Although the first things that truly caught my eye at Tuesday's KU football practice — No. 4 of the spring season — were the red pants worn by the defense (first time I can recall seeing that in the past six years), the presence of a former KU quarterback stole the show while the Jayhawks stretched and warmed up.
Mark Williams, who engineered that solid 10-2 season in 1995 and helped KU finish ranked ninth in the final AP poll, was in attendance to watch his alma mater run through drills, albeit in an entirely new environment than anything he remembered seeing during his playing days.
Williams, 42, recently relocated back to Lawrence by transferring within his job and said he was thrilled to be back.
As far as him showing up for practice, Williams said KU had done a great job of reaching out to him during the past few years and added that he often found something from Kansas waiting for him in his mailbox.
Williams seemed thrilled to be back on the field and even looked like he could still play if given the chance.
Here's the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice, the first of the spring in which we were asked to leave early as had been normal in the past.
• Quick look at the updated offensive line: The first stringers on Tuesday, left to right, were Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, Junior Visinia and Larry Mazyck. The second group included: Devon Williams, Joe Bloomfield, Jacob Bragg, D'Andre Banks and Jayson Rhodes. Again, don't read too much into any of this, but it's always worth keeping an eye on. As for guys who stood out. Shelley-Smith looks to be getting more comfortable every day and I thought Peters moved well, especially on some of the guard pulls and running plays where he had to cover some distance.
• As Beaty mentioned on Day 1, Corey Avery has been very limited this spring because of a shoulder injury and that has opened the door for some other guys to get some solid reps. Juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner lined up with the ones on Tuesday and Taylor Cox ran with the twos. Kinner has been getting first-team reps throughout the spring and it looks like his speed could help the KU offense replace Tony Pierson. At quarterback, Montell Cozart ran with the first offense (at least for the portion of practice we saw), followed by Michael Cummings. That battle, as you surely know by now, will be ongoing and will not be limited to just those two guys.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, I haven't been able to see too much of the offense yet, but what I have seen has included a lot of movement by the quarterbacks. Both Cummings nad Cozart have been asked to keep the ball and run, roll out and throw and move the pocket. Even with that, the ball has come out quick and KU really seems to be emphasizing quick passes to easy targets and taking care of blocks down the field to get those guys positive yardage.
• As is common, Tuesday's practice began with a heavy dose of special teams work. Even though that's not that unusual, the way these guys work is. The whole thing is incredibly well organized and seems to have more of a game-prep, walk-through feel to it than a meaningless drill in a spring practice. Everywhere at every moment, these coaches are urging their guys to find a way to get better even in the smallest area.
Saturday afternoon news broke that the Texas Longhorns were prepared to move on from men's basketball coach Rick Barnes after 17 seasons.
Regardless of whether it goes down as a firing, a resignation or a force-out, the mere fact that Barnes is moving on and the UT job is open ushers in a wildly exciting time for the Big 12 Conference.
That job, because of a talented returning roster, UT's relatively solid history of success and the resources and money available to turn that program into a force, will attract some of the best candidates in college basketball.
We're not just talking about guys who are looking to make a nice little jump. We're talking about guys who would be candidates at some of the country's best basketball schools if those jobs were open.
Kansas. North Carolina. Duke. Michigan State. Shaka Smart. Gregg Marshall. Ben Jacobson. Archie Miller. And more.
But forget about the candidate pool, which guys have a real shot and what direction the Longhorns want to go. That, right now, is anybody's guess and all those of us observing from afar have to go off of is the recent hiring of Charlie Strong as UT's football coach. Given that the hoops job is a completely different animal, I'm not sure that helps lead us to any quality predictions.
What we can predict, though, is how much the hire — whoever it ends up being — will impact the Big 12 and Kansas.
Let's say, for a second, that Marshall is the guy. Just like that, KU coach Bill Self will go from not knowing when he'll get another crack at Marshall, whose Wichita State team ended Self and KU's season a week ago in Omaha, to two guaranteed match-ups with the guy year in and year out.
That's an awesome scenario to envision. And could immediately breathe life back into the KU-Texas battles and make it the marquee rivalry in the conference.
If it's not Marshall and the Longhorns go with a guy like Smart, you're looking at a scary situation in which a sleeping giant could be awoken.
Smart is so beloved by his players, would be able to recruit top-tier talent to Austin and, beyond that, would bring a nasty style of play to the conference that could give teams fits.
If it's me making the hire, I'm going after Smart and not taking no for an answer.
But regardless of who the Texas administration goes after, they'll have enough high-quality candidates to make it nearly impossible to mess this one up.
All that remains to be seen is how big of a splash the new UT hoops coach will make on the rest of the Big 12.
Reports have said they'd like to make the hire quickly, perhaps by the end of the coming week. Can't wait to see who it is.
Here's the deal about Saturday's 10 a.m. KU football practice which wound up lasting three hours and featured a — it neither looked like an early-morning practice nor one that took place on the third day of spring ball.
The energy was way up, even by David Beaty's standards, the intensity was through the roof and the effort, emotion and urgency were all as good as I've seen so far this spring.
Credit a lot of that to the fact that today's practice was the first for the Jayhawks in full pads, but credit the rest of it to the coaching staff for demanding it and the players for delivering.
After the stretching portion of practice, the Jayhawks ran over to huddle up for their pre-practice instructions. Not good enough. Beaty made them go back to their spots and do it again, with assistant coaches yelling all around, “Urgency, urgency, urgency.” “I better see some energy out here today.” “Let's go get it.”
Pretty soon, this will merely be the standard for this KU team. But until everyone is used to it, it will still seem pretty impressive.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Saturday's practice:
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens is a master communicator. He speaks clearly, makes it known exactly what he's looking for at all times and has the patience to explain it thoroughly — even going as far as to show it himself if he has to — when guys don't quite get something. This was evident throughout the day, but particularly during a drill designed to teach slant keys and concepts to the wide receivers. With each rep, Likens barked out orders: “Better toe stick. Eyes back. Look the ball in.” That last request was another theme of the day for Likens, who actually took his sunglasses off while yelling at a running back at one point so they didn't fall off of his face when he screamed, “Look the ball all the way in to your tuck.” He kept yelling it. But it didn't take the Jayhawks long to understand the importance of following those orders and carrying them out.
• KU coach David Beaty stepped in to play a little quarterback during a drill for the cornerbacks. Not surprisingly, Beaty had a little zip on his ball and even overthrew it a few times. Probably too jacked up. This concept of coaches jumping into drills is commonplace all over the field. Likens served as a defensive end and Klint Kubiak worked as a cornerback during an option drill. Calvin Thibodeaux and Kevin Kane jumped in and did up-downs with the defense after the offense got the better of a short-yardage drill in which the offensive line helped KU's running backs score four times out of seven against the D-Line in a heated competition at the mid-point of practice that featured the offensive players not participating crowding the 50 yard line and the defensive players not involved crowded the 45 yard line. It made for a hostile scene and tempers and emotions ran hot. As Beaty said the other day, there's a competition aspect in just about everything the Jayhawks do out there.
• I thought It was pretty cool how much the coaches emphasized communication. A lot of these players have been role players during the past few seasons and have not had to be vocal leaders. But the coaches are trying to change that. At one point, at almost the exact same time, I heard Likens yell from one field, “You're too quiet, guys,” while co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry yelled from the other field, “I didn't hear a thing,” to his cornerbacks. Again, soon that will be something the coaches don't have to remind these guys of. But, for now, they're not taking anything for granted.
• Speaking of Perry and yelling, during one drill, he jumped on his veteran cornerbacks for letting a walk-on who had been in the program for just three days jump to the front of the line ahead of them to start a drill. It's not that Perry didn't want the young guy to get the reps, he just wanted to see the veterans want to be the guys who led things off. They did the rest of the practice.
• Junior defensive end Anthony Olobia continues to look sharp and quick out there, but on Saturday he showed some toughness, too. After landing awkwardly following a rep in a D-Line drill, Olobia came up limping and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen immediately sent Damani Mosby in to take his spot. Rather than running off, however, Olobia waved Mosby back to the sideline, turned around to yell to Bowen that he was OK and stayed in and finished the drill. It's a small detail but a clear sign that these guys want to play for these coaches.
• Cornerback Ronnie Davis makes his share of mistakes, but he's got great feet. That might be one of the reasons the coaches ride him so much. With feet like his — which former cornerbacks coach Dave Campo always marveled at, as well — Davis is a guy who should be playing as long as he can execute his assignments, make plays and remain efficient.
• Speaking of cornerbacks, newcomer Brandon Stewart looks like he's got some solid skills but he's smaller than I expected. Listed at 6-foot, 171 pounds, Stewart might just look a little on the light side because he's being asked to replace veterans JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. There's still plenty of time for Stewart to get bigger and he already looks good in terms of physical play and coverage skills.
• The first-string offensive line looked the same — Larry Mazyck at right tackle, Junior Visinia at right guard, Jacob Bragg and center, Bryan Peters at left guard and Jordan Shelley-Smith at left tackle. Nothing new there. But the second string O-Line shaped up like this, right to left: Jayson Rhodes, D'Andre Banks, Keyon Haughton, Joe Bloomfield and Devon Williams. Still all kinds of time for movement up there — especially when you consider a couple guys (Joe Gibson and Will Smith) are coming back from injuries — but that's how things look right now.
• Former Jayhawk great Darrell Stuckey was on hand for Saturday's practice with his son. They hung in there for two-thirds of the practice and did equal amounts of watching, playing catch and dancing. Stuckey looks great. Several former Jayhawks from last year's team were out there again today, too.
Day 2 of KU Football's spring practices brought more of the same elements that we saw on Day 1 on Tuesday — lots of energy, impressive tempo and fiery coaches getting after guys in both good moments and bad.
By far, though, the most memorable aspect of the day came during one-on-one drills between receivers and defensive backs, when co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry, who was hanging out in the middle of the field where a referee normally be, intercepted a pass and began to return it up the field after the catch.
Perry initially bobbled the ball but hauled it in and then turned it up field without hesitation. It was a big moment for the former TCU assistant, who had been all over his DBs to “make a play.” After seeing him do it, they had very little excuse for not making similar plays happen themselves.
Later in the day, after practice moved over to the stadium for 7-on-7 and full team offensive drills, Ronnie Davis and Tevin Shaw each followed in Perry's footsteps by picking up an interception during live action.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye from Thursday's practice...
• Other than special teams drills and full team activities, Perry spent his time working with the cornerbacks and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, who has coached just about every position during his days with the Jayhawks, spent his time working with the safeties. This set up was what most people expected and I think it takes advantage of each guy's area of expertise. Both guys are fired up throughout practice and don't give their guys even a moment to breathe. The expectation is perfection and if a guy missteps or isn't doing something right, he's going to hear about it.
• One of the more enjoyable things to watch during the first couple of days has been wide receivers coach Klint Kubiak's hands-on approach to coaching. Kubiak, 27, is young enough to get out there and run with his guys and he's not afraid to show them how to stick a route, how to break press coverage or how to get off the line and down the field during punt coverage drills. Huge asset for the program. You can just tell that this guy is well on his way to being a hell of a coach and I'm definitely looking more to seeing more in the coming weeks, months and years.
• Speaking of guys who are on their way to becoming great coaches, I think D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux is another one. He's full of energy, doesn't take or make any excuses and gets his guys to flat-out work. One of his favorite tools to inspire that great work ethic seems to be sarcasm. I heard, on more than one occasion, Thibodeaux laughing to himself and telling his guys, “Don't be last in line now, son.”
• With several former Jayhawks still in town following pro day, getting ready for the upcoming NFL Draft and free agent opportunities, a few of them showed up to practice again on Thursday. Nick Harwell, Nigel King, Tony Pierson and Charles Brooks all watched at least an hour of practice and I thought it was funny (and made sense) how King and Harwell spent nearly all of their time watching the wide receivers, sort of like the old veterans watching to make sure the torch had been passed properly. There are a bunch of bodies out there at WR for Kansas, but it's still too early to see how talented the group is. Most of them are young dudes still learning the game. Having said that, senior Tre' Parmalee definitely has stood out so far as a guy who has been there and done that. Rodriguez Coleman appears to be the most naturally talented guy in the group. And a walk-on, red-shirt freshman Ryan Schadler, who came to KU after running track at Wichita State, also impressed me with his pure speed. The guy is lightning quick and runs every drill full speed. Still plenty to watch at that position in the coming weeks.
• I didn't really notice this too much because when they're running team offense and seven-on-seven, we're pretty far away, but it caught my ear when Beaty said after practice that the biggest area the Jayhawks improved from Day 1 to Day 2 was in committing fewer penalties, particularly the five-yard false start and offsides penalties. It's just one day, but you'd definitely rather see that kind of rapid improvement than watching it take a week or two to get fixed.
• Speaking of improvement, a guy who looked much better on Day 2 than Day 1 was tight end Kent Taylor. Taylor looked a step slow on Tuesday and dropped a few balls. On Thursday, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior looked to be moving much better and caught everything thrown his way. I think the guy has a chance to be a big-time weapon for this offense.
• Practice wrapped with a few different ball security drills. It was probably about 10-15 minutes and guys rotated through different stations that emphasized taking care of the football. Before spring drills began, Beaty said this would be a big emphasis for the team so it would be a safe bet to predict that every practice will end this way.
• The Jayhawks are off on Friday and will return to the practice fields for Practice No. 3 on Saturday morning. That practice will be the first in pads and, as you might expect, Beaty said he and the coaching staff were looking forward to seeing what some of these guys can do in full pads.
Tuesday marked the third time I've seen a new coaching staff kick off spring practices with the KU football program and the one thing that stood out above all else was that there was very little about Tuesday that looked a spring practice at all.
The coaches and players operated with urgency, energy and intensity and reacted to mistakes with much more fire than an aw-shucks, oh-well attitude.
A big part of that likely came from the fact that everything is up for grabs on this team. The coaches and players are in the process of learning about one another and proving things to each other and each guy wearing a helmet is competing for a job he likely truly believes he can win.
That reality can only help the Jayhawks in their latest rebuilding process but also serves as a reminder that there's a long way to go.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye from Day 1 of spring drills.
• Several former Jayhawks, many in town to go through Wednesday's pro timing day in from of NFL scouts, were on hand to watch the early portion of Tuesday's practice. The guys I saw included: Jake Heaps, JaCorey Shepherd, Keon Stowers, Nigel King, Nick Harwell, Trevor Pardula, Tedarian Johnson, Pat Lewandowski and one or two others. Pretty cool to see those guys show up to support their former teammates and the future of the program.
• KU coach David Beaty jumped right into the thick of all kinds of drills during Tuesday's practice and was all over the field. He seemed most fired up during the special teams drills — which he deems incredibly important — and even said after practice that it was tough for him to not be able to fully dive into the drills the way he could as a position coach.
• Beaty said not to read too much into which guys went out there with the first unit, but also said that those who were out there first were there for a reason. And I couldn't help but pay close attention to what things looked like at offensive line. The first group — at least for Tuesday — included: right tackle Larry Mazyck, right guard Junior Visinia, center Jacob Bragg, left guard Bryan Peters and left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith. Versatile center/guard Joe Gibson is currently recovering from an injury and could be another guy who factors into the mix along the O-Line before it's all said and done.
• Speaking of Jacob Bragg, the red-shirt freshman center looks pretty thick and put together. Several guys looked bigger than I remember (safety Fish Smithson was another who looked noticeably bigger), something that Beaty said was the product of the work strength coach Je'Ney Jackson and his staff had done with the physical make up of this team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I thought juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner looked thinner than I expected, but also blazing fast. Josh Ehambe (a monster) and Bazie Bates IV (a newcomer who's clearly ready to play) also caught my eye in terms of physical size.
• Several coaches really emphasized the pace and tempo of practice throughout the day with subtle but pointed instructions that included, “Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry,” (O-Line coach Zach Yenser), Don't walk, don't walk,” (Yenser) and “I like that tempo,” (Special teams coach Gary Hyman). They weren't the only ones to talk about tempo, but they were two of the loudest.
• Speaking of the coaches, I thought it was interesting that Hyman, Yenser and offensive coordinator Rob Likens all wore head sets during one particular offensive drill. Looking forward to finding out the reason behind that when we talk to one of them.
• Cornerbacks coach/co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry is fiery. I mean, real fiery. And it's pretty awesome to watch. He's not simply content with these guys trying hard. He expects them to pay attention, retain instruction and then execute what's asked. And if they don't, he rips into them. On one particular play, Perry got after cornerback Ronnie Davis after Davis jumped to break up a pass and let the ball hit the turf instead of intercepting it. “Make a play,” Perry screamed. “That's gotta be picked.” The emphasis on turnovers was in line with what Beaty said Monday would be an important part of the spring.
• There's definitely no hurry on the part of the coaching staff to identify the starting quarterback. Michael Cummings was the first guy to go out there during most offensive drills, followed by Montell Cozart (who looked pretty good with the deep ball) and T.J. Millweard (whose intelligence Beaty marveled at). Those three, along with a few others and the newcomers who arrive in June, will all get a fair shot at winning the job, but I thought it was particularly cool to see how much Cummings and Cozart communicated during Tuesday's practice. Remember, these guys are (a) friends and teammates and (b) trying to learn a new offense at the same time. Good for them for using every resource available to them.
• KU will be off on Wednesday and get back after it on Thursday for practice No. 2 of the 15-practice spring. We'll be there and will bring you plenty more reaction, analysis and information nuggets.
Today marks the opening day of the first spring football season under new KU football coach David Beaty.
And although there's still more than five months ahead for this program to get ready for the 2015 season, a good chunk of the work will begin starting today as the new KU coaches and players begin installing fresh offensive and defensive schemes and putting in the basis of what the program under Beaty will be all about.
There's plenty of time ahead to learn, examine and analyze all of that, but, for now, let's take a quick look at a dozen players I'm most looking forward to seeing this spring.
A lot of them are newcomers — big surprise – but a few of them are names you know and I'm just as eager to see what those guys have done to position themselves for more playing time or bigger roles.
Although spring football does not officially begin until the first practice at 4:20 p.m. today, this we know already — don't expect much in the way of a depth chart at the start of the spring and maybe not even by the end of it.
The coaching staff is not interested in tossing out names of guys they know little about or ramping up expectations for specific players. They're more interested in waiting to see which players develop, which players best fit the new offense and defense and which guys separate themselves by outworking others on a daily basis.
Just because several players did not make this list does not mean I'm not fired up to see what they look like. There are plenty of guys, both proven and unproven, who should be fun to keep an eye on this spring. This group though is likely to be the 12 guys my eyes wander to first when we're out there at practice later today.
Enough build up. Here's the list.
1. Safety Bazie Bates IV — The guy with one of the coolest names on the team is going to play. It's just a matter of how much and where. Athletic dude with good size and speed should stand out quickly as Jayhawks attempt to revamp a secondary that lost four starters from last season.
2. Cornerback Brandon Stewart — One of the most highly sought after players in the incoming class, Stewart has a golden opportunity to step into the starting cornerback vacancy left by the departure of JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. The question is how long will it take him to prove himself?
3. Wide Receiver Chase Harrell — I truly cannot wait to see this kid. Good-sized receiver who's supposed to have good hands and ball skills, Harrell, who graduated high school early so he could go through spring ball, has a chance to emerge as an immediate contributor at an unproven position.
4. Defensive Lineman D.J. Williams — Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen mentioned Williams' name late in the 2014 season as one of the guys who red-shirted who he was looking forward to having on the field in 2015. That's good enough for me. KU lost a lot up front on defense so Williams' development will be crucial.
5. Quarterback Montell Cozart — Michael Cummings may very well start out as the favorite to win the quarterback job and incoming freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis might have something to say about the battle when they arrive in the summer. But there's just something that still intrigues me about Cozart. We already know he's got the athleticism and a little bit of experience. The reason I'm looking forward to seeing him is because I want to see if he took the necessary steps toward becoming a true QB and not just an athlete trying to play the position. How Cozart fits into this new offense ranks as one of the most intriguing questions surrounding this team.
6. Offensive Lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith — The last time I saw Shelley-Smith he was well on his way to transforming from a tight end to an offensive linemen. I'm guessing that transformation has reached the point where he'll almost be unrecognizable, which would be a good thing for Kansas because the Jayhawks likely will need the athletic yet equally physical Shelley-Smith to be ready to play right — maybe even left — tackle this fall.
7. Running Back Taylor Cox — This one's more of a sentimental pick. The guy has been through two seasons worth of injuries but is still out there grinding away hoping for one last chance to help his team. That's a cool story in itself, but add to that the fact that Cox is a fantastic young man and you're looking at a guy you can't help but pull for.
8. Tight End Kent Taylor — Freak athlete who could go a long way toward helping fill the void left by the departure of nearly all of KU's impact pass catchers from 2014. Gone are Nigel King, Nick Harwell, Jimmay Mundine and Tony Pierson. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior who transferred to KU from Florida and sat out the 2014 season could be an option to fill in at whichever one of those positions needs him the most.
9. Offensive Lineman De'Andre Banks — I've heard nothing but good things about this guy's power, size and versatility. Who knows if he'll be ready to play right away or not, but if he is, O-Line coach Zach Yenser and offensive coordinator Rob Likens surely will view the fact that he can play multiple positions as a huge luxury and a big break.
10. Defensive End Anthony Olobia — Former junior college stud came in with some serious hype last season but arrived late and then got injured. Did the year off provide even more motivation for the No. 2 ranked juco player at his position in the Class of 2014?
11. Offensive Lineman Jacob Bragg — Another guy who Bowen mentioned as a potential breakout player who red-shirted in 2014, the highly-touted center, if he's ready, could provide a huge lift in helping KU's offensive line take shape sooner rather than later.
12. Defensive End Damani Mosby — Like Olobia, Mosby was one of those guys the Jayhawks expected to bolster their pass rush in 2014. However, his late arrival from junior college forced him to red-shirt. With the Jayhawks seeking to replace the terrific season turned in by departed senior Michael Reynolds in 2014, Mosby figures to get a crack at a big role provided he has put in the work during the past seven months.
If you really think about it, Sunday's 78-65 loss to Wichita State was probably about as fitting of an end for this Kansas team as anything.
The problems that plagued the Jayhawks all year were the same ones that showed up against the Shockers — no mental edge, a lack of a leader, struggles scoring on offense and stopping the drive on defense.
I picked Kansas to win because the Jayhawks looked so sharp on Friday — and also because Wichita State labored a little to beat Indiana — but, if you've been following along here all year, the unceremonious ending to an up-and-down season was probably one you saw coming.
Wichita State's veterans outplayed the Jayhawks in just about every way and even the KU players said after the game in the locker room that they thought the Shockers wanted it more. That's a tough pill for any team to swallow and was the most obvious reason why the Jayhawks' season ended in the Round of 32 for the second year in a row.
As you've heard KU coach Bill Self say time and time again, the Jayhawks had a good season but fell short of making it a season to remember by falling flat in the NCAA Tournament. Since making that memorable run to the 2012 NCAA title game, the Jayhawks are just 4-3 in the past three NCAA Tournaments and have had more rough moments in those seven games than positive ones. Everyone knows that the tournament is a crap shoot and can be cruel to even the most talented and accomplished teams, but the Jayhawks lack of experience, leadership and a couple of badly time breaks — Perry Ellis' injury, Cliff Alexander's ineligibility, etc. — proved to be too much for that kind of roster to overcome and KU, though able to recall fond memories of Big 12 title No. 11 in a row, begins its inevitable countdown to Late Night in October.
1 – You can't help but love the way Devonte' Graham finished his initial season at Kansas. Like Conner Frankamp a season ago, Graham played two of his better games of the season in the NCAA Tournament and was the Jayhawks' best player on Sunday. He was one of the few guys who showed a sense of urgency and competitiveness and his stats matched. He finished with 17 points, 5 steals, 3 assists and 1 turnover.
2 – For the first 15 minutes of the game, the Jayhawks had the Shockers right where they wanted them. KU was clicking on offense, controlled the glass on the defensive end and did what this team had become known to do — made the opponent play bad. But KU's offense began to struggle and KU's chance to take control disappeared.
3 – Give Perry Ellis credit for playing through both the knee injury that gave him trouble the past few weeks and a nasty shot to the face midway through the first half that drew blood and briefly sent Ellis to the locker room. Ellis wasn't his normal spectacular self and former teammate Evan Wessel canceled out most of Ellis' advantage in the match-up with a fantastic game, but no one can question Ellis' toughness after a game like that. Even on a day when he didn't look his best, the KU junior led the team in scoring and added eight boards and 10 trips to the free throw line.
1 – Like Andrew Wiggins against Stanford a season ago, KU sophomore Wayne Selden did next to nothing on the stat sheet in the final game of the season. No points. One rebound. One foul. Two turnovers. And one steal in 23 minutes. Tough way to end a tough season. It's going to be very interesting to see where Selden takes his game from here.
2 – Wichita State's 13-2 run to close the first half was clearly not the way KU had hoped to end the half, but it only put the Jayhawks behind by three points. Several Jayhawks said in the locker room after the game that they still believed they would win and were fine during the break. That certainly appeared to be the case when Frank Mason opened the second half with an easy layup that cut the WSU lead to one. From there, however, KU folded and folded quickly. As soon as the Shockers hit KU back and built a four, six and seven point lead, KU looked shell-shocked and never really got back into it. The same team that looked — and played — loose in an impressive opening-round victory all of a sudden tightened up again and that led to another early exit.
3 – I still don't understand why Hunter Mickelson didn't get more of a shot. Every time he played during the past couple of weeks, he delivered positive things. He's not a 20-plus minutes a game guy and he's not going to single-handedly win KU a game, but in a contest when the Shockers scored 49 second-half points and had no problem getting to the rim during that stint, it would've been interesting to see what Mickelson, an accomplished shot blocker, could have done to impact the game. That's especially true given KU's foul trouble.
KU's season-ending loss to Wichita State:
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 27-9.
• Made Kansas 21-10 in second games played in the NCAA Tournament, including an 7-3 record in the round of 32 for head coach Bill Self.
• Snapped the Jayhawks’ win streak against the Shockers at five games, narrowing the advantage in the all-time series with Wichita State to 12-3.
• Made Kansas 97-43 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• Marked KU’s first NCAA Tournament loss in Omaha. Including games played in the 2008 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments, KU is now 5-1 in the city.
• Made Self 352-78 while at Kansas, 37-16 in the NCAA Tournament and 559-183 overall.
• Made KU 2,153-829 all-time.
For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks bow out of the tournament without advancing past the first weekend. KU finishes the season 27-9 and, as is the case just about every year no matter when the season ends, will head into the offseason wondering who will leave, who will be back and how Bill Self will reload.
It's been a while since I remember seeing the Kansas University basketball team play such a care-free first-round NCAA Tournament game.
Typically, in recent years, the Jayhawks have been a little tight and struggled to get going during the early rounds. But that was not the case during Friday's 75-56 victory over New Mexico State.
Following up a day in which upsets and lower seeds rocked the tournament, Kansas jumped out and set the tone early with some hot shooting and high energy and never gave New Mexico State a chance.
The Aggies' had enough elements and pieces to give KU trouble in some areas, but Frank Mason stepped up and led the way offensively and the rest of the team followed to move KU into the next round with relative ease.
Bottom line, that's as complete of a game as I remember this team playing in weeks. KU played with great energy and toughness, shared the ball, scored inside and out and played fantastic defense, particularly inside against New Mexico State's big front line. The whole thing seemed to be the result of a team that showed up loose and confident, ready to have fun. If the Jayhawks can keep that attitude from here on out, there's no telling how far they could advance.
1 – KU's outside shooting returned with a vengeance. The Jayhawks' 9 of 13 shooting from three-point range marked the highest three-point percentage by a KU team since the 1996-97 team made 5 of 7 (71.3 percent) in a victory over Virginia in Maui. Five different Jayhawks made three-pointers in the win over NMSU, and four of those five made two triples. One of the most important people in that equation was Brannen Greene, who misfired on his first two attempts of the day and then drained a couple in the second half.
2 – Kansas continued to play aggressive offensively, with Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Frank Mason and even Jamari Traylor and Devonte' Graham attacking the paint with the dribble more often than not. That only led to 15 free throw attempts on Friday, but it opened up some other things in KU's offense, set the tone for the entire game and has to be the mentality Kansas has the rest of the way.
3 – KU's post defense was sensational. Every time the Aggies dumped it into to their big guys, the Jayhawks trapped the post with two big guys and that really forced NMSU out of its offense. NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said after the game that even though the Jayhawks aren't necessarily the tallest dudes, their length and active nature made it seem like the NMSU post players were being trapped by “two seven footers.”
1 – Perry Ellis was pretty quiet overall and only played 23 minutes. He looked fine at times and showed that nothing bad has happened to his jump shot. But his touch in close along with his ability to explode off the floor still seems a bit off. KU led by double digits for the entire second half, so maybe this was just a good time to rest Ellis a little in anticipation of Sunday's showdown. Ellis finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers and 1 steal, block and assist.
2 – New Mexico State's press and harassing D certainly had something to do with it, but the 14 turnovers for Kansas was a little higher than anyone in crimson and blue would like to see, particularly when you consider that nine of those 14 came from the guys who handle the ball the most.
3 – It's a pretty minor point and wasn't really a big deal, but a couple of guys picked up fouls a little too easily. Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis finished with four fouls apiece and KU will not be able to afford to have either guy hack too much against Wichita State on Sunday.
The Jayhawks' solid, opening-round victory over New Mexico State:
• Made Kansas 27-8 on the season, giving KU 27 victories for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
• Marked KU's ninth-straight NCAA Tournament first-game victory.
• Kept Kansas unbeaten against New Mexico State in three tries.
• Improved Kansas to 97-42 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• Kept Kansas perfect in Omaha. Including Friday's win and appearances in Omaha during the 2008 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments, KU is now 5-0 in Omaha.
• Pushed Self to 352-77 while at Kansas, 37-15 in the NCAA Tournament and 559-182 overall.
• Made KU 2,153-830 all-time.
The win advanced the Jayhawks to Sunday's Round of 32, where they'll meet No. 7 seed Wichita State at 4:15 p.m. It's a game that everyone has been wanting to see for years now and one that will be as hyped up as any game the Jayhawks have played this season.
We'll never know how Bill Self reacted behind closed doors but here's guessing he took Saturday's 70-66 Big 12 title game loss to Iowa State pretty hard.
Not just because KU lost and not even because it lost a game it probably should've won. But because for a half Self looked as proud of and pleased with this team as I'd seen him at any point all year — and we're talking by far — and then, poof!, just like that old KU nemesis, Mr. Inconsistency, reared his ugly head again and did the Jayhawks in.
Self has said that winning the Big 12 tournament is not the greatest feeling in the world and that losing it is not the biggest heartbreaker because Selection Sunday trumps everything the very next day.
But it sure looked like he was thrilled about the toughness and fight and signs of life his team showed in that sensational first half against a very good Iowa State team, and watching that disappear completely in the second-half collapse had to sting a little more than he might have let on.
If you've seen it once, you've seen it a thousand times with this team, so the extremes the Jayhawks delivered on Saturday evening at Sprint Center probably were not all that surprising to most. Sure, they won't last long in the NCAA Tournament if they can't fix that. And, yeah, they're probably a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight team at best if such issues continue to plague them. But those issues have plagued them all season and been a big part of the reason this has been such a wild and unpredictable season from a team that has struggled to find consistency and its identity. This is new territory for Self and the Jayhawks. Usually by now they've long known what kind of team they are and what they're going to get on most nights. Not with this group. It looks as if this team's best chance is to make the other team play ugly, and these guys are pretty good at that. How far that can take you in the Big Dance is anyone's guess, but I'm guessing we're going to find out.
1 – That's two games in a row where things appeared to click for Wayne Selden and that's great news for Kansas. Even though it wasn't always pretty, Selden was terrific in the way he attacked during the Big 12 tournament and inspired others to follow his lead. The guy can be a match-up problem for opponents if he's locked in, and his ability to get to the rim and/or the free throw line could provide a huge lift for this team and an offense that at times looks incredibly passive and stagnant. Selden earned his spot on the all-tournament team in Kansas City. Now the challenge is to keep him playing this way while getting Perry Ellis, Kelly Oubre and Frank Mason going with him.
2 – Give KU credit for getting back into it and tying the game at 63 with about minute left after yet another insane Iowa State run brought the Cyclones all the way back from 17 down and put them up a few possessions in the blink of an eye. KU could've folded there very easily but didn't.
3 – Devote' Graham and Frank Mason are playing pretty well together right now. Both dished four assists vs. one turnover and both made some big shots for the Jayhawks en route to building that 17-point lead. KU is going to need both guys to continue to look to score but not at the risk of failing to get others involved. Having the both be able to run the point and attack with their own offense helps keep things balanced. It's a nice one-two punch for KU to have and those guys could be critical to KU's success in the next couple of weeks.
1 – I'm not sure if the psyche of this team is built for March. They're fantastic when things are going well. They play with good energy, play together and play hard. But as soon as things stop going well, they change their look completely. You can see it in their eyes and on their faces. I'm not saying it's easy to play through rough patches, but some teams flourish in those moments. This is not one of them. This group has been in and won a ton of close games and flashed some incredible comebacks — at Allen Fieldhouse, mind you — but it looks to me like a group that will need to start hot and fast in every game from here on out or risk going home no matter what round we're talking.
2 – Injuries. Nobody's “fresh” at this time of the season, but not everybody's as beat up as Kansas either. Self said he anticipated having everyone healthy and ready to go by Friday, when the Jayhawks are likely to open NCAA Tournament play in Omaha, but as much as a few days off will help, I'm not sure that's nearly enough time to get everybody back to full health. Perry Ellis is going to be playing through pain the rest of the way. It looks like the toll of unexpected heavy minutes has worn down Landen Lucas and limited his effectiveness and Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are both less than 100 percent. All the more reason for Self to at least consider giving a few more minutes here and there to guys like Hunter Mickelson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who actually are fresh. Both played well as recently as this weekend and giving them 10-12 minutes a game to limit the wear and tear on KU's ailing rotation guys might help.
3 – KU got beat on the boards — only by three (37-34) — and gave up two offensive rebounds at the most crucial time, with the game tied at 63 and after two Iowa State misses. It wasn't just that the Cyclones beat them to the glass in those instances as much as it was that they did it easily. Part of that was KU being beat up or short-handed, but those are just excuses. This team needs all five guys on the floor to box out and crash the glass in order to make up for some of its shortcomings in that area, and on Saturday, on perhaps the game's most critical possession, they came up short twice.
KU's fall-from-in-front loss in the Big 12 title game:
• Handed the Jayhawks just their second loss in the Big 12 title game, and its first since 2002, when they lost the tournament to Oklahoma.
• Made Kansas 26-8 on the season and 11-8 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 6-2 on neutral floors).
• Dropped the Jayhawks’ record to 13-6 in conference tournament championship games. Overall, KU’s record is now 68-26 in conference tournament play and 38-10 in the Big 12's postseason event.
• Dropped Kansas’ record in Sprint Center to 27-6 all-time and 3-1 this season.
• Moved Self to 351-77 while at Kansas, 33-11 in conference tournament action (24-6 while at KU in the Big 12 Championship) and 558-182 overall.
• Made KU 2,152-830 all-time.
It's tournament time and Kansas will learn its fate just after 5 p.m. tonight when the CBS Selection Show unveils the bracket. KU will almost assuredly head to Omaha for its first two games, but whether those will be played as a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed, as well as which region the Jayhawks are in, remains to be seen.
At this point, there's more than a fair chance that KU will wind up in the same region as Kentucky. That's incredibly likely if they're a 2 seed. And while that will undoubtedly upset hundreds, if not thousands, of KU fans from coast to coast, there's one important thing to remember about being paired up with UK that might help — in order for that to matter, this team has to get to the Elite Eight first, and, although that's certainly possible, it's far from a lock, maybe not even likely.
It all will depend on match-ups and which Kansas team shows up. The Jayhawks should — SHOULD — win their first two games and reach the Sweet 16. Anything short of that would have to be viewed as a failure. Anything beyond that, though, might actually be this team overachieving. Should be fun to follow it and find out what happens.
Be sure to check back with KUsports.com this evening for all kinds of reaction and insight into KU's draw.
Three games in three days... That's what the Jayhawks will have played following Saturday's Big 12 championship game against Iowa State, a destination they reached with a 62-52 victory over fourth-seeded Baylor in Friday's semifinals.
There was some talk among fans about whether KU, which is banged up at a lot of different positions, would be better off to lose early in the Big 12 tourney so it could get some rest ahead of next week's NCAA Tournament run.
But I think this is the better outcome. KU's confidence has risen and Perry Ellis has returned and now knows what he can do with that knee brace. Both are great news for the Jayhawks, who more than any KU team in recent memory, need to have a lot of things lined up just right to play their best basketball.
It's very clear that this team understands the importance of defense. They're offensively challenged in a couple of ways and, unless they catch lightning in a bottle or enjoy a ridiculously hot shooting night (which could come) this group of guys really seems to have figured out the recipe they need to stir together to win games. It includes great effort and energy, a lot of toughness and some grind-it-out plays on both ends. It also includes mistakes, which are going to come, but if you think about it these guys actually do a pretty decent job of playing through those and moving on to the next play.
1 – KU's defensive intensity and overall effort was fantastic from start to finish and the Jayhawks clearly answered the challenge laid out by Bill Self one night earlier. Now that Kansas is in the Big 12 title game and will be playing for its life in every game that follows it, it will be very interesting to see if this squad finally brings that energy to the table without being called out to do so. Perry Ellis' return certainly had something to do with lifting the entire team's intensity.
2 – KU's defensive game plan was so solid and so simple. It basically involved throwing bodies at players and doubling the post in an attempt to make Baylor over-think, over-pass and panic. I don't know if Baylor ever panicked, but they definitely were affected by KU's active defense and it showed up in the form of missed shots all over the place. Baylor made just 4 of 22 three-pointers, but also missed from point-blank range and did not convert very many of the 14 offensive rebounds it got. The fact that Kansas out-rebounded Baylor without Cliff Alexandder and with Perry Ellis at less than 100 percent shows you what kind of team effort Friday's victory was.
3 – Hunter Mickelson continues to impress. He only played six minutes and was probably too overmatched physically to be out there for much longer than that, but you couldn't exactly tell that by watching him. All he did was score a bucket on a nifty reverse layup, block two shots — including Baylor big man Rico Gathers in a one-on-one situation — and snag two steals. He's playing in the NCAA Tournament. How much depends on how the other guys play.
1 – Too many turnovers. And it was not really the number that was troubling, (though 18 is crazy high) it was the way many of them came. Too many times KU just coughed it up right to a Baylor defender or got too sped up and lost control. That can kill seasons from this point on. Luckily for Kansas, the Bears were equally as careless with the ball on Friday, and a good chunk of that had to do with the KU defense.
2 – KU's Wayne Selden was great in this one, especially in terms of just finding ways to put points on the board, but he was just 6-of-12 from the free throw line and the Jayhawks, as a whole, missed 10 free throws. The off night from the line never created grave danger, but Kansas would not have even had to sweat this one out at all had they just made five or six more from the line.
3 – Kelly Oubre and Perry Ellis knocked in the first two three-pointers Kansas attempted on Friday night but the Jayhawks finished just 1 for their next 10 and went home with a 3-of-12 shooting night from three-point range. Not awful. And you can bet these guys felt good about seeing a couple of them finally fall. But the problem is not fully fixed and probably won't be until Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene find their strokes again.
KU's semifinal victory over Baylor on Friday night:
• Made Kansas 26-7 on the season, giving the Jayhawks 26 wins for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
• Improved KU to 11-7 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Jumped the Jayhawks’ record in the Big 12 Championship to 19-16 in conference tournament semifinal games (11-6 in the Big 12 era).
• Moved Kansas into the conference tourney finals for the 11th time in Big 12 history and 19th time overall.
• Pushed KU’s record in 68-25 in conference tournament play and 38-9 in the Big 12 Championship.
• Improved Kansas’ record in Sprint Center to 27-5 all-time and 3-0 this season.
• Moved Self to 351-76 while at Kansas, 33-10 in conference tournament action (24-5 while at KU in the Big 12 tournament) and 558-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,152-829 all-time.
KU will play in tonight's Big 12 title game against No. 2 seed Iowa State at 5 p.m. KU and ISU split the regular season and got both games out of the way by mid-January.