In the hours that followed Monday’s news that Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo was throwing his name into the NBA Draft pool — though not hiring an agent just yet — I must’ve seen and heard from hundreds of KU fans who called him crazy for even thinking he’s ready for the NBA.
The thing is, though, that’s not what Diallo is saying by declaring for the NBA Draft. What he is saying is that he’s ready to start getting ready for pro basketball.
And although that could happen if he elected to return to Kansas for his sophomore season, it would happen a lot faster if he turned pro. So that’s why he’s going to. And KU fans should probably embrace that idea ASAP so they’re not disappointed in late May when Diallo stays in the draft.
Here’s the deal: Diallo, like so many other talented players before him and undoubtedly many more to come, chose to play at Kansas in large part because he believed KU coach Bill Self could get him ready for the NBA. If he stayed all four years, or even two or three, there’s no doubt that would happen. But it didn’t happen in one, so now Diallo has a choice to make.
If you really think about it, the choice is easy.
Staying at Kansas gives Diallo access to Self and strength coach Andrea Hudy for another season but also forces him to spend part of his time attending classes and comes with restrictions on just how often he can work with his coaches.
Turning pro eliminates the classes, strips away the restrictions and makes becoming a better basketball player Diallo’s full-time job. He can work on his game — and body — morning, noon and night, even if he’s the last man on an NBA bench or plays in the D League. And either of those, if you ask me, is the path to quicker development.
I don’t doubt that Diallo enjoyed his one year at Kansas, even with all the crap that came with it. He handled himself great during what can only be described as a rough season and was a good teammate, supportive of everyone in the program and, even when not playing in them, seemed to stay engaged in the games and proved to be a positive influence from the bench.
But he didn’t play much. And a big reason for that was because he never really earned Self’s trust. Although he, no doubt, would be in a better place heading into year two, there’s no guarantee that trust would ever be earned. And if it isn’t, then what? Another year on the bench? Another year wasted when it could have been spent developing the skills that might one day get him paid big bucks?
If I’m Diallo, I’m taking the path that allows me to develop my game as quickly as possible. It has nothing to do with greed or disliking Kansas or even the money, at least not today. But it has everything to do with positioning himself to set up his family for life. And the fastest way for Diallo to do that is to turn pro now.
Both ways he’d be taking a gamble. But Diallo’s a confident kid and he believes in himself. With that in mind, the gamble more worth taking is the one that, if all goes well, ends with him signing a big contract sooner rather than later.
It should be interesting to see how it all plays out for him. But don’t count on having a front row seat.
As fans of college basketball, we’ve all seen it a hundred times.
A player who has some ability but may be a little under the radar explodes during the NCAA Tournament and, just like that, finds himself listed as one of the hot draft prospects for the next NBA Draft.
Big time performances on college basketball’s biggest stage have a way of cranking up the hype machine on these types of players and, whether NBA Scouts truly put THAT much stock into an impressive tournament run, it’s impossible to argue that such a stretch does not at least catch their eyes and make them look at a player in a different light.
While the positive side of the equation is the way it goes most often, there also is something looming on the other side. Although it does not happen quite as often — because players are most often judged and evaluated on their full body of work instead of just a bad game or unlucky night — we have seen college players have their NBA draft stock suffer because of poor tourney performances.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it’s undeniable that playing well in the NCAA Tournament can have a major impact in the draft status for a college basketball player. Does a good run turn a no-name into a lottery pick? Not likely. But can a monster showing elevate a future pro from the second round into the first or from the late first into the lottery? You bet.
The Kansas basketball team’s recent 3-1 run in the NCAA Tournament that ended in heartbreak one game shy of the Final Four last weekend, featured some big time games from some of KU’s biggest names.
Naturally, now that the season has ended, it only makes sense that we start to wonder what that will mean for their draft status.
For a senior like Perry Ellis, who has no choice but to leave for the NBA, were the three 20-point games enough to validate a career made on consistency even though that career ended with a whimper?
And for a junior like Wayne Selden, who had his best year at Kansas and seems to have so many of the tools the NBA likes to see in its prospects, will the off night in the season’s final game reintroduce doubts into the minds of the scouts?
Because all 32 NBA teams have an entire army of scouts and not just one, it’s impossible to get a feel for this without talking to multiple representatives. But ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford, who has dozens of NBA scouts on speed dial, recently released its Tourney Stock Watch update and both Ellis and Selden were on it, under the heading “Stock Neutral,” which basically means that neither Ellis nor Selden hurt or helped himself that much by what he did in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Here’s a quick look at Ford's blurbs on each Jayhawk:
"Ellis had been on fire in the first three rounds of the tournament. He had one of the best offensive games of his career against an athletic Maryland front line, scoring 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting. However, his Kansas career ended on a sour note, as he scored just four points, committed four turnovers and shot 1-for-5 from the field against Villanova.
Ellis's fundamentals and steadiness will get him a good look in the second round. However, that performance against the Wildcats left scouts with a pretty bad taste in their mouths." — Chad Ford
"When Selden is aggressive, he can really look the part of an NBA player -- especially when his 3-point shot is falling. He was aggressive against Villanova, but shot 0-for-6 from the field, including missing two wide open 3s in the final minutes that would've put Kansas on top.
I hear he is seriously pushing to declare for and stay in the draft. He's had a solid junior season and may warrant a second-round selection. But for all the talk about him being a lottery pick, I don't think so." — Chad Ford
From my perspective, I think both Ellis and Selden are guys that, in the right situation with the right teams, could enjoy long NBA careers.
Selden probably has a better shot to make a true impact because he has the size and skills you can plug into an actual NBA position. Ellis, though more talented overall than Selden, is not quite suited to play either the 3 or the 4 at the NBA level and, therefore, is going to have to catch a break by landing with the perfect team, of which there might only be 3 or 4 out there.
Picture Ellis on a team like the San Antonio Spurs, for example. His skill set, focus, versatility and appreciation for the finer points of the game could land him a spot on that roster very easily.
Regardless of where they end up or when they're picked, it seems clear that both will get all that any college player can ask for — a chance.
And it should be fun and interesting to watch how things play out for both players, whether Selden leaves this year or not.
Just like that, another wildly successful Kansas basketball season ended in disappointment for the players and fans in Louisville and around the world on Saturday night.
Villanova 64, Kansas 59.
In a game that featured two veteran teams that could score in such a wide variety of ways, the low-scoring nature of this one showed just how much of a battle it was and how things can get wacky when a trip to the Final Four is on the line.
From the sound of things, it was Villanova’s goal to make it that way and, boy, did the Wildcats succeed.
“We wanted to make it a street fight, make it an ugly game,” said Nova guard Ryan Arcidiacono. "I think we did that.”
There’s no question. And it cost a Kansas team that was on one heck of a roll and appeared to be a real contender to win a national title a great shot at bringing some more meaningful hardware back to Lawrence.
The Twitter world certainly did not seem to want to hear it, but I think reasonable people can agree that Kansas lost to a damn good team on Saturday night at KFC Yum! Center. Were there bad calls? Sure. Did the Jayhawks miss shots they normally might have — perhaps even would have — made? You bet. But it’s not as if things went perfectly for Villanova either. And the Wildcats deserve credit for finding a way to make a couple more plays in a game that wound up being exactly what Nova coach Jay Wright predicted it would be a day earlier — a heavyweight battle. The Kansas team we saw in this one was not the same free and loose team that won 17 straight heading into it. And they were still almost good enough to beat a very talented, tough and experienced team. And, oh by the way, Wright is one heck of a coach. Possibly the most underrated in college basketball. So as much as I’m sure this loss stings for KU fans like all the other NCAA Tournament losses before it, that should not be the way this team and this season are remembered. 33-5 and one step shy of another Final Four. That’s a very good year any way you slice it.
1 – The Devonte’ Graham bounce-back effort from a sub-par Sweet 16 game was impressive and crucial to keeping Kansas in the game. The sophomore guard who struggled through illness two days earlier hit 5 of 9 three-pointers and led the Jayhawks with 17 points. So many of his triples were absolutely critical and kept Kansas in the game. It may not mean a lot today, but just the thought of this guy being around — and continuing to improve at a rapid rate — for two more seasons should bring smiles to KU fans’ somber faces.
2 – I know people will want to talk about how many open three-pointers he missed, but I think Wayne Selden deserves a ton of credit for finding a way to get 16 points on a night he didn’t have it. Selden never stopped attacking, kept shooting and gave all he had to the effort on a night when it would have been very easy to pout about things not going well for him personally. In a related area, Selden also handled the postgame media barrage admirably. He obviously was not thrilled, but he did not project that. In fact, none of the players did. And that says a lot about their growth and maturity.
3 – Reeling after a rough first half, KU came out of the locker room with a purpose and completely erased a seven-point deficit — and actually built a couple of five-point leads — in the first nine minutes of the second half. The way Nova was playing, it looked as if it would take more of a slow and steady effort to chip into that lead. But Kansas turned up its defense — Nova shot just 40 percent from the floor for the game — and found a way to get some easy points on offense to momentarily claim control of the game. It didn’t last, of course, but that response to the halftime adjustments was impressive.
1 – Villanova’s ability to grab 13 offensive rebounds absolutely killed Kansas. In a game as low-scoring and tightly contested as this one was, giving up any free possessions can be devastating. And it was for Kansas. On at least a couple of occasions late, the Wildcats were able to pad their lead from two to four because of offensive rebounds, the biggest coming on a wild rebound and put-back of a missed three-pointer by Mikal Bridges that put Nova up 56-52 with 4:28 to play.
2 – Villanova deserves a ton of the credit for it, but there’s no two ways about it, Perry Ellis’ final game as a Jayhawk was a dud. The senior forward, who finished eighth all-time on KU’s scoring list, scored just four points and made just one basket, the unexpected and tough-to-swallow end to one of the best scoring stretches in recent KU memory. Ellis entered the game having scored 20 or more points in seven of his last eight games, but, on this night, he struggled to get the four points he got and KU did not get enough from those around him to save the season.
3 – One shot, one miss, one assist, three fouls, two turnovers and a steal. That, in all its glory, is all Kansas got from a three-man bench that played just 18 minutes combined and looked incapable of impacting the game on either end of the floor. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk missed his only shot of the night, a three from the corner that he aimed instead of shot and Jamari Traylor and Carlton Bragg could not handle Nova’s physical play. In a sense, Kansas getting nothing from its bench in the final game of the season was a fitting end because this team rode its starting five so heavily for most of the year.
KU’s Elite Eight loss to Villanova in Louisville...
• Dropped Kansas coach Bill Self to 2-6 all-time in Elite Eight games, his losses at Kansas coming to Georgia Tech, UCLA, VCU and now Villanova.
• Snapped a 17-game winning streak which was the nation's longest active winning streak. That winning streak was the longest of the season and the longest since 2010-11, when Kansas opened the season 18-0.
• Made Kansas 14-7 all-time in Elite Eight games.
• Evened the series against Villanova is tied 3-3.
• Bumped Kansas to 100-44 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Now it’s time to take inventory, see who stays, who leaves, which top-tier recruits will pick Kansas and what the Jayhawks will do to retool a team that returns a lot of experience and talent but also will need to fill a few key spots to make another run next season. Stay tuned...
— See what people were saying about KU's Elite Eight loss during KUsports.com's live coverage
Villanova coach Jay Wright is one of the best in the business when it comes to taking and answering questions from the media.
And the man in charge of finding a way to knock out top-seeded Kansas on Saturday night was at it again on Friday, filling the room with thoughtful answers and interesting anecdotes.
Many of them had to do with his team or this specific match-up, but others focused more on philosophy and the bigger picture of the game of basketball.
One such story that illustrated that second aspect to perfection was born out of Villanova’s upset victory of second-ranked Kansas in the Bahamas early in the 2013-14 season.
Villanova defeated a young Kansas team that featured freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and a handful of players on this year’s team on a late shot by then-sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono.
The three-pointer was Arcidiacono’s only make of that game, but was far from the only thing Wright remembered about the contest.
Here is that story, in Wright’s words...
"The other really unique thing about that game, I think I told Bill this, Wiggins had played, I don't know, maybe one or two games before that, and we were pressing him a little bit. He had five turnovers. I think he was sick that day too.
We, in the scouting report, pumped him up to our guys, how good he was. In the game, he had like five turnovers, didn't play that well. I said to our guys, I said, All right, watch this team. I said, You think they turned the ball over and we just beat them? You don't think they're that good? This is why players need coaching. Wiggins had five turnovers. I guarantee you by the end of this season, this kid will be one of the top picks in the draft. The kid, Embiid, got in foul trouble in that game. I said, When he gets coached by Bill Self for a year, I guarantee you this kid is going to be a great player by the end of the year and this team will be a great team. They didn't look good then, guys were sick.
When teams win a game, they think they're better. Then they watched them. At the end of the year, I said, You see that team now? Is that the same team that played us? They're all like, No. I said, That's why players need coaching. You need to be coached.
It was helpful for our guys, who heard a lot about Embiid and Wiggins, to say, well, those one-and-done guys are getting coached. I better listen and be coached. It really helped our team."
Maryland was bigger, they said. Kansas out-rebounded them. By a lot.
Maryland may have more overall talent, they said. Kansas had the three best players in the game.
Maryland would be a real test, unlike anything KU saw in Des Moines, they said. And yet Kansas still won by 16 points, 79-63 on Thursday night at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
There may have been more than a few signs pointing to the Sweet 16 match-up with Maryland being a serious challenge for the top-seeded Kansas basketball team, but the Jayhawks did not let any of those change anything about the way they do business.
This team is so focused and on such a mission that, at this point, it seems like it’s going to take a truly special performance by an opponent to derail the train the Jayhawks are rolling on right now.
I could not help but keep thinking after this one how it was pretty much the polar opposite of the UConn game. Instead of overwhelming the Terrapins in the first half, the way they did the Huskies last week in Round 2, KU survived a rough first half — with a two-point lead, no less — and then unleashed a second-half barrage that produced seven more points for the Jayhawks and five fewer points for the Terps than what each team had recorded in the opening half. In short, when it mattered most, KU rose to the occasion. And if you hope to keep advancing at this time of year, that’s exactly what you have to do. KU did that, in yet another impressive manner, and the Jayhawks are back in the Elite Eight for the first time in four seasons.
1 – Perry Ellis was good. We all know that by now. But the thing that impressed me most about Ellis’ big night was how well and how willing the Jayhawks were to ride him. For a stretch there in the second half, KU went through Ellis on every single possession and just dared Maryland to stop him. They couldn’t, of course, and that’s just good coaching, good chemistry and the latest crystal-clear sign that this group of guys (a) really plays well together (b) really likes each other and (c) will do anything it takes to win. Thursday night, that was feeding Ellis the rock and they did that over and over.
2 – Give Kansas credit for not panicking early on when things weren’t going well. In year’s past — perhaps even earlier this year — KU might have just forced up a bunch of three-pointers on a night when an opponent frustrated their offensive flow. Not Thursday. Not only did KU stay tough and continue fighting to find something that worked, they only took nine three-pointers all night, another sign of how well they understood how dominant Ellis was.
3 – It sure is fun to watch Wayne Selden play locked-in, intense basketball. And, boy, what a clutch player he has become. You can tell this run means something to Selden. It shows up in just about everything he does out there. And his numbers and production are matching his mindset. Selden was great again Thursday night (19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be anything but that on Saturday as well.
1 – There were quite a few silly fouls by Kansas in this game, a couple coming from Jamari Traylor and at least one more coming from Frank Mason. Fouls that come from effort and energy and intensity you can live with. But fouls that come from momentarily losing your focus or laziness with your feet aren’t good. And they really won’t be good if they show up Saturday night against a Villanova team with a veteran backcourt and a roster that made 18 of 19 free throws in its Sweet 16 win on Thursday night.
2 – It didn’t end up hurting them, but it could down the road. There were a handful of empty possessions in the second half that ended with careless, unforced Kansas turnovers, most of them coming with KU up five and in position to go up seven or eight or up nine and in position to make the lead double digits. On at least a few occasions, that kept the door cracked for Maryland, who never seriously threatened after the first few minutes of the second half. Still, the fact that those moments were the result of self-inflicted wounds is something to sigh about.
3 – Devonte’ Graham gets a pass because he was playing through injury and illness, but losing Brannen Greene to injury altogether is not the kind of news you want this time of year. Greene sat out the game because of back spasms and does not appear to be likely to play on Saturday. Although it’s been 10 games since he played more than 11 minutes — and in those 10 games he has made just three shots total — Greene’s still a little bit of a veteran and, even if he’s not hitting or even taking deep threes, he’s a threat to do so. Plus, he’s a terrific free throw shooter. KU can overcome his absence. But it’s definitely not something Jayhawk fans wanted to hear about.
Here’s how KU’s Sweet 16 victory over Maryland in Louisville impacted the program...
• WINNING STREAK: Kansas extends its winning streak to 17 games... It is KU's longest of the season and the longest active winning streak in NCAA Division I... KU features 14 winning streaks of 10 games or better during the Bill Self era.
• AWAY FROM HOME: KU is now 18-4 away from Allen Fieldhouse this season... The Jayhawks have won eight-straight neutral-site games, not including the Dec. 12 win over Oregon State at Sprint Center in Kansas City, which was deemed a home game by the NCAA.
• W-L RECORDS: Bill Self improves to 385-82 (.824) while at Kansas, 592-187 (.760) all-time, and 40-16 (.714) in the NCAA Championship (30-11 while at KU)... Kansas is now 2,186-835 all-time.
The Jayhawks advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2012, when they defeated North Carolina to reach the Final Four. Top-seeded Kansas will play No. 2 seed Villanova at 7:50 p.m. on Saturday at KFC Yum! Center.
— See what people were saying about the Sweet 16 matchup between KU and Maryland during KUsports.com's live coverage
Now that we know which team top-seeded Kansas (32-4) will face in this year’s Sweet 16 this week in Louisville, it’s time to take a little closer look at the Maryland Terrapins.
As you all surely know by now, a terrapin is a turtle and this troop of tortoises is coached by former KU guard Mark Turgeon, who hails from Topeka and played at Kansas from 1984-87. Turgeon also served as a team captain.
Maryland, a No. 5 seed in the South region, enters Thursday’s showdown with the Jayhawks — slated for 8:40 p.m. central on CBS — with a 27-8 record and on the heels of first- and second-round victories over South Dakota State and Hawaii.
The Terrapins, who opened the season ranked No. 18 in The Associated Press’ preseason poll, spent all but two weeks after that ranked in the Top 10 before finishing the regular season right where they began the preseason — ranked No. 18.
Maryland reached as high as second in the AP poll for three different weeks — Weeks 3, 4 and 14 — and was in the Top 5 for nine weeks.
After reaching the No. 2 spot in Week 14 back on Feb. 8, Maryland lost five of eight down the stretch and watched a 22-3 mark turn into a 25-8 record heading into the Big Dance.
The losses during that stretch were: vs. Wisconsin (70-57), at Minnesota (68-63), at Purdue (83-79), at Indiana (80-62) and vs. Michigan State (64-61).
Four of those five teams made the tournament and two of them — Indiana and Wisconsin — joined Maryland in reaching the Sweet 16.
Maryland’s other losses during the 2015-16 season were at Michigan State (74-65) on Jan. 23, at Michigan (70-67) on Jan. 12 and at North Carolina (89-81) on Dec. 1.
Despite the impressive sound of those defeats, you should remember that they all were losses and kenpom.com ranked Maryland’s schedule as the 47th toughest in college basketball this season.
KenPom.com ranked KU’s schedule as the seventh toughest.
KU and Maryland had two common opponents — Michigan State and UConn — and had similar results against both, with Maryland losing twice to Michigan State in tight games and KU losing to the Spartans 79-73 in the Champions Classic in November, and both beating Connecticut, Maryland 76-66 at home in December and KU 73-61 last week in Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament.
Now for a few basic quick facts and stats (KU’s numbers are in parentheses):
Points per game: 76.1 — (82)
Field goal percentage: .488 — (.496)
Field goal percentage D: .405 — (.397)
Three-point percentage: .367 — (.423)
Free throw percentage: .771 — (.710)
Rebounds per game: 35.3 — (38)
Turnovers per game: 12.8 — (12.5)
Two players with slick names — 6-3 sophomore guard Melo Trimble and 6-11 freshman center Diamond Stone — lead the Terps in scoring at 14.8 and 12.7 points per game — and three other Maryland players enter Thursday’s game averaging in double figures in scoring.
Maryland starts two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman, including senior forward Rasheed Sulaimon, a former Duke standout who transferred to Maryland following the 2014-15 season after being kicked off the team by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski following a tumultuous couple of seasons with the Blue Devils.
KU is 0-1 all-time against Maryland in the NCAA Touranment — that loss came in the 2002 Final Four, a game many believed should’ve been the title game that season — but owns a 3-2 overall record against Maryland, with the victories coming in 1964 (63-61 at Maryland), 1965 (71-62 in Lawrence) and 1984 (58-56 in the Great Alaska Shootout). The other loss, an 86-83 setback, came in 1997 in Washington D.C. at the Franklin Bank Classic.
We’ll have much, much more on Maryland and the match-up when we get to Louisville, so be sure to check out Kusports.com throughout the week for all kinds of stories, audio, videos, insight and analysis from KU’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2013.
The Kansas Jayhawks are back in the Sweet 16, a place they have not been since 2013, when Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey were roaming the court for Kansas.
That year, the Jayhawks followed up their 2012 national title game run with a strong season that seemed bound for an Elite Eight match-up with Florida, before a late collapse against Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Dallas sent the Jayhawks home.
This year, KU rolls into the Sweet 16 after impressive victories over Austin Peay (105-79) and Saturday night’s 73-61 win over UConn.
As has been the case for much of the season, different players stepped up at different times for the Jayhawks, who were led in Des Moines by both a reserve wing player and two front-line leading scorers.
That type of depth makes this team such a beast to prepare for and game plan against and is a big reason the Jayhawks (32-4) are still playing into the second weekend of this year’s tourney.
KU’s first half against the Huskies was good. Really good. And it showed exactly why the Jayhawks entered this tournament as the favorite to win it all and a popular pick in many brackets to make a deep run. The Jayhawks’ confidence is as high as it’s been since the 2012 team — led by Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson — reached the national title game and it appears to be growing by the day. In a game that seemed as if it could pose a strong test for the top seed, the Jayhawks raced out of the gates with great energy and buried the Huskies early. That start showed exactly where this team’s mindset is at this point in the season and their comments in the locker room after both games only confirmed it — happy but not satisfied. This team wants more and plans on getting it.
1 – You have to start with KU’s defense, if you ask me. The Jayhawks were so tenacious in that first half that they really took UConn out of its game. The guards harassed the Huskies ball handlers and challenged every shot and the bigs dominated the interior. It was a much more dominating performance than even the stats showed, mostly because the intensity and desire in the faces and body language of the Jayhawks does not show up on the stat sheet. These guys flat-out got after it and never gave UConn a real chance.
2 – Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis carried the load offensively, but junior big man Landen Lucas was as good, if not better, than both of them. Lucas absolutely dominated the glass — helping lead KU to a 44-24 rebounding advantage — and played as big as he has all season long. Lucas’ strong effort hardly came as a surprise and was mostly a continuation of a strong run of solid games in the second half of the season. Lucas’ 6 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks were way bigger in this game than any of those numbers actually sound.
3 – All right. Enough. How about that one-handed, hammer dunk by Wayne Selden? Shades of Tyshawn Taylor to Thomas Robinson against Baylor in the Fieldhouse right there. So good. So emphatic. And such a perfect exclamation point on a solid KU win.
1 – There’s no two ways about it, Frank Mason had a rough night. And it wasn’t just that he missed seven of the eight shots he took. He also looked sloppy with the ball and too often turned it over in a manner that led to easy transition points for the Huskies. Mason was still key to KU’s victory (he added five boards, four assists and a 6-of-6 clip from the free throw line) but his shot looked slow and uncertain out of his hand and when he drove, he did so with a lot of action that too often seemed to get him nowhere. That might have just been an indication of how quick UConn’s guards were, but KU’s going to need Mason to be better if it wants to keep advancing.
2 – It’s a bit inevitable that a 20-point halftime lead is going to get cut into at some point during a college basketball game. Rarely do you see a team with that big of a lead at the break add to the lead in the second half. Espeically when playing a good team. So it’s not the fact that UConn trimmed the Jayhawks lead to nine that was a concern, rather the way it happened. Connecticut’s pressure bothered the Jayhawks and KU momentarily unraveled because of it.
3 – Two nights after Jayhawks got a huge night from their bench, the KU reserves gave next to nothing against UConn. A big part of that was the lack of opportunity for the bench to contribute. KU’s starters all played 32 minutes or more and Self only dished out 29 combined bench minutes to four different players. In that time, only Carlton Bragg (2 points on 2 offensive rebounds in 4 minutes) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (1 point in 6 minutes) managed to score. The best bench contribution came from Jamari Traylor, who, in 10 minutes, blocked three shots and grabbed a pair of rebounds.
KU’s 12-point victory over UConn on Saturday included the following notable performances...
• Frank Mason: Went 6-for-6 at the free throw line and is now 11-for-12 at the charity stripe during NCAA postseason play this season.
• Wayne Selden: After a 22-point effort on Saturday, Selden is averaging 18.0 points during the NCAA Championship this season. He entered the postseason with 10 total points in his first four NCAA postseason games.
• Devonte' Graham: One of three Jayhawks in double figures, scoring 13 on 4-of-8 shooting.
• Landen Lucas: Grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds with three blocks as KU's biggest force in holding UConn to zero second-chance points.
• Perry Ellis: Now has 1,767 career points to enter the top-10 on KU's all-time scoring list. Ellis passed Kirk Hinrich (2000-03; 1,753) with a three-pointer at the 4:08 mark of the first half, which gave KU a 38-16 lead. Ellis has tallied six 20-point scoring efforts in the last seven games and has scored 100 points in five postseason games this season on 61 percent shooting from the field.
• Jamari Traylor: Recorded three blocks and now totals 125 career blocks.
The Jayhawks will move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013. Next week, they head to Louisville, where they will take on the winner of the second-round match-up between No. 5 seed Maryland and No. 13 seed Hawaii (6:10 p.m. Sunday) in the regional semifinals next Thursday night. Game time is yet to be determined.
— See what people were saying about Kansas vs. UConn during KUsports.com's live coverage
The Kansas basketball team did what No. 1 seeds used to always do back in the formative days of the NCAA Tournament — they kicked butt.
KU’s 105-79 victory over Austin Peay at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, was not even as close as the score indicated. This one really had the feel of more of a 30- or 40-point beatdown.
And a big reason for that was because of the offensive execution by nearly every Jayhawk who entered this game.
KU shot 56 percent (including 6 of 16 from downtown) from the floor and hit 21 or 27 free throws. More than that, though, it seemed as if evertyhing the Jayhawks did worked. They were good in the paint, good from outside and good in transition.
It’s hard to make too much of this victory given the fact that Austin Peay was a game above .500 and finished in eighth place in the Ohio Valley Conference. But all you can do is play the teams in front of you and KU played this one very, very well. It was as good of an opening-round victory as Kansas has had in years.
After all of that talk about being focused and hungry and this season having a different feel to it heading into the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks sure backed it up and delivered. KU was great from start to finish in their opening-round win against an overmatched 16 seed and there’s no doubt that what unfolded Thursday only elevated the confidence of this team. And that’s saying something given that the Jayhawks already were riding a 14-game (now 15-game) winning streak.
1 – KU’s starters got some serious rest. None of KU’s first five played more than 26 minutes in this game and, even the minutes they did play were not all that taxing. That’s a big time advantage heading into Saturday’s second-round clash with UConn and you can bet those five will all be ready to go the full 40 if necessary.
2 – It did not matter who you talked to in the KU locker room, every single Jayhawk said they could play better and lamented the things the Jayhawks did not do well Thursday instead of celebrating the things they did. That’s not all that surprising and is just another good sign that this team is far from satisfied with what it has done thus far and has far bigger goals.
3 – Nine different Jayhawks put points on the board in this one. And one of the guys who did not was a big time surprise. Consider this for a quick second: KU put up 105 points and won by 26 without its hottest player scoring a single point. Devonte’ Graham, MVP of last week’s Big 12 tournament, was held scoreless in this one, missing all three shots he took (0-of-2 from three-point range) and failing to get to the free throw line. Graham, who finished with four fouls, did chip in with six assists, so it’s not as if he was completely invisible out there. But the fact that he did not score and KU still enjoyed one of its best offensive games of the season just shows how good this team was offensively on Thursday. Not only that, but it also may indicate that Graham is due in KU’s next game.
1 – KU’s defense was sub-par against the Governors. Austin Peay got far too many layups and APSU point guard Josh Robinson finished with a game-high 24 points. Self and several KU players talked after the game about how they wished they would’ve defended better. Graham even went as far as to say, if KU had played UConn on Thursday and played the same defense, it likely would have lost. Any time your D can be poor and you can win by 20-plus, life is good. Look for KU to be much better and much more focused defensively on Saturday.
2 – KU forced the Austin Peay into 36 misses and allowed them to get 15 of those back on the offensive glass. That’s too high of a percentage (42) for Bill Self’s liking and it was only magnified by the fact that Austin Peay out-offensive-rebounded Kansas 15-14.
3 – I hate to single out a guy on a night when things went so well for the team, but it’s tough to find too much wrong with this one so Brannen Greene falls victim to that. And with good reason. Not only did Greene miss all three shots he attempted, but he also had a rough stretch midway through the first half in which he misfired on a jumper and then got lazy getting back on D and just reached out and grabbed a guy’s jersey. Self sat him and had some words for him when he got to the bench. To be fair, Greene added four assists and played just 11 minutes. But it was definitely a night to forget for the KU junior, who kept alive his streak of struggling on nights when Svi plays great.
A few individual highlights from KU’s first-round rout of Austin Peay...
• Senior F Perry Ellis Scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field in 25 minutes. Reached 20 points for the fifth time in the last six games. Now has 1,749 career points, seven shy of entering the top-10 on KU's career scoring list. Kirk Hinrich (2000-03) currently stands in 10th-place with 1,753 career points.
• Sophomore G Devonte' Graham Dished out a game-high six assists without turning the ball over.
• Junior G Wayne Selden Jr. Turned in his most productive performance in an NCAA tournament game, scoring 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes. Entered Thursday averaging 2.5 ppg in NCAA postseason play.
• Sophomore G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk Scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Jayhawks in scoring for the third time this season. Made a career-high nine field goals on 11 attempts. His first 20-point scoring effort also marks his 10th career double-figure scoring effort.
• Junior F Landen Lucas Grabbed eight rebounds, while adding 16 points on a near-perfect shooting night (6-7 FG). Has led KU in rebounding for 10 of the last 12 games.
The Jayhawks advance to Saturday’s second round, where they will play No. 9 seed UConn, a 74-67 winner over Colorado during the day’s first game in Des Moines. Game time has not yet been determined.
— See what people were saying about KU's first-round victory during KUsports.com's live coverage
If you’ve been able to catch the pre-game shoot-arounds for Kansas during the past few weeks, you might have noticed something that more resembles football than basketball at the beginning of them.
Each time the Jayhawks take the floor for the first time on game days, junior guard Frank Mason will fire a ball as high into the air as he can. From there, junior forward Landen Lucas will track it on its path down and try to settle under it like punt returner would in a game of football.
“Frank just started throwing it up at the beginning of the season and I started trying to catch it,” Lucas said. “I was like, ‘Man, I gotta start trying to catch this.’ It’s getting tougher. Sometimes you lose it in the lights a little bit. But that’s the football side of me coming out.”
Lucas, who played football when he was younger and has always enjoyed watching it, said Mason used to just fling the ball above his head and out to the someone in the other line to get their pre-game routine going. But after Lucas posed as a punt returner, even calling for a fair catch from time to time, Mason started challenging the KU big man more and more each game.
“That’s exactly what it is,” he said. “I should start calling for a fair catch so people get away from me.”
It’s getting ridiculous these days, as Mason has started launching the ball so high that it nearly hits the rafters.
Lucas said the higher the better because it increases the challenge and he was happy to report that he has dropped just two of them all season. One came last week in the Big 12 title game against West Virginia, but the pre-game fumble did not hurt the Jayhawks in the win column.
“I don’t like dropping ‘em. I think it’s a bad sign,” he said. “But we came out with a win (vs. WVU) so that’s OK. It’s something that we just goof around with and have some fun. So far, I’ve missed two and I don’t plan on missing any more.”
With his Big 12 tourney champions hat on his head and a fresh blue T-Shirt with the stickers still on it pulled over his jersey, KU junior Landen Lucas talked in the winning locker room after Saturday’s 81-71 victory over West Virginia at Sprint Center about this team’s mindset heading into the tournament that really counts.
With a free mind and glowing smile, Lucas talked about this team not really feeling any pressure right now. The Jayhawks are excited instead of scared, eager instead of hopeful. Being on such a roll and entering the tournament as the likely No. 1 overall seed as the Jayhawks are expected to be when the bracket is announced later today, Lucas said, puts Kansas in the best position it can possibly be in to accomplish what it wants to accomplish.
That, of course, is picking up a couple more hats and T-Shirts in the next few weeks.
Said Lucas: If you would’ve told us that we’d be Big 12 champs, Big 12 tournament champs, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and on a 14-game winning streak heading into it, we would’ve taken that in a second.
Now, he added, it’s just about handling business.
The 30-4 Jayhawks have handled a lot of business during the second half of their season and did so on Saturday night. It’s not like Saturday’s game was easy, by the way. Far from it. West Virginia missed shots but still stayed within striking distance for most of the game. Every time the Mountaineers tried to threaten, KU got a big play from one of its many playmakers. Often that was Devonte’ Graham, who played out of his mind, but Wayne Selden and Lucas both made their share of big plays, as well.
There are plenty of people out there who will say that taking such a long winning streak into the Big Dance is a dangerous thing. But I don’t think that’s the case with this KU team. This group has gained confidence by the day, swagger by the second and really seems to believe it can still play better.
Self has said it, Lucas said it again Saturday night and it’s clear everyone on this team believes it.
Can you imagine if they actually do it?
This team is ready. No doubt. The Jayhawks have the pieces, the depth, the talent, the balance, the coaching, the hunger.... Need me to go on? I thought about this during the Big 12 title game and refrained from Tweeting it for fear of bringing a nasty backlash my way if KU choked. But I don’t know how you can watch this team and not think they’re going to make a deep tourney run.
1 – It’s starting to get a redundant, but until he slows his roll, Devonte’ Graham is always going to show up on this list. The sophomore guard and his fearless nature showed up again big time on Saturday night, helping lead Kansas to a Big 12 tourney title. Graham scored 27 points, made 5 of 6 three-pointers and was perfect (10-for-10) at the free throw line. But more important than that was the fact that he added four steals, five rebounds and three assists, all in just 34 minutes. There’s no task too tall for Graham right now. And he just might be the most confident player in college basketball.
2 – KU just keeps scoring. There have been stretches during several games in the past couple of weeks when KU’s offense looked pretty ho-hum. But rather than letting that destroy their confidence and get them out of their game, the Jayhawks have been able to keep their heads and just keep firing. So many different guys can score in so many different ways and this team, perhaps better than most in recent memory, really seems to understand the concept of feeding the hot hand and finding the open shooter. KU scored 48 points in the second half and that was while protecting a lead. This team loves to stay in attack mode and you couldn’t ask for a better trait heading into the NCAA Tournament.
3 – We’ll see if this continues (and there’s no reason to think it won’t) but Bill Self sure deserves some credit for his managing of this team. Not just for the meeting with the four leaders that helped inspire the move to more time for Landen Lucas but also because he really has these guys playing loose and for fun. His mantra of play for pleasure not pressure is pure genius and, for a guy who has drawn criticism for tightening up at times, especially in the NCAA Touranment, this mentality and mindset, should it stick, could be huge. The have fun and let ‘er rip demeanor served KU well in the Big 12 tournament and that should be a great primer for what’s ahead.
1 – Devin Williams is a beast, and there aren’t many out there like him, but his monster day again showed that KU could be vulnerable to playing against a team with serious size. The Jayhawks were out-rebounded 32-27 and 12-5 on the offensive glass.
2 – Mason, who already was dealing with an injured foot that almost kept him out of Saturday’s game, took another beating and finished just 2 of 8 from the floor. This is never a good sign for a team’s starting guard, but Graham’s emergence sure has made it easier to handle for the Jayhawks. The pressure that was on Mason’s shoulders last season is virtually non-existent this season and the junior guard is free to play off the ball, pick his spots to make plays and help the offense flow rather than being asked to carry it. He played 38 minutes and dished seven assists on Saturday, so it’s not like the 2-for-8 shooting made for a total dud of a night.
3 – Granted, West Virginia does go by the moniker Press Virginia. And I actually thought KU handled the Mountaineers’ press pretty well for most of this game. But the Jayhawks still turned it over 20 times, with five different players coughing it up three times or more. Jamari Traylor (3 turnovers in 12 minutes) and Brannen Greene (2 in 9). A big part of that was because of the style and pace of the game and this is not a huge concern because KU won’t face many teams from here on out that play like the Mountaineers and the Jayhawks are well equipped to carve up most average presses.
KU’s third win in three days that delivered a Big 12 tournament title...
• Made Kansas 30-4, extending its winning streak to 14 games...
• Gave Kansas 30 wins for the 13th season, including five of the last seven years...
• Made KU 13-4 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (7-3 in true road games and 6-1 on neutral floors)...
• Made Kansas 10-2 in Big 12 Championship title games and 14-6 in all-time league tournament title tilts...
• Improved Kansas to 71-26 in league tournament play, 41-10 at the Big 12 Championship...
• Made Kansas 31-6 all-time in Sprint Center, including 4-0 this season...
• Gave Kansas a 6-3 all-time series advantage against West Virginia...
• Made Bill Self 382-82 while at Kansas, 589-187 all-time and 36-11 in conference tournament play, 27-6 while at Kansas in the Big 12 Championship...
• Made Kansas 2,183-835 all-time.
The Jayhawks head back to Lawrence to get ready to find out their NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Sunday. The team will gather together to eat and watch the selection show, which is slated for two hours this season and will begin at 4:30 p.m. on CBS.
— See what people were saying about the Big 12 title game during KUsports.com’s live coverage