aren’t 10 better college basketball players than Garrett in the Big 12, though his spot on the third team suggests otherwise. Nor are there five players better than him in this league. Garrett’s one of the most impactful players around. And he deserved a spot on the first team because he’s a critical component of what has made KU, the likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, great.
Lubbock, Texas — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 66-62 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.
• The Jayhawks missed a lot of shots in the first half (39% shooting), but still headed to halftime up 32-24 versus the Red Raiders.
Points in the paint made that possible, as KU outscored Tech, 14-6, in the first 20 minutes.
That helped offset KU’s 3-point shooting, with the No. 1 team in the country going just 3-for-12 in the first half.
• Although the Jayhawks turned it over 7 times in the first half, Tech only scored 2 points off those miscues.
• A slow offensive start to the second half (2-for-11 shooting, 0-for-2 3-pointers, six minutes in) kept Tech right in the thick of it with KU.
• KU shot 43% in the second half and on the day outscored Tech, 38-16, in the paint. The Jayhawks shot 1-for-5 on second half 3-pointers.
• KU’s guards occasionally had trouble cutting off the long strides of Terrence Shannon Jr., when the 6-foot-6 freshman sought out driving lanes, but the visitors mostly proved effective at keeping Red Raiders out of the paint.
• The Jayhawks ran into even more trouble defending the arc. The Red Raiders opened 4-for-9 from 3-point range 12 minutes in, before KU only allowed 3 more attempts (all misses) before intermission.
• As has been on the case on the road all season long, it was KU’s defense that made a victory possible. Even without a gaudy amount of steals and blocks, the Jayhawks just made it difficult for the Red Raiders to score — a must in a hostile environment versus a well-coached team.
• Tech, after shooting 30.3% from the field in the first 20 minutes, however, came out guns blazing in the second half. Starting 4-for-5 from the floor, Tech, after trailing by as many as 8, tied the game at 37.
• The Red Raiders shot 37% on the day and went 8-for-26 on 3-pointers.
• Udoka Azubuike drew tons of attention from Tech defenders whenever KU could get him the ball in the paint, but the senior center mostly handled those situations well, even after a couple of potentially discouraging turnovers early on.
Azubuike scored 8 of his 15 points in the first half, and executed some nice passes out of the post to open shooters.
The big man played his final regular season game for KU, posted another double-double, with 11 rebounds.
• Devon Dotson came out attacking, scoring two of KU’s first four baskets off dribble attacks that got him layups.
In the midst of a terrific atmosphere and a tight game early on, Dotson’s pick and roll with Azubuike for a dunk, when the big man already had a couple turnovers in the paint, felt like an important moment for the offense.
Even better for the Jayhawks’ chances, Dotson often set up teammates for good looks at Tech, too, with 4 assists on KU’s first 10 field goals.
A surefire first-team All-Big 12 guard, Dotson didn’t let a stepback air-balled 3-pointer to open the second half ruin his day. The sophomore point guard was driving to finish at the rim over length a minute later.
Dotson on a 6-for-15 shooting day, ultimately was productive, putting up 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while struggling from time to time with turnovers (5).
• Marcus Garrett, always the glue guy, provided KU with stellar defense, great effort on the glass and leadership.
His perfect entry pass into Azubuike with 2-plus minutes left gave KU a crucial basket in crunch time. In the final minute, he drove in for a clutch layup that put KU up 4.
A junior guard, Garrett finished with 9 points,, 2 assists and 9 rebounds.
• Isaiah Moss hit his first 3-pointer with 6:38 left in the first half. And though he missed his next 2 attempts in the half, KU functioned well with him on the floor, because Tech defenders have to respect him as a long-range threat.
Moss put up 3 points and went 1-for-5 from deep
• Ochai Agbaji knocked down a right corner 3-pointer early on, and every time that someone other than Moss or Christian Braun connects from downtown, that’s a good sign for the Jayhawks’ offensive potential in the weeks ahead. However, his next three 3-point tries misfired.
What helped Agbaji stand out, though, was his willingness to keep making effort plays when his shots weren’t falling. His hustle in transition to follow a Dotson miss on a toughly contested layup paid off, as Agbaji fushed a follow jam.
He also hit a timely 3-pointer under the 10-minute mark of the second half, with the Red Raiders surging and the crowd giving them even more life.
The sophomore guard posted 12 points and 6 rebounds in the regular season finale.
• David McCormak harnessed his energy well in the first half when he came in to give Azubuike a breather. The backup big asserted himself to look for shots and hit the offensive glass. Even though he needs to finish some of the looks he got inside as a result of his approach, he gave KU more positives than negatives.
McCormack got on the floor to secure a key defensive rebound in the second half, with a little more than 7 minutes to go, leading to a transition layup for Dotson.
KU’s backup big provided 5 points and 6 rebounds.
• Braun delivered what was a rare basket for KU early on in the first half. Spotting up in the left corner, he attacked a closeout off the bounce to seek out a layup, and he drew a foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play.
The freshman guard gave KU 5 points and 4 rebounds, and finished a must-have fast-break layup — set up by his steal — smoothly with less than 1:30 left.
• Tech’s reserves were a bit more impactful, overall, than KU’s on a heated March afternoon, and Tech prevailed in bench points, 16-10.
With No. 1-ranked Kansas playing so well and so many pages of documents to scour in KU’s response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, it’s easy to forget that the Jayhawks are about to add another big man to their lineup.
With one game left in the regular season, Silvio De Sousa is officially back. His 12-game suspension ended, coincidently, as the Jayhawks wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 title without him.
So now, a week into March, for the first time since Jan. 21, when De Sousa made some heat-of-the-moment errors in judgment during a fracas with Kansas State that he now regrets, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward returns to the lineup versus Texas Tech.
Just in time to help KU try and win the 2020 league title outright. What a story, right? Well, not really.
It would have felt crazy to say, write, hear or read before the season began, but the fact is the Jayhawks don’t even really need De Sousa to achieve that goal or the larger ones they still have in front of them.
Even before De Sousa threw punches at K-State players and hoisted a stool above his head during a rivalry game skirmish, actions he would later describe as “unacceptable behavior” and a “poor representation” of his team and his “own character,” the backup big man’s impact for KU was sporadic.
Having De Sousa back in uniform will become a luxury for the Jayhawks (27-3 overall, 16-1 Big 12). In his six appearances in league games in January, before his suspension, he only played 6.2 minutes on average — and that was when KU coach Bill Self still used two-big lineups at times.
So what does De Sousa’s role look like now, with the Jayhawks playing one big with four guards almost exclusively? Even Self admitted he doesn’t know the exact answer.
“I know he's going to travel with us. And he'll suit up. I don't know — that doesn’t mean he'll play or play much or anything,” Self said.
Basically, De Sousa has become an insurance policy and a No. 3 center. If anything were to occur that would lead Self to have both Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack on the bench — for instance, they both have two or more fouls before halftime — then the post spot goes to De Sousa.
“We've been kind of set in how we've done things and everything,” Self said of his team’s rotation, after the Jayhawks won their 15th game in a row. “And David's played really well, so I don't see Silvio's eligibility impacting David's minutes. So I don't know what that’ll look like.”
When many people think about De Sousa’s potential, his role in KU’s run to the 2018 Final Four first comes to mind. A freshman who didn’t even join the lineup until January of that year, the reserve from Angola gave the Jayhawks 4.8 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench during the NCAA Tournament. As the only backup big for Azubuike versus Duke in the Elite Eight, De Sousa came through with 4 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes on a day that Azubuike fouled out.
Before he got the chance to continue his promising trajectory, De Sousa ultimately lost his entire sophomore season, as the NCAA ruled him ineligible in the wake of a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. KU remains in hot water as the result of that investigation and the federal trial that followed it. The NCAA alleges, among other violations, that De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, received $2,500 from an agent in an effort to get De Sousa enrolled at KU.
The university’s lengthy response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, made public Thursday, includes numerous references to the recruitment of De Sousa — his name is simply redacted from the published version of the document.
De Sousa’s return coinciding with the response makes the timing strange. And that’s actually appropriate, because his two-plus years at KU so far have involved bizarre twists and turns, including being reinstated by the NCAA for the 2019-20 season only to lose a chunk of it because of his involvement in the K-State fight.
“I do know he's paid a pretty heavy price,” Self said of the 12-game suspension. “It’s basically cost him the season. So we'll be excited to have him with us.”
As much as De Sousa has practiced with KU since getting to campus in late December of 2017, the on-again, off-again nature of his college career has stunted his development as a player. In-game reps are a crucial component of that growth. It doesn’t seem like he’ll get many of those in the weeks ahead either.
Perhaps De Sousa’s senior season at KU will be the one where he finally becomes a regular contributor. In the meantime, the Jayhawks have an emergency center who would start for many other college programs.