From the perspective of the common fan, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson has proven to be the ultra-talented, incredibly skilled, hard-working competitor that he was deemed to be when he signed with the Jayhawks.
From the perspective of Kansas coach Bill Self, Jackson has been so much more.
Thursday afternoon, during his regular weekly news conference to preview Saturday’s game against Nebraska — 2:15 p.m. tip at Allen Fieldhouse — Self went deeper on the one thing about Jackson that has made him marvel since he began coaching the one-and-done freshman phenom.
“Josh is one of those guys who, even though he's really, really bright, he knows he doesn't know,” Self said. “It's amazing to me, when we do scouting report or whatever, he hangs on every word.”
So much so, in fact, that Self has found himself testing Jackson on purpose just to see how he would answer and react.
“I ask Josh a lot of questions sometimes to see if he'd know the answer,” Self began. “And half the time he does and half the time he doesn't. And he's always totally intrigued on why he doesn't. I mean, it's like, ‘Ohhhh, that makes sense to me.’”
But it’s not just a yes or no question we’re talking here. It’s much, much deeper and includes much greater detail.
“I'm talking about, hey, look at this possession here and I want you to tell me exactly why the other team scored,” Self said. “Break it down.”
Emulating Jackson, Self says, “Well, they didn't show this screen.”
Quickly, Self interjects with, “No, that's not why. Look at it again.”
“He's one of those guys that wants to know those things,” Self continued. “That's one of the things that impresses me the most about him is he wants to get better.... I'm not sure everybody's like that.”
Asked if he thought he had learned anything from coaching previous one-and-done standouts that might be helping him reach Jackson on a different level, Self said he wasn’t sure and added that that would be a question for his assistant coaches.
In the same breath, he again pointed toward Jackson’s intelligence, hunger and drive as the biggest reasons it looks — at least through nine games — like Self and the Jayhawks are getting more out of this one-and-done star than any others in the past.
“The thing about Josh that I think is really, really great, and (Andrew Wiggins) was the same way, Joel (Embiid) was for sure the same way.... he wants to be coached,” Self said. “He wants somebody to correct him. Now I'm not saying he wants to be jumped, but I'm saying he'd like somebody to coach him and correct him and be constructive and at the same time push him and try to get the most out of him. He likes that.
“He didn't come in here thinking that he was where he needed to be. He came in here thinking I'm picking this place because I'm not where I need to be. I think sometimes that gets lost.”
“He's so, so, so smart,” Self continued. “But we've always said the best freshmen are the ones that know they don't know, and the ones that are the hardest to coach are the ones that don't know (but) think they do.... We've been fortunate that the majority of our guys that we've had are like (Jackson).”
Tuesday was a special night at Allen Fieldhouse and not just because the Jayhawks scored a season-high for points and absolutely throttled their opponent, UMKC, 105-62.
It marked the 600th victory in the coaching career of KU coach Bill Self and, thankfully for everybody involved, Self actually took time to enjoy that.
And why not? 600 wins, though not the milestone of all milestones certainly is a big deal. And KU fans like big deals and should get to celebrate as many as they can.
In a sport where only one team ends the season truly happy, we often overlook the little moments for joy along the way.
This was no little moment, but it was full of joy and it was cool that both KU and Self embraced it and shared it with the fan base. The game was a delight to watch. Years from now nobody’s going to remember that Josh Jackson had 12 boards against UMKC or that the Jayhawks made 9 of 15 three-pointers in the first half of a blowout win. They will remember Self’s 600th, though, and, who knows, they might be remembering it on the night they’re celebrating his 700th or 800th.
Nine games into the 2016-17 season, we’ve seen the KU guards absolutely carry this team night in and night out. A question was posed to me during my Gameday Chat that asked how long they could keep this up and the answer, at least in my eyes, is simple: A long, long time. The biggest reason they can is not because Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson are just better than everyone. Even Superman had his off days. But because the commitment to play that way is there from Bill Self that gives this group a much better chance to establish this style as their true identity. From there, whatever they get from the bigs — which they will and still do need — will be an added bonus.
1 – Josh Jackson is a bad man. And he knows it. One of the coolest things I’ve seen about Jackson thus far is his ability to crank up his competitiveness no matter who the opponent or what the game. It makes sense for guys to be up for big games against Indiana or Duke, but to do it in a game against overmatched UMKC when you’ve already got a 20-point lead is a whole other deal. Jackson has that burning inside of him and it’s based on his unending desire to get better every time out. It doesn’t hurt a bit that he also likes to put on a show while doing it. And what a show it’s been so far.
2 – How about your three leading rebounders being perimeter players? Jackson had a dozen, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk added seven and Frank Mason grabbed five, including one ridiculous board where it looked like he ripped off a standing vertical jump of 300 inches to grab it over the outstretched and leaping arms of Lagerald Vick. In a perfect world, a team’s big men would lead the way on the rebounding parade. But KU’s bigs continue to struggle and the fact that the guards are hitting the glass not only shows that they’re capable but it also shows that they get the importance. Great sign all the way around.
3 – Although most of the damage came from behind the arc, the Jayhawks appeared to execute the game plan to perfection, looking inside to Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike whenever they ran halfcourt sets. This is a good sign not only because it shows this team’s ability and willingness to execute the game plan, but also because it shows the team’s willingness to give the big men — especially Azubuike — time to get going. He posts hard and calls for the ball every time he gets position. That’s Step 1. Making quicker, more decisive moves and not dribbling into trouble in the post is going to be Step 2. At one point, after an Azubuike move led to a KU turnover, Jackson came from all the way across the floor, yelled at him on his walk over and said simply, “You’re holding the ball too long.” Leadership. By a freshman. More proof to support Reason to Smile No. 1 in this blog. Jackson’s a bad man.
1 – We’re not going to talk a lot about it because there’s really not much to say. You either make ’em or you don’t. And right now Kansas is not making their free throws. The Jayhawks were 12 of 22 (.545) against UMKC from the free throw line and that was after starting the game 4-of-4 from the stripe. They may not want to talk about it, but Self is irked and the players are overthinking it.
2 – Landen Lucas is by no means all the way back (4 points and 5 rebounds on Tuesday night), but he has passed the frustration torch to Carlton Bragg, who continues to play hard but just cannot catch a break. Part of the reason for that is that Bragg isn’t making any breaks for himself. He looks lost on defense, sped up a little on offense and seems to be thinking way too much instead of just playing. It’s going to take some time still for both of those guys to play through their non-conference funks.
3 – With just three non-conference games left to fine tune things for Big 12 play, the Jayhawks are running out of time to get some important minutes and extra on-the-floor emphasis for the guys up front. KU will have seven days between games following their next outing, another five between games after that and then eight more over the winter break. That will give them plenty of practice time to get better, but there is no substitute for doing it in live game action. Right now, though, maybe the confidence needs to come from executing and playing well in practice, because, at least for KU’s bigs, the games have been little more than frustrations thus far.
Third-ranked Kansas will return to Allen Fieldhouse at 2:15 p.m. Saturday to welcome former Big 12 foe Nebraska to town.
— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 105-62 victory over UMKC on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Jayhawks scored a season high and shot lights out while doing it. Came within one make of tying a school record for three-pointers and watched four players score in dobule figures in an easy victory.
The Jayhawks gave up a few too many easy looks in the first half and allowed UMKC to shoot 53 percent from three-point range in the first half. But the Jayhawks clamped down from the start in the second half and made life miserable for the Roos, inside and out.
Carlton Bragg, Udoka Azubuike and Landen Lucas all showed glimpses of improved play. But they also showed enough that frustrated their head coach for him to have freshman Mitch Lightfoot in the game in the first half. The big man project is still a work in progress, but the Jayhawks looked inside to Azubuike a bunch and appear to be trying to get him comfortable in the post.
A career-high tying 30 points for Frank Mason and 27-of-37 shooting from the floor for the four guards who started. So, yeah. Pretty good night.
Sviatoslav Mykhailuk, Bragg, Lucas and Lightfoot all brought pretty good effort even if their statistics weren’t spectacular. Beyond that, Self was able to empty his bench on a night when he picked up career win 600. Playing those guys at the end, no matter how well they do, always helps the bench grade.
It was a big weekend in the Big 12 Conference, with the still-unbeaten Baylor Bears knocking off No. 7 Xavier and Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad picking up a huge road victory at No. 6 Virginia.
That and more in the latest edition of This Week in the Big 12.
• It’s never too early to start building your resume for March and the Baylor Bears have done just that. At 8-0, Scott Drew’s team not only sits at No. 4 in the latest AP Poll (one spot behind Kansas), but also already has recorded victories over some big time teams — Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, VCU and, of course, Xavier.
The Bears’ win over Xavier on Saturday (76-61) featured a 24-point night from Miami transfer Manu Lecomte, a 5-foot-11 junior guard who has taken over the reins at PG for Drew’s team. Through eight games, Lecomte is averaging 14 points and 5 assists per night, but, more importantly, has brought a leadership presence that the Bears definitely needed in the backcourt.
With upcoming games against Southern, Jackson State, John Brown College and Texas Southern, the Bears should easily take a 12-0 record into Big 12 play and, at this point, definitely appear to be KU’s No. 1 challenger for the 2016-17 Big 12 title.
To that end, the Bears also have the advantage of not having to face the Jayhawks until February, which could make the Feb. 1, Big Monday match-up in Lawrence and the Feb. 18 rematch in Waco games to circle on this year’s Big 12 calendar.
• The schedule for 6-1 West Virginia is not nearly as impressive as Baylor’s, top to bottom, but that changed a little on Saturday, when the Mountaineers walked into No. 6 Virginia’s home arena and ended a 24-game homecourt winning streak.
So frustrated were the UVA fans about the outcome that many of them began filing for the exits with more than 30 seconds to play and their team down just five. That’s the kind of spoilage that a 24-game homecourt winning streak can have on a place, so it’s possible that Huggins’ crew did the Cavs fans a favor.
As it typically does, West Virginia is getting by on the strength of its defense, but the Mountaineers’ offense also has been solid. Balance has been the key for Huggins’ attack, with six players averaging 8 points per game or more so far this season.
• It started as a cute little story, with TCU alum Jamie Dixon returning to coach his alma mater and ripping off four straight victories in his homecoming. But those wins were against St. Thomas (Texas), Alabama State, Jacksonville State and Illinois State. Not exactly the powerhouse programs of college basketball.
Since then, the Dixon returns to TCU story has turned from cute to cool, as the Horned Frogs have ripped off four more victories and sit at 8-0 through the first month of the season.
Although TCU’s schedule has not included the same names that Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas have played (and beaten), it’s not a complete joke either.
In addition to a road win against UNLV in the Global Sports Classic, a scheduling quirk delivered back-to-back wins over Washington and freshman phenom Markelle Fultz. The first came in the title game of the Global Sports Classic and the second in Fort Worth. Both were by double digits and both, no doubt, gave the rebuilding Frogs a boost of confidence.
TCU plays at SMU Wednesday night and then will not face another stiff challenge until Dec. 30, when it opens Big 12 play at home against the Jayhawks.
• It’s hard to say exactly what’s gone wrong so far — or if it’s too soon to start to panic — but Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era in Austin, Texas, is off to a rough start.
After racing out to a 3-0 start with wins over three nobodies, the Longhorns dropped three straight to Northwestern, Colorado and Texas-Arlington, the last bringing out the feeling of frustration around the program.
Texas responded with a nice win over Alabama and will play four more tough opponents before the start of Big 12 play, including a pair of KU foes, UAB and Long Beach State.
The Longhorns are 4-3 with five non-conference games to go before opening Big 12 play with K-State. If they can get to 8-4 heading into the match-up in Manhattan, it’s likely they’ll have righted the ship.
If not, the non-con struggles and a Big 12 slate that features four road games in the first seven — including back-to-back at Baylor and Kansas — and all four Big 12 teams that are currently ranked could make for a dangerous start for Smart.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 89-74 victory over Stanford on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
A low turnover total, terrific transition numbers and a great percentage from the floor and even better mark from three-point range. Easy A, approaching an A+.
Stanford shot 50 percent in the first half and big man Reid Travis had his way with the Jayhawks down low. KU’s defensive intensity went up tremendously in the second half, when Stanford shot just 34.6 percent from the floor.
Landen Lucas returned from injury and played with a good spark in the first half. But his struggles returned a little in the second half and Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike remained inconsistent. You know the final stat line for Stanford big man Travis (29 points, 9 rebounds, 19-of-22 at the FT line) will not sit well with KU coach Bill Self.
Devonte’ Graham was sensational, Frank Mason was right there with him and Josh Jackson did his thing, as well. Probably could copy and paste that sentence for every one of these the rest of the way. KU’s guards were red hot from three-point range in this one, as well.
Svi hit a couple of threes and Lucas did a nice job in the first half. Other than that, though, not a lot to write home about from the bench on a night when Dwight Coleby fouled out in just seven minutes.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 91-61 victory over Long Beach State on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks hit 9 of their first 14 three-pointers and 14 of 26 for the night. Beyond that, KU was insanely good in transition and shared the ball so well. There were a couple of ill-advised shots and a few too many turnovers (19) but this was a solid A effort.
KU limited LBSU to 40 percent shooting, forced 15 turnovers and used those turnovers to create transition offense. But the 49ers scored a few buckets right at the rim and shot 42 percent from three-point range.
Udoka Azubuike played hard, played aggressive and played a lot. Carlton Bragg Jr. did not, picking up two fouls in the first 1:13 he was on the floor. Bragg came around in the second half and played much harder — not necessarily much smarter — and Dwight Coleby gave a few decent minutes, as well, on a night when Landen Lucas did not play.
Throwing star of the game Lagerald Vick into the backcourt mix certainly did nothing to hurt the Jayhawks in this one. Vick was great from minute one and Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, who combined for 20 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds in 28 & 29 minutes apiece, did everything they could to keep his flow going.
Svi knocked down a few jumpers and Bragg played a strong second half. Other than that, the bench did not provide much to write home about.
Welcome to the first edition of our This Week in the Big 12 blog, a short and sweet conference notebook of sorts that keeps tabs and catches you up on what’s going on with the teams that KU will play 18 games against to close the 2016-17 regular season.
We’re not going to go into great depth here nor is this going to be overly analytical. That may change when Big 12 play gets rolling, but, for now, we’ll keep this merely to observations and interesting happenings from around the Big 12 Conference.
Although this seems like it’s going to be a down year for the Big 12, there are still plenty of intriguing teams and interesting talents that make the conference worth keeping up with. Besides, you never know when a team or player is going to explode out of nowhere and become a true challenger to KU’s streak of 12 straight Big 12 titles.
Speaking of becoming a challenger, let’s get to right to it...
• Don’t look now, but Kansas has company in the Top 10 of this week’s AP Poll. Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears, which have raced out to a 6-0 start, checked in at No. 9 this week and even received one first-place vote.
The reason? The Bears made it through a murderer’s row type of week, knocking off No. 24 Michigan State by 15 one day and then topping No. 10 Louisville, 66-63, one day later to claim the Battle for Atlantis title. That, after already owning a victory over then-No. 4 Oregon earlier in the season.
Baylor did not receive a single vote in either the AP or preseason coaches’ poll before the year began. But the Bears are getting plenty of love now.
Baylor plays No. 7 Xavier on Dec. 3, but if it can navigate that game, the Bears stand a great chance to take an unbeaten record into Big 12 play. Their strong start has been due mostly to the big time play of Jonathan Motley and a better-than-expected defense.
• Speaking of defense, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad lived up to its “Press Virginia” nickname on Monday name by forcing a school-record 40 turnovers in a win over Manhattan.
The Mountaineers, who have been playing this specific frantic style for the past three seasons now, turned opponents over 28 percent of the time in Year 1, 25 percent of the time last season and are sitting at a whopping 35 percent of the time this season. That’s hard to even comprehend.
So let’s say you’ve got a game where each team has 80 possessions. The Mountaineers are either taking the ball from you or forcing you to cough it up on 28 of those possessions. And that’s on average. Incredible stuff and a clear sign that the Mountaineers, currently sitting at 4-1 and ranked No. 25, will be a legitimate challenger in the Big 12 this season.
My favorite part about WVU’s 40-turnover night? That had to be Huggins’ response. “I thought we did a pretty good job,” he said.
• The only other Big 12 team currently ranked is No. 19 Iowa State, whose only blemish in a 5-1 start was a tough and dramatic loss to No. 11 Gonzaga in the final of the Advocare Invitational in Atlanta, 73-71.
Outside of that game, the Cyclones have not truly been tested and have been a bit of a mixed bag so far this season. They knocked out Miami, Florida, by 17 but also barely squeaked by Indiana State by two in the Advocare semis. Beyond that, ISU has had games where they’ve scored big — 130 and 113 are their season-highs — and games where they’ve been stuck in the 70s.
So clearly, Year 2 of the Steve Prohm takeover is still a work in progress, but give the ’Clones credit for using their veteran backcourt to get out to a great start.
• I didn’t think it was possible for a building to seem more lifeless and empty than the Sprint Center when UAB played George Washington last week before KU’s match-up with Georgia. But then I saw highlights from the K-State-Boston College game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and realized I was wrong.
That place was empty, but that didn’t bother the Wildcats, who rolled to a 72-54 victory.
That’s something the Wildcats have done more than a little of so far this season. The Wildcats’ five victories so far this season have come by an average of 20 points and KSU might very well still be undefeated itself if not for allowing a layup to Maryland’s Melo Trimble with 6.6 seconds to play in the championship game of the Barclays Classic.
• It’s still early, but nobody in the Big 12 has gotten off to a disastrous start. The conference, as a whole, opened the day with a 49-9 record and featured two unbeatens (Baylor and TCU are both 6-0) and just one team with two losses — Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.
With the big fella slated to start his second consecutive game for the 5-1 Kansas men's basketball team, KU coach Bill Self has been fielding an increased number of questions about 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike during the past week or so.
But few questions have resulted in better answers than the one Self gave Monday when he was asked if Azubuike reminded him of anyone from the past.
“Shaq in the movie Blue Chips would be the only one," joked Self, with laughter filled the room around him. "You know, just dunk it. And if you go back and watch it, there’s a lot of similarities. But that would be the only thing that (Azubuike) reminds me of.”
That character from the 1994 movie starring Nick Nolte was named Neon Boudeaux. And like Azubuike, whenever Neon got anywhere near the rim, he rose up and tried to bring it down.
It was a bit hokey in terms of sports movie standards, but left nothing to the imagination about the impact of a player of Neon Boudeaux's caliber, which Shaq, of course, delivered on the NBA stage for the better part of nearly 20 NBA seasons.
Azubuike, of course, is just getting his career started. Still incredibly young (17) and raw, the Nigerian already has reached the point in his KU career where his improvement comes in bunches and shows up big time on the big stage. That's not to say he has moved past the point where he can make silly mistakes or forget an assignment here or there. But whether you're talking about conditioning, knowledge of the game or execution on the floor Azubuike is growing fast and Self continues to marvel at some of the things he can do.
“His skillset isn’t one that’s gonna leave you going crazy," Self said. "But what is unbelievable is how quick he is off his feet and how long he is and how big he is and how well he moves.”
Asked what Azubuike's ceiling could be during his time at Kansas, Self had no problem pencilling him in between two very concrete categories.
“He’s not Joel (Embiid)," said Self, almost offended that anyone might even consider thinking that. "Not close. But he does have a chance to be as good as any big man we’ve had here that I’ve coached other than Joel.”
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 95-57 victory over UNC Asheville at Allen Fieldhouse on Friday, Nov. 25.
The Jayhawks were fast, efficient and relentless on offense, with four players finishing in double figures, including both first-time starters Lagerald Vick (15) and Udoka Azubuike (17). Frank Mason continued his torrid start by leading all scorers with 21 points.
The Jayhawks limited Asheville to 36 percent shooting and destroyed the Bulldogs on the boards, 49-23. The minus comes for forcing just 8 turnovers.
Coming off the bench, Bragg and Lucas did a better job of going after the ball on the glass, finishing with nine combined rebounds. Add that to the monster night turned in by Azubuike and the KU frontcourt finally gets a passing grade.
Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson did what they tend to do and Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk contributed, as well, for this deep and talented KU backcourt.
Normally, big nights from Azubuike and Vick would mean good things for the KU bench, but with those two starting, that made the bench look a little different. Lucas, Bragg and Svi were good at times but also had their share of bonehead moments.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 65-54 victory over Georgia in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on Tuesday night at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
At this point, this team’s offense is coming from its four guards, so if you’re grading on that kind of a scale and not expecting much from the KU big men, you can’t give the offense anything other than an A. We'll throw in the minus for the poor contributions from KU's frontcourt and Svi's off night shooting the ball.
Foul trouble forced KU to try a 2-3 zone for much of the night and Georgia’s cold shooting allowed the Jayhawks to stay in it. It’s not the defense of choice for anyone in crimson and blue, but the fact that they don’t like it and don’t practice or play it often is reason enough to give it a solid grade considering how well it worked.
To give the KU frontcourt an F would be a discredit to junior Dwight Coleby, who got the most out of his body and his minutes and, according to Self, “bailed out” KU’s bigs. So give Coleby a solid B or B+ and give the rest of the bunch an F. That equals a D on the final grade sheet.
Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson were more than just all-tournament team selections. They were awesome. They play so fast, so hard and so well together.
Lagerald Vick played with great effort, gave some good minutes and finished with solid numbers (9 points and 8 rebounds) and Coleby came in and played well beyond what anyone would’ve expected from him. Svi (1-of-7 from the floor in 23 minutes) and Udoka Azubuike (next to nothing in five minutes), left more than a little to be desired.