After weeks of grinding through the Big 12 Conference basketball schedule, 13th-ranked Kansas is ready to try something new.
And it’s likely that Thursday’s 7 p.m. regular season finale against UTEP at Allen Fieldhouse will provide the Jayhawks with both the opportunity to stay sharp and a small taste of the quick turnarounds and short prep times that dominate the month of March.
But those facts do not mean that Kansas coach Bill Self and his team are taking Thursday’s contest any less seriously.
“I’m not looking at this as a tune-up game or anything like that,” Self said of KU’s recently added non-conference battle with UTEP. “I’m looking at this as a regular season game.”
While the rest of the Big 12’s programs are putting the finishing touches on their conference slates, the Jayhawks have had the advantage of spending the past few days catching their breaths.
Fresh off of last Saturday’s thrilling 71-58 win over No. 2 Baylor, Kansas (18-8 overall, 12-6 in Big 12 play) entered the week with 11 days between the end of the Big 12 season and its opening game in the Big 12 tournament. That’s why Self and company sought out UTEP, which also was looking for a game to play to stay sharp.
Adding Thursday’s non-conference matchup gave both programs a challenge to look forward to and focus on while also providing the opportunity to catch some rest.
Self said after the Baylor victory that he could envision a scenario where his team took Sunday and Monday off and still had time for two intense days of practice before facing UTEP.
After that, KU will get another opportunity to mix down time with prep time leading up to its opening game in the Big 12 tournament on March 11 against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
“We should be fresh by the Big 12 tournament,” Self said.
Never did that look more advantageous than on Tuesday night, when No. 3 Baylor and No. 6 West Virginia waged an all-out battle in Morgantown, W.Va., that went to overtime, with the Bears winning 94-89 to clinch the Big 12 regular season title.
Both of those teams still have two more games to play this week, with three of the four coming against ranked foes.
Like Kansas, they’ll get some time off between the end of the regular season and the start of the Big 12 tournament. But the schedule certainly seems to favor the Jayhawks more than any other team in the conference and they’re looking forward to mixing it up with UTEP on Thursday night.
“That’s something that can help us out a lot,” senior guard Marcus Garrett said. “It’ll give us (some) preparation so we don’t just go into the tournament with no (recent) games.”
Added Self: “It came down to 11 days is a long ways to go without playing games this time of year. I know people have done it, with COVID and pauses and things like that. But if you don't have to do it why do you do it? Hopefully it'll help prep us and keep us sharp going into the postseason.”
Technically, the Kansas men’s basketball team still has one game left in its regular season — 7 p.m. Thursday vs. UTEP — before the do-or-die days of March arrive.
But in the moments that followed Saturday night’s massive, 71-58 win over No. 2 Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse the Jayhawks did a bit of reflecting about their season to date.
And Kansas coach Bill Self was in no mood to hold anything back in terms of praising the way his team fought through adversity, battled a mid-season slump and figured out how to play its best basketball at the end of the season.
“I don’t think one game validates the season,” Self said. “But we finished 12-6 in a ridiculously hard league and we sucked for three weeks. So, if you take those three weeks out of it we've performed pretty consistently. … There’s a lot of teams across America that would love to be 12-6 in arguably the toughest conference in America.”
Don’t look now, but what was widely considered to be a down year for the Jayhawks for several weeks has turned into a pretty memorable season with KU putting together a résumé that ranks up there with some of the best in college basketball.
No team has more wins over ranked teams (6) than the Jayhawks, who are now 18-8 overall and winners of six of their last seven games, with the only loss in that stretch (since Feb. 8) coming at No. 14 Texas in overtime.
No team has played more Quadrant 1 games than Kansas, which is 6-8 in those games and now up to No. 11 in the NET rankings. KU was No. 17 prior to the win over Baylor.
No. 32 Maryland (5-9), No. 65 Kentucky (3-11), No. 88 Northwestern (3-11) and No. 200 Kansas State (1-13) also have played 14 Q1 games, while Illinois (8-5), Minnesota (4-9), Penn State (2-11) and Nebraska (1-12) rank second with 13 Q1 games.
Add to that the fact that ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi now has KU on the 3 seed line and you’re clearly looking at a team trending in the right direction. With the potential for a few more Q1 games awaiting in the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks could see their NCAA Tournament seed climb even higher if they can continue their winning ways.
Perhaps more important than any of that is the fact that very few teams were able to play this season’s schedule, from start to finish, without any self-induced COVID-19 delays the way Kansas has.
“The players have handled everything great,” Self said after Saturday’s win. “We did hit the bump in the road in January. We went through that period of time where we played with no energy and were duds. Somehow, they kind of responded and got their legs back, and we’ve been pretty good since.”
Pretty good might be putting it mildly. The Kansas defense, which has carried this team since the start of February, has been sensational, limiting opponents to both low point totals and low points-per-possession marks.
The crown jewel of that came Saturday night, when the Kansas defense held unbeaten Baylor to just 58 points, .94 points per possession and some of its most atrocious shooting percentages of the season — 35% overall, 23% from 3-point range and 38% at the free throw line.
It’s worth pointing out that those numbers came against a Baylor team that, even after that off night, ranks fourth in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency numbers. Shutting them down, COVID pause or not, was a significant accomplishment. And it’s one that has Self and his players believing that if they can stick to the old defense-wins mindset, they can finish the season with a deep tournament run.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Self said. “I think we’re playing better than we have. We’ve had a lot of teams that had better records going into postseason, but they may not have been kind of on an uptick. I think this team’s on an uptick.”
According to reports from multiple recruiting outlets including JayhawkSlant.com and Tipton Edits, ESPN five-star Class of 2022 wing Gradey Dick is planning to announce his college decision sometime next week.
A 6-foot-7, 200-pound do-everything player from Wichita, Dick is in his first season at Sunrise Christian Academy after enjoying a standout couple of seasons at Wichita Collegiate.
The Kansas native is deciding between Alabama, Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Illinois, Florida, Texas Tech and Purdue. He trimmed his list to a final eight in late December.
Dick is averaging 9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game for Sunrise so far this season.
The Jayhawks appear to be in good shape with Dick, who has attended several KU games with his parents throughout the past few years on unofficial visits.
In addition, two of Dick’s siblings are KU graduates and another sibling is currently enrolled at KU. Beyond that, he is teammates with KU signee Zach Clemence, a four-star Sunrise Christian forward who signed with the Jayhawks last November.
Kansas assistant Norm Roberts and head coach Bill Self have been the lead recruiters for Dick, who received a scholarship offer from KU the summer before his sophomore year of high school.
He transferred to Sunrise before his junior season to get greater exposure and face tougher competition, and Luke Barnwell’s program has delivered exactly that. Earlier this month, Dick was a part of Sunrise’s victory over No. 1-ranked Montverde Academy on Montverde’s home floor. That game featured 13 nationally ranked prospects.
ESPN.com has Dick ranked No. 21 overall in the Class of 2022. He also is ranked as the ninth best small forward in the country by Rivals.com at No. 33 overall and as the nation’s eighth best small forward and at No. 43 overall by 247 Sports.
247 recruiting analysts Eric Bossi, Dushawn London and Brandon Jenkins all recently made their Crystal Ball picks for Kansas in Dick’s recruitment. Two Rivals.com analysts also are picking Kansas in that site’s FutureCast projections.
Most years, fans of Big 12 Conference basketball can look at how the seedings may shake out for the conference tournament and breakdown matchups and the possible paths to a Big 12 tourney crown for four or five different teams.
This year, however, Kansas coach Bill Self believes all of that can be thrown out the window.
“The Big 12 seedings are not going to be real,” Self said following his team’s 75-72 overtime loss to No. 14 Texas on Tuesday in Austin, Texas. “The bottom line is that some teams are playing 14 (games), some teams are playing 18 and the other teams are playing 16, and not everybody’s playing (everybody) twice.”
Even with that being the case, all 10 teams will still be assigned a seed and, like always, the No. 7 seed will play No. 10, No. 8 will play No. 9 and the quarterfinals will follow a day later just as they have in years past.
The problem is, we won’t really be sure if that No. 3 vs. No. 6 game on Thursday (March 11) is pitting the conference’s third best team against its sixth best. Same for the 4-5 game and on down the line.
Does it matter? Not in any real concrete way. Sure it will impact the way the tourney plays out and it might play a substantial role in which team gets to take home the hardware.
But in the grand scheme of it all, the Big 12 tournament is more of an afterthought this year than ever before. All of these teams, regardless of where they sit today or even where they end up being seeded when March 10 rolls around, are playing for NCAA Tournament seeding. That will be determined on Selection Sunday, March 14.
“We knew going into the year that we were playing for seeding for the NCAA Tournament, not the Big 12 tournament,” Self said.
The reasons for that type of focus were obvious.
For one, no one knew for sure when the season began if there was even going to be a Big 12 tournament. It seemed obvious even back then that the NCAA was hellbent on having the NCAA Tournament in 2021, come hell or high water. But if that meant the conference tournaments had to be scrapped to make that happen, you can bet that would’ve been the case.
For two, everyone knew going into the pandemic-adjusted 2020-21 seaosn that there would be disruptions and unbalanced schedules and interruptions and missed games throughout the season, which made it hard then — and still hard today — to put too much stock in what happens during the regular season, good, bad or otherwise.
That’s not to discount the terrifice seasons turned in by Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Ohio State or countless other teams. Nor is it intended to a free pass for some of college basketball’s shiniest programs which struggled mightily at times this season, Kansas included.
Instead, it serves as a reminder that the most important thing that can happen between now and the end of March will happen between the lines. And we’re not talking seed lines.
Seeds will be more irrelevant than ever. And the Big 12 tournament will be a great example of that.
Depending on how the final week and a half of the regular season plays out, Kansas could finish as high as third or fourth or as low as sixth or seventh in the Big 12 standings.
You could make a case that that range carries over to KU’s NCAA Tournament seeding possibilities, as well.
But no matter where the Jayhawks land — in either event — they’re going to have to beat a good time in their first game, a good team in their second game and a good team in their third game, if they’re lucky enough to play past their opener.
For the most part, that’s true every year. But it seems like it will be even more true this year because the seeds that so often help define these teams may be incredibly difficult to trust.
Early pro tip for your March Madness brackets: There will be no 12-5 upset this year. Mark it down. Because those 12s could actually be 14s or 10s and those 5s could actually be 4s or 6s.
Enough with the fuss about Baylor not playing enough Big 12 games; let it play out & see what happens
According to a report from CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, the Big 12 is in the process of canceling/rescheduling Thursday night’s Baylor-West Virginia game as part of a bigger puzzle to make as many pieces as possible fit by the end of next week.
It’s no easy task. And the fact that Baylor will catch a break by not having to play all 18 games of its Big 12 schedule has Kansas fans more than a little fired up.
They’re fired up because of the past notion held by fans at other Big 12 schools that the Big 12 always caters to Kansas but appears to be doing that for Baylor this time. Their words, not mine.
They’re fired up because some of them — not Kansas coach Bill Self — believe that Baylor could still be chased down in the Big 12 race, leaving the door open for KU to still be alive for a Big 12 title. Again, their words, not mine.
And they’re fired up because, let’s face it, that’s what fans do: They get fired up in support of their team and like to take shots at others. While so much of what has gone on during the 2020-21 season has been new, this fact is not. Fans acting like fanatics is as old as time.
I’m not too worried about the first and third scenarios listed above. But it’s that second one that needs to be addressed, because anyone who thinks any team other than Baylor is going to win the league this season needs to take a deep breath and think again.
Yes, the Bears still have nine games to play. No, they’re not going to get to all of them. And I’ve already written about what will happen if/when the Bears finish the season having played just 15 or 16 games against Big 12 foes. It's all about phantom losses and adjusted winning percentage.
But let’s pretend for a minute that we live in some dream world where there’s still time for Baylor (and everyone else) to play all nine games remaining on its original schedule. Even then the numbers still favor the Bears as Big 12 champs.
Here’s a look.
These are the games, in no particular order, that Baylor still has to play. Again, they’re not going to play all nine of these, but these are the results that are missing:
at West Virginia
vs. West Virginia
vs. Iowa State
vs. Texas Tech
vs. Oklahoma State
As you can see, six of the nine are at home. Even if Baylor were to lose all three road games but then swept the home games, BU would finish with three losses. Oklahoma and West Virginia currently have four. Kansas has five. Baylor would be Big 12 champs.
OK. So you think unbeaten Baylor, which has looked as good as any team in America throughout the season, is suddenly going to start dropping games left and right? Could happen. Rust and the layoff and the stress of breaking a rhythm can do funny things to a program. I’ll give you that. So let’s say Baylor drops the three road games and also loses to Texas and West Virginia at home — the two highest-ranked teams remaining on its home slate. Again, not likely, but let’s say it happens for argument’s sake. Baylor would finish 13-5 and Oklahoma and/or West Virginia would have to run the table to win the league. The Sooners still have five games left, West Virginia still has six left, and neither team is going to play them all.
OU: 2 versus Oklahoma State, 1 versus Baylor, 1 versus K-State and 1 versus Texas. Only the K-State game is a gimme.
WVU: 2 versus Baylor, 2 versus TCU, 1 versus K-State and 1 versus Oklahoma State. Three of the six look like easy wins and the other three are much tougher.
We could do this with every team still in the hunt (Kansas and Texas have five losses and Oklahoma State has six), but the fact remains that none of it is going to matter.
Because COVID has wrecked the Big 12 schedules and there’s not a whole lot that can be done about it now. Things are not going to be equal. And for every Kansas fan who says that’s unfair because the Jayhawks made it through and did their part, there’s a West Virginia or a Baylor fan that can say that their team caught some bad luck and would’ve won more or lost less if not for COVID. No one can say definitively what would have happened. So we do the best we can with what we know and what has happened.
We all knew that the pandemic was going to play a role in this whole thing when the season began. So it should be no surprise now that that’s exactly what’s happening now.
Baylor is most likely going to play five more games before the end of the regular season. That’ll put them at 14 total conference games. As I mentioned above, I wrote last week about what the league plans to do in the event that the final standings are unbalanced.
Almost every scenario, short of Baylor losing every one of the games it plays, has the Bears winning the conference.
Accept it. Deal with it. And get ready for March. Because, like most years — as Kansas fans know all too well — that’s all that truly matters anyway.
3:30 p.m. Update:
The Big 12 Conference this afternoon announced the complete schedule for next week, which was built into the schedule as an open week for make-up games.
The official word on why Thursday's Baylor-WVU game was canceled is as follows: "To avoid scheduling a team to play three games in successive weeks, the West Virginia at Baylor game scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 25 has been canceled."
Baylor now has three games scheduled next week. If the Bears are able to play those three and they get their game in tonight and Saturday versus Kansas, they'll get to the 14-game mark by the start of the postseason.
Here's the full final week of Big 12 play:
Monday, March 1
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (ESPN), 8:00 p.m. CT
Tuesday, March 2
Baylor at West Virginia (ESPN/2), 4:00 p.m. CT
TCU at Texas Tech (Big 12 Now on ESPN+)
Texas at Iowa State (Big 12 Now on ESPN+)
Thursday, March 4
Iowa State at Texas Tech (Big 12 Now on ESPN+)
Oklahoma State at Baylor (ESPN/2)
TCU at West Virginia (Big 12 Now on ESPN+)
Texas at Oklahoma (ESPN/2)
Saturday, March 6
Oklahoma State at West Virginia (ESPN/2)
Iowa State at Kansas State (Big 12 Now on ESPN+)
Sunday, March 7
Texas Tech at Baylor (ESPN), 3:00 p.m. CT
Texas at TCU (Big 12 Now on ESPN+)
Kansas coach Bill Self said Monday during his regularly scheduled press conference that the Jayhawks are still debating whether to add another opponent next week during the team’s 11-day layoff between Saturday’s regular season finale against Baylor and the start of the Big 12 tournament.
“We’re considering that,” Self said. “But in order to do that, we have to get on it immediately.”
Any opponent KU would add to the schedule would have to meet certain COVID-19 protocols to even make the game possible. The Jayhawks have an open date because of the cancellation of the Tarleton State game in mid-December.
Self has said throughout the past week that he would like to play to keep some of the rust off but that he also would rather be rusty than risk COVID-19 complications.
As for the ideal date for KU’s 27th game of the season, if it does happen, Self pointed to Thursday, March 4 because, “that would be kind of halfway between when we last played and when the (Big 12) tournament's starting and would give us plenty of time to rest and to prepare.”
“Nothing’s been decided yet,” Self added.
Thompson now glove free
After playing with a protective glove on his right hand during his first few games back from a broken finger, Bryce Thompson plans to ditch the glove this week as he climbs closer to 100%.
“He’s getting better all the time,” Self said Monday afternoon. “He practiced without his glove for the first time (Sunday) and says he feels good.”
Although nearly everyone in the lineup has played a significant role in KU’s five-game winning streak, Thompson’s return has given the Jayhawks an added weapon off the bench. In addition to providing Self with another competitive player who thinks team-first when he’s on the floor, Thompson has provided KU with another option to lighten Marcus Garrett’s load as the team’s primary ball handler.
The Jayhawks are 12-2 in the games Thompson has played in this season and just 5-5 with him in street clothes.
“When we didn’t play well and we needed a pick-me-up, we didn't have our pick-me-up because Bryce was hurt,” Self said. “So I do think he's very important to us, and I think he's going to continue to get more and more confident and better as we finish the season.”
Garrett a finalist for national award
On Monday, senior guard Marcus Garrett was named one of 10 finalists for college basketball's Senior CLASS Award, given annually to a men's and women's player who excels both on and off the floor.
Garrett was chosen by a selection committee that selected the finalists from a list of 30 men’s candidates announced earlier in the season. Nationwide fan voting begins immediately at the Senior CLASS website, and the fan vote will be combined with votes from media members and Division I head coaches to determine a winner.
This year's male and female honorees will receive their awards at the 2021 Final Four in Indianapolis.
Unless you’ve missed every single minute of Kansas basketball during the past four seasons, you’re probably keenly aware of just how talented and important Marcus Garrett is and has been to the KU program.
But even those fans who have watched every minute the Jayhawks have played during Garrett’s career still may overlook the Dallas senior’s greatness.
It’s easy to do because so much of it is subtle and also because many of the plays Garrett makes over and over for the Jayhawks have simply become a part of who he is as a basketball player and tend to be expected in the same way that other players are expected to dribble, jump or run.
“Him being here and giving everything he can every single game, no matter if it's scoring, rebounding, assisting, he does it all and he doesn't ask for anything else,” redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson said last weekend. “He just plays for us and we try to play for him. We look to him to give us confidence and lead our team.”
While many of these signature Garrett plays have come in highly visible moments and at crucial times, so many others tend to blend into the action and can get lost in the big picture.
Saturday’s 67-61 win over No. 15 Texas Tech offered a full-scale look at all of the things, big and small, that Garrett does and has done to help the Jayhawks compete at such a high level in recent years.
Here’s a look back at a few of them from what I would consider to be a true Garrett masterpiece in yet another big time Kansas victory.
• After throwing a lazy pass that led to a turnover with just under 8 minutes to play in the first half, Garrett immediately made up for his mistake, skying to get a finger on an over-the-top pass that looked destined to become an easy dunk for Texas Tech.
The deflection led to a mad scramble for a loose ball and possession went back to Kansas when Jamarius Burton lost it out of bounds on his way to the basket after catching a pass from teammate Mac McClung who caught Garrett’s deflection near midcourt.
Instead of seeing their lead trimmed to 21-18 on a momentum-sparking dunk from Texas Tech, the Jayhawks got a free throw from Wilson on the ensuing possession to go up 22-16 and maintain control of the game.
Yes, Garrett was responsible for the turnover in the first place. But that’s often just the trigger for him to dig even deeper to make a play to get it back.
• A few minutes later, Garrett showcased the off-the-ball defensive skills he possesses that make him so great on that end and aren’t always noticed by those watching the flow of the game.
While Garrett and Wilson were communicating about a switch on the left wing, Garrett noticed that David McCormack’s man got free in the paint after McCormack got hung up on a screen.
Instead of worrying too much about the two Tech players on the wing opposite the ball, Garrett slid into the paint to check McCormack’s man until the KU big man could recover. The Texas Tech ball handler looked inside and wanted to go there, but Garrett’s presence deterred him from throwing the entry pass and the Red Raiders turned the ball over.
On the other end, Garrett hit a sneaky floater in the lane to put the Jayhawks up 24-18 with 5:16 to play in the first half.
“Marcus is one of the most underrated players in the country because nobody looks at him and gives him near the credit that he should get defensively,” KU coach Bill Self said after the victory. “Because he guards everybody’s man. And his man never gets double figures. Never. Never.”
Plays like the one mentioned above happen all the time, all over the floor, and if you watch closely, you’ll see Garrett constantly coaching up his teammates, with both where to go during the play and also with what they did right or wrong during a stoppage in the action.
If you want to have some fun sometime and learn a ton about the game in the process, spend a game watching nothing but Garrett on the defensive end. Or at least do it while watching a KU replay. It’ll blow your mind how busy the guy is throughout every game.
• Moments later, as a sort of exclamation point on one of those stretches that Self likes to talk about where Garrett dominates the game, Garrett crossed his man over at the top of the key and then drove hard to the rim down the left side of the paint.
Rather than trying to get to the rim, Garrett feathered a perfect pass to McCormack, who hammered it with one hand for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop that put the Jayhawks up 26-18 with 4:46 to play.
“Marcus is a floor general, he's a leader, he does things that may not appear on the stat sheet but he knows how to dictate (that) people to go to certain spots on the floor, how to create driving lanes, how to create open looks, and he does that better than anybody else,” McCormack said after the victory.
Garrett’s crossover was wicked, one of those that you’ll see on highlight reels years from now. And his decision to throw the lob instead of trying to get his was the perfect example of his willingness to create for others so long as it’s the right play that helps the team.
“Marcus is the guy we feed off of,” Self said.
• It's important to point out that this performance by Garrett also featured the KU senior displaying his extraordinary feel for the floor and how to play the game.
This was on full display at around the 13:30 mark of the first half, when Garrett worked his way into the lane and showed off his footwork that often leads to uncontested buckets in tight. This time, however, instead of the hard pivot and pump fake to get his defender in the air, Garrett used the moves to get Ochai Agbaji open for a 3-pointer in front of the Texas Tech bench.
The play itself looked like it was headed toward being one of those Garrett hard drives to the rim or even some kind of lob or bounce pass to McCormack, who was in the paint near the rim with Garrett as he drove. But instead of dropping it off to the big fella, who had drawn extra attention from the wing, Garrett effortlessly floated a pass by McCormack's left shoulder and over the head of the defender who had helped off of Agbaji.
The play looked a lot like the lob to McCormack — who may have learned something in this sequence that helped him catch the lob later — in that it started with Garrett breaking his man down at the top of the key and him going left, driving hard to get his shoulders past his defender.
These plays have become a common part of Garrett's arsenal and they illustrate perfectly why Self believes in him as this team's point guard. Few have the kind of vision and confidence needed to make that pass, which hit Agbaji's waiting hands in perfect catch-and-shoot rhythm.
Agbaji buried the shot to put Kansas up 15-6 and keep KU's hot start going.
• Fast forward to Saturday’s second half for another one of those sequences that Garrett dominated, this time with the KU point guard keeping the ball and scoring six of his 10 points in a 4-minute span to keep Kansas comfortably in front.
The first came in the final 10 seconds of the shot clock with just over 8 minutes to play, after Garrett and the rest of the Jayhawks tried to get a couple of different looks but to no avail.
Recognizing KU needed someone to make a play, Garrett caught the ball on the left wing and went right to the rim, scoring a tough layup off the glass over/through two Red Raiders to put Kansas up 53-45.
The second bucket came after KU sophomore Christian Braun tracked down an offensive rebound and freshman Bryce Thompson wisely elected to run some clock instead of instantly attacking. Thompson flipped it to Garrett at the top of the key, the rest of the Jayhawks spread the floor and McCormack came to give Garrett a ball screen.
After initially going right off the screen, Garrett crossed up TTU big man Marcus Santos-Silva and came back into the paint for another soft floater in traffic. Kansas led 57-49 with 5:54 to play.
The last of Garrett’s five field goals came a minute later and again turned a six-point, two-possession Kansas lead into a more comfortable eight-point margin at 59-51 with 4:33 to play.
It’s certainly possible that someone in a KU uniform could have or even would have scored in those key moments had Garrett not been the one to do it.
But the fact that he was — both in the sense that they put the ball in his hands and he delivered — is telling of Garrett’s importance in providing confidence and a calming effect for this team in a number of different ways.
“He’s a ball handler, a stabilizer and if he had somebody back there to help him a little more with the ball handling responsibilities and things like that I think he'd be even more effective.”
From a numbers standpoint, that certainly seems possible. Garrett finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, with 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 turnovers in 27 minutes.
But from the standpoint of his impact on all aspects of the game, from offense to defense to leadership, toughness and intangibles, it’s hard to imagine Garrett playing a bigger role.
And Saturday’s game, perhaps better than any single game in his Kansas career, illustrated that perfectly.
How phantom losses & adjusted winning percentage could (but probably won’t) determine the Big 12 champ
The current standings show Kansas just two games back of Baylor in the race for the 2020-21 Big 12 men’s basketball title.
Not bad for a team with five conference losses that is chasing a team that has none.
Ah, COVID. When will you run out of ways to blow our minds?
Two games back with three to play — with one of them coming against the team you’re chasing — certainly would be an interesting position to be in most years.
But this year, the 23rd-ranked Jayhawks remain an extreme longshot in the Big 12 race (along with everyone else) simply because all Baylor has to do to gain some separation is play games, whether they win them or not.
In fact, if my math checks out, the Bears (currently 9-0 in Big 12 play) need just three more wins to lock up the Big 12 title, even if that means going 3-2 or 3-3 to close out the regular season. More on that a little farther down.
Stuck in a prolonged pandemic-related pause, the Bears are slated to return to action against Iowa State next Tuesday. After that, they have games scheduled for Thursday (vs. West Virginia) and Saturday, as well.
That last one’s in Lawrence. And depending on what Kansas does against Texas Tech and Texas before then, KU's regular season finale could get a lot more interesting in a hurry.
No one should hold onto the pipe dream of Kansas catching Baylor for the Big 12 title. That ship sailed weeks ago.
But given the fact that the Bears still could be a little rusty after their three-week layoff and will be playing their third game in five days, the Jayhawks, who are still battling for postseason seeding, could be catching the nation’s No. 2-ranked team at a good time.
Time will tell on that.
For now, let’s get back to Baylor and what its next couple of weeks might look like.
During their recent down time, the Bears were forced to reschedule five games. That’s on top of two Big 12 games that were already postponed earlier in the season and the two other games that are still on their original schedule, Feb. 27 at Kansas included.
Unless the Big 12 wants to throw in a couple of back-to-back adventures like the NBA, it’s impossible to see Baylor playing a full 18-game Big 12 schedule.
So that’s not happening. The number the Bears should shoot for is 15.
That would mean three games next week and three games the following week, which was purposely left open as a rescheduling option for this very reason.
Any more than six games in the final two weeks seems outrageous and awfully tough to pull off when you consider travel and scheduling logistics.
Heck, at this point, if BU does wind up playing six games in a 12- or 13-day span to close the regular season, it probably would be better off losing in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament to grab a little extra rest. The Bears are not going to need to do anything in Kansas City, Mo., to justify their 1 seed in the Big Dance.
Don’t bet on that happening either, though. After all of this time off, these guys surely want to play, and they’ll get some decent rest before the Big 12 tourney begins and again before the NCAA Tournament tips off.
Where it gets a little more interesting is if Baylor, for some reason, cannot play five or six games in the next two weeks.
The Big 12 is prepared for that and has come up with a process to determine the Big 12 regular season champion based on adjusted winning percentage.
In a nutshell, the plan looks like this:
• The league will take the average number of conference games played by its 10 men’s basketball programs and that number will serve as a baseline of sorts.
• Let’s say Baylor plays six more games and finishes with a 15-game record. That would mean the total number of Big 12 games played this season in men’s basketball was 174. Divide that by 10 and you get 17.4, which would be rounded down to 17 as the average number of games played per team.
• At that point, any team that plays a total number of games that is greater than three games shy of 17 (so 13 or fewer) would have a phantom loss added to its record for the purpose of setting an adjusted winning percentage to determine the league champ.
• Those losses would not be actual forfeits on the team’s historical record. They would just be used to set an adjusted winning percentage.
• If a team plays 13 games, it would have one phantom loss added to its record to get an adjusted winning percentage since 13 is four games shy of 17, one more than the three-game wiggle-room window they’re allowing. If a team plays just 12 games, it would have two phantom losses added. And so on and so on.
• The most interesting thing about the adjusted winning percentage equation is that it would only be used to determine the regular season champion. Actual winning percentages still will determine the seeding for the Big 12 tournament.
As you can see, Baylor already has done plenty to position itself extremely well to finish off this season with a Big 12 regular season title.
But here’s a funny one to end on: Let’s say for one reason or another that the Bears do not play another game and they finish the regular season at 9-0 in conference play.
That would lower the average number of Big 12 games played this season from 17 down to 16 and give Baylor a final adjusted winning percentage of .692 based on a phantom record of 9-4.
If either Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas or Texas Tech could somehow finish at 13-5, they would be crowned the Big 12’s regular season champ with a .722 winning percentage, but Baylor, at 9-0 in real life, would still be the No. 1 seed at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
That outcome is highly unlikely because it looks like the Bears are going to get enough games in to both qualify for the regular season title and earn the 1 seed.
But if playing and covering sports in this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t really take anything for granted.
Let the crazy times in college basketball continue.
For the third time this week, the NCAA’s case against the Kansas men’s basketball program was a hot a topic during an interview featuring KU coach Bill Self.
On Tuesday’s episode of the ESPN.com podcast "Courtside with Dakich and Greenberg," Self was asked by Dan Dakich if he had ever thought about resigning as a result of the NCAA’s infractions case against the Kansas program.
“Hell no,” Self said emphatically. “That's exactly the image and portrayal that's been presented to people. I'm saying we haven't done anything wrong. Why would I run from this? I mean, I'm not running from this at all.
“(Quitting has) not even (been) a thought process,” Self added. “Not one time. And I will not believe that or think that ever.”
That stance is nothing new, but rarely has Self been asked about stepping away. Self used the opportunity as an chance to reemphasize his commitment to KU.
“My resolve now is as strong now as it ever has been,” Self told Dakich and Seth Greenberg. “And I'm as excited about the future as I ever have been. We just have to get through this.”
Earlier in the week, on a podcast with Jeff Goodman and also during his regular weekly press conference, Self discussed the ongoing NCAA case’s impact on recruiting.
On Tuesday, he addressed the impact the entire process has had on him personally.
“My players have been great,” Self said. “This hasn’t affected my team at all. And it hasn’t affected my staff and it hasn’t affected me (and my) preparation. Now, has it affected my mind, as far as having a few things on my plate to think about instead of having relaxation and things like that? Sure it has. But that’s (par) for the course. We’ve had a pretty good run here for a long time. And if this is the biggest hiccup we’ve had, nobody wants to go through it, but we’ll get through it and be fine.”
Self joined the podcast at the 28-minute mark and began talking about the investigation at the 45-minute mark.
While the Kansas basketball team’s current three-game winning streak was absolutely essential for the Jayhawks to get their confidence back, it also opened the door to a key component of KU’s postseason prospects.
Had the Jayahwks continued to struggle like they did in January, it would have been awfully tough for anyone touting KU’s overall résumé to look back at what this team did in December as worthy of being the primary component of Bill Self’s team’s postseason seeding.
Today, however, that narrative looks a little different. Just like the Jayhawks.
No one is claiming that back-to-back wins over Iowa State and a home victory over now-unranked Oklahoma State are enough to suddenly vault the Jayhawks into the conversation for a 3 or 4 seed today.
But the fact that those recent victories helped this team rediscover some of the elements that made them a Top 10 team in December makes it a lot easier to look back at those wins with a little more weight.
Included among them:
• A Dec. 8 victory over Creighton. The Bluejays have turned in the kind of season most people expected them to have and have maintained their status as a Top 20 team all season long. Currently ranked 16-5 and 12-4 in the Big East, Creighton is fresh off of a 16-point victory over No. 5 Villanova. Any way you slice it, beating this team, now or in December, qualifies as a good win.
• A Dec. 17 road win at Texas Tech. Like Creighton, the Red Raiders have spent most of the season in the Top 20, and, as recently as last week, were ranked No. 7 in the nation. Tech’s 11-point home loss to West Virginia last week (you might remember it as the Chris Beard ejection game) dropped Tech to No. 15 in this week’s poll, and the Red Raiders are, without question, a tournament team and one of the toughest teams in the Big 12. KU will get a shot at validating that December win when Tech comes to Lawrence on Saturday. If the Jayhawks can pull off the season sweep, both wins will bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.
• A Dec. 22 home win over West Virginia. The Mountaineers are currently 14-6 and ranked No. 13 in the country. Like KU, they, too, do not have a single bad loss on their resume, with all six WVU losses coming to teams ranked in the Top 28 of the current KenPom.com rankings. Any team that tops them can count it as a quality win, and, it will be really interesting to see what the selection committee does with the teams who finish behind Baylor in the Big 12 standings. On one hand, they all may be battling each other for spots on the 3-4-5 lines. On the other hand, there’s a chance that all of them could wind up on the same line but in different regions.
• A Jan. 9 home win over Oklahoma. The Sooners are currently the second-highest ranked team in the Big 12 and they’ve been on an absolute tear (7-1, with four wins over ranked teams) since losing to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in a game they had a chance to win. Nobody thought much of that victory at the time, but it may wind up going down as one of KU’s best of the season. And, if the Sooners stay hot — they’re currently ranked No. 9 at 13-5 — that KU win in early January will go down as much more than a nice, little Quadrant 1 victory.
Those victories, to date, are KU’s only four Quadrant 1 wins. But before you scoff and view that number as teenie tiny, consider that only eight teams in the country (Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, Ohio State, Alabama, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri) have more Quadrant 1 wins at this point in the season.
Beyond that, Kansas has played six games against that group, which illustrates how tough this team’s schedule has been. The NET rankings have it as the 11th hardest schedule in the country, and KenPom.com puts it at No. 17. Back-to-back games against Iowa State (No. 148) knocked it out of the Top 10 on that site.
Tough schedules are great and can give a team a significant boost in the rankings or seedings if the road is viewed as impressive enough by those filling out their ballots or the bracket.
But, at some point, teams have to prove that they can do more than just play good teams. They also have to beat them.
The Jayhawks were doing that earlier this season and then the wheels fell off a little bit. Now that this team’s confidence has been restored and Kansas seems to have found its identity — win with defense and let the offense come naturally — the Jayhawks have put themselves in position to do just that.
Whether they do, or how often, could go a long way in determining where they’re seeded and what kind of a threat they’re viewed as in March.
But, as of now, that’s at least worth discussing again, and it’s not hard to see how KU quickly could get into the conversation as a potential 3 or 4 seed.
They’ll have to win to get there. But this group appears to be more prepared to do that today than at any time this calendar year.