In battle of college basketball’s elite, Jayhawks have made up 34 wins on Kentucky in Self’s 15-plus seasons
Lexington, Kent. — By now, unless you’ve been hiding out all week or haven’t been paying attention for, oh I don’t know, the past couple of decades, you know that today’s showdown between No. 9 Kansas and No. 8 Kentucky at Rupp Arena is a meeting between the two winningest teams in the history of college basketball.
Kentucky, at 2,278 wins and counting, sits in the top spot, with Kansas, at 2,264 wins and counting, holding down the No. 2 spot right behind them.
North Carolina, Duke and Temple round out the Top 5, but nobody cares about those teams today. Today is just about Kentucky and Kansas. And today, only one of the blue bloods wearing blue can walk away with a victory.
Either KU closes the gap to a mere 13 victories or the Wildcats extend their cushion to 15, which is where it sat when the 2018-19 season began.
No keeping pace with each other by both winning or both losing. No ties. No more guaranteed games the rest of the season. Just one head-to-head battle, which will mark the fifth consecutive season that these two tradition-rich and historic programs have played each other and the 32nd time in the sport’s history.
All of this talk about making up ground, even if it is just by a single game, got me thinking about how much ground the Jayhawks really have made up on the Wildcats during recent years.
Because Bill Self is the Jayhawks’ current coach, we’ll narrow down the time frame to the Self Era, which spans the past 15-plus seasons.
During that time, Self’s Jayhawks have made up 34 games on the Wildcats in the all-time win total race, including the one-win edge this season that they take into today’s game.
The Jayhawks have won 463 games under Self and Kentucky has won 429 games during that same time. Given those numbers, the Jayhawks are making up an average of a hair more than 2 victories per season. At that rate, Kansas could — emphasize could — pass Kentucky in seven more seasons.
Of course, with KU only 13 behind the Wildcats, history has shown that that number could be eclipsed in as little as one or two seasons as well.
Including this season, which is a long way from finished for both teams, Kansas has won more games than Kentucky during 9 of Self’s 16 seasons at KU. Beyond that, the Jayhawks also have, by far, the largest single-season advantage, closing the gap by up a whopping 19 games during the 2007-08 season, when KU won the national title with 37 wins and Kentucky lost in the first round of the NIT and finished with just 18 victories.
In fact, three of the four largest margins in single-season wins belong to Kansas, with the Jayhawks +19 during their title run, +10 in 2012-13 (the year after Kentucky beat Kansas for the national title, no less) and +9 during the 2006-07 season.
The only Kentucky entry in the Top 4 came in 2014-15 when the Wildcats made a push for a perfect season and finished 38-1 while Kansas won just 27 games.
Kentucky does own the two highest single-season win totals during this time frame, winning 38 games in both 2014-15 and 2011-12.
So what does all of this mean for today’s game? Absolutely nothing. All we know for sure is that only one team will make up ground today and these two programs have won a heck of a lot of games to this point and figure to win a whole bunch more in the future.
Here’s a quick look at the season-by-season breakdown of Kansas and Kentucky victories since Self took the reins in Lawrence.
2003-04: UK +3 (27-24)
2004-05: UK +5 (28-23)
2005-06: KU +4 (26-22)
2006-07: KU +9 (31-22)
2007-08: KU +19 (37-18)
2008-09: KU +5 (27-22)
2009-10: UK +2 (35-33)
2010-11: KU +6 (35-29)
2011-12: UK +6 (38-32)
2012-13: KU +10 (31-21)
2013-14: UK +4 (29-25)
2014-15: UK +11 (38-27)
2015-16: KU +6 (33-27)
2016-17: UK +1 (32-31)
2017-18: KU +5 (31-26)
2018-19: KU +1 (16-15, so far)
Total: Kansas +34 (463-429 and counting...)
KU freshman Ochai Agbaji says hiccup at West Virginia was good for him, has the bounce-back to back it up
Because of the way he’s wired, Kansas freshman Ochai Agbaji’s dud of a game at West Virginia last weekend was erased from his mind 24 hours after it happened.
A meeting with the KU coaches last Sunday was enough to ensure that Agbaji learned from his mistakes and mishaps in the 65-64 loss in Morgantown, and that conversation paved the way for him to completely forget about the 3-turnover, 4-minute effort against the Mountaineers from there.
“That’s how I am,” said Agbaji, noting it was easy to move past the poor performance. “After that (meeting with the coaches) it was just, ‘The past is done, we lost, it’s all right.’”
It certainly was.
In his very next outing — just the fifth college game of his life, remember — Agbaji played a monster role in KU’s come-from-behind win over Iowa State on Big Monday, finishing with 8 points, 5 rebounds and a pair of 3-pointers in 16 minutes.
His play — especially on offense — helped give the 9th-ranked Jayhawks life in a sluggish first half. And his overall contributions earned him a starting role for the second half of KU’s 80-76 win over the Cyclones.
Like just about everything with Agbaji so far in his KU career, that progression, from flopping freshman at West Virginia to second-half starter against Iowa State two days later, was the latest obvious example of a young player making a rapid rise that few saw coming when the Jayhawks broke for winter break.
His overall intelligence and advanced basketball IQ have been important parts of his ability to make a meaningful impact on the fly. But his general feel, both for life and the game, also played a role.
Beyond the makeup of his brain and competitive mindset, one of the reasons Agbaji was able to move past the setback so quickly was because he sort of anticipated it before it even arrived.
“I knew that game was coming,” Agbaji said Thursday, speaking with the media for the first time since his rough game at West Virginia. “I knew I was going to struggle in one of these games, but I talked to the coaches the next day, kind of got refocused and went out and practiced hard that day.”
In the practice gym and on game nights, that attitude has been a staple of Agbaji’s approach for as long as he can remember. He likes to work hard. He has fun doing it. And his maturity and perspective on life have made it easy to accept — and even understand — that even in the role of basketball player at the University of Kansas, not every day is a beach-chair-and-mai-tai kind of day.
“Yeah, I think it was definitely good for me,” he said of the West Virginia game. “Definitely got in there, got sped up, wasn’t really playing the way I was supposed to be playing or how I had been playing those past three games.”
The fact that his hiccup lasted four minutes instead of four games or four weeks is a credit to his ability to adjust. And with him holding down the important role of KU’s sixth man and quickly transforming from redshirt to reliable rotation player, the bounce-back against Iowa State on Monday, and his effort in all of the days since, had his head coach back in complimentary mode on Thursday.
“He has helped,” said Self of Agbaji when asked if the freshman could aid KU’s search for more energy and activity. “I think we’re more athletic and more energetic since he started playing, without question. He’s been a big bonus. … I thought he was terrific the other day with his energy. He comes in firing. You would think that everybody would have that mindset to come in and be aggressive like that.”
They’ll have to be this weekend at Kentucky — 5 p.m. Saturday night at Rupp Arena on ESPN — if the Jayhawks (16-3 overall, 5-2 Big 12) hope to find success against the Wildcats. And even Agbaji was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that, six games into his college career, he sits on the brink of stepping onto a stage so grand.
“It really hasn’t kicked in yet,” he said. “It’s just fun playing, honestly. But just thinking about how big this game is, I’m really excited for it.”
After falling in back-to-back games against Kentucky, first in the 2012 national championship game and then two years later, 72-40 in the Champions Classic in Chicago, Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self has won three straight over John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats.
Talk about holding a grudge.
Self and the 9th-ranked Jayhawks will put that streak — and so much more — on the line at 5 p.m. Saturday, when Kansas and Kentucky hook up in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge in Lexington, Kentucky.
Self is 2-0 against Calipari in this particular event. And he avenged that 2014 Champions Classic loss to the Wildcats with a 65-61 Champions Classic win in 2017, too.
Self will be the first to tell you that the current 3-game winning streak the Jayhawks have built against the Wildcats is a credit to equal parts preparation, guys making plays and a bit of luck. He also wouldn’t read too much into the streak nor would he think or say that it carries one ounce of weight in this week’s meeting at Rupp Arena.
Nonetheless, it’s still pretty interesting.
For years, Calipari and Kentucky have been the gold standard in college basketball, competing on a somewhat rotating basis with KU and Duke for the head chair at the table reserved for blue bloods.
The fact that Self has had Calipari’s number the last three times they’ve met both means nothing and also says a lot because when you’re talking about the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball, absolutely every possible angle one can think of puts bragging rights on the line.
Self and the Jayhawks currently have them. The Wildcats, who enter this one at 14-3 overall and ranked No. 8 in the nation, will be trying to get them back while also trying to avenge a home loss with ESPN’s College GameDay in town, no less.
That sets the stage for a wild weekend and should make for some intense and competitive basketball. Kansas and Kentucky will be facing each other for the fifth consecutive season and that number likely will grow to six in a row with the Wildcats expected to return to Allen Fieldhouse next season for another round of Big 12/SEC Challenge fun.
With setting the stage in mind, let’s take a quick look back at those last three KU-UK games and see just how Kansas managed to win each one.
It should be noted here that Kentucky leads the all-time series, 22-9, but that the teams have split the last 12 meetings, with four separate 3-game winning streaks.
• Kentucky won 3 in a row from 1990-1999
• Kansas won 3 in a row from 2005-07
• Kentucky won 3 in a row from 2011-14
• Kansas won 3 in a row from 2016-17
All right. Now for the quick trip down Memory Lane...
Win No. 1
Jan. 30, 2016, Allen Fieldhouse
Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 (OT)
The former KU guard dropped 33 points in 44 wild and crazy minutes at Allen Fieldhouse in the first meeting in KU’s home venue between the two teams in a decade.
Selden out-dueled UK’s Tyler Ulis (26 points) in an important second half that saw Kansas hit Kentucky with a 14-7 run midway through that turned an eight-point Wildcat lead into a tooth-and-nail scrap to the finish.
After nearly surrendering 50 points to the Wildcats in the first half and trailing 46-40 at the break, KU coach Bill Self went with a triangle-and-two defense early in the second half that slowed down UK’s offensive attack and gave the Jayhawks momentum to mount the comeback.
Despite being outshot by the Wildcats, 54-46 from the floor, Kansas won the battle behind the arc, knocking in 47 percent of its 3-point attempts compared to just 22 percent for the Wildcats. Selden hit 3-of-5 from 3-point range to help Kansas grab the victory.
“I love the place. I love the campus. If you’re a college student and you’re in the Midwest, really anywhere, this is a college campus, a college life, a student life. And the pride they take in this basketball program; Bill’s taken it to another level, but it’s always been here.”
— John Calipari on returning to Allen Fieldhouse, where he began his coaching career under Ted Owens and Larry Brown from 1982-85.
Win No. 2
Jan. 28, 2017, Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
Kansas 79, Kentucky 73
Led by some of the baddest dudes to ever wear a Kansas uniform, the shorthanded, undersized Jayhawks walked into Rupp on a day very similar to the one they’ll face this weekend and walked out with a tough-as-nails victory in a Top 5 battle between No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky.
Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson led the way for Kansas in an all-out battle with Wildcats named De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk, among others.
After falling behind 29-17 in a fast-paced fury to open the game, KU coach Bill Self utilized a 2-3 zone to slow down the game and help Kansas crawl back into it.
Kansas cut the UK lead to just 5 (32-27) by halftime and Josh Jackson opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Jayhawks on the path to taking control.
Kansas built a lead of as many as 10 in the second half — 69-59 — but needed some clutch plays down the stretch to survive, including a couple of big tip-ins by Jackson and Landen Lucas, who used his head and his heart, not to mention five fouls, to deliver 27 strong minutes against Adebayo.
This game might also be remembered — but probably not — as the day the Wildcats’ cheesed up their attempt to break a Guiness World Record for loudest indoor crowd in history.
They got the mark, just before halftime, when 24,418 screaming fans reached a verified level of 126.4 decibels. UK officials passed out ear plugs to every fan as they entered the arena.
Kansas swiped 9 steals — 6 different players had at least 1 steal — and forced Kentucky in 17 turnovers in their own gym while the Jayhawks turned it over just 12 times themselves, including just 4 give-aways in the entire second half.
“If you go to an AAU tournament, it’s kind of like the showcase game; if you win or lose it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect the bracket. And that’s kind of what I thought about this game. Of course, I know it means a lot to the fans of both schools and there’s a lot of tradition on the line.”
— Bill Self on playing the Wildcats in late January in the middle of the Big 12 Conference season
Win No. 3
Nov. 14, 2017, United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Kansas 65, Kentucky 61
A Champions Classic clash that featured mostly sloppy play and poor shooting by both teams was won in the final minutes when KU junior Malik Newman hit a clutch shot with 2:10 to play that gave Kansas a 4-point lead and all but iced the game.
Newman, who shot 4-of-14 from the floor for the night, was wide open before pulling the trigger and did not hesitate to go up with it when the opportunity presented itself.
Despite a sub-par shooting line of his own, KU senior Devonte’ Graham (3-of-14) played 39 minutes, handled the ball almost the entire time Kansas was on offense and took the brunt of Kentucky’s best shots over and over as the slug fest played out.
Just before tip-off Kansas learned it would be without freshman forward Billy Preston, who was involved in an off-the-court incident that kept him out of action during his entire time with the program. As a result, Kansas played just seven players — 6 if you take into account that Mitch Lightfoot played just 6 minutes — and out-shined the Wildcats on one of college basketball’s brightest stages.
The victory marked KU’s first win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic showcase. The win also moved Self into a tie with Roy Williams for second place on KU’s all-time win list behind Phog Allen.
Self has since passed Williams and sits 127 wins away from tying Phog for the most wins by a KU coach.
Kansas shot just 35.3 percent from the floor for the game, a poor number to be sure, and something the Wildcats had a whole heck of a lot to do with. Kentucky blocked 10 shots in this one but also turned it over 18 times, compared to just 11 give-aways by Kansas.
“A win is a win, so you're excited about any win. But beating Kentucky is definitely more for the fans and theres a little bit more excitement to it and bragging rights, of course.”
— Then-KU senior Devonte’ Graham after helping lead Kansas to victory
Monday night, during the Jayhawks’ latest, grind-it-out, come-from-behind, find-a-way-to-win victory over Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse, it was freshman Ochai Agbaji, and not Quentin Grimes, who stepped on to the court to start the decisive second half for the home team.
But don’t expect that to be the norm moving forward.
So said Kansas coach Bill Self on Tuesday night, during his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show, when asked about Grimes’ recent struggles, which included a 0-point, 0-for-4 shooting night in 19 minutes against the Cyclones on Monday night.
“Quentin Grimes is a good player and he’s talented and he’s in a little bit of a freshman funk,” Self said during the second part of his weekly radio show. “But he’s our starter, he’s going to continue to start, and we know, for us to have the best chance to win over time, that we’ve got to have our most talented guys playing at a high level. And we think he’s more than capable of doing that.”
Even for the former five-star prospect who has struggled to find confidence and consistency so far this season, Grimes’ performance agains the Cyclones was concerning because of the way he played the last time Kansas faced Iowa State.
In that one — a 77-60 loss to ISU on Jan. 5 in Ames, Iowa — Grimes was the only Jayhawk who showed up and played with any energy and intensity. He led KU with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range), adding six boards, two assists and a steal in 31 minutes.
The only stats Grimes recorded on Monday night, this time during a KU win, were the four missed shots and one steal in 19 minutes.
What’s more, in the five games since his 19-point outburst at Iowa State, Grimes has scored just 26 points total on 9-of-28 shooting. For the season, the 6-foot-5 guard from The Woodlands, Texas, is shooting 40.3 percent overall, 31 percent from 3-point range, while averaging 8.2 point and 25.6 minutes per game.
While the hope for Grimes and the Jayhawks is that his shooting numbers will go up, don’t expect his minutes-played numbers to go down.
Without 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, Kansas is fully committed to its four-guard approach. Iron-clad confirmation of that was seen on Monday night against Iowa State, when Dedric Lawson played 38 minutes as KU’s lone big, with Lagerald Vick (37), Devon Dotson (38) and Marcus Garrett (39) joining him in playing major minutes.
Grimes (19) and Agbaji (16) split the rest of the minutes at that fifth spot and likely will continue to do so the rest of the way, with Self going with the hot hand or better contributor on any given night.
In some ways, that should take a large chunk of the pressure off of Grimes, at least from the team perspective. Until he breaks through, he’s always going to press and have high expectations for himself. And that, if managed correctly, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s that type of mindset and approach that will keep him in the gym, working hard to figure things out.
I’ve heard on more than one occasion that Grimes is an absolute killer in practices. He just has to find a way to transfer that to game day. And there’s still plenty of time — and almost certainly plenty of opportunity — for him to do just that.
With Agbaji emerging — and even K.J. Lawson capable of providing a spark, as he did Monday when he was in there for KU’s 14-0 run that gave the Jayhawks control — Self knows he has another option if Grimes continues to struggle.
And Agbaji, ever the teammate and selfless contributor, does not figure to play differently whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. In that regard, he’s the perfect sixth man, providing Self with an option who can bring energy and instant offense, but can also be counted on defensively and is reliable in terms of poise, execution and presence.
Self saw that in a crystal clear manner on Monday night, when Agbaji responded to his 4-minute outing and worst game of the season at West Virginia last weekend by acting like it never happened.
“I kind of liked it,” Self said of Agbaji’s bounce-back vs. Iowa State. “He showed me, ‘I’ll show you what aggressive is,’ and he was in attack mode right from the beginning and felt like he belonged. I think he’s got a high ceiling. We have all along. I think he can be an all-league type player, eventually. It’s too early to say what he is, but (Monday) night was so encouraging.”
Self still believes the same things about Grimes — minus the Monday night part, of course — even if the first 19 games of his college career have not exactly gone as planned.
“We (have) not, in any way, shape or form, wavered, at all, on what we feel like his role could be for us,” said Self of the player who arrived on campus as a projected 2019 lottery pick and is now pegged as a second-rounder in Jonathan Givony’s most recent mock draft (Jan. 7) at ESPN.com.
A good game can come out of nowhere and happen to just about anybody. But a good stretch can turn around a season.
That’s what Grimes needs, to stack two or three good performances on top of each other and see where that leads.
It worked for Malik Newman last season. And the turnaround came when Newman took control of the situation and started forcing the action through better effort and a more aggressive approach, playing his way out of the slump instead of simply hoping for it to end.
On "Hawk Talk" Tuesday night, Self said, in so many words, that he was looking for the same thing from Grimes, pointing to the high-energy minutes provided by K.J. Lawson on Monday night as a more recent example of how Grimes can keep control of his production.
“He does probably need some good things to happen,” Self said of Grimes. “But I do think he could make some good things happen through activity, with some energy and enthusiasm and things like that.”
After twice being jumped in the poll without losing, the Associated Press voters had a reason to drop the Kansas men’s basketball team this week.
And they did.
Fresh off of their first loss of the 2018-19 season — 80-76 at No. 18 Arizona State last Saturday night — the Jayhawks (10-1) fell to No. 5 in this week’s poll, released Monday morning.
Arizona State (9-2), meanwhile, jumped a spot to No. 17 after upsetting Kansas and falling to Vanderbilt last week.
Duke (11-1) jumped back into the top spot in this week’s AP poll, with Michigan (12-0), Tennessee (10-1) and Virginia (11-0) joining KU to round out the Top 5.
Despite falling out of the top spot in the poll, the Jayhawks did hold on to a few first-place votes, with four of the 64 AP voters keeping KU at No. 1 in their latest polls.
Duke received 35 first-place votes, Michigan 9, Tennessee 12 and Virginia 4.
Graham Couch, of the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal, who did not have KU anywhere on his ballot last week because the Jayhawks had yet to play a true road game this season, put the Jayhawks at No. 1 this week despite the loss.
Kevin McNamara, of the Providence (R.I.) Journal, Scott Richey, of the News Gazette in Illinois, and Seth Davis, of CBS/Sports Illustrated, were the other three voters who kept Kansas on top.
The Jayhawks also received multiple votes at Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, and were not lower than No. 6 on any ballot.
Kansas will be off until Wednesday, when the team reports back to campus following winter break to begin preparations for Saturday’s home game with Eastern Michigan, which represents the final tuneup before Big 12 play begins on Jan. 2, when Oklahoma comes to Allen Fieldhouse.
The Sooners, new to the poll this week at No. 25, are one of three Big 12 teams ranked in this week’s Top 25, joining KU in 5th and Texas Tech at No. 11. Kansas State also is currently receiving votes.
Here’s a look at the complete poll:
1 – Duke, 11-1 (35)
2 – Michigan, 12-0 (9)
3 – Tennessee, 10-1 (12)
4 – Virginia, 11-0 (4)
5 – Kansas, 10-1 (4)
6 – Nevada, 12-0
7 – Gonzaga, 11-2
8 – Michigan State, 10-2
9 – Florida State, 11-1
10 – Virginia Tech, 10-1
11 – Texas Tech, 10-1
12 – Auburn, 10-2
13 – Ohio State, 11-1
14 – North Carolina, 8-3
15 – Wisconsin, 10-2
16 – Kentucky, 9-2
17 – Arizona State, 9-2
18 – Marquette, 10-2
19 – Mississippi State, 11-1
20 – North Carolina State, 11-1
21 – Buffalo, 11-1
22 – Houston, 12-0
23 – Indiana, 11-2
24 – Iowa, 10-2
25 – Oklahoma, 11-1
Others receiving votes: Nebraska 160, Kansas St 69, St. John's 67, Villanova 44, Cincinnati 11, Iowa St. 11, TCU 6, Seton Hall 5, Louisville 4, Purdue 3, Furman 2, Belmont 2, NJIT 1, Penn 1, San Francisco 1.
For the second time during this young college basketball season, the Kansas men’s basketball program was jumped in the Associated Press poll without losing.
This time, however, the Jayhawks (5-0) did not fall, rather they stayed in the same spot they were in a week ago, despite No. 1 Duke losing.
Kansas, which won the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn last week, stayed at No. 2 in the AP Top 25 but watched Gonzaga jump from No. 3 to No. 1 behind the strength of its victory over former No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game.
Duke, meanwhile, fell back behind Kansas to No. 3.
The numbers show that this was no run-away from the Zags, who landed in the top spot with 1,590 points and 32 first-place votes.
Kansas, meanwhile, earned 1,584 points and 31 first-place votes.
The 1,584 points are the most Kansas has received in a single week this season, even more than the 1,581 the Jayhawks recorded in earning the preseason No. 1 ranking.
Duke and Virginia each received one first-place vote and landed at No. 3 and No. 4, with Nevada rounding out the Top 5.
Tennessee, which fell to Kansas in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off dropped a spot to No. 6, while Michigan State moved up two spots from No. 11 to No. 9, which gives Kansas two Top 10 victories already this season.
The strength of those two victories was foundation for the argument that KU belonged back in the No. 1 spot, which was where it opened the season. But evidently enough voters — just barely — believed that Gonzaga’s victory over a powerhouse Duke program that looked virtually unbeatable in destroying Kentucky at the Champions Classic earlier this month was worth more clout than two wins over Top 10 teams.
KU junior Dedric Lawson was asked about the Top 25 after KU knocked off Marquette in the NIT semifinals last Wednesday, and after first saying that he “definitely” thought KU deserved the top spot after Duke’s loss, Lawson backtracked when he learned it was No. 3 Gonzaga that beat the Blue Devils.
“Definitely, if they lost,” he said. “I think that’s what happens when you lose, you drop.”
When told that Duke’s loss — 89-87 — came to the No. 3 team in the country, Lawson laughed and quickly began backtracking.
“Oh, shout-out to Gonzaga,” he said with a smile. “Gonzaga is a pretty good team, as well. So I guess I’ll leave that to the professionals.”
Seems like a good idea. After all, Kansas coach Bill Self has never put too much stock into where his team is ranked in November and December and the Jayhawks, as a whole, seem concerned only with where they will be ranked at the end of the season.
Two Big 12 programs made the jump from unranked into the Top 25 this week, with Texas (5-1) soaring all the way up to No. 17 and Texas Tech (6-0) landing at No. 20.
Here’s a look at the rest of this week’s AP Top 25:
1 – Gonzaga (32)
2 – Kansas (31)
3 – Duke (1)
4 – Virginia (1)
5 – Nevada
6 – Tennessee
7 – Michigan
8 – Auburn
9 – Michigan State
10 – Kentucky
11 – North Carolina
12 – Kansas State
13 – Virginia Tech
14 – Iowa
15 – Florida State
16 – Ohio State
17 – Texas
18 – Oregon
19 – Purdue
20 – Texas Tech
21 – Buffalo
22 – Wisconsin
23 – Villanova
24 – Maryland
25 – Mississippi State
Others receiving votes: Arizona St 156, Clemson 135, Furman 72, Creighton 65, LSU 41, Indiana 35, UCLA 30, Iowa St. 22, St. John's 19, Minnesota 17, Miami 10, TCU 8, Syracuse 8, Arkansas 6, Nebraska 6, Notre Dame 4, UConn 4, Florida 3, UCF 3, Houston 1, Davidson 1.
Looking for a Monday morning jolt to shake them out of their Thanksgiving food hangovers and the start to another full work week, Kansas Basketball fans may well have started counting down the minutes and hours until the newest AP poll gets released.
That will come in a couple of hours and we’ll know then whether two Top 10 victories in their first five games will return KU to the No. 1 ranking or if yet another team — Gonzaga — will jump the Jayhawks for the second time this young season.
That’s certainly possible given the Zags’ recent win over No. 1 Duke. And you know what else is possible? Kansas could drop AGAIN without actually losing a game.
How, you ask? Well, all of that love for Duke after Week 1 could linger and pollsters could drop the Devils just a spot to No. 2. In order to make room for that possibility, the Jayhawks (5-0) would have to fall to at least third.
Fair or not fair, you know who doesn’t care about any of that this morning?
You guessed it — KU coach Bill Self.
He’s more worried about the following things, which might not have had an impact on where KU is ranked today but could go a long way toward determining where Kansas ends up ranked in April. And isn’t that all that matters?
1 - Where has Quentin Grimes gone?
After opening the season with six 3-pointers in a big win over Michigan State at the Champions Classic, the KU freshman has hit an early-season slump. It’s not just his shooting that has fallen off — Grimes has hit just 3-of-9 from 3-point range since the red-hot start and 7-of-22 (32 percent) overall from the floor in the past four games — but his ability to be on the floor.
Grimes’ confidence is clearly shaken — a temporary thing, if you ask me — and he appears to be overthinking everything he’s doing instead of just playing. That has kept Self from leaving him on the floor, with Grimes playing just 21 minutes in KU’s latest victory and spending most of the second half on the bench.
Asked why his talented freshman had hit the slump, Self said simply, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
At this point, Grimes likely just needs to see the ball go in again so his confidence can rise. But there’s no doubt that getting him going is near the top of the list for this Kansas basketball team, though it’s unlikely that Self and company will force the action to try to make it happen.
2 - How does KU play with two bigs?
It seemed so promising in the preseason and absolutely still could be effective at some point. But so far this season, Kansas has utilized smaller lineups more often than anyone might have thought it would instead of riding with two big men the entire time.
Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson — both still in the starting lineup — have played together plenty, but Self also has elected to use Marcus Garrett and K.J. Lawson at the 4 for key stretches of games. That’s been partially because of the look of KU’s opponents, partly because of foul trouble and also because the floor just gets a little too crowded when the wrong combination of two KU big men are out there together.
That’s kept David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot mostly on the bench and created times when Self has had to rotate Azubuike and Lawson as the lone true big man on the floor.
Getting those two clicking together and finding ways to still keep things spread out and flowing on the offensive end figures to be a major point of emphasis for the Kansas coaches in the weeks ahead.
3 – Rotation tweaks
Just when it looked like the Jayhawks were close to settling in on some kind of set rotation — Marcus Garrett and Charlie Moore in, Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes out, Lightfoot as the third big — Garrett suffered a concussion, Grimes started slumping and K.J. Lawson played out of his mind.
So now what?
Good question. It looks like, at least for another week or two, the rotation will remain in flux, with Garrett, Lawson and Lightfoot all still auditioning for minutes and roles.
Freshman big man David McCormack appears to be No. 10 in KU’s current rotation, but don’t bet on him staying there the entire season. He’s still young and things are moving fast. But by the end of winter break, he might be closer to being ready to contribute in a key role.
The bigger question is what happens with K.J. Lawson, who played more minutes against Tennessee (19) than he had in all four of KU’s games before that. Most of that came out of necessity, with Garrett sidelined and Grimes struggling, but K.J. delivered and looked good doing it.
He’ll be worth keeping an eye on in the weeks ahead.
4 - What’s the latest with Silvio De Sousa?
You guessed it. Nothing. Self talked about it on a recent “Hawk Talk” episode but didn’t have much to report. And he hasn’t said much outside of that in the past few weeks.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello asked Self about De Sousa in New York and Self characterized the De Sousa situation to Borzello as being in a “holding pattern.”
It figures to remain there for a while and, with the holidays approaching, it’s looking less and less likely that some kind of resolution could happen before the start of Big 12 play.
There’s still time for that to change quickly, but it does not appear to be moving in that direction as of today.
Raise your hand if you’re shocked.
1 – Devon Dotson – Once again set the tone for Kansas as an attacking, tough team. And this time he scored, too. Others had numbers that were more or just as impressive, but Dotson had moments where he was the only Jayhawk on the floor playing to his potential. Without that, Kansas loses.
2 – Dedric Lawson – Another double-double (24 points and 13 rebounds) and a fairly dominant overtime period. He still stumbles at times and it’s not all smooth all the time, but it looks as if the junior from Memphis is starting to get comfortable.
3 – Lagerald Vick – Started with a 3-pointer, got red hot during a personal 8-0 run late and showed up big as a veteran with some grit to him. Shot 6-of-12 for the night and added 15 points and four assists in a game-high 43 minutes.
4 – K.J. Lawson – There’s no two ways about it. Kansas does not win this game without K.J. Lawson. Scored eight points, grabbed six tough rebounds and swiped two steals in 19 minutes. That’s pretty good for anybody, but it’s real good for a guy who has struggled to even get in most games.
5 – Charlie Moore – Got to the rim and played big minutes with Marcus Garrett out with a concussion. Didn’t shoot it great, but helped the offense find its flow and loosened up the Tennessee D with his fearless drives to the rim, none bigger than the one that fouled out Tennessee’s Grant Williams late.
6 – Mitch Lightfoot – Three tough rebounds and a block in eight minutes. Nothing that’s going to lead SportsCenter, but absolutely what Kansas needed in those eight minutes.
7 – Udoka Azubuike – Talk about an off night. Five fouls. Four turnovers. And just 17 minutes. Azubuike just never got going and rarely looked right.
8 – Quentin Grimes – The rough stretch continues for the Kansas freshman, who played just 21 minutes and scored five points and grabbed four rebounds. Shot just 1-of-4 from the floor and no doubt wants to perform better. The upcoming week off could do him well. But he was all smiles as the Jayhawks collected their hardware after the game.
9 – David McCormack – Two turnovers in four minutes with one foul and one rebound. He’s still just not quite game ready.
- Lagerald Vick - 33
- Devon Dotson - 32
- Udoka Azubuike - 26
- Dedric Lawson - 24
- Quentin Grimes - 21
- Marcus Garrett - 16
- Charlie Moore - 15
- Mitch Lightfoot - 12
- K.J. Lawson - 10
- David McCormack - 10
A little more than nine hours before No. 2 Kansas and No. 5 Tennessee got to work in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center, the Jayhawks got a bit of bad news from the recruiting trail when four-star power forward Zeke Nnaji announced his commitment to Arizona.
Nnaji, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound prospect from Hopkins High outside of Minneapolis, announced the news in the Hopkins gymnasium with friends, family members and teammates in attendance.
Nnaji picked Arizona over Baylor, Kansas, North Carolina, Purdue and UCLA. The Minnesota native had made official visits to five of those six schools, including Kansas around Late Night, and also took an unofficial visit to UNC last weekend after the Tar Heels jumped in on him late.
Nnaji, who is ranked No. 37 overall in the 2019 class by Rivals.com, becomes the second high-profile power forward to pass on Kansas in the past month. Top 10 prospect Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, of IMG Academy by way of Bishop Miege High, elected to join the Villanova program a few weeks ago instead of staying close to home with Kansas.
Friday’s news leaves Top 10 prospect Matt Hurt and four-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley (No. 31, with finalists KU, UCLA and Oregon) as KU’s most important remaining targets in the 2019 class.
Because Hurt and Nnaji played AAU ball together, many believed the two could wind up at the same college, but a handful of recruiting analysts have reported that Hurt and Nnaji are not necessarily a packaged deal.
The 6-9, 200-pound Hurt, No. 6 per Rivals.com’s latest rankings, is expected to make an official visit to KU sometime this season and make a college decision next spring.
New York — In addition to facing off against the likes of Marquette (6 p.m. Wednesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn), Louisville and Tennessee over the next few days, the Kansas men’s basketball team also will have a couple of down days in the land of skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty.
But don’t expect KU assistant Jerrance Howard to be first in line to climb to the tallest buildings the Big Apple has to offer.
See, Howard, now in his sixth season as an assistant to Bill Self at Kansas, has a serious fear of heights.
It’s been with him for as long as he can remember and, until recently, had kept him from even considering climbing to the top of even moderately tall buildings.
But then the Salute to Service night happened at Allen Fieldhouse, and, as the military members were setting up for their chance to rappel down from the top of the scoreboard to center court before the start of KU’s win over Louisiana, Howard found himself in position to conquer his fear.
“Me, coach Rob (Norm Roberts) and (Jeremy) Case are walking back from lunch at the DeBruce Center and we see them doing it and I was just playing, but I said, ‘I’m about to do it,’” Howard recalled to the Journal-World. “I’ve always wanted to go up in the catwalk and check that out, but I’m afraid of heights. And I chickened out. They strapped me in and I didn’t feel comfortable and I said, ‘I can’t do it.’”
That was all that Case needed to hear to take a couple of jabs at his good friend. Remember, Case this summer rappelled down the eight-story building in Downtown Lawrence for charity. So putting his money where his mouth was was not going to be a problem if it came to that.
“He knows I’m a little competitive,” Howard explained. “So he hit me with, ‘Hey, man, if you’re not going to do it, let me do it.’ That kind of got me and I was like, ‘I can’t let him just punk me.’ He knew what he was doing so I credit all of it to Jeremy Case. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. First, to overcome my fear of heights, but then, for it just to happen, it wasn’t planned or anything. That was the cool thing about it.”
Howard’s fear of heights surfaced when he was just a kid. When his friends and family members were running off to get in line for their favorite roller coasters at various amusement parks, Howard always had a different agenda.
“When we would go to Disney or wherever, I was the guy that always held everybody’s coats and jackets,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been like that forever.”
More recently, during Howard’s first season as an assistant coach at SMU in 2012, his old Illinois teammate and dear friend Derron Williams executed a move Case would have been proud of.
“Derron Williams tricked me,” Howard said. “There’s a place in Dallas he rented out for his brother of like these big-time roller coaster rides, and he was like, ‘Hey, fam, we’re going to go on this one. All it does is go straight up and come right back down.’ And it went straight up and then went around in circles. He has it on video, but he can’t release it.”
It wasn’t just Williams who drew Howard’s ire that day.
“I got mad at the guy running it because he started laughing when he strapped me in, and I told D-Will, ‘Oh, you tricked me.’ And the guy wouldn’t let me out,” Howard recalled. “I went from being angry to being scared just like that.”
So while there might be a trip to the top of the Empire State Building or a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the Jayhawks’ immediate future, don’t expect Howard to do any looking over the edge while there.