For 20 minutes or so on a cold, snowy Monday night in Ames, Iowa, the Kansas University men's basketball team appeared to be back.
The Jayhawks shared the ball, played with confidence, attacked relentlessly and never allowed 14th-ranked Iowa State to gain control of either end of the floor.
When Devonte' Graham blocked a Monte Morris drive to the rim that led to a buzzer-beating layup by Frank Mason, KU raced to the locker room up seven and in complete control.
Twenty minutes later, the shell-shocked Jayhawks walked off that same floor on the business end of a 20-point beating in the second half.
Iowa State 85, Kansas 72.
Forget the Big 12 race for a minute. This Kansas season is in trouble.
Don't get me wrong, it's not as if the Jayhawks losing to a Top 15 team on the road in a hostile environment is a reason to panic. Far from it. It's not easy to win in Ames and a bunch of much better KU teams in the past found that out the hard way.
The problem, however, is that KU now has lost three conference road games in a row and played five bad halves and just one good one during that stretch.
Sure, all three of those losses came in tough environments, but the way this Big 12 season is unfolding and the way this Kansas team is playing away from Allen Fieldhouse, does anyone really think things will get any easier on the road for the Jayhawks in the near future?
For all of the talk about KU's second big man spot and what a liability it has been, the Kansas guards have gotten a bit of a free pass during recent weeks. No more. Until Frank Mason, Devonte' Graham and Wayne Selden return to playing at the level they played during KU's hot start to the season, this team is going to struggle. On any given night, KU has proven it can overcome either rough shooting or poor defense. But when KU's perimeter players struggle in both of those areas, as they did on Monday night, the Jayhawks are much less likely to come out on top. It's hard to know how to fix this problem because it's not like the Jayhawks aren't trying and it's also not as if they're going to all of a sudden become quicker defensively. Coaching, effort and urgency all will play a role in figuring it out and with a handful of tough road games still remaining, the Jayhawks don't have much time to get it done.
1 – It obviously did not last, but just about every time Iowa State closed the gap to three or four points and threatened to change the pace in the first half, Kansas had an answer. Whether it was a big shot from the outside, a drive to the rim in the half-court or an easy bucket by Perry Ellis, KU stayed composed and got just about whatever it wanted en route to a 43-point first half and 58 percent shooting. Credit Iowa State for changing things on their end in the second half, but KU just did not look at all like the same team in the second half.
2 – Brannen Greene showed a little bit of fight. Not only did the sharp-shooter knock down two of his four three-point tries, but he also grabbed four rebounds and dished three assists and all four of his boards were rebounds he had to fight for. Sure it was just one game, but given the way Greene played compared to the way Wayne Selden played, don't be surprised if you see Greene steal a few more minutes until Selden gets back on track.
3 – I try to avoid going with KU's leading scorer for one of the three reasons to smile, but Perry Ellis was too good in this one to ignore. Ellis made 10 of 18 shots and carried the Jayhawks offensively. He easily should have gotten 10 more shots than he did and, if he had, there's no telling what that could have done for KU's chances. Ellis looked unstoppable at times and he and Georges Niang, who many believe is a legit All-American candidate, went toe to toe against one another during the early stages of the second half in what was easily one of the more entertaining parts of the game. There are those who criticize Ellis and would like to see him do more defensively. But when you're delivering this kind of production on the offensive end, it's hard to give those complaints much attention. Without Ellis, Kansas would be in a world of hurt.
1 – Another Big 12 guard torched the Kansas defense as ISU's Monte Morris went for 21 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 0 turnovers, and, according to KU coach Bill Self, “dominated” the game. Morris joins Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, West Virginia's Jaysean Paige and Oklahoma's Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard as the most recent KU opponents who have proven to be far too quick for KU to handle in the halfcourt. Oh, and don't let that final line from UT's Isaiah Taylor fool you either. Taylor missed a handful of bunnies or else he easily would've made this list, as well.
2 – It was not nearly as bad as the last time the Jayhawks were in Ames, but there were still far too many times when the Jayhawks got beat back down the floor by Iowa State after a made basket. Last year, ISU's retaliation buckets absolutely killed Kansas. On Monday, it was not nearly as rampant but Jameel McKay, Georges Niang and, of course, Monte Morris, got more than their share of easy buckets after catching Kansas napping. Officially, Iowa State outscored KU 12-2 in fastbreak points and most of those buckets helped the Cyclones hang close until they could unleash their run that won the game.
3 – Devonte' Graham looks a little lost, especially offensively. If the sophomore guard is not knocking down his jump shot — he was 3-of-7 on Monday night, including 1-of-3 from three-point land — he just is not making enough positive plays for this Kansas offense. Too often Graham looks wild and out of control when attacking the paint and other times he'll settle for his jumper too quickly or overpass when the pull-up is the right move. All of these are signs of a guy pressing too much and Graham would do well to go back to letting the game come to him and getting his buckets within the flow of the offense. On the defensive end, it's simply about pride. Self and dozens of other coaches often have said that guarding your man is as much about not wanting him to score and out-desiring a guy as it is technique.
KU's second-half collapse at Iowa State on Monday night...
• Gave KU three-straight league road losses for the first time since the 2004-05 season...
• Made the Kansas-Iowa State series 177-63 all-time, including 24-21 in games played in Hilton Coliseum...
• Made Bill Self 368-82 while at Kansas, 575-187 overall and 22-7 all-time versus Iowa State (21-7 while at Kansas)…
• Made KU 2,169-835 all-time.
The Jayhawks will get some rest from this wild game before returning to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday at 6 p.m. for a non-conference showdown with Kentucky in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. ESPN's College Gameday will be in Lawrence for the big game between college basketball bluebloods.
— See what people were saying about the KU-ISU game at Hilton Coliseum during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
Former Kansas University cornerback Chris Harris is headed back to the Super Bowl. And this time he'll be playing.
Harris, the fifth-year pro who joined the Denver Broncos after going undrafted following his four-year career at KU, joined fellow former Jayhawk Aqib Talib in playing a huge role in Denver's 20-18, AFC Championship victory over New England on Sunday.
Dubbed by many as the top starting cornerback tandem in the NFL, Harris and Talib came up huge time and time again in the fourth quarter as Patriots QB Tom Brady tried to rally his team to a tying score.
Both players came up with crucial fourth-down stops inside the final five minutes and it was Talib's deflection of Brady's two-point conversion pass attempt that sealed the game for the Broncos, who are headed to their second Super Bowl in three seasons and eighth all-time.
Two years ago, following a record-setting season by the Denver offense, the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl but were drubbed by Seattle in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls of all-time. Harris watched from the sideline during that one, unable to play because of an injury he suffered during the playoff run.
Talib, who is now in his second season with the Broncos, watched that one from home as he spent that season with New England and was part of a different Patriots team that lost the AFC title game in Denver.
Now, in two weeks, with Superman QB Cam Newton firing the passes, the former Jayhawks will try to do what they did in 2008 at Kansas — finish their season with a victory.
For Harris, the trip back to the big game represents an opportunity to experience the Super Bowl in an entirely new way. Two years ago, with the game played in New York, Harris was celebrated for his contributions with the team but did not participate in the same experiences as his teammates from everything to game planning and practicing for the big game to media day and even traveling with the team to the Big Apple.
For Talib, the former first-round pick who will be making his first trip to the Super Bowl, the opportunity provides him with the kind of stage he was born to be on. Not only will Talib be playing in the biggest game of the season against the league's likely MVP, but he also will get two weeks to offer soundbites and entertainment that surely will not disappoint.
And for Kansas, a football program struggling through one of the roughest rebuilds in college football history, having two former Jayhawks start for the league's best defense in the Super Bowl provides head coach David Beaty and company with a little extra juice on the recruiting trail, particularly because Harris and Talib, out of high school, were unheralded, lowly ranked prospects similar to the types of players KU is recruiting and hoping to rebuild with today.
Beaty was on the sideline in Denver on Sunday — the guess here is that having the son of Denver's head coach on his staff helped him land the sideline pass — and he wisely made his presence known on various KU football social media sites by celebrating the performance of the two former Jayhawks.
That won't win KU any games in the near future, but it sure won't hurt to have two of the key starters at one of the most visible positions in this year's Super Bowl announce “Kansas” as their school when they're introduced both at the game and on television.
Here's a link to a quick video of Talib's reaction to finally reaching the big game:
For a little more than 10 minutes — and, really, most of the first half — the Texas Longhorns walked into Allen Fieldhouse, flexed their muscles and looked like a team more that ready to knock off the Kansas Jayhawks.
But KU, this time buoyed much more by the talent of its top four than the mystique of Allen Fieldhouse, absorbed UT's best shot and then delivered one of its own to pick up an impressive 76-67 victory over a good Texas team.
Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham were far from perfect on Saturday. But they did what this team needed them to do and did it without hesitation. Had they been at all tentative during the final 30 minutes the way the entire team was in the first 10, there would be no celebration for Bill Self's 200th victory in Allen Fieldhouse and KU's temporary funk may still be a hot topic.
As it stands, those four delivered big time and the KU fan base can breathe easy at least until Monday night, when KU heads to Ames, Iowa, for what promises to be a heck of a test at Iowa State.
I've talked a lot this season about the KU veterans and how, after three or four years of playing for Bill Self, they should know exactly what is expected, play with a sense of urgency and be the type of players who benefit from the seasoning they've experienced during their previous years of college basketball. On Saturday, after a couple of inexplicable outings at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, the KU upperclassmen did just that. They were poised, they were tough and they didn't blink even on a day when Texas got off to a white hot start. That experience and the result that came from it should only toughen up this team, which figures to make them an even tougher out down the stretch.
1 – KU's three-point shooting came back to life and might have been the biggest reason this team was able to come back and knock off Texas. After hitting just 11 threes and shooting 26.2 percent (11-of-42) behind the arc in its previous two outings, KU connected on 10 threes against the Longhorns and shot 40 percent (10-of-25), which included a 6-of-12 mark from three-point range in the impressive second half. Devonte' Graham and Wayne Selden both hit some huge threes and each guy looked perfectly in rhythm when they took their big shots, something that had been missing in the past couple of weeks.
2 – Led by Landen Lucas and Perry Ellis, KU's bigs were terrific on the offensive glass and out-rebounded Texas, 13-5 on the offensive glass. Lucas continues to leave a lot to be desired on the offensive end, but any time you can go out and grab six offensive rebounds in a big game against a big team, your coach is going to absolutely love you and he's going find minutes for you. That's where Lucas is at right now and if he can continue to put out that kind of effort, he's going to continue to play no matter how bad he looks on offense.
3 – Frank Mason got up from that nasty fall he suffered late in the game. As if the slightly struggling Mason needed any more reasons to be off of his game, he took a tough fall late in the win over the Longhorns and stayed down on the floor for a couple of minutes before getting up. In general, all of the abuse Mason takes during a game, during a season and probably even during practice, is no reason to smile. But the fact that this guy continues to prove he can take it and play through it is great news. Mason wasn't great shooting the ball on Saturday. He finished just 3-of-14 from the floor, including 1-of-5 from three-point range. But he chipped in eight rebounds, made 6 of 7 free throws and finished with 13 points in 39 minutes. You hate to see Mason take the punishment, but you have to love seeing your team led by such a physically tough player.
1 – After playing double-digit minutes during the past two games and looking just a wee bit better, freshman forward Cheick Diallo returned to the single-digit minute mark against Texas, this time playing a big, fat zero. I know KU fans are up in arms about this and most of them blame Bill Self for his unwillingness to play the raw freshman in big spots. But the reason that Diallo's latest step back is a reason to sigh falls on Diallo's shoulders if you ask me. I know that's not the most popular opinion, but with Diallo's tools — size, length, athleticism, etc. — don't you think Self would absolutely love to play the kid if he thought he could? The bottom line is this: Diallo obviously is not doing enough to convince Self that he can be counted on in Big 12 games, and, barring something drastic happening, I don't see that changing any time soon. Self also sat Hunter Mickelson and Svi in this one and it's clear that the KU coach is trending toward playing veterans who have proven they can handle it over youngsters with potential.
2 – Brannen Greene can't get going. After coming back from his suspension with renewed focus, effort and energy, Greene has kind of disappeared during the past few games. A few weeks ago, when Greene first started showing his ability to drive the ball and create for others, I thought the addition to his game was great news. But he hasn't been able to get going from three-point range ever since and that included Saturday when he finished 0-for-2 with an air ball. If Self's going to shorten his bench, which might not be the worst thing for this team, he's going to need Greene to perform better in order for it to work.
3 – Late in the game, while trying to identify one of KU's defensive highlights, I was pretty surprised to see that the Jayhawks had just one steal and two blocks in this game. Maybe that speaks to the athleticism of the Longhorns, who were better able to get out and away from the Jayhawks than most teams. Still, it's not as if the Longhorns are the only ultra-athletic team KU is going to face the rest of the way and the Jayhawks are going to have to find a way to create some more turnovers via the steal than they did on Saturday. The blocks come and go and KU does not exactly have a serious shot-blocking threat in the paint, so that was less surprising. But I'm sure there aren't too many people happy with KU's one-steal performance, especially at home.
KU's tough come-from-behind victory over Texas on Saturday...
• Gave KU head coach Bill Self a 200-9 record in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Made KU 56-9 following a loss in the Self era, including a 32-6 record following a conference loss.
• Gave Kansas its 34th-straight win in Allen Fieldhouse, marking the fourth-longest home court winning streak in school history.
• Made KU 738-109 all-time in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Made Self 368-81 while at Kansas, 575-186 for his career and 16-8 all-time versus UT (16-6 while at Kansas).
• Made KU 2,169-834 all-time.
The Jayhawks will head out on the road Monday night for a Big Monday showdown with Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. The 8 p.m. tip off on ESPN will mark the first meeting this season between these two preseason Big 12 title favorites.
— See what people were saying about KU vs. Texas during KUsports.com’s live blog.
While Thursday's news that four-star defensive end and Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe had picked Oklahoma over Kansas certainly qualified as disappointing for the KU football program, all is not lost.
The Jayhawks, who threw all they had at the local standout and did everything humanly possible to land him, will move on and still have five spots to fill in the 2016 recruiting class.
Granted, none of them look as appealing today as Bledsoe and it's doubtful that any of them — or even all of them combined — could bring the same kind of lift and momentum to the program that Bledsoe picking Kansas would have. But what's done is done and crying about what could have been certainly will not do anything to help this rebuilding program improve.
Give Kansas credit for cracking Bledsoe's final two. Even if the Jayhawks did not get him, encouraging a player of that caliber to give the program a long, hard look eventually will be seen as a good thing.
Today, however, the news is pretty disappointing.
That said, KU coach David Beaty and company don't have time to sulk. They've got a handful of visitors lined up for this weekend and they'll start trickling in tomorrow. The last thing those kids need to see is a coaching staff that's bummed out over losing Bledsoe. And they won't. Beaty and his staff, no matter how hard they took this one, know that this is the way recruiting in the college football world goes. You win some, you lose some and you can't get too high or too low no matter what the outcome.
Here's a list of some of the most likely candidates to fill KU's five remaining scholarships in the 2016 recruiting class that we posted the other day.
But, for now, with the news of Bledsoe picking Oklahoma still so fresh, let's take a closer look at one in particular.
His name is Isaiah Bean and he's a two-star defensive end prospect from Houston.
Bean currently stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs just 210 pounds. But it's easy to see that with a year to red-shirt and the proper strength and conditioning, he could quickly add 20-30 pounds to his frame and be more prepared to operate as a speed rusher.
The Summer Creek High prospect listed by Rivals.com as an “Athlete” has shown his versatility throughout his career, playing both offense and defense, and working at various summer camps as both a defensive end and a wide receiver.
You can see his frame and athleticism in the videos below.
Is Bean a ready-made, Day 1 contributor like Bledsoe? Not a chance. Could he be an intriguing project that pans out in a couple of years and impacts the program in a positive way? You bet.
And, right now, with KU in need of a defensive end in this class to fill the void left by Bledsoe's decision to pick OU, Bean is definitely better than nobody.
Rivals.com lists KU D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux as the lead recruiter for Bean, who also visited Tulsa and UNLV and plans to visit Fresno State.
Bean is expected to visit Kansas during the next two weekends and also holds offers from Fresno State, Iowa State, Tulsa, UNLV, Illinois, UMass, Louisiana-Lafayette, Prairie View A&M, Texas State and UT-San Antonio.
In the mood for more? Here's a link to Bean's HUDL page, which features game videos from his 2015 season.
If you would have told me before Tuesday's KU basketball game in Stillwater, Oklahoma, that the third-ranked Jayhawks would leave OSU with a loss for the third year in a row, I definitely would have believed that could be possible.
If you would have told me that the Jayhawks would leave town after being blown out by a 9-8 Cowboys squad, I would have called you crazy.
But that's exactly what happened Tuesday night, where KU, for the second road game in a row, lacked energy, urgency and passion, and watched the home team have its way, this time en route to a surprising 86-67 Oklahoma State victory.
Outside of a few possessions and a few minutes, KU looked completely overmatched in just about every area of this one, a fact that nobody could have seen coming as recently as two weeks ago, when KU was playing at a very high level and the Cowboys were struggling.
Losing on the road in the Big 12 is no reason to shut down a program and, clearly, it's going to happen a bunch of times for a bunch of teams this season. But based purely on talent, depth and match-ups on paper, this one seemed like a game that KU should not have lost but did because the Cowboys simply wanted it more and played better.
Here's the deal. Because Kansas basketball and its fans have enjoyed such an enormous and unmatched amount of success all these years, it's easy for the fan base to freak out after something does not go right for their beloved Jayhawks. But in this case, after the second sluggish road loss in a week, I think at least some of the freaking out is warranted. This team looks nothing like the team that was so special in that thrilling triple-OT win over Oklahoma a few weeks ago and everything like a team that, if it doesn't find itself soon, could be in real trouble. Now, trouble as it relates to Kansas, certainly is a relative term, but exactly what that means and how much it impacts this team will be determined by how these guys respond to this loss.
1 – Following the loss, KU coach Bill Self owned it and took plenty of the blame, saying, “I've got to be able to motivate the kids better,” and “It's embarrassing, the manner in which we let them control the game, and that falls on me. I gotta get them better prepared to play.” I wouldn't have expected anything less. Self is not the kind of guy who's going to throw his players under the bus. But it still was good to see the ultra-successful KU coach staring in the mirror after this one. Had it just been one game, it could've been attributed to an off night. But this is now two road games in a row like that and it's up to everyone associated with the program to look for ways they can fix it.
2 – It might not have mattered much on the stat sheet, but it was good to see freshman forward Cheick Diallo rewarded for his solid game last Saturday against TCU with a spot in the starting lineup. Diallo, though still far from perfect in terms of execution and feel, had good energy early (one of the few guys who could say that) and clearly looked fired up about the opportunity to join the starting lineup. The question now is this: Will he stay there?
3 – Quietly, freshman Carlton Bragg was solid for the second game in a row. Bragg finished 4-of-4 from the field for 8 points and added 4 rebounds while playing just 11 minutes because of four fouls. He's not yet to the point where his performance can pull the rest of his teammates out of the hole on nights when they struggle, but with a little more discipline and fewer freshman-style fouls, one can only wonder what Bragg could bring in twice as many minutes.
1 – Everyone who watched or has read about this one knows, by now, that the Cowboys had much more energy and played with much more desire than the Jayhawks. Nowhere was that more evident than on the offensive glass in the first half, where OSU repeatedly got second and third opportunities simply by going after their misses and wanting them more than Kansas. Oklahoma State out-rebounded KU 38-31, including a 12-9 mark on the offensive glass, but it seems as if the only reason the margin wasn't greater was because OSU made 50 percent of its shots.
2 – The Jayhawks' passive, lethargic approach allowed the Cowboys to dictate the way this one went pretty much everywhere on the floor. But one of the areas this was most damning was in transition, where Oklahoma State suffocated KU's fastbreak opportunities and never allowed Kansas to get going with its up-tempo offense that so often leads to easy baskets. That made this a game played more in the half-court, where KU struggled to score on offense and, once again, was punked on defense, unable to stay in front of OSU's guards and drives to the rim.
3 – It looked to me like KU's offense was terribly undisciplined in this one from time to time. Rather than relaxing after an Oklahoma State bucket and heading down to the other end looking to get a good shot in response, KU way too often seemed to panic and went one-on-five or jacked up a quick shot, no doubt hoping to quickly get back into the game but instead digging a deeper hole and making its chances at winning or even competing much smaller. This was surprising coming from a group that includes so many veterans and I think it showed just how significant KU's current funk really is.
KU's lopsided loss at Oklahoma State...
• Gave KU a 6-3 record in games away from Allen Fieldhouse, including a 2-2 mark in true road contests.
• Made Bill Self 367-81 while at Kansas, 574-186 for his career and 14-11 all-time against OSU (13-8 against OSU while at Kansas).
• Gave KU an all-time record of 2,168-834.
The Jayhawks will be back in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip-off against Texas. The game will mark the first time since he took over the UT program that Longhorns' coach Shaka Smart has walked into Allen Fieldhouse.
— See what people were saying about KU at Oklahoma State during KUsports.com’s live coverage
Only in the Big 12.
Only in the Big 12 — in 2016 — can a team that just defended its home court against one of the hottest teams in the country on Saturday, head north on Monday night as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation and lose to a team it had already beaten this season.
That's exactly what happened to Oklahoma on Monday night in Ames, Iowa, where the Cyclones picked up their most signature victory under their new head coach in an 82-77, Big Monday victory over the top-ranked Sooners on the same day OU moved into the No. 1 spot in the polls. This, two days after OU outlasted soon-to-be-No.6 West Virginia, four days after the Mountaineers handed then-top-ranked Kansas (now No. 3, for now) its most humbling loss of the season.
Sooooo, yeah. We've all known for a while now that it was going to be one heck of a year in the Big 12 Conference, by far the nation's best league, top to bottom, but did any of us know it was going to be this wild?
Five or six games into the league schedule, we've already seen No. 1 fall twice, two different players top 40 points in a single game and nearly 10 contests that featured incredible competition and thrilling finishes.
And, wait, there has to be another 10 or so just like them still to go before a champion is crowned and the postseason tournament rolls around.
Following the OU-ISU game on Monday night, — already the second meeting between these two conference giants — I couldn't help but think how what the Sooners already have been through in Big 12 play represent a great look at just how deep, talented and dangerous the conference is this year.
Here's a look:
Jan. 2 – vs. No. 11 Iowa State – Sooners trail at a couple of different points in the second half but dig deep to win to set up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle with Kansas two nights later.
Jan. 4 – at No. 1 Kansas – Triple-overtime thriller, which went to Kansas, 109-106, figures to go down as the game of the year in college basketball and was one of the best games ever played at Allen Fieldhouse. OU guard Buddy Hield was sensational in scoring 46 points against the Jayhawks.
Jan. 9 — vs. K-State — OU shot 57 percent and Hield went for 31 in a much-needed bounce-back win (86-76) after physically and emotionally draining loss at KU.
Jan. 13 — at Oklahoma State — Bedlam turned out to be exactly that, as the Sooners survived a last-second three-pointer and 42 points from freshman Juwan Evans to win 74-72. After two sensational offensive games, Hield finished with 26 but also turned it over a whopping 10 times, including the near fatal give-away in the final seconds.
Jan. 16 — vs. No. 10 West Virginia — West Virginia and its scrappy, pressing defense limited Hield to 17 points and the Sooners needed a tip-in at the buzzer from Khadeem Latin to come away with a hard-fought, two-point home victory. This win, from the KU perspective, was enormous because had the Mountaineers found a way to eek it out, they would quickly have become a serious contender to end KU's streak of 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles.
Jan. 18 — at No. 19 Iowa State — OU got 27 from Hield and 26 more from Isaiah Cousins, but the Cyclones, eyeing revenge, saw three players top the 20-point mark and used a rocking Hilton Coliseum to knock off the top-ranked Sooners.
Jan. 23 — at Baylor — To be determined.
So there the Sooners sit, after what only can be described as six killer conference games, with a 4-2 Big 12 record and a point differential in those six games of plus-10. That's 2.5 points per win, which
Other than using this OU stretch as an obvious indicator that life in the Big 12 is serious business, it also tells me something else — if the Jayhawks hope to make it 12 in a row they better bring their best every night, because (a) every team in the conference is going to be gunning for them and every team in the conference is now talented enough to beat them on any given night, and (b) the Sooners already have made it through some of the toughest games on their conference schedule.
Including a Feb. 9 home game against KU, OU has a largely favorable second-half Big 12 schedule that could make hoping for others to help KU at the top of the standings by knocking off the Sooners a
As always, the best way for the Jayhawks to capture yet another Big 12 crown is to hold serve at home, where they already are 3-0, and avoid any pitfalls on the road, where they already have suffered one stinging setback.
Saturday's 70-63 victory over TCU at Allen Fieldhouse was just what this Kansas basketball team needed in so many different ways.
The first and, in some ways most important, was that it served as a solid bounce-back from Tuesday's sluggish and sloppy loss at West Virginia.
More than that, though, it provided the Jayhawks a chance to feel good about themselves in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse and their adoring home fans, gave KU a temporary break from life on the road and gave Bill Self a perfect opportunity to give Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg some meaningful minutes. More on that in a minute.
As Bill Self predicted, this was by no means an easy win at home, as TCU, much like KU football against TCU during the past few years, gave KU a strong challenge from start to finish and, even when falling behind by double digits, never quit battling.
That forced KU to finish and that, too, was another good thing that the Jayhawks gained from this one.
One of the most impressive aspects of Saturday's victory was the fact that you could see Kansas improve in several of the areas that plagued them in the loss to West Virginia. The energy was up, the effort was better, KU took care of the ball and battled on the boards and, instead of letting TCU dictate the way the game was played, the Jayhawks did their best to assert themselves in all areas of the game.
1 – It's been written a lot on this site in the past 18 hours or so, but I don't think you can say it enough. The way Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg played on Saturday — in a conference game, against a solid team that happened to play pretty darn well — was about as good of an outcome as Bill Self and company could've hoped for. Both guys were aggressive yet relaxed and intense yet intelligent and they put their stamps all over this game. If that kind of performance is the confidence springboard that those two guys needed to really come on during the second half of the season, a darn good KU team is about to get a whole lot better.
2 – Diallo and Bragg obviously were a big part of it, but the entire KU bench actually played pretty well. Svi (7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal) was solid and also looked more comfortable than he has in recent weeks and Jamari Traylor, though still shaky at times, grabbed four boards, including two on the offensive end. KU's bench outscored the Frogs 29-16 and in a game decided by seven points, that's a pretty big advantage.
3 – KU's transition defense was pretty good for the third game in a row. After getting torched for 17 fastbreak points by Oklahoma a few games ago, KU gave up just four to TCU on Saturday and has surrendered just eight fastbreak points combined in the last three games.
1 – Saturday was far from KU's best day shooting the ball from the outside, but it wasn't just the fact that KU's percentage (5-of-20 for 25 percent) came back down to Earth, it was also the way the Jayhawks looked while shooting from the outside. Very few of KU's three-point looks actually looked to be smooth shots in rhythm, and it was clear throughout the afternoon that KU was going to have to win this game another way, which they did.
2 – It's not like he's been terrible, but Frank Mason definitely has not been quite right the past few games. I can't help but wonder if Mason is dealing with some kind of nagging injury that we don't know about, which would make sense given how hard he plays and how many falls he takes. Mason still looks great in transition and can blow by anybody on his way to the rim there. But in the half-court, he struggles a little more to finish on drives to the paint these days and often puts the ball too hard off the backboard. Beyond that, his three-point shot doesn't look quite as smooth and seems a little bit rushed at times.
3 – It was a rough game for three parts of KU's big man rotation. Landen Lucas, Hunter Mickelson and Jamari Traylor all had games they'd rather forget and even though each of them figures to continue to hold some kind of role on this roster, their collective struggles provided further evidence for opponents that KU is vulnerable at that spot. It might work out that on the same day that this trio struggled, KU's two freshmen stepped up. And if Bragg and Diallo continue to show what they showed Saturday, KU might wind up better off. If not, these guys need to get back to at least fulfilling their roles or things are going to get even scarier for KU's big man rotation.
KU's hard-fought victory over TCU on Saturday...
• Made 55-9 following a loss in the Self era, including a 31-6 record following a conference loss.
• Gave KU its seventh-straight win against TCU and made the series 11-1 in favor of the Jayhawks.
• Made KU 9-0 in Allen Fieldhouse this season and extend its home court winning streak to 33 games, which tied for the fourth longest in school history.
• Made KU 737-109 all-time in Allen Fieldhouse, including 199-9 under Self.
• Made Self 367-80 while at Kansas, 574-185 for his career and 15-4 all-time versus TCU.
• Made KU 2,168-833 all-time.
After a quick stop at home, the Jayhawks head back out on the road on Tuesday, when they'll play at Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. in Stillwater.
— See what people were saying about KU vs. TCU during KUsports.com’s live coverage
With the outcome long since decided and only the final margin yet to be determined, you could see the swell of West Virginia students preparing for the inevitable.
With a little more than 2 minutes remaining in Tuesday's 74-63 beat-down of top-ranked Kansas, overjoyed Mountaineers fans readied for a court-storm.
It didn't take a genius to see it was coming, and, if you think about it, it almost should be expected at this point. After all, West Virginia fans have stormed the floor after beating Kansas at home in each of the past three years and KU also has seen courts stormed by fans at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU.
However, even with all of the talk this offseason about new rules to emphasize safety in these types of situations, not a thing was said about it. There was no announcement by the public address announcer encouraging fans to stay off the floor. Ushers did not position themselves in a way that might discourage the fans from storming the floor. In fact, the only evidence I saw of any preparation for the inevitable was a quartet of event staff members preparing to protect ESPN broadcasters Fran Fraschilla and Brent Musberger and KU coach Bill Self himself waving his players off the floor before time had even expired.
Note: KU's bench was in the bottom left-hand corner of this video.
Now, don't get me wrong. As far as court-stormings go, this one was pretty tame. That, as much as anything, might be the most damning aspect of KU's ugly loss on Tuesday night.
Usually when teams knock off Kansas, the home fans are so beside themselves with joy that they don't know how to handle it and often allow the emotion of the big, sometimes improbable, victory to turn them into lunatics. That wasn't the case on Tuesday. Not only was there nothing improbable about WVU's victory, but the fans almost seemed to storm the floor out of obligation rather than jubilation.
In fact, at one point, midway through the second half, Gary Bedore and I talked about how if ever there were a game that would prevent opposing fans from storming the court after an upset of Kansas, the thorough domination by the Mountaineers was it.
In the past 12 hours or so, I've had a lot of people inquire about why nothing was done about WVU's court-storming following Tuesday's victory.
And the answer is simple.
Although the Big 12 did address the practice with rule changes and new legislation this offseason — in large part thanks to the crazy scene at K-State during which Jamari Traylor was shoulder-checked by a KSU student — most of the enforcement of these new rules remains subjective.
In short, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby possesses the right to punish any program for unruly behavior by its fans but he is not obligated to do so. The punishment includes everything from a fine to loss of a future home game.
Now, nothing about West Virginia's storming on Tuesday led me to believe anything serious is coming. Heck, they might even go unpunished. And I'd be completely fine with that.
Perhaps the WVU athletic department did more behind the scenes than I'm aware of to make this a cool, calm and collected moment rather than mass chaos. If so, bravo. I, in no way, am calling them out here.
I just thought it was interesting to note that upon the first opportunity for us to see court storming in the new era of Big 12 basketball, very little was done to prevent it.
Tuesday's loss at West Virginia was as bad as just about any of the good moments that KU has enjoyed this season.
Remember how good Kansas looked in holding off Oklahoma in one of the most epic games in years a couple of weeks ago? Well, yeah. The Jayhawks looked at least that bad in getting blasted by West Virginia on Tuesday night in Morgantown.
It's too bad the Mountaineers shot just 33 percent from the field because that helped keep the score down and, at least on paper, a 74-63 loss does not look all that bad. The way Kansas played in this one — or, perhaps more appropriately put, didn't play — the Jayhawks certainly deserved to suffer a 20-point beatdown.
Who knows what exactly the reason behind that was, but there was just something off about this team from the beginning. And when you combine that vibe for the road team with the intensity of a Top-15 team looking to make a statement, you're looking at a recipe for a one-sided contest.
That's exactly what Tuesday was, but the good news about college basketball — as opposed to college football or even the NFL — is that the Jayhawks do not have to wait an entire week to get back on the floor. They'll play again in just a few days and you can bet they'll be learning a ton about themselves and their shortcomings in the days leading up to that.
After Tuesday, it's obvious that this team still has plenty it can learn and plenty of areas to improve upon.
Teams are going to have off nights. And, as both Bill Self and Landen Lucas explained in the postgame, nobody expected the Jayhawks to go undefeated in Big 12 play this season. So it's not the loss that's alarming. What is a concern, however, is how it happened. KU was straight punked by a West Virginia team that looked like it didn't just think but knew it was better than the Jayhawks and the Kansas players did nothing to change their minds. The team lacked energy, effort, intensity and even heart and common sense at times. It's a long season. And Kansas no doubt will bounce back. But it's possible that the performance at Texas Tech last weekend, which definitely was a strong and impressive response to the emotion of that OU game, got this team feeling itself a little too much.
1 – Even though he was not immune to the crappy play that crippled his teammates, Perry Ellis actually was pretty solid. That's when they could get him the ball. Ellis, who led the team with 21 points and 7 rebounds, showed, yet again, just how talented he is and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that if the Jayhawks need a bucket, he's the guy they should — and likely would — go to first. Every time.
2 – Very few of them mattered — Wayne Selden hit a couple early and Devonte' Graham drained a big one just before halftime — but you can't blame this loss on KU's struggle to shoot the ball. Despite finishing at just 41.7 percent for the game, the Jayhawks were 50 percent (10 of 20) from three-point range in this one. The problem with that was, excluding Ellis' ability to score in close, the three-point shot was about the only thing Kansas did well offensively in an ugly, ugly game all the way around. Still, KU's hottest three-point shooting team in years is showing no signs of cooling down.
3 – I mentioned this in the Keegan Ratings so bear with me if it seems repetitive, but I think Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor both deserve a tip of the cap for at least looking as if they wanted to be there on Tuesday night. Forget their stats. Neither guy really did much in that department. But they played with passion and appeared to genuinely be bothered by the fact (and way) that their team was laying an egg. I've been critical of the basketball talents of both players during the past couple of seasons, but both guys deserve credit for showing up on a night when the rest of their team didn't. If KU would've gotten that kind of heart from the rest of the lineup, the Jayhawks easily could've left Morgantown with a victory.
1 – For the life of me, I just can't figure out how or even why KU showed up in West Virginia and looked completely unprepared to play. I'm not talking about coaching and game plan here. I'm talking about effort and energy and body language. It truly looked as if this was a team that wanted no part of being there. That baffles me. If I'm playing on the No. 1 team in the country and I'm a veteran who has been around college basketball three or four years, you can bet darn sure that I'm going to be fired up every night I get to play to prove that I'm worthy of that No. 1 ranking. The Jayhawks on Tuesday were neither fired up nor worthy of the ranking and they got what they deserved because of it.
2 – West Virginia's press is good. Really good. But 22 turnovers good? I'm not so sure. At least not against Kansas, a team that possesses so many guys who can handle the basketball (something we have made sure to point out all season). The most confusing part about the breakdown against the WVU press was not that it happened. It's going to happen. That style and intensity would force even the most solid teams into a couple of mistakes. But the most confusing part was there were enough moments where it was clear that Kansas knew how to break that press — and occasionally did it with ease — that I'm not sure why it didn't happen more often. Credit West Virginia for making life miserable for the Jayhawks. But the road team did itself no favors in that department either.
3 – I like Svi's game and I think he could wind up being a good player in time, but right now he seems pretty one-dimensional — he's a spot-up shooter. And when he's not knocking, as was the case on Tuesday night, I'm not sure how or why he plays 17 minutes. Svi was 0-of-4 from the floor, 0-of-3 from three-point range and picked up one assist, one steal, one block and one turnover. As underwhelming as those stats are, I think the biggest factor that triggered the hey-what's-this-guy-doing-out-there-so-much meter was the fact that you could see him out there with your own eyes but really could not come up with a single thing he had done, good or bad. It's too bad, too, because earlier this season, it really looked as if the Ukrainian sensation was headed toward turning the corner.
KU's loss at No. 11 West Virginia...
• Ended a 13-game winning streak, the longest since an 18-game winning streak during the 2012-13 season
• Made KU 2-1 in true road games and 7-2 in games not played in Allen Fieldhouse this season.
• Moved Self to 366-80 while at KU and 573-185 all-time.
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 2,167-833 all-time.
After one of the Big 12's worst road double-headers, the Jayhawks will be back in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip-off against TCU. Those poor Horned Frogs.
In some ways, Saturday's 69-59 victory at Texas Tech by the Kansas basketball team might have been more impressive than the Jayhawks' triple-overtime win over Oklahoma last Monday.
Simple. It's easy to see how a team could get fired up for a home game on Big Monday against the No. 2 team in the nation that also happens to be the most likely challenger to end KU's streak of 11 straight Big 12 titles. Getting up for the very next game on a Saturday night in an unfamiliar environment against a team that hasn't been relevant for years? Not as easy.
But the Jayhawks did it. After resting and recovering following that epic win over Oklahoma on Monday night, KU got tough to survive Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Red Raiders clearly are a much better team than we've seen in the recent past and Tubby Smith has them playing hard. That Tech lineup is full of legit athletes and their attack is pretty balanced, which also makes them tough to play and defeat.
But Kansas did that on Saturday night thanks to the play of their toughest player, junior point guard Frank Mason, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists and was clutch down the stretch in every way you could imagine.
The victory moved No. 1 Kansas to 14-1 overall and 3-0 in Big 12 play and gave the Red Raiders (11-3, 1-2) their first home loss of the season.
Give KU credit for taking the Red Raiders seriously. I'm sure having five days to rest and prep for Tech did not hurt, but, still, it would've been very easy for Kansas to overlook this game in anticipation of what has become a pretty big game on Tuesday night in Morgantown, West Virginia, where the Big 12's only two unbeatens will square off at 7 p.m. The concept of a trap game has become pretty cliché. But they do exist. This definitely was one. And the Jayhawks refused to be victimized. This one didn't lead SportsCenter and it won't be talked about for decades, but in the grand scheme of what this team wants to accomplish this season, this, too, was a very big win.
1 – I already talked about KU being up for this game, but that was particularly important in the first five minutes and KU was up for the challenge. That first five minutes set the tone for the game. You know Tech and its fan base were fired up after waiting all day for the chance to take on No. 1 and had KU been flat at all the Jayhawks easily could've found themselves playing from behind and digging out of a hole instead early instead of forcing the Red Raiders to chase them. KU kept the upperhand pretty much the entire way and never gave Tech a real belief that they could pull off the upset. Credit the coaching staff for emphasizing the importance of a strong start and the maturity of this veteran roster for paying attention and taking the coaches' words seriously.
2 – If you watched it, or even if you've only read about it, you already know how good Frank Mason was. Flirted with a triple-double, played tough on D, kept things flowing on offense and knocked down 3 of 6 three-point tries to help KU hold off the Red Raiders. But, in my opinion, Mason's ability to get to the free throw line was by far his biggest contribution in this one. The junior got to the line eight times and hit all eight charity shots in the 10-point win. A big part of getting to the line depends upon how the refs are calling the game, but Mason forced the action several times and made them blow the whistle, therein giving KU what amounted to free points. Mason has been to the free throw line eight or more times just two other times this season, but he knows its importance and he also knows how to turn a 3-of-8 shooting performance into a night when he delivers a game-high point total.
3 – The Jayhawks were great on the glass in this one, finishing with a 42-26 rebounding edge, including an advantage of 32-19 on the defensive glass. Had Tech been able to get just a few more second-chance points (the Red Raiders won that battle, 11-7) this one might have been even more interesting/dangerous than it already was. Mason and Perry Ellis did most of the heavy lifting here, finishing with 10 boards apiece.
1 – KU's team defense was pretty decent in this one, but the on-the-ball, man-to-man D struggled at times, particularly in the first half, when the Red Raiders got several buckets off of straight-line drives to the rim that featured the home team's guards simply blowing by a KU defender. Devonte' Graham had notable trouble staying with his man and any times these breakdowns occurred, they put strain on KU's bigs, who did their best to rotate and cover but were caught out of position a few times and surrendered easy buckets at the rim.
2 – Calling a team out for a lack of killer instinct is often times unfair, but I think it applies here because Kansas allowed Texas Tech to get back into it twice in the second half after opening up sizable leads. The first came after KU's impressive start to the second half helped build a 42-32 lead. Instead of burying Tech from there, KU fell victim to a 12-2 Red Raider run and found the game tied just a few minutes later. After that, Kansas went back up eight points and again appeared to take control only to see the Red Raiders flirt with making it a one-possession game a few more times down the stretch. KU always pushed back when it got tested, but, as well as KU played in the second half, there was no need for the Jayhawks to let Tech hang around.
3 – KU was hot down the stretch and Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and even Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk hit a few huge three-pointers to ice the game, but I thought the KU offense settled for three-point looks way too often during the second half. This was surprising, given the fact that the night began with what was clearly an off night in terms of shooting the outside shot. Even still, KU finished 9-of-22 from downtown — just a tick below the season average — and, if nothing else, this fact provides a crystal clear look at how important the three-point shot is for this team. If KU coach Bill Self is OK with his guys firing away even on a night when they got off to a cold start, you can bet he has accepted the triple as a major part of what makes this team tick.
KU's impressive road win over a scrappy Texas Tech team...
• Made Kansas 14-1 and extended the Jayhawks' win streak to 13 games, the longest since the 2012-13 squad won 18 straight.
• Gave KU its 13th straight win over Texas Tech.
• Improved KU to 2-0 in true road games this season and 6-1 in games not played in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Moved Kansas Self to 366-79 while at KU and 573-184 all-time.
• Improved the Jayhawks to 2,167-832 all-time.
The Jayhawks will remain on the road for their next game, a 7 p.m. clash at West Virginia on Tuesday night. West Virginia, which entered Saturday night ranked 17th, knocked off Oklahoma State, 77-60, on Saturday night to move to 3-0 in conference play, which means Tuesday's showdown will be for sole possession of first place four games into the Big 12 season.