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Kansas basketball coach Bill Self on his team’s defense: ‘We’ve got to get back to guarding’

Oklahoma State's Avery Anderson III shoots a layup during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Mitch Alcala)

Oklahoma State's Avery Anderson III shoots a layup during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Mitch Alcala) by Associated Press

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has always demanded that his teams play great defense.

But after watching Oklahoma State carve up KU’s D and hit KU for 37 points in transition during Tuesday night’s loss in Stillwater, Okla., Self believes it’s time for his current team to grab a better understanding of what playing great defense actually means.

“They ran by us like we were standing still,” Self said during Thursday night’s episode of “Hawk Talk” with Brian Hanni while reaffirming what he said after the loss, that the Jayhawks don’t make other teams play poorly, they hope other teams play poorly.

Self pointed out that most years he and his coaching staff would not even have to point out a breakdown like that. For the past two decades, most of Self’s teams have featured several players who made defense a priority and measured the team’s success under that microscope.

“It has been for years, that (when guys) look at a stat sheet from the game, the players don’t turn to see who scored, they turn to see how many the guy they guarded got,” Self said on “Hawk Talk.” “I mean that’s kind of been the mindset.”

Self admitted that things are different today than they have been in the past, primarily with defenses designed to switch so often and run different schemes based on that. But he said he still would like to see his players take some more pride in getting stops.

“They had 25 points with 12 minutes left in the first half,” he said of Oklahoma State on Tuesday night. “And I said, ‘Guys, they're on pace for 125.’ And there wasn't that pride of saying, ‘All right, OK, enough's enough.’ We’ve got to get better at that.”

One of the big reasons Self is starting to emphasize his team having more pride on the defensive end is because he believes they have enough weapons on offense to get what they need to get even on off nights.

But he noted that this Kansas team does not have the margin for error not to be good on the defensive end.

“We didn't guard Texas (on Jan. 2), but they played at an athletic level that was superior to us that day, that even if we would have guarded them a little bit better, it may not have been enough. That wasn’t the case the other night.

“You can’t play nine minutes hoping the other team doesn’t score,” Self added.

Asked by Hanni to ID some of the players who took their studying of the postgame stat sheet the most to heart, Self listed Brandon Rush, Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor, Udoka Azubuike and Frank Mason III, while saying there were several others, as well.

“Every team that we’ve had that’s been good had a guy that was a stopper,” he said. “But it’s also a team thing. The guys have to buy in if you want to be a great team. The great teams all buy into being able to identify who they are and the roles and the strengths and the weaknesses of the individual players and the team.”

Like always, Self wants this team’s identity to be tied to its play on the defensive end. And he appears to be poised to emphasize that to his players more than he has thus far in the coming days and weeks.

“You keep yourself in games and you win close games because you guard,” Self said. “That wasn’t the case the other night. We didn’t guard.”

Self said on “Hawk Talk” that that point was hammered home to him during a Thursday phone conversation with a longtime female coach at a major Division I program.

“She said, ‘Bill, I watched you guys play early in the season and you weren't very good offensively but you guarded. Now, you're not guarding,’” Self relayed. “Coming from another coach, that's actually kind of tough to hear. But that’s the fact. We’ve got to get back to guarding.”

Reply 8 comments from Surrealku Brett McCabe Tony Bandle J.L.  Forge Njjayhawk Thomas Harrison

A quick examination of why Kansas freshman Jalen Wilson looked a little off in KU’s last 2 outings

Members of the Kansas men's basketball team make their way to the bench during a college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Aaron Hester.

Members of the Kansas men's basketball team make their way to the bench during a college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Aaron Hester. by Aaron Hester

Given the way he started the season, exploding onto the college basketball scene as one of the country’s top breakout players, Jalen Wilson’s past two games have not exactly lived up to the standard he set for himself.

In a close-call KU win over Oklahoma at home last weekend and Tuesday night’s loss at Oklahoma State, Wilson scored a total of 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting — including 2-of-7 from 3-point range — and turned it over 10 times while playing his usual workload of around 30 minutes per game.

There’s probably nothing to panic about here. Sometimes a guy’s shot just doesn’t fall. Wilson got four pretty good looks from 3-point range on Tuesday night and missed them all in a variety of ways.

But off shooting nights plague just about every player at one point or another. And, maybe, after a red hot start, Wilson is simply coming back to the pack a little.

The 10 combined turnovers is the more surprising of Wilson’s statistics during the past couple of games, when he just hasn’t quite looked like himself.

Wilson turned it over just 11 times total in KU’s first seven games of the season. And he coughed it up just four times in the three games leading up to the past two outings.

All of the things we’ve seen from the talented freshman during the past two games — from the moments of frustration to the missed shots and uncharacteristic turnovers — led me to wonder if something had changed for Wilson between now and his hot start.

Were teams defending him different? Was he not getting the same looks or being as aggressive when they came?

In order to try to find out, I went back and rewatched Tuesday’s loss and focused my eyes on Wilson the entire time. What I saw surprised me.

Except for just a couple of times when he looked a little hesitant to pull the trigger from the outside — OSU freshman Cade Cunningham may have had something to do with that — Wilson looked pretty much like the same player he has been all season.

He hit the glass, competed, looked to attack off the dribble and tried to play smart, winning basketball, reversing the ball when needed, feeding the post when required, etc.

While that’s good news for Kansas, the rewatch did not answer the question of what might have caused Wilson to look a little different during the past two games than he did during his first 11.

Remember, we’re talking about a guy — a freshman — who already has three 20-point games on his resume this season, who also recorded three double-doubles in a four-game stretch against Kentucky, North Dakota State and Creighton.

His averages during those three games? 20 points, 12 rebounds and 14 shots.

Any time a player riding that kind of streak quietly puts up 11 total shots in a two-game stretch, it’s going to catch your eye.

If anything changed — other than makes turning into misses more often — it was probably KU’s approach on offense.

It’s no coincidence that Wilson’s two quiet outings came while junior forward David McCormack enjoyed two of his best games of the season.

Rather than leaning on Wilson and others to score from the outside, the Jayhawks pounded it inside to McCormack over and over during the past two games, hoping to take advantage of his hot hand and clear size advantage against the Sooners and Cowboys.

It worked. And McCormack combined for 41 points on 18-of-32 shooting.

Wilson salvaged the OU game with a couple of huge 3-pointers late and 11 rebounds. He was not as fortunate in the OSU loss. But, for the most part, he did take the shots when they were there and he threw it into McCormack when that was the smarter play.

I wondered for a minute if it was OSU’s zone that caused Wilson some discomfort. But he worked pretty well from the high post, and one of his better plays of the night came when he caught a soft pass at the free throw line and immediately turned and drained a quick shot for two points. No thinking. No hesitation. No stress. Just an athlete making a quick play.

That was different from how Wilson looked when he shot the 3 against Oklahoma State. On most, if not all, of his 3-point tries against the Cowboys, Wilson looked more like he was thinking about shooting rather than catching it and letting it fly in rhythm and with confidence.

Had just two of Wilson’s four 3-point tries fallen instead of bouncing out, KU very well may have won the game and Wilson would have added another double-digit scoring night to his game log. So it’s not as if this is some kind of major situation that’s developing.

It might take some time for Good Jalen and Good Dave to figure out how to play well at the same time, but, provided they do, the Jayhawks will be better off in the long run with both of them having the experience of carrying the load offensively.

The bigger thing to watch is Wilson’s mindset. As long as he keeps hitting the glass and defending — his work as a team defender on Tuesday night was far superior to that of his individual defense and he, like many of his teammates needs to be better as a transition defender — he’ll continue to be out there.

He was on the bench for the 6- or 7-minute stretch of the OSU game when KU stormed back from down 16 to take a 3-point lead in the final 10 minutes. But that probably had as much to do with what Bryce Thompson and Tristan Enaruna were doing as it did what Wilson wasn’t.

More and better energy is always going to be the answer for any player in a slump, even one as small as the one Wilson’s in right now.

And bringing it consistently in that department might lead to easier baskets on a couple of possessions or better overall feel and rhythm when he does decide to let his jumper fly.

The smart money is on Wilson delivering a strong bounce-back game in the very near future, perhaps as soon as Saturday versus Iowa State or on Big Monday at No. 2 Baylor.

Now that he has established himself as one of KU’s top players and go-to scorers, he’s going to get that kind of attention from opposing defenses.

But as long as he’s willing to work through the time it takes to adjust to that, which appears to be what’s happening now, the expectations for Wilson to continue as one of KU’s top players and most reliable weapons should remain right where they are.

Reply 5 comments from Surrealku Kyle Neuer Robert  Brock Bville Hawk

Poor execution late in loss at Oklahoma State leaves Kansas coach Bill Self searching for stronger minds

Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham (2) passes the ball during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Mitch Alcala)

Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham (2) passes the ball during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Mitch Alcala) by Associated Press

Even after Oklahoma State tied the game with a late and somewhat unlikely 3-pointer by junior guard Isaac Likekele on Tuesday night, Kansas coach Bill Self believed his team was in prime position to win.

The fact that they didn’t, and instead came home with a 75-70 loss, was the result of several things going wrong down the stretch for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks.

Self talked about many of them in his postgame press conference and the one thing he kept coming back to was an old buzz word that has been a cornerstone of Bill Self basketball for the past 28 seasons.

“We’ve got to play tougher,” Self said after the loss. “And that's my honest opinion. We don’t make other people play poorly; we hope they play poorly. And that’s not the way to live in this league.”

Tougher does not mean more physical.

Tougher does not mean harder.

Overall, Self has been pleased with how his team has performed this season in those two areas.

Tougher, in this case, means with a stronger mind, both from the standpoint of imposing one’s will on the opponent and in making the right plays in key moments.

Self pointed to two such plays from Tuesday night that did not outright cost Kansas the game but certainly contributed to the loss.

The first came after a missed 3-pointer by junior guard Ochai Agbaji in the final 20 seconds, with Kansas down three.

After grabbing his own miss at the top of the key with just over 8 seconds to play, Agbaji immediately launched a second shot toward the rim with OSU freshman Cade Cunningham challenging it.

Replay shows that if Agbaji had pump faked and taken even a dribble or two to get himself in rhythm, he would have been all alone for the potential game-tying 3-pointer.

“Ochai rushed his second 3 when he had all the time in the world,” Self said after the game.

Agbaji agreed and regretted the rush.

“I kind of floated that up there thinking I had less time on the clock,” Agbaji said. “I didn’t look, but I know I could’ve set my feet and actually got a better second shot off.”

That Kansas needed a 3-pointer to tie in the first place was the result of a transition foul by sophomore Tristan Enaruna on Rondel Walker, who finished off a play that started with a Cunningham block and save with an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Cowboys up three with 17 seconds to play.

“You can't give up an and-one at game point,” Self lamented. “If that's a two-point game instead of a three-point game, it has a totally different feel to it.”

“There's just some things like that that we can get better at,” Self added. “We (probably) haven't been in that position enough to be great at it. But we’ve got to get better at it.”

Those late examples were just two of the smaller mistakes that Kansas made on a night that featured bigger problems throughout the game.

KU’s transition defense and ball security was the poorest it has been all season. The Jayhawks again struggled from the 3-point line on offense, making just 5 of 21 from behind the arc, with four of the makes belonging to Agbaji. And KU also swiped just three steals, compared to nine by Oklahoma State.

Bad moments happen in every game. And teams are going to make and take runs throughout the season.

But the part that seemed to bother Self the most after Tuesday’s loss was that, after a 21-2 run gave them a chance to win, the Jayhawks gave it away with a couple of crucial mental lapses late.

“I was really disappointed how a fairly experienced team — not a real experienced team, but a fairly experienced team — finished the last minute,” Self said.

Rather than pointing the finger directly at his players for that, Self said eliminating those things starts with him.

“That's on me more than the players,” he said. “I’ve got to get the guys where we think a little tougher. Pride and toughness is a big part of stopping people. And we’ve got to get better. I’ve got to demand more.”

KU's next crack at correcting some of its issues comes at 1 p.m. Saturday, when Iowa State visits Allen Fieldhouse.

Reply 5 comments from Mallory Briggans Surrealku Dirk Medema Ryan_32 Njjayhawk

Kansas basketball stays at No. 6 in latest AP poll

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) hangs for a shot over Oklahoma guard Austin Reaves (12) as he draws a foul during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) hangs for a shot over Oklahoma guard Austin Reaves (12) as he draws a foul during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The top six spots in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 stayed the same, with Kansas (10-2 overall, 4-1 Big 12) again landing at No. 6 behind Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, Texas and Iowa.

The Jayhawks’ spot in the AP Top 25 extends their NCAA record to 228 consecutive weeks in the poll and represents 27 consecutive weeks in the poll’s top-10.

As has been the case for most of the season, a trio of Big 12 foes joins the Jayhawks in this week’s AP poll, with Texas the highest ranked of the bunch and West Virginia (14th to 13th) and Texas Tech (18th to 15th) both moving up this week.

Oklahoma State, which Kansas will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in Stillwater, Okla., on Big 12 Now/ESPN+, also appeared in the poll this week, receiving 28 votes after an 8-3 start.

For the second week in a row, unbeaten Gonzaga (12-0) received all but one first-place vote. Baylor, which also is undefeated at 11-0, received the lone first-place vote that did not go to the Zags.

Here’s a look at this week’s complete AP Top 25:

1 – Gonzaga, 12-0, 1,599 (63)

2 – Baylor, 11-0, 1,536 (1)

3 – Villanova, 8-1, 1,436

4 – Texas, 10-1, 1,422

5 – Iowa, 11-2, 1,322

6 – Kansas, 10-2, 1,220

7 – Michigan, 10-0, 1,161

8 – Creighton, 10-2, 1,151

9 – Wisconsin, 10-2, 1,110

10 – Tennessee, 9-1, 1,093

11 – Houston, 10-1, 993

12 – Clemson, 9-1, 747

13 – West Virginia, 9-4, 701

14 – Illinois, 9-4, 694

15 – Texas Tech, 10-3, 689

16 – Louisville, 8-1, 464

17 – Missouri, 7-2, 436

18 – Virginia, 7-2, 403

19 – Duke, 5-2, 397

20 – Virginia Tech, 9-2, 286

21 – Ohio State, 9-3, 280

22 – Oregon, 9-2, 264

23 – Minnesota, 10-4, 233

24 – Saint Louis, 7-1, 220

25 – Connecticut, 6-1, 181

Others receiving votes: Alabama 173, UCLA 137, Colorado 96, Florida State 74, USC 48, Rutgers 46, Drake 42, Michigan State 34, Oklahoma State 28, Arkansas 24, San Diego State 10, Boise State 8, Florida 7, Xavier 7, LSU 7, Northwestern 6, Tulsa 5, North Carolina State 5, Indiana 2, Winthrop 2, Belmont 1

Reply 3 comments from Shimsham Andy Godwin Russ Freeman

A look at how all 5 Jayhawks on the floor made David McCormack’s game-sealing jumper possible Saturday vs. Oklahoma

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) turns for a shot over Oklahoma forward Kur Kuath (52) with fourteen seconds to play in regulation, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) turns for a shot over Oklahoma forward Kur Kuath (52) with fourteen seconds to play in regulation, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

College basketball games are 40 minutes long and, with very few exceptions, are rarely played to perfection.

Misreads, missteps and missed assignments are a part of every game and they often determine the outcome.

Every once in a while, within those imperfect games, there exist possessions that are executed to near perfection.

The sixth-ranked Jayhawks delivered one of those with the game on the line on Saturday and the result helped them survive a scare from Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse.

Here’s a look back at that possession, which ended with a David McCormack jumper that put Kansas up four, along with a quick breakdown of what every player did right during what wound up being the game-clinching sequence.

First, a look at the possession.

None by Kansas Basketball

Since senior point guard Marcus Garrett starts with the ball, we’ll start with him.

Clearly in control of the game and keenly aware of what Kansas coach Bill Self wants his team to run, Garrett quickly gets the ball to the side of the floor where the Jayhawks want to start their action, takes a look at McCormack on the slip screen and then reverses the ball to Jalen Wilson, who was hoping to find an angle to get to the rim.

It’s during this reversal when the one mistake is made.

As the ball is reversed, McCormack has a golden opportunity to seal his man on his back, leaving the lane wide open for an easy entry pass from Wilson and a likely dunk.

But contact is never made, OU’s Kur Kuath does a great job of recovering over the top of McCormack and the opportunity never really presents itself.

As that’s happening, Wilson wastes no time in attacking, dribbles hard to his left and appears to be setting up a crossover back to the right that could get him to the rim or at least to the free throw line.

OU defender Elijah Harkless does a great job of sliding his feet and his body to stay in front of Wilson both ways, though, cutting off Wilson’s options. Kuath getting over the top of McCormack also crowds the paint, making Wilson’s drive to the rim tougher and less appealing.

Instead of forcing up a bad shot, Wilson makes the right play and skips a pass to Christian Braun in the corner.

At the time the pass was thrown in real time, I thought it was the perfect setup for a 3-point shot for Braun from the corner.

But OU guard Austin Reaves’ close-out, and possibly Braun’s cold shooting (he was 1-of-6 from 3-point range on Saturday), cooerced the KU sophomore to flash some patience instead of jacking up the shot.

Before Braun even caught the pass, he likely noticed that McCormack was still down there on the block providing an easy target to throw the ball into. Kuath’s hustle to get over the top of McCormack on the initial action put him squarely on McCormack’s back at this point, and the KU big man did a great job of making contact and making himself available.

With the shot clock down to 6 seconds, Braun saw him and immediately threw it inside.

From that point on, it was all McCormack, who noted after the game that he knew OU had help coming from the weakside (Reaves) so he instinctively worked to the middle to find a shot.

It’s worth watching what Wilson, Braun, Garrett and Ochai Agbaji all do after McCormack begins to make his move. That adds to the execution that made this play stand out.

As soon as he made the pass to Braun, Wilson vacated the paint and faded to the 3-point line. You can see him hopping up and down asking for the ball as McCormack gets into his move.

At that point, with Wilson already having hit two 3s in the the final few minutes, a quick pass there would not have been a bad play at all.

After making the pass, Braun relocates to the 3-point line on the wing, both making himself available for a pass and trying to bring his man away from McCormack. The move provides KU with one more advantage, though. By doing it, Braun also is already well on his way to getting back on defense, where, if McCormack had missed, KU would have had to seal the game with a stop.

Not surprisingly, getting back on D is what Garrett’s focus appears to be on throughout the final few seconds of the possession, as well.

Finally, there’s Agbaji, who ran to the corner opposite of McCormack and stayed there. Until the end.

As soon as McCormack picks up his lone dribble and gathers to go up for a shot, Agbaji darts to the rim and slips in behind OU guard Alondes Williams. There’s no telling where the shot might have come off had it missed, but Agbaji put himself in excellent position for a tip-in simply by playing smart basketball and executing what the KU coaching staff has no doubt emphasized hundreds of times since Agbaji has been here.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick became known for his “Do your job” approach to winning football games and the five Jayhawks on the floor in crunch time against the Sooners did exactly that to help Kansas snag the victory.

McCormack got a lot of the credit for hitting the shot. And it was a tough, clutch shot. So he should receive plenty of praise. But this one play, if watched a few times over, provides a great look at how much goes into having success on any given possession.

Now watch the whole thing again and enjoy!

None by Kansas Basketball

Reply 6 comments from Brianna Zaleski Matt Tait Surrealku Brad Avery Len Shaffer

Dunk you very much: Jayhawks trending in right direction above the rim

Kansas guard Christian Braun, right, dunks next to TCU center Kevin Samuel during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Kansas guard Christian Braun, right, dunks next to TCU center Kevin Samuel during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) by Associated Press

Evidently, dunking a basketball can be contagious.

After recording just 16 dunks through their first 10 games of the season, the sixth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks recorded a whopping total of six in Tuesday night’s run-away win at TCU.

Or was it seven? The highlights at the bottom of this blog show Mitch Lightfoot catching and finishing a lob that I didn't initially see. The stats on statbroadcast.com listed KU with six dunks, but the total appears to have been seven.

McCormack had two dunks — one off of a rebound and another off of a lob in the paint. Ochai Agbaji flushed two lobs — one from Dajuan Harris and another from Jalen Wilson. And Christian Braun hammered a pair of two-handed dunks while driving into the paint during the game's first 13 minutes.

While the dunks were worth 14 points in a game the Jayhawks won by nearly 30, their presence may have been the single most important stat of the game.

Bigger than David McCormack’s 20 points or eight rebounds. Bigger than Dajuan Harris’ seven assists in relief of injured starter Marcus Garrett. Bigger than the team’s 52% shooting from the floor and 40% shooting from 3-point range. Especially when you consider that this is a team that is still searching for ways to replace a player who finished the 2019-20 season with 103 dunks himself. That total came two seasons after Udoka Azubuike dunked 120 times as a sophomore.

The reason? Because slam dunks, with a little oomph added in, were exactly what this team needed to set the tone for the night and to help move past a tough home loss to Texas just three days earlier.

“Coach always talks about dunking and how it can really bring the crowd into it or bring the energy into a game,” McCormack said after Tuesday’s victory. “We had a lot of wide-open opportunities for dunks. Put-backs or lobs or just straight-up dunks. So we capitalized on that opportunity.”

Both McCormack and sophomore Tristan Enaruna said after the game that there was no extra emphasis put on getting dunks on Tuesday night but that the dunks were the product of Kansas attacking TCU with the right mindset.

“I do think it was more aggressive,” Self said of his team’s approach. “I think we got out of our ball screens better. We were able to throw the ball up two or three times off ball screens (and we) scored in transition much better.”

Those examples, which led to some of the dunks, are among the dozen or so things that Self and his coaching staff consistently emphasize to the Jayhawks year after year and practice after practice.

“He always emphasizes that,” Enaruna said of Self encouraging his team to dunk the basketball. “You know, he wants to go strong.”

Added McCormack: “Personally, I wasn't looking for more dunks. But I was looking for a lot more rebounds, and that's kind of where the put-back (dunk) came in. And CB just made a great move to drive downhill and I had another lob (dunk), so I think we just capitalized on every opportunity.”

Here’s a quick look at the highlights from Tuesday night, which features all six dunks by the Jayhawks — two from McCormack, two from Christian Braun and two off of lobs from Ochai Agbaji.

None by Kansas Basketball

Reply 9 comments from Surrealku Robert  Brock David Robinett Plasticjhawk Matt Tait

Redshirt freshman point guard Dajuan Harris shines in first career start for Kansas

Kansas freshman Dajuan Harris Jr. goes up for a layup during a game against TCU Tuesday night at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on January 5, 2021. (Photo/Gregg Ellman)

Kansas freshman Dajuan Harris Jr. goes up for a layup during a game against TCU Tuesday night at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on January 5, 2021. (Photo/Gregg Ellman) by Associated Press

Kansas freshman Dajuan Harris knew well in advance of Tuesday’s 93-64 victory at TCU that senior Marcus Garrett might be out because of a head injury and that he might be asked to step up in Garrett’s absence.

And he played like he was perfectly comfortable with that being the case.

In 27 minutes of running the show for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks (9-2 overall, 3-1 Big 12), Harris scored seven points, dished seven assists and flashed the kind of steady play and poise that you’d expect from a point guard.

That he was doing it just 11 games into his first season as a college basketball player was noteworthy. That he did it so smoothly on a night when Kansas, as a whole, needed a big time bounce-back after being drubbed at home by Texas just three days earlier made the performance all the more impressive.

“We don't ever want to play without (Garrett),” Kansas coach Bill Self said after Tuesday’s victory. “But you can't rush something like that. And he wanted to be out there. But I thought 'Juan did a lot of really good things. … I thought he was really solid and got the ball where it needed to go.”

Even in the short span of Harris’ KU career thus far, that has been what the 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard from Columbia, Mo., has made his signature.

More often than not, when Harris is on the floor, the Kansas offense looks better, runs smoother and finds ways to get more easy baskets.

Credit Harris’ vision and skills as a passer for some of that. But credit his approach for the rest. Never one who looks to score first, Harris is happy to set others up and always has been, since he began playing basketball.

ESPN color analyst Fran Fraschilla called him a pass first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth point guard during Tuesday’s broadcast. And Harris’ teammates and coaches have consistently praised him for that very same thing throughout his first two years in Lawrence.

“Dajuan played to his natural ability,” KU junior David McCormack said after Tuesday’s victory. “He played well. He's a great point guard, great vision, great passer. He definitely stepped up to the plate to help us win.”

Added sophomore Tristan Enaruna, who broke out with career-highs in points (12) and rebounds (7) to help fill some of the void left by Garrett being on the bench: “We knew as a team we could trust him.”

"Obviously, it's hard when you lose your starting point guard,” Enaruna added. “But I think (Harris) did a good job. I think he kept his head calm. And he did everything he could to fill Marcus' spot, gave everybody good looks, got himself some good looks. He made the ball move really well."

Even Garrett himself came away impressed by what he saw from his understudy.

Although the Kansas senior did not talk to the media after Tuesday’s game, he did make his thoughts on Harris’ play known on Twitter, when he wrote the words “Dajuan Harris is the tweet" around an emoji of a goat, which, in the sports world, commonly stands for “Greatest Of All-Time.”

Harris may not be there yet. But Tuesday’s performance was a big step in his process.

“It definitely looked like he belonged,” Self said.

None by Marcus Garrett

Reply 2 comments from Dirk Medema Surrealku

Two separate incidents nearly kept Kansas junior Ochai Agbaji from playing Tuesday at TCU

Kansas junior Ochai Agbaji falls to the floor during a game against TCU Tuesday night at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on January 5, 2021. (Photo/Gregg Ellman)

Kansas junior Ochai Agbaji falls to the floor during a game against TCU Tuesday night at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on January 5, 2021. (Photo/Gregg Ellman) by Gregg Ellman

A whirlwind few days for Ochai Agbaji culminated Tuesday night, with the Kansas junior dropping 19 points to help No. 6 Kansas sprint past TCU, 93-64, in Fort Worth, Texas.

In the roughly 72 hours that followed Saturday’s home loss to Texas, Agbaji twice encountered situations that nearly kept him out of KU’s latest victory.

The first came over the weekend, when Agbaji received what turned out to be a false-positive COVID-19 test after taking a rapid test.

Kansas coach Bill Self announced the false positive during a pregame television interview with Greg Gurley. And he talked a little more about it during his postgame Zoom call with reporters.

“That’s what happens when you do the rapid test,” Self said of the false-positive. “We've all experienced those. I've had one in the last two weeks. … That's something every team is going through. And it's nothing unusual for it to happen to us. It’s happened several times already, and it'll probably happen some more moving forward.”

Self said that when a player or coach receives what they believe to be a false-positive test result, the protocol is for that individual to quarantine and isolate himself until he receives two negative PCR tests back-to-back on different days.

“Obviously, that confirms that it was a false positive,” Self said. “We didn't think it was an issue. But it was something that we had to deal with. Fortunately, all he missed out on was one practice.”

While awaiting his PCR test results, Agbaji sat out of Sunday’s practice but was able to return for Monday’s session. That return, however, was short-lived, as Agbaji tweaked a hamstring during Monday’s practice.

Self said after Tuesday’s victory that they discussed holding Agbaji out of the TCU game altogether.

“We talked about it a lot with the doctors,” Self said. “But he went through some pretty extensive, rigorous types of stretching and movement at shoot-around and he actually felt pretty good. So he got a ton of treatment and said that he was going to give it a try.”

With backcourt mates Marcus Garrett (head) and Bryce Thompson (back) already sidelined for Tuesday’s game, Self signed off on the decision for Agbaji to play, but not without some ground rules.

“I told him that if (he felt) anything coming on or if it twinges at all, (he was) coming out,” Self explained. “And he said he’d let me know. But there was absolutely nothing. I thought he looked 100%. I thought he did great. But he does need a couple of days. So this little short break will hopefully help us and hopefully he'll be closer to full speed by Friday.”

Kansas is off until Saturday, when Oklahoma comes to Allen Fieldhouse for a 3:30 p.m. tipoff on CBS.

Reply 3 comments from Robert  Brock Adam Bengtson Dirk Medema

KU falls three spots to No. 6 in latest Associated Press poll

Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) puts up a three from the wing over Kansas guard Tristan Enaruna (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) puts up a three from the wing over Kansas guard Tristan Enaruna (13) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

KU’s lopsided loss to Texas over the weekend dropped the Jayhawks three spots in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, from No. 3 to No. 6.

Texas, meanwhile, moved up four spots from No. 8 and into the Top 5.

Gonzaga and Baylor held their spots as the top two teams in the country, with the Zags picking up 63 of the 64 available first-place votes. Baylor got the other.

In all, four Big 12 Conference teams are in this week’s AP Top 25 — West Virginia is 14th and Texas Tech 18th — and seven past or future Kansas opponents are in this week’s poll, including four teams ranked in the top seven.

After a killer stretch against three Top 15 teams to open Big 12 play, the Jayhawks, who went 2-1 against Texas Tech, West Virginia and Texas to open conference play, will step away from ranked foes during the next two weeks.

KU will play at TCU on Tuesday night at 9 p.m., home versus Oklahoma on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and at Oklahoma State and home versus Iowa State the following week.

After that, KU and Baylor will get together in Waco, Texas, for the first of two showdowns this season between Big 12 heavyweights (8 p.m. Jan. 18 on ESPN) and the first of three Big Monday games for the Jayhawks during the 2020-21 season.

The Jayhawks’ spot in this week’s poll extends their NCAA record of consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25 to 227.

Here’s a look at the rest of this week’s Top 25:

1 – Gonzaga, 10-0, 1,599 (63)

2 – Baylor, 9-0, 1,537 (1)

3 – Villanova, 8-1, 1,453

4 – Texas, 8-1, 1,415

5 – Iowa, 9-2, 1,298

6 – Kansas, 8-2, 1,224

7 – Creighton, 8-2, 1,140

8 – Wisconsin, 9-2, 1,085

9 – Tennessee, 7-1, 1,076

10 – Michigan, 9-0, 1,039

11 – Houston, 8-1, 977

12 – Illinois, 8-3, 878

13 – Missouri, 7-1, 747

14 – West Virginia, 8-3, 706

15 – Rutgers, 7-2, 703

16 – Minnesota, 10-2, 559

17 – Oregon, 8-1, 545

18 – Texas Tech, 8-3, 445

19 – Clemson, 8-1, 411

19 – Virginia Tech, 8-1, 411

21 – Duke, 3-2, 280

22 – Virginia, 5-2, 258

23 – St. Louis, 7-1, 133

23 – Michigan State, 7-3, 133

25 – Florida State, 5-2, 120

Others receiving votes: Florida 110, Louisville 103, Ohio State 96, Northwestern 86, Oklahoma State 68, Arizona 25, Colorado 19, BYU 18, Drake 17, North Carolina State 16, Oklahoma 15, Arkansas 14, Seton Hall 11, UCLA 6, Xavier 5, San Diego State 4, Connecticut 4, LSU 3, Boise State 3, Indiana 2, Alabama 2, Syracuse 1

Reply 5 comments from Armen Kurdian Garry Wright John Strayer Dirk Medema Cassadys

Jayhawks check in at No. 27 in first NET Rankings of 2020-21 college hoops season

Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) pulls an offensive rebound from Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) pulls an offensive rebound from Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Shortly before reports surfaced Monday about the NCAA reaching an agreement to host the 2021 NCAA Tournament entirely in Indiana, the first NET rankings of the 2020-21 college basketball season were released.

Now in its third season of existence, the NET Rankings — NCAA Tournament Evaluation Tool — are tracked throughout conference play and used each March to help the selection committee determine who gets in and who doesn’t along with seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Despite their 8-2 record, with the only losses coming to No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 8 (and soon to move up) Texas, Bill Self’s Jayhawks came in at No. 27 in the initial NET Rankings.

The Jayhawks are currently 3-2 in Quadrant 1 games and 4-0 in Quadrant 3 and 4 games, the latter of which do not help teams near as much. KU’s win against Division II Washburn did not factor into its NET ranking.

According to NCAA.com, the system used to determine where a game falls on the Quadrant scale looks like this:

Quadrant 1: home vs. 1-30, neutral vs. 1-50 and road vs. 1-75

Quadrant 2: home vs. 31-75, neutral vs. 51-100 and road vs. 76-135

Quadrant 3: home vs. 76-160, neutral vs. 101-200 and road vs. 135-240

Quadrant 4: home vs. 161-353, neutral vs. 201-353 and away vs. 241-353

For the purpose of boosting its NET ranking, KU’s road win at Texas Tech (Quadrant 1, No. 18 in the current NET rankings) currently registers as the Jayhawks’ best win to date.

The losses to Gonzaga (No. 1 NET) and Texas (No. 9 NET) did not hurt as much other than by taking away the opportunity for a Quadrant 1 win.

The Jayhawks still have plenty of time to move up in the rankings, of course, with 15 Big 12 Conference games remaining and one neutral-site clash with Tennessee still on their schedule.

Of the 16 scheduled games remaining for Kansas, nine of them currently qualify as Quadrant 1 games. The schedule also includes three Quadrant 2 games (home vs. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU), two Quadrant 3 games (at K-State and Iowa State) and two Quadrant 4 games (home vs. K-State and Iowa State)

This offseason, the NET rankings underwent a change designed to simplify the process from five metrics down to just two — Team Value Index and efficiency rating.

According to the NCAA, the change is designed to increase accuracy and simplify the process.

The TVI is a result-based feature that rewards teams for beating quality opponents, particularly away from home. The efficiency rating is a team’s net efficiency adjusted for strength of opponent and location across all games played.

All of a team’s games are factored into its NET ranking and the games at the beginning of the season carry just as much weight as those at the end, as it’s the type of game, its location and the result that matter most, not when the game was played.

The NET no longer includes winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage and scoring margin as stand-alone factors. Rather, those components, and several others, are mixed into the other metrics in an attempt to use game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses to determine the country's best teams.

Reply 2 comments from Shimsham Adam Bengtson Njjayhawk

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