Not even Naismith Award finalists can do it all every single night.
When Kansas star guard Devonte’ Graham’s shots weren’t falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks knew they could look elsewhere and find the scoring they needed to survive.
After Graham knocked down a jumper in the opening minutes Saturday night versus Seton Hall, not one of the six field-goal attempts that followed would drop for KU’s leading scorer.
No big deal. The other three guards in the starting lineup had their floor general’s back. Graham may have only provided eight points, but sophomore Malik Newman, senior Svi Mykhailiuk and junior Lagerald Vick combined for 57 as Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16.
“That’s what we do,” Graham, who averages 17.4 points a game, said matter-of-factly following the fourth single-digit scoring outing of his senior season. “If somebody’s having an off night, somebody’s got to step up, and they did a good job of knocking down shots and being aggressive.”
During a nine-assist night for Graham, he liked the way fellow senior Mykhailiuk (7-for-16 shooting, 2 of 5 on 3-pointers, 16 points, three assists) kept getting to the paint and making plays.
In the final four minutes of the victory that moved top-seeded Kansas on to the Midwest regional semifinals, it was Newman (8-of-14 shooting, 4 of 8 from 3-point range, 28 points, two assists) hitting a must-have 3-pointer, going 8 of 8 at the foul line and finding Mykhailiuk for a clutch 3-pointer that stretched the lead to eight with 1:20 to go.
“Everybody was just being aggressive and being a threat,” Graham said proudly.
Following his fifth straight double-digit scoring game, Vick (5-for-9 shooting, 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, 13 points) echoed the point guard’s reference to an assertive backcourt approach. The 6-foot-5 junior from Memphis scored eight points in a row for Kansas during a 2:09 stretch of the second half.
“We just, all us guards had a talk. We’re the head of the team so we knew everybody had to step up and make plays for each other,” Vick said. “We all just played off each other and were bringing energy.”
Even though Graham went from the 7:57 mark of the first half until the 7:52 mark in the second half without scoring a point for Kansas (29-7), Mykhailiuk said his four-year teammate’s floor game kept Graham as an essential component of KU’s success.
“If he’s on the court he just gives us confidence. He just controls the tempo of the game. He’s a point guard, so he doesn’t need to score, he doesn’t need to get assists,” Mykhailiuk added. “He just needs to do what he does and tell us what to do.”
During the regular season, a low-scoring game from Graham only cost KU a victory once — Dec. 6, when he shot 1 of 8 and scored three points against Washington’s 2-3 zone in a 74-65 defeat. The Jayhawks rolled against South Dakota State in November, when Graham finished with eight points, and they won an SEC-Big 12 Challenge encounter at Allen Fieldhouse with Texas A&M, when Graham’s 2-for-11 shooting left him with eight points.
Every aspect of the regular season prepares college basketball teams for the madness that awaits in March — even if those lessons don’t seem helpful at the time.
As Kansas moves on to Omaha, Neb., for a Friday matchup with Clemson (25-9), Graham’s teammates aren’t exactly worried about his scoring output moving forward. And if they need to pick up the slack in the points column, they won’t have any reason to panic.
“He still did good,” Mykhailiuk said of the team leader’s uncharacteristic showing in the second round. “He did all he could, and sometimes shots are just not falling down. So it’s a part of the game. I bet he’s gonna play better next time.”
Graham followed his three regular-season single-digit scoring games with 17 points against Texas Southern in a home win, 19 points versus Arizona State in a home loss and 16 points in a road victory at Kansas State.
Wichita — The hot shooting hand of guard Malik Newman and a resurgent Udoka Azubuike helped No. 1 seed Kansas get past feisty No. 8 Seton Hall, 83-79, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
But plenty more went into the Jayhawks’ survive-and-advance victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
Here are five statistics that helped send KU on to Omaha, Neb., and a spot in the 2018 Sweet 16.
No offensive missteps in final minute
The Jayhawks’ season could have ended ahead of schedule had they not handled their business at the foul line in crunch time, when their lead shrank to as little as three points.
As Seton Hall senior guard Khadeen Carrington did everything within his power to will the Pirates to an improbable comeback, scoring 13 points in the final 1:06 — no, that’s not a typo — KU guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman combined to make all 10 of their free-throw attempts in the game’s final 53 seconds.
Add a press-break out of a timeout that concluded with Graham finding Mitch Lightfoot for a two-handed slam and KU had just enough to move on.
Seton Hall outscored Kansas 16-12 in the final 1:06 thanks to Carrington’s heroics and a last-second Myles Powell 3-pointer. Had the Jayhawks turned the ball over or missed free throws, the game could have flipped.
Vick in rhythm in March
Lagerald Vick continued trending upward in the postseason in KU’s second-round victory.
For the fifth consecutive game — a stretch that began with the Jayhawks’ Big 12 quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State — the junior guard provided double-digit scoring to the Kansas attack.
Against Seton Hall, Vick scored 13 points and, as he has in every Big 12 and NCAA tournament game this March, made at least 50% of his shot attempts, going 5 of 9.
Vick also made more than two 3-pointers for the first time since KU’s home romp over Oklahoma, knocking in 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Shutting down Rodriguez
Two nights after Seton Hall’s leading scorer, senior Desi Rodriguez, went for 20 points in a first-round win over North Carolina State, the 6-foot-6 senior never got rolling against the Big 12 champions.
KU stymied Rodriguez, who entered averaging 17.9 points per game, limiting him to 2-for-10 shooting and 6 points in 35 minutes.
Vick spent portions of the game defending Seton Hall’s typical double-digit scorer, but other Jayhawks checked him at times, too, as switches occurred within the half court.
Rodriguez went 2 of 7 in the first half and barely even found opportunities to take shots in the second, despite playing 18 minutes.
Surviving Seton Hall’s offensive rebounding
The Jayhawks have run into their fair share of strong offensive rebounding teams this season and they continued to escape the wrath of devastating second-chance points in their matchup with Seton Hall.
Although the Pirates grabbed 15 of their missed shots against Kansas, they only cashed in on 14 second-chance points in a tight, loser-goes-home game.
Senior center Angel Delgado often operated as he pleased within the paint, en route to 24 points and a career-best 23 rebounds (9 on the offensive glass). But the key for Kansas was handling the Pirates when someone other than the skilled 6-foot-10 big controlled the offensive boards.
When Delgado snatched Pirates misses, the ball found its way through the net on those possessions — either by immediate putback, eventual basket or free throws — on six of eight occasions.
However, when a different Pirate came down with an offensive rebound, Kansas repeatedly found its way to a stop. On six possessions, one of Delgado’s teammates got credited with an offensive rebound. The Pirates scored just one basket as a result.
More second-chance points could have swung the game in Seton Hall’s favor, but KU found a way to move on, despite finishing with only 23 defensive rebounds on 38 opportunities.
Graham in set-up role
KU star guard Graham wasn’t himself versus the Pirates, going 1 of 7 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-pointers and finishing with 8 points.
As the senior has shown in the past, though, an off shooting night didn’t get him down. Kansas needed Graham running the show and making plays that led to his teammates scoring. Throughout the second half Graham did just that.
KU’s leader assisted on 7 of his team’s 15 field goals in the second half to finish with 9 assists in the victory.
The Jayhawks built a double-digit lead in the second half, not only because of Udoka Azubuike’s presence, but also through Graham’s distributions.
His passes led to a Svi Mykhailiuk layup, an Azubuike slam, a Newman lay-in, a Vick 3-pointer, a Mykhailiuk 3-pointer, a 3 from Newman and the aforementioned Lightfoot jam.
And, after a 4-turnover first half by Graham, he only coughed the ball up once while playing the entirety of the second half.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Seton Hall
- Dominant Dok: Azubuike plays big role to lift Jayhawks past Seton Hall
- Tom Keegan: Nudge in right direction awakens Malik Newman
- Graham survives injury scare, breaks program record for minutes in a season
- Angel Delgado’s historic performance not enough to beat Kansas
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman shoots Kansas into Sweet 16, tops ratings
- KU’s supporting cast pushes Jayhawks past Seton Hall and into Sweet 16
Sometimes his athleticism makes him look like the best player on the floor. Other games he can go an entire half — or longer — mostly unnoticed.
Junior Lagerald Vick’s impact from game to game is even too erratic for 15th-year Kansas head coach Bill Self to predict.
A little over a week ago, Vick scored 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the Jayhawks’ home drubbing of Oklahoma, his third straight game contributing double figures.
In the two games that followed, at Texas Tech and at home versus Texas, the 6-foot-5 guard combined to make 3 of 10 shots and score 6 points in 67 minutes of playing time.
Vick at least contributed 6 rebounds and 4 assists against the Longhorns, two days after giving Kansas 1 board and 0 assists at Texas Tech.
Naturally, Self wants the best version of Vick showing up on a regular basis — the Vick who opened Big 12 play with 21 points and 4 rebounds at UT or the one who provided 16 points and 4 rebounds at Iowa State — instead of seeing that variation of the junior from Memphis once every few weeks or so.
Obviously, no player is going to perform at his peak every single game. No. 6 KU (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12) doesn’t need Vick to be impeccable to win, but Self would like to see Vick’s below-average games not dip so severely.
KU’s senior point guard, Devonte’ Graham is as steady as they come. Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike’s effectiveness can vary.
“With Lagerald,” Self said, “there’s a pretty big gap.”
|Lagerald Vick 2017-18 splits|
|In 24 wins||50.4%||43.2%||64.1%||12.3||5.3||2.5||1.6||32.1|
|In 6 losses||44.4%||15.4%||62.5%||12.2||3.8||2.0||2.2||34.7|
By far the most noteworthy correlation between Vick’s struggles and KU winning or losing show up in his 3-point shooting. A 37.2% shooter from beyond the arc as a junior, Vick knocks down 43.2% of his long-range shots in Kansas wins but connects on only 15.4% of 3-pointers in losses.
Self has witnessed Vick’s play energize his teammates at times this season, and that’s really what he wants out of the third-year guard more than anything for the season’s stretch run.
“I think Lagerald’s kind of like our X-factor. When he’s really good he gives us a whole different element as a team, because he can drive it, he can force help, he can shoot it, he could be as good a perimeter defender as we have,” Self said. “I don’t think he’s played poorly (of late). I just don’t think he’s played consistently well as he was earlier in the season. But hopefully he’ll get that back here at the end.”
Before Big 12 play began, Vick averaged 17.1 points on 56.1% shooting and made 46.8% of his 3-pointers, in 33.2 minutes a game. He hasn’t been able to replicate such production in conference games, averaging 9.1 points on 42% shooting, while hitting 30% from 3-point range.
His teammates know KU is at its best when Vick is locked in and reaching his potential.
“I think we’re way better,” sophomore Mitch Lightfoot said of the Jayhawks with a prime Vick at their disposal. “Lagerald's a great player and he offers several different threats. Gives you a four-guard front that’s kind of hard (to defend), four-headed dragon, because you’ve got opportunities to score from everywhere.”
Indeed, the KU offense can look pretty menacing to adversaries, with Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Vick playing around a 7-foot force in Azubuike.
“The hardest thing to guard is four shooters around the big,” Self said. “We're just going to play four guards that can shoot. It doesn't always work out well, but it's worked out OK so far.”
Now that it’s March, KU needs a stable Vick more than ever.
“He’s been pretty good recently,” Lightfoot said, in reference to a three-game stretch preceding Vick’s latest two games, “and he was really good at the beginning of the year, so it’s encouraging.”
Added Self: “He could really elevate our team play.”
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
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?
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.
When a visiting team comes into Allen Fieldhouse and leads for close to 38 minutes it’s safe to say the Kansas basketball team had some issues.
The Jayhawks ran into so many problems Saturday against Oklahoma State, in fact, that head coach Bill Self said the Cowboys “whipped” KU in an 84-79 upset.
With Kansas falling at home and Texas Tech handling its business on the road, winning at TCU, the Jayhawks and Red Raiders enter the coming week tied atop the Big 12 standings at 7-3.
Here is a look at five statistics that influenced KU’s latest loss.
Couldn’t corral the Cowboys
Oklahoma State never looked uncomfortable in its win on KU’s James Naismith Court because the Jayahwks couldn’t stop their opponent from making shots.
The Cowboys’ 51.6% shooting was the best mark by a KU opponent this season. It was the second-best percentage of the year for OSU.
By converting on 64% of their shots in the second half, the Cowboys headed back to Stillwater, Okla., victorious and owners of the best single-half field goal percentage by a KU opponent since Iowa State made 64.3% in the first half of a 2016 home win for the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum.
OSU senior guard Kendall Smith, who entered as a 39.6% shooter on the season, went 10 for 16 and scored a game-high 24 points versus the Jayhawks (18-5 overall, 7-3 Big 12).
Cowboys sophomore forward Cameron McGriff, who arrived shooting 51.4%, converted 7 of 10 shots, with 4 makes on layups and dunks.
KU shot 57.1% from the floor in the second half but it didn’t matter because it couldn’t get the defensive stops it needed in order to recover. OSU converted 14 of its final 18 field-goal attempts.
KU is now 7-20 under Self all-time when its opponent shoots better than 50 percent from the floor.
Usually it’s Kansas who benefits from draining jumpers from beyond the arc, but on this particular Saturday at the fieldhouse, it was Oklahoma State that harnessed the power of the 3-ball.
The Cowboys arrived in Lawrence shooting 33.7% from deep in Big 12 play. They left having knocked down double-digit 3-pointers for the first time in conference competition.
Oklahoma State shot 12 for 27 from long range (44.4%) getting the upset-minded visitors within one 3-pointer of their season-high of 13, which came in November against Oral Roberts. The Cowboys’ 12 makes from 3-point land were the most by a Kansas foe since OSU made 12 in Stillwater versus the Jayhawks to close the 2017 regular season.
KU only made 8 of 22 3-pointers (36.4%) in the loss. On the season, the Jayhawks have made 9 or more from deep 14 times. A cold start in the first half — 1 of 8 from long range — put Kansas in a deficit in a category that so often fuels its offense.
Although the Jayhawks snapped a 10-game streak of losing the battle of the boards earlier in the week at Kansas State, they were right back to their old ways versus OSU.
KU’s players didn’t bring the same activity to the glass as their opponents, and Oklahoma State easily out-rebounded the favored home team, 41-28, making the Cowboys the fourth team in Big 12 play to win the rebound margin by double digits versus Kansas.
The Cowboys so thoroughly out-worked KU on the glass early on that they gathered 11 offensive rebounds on on their first 15 missed field goals, giving them 20 second-chance points and a 30-18 lead.
By halftime the total rebounds read OSU 27, KU 17, and the Cowboys scored 22 second-chance points in the first half. Oklahoma State's 26 second-chance points were the most by a KU opponent this season.
Kansas sophomore center Udoka Azubuike came up shy of his season average of 7.3 rebounds for the fourth straight game, finishing with five.
Another rough showing for Vick
A reliable offensive contributor earlier in the season, KU junior Lagerald Vick shot below 40% from the field for the fourth time in the team’s previous five Big 12 games.
A non-factor in the first half, when he made 1 of 3 shots and turned the ball over twice, it got even worse for Vick in the second. While playing all but one of the game’s final 20 minutes, the athletic 6-foot-5 wing went 1 for 7 from the floor and only made 1 of 4 from 3-point range.
Vick’s final stat line read: 34 minutes, 5 points, 2-for-10 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 block and 0 steals.
He failed to reach double-digit points for the seventh time in KU’s 10 Big 12 games.
Smith controls crunch time
On various occasions this season Kansas has had issues defending quick, talented perimeter players. The latest such guard to victimize the Jayhawks was Smith.
A 6-3 graduate transfer facing KU for the first time, Smith scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in the final 6:46, empowering Oklahoma State to complete the upset.
Almost every time the Jayhawks seemed poised to make a spurt and narrow the deficit, Smith was there to finish a jumper or a layup and extend OSU’s lead to eight or nine points.
Although he missed the front end of a one-and-one with 31 seconds to go, allowing Kansas to get within three, he responded by sealing the victory at the foul line with two clutch free throws with 0:10 on the clock, giving him a new career-high in scoring (24).
The Lagerald Vick who scored 20 or more points six times during the season’s first two months has yet to be seen in the Kansas basketball lineup so far in January.
After opening Big 12 play with a bang on Dec. 29, scoring 21 points and shooting 5-for-8 on 3-pointers in the Jayhawks’ win at Texas, Vick’s scoring impact has suffered a severe drop-off.
KU coach Bill Self used three words to describe the difference in Vick’s contributions of late, compared to the impact he was making before: “not even close.”
In non-conference play, Vick averaged 17.1 points on 56.1% shooting and made 46.8% of his 3-pointers, in 33.2 minutes a game.
In the Jayhawks’ past five games, the 6-foot-5 junior guard has broken into double digits once — 10 points against Kansas State — and averaged 7.4 points on 37.5% shooting, while going 5-for-20 from 3-point range (25%), in 32.2 minutes.
Self reached a point with Vick earlier this week, ahead of KU’s Big Monday showdown with West Virginia, that the coach decided not to start the athletic guard from Memphis for the first time this season — not because of his plummeting numbers, but due to Vick’s perceived lack of focus during Sunday’s practice; a decision Self later described as “rash.”
A sixth man in name only for what proved to be a crucial KU road win, Vick played 36 minutes off the bench against the Mountaineers. But his production matched his recent trend: 9 points, 4-for-12 shooting, 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
Self at least saw Vick contributing in other ways for No. 10 KU (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12).
“I did against West Virginia. To be honest with you, I hadn’t in games prior to that,” Self said. “You know, K-State he stepped up and made two big 3’s and scored some baskets when we had to have them, late-game situation. But his activity level hasn’t been good at all there for about a week-and-a-half stretch, three-game stretch.”
Most of the offensive positives Vick provided at West Virginia came in the first half, when he shot 4-for-8, and scored all 9 of his points. Vick hit a 3 less than a minute after checking in. His second basket came shortly after a Mitch Lightfoot steal. He scored a layup off a Svi Mykhailiuk pass in response to the Mountaineers taking their largest lead of the game (16). Later, Devonte' Graham set him up for his fourth basket. In his 19 first-half minutes he also secured all three of his rebounds.
In the second half, though, Vick shot 0-for-4 and contributed no points or rebounds. He stole the ball twice in one 45-second stretch midway through the half. Vick also set up Mykhailiuk for a 3-pointer that cut WVU’s lead to 57-51, and assisted a Graham 3 to narrow the margin to one with 4:54 to play.
“I thought against West Virginia it was a lot better,” Self assessed of Vick’s activity level. “I thought he made winning plays throughout the game that gave us a chance, and that doesn’t always translate to scoring, but I certainly thought he was more aggressive.”
Although Vick has proven to be a proficient 3-point shooter this year (32-for-75, 42.7%), he likely settled too much in the second half at WVU, when he missed three 3-pointers. He’s shooting 58.3% inside the arc this season. Per hoop-math.com, Vick makes 71.8% of his attempts that come at the rim and shoots 41.1% on 2-point jumpers.
It’s clear Self wants Vick making more of an impact in the scoring column. The coach offered a recommendation for how the junior can get back on track in that category while becoming more impactful overall.
“If he’s our best athlete, play to your athletic ability,” Self said. “And I thought he did a little bit better job against West Virginia.”
In the first half at WVU at least, Vick attempted four shots in the paint. Kansas needs him scoring easy points inside either by driving it, crashing the offensive glass or getting out in transition, where he can soar for dunks that should energize both the slumping guard and his teammates.
As for that athletic ability Self referenced, the Jayhawks will benefit as well if Vick uses his speed and explosiveness to hound opposing guards defensively and attack the glass, as well.
Obviously, Vick doesn’t have to score 20 points a game. But Kansas does need him “turned up,” as Self has been known to say. An energetic, locked-in Vick can provide KU with a little bit of everything: scoring, passing, rebounding and defense.
Thus far in Big 12 play, the springy junior guard is averaging 9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks and 1.5 turnovers, in 33.2 minutes, and shooting 42.6% from the floor, 35.7% on 3-pointers, and 40% at the free-throw line. Vick’s next chance to start improving those statistics comes Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, versus Baylor (12-6, 2-4).
In a rare Allen Fieldhouse loss Sunday to surging Arizona State, no potential defect for the now 13th-ranked Kansas basketball team leapt off the court quite like the Jayhawks’ perimeter defense.
KU’s defenders uncovered no real solutions for hindering either the paint-bound drives or 3-point bombs of Sun Devils guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Remy Martin.
The trio accounted for 72 of ASU’s 95 points in a road victory that propelled the Pac-12 program to a No. 5 national ranking. Holder (29 points), a 6-foot-1 senior, shot 4-for-7 from long range and scored eight points in the paint. Evans, also a 6-1 senior, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and scored four points off layups. Martin, a 6-1 freshman, drained both of his attempts from beyond the arc and added 10 points at the rim.
Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham shined some light on the defensive conundrum he and his teammates faced while trying to stop Arizona State’s dynamic guards.
“They were really tough, because they were so quick and they could shoot the ball really well. It was hard to guard both,” Graham began. “You know, you wanted the short close-out because you were worried about the drive. And then they could shoot it. They did a great job knocking down shots.”
Especially in cases when Holder or Evans spotted up on the perimeter and waited for a kick-out, Kansas defenders found it hard to decide whether to fly at a shooter or close their ground under control to better limit an attack off the dribble.
At other points, ASU coach Bobby Hurley asked Holder to attack off ball screens, and those situations harmed the Jayhawks, as well, even if it wasn’t one of the guards finishing the play. Five of 6-8 freshman forward Romello White’s six buckets came at the rim. Improperly defending a White screen-and-roll with Holder meant an assist for the senior ball-handler and a layup for the young big man.
After Kansas dropped its second game in a row, 15th-year head coach Bill Self — without naming any specific culprit — deplored the way Graham, Lagerald Vick, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk guarded their ASU counterparts.
“(ASU) ran some actions to create switches and, you know, our ball-screen defense wasn’t any good today,” Self began. “But basically they were better with the ball, which they’ve been with everybody. They put it on Xavier pretty good, too. They’re good. And they were better with the ball than we were obviously, physically being able to stay in front of them.”
The defensive malfunctions throughout the second half allowed Arizona State (9-0) to put up 58 points in the final 20 minutes, on 58% shooting, as the visitors converted 11 layups or dunks and shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
The display is likely to become a favorite of the most talented guards remaining on KU’s schedule, who will watch the video evidence of how to attack the Jayhawks picturing themselves doing the same. The more quick-off-the-bounce drivers and shooters a team has on its roster, the better its coaches and players will feel about matching up with Kansas.
Even when KU’s offense finally rallied late in the second half, its defense couldn’t stop Evans during a critical stretch, when he nailed three 3-pointers in less than four minutes.
The Jayhawks either gave him too much space or flew right past him, allowing Evans to flourish and further embolden his teammates for crunch time.
Really, the only portion of the game in which Kansas played effective defensively came in the opening minutes, when the Jayhawks built a 13-point lead they couldn’t sustain.
“I thought the first half, early in the half we did a pretty good job,” Self said. “They’re going to score points. I don’t see how you keep them from scoring points, especially if they shoot the ball like that.”
Of course, that defensive success proved short-lived. Once KU’s breakdowns on the perimeter allowed ASU back in the game, its talented guards kept exposing their opponent’s weaknesses, paving the way for a 51% shooting performance from the field and 14-for-28 accuracy from 3-point range.
At times, it was simple as Holder, Evans or Martin blowing by the Jayhawk in front of him for a layup.
“They played take-em a lot in the second half,” Self said, “and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
By the end of a stressful afternoon for KU’s perimeter defenders, the Sun Devils had foisted the Jayhawks into so many missteps it seemed like every shot ASU put up was bound to drop through the net.
Even a Steph Curry-range dagger.
Avenues toward an improved KU defense obviously still exist, even as the team tries to maximize minutes from its starting five while incorporating just two rotation players, Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett, off the bench.
As a jumping off point, Self said his players need to learn how to defend in a fashion that makes their opponents uneasy on offense.
“A lot of it is toughness. When things aren’t going well you kind of grind through it a little bit, and we just don’t have that right now,” Self said. “That’s what we’ve got to get as much as anything else. We’ve got to get to the point where we can make others play bad. See, they could make us play bad because they could tell Remy Martin to go guard the ball and he’d get a deflection or a steal (five takeaways at KU) or what not. We don’t have people that can do that. So we’ve got to figure out a way to collectively not let people be comfortable as a team. That’s not working right now.”
KU’s senior leader and best player, Graham understands the Jayhawks must enhance their defense. They might have held Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern, Oakland and Syracuse below 37% shooting, but Washington converted 48% of its shots in an upset at Sprint Center, and Arizona State, the best team Kansas has faced so far, out-scored KU 93-70 in the final 36-plus minutes at the feildhouse.
“We’ve got to work on it a lot,” Graham said of KU’s defense. “We’re just not guarding the ball really well right now. We’ve got to get better, especially on that end of the court. We’ve got a whole week until our next game and we’re going to get better.”
We all now recognize how flammable the shooting hand of Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham can get, in wake of his back-to-back 35-point performances this past week, spearheading victories over Toledo and Syracuse.
It’s safe to say any one of the Jayhawks’ starters, Graham confirmed, could put up 20 points and no one would experience an iota of astonishment. But which of his teammates is most capable of exploding for 30 or more points like the senior point guard has?
“There’s no telling,” Graham replied, when asked for his opinion. “It could be Lagerald, could be Svi, could be Malik. Udoka could go crazy one night. … Anybody could have a hot night any given night. If everybody’s being aggressive, somebody’s gonna probably get hot.”
Spoken tactfully, like a true veteran leader. Maybe junior wing Lagerald Vick could slash and shoot his way to 30. Or senior Svi Mykhailiuk might bombard an opponent with 3-pointers en route to a huge night. Perhaps sophomore guard Malik Newman gets hot, while also scoring in bunches in transition for a career performance. It’s conceivable 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could be so overpowering against a front line that he dunks, lay-ups and jump-hooks his way to a massive scoring total.
Who knows? Well, actually, KU head coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea.
Asked which of Graham’s running mates is most likely to go off in the fashion his senior point guard did, Self didn’t have to ponder the inquiry at all.
“Svi,” Self replied, even before the question was completed. “Svi. I think Svi’s shown that.”
As KU’s coach referenced, Mykhailiuk nearly reached 30 a few weeks ago, on a night he shot 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and put up 27 against South Dakota State. But that doesn’t mean Self determined the 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine is the only plausible candidate for the high-scoring, No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (91.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country).
“I think Lagerald can, too,” Self added of the 6-5 guard from Memphis, who produced 20 points against Syracuse while only hitting one 3-pointer.
“And Dok, I’m a little disappointed in Dok in the last game,” Self said of the mammoth post man from Nigeria, who is shooting 77% from the floor and already has finished 26 slams on the season, “because he never put himself in position to score — he never ducked in one time, he never posted up. It’s like the zone messed with his head. And he’s got to be able to play through that.”
Although Azubuike is averaging 14.6 points as a sophomore, Self expressed his dismay about the center’s season-low 6 points versus Syracuse’s 2-3 zone most likely because Kansas is about to face that type of defense again Wednesday night vs. Washington, in Kansas City, Mo.
The Jayhawks (7-0) also could use a bounce-back performance from Newman. The former Mississippi State guard registered his first single-digit scoring game at KU in Miami, going 1-for-8 with just 2 points.
“And Malik’s obviously a guy that can get 20 any night if he’s playing well,” Self added. “And, of course, that wasn’t one of his better games obviously.”
The key takeaway from the who-else-can-get-hot discussion, though, was what an enviable position this team is in from an offensive standpoint.
“The good thing about having five guys that are capable of doing that is you don’t have to have all five guys the same night,” Self said. “You can just have two or three have big nights.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach pointed out Graham, Vick and Mykhailiuk (11 points) combined to contribute 66 of KU’s 76 points in the win over the ACC’s Orange.
“And to be honest with you the other — I could be off on this — the other 10 points we scored, four of them were uncontested lob plays. Not baskets you have to earn,” Self said. “And Malik got an offensive rebound and a put-back on a layup. That’s it. To think we could beat Syracuse when we only have three guys contribute offensively statistically, I think that hopefully is a good sign.”
It seems most fans would agree with Self’s judgment that Mykhailiuk is the most likely Jayhawk to catch fire offensively. Fifty percent of those who voted on Twitter selected the senior marksman as most likely to join Graham as a 30-point scorer at some point this season.
Mykhailiuk definitely qualifies as the most probable to go off. But don’t rule out Newman. The 6-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., hasn’t even reached 20 points yet at Kansas, but he has the confidence and shooter’s mentality to erupt when he inevitably has a game where he’s feeling it.
Newman isn’t a gunner as a rule, but if there’s a matchup that favors him and his teammates aren’t at their offensive peak, he wouldn’t have any trouble becoming the go-to scorer when needed.
Here’s a further look at each of the candidates.
Season stats: 14.6 PPG, 77% FGs, 40% FTs
Career highs: 21 points, vs. Oakland (Nov. 21); 10 FGs, vs. Oakland; 4 FTs, vs. UMKC (Dec. 6, 2016)
Season stats: 17.1 PPG, 51% FGs, 54% 3s, 63% FTs
Career highs: 27 points, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17); 10 FGs, vs. South Dakota State; 6 3-pointers, vs. Chaminade (Nov. 23, 2015); 5 FTs, vs. Baylor (Jan. 2, 2016)
Season stats: 11.9 PPG, 46% FGs, 40% 3s, 100% FTs
Career highs: 25 points, vs. Ole Miss (while at Mississippi State, Jan. 23, 2016); 8 FGs, vs. Ole Miss; 7 3-pointers, vs. Ole Miss; 6 FTs, vs. Tulane (Dec. 18, 2015)
Season stats: 16.4 PPG, 54% FGs, 47% 3s, 71% FTs
Career highs: 23 points, vs. Tennessee State (Nov. 10); 9 FGs, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17) and Long Beach State (Nov. 29, 2016); 4 3-pointers, vs. Tennessee State and Long Beach State; 4 FTs, vs. West Virginia (Feb. 13, 2017) and TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)
Throughout the Kansas basketball team’s second-round NCAA Tournament showdown with Michigan State, it seemed the game would not be decided until the final few possessions. Then, over the course of the last seven minutes, it went from a two-score game to a 90-70 Jayhawks victory.
How, exactly, does that happen?
“It didn’t seem like it,” Kansas senior center Landen Lucas said of the vibe on the court ahead of the final 20-point margin, “and the scoreboard didn’t show it, but as a team we felt pretty confident about what we were doing.”
Essentially, KU’s collective will to advance didn’t falter when the Spartans repeatedly challenged the Midwest’s top seed with runs of their own and answers to Kansas scores for the first 30 or so minutes in Tulsa, Okla.
The Jayhawks (30-4) not only remained steadfast in coach Bill Self’s plan, but also cranked up their intensity for the stretch run. MSU cut the KU lead, which already had poked into double-digit territory three times, to five with 7:16 to play. From there, Kansas outscored the Spartans 21-6, held its foe to 2-for-8 shooting and advanced on to the Sweet 16 by converting eight of its 10 final shots.
Several sequences keyed the win for the Jayhawks and they’re the exact types of plays they’ll have to replicate in bunches Thursday at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., to move past an even better Big Ten challenger — No. 4 seed Purdue (27-7) — on the path to the Final Four.
The Boilermakers’ personnel obviously differs from the makeup of the MSU roster, particularly when it comes to experience and the paint presence of Purdue’s double-double machine, Caleb Swanigan, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan. But the types of plays Kansas made in crunch time against Michigan State should not be forgotten, because many of them had more to do with effort than matchups.
Here are six concepts and standout moments from KU’s final eight minutes of Round 2 that the Jayhawks need to keep in mind moving forward.
- Opponents can get caught up paying too much attention to stars
Josh Jackson (23 points, 9-for-16 shooting) gave MSU headaches all game, so as the end approached, defenders zeroed in on Jackson even more.
On one possession, the star freshman made a cut from the left wing to the paint, then moved on out to the right wing, while Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham exchanged a hand off on the perimeter. With the Spartans worried about those three stars, backup Lagerald Vick made a hard backdoor cut for the paint and Graham sent a pass toward the hoop for a thunderous alley-oop before Vick’s defender had a shot at reacting and recovering.
- Trust your seniors
Just after MSU made it a five-point game, Mason and Lucas worked a variation of the pick-and-roll to perfection. The big man set a screen for his point guard just after Mason caught a pass on on the left side of the floor. When Lucas’ man took a step too far to help on Mason, Lucas bounded toward the paint and met a lob above the rim for an easy slam.
The two seniors will need to assert themselves on both ends of the floor when games get tight. Their ability to execute will ease tensions and increase KU’s chances of moving on.
- Get it and go
This is an idea these Jayhawks have thoroughly embraced and there’s no need to change it just because the lights are brighter, the competition is stiffer and the score may be close. Mason, Graham and Jackson love throwing the ball ahead for potential numbers every time Kansas takes the ball away or snags an opportunistic defensive board.
When backup big Dwight Coleby came away with a steal and got the ball to Jackson late in the second half, the freshman knew what to do. About four seconds after Coleby secured the turnover, Jackson had zoomed up the the floor in four dribbles for a fast-break layup.
- Embrace the moment
Kansas didn’t miss many shots down the stretch, but when Jackson released an unsuccessful 3-pointer with his team up 10, seldom-utilized backup Coleby secured the offensive rebound to extend the possession. A couple passes later, Graham buried a 3-pointer.
Role players tend to find their way into the spotlight during critical junctures in March. Whether it be Coleby, Vick, Carlton Bragg Jr. or even starter Svi Mykhailiuk, the Jayhawks need their less heralded players to step up when opportunities present themselves late in games. Often that’s the only way to advance.
- This is why you brought Jackson to KU
Accurately, Self will tell you any number of his perimeter players are capable of bursting out and fueling offensive runs that alter the outcomes of games. Mason might be the national player of the year for that very reason. But there is no denying the most talented, potentially dominating presence on the floor wears No. 11.
The NCAA Tournament stage hasn’t looked too big for Jackson — he just took over for stretches versus a MSU program filled with friends and a coach who heavily recruited him to become a Spartan. During the game’s final six minutes, Jackson made two free throws, scored a layup, grabbed a defensive rebound and threw down a vicious one-handed jam after driving in from the top of the key in a half-court set.
Jackson has the competitive drive of Mason but also operates with the advantages of existing in a 6-foot-8, NBA-ready frame. He can carry a team to a Final Four if he needs to.
- Defend like it’s only thing that matters
It will take prolonged defensive focus for the Jayhawks to extend their season from here on out. Lucas explained how they turned a five-point game into a massive gap by the final buzzer against Michigan State.
“We knew that the reason that it was so close was because we weren’t executing the keys that the coaches were talking about: stopping in transition, easy buckets here and there,” Lucas explained. “And as soon as we talked about that and tightened those things up, we knew that we were gonna extend the lead. And we did that, and next thing you know it was pretty out of hand.”
When discussing the strengths of the top-ranked Kansas basketball team, one of the last facets likely to come up is the Jayhawks’ bench.
KU’s substitutes definitely haven’t derailed the team’s efforts — Kansas enters its regular-season finale Saturday at Oklahoma State at 27-3 overall and 15-2 in the Big 12. It’s just the backups haven’t blown anyone away, either.
Even so, coach Bill Self has to feel more positive than negative about the state of his bench with the postseason approaching, due to the recent resurgence of sophomore Lagerald Vick. The 6-foot-5 guard from Memphis has established himself as the clear sixth man.
Reserve bigs Carlton Bragg and Dwight Coleby, though, have not left the same kind of impression on their coach. Asked earlier this week what he likes about what the Jayhawks are getting from Vick, Bragg and Coleby, KU’s coach mentioned his big men only to acknowledge each had one memorable performance over the past few weeks.
“Dwight was great against Texas, Carlton was great against TCU. But it's been inconsistent,” Self said, prior to speaking at length about Vick’s qualities.
A 6-10 sophomore from Cleveland, Bragg turned in his best performance of the season against TCU, going for 15 points and 7 rebounds. The very next game, at Texas, 6-9 junior transfer Coleby had his foremost showing in a KU uniform, posting 12 points and 4 boards in 13 minutes.
Still, Self wants more from them, and he doesn’t even worry that much about how many points Bragg or Coleby — or even Vick — add to the Kansas mission. KU’s coach, who has navigated the program to 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, referred to bench scoring as a statistic that is “way, way, way, way overrated.” So he couldn’t care less that the Jayhawks’ bench players out-scored their counterparts in six straight games before losing that battle by 2 against Oklahoma earlier this week.
Vick’s scoring and shooting aren’t always there, but Self mentions him as the vital component of the bench unit because the springy sophomore can inject the lineup with energy.
Obviously, Bragg and Coleby can’t fly around the court the way Vick does. But they could win their coach’s favor by emulating the least showy player on the roster, starting center Landen Lucas.
So much of a glue guy it wouldn’t be surprising to see his face on a bottle of Elmer’s, Lucas provided an easy guide for Bragg and Coleby. According to the starter, here’s what KU needs out of either relief big when the fifth-year senior is on the bench:
- “Just to come in and defensively be in the right positions, making sure that it’s tough for the other team’s bigs to score,” Lucas began.
- “You know, use your fouls wisely — if you’re gonna foul, foul somebody. Make sure there’s not and-ones.”
- “Making sure that you just make the people that surround you better. That’s what I try to do and hopefully when I come out the game they can come in and continue to make the other guys better.”
- “And that really starts with the defensive end … and also rebounds and doing the small things.”
There you have it, straight from an expert on the subject. Bragg and Coleby can impact KU victories by taking the Lucas approach. When big men do that type of dirty work, the more enjoyable rewards, such as dunks and blocked shots, tend to follow, as well.
Vick might be the most reliable member of the Kansas bench right now, but there’s no reason Bragg and Coleby can’t try to catch up. Self knows Vick can make winning plays even without scoring. Now it’s time for the backup big men to do the same.
Said Self: “You know, we talk about people a lot of times as a team saying, you know, you can breathe life into the room or you can suck all the energy out of the room. And a guy off the bench needs to breathe life, breathe life into his team.”