If you really think about it, Sunday's 78-65 loss to Wichita State was probably about as fitting of an end for this Kansas team as anything.
The problems that plagued the Jayhawks all year were the same ones that showed up against the Shockers — no mental edge, a lack of a leader, struggles scoring on offense and stopping the drive on defense.
I picked Kansas to win because the Jayhawks looked so sharp on Friday — and also because Wichita State labored a little to beat Indiana — but, if you've been following along here all year, the unceremonious ending to an up-and-down season was probably one you saw coming.
Wichita State's veterans outplayed the Jayhawks in just about every way and even the KU players said after the game in the locker room that they thought the Shockers wanted it more. That's a tough pill for any team to swallow and was the most obvious reason why the Jayhawks' season ended in the Round of 32 for the second year in a row.
As you've heard KU coach Bill Self say time and time again, the Jayhawks had a good season but fell short of making it a season to remember by falling flat in the NCAA Tournament. Since making that memorable run to the 2012 NCAA title game, the Jayhawks are just 4-3 in the past three NCAA Tournaments and have had more rough moments in those seven games than positive ones. Everyone knows that the tournament is a crap shoot and can be cruel to even the most talented and accomplished teams, but the Jayhawks lack of experience, leadership and a couple of badly time breaks — Perry Ellis' injury, Cliff Alexander's ineligibility, etc. — proved to be too much for that kind of roster to overcome and KU, though able to recall fond memories of Big 12 title No. 11 in a row, begins its inevitable countdown to Late Night in October.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You can't help but love the way Devonte' Graham finished his initial season at Kansas. Like Conner Frankamp a season ago, Graham played two of his better games of the season in the NCAA Tournament and was the Jayhawks' best player on Sunday. He was one of the few guys who showed a sense of urgency and competitiveness and his stats matched. He finished with 17 points, 5 steals, 3 assists and 1 turnover.
2 – For the first 15 minutes of the game, the Jayhawks had the Shockers right where they wanted them. KU was clicking on offense, controlled the glass on the defensive end and did what this team had become known to do — made the opponent play bad. But KU's offense began to struggle and KU's chance to take control disappeared.
3 – Give Perry Ellis credit for playing through both the knee injury that gave him trouble the past few weeks and a nasty shot to the face midway through the first half that drew blood and briefly sent Ellis to the locker room. Ellis wasn't his normal spectacular self and former teammate Evan Wessel canceled out most of Ellis' advantage in the match-up with a fantastic game, but no one can question Ellis' toughness after a game like that. Even on a day when he didn't look his best, the KU junior led the team in scoring and added eight boards and 10 trips to the free throw line.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Like Andrew Wiggins against Stanford a season ago, KU sophomore Wayne Selden did next to nothing on the stat sheet in the final game of the season. No points. One rebound. One foul. Two turnovers. And one steal in 23 minutes. Tough way to end a tough season. It's going to be very interesting to see where Selden takes his game from here.
2 – Wichita State's 13-2 run to close the first half was clearly not the way KU had hoped to end the half, but it only put the Jayhawks behind by three points. Several Jayhawks said in the locker room after the game that they still believed they would win and were fine during the break. That certainly appeared to be the case when Frank Mason opened the second half with an easy layup that cut the WSU lead to one. From there, however, KU folded and folded quickly. As soon as the Shockers hit KU back and built a four, six and seven point lead, KU looked shell-shocked and never really got back into it. The same team that looked — and played — loose in an impressive opening-round victory all of a sudden tightened up again and that led to another early exit.
3 – I still don't understand why Hunter Mickelson didn't get more of a shot. Every time he played during the past couple of weeks, he delivered positive things. He's not a 20-plus minutes a game guy and he's not going to single-handedly win KU a game, but in a contest when the Shockers scored 49 second-half points and had no problem getting to the rim during that stint, it would've been interesting to see what Mickelson, an accomplished shot blocker, could have done to impact the game. That's especially true given KU's foul trouble.
One for the road
KU's season-ending loss to Wichita State:
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 27-9.
• Made Kansas 21-10 in second games played in the NCAA Tournament, including an 7-3 record in the round of 32 for head coach Bill Self.
• Snapped the Jayhawks’ win streak against the Shockers at five games, narrowing the advantage in the all-time series with Wichita State to 12-3.
• Made Kansas 97-43 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• Marked KU’s first NCAA Tournament loss in Omaha. Including games played in the 2008 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments, KU is now 5-1 in the city.
• Made Self 352-78 while at Kansas, 37-16 in the NCAA Tournament and 559-183 overall.
• Made KU 2,153-829 all-time.
For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks bow out of the tournament without advancing past the first weekend. KU finishes the season 27-9 and, as is the case just about every year no matter when the season ends, will head into the offseason wondering who will leave, who will be back and how Bill Self will reload.
It's been a while since I remember seeing the Kansas University basketball team play such a care-free first-round NCAA Tournament game.
Typically, in recent years, the Jayhawks have been a little tight and struggled to get going during the early rounds. But that was not the case during Friday's 75-56 victory over New Mexico State.
Following up a day in which upsets and lower seeds rocked the tournament, Kansas jumped out and set the tone early with some hot shooting and high energy and never gave New Mexico State a chance.
The Aggies' had enough elements and pieces to give KU trouble in some areas, but Frank Mason stepped up and led the way offensively and the rest of the team followed to move KU into the next round with relative ease.
Bottom line, that's as complete of a game as I remember this team playing in weeks. KU played with great energy and toughness, shared the ball, scored inside and out and played fantastic defense, particularly inside against New Mexico State's big front line. The whole thing seemed to be the result of a team that showed up loose and confident, ready to have fun. If the Jayhawks can keep that attitude from here on out, there's no telling how far they could advance.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU's outside shooting returned with a vengeance. The Jayhawks' 9 of 13 shooting from three-point range marked the highest three-point percentage by a KU team since the 1996-97 team made 5 of 7 (71.3 percent) in a victory over Virginia in Maui. Five different Jayhawks made three-pointers in the win over NMSU, and four of those five made two triples. One of the most important people in that equation was Brannen Greene, who misfired on his first two attempts of the day and then drained a couple in the second half.
2 – Kansas continued to play aggressive offensively, with Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Frank Mason and even Jamari Traylor and Devonte' Graham attacking the paint with the dribble more often than not. That only led to 15 free throw attempts on Friday, but it opened up some other things in KU's offense, set the tone for the entire game and has to be the mentality Kansas has the rest of the way.
3 – KU's post defense was sensational. Every time the Aggies dumped it into to their big guys, the Jayhawks trapped the post with two big guys and that really forced NMSU out of its offense. NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said after the game that even though the Jayhawks aren't necessarily the tallest dudes, their length and active nature made it seem like the NMSU post players were being trapped by “two seven footers.”
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Perry Ellis was pretty quiet overall and only played 23 minutes. He looked fine at times and showed that nothing bad has happened to his jump shot. But his touch in close along with his ability to explode off the floor still seems a bit off. KU led by double digits for the entire second half, so maybe this was just a good time to rest Ellis a little in anticipation of Sunday's showdown. Ellis finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers and 1 steal, block and assist.
2 – New Mexico State's press and harassing D certainly had something to do with it, but the 14 turnovers for Kansas was a little higher than anyone in crimson and blue would like to see, particularly when you consider that nine of those 14 came from the guys who handle the ball the most.
3 – It's a pretty minor point and wasn't really a big deal, but a couple of guys picked up fouls a little too easily. Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis finished with four fouls apiece and KU will not be able to afford to have either guy hack too much against Wichita State on Sunday.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' solid, opening-round victory over New Mexico State:
• Made Kansas 27-8 on the season, giving KU 27 victories for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
• Marked KU's ninth-straight NCAA Tournament first-game victory.
• Kept Kansas unbeaten against New Mexico State in three tries.
• Improved Kansas to 97-42 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• Kept Kansas perfect in Omaha. Including Friday's win and appearances in Omaha during the 2008 and 2012 NCAA Tournaments, KU is now 5-0 in Omaha.
• Pushed Self to 352-77 while at Kansas, 37-15 in the NCAA Tournament and 559-182 overall.
• Made KU 2,153-830 all-time.
The win advanced the Jayhawks to Sunday's Round of 32, where they'll meet No. 7 seed Wichita State at 4:15 p.m. It's a game that everyone has been wanting to see for years now and one that will be as hyped up as any game the Jayhawks have played this season.
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.
Three games in three days... That's what the Jayhawks will have played following Saturday's Big 12 championship game against Iowa State, a destination they reached with a 62-52 victory over fourth-seeded Baylor in Friday's semifinals.
There was some talk among fans about whether KU, which is banged up at a lot of different positions, would be better off to lose early in the Big 12 tourney so it could get some rest ahead of next week's NCAA Tournament run.
But I think this is the better outcome. KU's confidence has risen and Perry Ellis has returned and now knows what he can do with that knee brace. Both are great news for the Jayhawks, who more than any KU team in recent memory, need to have a lot of things lined up just right to play their best basketball.
It's very clear that this team understands the importance of defense. They're offensively challenged in a couple of ways and, unless they catch lightning in a bottle or enjoy a ridiculously hot shooting night (which could come) this group of guys really seems to have figured out the recipe they need to stir together to win games. It includes great effort and energy, a lot of toughness and some grind-it-out plays on both ends. It also includes mistakes, which are going to come, but if you think about it these guys actually do a pretty decent job of playing through those and moving on to the next play.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU's defensive intensity and overall effort was fantastic from start to finish and the Jayhawks clearly answered the challenge laid out by Bill Self one night earlier. Now that Kansas is in the Big 12 title game and will be playing for its life in every game that follows it, it will be very interesting to see if this squad finally brings that energy to the table without being called out to do so. Perry Ellis' return certainly had something to do with lifting the entire team's intensity.
2 – KU's defensive game plan was so solid and so simple. It basically involved throwing bodies at players and doubling the post in an attempt to make Baylor over-think, over-pass and panic. I don't know if Baylor ever panicked, but they definitely were affected by KU's active defense and it showed up in the form of missed shots all over the place. Baylor made just 4 of 22 three-pointers, but also missed from point-blank range and did not convert very many of the 14 offensive rebounds it got. The fact that Kansas out-rebounded Baylor without Cliff Alexandder and with Perry Ellis at less than 100 percent shows you what kind of team effort Friday's victory was.
3 – Hunter Mickelson continues to impress. He only played six minutes and was probably too overmatched physically to be out there for much longer than that, but you couldn't exactly tell that by watching him. All he did was score a bucket on a nifty reverse layup, block two shots — including Baylor big man Rico Gathers in a one-on-one situation — and snag two steals. He's playing in the NCAA Tournament. How much depends on how the other guys play.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Too many turnovers. And it was not really the number that was troubling, (though 18 is crazy high) it was the way many of them came. Too many times KU just coughed it up right to a Baylor defender or got too sped up and lost control. That can kill seasons from this point on. Luckily for Kansas, the Bears were equally as careless with the ball on Friday, and a good chunk of that had to do with the KU defense.
2 – KU's Wayne Selden was great in this one, especially in terms of just finding ways to put points on the board, but he was just 6-of-12 from the free throw line and the Jayhawks, as a whole, missed 10 free throws. The off night from the line never created grave danger, but Kansas would not have even had to sweat this one out at all had they just made five or six more from the line.
3 – Kelly Oubre and Perry Ellis knocked in the first two three-pointers Kansas attempted on Friday night but the Jayhawks finished just 1 for their next 10 and went home with a 3-of-12 shooting night from three-point range. Not awful. And you can bet these guys felt good about seeing a couple of them finally fall. But the problem is not fully fixed and probably won't be until Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene find their strokes again.
One for the road
KU's semifinal victory over Baylor on Friday night:
• Made Kansas 26-7 on the season, giving the Jayhawks 26 wins for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
• Improved KU to 11-7 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Jumped the Jayhawks’ record in the Big 12 Championship to 19-16 in conference tournament semifinal games (11-6 in the Big 12 era).
• Moved Kansas into the conference tourney finals for the 11th time in Big 12 history and 19th time overall.
• Pushed KU’s record in 68-25 in conference tournament play and 38-9 in the Big 12 Championship.
• Improved Kansas’ record in Sprint Center to 27-5 all-time and 3-0 this season.
• Moved Self to 351-76 while at Kansas, 33-10 in conference tournament action (24-5 while at KU in the Big 12 tournament) and 558-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,152-829 all-time.
KU will play in tonight's Big 12 title game against No. 2 seed Iowa State at 5 p.m. KU and ISU split the regular season and got both games out of the way by mid-January.
There was very little pretty basketball involved in Thursday's 64-59 victory by top-seeded Kansas over No. 9 seed TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
But even as hard as it was to watch the game through all of the whistles and mistakes, it was exactly the kind of game that makes March great.
A loss to the Horned Frogs would have been a bad sign for the Jayhawks — Perry Ellis or no Perry Ellis — and would've sent the Jayhawk Nation into the weekend searching for answers.
Instead, freshman Kelly Oubre stepped up and played like a veteran and sent the Jayhawks into the Big 12 semis with a career-high 25 points, including 15-of-19 shooting from the free throw line.
Aside from the long stretches of bad basketball from both teams, the game came with all of those feelings that normally accompany games at this time of year — clutch makes and crucial misses, anxious coaches, uneasy fans in the building and the general feeling that things could change completely at just about any minute.
While we wait to do it all over again tonight, when the Jayhawks take on No. 4 seed Baylor in the semifinals at 6 p.m., let's look back at some more of the highs and lows from Thursday.
KU won yet again despite not hitting a single three-pointer. That marks the second time in the past three outings that Kansas finished 0-for from behind the arc, yet the Jayhawks won both of those games. For all the talk earlier this season about this team's incredible three-point shooting and how it might need to consider shooting more three-pointers per game, these guys are absolutely desperate for one to fall. Three guys (Oubre, Brannen Greene and Svi) missed multiple three-point looks on Thursday and Selden missed the only one he attempted. One triple did go through for Kansas against TCU — a wing shot by Svi — but it came on a dead ball after a whistle. Kansas has proven that it can win games without the three ball, but doing so makes things much more difficult. And these guys don't want to see how long that luck can last.
Three reasons to smile
1 – It wasn't pretty — not by a long shot — but it also wasn't full of panic, like these March games between high seeds and low seeds tend to be. Kansas can thank Kelly Oubre for that. Every time TCU closed, tied or threatened to make it very interesting, Oubre put the ball on the deck and made his way to the free throw line. That not only led to easy points but also kept the pace calm and less frantic.
2 – Kansas blocked nine shots in this game, with Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas each recording three and Hunter Mickelson adding one. Considering those were the only big guys Self had to work with, the high number of blocks is pretty impressive. Clearly, having a short bench did not take away their defensive tenacity.
3 – Despite not doing or playing much in weeks, freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk proved he might still be able to help this team before this season is finished. The Svi that took the floor against the Frogs on Thursday was the most aggressive and confident Svi I've seen in a while. Self liked what he gave the Jayhawks so much that he started him the second half. Even if the guy only plays a few minutes here and there the rest of the way — however long that winds up being — he should do so with a ton of confidence.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The numbers just don't paint a five point victory over the ninth-seeded team in the Big 12. KU out-rebounded TCU by six, out-shot TCU 49 percent to 41 percent and only turned it over two more times. What's more, TCU made just 1-of-6 three-pointers on a day when KU missed all eight threes it attempted. There's no question that the Frogs came to fight, but just going off the numbers — although several other metrics would also work — the final score's a bit of a head scratcher.
2 – Yes, KU won this game without Ellis, but, no, it wasn't easy. The Jayhawks desperately need Ellis back, not only because of the numbers he brings to the floor, but also because he changes the way this team runs offense and the way opposing teams defend. All that said, imagine what a lift it will be when Ellis does return, even if he's not 100 percent when he does. These guys, who have been grinding for everything they've gotten the past few games without him, will probably be so relieved they'll finally relax and light up the scoreboard.
3 – The bottom line with this team — still — is that you, me and especially Bill Self still just do not know what it is going to give. On any given night they could be locked in or spaced out, fired up or barely breathing, offensively efficient or offensively challenged, defensively dominant or a defensive doormat. That's not a good recipe for a team hoping to make some noise in March. And even though the talent and potential is still there for any kind of run imaginable, I think we'll know/learn all we need to about what lies ahead for this team based off of what kind of effort it puts forward in the semifinal game vs. Baylor. Self said after the loss that “it gets old” waiting for his guys to bring energy. If they don't respond to that — with a berth in the conference championship game on the line — by doing it in over-the-top fashion, I think you'll know what's coming in the next week or so.
One for the road
KU's Big 12 tournament victory over TCU:
• Made Kansas 25-7 on the season, marking the 10th-straight season that the Jayhawks have tallied 25 wins, beginning in 2005-06.
• Improved KU to 10-7 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Pushed the Jayhawks’ record in the Big 12 tourney to 18-2 in opening games (1-0 in first round and 17-2 in quarterfinals).
• Advanced Kansas to the conference tourney semifinals for the 17th time in Big 12 history and 35th time overall.
• Improved KU’s record in 67-25 in conference tournament play and 37-9 in the Big 12 tournament.
• Made KU 26-5 all-time at Sprint Center, including a 2-0 mark this season.
• Moved Self to 350-76 while at Kansas, 32-10 in conference tournament action (23-5 while at KU in the Big 12 Championship) and 557-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,151-829 all-time.
The win moved the Jayhawks into today's 6 p.m. semifinal, where they'll play Baylor, which knocked off West Virginia by 10 in Thursday's first game at Sprint Center. The Jayhawks swept the Bears during the regular season, winning a one-point dog fight in Waco and holding off a strong Baylor push in Lawrence in mid-February.
Whether you want to talk about the defensive breakdown in the final seconds or the fact that a short-handed KU team nearly walked out of Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday with a surprising victory, the so-called meaningless final game of the regular season gave us plenty of material.
The Jayhawks clearly are and should be proud of the effort they put forth without Perry Ellis (knee), Cliff Alexander (eligibility) and Brannen Greene (suspension), three regular rotation guys who missed the game. But one of the best signs for this up-and-down KU team was that no one walked out of there feeling too good about the moral victory.
Landen Lucas and Frank Mason, who both played fantastic games, focused on the bottom line — a loss — and Bill Self said he was pleased with the team's effort but not as pleased with its execution.
In many ways, that's a best case scenario right now. Had KU won, some of those execution breakdowns might have been easier to overlook or, at the very least, might not have had the same impact. Instead, the Jayhawks lost and came away from the game hellbent on tightening those areas up instead of feeling too good about coming oh-so-close in difficult circumstances.
That's the kind of adversity that tends to pop up from here on out, and this team, at least to me, seems as focused as it's been all season.
It remains to be seen how well the Jayhawks will play this postseason, but you can't question the fact that they're ready. The past three games — two victories and one loss — have all resembled Big 12 or NCAA Tournament games, with both teams fighting and scrapping for every possession, point or advantage they could get. The two victories were at home and the Jayhawks won't have that advantage the rest of the way. But Sprint Center is close to home and their showing at Oklahoma, without three regulars, has to at least be a little encouraging when they think about playing away from Allen Fieldhouse.
Three reasons to smile
1 – You can't say enough good things about what Landen Lucas did on Saturday. He was a monster on the glass, he played tough on both ends of the floor and, seemingly out of nowhere, even gave KU an offensive presence in the post that was missing with Ellis out. Lucas' confidence and production are rising to new heights every time out, which can only help this team in the win-or-go-home weeks ahead. Lucas played a team-high 33 minutes in the loss to OU and showed, as long as he continues to play like that, that he can give productive minutes not just fill in as a stop-gap option.
2 – KU's offensive rebounding was insane... at least early. The Jayhawks grabbed 16 offensive boards total in this one and had 14 of them by late in the first half. Landen Lucas grabbed six offensive boards by himself and Kelly Oubre (3) and Hunter Mickelson (2) also chipped in to give KU multiple extra possessions. OU coach Lon Kruger tweaked his rebounding match-ups in the second half, which emphasized big guys blocking out instead of helping on the drives of KU's guards, and that kept Kansas from adding to its total. Still, had the Jayhawks not done that kind of work on the glass, they probably would've been down double figures at halftime instead of just two.
3 – Even though he wound up getting the game-winning tip-in, KU's guards did a good job of making OU junior Buddy Hield work for his 18 points. Hield shot just 6-of-20 from the floor and even though Wayne Selden did next to nothing offensively, his work, in limited time, guarding Hield was very valuable. Every shot Hiled took was contested — he was 2-of-7 from three-point range — and he only got to the free throw line five times, making four. If there was an issue here, it was the fact that Hield got seven boards, one of which won the game.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Brannen Greene's last-minute suspension is a real problem. Not only did it hurt KU's chances on Saturday — Greene likely would've gotten most if not all of the 13 minutes Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played and given his experience may have knocked down an extra shot or two that Svi missed, which could have changed the outcome — but it's also a recurring problem. Self suspended Greene for “just being irresponsible,” and every time the guy has been in trouble during his two years at KU so far, that has been the basic reason behind it.
2 – Those who want to will blame the ankle injury, and that's a legit excuse especially when you consider it limited him to just 18 minutes, but Wayne Selden's confidence has to be a concern right now. He missed all seven shots he took, including a pair from behind the arc, and did not score a point or grab a rebound. There are enough other options, especially when Ellis returns, for this team to overcome Selden's struggles, but one can't help but wonder what it would look like if he were clicking.
3 – It's a shame that the Jayhawks' defense on Oklahoma's final possession took away from the fantastic play call and clutch free throws by Frank Mason that tied the game. After watching the replay a few times, several guys were way too passive on that final drive by Jordan Woodard. It's a tough spot to be in because you definitely don't want to foul, but you can't allow a guy to split two defenders and get an open look either. Mykhailiuk came over to challenge the shot after Woodard got by Mason and Oubre and that left Hield all alone to crash the rim for the game-winner. The only good thing to come from the failure to get a stop was that the Jayhawks were absolutely sick about it. That might be what it takes to help get it fixed.
One for the road
KU's loss at Oklahoma in the regular season finale:
• Marked the first time in 10 years that the Jayhawks dropped three-straight regular-season conference road games. In late 2005, KU lost at Texas Tech (80-79, 2OT, 2/14/05), at Oklahoma (71-63, 2/21/05) and at Missouri (72-68, 3/6/05).
• Made Kansas 24-7 overall and 13-5 in Big 12 play, its lowest conference win total since going 13-3 in 2005-06.
• Dropped KU's all-time series lead vs. Oklahoma to 142-66, including 50-42 in Norman.
• Moved Self to 349-76 while at Kansas, 14-5 against Oklahoma (14-3 while at KU) and 556-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,150-829 all-time.
The Jayhawks will head to Kansas City, Missouri, where they'll open play in the Big 12 tournament at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Sprint Center as the top seed against the winner of the Wednesday game between the conference's No. 8 (Kansas State) and No. 9 (TCU) seeds.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said it best when trying to explain how his Mountaineers lost Tuesday night's game at Allen Fieldhouse, 76-69 in overtime to a Kansas team that did not lead one time in the entire second half.
Forearms on the table, shoulders slumped, head staring down, Huggins said simply, “There's just some things that happened that you can't explain.”
Several of the “things” Huggins was referencing were miscues by his team. Missed free throws in crucial moments, the full-court pass that went out of bounds late, an air-balled three-pointer in transition when the right play would've been to milk the clock and others. Huggins lamented all of those hiccups and more after watching his team cough up an 18-point lead to Kansas that helped the Jayhawks clinch Big 12 title No. 11 in a row outright.
But there was another part of Tuesday's game that no one in the West Virginia locker room wanted to talk about, and it's the one thing that has been consistent for this inconsistent Kansas team all season long — the Jayhawks benefited from playing in an incredible atmosphere full of fans who did their part to will the team to victory.
Generally speaking, I'm a believer that it's the players — and to a lesser degree the coaches — who decide the outcome of games and nothing else. But it's hard to argue with the fact that the noise, intensity and intimidation that bounced off the Allen Fieldhouse walls in those final frenzied minutes had to have at least some kind of impact on West Virginia letting its lead slip away. Huggins did not buy that either, saying, “I don't know what the building has to do with anything to be honest with you,” but whether he agreed with it really did not matter.
You could see it on the faces of the West Virginia players. The impact showed up in the plays they made and did not make down the stretch. And, as Huggins mentioned, that might be one of the only ways to explain some of those “things” that cost the Mountaineers, who played an incredible game and did so without two veteran starters.
This is a weird team with a lot of holes, a couple of significant issues and less depth than anyone expected it would have when the season began. But confidence can be a funny thing, and the way the Jayhawks won the last two games — down-to-the-wire home wins over Texas and West Virginia — has to have this team feeling good about its chances to find a way to win against anybody. KU showed more toughness in closing out both of those games than it has at just about any point this season. More important than that, the Jayhawks won Tuesday's game without getting much from injured leading scorer Perry Ellis. KU has trailed at halftime in 12 games this season, including the past three. But the Jayhawks have found a way to win most of those, with toughness being the key ingredient in all three comebacks. KU is a much different team at home than it is anywhere else, but with the rest of the season — however long it goes — coming away from Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks will have to channel the fight and ferocious play that they put forth to win the past two games to help get them through the next couple of weeks. Luckily for the Jayhawks, those two games, what worked and what didn't and the confidence and pride that came from both results will be fresh in their minds.
Three reasons to smile
1 – For the second game in a row, KU coach Bill Self turned the Jayhawks' offense into the simplest possible style when he told his team to just drive it, just drive it. Frank Mason, Devonte' Graham, Kelly Oubre and even Jamari Traylor did just that and the Mountaineers struggled to stop it. That style, which led to 42 points in the paint (on 21 total field goals) and 43 free throw attempts, helped KU get easy points — and I say easy because they were close to the rim, not because they were wide-open, uncontested shots — and cut into the Mountaineers' lead both with high-percentage plays and with the clock sopped in crucial moments.
2 – I'm not sure KU would've won this game without Hunter Mickelson. His numbers were modest, though very solid and unexpected for him, but it was his energy, effort and fearless attitude early that helped keep KU in the game. With the rest of the team struggling with turnovers, missed jumpers and frustrated by West Virginia's tough, physical and intense defense, Mickelson picked up a couple of loose balls for buckets, grabbed a a couple of rebounds and even blocked a shot to help show the rest of the Jayhawks the way. He finished with 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 steals in 13 minutes and just might have made a case for a little more playing time in the near future. He's still a step slow at times, but he's long, athletic and moves well. I can't help but think those traits for a handful of minutes will come in handy against at least one or two of KU's next few opponents, perhaps starting with Saturday at Oklahoma.
3 – There was a significant mental edge gained by the Jayhawks on Tuesday night that could help this team big time in the near future. After Devonte' Graham hit 2 free throws to tie the game at 59 with 11.5 seconds to play, West Virginia had the ball and a chance to win. A couple of weeks ago, when KU was in the same position against this same team — needing a late stop for a shot at victory — Juwan Staten got to the rim and hit the game-winner. Staten was not in uniform on Tuesday night, so there's no telling what would've happened if he had been out there. But KU's defense came up with the stop in the final seconds this time, thanks to a big-time contest of a three-pointer by Frank Mason and a blocked shot by Landen Lucas on the rebound. Coming through in that situation not only helps build KU's confidence but also can essentially wipe out or at least make the failed first attempt a wash.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – There's no two ways about it: The Perry Ellis injury is a major concern for this team. KU coach Bill Self sounded encouraged that Ellis would be able to return in time for the Big 12 tournament next week, but will he be 100 percent? Even though KU is saying it's just a sprained knee, Ellis' return to the lineup, whenever it comes, does not necessarily mean he'll pick up where he left off when he injured the knee. The only hint of a silver lining here is that KU will have a couple of games under its belt without him to get used to not being able to count on the Wichita junior for everything the way they had in the previous three or four games prior to Tuesday night.
2 – Because of their versatile collection of talented athletes, the Jayhawks can play a number of different styles. But it seems clear that the one style this team does not enjoy is the physical, in-your-face style that the Mountaineers hit them with on Tuesday night. That's not to say KU can't get physical, it just doesn't seem like it likes to play that way. Given that the Big 12 tournament figures to be a dogfight and the NCAA Tournament features physical, all-out intensity from start to finish, KU's going to have to find more comfort in playing that way if it hopes to make a run, and, again, the result of these past two games could and should go a long way in helping them get there.
3 – Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene continue to struggle offensively. Selden, who shot just 2-for-7 and finished with 4 points on Tuesday night, has done enough away from the offensive end to make up for his shortcomings there throughout the season. But Greene's s struggles with his outside shot stretched into another game and have to be a concern. Greene is 0 for 11 from three-point range in the past three games and 2 for 19 in past six games. Even with that being the case, he still possesses that kind of shot that you think is going in every time if he gets an open look. He got a few of those on Tuesday and looked much less rushed and forced in putting up his shots. KU needs him to get going again, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time until he does.
One for the road
KU's crazy comeback victory over West Virginia on Tuesday:
• Clinched the Jayhawks’ 11th-consecutive Big 12 Conference regular-season title outright. Kansas now has a two-game lead in the conference race with just one game remaining.
• Made Kansas 24-6 overall, giving KU 24 victories for the 10th-straight season.
• Bumped KU's record to 13-4 in Big 12 play, marking the 10th-consecutive season that the Jayhawks recorded 13 league wins, beginning in 2005-06.
• Earned Kansas the No. 1 seed in the 2015 Big 12 Championship. KU will play in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 12, at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The Jayhawks will face the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed game to be played March 11. This is the seventh-consecutive year (beginning in 2009) that KU will enter the event as the No. 1 seed and the 12th time in the 19-year history of the Big 12.
• Extended Kansas’ winning streak in home finales to 33-straight seasons, which began in 1983-84.
• Pushed KU's edge in the Kansas-West Virginia series to 4-2 in favor of KU, including 3-0 inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Marked the 24th-straight victory inside Allen Fieldhouse, including a 15-0 record in the venue this season. Overall, the Jayhawks are 728-109 all-time inside their storied venue and 190-9 at home under Bill Self.
• Improved Self to 349-75 while at Kansas, 4-2 against West Virginia and 556-180 overall.
• Made KU 2,150-828 all-time.
The Jayhawks close out the regular season at 3 p.m. Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma, where they'll look to hold off the Sooners in the season finale. KU knocked off OU, 85-78 Jan. 19 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Now that's the kind of basketball game you expect to see in March, and the Jayhawks and Longhorns brought it to us a day early.
Tough, physical basketball. A lot at stake for both teams. Pressure mounting with every tick. Multiple guys making a variety of plays on both ends of the floor, with mistakes and miscues having as big of an impact as perfectly executed offense.
I realize that most of you reading this probably did not like several aspects of Saturday's 69-64 victory by Kansas over Texas, but that's exactly the kind of basketball I love to watch so sign me up every time for a game like that.
Frank Mason said after the game that the Jayhawks had won games like that before. And while I respect what Mason probably meant — close, down-to-the-wire, make-a-big-play-late games — I don't think Kansas has won a game like that this season. That was by far the toughest I've seen this Kansas team look and the hardest I've seen them compete. The officiating was inconsistent and non-existent at times, in both directions, and, for the most part, instead of whining about the whistles or lack thereof, KU simply kept playing. Despite being without one of their bigger bodies, they battled Texas' big front line for everything they got and often did so with smaller, quicker perimeter players mixing it up. The game was far from perfect. Perry Ellis was sensational, KU's defense was solid and the Jayhawks showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the game meant something to them. That mentality combined with someone else emerging as a second offensive weapon to Ellis just could be the recipe for a deep run later this month.
Three reasons to smile
1 – This whole Perry Ellis plays the role of Superman thing is getting out of control. The guy is in one of those zones where he pretty much outdoes what he did the game before every time out. Three straight games of 23 points or more. Carrying Kansas on offense. I Tweeted this during the game and I'll say it again here just because Ellis was that good — I think that was probably the best all-around game of Perry Ellis' career. He was a manchild on both ends of the floor and looks more confident than ever. Not to mention more capable than ever. Ellis' versatile offensive game features so many different weapons and, at times, he flashes all of them during the same possession. The guy is a beast and he's definitely in play for Big 12 player of the year honors.
2 – Texas' 14 blocked shots established a new school record, but the Jayhawks blocked a few shots, too. KU finished with 10 blocks — three each for Ellis and Kelly Oubre — and did so with the supposed best option at protecting the paint (Cliff Alexander) sitting on the bench in street clothes. Just another sign of how locked in these guys were defensively and how hard they competed.
3 – With Cliff Alexander stuck on the bench because of questions about his eligibility, Landen Lucas was forced to play 25 minutes and played them well. His stat line (5 points, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls) won't wow you — it pretty much never does — but the fact that he was on the floor for twice as many minutes as Jamari Traylor, who started, tells you all you need to know about how Lucas played.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Kansas made just one three-pointer and Brannen Greene missed all three shots he attempted. Just a few weeks ago, the buzz surrounding this KU team was that they were the best three-point shooting team known to man. Today, they look a little more human and seem to be consistently providing proof for why KU coach Bill Self said it's a dangerous idea to rely on three-point shooting to win games. KU was 1-for-8 from behind the arc against Texas, but the one was huge. Frank Mason drilled a three from the top of the key to put Kansas up two right after Texas had reclaimed a lead it let slip away. Eight attempts is a surprisingly low number for this team, but Self gave credit to UT coach Rick Barnes for forcing the Jayhawks to play inside the arc, which definitely had something to do with it.
2 – Neither team reached 40 percent shooting in either half. A lot of people will call that kind of game ugly basketball. But I call it a war. Kansas shot 36.2 percent from the floor — and somehow won — and Texas shot 37.7 percent. Beyond that, the two teams who did their best to beat each other up all afternoon combined to shoot 50 free throws. If you're someone who likes to watch wide open offense and points scored in bunches, this wasn't the game for you. Credit KU's free throw shooting (26-for-32) and defense for allowing Kansas to win despite making just 21 of 58 shots.
3 – Just a couple of games ago, Devonte' Graham scored 20 points and looked like a completely new player bound to spend the rest of the season attacking and helping the Kansas offense reach a new gear. On Saturday he played just seven minutes and did not record a single meaningful stat. Perhaps Texas' size and style of play simply did not suit Graham's game or maybe the experience factor was the reason. Either way, Frank Mason was back to the early-season role of playing nearly the entire game (39 minutes) and there's no doubt that he took a beating while doing it. KU's gotta get more from Graham no matter who the opponent.
One for the road
Kansas' boxing-match-style victory over Texas on Saturday:
• Made the Jayhawks 23-6 overall, giving KU 23 victories for the 26th-consecutive season, beginning in 1989-90.
• Pushed KU’s record to 12-4 in Big 12 play, marking the 15th-consecutive season that the Jayhawks recorded 12 league wins, beginning in 2000-01.
• Extended KU’s all-time series advantage to 25-8, including a 13-1 mark in games played in Lawrence and an 11-1 advantage in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Marked the 23rd-straight victory inside Allen Fieldhouse, including a 14-0 record in the venue this season. Overall, the Jayhawks are 727-109 all-time at AFH and 189-9 at home under Bill Self.
• Improved Self to 348-75 while at Kansas, 15-8 against Texas (15-6 at Kansas) and 555-180 overall.
• Made KU 2,149-828 all-time.
Updated Big 12 Standings
Here's a quick look at the conference race. A KU win on Tuesday over West Virginia would guarantee the Jayhawks at least a share of consecutive Big 12 title No. 11. A loss on Tuesday, combined with an Oklahoma victory over Iowa State on Monday, would make KU's March 7 game at OU a winner-take-all contest.
West Virginia 10-6
Iowa State 10-6
Kansas State 8-9
Oklahoma State 7-9
Texas Tech 3-14
The Jayhawks return home Tuesday for a rematch with West Virginia at 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU fell to the Mountaineers 62-61 two weeks ago in Morgantown. Tuesday also will be Senior Night at the Fieldhouse, where Christian Garrett will be honored for his four years with the program.
Leading up to Monday's game at Kansas State, I told anyone who would listen that the outcome of that game would tell me a lot about this Kansas basketball team.
Go into Manhattan and win and life is good and the Jayhawks would be well on their way toward wrapping up another Big 12 title and positioned well for the postseason. Go in and lose, though, — in any manner — and I think you'd come away hard-pressed to make a case for this being a team that can expect to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Nothing about what I saw Monday night, during a 70-63 loss to K-State in which KU had a half a dozen opportunities to take control of the game made me change my mind.
I get the whole K-State was a desperate team, playing with passion against a heated rival. But they were also a team that just lost to TCU by 15 and Baylor by 27 and had lost seven of its last eight games. If you're a contender, you beat those teams. Home or away. If you're a contender, you don't let those teams grab on to a glimmer of hope that they can get you. If you're a contender, you find a way to win, pretty, ugly or otherwise.
KU did none of that and now enters the final three games of the conference schedule in a real dog fight for consecutive Big 12 title No. 11.
The odds are still very high that Kansas, which plays two of those three games at home, will win at least a share of the title and all will be well in the world of KU basketball. But even if that happens, I'm not sure that all is well with the Jayhawks. This team lacks mental and physical toughness and seems to be finding new ways to struggle just about every night out.
It's never easy to be the top dog that other teams hunt with reckless abandon. But if there's any team that should be used to that it's Kansas, and these Jayhawks too often look anything but comfortable out there on the floor.
I'm going to excuse Perry Ellis from the following commentary and also point out that there are times — minutes, halves even games — when a couple of other Jayhawks are the exception, as well. But it seems to me, now 28 games into the 2014-15 season, that this is a KU basketball team that lacks the necessary competitive juice to be a real contender. They don't play like they hate to lose. They don't compete to the point of exhaustion. They don't always lay it all on the line with the idea that, in any given moment, nothing else matters but getting a stop, grabbing a rebound or getting to the rim. I've said all season that this team lacks on-the-floor leadership and that's a big part of their struggles right now. It's probably too late to hope that emerges out of nowhere though, so the Jayhawks, and specifically Bill Self, are going to have to find a way around it. Ellis was a man on Monday and not just because he scored 20 points, hit 10 of 16 shots and was KU's only real offensive threat for most of the night. But also because he battled for rebounds, put the team on his back in the first half and even showed a little fire by trash talking a time or two. KU needs more of that from Ellis and others need to follow his lead.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Speaking of Perry Ellis, I thought the first half of this one was by far the best example we've seen of this team understanding that it should run every offensive possession through the junior forward from Wichita. It did not matter which players were on the floor with him, whenever they caught it, they looked at Ellis. If he was open, they passed it to him. And when he caught it, he usually got off a good shot or scored. That's a great sign for the future because this team has needed an identity all season and playing through your most experienced and probably most talented guy, who also happens to be as versatile as they come, is a pretty good identity to have.
2 – Props to Kelly Oubre for doing his best to compete. He didn't always score and it wasn't always pretty, but the freshman was aggressive when KU needed him to be and that's huge. There were times when it became way too easy for K-State to focus almost exclusively on guarding Ellis and dare other KU players to beat them. Oubre recognized that and went for it, he just wasn't quite as on as KU needed him to be. Still, he finished with 14 points, was aggressive in the half-court, took 13 shots (only two of which were three-pointers) and added seven boards in 28 minutes.
3 – Kansas did what it needed to do on the boards, out-rebounding K-State 37-28, including 14-7 on the offensive glass. A big reason that didn't matter more was because K-State shot so well, particularly in the second half, when they hit 56 percent of their shots and nearly hung 40 points. But KU held down the rebounding advantage, which led to more free throw attempts and more shots than the Wildcats.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – It didn't take a highly trained basketball eye to see which team wanted it more last night. KU battled and fought at times but the Wildcats battled and fought all the time. Even when KU hit K-State with runs, the Wildcats dug in and fought their way back. A couple of smaller areas where K-State had a subtle edge which can be huge in a two- or three-possession game included: deflections (5-4), charges taken (2-0), five-second calls forced (1-0) and, the big one, bench points (30-14).
2 – Not breaking any news here, but KU's on-the-ball defense was bad, particularly on Nigel Johnson, who played most of the second half with that look in his eye that told you he knew no one could guard him. K-State got way too many shots right at the rim and a good chunk of those were because of breakdowns in KU's man-to-man defense, which was so bad that Self even went to a box-and-one for a few possessions, something that K-State coach Bruce Weber said made him laugh because he thought his team was merely average offensively yet KU still struggled to stop them.
3 – I gotta think there's a way to get Brannen Greene more than 11 minutes. Greene has now played fewer than 20 minutes in 10 of the past 14 games. He's too good of an offensive weapon to limit his minutes like that. And, going back to what I talked about above, he's one of the few guys on this roster who cuts through the all of the tough calls, unlucky bounces and bad breaks and tries to compete, especially on the offensive end. He showed that late in the game on Monday night and it almost helped bring KU back. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, he shot the ball from three-point range as badly as we've seen him shoot it, likely the product of either being too amped up or a little overwhelmed. Regardless, if it's me, I play him more not less.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' third road loss in the past four tries:
• Made KU 22-6 overall and 11-4 in Big 12 play.
• Dropped KU’s all-time edge in the series to 188-93, including a 23-4 mark in games played in Bramlage Coliseum and a 40-5 advantage in Big 12 games.
• Marked the first time that Kansas State has defeated Kansas in consecutive meetings in Manhattan since the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons (in Ahearn Fieldhouse).
• Made Self 347-75 while at Kansas, 24-5 against Kansas State (23-5 at Kansas) and 554-180 overall.
• Made KU 2,148-828 all-time.
The Jayhawks return home Saturday for another showdown with Texas at 4 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU played one of its best games of the season in topping Texas 75-62 Jan. 24 in Austin, Texas.
There was nothing about Saturday's match-up with TCU that made the excite-o-meter go off.
It wasn't a big game against one of the top challengers in the Big 12, it wasn't hyped up national showdown against a Top 25 team and it wasn't even a game that included a revenge angle or any kind of venom that would have the Fieldhouse faithful in a frenzy. Instead, it was just another late-February, Saturday afternoon home game that everyone expected KU to roll in.
The Jayhawks didn't exactly roll — winning 81-72 — but they did play well enough to prevent the Frogs from ever throwing a serious challenge at the Jayhawks and their one-game lead in the Big 12 race.
If there was one moment that stood out to me more than any other, it was the ovation Perry Ellis got during pregame introductions. Ellis took a ton of heat for missing a makable game-winner last Monday at West Virginia. He was trashed on message boards and Twitter, blasted by KU fans everywhere who like to believe that it's easy to just dunk everything and left Morgantown feeling down on himself for the miss.
Clearly, the 16,300 fans at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday didn't care. Ellis got the loudest ovation I've heard a KU player get during intros this season. And he responded by making 9-of-10 shots and scoring a game-high 23 points.
It's a small detail and one that probably didn't have a whole lot to do with the outcome of the game, but it was definitely cool to see a fan base rally behind their guy.
TCU showed up to compete and easily could have given the Jayhawks a little more of a scare than they did based on the way they played. TCU senior Trey Zeigler said he thought the Horned Frogs played better in Lawrence than they did in Fort Worth, even though the final score was closer in the first meeting between these two. Thankfully for the Jayhawks, who saw starters Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden and Cliff Alexander combine for just eight points on two made field goals, the Jayhawks' defense was up to the challenge. KU limited TCU to 41 percent shooting from the floor and held smooth guard Kyan Anderson, who has had a history of playing very well against KU to 14 points on just 4-of-14 shooting. TCU coach Trent Johnson talked about KU's defense making opposing offenses feel like they have to be perfect on just about every possession, and that burden ultimately led to a few turnovers and missed opportunities that wound up being the difference.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Every once in a while the two best dudes on a team step up and have the two best games on a given day. Saturday was one of those days for Kansas, as freshman point guard Devonte' Graham and junior forward Perry Ellis both eclipsed the 20-point mark and missed just one shot between them while tallying more than half of KU's 81 points. Graham was ultra-aggressive and played with toughness and confidence. Ellis played like a man who knew he couldn't be stopped — again. If either guy comes close to matching that performance the rest of the way, this team will be a tough out for just about anybody.
2 – How about Brannen Greene's work on the boards? The guy known mostly as a deadly three-point marksman nearly led the Jayhawks in rebounds, with six (one behind Ellis' seven), and he did his work in a number of ways, which included mixing it up with bigger bodies, crashing the offensive glass and cleaning up the easy board and kick-starting a fast-break. Greene is long enough and athletic enough to be a factor on the glass. It all just comes down to mindset for him. And, clearly on Saturday, he was ready to rebound.
3 – This last one is easy. That whole team manager Chris Huey suits up for the first and only time in his career and plays 35 seconds was way too cool. The fact that the kid got this chance is a real credit to both him and what he's all about and KU coach Bill Self, who did not have to even think about doing something like that. Neat moment, one you can't help but feel good about no matter who you cheer for.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's first-half offense was pretty sloppy. Even Perry Ellis, who looked locked in from the jump on Saturday, only took four shots. The Jayhawks did shoot 54 percent from the floor in the first half, but that was more a product of how they scored — nearly half of their points came in the paint — and not how they ran offense. It improved in the second half, as the ball movement got better and KU continually worked through Ellis in the post.
2 – Twice during Saturday's victory the Jayhawks turned it over on inbounds plays following timeouts. One led to an easy dunk for the Horned Frogs and the other prevented KU from padding its lead. They may have been able to survive such mental lapses this time around — largely because they were at home and TCU is not quite ready to compete on the same stage as Kansas — but those are the kinds of things that will kill a team when the games start to really count.
3 – It was another rough day for Cliff Alexander, who made his fourth consecutive start but didn't do much more. Alexander made just one of four shots and finished with 2 rebounds and 3 fouls while playing just 11 minutes overall and only 3 minutes in the second half. I've been asked a ton during the past few weeks if it seems like it's time to concede that Alexander just might not become the player people thought he could or would become this season. Each time, I said no. It was too early to claim that, I thought. I'm not so sure any more, though. And this has nothing to do with motor, effort or desire, which were Alexander's issues midway through the season. He just too often looks a little lost out there and a step or two slow because of it. Maybe that's because he's had more trouble adjusting to the college game or Bill Self's coaching than people expected. Maybe it's just who he is. Either way, I don't think Alexander's a guy KU should expect a ton from the rest of the way. Does that mean he can't have some big games? Of course not. He absolutely can. But those games, if they come, will likely be the result of one thing and one thing alone — Alexander's ability to rebound and get points that way. All of that said, he's still this team's best option at altering shots in the lane, so the Jayhawks need to find a way to keep him involved enough for him to fulfill that role. Tough spot for everyone involved right now.
One for the road
KU's blue-collar victory over an improved TCU team:
• Made the Jayhawks 22-5 overall, marking the 26th-straight season that they have won 22 games.
• Improved Kansas to 11-3 in league play, giving KU 11 or more conference victories for the 21st-consecutive season.
• Extended KU’s home-court winning streak to 22 games, making KU 726-109 all-time inside Allen Fieldhouse, including 188-9 under Bill Self.
• Pushed KU’s edge in the all-time series vs. TCU to 9-1, including a 4-0 mark in games played in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Improved Self to 347-74 while at Kansas, 13-4 against TCU (7-1 at Kansas) and 554-179 overall.
• Made KU 2,148-827 all-time.
The Jayhawks head west for a Big Monday match-up with Kansas State at 8 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. KU knocked off K-State 68-57 Jan. 31 in Lawrence, in a game that KU led 20-5 and never looked back.