The Day After: Surviving the Octagon
The Kansas University men’s basketball team — particularly its key juniors — picked up a big victory in Manhattan on Saturday, 72-63 over K-State, the first win in Bramlage Coliseum for guys like Wayne Selden, Frank Mason and Brannen Greene.
After a slow and sloppy start by both teams, K-State actually was the first team to flex its muscles, backed by the wild and rockin’ environment created by the home fans.
But KU absorbed the blow, refused to let K-State get too big of a lead and then played great basketball for about 20 minutes.
That stretch allowed Kansas to build a 17-point lead and even though K-State trimmed it to three a couple of times down the stretch, KU left Manhattan feeling as if it had continued its recent run of solid basketball.
After starting Big 12 play at 5-3, with three consecutive road losses, KU now has won six straight conference games — seven in a row overall (Kentucky) — and takes a two-game lead over three teams (Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia) with four games left in Big 12 play.
The Jayhawks really have hit their stride lately and appear to be playing with more confidence than they have all season. What’s more, it’s different guys stepping up at different times to help carry this team that is right on pace to be the top seed in the Big 12 tournament and likely a No. 1 seed — perhaps the overall top seed — in the Big Dance after that.
Saturday was Mason’s turn and the junior (who became the 58th Jayhawk to reach the 1,000-point plateau) looked a lot more like his old self than he had almost at any point this season, playing fast, finishing at the rim and looking unstoppable at times.
For all the times he’s questioned, whether by the media, the fans or even the players on his own team, you sure have to give Bill Self credit for doing one thing right. And I don’t have any idea how he does it. Obviously, the guy is a terrific coach and is one of the top three-to-five college basketball coaches in the game today. So I’m not talking X’s and O’s or recruiting or consistency or any of that right now. What I’m talking about is finding a way to keep guys getting next to no playing time engaged enough to be ready to deliver when their numbers are called. Think about it. KU probably loses this game if Svi and Jamari Traylor did not do what they did. Heck, even Hunter Mickelson, who has disappeared almost completely from the rotation, played a few big minutes. And if any of the three of them had spent the past few weeks pouting and sulking over their own playing time concerns, they might not have been able to be there when this team needed them. Whatever it is that Self does to inspire that — and, don’t get me wrong, a ton of credit for this has to go to the make-up of each of those players — he should get a lot more credit for than he does. Managing a roster, more aptly said: managing egos, is one of the hardest things in all of sports. And Self is a master.
Three reasons to smile
1 – There definitely was a meltdown element to Saturday’s game that allowed K-State to trim a 17-point KU lead to three late in the second half, but that had more to do with the personnel on the floor than anything else. Without Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas for long stretches of the second half, KU actually did a pretty good job of keeping its composure and closed down the stretch when it mattered most, with both clutch free throw shooting and stellar defense. Now is a good time to make that type of effort part of the KU arsenal for the rest of the season.
2 – Jamari Traylor played one of his best games of the year offensively and it came because he did not hesitate to use his quickness and athleticism to his advantage. Three times Traylor caught the ball on a reversal in KU’s offense and three times the senior forward immediately drove to the right, blew by the KSU defender on him and finished at the rim. The third one was capped off by one of the top KU dunks of the year and put an exclamation point on KU’s latest road win. Traylor finished 3-of-4 shooting for six points and added three rebounds, a block and an assist in 17 important minutes.
3 – KSU coach Bruce Weber said it better than I could, so I’ll just let him take it from here on a day when KU got to the free throw line 30 times and outscored K-State 32-26 in the paint: “We just didn’t play strong in the first half, especially down the stretch,” Weber said. “They get in the paint, they get to the free throw line. We get into the paint and we don’t get to the free throw line and we don’t finish. That’s the difference.”
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU’s free throw shooting, particularly in the first half, was atrocious. That’s obviously nothing new for this team, which has struggled most of the season from the line, especially in one-and-one situations, but it’s not what you want to see at this point in the season if you’re a KU fan or the Kansas coaches. With the whistles going KU’s way in the first 20 minutes, KU failed to capitalize fully and could have led by much more than 10 heading into the locker room. Four different Jayhawks missed at least two free throws in this one and only Devonte’ Graham (who was 1-of-6 from the field) made all of the free throws he attempted, going 4-of-4 down the stretch. Overall, KU shot 18-for-30 from the free throw line for 60 percent.
2 – The solid night by Svi had a lot to do with it, but Brannen Greene, whose minutes have been way up lately, still got the first crack in the hostile environment and just wasn’t ready. Given the progression that Greene had shown in his game of late, the 0-for-1 showing in just five minutes has to be pegged a little disappointing. But it’s possible that the circumstances — at KSU with the entire focus of the home crowd on making Greene’s day miserable — had something to do with it. He gets a pass for now and will look to get back on track Tuesday at Baylor. Make no mistake about it: This team needs Greene to be playing well — but not necessarily a lot — if it hopes to make some noise in March.
3 – There was nothing terribly wrong with Carlton Bragg’s line — 2 points, 3 rebounds, a steal and 2 turnovers in 12 minutes — but if you watched him play closely you can see that he appears to be struggling with his confidence. A lot of second-guessing, of himself and others, and a little more tentative play than we saw from him earlier this season. I know he’s not getting consistent minutes (like Cheick Diallo) but you’d like to see him a little more comfortable out there with the minutes he is getting. Like Greene, Bragg also gets a pass here, because he was put in a tough spot and asked to handle the load in the post — a tough ask defensively — with Landen Lucas in foul trouble and Perry Ellis in the locker room.
One for the road
KU’s first win at Bramlage Coliseum since the 2012-13 season...
• Made Kansas 23-4 overall and 11-3 in Big 12 play.
• Extended KU's winning streak to seven games.
• Gave Kansas 11 conference wins for the 22nd-straight season, which began during the 1994-95 season in the Big Eight era.
• Made Self 26-5 all-time versus Kansas State (25-5 while at Kansas).
• Made KU 2,176-835 all-time.
The Jayhawks will head south to play their second-to-last conference road game of the season at 7 p.m. Tuesday at No. 25 Baylor on ESPN2. The suddenly red-hot Bears enter Tuesday’s game on the heels of back-to-back victories at home against No. 13 Iowa State and on the road at No. 24 Texas.
— See what people were saying about KU's rematch with rival Kansas State during KUsports.com's live coverage
More news and notes from the Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan
- Avoiding the storm: Jayhawks hold off rival Wildcats
- Keegan: Lucas crucial for KU when games get physical
- Weber makes case for Ellis as Big 12 Player of Year
- Ellis gets 12 stitches and suffers eye injury at K-State
- Frank Mason III ‘playing at a high level’
- Notebook: Mykhailiuk comes up big off bench
- Jayhawks win physical Sunflower Showdown at K-State
- Keegan Ratings: Mason takes over key stretches of rivalry victory