It’s no secret that the Texas men’s basketball team is struggling under second-year head coach Shaka Smart.
The 7-11 Longhorns, who will take on second-ranked Kansas at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, got out to an up-and-down start to the season and now are riding a 1-5 Big 12 record and four-game losing streak into their meeting with the Jayhawks.
On paper, the game looks like a mismatch. Wildly talented and explosive Jayhawks against young, still-finding itself Texas team. Kansas and its 86 points-per-game average, against Texas, which is not even cracking the 70-point mark on average. Veterans named Mason, Graham, Lucas and Self against many players most of the Big 12 hasn’t even heard of yet.
You get the point.
And there’s a chance the game will turn out to be exactly that — a mismatch. After all, it will be played in Allen Fieldhouse and the Jayhawks sort of seem to be due for an easy victory.
But it's not exactly a given that the Longhorns will prove to be that. In the five losses suffered by Texas in Big 12 play so far this season, only one has come by double figures (Tuesday’s 74-64 loss at No. 6 Baylor) and three have come by three points or less.
Those tight games, though encouraging, seem to be creating mixed emotions in the Lone Star State. On one hand, Smart and company are happy their group is competing and not just using its youth and inexperience as an excuse to roll over. On the other hand, the Longhorns still are coming up short in far too many key areas to allow them to get over that hump.
Smart, who was 163-56 (.744) in six seasons at VCU before taking over at Texas, has a pretty cool philosophy on how to take his team from a group that will play you tough to a team that will compete with the best of the best in the Big 12. And it has much more to do with relationships than it does basketball.
“It’s just deposits in the bank, really,” Smart said earlier this month on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “You’re putting a quarter in the piggy bank, but if you can keep doing that then, over time, you can build a level of connectivity and that’s really what we need to get to.... Any time you have a lot of changeover on your team, as we did from last year to this year, the more you can spend time together as a group and just get to know one another, be around each other in different settings, I think that can be a powerful thing.”
With the athletes Smart is able to attract to Texas and the system he utilizes, along with his personal track record of success, including the 2011 Final Four run, establishing this as the UT foundation could wind up going a long way in determining whether or not Smart is successful in burnt orange.
If this approach takes, and it’s far too early to predict whether it will or won't, it could be only a matter of time before Texas returns to its spot near the top of the conference standings each year and presents Kansas with a true, year-in and year-out challenger for Big 12 supremacy.
If it doesn’t, you have to wonder if Smart will last in Austin.
But regardless of which way it turns out, no one will ever be able to say Smart is attacking this job anything other than his way.
“It’s always a balance because, a lot of times in today’s world, people mistake accountability for negativity,” Smart said of his approach to rebuilding with a young group. “I think it’s important to show guys where progress has been made and where they’re doing things well individually. Our guys, like most guys at the college level, they want to win and they want to do well individually.... For most college basketball players, typically you go through November and early December and (think) ‘This is a little harder than I thought,’ both on an individual basis and team-wise. We just have to help them understand we can do it, we’re making progress and, with a young group, we just gotta stay focused on growth.”
Asked what part has proven most difficult as he has limped out to a 27-24 start to his career with UT, including a .500 record (12-12) in Big 12 play and 21-7 mark at home, Smart pointed to his team’s lack of experience and leadership as the biggest obstacle.
“Just the understanding of what goes into winning and what goes into success, both as a team and also individually,” he said. “You just have a better understanding of that if you’ve played more games and we’ve got a lot of guys on our team that haven’t played many college basketball games so you have to coach them through that and try to accelerate that growth process. But when you understand what’s gonna allow you to be successful, now your talent can take over and you can go do the great things on the court that you’re capable of doing. But when that understanding is not all the way there it almost can serve as a block (that gets) in the way of you being your best.”
A few hours after returning from his team’s Monday night victory in Ames, Iowa, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self appeared on The Doug Gottlieb Show on Tuesday and discussed everything from KU’s latest win to the Svi Mykhailiuk travel heard ’round the world, Joel Embiid and the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup.
Most of what was said and discussed was stuff you’ve heard. But at the very end, Gottlieb, the former Oklahoma State guard who pays close attention to Big 12 basketball and has great respect for the KU program, asked Self one simple question.
“I’ve got 15 seconds,” Gottlieb said, announcing the upcoming end of the segment. “Do you have a national-championship-caliber team?
“I think that we have a team that there’s less margin for error than what we’ve had,” Self said. “But I think that, when we play our best, I think we can play as well as anybody.”
The last 17 games certainly suggest that. Although the Jayhawks’ schedule has not been the murderers row of seasons past, it has included some quality teams and the Jayhawks have racked up four true road victories and four wins on neutral floors.
According to kenpom.com, the Jayhawks’ strength of schedule currently ranks 17th in the country and Kansas has contributed to the strength-of-schedule ranking of five teams in the Top 25.
A big reason for KU’s ability to navigate that schedule — made up mostly of strong challengers from mid-major programs in the non-conference — has been Self’s willingness (or is it necessity?) to abandon his traditional two-bigs lineup and play with four guards the majority of the time.
Self and Gottlieb discussed the coach’s change of pace in this department and Self pointed out that while has played small in the past, everywhere from Tulsa to Illinois and even Kansas, it often has been done by playing a shorter player at one of the forward spots.
This Kansas team is playing a taller player (freshman Josh Jackson) in the 4 spot but utilizing him as a guard as opposed to asking him to play like a big.
“It certainly is a different look and different style than we’ve ever played before,” Self told Gottlieb.
Asked how he came up with the tweaks and strategies for employing such a system, Self pointed to a pair of familiar foes as the programs he and his staff have studied extra film of to get ready for the change.
“I think we’ve stolen from other people,” Self said. “I thought Iowa State did an unbelievable job when they had Georges (Niang) doing some different things so we’ve watched quite a bit of tape on that. Jay (Wright has) played that way at Villanova for a long time and we played them last year, obviously, and I’ve watched quite a bit of tape with them.”
“It’s totally different. We’re doing more false motion type things to try to get the ball back into different guys’ hands and spreading the floor with an open ball screen. We’re doing a lot of different things but that would be kind of what we run behind what we run.”
While Jackson, Mykhailiuk and sophomore Lagerald Vick have been key in making the four-guard lineup work for the Jayhawks, the two players who make it go are senior point guard Frank Mason III and junior running mate Devonte’ Graham.
“To see what they’ve done since they’ve been here,” Self began. “Two guys that play together and understand and are tough and competitive. Those guys do it about as good as anybody does.”
And those two guys are a huge reason Self believes this team has the potential to play as well as any team in the country the rest of the way.
Class of 2017 forward Billy Preston, the No. 8-ranked player in his class according to Rivals.com, learned Sunday night that he was selected to be a McDonald's All-American.
Preston joins a long list of current and former Jayhawks to earn a spot in the prestigious high school all-star game and was joined on the West squad by KU target Trae Young, one of the top point guards in the class who remains one of the Jayhawks' top targets in the current class.
Point guard Trevon Duval, who also remains undecided and on the Jayhawks' radar was named to the East squad.
Preston, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound five-star forward from Oak Hill Academy, chose Kansas over finalists Indiana, Syracuse and USC and did so on the strength of his stellar visit during Late Night in the Phog in early October.
He becomes the 41st Jayhawk to earn McDonald's All-American honors, a feat that also was accomplished by three members of the current roster — Carlton Bragg Jr. in 2015 and Udoka Azubuike and Josh Jackson in 2016.
While Preston — and potentially Young and/or Duval — was the only Jayhawk-to-be to land on this year's 24-player roster, a look at the 23 other names to earn the honor proves yet again just how strong KU's recent recruiting efforts have been.
Several players on the 24-man roster considered Kansas or had the Jayhawks on their final list, including center DeAndre Ayton, point guard Collin Sexton and small forward Troy Brown.
This year's McDonald's All-American game will take place March 29 at United Center in Chicago.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 87-80 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Too many missed free throws and a really rough start to the game, both from the floor and behind the three-point line, pulled this usually excellent offensive team down to the B range. The Jayhawks were not their typical lights-out selves from three-point range (5-of-20) in this one from start to finish.
Oklahoma State did whatever they wanted to do in the first half and KU had a tough time stopping Mitchell Solomon of all people in the second half.
KU got next to nothing from the bigs on the offensive end, but, led by Landen Lucas, got enough on the glass to out-rebound the Cowboys 45-36 overall after being out-rebounded in the first half.
Mason and Graham were so tough and so clutch so many different times during this one. It was far from a perfect game for the KU backcourt, but they were good when they needed to be. Same goes for Josh Jackson, who delivered a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
At some point we’re going to have to start grading the KU bench on a curve, one that begins with low expectations. Another quiet day from the two Jayhawks who came in, though both Vick and Bragg did a few things to aid KU’s victory.
Historically speaking, trailing at halftime has not been good news for the Kansas men’s basketball team under Bill Self, who has just a .500 record in games in which the Jayhawks have trailed at the half.
Self, as you all surely know by now, racked up his 400th victory as the head coach at Kansas on Tuesday night in Norman, Oklahoma. And it took a second-half comeback to make it happen.
Trailing by a season-high nine points at the break, KU outscored the Sooners by 20 in the second half en route to the 11-point victory that featured, arguably, KU’s best half of the season.
The win moved second-ranked Kansas to 15-1 overall and 3-0 in games when they were trailing at halftime. Earlier this season, KU also beat Duke, which led 34-29, and Davidson, which led 43-42, despite trailing after the game’s first 20 minutes.
The win pulled KU teams coached by Self to a 55-55 record in games in which they trailed at the break, compared to a 333-25 mark in games in which Kansas has led at halftime. Self’s Jayhawks are 12-4 in his 13-plus seasons when tied at halftime.
While KU’s 3-0 mark this season after trailing at halftime, though a small sample size, seems to be a sign of overall mental strength of this year’s squad, KU senior Landen Lucas said the opportunity to face that kind of adversity was great for this team, which, in some ways, is still finding itself and coming together.
“I think it’s good, as a team, to kind of get that mindset back and, moving forward, you can always use those experiences, especially if you end up getting the (win),” Lucas said.
Asked if trailing at halftime triggered any sort of muscle memory moments from having found ways to come back in the past, Lucas said there was an element of battling back from halftime deficits that was like riding a bike but added that finding ways to get it done was different for each team.
“It’s something that you do have to work towards again,” he said. “We have to kind of relearn that. We had it down pretty good last year, how to not panic, how to put teams away when we’re ahead, different things like that. So we just gotta kind of relearn that and get our confidence back, knowing that we can do that.”
KU’s most recent victory (81-70 over OU) should go a long way toward delivering that confidence. Not only did the Jayhawks erase the nine-point halftime lead in impressive fashion, but they also followed up their lowest offensive output in a single half this season (27 points) by delivering their highest points in a half (54).
No. 2 Kansas is 12-1 when leading at the half this season — KU led Indiana 46-42 at the break in the season opener — and has yet to be tied at the break during the 2016-17 season.
Next up: KU will play host to 10-6 Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Weather permitting — and, at this point, that’s a fairly big question mark — the Kansas men’s basketball team will have an important visitor in the building this weekend when they take on Oklahoma State on Saturday at 1 p.m.
With Trae Young, the No. 14-ranked player and one of the top point guards in the 2017 recruiting class, potentially closing in on a decision about where he will play his college basketball the Jayhawks have turned up their recruitment of the star guard, who officially visited KU’s campus in October.
Trae's father, Rayford Young, told Matt Scott of TheShiver.com that the family would make the trip to Lawrence this weekend as long as travel conditions allow them to do so.
Kansas, which has always been at or near the top of Young’s list, remains very much in the running and many recruiting analysts believe that the battle to land the Norman, Oklahoma, native is a two-school contest between KU and Oklahoma.
Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi said Monday night that he did not expect a decision real soon and also recently added that, in his opinion, KU has at least pulled even with the Sooners in pursuit of the talented point guard.
Young was not in attendance at the KU-OU game in Norman on Tuesday night, but KU’s coaches have maintained tight contact with the 6-foot-2, 170-pound, five-star prospect throughout the winter. KU coach Bill Self traveled south a couple of weeks ago to watch Young light up an opponent for 40 points, 5 assists and 11 steals. And assistant coach Norm Roberts was in attendance on Monday night, when Young went for 43 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals in a win.
Young said last Fall that he was eyeing a January decision date, which leaves him still almost three weeks to make a decision. Of course, should he need it, Young has every right to take as much time as necessary and, although it’s not likely, the possibility exists that he could take this thing well into March or April as the spring signing period does not open until April 12.
It’s looking more like a decision could come in late-January or early February and Young’s visit to KU’s campus this weekend, should he be able to travel, or at a later date if a reschedule is necessary, could play a huge role in the timing of Young announcing his decision.
It may still be early — although the halfway point of the 2016-17 regular season has arrived — but Kansas senior Frank Mason III has put himself in position to do something generally considered unthinkable under Bill Self at Kansas.
And he’s doing it in a way that is getting a lot of national pundits and die-hard college basketball fans to take notice.
He has become a regular fixture in national player of the year conversations around the country and seems to get more and more serious consideration for first-team All-American honors by the game.
Sixteen games into his senior season, Mason is averaging 20.4 points per game for the 15-1 Jayhawks, who have raced out to an early lead and 4-0 record in the Big 12 Conference title race.
If Mason is able to hold that average — or perhaps even improve upon it — he would become just the second Jayhawk during the Bill Self era to average more than 20 points per game during a single season. The first? Former All-American Wayne Simien, who averaged 20.3 points per game during Self’s second season in town.
Simien also led Self’s first KU team (2003-04) with a 17.8 points-per-game average, which still ranks as the third highest single-season total during Self’s 14 years at Kansas.
The average of the eight different players who have led KU in scoring during Self’s first 13 seasons in charge is 16.3 points per game, a number that KU’s leading point producer topped during just seven of those 13 seasons.
While nothing is guaranteed for Mason or the Jayhawks the rest of the way, topping 16.3 ppg seems likely and his pursuit of a 20-point season or better also seems well within reach given the way this team plays and the make-up of the supporting cast around him.
The Jayhawks were led in scoring by a big man five times during that 13-season stretch. But with no real offensive threat in the post to throw the ball into and run offense through, this team’s action will continue to go through its guards. More often than not that will mean Mason, who has the ball in his hands more often than any player on this team and also is the player the Jayhawks automatically look to late in the shot clock, late in games and with the game on the line.
He beat Duke with his game-winning jumper in New York City and was the No. 1 option in the final seconds against K-State.
Self has had a true point guard lead his KU teams in scoring just twice during his first 13 years in Lawrence — Sherron Collins did it in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. In addition, KU’s lead guard has finished in the top two on KU’s season-scoring list twice, Tyshawn Taylor in 2012 and Mason as a sophomore.
None of this matters, of course, to KU’s bottom line, which is winning and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Heck, if Self and the Jayhawks could find a way to ensure victory by getting freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot 25 points a game, they’d do it — in a second.
The unselfish nature of the players on the Kansas roster and the win-at-all-costs mentality of the man leading them make this about more than any one player or specific agenda.
But that unselfish tone, which has been a core principle of Self’s Kansas teams and a big reason why each season’s leading scorer has averaged in the low-to-mid-teens more often than not, is also the same thing that makes Mason a candidate to challenge the 20-point mark by season’s end.
His teammates are smart. They know he’s locked in right now and, more importantly, that few people in the country can stop him. So electing to get the ball to their senior leader is an easy choice and an often profitable decision.
No one, least of all Mason, is going to force the action to try to get his. But the way this season is playing out and the way Mason is performing, his may come one way or the other.
The top two scorers from each of Self’s first 13 seasons at KU
|2003-04||Wayne Simien, 17.8||Keith Langford, 15.5|
|2004-05||Wayne Simien, 20.3||Keith Langford, 14.4|
|2005-06||Brandon Rush, 13.5||Mario Chalmers, 11.5|
|2006-07||Brandon Rush, 13.8||Mario Chalmers, 12.2|
|2007-08||Brandon Rush, 13.3||Mario Chalmers, 12.8|
|2008-09||Sherron Collins, 18.9||Cole Aldrich, 14.9|
|2009-10||Sherron Collins, 15.5||Xavier Henry, 13.4|
|2010-11||Marcus Morris, 17.2||Markieff Morris 13.6|
|2011-12||Thomas Robinson, 17.7||Tyshawn Taylor, 16.6|
|2012-13||Ben McLemore, 15.9||Jeff Withey, 13.7|
|2013-14||Andrew Wiggins, 17.1||Perry Ellis, 13.5|
|2014-15||Perry Ellis, 13.8||Frank Mason, 12.6|
|2015-16||Perry Ellis, 16.9||Wayne Selden, 13.8|
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 81-70 victory at Oklahoma on Tuesday night.
It might be best to break the grades for this game into two halves and would be fairly easy to do — F for the first half, A for the second. KU’s offense, which missed 14 of its final 17 shots in the first half, was lights out to open the second and looked much more like the Kansas offense we’ve become used to seeing, fast, free, unselfish and scary.
The Jayhawks battled in both halves but looked much better — and played with more of a purpose — in the second half. The Sooners got whatever they wanted at times in the first half and out-toughed the Jayhawks on the glass.
This one’s all Lucas and he was darn good. 10 points, 13 rebounds and all kinds of effort. He’s still limited in some ways, but does what he does best as well as anybody.
Mason’s the man. What more needs to be said? He finished two points off of a career-high and knocked in 11 of 19 shots and 5 of 6 from three-point range. Jackson, Graham and Mykhailiuk chipped in 38 points to back up their leader.
Vick and Bragg did little and Lightfoot and Coleby weren’t in long enough to do much. When they were, though, neither player looked all that comfortable or impressive.
It’s easy to gloss over a victory as historically significant as all-time win No. 2,200 when you consider the fact that the most experienced players on the current roster who delivered it only have been around for an average of less than 100 of those and the coach leading the way only 400.
But just because two of the players wearing KU uniforms today have been a part of just 14 of those 2,200 victories does not mean that the win — 85-68 over Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse — was not a major milestone to the thousands and thousands of KU fans who have screamed, yelled, cheered and rejoiced about more than half of those wins during their lifetimes.
Give the current Jayhawks credit for both recognizing the significance of Saturday’s 2,200th win and for having the respect to realize it’s not in any way about them and only them. And give senior point guard Frank Mason III major credit for offering the following four words as his final comment on the matter: “there’s more to come.”
Talk about a guy who gets it. Sure, being a part of win No. 2,200 was nice and likely will be something these guys look back on — many years from now — as one of the many, many cool parts of their Kansas careers.
But the objective today, as it has been year in and year out, week in and week out, for as long as anyone can remember is to find a way to bring more victories not celebrate wins gone by.
Bill Self now has been around for four milestone victories and if he's still the Kansas coach when the Jayhawks reach win No. 2,300, he'll tie Phog Allen and Roy Williams as the head coaches to deliver the most milestone wins in Kansas history.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look back at the major milestone wins, from 1 to 2,200, that Kansas basketball has achieved in the past 118 years.
|1||Feb. 10, 1899||Lawrence||James Naismith||31-6 vs. Topeka YMCA|
|100||Jan. 15, 1910||St. Louis||W.O. Hamilton||34-13 vs. Washington (Mo.)|
|200||Jan. 24, 1917||Lawrence||W.O. Hamilton||27-19 vs. Kansas State|
|300||Feb. 9, 1925||Lawrence||Phog Allen||33-18 vs. Iowa State|
|400||Jan. 2, 1933||Lawrence||Phog Allen||34-28 vs. Stanford|
|500||Jan. 18, 1939||Lawrence||Phog Allen||37-32 vs. Missouri|
|600||Jan. 30, 1945||Lawrence||Phog Allen||39-36 vs. Kansas State|
|700||Dec. 29, 1951||Kansas City, Mo.||Phog Allen||75-65 vs. Missouri|
|800||March 15, 1957||Dallas||Dick Harp||73-65 vs. SMU|
|900||Dec. 1, 1964||Fayetteville, Ark.||Ted Owens||65-60 vs. Arkansas|
|1,000||Feb. 3, 1969||Lawrence||Ted Owens||64-48 vs. Oklahoma State|
|1,100||Jan. 25, 1975||Lawrence||Ted Owens||71-60 vs. Oklahoma State|
|1,200||Dec. 1, 1980||Lawrence||Ted Owens||81-67 vs. Pepperdine|
|1,300||Dec. 3, 1985||Lawrence||Larry Brown||86-71 vs. SIU-Edwardsville|
|1,400||Feb. 25, 1989||Lawrence||Roy Williams||111-83 vs. Colorado|
|1,500||Jan. 16, 1993||Louisville, Ky||Roy Williams||98-77 vs. Louisville|
|1,600||Nov. 27, 1996||Maui, Hawaii||Roy Williams||80-63 vs. Virginia|
|1,700||Jan. 8, 2000||Boulder, Colo.||Roy Williams||84-69 vs. Colorado|
|1,800||March 29, 2003||Anaheim, Calif.||Roy Williams||78-75 vs. Arizona|
|1,900||March 3, 2007||Lawrence||Bill Self||90-86 vs. Texas|
|2,000||March 11, 2010||Kansas City, Mo.||Bill Self||80-68 vs. Texas Tech|
|2,100||March 24, 2013||Kansas City, Mo.||Bill Self||70-58 vs. North Carolina|
|2,200||Jan. 7, 2017||Lawrence||Bill Self||85-68 vs. Texas Tech|
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 85-68 victory over Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.
The Jayhawks shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent from three-point range and made five consecutive shots during the decisive run that put the game out of reach with around five minutes to play.
The effort, activity and tenacity were all there and Kansas also limited the Red Raiders to 41 percent shooting from the floor. The only reason for the minus was KU’s inability to keep Tech from getting open looks from three-point range. Overall, though, a much, much better effort on the defensive end of the floor.
None of KU’s big men — all two of them — did much in this one. Bragg and Lucas combined for 11 points and 12 rebounds but also had a few forgettable moments, especially Bragg who struggled inside and occasionally got lost on defense.
Devonte’ Graham (20 points) was hot early, Mason (26) was hot late and the Jayhawks got a big time effort from the three-headed monster of Graham, Mason and Jackson (63 of 85 points). Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk did not have much of an encore performance to his game-winner against K-State on Tuesday, finishing with five points and four rebounds before fouling out in 21 minutes.
Neither Bragg nor Lagerald Vick did much to write home about and both sent Bill Self looking to the bench to plug a starter back in a few too many times throughout this one.