In just more than two weeks, Kansas basketball players Cheick Diallo, Wayne Selden Jr., Perry Ellis and Brannen Greene will all have much better ideas about what comes next in their respective basketball careers.
On June 23, the night of the 2016 NBA Draft, each will find out which organization thinks he can contribute at the next level — or, in the cases of Ellis and Greene, whether a team wants to use a pick on him at all.
Based on the number of Jayhawks on the board and the vast range of where they’re projected to be taken, it seems as if there is a good chance at least one of them could end up with Boston.
The Celtics have the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and certainly won’t take anyone from KU at that slot. But the franchise also owns the 16th and 23rd picks in the first round, as well as the following second-round picks: 31st, 35th, 45th, 51st and 58th.
Boston might end up trading away some — or, who knows, maybe all — of those picks. But if the storied franchise hangs on to those choices, one would have to assume the names and games of various Kansas players will come up in the Celtics’ draft war room throughout the night, with as many as seven opportunities to select one of them.
In DraftExpress.com’s latest predictions, Diallo comes off the board at No. 23, to Boston.
Selden, meanwhile, is projected to go 47th — right in the range of the Celtics’ mid-to-late second-round picks.
While Ellis isn’t listed at all, it is easy to envision some team snagging him in the final 10 picks or so, and Boston owns the third-to-last choice in the draft.
In fact, Ellis worked out for the team on Monday.
At this point, it seems unlikely Greene will hear his name called on draft night. But the Celtics are in the market for 3-point shooting after finishing 28th in the league in long-distance accuracy (33.5%) in 2015-16 while attempting 26.1 3-pointers a game (11th most). So a summer league deal for Greene wouldn’t appear to be out of the question.
If Diallo, Selden or Ellis ends up in green, It wouldn’t be the first time Boston looked to KU for some help in the draft. Paul Pierce, of course, became a franchise great after the Celtics took him 10th overall in 1998.
Nearly two decades earlier, Boston selected Jo Jo White at No. 9, in 1969.
But not every KU-Boston connection has been Hall of Fame worthy. When boston.com put together a gallery of “Biggest draft busts in Celtics history” a pair of former Kansas players made the list.
In 1976, Boston selected Norm Cook 16th overall. As described in the boston.com feature, Cook “accumulated just 138 minutes on the floor as a rookie before the Celtics declined to pick up his second-year option.”
In 2008, the Celtics used the 30th overall pick on a wing out of New Mexico who began his career at KU: J.R. Giddens. “Despite the low expectations that come with being the last pick of the first round (30th overall), Giddens still disappointed to the tune of just 28 points in 27 games spanning one full season and part of the next.”
Boston hasn’t selected a player who suited up exclusively for Kansas since Pierce.
Courtesy of basketball-reference.com, here is a list of every KU player drafted by the Celtics:
Gil Reich, Round 11 (pick not listed) — 1953
Maury King, Round 6, Pick 48 — 1957
Jo Jo White, Round 1, Pick 9 — 1969
Dave Robisch, Round 3, Pick 44 — 1971
Roger Morningstar, Round 8, Pick 144 — 1975
Norm Cook, Round 1, Pick 16 — 1976
Tony Guy, Round 2, Pick 46 — 1982
Paul Pierce, Round 1, Pick 10 — 1998
Will 2016 be the year the Celtics add another Jayhawk? We’ll find out soon.
It didn’t take long after the Jayhawks’ Big 12 semifinal victory over Baylor for Kansas junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. to see what everyone following the game on TV and Twitter had already viewed a number of times: the reaction to Selden’s monster jam from his uncle, Anthony Pitts, watching the game from his seat behind the KU bench.
“It was funny, because he’s always been like that,” Selden said, “since I was a kid playing basketball, playing football.”
When Baylor’s Ish Wainright made contact with Selden on the play, it actually gave the high-flying KU junior a bit of a boost, according to the man who hammered it home.
Still, Selden wasn’t willing to rate his highlight-reel slam ahead of the alley-oop Jamari Traylor pulled off at Texas just less than two weeks ago.
Actually, Selden didn’t even think he had the top play of the day. The junior from Roxbury, Mass., had to give that honor to Connecticut freshman Jalen Adams, whose desperation heave in triple-overtime against Cincinnati kept the Huskies alive in the American Athletic Conference Tournament and set up a quadruple-OT victory.
Believe it or not, the two most impressive plays in the nation came from Roxbury, Mass., natives.
“I grew up with him. We actually played AAU from third grade ’til like sixth grade,” Selden revealed.
Selden said he was happy to see the UConn freshman hit the wild shot and score 22 points.
— See what people were saying about KU's semifinal victory during KUsports.com's live coverage
More news and notes from KU’s Big 12 semifinal victory
- Clocked: Selden highlights KU’s semifinal victory over BU
- Keegan: Bragg following Ellis’ development path
- Bears: Some of us got dunked on
- Self’s halftime message to Jayhawks short and blunt
- Kansas knows WVU will bring pressure in title game
- KU to face West Virginia for Big 12 tourney title
- Jayhawks dunk their way to Big 12 semifinal victory
- Keegan Ratings: Once again, Ellis carries KU to victory
Missing high-percentage shots will cost you in college basketball, and perhaps no team understands that more than Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks.
While KU (15-3 overall, 4-2 Big 12) hasn’t lost an overwhelming amount of games, unsuccessful shots inside have stood out as one of the bigger issues when the Jayhawks have come up short, as was the case Tuesday night at Oklahoma State.
The website hoop-math.com tracks, among other things, the success of college hoops players and teams on shot attempts around the rim. On the season, KU has taken 39.7% of its shots at the rim and converted 60.5% of the time.
However, in their 3 losses, the Jayhawks — ranked No. 3 in the nation (for now) in the AP Top 25 — have shot between 10% to 20% worse than their season average on point-blank attempts.
FG% AT RIM
|VS MICHIGAN ST||13||20||39.4%|
|AT WEST VIRGINIA||6||9||40%|
|AT OKLAHOMA ST.||11||11||50%|
|ALL OTHER GAMES
— COMBINED (WINS)
(15.7 a game)
(8.9 a game)
Looking first at KU’s most recent loss (and second in three games), the Jayhawks made 11 of 22 shots at the rim in Stillwater. A lack of easy scores in the second half, along with some other issues, killed the Jayhawks’ chances of surviving Gallagher-Iba Arena. They shot 3-for-8 on layup attempts in the final 20 minutes, as OSU ran away.
Here are KU’s finishers and non-finishers vs. the Cowboys:
- Carlton Bragg Jr. 3 for 3
- Wayne Selden Jr. 2 for 3
- Landen Lucas 2 for 3
- Cheick Diallo 1 for 2
- Devonté Graham 1 for 2
- Frank Mason III 1 for 3
- Perry Ellis 1 for 4
- Svi Mykhailiuk 0 for 2
At West Virginia a week earlier, Kansas had far less success in both getting inside to take shots and making layups. The Jayhawks, who turned the ball over 22 times, shot 6-for-15 at the rim against the Mountaineers:
- Ellis 5 for 7
- Mason 1 for 4
- Bragg 0 for 1
- Mykhailiuk 0 for 1
- Graham 0 for 2
The Jayhawks’ finishing issues first plagued them back in November, when they lost to Michigan State, in Chicago. Kansas made 13 layups/dunks in that one, but missed a whopping 20 shots around the rim.
The Spartans are the best rim-protection team Kansas has faced this season. Sparty’s opponents have only made 48.9% of their tries at the rim.
To jog your memory, here’s how the Jayhawks fared inside in that one:
- Ellis 6 of 11
- Mason 4 of 9
- Mykhailiuk 1 of 1
- Traylor 1 of 1
- Lucas 1 of 4
- Graham 0 of 3
- Selden 0 of 4
At this point, it shouldn’t really surprise you to learn that KU also struggled to finish shots inside at San Diego State: 8 of 24 in a 70-57 win. Generally, it’s more difficult for Kansas to get foul calls and finish inside away from Allen Fieldhouse.
Given all those missed bunnies in the past two losses — both on the road — does that kill momentum and make it that much harder to win on another team’s home court?
“Yeah, I think so,” Self said. “We missed some against Oklahoma State. That's not the reason why we lost, but we did miss some.”
Of course, in most cases, a laundry list of issues contribute to the kind of double-digit defeats Kansas has suffered the past couple of weeks.
For example, Self pointed out KU shot “horribly” at the free-throw line at both WVU (13 of 21) and OSU (13 of 25).
“It’s deflating when you're behind six or eight points and you go to the line and come up empty,” Self said of the Jayhawks’ inability to cut into the Cowboys’ lead Tuesday night.
When looking at KU’s losses, the Jayhawks’ defense around the rim shouldn’t be ignored, either. Whether Kansas got beat off the dribble, played poor help defense or failed to secure a defensive rebound, the Cowboys, Mountaineers and Spartans all had their chances for easy baskets inside.
Oklahoma State scored on 55% of its shots at the rim — a tad below its 56.4% mark for the season. West Virginia converted on 56.5% of its attempts inside — below its 62.5% success rate. MSU only converted on 53.3% vs. Kansas in the early-season matchup, but has finished much better most of the year (62.9%).
AROUND THE RIM
FG% AT RIM
In each of its 3 losses, Kansas got out-played inside, with its opponents doing a better job of finishing at the rim — even though OSU made the same amount of point-blank shots as KU, the Cowboys didn’t blow as many.
A lot of factors play into missed shots inside. Sometimes those attempts can be more difficult than anywhere else on the floor. If interior defenders are physical, have solid footwork, get their long arms in the sight line of a potential scorer and get another defender sliding over to throw an offensive player off, the degree of difficulty grows. An agitated potential scorer might rush his shot or try to do too much on his way to the rim.
At the other extreme, some players don’t get nearly as much attention and have easier paths to the rim.
Here are the shots at the rim stats for each of the Jayhawks, from most layups/dunks attempted to least:
- Perry Ellis: 58 of 103 (56.3%)
- Frank Mason III: 35 of 78 (44.9%)
- Wayne Selden Jr. 35 of 53 (66%)
- Devonté Graham: 21 of 41 (51.2%)
- Landen Lucas: 26 of 39 (66.7%)
- Carlton Bragg Jr.: 27 of 36 (75%)
- Hunter Mickelson: 15 of 22 (68.2%)
- Svi Mykhailiuk: 14 of 21 (66.7%)
- Cheick Diallo: 13 of 18 (72.2%)
- Jamari Traylor: 12 of 17 (70.6%)
- Brannen Greene: 5 of 7 (71.4%)
- Lagerald Vick: 4 of 4 (100%)
- Clay Young: 1 of 1 (100%)
Selden and Bragg stand out as KU’s best finishers on the season. Selden’s finishing percentage is the highest among Kansas starters, and nearly 10% better than Ellis’ 56.3%. Bragg, at 75%, has the best mark of anyone in the rotation, and he’s only averaged 11.2 minutes a game so far.
The deeper into the season Bragg gets, the less anxious he looks when catching the ball inside. The 6-foot-9 freshman might be KU’s answer to more efficient paint scoring in the months ahead, especially if he’s on the floor with Ellis, who will continue to draw the attention of opposing defenses.
The importance of finishing isn’t lost on Self — whether that be inside, at the foul line or on open 3-pointers out of an offensive set.
“And the team that makes the shots, you know, people talk about that: Which team has the advantage in the NCAA Tournament? The team that makes shots. That's kind of how it works. The team that gets hot and makes shots,” the coach said.
“We've got to get better at that,” Self added, noting better ball movement would help facilitate that, too.
Basketball purists watching Kansas the past couple of games most likely noticed the Jayhawks missing out on easy points in their previous two outings.
KU shot 70 percent or better at the free-throw line in its first four games of the season, but the Jayhawks’ numbers took a nose dive in the Maui Invitational championship game against Vanderbilt. Kansas won its third game in three nights despite making just 12 of 22 at the charity stripe (54.5%).
But then the bottom fell out Tuesday night at Allen Field House, against Loyola Maryland, when the Jayhawks (5-1) connected on just 12 of 26 freebies.
The back-to-back poor outings have dropped KU’s free-throw percentage through six games to 69.3%. Not terrible, but not exactly ideal, either.
A little slump? Or a trend in the wrong direction? We’ll have to wait and find out. Free-throw shooting will at the very least be an interesting sub-plot in the coming weeks, as KU heads into Big 12 play in January.
As of Thursday, Kansas ranked 160th in the nation in free-throw percentage — basically middle of the pack, among 346 Division I programs. For a point of reference, national leader St. Bonaventure is hitting 84.4%.
We’re dealing with some small-to-very-small sample sizes, but seven of KU’s top 12 players currently are shooting below 70 percent at the foul line:
- Perry Ellis: 22-for-32, 68.8%
- Wayne Selden Jr.: 15-for-23, 65.2%
- Landen Lucas: 9-for-13, 69.2%
- Svi Mykhailiuk: 4-for-6, 66.7%
- Carlton Bragg: 2-for-5, 40%
- Cheick Diallo: 1-for-4, 25%
- Lagerald Vick: 1-for-4, 25%
Of those, Ellis and Selden are the most troubling, because they will continue to be the Jayhawks getting to the line the most — along with Frank Mason III (and possibly Diallo). But they also possess the offensive prowess necessary to improve, perhaps drastically so.
Selden shot just 5-for-10 against Vandy, missing four straight at the line in the final minute. So that’s where his potentially skewed numbers come from. And while you can’t rule out tired legs as the reason for his struggles on that night, nobody’s legs will feel fresh come February and March.
The junior guard, who has otherwise shot the ball great (54.8% field goals, 57.1% 3-pointers), will need to improve on his career free-throw numbers to make the best offensive impact possible. Selden shot 62.9% on free throws as a freshman and upped that percentage to just 65.7% his sophomore season. His stroke and strength make you wonder why he hasn’t broken the 70% barrier, but the way he has approached this season so far makes you think he is capable of busting through and becoming an even more well-rounded player.
A junior forward, Ellis on three occasions this season has missed three free throws and shot less than 60 percent: 2-for-5 vs. Michigan State, 3-for-6 vs. Chaminade and 4-for-7 vs. Loyola.
He’s mostly been hot or cold, though. In his other three games combined, Ellis is 13-for-14 (92.8%).
The real Perry Ellis probably exists somewhere between those two extremes. The 6-foot-8 senior from Wichita shot 73.8% as a freshman, 76.3% as a sophomore and 73% as a junior. Like Selden, he’s capable of better, and KU needs him to be.
The upcoming slate of non-conference opponents will mostly be easy enough for KU to get by with average to mediocre free-throw shooting, but games will get tighter and victories harder to come by before you know it.
In the past five years for coach Bill Self, the Jayhawks have made:
- 72.4% in 2014-15
- 71.1% in 2013-14
- 73.3% in 2012-13
- 69.2% in 2011-12 (a Final Four team)
- 67.9% in 2010-11 (Elite Eight team)
As KU has proven in that span, free-throw success doesn’t necessarily correlate perfectly with postseason advancement, but KU polishing up on its 15-foot open looks in the weeks to come will only help the Jayhawks down the road.
We’ll see in the weeks and months to come if the rest of the team can catch up with the Jayhawks who are off to better starts at the stripe (and if these guys can keep it up):
- Mason, 19-for-24, 79.2%
- Jamari Traylor, 11-for-14, 78.6%
- Devonté Graham, 10-for-12, 83.3%
- Brannen Greene, 7-for-8, 87.5%
- Hunter Mickelson, 3-for-4, 75%
Mason entered the season as a 74.4% shooter, Graham shot 72.4% as a freshman, Traylor made just 62.1% combined in his previous three seasons, Greene (89.6% past two years) is the best shooter on the team and Mickelson, since a 51.6% season as an Arkansas freshman, has hit at an 82.8% clip.
Thursday marked the very unofficial start of the college basketball season at Kansas University, where Bill Self and the Jayhawks went through media day at Allen Fieldhouse.
Self provided some insight on what’s to come in the months ahead for KU, as well as some of the shortcomings that impacted last season, and what he, the coaching staff and the players learned from those experiences.
• KU has three smaller point guards. He doesn’t know yet what the norm will be. Kansas needs more ball-handling and play-making from its lead guards. That position didn’t play as he hoped in 2013-14. Wayne Selden, a bigger option, could play point with two big wings or Frank Mason or Conner Frankamp or Devonté Graham could be out there running things.
• The Jayhawks could be very versatile this season. Self sees them playing small a lot, but could play Kelly Oubre or a bigger wing player at the power forward.
• Junior forward Hunter Mickelson is a “prototypical” four-man. He faces up. The challenge will be for him to play bigger than he is. Self can’t see anybody beating Perry Ellis out for power forward minutes. With Mickelson’s skills, he’ll have to do some more things to see playing time. He is the team’s best shot-blocker. Mickelson blocked more shots than Joel Embiid did last year in his last season at Arkansas.
• Self likes who Ellis is. He doesn’t want to get him too much out of his comfort zone in some aspects. Ellis won’t be a vocal leader. Leading by example involves doing your job. If Ellis adds a little leadership to his repertoire, it will make KU a lot better. Self wants Ellis to go score. That’s who he is.
• Brannen Greene has really improved. He was very talented last year, too, and didn’t play much. He is in a loaded position, with Selden and Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Greene is arguably as good a shooter as Kansas has. He still has to buy into guarding on the other end.
• So far Mykhailiuk is transitioning great. "Svi" understands the language maybe less than Joel Embiid did when he first arrived. The only knock on Svi is he is young. He is going to be really good. His youth could be a factor in how much he plays. A defender could knock him off his line pretty quickly. He may have played against the strongest competition, among current KU players, in his international experience.
• Alexander can be a physical player. He will have to learn how to guard and pick his spots. Self sees some similarities with Thomas Robinson and Alexander. Alexander has to get where he goes after every ball. If he plays his best and everyone else does, too, Alexander should be their most physical player.
• Without seeing this team going up and down a lot yet, Self doesn’t know for sure what the team and some young individuals will look like. But Devonté Graham is a well liked guy that pushes the ball up the floor and is certainly capable of challenging for starting minutes. Graham reminds him of Aaron Miles. He is a leader and can make a shot. His intangibles will probably allow him to play more immediately. The Marines who worked with the Jayhawks picked Graham as the best leader. But Oubre and Selden will be leaders, too.
• The Jayhawks need to be better defensively than last year. They “stunk” last season on defense. Embiid could cover up mistakes. They don’t have that this year. But Self expects KU to be better defensively.
• KU has a lot of things that will be good for recruiting, with the DeBruce Center and McCarthy apartments and new locker room renovations.
• Self used to do more micro-managing when he was young. Now that he is older he doesn’t think as much about things that don’t impact wins and losses, such as where guys sit in a locker room and things like that.
• Mason didn’t guard last year like he can. Graham can pressure the ball. Svi can slide his feet and anticipate defensively, he is so quick and athletic. Jamari Traylor does some things with pressure and running the floor, as well. Self isn’t a big press-defense advocate. You play a style that gives you the best chance to win in the postseason. When you play good teams they have good guards, and good guards often love to see a press. Full-court pressure won’t be a staple.
• Landen Lucas might have had as good an offseason as anyone. He is fighting for major minutes.
• Frankamp, in high school, was a volume shooter, as most high school stars are. Then he only got a few looks as a freshman and he felt like he had to make them. His whole play was based on whether he made a shot. Strength has been a factor for him some in the past, but he can help the team in other ways, besides shooting the ball. He had to make shots for minutes the way it played out last season. … Frankamp has to get stronger. Everybody has something they have to get better at. Strength and shooting are key for Frankamp becoming great.
• Self learned something through “The Program” they went through with Marines. KU has some guys who are really good at what they do and they don’t want to take away from who they are. Kansas needs Graham and Selden to be leaders.
• Selden, Self thinks, needs to play more consistently and knock down more shots from three-point range.
• It is hard for Self to make a complete evaluation of Oubre yet. And Oubre is good enough that he won’t be at KU very long. He can do some things that a lot of wings don’t typically do. He is a talented player.
• You always think about a starting five before the season begins. Whether he will tell anybody publicly right now is another thing. Guys have to earn it. By Big 12 play, Self has a team in mind but a lot has to do with how fast the young guys pick stuff up.
• Top to bottom, this Kansas team reminds him a little bit of the 2008 team. That team’s best player was Brandon Rush and he went in the NBA lottery. That team had pros. This is a team like that, there isn’t a top-three pick right now, but KU has a whole bunch of good players and depth. There isn’t much size, but they are skilled and deep. A lot of balance.
• There isn’t hoopla this year like they had with Andrew Wiggins, who handled it well. But KU has players that will be as good at the college level as Wiggins and Embiid. Kansas has more guys who can impact the college game this year.
• Self doesn’t know who would be a candidate to red-shirt this season. Right now he doesn’t think it will be a possibility.
• Late Night is always big for recruiting. It is big for the players, too. Guys look forward to it. Last year there were some issues with getting people in and those have been resolved. Only twice has KU had to turn people away, Self’s first year and last season.
• Self may talk about last year’s NCAA Tournament performance with this year's players. But that team wasn’t truly who the Jayhawks were. That team on the floor wasn’t a No. 2 seed. They didn’t have Embiid. That could be their motivation, to not let that happen again this coming postseason. But sometimes unexpected things just happen in sports. They didn’t have a lot of margin for error last season.
• Looking at the All-Big 12 preseason team, Self was surprised that not one of KU’s players got a vote other than Ellis. “That may be something that we tell our guys.”
• KU might be picked to win the Big 12 when those predictions come out. But Texas could be a top-5 team nationally and plenty of other teams appear to have top-25 talent.
• With the personnel KU had last year, the Jayhawks weren’t as tough as a typical Kansas team. The staff didn’t do a good enough job fixing that. Coaches will emphasize toughness this year. Personalities and youth probably had a lot to do with that last season.
• Just a bit off topic, on the Kansas City Royals… It’s awfully cool to watch. It’s fun to see guys having the time of their lives. They had the fastest guy in baseball (Jarrod Dyson) dancing at third base in extra innings on Tuesday and he hadn’t even scored yet. That’s cool. Self gets a kick out of all the strategy, too. The Royals are really good.
— Listen to the complete press conference: Self talks 2014-15 expectations at media day
Apparently it's better to be elite than perfect.
With two of the most talented freshmen in the nation wearing Kansas University basketball uniforms, even crunch-time blunders from Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid turned into gold for the Jayhawks Tuesday night, as they escaped Lubbock, Texas, with a 64-63 victory over Texas Tech.
No. 8 KU (20-6 overall, 11-2 Big 12) didn't play awful at United Spirit Arena, home of the Red Raiders (13-13, 5-8), but the outcome might have flipped had center Embiid not had guard Wiggins' back — and vice versa — in the final minute.
Returning to the Kansas lineup after sitting out a game with an ailing back and knee, Embiid's final two points on an 18-point night came on his third offensive rebound, when he jammed in a missed dunk by Wiggins with just more than 30 seconds left in the second half.
Wiggins had pulled off a similar baseline drive and slam earlier in the night, but he hesitated for a split-second when TT big man Dejan Kravic slid over as a help defender. That threw Wiggins' timing off just enough that his dunk attempt hit the rim. But the 6-foot-8 guard's drive drew so much attention, Embiid had no problem gathering the mistake and stuffing it home to finish 6-for-7 from the floor.
After Texas Tech's Robert Turner hit two bonus free throws to put KU in a one-point deficit, Kansas had to get a basket to avoid its third conference loss. Embiid received the ball on the right block, and as he spun toward the baseline, he lost his handle. Wouldn't you know it, Wiggins was there to grab the loose ball and lay it in for the win, and finish with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
A couple of unlikely and remarkable plays end up making the difference, offensively, in the final minute of a game controlled by Texas Tech from a pace standpoint — KU's 42 field-goal attempts were its second-lowest total of the season (Baylor held the Jayhawks to 40 attempts on Jan. 20).
Kansas was obviously the more talented team, and like it or not, that's how a lot of college basketball games are decided when the disparity is drastic between two rosters. Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who knows the game as well as anyone, had a terrific game plan and his players executed it to near perfection. In the end, it simply wasn't enough.
“Good teams like Kansas make plays like that. Great players make plays like that," Smith said. "Andrew’s a great player and great players make plays like that.“
You won't hear Kansas coach Bill Self complaining about his team winning in a tough situation on the road, but he surely will let his players know the kind of effort they gave late in the first half and through chunks of the second half, when Texas Tech was in control, won't win them many games in the postseason, which is now less than a month away.
Three reasons to smile:
1 — The Red Raiders easily could have won this game. "Wait, why am I smiling about this?" you may ask. Well, the Jayhawks didn't let them win. With a coach of Smith's caliber, in a packed house full of hostile fans and with Tech players likely believing a victory over KU could get them out of relative irrelevancy and one step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth, Kansas denied the Red Raiders the résumé-building victory they so desperately needed.
And despite the game-winner Wiggins converted on offense, his defensive stand seconds earlier had as much to do with the KU win. Texas Tech only turned the ball over nine times, hit 47% of its shot attempts and 6 of 12 from three-point range, but KU's defense came through in the final minute (with the exception of Embiid getting whistled for a blocking foul on Turner with 16 seconds left).
On Tech's previous last-minute possession, Wiggins blocked a Jaye Crockett jumper with the shot clock winding down, and when the denial fell back in Crockett's lap, Wiggins contested another jumper. The long rebound went to Tech's Jordan Tolbert, but Kansas forced a held ball, with the possession arrow in its favor.
2 — The real Joel Embiid is back. That evil twin of Embiid's — the one whose back and/or knee issues limited his range of motion and kept him to 7.5 points in his past four appearances — that guy is gone.
The real Embiid looked comfortable running the floor, and making assertive moves in the post. He finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds and a block, but the most promising number for KU is that he played 32 minutes. As Self talked about after the win, the 7-footer hadn't even practiced that much in the past week. Embiid said he felt like he was at about 90 percent.
So, barring any more injury setbacks, this is the kind of performance the Jayhawks can expect out of their center from Cameroon going forward.
3 — These young Jayhawks have confidence. Any time a team can pull off a last-second win, it gives the players an experience they can draw from in the future. The next time Kansas finds itself down a possession in the final minutes, Self can say, "Hey, remember how we finished strong at Texas Tech, and Jo Jo and Wiggs made those clutch plays? That's the mentality it's going to take to win this one."
What's more, the Jayhawks didn't let their struggles at Tech hold them back in the final minutes. Freshman guard Wayne Selden hadn't scored in the second half, and had only made 1 of 7 shots on the night when he rose up to drain a critical thee-pointer with less than three minutes to play.
Even when the Jayhawks are down, they believe they will win a close game.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 — Although Embiid returned, Texas Tech beat Kansas in points in the paint, 30-24. Embiid's defense might not have caught up with his offense quite yet, and Kansas only blocked three shots (one for Embiid, two for Wiggins). That total, though, isn't as troubling as how easily Tech scored inside at times. Defensive breakdowns led to open dunks/layups. Kravic, a senior 7-footer only averaging 6.4 points a game — scored 13 on 6 of 8 shooting.
Part of Tech's success inside came with its 13 offensive rebounds. KU had 13, too, and out-rebounded TT, 28-26, overall. But the Red Raiders scored 19 second-chance points, compared to KU's 14.
2 — Perry Ellis didn't make a shot, and barely made an impact. After a career game against TCU on Saturday, the sophomore forward contributed to Kansas losing the points in the paint battle. Ellis missed all three of his shot attempts, found himself in foul trouble and was the only Kansas starter to not play 30-plus minutes (he played 26). All four of his points came at the free-throw line and he only secured two rebounds.
Hardly the only culprit for KU, Ellis was one of five Jayhawks to play at least 10 minutes but not produce more than six points as Wiggins and Embiid carried the load. Selden and Naadir Tharpe each scored six, Jamari Traylor had five in 12 minutes and Tarik Black scored four in 10 minutes.
Between Ellis, Selden and Tharpe, they combined to hit 3 of 18 field goals.
3 — Texas Tech made 47% of its shots. Since Self arrived at Kansas, his teams have won so often because of defense. In eight of Self's previous 10 seasons at KU, his teams have led the Big 12 in field-goal percentage defense. Currently, the Jayhawks are fifth in that category, at 41.2%.
Six of KU's last eight opponents have made 42% of their shots or better. For the Jayhawks to truly be considered one of the nation's top teams this season, they just need to turn it up a notch on the defensive end, and force foes into more difficult attempts.
One thought for the road:
There is no shame in winning ugly. Especially on the road. Even though Kansas had season-lows in rebounds (28) and assists (six), the Jayhawks managed to win. The ongoing struggle for this team seems to be getting everyone to produce to his fullest (or in that neighborhood) each and every game. A lot of that has to do with the team's youth. Consistency is the most difficult thing to grasp for most teams. Because KU starts three freshmen and a sophomore, that is inherently more challenging. If junior point guard Tharpe (1 of 7 shooting, 2 assists, 4 turnovers at TT) can set the tone in that department, the rest of the team likely will follow his lead.
Thanks to Iowa State's 85-76 win over Texas on Tuesday in Ames, Iowa, the Longhorns enter Saturday's 6:30 p.m. game at Allen Fieldhouse two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings. A win for the Jayhawks would avenge their road loss to UT and put them even closer to a 10th straight Big 12 championship.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media Friday afternoon to talk about the Jayhawks' upcoming home game against West Virginia, as well as a variety of other topics.
No. 8 KU (17-5 overall, 8-1 Big 12) plays host to the Mountaineers (14-9, 6-4) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Here are the highlights from Self's comments in bullet-point form:
- On West Virginia: They're obviously playing well (won three in a row, four of five), have some good wins (Oklahoma and Kansas State) and had close losses. They could've beat Oklahoma State twice. Probably have as good a pair of guards as there is in the league.
- On WVU junior guard Juwan Staten (18.1 points, 6.0 rebounds): He never comes out. It's hard to average more than 40 minutes a game. Strong for his size. He has a great opportunity to be first-team all-league.
- KU's defense: Self is more critical than most coaches might be about this team. He is used to better defense. KU didn't guard at Texas and did better at Baylor. He wouldn't put this team in the same group as past teams he has had at KU, but this group will get better.
- On Naadir Tharpe: He's shot the ball well and doing a better job of being more vocal and being a better leader on the team. He has improved 70 or 80 percent since early in the season when Self wasn't happy with him.
- The Big 12 race: A lot of times when you have everybody in the league with losses it gives a sense of mediocrity. But it's the same way in the Big 10… Sometimes when there are three teams in the top 10 of the rankings from the same league, it's because the bottom of the league isn't capable of beating the elite teams. That isn't the case in the Big 12 this season. The race is still wide open… Self didn't see there being this much balance before the season began. Oklahoma and West Virginia lost key players and have improved through the season. Texas lost a lot of players and got a lot better. That's what makes the Big 12 so good.
- On Joel Embiid: It's easy for him to pick up scouting reports and the feel for the game. He's a bright guy and he knows where everyone on the floor is supposed to be on a play. … He needs to get stronger, especially in his lower body. Sometimes Embiid defers too much on offense. He can improve in anything. He's just scratching the surface.
- Players leaving early or not: KU has had kids say one thing and end up doing something else. It shouldn't have any bearing on how the staff prepares from a recruiting standpoint. The coaches need to have players ready to bring in. Self likes all the guys they have that are coming back, regardless of who stays or doesn't stay. Coaches hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The one-and-done guys are the easiest to replace. The hard ones are the ones that come out of nowhere and end up leaving early, such as Ben McLemore last year. Self doesn't know if KU would've got Andrew Wiggins if McLemore came back. High-level guys know your roster.
- At this time of year, sometimes players start looking ahead. Self doesn't think it is the players as much as the people around them who are thinking about NBA potential at this point of the season. It doesn't help them make more money to be thinking about leaving early in January or February. It's important for the players to realize there is no reason to listen to that talk right now. The best thing possible is to focus on the season, what is going on.
- On Wayne Selden guarding Heslip at Baylor: He totally gave himself up for the betterment of the team. Looked a lot like Travis Releford. Self was proud of Selden.
- This time of year, guys should have a pretty good idea what Self wants defensively. It's not from a lack of trying, but sometimes they are less enthusiastic about doing that job.
- On Conner Frankamp: He's done fine. He and Brannen Greene kind of drew the short straw on minutes, been the odd men out. He's healthy.
- KU's confidence: Coming off a good road win, they're pretty confident. KU got in a situation where maybe the Jayhawks lost their edge a little bit at Texas. This is a team that Self wants them to believe they're good, but he might compliment them a little too much when things went well. He can't allow them to get soft by praising them too much. "We better get better or it's (the season) gonna end sad."
- The difficulty of going unbeaten in a regular season: To Self, that was never a realistic thing for any of his teams. With Wichita State and Syracuse, he wouldn't think about running the table. He'd think about winning the next game and where the team is at right now. In Self's opinion, it's hard to be great "unless you go through some crap." Still, a coach is going to coach every game to win, obviously.
- Scouting an opponent: The majority of the focus is "How do we stop them?" The second time you play a team in league play or again in conference tournament, it gets even tougher to execute against them because of the familiarity.
- West Virginia doesn't turn the ball over (9.8 giveaways a game in Big 12 play). They really added a lot of perimeter shooting since last year, too. They will be a real challenge to guard. WVU will pressure KU. Self thinks Bob Huggins will have his guys trying to create take-aways.
- Who is the best dunker Self ever coached? "Wiggs could be if he wanted to be. I'm not sure it interests him that much. It takes energy to do that." Probably Ben McLemore. JR Giddens was a great dunker. Those guys are probably the best, and McLemore liked to show off how athletic he was more than any other guy they've had. He'll do something funky in the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend.
— For complete audio from the press conference, click here: Self press conference.
— Hear from sophomore Perry Ellis and freshman Frank Mason by clicking here: Player media session.