We'll never know how Bill Self reacted behind closed doors but here's guessing he took Saturday's 70-66 Big 12 title game loss to Iowa State pretty hard.
Not just because KU lost and not even because it lost a game it probably should've won. But because for a half Self looked as proud of and pleased with this team as I'd seen him at any point all year — and we're talking by far — and then, poof!, just like that old KU nemesis, Mr. Inconsistency, reared his ugly head again and did the Jayhawks in.
Self has said that winning the Big 12 tournament is not the greatest feeling in the world and that losing it is not the biggest heartbreaker because Selection Sunday trumps everything the very next day.
But it sure looked like he was thrilled about the toughness and fight and signs of life his team showed in that sensational first half against a very good Iowa State team, and watching that disappear completely in the second-half collapse had to sting a little more than he might have let on.
If you've seen it once, you've seen it a thousand times with this team, so the extremes the Jayhawks delivered on Saturday evening at Sprint Center probably were not all that surprising to most. Sure, they won't last long in the NCAA Tournament if they can't fix that. And, yeah, they're probably a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight team at best if such issues continue to plague them. But those issues have plagued them all season and been a big part of the reason this has been such a wild and unpredictable season from a team that has struggled to find consistency and its identity. This is new territory for Self and the Jayhawks. Usually by now they've long known what kind of team they are and what they're going to get on most nights. Not with this group. It looks as if this team's best chance is to make the other team play ugly, and these guys are pretty good at that. How far that can take you in the Big Dance is anyone's guess, but I'm guessing we're going to find out.
Three reasons to smile
1 – That's two games in a row where things appeared to click for Wayne Selden and that's great news for Kansas. Even though it wasn't always pretty, Selden was terrific in the way he attacked during the Big 12 tournament and inspired others to follow his lead. The guy can be a match-up problem for opponents if he's locked in, and his ability to get to the rim and/or the free throw line could provide a huge lift for this team and an offense that at times looks incredibly passive and stagnant. Selden earned his spot on the all-tournament team in Kansas City. Now the challenge is to keep him playing this way while getting Perry Ellis, Kelly Oubre and Frank Mason going with him.
2 – Give KU credit for getting back into it and tying the game at 63 with about minute left after yet another insane Iowa State run brought the Cyclones all the way back from 17 down and put them up a few possessions in the blink of an eye. KU could've folded there very easily but didn't.
3 – Devote' Graham and Frank Mason are playing pretty well together right now. Both dished four assists vs. one turnover and both made some big shots for the Jayhawks en route to building that 17-point lead. KU is going to need both guys to continue to look to score but not at the risk of failing to get others involved. Having the both be able to run the point and attack with their own offense helps keep things balanced. It's a nice one-two punch for KU to have and those guys could be critical to KU's success in the next couple of weeks.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I'm not sure if the psyche of this team is built for March. They're fantastic when things are going well. They play with good energy, play together and play hard. But as soon as things stop going well, they change their look completely. You can see it in their eyes and on their faces. I'm not saying it's easy to play through rough patches, but some teams flourish in those moments. This is not one of them. This group has been in and won a ton of close games and flashed some incredible comebacks — at Allen Fieldhouse, mind you — but it looks to me like a group that will need to start hot and fast in every game from here on out or risk going home no matter what round we're talking.
2 – Injuries. Nobody's “fresh” at this time of the season, but not everybody's as beat up as Kansas either. Self said he anticipated having everyone healthy and ready to go by Friday, when the Jayhawks are likely to open NCAA Tournament play in Omaha, but as much as a few days off will help, I'm not sure that's nearly enough time to get everybody back to full health. Perry Ellis is going to be playing through pain the rest of the way. It looks like the toll of unexpected heavy minutes has worn down Landen Lucas and limited his effectiveness and Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are both less than 100 percent. All the more reason for Self to at least consider giving a few more minutes here and there to guys like Hunter Mickelson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who actually are fresh. Both played well as recently as this weekend and giving them 10-12 minutes a game to limit the wear and tear on KU's ailing rotation guys might help.
3 – KU got beat on the boards — only by three (37-34) — and gave up two offensive rebounds at the most crucial time, with the game tied at 63 and after two Iowa State misses. It wasn't just that the Cyclones beat them to the glass in those instances as much as it was that they did it easily. Part of that was KU being beat up or short-handed, but those are just excuses. This team needs all five guys on the floor to box out and crash the glass in order to make up for some of its shortcomings in that area, and on Saturday, on perhaps the game's most critical possession, they came up short twice.
One for the road
KU's fall-from-in-front loss in the Big 12 title game:
• Handed the Jayhawks just their second loss in the Big 12 title game, and its first since 2002, when they lost the tournament to Oklahoma.
• Made Kansas 26-8 on the season and 11-8 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 6-2 on neutral floors).
• Dropped the Jayhawks’ record to 13-6 in conference tournament championship games. Overall, KU’s record is now 68-26 in conference tournament play and 38-10 in the Big 12's postseason event.
• Dropped Kansas’ record in Sprint Center to 27-6 all-time and 3-1 this season.
• Moved Self to 351-77 while at Kansas, 33-11 in conference tournament action (24-6 while at KU in the Big 12 Championship) and 558-182 overall.
• Made KU 2,152-830 all-time.
It's tournament time and Kansas will learn its fate just after 5 p.m. tonight when the CBS Selection Show unveils the bracket. KU will almost assuredly head to Omaha for its first two games, but whether those will be played as a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed, as well as which region the Jayhawks are in, remains to be seen.
At this point, there's more than a fair chance that KU will wind up in the same region as Kentucky. That's incredibly likely if they're a 2 seed. And while that will undoubtedly upset hundreds, if not thousands, of KU fans from coast to coast, there's one important thing to remember about being paired up with UK that might help — in order for that to matter, this team has to get to the Elite Eight first, and, although that's certainly possible, it's far from a lock, maybe not even likely.
It all will depend on match-ups and which Kansas team shows up. The Jayhawks should — SHOULD — win their first two games and reach the Sweet 16. Anything short of that would have to be viewed as a failure. Anything beyond that, though, might actually be this team overachieving. Should be fun to follow it and find out what happens.
Be sure to check back with KUsports.com this evening for all kinds of reaction and insight into KU's draw.
Let's be honest, tomorrow is national signing day for KU football and I'm neck deep in stories, blurbs and obligations to get ready for that — don't forget to follow the Tale of the Tait blog all morning Wednesday for updates on all the signees as their letters roll in — so this Day After blog is going to be pretty short.
Luckily, there's not a whole lot that isn't obvious that needs to be said after KU's 89-76 victory over Iowa State on Monday night.
The Jayhawks shot lights out from the outside, played incredible defense and worked — on both ends — about as hard as I remember seeing them work all season. Clearly, the game and the chance to get revenge for their only Big 12 loss to date meant something to these guys.
Through its first 21 games, KU has racked up about as impressive a resume as you can rack up in modern college basketball. The Jayhawks have double digits Top 50 victories, have won some tough games against some tough opponents and positioned themselves well for another Big 12 title. But even with all of that said, I think Monday's game might have been the biggest of them all. There's just something that's gained, from a confidence standpoint, from beating a team that already beat you. No longer do you have those doubts about your team, yourself, your system. The fact that the Cyclones were ranked in the Top 12 only made the win more important. There's no doubt that Iowa State can play with just about anybody in the country when it's on. And, now, even though the Jayhawks probably already believed that based purely on the fact that they play at Kansas, that belief has reached a new level because they expunged the one loss that was haunting them from their record.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Yeah, we all know that Wayne Selden went wild with his jump shot in this one, but the thing that impressed me just as much was his leadership. We've talked a lot about this team lacking a clear on-the-floor leader, but it seems as if Selden may be sliding more and more into that role. I saw him talking a lot to his teammates, during good times and bad, and really trying to be a guy who rallied the team when it needed someone to take charge. At one point, I saw him encourage Frank Mason before a free throw to keep attacking. A few minutes later, he immediately helped Landen Lucas shake off a questionable foul call by telling him, “That's not the worst foul, that's not the worst foul.” Sure enough, Naz Long, whom Lucas fouled, missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw trip. More of this kind of chatter on a consistent basis will make Selden and this team even more dangerous.
2 – You probably can't count on Selden or any other KU player to knock in 5 of 7 three-point tries most nights, but it's incredibly clear that when KU is hitting these shots as a team, they're much tougher for opposing defense to handle. Because the Jayhawks don't have a powerful presence in the post who they can throw it down to and work through, spreading the floor is incredibly important because it allows several guys on the floor — occasionally all five — the room to put the ball down and attack the paint off the dribble.
3 – I thought KU's competitiveness was off the charts good in this one. Iowa State is the kind of team that is going to bring maximum energy every night no matter where they're playing. In fact, the Cyclones looked so fired up when they took the floor that I don't think the noise or the atmosphere bothered them one bit. And for the first 12 or so minutes of the game, they played like that. Eventually, though, KU matched it and started out-competing ISU for loose balls, rebounds and hustle plays. The combination of that kind of effort and KU's hot shooting made KU look every bit like a team that could contend for a No. 1 seed and a Final Four. Long way to go before we get to that point, but that's the blueprint to getting there.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I'm sure they're addressing it plenty this week in practice, but KU appears to have some work to do against full-court pressure. The Jayhawks struggled with it against TCU last week and again on Monday against Iowa State. Bill Self always has been pretty great about drilling his guys on this aspect of the game, so getting a few days to work out the kinks will probably help tremendously. If I'm a KU opponent, though, there's no question in my mind that I'm pressing as much as I feel I can until KU proves it can handle it consistently.
2 – For all of the good things Jamari Traylor does out there, he still has those moments that make you scratch your head. One such moment came on a fast-break Monday night, when Traylor tried to get the ball to Perry Ellis. He had three choices. A lob probably would've worked great. A bounce pass would've been equally effective. But, unfortunately for KU, Traylor through the chest pass and ISU's Jameel McKay got his hand on it and forced a turnover. The gaffe drew some choice words from Self, who essentially told Traylor to wake up. With so many other guys playing at such a high level right now, Traylor can't afford to have these mistakes. Case in point: He played just 18 minutes in this one and finished with a roller-coaster line of 4 points, 1 rebound, 3 fouls, 3 turnovers, 3 steals, 1 block and 1 assist. I will say this, though: Both of the shots Traylor hit came off of very sound and under-control moves to the rim.
3 – I think he's filled his role very well since coming back from injury, but I'd still like to see Devonte' Graham look for his shot a little more. His strong take to the rim and finish with his left hand was very impressive. It also was his only shot attempt of the night. Since returning to the lineup, Graham is averaging less than four shots per game and has had three games with two shots or fewer. Nobody's looking for Graham to get trigger happy and start jacking up 15 shots a game, but the kid has some skills on the offensive end and could help put pressure on opposing defenses as a scorer and not just a passer.
One for the road
KU's 13-point win over the Cyclones...
• Made Kansas 19-3 overall and 8-1 in Big 12 play for the eighth time under head coach Bill Self.
• Added to KU’s all-time series advantage, which Kansas now leads 176-61, including a 32-10 mark in Big 12 games, 91-15 in games played in Lawrence and 50-9 inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Marked the 10th-straight win against Iowa State inside Allen Fieldhouse beginning in 2006.
• Extended KU’s overall win streak in Allen Fieldhouse to 20 games, including an 11-0 record in the venue this season.
• Bettered KU’s all-time record inside Allen Fieldhouse to 724-109, including a 186-9 under Self.
• Improved Self to 344-72 while at Kansas, 22-5 against Iowa State (21-5 at Kansas) and 551-177 overall.
• Made KU 2,145-825 all-time.
The Jayhawks head back out on the road for a match-up with Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The game will be shown on either ESPN or ESPN2. The last time these two met the Jayhawks topped the Cowboys 67-57 Jan. 13 in Allen Fieldhouse.
With College Gameday in the building and hype around the game growing throughout the week, Iowa State answered the challenge of welcoming the Kansas men's basketball team to town in a big way and in convincing fashion.
The game, although no doubt a thrill for the home fans, did not quite live up to its billing as a clash of Top 15 teams — two of the best in the Big 12 — particularly because neither team played all that well. Iowa State was solid in the second half and had plenty of moments where it looked like a force to be reckoned with. But the Cyclones also had plenty of moments where they looked less than stellar like the Jayhawks, most notably with a few late turnovers and several missed free throws.
Iowa State and its fans waited all day and night for a chance to show the nation that it was capable of beating mighty Kansas. And then the Cyclones went out and did it.
After a back-and-forth first half that ended with ISU leading by three, the Cyclones (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) jumped out to a nine-point lead early in the second half and never looked back.
Iowa State built second-half leads of 12, 14 and 12 again and watched Kansas (14-3, 3-1) scratch and claw its way back into striking distance each time. But the home team, backed by its rockin' and rowdy arena, answered every KU run right down to the wire and sent KU home with plenty of questions to answer.
Saturday's loss by Kansas makes the Big 12 Conference race interesting again and it should have come as no surprise. Iowa State was angry and is always hungry to knock off the Jayhawks no matter where they play. It wasn't so much the loss that should be a concern for KU as it was the way it came. Kansas got very little production and passion from anyone not named Perry Ellis and Frank Mason and again struggled defensively and with a lack of quality depth. It's just one loss and it came on the road in an environment that hardly any team has success in, so the key for Kansas now is to move forward and respond to Saturday's setback with an inspired effort against a tough Oklahoma team tomorrow night. If they don't, the Jayhawks could be entering a stretch — at Iowa State, OU Monday, at Texas on Saturday — that could put their quest for Big 12 title No. 11 in a row in danger.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You have to give KU credit for fighting to the end. The Jayhawks hit a couple of late three-pointers, forced a couple of turnovers inside the final minute and actually got what once was a late, 14-point ISU lead down to three in the final seconds. At no point did it seem like Iowa State had lost control of the game, but it was good to see KU not mail it in, especially given the fact that you know the Jayhawks were disappointed with how they played and the outcome.
2 – Forget what you might have read or seen on Twitter, Perry Ellis played a very solid game. He put up numbers — 19 points, 11 rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three-point range — and he played hard. About the only down part of Ellis' game was the fact that he had to sit for most of the first half after picking up two fouls seven minutes into the game. Self said the fouls weren't really Ellis' fault and Ellis said having to sit really took him out of the flow. By the time he was back on the floor, it took him a couple of minutes to get going again, but once he did, he scored and competed on just about every trip, even if the outcomes of each possession didn't always show it. In Ellis' last three games against Iowa State, dating back to last season, the KU junior is 26-of-38 from the field (68 percent), and is averaging 23 points and 8 rebounds per game. For his career, Ellis owns a 15.7-point average in seven games against Iowa State.
3 – Kansas did well on the glass — particularly the offensive boards where they grabbed 15 to 5 for the Cyclones — and kept the Cyclones from getting too many second chances, particularly on the 11 free throws ISU missed. But a big reason Iowa State did not get more offensive boards was that the home team shot 59 percent in the second half and rarely needed to crash the glass with passion because of their hot shooting and big leads. Still, give KU credit for owning a 44-33 advantage on the boards. Had the Jayhawks not, this one easily could have been another double-digit loss.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The first and most obvious shortcoming in this one for KU was transition defense. The Cyclones often looked like a high school track team competing against track athletes from the local middle school and took full advantage of the edge that gave them. The stat sheet said ISU poured in 21 transition points but Self said the KU bench had it at 27. Most of those were easy layups or dunks right at the rim and came when KU either failed to get back on defense or simply did not have a presence at the rim when it did. The Cyclones became just the second team this season — and just the 12th team in the past 273 games — to shoot better than 50 percent (50.8) against a KU defense.
2 – KU did not shoot its first free throw until the 10:35 mark of the second half. Part of that was because of the way Iowa State played and the fact that the refs really let things flow, but given the fact that KU made 8 of 10 free throws by game's end, you can't help but wonder what would've happened if KU forced the action inside a little more and got to the line earlier. The Jayhawks went to the post on the first two possessions of the game but came up empty both times. The Jayhawks, at times, are really missing that guy like Andrew Wiggins (obviously) who could drive to the rim on just about any possession and wind up standing at the free throw line.
3 – You can't help but be concerned about what's going on with Cliff Alexander right now. All that talent, all that energy, all that potential and yet he played 14 minutes in this game while Landen Lucas labored for 19. Self said he was not pleased with Alexander's motor, particularly defensively, and, to Self's credit, he does not appear to be willing to give in to sub-par effort just to get his best players on the floor. That could wind up hurting this team, but it won't be Self's fault if it does. Nothing has changed during his time at Kansas and he's never made the recipe to playing time a secret: If you want to get on the court, play hard and play D. This is where the Jayhawks are lacking leadership from someone on the floor. Self can only send so many messages and call Alexander out so many times. At some point, it's up to the players on the roster to get the big guy to understand and buy in.
One for the road
No. 9 KU's loss to No. 11 Iowa State...
• Made the Jayhawks 14-3 overall and 3-1 in Big 12 play.
• Dropped KU's record to 2-2 in true road games this season and 6-3 in games played away from Allen Fieldhouse.
• Made Kansas’ record in the all-time series against Iowa State 175-61, including 68-38 in games played in Ames and 29-20 inside Hilton Coliseum.
• Gave Iowa State consecutive wins against the Jayhawks for the first time since ISU won five-straight from Feb. 28, 1999 to Feb. 17, 2001.
• Knocked head coach Bill Self's record to 339-72 while at Kansas, 21-5 against Iowa State (20-5 at Kansas) and 546-177 overall.
• Made KU 2,140-825 all-time.
The Jayhawks return home for yet another huge Big 12 Conference match-up when the Oklahoma Sooners come to Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night for an 8 p.m. Big Monday match-up.
Saturday afternoon marked just the ninth victory in the career of KU linebacker Ben Heeney and the senior captain could not have cared less about it because it felt like a million bucks.
The biggest reason for that, Heeney said, was because it marked interim head coach Clint Bowen's first career victory as the KU leader and that's something these players have been battling for since Bowen took over for Charlie Weis in late September.
That was by far the biggest storyline on Saturday night, as the statistics, big-time plays, ebbs and flows of the game tiny details all took a backseat to Bowen's big win. Players, staff members, fans and family celebrated the victory with great joy and, although some probably thought the whole scene was a bit of overkill given the fact that the win came against a 2-7 team, nobody in crimson and blue was apologizing for it and you can't take away the fact that the Jayhawks played very well from the opening whistle to secure their third victory of the season.
The road gets harder from here — flat-out frightening, in fact — but several guys said last year's upset win over West Virginia that snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing skid breathed new life into the program and helped them approach the final weeks of the season with new hope and confidence. It didn't wind up mattering, but that team wasn't led by Bowen.
The Jayhawks beat a bad football team on Saturday afternoon, but they did so convincingly and were clearly the better, more confident, more talented football team. The way things have gone for Kansas football lately, bad team or not, a win is worth celebrating, particularly when that win comes as a result of the Jayhawks playing well. They did so in just about every facet of the game on Saturday and showed a little glimpse into why they had such high hopes for this season when it began two months ago.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Because everyone else was. The haters, skeptics, die-hard fans and cautiously optimistic followers of the KU football program all saw eye-to-eye for a few minutes after Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State. The mistakes didn't matter, the scary moments in the third quarter were irrelevant and the nasty schedule that lies ahead was not on anyone's mind. All that mattered was the joy and smiles and celebrations on the field, in the locker room and around the stadium for a group of players, coaches and fans who absolutely deserved an outcome like the one they got on Saturday. I'm sure the differing viewpoints have sorted themselves out again by now, but at least for a while, everyone involved with KU football had a chance to be on the same winning page.
2 – The KU defense was nasty and guys not named Ben Heeney made plays all over the place. Sure, Heeney led the team with seven tackles and played his usual all-over-the-place type of game, but half a dozen other guys on the KU defense out-shined their leader in this one and that made things nearly impossible for the Cyclones. JaCorey Shepherd (5 tackles, 5 pass break-ups, 1 interception) was as good as he's ever been, Dexter McDonald held up his end of the bargain on the other side of the field, Victor Simmons (2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass break-up) had the game of his life, Jake Love had a sack and a pass break-up, Courtney Arnick had five tackles, one for a loss and two pass break-ups and Michael Reynolds had another sack and forced fumble and continued his stellar streak of games. In short, this defense played the way you would expect to see from a defense that listed “being the top defense” in the Big 12 as one of its goals before the season began. Sure, it was against a struggling offense and their back-up quarterback, but they still delivered time after time after time.
3 – KU's offense featured all kinds of play-makers, but few were as impressive as junior receiver Nigel King. King finished with 101 yards on five receptions and made arguably the biggest catch of the game, a 42-yard grab on third-and-19 that set up a touchdown that pushed KU's lead from 24-14 to 31-14 and essentially served as the knockout blow. King got open all afternoon, was tough to bring down and used his incredibly strong hands to rip the ball out of the air when it came his way. The Jayhawks are losing a lot of offensive players from this year's team, but having King back next season will be huge.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Senior offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi left the game with some sort of right leg injury and it's not yet known how serious the injury is. The last place the Jayhawks can afford to lose a starter is on the offensive line, but that's especially true of Fusimalohi, who has started every game since arriving in Lawrence and is one of the Jayhawks' strongest players in the trenches.
2 – KU's kickoff return game still looks sub-par. JaCorey Shepherd is a dynamic player and a great athlete and I can't imagine that the Jayhawks' issues here rest with him. It just seems that every time the Jayhawks return a kickoff they struggle mightily to get it back to the 20 yard line, and that's whether they take it from the goal line or the 6 or 7. It doesn't make sense. But it has to be some sort of breakdown in the blocking in front of Shepherd because he almost always runs into a wall of three or four coverage guys before reaching the 20.
3 – It's easy to look at what Michael Cummings has done in the past four or five games and be happy for the guy and impressed by his ability, toughness and heart. It's equally as easy to look at Cummings and exhale violently when it hits you that, if just given a chance, this guy could have been a difference maker for the past couple of KU teams. Cummings isn't the best quarterback in the league and he'll never catch your eye as someone you desperately want to have as your quarterback, but he's a gamer and he's been considerably better in the past five weeks than anything KU's put out there in a long time and you can't help but wonder how much farther along he'd be if he'd been given this kind of chance a little earlier.
One for the road
Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State...
• Pushed KU into a tie for eighth place in the Big 12 standings with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders own the tiebreaker and neither eighth or ninth place is worth bragging about, but it would be a small sign of progress.
• Improved KU's lead in the series to 50-38-6, including a 28-16-3 advantage in games played in Lawrence.
• Moved Kansas to 579-595-58 all-time.
• Gave KU just its third Big 12 Conference victory in the post-Mark Mangino era (41 games).
KU will face arguably its biggest test of the season when No. 6 TCU comes to town for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium and what will be the final home game in the careers of some pretty memorable KU seniors.
There was no bank shot and no overtime in this one, but the Jayhawks' latest victory over Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse certainly had plenty of drama.
A game that began with the look of a Kansas blowout turned into a one-possession game late, with the 16th-ranked Cyclones charging hard and the home crowd roaring to help keep No. 6 Kansas ahead.
In the end, a career-best performance by KU freshman Andrew Wiggins proved to be enough to give the Jayhawks their seventh win in a row and their second victory in two weeks over a tough Iowa State team.
While Wiggins stole the show with his scoring explosion, Perry Ellis' first half (15 points on 7-of-8 shooting) played a huge part in the victory, as did another fantastic game from point guard Naadir Tharpe.
Wednesday's victory pushed KU to 16-4 overall and 7-0 in Big 12 play and set the Jayhawks up with a golden opportunity to take complete control of the conference race heading into back-to-back road games at Texas (Saturday) and Baylor (Tuesday).
I'm not sure enough credit is being given to what the Jayhawks have done this month against the Cyclones. Iowa State is darn good. They opened the season with 14 straight victories, can shoot from distance as well as just about any team in the country and can score from all five spots on the floor and create tough mismatches for opponents because of it. Despite all of that, the Jayhawks basically handled ISU for 80 minutes. Yes, the Cyclones made a couple of runs and looked sharp in doing it, but Kansas controlled the majority of both games and did so behind the strength of different players stepping up at different times. This team is gaining more confidence every time out.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Andrew Wiggins is on a roll and only getting better. After going for a career-high 27 points in the victory over TCU, Wiggins one-upped himself with a 29-point outing against Iowa State. His shot looks good every time he lets it go and he's done a much better job of finishing during recent weeks. ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said after that game that Wiggins is oozing with confidence right now and went as far as to call that fact “scary.” Two of the best parts about Wiggins' 29-point night on Wednesday? He reached that number by taking just 16 shots and only went to the free throw line six times.
2 – The offense as a whole is playing so much off of instinct right now. Rather than thinking too much and worrying about where to be and when to be there, the Jayhawks are just being. Every player seems to know his role inside and out and, more importantly, appears to be comfortable playing to it. Passes are moving quicker and being thrown crisper and the offense has a real good feel for when to pull it out and reset and when to attack.
3 – Joel Embiid finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds and it seemed like he had a pretty ho-hum night. That's the sign of a big-time player. Two of Embiid's best plays of the night? In the first half, he grabbed a rebound, gathered to go up for the put-back, tripped over an Iowa State player laying in the lane and still managed to keep his balance enough to finish the play. Later, when ISU big man Georges Niang attacked the right side and ducked under the rim to try a reverse layup, Embiid, who was leaning to protect the right side, stopped on a dime and still managed to swat Niang's shot with his off hand. That's No. 1-pick type stuff right there.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Opponents' points at the rim (again)... Iowa State scored 28 of its 81 points on Wednesday on layups or dunks. That number (35 percent) wasn't quite as bad as the 43-percent mark that Kansas State enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, though it was a higher number of points (28 compared to 26). The Jayhawks have made progress in this department, but opponents too often continue to find it too easy to score inside.
2 – It looked, to me, like the Jayhawks might have momentarily thought this one was over when they went up 30-14 midway through the first half. As KU coach Bill Self said after the game, the Jayhawks played about as well as they could've during the game's first 10 minutes, but, after building that kind of lead there's no way that ISU should've been within three points at halftime. Don't get me wrong, the Cyclones deserve credit for battling back. But KU did its best to help them. The ill-advised Joel Embiid three-pointer, a few careless passes and too many quick shots come to mind.
3 – Thanks to 29 points from Wiggins and 20 more from Perry Ellis, KU did not need much from its bench in this one. Good thing, too, because it got next to nothing. Brannen Greene and Frank Mason each hit one three-pointer, which accounted for all of the bench scoring the Jayhawks got in this one. Fortunately for Kansas, the starters were sharp from start to finish in this one. Had all five guys not been, the outcome might have been different. To be fair, it's worth pointing out that KU reserves Tarik Black (ankle) and Conner Frankamp (knee) did not play.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' second win over Iowa State in 16 days:
• Kept Kansas as the only undefeated team in Big 12 play at 7-0
• Made KU 7-0 in conference play for the third-straight season and the sixth time in the Bill Self era
• Gave the Jayhawks their fifth win over a top-25 ranked opponent over the last six games
• Made the Kansas-Iowa State all-time series 175-59 in favor of KU, including 49-9 in Allen Fieldhouse
• Gave Kansas its fifth-straight win versus Iowa State
• Made KU 9-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 170-9 under Bill Self and 708-109 all-time in the venue
• Made Bill Self 21-3 all-time against ISU (20-3 while at KU), 316-63 while at Kansas and 523-168 overall
• Made KU 2,117-816 all-time
The Jayhawks will head out onto the road for the next two games, starting with Saturday's 3 p.m. tip-off at Texas. After that, they'll play Baylor at 6 p.m. on Feb. 4 before returning home to face West Virginia at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8.
One of the best things about rivalry games is that every time the two teams involved take the floor or take the field, both have a legitimate chance to win.
While that certainly has been true in the recent match-ups between Kansas and Iowa State, a quick look back at their last 20 meetings shows that this series has been incredibly lopsided for one that many believe has developed into a solid rivalry.
Maybe it's because Missouri left the Big 12 and the Jayhawks are in need of a replacement. Maybe it's because the KU-K-State rivalry has not been real intense or exciting. Or maybe it's because a few of the most recent KU-ISU match-ups have been full of crazy drama and included a few overtime thrillers.
Either way, a lot of people want to paint this as KU's next great rivalry. In fact, on Tuesday, KU big man Landen Lucas was asked if the Cyclones had become a chief rival for the Jayhawks. His answer?
“I think so, yeah,” he said. “Whenever you've got a talented team that gives you a good game every time, it slowly becomes a rival. It's exciting. And we always look for something like that and I think Iowa State's definitely becoming something like that.”
Something like that, maybe. But a true rival? Not yet.
In the last 20 meetings between these two, the Jayhawks own an 18-2 record and have won those 18 games by an average score of 84-70. In the two games that Iowa State won during that stretch — 72-64 on Jan. 28, 2012 and 63-61 in OT on Feb. 19, 2005 in Lawrence — the average margin of victory was just five points.
There certainly is more to a rivalry than the final scores, but until the Cyclones can tip the scales of victory a little more in their favor, this potentially developing rivalry figures to continue to crawl along at a snail's pace.
The Jayhawks and Cyclones will get after it again at 8 p.m. tonight at Allen Fieldhouse.
As always, we'll have all kinds of live game coverage before, during and after the game, so be sure to stick with KUSports.com throughout the day and night.
While you wait for tip-off, here's a quick look back at those last 20 meetings:
Jan. 13 @ Ames – KU 77, ISU 70
Jan. 29 @ AFH – ?????
Jan. 9 @ AFH – KU 97, ISU 89, OT
Feb. 25 @ Ames – KU 108, ISU 96, OT
March 15 @ KC – KU 88, ISU 73
Jan. 14 @ AFH – KU 82, ISU 73
Jan. 28 @ Ames – ISU 72, KU 64
Jan. 12 @ Ames – KU 84, ISU 79
Feb. 12 @ AFH – KU 89, ISU 66
Jan. 23 @ Ames – KU 84, ISU 61
Feb. 13 @ AFH – KU 73, ISU 59
Jan. 24 @ Ames – KU 82, ISU 67
Feb. 18 @ AFH – KU 72, ISU 55
Jan. 23 @ AFH – KU 83, ISU 59
Feb. 27 @ Ames – KU 75, ISU 64
Jan. 13 @ Ames – KU 68, ISU 64, OT
Feb. 24 @ AFH – KU 89, ISU 52
Jan. 28 @ Ames – KU 95, ISU 85
Feb. 11 @ AFH – KU 88, ISU 75
Jan. 12 @ Ames – KU 71, ISU 66
Feb. 19 @ AFH – ISU 63, KU 61, OT
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-9 overall, 0-7 Big 12) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (5-5 overall, 2-5 Big 12) • — 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kansas —
Opening Las Vegas Line: Iowa State -8
Current Las Vegas Line: Iowa State -6
Three and out, with Iowa State...
Iowa State enters Saturday’s game as another one of those teams that has the potential to turn to two different quarterbacks. Although it seems as if the Cyclones have tried to stick with one guy or the other both Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett have played a fair number of snaps this season and both have given the Jayhawks trouble in the past.
“It looks like right now Jantz is the guy,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “But we have to be ready for both quarterbacks. Jantz is the experienced guy; he's got a nice touch and he also is not afraid to run the ball. And they're not afraid to run it with him. He's a nice player. They've gone back and forth, but Jantz has played much more in the last few weeks. Barnett's played a lot, as well. You kind of have to be ready for both of them anyway.”
Although the QB position gets most of the attention, ISU quietly has become a factory for offensive linemen. That was one thing that jumped out to Weis when looking at the Cyclones this week.
“Here's the key thing,” Weis said. “They've got eight returning starters on offense, but all five of their offensive linemen. Usually I talk about the quarterback first or the skill players first, but I’d like to start talking about their offensive line. They are a physical, workmanlike, well-coached group of linemen. And together as a unit, they play very well. (Carter) Bykowski is their left tackle; he's 6-foot-8, over 300 pounds. (Ethan) Tuftee is their left guard. He's 6-foot-4, 310; he's a road grader. Their center, (Tom) Farniok, he's the lightest of the bunch at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds. At right guard, (Kyle) Lichtenberg is 6-foot-6 and over 300 pounds. And right tackle, (Brayden) Burris is 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, as well. So, it seems like every week we're playing a bunch of big guys. But the thing about these guys, they were all the starters last year, so they've been used to playing together for quite some time.”
Since taking over the program four seasons ago, Paul Rhoads has turned Iowa State into an up-and-coming Big 12 program and one of those squads that teams rarely look forward to facing.
They play tough football, make few mistakes and are disciplined in just about every aspect of the game, which has led to a few major upsets and some impressive seasons while consistently facing one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
Weis does not know Rhoads well but he likes what he’s seen so far.
“He's done a nice job,” Weis said. “He's an Iowa guy; he fit the personality there, what they were looking for. And it's a nice mesh with him and Iowa State. They are a well-coached team: they're tough and they're hard-nosed. They are really an extension of his personality, from what I understand.”
Known for their tough-as-nails defense, the Iowa State Cyclones will be without Jake Knott, a linebacker who suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks back. Although the loss of Knott, an all-Big 12 pick and potential All-American, will hurt, Iowa State has handled the blow thanks to the presence of fellow All-American candidate A.J. Klein and the emergence of a couple young guys.
“Everyone wants to talk about A.J. Klein because he leads the team in tackles,” Weis said. “He now plays their boundary linebacker. But Jeremiah George, he's all over the field and he's become more prevalent at Mike linebacker ever since Knott went out. As a matter of fact, he's fourth on the team in tackles. But in the last two games, he has 27 tackles. He's just been all over the field.”
Kansas leads the all-time series between these two, 49-36-6. That includes a 27-15-3 mark in games played in Lawrence.
Iowa State, however, has won two in a row in the series, with both victories coming in Ames, Iowa. KU’s last victory over the Cyclones came in 2009, when KU held off a late charge from the Cyclones to win 41-36. Todd Reesing set then school records for completions (37) and yards (442) and Kerry Meier also set the school record of 16 receptions while hauling in 142 yards and two TDs. Dezmon Briscoe also had a big day, catching 12 passes for 186 yards and two TDs.
The Jayhawks are 9-7 against ISU as members of the Big 12, including a 6-1 mark in Big 12 games played in Lawrence.