It's crazy to think that the next piece of significant news we get about Kansas University freshman Joel Embiid could come with him sitting at a table in the Allen Fieldhouse media room, a microphone in front of face and his decision about the NBA on the tip of his tongue.
That reality became true in a very harsh manner on Monday evening, when KU coach Bill Self revealed the results of Embiid's second-opinion visit with back specialists in California, news that indicated Embiid was out for the Big 12 tournament and likely would miss the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.
The 23-8 Jayhawks are not the same team without Embiid on the floor. Opponents aren't as intimidated to drive to the rim. Points in the paint aren't as easy to come by. Heck, even as corny as they may have looked at times, the Jayhawks even miss the moments when Embiid liked to fire his long-fingered guns after a particularly big or even strong bucket.
So, yeah, there's reason to worry about KU's postseason chances without their most valuable player because the Jayhawks are not the same team without him. That might even be putting it mildly. They're a different team altogether.
But they are still talented. Very. And they are still deep. Luxuriously. And they do still have Self. Confidently. So they do still have a chance.
Playing, no advancing, without Embiid is not a simple equation. It's not as easy as saying Tarik Black has to step in and perform well in Embiid's absence because in basketball terms, mathematical equations or any other form of measurement Black does not equal Embiid. But Kansas can.
Andrew Wiggins can — and should — play more like he did against West Virginia last Saturday. He doesn't have to score 41 points each night out as long as he's that aggressive and competitive and dominant. If he is, whatever offense Black and Jamari Traylor can give in Embiid's spot will be gravy.
Defensively, the Jayhawks could tinker with a zone defense or even press more. That seems to fuel Wiggins and likely would ensure that he plays with fire. It also would limit the number of times KU would have to sit down and guard in the half court, something that has been several levels below the Kansas standard throughout the season.
There's no way to sugar coat the loss of Embiid. It's a blow. A big one. And it turns Kansas from a team that would likely be one of the favorites to win it all into just another in a big pile of worthy contenders that have to play extremely well to make it to Dallas.
Good offense won't be enough anymore. Improved defense won't either. The Jayhawks have to be impressive on both ends without Embiid if they hope to see him suit up, well and rested, for what could be a couple of pretty important games down the stretch.
The talent is there, though. And it's the will of his teammates that will determine whether Embiid's stay-or-go press conference will be the next time we hear from him or if there are still a few finger pistols to fire before the season ends.
The Kansas University basketball team's latest game — a 92-86 loss at West Virginia on Saturday — seems to be a classic example of one that can be looked at completely differently by two very different groups of people.
The pessimists will say that the Jayhawks were awful, embarrassing and deserved to lose because they lacked energy, fire, passion and intelligence.
The optimists will say that the way the Jayhawks closed the game — particularly Andrew Wiggins — is what matters most because the team showed heart and nearly battled all the way back from 25 points down while playing without their best big man.
They're right, too.
So what do you do when you've got two groups of people standing in opposite corners who are both right while saying the opposite thing? Throw the game out and move on to the ones that really matter?
Sounds like as good a plan as any.
It was obvious where the Jayhawks came up short in this one and, frankly, if those same issues continue to plague them, this March probably won't be very memorable.
As ugly as Saturday's loss was at times, the whole experience has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Jayhawks were missing one of their top players (Joel Embiid) and were facing a desperate team that needed a signature victory to have even a prayer of making the tournament. Throw in the fact that it was the regular season finale on the road and Senior Night at WVU, and you're looking at a pretty basic recipe for an upset. That said, it has to be considered frustrating — if not something more severe — that, even with those things stacked against them, the Jayhawks did not come out with a more inspired effort until things got really bleak. KU's pride and heart showed up when it counted and the Jayhawks salvaged a day that, for a while, looked destined to become a total embarrassment and may actually be able to take something positive out of the way they closed the game. The loss likely ended KU's hopes of landing a 1 seed, but they should still be in good shape for a 2, which might wind up being the better road anyway. If Embiid can return and Wiggins can play with the kind of drive and aggression he showed against the Mountaineers, KU is very much still alive.
1 – I'm sure the votes were already in, given the fact that the winner of the Big 12's player of the year award will be announced a little later today, but those who voted for someone other than Andrew Wiggins probably were wishing they could have their vote back while watching this one. Wiggins was the only KU player who showed up from start to finish and his 41 points, 12 field goals, 15 free throws, 5 steals and 4 blocks all were career-highs. When he's locked in the way he was on Saturday, there's very little that anyone else can do about it. Had he gotten even just one other guy to give KU the same kind of effort from start to finish, the Jayhawks probably would've survived even while playing poorly. Embiid may be KU's most valuable player, but Wiggins is the team's best and he showed Saturday that he can be a guy who can almost single-handedly win a game for you. That's a good thing.
2 – Although Wiggins was the only one who showed up all day, there were a few other guys who deserve some credit for that late second-half comeback that nearly stole KU the victory. Frank Mason picked it up on the defensive end and hit a couple of big shots. Landon Lucas and Jamari Traylor had a couple of good moments, as well. And KU's overall team athleticism really created some havoc in scramble-mode. It might have been enough to make KU coach Bill Self think about employing some more of that into the game plan even when KU's not playing from way behind and desperate to avoid embarrassment.
3 – These are the types of games KU will face in the tournament. Good guards, no pressure on the underdog and a nothing-to-lose mentality can make life tough for any favorite. Given the fact that the Jayhawks are so young and many of these guys are going through that type of thing for the first time, getting a taste of it early might not have been the worst thing in the world. Now they know what it looks like, feels like, sounds like and tastes like. And, most importantly, now they know what can happen if they don't bring it from the jump. You can bet Self will use this as a big-time teaching tool and, as frustrated as I'm sure he was throughout Saturday's game, he'll swallow hard and find a way to use it without shredding his guys' confidence.
1 – What could have been a real confidence builder for KU's point guards became an absolute disaster. Naadir Tharpe played poorly and looked overmatched and intimidated and Frank Mason looked sloppy and careless until he final figured out a way to make a positive impact by tightening up his defense during that second-half surge. On a day and in a situation in which KU's leader should have played 30-plus minutes himself, Tharpe played just 16 scoreless minutes and watched Mason and Conner Frankamp take their turns while combining for 33 minutes. Frankamp, though off offensively, played his 15 minutes because he showed he was at least willing to try to defend. And Mason's athleticism and toughness earned his minutes. By now, everyone knows that Tharpe is such a critical part of this team. The good news for KU fans about his line — if you can believe there is one — is that Tharpe's a mentally tough dude, who will not let this define him. Only way he can prove that, though, is by bouncing back with a better effort on Thursday.
2 – KU's offense was bad throughout most of the game, but the Jayhawks defense was equally as poor when the game got away. That was especially true in the first half, when KU played passive defense, with little energy and gave up open jump shots, which WVU just kept knocking down (West Virginia shot 56 percent (9-of-16) from three-point land). When the Mountaineers didn't settle for jumpers, KU's big men gave up ground and allowed things to be way too easy inside for the West Virginia bigs. That's to say nothing of WVU's crazy first-half field goal percentage (63 percent & 53 percent for the game) or the fact that KU — guards and bigs — could not keep anyone in front of them on the perimeter all day.
3 – Body language was a big problem for the Jayhawks on Saturday. I know what you're thinking — how could it not have been? And that's a valid point. But it was about more than just shrugged shoulders or long faces. These guys actually looked uncomfortable in their own skin and nearly every one of them was affected by it. At times, particularly after missed free throws or easy attempts inside, it looked as if the player who misfired wanted to unleash the “gee, that's not fair,” phrase. I'm sure that's just part of their competitiveness and they were disgusted by the way they were playing, but there are plenty of competitors out there who respond to that by playing harder, not pouting. KU eventually got there, but it was too little too late.
KU's regular-season ending loss to the Mountaineers:
• Dropped KU to 23-8 on the season and 14-4 in Big 12 play.
• Gave West Virginia (1-3) and head coach Bob Huggins (1-7) their first wins against Kansas.
• Moved the Kansas-West Virginia series to 3-1 in favor of Kansas.
• Changed head coach Bill Self’s record to 3-1 all-time against West Virginia, 323-67 while at Kansas and 530-172 overall.
• Moved Kansas to 2,124-820 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,133 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,113), Duke (2,025) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks will get some much-needed time off to watch film, regroup and get ready for the win-or-go-home portion of their schedule. Kansas will open play in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., at 2 p.m. Thursday, when they face the winner of the Wednesday match-up between the No. 8 (Oklahoma State) and No. 9 seeds (Texas Tech).
No open practices this spring for the Kansas football program, so the "What caught my eye" blogs of the past are going to have to be replaced by these "What caught my ear" blogs until we can see these guys play for ourselves.
I should be able to bring plenty of information to the table, I just won't be able to get much of a feel for the physical abilities and make-up of the players and the team dynamic. No sweat, though. It's still just spring.
With that said, four members of KU coach Charlie Weis' staff were made available to the media today and each made it incredibly clear that they're ready to go.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, Offensive coordinator John Reagan, Defensive backs coach Dave Campo and Wide Receivers coach Eric Kiesau spent about 30 minutes chatting with various media members about the outlook for this spring.
I spent most of my time with Kiesau, who impressed me a great deal. I like his attitude, I like his philosophies and I like that he seems fired up to be here. I'll have a story on him in tomorrow's paper (and online) so be sure to check that out.
With that in mind, here are a few other tidbits from the day that caught my ear...
• Campo said it's great to go into a spring knowing your personnel and having seen what they can do…. Said they feel good about KU's secondary because so many guys who played well last year are returning this year.
• Bowen said he and the staff have a much better grasp on who the leaders of the D will be this spring vs. last spring. Mentioned specifically Ben Heeney, Ben Goodman, Cassisus Sendish and Isaiah Johnson. And there's no doubt that Keon Stowers is a part of that group, as well.
• Bowen also said having a year of the defensive system that KU runs under their belts & in place gives players & coaches a lot of confidence and allows them to start the spring way ahead of where they started last season with installation and things basic philosophies.
• Kiesau said the process of getting hired by KU was a whirlwind and came, pretty much, in one day. He visited campus right before a family vacation to Hawaii and liked what he saw. Also admired Weis and Reagan and wanted to work with them.
• Kiesau said has 3 key things he likes in WRs: 1. Natural hands. 2. Precise route runner. 3. Able to release at the line. There's a lot more that goes into coaching the position than that, of course, but those are the things he looks for first.
• Even though everyone and everything here is new to him, Kiesau said he was going to set the bar very high & push and inspire the KU WRs to catch up to that standard. Sounds like a sound approach and won't allow for much wasted time.
Here's a quick video that Benton Smith of Smithology and Hawks in the NBA fame threw together from today's availability...
A home game against an overmatched Texas Tech team proved to be just the tonic the Kansas University men's basketball team needed to get over its tough loss at Oklahoma State last weekend.
Behind a monster night from Tarik Black and the good vibes that always come with Senior Night in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks rolled the Red Raiders, 82-57, in a game that was never close after the 8-minute mark of the first half.
The victory gave Kansas an chance to celebrate its 10th straight regular season conference title with its home fans — a scene that included T-shirts, hats and all 10 Big 12 trophies being brought onto the floor after the game — and provided the perfect backdrop for the feel-good sendoff for seniors Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley, as well as freshman Andrew Wiggins and possibly freshmen Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden.
Embiid did not play because of a back injury, a move that appears to be in the Jayhawks' best interest, but his absence opened the door for Black to step up and assert himself as yet another KU offensive weapon.
If Embiid sitting out sparks a strong finish for Black, it could make a huge difference for the Jayhawks and their national title aspirations and the injury to the 7-foot center could go down as a blessing in disguise.
In a span of just 15 days, against the very same Texas Tech team, the Jayhawks showed the two sides of themselves that have fans and analysts alike scratching their heads over what this team's potential really is. The first, which came in a 64-63 victory at Tech on Feb. 18, had KU fans concerned about consistency, mental toughness and point guard play. The second, which came Wednesday without Embiid, made those same folks believe that this team has as good a shot as any to make a deep run and possibly win it all. The mere fact that things could be so different against the same team just two weeks later speaks to that consistency question, but one of the biggest differences in the two games was the play of junior point guard Naadir Tharpe, who had 6 points, 2 assists and 4 turnovers on 1-of-7 shooting in Lubbock and 16 points, 5 assists and 0 turnovers on 4-of-7 shooting (3-for-6 from three-point land). Like it or not, it's becoming abundantly clear that this team will go as far as Tharpe will lead them when the postseason arrives.
1 – Speaking of Naadir Tharpe, the junior guard did two things in this one that made me believe he's ready to lead this team on a postseason run. The first was knock down his three-point shot. After struggling of late and misfiring on a couple of his first tries in this one, Tharpe knocked in three of his final four three-point shots and finished at 50 percent for the night. No matter who the Jayhawks play, that shot is going to be there and Tharpe is going to need to take it and make it. The other thing he did, which may be even more important, was show some pride in the way he played defense. After being torched by Robert Turner in Lubbock, Tharpe showed up with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove in this one and played with the kind of defensive intensity we've come to expect from a Bill Self point guard. The last time this happened was in the Texas game at home, when Tharpe responded to getting schooled by UT's Isaiah Taylor in Austin by shutting him down at Allen Fieldhouse. Sounds to me like his teammates need to start making up lies about opposing guards and their disrespect for Tharpe because when he plays with that kind of a chip on his shoulder his defense is noticeably better.
2 – A little credit also should go to KU's team defense in this one, as the Jayhawks held the Red Raiders to 20.8 percent shooting (5-of-24) in the first half, marking the second game in a row — and third time in four games — that KU's defense limited an opponent to first-half shooting in the 20-percent range (Texas shot 20.7 percent on Feb. 22 and Oklahoma State shot 24 percent last Saturday). Holding TTU to that 20.8-percent clip marked KU's second-best first-half performance of the season, just behind the 20.7-percent mark it forced from both UT (6-of-29) and Towson (6-of-29). What's most important to remember about this one was that it came without Embiid on the floor.
3 – Regardless of how you feel about the walk-ons and the whole Senior Night scene, you couldn't help but feel good for the KU seniors, particularly Niko Roberts, who started the first game of his career, held his own while he was out there and even scored while being showered with love from the KU fans. It's easy to forget about these guys because of how stacked the KU roster is year in and year out, but guys like Roberts show up to practice and work just as hard as the rest of them and they deserve a chance to feel the love. No place is better about dishing that love out than KU and Allen Fieldhouse.
1 – Even if it is the best thing for him and the team, it has to make KU coaches, players and fans a little nervous seeing Joel Embiid in street clothes. Embiid's health is critical for this team and his presence on the floor gives KU something that no other team in the country has. Because of that, resting the injured back and making sure he's as close to 100 percent for the postseason makes the most sense. At the same time, though, you have to worry about rust and rhythm the longer he sits.
2 – Although the Jayhawks' four fast-break points in this one could be a reason to sigh, given how good the Jayhawks are in transition and how much they like to run, it also could be looked at as a reason to smile since it clearly shows that the Jayhawks did enough in the half-court to put up more than 80 points against a stingy defense. KU continues to average in that 8-12 range in fast-break points and while that number is good, this game proved that it's not imperative for KU to get out and run if it wants to have success. It does, however, make scoring easier for these guys, which never is a bad thing and eliminates some of the pressure of having to knock down outside shots.
3 – The Jayhawks were really pretty good in all areas in this one. They shot well, shared the ball (16 assists), limited turnovers (no player had more than two) and delivered good percentages from the floor (52), free-throw line (72) and three-point range (33). Because of that, looking for reasons to sigh was pretty tough. So for this last one, we'll go with the fact that senior Justin Wesley was scoreless in his last game at Allen Fieldhouse. Wesley played nine minutes and recorded a block but missed all three shots he attempted, including a pair of three-pointers, one of which rattled out and looked good the whole way. I'm sure Wesley did not care too much that he failed to crack the scoring column, but it would've been a nice way to go out.
KU's senior-night victory over Texas Tech:
• Improved KU to 23-7 on the season and gave Kansas at least 23 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and 29th time in the last 30 years dating back to 1984-85.
• Gave KU a 14-3 Big 12 and marked the sixth-straight season the Jayhawks have won 14 games in conference play.
• Closed out the home conference slate a perfect 9-0 in Big 12 games in Allen Fieldhouse, the sixth time in the Bill Self era that the Jayhawks completed an unblemished league slate.
• Marked Kansas’ 31st-straight home season finale, including 30-consecutive Senior Nights (the 2006-07 roster did not have a senior).
• Moved the Kansas-Texas Tech series to 27-4 in favor of Kansas, including 14-0 in Lawrence with all meetings in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Improved Kansas to 14-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 175-9 in the venue under Bill Self and 713-109 all-time in the arena.
• Improved Self to 14-6 all-time against Texas Tech. He advanced to 323-66 while at Kansas and 530-171 overall.
• Moved Kansas to 2,124-819 all-time.
The Jayhawks will close out the 2013-14 regular season at 11 a.m. Saturday in Morgantown, W. Va., where they will look to sweep the season series with the Mountaineers. KU clubbed Bob Huggins' squad 83-69 Feb. 8 in Lawrence, behind 19 points from Andrew Wiggins.
Now that Wichita State has completed the perfect regular season, it seems that people are starting to really wonder if the Shockers have what it takes to get back to the Final Four and threaten to become college basketball's first perfect team since Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana squad ran the table and finished 32-0.
There's still a long road ahead for WSU to reach that point — starting with this week's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis — but the signs are starting to point toward more and more people believing it's possible.
For starters, WSU is now considered a virtual lock to be one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Some folks still need to see WSU win the Valley tourney before they'll anoint them a top seed, but many already are convinced.
Consider ESPN analyst Jay Bilas' justification for ranking WSU 2nd in his latest Bilas Index, which singles out the country's top 68 teams:
“This team is one of four in the nation ranked in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Eight of the past 10 NCAA tournament champs have also had that distinction. This is a good team. Period.”
Beyond Bilas' belief in them, the Shockers (31-0) are ranked No. 2 in both major polls, sit 7th in the RPI standings despite a strength of schedule in the triple digits (110), are 4th in the BPI rankings, which takes into account factors such as scoring margin, blowouts and game sites, and 6th in analyst Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which lean heavily on advanced statistics to determine the top teams.
In short, it seems that Wichita State's impressive regular season run has made a believer out of nearly everyone and the only thing left for the Shockers to do is to prove that they're worthy of that in the pressure-packed win-or-go-home atmospheres that await.
With that in mind, and because the strength of their opponents has left many to question how they would match up against the nation's top teams, it seems like everyone wants to speculate on how WSU would fare against the big boys. No place is that more true than in Kansas, where the topic of whether KU and WSU would ever wind up on each other's schedule has gained serious steam throughout the season.
Earlier today, I received an email from the folks at www.bovada.lv, which provided the gambling web site's current odds to win it all and an interesting look at a few imaginary lines if the Shockers were to face 12 of the top teams in the country.
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks (22-7), who still are in the running for a No. 1 seed themselves, are currently the second favorite to win the national championship at 8/1. KU is tied with Arizona (8/1) and behind only Florida (5/1) while staying just ahead of Wichita State (9/1), Duke (10/1), Syracuse (10/1), Michigan State (12/1), Louisville (14/1) and Virginia (14/1) as the top favorites.
As for how Bovada sees a potential match-up between Kansas and Wichita State, — which, most likely, would only happen in the Elite Eight, Final Four or national championship game (wouldn't that be something!) at the earliest — the Jayhawks are listed as a hypothetical two-point favorite.
Here's a quick look at the rest of Bovada's hypothetical Wichita State lines, in which the Shockers are underdogs against six teams, even money against two others and favored against the other four.
Interesting stuff. Here's hoping we get to see at least a couple of the match-ups play out later this month.
HYPOTHETICAL WICHITA STATE LINES (from Bovada.lv)
Wichita State +4 vs. Arizona
Wichita State +4 vs. Florida
Wichita State +3.5 vs. Virginia
Wichita State +3 vs. Duke
Wichita State +2 vs. Kansas
Wichita State +1.5 vs. Wisconsin
Wichita State pk vs. Louisville
Wichita State pk vs. Creighton
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Villanova
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Syracuse
Wichita State -1.5 vs. Michigan
Wichita State -3.5 vs. Cincinnati
Despite the disappointing numbers that have been put up by Kansas University quarterbacks during the past few seasons, it's still the position everybody wants to talk about — for better or worse — and one that, at Kansas, has more drama and intrigue than at any time since the QB showdown between Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier prior to the 2007 season.
If you've been following along at all, you know how I feel about 2013 starter Jake Heaps, his ability as a player and the lack of support he received last season, be it from the offensive line early or his pass catchers throughout.
With that said, I think the upcoming spring and summer sessions could deliver one heck of a three-man race for the Jayhawks' starting QB nod heading into 2014.
By now, you likely know the candidates: Jake Heaps, who will be a senior; Montell Cozart, who will be a sophomore; and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard, who will be a sophomore, all figure to get a long, hard look from the coaching staff during spring ball and fall camp.
It's far too early to make even a decent guess about which guy will win the job — a solid case could be made for all three — and several things could change between now and the time that naming a starter really becomes necessary.
I'm anticipating a serious competition to unfold between these three guys, each of whom no doubt believes he's the right choice. That can only help KU's offense and it also can make for an interesting few months.
While the decision is still several weeks away, it's never too early to start looking at the options. So here's a quick look at the strengths, weaknesses and outlook of each of the quarterbacks heading into the offseason along with my early hunch on who the guy will be.
--- This is not to discount the other QBs on the roster, as both Michael Cummings and Jordan Darling are right there with these three in terms of work ethic, dedication and team-first mentality. It just seems that there's a clear divide between the top three and the rest that stems from a combination of experience, potential and measurables. ---
Strengths: We already know Heaps is a great leader, well respected by teammates and the kind of guy who won't give in or get down no matter how bleak things look. Beyond that, he's got a cannon for an arm — which he was able to show when he actually got protection — and has more game experience at the Div. I level than all of the other QBs on the roster combined. Heaps is a confident player and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take to John Reagan's offense quickly and make it awfully tough for the others to beat him out.
Weaknesses: If there's one area that Heaps is vulnerable, it's mobility. He's not all that fast and never really showed a desire to get out and run. Last season he showed a tendency to wait too long for plays to develop — which could be a knock on his receivers — which too often allowed the pocket to collapse around him. In addition, that rifle arm isn't always a good thing, as he occasionally would put too much zip on short passes that required more touch.
Outlook: Given his experience and big arm, Heaps has as good a shot as anyone to win the job and, through my eyes, is the guy to beat. A new offense puts all three on more of an equal playing field, but if Reagan's offense is at all predicated on quickly getting the ball out to playmakers in space, Heaps seems to be the right guy for that role.
Strengths: By far the most mobile quarterback on KU's roster, Cozart showed in limited time last season that his ability to take off in the open field puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses. Cozart runs with a sort of fluid stride that makes it look like he's not in an all-out sprint. But because of his long strides and powerful legs, he still manages to eat up yards in a hurry. As for his arm, he's got enough there to make all of the throws.
Weaknesses: The issue with Cozart's passing during the few appearances he made in 2013 had to do with accuracy and decision making. He overthrew wide open receivers too often and never reached the point where opponents seemed to truly respect his ability as a passer. Part of that could have been the nerves and head-spinning stuff associated with being a true freshman under fire in the Big 12 Conference. But it was there. KU coach Charlie Weis has said consistently that he has total confidence in Cozart's ability as a passer, so perhaps that little taste of experience along with an offseason devoted to getting better helped the Bishop Miege graduate reach the next level as a college quarterback.
Outlook: Cozart has the look of a guy who, with some time, could put the Jayhawks on a more even playing field with what the rest of the Big 12 Conference throws out there year after year – big, fast, athletic, agile and a nightmare to account for. He's got a big arm that needs some cultivation, incredible athletic ability that makes him a dangerous weapon all over the field and the confidence you need from your quarterback. If after this battle Cozart has not separated himself as the clear-cut No. 1 or No. 2 guy, I think it'd be a great idea to move forward with the hope of red-shirting him in 2014 and giving him a chance to become a three-year starter down the road.
Strengths: Millweard's biggest advantages in this race appear to be frame and mobility. He's bigger than both Heaps and Cozart and seems to be the kind of guy who can scramble both to gain yards and to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage. Though not blazing fast, moving around with the football certainly seems to come naturally for him.
Weaknesses: Millweard has not taken a single snap in a real college football game so the first time he goes out there — whenever that may be — will be his first time on the field with live action and opponents looking to rip his head off. If he demonstrates that he's clearly better than the others in terms of his command of the offense, ability to make accurate throws and not turn the ball over, then that won't matter. If it's close, his inexperience could cost him.
Outlook: I can't help but think about Millweard when I look at the Rice offense and what Reagan did with Owls QB Taylor McHargue, who stands 6-2 and weighs 220 pounds. Like McHargue, who was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country during the past couple of seasons, Millweard is mobile, can spin it and has a good frame that can withstand the beating that comes with playing outside of the pocket. Reagan said comparing anybody to McHargue and thinking that meant something was a bad idea, given the fact that the Rice offense was built around what McHargue could do and not the other way around.
I think this is Jake Heaps' job to lose. I do think he'll be pushed a ton and I think both Cozart and Millweard have a legitimate shot to overtake him. But I like Heaps' combination of arm strength and experience along with the sense of urgency that comes with not only being a senior and playing his last season of college football but also wanting to atone for a largely disappointing season in 2013.
It's hard to imagine that the day after this one was anything but somber for the Kansas University basketball team, which clinched the outright Big 12 title thanks to losses by Texas and Iowa State, lost at Oklahoma State after holding a 10-point lead midway through the second half.
No celebration. No elation. Just disappointment over a loss that should have never been, one that featured 22 turnovers, ugly point guard play and an inability to make plays down the stretch.
Of course, to put it all on KU would be unfair to Oklahoma State, which played hungry and desperate and got excellent contributions from Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and especially Marcus Smart, who poured in 20 points in the second half.
The loss dropped Kansas to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in the Big 12. But with a three-game lead over four teams and just two regular season conference games to play, the conference title is KU's outright, even if it didn't quite feel like it on Saturday night.
As poorly as KU played at times in Stillwater, and as much as it probably stung to give up a 10-point lead the Jayhawks worked hard to build, the latest outcome was not a total disaster. Oklahoma State has talent — a lot of it — and had a lot to play for, its postseason life and one more show for the home fans at the top of the list. Beyond that, the Jayhawks' bottom line didn't really change after this loss. They're still on pace to be a top seed in the big dance — a 2 or even a 1 still seem most likely — and they are the top seed in the upcoming Big 12 tourney, which will follow games at home against Texas Tech and at West Virginia. Don't get me wrong, if KU plays, and especially closes games, the way it did on Saturday, a deep postseason run will be in jeopardy. That's the bigger question at this point, but given the way these guys have performed all year, a bounce-back seems more likely than a collapse.
1 – Andrew Wiggins had an off night shooting the ball from the outside and couldn't get much to fall in close either, but he competed his butt off especially on the glass. The one scrum midway through the second half where KU came away with three loose balls or rebounds in the paints and Oklahoma State kept turning them away was a perfect indication of just how hard both teams played and wanted this one. Wiggins wound up at the free throw line and pushed KU's lead to 52-42. Things slowly went downhill from there, though.
2 – KU's first-half defense was pretty fantastic. And tough. Oklahoma State made just six field goals during the game's first 20 minutes and had just one player with more than one bucket at the break. What's more, the lockdown defense came when KU really needed it. Behind three early buckets from Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State had jumped out to a 14-7 lead and, with KU's offense struggling, was in position to create some serious distance between the home team and the visitors on the scoreboard. But the Jayhawks locked in — especially on sharp-shooter Phil Forte who was 1-of-4 in the first half and 1-of-6 for the game — scrapped their way back into it on the offensive end and led 26-25 at halftime despite shooting just 35 percent themselves.
3 – Had it not been for offensive rebounds, the Jayhawks might have been blown out of the gym. KU outdid OSU 15-3 on the offensive glass, which led to a 13-4 advantage in second-chance points. Two Jayhawks (Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins) had more offensive rebounds (5) than all but one of the OSU players had in total rebounds.
1 – Foul trouble was a big factor in this one and the Jayhawks were guilty of a lot of hacking. That led to 33 free throw attempts for Oklahoma State, which cashed 27 of those, and OSU outscored Kansas by 13 points at the free throw line. Not only that but Wiggins and Joel Embiid both had to sit for a stretch in the second half with three fouls. KU's reserves did a nice job during that stretch but you can't help but think that seeing those two sitting instead of trying to throw the knockout punch helped Oklahoma State believe they still had a shot.
2 – When KU didn't foul, they gave up some pretty high-percentage shots, especially in the second half. Much of Oklahoma State's run that brought the Cowboys back from 10 down and eventually pushed them over the top came on the strength of free throws or buckets at the rim, a few of them real crowd pleasers that only added to OSU's ability to overcome that double-digit deficit. The Cowboys shot an incredible 64 percent in the second half after shooting just 24 percent in the first.
3 – Naadir Tharpe proved once again just how important he is to this team. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the junior has proven it almost as often with poor performances as he has with good ones. Saturday's was certainly a poor one. Tharpe's had plenty of games where he didn't shoot well but still found a way to positively impact the game with leadership, passing and, occasionally, defense. None of those were working against the Cowboys, as Tharpe finished with six points, six turnovers and five assists. He made a couple of plays, but generally looked frustrated, overwhelmed and out of sorts all night.
KU's seven-point loss at Oklahoma State:
• Gave KU the outright Big 12 regular-season title, the 10th-straight crown for the Jayhawks and the 14th in the 18-year existence of the league. Overall, Kansas has collected 57 conference titles, the most in NCAA history.
• Dropped KU to 22-7 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule, and 13-3 in Big 12 play.
• Pushed the all-time series record to 108-55 in favor of KU. The Jayhawks are now 33-32 inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
• Made Self 12-9 all-time against his alma mater (11-6 at KU), 322-66 while at Kansas and 529-171 overall.
• Made KU 2,123-819 all-time. Kentucky still leads with 2,132 all-time wins. KU ranks second and North Carolina (2,112), Duke (2,024) and Syracuse (1,900) round out the all-time top five.
The Jayhawks return home Wednesday for a rematch with Texas Tech at 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU survived a scare from the Red Raiders two weeks ago in Lubbock, Texas. Before the Senior Night game, the Jayhawks will recognize Tarik Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley.
By now, it seems as if most Kansas University basketball fans have given up the stance — if they ever took it — that KU freshman Andrew Wiggins has been underwhelming.
At this point, Wiggins has produced enough, both offensively and defensively, and on a consistent enough basis to be classified as this team's best player.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound phenom leads the team with a 16.3 points-per-game average, is first in minutes played (904) by more than two full games, ranks third with 5.8 rebounds per game, third in assists (45), second in blocks (25), first in steals (29) and has attempted the most shots (145-of-324), most free throws (132-of-174) and second most three-pointers (35-of-98) while also owning the unofficial title of the team's best defensive player.
So forget whether he's disappeared for 10-minute spurts here and there or that he doesn't dunk it enough or finish consistently when he attacks the basket. None of that matters. What Wiggins has delivered has been nothing short of amazing, especially when taking into account the insane expectations that followed him to Lawrence and how well he has done at both handling those and inserting himself into the locker room as just another one of the guys.
It's genuine, too, by the way. There is no ego here. Wiggins is not all about Wiggins. In fact, he seems most comfortable during interviews when he's being asked about teammates or something other than himself.
All of this got me thinking.... What if Wiggins never came to Kansas? What if he picked Florida State or Kentucky or North Carolina last May and left the Jayhawks to fend for themselves with the roster they already had? First of all, KU would have been just fine, even without the steady dose of highlight-reel dunks, long arms on defense and lightning fast strides in transition.
But would Bill Self's bottom line have remained the same? Would the players who absorbed Wiggins' minutes — and it likely would have been several of them — have been able to produce the same results?
It's not likely. But here's a look.
(Note: I realize it's fully possible that Self might have scrambled to add another rotation guy had Wiggins chosen to go to school somewhere else, but, for the sake of this blog, we're going to say that Self would've had to move on with the roster he had.)
For this exercise, I've divvied up Wiggins' minutes to the five most likely Jayhawks who would have seen an uptick in playing time if the Canadian never came to town.
Here's how the numbers translated.
• G BRANNEN GREENE •
Increase in minutes: 40% or 362 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.38
Projected additional points: 138
• PG FRANK MASON •
Increase in minutes: 30% or 272 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.36
Projected additional points: 98
• G CONNER FRANKAMP •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.29
Projected additional points: 26
• PF JAMARI TRAYLOR •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.29
Projected additional points: 26
• G ANDREW WHITE III •
Increase in minutes: 10% or 90 minutes
Current points per minute average: 0.43
Projected additional points: 38
As you can see, the difference between the total points produced by these five players in Wiggins' absence (326) and the number of points Wiggins has tallied in those same minutes (457) would have dropped KU's overall total by 131 points and lowered its per-game average from 79.8 points per game (with Wiggins) to 75.1 points per game (without Wiggins).
Given that KU has won three games by fewer than five points this season — 67-63 over UTEP in the Bahamas; 80-78 over Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse; and 64-63 over Texas Tech in Lubbock — you could make a case that Wiggins picking another school would have cost the Jayhawks at least three victories.
If that were true, not only would a 10th straight Big 12 regular season title still be up in the air, the Jayhawks, at 19-9 instead of 22-6, would be staring more at a seed in the 3-5 range in the upcoming NCAA Tournament instead of sitting in their current position where they appear to be close to a lock as a 2 and still alive for a 1.
All of this is purely speculative, of course, and there's no telling how things would have played out had Wiggins not worn crimson and blue this season. Maybe Brannen Greene would've been an instant star. Maybe another prospect would have taken the spot and filled the role admirably. Of course, this does not take into account all of the ways Wiggins' defense has impacted KU's win-loss record or the fact that, when playing more minutes, the points-per-minute number of the five guys mentioned above might actually have gone down or up.
Either way, it's a pretty compelling case for something I'm guessing we all know anyway — Wiggins has had a fantastic season and he is, without question, the MVP of the Big 12 this season.
Believe it or not, the early stages of another Kansas University football season are right around the corner as spring practices start next week.
We'll have plenty of time to dive deeper into each position group when spring ball arrives and throughout the spring and summer, but, for now, let's look briefly at a few of the most intriguing positions heading into Year 3 of the Charlie Weis era.
We'll start with running back, where the Jayhawks, despite losing stud James Sims, remain stacked with depth, talent and options.
It's far too early to tell how the carries will be divvied up this fall, but know this: the two newest KU running backs — juco transfer De'Andre Mann and incoming freshman Traevohn Wrench — are both legitimate candidates for playing time.
Here's a quick player-by-player breakdown of the guys who make up what has been KU's most productive and consistent position in the post-Mark Mangino era.
Skinny: Avery comes to Kansas as one of the most highly touted prospects in the Dallas area and one of the top “athletes” in Texas, a bona fide weapon who can be used all over the field and on both sides of the ball. He played running back, receiver and safety in high school, where he ran for 1,600 yards in limited time last season, and seems to be from the Tony Pierson mold.
Top Asset: Natural playmaking ability. The speedy, athletic offensive weapon makes everything he does look easy and has all the tools you'd want in a home run hitter — speed, quickness, vision and toughness.
Early Prediction: I think Avery will play as a true freshman, but, with KU's backfield loaded, I think we'll see the man high school teammates called “Superman” spend most of his time as a slot receiver and possibly even as the Jayhawks' Wildcat QB.
Skinny: Weis said briefly on signing day that Bourbon would enter the spring as the top running back on the depth chart. Staying there will be his challenge. Gifted with good size, power and speed, Bourbon is coming off of his most productive (and healthy) season and is looking to close his career with a bang. He's always had the right attitude and work ethic to be a featured back, but staying healthy has been a problem.
Top asset: Bourbon became one of KU's better pass catchers last season, so seeing him carve out a role in the passing game this season is not out of the question.
Early Prediction: Enjoys a season similar to last year, when he received 61 touches (41 carries and 20 receptions) and tallied 300-plus yards while scored three touchdowns as a relevant but not vital part of KU's offense.
Skinny: Cox had the opportunity to red-shirt heading into the 2013 season but chose to compete for playing time instead. As it turned out, the red-shirt was meant to be because just a couple of games into the season he tweaked a hamstring and could never recover to the point where it was worth burning his final season of eligibility. Rehabbed and hungry, Cox is a definite candidate for
Top asset: Cox runs with good vision and keeps his legs churning at all times. His extra burst makes him more dangerous in the open field than you might expect for a guy his size.
Early Prediction: As he was during the one year he played with Sims and company, Cox figures to be sound insurance and a reliable option KU's offense can turn to when in need of a spark or as part of a rotation to keep fresh legs in the backfield.
Skinny: The powerful back who earned first-team juco All-American honors after rushing for 1,706 yards and 30 touchdowns for Hartnell College during 2013, said the opportunity to be tutored by coaches with NFL ties and test himself in a power conference played big roles in his decision to come to Kansas.
Top asset: Mann considers himself to be a complete running back and his ability to run inside and out, catch the ball out of the backfield and both gain tough yards and run away from people makes him an every down type of back.
Early Prediction: Mann will be a big-time surprise for casual fans and will quickly show why Weis and company could not pass on signing him even though they had no intention of adding a juco running back in the class.
Skinny: Miller is one of the biggest wildcards in this year's bunch. Blessed with all the talent in the world and a good chunk of experience, it's not his skills that are a question mark but his ability to stay on the field. He missed most of the second half of 2013 because of personal issues and, although Weis said earlier this month that he expected Miller to be part of the equation, the Blue Springs, Mo., back has been hot and cold since his promising freshman season.
Top asset: Ability to make defenders miss with exceptional balance and good vision. Miller flashed those skills often during his freshman season, when he finished just behind Sims with 559 yards and 4 touchdowns on 136 carries.
Early Prediction: Miller is back in town and still on the roster but what kind of role he'll have is unknown. His recent personal issues make him a hard player to rely on and he'll likely have to prove a lot to the coaching staff before he is handed any kind of featured role in KU's backfield. Still, with Weis, the best players play, so if Miller is healthy and happy and can find that freshman magic again, he could make a huge contribution.
Skinny: One of the top-rated players in KU's incoming recruiting class, Wrench, a four-star back out of Gardner-Edgerton High is the kind of player that any program would have gladly added to its roster. Already blessed with good size and the ability to add weight and muscle, the guy was a work horse in high school and showed consistently that he could handle a heavy work load. He has the power to run through guys and the speed to run away from them. Whether he plays right away or not, he'll be a cornerstone of the KU offense for years to come.
Top asset: Excellent vision, which allows him to hit holes quickly and get to top-end speed in a hurry. Because of his quick-cut running style, Wrench rarely had carries go for negative yardage, which is all the more impressive when you take into account what a high-volume running back he was.
Early Prediction: The best thing for both the program and the player here would be for Wrench to red-shirt and spend the 2014 season getting bigger, stronger, faster and absorbing the playbook. If it plays out that way, he's got the potential to be KU's next four-year starter, a la Sims.
Note of interest: It should be pointed out that both Tony Pierson and Colin Spencer have been moved to WR on KU's official roster. Pierson was a RB at KU during his first two seasons and a hybrid WR/RB last season. Although he still could get a few carries out of the backfield in 2014, it appears that his primary role will be as a receiver, which will allow the KU offense to better utilize him in space.
It would have been almost impossible for the Kansas University men's basketball team to follow up its nearly flawless performance against Texas over the weekend with a similar showing against Oklahoma on Big Monday.
But that might wind up being a good thing for the Jayhawks, who were not firing on all cylinders against the Sooners but still found a way to scrap out an 83-75 victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
Balanced offensive production ruled the day for KU, as all five starters reached double figures in scoring. And KU's defense improved steadily throughout the game, with its best defensive possessions coming in the game's most critical minutes.
When it was all rolled together, it produced the Jayhawks' 22nd victory of the season and moved the Jayhawks to 13-2 in Big 12 play, which earns them at least a share of an incredible 10th straight Big 12 title.
Regardless of how hard they had to fight, how tough the opponent was or how physical and exhausting the game became, KU's victory over Oklahoma will go down in history as the night the Jayhawks clinched their 10th straight Big 12 title. In many ways, the fashion in which this victory came was perfect for a Bill Self squad, as the Jayhawks had to show grit, toughness and perseverance to survive a tough OU team. In the end, when the game was on the line, the Jayhawks made the plays they needed to win — on both ends of the floor — and, perhaps most importantly, got critical contributions from a variety of players on the roster, young and old.
1 – Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe sure picked a nice time to snap his shooting slump. After hitting just 2 of 19 shots in the past three games and 10 of 39 in the past five, Tharpe drilled 6 of 7 against the Sooners and connected on his only three-point attempt and all four free throw tries while willing the Jayhawks to a hard-fought victory. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the last 10 minutes of the game was as good as he's seen Tharpe play since he's been at Kansas. Hard to argue. Tharpe was direct, decisive, in full-on attack-mode and confident. Say what you will about the guy, but throughout all of the ups and downs of his career, the one thing that has never changed is his belief in himself. That's why he's playing the best ball of his career right now and that's why Kansas is winning. In addition to leading this team in assists by nearly double the next closest teammate, Tharpe also leads Kansas in three-point percentage among players with more than 20 attempts (39.4 percent), free throw percentage (82 percent) while averaging 30.1 minutes per game.
2 – He barely registered on the stat sheet, but I thought this was Brannen Greene's best game since Kansas State. The on-again-off-again reserve forward brought great energy to the floor during the 9 minutes he was out there, which was especially noticeable on the offensive glass, where he stole two extra possessions for the Jayhawks and gave the offense a lift on a night when the home fans were grumbling and the energy was lacking. Greene missed both shots he attempted and made just 1-of-2 free throw tries, but his contributions in the other aspects of his game — offensive rebounding, pushing the pace in transition, not turning the ball over once — showed not only his continued growth but also why Self continues to look his way even after off nights or disappointing days. By now it's clear that Greene is not the kind of player who will win a game by himself (at least not yet). But when he figures out how to do more good things than bad things during the limited time he's out there, it usually impacts the game and the outcome a great deal.
3 – We've reached that time of the year where freshmen are no longer freshmen and youth is no longer an excuse for mistakes, miscues, lapses or any other slip ups. Few players embody that the way KU freshman Wayne Selden does. Selden has been a solid but understated leader in his own right throughout the 2013-14 season, but it has become clear lately that he has no problem taking that leadership to the next level. On Monday, Selden barked at fellow-freshman Conner Frankamp when he elected not to shoot the ball with 6:30 to play in the first half and KU up by two. Not pulling the trigger resulted in a three-second call on KU during a time when the Jayhawks were trying to gain some separation. Credit Frankamp for not crying about it and Selden for having the ability to say something when something needed to be said. A couple of possessions later Selden put his money where his mouth was by burying a three-pointer from the same spot to pull KU within 29-28 with 4:30 to play in the first half. Self said after the game that Selden could become one of the better leaders KU has had here. The reason? “He gets it,” Self said. And he's getting it a little more every time out.
1 – The Jayhawks started slow in the second half yet again, this time allowing Oklahoma to turn a nine-point KU lead into a one-point lead cushion barely three minutes into the second half. Self said after the game that his team is a little tired right now and that the good thing about playing Monday and then not again until Saturday is that it gives him a chance to give his guys a couple of days off. Maybe that fatigue is the reason for these second-half stutter steps, but it sure seems like it has as much to do with their mental approach as anything else. It's not that the Jayhawks gave up the lead that is a concern, rather how quickly they let it happen. Coaches often say the the first five minutes of each half are as important as anything to the outcome of any given game. If that's true, KU's has to find a way to start the second half with the same urgency and energy that it often closes the first half.
2 – It's been a while since we've seen him lose his cool, but the physical nature of OU's big men momentarily got under the skin of KU center Joel Embiid on Monday night. Not only did Embiid's frustration lead to back-to-back charging calls early in the second half, but it also was apparent on his face throughout the game as he consistently looked to the refs to voice his displeasure with the way OU's arms were flailing and bodies were banging. To Embiid's credit, he did not let the nature of the game get the best of him. After the back-to-back charges, he took a deep breath, settled in and delivered a strong finish without so much as a peep. There's a theme developing in this “Day After” and it seems to be centered around the seemingly endless examples of maturity shown by KU's youngest players.
3 – The Jayhawks were at their best in this one when they were patient in their halfcourt sets. For a team that loves to run and was coming off of a 26-0 advantage over Texas in fastbreak points over the weekend, being patient can be tough. And the Jayhawks showed that a few too many times in this one, firing up quick shots or forcing things that weren't there. When they did settle down, though, be it while waiting for Embiid to do work on the block or when Tharpe would pick and choose his spots to attack the lane, offense became a whole lot easier and the Jayhawks looked a whole lot better. There are going to be nights when the shots don't fall. That happens to every team. But KU could definitely use the film from this game as an obvious example of both what to do and what not to do when those nights pop up.
The Jayhawks' hard-fought victory over Oklahoma:
· Improved KU to 22-6 on the season, gave Kansas 22 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and for the 30th time in the last 31 years dating back to 1983-84.
· Gave KU a 13-2 Big 12 record and marked the ninth-straight year the Jayhawks have won 13 or more conference games beginning in 2005-06.
· Gave Kansas at least a share of its 10th-straight, 14th Big 12 and 57th overall conference regular-season championship. The 57 titles also added to KU’s all-time NCAA best.
· Including the 2014 campaign, three of Kansas’ 10-consecutive Big 12 titles were accomplished with no returning starters from the previous season (2005-06, 2008-09, 2013-14).
· Made KU the fifth team in NCAA history to win 10 or more consecutive conference championships (UCLA-13, 1967-79) (Gonzaga-11, 2001-11) (Connecticut-10, 1951-60) (UNLV-10, 1983-92).
· Made the Kansas-Oklahoma series 141-65 in favor of Kansas, including 71-16 in Lawrence and 44-7 in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Elevated the Jayhawks to 52-17 in ESPN Big Monday games, 28-1 in Allen Fieldhouse and 32-9 under Bill Self.
· Gave KU its 13th-straight win versus OU in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Made KU 13-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 174-9 in AFH in the Bill Self era and 712-109 all-time in the facility.
· Made Bill Self 13-4 all-time against Oklahoma (13-2 while at KU), 322-65 while at Kansas and 529-170 overall.
· Made KU 2,123-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will travel to Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday for an 8 p.m. clash with Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks held off the Cowboys 80-78 in a game they led big but had to hold on down the stretch to win as OSU sharp-shooter Phil Forte knocked in 7-of-10 three-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points, two more than KU's Naadir Tharpe.