Nearly four years ago, at the age of 16, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had a life-altering decision to make.
Already an accomplished youth basketball player within Ukraine’s national team program, as well as the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague, it was time for Mykhailiuk to pick:
• Stick with the established protocol for promising young European talents, and sign to play professionally.
• Or head to the U.S. and take a crack at college basketball.
Upon seriously contemplating his options, it came down to relocating to Spain to join Real Madrid or migrating even farther west to play at the University of Kansas.
Mykhailiuk, now known as “Svi” by anybody associated with the KU basketball program, of course, opted for a decision that may have seemed odd to his contemporaries at the time.
“Most of them try to stay there and make money,” he related this past week, during the last days of his four seasons with the Jayhawks.
Reflecting on his unique basketball path now, is the 6-foot-8 guard from Cherkasy, Ukraine, glad he chose Lawrence, Kansas, and college over Madrid, Spain, and a contract?
“Yeah, for sure,” Mykhailiuk replied, without hesitation. “I met a lot of new people. I’ll be able to get a degree from Kansas and just be a part of a program like Kansas and make it to the Final Four.”
KU and 15th-year head coach Bill Self couldn’t have reached college basketball’s ultimate weekend for the first time since 2012 without Mykhailiuk. The senior guard’s 236th 3-pointer as a Jayhawk tied an Elite Eight matchup against Duke with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, allowing Kansas to reach overtime and eventually emerge victorious.
Further memorable baskets wouldn’t follow in a national semifinal loss to Villanova, in San Antonio. Mykhailiuk completed his KU journey with 10 points and three assists, in defeat.
He shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior and leaves the program with the current record for 3-point makes in a season (115). The final “Svi for 3,” in his 136th game and 70th start, moved him to fourth place all-time at KU for 3-pointers in a career, with 237.
Even more important to Mykhailiuk, he can now proceed to the professional ranks confident his experience at Kansas shaped him into a better player.
“Being here four years, being coached by Coach Self, and he’s a hall of famer,” Mykhailiuk said, “so I think if I hadn’t got here I wouldn’t have played for a hall of famer.”
Self thought so highly of his Ukrainian recruit that he even tried the freshman out as a starter at the age of 17. Although that move didn’t stick past a six-game stretch of the 2014-15 non-conference schedule, Mykhailiuk said his relationship with Self only improved from that point. By his sophomore and junior years, Mykhailiuk noticed Self pulling him aside during practices for more and more conversations.
“If I’m open, he always wants me shooting the ball, no matter what,” Mykhailiuk shared of how Self boosted his confidence. “He’s always telling me, ‘Just be a player.’”
The shooting, passing, rebounding and defensive reps could have come anywhere. Mykhailiuk feels grateful his took place at Kansas these past four years, because he learned more about how to be an impactful player as a result.
“It’s all about the mental part. It’s not about physicality and stuff,” he said of some of his biggest lessons. “It’s just about how bad you want it and how much you’re ready.”
After testing the NBA’s draft waters a year ago, Mykhailiuk determined he wasn’t yet prepared to leave college basketball behind. Attending the league’s combine and receiving feedback from scouts, coaches and general managers proved beneficial in his development, too.
“I think it just helped me mentally, knowing I can play against other people. And it helped me know what I’ve got to do to go to the next level and be a better player,” he said.
Mykhailiuk took all the information from Self and NBA decision-makers and turned it into a second-team All-Big 12 season. He averaged career-highs with 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.9 3-point makes per game.
“Just be more aggressive,” Mykhailiuk said of the most significant piece of advice he carried with him into his final season, “and do whatever you can to help your team.”
Still just 20 years old (he’ll turn 21 in June), Mykhailiuk projects as a mid-second-round pick in the 2018 draft, four years after he could have become a young pro in Europe. Other than Ukrainian teammate Ilya Tyrtyshnik, who played at Ole Miss this past season, most of his peers chose a more typical basketball path.
What made Mykhailiuk different?
“That’s just me,” he said. “Every person’s different. I just wanted to play NCAA.”
San Antonio — When No. 1 and No. 2 seeds began dropping out of the South and West regionals before the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, it became clear The Madness was intent on devouring the left side of the bracket.
So by the time a team emerged from each region as a Final Four participant, one national semifinal quickly became characterized as the undercard.
With the first national semifinal Saturday night at The Alamodome placing No. 3 seed Michigan against March darling and No. 11 seed Loyola (5:09 p.m., TBS), some have gone as far as to label the matchup on the opposite side of the bracket between No. 1 Villanova and No. 1 Kansas as the de facto national championship game.
In his 17th season at Villanova, head coach Jay Wright trusts his players won’t buy into that line of thinking. Whichever team gets out of KU-Villanova alive will have to win one more time to secure the national title.
“The good thing is I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament,” Wright said earlier this week, “so I don't think they would even think that this is the national championship game. Our guys wouldn't think that way.”
The NCAA could avoid having one semifinal appear more stacked than another by changing its Final Four format and re-seeding the teams for the season’s ultimate weekend. This year, for example, Villanova, as the top remaining No. 1 seed, would take on No. 11 Loyola in one game, while No. 1 KU and No. 3 Michigan would play in the other.
Kansas coach Bill Self, asked for his thoughts on the re-seeding debate, replied: “Well, since they are not going to, I'm going to say: No, I love it exactly the way it is.”
The coach then conceded it would be “great” to re-seed for the national semifinals.
“I think whoever is saying that, obviously is probably getting a little bit ahead of themselves,” Self said of KU and Villanova being a two-days early title game. “It looks like it's maybe the marquee game of Saturday, just because it's one versus one, but trust me, the other game is just as marquee as this one.”
Of course, nationally renowned coaches ultimately don’t care how games are being categorized or what modifications talking heads are debating. Wright mostly is concerned with devising a game plan that will push Villanova (34-4) past Kansas (31-7) and into the actual national championship game.
“They are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we've played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men,” Wright said. “And now they've probably got, in addition to their bigs, the best perimeter team they've ever had.”
Wright said he and his staff, through the years, have always watched Self’s teams to pick up different ideas on how to best use their big men.
“And now he's still got those big guys that are really effective, but the guards are amazing,” Wright said. “So it's going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”
San Antonio — One of the breakout stars of March Madness, Malik Newman picked up his second Most Outstanding Player award of the postseason in the aftermath of an Elite Eight victory over Duke.
After emerging as the top performer of the Big 12 tournament a few weeks earlier, the Kansas sophomore proved his Sprint Center shows were no fluke once the Jayhawks began their Final Four run.
Through four KU victories in the NCAA Tournament, Newman leads the team with 21.8 points per game and 13-for-29 shooting (44.8%) from 3-point range.
Earlier this week, Newman joined the March Madness 365 podcast, with Andy Katz, to discuss his dazzling March and how his KU coaches and teammates helped him took off.
“My confidence is at an all-time high right now. I probably feel as confident as I’ve ever felt,” Newman told Katz. “I’m having fun with the group of guys that I’m with and we’re just enjoying the moment.”
A McDonald’s All-American in high school and considered one of the top talents in the class of 2015, Newman began his college career at Mississippi State, where he experienced a 14-17 freshman season before taking a crack at the NBA combine while maintaining his amateur status. Eventually, he decided to transfer to Kansas.
Needless to say, the 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., had never experienced anything quite like KU’s overtime win against Duke in the Elite Eight. Newman, of course, scored all 13 of KU’s points in OT, en route to a career-high 32. The fact that it came in a “historical matchup” between blue blood programs, he added, made it all the more satisfying.
“It’s got to be at the top of the list. Most definitely at the top of the list,” Newman replied, when asked where that game ranks for him. “As a kid, this is what you dream about. The AAU circuits and all the AAU games that you play, it will never amount to playing in the Elite Eight game and advancing to the Final Four.”
Who knows what Newman would be doing now if he had just turned pro after leaving Mississippi State two years ago. He said he had to “get healthy” and “learn the game some more,” instead of trying to work his way into the NBA while playing in less glamorous leagues. Newman is glad he ended up with Bill Self and his coaching staff at Kansas.
“I think they did a great job of molding me into what I am right now, and I just think those guys did a great job of pushing me every day,” Newman said.
Now Newman is preparing for a Final Four semifinal against Villanova as a far better player than he was two years ago. Sitting out a full season as a transfer, it turned out, had its benefits, as he got to watch and practice against Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham.
“Those guys are skilled players, so I was able to steal some things from them,” Newman said. “And Coach Self, he just did a great job of instilling the Kansas tradition in me. I think it just made me better overall.”
The Kansas basketball season isn’t over yet.
The Jayhawks advanced out of the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest region and on to San Antonio by knocking off Duke, in overtime, 85-81, Sunday night.
“Mr. March,” also known as Malik Newman, had plenty to do with KU’s 31st and most memorable victory of the year so far, scoring all 13 of his team’s points in OT.
But the efforts of Newman’s teammates in various other categories proved just as valuable. Here are five statistics that made the Jayhawks’ 15th Final Four appearance, and first since 2012, possible.
Given KU’s one-big, four-guard lineup and the presence of two potential NBA lottery picks in Duke’s starting frontcourt, it seemed a long night of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. snagging Blue Devils misses could be in the cards for Kansas.
However, Duke only secured 10 offensive rebounds off 40 missed field goals, finishing with just 11 second-chance points.
KU had come up short in second-chance points in four of its first six postseason victories before outscoring Duke, 15-11, with the help of 17 offensive boards.
Starting center Udoka Azubuike enhanced those numbers with 5 offensive rebounds — his second-best total this season.
Guards Svi Mykhailiuk (3 offensive rebounds), Devonte’ Graham (2), Newman (2) and Marcus Garrett (2) all chipped in when they could, as well.
Whether it was KU locking in, Duke’s legs wearing down or some combination of the two, the Jayhawks spent the final minutes of regulation making stops.
After Grayson Allen fed Wendell Carter Jr. for a layup with 4:25 to go in the second half, KU held Duke without a basket and forced a turnover in the final four minutes, setting up overtime.
Although Allen made two free throws at the 1:59 and 1:25 marks, Kansas barely out-scored Duke, 5-4, during the closing minutes of the second half.
Lagerald Vick blocked Carter with 3:51 on the clock. Azubuike rebounded a missed 3 by Allen with 3:23 left. Trevon Duval turned the ball over at the 2:40 mark. Silvio De Sousa rebounded a Carter misfire with 36 seconds to go in regulation. And KU’s March breakout star, Newman, successfully defended a potential Allen game-winner with 0:03 showing on the clock.
KU knew headed into the Elite Eight showdown that Allen (100 of 267 on 3-pointers, 37.5%) and Gary Trent Jr. (95 of 231, 41.1%) were Duke’s best long-range shooters.
The Jayhawks’ perimeter defenders made sure neither Allen (2 of 9 on 3’s versus KU) or Trent (2 of 10) got hot or found a rhythm.
With the Devils’ marksmen combining to hit just 21% of their 3-pointers, Duke only made 7 of 29 (24%) as a team — the lowest percentage by a KU opponent in the NCAA Tournament this March.
A season-long ally for the Jayhawks, the 3-point line once again facilitated a Kansas victory.
It wasn’t KU’s 36% success from beyond the arc that made the difference. It was that 39 points (nearly half of the victor’s 85) came from that source.
Kansas hit 13 of 36 from deep between its four starting guards, giving the team 13 or more 3-pointers for the eighth time this season and 10 or more for the 19th occasion in 38 outings.
The Jayhawks out-scored Duke by 18 points from outside the arc, and improved to 17-2 when connecting on at least 10 3-pointers.
Newman went 5 for 12. Mykhailiuk sent the game to OT with a 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds of regulation and made 3 of 9. Graham hit 3 of 8. Vick made at least two from deep for the fifth straight game, connecting on 2 of 7.
26 minutes from De Sousa
Where would the Jayhawkw be without freshman big man De Sousa right now? Maybe done for the season, instead of packing up for a trip to San Antonio.
With starting center Azubuike battling foul trouble all night — he picked up his fifth and a disqualification with 1:59 to play in the second half — KU needed every minute, rebound, hustle play and defensive stop De Sousa could muster. http://www2.kusports.com/news/2018/ma...
A 6-foot-9 freshman from Angola, De Sousa tied a career high with 26 minutes — the same time he spent on the court in the Big 12 title game, when Azubuike was out with an injury.
The backup big, whom Bill Self barely trusted to keep on the floor in January and February, finished with 4 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block.
After Azubuike fouled out during crunch time, with the season on the line, De Sousa finished off three separate KU stops with a defensive rebound.
His first-half dunk and second-half layup helped KU’s bench out-score the Duke subs, 8-6.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Duke
- Mr. March: Malik Newman carries Jayhawks past Duke, into Final Four
- Tom Keegan: Svi for 3 and great ‘D’ in KU’s Elite Eight victory
- Notebook: Jayhawks outrebound Duke; Newman named regional’s Most Outstanding Player
- Jayhawks survive encounter with Duke’s monster frontcourt to reach Final Four
- Silvio De Sousa’s ‘terrific,’ bloody performance saves KU in Elite Eight
- Jayhawk fans release Elite Eight tension with party on Massachusetts Street
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman carries Kansas into Final Four with 32 points, tops ratings
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Jayhawks topple Duke in OT to reach Final Four
Omaha, Neb. — The proverbial “Road to the Final Four” hasn’t been kind to Kansas the past two years, particularly the hazard known as the Elite Eight.
In order to move past the regional final stage of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks will first have to navigate through — or shoot over — the active arms of Duke’s half-court zone defense.
“They’re so long,” KU center Udoka Azubuike said of the Blue Devils, and how they discourage passes and effectively defend inside and out. “It’s something new. It’s going to be a huge challenge because of their size.”
The most imposing members of the Blue Devils’ defense are freshman bigs Wendell Carter Jr. (6-foot-10, 259 pounds) and Marvin Bagley III (6-11, 234). Carter said Duke (29-7) evolved from a standard 2-3 zone, once head coach Mike Krzyzewski implemented it as a primary strategy in early February.
At times it more closely resembles a 4-1, with four players surrounding the arc and Carter in the paint, protecting the basket.
“As we started playing great shooting teams, we had to stay high to make sure we recover all parts of the perimeter,” Carter said. “I just go in there and do my best to protect the rim.”
Against the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, Kansas (30-7), Duke likely will play its morphed, arc-protecting zone almost exclusively. KU’s four-guard lineup and 3-point success (40.5% on the year) means the Devils can’t afford to give up many open looks.
Ahead of Sunday’s blue blood matchup at CenturyLink Center, Krzyzewski voiced his concern with KU’s perimeter attack, pointing out Duke’s zone and transition defense will have to be effective.
“They get a lot of 3’s,” the five-time national-title winning coach said. “Bill's teams have always attacked in transition and not necessarily just to throw it into the post or drive. They'll take early 3’s and good ones. So we have to be able to cut down the number of good looks they get in transition and in the half court.”
Because Kansas doesn’t play two big men, Carter could find himself in difficult spots when a KU guard has the ball in the high post and Carter has to defend multiple players, as well as anticipate angles, as his teammates try to collapse down and help him out.
Carter said that’s where his lateral quickness is key. He can fake or step hard toward the high post with the hope of baiting a pass away. If successful, he can just wall-up on the next offensive player that comes his way inside.
Every time the ball makes its way to the high post, Carter tries to anticipate what’s coming next, and the most difficult possibilities tend to be a lob or a shot.
“Yeah, it makes it hard, because I’m not going to be perfect every time,” Carter said of the challenge. “They’re gonna score sometimes, but I’m gonna do all I can to prevent them from scoring.”
15th-year KU coach Bill Self, looking to get the Jayhawks to their third Final Four under his watch, credited Krzyzewski for moving to zone, a strategy that has worked for Syracuse for so long. The Jayhawks, of course, defeated the Orange’s version of the 2-3 zone this past December (and weren’t as successful the very next game, in a loss to Washington and its zone).
“You know, even though we played Syracuse early in the season, we didn't do a good job of attacking it at all. We just made shots, made some hard shots,” Self said.
KU’s coach thinks what makes Duke’s zone so tough to overcome is the wingspans of its defenders, likening that aspect of it to the more successful Baylor zones of the past.
“You can't simulate the length that some of the teams can play with, and primarily the way Duke can play with theirs. And they also have — even though they want their bigs to stay in the game, but they've got multiple bigs they can put in and do some things,” Self said. “And I think that's the thing that makes it the hardest is their activity out front and then their length behind it.”
Omaha, Neb. — The Midwest’s No. 1 seed, Kansas didn’t dominate many categories or blow by No. 5 Clemson Friday night at CenturyLink Center.
Still, the Jayhawks did enough to emerge with the Sweet 16 victory, 80-76.
Here are five statistics that helped KU reach the Elite Eight for the third postseason in a row.
For the first time during this NCAA Tournament the Jayhawks achieved something they so often made look easy during the regular season, draining double-digit 3-pointers.
KU’s four starting guards combined to account for all 10 of the 3-point makes, as well as each of the 22 attempts, as the Jayhawks scored at least 30 from downtown for the 17th time in 37 games.
In draining 4 of 7 form downtown, Malik Newman improved his tournament 3-point accuracy to 8 for 17 (47%) headed into Sunday’s Elite Eight showdown with Duke, which will play a 2-3 zone KU’s shooters will need to exploit.
Lagerald Vick connected on 3 of 6 from deep versus Clemson, marking his his third straight tournament game with 2 or more 3-point makes.
Svi Mykhailiuk only made 1 of 4 in the Sweet 16 win, while Devonte’ Graham hit 2 of 5.
Clemson converted on 6 of 20 3-pointers in its season-ending loss.
In another tourney first for these Jayhawks, KU never trailed Clemson in the Sweet 16 battle between the Big 12 and the ACC.
Kansas led for 38:30 of its third March Madness win, after falling behind in opening-weekend victories over Penn and Seton Hall. The Jayhawks trailed for 12:35 against the Quakers and for 2:53 versus the Pirates.
Against Clemson, though, Udoka Azubuike provided the game’s first basket, and after the Tigers’ David Skara answered on the other end to tie the game, Newman scored a layup to give Kansas the lead for good.
De Sousa productive
No one expected Azubuike to play 30-plus minutes in his first start since injuring his left knee. When Bill Self yanked backup Mitch Lightfoot from the floor after the sophomore played less than two minutes in the first half it was up to Silvio De Sousa to relieve Azubuike the next time the starting center needed to sub out.
De Sousa gave Kansas a lift in 13 minutes off the bench, with 9 points, 6 rebounds and a block. The freshman big man made 3 of 4 shots from the floor, as well as 3 of 4 at the foul line.
Still not a player to run post offense through necessarily, De Sousa produced his baskets with hustle, beating the defense down the floor for an alley-oop in the first half and scoring off of offensive rebounds on two other occasions.
Lightfoot played just 2 minutes, but thanks to another young backup big, De Sousa, KU’s bench outscored Clemson’s 11-9.
Though the Tigers did an excellent job of recovering in the second half, they didn’t look ready for the Sweet 16 stage for earlier stretches. That had a lot to do with KU’s defensive efforts before halftime.
The Jayhawks limited Clemson to 10-for-28 shooting (36%) in the first 20 minutes, only allowed the Tigers to make 2 of 7 3-pointers (29%) and kept them from getting easy looks in the paint (12, compared to KU’s 26). Clemson also turned it over 8 times.
While Kansas didn’t maintain its lead or defensive effectiveness in the second half, having a 13-point lead at intermission played a significant part in the win.
Svi in set-up role
Clemson succeeded in limiting Graham’s effectiveness both as a scorer (4-for-12 shooting) and a passer (4 assists, his lowest total since KU’s win at Texas Tech).
The Tigers also kept Mykhailiuk from getting in a rhythm (9 points, 4 of 11 overall, 1 of 4 on 3-pointers). But the senior guard from Ukraine helped pick up some of the distribution Graham usually provides. Mykhailiuk tied for the team-lead in assists, with 4 — his most since producing the same number in KU’s win at Tech.
Mykhailiuk assisted on the game’s first basket, helping Azubuike get headed in the right direction. Near the midway point of the first half, the senior fed the big man again out of a timeout, with a precise entry pass over the top of Clemson’s defense that set up a lay-in.
In the second half, Mykhailiuk found Vick for a 3-pointer shortly after halftime. Minutes later, he sent a pass to Newman for another 3.
In what proved to be a hectic game, the Jayhawks needed Mykhailiuk’s passing. The senior played 36 minutes, committed 2 turnovers and finished with the best +/- on the team: +10.
Omaha, Neb. — As top-seeded Kansas enters its Sweet 16 matchup with Clemson, a board on a wall inside the Jayhawks’ locker room back home feels more relevant than ever.
Sometimes it is referenced, other times just thought of but unmentioned. Either way, it has been on the minds of KU’s players this week.
The essence of the board inside Allen Fieldhouse traveled easily to CenturyLink Center. KU coach Bill Self mentioned its message on the eve of his players’ next NCAA Tournament game: the Jayhawks could have one day left in their season, or they could keep playing for 11 more.
“It’s pretty simple,” sophomore Mitch Lightfoot related. “We go out here and compete and we can win and keep this team together. I think that’s what we all want. It’s a pretty close, tight-knit team. We’re looking to go out there and play for each other.”
The board displays various other significant countdowns, too, for easy referral as the Jayhawks grind their way through the season.
“It shows how many days left ’til the Final Four, how many days left ’til this, left ’til that,” Lightfoot shared on Thursday. “Everything else is erased. There’s no days left ’til the Big 12 tournament, there’s no days left ’til the NCAA Tournament. It’s here. The Final Four’s up there, and I think we all understand that it’s either one day left of 11 days left with this team, and we all take that to heart. I think we go out there and play that much harder for each other.”
While Self has brought up the dwindling number of days left on the college basketball calendar, Lightfoot said it hasn’t necessarily become a talking point from KU’s seniors, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Clay Young.
If he were in their adidas, Lightfoot probably wouldn’t want to make it a constant topic of discussion either.
“I just think they love this place so much. Svi, Clay, D’tae, they’ve given so much to this organization, and I think it’s gonna be hard for them to leave,” Lightfoot said. “I think we’re going to go out there and play for them and send them out right.”
Mykhailiuk said the seniors are keenly aware of both how close they are to their ultimate goal of cutting down nets in San Antonio and just how quickly their careers could come to an abrupt, undesired conclusion.
“It’s one or 11, so we’ve just got to leave it on the court and on the practice court,” Mykhailiuk said. “It might be one day we could be with each other or it might be 11 left. We don’t know. We’ve got to take it as a last practice or last game. We’ve got to leave it on the court and compete as hard as we can.”
Because Mykhailiuk and Graham have played on the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight stages each of the past two seasons, they know better than any of their teammates what type of efforts the Jayhawks will need to get past Clemson. But the senior from Ukraine wasn’t worried those of his teammates who will be asked to perform on this stage for the first time. He trusts they grasp the gravity of the situation.
“I think everybody knows. Coach has been talking about this to us and I think everybody realizes how important it is,” Mykhailiuk said, “and how important it is to come prepared and know what you’re doing and compete as hard as we can to get a win.”
The offensive lifeblood of a four-guard lineup, 3-pointers — sometimes just the mere threat of them — space the floor for Kansas, give 7-footer Udoka Azubuike space to dominate on touches in the paint and have helped make a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 possible.
Of their 81.4 points per game this year, the Jayhawks average 30.1 from behind the arc (22nd in Division I). In other words, their opponents know KU’s guards would like nothing more than to drown them in a deluge of 3-pointers.
With foes doing everything within their powers to limit one of this Kansas team’s most effective weapons, timing and precision are vital for getting the best look at the basket possible while rising up from long range. Within an offense that revolves around ball screens, dribble hand-offs and drive-and-kicks it sure helps to have senior point guard Devonte’ Graham penetrating and distributing.
Among the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament, Graham’s 7.5 assists per game on the season lead all players. While plenty of those dimes come on fast breaks or alley-oops for KU bigs, the guards who play alongside Graham are thankful his kick-out passes allow them to consistently catch and shoot in one fluid motion.
So what percentage of Graham’s deliveries to 3-point shooters are perfect?
Junior Lagerald Vick briefly paused to calculate before responding, with a grin: “I would say about 99.7 of those are right on the money. I definitely think he’s a good passer, especially off penetration and kick.”
A more generous grader, senior Svi Mykhailiuk went ahead and gave Graham a 100.
“I think every time,” Mykhailiuk said. “He knows where I’m going to be and he just passes to me and I’m gonna make a shot.”
In KU’s second-round victory over Seton Hall, Graham didn’t have his typical shooting touch, but he assisted on 4 of his team’s 9 successful 3-pointers.
Two days earlier, the Jayhawks only made 7 from deep while defeating Penn. Graham assisted on three and made two 3-pointers.
Per Synergy Sports, Kansas has averaged 17.76 points in its first two NCAA Tournament victories off Graham assists alone — 2.4 points for every dish that sets up a basket.
Playing to his roster’s strengths, coach Bill Self has the Jayhawks (29-7) run a lot of ball-screen offense. While Graham is a strong 3-point shooter (his 40.4% accuracy ranks 60th in the country), it often falls on the lead guard to make sure senior Mykhailiuk (45.5%, 10th nationally), sophomore Malik Newman (40.9%) and Vick (37.8%) get the ball in advantageous situations once he begins attacking off the dribble.
“You’ve got to make the defense commit to you and I’ve got to find my guys for open shots,” Graham said.
Occasionally, every step of the process comes easily. On one possession against Penn, Graham turned the corner off a Mitch Lightfoot ball screen, drove to the paint and hit Vick, spotting up nearby in the right corner, for a perfect look.
Other times, Graham has to get more crafty.
In one second-half sequence versus Seton Hall, Graham dribbled left off a pick from Azubuike, drawing the attention of four Pirates defenders as he made his way into the paint. Their resulting rotation accounted for Vick in the right corner, which is where his opponents assumed Graham would look.
Instead he bounced a pass through a gap in the defense, all the way out to the right wing for a wide-open Newman 3-pointer.
Of course, Graham knows how to set up teammates for 3-pointers in every way imaginable.
While facing Penn, Graham misfired on a floater he released in the paint. When the ball rimmed out and found its way back to his hands for an offensive rebound, a little court awareness and quick improvisation paid off.
Graham knew where Vick was when he released his shot, so he easily kicked the ball out to his teammate near the left corner upon securing the rebound. Making the best of his circumstances, the point guard’s hustle set up an easy 3-pointer.
“He’s been a pretty good passer since I’ve known him, even when I came my freshman year when he was at the 2,” Vick said, referring to Graham’s days playing with Frank Mason III. “He’s a good passer.”
Graham’s recognition and vision prove valuable in transition, as well. Off a defensive rebound against Seton Hall, with nine players in front of him on the court, Graham knew KU had the spacing on the break for Newman to get an open 3-pointer on the left wing.
The senior point guard also trusted the shot would drop, raising his hands into the air to signal a successful 3 as Newman went into his shooting motion.
Graham’s familiarity with his fellow guards leads to such trust — as well as to so many accurate passes.
“Just playing with them, game experience, knowing where they like the ball at,” Graham said of how his passes so often generate 3-pointers, “and just tying to get it to them where they can just catch and shoot it before the defense goes out.”
Ahead of Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown with Clemson, in Omaha, Neb. (6:07 p.m., CBS), Vick, Mykhailiuk and Newman have combined to make 13 of 26 3-pointers in the tournament. Vick said their confidence as shooters is growing as a result, “especially with the big fella (Azubuike) back.”
Although Graham missed all four of his 3-point tries against Seton Hall after making 3 of 8 in the first round, his fellow guards have him to thank for much of their offensive impact.
“I would just say he knows how to play,” Mykhailiuk said, “and knows how to pass. He’s been doing this his whole life, so I guess he’s pretty good at it.”
Not even Naismith Award finalists can do it all every single night.
When Kansas star guard Devonte’ Graham’s shots weren’t falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks knew they could look elsewhere and find the scoring they needed to survive.
After Graham knocked down a jumper in the opening minutes Saturday night versus Seton Hall, not one of the six field-goal attempts that followed would drop for KU’s leading scorer.
No big deal. The other three guards in the starting lineup had their floor general’s back. Graham may have only provided eight points, but sophomore Malik Newman, senior Svi Mykhailiuk and junior Lagerald Vick combined for 57 as Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16.
“That’s what we do,” Graham, who averages 17.4 points a game, said matter-of-factly following the fourth single-digit scoring outing of his senior season. “If somebody’s having an off night, somebody’s got to step up, and they did a good job of knocking down shots and being aggressive.”
During a nine-assist night for Graham, he liked the way fellow senior Mykhailiuk (7-for-16 shooting, 2 of 5 on 3-pointers, 16 points, three assists) kept getting to the paint and making plays.
In the final four minutes of the victory that moved top-seeded Kansas on to the Midwest regional semifinals, it was Newman (8-of-14 shooting, 4 of 8 from 3-point range, 28 points, two assists) hitting a must-have 3-pointer, going 8 of 8 at the foul line and finding Mykhailiuk for a clutch 3-pointer that stretched the lead to eight with 1:20 to go.
“Everybody was just being aggressive and being a threat,” Graham said proudly.
Following his fifth straight double-digit scoring game, Vick (5-for-9 shooting, 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, 13 points) echoed the point guard’s reference to an assertive backcourt approach. The 6-foot-5 junior from Memphis scored eight points in a row for Kansas during a 2:09 stretch of the second half.
“We just, all us guards had a talk. We’re the head of the team so we knew everybody had to step up and make plays for each other,” Vick said. “We all just played off each other and were bringing energy.”
Even though Graham went from the 7:57 mark of the first half until the 7:52 mark in the second half without scoring a point for Kansas (29-7), Mykhailiuk said his four-year teammate’s floor game kept Graham as an essential component of KU’s success.
“If he’s on the court he just gives us confidence. He just controls the tempo of the game. He’s a point guard, so he doesn’t need to score, he doesn’t need to get assists,” Mykhailiuk added. “He just needs to do what he does and tell us what to do.”
During the regular season, a low-scoring game from Graham only cost KU a victory once — Dec. 6, when he shot 1 of 8 and scored three points against Washington’s 2-3 zone in a 74-65 defeat. The Jayhawks rolled against South Dakota State in November, when Graham finished with eight points, and they won an SEC-Big 12 Challenge encounter at Allen Fieldhouse with Texas A&M, when Graham’s 2-for-11 shooting left him with eight points.
Every aspect of the regular season prepares college basketball teams for the madness that awaits in March — even if those lessons don’t seem helpful at the time.
As Kansas moves on to Omaha, Neb., for a Friday matchup with Clemson (25-9), Graham’s teammates aren’t exactly worried about his scoring output moving forward. And if they need to pick up the slack in the points column, they won’t have any reason to panic.
“He still did good,” Mykhailiuk said of the team leader’s uncharacteristic showing in the second round. “He did all he could, and sometimes shots are just not falling down. So it’s a part of the game. I bet he’s gonna play better next time.”
Graham followed his three regular-season single-digit scoring games with 17 points against Texas Southern in a home win, 19 points versus Arizona State in a home loss and 16 points in a road victory at Kansas State.
Wichita — The hot shooting hand of guard Malik Newman and a resurgent Udoka Azubuike helped No. 1 seed Kansas get past feisty No. 8 Seton Hall, 83-79, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
But plenty more went into the Jayhawks’ survive-and-advance victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
Here are five statistics that helped send KU on to Omaha, Neb., and a spot in the 2018 Sweet 16.
No offensive missteps in final minute
The Jayhawks’ season could have ended ahead of schedule had they not handled their business at the foul line in crunch time, when their lead shrank to as little as three points.
As Seton Hall senior guard Khadeen Carrington did everything within his power to will the Pirates to an improbable comeback, scoring 13 points in the final 1:06 — no, that’s not a typo — KU guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman combined to make all 10 of their free-throw attempts in the game’s final 53 seconds.
Add a press-break out of a timeout that concluded with Graham finding Mitch Lightfoot for a two-handed slam and KU had just enough to move on.
Seton Hall outscored Kansas 16-12 in the final 1:06 thanks to Carrington’s heroics and a last-second Myles Powell 3-pointer. Had the Jayhawks turned the ball over or missed free throws, the game could have flipped.
Vick in rhythm in March
Lagerald Vick continued trending upward in the postseason in KU’s second-round victory.
For the fifth consecutive game — a stretch that began with the Jayhawks’ Big 12 quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State — the junior guard provided double-digit scoring to the Kansas attack.
Against Seton Hall, Vick scored 13 points and, as he has in every Big 12 and NCAA tournament game this March, made at least 50% of his shot attempts, going 5 of 9.
Vick also made more than two 3-pointers for the first time since KU’s home romp over Oklahoma, knocking in 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Shutting down Rodriguez
Two nights after Seton Hall’s leading scorer, senior Desi Rodriguez, went for 20 points in a first-round win over North Carolina State, the 6-foot-6 senior never got rolling against the Big 12 champions.
KU stymied Rodriguez, who entered averaging 17.9 points per game, limiting him to 2-for-10 shooting and 6 points in 35 minutes.
Vick spent portions of the game defending Seton Hall’s typical double-digit scorer, but other Jayhawks checked him at times, too, as switches occurred within the half court.
Rodriguez went 2 of 7 in the first half and barely even found opportunities to take shots in the second, despite playing 18 minutes.
Surviving Seton Hall’s offensive rebounding
The Jayhawks have run into their fair share of strong offensive rebounding teams this season and they continued to escape the wrath of devastating second-chance points in their matchup with Seton Hall.
Although the Pirates grabbed 15 of their missed shots against Kansas, they only cashed in on 14 second-chance points in a tight, loser-goes-home game.
Senior center Angel Delgado often operated as he pleased within the paint, en route to 24 points and a career-best 23 rebounds (9 on the offensive glass). But the key for Kansas was handling the Pirates when someone other than the skilled 6-foot-10 big controlled the offensive boards.
When Delgado snatched Pirates misses, the ball found its way through the net on those possessions — either by immediate putback, eventual basket or free throws — on six of eight occasions.
However, when a different Pirate came down with an offensive rebound, Kansas repeatedly found its way to a stop. On six possessions, one of Delgado’s teammates got credited with an offensive rebound. The Pirates scored just one basket as a result.
More second-chance points could have swung the game in Seton Hall’s favor, but KU found a way to move on, despite finishing with only 23 defensive rebounds on 38 opportunities.
Graham in set-up role
KU star guard Graham wasn’t himself versus the Pirates, going 1 of 7 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-pointers and finishing with 8 points.
As the senior has shown in the past, though, an off shooting night didn’t get him down. Kansas needed Graham running the show and making plays that led to his teammates scoring. Throughout the second half Graham did just that.
KU’s leader assisted on 7 of his team’s 15 field goals in the second half to finish with 9 assists in the victory.
The Jayhawks built a double-digit lead in the second half, not only because of Udoka Azubuike’s presence, but also through Graham’s distributions.
His passes led to a Svi Mykhailiuk layup, an Azubuike slam, a Newman lay-in, a Vick 3-pointer, a Mykhailiuk 3-pointer, a 3 from Newman and the aforementioned Lightfoot jam.
And, after a 4-turnover first half by Graham, he only coughed the ball up once while playing the entirety of the second half.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Seton Hall
- Dominant Dok: Azubuike plays big role to lift Jayhawks past Seton Hall
- Tom Keegan: Nudge in right direction awakens Malik Newman
- Graham survives injury scare, breaks program record for minutes in a season
- Angel Delgado’s historic performance not enough to beat Kansas
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman shoots Kansas into Sweet 16, tops ratings
- KU’s supporting cast pushes Jayhawks past Seton Hall and into Sweet 16