Saturday, December 8, 2018

Notebook: Jayhawks remain unscathed during gauntlet to start season

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets the attention of his players during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 at Sprint Center.

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets the attention of his players during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 at Sprint Center.


Kansas City, Mo. — The gauntlet of good resumes continued Saturday night for the second-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team, which survived a scare from New Mexico State, 63-60, at Sprint Center.

The Aggies (7-2) were the sixth KU opponent already this season that ranked in the KenPom Top 100 (at No. 92), with only Vermont (114) and Louisiana (133) sitting outside of double digits in KenPom’s rankings.

KU coach Bill Self has talked often this season — and plenty in years past, as well — about how the strength of KU’s nonconference schedule, which this year features nothing but teams picked to either win or finish second in their conferences, can build both confidence and KU’s case for a stronger seed come NCAA Tournament time.

“I think it is better for your team to play good teams in your nonconference,” Self said. “But, the reality of what makes your schedule is your guaranteed games. Those games that you don't have to return (with a road game at the opponent’s gym) and how good those teams are and what kind of year they are going to have. That is what makes your RPI, or NET moving forward, trying to get as many quality wins in there as possible.”

Top 100 victories typically are considered to be exactly that, and things don’t appear to be changing any time soon.

Two of KU’s four remaining nonconference games before the start of Big 12 play are against KenPom No. 18 Villanova (Dec. 15) and at No. 45 Arizona State (Dec. 22).

“I do think that it prepares you for league without question,” Self said. “But the other thing is, I do think it would be nice not to sweat every single moment. And that is not going to happen before Christmas for us, so it would be nice. And I am not saying it will happen after Christmas, but I am saying if you look at our immediate schedule and go two weeks at a time, there is not a lot time to breathe from a standpoint where you go in and say, ‘If we just really try hard today, we are going to be OK.’”

Vick sits to start (again)

For the second consecutive game, Kansas senior Lagerald Vick was on the bench when the opening went up into the air.

Asked after the victory why he kept Vick out of the starting lineup, Self said simply, “He had a really bad Thursday. Let’s just leave it at that. Hopefully those days are behind us.”

Vick finished 2 of 8 from the floor for 5 points, six rebounds and five assists in 31 minutes off the bench.

Missed opportunity

Asked after the loss if the better team had won, New Mexico State big man Johnny McCants stopped just short of confirming the question.

But it was clear, based on the tears in his eyes and the words that came before it, that McCants believed the Aggies let one get away.

“This game should’ve been ours,” he said at one point early in the postgame media session.

That came before McCants added, “We should’ve won this game. … I felt like we had it. … I felt like we had a lot of missed opportunities. We had the game plan down and we just didn’t execute it.”

NMSU coach Chris Jans seemed pleased with his team’s fight from start to finish.

“I thought we had some chances and we just couldn’t knock them out,” Jans said. “Obviously, that’s a hard team to knock out. … We didn’t lose because of lack of effort.”

Jayhawks at Sprint Center

Kansas is now 39-9 all-time inside Sprint Center, with the majority of those wins coming in postseason play, either the Big 12 tournament or NCAA Tournament.

Even though the Jayhawks have not always played their best games at Sprint Center, Self said earlier this week that he likes playing regular season games there for a number of reasons.

“Usually, it is a good crowd,” Self began. “No students, not quite the same atmosphere as it is at home, but the value is I do think it is great to play in a place where you play in the tournament. I do. I actually like the game a lot.”

KU’s history in Kansas City, of course, goes back way beyond the 12-year history of Sprint Center. Kansas has now played at least one regular-season game in Kansas City in 30 of the past 33 seasons. The Jayhawks are 225-83 all-time in their unofficial home away from home, with 81 of those victories coming at Kemper Arena.

Aggies vs. ranked teams

New Mexico State missed its first opportunity this season to record a program-first win over an Associated Press Top 10 team in back-to-back seasons.

Last season, the Aggies defeated then-No. 6 Miami in the semifinals of the 2017 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. The last time New Mexico State defeated an AP Top 15 team in consecutive years came during the 1980-81 and 1981-82 campaigns, when the Aggies took down No. 14 Wichita State before defeating No. 10 Tulsa.

The rest of NMSU’s schedule, at least as of today, is missing another Top 10 opponent, so the Aggies may have to make the NCAA Tournament to get another crack at it.

This and that ...

The Jayhawks now lead the all-time series with New Mexico State, 4-0 ... KU is off to an 8-0 start for the first time since the 2010-11 season ... Kansas has now won four consecutive games at Sprint Center and is 3-0 to open the month of December for the 11th time in Self’s 16 seasons.


Andy Godwin 4 years ago

The atmosphere is never the same in the Sprint as compared to Allen Fieldhouse. The team lacked energy from the get go and got outplayed after the 5 minute mark. This team clearly relies on Mr. Double-Double, especially with Udoka out, and Dedric took the vast majority of the game off defensively and finally decided to turn it on offensively down the stretch. Obviously without his 14 consecutive points at the end of the game, KU would be looking at an "L". He reminds me a bit of the Morris twins; early in their KU careers they played only so hard in stretches so as to "reserve their energy". This team needs an energetic and engaged Mr. D-D from the tipoff and some help inside by Lightfoot and McCormick. Clearly NMSU was focused on double and triple teaming Dedric from the get go and thus challenging KU to beat them from the perimeter - a strategy that nearly worked.

David Robinett 4 years ago

300 games playin KC? That’s hard to imagine. Don’t we only have 3000 games played ever? We haven’t played 10% in KC...

Jeff Foster 4 years ago

I was afraid that with D Lawson having to handle the opponent's big guy, that could be detrimental to his game. If they take it at him and he picks up two quick fouls, our offense is toast. He did a good job staying out of foul trouble and his O came on late to save the game. Just hope banging inside with the other team's biggest guy doesn't wear him down too much for his late game heroics! RockChalk!

Barry Weiss 4 years ago

maybe we go more to two bigs, Mitch or McCormack out there at the same time as Dedric more than we have. I'm not sure we have the shooters to make the 4 guard offense work as good as last year. we NEED to hit 70% of our FT's as a team. This 50% yesterday is going to lose games. NM State could have clearly won if they shot better at the line too. I think they were 3 of 10. We were very fortunate not to lose that game.

Bryce Landon 4 years ago

Hopefully someday, Kansas will play home-away-from-home games in Wichita and Topeka. They have fans and alumni in those cities too, you know! Not to mention solid arenas in Intrust Bank Arena and Kansas Expocentre!

Marius Rowlanski 4 years ago

I noticed we are ranked at #8 in the new NET ratings... For whatever that's worth.

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