College Basketball Nation: Ben McLemore

From poverty to pros: Ben McLemore

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
6:00
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WELLSTON, Mo. -- Poverty knows no boundaries.

The rubble on some of the streets makes it seem like you are driving through a war-torn land in the Middle East. But when you walk through the neighborhood, meet the people who are putting together their lives day by day, and interact with the families and friends of Ben McLemore, you realize there is hope here -- especially for the youth.

The people of Wellston have all rallied around McLemore's cause. They knew he and his siblings were hungry. They were well aware that his single mother was working late into the night. They talked about his brother, Keith Scott, who is five years into a 15-year prison sentence for armed burglary, as if he were the one who had the most basketball talent.

They all want to see McLemore succeed in the NBA.

The question for McLemore is: How will he handle his hometown and his family going forward?

For Andy Katz's full story, click here.
1. The NCAA will have a portal available in July on its website for Final Four sites to make proposals for 2017-2020; a decision on sites for those years will be made later in 2014. The NCAA won't put any restrictions on the proposals, meaning that a city that doesn't have a dome can make an offer and the NCAA will discuss it. The NCAA has made one decision on domes -- it is done with them in regional finals. Mark Lewis, the NCAA's vice president in charge of championships, said using domes for regionals was a trial run for future Final Fours. But the upcoming Final Four sites have already had the dry run, so the NCAA doesn't need to do this anymore. Lewis said regional finals should be in arenas, and that will be the plan going forward. The next three Final Fours are in Arlington, Texas, in 2014; Indianapolis in 2015; and Houston in 2016.

2. Connecticut should get the credit it deserves for getting its Academic Progress Rate scores up to the appropriate level to qualify for the 2014 postseason. The Huskies got the necessary criticism for not qualifying last season. But the problem with the APR is that it goes back four years, not two. The most recent past of the Huskies has been good enough to stay eligible for postseason. UConn had to fix this problem and it did. The Huskies were the highest-profile team to sit out due as punishment for poor scores -- embarrassing and humbling for the school and program. Now the onus is on the school to keep the APR score high and for the Huskies to be once again a conference title contender.

3. Nerlens Noel will go to Washington (where the Wizards hold the No. 3 pick in the June 27 NBA draft) Friday after originally planning only to visit the teams with the top two picks -- Cleveland (set for June 20) and Orlando, earlier this month. Noel may also visit No. 4 Charlotte. Ben McLemore will visit Cleveland the same time Noel is there. Cleveland is getting a slew of calls about the No. 1 pick. The Cavs will listen, but they have to decide if a player in the lottery will help them next season or in 2014-15. The difference between the players in the lottery and those projected to go in the middle of the first round is marginal, according to one general manager. With that being the case, what is the point of making a move just to make a move?
1. UNLV lost another player over the weekend. The latest to depart is Katin Reinhardt, who apparently had issues with the way he was being used by coach Dave Rice and wants to play the point more than shooting guard, Rice told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reinhardt will have to see if Andy Enfield plays him at the point if ends up at USC, as the Review-Journal reported is a likely destination. Reinhardt shouldn't play immediately (I feel like I have to say that now with everyone getting waivers) and can use the redshirt year to become a point if that's his chosen position. The Runnin' Rebels already lost Anthony Bennett to the NBA draft after one season, and then Mike Moser graduated and transferred to Oregon to play immediately. (UNLV was also set to lose seniors Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall.) The Rebels will be scrapping with San Diego State to catch New Mexico and maybe Boise State in the Mountain West. But Rice shouldn't be worried. He needs players who want to be in Las Vegas, and the Rebels have replacements. Bryce Dejean-Jones can play shooting guard. UConn transfer Roscoe Smith had a year to better understand the game and how to play power forward. Depth is available with Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Kendall Smith, who can play either the point or the two for the Rebels. Khem Birch is eligible for a full year and can try to be more assertive offensively and dominant defensively. This team will be in flux, but the pieces are still in play to be an NCAA team.

2. Players don't necessarily have the allegiances that fans do. That's why Antonio Barton has no issues going from Memphis to rival Tennessee. The Vols desperately needed another guard after losing Trae Golden. And of course the Vols are now a beneficiary of the new free agency in college basketball. "It's safe to say kids are more concerned with the best opportunity,'' Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said about players holding rivalry grudges. As for picking up players on the fly, Martin said, "Free agency, it's a tough call. We're on the good side of free agency. I think a lot of mid-major programs are affected by the market.'' Martin used to be the coach at Missouri State and knows all too well about life at a lower level.

3. Former Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said on our college basketball podcast Friday that Caris LeVert is ready for a breakthrough season in 2013-14. Hardaway heaped high praise on LeVert. Meanwhile, Kansas coach Bill Self hit on a number of topics, including Ben McLemore, a recruiting class that he said had tremendous promise even before Andrew Wiggins signed, and coaching Wiggins next season. You can listen to the podcast here.
1. Kansas freshman Ben McLemore said Thursday he knew nothing about any payments that AAU coach Darius Cobb told USA Today he received from Rodney Blackstock, he founder and CEO of Hooplife Academy in Greensboro, N.C., to direct McLemore to an agent. Cobb said in the report that he took $10,000 in two separate payments. "I think this was just to attack Rodney Blackstock," McLemore said while he was watching the draft combine in Chicago. McLemore said he did not personally take any money and that he did not commit an NCAA violation. McLemore said he was one of Andrew Wiggins' hosts at Kansas and said Wiggins will fit in perfectly with coach Bill Self. "I know if I was there we would have had one of the best backcourts in the country with me, Wiggins and Naadir Tharpe," McLemore said, adding that he would have loved to have played with Wiggins, but he knows he'll see him in the NBA in a year.

2. Count Marquette coach Buzz Williams in the camp that is frustrated about no commissioner being named of the new Big East yet. The coaches and athletic directors meet Monday in Florida and adviser and former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe will be running the meeting unless someone is suddenly hired over the weekend. Williams said the same issues were discussed at the Final Four and he said he wondered if anything new could be talked about since there is still no leadership. The new 10-team Big East starts competition in August in fall sports. Marquette still needs one more game on its schedule with a slate that includes Ohio State, a road game at Arizona State, the three-game tournament in Anaheim, at Wisconsin and playing New Mexico in Las Vegas.

3. It's great to see when schools take a chance on long-time assistant coaches who deserve a shot to lead a program. That's exactly what UMass-Lowell did with Northeastern assistant Pat Duquette. Duquette had as much a role in developing Boston College into a consistent ACC power during Al Skinner's tenure as any other assistant. Duquette -- who, along with Skinner, was instrumental in finding Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson when he was a high school player in Colorado -- will have a tall task ahead in leading Lowell into Division I. The program has a four-year probationary period in the America East (replacing Boston University, which is off to the Patriot League) before it can play in the postseason. Duquette sought out the best paths to do just that from his former assistant colleague at BC in Bryant's Tim O'Shea, Nebraska's Tim Miles and North Dakota State's Saul Phillips. The latter two had to take the Bison in a similar path to Division I like Bryant.
1. Oregon is now one-year U. The Ducks under Dana Altman have made a habit of finding players for one season who can make an impact. UNLV's Mike Moser is the latest to choose Oregon in this situation, picking the Ducks over Washington and Gonzaga. Moser, who will be at his third school in his college career after starting out at UCLA, follows Devoe Joseph (Minnesota), Olu Ashaolu (Louisiana Tech) and Arsalan Kazemi (Rice), who all flourished in their one season in Eugene. Adding transfers with more than one year left is also fair game -- the Ducks have taken in Wake Forest's Tony Woods. But credit the Oregon staff, led by Altman, for filling needs. The Ducks have needed mostly big men as their young guards develop; losing E.J. Singler and Kazemi off last season's NCAA team left a glaring opening for a rebounder and a potential inside scorer. If Moser can return to being one of the best on the boards in the country, as he was two seasons ago (an elbow injury slowed him this past season), the Ducks will have the complement needed to young guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Meanwhile, Memphis' Tarik Black was on campus Tuesday and will leave Wednesday for visits to Georgetown, Kansas and Duke, according to a source with direct knowledge -- so the Ducks could add even more to the stable of one-year transfers. As one assistant coach who has recruited these type of players said, the one-year player at the end of his college career is in high demand because he can make more of an impact than an average freshman.

2. The NCAA rules committee, men's basketball tournament selection committee and the National Association of Basketball Coaches board met Tuesday in Indianapolis as one group to discuss the NCAA tournament and any potential rules changes. The rules committee should have a decision on any changes sometime Thursday. NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt and West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who is on the selection committee, were both present; according to sources, neither has shown signs that his selection as the next commissioner of the new Big East is imminent -- though sources said the new league's presidents are close to a decision. If that is the case and it's not Gavitt, a former Big East associate commissioner, or Zaninovich, a favorite of many in the league, it could be someone from outside the league. That list is broad but could include Tim Brosnan, a Major League Baseball executive. Someone like Brosnan would make sense considering that the new Big East has partnered with Fox, which has a strong relationship with MLB. A few administrators would prefer a strong person in the NCAA membership who has already been a commissioner. But the new Big East presidents -- who also selected former CBS executive Mike Aresco as commissioner of the old Big East, now the American Conference -- were looking for someone with strong television connections. The new Big East needs to get a commissioner soon, with the clock ticking toward fall sports starting and an office, championships, bylaws, scheduling and compliance still to be determined.

3. Next week's NBA draft combine in Chicago could be one of the most intriguing camps because of the parity in the draft and the unknowns beyond some of the top players. The injuries to Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett and Alex Len mean there are even more questions than answers heading into the event. There is hardly a consensus beyond the top three of Noel, Bennett and Ben McLemore. Team workouts will be even more important for so many players who could play their way not just into the first round but into the late lottery. This will be even more of a need draft for teams picking after the top five and looking for a specific position. Which player is the best available will be highly debatable since you could ask 10 people at a given spot and receive 10 different answers.

Podcast: Darius Cobb talks Ben McLemore

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
6:30
PM ET
Ben McLemore's AAU coach Darius Cobb talks with Linda Cohn and Danny Kanell about his relationship with McLemore, why he accepted payments for sports agents and his influence over McLemore.
1. Colorado didn't burn any bridges when it left the Big 12 and the Buffaloes are taking advantage of the relationships to schedule quality nonconference games for a team that should make the NCAA tournament in 2014. The Buffaloes already get Kansas in the return game of a home-and-home series with their former Big 12 rival. Colorado coach Tad Boyle then searched for an opponent to play at the MGM Grand -- site of the Pac-12 tournament -- on Dec. 20. Boyle locked in Oklahoma State, a team likely to be picked to win the Big 12. The Buffaloes now have the potential to have two top 10-15 nonconference games by scheduling KU and OSU. The Buffs already had scheduled Front Range games against Wyoming at home and Colorado State and Air Force on the road -- both extremely difficult stops. Boyle said he's trying to add one more neutral site game and one more home-and-home series as well as two other guaranteed games. Meanwhile, the Buffs, who lost Andre Roberson early to the NBA draft, are getting great reviews on incoming freshmen Jaron Hopkins and Dustin Thomas.

2. Oregon is getting creative with its schedule for a team that should be, like Colorado, in the upper half of the Pac-12 in 2014. Oregon coach Dana Altman said the Ducks have signed up with a new home-and-home series with Ole Miss, starting in Oxford. That game should have some sensational guards with Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson and the Ducks' backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. Oregon is also playing Illinois in the Rose Garden in Portland with a return game the following season at the United Center in Chicago. BYU is also coming to Eugene. This schedule gives the Ducks bubble teams to start the season. The Ducks' willingness to go to Oxford should be applauded since few teams look to play the Rebels at home. This is a win-win for both schools.

3. An attorney who specializes in NCAA cases said late Monday night that it would be impossible for any school to influence and/or police the behavior of an extended family or coach of a student athlete. The school is supposed to promote compliance to the player and his immediate family. But the Ben McLemore case is an example of how hard it would be to check on whether a third-party is profiting to steer a client to an agent without the player coming forward that he was on the take, too. But having the NCAA investigate is still never a good sign because they can find information relative to the case that can spur other issues. "You never want the enforcement staff to look at you,'' said the attorney. "But this isn't a case of a recruiting violation. It's hard to say in this case that Kansas should be expected to police and monitor the actors in this case.''

Video: Kansas reviews McLemore situation

May, 6, 2013
5/06/13
10:31
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Myron Medcalf breaks down Kansas athletic officials reviewing allegations that the former AAU coach of Ben McLemore received payments aimed at steering him to a sports agent.
1. The Mountain West Conference met last week in Phoenix to go over an 18-game schedule for next season with an 11-team league they weren't expecting to originally have a year ago. Boise State and San Diego State returned to the league, or rather never left, instead of going to the Big East. The league was already planning on adding Utah State and San Jose State. And with the league coming off a record percentage of five out of nine teams making the NCAA tournament field, the conference had to take advantage of the momentum. The San Diego Union-Tribune first put out what will be the new scheduling format for this league -- ensuring the top teams play each other twice in an unbalanced schedule. This is what the Big East did for years to satisfy television partners CBS and ESPN. And with the same television partners, that's exactly what is going to happen in the MWC, too. The Tribune reported the vote was 8-3 by the coaches to do a random schedule. But the athletic directors overruled the coaches and with good reason. The networks want/need the top teams to play twice. That means you're almost guaranteed to see San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico playing twice so that CBS, which picks first, and ESPN each get one of the matchups. While this means lesser-profile teams in the league, like Utah State, may not have as hard of a schedule, the aforementioned teams will ultimately have a stronger power rating. Schools will play eight teams twice and two teams once. The MWC had the perfect model with a nine-team, 16-game round-robin schedule. A 10-team, 18-game round-robin is even more perfect like the Big 12. But an 11-team, 18-game schedule where the projected top teams play twice for television is the best scenario for a league that wants to continue to be relevant.

2. The Big 12 met in Phoenix last week, too, and discussed scheduling concerns for West Virginia and its travel issues in the league after its first year. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the athletic directors were in agreement to support the Mountaineers in any way. Translation: The conference will look at having West Virginia stay on the road for two consecutive road games in a short amount of time to reduce the number of long road trips for the Mountaineers. West Virginia wants to avoid having to go back to Texas or Texas and Oklahoma or Texas and Iowa over a Wednesday to a Saturday time period. The solution could be for West Virginia to play a Saturday-Monday or a Saturday-Tuesday road trip, which had been avoided in the past by the Big 12. This has been the norm for the Pac-12 where teams stay on the road for multiple games. West Virginia finished 6-12 in its first season in the Big 12, 13-19 overall. West Virginia played in three sets of consecutive road games. The first was scheduled by West Virginia on Jan. 16 (Iowa State) and Purdue in a nonconference game (Jan. 19). The two Big 12 back-to-back road games were spread out over a four-day period against TCU (Feb. 9) and Baylor (Feb. 13) and Kansas (March 2) and Oklahoma (March 6). The only one of those road games the Mountaineers won was TCU.

3. The sad reality of the Ben McLemore story reported by USA Today is how third-party officials try to make money off of players. This is unfortunately not a new norm. As a Division I member school official said, family members can accept gifts because they can and most don't know the rules, or in some cases, care. Policing these "deals" is almost impossible for the NCAA. Trying to steer players toward an agent has happened before and it is likely to happen again. It's too hard to project what, if anything, will happen to Kansas or McLemore's eligibility from the previous year. He was going to leave for the NBA regardless of what someone was going to do because he was projected as a top-five pick. This will come down to whether or not he knew there was any gifts or payments on his behalf or if he accepted anything directly.
1. The NCAA's random date of April 16 to declare for the NBA draft isn't pressuring a number of players into making quick decisions. Coaches are now savvy to the date as being meaningless. That's why Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk may wait to decide until the NBA's own early-entry deadline of April 28. Olynyk is probably going to be the same player in the NBA whether he declares next season or this. He is a Wooden All-America and, if he were to return, would be one of the contenders for player of the year. Missouri's Phil Pressey is also weighing a similar decision over the next few weeks. A number of players haven't outlined their intentions but have plenty of time, like Miami's Shane Larkin, Kansas' Ben McLemore, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Georgetown's Otto Porter, Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas, Syracuse's C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams, Louisville's Russ Smith as well as Indiana's Cody Zeller. Cal's Allen Crabbe joined the list of draftees earlier Wednesday. I fully expect Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Michigan's Trey Burke to declare soon. No official word out of Connecticut, but the staff is anticipating -- at this point -- that guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright will return (smart move if it happens, since they don't have an NBA home to go to next season).

2. The Big Ten suddenly got incredibly younger with this week's two coaching hires -- Northwestern announcing Chris Collins and Minnesota tabbing Richard Pitino. The under-40 club will give the league a new look. The two take over programs that are striving for consistency, but both desperately need an upgrade in facilities to hang with the big boys. Collins and Pitino will need to use their youthful enthusiasm to build momentum since the dollars aren't in place for facilities they were used to -- Collins was at Duke and Pitino at Louisville and Florida before his stop at Florida International. Northwestern had been looking at Collins for quite some time. But Pitino was clearly a new name for Minnesota in the past week as athletic director Norwood Teague looked for an off-the-grid-type hire like he made at Virginia Commonwealth. Pitino got off to an impressive start in his coaching career at FIU with the upset of Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt tournament and a chance to earn the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth. Now he'll face his toughest challenge of his career. He has a brand name in basketball, which carries weight, but will need to put together a strong staff to quickly earn the trust of his players this spring and summer. This can work at both places. Memphis, for example, has been a soaring success under Josh Pastner. Pastner led the Tigers to conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances as a young, vibrant assistant-turned-head-coach of a major program. Collins was a fit at Northwestern so there's no issue there. But give Pitino a chance to see if this could work.

3. Old Dominion looked like it was set to go to former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton before the Monarchs and athletic director Wood Selig tabbed American's Jeff Jones. This hire came out of left field, but might end up being one of the better fits. Jones played and coached at Virginia and should be able to recruit well in the fertile Tidewater area. Jones had made American a consistent Patriot League contender, which isn't easy to do in a conference where Bucknell and Lehigh are the anchors. ODU knows who it is and wanted to gravitate toward a coach that made sense. This hire does.

Ben McLemore searches for his shot

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
3:45
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kansas leading scorer Ben McLemore is one of the main reasons the Jayhawks won a ninth straight Big 12 title and remained near the top of the Associated Press poll for most of the season.

But in Sunday's round-of-32 victory over North Carolina, KU's freshman phenom was forced into a new role.

"Ben," KU coach Bill Self said, "became our biggest cheerleader."

Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, motivating and encouraging his teammates from the sideline was about the only thing McLemore had to contribute to KU's 70-58 victory. McLemore missed each of his nine field goal attempts and was benched for all but six minutes in the second half of the come-from-behind win.

"Thank God he has a week to prepare for this next one," KU center Jeff Withey said after the game. "We need him to be firing on all cylinders."

Indeed, beating Michigan in the Sweet 16 on Friday will be darn near impossible unless the old Ben McLemore resurfaces at Cowboys Stadium.

To read more from Jason King, click here.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Seven-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey couldn’t help but do a double-take when he spotted Michigan’s Mitch McGary in the bowels of Cowboys Stadium Friday.

“He’s not as tall as I thought,” Withey said of the 6-foot-10 McGary. “But he definitely looks strong.”

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAfter a bruising game against VCU, Michigan freshman Mitch McGary must deal with Jeff Withey next.
Indeed, McGary -- who had started just two games all season before last week -- has been one of the top performers in the NCAA tournament thus far. He averaged 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in victories over South Dakota State and VCU to help Michigan advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 19 years.

His matchup against Withey in Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown could be one of the more entertaining battles of the evening.

“[McGary] brings intensity to the game,” Wolverines point guard Trey Burke said. “He’s kind of like our X factor. He’s the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run in the frontcourt.”

McGary’s biggest test to date will come against Withey, the second-leading shot-blocker in NCAA tournament history. Withey may have a few inches on McGary, but there aren’t many players in all of college basketball as thick and strong and agile as the UM freshman, who weighs 250 pounds.

“I guess I kind of have a football mentality,” McGary said. “I played it growing up, but that’s my mentality. I’m just a hard-nosed, blue-collar guy who likes to do the nitty-gritty stuff.”

The attitude is fitting for where McGary plays, as Michigan natives have always adored physical bruisers such as Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Rick Mahorn.

McGary certainly commanded Withey’s attention during film sessions last week.

“Just how physical he is and how hard he plays,” said Withey when asked what impressed him the most about McGary. “He loves to dive after loose balls and he loves to screen people. He likes to hit [people].

“I’m used to getting hit and whatnot. I’m not worried about that.”

Michigan coach John Beilein is counting on McGary to do everything he can to neutralize -- or at least limit -- Withey on both ends of the floor. ESPN.com’s Big 12 Player of the year, Withey averages 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. He had 16 points, 16 rebounds and five swats in Sunday’s victory over North Carolina.

“You run a beautiful play,” Beilein said, “it couldn’t be run better, and he somehow blocks a shot and they’re going the other way. It can be very deflating to a team.”

WHO TO WATCH

Burke, Michigan's point guard, averages 18.8 points and 6.7 assists per game and leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. “He’s the national player of the year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He deserves it. He’ll get it. I think he’s terrific.” KU's Ben McLemore is a projected top-five pick in this summer’s NBA draft, but he’s averaging just seven points in his last four games.

WHAT TO WATCH

Michigan, which is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994, was ranked No. 1 in early February but hasn’t played as well down the stretch. The Wolverines lost five of their final 10 regular-season games and ended up with the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Kansas, which has a huge alumni base in Dallas-Fort Worth, will have the homecourt advantage.

STAT TO WATCH

Kansas ranks first in the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.7 percent) ... Jayhawks coach Bill Self has won 300 games and counting during his 10 seasons in Lawrence for an average of 30 wins per year ... All of Michigan’s key players are non-seniors.

Kansas rides seniors to Sweet 16

March, 24, 2013
3/24/13
10:59
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He’s the projected No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, the leading scorer for one of the nation’s top teams and the latest Kansas Jayhawk to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

For Ben McLemore, though, none of that mattered in a 70-58 victory over North Carolina on Sunday, when the All-American candidate spent most of the second half on the bench.

The reasoning was simple.

“We were better without him,” KU coach Bill Self said.

The comment wasn't a jab at McLemore. No player is immune to a bad game. Not even a star freshman such as McLemore. Instead, Self's words were a testament to why the Jayhawks are one of the most dangerous teams remaining in the NCAA tournament and a favorite to reach the Final Four.

On a night when McLemore scored just two points, Kansas turned to its other secret weapon -- its experience -- to defeat the Tar Heels and advance to the Sweet 16. Travis Releford scored 22 points and Jeff Withey added 16 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks to propel the Jayhawks in front of more than 18,000 fans at the Sprint Center.

[+] EnlargeKevin Young
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsKevin Young was one of four seniors that gave Kansas a big boost against UNC on Sunday.
Seniors Kevin Young (10 points, nine rebounds) and Elijah Johnson (four assists) also made huge contributions for a KU team that trailed 30-21 at halftime.

The gutsy effort shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering all four seniors played significant roles in last season’s march to the NCAA title game, where the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky.

“We have toughness,” Withey said. “We know what it takes to win a game. You can see that just by the way we played in the second half. All four of us -- we didn’t want it to be over.”

But it almost was following one of Kansas’ most woeful first halves of the season. The Jayhawks missed 12 of their first 13 field goal attempts en route to a 7-of-28 performance in the opening stanza. North Carolina forced KU into 12 first-half turnovers, which resulted in a 30-21 Tar Heels lead at intermission.

“We were sped up,” Self said. “Our guys care so much, and sometimes when you care as much as our guys, you played tight.”

Self tried to fire up his squad at halftime, but just as they would do later on the court, KU’s seniors were the ones who made the biggest difference in the locker room.

Withey singled out nearly every member of the team, pointing at them and screaming, “Is this how you want it to end?”

Releford made sure his voice was heard, too.

“This could be our last 20 minutes,” he said he shouted at his teammates. “We can go out there and leave it all on the court or we can roll over like we did in the first half.”

Releford’s speech made a huge impact.

“It did a lot,” KU guard Naadir Tharpe said. “It woke us up.”

Apparently.

Johnson’s 3-pointer early in the second half forced a 35-35 tie and ignited a 38-23 game-ending run for Kansas. Withey was dominant in the paint, Young played lockdown defense on P.J. Hairston and Releford limited UNC standout Reggie Bullock to five points, nearly 10 below his average.

“That was the best game he’s played in a Kansas uniform,” Self said of Releford, who was playing before his hometown fans in his native Kansas City.

McLemore, who entered the game averaging 16.2 points, played just six minutes in the second half and finished with a season-low two points, both of which came on free throws. He was 0-for-9 from the field.

“I think it’s exciting for our team to know that you can win a game like this and have your leading scorer not make a basket,” Self said.

Self knows that probably wouldn’t have happened if Kansas didn’t boast such a senior-laden roster. And it’s no secret that the teams with the most experience are usually the ones that advance the furthest in the NCAA tournament.

The Jayhawks won the 2008 championship with a veteran cast that included Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun. Tyler Hansbrough led UNC to the title as a senior in 2009. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith did the same for Duke a year later and Connecticut wouldn’t have won the 2011 championship without junior guard Kemba Walker.

Even last year’s Kentucky team -- which was heavy on freshmen -- boasted a trio of veterans in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

“[Experience] brings a calm,” said Johnson, who has now played in 13 NCAA tournament games. “It brings more leadership. It brings a lot of things to the table. It brings things that younger players don’t have.”

Pleased as they were with Sunday’s victory, the Jayhawks know their chances of continuing to advance will be slim if McLemore doesn’t break out of his slump. In 10 of his past 11 games, McLemore’s point total has been less than that of his season average of 16.2. McLemore is shooting just 42.4 percent in those 10 contests, and only 34.6 percent from 3-point range.

“That’s going to happen with a freshman,” Withey said. “He’s going to be up and down. We know that. We need him to be ready for the next game. He’s still a stud, still a top-five pick in the NBA draft. It’s all a mindset.

“Thank God we have a week to prepare for this next one. We need him to be firing on all cylinders.”

That would help.

But even if McLemore isn’t, it’d be foolish to count out Kansas.

Just ask North Carolina.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At their shoot-around on Thursday and again during Friday’s win over Villanova, the North Carolina Tar Heels received rousing ovations from an unlikely group of supporters.

Kansas fans.

For nearly a decade almost anyone who called themselves a Jayhawk held resentment toward former coach Roy Williams for leaving KU in 2003 and returning to North Carolina, his alma mater. But if this week is any indication, Kansas fans have moved on and come to appreciate Williams for what he accomplished during his 15 seasons in Lawrence.

“Time heals all wounds,” Williams said Saturday. “The people have been really nice. There have been people driving by on the streets when we’re out walking in the morning that have been yelling and saying nice things.

“I’ve only had one person yell something that wasn’t quite as nice, but that’s part of it.”

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsUNC coach Roy Williams hasn't had any success against Kansas, the school he once led. Will that change on Sunday?
Williams’ Tar Heels -- the No. 8 seed in the South Region -- will take on top-seeded Kansas at the Sprint Center on Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels are 0-2 against the Jayhawks since Williams became their coach. KU beat UNC in the national semifinals in 2008 and again in the Elite Eight last season.

A lot of the attention leading into each of those games centered on the ill will that some Kansas fans held toward Williams for leaving in 2003, just two years after vowing he’d retire at Kansas. “Benedict Roy” shirts were a hot seller in Lawrence. One barbershop owner went so far as to hang Williams’ picture above his toilet.

This season, though, most of the buzz during Saturday’s news conference centered around the actual game. That had to have been refreshing to both Williams and KU coach Bill Self, who coached for three seasons at Illinois before taking over for Williams.

“Nobody can ever take away that he did a fabulous job and ran a first-class program [at Kansas],” Self said. “Anybody that doesn’t feel that way isn’t real, because that’s the reality of it.

“Since we’ve had a chance to play a couple of times in the tournament, I think there were some story lines [before] that probably aren’t as good of a story line now.”

Self has certainly made it easy for KU fans to move on. By beating No. 16 seed Western Kentucky Friday, Self became the first coach in history to guide his team to four consecutive 30-win seasons. (It should be noted that John Calipari accomplished the feat from 2006-09, but the Tigers’ wins from the 2007-08 season were vacated.)

Kansas has also won nine straight Big 12 titles under Self and one national championship. Self is 299-58 (.838) during his tenure at KU, while Williams is 282-78 with six ACC championships and two NCAA titles at North Carolina.

As much as he hopes to win Saturday’s game, Williams has made it clear that he doesn’t enjoy playing Kansas.

“It’s not immoral to love two schools,” Williams said. “Someone asked me the other day if I would ever consider coming and playing a home-and-home against Kansas. I said no. My athletic director would understand and the Pope will understand, because I will never walk out of that far tunnel. That will never happen.

“I said this before I left Kansas: 'The day I ever walk into Allen Fieldhouse and don’t get cold chills, I’ll know it’s time to stop.' I feel the same way about the Smith Center. If I walk out on game night and don’t have cold chills, I’ll quit."

Kansas City news and notes:

  • North Carolina’s switch to a smaller lineup earlier this season could make things difficult for KU center Jeff Withey, who will likely have to guard players such as James Michael McAdoo outside of the paint from time to time. Withey said the shortage of true centers in the Big 12 has forced him to become a better perimeter defender. “I’ve definitely gotten used to it,” Withey said. “I’ve had to learn to guard and move my feet.”
  • Kansas leading scorer Ben McLemore is averaging just seven points in his past three games -- more than nine points below his average of 16.2. He had just 11 points in 32 minutes against Western Kentucky on Friday, when he only attempted five shots. “He’s young,” Self said of McLemore, a redshirt freshman. “Obviously this is his first time on a big stage. He’s capable of doing it all. When he’s aggressive, we’re better. We’ve just got to get him to be more aggressive.”
  • Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson celebrated Friday’s victory over Wisconsin by hanging out with some of his friends at a bar across the street from the arena. Photos of Henderson (who was holding a clear cup containing a red drink) ended up on Twitter, which prompted Rebels AD Ross Bjork to summon Henderson back to the team hotel. “It wasn’t like he was guzzling a beer,” Bjork said. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was asked if he approved of Henderson hanging out in bars in between NCAA tournament games. “He’s 22 years old,” Kennedy said of Henderson. “I didn’t give him an alcohol sobriety test. We didn’t make him recite his ABCs backward, but I know this. I know we had a pretty intense 10 o’clock meeting and he was involved in it, as they all were.”
  • LaSalle coach John Giannini said playing in the “First Four” has been beneficial to his team. The No. 13 seed Explorers upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State on Friday. “You’re certainly in a better rhythm,” Giannini said. “If you look at yesterday’s game, it perfectly demonstrated the advantages and disadvantages. One team was really in a rhythm in the first half. There is an advantage to having played, working out some nerves and being comfortable on the court.”

How No. 1 will fall: Kansas

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
8:45
AM ET
Editor’s Note: This morning in the Nation blog, Myron Medcalf is examining the worst-case scenarios for each of the four 1-seeds. Keep in mind: This is not necessarily his prediction -- simply the most likely cause of a loss before the Final Four for these particular teams.

It’s been weeks since Bill Self told reporters “I don’t have a point guard” following a loss to Oklahoma State.

He’s tweaked those remarks recently, and they’ve been buried by Kansas Jayhawks’ current success; the Jayhawks earned their ninth consecutive Big 12 championship.

But point guards play the most valuable role in the NCAA tournament. One turnover, one botched possession, one messy sequence could be the difference between a win and a loss for any team in the field, especially in a year with so much parity.

Elijah Johnson was not the sole culprit in Kansas’ losses this season. His struggles, however, were certainly pivotal.

[+] EnlargeElijah Johnson
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsElijah Johnson went 18-for-65 from the field and committed 17 turnovers in Kansas' five losses.
Johnson went 18-for-65 from the field and committed 17 turnovers in KU’s five losses, a sign of his vitality within the Jayhawks’ offensive operation.

The Jayhawks could lose in the NCAA tournament if Johnson forces things and makes mistakes. But it’s not that simple. Ben McLemore (16.4 PPG), perhaps this summer’s No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, is the most talented player on the roster.

He’s not easy to stop. Teams have had success, however, when they’ve stayed on his hip and made him work to get touches. Iowa State’s Chris Babb did a great job in the Cyclones' 108-96 loss to the Jayhawks in Ames on Feb. 25. McLemore only took six shots in that game. He made two of them. Babb stuck to him.

Pressuring Johnson and shadowing McLemore are great places to start for any team going after the Jayhawks.

And a successful opponent has to run with the Jayhawks, too. They’re so fluid, blessed with so much athleticism, that they’ll torch any team in the field if they play lazy defense in transition. Even Jeff Withey runs the floor well.

Scoring against the Jayhawks, who rank fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency per ESPN Insider Ken Pomeroy, will be a challenge. They’re sound and disciplined. And KU’s defense just keeps working. That’s how they’ve managed to overcome troubling deficits in short stretches (see that Feb. 25 win at Iowa State). They get stops in critical moments. And the entire NCAA tournament is just one, big critical moment.

Withey (3.8 bpg) is the gatekeeper for one of America’s best defensive units. Even a team strapped with elite big men won’t necessarily succeed against KU with Withey inside. He’s just that good. And he’s only averaging 2.0 fouls per game, proof that he’s a pure shot-blocker.

But the Cyclones -- and other teams like them -- present problems for the Jayhawks because they can play small ball and remove Withey from his inside comfort zone. A team that’s equipped with multiple shooters, especially a real stretch four (think Duke), could force Self to implement lineups that don’t feature his best defender.

“It’s hard to defend them with Jeff. But we can’t win the game without Jeff,” Self said after Iowa State shot 17-for-41 from the 3-point line in that Feb. 25 win.

Iowa State also committed just seven turnovers in the game.

The Cyclones were nearly flawless. But Johnson & Co. overcame that adversity.

I was in Ames that night. Johnson, who scored 39 points, willed the Jayhawks to victory.

They just don’t quit. Any team that’s going to beat KU will need the poise necessary to weather its constant pressure. I don’t care if you’re up by double digits. Kansas is going to make a run at some point.

Most teams can’t handle that momentum switch. But it will be a necessary to achieve an upset against this dangerous squad.

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