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No reason to worry about Svi Mykhailiuk’s mini-slump in KU’s losses

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) has the ball knocked away by Washington forward Noah Dickerson (15) during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) has the ball knocked away by Washington forward Noah Dickerson (15) during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center. by Nick Krug

It’s safe to say Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk’s offense began to fall into a bit of a funk the past couple of games, with consecutive sub-30-percent shooting outings in the Jayhawks’ two defeats.

After a string of seven consecutive double-figure scoring performances to start his final year in a KU uniform, Mykhailiuk’s struggles began in KU’s loss to Washington, when he shot 3-for-12 from the field, made just two of eight 3-point tries and scored 8 points. Plus, the typically sure-handed guard, who entered the game averaging only 1.1 turnovers, gave the ball up three times.

Mykhailiuk couldn’t shake his turnover woes in the Jayhawks’ loss to Arizona State, either. All four of his miscues came in the second half of the setback — leading to 5 of ASU’s 25 points off turnovers.

And although the 6-foot-8 senior from Ukraine made three of his final five field-goal attempts in the final six-plus minutes versus the Sun Devils to finish with 14 points, the nine shots that left his hand prior to that run all misfired. In the loss, Mykhailiuk missed 11 of his 14 shot attempts overall and saw 3-pointers rim out or bounce off the rim eight different times (3-for-11).

It’s important to note, though, that the mini-slump doesn’t have Mykhailiuk’s coach, Bill Self, worried about the senior’s game moving forward.

“He hasn’t played well. He didn’t have a good game against Arizona State, but for the most part this year he’s been good,” Self said of KU’s third-leading scorer, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 turnovers, while shooting 30-for-65 on 3-pointers (40%), 44.3% from floor, and 10-for-14 on free throws (71.4%).

“And nobody tries harder than Svi, so he’ll be fine,” Self said. “He’ll be fine.”

Mykhailiuk’s consistent effort even showed up in the home loss to ASU. To the senior’s credit, during a volatile afternoon on the court, he at least facilitated the offense in the first 20 minutes, even though his shot wouldn’t fall. While going 0-for-5 in the opening half, Mykhailiuk also dished six assists — setting up a Malik Newman 3-pointer, a Lagerald Vick layup, a pair of Vick 3-pointers and back-to-back Vick dunks.

In KU’s consecutive losses to Pac-12 foes, Mykhailiuk’s averages read: 36 minutes, 11 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3.5 turnovers. He shot 6-for-26 from the field (23%), 5-for-19 on 3-pointers (26%) and 5-for-6 on free throws (83%, with no attempts vs. Washington).

While such a stretch might have unnerved him in past seasons, Mykhailiuk hasn’t appeared rattled of late. If anything, he shows some frustration after a costly turnover, then goes back to taking the same offensive approach that has made him more effective this season.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) watches his shot behind South Dakota State guard Lane Severyn (25) during the first half on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) watches his shot behind South Dakota State guard Lane Severyn (25) during the first half on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

And even though he is still only 20 years old, the senior now is mature and confident enough to keep attacking and shooting when shots aren’t falling.

Following the loss to Washington, Mykhailiuk was asked whether there was more pressure to knock down open looks when the Huskies’ defense had set up so well to take the 3-point weapon away from Kansas.

“It’s the same mentality. When you’re open you’ve got to shoot it no matter what,” Mykhailiuk responded.

If his offensive arsenal is lacking anything at this point, with No. 13 Kansas inching closer to Big 12 play, it’s determined drives to the paint. Self said the previous season Frank Mason III used to go off the dribble, get into the lane and either force help or draw fouls.

“Svi can do a better job of that,” Self said, after identifying Devonte’ Graham and Vick as the only effective drivers for KU thus far.

Entering Saturday’s game at Nebraska (7-4), Mykhailiuk has attempted only 14 free throws and owns the lowest free-throw rate on the entire roster — a sign that he should seek out more opportunities to create offense off the bounce.


Advanced Table
Player G PER TS% eFG% FTr
TOV% USG%
Mitch Lightfoot915.1.705.692.30832.015.9
Udoka Azubuike928.1.744.784.28412.520.3
Marcus Garrett916.1.549.529.26517.311.7
Devonte' Graham924.2.592.557.24315.823.2
Chris Teahan59.4.452.389.22223.236.4
Clay Young74.8.411.400.20015.410.3
Lagerald Vick925.6.644.636.16511.523.0
Malik Newman916.0.589.560.13315.418.8
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk917.9.584.574.12211.022.5
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 12/15/2017.

An even more dynamic Mykhailiuk who takes advantage of closing-out opponents with drives from the perimeter to draw defenders and fouls, would make his 3-point shot that much more difficult to defend.

Opportunities for the senior to put his recent funk behind him will present themselves at Nebraska, and every game going forward doubles as another chance for Mykhailiuk to further develop his overall game. The more versatility he shows as not just a shooter, but also a driver and passer, the more high-powered KU’s offense will become.

Reply 1 comment from Creg Bohrer

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

Stock watch: Top Jayhawks project as 2nd-round picks in 2018 NBA Draft

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets around Missouri guard C.J. Roberts (0) during the first half of the Showdown for Relief exhibition, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) gets around Missouri guard C.J. Roberts (0) during the first half of the Showdown for Relief exhibition, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

Devonte’ Graham’s shooting display in Miami this past weekend was so impactful it wowed Heat president Pat Riley, who, according to Kansas coach Bill Self, said the senior guard “put on a show” in a victory over Syracuse.

That 35-point deluge alone — even coupled with Graham’s 35-point outburst versus Toledo that preceded it — won’t guarantee the 6-foot-2 Jayhawks veteran a spot in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft.

In a new mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (formerly of DraftExpress.com) released on Tuesday, neither Graham’s name nor the those of any of his teammates appear in the first round.

As of early December at least, with 24 regular-season games and an entire postseason in front of him, Graham is considered an early second-rounder. Givony projects KU’s current leading scorer (18.6 points per game, 46% field goals, 41% 3-pointers) as the 38th pick overall, a slot occupied for the moment by the Memphis Grizzlies.

The charismatic senior also has shown improvements in other areas of his game, with career-best averages of 4.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists at this early juncture of the non-conference schedule.

ESPN’s predictions consider another KU senior, 20-year-old shooting guard Svi Mykhailiuk, a second-round talent, as well.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a shot over Toledo forward Luke Knapke (30) and Toledo forward Nate Navigato (35) during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) puts up a shot over Toledo forward Luke Knapke (30) and Toledo forward Nate Navigato (35) during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Givony’s mock draft forecasts Mykhailiuk being taken eight picks after Graham, 46th overall, by Utah.

After testing out the draft process this past spring without signing on with an agent, Mykhailiuk’s final go-around with the Jayhawks is off to a promising start, with improved defense and a better-than-ever 3-point stroke.

The 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine enters Wednesday’s non-conference matchup with Washington in Kansas City, Mo., averaging 17.1 points, fueled by 25-for-46 accuracy (54.3%) from beyond the 3-point arc.

Mykhailiuk, while not as well-rounded as Graham, also has picked up his rebounding (4.0 a game) and passing (1.9 assists) with increased playing time as a senior.

The Kansas seniors are the only Jayhawks on ESPN’s mock draft in the first week of December. However, Givony’s list of top 100 prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft also includes junior Lagerald Vick, listed at No. 61, and sophomore Malik Newman, 92nd.

A great deal can change between now and the NCAA Tournament, let alone in the pre-draft workouts and interviews that follow the season. Graham and Mykhailiuk won’t soar into lottery status, but both appear to be on trajectories that could get them closer to — or maybe even into — the first round in the months ahead.

Reply 11 comments from Allan Olson Ajbeal Dirk Medema Plasticjhawk Tim Orel Robert  Brock Michael Gentemann Alan Dickey Surrealku Jayhawkmarshall

Which Jayhawk is most likely to join Devonte’ Graham as a 30-point scorer?

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham hangs for a shot during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham hangs for a shot during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

We all now recognize how flammable the shooting hand of Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham can get, in wake of his back-to-back 35-point performances this past week, spearheading victories over Toledo and Syracuse.

It’s safe to say any one of the Jayhawks’ starters, Graham confirmed, could put up 20 points and no one would experience an iota of astonishment. But which of his teammates is most capable of exploding for 30 or more points like the senior point guard has?

“There’s no telling,” Graham replied, when asked for his opinion. “It could be Lagerald, could be Svi, could be Malik. Udoka could go crazy one night. … Anybody could have a hot night any given night. If everybody’s being aggressive, somebody’s gonna probably get hot.”

Spoken tactfully, like a true veteran leader. Maybe junior wing Lagerald Vick could slash and shoot his way to 30. Or senior Svi Mykhailiuk might bombard an opponent with 3-pointers en route to a huge night. Perhaps sophomore guard Malik Newman gets hot, while also scoring in bunches in transition for a career performance. It’s conceivable 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could be so overpowering against a front line that he dunks, lay-ups and jump-hooks his way to a massive scoring total.

Who knows? Well, actually, KU head coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea.

Asked which of Graham’s running mates is most likely to go off in the fashion his senior point guard did, Self didn’t have to ponder the inquiry at all.

“Svi,” Self replied, even before the question was completed. “Svi. I think Svi’s shown that.”

As KU’s coach referenced, Mykhailiuk nearly reached 30 a few weeks ago, on a night he shot 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and put up 27 against South Dakota State. But that doesn’t mean Self determined the 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine is the only plausible candidate for the high-scoring, No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (91.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country).

“I think Lagerald can, too,” Self added of the 6-5 guard from Memphis, who produced 20 points against Syracuse while only hitting one 3-pointer.

“And Dok, I’m a little disappointed in Dok in the last game,” Self said of the mammoth post man from Nigeria, who is shooting 77% from the floor and already has finished 26 slams on the season, “because he never put himself in position to score — he never ducked in one time, he never posted up. It’s like the zone messed with his head. And he’s got to be able to play through that.”

Although Azubuike is averaging 14.6 points as a sophomore, Self expressed his dismay about the center’s season-low 6 points versus Syracuse’s 2-3 zone most likely because Kansas is about to face that type of defense again Wednesday night vs. Washington, in Kansas City, Mo.

The Jayhawks (7-0) also could use a bounce-back performance from Newman. The former Mississippi State guard registered his first single-digit scoring game at KU in Miami, going 1-for-8 with just 2 points.

“And Malik’s obviously a guy that can get 20 any night if he’s playing well,” Self added. “And, of course, that wasn’t one of his better games obviously.”

The key takeaway from the who-else-can-get-hot discussion, though, was what an enviable position this team is in from an offensive standpoint.

“The good thing about having five guys that are capable of doing that is you don’t have to have all five guys the same night,” Self said. “You can just have two or three have big nights.”

The 15th-year Kansas coach pointed out Graham, Vick and Mykhailiuk (11 points) combined to contribute 66 of KU’s 76 points in the win over the ACC’s Orange.

“And to be honest with you the other — I could be off on this — the other 10 points we scored, four of them were uncontested lob plays. Not baskets you have to earn,” Self said. “And Malik got an offensive rebound and a put-back on a layup. That’s it. To think we could beat Syracuse when we only have three guys contribute offensively statistically, I think that hopefully is a good sign.”

It seems most fans would agree with Self’s judgment that Mykhailiuk is the most likely Jayhawk to catch fire offensively. Fifty percent of those who voted on Twitter selected the senior marksman as most likely to join Graham as a 30-point scorer at some point this season.

None by Benton Smith

Mykhailiuk definitely qualifies as the most probable to go off. But don’t rule out Newman. The 6-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., hasn’t even reached 20 points yet at Kansas, but he has the confidence and shooter’s mentality to erupt when he inevitably has a game where he’s feeling it.

Newman isn’t a gunner as a rule, but if there’s a matchup that favors him and his teammates aren’t at their offensive peak, he wouldn’t have any trouble becoming the go-to scorer when needed.

Here’s a further look at each of the candidates.


Udoka Azubuike

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets up for a lob jam against Kentucky during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at United Center.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets up for a lob jam against Kentucky during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at United Center. by Nick Krug

Season stats: 14.6 PPG, 77% FGs, 40% FTs

Career highs: 21 points, vs. Oakland (Nov. 21); 10 FGs, vs. Oakland; 4 FTs, vs. UMKC (Dec. 6, 2016)


Svi Mykhailiuk

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) spots up for a three before Syracuse forward Matthew Moyer (2) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at American Airlines Arena in Miami.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) spots up for a three before Syracuse forward Matthew Moyer (2) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at American Airlines Arena in Miami. by Nick Krug

Season stats: 17.1 PPG, 51% FGs, 54% 3s, 63% FTs

Career highs: 27 points, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17); 10 FGs, vs. South Dakota State; 6 3-pointers, vs. Chaminade (Nov. 23, 2015); 5 FTs, vs. Baylor (Jan. 2, 2016)


Malik Newman

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) gets to the bucket past South Dakota State guard Skyler Flatten (1) during the first half on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) gets to the bucket past South Dakota State guard Skyler Flatten (1) during the first half on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Season stats: 11.9 PPG, 46% FGs, 40% 3s, 100% FTs

Career highs: 25 points, vs. Ole Miss (while at Mississippi State, Jan. 23, 2016); 8 FGs, vs. Ole Miss; 7 3-pointers, vs. Ole Miss; 6 FTs, vs. Tulane (Dec. 18, 2015)


Lagerald Vick

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) goes to the bucket against Texas Southern guard Robert Lewis (33) during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) goes to the bucket against Texas Southern guard Robert Lewis (33) during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Season stats: 16.4 PPG, 54% FGs, 47% 3s, 71% FTs

Career highs: 23 points, vs. Tennessee State (Nov. 10); 9 FGs, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17) and Long Beach State (Nov. 29, 2016); 4 3-pointers, vs. Tennessee State and Long Beach State; 4 FTs, vs. West Virginia (Feb. 13, 2017) and TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)

Reply 3 comments from Koolkeithfreeze Surrealku Tim Orel

Why KU D-end Dorance Armstrong didn’t try to pull a Julius Peppers and play college basketball

FILE — North Carolina's Julius Peppers dunks in the fourth quarter of their 80-74 win over Wake Forest at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Tuesday Feb. 6, 2001. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

FILE — North Carolina's Julius Peppers dunks in the fourth quarter of their 80-74 win over Wake Forest at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Tuesday Feb. 6, 2001. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Back before he became the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, defensive end Julius Peppers spent his football offseasons in Chapel Hill, N.C., helping the University of North Carolina’s vaunted basketball program win ACC and postseason games.

So when the Kansas basketball team this season ran into such depth issues that head coach Bill Self only played six Jayhawks 20 or more minutes in each of the first three games it stood to reason some multi-skilled athlete from the KU football team with a basketball past might become useful inside Allen Fieldhouse.

I was convinced Kansas junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. was the perfect man for the job. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Armstrong might not be quite as imposing at the 6-7, 290-pound Peppers was, but it’s the same idea: put a freakishly athletic, muscle-bound pass-rusher on the court, let him intimidate opponents and/or wreak havoc on the rim. In other words: Grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy.

That was basically my pitch to Armstrong recently during one of his weekly interview sessions. So had the former big man at Houston’s North Shore High, where he played on a 5A state championship team in 2014, ever entertained the idea of going back to his hoops roots at Kansas?

“Nuh-uh,” Armstrong replied, while shaking his head and grinning. “No.”

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) sacks Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek (16) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) sacks Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek (16) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Armstrong has to be one of the most hulking individual’s on KU’s campus. And you have to admit, it seems like the basketball roster could use another big body.

“I don’t know. I don’t really get into it. My focus is all here. I feel like they’ve got everything taken care of over there,” Armstrong assessed. “So I’ll keep my focus over here and try and get this thing flipped.”

But what about Peppers? That’s proof it could work, right? The defensive end/power forward averaged 7.1 points and and 4.0 rebounds in his second (and final) basketball season at UNC (2000-01).

“No, my basketball days are over with,” Armstrong said with a laugh. “I haven’t been on the court in a minute. Can’t even run up and down that thing no more.”

Armstrong actually scored in double figures several times during his final prep season at North Shore. But as it turns out, an even more skilled basketball player existed on the KU football roster: backup sophomore tight end James Sosinski.

Longtime Self assistant Norm Roberts told his boss about Sosinski, who played previously at South Mountain Community College, in Phoenix, Ariz., after Roberts ran into the tight end’s father at a KU football game. Then Self called KU football coach David Beaty to inquire further.

“Of course David’s great, and he was totally open to him coming out,” Self added.

Armstrong never was going to be the KU basketball equivalent of Peppers at UNC, and Sosinski won’t be either. Self is giving the 6-7 former club teammate of Mitch Lightfoot a look at practices to see how the tight end might fit in and be of use in KU’s shallow front court. If it ever reaches a point where Sosinski is checking into a game for Self’s Jayhawks, the coach predicts it wouldn’t be more than “maybe a minute or two here or there,” no different than when he goes to walk-ons Clay Young and Chris Teahan.

Self revealed this won’t be the first time he borrowed some talent from a football program.

“We did it at Illinois,” Self said. “Illinois had a wide receiver who actually played in the NFL, a kid named Walter Young, and he was a good high school player. For whatever reason we were short on depth — in practice, not in games.”

Young played sparingly for Self’s Illini in the 2001-02 season, averaging 1.0 points and 2.5 minutes per game before becoming a seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2003.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with that he played football,” Self added. “I think it was just that that was the best possibility on campus.”

Sosinski falls into the same category now for Kansas. Even though it would’ve been fascinating to see a second-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman like Armstrong out in transition for a break-away jam. We’ll just have to settle for a backup tight end.

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Some ho-hum non-conference matchups haven’t stopped No. 2 KU from playing at high level

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) floats in to the bucket during the second half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) floats in to the bucket during the second half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas coach Bill Self never has been one to give much thought to national rankings and where his Jayhawks land on such lists.

But considering KU enters Tuesday’s home game against Toledo at 5-0, with an average scoring margin of roughly 94-62 in its victories, Self didn’t mind sharing his opinion on where his team stands among the country’s best when asked whether the Jayhawks are playing at a level worthy of their No. 2 ranking.

“I don’t have any idea,” Self began, before providing his observations of non-conference matchups across the country. “You know, you watch the games this past weekend and those teams have had an opportunity to play comparable level of teams and we’ve only had that once.”

As Self referenced, many of college basketball’s top teams spent a part of Thanksgiving week playing in destination tournaments, providing them with a national stage and name-recognition opponents. Kansas, meanwhile, played two games inside Allen Fieldhouse against teams from the SWAC and Horizon League.

  • No. 1 Duke, which already had a Champions Classic victory over No. 3 Michigan State on its résumé, padded it with wins in Portland, Ore., over Texas and No. 6 Florida.

  • No. 3 Michigan State, with its only loss coming on a neutral floor to Duke, added wins over UConn and No. 13 North Carolina.

  • No. 4 Villanova won The Battle 4 Atlantis with victories against unranked Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Northern Iowa.

  • No. 5 Notre Dame won the Maui Invitational by defeating host Chaminade, LSU and No. 8 Wichita State.

  • Though No. 6 Florida lost to Duke, it also gained a victory over No. 15 Gonzaga at Nike’s PK80 mega-event, in Portland.

  • However, No. 7 Kentucky, like Kansas, has run through a series of non-conference opponents who operate outside of the Power 5 conferences since the two met in Chicago earlier this month.

While most of KU’s wins aren’t exactly eye-catching — Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern and Oakland — its preeminent victory to date came against UK at the Champions Classic.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) floats to the bucket past Kentucky forward Nick Richards (4) during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at United Center.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) floats to the bucket past Kentucky forward Nick Richards (4) during the first half on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at United Center. by Nick Krug

“But you really look at it, when you look at those teams that are ranked really high in the top 10 most of them have only had two games like that,” Self said. “We’ve had one. So very few have had three or whatever yet. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t get there.”

The Jayhawks’ various blowout victories in non-conference play actually have propelled them to the No. 1 spot in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. According to KenPom.com, Kansas currently has the sixth-most efficient offense and fifth-most efficient defense in the country, numbers good enough to offset a strength of schedule that ranks 201st at this juncture.

“But I think based on who we played, I think we’ve played pretty well considering who we played. If it was somebody else and we played pretty well but we won by 10 I’d say the same thing,” Self said, referencing his disregard for the actual final margin in KU’s wins. “The teams that we beat are better than what the score indicated, so I think we’ve played pretty well.”

Does that mean Kansas deserves its No. 2 ranking in the nation, according to both the AP and coaches polls?

“Probably not. Probably not,” Self repeated, “but it’s still too early. I don’t know who exactly does deserve it just yet if you haven’t really had a chance to play the quality competition that you need to in order to be ranked that high.”

AP TOP 25 (Nov. 27, 2017)

No. 1. Duke

No. 2. Kansas

No. 3. Michigan State

No. 4. Villanova

No. 5. Notre Dame

No. 6. Florida

No. 7. Kentucky

No. 8. Wichita State

No. 9. Texas A & M

No. 10. Miami

No. 11. Cincinnati

No. 12. Minnesota

No. 13. North Carolina

No. 14. USC

No. 15. Gonzaga

No. 16. Baylor

No. 17. Louisville

No. 18. Virginia

No. 19. West Virginia

No. 20. Arizona State

No. 21. Xavier

No. 22. Texas Tech

No. 23. TCU

No. 24. Alabama

No. 25. Creighton

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Amid rumors and speculation, Mario Chalmers defends LeBron James as ‘great teammate’

FILE — The Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) speaks with Mario Chalmers (15) during the first half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball championships against the San Antonio Spurs, Thursday, June 20, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

FILE — The Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) speaks with Mario Chalmers (15) during the first half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball championships against the San Antonio Spurs, Thursday, June 20, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In what is typically the most dormant time of year in the NBA, the league remains abuzz in late July thanks to some off-the-court drama coming from the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions. News came out this past week that Cleveland All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who helped the Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA championship, asked the organization to trade him.

From there, rumors and speculation exploded — via social media and legitimate news outlets — on a perceived strained relationship between Iriving and four-time league MVP LeBron James.

While there are layers to the story that might not be revealed for months, or even years, many are left asking themselves why someone wouldn’t want to play with James, the greatest player of his generation.

What is James like as a teammate? Someone who knows the answer to that question, former Kansas guard Mario Chalmers, shed some light on the subject during an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio.

Chalmers, of course, won two NBA titles while playing alongside James in Miami for four seasons. Now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, the eight-year veteran complimented The King on SiriusXM, but admitted it can be “tough sometimes” to play on the same team as LeBron, due to his dominant presence.

“He’s the best player in the NBA, so it boils down to the coach. Is the coach going to get everybody else involved, or is he gonna let ’Bron decide when he wants to get everybody else involved? So that’s one of the things we were going back-and-forth with in Miami,” Chalmers began. “But as a teammate — he’s a great teammate. I’ve never had any problems. Even when we had that one argument on the court. At the end of the day, we’re still brothers. We were over that after it had already happened, and the media made it more than what it was.”

Although Chalmers and James had their differences, the role-playing guard wasn’t about to call James a bad teammate. If Chalmers had to guess, Irving’s desire to abandon a lineup that’s the favorite to reach The Finals for a fourth straight year stems from something other than it being difficult to play with James.

“He’s a great teammate, a great dude,” Chalmers said. “And when you’re a guy like Kyrie, and you’re young and you’re the man, I can see him wanting to be traded to be on his own team. But I don’t think it’s as personal as what everybody is trying to make it seem.”

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Productive summer: Svi Mykhailiuk leads FIBA U20 European Championship in scoring

Kansas senior wing Svi Mykhailiuk led all scorers at FIBA's 2017 U20 European Championships in Crete, Greece, this month. Mykhailiuk averaged 20.4 points per game for his native Ukraine.

Kansas senior wing Svi Mykhailiuk led all scorers at FIBA's 2017 U20 European Championships in Crete, Greece, this month. Mykhailiuk averaged 20.4 points per game for his native Ukraine. by Courtesy photo

While his Kansas basketball teammates trained in Lawrence the past couple of months for the program’s upcoming trip to Italy, senior wing Svi Mykyailiuk prepared in his own distinct way, by practicing with and playing for Ukraine’s U20 national team.

Mykhailiuk might have missed out on the continuity that comes with sticking around campus with his fellow Jayhawks, but it didn’t stop him from having a constructive summer. Among the 180 athletes competing at the FIBA 2017 U20 European Championships, none scored more points than Mykhailiuk.

Although Ukraine went 3-4 at the international event and finished 10th out of 16 teams, Mykhailiuk showcased his individual talent in Crete, Greece, over the last week-plus, averaging 20.4 points per game in seven outings. The KU senior didn’t look one-dimensional, though. He also averaged 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

In fact, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz reported Mykhailiuk dabbled as a point guard in his team’s Sunday finale versus Turkey, and racked up six assists in the first quarter alone, often pitching the ball ahead in transition for easy baskets. He finished the 85-82 loss against Philadelphia 2016 first-round pick Furkan Korkmaz and Turkey with a near-triple-double: 24 points, nine rebounds, nine assists.

“I’m a leader, so I have to do a little bit of everything,” Mykhailiuk said in an interview with Schmitz. “Every time I get the ball, I’m trying to score, trying to be aggressive, trying to involve my teammates in our offense. Just trying to create all the time, but just kill. Every possession just trying to kill with a pass or with a shot or with a rebound.”

via GIPHY

The only player at the event to achieve a 20 points per game average, the 6-foot-8 Mykhailiuk told ESPN he is capable of contributing as a scorer, passer and rebounder, like he has this summer for Ukraine, at the college level and beyond.

“I think so, because here I’ve shown what I can do and I’m trying to do it next year at Kansas, because I’m going to be a senior,” Mykhailiuk said. “I’ve been in the program for three years, and I think coach trusts me. I trust him. And showing what I can do here is letting him know what I can do at Kansas, too.”

Back in Lawrence, KU coach Bill Self tracked Mykhailiuk’s progress, and shared with reporters the 20-year-old Ukraine star actually played in Greece with an injured wrist.

“It wasn’t bad. He didn’t miss any time,” Self said. “But he nicked his wrist up. But he’s scoring the ball.”

Mykhailiuk, who will join his coach and KU teammates next week in Italy for exhibitions in Rome and Milan, shot 49-for-124 (39.5 percent) from the floor for Ukraine. He connected on 16 of 49 (32.7 percent) 3-pointers and shot 80.6 percent (29-for-36) on free throws.

Self, though, admitted there could be one drawback to Mykhailiuk’s lengthy offseason European excursion.

“I’m a little nervous that when he comes back, maybe he’s played a lot of ball, but he’s gonna have to really commit in the weight room,” Self said. “I guarantee whatever they’ve done (with Ukraine team), he hasn’t done nearly what he’d be doing with Andrea (Hudy, KU’s strength coach) here. That put him behind last year, too.”

As Mykhailiuk’s KU coach referenced, he also played for Ukraine in summer of 2016, averaging 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. During his ensuing junior year with the Jayhawks, Mykhailiuk produced 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists, while shooting 44.3 percent overall and 39.8 percent on 3-pointers. Mykhailiuk initially entered his name in the 2017 NBA Draft, but decided to withdraw and finish his four-year college basketball career at Kansas.

“I’m happy he’s playing,” Self said of his pupil’s FIBA experience with Ukraine. “He needs to play, and he needs to see the ball go in the hole.”

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With Jimmy Butler’s help, Andrew Wiggins could finally reach full defensive potential

FILE — Minnesota Timberwolves guard/forward Andrew Wiggins, right, looks to a pass as Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler guards during overtime of an NBA basketball game on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Chicago. The Timberwolves acquired Butler via trade this summer and now the two are teammates. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

FILE — Minnesota Timberwolves guard/forward Andrew Wiggins, right, looks to a pass as Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler guards during overtime of an NBA basketball game on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Chicago. The Timberwolves acquired Butler via trade this summer and now the two are teammates. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

For all the points he has put up and all the wicked dunks he has thrown down since entering the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins still has ample room to grow in terms of the impact he can make for Minnesota.

In his three professional seasons since leaving Kansas, Wiggins’ scoring average has climbed each year, and he produced 23.6 points per game (16th in the league) in 2016-17. However, his 6-foot-8 frame, 7-foot wingspan and elite athletic ability haven’t helped the young wing become the defensive stopper many envisioned.

Wiggins’ new teammate, Jimmy Butler, plans to change that.

During Butler’s appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Wiggins’ reputation came up as Simmons and Butler discussed Minnesota’s roster. The host referenced Wiggins’ below-average defense, as recently detailed at FiveThirtyEight.com.

In a feature titled “The NBA Haters’ Ball,” FiveThirtyEight identified Wiggins as the league’s “Least Defensive Player.” That unwanted label got thrust upon Wiggins after some player-tracking data examined shots defended by individuals during the 2016-17 season and the results of said attempts.

“Possession by possession, there are a few defenders who are as bad as Wiggins,” Kyle Wagner wrote. “When Wiggins contests a shot, opponents have a 56.1 effective field goal percentage; when they are unguarded, they have a 56.4 eFG percentage. Fundamentally, getting a shot up against Andrew Wiggins is the same as getting an open shot.”

According to the evaluation, Wiggins’ liabilities included a lack of full effort and ball-watching.

“He defended the 10th-most shots in the league, by far the most by a below-average defender,” Wagner added at FiveThirtyEight. “Most teams do their best to hide their weak defenders, but opponents seek Wiggins out like no other defender in the league.”

A three-time second-team All-Defensive team selection, Butler expects he can mold Wiggins into a far more competitive and potent player on the defensive end of the court.

“He has all the tools to be a terrific defender, by the way,” Butler said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “But it’s different when somebody’s just telling you something all the time and somebody’s showing you: This is what playing both sides of the floor can get you.”

When Wiggins joined Minnesota three years ago, he had no savvy multi-time all-star to show him the NBA ropes. The Timberwolves have been somewhere between mediocre and awful throughout their current 13-year playoff drought, but finally appear to have a postseason-worthy roster thanks to the summer additions of Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague, to go with Wiggins and star big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

Minnesota acquired Wiggins with the idea that he would one day become an all-star wing such as Butler. Now the 22-year-old Canadian prodigy has a chance to learn every day from one of the league’s best all-around perimeter players long before entering the prime of his career.

“He is extremely talented on the offensive end,” Butler said of Wiggins. “And I think he’s going to be just that talented on the defensive end, as well, as long as you lock into it. I think he has that will and he wants to be great, so he’s going to want to do it. And I’m excited to get with him, just because I know how passionate he is about the game — his drive and his work ethic and how he wants to win. When you have that as a young guy, you have it. You can’t really teach that; you just have it.”

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Comfortable with backup role, Frank Mason finally gets chance to shine in Las Vegas

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III drives around Los Angeles Lakers' Alex Caruso during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III drives around Los Angeles Lakers' Alex Caruso during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

With his team in the midst of a potentially embarrassing drubbing versus an undermanned Los Angeles Lakers squad late Monday night at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, former Kansas All-American Frank Mason III got a chance to outshine some of the event’s stars — the more highly regarded first-round picks who went before him in the June draft.

Sacramento’s No. 5 overall pick, De’Aaron Fox tweaked an ankle in the first half, enabling Mason, the 34th pick, to put on a second-half show. Mason nearly helped the Kings rally from a 28-point deficit against L.A. with a game-high 24 points — scoring 20 in the second half. The backup floor general shot 9-for-13 (2-for-3 on 3-pointers) and contributed six assists, five rebounds and two steals in a 95-92 loss.

Predictably humble, Mason downplayed his big night and the comeback that fell short versus a Lakers lineup which did not include Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart or Kyle Kuzma.

“The goal is always to win,” he told reporters afterward. “I’m happy that my team fought pretty hard to make it interesting, but we didn’t come out with the win, so I’m not really happy.”

While Mason’s assertive approach in the second half resembled his senior season at KU, the point guard credited his coaches’ strategy and teammates for getting him open with screens.

“I was pretty much just driving the ball downhill, creating for my teammates and myself,” said Mason, who went 2-for-9 in his first summer exhibition and 2-for-10 in his second outing, leading up to a breakout performance.

None by Sacramento Kings

The 23-year-old lead guard said his four years of Kansas experience kicked in at some point, and he was able to make a positive impact for his team and get the Kings back in the game. Not that he ever was overly concerned with his slow start in Las Vegas.

“I just made shots in this game,” said Mason, who is now averaging 11.3 points, 3.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds, while shooting .406 from the floor. “The last two games I had pretty good looks; they just didn’t fall.”

Fox’s minor injury set up Mason with more playing time (24 minutes). Instead of subbing in and out, he got to experience a prolonged stay on the court. While Mason admitted that helped him feel comfortable, he also said, “it’s the NBA. No matter when your number is called you’ve got to be ready.”

Even the summer league is a step up for the former Kansas star, which means a new reality: coming off the bench.

“I think I do a pretty good job of accepting my role and giving whatever the team needs from me,” Mason said of entering the league as a backup. “It’s a different feeling, obviously, from the past three years — starting and playing for a lot of minutes throughout the game — to coming here and just getting limited minutes. But I accept my role, whatever it is, and just give my best effort.”

He didn’t enter his latest summer league game expecting a chance to take over, but Mason did just that given the opportunity. The more looks he gets with the Kings, the more the second-rounder will force others around the NBA to take notice.

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