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Tale of the Tait

Breaking down KU-Purdue on Sports Radio 810 WHB’s “Sports Night”

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) shoots a selfie with some Jayhawk fans awaiting autographs following the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) shoots a selfie with some Jayhawk fans awaiting autographs following the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

We're now less than 24 hours away from tip-off in the Sweet 16.

After several hours at Sprint Center on Wednesday afternoon and evening, between the drive home and finishing up a few stories for Thursday's paper, I hopped on with Sports Radio 810 WHB host Cody Tapp on Sports Night to discuss KU's showdown with Purdue in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night in KCMO.

Among the topics covered in the 30-minute breakdown of KU's upcoming clash with Purdue (9:30-minute mark through 42:00) were:

• If having better guards or better bigs than your opponent is more advantageous

• What it takes to beat Kansas (and if Purdue can do it)

• What's taken Josh Jackson to an even higher level in the Big Dance

• Why KU loves playing in Kansas City

• Whether KU would rather play Oregon or Michigan should it knock off Purdue

• And what winning another national title would mean to KU coach Bill Self

Take a listen below while you're trying to kill time before Thursday's game and be sure to check back with KUsports.com throughout the day Thursday for more coverage of the big game with the Boilermakers and, of course, before, during and after the game for all the Kansas basketball coverage you could possibly desire.

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Breaking down KU forward Dwight Coleby’s big night

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby (22) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) have a laugh after a bucket by Coleby and a Michigan State foul during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Kansas forward Dwight Coleby, whose nine second-half minutes in Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Michigan State were as important as any played by any player in the game, prides himself on being ready.

But more than that, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound native of the Bahamas prides himself on his easy-going personality.

It’s hard to say that there was a direct correlation between Coleby’s island upbringing and his performance during Sunday’s 90-70 victory, but Coleby believes it could have played a role.

“Yeah, that’s my personality, just calm, relaxed and just focused,” he said. “It probably comes from where I grew up.”

A city of nearly 300,000 people on the island of New Providence, Coleby’s hometown of Nassau is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region and is a popular stop for cruise ships and tourists seeking good snorkeling.

The KU junior who is majoring in communications studies, attended high school in Mississippi (The Piney Woods School) before playing two seasons at Ole Miss and then transferring to Kansas.

Always the biggest and tallest player on his teams growing up, Coleby said he considers himself more of a power player than anything else and always has enjoyed games that feature physical play inside.

“I think I’ve got some kind of muscles for something,” he joked. “More power. I’ve always been that, one that wants to play physical and with contact.”

It was not just his muscles that propelled Coleby into the player of the game conversation following top-seeded KU’s latest victory. He also used his head, and not just on the floor either.

“That was a thing I talked about to him before the game, and this is from my experience of coming off the bench when I was doing that at the time,” said KU senior Landen Lucas, who played sparingly during his first two NCAA Tournaments. “When you’re on the bench early on, you gotta watch the game and understand how you can be effective, see what’s working for the other guys out there. He might’ve picked up on a couple things, and once he got out there, it was just fun to watch at that point in time. The whole team was playing well together and he did a lot of little things that didn’t show up in the stat book that ended up being the difference in the game.”

Just for fun, let’s take a look back.

• Coleby checked into the game for the first time at the 12:14 mark of the second half, nearly 30 minutes into the game and more than 90 minutes after the opening tip. His first stint on the floor was uneventful and lasted just 23 seconds, as Lucas came back in for him at the 11:51 mark.

• Coleby checked back in for Lucas at the 10:38 mark and, within his first minute on the floor, grabbed two big defensive rebounds in a game in which Kansas led by just five points at the time. The second rebound came after a missed jumper by Frank Mason and Coleby immediately went back up with it to put Kansas up 62-55 with 9:42 to play.

• His third of four rebounds came at the 8:39 mark, nearly two minutes after checking back in, and led to a huge roar of approval from an appreciative KU crowd and a pure free throw that put Kansas up 65-57. Coleby missed the second, but it hardly mattered. His work came on the other end where he kept Michigan State’s Nick Ward from grabbing the offensive board and also drew Ward’s fourth foul, which sent him to the bench.

• At the 7:27 mark, 3 minutes and 11 seconds of clock after he checked back in, Coleby went to the bench and Lucas returned. Forty-four seconds later, Lucas picked up foul No. 4 and had to sit with 6:43 to play and Kansas leading by just six. No one knew at the time that Lucas would not be needed again. During his next stint on the floor, Coleby picked up a steal that led to a layup by Josh Jackson (77-65, Kansas) and an offensive rebound of a missed 3-pointer by Jackson that turned into a 3-pointer by Devonte’ Graham (80-67, Kansas). “Huge. Huge,” said Lucas of Coleby’s offensive rebound, which he called one of the biggest plays of the game. “That’s the little things that end up making a big difference in the game. Go from a missed 3 that could’ve been a run-out and, instead, Devonte’ hits the 3. That’s big. That’s what I try to do when I’m in there and he came in and replaced me and I’m proud of him.”

• So charmed was Coleby in this game that even plays that might draw grumbles during most games drew applause and positive nods. The most obvious was his foul on MSU freshman Miles Bridges with 3:12 to play. Instead of letting Bridges go up for an easy two, Coleby hammered him and made him earn the points at the line. Bridges made one of two free throw attempts and Kansas answered with another 3-pointer by Graham on the other end. Net two points for KU.

• From the 6:43 mark to the time he sat for good, Coleby played the game’s next 5 minutes and 16 seconds and did not check out until Kansas led 87-70 with 1:27 to play. Lucas, still with four fouls, came in for him then, but, at that point, it was as much so Coleby could walk off to a hero’s ovation as getting Lucas back in the game. The game was over.

With Coleby’s confidence sky high and his teammates’ faith in him now even higher, the Jayhawks could not help but flash huge smiles of pride and joy when discussing all that Coleby did to help the Jayhawks get back to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

“Perfect timing,” said sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr., who struggled against Michigan State’s physicality. ““He’s been working all year and tonight he stepped up when his jersey was called.”

Added Coleby: “I always wanted to do something like this on the biggest stage, and to have an opportunity to do it is just great.”

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Postgame Report Card: Kansas 90, Michigan State 70

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to trap Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to trap Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 90-70, second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Michigan State on Sunday night at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Offense: A

Scoring 100 points in the first round was one thing, but following that up with 90 in Round 2, against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, no less? That’s downright impressive. KU coach Bill Self agreed, even if he wished it had come from better execution. “I thought we made hard shots. I don’t know that it was great offensive execution, I thought it was great individual play.”

Defense: A

KU’s biggest runs featured the Jayhawks getting defensive stops and hitting the glass. Kansas out-rebounded Michigan State 36-28, not the most impressive number, but more than enough to control the game. The Spartans shot a decent percentage (44) but had to earn absolutely everything and occasionally got swallowed up and watched the Jayhawks sprint the other way for easy transition buckets. Speaking of fast-breaks, KU’s transition D also was solid most of the night. Oh, yeah, and then there were those two blocks by Josh Jackson. Wow.

Frontcourt: A-

Reserve Dwight Coleby got the glory and absolutely deserved it for coming up huge in a big spot, but Landen Lucas was terrific. Absolutely, positively, sensationally terrific. He was strong when he posted up, scored with ease, grabbed nine rebounds in the first half alone and played the kind of defense that must’ve made Michigan State think there were two or three No. 33’s on the floor for Kansas. He walled up and played tall inside, showed strong help on ball screens and even trapped a time or two. Just a terrific performance to build even more confidence and head into next week’s showdown with Purdue Caleb Swanigan. Bragg’s rough night accounts for the minus.

Backcourt: A+

Mason didn’t have a great night shooting the ball, but who cares. He finished with 20 points and 5 assists — right on his season averages — and set up his teammates in good position to make plays all night. Beyond that, Josh Jackson (23) and Devonte’ Graham (18) put up big time point totals and buried the Spartans inside and out. Svi Mykhailiuk (9) came within one point of making it two games in a row that the starting five all reached double figures in scoring and also played some of his best defense of the season early in the game.

Bench: B+

As mentioned above, Carlton Bragg had another rough night. Nick Ward was just too big, strong and powerful for Bragg to hold up. But Dwight Coleby and Lageral Vick both played very well for Kansas and contributed some positive minutes and memorable plays. With the good showings out-numbering the bad, 2-1, and one of them coming as at least a little bit of a surprise, this grade gets bumped all the way up to the high-B range.

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KU-Michigan State by the numbers

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a shot over UC Davis forward Garrison Goode (44) during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a shot over UC Davis forward Garrison Goode (44) during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

In the past couple of days, we’ve used a bunch of words and thoughts, characters and quotes to set up today’s second-round clash between top-seeded Kansas (29-4) and No. 9 seed Michigan State (20-14) at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

And while a key hustle play, clutch adjustment or subtle benefit from a little extra attention to the scouting report and tendencies of an opponent can help decide games such as these, most of the time, more than words or thoughts or strategies or breakdowns, the games are decided by the numbers.

Those are the things that matter most, more so than the way the game is officiated, coached or even the style with which it's played.

While their records differ drastically, the numbers for these two teams are awfully similar in many areas, in terms of both overall team statistics and some of the individual match-ups that figure to be key in this one.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at today’s 4:15 p.m., head-to-head match-up between the Jayhawks and Spartans through the eyes of the most relevant season-long statistics posted by both teams.

Points per game

KU: 83.2 MSU: 71.9

FG percentage

KU: 48.9 MSU: 47.1

3-point FG percentage

KU: 40.6 MSU: 37.4

Free throw percentage

KU: 67.1 MSU: 66.9

Rebounds per game

KU: 39 MSU: 36.7

Offensive rebounding percentage

KU: 38.6 MSU: 32.6

Assists per game

KU: 16.4 MSU: 17

Blocks per game

KU: 4.7 MSU: 4.7

Steals per game

KU: 6.9 MSU: 4.4

Scoring defense

KU: 72.1 MSU: 68.1

FG percentage defense

KU: 41.7 MSU: 40.6

3-point FG percentage defense

KU: 35.3 MSU: 34.4

Turnover margin

KU: +4.5 MSU: +3.9

vs. current AP Top 25

KU: 6-2 MSU: 3-7

The names are in, the story lines are written, the stage is set.

From here, it’ll be the numbers above and how each team performs and executes in many of those areas that determines which team moves on to next week’s Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Mo.

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Let’s be Frank: Mason’s importance vs. Michigan State goes well beyond scoring

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets down on defense as UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) brings the ball up the court during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets down on defense as UC Davis guard Darius Graham (2) brings the ball up the court during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

By now, everyone in the country knows that Kansas senior Frank Mason III is a stone-cold scorer.

His 3-point shot is a bona fide weapon, his transition game is relentless and flat-out frightening and his willingness to throw his body into, over, through and around bigger, stronger, taller opponents is the stuff of legends inside KU circles.

So there’s no questioning that another good scoring day from Mason would go a long way toward helping the top-seeded Jayhawks stand tall against tough No. 9 seed Michigan State at 4:15 today in a second-round, NCAA Tournament clash at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

But this appears to be one of those match-ups in which it might best help the Jayhawks (29-4) if Mason scores only when he has to and focuses on the rest of his game the rest of the night. Mason knows that. And, as he has been all season long, he’s more than willing to do exactly that if that’s what gives his team the best shot of heading to the winner’s circle.

“I would say creating easy shots for my teammates, getting them involved early, playing great defense and making me feel me every possession,” answered the seemingly-always-stoic Mason when asked what, from his position, was the key to beating the Spartans (20-14). “It starts with the point guard and (I just want to focus on) getting out in transition, running and trying to get easy baskets before their defense sets up, showing great leadership skills and just being coachable and leading our younger guys.”

Looking at it through those words alone, Mason carries a huge load into the Jayhawks’ second game of what they hope will be a long NCAA Tournament run. But, as anyone who has followed this team — up close or from afar — has seen all season, no weight has proven to be too heavy for the Jayhawks’ bulldog point guard and no challenge has been too stiff for him to answer.

In 33 games this season, Mason has tallied 20 points or more 20 times, including seven of the last eight. What’s more, in the 13 games in which he did not reach the 20-point mark, Mason came within a single shot of touching 20 six different times.

While numbers like that, which have Mason racking up national player of the year honors left and right, certainly seem solid, it’s the rest of the stat sheet that shows not only how valuable Mason is to this Kansas team — even just writing that carries that, ‘OK, Captain Obvious’ vibe with it — but also just how impressive his ability to deliver, day after day, week after week, game after game, from start to finish, has been.

The rebounds (4.2 per game), the assists (5.2 per game), the minutes (36.1 per game) and the long list of clutch shots. All have been crucial for Kansas in reaching this point. And they’ll need more of all of them to continue to advance.

But the one thing that does not show up on the stat sheet, the one thing that can’t be measured or stacked up against anybody else’s numbers in any advanced metrics or projected numbers is the one thing that Mason’s teammates value most about their veteran leader.

“Big comfort level," said junior running mate Devonte' Graham when asked what Mason brings to this team. "We know we can give him the ball at any time and he can make a play, late clock, early clock, transition.... At this time of year, the best players gotta be on the court making plays and doing whatever we can to help the team win.”

Added freshman phenom Josh Jackson: “We all have a lot of confidence in Frank. And just to have him on the team makes us so much more comfortable. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like being on the opposite team, trying to guard that guy. He’s a monster.”

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) tries to recover a loose ball from UC Davis guard Siler Schneider during the first half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At right is UC Davis guard Brynton Lemar (0).

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) tries to recover a loose ball from UC Davis guard Siler Schneider during the first half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At right is UC Davis guard Brynton Lemar (0). by Nick Krug

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KU Sports Extra: Jayhawks’ NCAA Tourney Run Off to a Terrific Start

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Road To The Final Four - The Journey Begins Today

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Why Josh Jackson thinks KU is “the best team in the country”

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle at the start of practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle at the start of practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

With a bright NBA future waiting just around the corner, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson enters his first — and likely last — NCAA Tournament in an enviable position.

Jackson, who for the first time since March 4 will be back in the lineup with the Jayhawks at 5:50 p.m. tonight in Round 1 against No. 16 seed UC Davis at the BOK Center, said Thursday that he feels like he’s a part of “the best team in the country right now.”

When asked to explain why, the 6-foot-8 guard from Detroit pointed to a number of reasons.

“I feel like we got the best guards,” Jackson began. “I feel like we have things that some teams just don’t have. Like, in (senior forward) Landen (Lucas), we’ve got a really good glue guy who does so many things that don’t show up in the stat book. I feel like we all just care so much and want to win more than anything. So I feel like we’re all gonna do whatever we need to do in order to make that happen.”

Jackson, of course, is better equipped than most players on his team — or any other team for that matter — to deliver those things in a number of different areas. But instead of taxing himself by worrying about the stakes and the stage, Jackson said he planned to treat his NCAA Tournament debut like any of the 31 games he played in that came before it.

“It’s exciting,” Jackson said. “And I’ve just gotta maintain my composure and stay focused and just remember it’s a game and just come out and play like I would any other game.”

Doing that won’t be easy. Jackson said he had been waiting for this moment since he was a kid, growing up rooting for Michigan State and watching the NCAA Tournament on television each year.

So now that he’s here, how has the experience lived up to his expectations?

“So far, it is everything I thought it would be,” Jackson said. “I think it’s gonna get a lot more exciting as it goes on. It’s also gonna get a lot harder, but that makes it more fun.”

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Tulsa one of several special places in a state full of them for KU coach Bill Self

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches with the bench as the Jayhawks make a run against Illinois during the second half on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at the BOK Center in Tulsa.

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches with the bench as the Jayhawks make a run against Illinois during the second half on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at the BOK Center in Tulsa. by Nick Krug

Long before the killer recruiting class at Illinois that wound up in the national title game two years after he left and years ahead of his remarkable stretch at Kansas, where he has more conference titles than home losses, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self spent seven years building toward moments like those in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Forty miles due north of Okmulgee, a town of 12,000 people where Self and his sister, Shelly, were born, Tulsa has become as much a part of Self’s Oklahoma roots as any of the several small towns he once called home.

“I don’t remember much of it,” joked Self of his actual birth day in 1962. “We lived in a small town called Morris, which, obviously Morris didn’t have a hospital so we went 11 miles or 10 miles down the road and Shelly and I were both born there. My dad and mom were teachers and dad was a coach.”

From his days as a child in Okmulgee, Morris and Claremore, to his high school days in Edmond and college days in Stillwater, all of them combine together to make for some of Self’s favorite memories and foundational moments in the game of basketball.

“Seven years in Stillwater (as a player and coach at Oklahoma State) and then seven years in Tulsa (as a head coach at Oral Roberts and Tulsa) and we saw the full gamut,” Self recently recalled. “We go from losing 18 in a row to winning 31 of our last 38 at Oral Roberts to being an average, average team, at best, our first year at Tulsa to a couple years later (making) a pretty good run to the Elite Eight.... Tulsa is obviously a place that’s very fond to us and we always look forward to going back, although this one will not be social at all but we certainly still have a lot of great friends there.”

This week, while leading his 14th Kansas team into the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time — again as a No. 1 seed for the seventh time in the past 11 years — Self will wake up, go to bed, eat, drink, sleep and sweat in Tulsa, where his Jayhawks (28-4, ranked 3rd in the country) will take on UC Davis at 5:50 p.m. Friday and, if things go well there, will follow that up with a second-round game on Sunday against the Miami-Michigan State winner at a to-be-determined time at BOK Center.

“This is pretty much home,” Self said. “Even though I guess we spent most of our childhood years in Edmond, but still we spent a lot of time in this area.... It feels good. You know, Tulsa, I grew up, part of my youth was in Claremore, which is just down the road, and coached in Tulsa for seven years. Got a ton of friends here. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see very many of ’em but I’m sure some of ’em will swing by practice and it’ll be good to see ’em.”

Returning to Oklahoma to coach has not been all good for Self since leaving Tulsa before the 2000-01 season for Illinois. Although the Illini never played in Self’s home state during his three years leading the program, Self’s Kansas teams lost three in a row in Stillwater from 2014-16, before ending the streak with a win 12 days ago, and also have lost in Norman three times since Self took over at Kansas. Beyond that, Self is just 4-3 at Kansas in Oklahoma City, including a 1-2 record in the NCAA Tournament, with losses to Bucknell and Northern Iowa.

But Tulsa specifically has been good to Self, who led KU to two victories over Boston University and, of all teams, Illinois in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

“I love Tulsa,” Self said. “And I will tell you this; I'd much rather be in Tulsa than Oklahoma City, because we haven't played very well in Oklahoma City. We actually played well in Tulsa last time we were there.”

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KU’s Mason prominently displayed on SI cover

If you're the type that believes in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, the magazine did you a favor this week.

Instead of featuring one player or one team on its annual March Madness cover, SI went back to its old iconic days of the tournament edition and put representatives from every team that made the tournament onto the cover.

Kansas, of course, is included in the mix, with senior guard Frank Mason III prominently displayed as one of the focal points of the cover. Mason, high center, is joined by one player from the other three No. 1 seeds in this year's tournament as being a little larger than life.

That's a good way to go about it if you're Sports Illustrated because now nobody can claim they were the victim of the cover jinx. Well, nobody and everybody at the same time.

Joining the athletes themselves on this year's cover are coaches, mascots, women's players and women's coaches. Heck, even popular halftime act Red Panda made it onto the cover. Let's hope that's not a jinx for her.

I haven't devoured every inch of it yet, but from what I can tell, Mason is the only Jayhawk represented on the cover.

Kansas, seeded No. 1 in the Midwest, will open NCAA Tournament play at 5:50 p.m. Friday in Tulsa, Okla., against the winner of Wednesday's First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, between North Carolina Central and UC Davis.

I'm not sure if Seth Davis' picks are the same that appear in the magazine. We'll find out later this week. But Davis picks Kansas, UCLA, Gonzaga and Duke as his Final Four.

This year's Sports Illustrated March Madness cover.

This year's Sports Illustrated March Madness cover. by Matt Tait

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