After back-to-back wins against Oklahoma State and Iowa State, Baylor will turn its attention to Kansas on Saturday as the Bears search for potential paths to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears (14-10, 4-7 in Big 12) have lost eight games against ranked opponents entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup against KU at the Ferrell Center (TV: CBS). They only have two wins versus teams ranked in KenPom’s Top 50, tied for the fewest among Big 12 teams.
"The good thing in the Big 12 is there's a lot of signature-win opportunities,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “There's not a bad loss out there.”
The Bears are ranked No. 40 by KenPom, seventh in the Big 12. They lost, 70-67, in their first game against Kansas on Jan. 20. Leading scorer Manu Lecomte was limited to 10 points but Baylor couldn’t hold onto a six-point lead with three minutes remaining.
"Second time, you're always looking at what was effective and trying to get more of that," Drew said. "And then the areas you needed to improve in and areas you needed to adjust, hopefully you make those adjustments now. They'll do the same. At the beginning of the game, you'll see what they adjusted to, what we adjusted to, and then it goes from there."
Fun fact: Baylor is 10-0 when leading at halftime, but the Bears have only led at half in one of their last 12 games.
Series history: Kansas leads 30-4. The Jayhawks have won 11 straight games. The last five have all been decided by six points or less.
BREAKING DOWN BAYLOR
No. 20 — G Manu Lecomte | 5-11, 175, sr.
Ranking fourth in the Big 12 in scoring, Lecomte is averaging 16.8 points on 39 percent shooting from the 3-point arc and an 89 percent mark at the free-throw line. He made seven 3-pointers in a two-point loss to Oklahoma on Jan. 30.
The fifth-year senior has only attempted 27 of his 282 shot attempts at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. Lecomte (pronounced: MAHN-ew la-CONN-t), playing 33 minutes per game, owns a 1.65 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Against KU this season: Scored 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting with three assists and three turnovers in 37 minutes.
- “He’s our floor general,” said Baylor center Jo Lual-Acuil. “He just brings a sense of calm to the team. We trust him when he has the ball in his hands, no matter what’s going on. He just finds a way to keep us all level-headed and get us to do the next right thing. He’s a great leader for us and we expect him in all situations to pull through for us.”
No. 00 — F Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. | 7-0, 225, sr.
Since the start of Big 12 play, Lual-Acuil (pronounced: LOO-ahl ah-CHU-ill) is fifth in the Big 12 in rebounding (8.9 per game), fifth in blocks (2.1) and 14th in scoring (14.0). The sixth-year senior with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 9-4 standing reach is shooting 48.7 percent in conference play.
Against KU this season: In 32 minutes, he had 14 points and 10 rebounds with two assists before fouling out.
No. 11 — F Mark Vital | 6-5, 230, r-fr.
Known for his high-flying dunks, Vital is averaging 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in Big 12 play. He’s started in the last nine games, ranking second on the team with 21 steals and third with 14 blocked shots. He’s a 50 percent free-throw shooter, opting to take a team-high 48.5 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com.
Against KU this season: Finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes, turning the ball over twice.
No. 31 — F Terry Maston | 6-8, 225, sr.
Maston is shooting 50 percent from the field in Baylor’s last five games, averaging 11.4 points. Featuring a 7-foot wingspan, he ranks second on the team with 5.9 rebounds per game. He missed six games earlier this season with a broken right hand. He’s the nephew of former Texas Tech standout Tony Battie.
Against KU this season: Only played four minutes off of the bench, totaling two points, one rebound and one steal.
No. 21 — F Nuni Omot | 6-9, 205, sr.
In the last five games, Omot (pronounced: NOO-nee OH-maht) is averaging 14 points in 26.4 minutes. In those games, he’s connected on 42 percent of his shots from behind the 3-point arc. He was on the junior-varsity basketball team in his junior year of high school, growing six inches in the summer before his senior year. He started his college career at Division II Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn.
Against KU this season: Tied for a team-high 14 points, making 3 of his 4 shot attempts and all seven free-throw attempts. Added two rebounds and a steal.
ONE THING BAYLOR DOES WELL
With a mix of its size and zone defense, Baylor leads the conference in field goal percentage defense since the start of Big 12 play. Opposing teams are only shooting 42 percent, while the Bears boast the best rebounding margin in the conference (plus-3.8).
ONE AREA BAYLOR STRUGGLES
Throughout Big 12 play, the Bears have struggled with turnovers. In the last five games, Baylor has been outscored 96-67 in points off turnovers. The Bears are having trouble with preventing their own turnovers (15 in the first meeting vs. KU) and taking advantage with opposing teams give the ball away.
MEET THE NEW RECRUITING CLASS
Baylor signed two players during the early signing period last fall: Matthew Mayer and Darius Allen. Mayer, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound small forward, is ranked 98th in the nation by Rivals. He averaged 13 points and seven rebounds in the EYBL last year. Allen is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Palm Beach State, averaging 14.4 points this season.
Along with the early signees, the Bears plan to add Makai Mason, from Yale (16 points per game in 2015-16), alongside Mississippi State transfer Mario Kegler, who played in high school with Malik Newman.
Kansas by 1.5. I think KU will play it’s two-big lineup a little more than usual, which will make a big difference on the glass. Perhaps the biggest concern will be slowing down Manu Lecomte, especially after the Jayhawks played such strong defense against him in the first meeting.
My prediction: Kansas 73, Baylor 68. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 13-10.
A little more than a year has passed since Kansas football coach David Beaty introduced his 2017 recruiting class on National Signing Day.
The group, which featured a few starters, was ranked No. 57 in the nation by Rivals. Obviously, it didn’t translate to extra wins last season, but it likely will feature more than a few contributors to next year’s squad.
In last year’s recruiting class, the Jayhawks had nine players from the Juco ranks and 12 from high schools. Among the 21-player class, seven redshirted and Octavius Matthews was forced to end his career because of a heart condition.
From starters to redshirts, and everything in between, a breakdown of how the Class of 2017 looked at the end of its first season:
Peyton Bender, QB: From Itawamba CC, Bender earned the starting quarterback job out of fall camp. The 6-foot-1 signal caller lost his job after back-to-back shutouts against Iowa State and TCU. He returned as a starter in the team’s final game, ending the season with 1,609 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 54 percent of his passes.
Earl Bostick, OL/TE: Projected to be on the offensive line with his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Bostick made some appearances at tight end, a position he played in high school. Bostick caught an eight-yard touchdown in a loss to Texas, his only reception of the season.
Antonio Cole, CB: After playing at a pair of junior colleges in his first two collegiate seasons, Cole only played sparingly last season. He didn’t record any stats, participating in two losses when KU dealt with injuries.
Hasan Defense, CB: Starting in the secondary for the entire season, the 5-foot-11 Defense led the team with nine pass breakups. From Kilgore College in Texas, he had 42 tackles (34 solo) and two interceptions.
Jay Dineen, LB: The Lawrence native, out of Free State High, redshirted and couldn’t practice at the end of the season because of an injury.
Joey Gilbertson, OL: The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Gilbertson, from Wichita, redshirted in his first year in the program. Beaty highlighted his wrestling background during last year’s signing day.
Quan Hampton, WR: After shining throughout fall camp, the speedy 5-foot-8, 170-pound slot receiver quickly found a role on the offense. He had 21 catches for 145 yards in six games, missing the end of the season because of a season-ending injury. He returned two kickoffs for a total of 30 yards.
J.J. Holmes, DT: Out of Hutchinson CC, the 6-foot-3, 335-pound Holmes didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school. He became a starter at defensive tackle, recording 24 tackles (2 for loss), one sack and one quarterback hurry.
Kerr Johnson, WR: With injuries piling up at the end of the season, Johnson earned more playing time. The junior college transfer from California had eight catches for 92 yards.
Kyron Johnson, LB: A backup linebacker, Johnson graduated from high school early and participated in spring football last year. Listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Johnson had 17 tackles and one forced fumble.
Liam Jones, K: Handled kickoff duties but lost the field goal competition to Gabriel Rui during fall camp. He recorded 17 touchbacks in 48 kickoffs.
Travis Jordan, WR: From Landry Walker High in New Orleans, the same school as safety Mike Lee and incoming cornerback Corione Harris, the 6-foot-2 Jordan dealt with some “health issues,” according to Beaty, at the beginning of fall camp and redshirted.
Octavius Matthews, RB: It was announced in August that Matthews had a heart condition and his college football career was over. His mother, Kristy Bradford, died due to heart complications last year.
Willie McCaleb, DL: Once viewed as a player who could start at defensive end opposite of Dorance Armstrong, the junior college transfer didn’t play in a game last season.
Cooper Root, LB: Out of Wichita Collegiate, Root redshirted last season. Listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Beaty said at last year’s signing day that he could line up as an inside or outside linebacker.
KeyShaun Simmons, DL: By the end of the season, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Simmons emerged as a reliable contributor on the defensive line. From Pearl River CC, he finished the year with 19 tackles (4.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks.
Kenyon Tabor, WR: The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver from Derby (Kan.) sat out the entire season because of an injury. Before Tabor’s injury, Beaty described him as a “promising” receiver.
Shakial Taylor, CB: Taylor earned the starting nod out of fall camp and held the spot until he suffered a season-ending injury. The 6-foot, 175-pound junior college transfer made 22 tackles with three pass breakups.
Robert Topps, CB: Bigger than most players at his position, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from Chicago is expected to develop as a cornerback. He redshirted during the season, but defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said in fall camp, “We have to invest time in Robert.”
Dom Williams, RB: One of the most-hyped recruits in the class, Williams was a four-star prospect. Battling injuries, his playing time was inconsistent, but the McKinney, Texas native finished the year with 176 yards and three touchdowns on 51 attempts. He added seven catches for 49 yards.
Takulve Williams, WR: Another player in the New Orleans to KU pipeline, Williams redshirted last season.
After losses last weekend, Kansas coach Bill Self and TCU coach Jamie Dixon both said their teams “got what we deserved.” Now both teams will try to bounce back against each other.
The Jayhawks will try to remain in at least in a tie atop the Big 12 standings when they play host to TCU at 8 p.m. Tuesday (TV: ESPN) at Allen Fieldhouse. Both Kansas and Texas Tech have 7-3 records in Big 12 play while West Virginia is 7-4.
The Horned Frogs (16-7, 4-6 Big 12) are without starting guard Jaylen Fisher, who suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee and underwent season-ending surgery in the middle of January. They’ve struggled to find consistency without Fisher, posting a 3-3 record.
When the two teams met on Jan. 6 in Fort Worth, the Jayhawks (18-5, 7-3) held off TCU down the stretch with key free throws by Devonte’ Graham.
“We have to do a better job, obviously, defending and rebounding,” Self said. “Rebounding is obviously a huge, huge thing with us. If you’re going to play as small as we play, you’ve got to play tougher. We’ve been saying that all year long.”
Fun fact: TCU is looking for its second win ever against a ranked team on the road. The Horned Frogs have a 1-77 all-time road record vs. teams in the AP Top 25 with their lone win on Jan. 19, 1998 at No. 24 Hawai’i.
Fun fact II: In their last nine games, the Horned Frogs have outscored or tied each opponent in the second half. It’s only resulted in a 3-6 record.
Series history: Kansas leads 15-2. The Horned Frogs have an 0-6 record inside of Allen Fieldhouse.
BREAKING DOWN TCU
No. 34 — G Kenrich Williams | 6-7, 210, sr.
Williams ranks second in the Big 12 in rebounding, averaging 13.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in conference play. He’s recorded four double-doubles against Big 12 opponents, shooting 34.1 percent from the 3-point line.
A pesky defender, the fifth-year senior from Waco, Texas, has snagged 14 steals in conference play. He missed the entire 2015-16 season because of a knee injury. Out of high school, Williams had zero Div. I basketball offers. He opted to play his freshman season at New Mexico Junior College before transferring to TCU.
Against KU this season: 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting with 11 rebounds, five assists and one steal in 32 minutes.
- “His offensive numbers have gotten better as we’ve gotten the understanding of where he needs to be and what positions to put him in,” coach Jamie Dixon said.
No. 10 — F Vlad Brodziansky | 6-11, 230, fr.
Brodziansky (pronounced: BROAD-Zee-ON-ski) has shined in Big 12 play with a team-best 17.3 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting and an 88.1 percent mark at the free-throw line. From Slovakia, he’s shooting 71 percent at the rim this season, according to hoop-math.com. He leads the team with 44 blocks.
Against KU this season: Scored 20 points (10 of 10 at the free-throw line) with five rebounds, two assists and one block.
No. 1 — G Desmond Bane | 6-5, 215, so.
A dangerous 3-point shooter, Bane is averaging 10.7 points while connecting on 44.4 percent of his attempts from behind the arc in conference play. He’s added 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He’s made at least one 3-pointer in 15 of his last 16 games.
Against KU this season: Made 3 of 7 shots from the 3-point line, scoring 13 points with four rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes.
No. 25 — G Alex Robinson | 6-1, 175, jr.
Handling the majority of point guard duties with Jaylen Fisher out, Robinson has helped the offense with 7.0 assists per game in Big 12 play. An athletic player with a 44-inch vertical, Robinson is averaging 8.6 points against conference opponents but struggled at the free-throw line (48 percent). He had 17 assists, a Big 12 record, against Iowa State in January.
Against KU this season: In 32 minutes off of the bench, he had two points (1-of-8 shooting), seven assists, three turnovers and two rebounds.
No. 12 — F Kouat Noi | 6-7, 210, r-fr.
From Australia, Noi (pronounced: KWOT NOY) has transformed into the team’s top 3-point threat in Big 12 play. Noi is shooting 47.7 percent from deep on 44 attempts, averaging 10.7 points off of the bench. “I’d be lying if I expected him to lead the conference in that aspect,” coach Jamie Dixon said. He’s added 3.4 rebounds per game.
Against KU this season: Scored six points off of the bench in 14 minutes, making 3 of his 6 shots to go along with four rebounds.
ONE THING TCU DOES WELL
In a conference with plenty of talented offensive teams, nobody shoots better than TCU. The Horned Frogs, averaging 84.5 points against Big 12 opponents, rank 11th in the nation in field goal percentage (50.4 percent) and 13th from the 3-point line (41.2 percent). In Big 12 play, they average five more assists than any other team.
ONE AREA TCU STRUGGLES
As well as the Horned Frogs shoot 3-pointers, they allow opposing teams to shoot even better from behind the arc. TCU does a decent job of limiting the amount of attempts from other teams, but in Big 12 play, opponents have connected on 43.1 percent of their 3s. In TCU’s last seven games, only one team (West Virginia) shot worse than 42 percent.
MEET THE NEW RECRUITING CLASS
TCU signed four players in November’s early signing period. Kaden Archie, a 6-6 small forward, and Kendric Davis, a 5-11 point guard, are both ranked in the Top 100 by Rivals and considered four-star prospects.
The Horned Frogs added Russell Barlow, a 6-10 center with a 7-foot wingspan and Angus McWilliam, 6-11 center/forward from New Zealand. McWilliam actually joined the team in early January and has been practicing but will redshirt this semester.
Kansas by 7.5. A lot of eyes will be on the Jayhawks after Bill Self blasted his team’s effort and announced a change to the starting lineup. I expect KU to improve its rebounding. On the other side, TCU is a desperate team trying to improve after losing three of its last five games. My guess is KU will have a strong start, but TCU will fight back at the start of the second half and keep it close.
My prediction: Kansas 82, TCU 77. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 12-10.
Ochai Agbaji, who received a scholarship offer to play basketball at Kansas on Saturday afternoon, doesn’t match the profile of most KU recruits. He isn’t listed as a five-star prospect. He wasn’t on the shortlist of players considered for the McDonald’s All-American Game.
The offer from Kansas represents his meteoric rise in recruiting over the last few weeks. From Oak Park High in Kansas City (Mo.), Agbaji landed his first Power Five offer on Jan. 26 from Texas A&M. In a little more than a week, he’s added Wisconsin, Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Kansas to his list of suitors.
Through 18 games of his senior year in high school, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Agbaji is averaging 27.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists while leading Oak Park to a 16-2 record. He’s scored at least 24 points in his last seven games.
Agbaji went on an unofficial visit to Allen Fieldhouse during KU’s loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, watching from behind the team’s bench. He took two earlier visits in January, plus Bill Self and Larry Brown attended one of his recent high school games.
“I got to see their new locker room and all of that stuff,” Agbaji told Rivals before his offer from KU. “I got to meet Bill Self and talk with him. He's very interested in me and said they are looking for a wing like me who is strong, tough and can shoot the ball."
Before picking up a flurry of offers from Power Five programs, Agbaji had offers from Fresno State, Loyola (Chicago), Colorado State, Northern Iowa and New Orleans. He took an official visit to Colorado State in January.
Showcasing his athleticism in his senior season, he’s proven he can score from anywhere on the floor whether it’s above the rim, posting up with his back to the basket or powerful downhill drives. His sister, Orie, plays volleyball at Texas and their parents both played basketball at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The Jayhawks have already signed guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, along with center David McCormack, in their 2018 recruiting class. Five-star guard Romeo Langford, from New Albany, Ind., has KU listed among his final three choices with Indiana and Vanderbilt.
Langford scored a career-high 63 points Thursday with six 3-pointers, prompting students to chant, “IU! IU!” He’s not expected to announce his decision until at least late March.
For Agbaji, it sounds like he’s enjoyed all of the recent attention that’s come with being one of the highest-rising prospects in the Midwest.
"I'm just looking for the school that's the right fit," Agbaji told Rivals more than a week ago. "A school that I can go in and be effective as a freshman right away. I'd probably be a better fit in uptempo but that doesn't really matter because I just want a good coach who can make me better as a player."
In terms of momentum, Oklahoma State doesn’t have much of it heading into its matchup against Kansas at 11 a.m. Saturday (TV: CBS) at Allen Fieldhouse. The Cowboys have lost their last three games and they are still searching for their first road win.
Near the bottom of the conference standings, the Cowboys (13-9, 3-6 Big 12) have shown flashes of their potential on the road. There was the five-point loss at Texas Tech, four-point loss at Kansas State and six-point loss at West Virginia.
The Cowboys are still without their second-leading scorer Tavarius Shine, who is out with a left wrist injury. Oklahoma State is 0-3 without him.
Despite some recent losses, the Big 12-leading Jayhawks (18-4, 7-2) certainly won’t be taking OSU or any team in the conference lightly.
“The pieces to me just fit,” KU coach Bill Self. “They don't have guys, other than Jeffrey (Carroll), that were pre-season all Big 12 type guys. You watch them play, man, (Kendall) Smith, the transfer, he's really good. Lindy Waters is really good. Mitchell Solomon is one of the best all-around big guys in our league, without question.”
Fun fact: In Oklahoma State’s last eight games, six of them were decided by two possessions or less, or in overtime.
Series history: Kansas leads 113-57. The Jayhawks have won the last three meetings and own a 47-9 record inside of Allen Fieldhouse against the Cowboys.
BREAKING DOWN OKLAHOMA STATE
No. 30 — G/F Jeffrey Carroll | 6-6, 220, r-sr.
A unanimous preseason all-Big 12 selection, Carroll is averaging a team-best 15.8 points on 32.7 shooting from the 3-point line, which is a big dip from last season (44.4 percent). He’s adding 6.2 rebounds per game, leading the team with a total of 86 defensive rebounds.
According to hoop-math.com, Carroll is only shooting 25.5 percent on mid-range jumpers. From Rowlett, Texas, he’s recorded six 20-plus point performances this season.
In two games against Kansas last year, Carroll totaled 50 points on 18 of 31 shooting with 11 rebounds and four assists. His dad played college basketball at East Texas Baptist University.
- “Being the main guy, I can't play bad,” Carroll told the Oklahoman. “I have to play more consistent. That's kind of my whole mindset right now 'cause I will play probably two to three games well, and then play a bad one, so trying to just take out that game from these last 10.”
No. 1 — G Kendall Smith | 6-3, 190, sr.
A graduate transfer from CSUN, Smith has immediately made an impact with 10.9 points, 3.0 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 35 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 76 percent at the free-throw line.
Smith has played off of the bench in the last five games. From Antioch, Calif., he played his freshman season at UNLV and was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year before transferring to CSUN. His older brother, Quincy, played basketball at Hawai’i.
No. 41 — F Mitchell Solomon | 6-9, 250, sr.
An important glue guy for the Cowboys, Solomon doesn’t shoot a ton but he makes up for it with his leadership. Solomon is averaging 7.8 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds. He leads Oklahoma State with 68 offensive boards, 30 more than any other player, and has recorded 27 blocks.
The son of two OSU graduates, Solomon is shooting 58.3 percent depute a 3 of 22 mark from the 3-point line. He’s made 87.5 percent of his free throws. He ranks fifth in program history in offensive rebounds.
No. 21 — G Lindy Waters III | 6-6, 205, so.
A versatile defender, Waters is shooting 31.7 percent from the 3-point arc while averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. He leads the Cowboys with 23 steals. In the last three games, he’s scored at least 10 points in each of them while shooting 12 of 22 from the field.
From Norman, Okla., he played in high school alongside Trae Young. According to the Tulsa World, Waters has drawn 15 charges this season.
No. 0 — G Brandon Averette | 5-11, 185, so.
A backup point guard to Jawun Evans last year, Averette is averaging 8.2 points and 3.4 assists per game. He’s a recent addition to the starting lineup, he’s primarily a mid-range shooter. He’s only attempted 20.8 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com, which is the second-lowest mark on the team.
He was originally signed to play at Stephen F. Austin and followed Brad Underwood to Stillwater. to become the former coach’s first signee.
ONE THING OKLAHOMA STATE DOES WELL
With a lot of length from its perimeter defenders, Oklahoma State is one of the top teams in the conference at forcing turnovers. In nine Big 12 games, the Cowboys have forced at least 14 turnovers in six of them. They rank only behind Kansas State with 7.3 steals per Big 12 game.
ONE AREA OKLAHOMA STATE STRUGGLES
The Cowboys give opposing teams plenty of opportunities to score at the free-throw line. Oklahoma State has issues with fouling, giving Big 12 opponents an average of 25.3 attempts at the charity stripe.
MEET THE COACH
Mike Boynton, 36, is in his first head coaching position after replacing Brad Underwood. Prior to his time in Stillman, Boynton was an assistant at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina.
A point guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., Boynton led South Carolina to the NCAA Tournament in 2004. He finished in the top 10 in made 3-pointers and fourth in games played in program history.
Kansas by 12. Which version of the Jayhawks will show up on Saturday morning? The version that won Big 12 games by razor-thin margins, including games at home or the version that showed up in double-digit wins over Texas A&M and Kansas State? Jeffrey Carroll, as he proved last season, always seems to step up his game when he's facing Kansas.
My prediction: Kansas 79, Oklahoma State 71. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 11-10.
After a one-point loss inside of Allen Fieldhouse earlier this month, Kansas State has transformed into the hottest Big 12 team with four straight wins, moving into a four-way tie for second place in the conference standings.
The Wildcats will welcome Kansas to Bramlage Coliseum at 8 p.m. Monday (TV: ESPN) for the second edition of the Sunflower Showdown, attempting to win their third straight game against a ranked opponent. The last three rivalry games have been decided by three points or less.
K-State (16-5, 5-3) is still playing without junior point guard Kamau Stokes (broken foot) but junior guard Barry Brown and junior forward Dean Wade have more than picked up the offense. The duo ranks second and third in scoring, respectively, during Big 12 play.
“I think we’ve matured a lot,” Wade told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “At the end of games, we don’t panic like we used to. We’re playing strong and confident.”
After wins against Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor and Georgia, the Wildcats are ranked No. 35 by KenPom and No. 39 by ESPN’s BPI. In both metrics, Wildcats are sixth among Big 12 teams.
Fun fact: Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996-97, the Jayhawks own a 62-20 all-time record on ESPN Big Monday.
Series history: Kansas leads 194-93 after winning the last six meetings.
BREAKING DOWN KANSAS STATE
No. 32 — F Dean Wade | 6-10, 228, jr.
A dangerous shooter at the 3-point line and in the mid-range, Wade is averaging 16.2 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds. He’s scoring more than 20 points per game in conference play, shooting an efficient 60.6 percent against Big 12 opponents.
Wade has scored in double figures in nine straight games, connecting on 16 of his 30 attempts from the 3-point arc. The St. John, Kan., native ranks second on the team in steals (34) and blocks (16).
Against KU this season: 22 points (8 of 14 shooting), six rebounds, two assists and four turnovers in 38 minutes.
- “It was just a matter of when,” KSU coach Bruce Weber said. “I think he had to figure it out on his own and hopefully it continues. I don’t know if he’s going to be 9 for 12 every game, but he’s a really good player, a really talented player.”
No. 5 — G Barry Brown Jr. | 6-3, 195, jr.
Brown has taken his game to a different level in the past month. He’s averaging 22.8 points against conference opponents, which ranks second to Oklahoma’s Trae Young, and shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from the 3-point line. Known as a tough defender, he leads the Wildcats with 43 steals.
Against KU this season: 12 points (5 of 14 shooting), five rebounds, six assists and three turnovers in 39 minutes.
No. 2 — G Cartier Diarra | 6-4, 190, r-fr.
Filling in for Kamau Stokes at point guard, Diarra has been an electric spark for the Wildcats. Since joining the starting lineup, Diarra (pronounced: car-tee-YAY JOTT-ah) is averaging 13.2 points on 58.3 percent shooting. He ranks second on the team with a 44.4 percentage from the 3-point line. He missed last season because of a torn ACL.
Against KU this season: 18 points (7 of 11 shooting, 3 of 5 from 3), four rebounds, two steals and three turnovers in 35 minutes.
No. 20 — F Xavier Sneed | 6-5, 212, so.
Primarily a 3-point shooter, Sneed has struggled to find his shooting touch throughout the past month. In the past seven games, he’s only made 9 of his last 32 attempts from deep. On the season, the St. Louis native is averaging 11 points and 4.4 rebounds. He leads the team in free-throw percentage (86.5).
Against KU this season: 14 points (5 of 11 shooting, 2 of 6 from 3), seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in 37 minutes.
No. 14 — F Makol Mawien | 6-9, 225, so.
The only starter who isn’t averaging 30 minutes, Mawien has recorded 6.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. He leads the Wildcats with 22 blocks and ranks second with 25 offensive rebounds. He spent a redshirt freshman season at Utah before transferring to New Mexico Junior College.
Against KU this season: Four points (1 of 3 shooting) and two blocks.
ONE THING KANSAS STATE DOES WELL
Throughout Big 12 play, the Wildcats have defended the 3-point arc well. Only Kansas has made more than eight 3-pointers in a game or shot better than 35 percent. During K-State’s four-game winning streak, opposing teams have shot 26.4 percent from deep.
ONE AREA KANSAS STATE STRUGGLES
It hasn’t been much of an issue in recent games because the Wildcats have shot so well, but they are not a team that opposing teams need to worry about on the offensive glass. K-State has recorded a Big 12-low 6.8 offensive rebounds per game in conference play, well behind any other team.
MEET THE NEW RECRUITING CLASS
The Wildcats signed point guard Shaun Williams, from St. Louis, in the November signing period. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Williams, a three-star prospect by Rivals, plays at Hazelwood Central, the same school that produced Xavier Sneed. He averaged 18.6 points and 2.8 assists last year.
Kansas by 1.5. During the first game between the in-state rivals, the Jayhawks caught Barry Brown on an off night (even before he missed the desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer). Cartier Diarra was magnificent vs. KU, but I think it’s tougher when Brown catches fire, especially when teams have to find a way to defend Dean Wade. As great as the Jayhawks have played in close, late-game situations against KSU, will Hack-a-Dok force lineup changes?
My prediction: Kansas State 76, Kansas 72. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 11-9.
Devonte’ Graham is averaging a team-best 17.3 points and 7.3 assists during his senior season. He’s on pace to finish just shy of the Kansas basketball program’s single-season assist record. And he’s probably more valuable than any of his individual numbers could indicate.
Since the start of Big 12 play, consider this: Graham has sat on the bench for a little more than 10 minutes. Without him on the floor, Kansas has scored on six of its 20 offensive possessions.
The highest-scoring offense in the Bill Self era revolves around Graham. There's a lack of scoring depth off the bench and the Jayhawks are still searching for a reliable backup point guard. Another part of it is the leadership Graham provides, directing players to the right spots on offense and defense.
In Big 12 play, Graham leads the conference with 38.8 minutes per game. He’s slightly ahead of Dylan Osetkowski (Texas, 38.5), Kenrich Williams (TCU, 38.4) and Nick Weiler-Babb (Iowa State, 38.1). Graham is well ahead of Frank Mason III’s average of 37.2 minutes in Big 12 games last year and Mason finished third in program history for minutes played in a season.
When Graham is sitting on the bench against Big 12 opponents, the Jayhawks have been outscored by 20 points. That number is magnified considering KU has won all six of its conference games by six points or less.
It’s a big reason why Graham has sat for 28 seconds of game time in the last four outings: wins over West Virginia, Baylor and Texas A&M, and a road loss to Oklahoma.
“It's hard to take him out,” Self said. “Nor does he want to come out.”
In some games, Self has tried to help Graham take a longer breather by subbing him out right before a media timeout. It hasn’t been effective because even in short spurts the Jayhawks aren’t the same without their point guard.
A look at how the Jayhawks have fared without their senior leader in Big 12 play:
Kansas 92, Texas 86
In a sign of things to come, Graham sat for a little less a minute-and-a-half. Leading by five points when he exited in the first half, the Jayhawks gave up a pair of 3-pointers on defense and only scored when Svi Mykhailiuk was fouled on a 3-point shot.
With Graham on the bench, the Jayhawks didn’t have the same level of ball movement. Shots seemed more forced. Sitting with a 22-17 lead, Graham returned in 88 seconds with the game tied at 25-all.
Texas Tech 85, Kansas 73
Trailing for the entire game, Graham played all 40 minutes.
Kansas 88, TCU 84
When Graham went to the bench, TCU’s offense thrived. In the first half, the Horned Frogs went on a 6-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers from guard Jaylen Fisher. Udoka Azubuike committed a turnover in the only first-half possession without Graham as he caught a breather for less than a minute.
Later in the first half, Self tried to give Graham a break before a media timeout. Lagerald Vick made a layup but KU’s offense shot 1 for 3 in less than two minutes while TCU cut into the Jayhawks’ lead with another pair of 3-pointers.
Kansas 83, Iowa State 78
If there was any question about Graham’s impact, look no further than a three-possession stretch without him in the second half. Graham took a breather at the 10:31 mark with KU holding a 66-59 lead.
On back-to-back defensive possessions, the Jayhawks lost track of ISU’s leading scorer Donovan Jackson, who drilled his fifth and sixth 3-pointers of the game. Those triples were sandwiched around a turnover when Vick tried to find Udoka Azubuike on a lob. In less than a minute, KU’s lead was down to one and Self called a timeout to bring Graham off the bench.
During the first half, Graham sat for about 90 seconds. The Jayhawks actually increased their lead by a point when freshman Marcus Garrett made his lone 3-pointer in conference play. KU still shot 1 of 3 without him directing the offense.
Kansas 73, Kansas State 72
Graham sat for nearly three minutes in the first half, his longest break of the conference season, because he picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes. The Jayhawks actually extended their lead by two points, holding the Wildcats to four points on 1 of 3 shooting. Azubuike led KU’s offense with six points in that stretch.
In the second half, Graham returned to the bench briefly after picking up his third foul. KU’s offense went scoreless in two possessions with Malik Newman and Garrett alternating at point guard.
Kansas 71, West Virginia 66
Helping the Jayhawks end a four-year losing streak in Morgantown, Graham played all 40 minutes.
Kansas 70, Baylor 67
Graham only sat on the bench for one possession in the first half with ESPN play-by-play announcer Rich Hollenburg saying, “Devonte’ Graham on the bench … something you won’t hear me say too often tonight.” Vick was called for an offensive foul while Graham sat for 17 seconds of game clock.
Oklahoma 85, Kansas 80
Entering the much-hyped matchup between Graham and Trae Young, Self said the plan was to sit Graham whenever Young went to the bench. Young played all 40 minutes. Graham fouled out with 11 seconds left when the game was already decided.
“We had one guy who I felt was really capable of keeping Trae in front of him,” Self said. “And Devonte' did a great job of that for the most part.”
During non-conference play, Texas A&M was ranked as high as fifth in the country as it crushed opposing teams with a dominant frontcourt and solid play from its guards. Then a switch flipped once conference play started and the Aggies have struggled on both ends of the floor.
Which version of Texas A&M will show up against Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: ESPN) at Allen Fieldhouse?
When the Aggies (13-7, 2-6 in SEC) are at their best, they’ve overwhelmed teams with their size. They beat West Virginia and Oklahoma State by double digits in November. Back to playing with a full lineup after some injuries and suspensions, the Aggies haven’t regained their footing since entering SEC play.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said one of the biggest factors is the team’s guard play. The Aggies have made 26.5 percent of their 3-pointers since conference play began and their defense has taken a step back.
Sitting in a tie for last place in the SEC standings, A&M is ranked 33rd by KenPom (fifth among SEC schools). The Jayhawks (16-4, 6-2 in Big 12) are ninth.
“Any time you are playing Kansas on a national spotlight like we are, it’s good for your program,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy told NCAA.com’s Andy Katz. “It’s really good when you win but Kansas has so much tradition and so much success, the fact that we’re in this game, we’re thankful and excited about having the opportunity.”
Fun fact: KenPom ranks Texas A&M eighth nationally in average height at 78.6 inches (6-foot-5.5).
Series history: Kansas leads 20-1. The Jayhawks have an 8-1 mark at Allen Fieldhouse, losing the lone meeting in 2007 against the Acie Law-led Aggies. The last time these two schools met was in the 2012 Big 12 Tournament.
BREAKING DOWN TEXAS A&M
No. 34 — C Tyler Davis | 6-10, 266, jr.
A back-to-the-basket low post presence, Davis is averaging 14.3 points on 57.8 percent shooting. He ranks second on the team with 8.8 rebounds per game, grabbing 66 offensive boards (3.3 per game, 25th in the country) this season.
Davis, who led the Aggies in scoring last year, has recorded a double-double in three straight games (eight this season). According to hoop-math.com, he takes 65 percent of his shots at the rim but he leads A&M with 45 turnovers.
From Plano, Texas, Davis is one of two players to play in all 20 games for A&M this year. At the start of high school, he said he weighed 350 pounds.
- "When you go through some tough times, you've got to have one voice in the locker room that's echoing everything the coaches are saying,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "Tyler has done that on the floor and off the floor. And you always know you're getting his best effort."
No. 1 — F DJ Hogg | 6-9, 215, jr.
The top 3-point shooter on the team, Hogg has made 41 of his 100 attempts. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Hogg ranks second on the team with 17 steals and fourth with 21 blocks. He missed the end of last season because of a foot injury.
Hogg (pronounced hoeg, rhymes with rogue), who played in high school with Tyler Davis, has made just 2 of his last 14 shots from the 3-point arc. He was suspended for three games in December for an undisclosed violation of school policy and earlier suspended for the team’s season opener.
No. 44 — F Robert Williams | 6-10, 241, so.
Williams was considered a potential lottery pick in last year’s NBA Draft before he announced he would return for his second season in College Station. With a 7-foot-5 wing span, he’s averaging 10.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He was last season’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Oil City, La., native is extremely efficient at the rim, making 81.8 percent of his close-range shots according to hoop-math.com. He’s a 50 percent free-throw shooter. He missed the first two games of the season because of a suspension and two games in December from a concussion he suffered in practice.
No. 3 — G Admon Gilder | 6-4, 199, jr.
A 45 percent shooter this season, Gilder takes about an equal number of shots at the rim and behind the 3-point arc. Averaging 11.7 points, the Dallas native is shooting 38.3 percent from deep. He adds 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
Gilder missed five games this year because of a knee injury. He’s an 83.3 percent free-throw shooter. The Aggies are averaging 77.1 points with him in the lineup and 68.8 without him.
No. 13 — G Duane Wilson | 6-3, 175, sr.
A graduate transfer from Marquette, Wilson is averaging 10.1 points and a team-best 4.4 assists per game. He’s shooting a team-best 84.8 percent at the free-throw line. On defense, he leads A&M with 20 steals.
Wilson is only shooting 26.8 percent from the 3-point arc. Instead, he attempts about 41 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. He’s missed three games this season with a knee injury.
ONE THING TEXAS A&M DOES WELL
Heavy on height and length, the Aggies are one of the top rebounding teams in the country. In their first 20 games, they’ve recorded a plus-7.7 rebounding margin that ranks 12th in the NCAA. It hasn’t always translated to wins — they outrebounded LSU by 20 in an eight-point loss — but they should have a huge advantage on the glass against KU’s four-guard lineup.
ONE AREA TEXAS A&M STRUGGLES
Despite playing through their post players in the paint, A&M has plenty of trouble with turnovers. During the Aggies’ six losses against SEC opponents, they are averaging 15.2 turnovers. For a team that doesn’t shoot particularly well from the 3-point arc, giving away possessions is even more costly.
MEET THE COACH
The 2016 SEC Coach of the Year, Billy Kennedy is in his seventh year with Texas A&M after replacing Mark Turgeon. He’s guided the Aggies to one NCAA Tournament appearance, reaching the Sweet 16 in the 2015-16 season which included the remarkable comeback win against Northern Iowa.
Prior to his time at College Station, Kennedy was the head coach for five seasons at Murray State and six years at his alma mater Southeastern Louisiana.
Kansas by 7.5. It’ll definitely be a contrast in styles Saturday with the Jayhawks in a four-guard lineup and A&M featuring several talented forwards. The Aggies will look at the non-conference matchup as an opportunity to reverse the way their season is moving, but I’m not sold that their guards will be able to keep up with KU.
My prediction: Kansas 81, Texas A&M 65. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 10-9.
Throughout the past decade, Kansas has found itself ranked among the top teams in the country and competing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament each season.
Perhaps the only ranking system that hasn’t shown the Jayhawks at the top annually are recruiting class rankings. Duke and Kentucky have traded turns with the No. 1 class for the last several seasons, while Bill Self's classes have been a little lower.
On ESPN’s Campus Conversation podcast with Jeff Goodman last week, Self was asked why the Jayhawks haven’t competed as often for the No. 1 spot as Kentucky or Duke, even though the Hall of Fame coach has proven he can land top-ranked prospects like Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson.
“These high school rankings can be so overrated,” Self said. “We went to the national championship game with not one McDonald’s All-American on our roster in 2012 and last year’s national player of the year (Frank Mason III) was not a McDonald’s All-American. Joel Embiid was not a McDonald’s All-American. We’ve done fairly well but to look strictly at rankings is the wrong way to look at it, even as a fan.”
The Jayhawks are off to a very strong start to their Class of 2018. Even with Silvio De Sousa opting to reclassify to help the team this season, guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, and forward David McCormack, all earned selections to the 24-player McDonald’s All-American Game in March.
Kansas is ranked No. 3 in the team rankings by Rivals and ESPN, and fifth by 247Sports. The Jayhawks had only one Top 5 class, according to ESPN, since 2010. Of course, not all years are created equal with the availability of scholarships or adding college transfers instead of high schoolers.
“It is comical to me,” Self said. “Kentucky has by far the most pros in the NBA, they’ve got 30. I was watching something on ESPN and I think that Duke is second with 23 and then us and (North) Carolina are third right now with 16. You don’t get 16 guys to the pros when you recruit them and they can’t play.”
Since 2010, the Jayhawks have recruited eight one-and-done prospects: Josh Jackson, Cheick Diallo, Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Ben McLemore and Josh Selby.
“You recruit the best kids but you also want the best kids to fit everything you are trying to do,” Self said. “If I can recruit five one-and-dones every year, I would. But that’s not what we do. Certainly, we won’t beat everybody in recruiting every year, but I’ll tell you this, Kentucky and Duke don’t beat everybody every time either.”
Since 2010, the Jayhawks have been a one or two seed in each NCAA Tournament, so it's difficult to say that any of the recent recruiting classes haven't matched up with Kentucky, Duke or other blue blood programs.
The last Top 5 ranked class was in 2013, which featured Wiggins, Embiid, Mason, Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene.
“Recruiting is such an inexact science,” Self said. “I think the best teams have always been the ones with maybe the most talented guy is the youngest but the heart and soul is always the oldest. I think Jay Wright has taken that formula into a whole new level in what they’ve done there at Villanova.”
During the streak of 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, Kansas has faced its share of must-see players: Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, Marcus Smart and Buddy Hield. Next up: Oklahoma superstar Trae Young.
Leading the nation in points and assists, Young will try to close the gap in the Big 12 standings when the two schools tip off at 6 p.m. Tuesday (TV: ESPN) at Lloyd Noble Center. The Jayhawks (16-3, 6-1 in Big 12) have a two-game lead as teams near the halfway point.
The 12th-ranked Sooners (14-4, 4-3) have surpassed most expectations this season, despite losses last week to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. They were sixth in the preseason Big 12 coaches poll.
“He’s not a one-man team,” said KU coach Bill Self, referring to Young. “They’ve got other guys that are good. We’ve got to figure out a game plan on how we can try to slow them all down, not just focus in on one.”
Oklahoma, the second-highest scoring offense in the country, is ranked 20th by KenPom (fifth in Big 12). Kansas is ranked eighth, two spots ahead of Texas Tech.
Fun fact: The Sooners have scored 100 or more points in six games this season. It’s the second-highest total by any Big 12 team since the conference was formed in 1996, only trailing the 2001-02 Kansas squad (12 games).
Series history: Kansas leads 146-66. The Jayhawks have won the last four meetings and own a 19-17 record inside of the Lloyd Noble Center. Bill Self has a 17-3 record vs. the Sooners while at Kansas.
BREAKING DOWN OKLAHOMA
No. 11 — PG Trae Young | 6-2, 180, fr.
In an era of star one-and-done freshmen, nobody has dominated college basketball like Young. He’s leading the country in points (30.5) and assists (9.7) per game. Since he started Big 12 play, he’s actually scoring more: averaging a ridiculous 33.3 points in seven games.
The Norman native is shooting 39.6 percent from the 3-point arc and 83.6 percent at the free-throw line while attempting nearly 21 shots each night. His biggest negative against conference opponents is turnovers, committing 28 turnovers in his last three games.
His dad, Rayford, played at Texas Tech and scored 41 points in a game against Kansas. Young picked the Sooners in his recruitment over KU and Oklahoma State. He’s the fourth McDonald’s All-American to play at Oklahoma.
- “What I was most impressed with is his touch on passing,” said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall after his team lost to OU in December. “He’s got a real feel for the game and he sees things a little bit before most young players see them. Then he has a great touch. He’s kind of a combination between Chris Paul and Steve Nash, along with a Steph Curry jump shot.”
No. 35 — F Brady Manek | 6-9, 210, fr.
Averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds, Manek takes most of his shots from behind the 3-point line. He’s the team’s most efficient shooter from deep, connecting on 41.9 percent of his 3-pointers.
From Harrah, Okla., he’s scored more than 20 points in four of the last 10 games. In Big 12 play, he’s shooting 56 percent from the field in wins and 36 percent in losses. His older brother, Kellen, plays basketball at Oral Roberts.
No. 0 — G Christian James | 6-4, 211, jr.
In a shooting slump, James is averaging nine points in Oklahoma’s last five games. With that included, he ranks second on the team in scoring (11.9 points per game) while averaging 4.7 rebounds.
James doesn’t make it to the free-throw line often, but has made 40.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. He ranks second on the team with 23 steals. Against KU last year, James scored 15 points on 4 of 10 shooting.
No. 3 — F Khadeem Lattin | 6-9, 220, sr.
The only senior on Oklahoma’s roster, he ranks third in program history with 215 career blocks (15 behind the school record). He’s averaging 7.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. According to hoop-math.com, he’s converted on 72 percent of his shot attempts at the rim.
Lattin, from Houston, leads the Sooners with 44 offensive rebounds using his 7-foot-2 wingspan to his advantage. His mother, Monica Lamb, played college basketball at Houston and USC before playing for the WNBA’s Houston Comets. His grandfather, David “Big Daddy” Lattin, was a starter on Texas Western’s famed 1966 team.
No. 1 — G Rashard Odomes | 6-6, 217, jr.
Known as Oklahoma’s best perimeter defender, Odomes is averaging 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He’s a strong offensive rebounder and slasher, he takes his shots almost exclusively at the rim.
Odomes is only making 53.5 percent of his free throws in 43 attempts. He’s grabbed a combined 21 rebounds in the last three games. Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said he was “one of the best players in the Big 12 that doesn’t really get talked about.”
ONE THING OKLAHOMA DOES WELL
It’s a simple concept, but Oklahoma does job of giving Trae Young room to operate and camping shooters at the 3-point line. The Sooners are making 41 percent of their shots from deep during Big 12 play. They even made 19 3s in an overtime win against TCU earlier this month.
ONE AREA OKLAHOMA STRUGGLES
The Sooners are suited to run as much as possible and play at a quick pace, but they’ve struggled to create turnovers lately. In their seven conference games, opposing teams are averaging 11.7 turnovers per game. Oklahoma is averaging 10.4 fast-break points this season, but has only surpassed that mark twice against Big 12 teams.
MEET THE COACH
Lon Kruger, now in his seventh season with the Sooners, ranks ninth among active coaches with 615 career wins. He’s led five schools to the NCAA Tournament, which includes a Final Four run with the Buddy Hield-led team in 2016. Before he became a coach, he he was the Big Eight Player of the Year in 1973 and ’74.
Since 1995, when Kruger was at Florida, he’s never missed the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons.
Oklahoma by 1.5. It’s probably the most highly-anticipated Big 12 games since Buddy Hield was playing in Norman. After two straight losses, I think the Sooners view this matchup as an opportunity to put their season back on the right track. I’m not sure the Jayhawks have shown they can truly stop penetration from elite point guards (see Tra Holder at Arizona State or Keenan Evans at Texas Tech), so I’ll give the edge to OU at home.
My prediction: Oklahoma 94, Kansas 88. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 9-9.