College Basketball Nation: Bill Self
Have you ever actually read the "Rules of Basket Ball"? Everyone is basically aware of basketball's origin story, the same way everyone can quote at least the first few lines of the Declaration of Independence. But the 13 tenets James Naismith outlined at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891 are fascinating to actually read.
Naismith's distaste for physicality sticks out. It was an explicit part of his mission: His superior at the Springfield YMCA wanted Naismith to create an indoor "athletic distraction" to keep rowdy students in shape, and he wanted to "make it fair for all players, and not too rough." You can hear that voice -- the voice of a gym teacher who needed his students to blow off steam without killing each other -- in the way the rules are written.
It's often easy to forget that the man who birthed this game unto the world was basically a physical education teacher. It's also easy, given the good doctor's legacy, to forget a more mundane tie: The inventor of the sport was also the first men's basketball coach at Kansas University.
The second coach at Kansas wasn't too bad, either: Forrest Clare "Phog" Allen, whose name adorns Kansas' renowned fieldhouse, was to college basketball what Abraham was to the Old Testament. He played under Naismith. He led the Jayhawks from 1919 to 1956. He coached Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith (and lesser-known Hall of Famers Ralph Miller and Dutch Lonborg). He recruited Wilt Chamberlain. He created the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which eventually created the NCAA tournament.
I write all this because it is an important preface to what follows: By the time his career is over, we might consider Bill Self the best coach in University of Kansas basketball history.
To read more, click here.
You could argue it’s been more of the same for Stanford through the first weekend of this tournament, despite upset wins as a No. 10 seed over No. 7 seed New Mexico and No. 2 seed Kansas.
Stanford held star KU freshman Andrew Wiggins to four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Give Stanford some credit here, primarily senior forward Josh Huestis, a three-time member of the Pac-12 all-defensive team who handled Wiggins for most of the game.
“I challenged him,” Dawkins said of Huestis, “and I thought he really responded. He did a great job defending.”
Stanford, in its first tournament appearance since 2008, remains content to fly under the radar as it prepares for a South Regional semifinal meeting Thursday against No. 11 seed Dayton. The Flyers have grabbed attention already with wins over sixth-seeded Ohio State and No. 3 seed Syracuse. Florida, the top seed overall in the tourney, and UCLA fill out the field in Memphis, Tenn.
Stanford again might go overlooked -- unless, of course, it wins two more games and advances to the Final Four for the first time since 1998.
Don’t count out the Cardinal. Their steady style of play figures to create problems, starting with a frontcourt of 6-foot-7 Huestis, 6-10 senior forward Dwight Powell and 6-11 junior center Stefan Nastic.
Stanford is long and versatile. It beat the Jayhawks without making a 3-point field goal (0-of-9).
Floor general Chasson Randle, who scored a team-high 36 total points in the second- and third-round games, adds an element of creativity. And 6-6 wing Anthony Brown provides another athletic option. He hit five free throws in the final 44 seconds against Kansas.
Powell and Huestis rank atop Stanford’s career chart in games played. Experience, although not in the NCAA tournament -- Stanford won the National Invitation Tournament in 2012 -- has helped carry the Cardinal.
“We’re still in the race,” Powell said, “We’re still playing in March, and it feels great.”
Stanford entered the tournament on something of a roller coaster. It lost 84-59 to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal round after three straight wins that had followed three straight losses dating to Feb. 26.
“Every season is like a lifetime,” Powell said. “Obviously, you will have your ups and downs. But from day one, before we even started preseason, we always had a goal to make the tournament and make a run. And we never lost sight of that and lost hope.”
Stanford did lose firepower. Forward Andy Brown, who started 20 games last season as a freshman, has missed the entire season with a knee injury; guard Christian Sanders has sat out with a hip injury.
Additionally, guard Aaron Bright, a 22-game starter in 2012-13, missed all but the first seven games, and forward Rosco Allen went down early in the season.
As a result, the starters accounted for more than 85 percent of Stanford’s scoring through the regular season. Against New Mexico and Kansas, they scored 107 of 118 points.
Count Kansas coach Bill Self among the admirers of Dawkins and the job he has done to rebuild Stanford over six years.
“He epitomizes class,” Self said before Kansas faced Stanford. “He conducts himself in that way, and he always has.
“He was a great hire that Stanford made, and he's going to continue to do well. And everybody in our business that knows Johnny is happy for him.”
Also before that game, Wiggins and Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. unintentionally provided extra motivation for Stanford as reporters asked them a series of questions about Randle at the practice-day news conference.
The KU freshmen had no answer, other than a few uncomfortable laughs. Clearly, they weren’t familiar with the name of the Cardinal’s top playmaker -- understandable because the Jayhawks had yet to receive scouting reports from their coaches, but apropos, nonetheless, considering the Cardinal’s somewhat unnoticed run to the Sweet 16.
Randle said after the landmark victory, in which he scored 13 points with six steals in 40 minutes, that he watched footage of the news conference.
“I took it as a challenge,” Randle said. “So did my teammates. It wasn’t just a stab at me. It was a stab at our team.”
Noticed or not, the Cardinal are marching forward.
ST. LOUIS -- Stanford upset Kansas 60-57 in the NCAA tournament on Sunday at the Scottrade Center, punching a ticket to the Sweet 16 for the Cardinal behind a stifling defensive effort.
Stanford's size and deliberate play frustrated second-seeded KU from the start. The young Jayhawks never recovered, leading to another untimely March exit that sends the 10th-seeded Cardinal to Memphis to face No. 11 Dayton on Thursday.
Here are five key points from Stanford's 23rd victory of the season:
- The Jayhawks were listless from the start. The poor outside shooting from its round-of-64 win over Eastern Kentucky on Friday wasn’t as much of a problem against Stanford. In fact, Kansas’ first four field goals came from the perimeter, though all inside the 3-point arc. And when Conner Frankamp buried two 3-pointers in the first half -- including one at the buzzer to give the Jayhawks their first lead -- it appeared things might open inside for KU. Not so much. Stanford largely owned the paint -- and as a result, the pace of this game.
- Andrew Wiggins played 34 minutes, but he was primarily missing in action throughout. Was this the same guy who scored 41 points against West Virginia just two weeks ago? Wiggins rarely looked to shoot, going 1-of-6 from the field for four points. He appeared lost against the Cardinal’s changing defensive looks, generally disengaged and reluctant to even attempt to carry the Jayhawks, who desperately needed someone to step up. Others on the floor struggled as much as Wiggins, but his lack of aggressiveness was most damaging.
- Stanford point guard Chasson Randle took over when necessary. He sparked the Cardinal’s early run and a 13-2 burst in the second half after Kansas built a five-point lead, its largest of the game, right out of the locker room. Kansas freshmen Wiggins and Wayne Selden, Jr. struggled on Saturday to speak about Randle when asked in the practice-day news conference. It was understandable. They had yet to receive scouting reports. It was much more troublesome on Sunday to see Randle -- Stanford’s driving force -- race past athletic KU defenders to finish in the paint.
- Kansas coach Bill Self tried everything he could. For a second straight game, he used Frankamp, the freshman sharpshooter, more than usual. He got a spark off the bench in the final minute of the first half from freshman Brannen Greene. Self tried freshman Landen Lucas in the second half. He showed full-court defensive pressure. None of it worked to sustain energy. The urgency just wasn’t there for KU, potentially a problem for any team that relies so much on freshmen. And now another star freshman, 7-foot center Joel Embiid, injured and unavailable in St. Louis, won’t get to play in this NCAA tournament.
- Stanford, with its big wings and the imposing Stefan Nastic to guard the rim, is now in position to make a run to the Final Four. Up next is Dayton after it slayed Ohio State and Syracuse, so the Flyers won’t be intimidated in Memphis by the Cardinal’s pedigree. But Stanford is a tough matchup for any opponent because of its diversity. Despite Stanford's size and versatility, Randle, the 6-2 junior, showed in St. Louis that he’s the catalyst for this group. As he goes, so goes Stanford. And Randle’s proving to be a reliable weapon in March.
As young fans of college basketball, what did you think of Kentucky?
Baker often watched the Wildcats, he said. His dad was a fan.
Cotton, from Marietta, Ga., recalls admiring Jodie Meeks, who attended high school in suburban Atlanta and then starred at Kentucky.
"As a fan of basketball," Cotton said, "you’re going to watch Kentucky."
Carter, from Akron, Ohio, grew up an Ohio State fan, though he was "very aware" of the Wildcats.
So were any of you recruited by UK, even so much as receive a form letter?
“No. I wasn’t, either.”
And there you have the first layer of irony in the delicious NCAA tournament matchup on Sunday at the Scottrade Center between Wichita State, seeded No. 1 in the Midwest Region and the first team ever to reach 35-0, and eighth-seeded Kentucky, the powerhouse program that began this season with more McDonald’s All-Americans than starting positions and a vision to go 40-0.
The Wildcats are 25-10 and playing better of late, though their performance in shooting 38 percent on Friday in a 56-49 win over Kansas State looked disjointed at times. Additionally, freshman point guard Andrew Harrison is questionable to play against the Shockers because of an elbow injury suffered late in the round of 64 win.
"At this point," Kentucky coach John Calipari said, "I just don’t want my team to make this game bigger than it is."
Imagine that, Calipari concerned that Kentucky -- which won its eighth national title in 2012 -- might make too much of a meeting with Wichita State, the Missouri Valley Conference champion.
Yes, the Shockers made an unexpected run to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed last season before losing to eventual champion Louisville, but shouldn’t it be coach Gregg Marshall’s players who peer across the court on Sunday with a desire to make a statement?
After all, Marshall, too, holds UK history in reverence. He watched Jack Givens score 41 points in the 1978 title-game win over Duke and recalls fondly his trips to Rupp Arena as a coach at Winthrop and Marshall.
Marshall joked that with the help of a constitutional amendment, he could schedule a game in Wichita against Kentucky.
The Wichita State coach said he didn’t attempt to recruit any of Kentucky’s five starting freshmen. Probably no one else on its roster, either.
"I haven’t checked all the way down with the walk-ons," he said.
According to Marshall, Wichita State does not recruit even "the second level down from Kentucky."
A year ago, Marshall said, he couldn’t have identified Julius Randle, the Wildcats’ star power forward out of Dallas who signed with Kentucky over Texas, Kansas and Florida.
"It’s just a whole different level of recruiting," Marshall said. "They do what works well for them, and we try to do what works well for us."
To extend its success against an opponent bigger and likely more athletic at four positions, the margin for Wichita State error grows slimmer than normal. Marshall and his players mentioned in separate interviews the importance of rebounding well against Kentucky.
That's quite a task. The Wildcats ranked fifth in the nation in the regular season, averaging 41.3 rebounds against the nation’s No. 2 schedule. Wichita State was 25th in rebounding with a schedule strength of 111th.
On Friday, UK dominated Kansas State on the glass 40-28. Randle grabbed 15 boards to go with a game-high 19 points.
"I’ve never seen a 19-year-old as big as [him] in my life," said Baker, the Wichita State sophomore of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle.
Even Kansas’ Bill Self, set to coach the second-seeded Jayhawks against No. 10 seed Stanford in the first game Sunday in St. Louis, which tips at 12:15 p.m. ET, recognizes the intrigue of Kentucky-Wichita State.
"It could be very cool," Self said.
"You have Wichita State, who has had the year. Nobody can deny that. They had as good a year [as] college basketball has seen in recent memory. And then you have one of the truest bluebloods. It should be a fun game."
Just don’t paint the Shockers as an underdog. They don’t feel like the little guys, and the Wildcats know it.
"You know," Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein said, "Wichita State has a bunch of swagger right now."
Cauley-Stein, raised in Spearville, Kan., 150 miles west of Wichita, moved for high school to Olathe, Kan., outside of Kansas City. He said he knew little about Wichita State until its recent run of success.
Quite the contrast to the Shockers and their awareness of big, bold Kentucky.
ST. LOUIS -- There he sat on Friday, a 7-foot specimen -- taller in shoes -- on the bench, dressed in that familiar blue warm-up.
The breakout star of this Kansas basketball season, freshman Joel Embiid didn’t play in Kansas’ tough test of an NCAA tournament opener, an 80-69 victory over 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky.
His presence at the Scottrade Center, no doubt, torments some of the thousands who drove across the state of Missouri this week. Nursing an injured back, Embiid won’t play in St. Louis. He didn’t play at the Big 12 tournament as Kansas exited in the semifinals.
And all of it mattered very little on Friday.
Forget those longing looks to the bench. Kansas trailed 23-14 less than 12 minutes into the game, and it had almost nothing to do with the absence of the imported big man from Cameroon.
The Jayhawks committed 13 turnovers in the first half against EKU’s frenetic-paced defense. Kansas owned the inside, even without Embiid. It did not make a 3-point field goal all day, attempting only seven.
But if it can’t take care of the basketball, even Embiid can’t help.
Which is why the second half on Friday ought to provide hope.
The Jayhawks entered the tournament with a national ranking of No. 299 in turnover margin. Against the Colonels, they hit their per-game figure in the first half -- then lost the handle just once in the final 20 minutes.
Credit Conner Frankamp. He’s another freshman. He’s the antithesis of Embiid, 12 inches shorter and from Wichita, Kan. On Friday, Frankamp understood exactly what the Jayhawks needed.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Conner to be a calming influence on us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought he handled everything beautifully. He ran our team.”
Frankamp started tournament play right there alongside Embiid, figuring he might sit all day. Before Friday, he played 1.8 minutes per game.
Against the Ohio Valley Conference champion, Frankamp stayed on the court for 25, a season high.
“I just try to get in there and feed the ball to whoever is open as best I can and play sound on the offensive end and defensive end,” Frankamp said.
He said he focused on taking care of the basketball. He committed no turnovers, scored 10 points and dished four assists.
Mission accomplished. Little man to the rescue.
Self said the Jayhawks felt fortunate to escape Eastern Kentucky, which used a 10-0 run in the second half to regain a 48-45 lead after Kansas began to assert control.
“The key was to pound the ball inside,” KU forward Perry Ellis said, “and we did that.”
Kansas didn’t need him on Friday. It needed Frankamp, who watched Duke fall to No. 14 seed Mercer before KU took the floor in St. Louis. The game in Raleigh, N.C., reminded the Jayhawks that anything can happen in the tournament.
Still, Self said, he didn’t know if his players “totally respected” Eastern Kentucky’s ability to create havoc.
Senior guard Glenn Cosey led the charge early for the Colonels, hitting four of his first five 3-pointers. He was everywhere on the offensive and defensive ends.
Eastern Kentucky shook Kansas with a tricky zone defense for a few possessions before halftime.
“I didn’t think we attacked it well at all,” Self said.
Once Frankamp entered to restore some order, though, another Kansas freshman, leading scorer Andrew Wiggins -- the rookie who began this season with all the hype -- sent a message with a pair of sky-high dunks en route to 19 points.
The first dunk, an alley-oop in transition from Frank Mason, forced an immediate timeout from EKU coach Jeff Neubauer. The Colonels recovered.
With each slam from Wiggins and Black, who delivered an array of his own after halftime, the Jayhawks looked closer to hammering their way to victory.
But EKU never cracked. The key to victory existed elsewhere on the court.
“We knew that Kansas was a great rebounding team,” Neubauer said, “and we absolutely had to steal it before they could rebound it. In the first half we did that really well.”
Not so well after halftime.
Credit the secret weapon on the bench, the 6-foot freshman who saved the day.
Thanks to Frankamp, that other freshman may soon shed his warm-up and receive an opportunity to return.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Andrew Wiggins rose. But when gravity pulled a trio of Oklahoma State defenders back to earth, he kept climbing.
Wayne Selden Jr. could have thrown that pass anywhere and Wiggins would have grabbed it and flushed that breathtaking alley-oop in the second half.
If there was anyone in the Sprint Center who could stop Wiggins, one of the most hyped freshmen in the history of the college game, he never emerged. If any doubts about Wiggins' assertiveness remained prior to his effort on Thursday in Kansas' 77-70 overtime win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals (30 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals), they’ve probably ceased.
Wiggins is excelling now with a clear confidence and a swagger that might not be obvious on the outside, but have been proved in recent months by his performances.
Throughout his methodical dissection of the Cowboys, however, Wiggins never screamed at the guy guarding him or pumped his fists. He never glared at the cameras, popped his collar or slammed the ball on the floor. He just stood there and dominated as injured center Joel Embiid watched from the bench.
That calm was the element of his game that Bill Self wanted to tweak when Wiggins arrived in Lawrence, Kan., last summer. The coach recognized how dominant the top recruit in the 2013 class could be -- we all did -- but he worried that his persona would affect his game.
“I thought coming in that we needed to try to change him and change him in a way where he was outwardly, visibly more energetic, passionate, because he is a stoneface on the court,” Self said the day before Wiggins led Kansas to the win over Oklahoma State and a semifinals matchup against Iowa State on Friday. “And that would have been the worst thing we could have ever done.”
LeBron James was the worst thing that ever happened to Wiggins. Michael Jordan’s aura was contained by a TV world that didn’t air Chicago Bulls games on national TV three or four times a week. His highlights weren’t accessible through YouTube, and he didn’t offer 140-character updates about his life via Twitter or drop freestyle raps on Instagram.
James is the most tangible superstar in NBA history. We know more about him and his everyday life than we knew about the greats of past generations. He’s the best player in the world and the type of player who must be monitored every second he’s on the floor.
He’s appealing and relatively accessible through various channels.
As a result, there is this expectation that our greatest athletes must boast the most engaging personalities. They have to connect with us somehow. We prefer shameless arrogance over timidity. There’s something attractive about cockiness. There’s an intriguing quality about the guy who brags about his Bentleys and his women. Even if we hate his ego, we’re still drawn to him -- ask Floyd Mayweather Jr. We love the outwardly emotional athlete.
And that has been a major concern about him.
He had stretches in the first chapter of the season that weren’t brilliant. He didn’t attack enough or demand the ball when he should’ve, which is no longer an issue.
But a portion of the criticism has centered on what Self described. We wanted -- want -- Wiggins to show more fire.
I know I did.
In December, I wrote that Wiggins should play like Jabari Parker, who displays an undeniable vigor every time he competes.
And I was wrong.
Wiggins deserved better. I had no business suggesting that he had to play the way that we -- I -- wanted him to play. He deserved an opportunity to just be Andrew Wiggins, even though the preseason hype asked for so much more.
When he’s assessed according to that standard -- that he’s his own man --it’s much easier to see how good he is right now. Wiggins is one of the most unique and effective freshmen we’ve seen at this level, a statement backed by his 41-point outing against West Virginia Saturday and Thursday’s follow-up.
“I'm always open to new things,” Wiggins said. “Coach [Self] teaches me new things every day. Just preparation and practice. Always play hard, run the floor, defend your man and he just made me a better player.”
He might not be LeBron. Or Kevin Durant.
But he’s still special.
When Kansas needed a defensive play against the Cowboys on Thursday, Wiggins blocked shots and stayed in Markel Brown’s face. When the Jayhawks required offense, he scored. Jump shots, 3-pointers, dunks and drives. Effortless.
When Self’s program had to have a play in overtime, Wiggins dove on the floor for loose balls and hustled up the floor, even as 45 minutes of action zapped his lungs.
There are no guarantees that Embiid will return in the postseason after this week’s diagnosis of a stress fracture in his back that will not require surgery. Wiggins, however, accepted the new responsibilities and pressure.
The Jayhawks can still go far with him.
“As the season goes on, you see how much better he’s getting, how much more assertive he’s being,” said Selden, who finished with 14 points. “How much he’s scoring, how much he’s rebounding and blocking shots. He’s just making a case for being the best player in the country.”
Between now and the end of the season, Wiggins will continue to grow and be more decisive. And that should be a scary thought for the young men responsible for limiting him in the coming weeks.
He won’t smile much, though. He won’t suddenly become the vocal leader that the Jayhawks might need. He won’t stomp his feet and talk trash.
He won’t reveal much.
And that’s OK.
“His demeanor allowed him not to have highs and not to have lows,” Self said Wednesday. “He’s been pretty steady. He’s had a few highs, but his lows haven’t been low. He’s been pretty steady in large part with how he’s handled the situation because he doesn’t really care about anything going on outside. He only cares about what’s going on inside.”
Toward the end of Kansas’ news conference Thursday, Wiggins finished a response to a reporter’s question with an awkward “Um, yeah” and a smile. Then, he put his head down and giggled. The rest of the room joined him.
There’s certainly a personality there.
It’s just not the one that we might crave. And that’s our problem. Not his.
The sun rose. And Kansas won its 10th consecutive Big 12 title.
There’s more, though.
The 2013-14 campaign for the Big 12 orchestrated a shift in the conference hierarchy. The Big Ten has been the king of regular-season college basketball for years. But the Big 12 can make that claim this season. The league will enter its tournament with seven teams positioned to earn at-large NCAA bids. That’s 70 percent of the conference.
No conference can match that depth. And if the hoopla in Kansas City, Mo., is anything like the movie we witnessed in a thrilling round of conference play, then we’ll need a lot of popcorn this week because anything could happen.
What’s at stake?
"Based on that, this weekend [in the Big 12 championship] is out," Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement. "Next weekend, we feel like is a longshot, but the doctors are hopeful that if Joel works hard in rehab and progresses that it is possible that he could play in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament if our team is fortunate enough to advance."
So this week, for a few reasons, could be significant for the Big 12 champs.
A few wins in Kansas City would solidify the Jayhawks’ campaign, if a top seed is their best scenario. Maybe it’s not. Kansas could end up in a No. 2 slot opposite in-state enigma Wichita State. Perhaps that’s preferable. Regardless, this week could ease or complicate KU’s potential path to the Final Four.
But the Jayhawks are not alone.
Melvin Ejim, the Big 12's player of the year, and Iowa State could use this week’s tournament to attain some much-needed momentum after dropping two of three. A successful stretch would also help Texas and Oklahoma secure favorable second-round matchups on Selection Sunday.
But Baylor and Oklahoma State are the two teams that really need this tourney. Just two weeks ago, both looked as if they’d fallen out of the NCAA tourney pool.
Then Baylor won seven of its final eight regular-season games. And Marcus Smart led Oklahoma State out of a ditch, too. His return from a suspension fueled a rally of four wins in its last five games.
Both of those teams could win this tournament. Or they could stumble early. Their Thursday matchups -- potentially Baylor against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State against Kansas -- could be their toughest, assuming they’re successful in Wednesday night meetings with TCU and Texas Tech, respectively. A run in Kansas City could also position both teams to avoid dicey seeds in the Big Dance.
Baylor and Oklahoma State look good right now. But when they were bad, they were horrid. Oklahoma State endured a seven-game losing streak, and Baylor lost seven of eight during one ugly Big 12 stretch.
Additional quality wins would make it easier for the selection committee to consider the present instead of their collective, rocky past.
Team with the most to gain
What if West Virginia makes a run? On its best days, the Mountaineers have competed against the best teams in the league. And the 9-9 Big 12 squad enters the conference tourney following a whipping of Kansas over the weekend.
Juwan Staten would be a major star in any other league. A run would help him attract the praise he deserves. It’s not crazy, either. West Virginia opens the tourney against a Texas team that’s lost four of its past six. A win would lead to a matchup against Baylor or Oklahoma, two teams that split their season series with the Mountaineers. And Kansas might be waiting in the title game.
There’s nothing sexy about WVU’s 83 RPI or its 5-12 record against top-100 teams. But if you’re looking for a dark horse that could steal a bid and shake up the field, check out the crew in Morgantown.
We couldn’t boil down the list. That was the amazing thing.
Every year, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association board members and district representatives get together on a conference call to boil down the candidates for player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year. Usually it’s not terribly complicated. This season it was.
Not for the first two, but for the third. There were so many choices, we were worried we’d leave someone off.
Which got me to thinking, what would coaches say? Who among their peers would they deem the most worthy?
So I decided to ask. I polled 22 different coaches -- from big conferences and small, West Coast, East Coast, Midwest and South -- and asked them (anonymously so they wouldn't feel strange) to name their national coach of the year and why he earned their vote.
A majority, yes, but not a consensus.
Of the 22 people polled, 11 said Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, three picked Florida's Billy Donovan and two chose Cincinnati's Mick Cronin, while Creighton's Greg McDermott, Virginia's Tony Bennett, Villanova's Jay Wright, SMU's Larry Brown, Kansas' Bill Self and Michigan's John Beilein received one vote apiece.
Marshall got the edge for logical reasons. The head coach of the undefeated Shockers has already made history, leading his team not only to the NCAA's first undefeated regular season in 10 years, but also to a 34-0 record and the Missouri Valley regular-season and conference tournament titles.
"They simply haven’t made a mistake," one coach said of Marshall’s Wichita State team.
Added another: "Going undefeated is next to impossible. Going undefeated after a Final Four appearance is beyond impossible because of the target you have to wear into every game."
Donovan earned the respect of his peers for his ability to overcome suspensions and injuries yet still lead his Florida team to 23 consecutive wins, the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history, an SEC regular-season title and just two losses.
"If the guys weren’t hurt or out against Wisconsin, he could have one loss," one coach said of the Gators’ first loss, in which both Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin did not play. "And he just does his job. That’s it."
Cronin, the only other multiple-vote-getter, earned props for Cincinnati’s relentless style. The Bearcats, picked to finish fourth in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference, instead shared the league title with Louisville.
"He’s just done a heckuva job with his team," one coach said. "They play the best defense and he’s gotten so much out of those guys."
Even though McDermott, Self, Wright, Bennett, Brown and Beilein each received just one vote, plenty of coaches mentioned them while whittling down their choices to a single name.
The stakes were raised this year for Creighton with the Bluejays' move to the Big East, yet thanks to McDermott and in no small part to his son, Doug, not much has changed. Creighton finished second in the league.
"I understand he has the best player in the country, but still, to move up a league, that’s impressive," one coach said of McDermott.
In the expanded and ever-more-difficult ACC, Bennett led Virginia to its first conference regular-season title since 1981, losing just two league games in the process.
"Sixteen-and-one and 13 in a row in the ACC is pretty impressive," the one coach who voted for Bennett said before the Cavaliers closed the regular season with a 75-69 overtime loss to Maryland to end that streak.
"This is an example of how a team with capable college players executing a cohesive brand of basketball can achieve at a very high level," Wright’s voter said. "Jay has masterfully orchestrated this championship team, pushing all the right buttons."
And speaking of unexpected, there is SMU. Larry Brown promised big changes when the school hired him two years ago. No one expected such dramatic improvement so quickly.
"No one else could have done what LB has done at SMU," Brown’s endorser said.
Self, meanwhile, essentially has rebuilt his roster with little change in results. Kansas won yet another Big 12 title, the Jayhawks' 10th in a row despite a roster heavily reliant on freshmen.
"He started brand new and here he is. That’s pretty amazing," another coach said.
Finally, Beilein is almost a combo of Self and Donovan. He led the Wolverines to a Big Ten regular-season title despite losing the player of the year (Trey Burke) and Tim Hardaway Jr. from last year’s national championship runner-up team and Mitch McGary for the better part of this season due to injury.
"At the end of the day, it’s not all just about toughness," one of Beilein's peers said. “We talk about that too much. It’s about execution, and he’s the best execution coach in the game."
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Marcus Smart came flying out of nowhere, secured the ball and kicked it back out to a teammate, all in one motion.
Smart’s offensive rebound late in the second half of Oklahoma State’s 72-65 win over No. 5 Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday night sent a message to the Jayhawks and everyone watching:
Marcus Smart was going to impose his will during the final four minutes.
And that’s exactly what the Cowboys point guard did.
"He made big plays down the stretch huge plays," OSU coach Travis Ford said. "There aren’t many [players] that have his competitive toughness."
Competitive toughness, will and desire are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Smart’s excellence when it mattered most on Saturday night. Simply put, he took over the game with a mindset that he would not be denied.
"We were extra focused tonight," he said. "We knew we would have to close out the game down the stretch if it came down to it, especially if we wanted to win."
After that play, Smart was 3-for-3 down the stretch and made play after play while a Jayhawk squad, led by dynamic freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, didn’t have answers.
Smart had 20 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in the final 20 minutes. Those second-half numbers came after a first half that saw him head into the locker room shooting 0-of-7 from the field with more turnovers than assists (two to one). The preseason Big 12 player of the year finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block.
"My teammates stayed in my ear and told me keep shooting, keep driving and to just do what I do," Smart said. "They told me [to] let my defense create my offense, so that's what I was trying to do. I think I had four steals, so I got back to what I do, and I let my game come back to me in the second half."
His second-half performance was a not-so-subtle reminder why Smart entered the season as one of the national player of the year candidates. Images of him pushing a fan or smacking a chair in disgust during OSU’s struggles in Big 12 play have made it easy to forget why Smart’s name was on the lips of all college basketball fans heading into the season.
As the calendar turned to March, Smart turned his play up another notch.
"When you’re great at something and it’s not going your way for a while, you’re not just going to quit," Ford said of Smart’s first-half struggles. "Marcus struggled a lot, but then, he made a lot of big plays. After the game, I told him he's a piece of work. You have to stick with him because he's going to make plays. He's a competitor."
Smart’s performance helped the Cowboys improve to 19-10, 7-9 in in the Big 12 and extended their win streak to three games after a seven-game losing streak during February.
"Our focus was different tonight," Smart said. "Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes to a lot of things, with a majority of those being not closing out a lot of those games."
OSU’s tournament hopes have been in jeopardy since that seven-game Big 12 losing streak, but there’s no doubt where the Cowboys belong come tournament time in the eyes of Jayhawks coach Bill Self.
"They’re definitely a tournament team. They’re too talented," Self said. "They can get hot and make a serious run. There’s no question."
All these and more were driven home in Kansas' 85-54 annihilation of Texas on Saturday. But it's the last one -- about KU's offense -- that is especially worth dispelling in advance of Monday night's visit from Oklahoma (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), because against some odds, it is the Jayhawks' offense that will define their season.
And then came San Diego State. The Aztecs' win in Lawrence -- the first nonconference win by any team in Allen Fieldhouse in 68 games -- was a 65-possession, 61-57 clinic in how to make the Jayhawks look pedestrian. SDSU raced back in transition, crowded all available driving lanes, prevented clean post entries, and essentially begged Kansas to beat it from outside. Kansas couldn't.
How often does a team score .94 points per trip and win at Allen Fieldhouse? At the time, that performance was a sign of how far behind Bill Self's unusually young team seemed. The Jayhawks could overpower inferior foes with sheer talent, but against smart, athletically capable defenses, their offense could be made to stall.
That hasn't been remotely true since.
The Aztecs were Kansas' last nonconference foe. Since Big 12 play began, the Jayhawks have averaged 1.19 points per possession -- more than Wichita State has scored against the Missouri Valley. Only Duke and Creighton, the two best offensive teams in the country, have been better in conference play; Louisville is close. All three have a larger selection of stats-inflating bottom-feeders in their leagues. Save for TCU, Kansas has had no such luxury.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about KU's offense is how good it has been despite its willingness to give the ball away. Kansas is turning the ball over on 18.1 percent of its possessions in conference play. This is actually an improvement from earlier in the season, when that number was up around the 22-percent mark. And it's still way too high, and it still basically doesn't matter, because Wiggins, Embiid, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis are still eschewing 3s and finishing interior buckets more effectively than any team in the country. As we saw on Saturday -- and are likely to see again Monday night against the Sooners -- the Jayhawks have done far more than "figure out" their offense. They've thrived.
Perhaps the place Self's atypically advanced development timeline has shown up is on defense. In the past decade, no coach has churned out top-10 efficiency defenses as reliably as Self; the Jayhawks' adjusted defensive efficiency rankings from 2007-13 range from No. 1 to No. 11, and usually tend toward the former. This season? No. 27. The last time a Kansas defense was just merely good -- because let's keep things in perspective -- was 2005.
For anyone who watched Kansas during this historic nine-year run of Big 12 supremacy, the makeup of the 2013-14 team has been a little jarring. Here we have a brilliant Jayhawks offense that doesn't shoot the ball all that well from outside, turns it over a bit too much, and is still brilliant all the same playing out in front of a defense that is uncharacteristically not amazing. It's a different formula, one Self has invented on the fly. But it's working, and pushing Kansas ever closer to a remarkable 10th straight Big 12 title, all the same.
During Kansas’ preseason practices last October, the eyes of the spectators were locked onto a lanky new arrival.
By then, everyone had heard of Andrew Wiggins. But Joel Embiid was still somewhat of a mystery. Even then, however, the vast potential of the young man from Cameroon who picked up the game a few years ago was evident.
He had moves. He could spin off the baseline and score with either hand. He could swat shots with a rare ease. He could run the floor and finish like a pro.
And throughout this season, he’s gradually morphed into a force that’s an obvious problem for every team outside Lawrence, Kan. He’s second in the nation in block percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy. He has an array of potent post moves now.
Every night, it seems, Embiid does something that makes grown men gush.
His effort in No. 15 Kansas’ 77-70 win over No. 8 Iowa State on Monday night in Ames established a new truth about a Jayhawks program that’s made its case as the best team in the Big 12 and one of the top teams in the country in recent weeks.
Embiid is the most important player on the Kansas roster.
He wasn’t the only star against the Cyclones. Wiggins collected 17 points and 19 rebounds. Naadir Tharpe had 23 points.
But his time on the floor was limited by foul trouble, including a silly flagrant 1 in the first half. He fouled out in the final minute of the game.
By then, however, he’d already proven to the multitude of NBA scouts in Ames for the game that he deserves serious consideration as a No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft.
Before that payday, Embiid can lead Kansas to the Big 12 title and more. His presence on both ends of the floor has added a new dimension to Kansas basketball.
In KU’s past seven games (6-1), Embiid has averaged 13.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 3.0 BPG.
There is no ceiling for Embiid, who has as much upside as any college basketball player in the country. And against Iowa State on Monday, he seemed to realize it in the second half.
He didn’t just block Dustin Hogue, he robbed him in midair. He passed out of double teams. He dribbled on the baseline and scored.
He affected every possession when he was available.
But he wasn’t always available (Embiid averages 3.6 fouls per game).
He picked up his second flagrant foul in as many games. He was ejected from Saturday’s win over Kansas State after he threw an elbow that hit Nino Williams.
In Ames, he tussled with DeAndre Kane early in the first half and went to the bench, where he was scolded by Bill Self for disrupting his team’s momentum.
With 15:13 remaining in the first half, the Jayhawks led 15-4. Iowa State, a team that finished 4-for-25 from the 3-point line, managed to tie the game by halftime, 36-36, after Embiid missed a crucial stretch.
Then, the light came on. And Embiid began to compete like a young man who suddenly realized the court was his canvas and he was free to do what he wanted with it (he scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half).
The rest of us could only watch and wonder.
Wonder if this path leads to Olajuwon.
After the game, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg told reporters that Embiid is the best player in America.
He’s not there yet. But he can get there.
If he avoids the nonsense.
Monday’s flagrant foul did not cost the Jayhawks a victory. But it could have.
And that’s what Embiid has to recognize. He’s too important to interrupt his team’s progress with avoidable errors.
He still has a lot to learn. Clearly. He’s still working on passes out of the paint when he’s trapped. He’s still testing his range. He’s still figuring out the difference between establishing position in the post legally and illegally.
But every game, he takes another step, steps that could lead to the late stages of the NCAA tournament if Kansas keeps growing.
The Jayhawks can ride Embiid to the top of the league and beyond.
Based on Monday’s game and the matchups that preceded it, Embiid is beginning to understand that. But that possibility won’t materialize unless he stays on the floor.
Kansas has been criticized for falling short of its on-paper potential in the first half of the 2013-14 season.
But the pieces are all there. And it's not wise to make assumptions about a team with this degree of talent and potential in early January. By March, few opponents will want an early-round matchup against a squad with a blossoming 7-foot-1 center (Joel Embiid) and a likely top-three pick in next summer's NBA draft (Andrew Wiggins).
There's one problem, though. The team's pursuit of the Big 12 title -- a title that Kansas has won outright or shared for the last nine seasons -- could be jeopardized in the coming weeks. The program's next four games comprise a brutal stretch -- and also a vital opportunity since three out of four are at home.
The Jayhawks will face nationally ranked foes Kansas State (Saturday), Iowa State (Monday) Oklahoma State (Jan. 18) and Baylor (Jan. 20).
Kansas hasn't beaten a top-25 squad since its Nov. 12 win over Duke in Chicago.
Since then, the Jayhawks have been dissected and scrutinized as the team hasn't met the hype with inconsistent guard play, Wiggins' imbalanced assertiveness, Embiid's foul trouble and turnover problems (232nd in offensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy).
Against KU's schedule, many teams would be thrilled to post a 10-4 record. But the expectations are always extremely high for the Jayhawks. The addition of the top recruit in the country solidified them.
But they haven't met them. They still have time to change that, though.
These next four games will offer Kansas a chance to show all -- supporters and doubters -- that it's not only a Big 12 contender but also an assembly that could wreak havoc come March.
These four games could crush the dream, too. Coach Bill Self has only lost a handful of games at Allen Fieldhouse. Iowa State is KU's only road game during this four-game skid.
Yet, the Jayhawks seem as vulnerable as they've been in recent years. And they're facing four of the best teams in America.
By the end of this lineup, we'll find out if Kansas is truly in that group, too.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
There’s a great detail in the Associated Press recap of San Diego State’s 61-57 win over Kansas on Sunday, the Jayhawks’ first nonconference home loss in more than seven years and almost certainly the biggest win in SDSU basketball history. How, exactly, did the Aztecs end KU’s 68-game home nonconference streak? What set them apart from so many who came before?
"Our coach never gets rattled," San Diego State forward Winston Shepard said. "He's always even-keeled. After every timeout, he tells us to take a good thought out there."
"He just tells you to think something positive, whether it's basketball, family, whatever. Think something positive," guard Xavier Thames said. "I think that really helps."
Think happy thoughts. It is brilliant and endearing in its simplicity, a testament to the work Steve Fisher has done -- is doing -- with yet another of his irrepressible San Diego State teams.
If Sunday night was a bellwether in the long-term arc of Fisher’s program, it was also a noteworthy status update on the compressed short-term development of Bill Self’s 2013-14 Jayhawks. Back in November, we noted that this season would be the first in a decade in which Self would have to work with a team almost entirely composed of inexperienced players, freshmen or both.
There are no classic Self-ian four-year projects made good on this team, no one who’s had the intricacies of the high-low motion offense burrowed into his head every day for four years. Instead, there is talent. So compressed is the key word: Could Self get this team where it needed to be in a few months’ time?
On Sunday night, the answer was a resounding “not yet, anyway.” Rarely has so much talent been such an inconsistent viewing experience: When the Jayhawks unleash Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, as they did against New Mexico and Georgetown in the three weeks since that Dec. 10 loss at Colorado, the result can be thrilling. But just as often, they look like they did Sunday night: stagnant, predictable, easy to guard.
Shooting remains the issue: The Jayhawks are one of the nation’s most efficient teams around the basket but are merely sub-mediocre from the perimeter. Against inferior opponents, this doesn’t matter; Kansas gets points anyway. But against elite defenses with intelligent game plans that sink in and destroy KU’s spacing, the whole thing slows to a crawl. Twitter keeps telling Wiggins to “take over” and “be more assertive” without noticing the cluster of defenders standing between him and the rim.
Still, context is key. Kansas is in no risk of disappointing in any severe way; we’re talking about a would-be national title contender reaching its true potential (or not). These young Jayhawks have played the nation’s most unforgiving nonconference schedule and acquitted themselves fairly well. The upside potential is, to use an old NBA draft joke, tremendous. And, hey: When someone breaks your 68-game nonconference home win streak, it means you won that many games in the first place.
See? Happy thoughts.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
1. Wisconsin 75, Iowa 71. You wouldn’t like Fran when he’s angry (VIDEO): “What I feel bad about is getting the second one. The first one, I think it’s safe to say I kind of went after that one a little bit. The second one -- I’m not so sure about that.” That was Iowa coach Fran McCaffery after Sunday night’s 75-71 loss at Wisconsin. Late in the second half, McCaffery received two technical fouls in quick succession -- the latter of which he received after crossing midcourt and bumping into an official. The four points Wisconsin got at the free throw line were equal to the game’s final margin, which, of course they were. The narrative gods must be sated. The real takeaway, barring any discipline from the Big Ten office, is that two years on, this Iowa team keeps losing important, close, hard-fought and very winnable games.
2. Wake Forest 73, UNC 67: Signs of life in Winston-Salem. The past three years have been about as bad as it gets for basketball fans in Winston-Salem. Fans hated coach Jeff Bzdelik, then turned ire toward Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, then moved to some weird hybrid of pity, apathy and depression, and I’m not sure which is worst. You know the fastest way to cure all of that? Beating North Carolina, of course! Bzdelik got his first big win as Wake’s head coach and moved to 11-3 on the season; Wellman got his first real sign of progress from a coach on whom his reputation is staked. Big, big win.
3. Southern Illinois: Mother Nature’s Boys: How much of a mess is the entire upper Midwest right now? Southern Illinois spent the night on I-57 in Illinois stranded on its team bus. Also, it was 50 below in Minnesota. That’s how messy.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Colorado was so good in its 100-91 win over Oregon on Sunday -- the first loss of the Ducks’ season, by the way -- that the Buffaloes turned the ball over on nearly 22 percent of their possessions and still scored 100 points on 75 possessions. They shot 57 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3 and went 33-of-36 from the free throw line. They scored 56 points in the second half. Forget it: This entire box score is your stat of the week.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
Tuesday: Ohio State at Michigan State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: January is kind of the worst for a whole lot of reasons (again: 50 degrees below zero!); college basketball is not one of them. This is a massive game, the Big Ten’s two clear favorites squaring off in the Breslin Center, made more so by the fact that it feels like the first calling-card conference road game of the season. I love January.
Baylor at Iowa State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: For all of Baylor’s lanky, NBA-bound talent, the Bears actually play shockingly methodical basketball -- through Sunday they averaged 63.3 possessions per game, 339th in the country. Iowa State, on the other hand, likes to churn possessions as quickly as any team in the country. The stylistic matchup here is good in and of itself; when you throw in the talent and a Big 12 up for grabs, it’s a no-brainer.
Thursday: Memphis at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: An old C-USA rivalry from when the C-USA was still a thing. Let’s hope these two pick things back up next season, when Louisville is a member of the ACC. In the meantime, Louisville fans are still smarting from that loss at Kentucky, while Memphis was outclassed by Cincinnati on its own floor Saturday afternoon. Both have much to prove.
Arizona at UCLA, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Bruins have shown zero signs that they can put together a 40-minute defensive effort good enough to stop the best team in the country. But Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are playing thrilling offensive basketball, and if the Bruins can get hot on their own end, the smattering of fans in the Pauley Pavilion might actually, like, applaud or something.
Saturday: North Carolina at Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN: Can someone explain the North Carolina Tar Heels? No? OK. For now, just know that they’ve beaten Louisville on a neutral court and Michigan State in East Lansing and, as of Sunday, lost to UAB, Belmont, Texas and Wake Forest. So obviously they could win at Syracuse.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
O'Donnell, a Republican from Wichita, introduced a bill that would force both Kansas and Kansas State to schedule Wichita State at least once a season. Initially, O'Donnell proposed making state funding contingent on satisfactory scheduling; he later removed that provision, saying, as the Lawrence Journal-World related, that he "didn’t want his proposal to be confrontational."
The law failed, which surprised nobody -- but neither were many surprised by its introduction in the first place. There's a reason why a politician from Wichita might think it expedient to introduce such a bill: Shockers fans want nothing more than a regular-season shot at Kansas.
A few weeks after O'Donnell introduced his bill, Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz wrote that the Kansas game — or the idea of it — was the "one topic I hear about more than any other."
Shocker basketball fans love their team, no doubt about it. But they can become obsessed with KU. I don’t really get it, but it’s real. Perhaps it’s all the success the Jayhawks have had over the years. Perhaps it’s a perception that KU fans think they’re a little better than the rest. Perhaps there is some class envy here.
I think Wichita State-Kansas could develop into one of the finest basketball rivalries in the country if the two schools ever decided to give it a chance. It’s KU, of course, that does the most to hold it back. And by “the most,” I mean the Jayhawks virtually ignore the fact that Wichita State even exists.
On Monday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expressed that program-wide desire, telling Fox Sports Kansas City that he hoped the game would happen, and that he had offered Kansas a three-game home-and-home series, but that he wasn't "going to be bought … I'm not going to go to Allen Fieldhouse for a check."
Which, yeah, them's fighting words, and on Wednesday Bill Self responded:
Read more here:
“This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Star on Tuesday. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.”
Hold on, though, there's more. Self related his experience as coach at Tulsa, when he couldn't get Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to schedule his team.
“And they wouldn’t play,” Self said. “But I didn’t blame them. And I didn’t make a big deal of it.”
This, of course, is surely the attitude that drives Wichita State fans bonkers -- and the attitude that gives Kansas fans that extra taste of hegemonic joy: We're Kansas and you're Wichita State. Know your place, please. Don't make a fuss. We're not going to play you, because what do we stand to gain? Pipe down. Extra-maddening, no doubt, is that they're right. Even Wichita State fans, who can do no more than turn Marshall's old use of the term "chickenhawks" into a message board/school yard insult, would have to agree with such an obvious dynamic.
But college basketball schedules need not always be about sheer strategic or monetary gain. You can be pragmatic, and live in the real world, and still remember why the whole regional sports fandom thing kicked off in the first place: because it's fun.
Look how hot the Kansas-Wichita State rivalry is sans actual basketball. Maybe O'Donnell's law is a good idea after all.