College Basketball Nation: Elijah Johnson


 
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quick thoughts on Michigan's 87-85 overtime victory over Kansas on Friday at Cowboys Stadium:

Overview: In what was easily the best game of the NCAA tournament thus far, Trey Burke scored 23 points -- all after intermission -- to lead Michigan into the Elite Eight.

Kansas -- the No. 1 seed in the South Region -- appeared to be in command leading 74-66 with 1:22 remaining. But Burke led a charge that saw Michigan outscore the Jayhawks 10-2 in the next 72 seconds to force overtime. The dagger came after KU's Elijah Johnson missed a foul shot with his team leading 76-73. Burke capitalized with a 25-foot 3-pointer that made it 76-76 with four seconds left. Jayhawks guard Naadir Tharpe missed a 3-pointer as the horn sounded.

Kansas (31-6) had led by as many as 14 points in the second half.

No. 4 seed Michigan (29-7) had all the momentum during the extra period. The Wolverines went up 87-82 on two foul shots by Glenn Robinson III before Johnson drilled a 3 on the other end to pull KU within two, 87-85, with 45 seconds left. Jayhawks center Jeff Withey blocked a layup attempt by Burke on the other end. Michigan's Mitch McGary snared the offensive rebound but missed a putback attempt. Kansas snared the board as the shot clock sounded with 9.4 seconds left.

Johnson had the ball on the game's final possession and drove into the lane, where he appeared to have an open layup. But Michigan's Jordan Morgan came over at the last second and appeared to be in position to block Johnson's shot. So Johnson fired a pass to Tharpe on the right wing. Tharpe's 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark, and Michigan began to celebrate.

What's next: The Wolverines, after making their first Sweet 16 appearance in 19 years, will meet Florida on Sunday for the chance to go to the Final Four.

Kansas rides seniors to Sweet 16

March, 24, 2013
3/24/13
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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. -- Bill Self could sense something was wrong.

Less than an hour before his team played Western Kentucky on Friday, the energy and spirit that’s so often present in the Jayhawks’ locker room was missing. Smiles were few and far between. During pregame shootaround, the Jayhawks lacked their normal bounce.

“There was a little bit of a different feel,” Self said. “I actually noticed it. We were tight.”

And Western Kentucky wasn’t.

All of it nearly resulted in a history-making night at the Sprint Center, with Western Kentucky just a few shots away from becoming the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Kansas -- which trailed by one point at intermission and only led by four points with 30 seconds left -- eventually escaped with a 64-57 victory. But Self and his players know that Friday’s win will be their last of the season if they don’t refocus before Sunday's round of 32 game against No. 8 seed North Carolina.

The Tar Heels, led by former Kansas coach Roy Williams, defeated No. 9 seed Villanova 78-71 in an earlier game.

“I think personally it’s part of human nature to not be as prepared for a smaller team,” Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson said. “But in a North Carolina-Kansas game, I think everyone comes ready to play.

“There’s going to be so much juice in the building. Roy is coming back. There’s going to be a lot of fans pumped up. We’ll be pumped up. We got that first one out of the way. We’re a little looser now. I think it will be a different attitude in the locker room before the game.”

The Jayhawks had better hope things are different during the game, too.

[+] EnlargeJeff Withey
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsCenter Jeff Withey came up huge for top-seeded Kansas with 17 points, 7 blocks and 6 rebounds.
Kansas shot just 7.7 percent outside the paint Friday, becoming the first team since 2001 to win an NCAA tournament game without making a 3-pointer. The Jayhawks committed 17 turnovers and were outrebounded 41-35 overall and 18-4 on the offensive glass.

Western Kentucky outscored Kansas 17-5 on second-chance points. Hilltoppers coach Ray Harper said he couldn’t have been more proud of his players.

“The entire country got a glimpse of what they’re made of, their character and heart,” Harper said.

It would be foolish to say this game was close simply because Kansas played poorly or was ill-prepared, although those things certainly contributed.

The bigger story, though, was the moxie and grit displayed by the Hilltoppers, who hardly resembled a typical happy-to-be-there No. 16 seed, awed and overwhelmed by the hoopla surrounding March Madness.

Western Kentucky -- which was making its second consecutive tournament appearance and played in the Sweet 16 in 2008 -- entered the tournament with a 20-15 record overall and a 10-10 mark in the Sun Belt Conference. It would’ve had no chance of making the NCAA tournament if it hadn’t received an automatic bid by winning its league tournament nearly two weeks ago.

The Hilltoppers are ranked No. 150 in the RPI, which makes them far from the worst team KU has played this season. TCU, for example, is No. 238.

Harper’s players were the aggressors for most of Friday’s game. WKU probably could have won had it not shot 20.5 percent after intermission. Some of that was because of KU’s defense, but the Hilltoppers also missed some wide-open shots.

“We also made one shot for the game outside of two feet -- one,” Self said. “And that was by our 7-footer (Jeff Withey). So we didn’t exactly light it up, either.”

Kansas trailed 31-30 at halftime before battling back in the final stanza. A pivotal moment occurred when Jayhawks forward Kevin Young missed a 16-foot jumper with just under 18 minutes remaining. Young grabbed his own rebound near the free throw line and drove in for a two-handed reverse slam that ignited a nervous crowd of more than 18,000 mainly Kansas fans.

The Sprint Center was deafening the rest of the way, which was important on a night like Friday, when KU (30-5) needed all the help it could get.

“Sometimes playing at home, I think, puts more pressure on you in certain ways,” Self said. “We didn’t respond very well to the advantages we had.”

One Jayhawk who definitely came ready to play Friday was Withey, who finished with 17 points, 7 blocks and 6 rebounds. Withey scored five points during an 8-1 Kansas run that extended a 45-41 lead to 53-42 with just under three minutes remaining. Five of Withey’s blocks came in the second half.

Western Kentucky kept fighting and pulled within four points on a Brandon Harris 3-pointer that made is 59-55 with 28 ticks remaining. Kansas, though, made five straight free throws to seal the victory.

“We didn’t play our best by any stretch,” Self said. “But give Western credit. I thought they were the most aggressive team. I thought they controlled the game for the most part until the second half, when we got the ball inside some.

“We’re happy to advance, but certainly not pleased with how we played. Certainly we know we’ll have to play a lot better on Sunday.”

How No. 1 will fall: Kansas

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
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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.
Player of the Night -- Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State

New Mexico State halted Louisiana Tech’s 18-game winning streak, handing the Bulldogs their first WAC loss. Daniel Mullings led the way with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals. With Akron and Louisiana Tech falling the past week, the nation’s longest winning streak belongs to Middle Tennessee State (16).

Co-Freshman of the Night -- Xavier Johnson, Colorado

Xavier Johnson went 7-for-7 from the field, scoring a career-high 22 points in a 76-53 blowout against Oregon. He’s the first freshman since Dan Gadzuric in 1999 to go at least 7-for-7 in a Pac-12 conference game.

Co-Freshman of the Night -- Michael Kessens, Longwood

Longwood fell to VMI in the Big South quarterfinals, despite the most prolific performance in tournament history. Michael Kessens finished with a tournament-record 36 points to go with 16 rebounds. He’s the first player to reach those totals since Cleveland State’s Norris Cole in 2011. But consider the past two freshmen to pull it off: Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant.

Stat Sheet Stuffer -- Spencer Butterfield, Utah State

Whenever a guard pulls down 20 rebounds, it warrants special mention. Spencer Butterfield finished with 10 points, seven assists and 20 rebounds in Utah State’s win against Texas State. It’s the most rebounds by a guard since that aforementioned Norris Cole performance in 2011. Butterfield is one of only five players in the past 10 years to finish with at least that 10-20-7 line.

Scorer of the Night -- Josh Greene, Cal State Northridge

Josh Greene scored a career-high 37 in the Matadors’ win against Hawaii. That’s the seventh most in school history. He joins KansasElijah Johnson and Iona’s Lamont Jones as the only players with 37 points and six assists in a game this season.

Numbers to Know: Monday Recap

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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Player of the Night – Elijah Johnson, Kansas
Johnson scored a career-high 39, handing Bill Self his 500th win. The Jayhawks ended Iowa State’s 22-game home win streak, which was the third-longest in the nation. Johnson scored 30 of those 39 after halftime, and his total is the most by a Jayhawk since Terry Brown had 42 against NC State in 1991. Johnson is just the third Big 12 player with at least 39 points and seven assists in a game, joining Clarence Gilbert and Jaquay Walls. Oddly, all three games came against the Cyclones.

Bench Player of the Night – Davante Gardner, Marquette
Gardner was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and scored a career-high 26 in Marquette’s 74-71 win against Syracuse. The last major-conference player with more points off the bench and a perfect field-goal percentage was Maryland’s Lonny Baxter in 1998.

Stat Sheet Stuffer – Frankie Dobbs, Bryant
Bryant took another step towards the most improved season ever with an 84-68 win against Sacred Heart. The Bulldogs are 18-9 one year after going 2-28. Dobbs finished with 17 points, 10 assists and seven steals. He’s the first player to reach those totals since Dayton’s Kevin Dillard in 2011.

Scorer of the Night – Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart
Gibson poured in 30 points in that loss to Bryant, passing 2,000 points in the process. He’s one of nine active players with 2,000 points, and just the fifth NEC player to ever get there. Since the start of last season, only Doug McDermott and Nate Wolters have scored more points.

Video: Elijah Johnson on his 39-point night

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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Myron Medcalf talks with Kansas' Elijah Johnson following Johnson's 39-point effort in an overtime win at Iowa State.

AMES, Iowa -- Quick thoughts on No. 6 Kansas’ 108-96 overtime win over Iowa State on Monday night.

Overview: This was a game that was dictated by what happened beyond the arc. From start to finish, Iowa State’s plan was clear. The Cyclones planned to beat Kansas from the 3-point line.

As they started to heat up, Kansas tried to match them. The exchanges anchored an exciting game at the Hilton Coliseum. Kansas held a slight advantage at halftime, following Naadir Tharpe's layup on Kansas’ last possession. Kansas shot 47 percent from the field before the break. The Jayhawks used an 11-3 rally to overcome Iowa State’s 14-7 start. They also outscored Iowa State 20-8 inside in the first half. But the Cyclones stayed close via the 3-ball. They went 6-for-15 from the 3-point line in the first half. And their success from the 3-point line continued in the second half. With 5:50 to play, the Cyclones had a 76-72 edge over Kansas after hitting eight of their first 13 3-pointers in the second half. The two battled down the stretch in one of the season’s most entertaining affairs.

Turning point: There were several in the final minutes of regulation. Iowa State’s 3-point shooting was nothing short of ridiculous. Korie Lucious' 3-pointer near the five-minute mark gave Iowa State a seven-point lead. The crowd went nuts. Kansas' Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey scored on back-to-back transition layups and cut Iowa State’s lead to three points. Tyrus McGee hit another big 3-pointer in the final minutes to extend Iowa State’s lead to six. Wow. What a game. Elijah Johnson’s 3-point play cut Iowa State’s late lead to two points again. Lucious converted a turnover into a pair of free throws on the other end. Travis Releford was fouled by Chris Babb with 78 seconds to play during a scramble for a loose ball, then hit both free throws, making it 84-82 Iowa State. Freshman Georges Niang hit a huge 3-pointer in the final minute to give Iowa State a five-point edge with 35.7 seconds to play. Then, Johnson hit another 3-pointer. Iowa State led by two points with 23.1 seconds to go when Lucious knocked down a pair of free throws to seal the game. Except he didn’t. Johnson hit another ridiculous 3-pointer to cut Iowa State’s lead to one. And Lucious made just one free throw on the other end. Johnson drove to the basket and drew a foul. With 4.9 seconds to go, Johnson hit both free throws, forcing the game into overtime.

Overtime: Johnson scored on a layup. Will Clyburn answered on the other end. Johnson scored on a runner on the next possession. Releford hit a 3. Then, Johnson hit another 3-pointer with 2:03 to play and gave KU a 100-92 edge in overtime. The Cyclones began to collapse again in overtime, similar to their first matchup of the year against KU, a 97-89 overtime loss at the Phog. But the Cyclones kept fighting. A Kansas turnover on the inbounds pass led to a Will Clyburn drive and Jeff Withey foul. It was Withey’s fifth foul ... officially. Clyburn hit one of two free throws to cut KU’s lead to four points with 1:30 to go. But Johnson crushed Iowa State’s dreams with another 3-pointer in the final minute. Naadir Tharpe’s free throw increased the Jayhawks’ lead to eight points, 104-96. Fans left the building. Final score? It was 108-96 after Johnson’s dunk with 2.5 seconds to play.

Key player: McGee (22 points) helped Iowa State match KU in regulation. But Johnson -- who scored career-high 39 points, the highest tally for a Big 12 player this season and the highest total for a Kansas player since Paul Pierce in 1997 -- was the star of the show.

Key stat: Iowa State shot 17-for-41 from the 3-point line. The 17 3-pointers established a school record.

Next game: Iowa State will play at Oklahoma on Saturday. Kansas will face West Virginia on Saturday.

Saddle Up: Can Kansas figure it out?

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
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Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It was really weirded out by Taylor Swift.

No. 24 Marquette at No. 20 Georgetown, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

This wasn't supposed to be a vintage year in the Big East. Vintage, in this usage, is basically synonymous with "brutal"; it harkens to 2009, when the league dominated the landscape for months, staged an utterly awesome Big East tournament, and placed three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament bracket. This wasn't supposed to be that year. This year, the Big East was supposed to be tame.

In some ways, that's true; this league isn't going to be placing three teams on the top seed line come mid-March, that's for sure. But in other ways, the Big East has been much better than anyone expected. Alongside Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, Marquette and Georgetown are the reasons why.

This is primarily because while both teams lost veterans, they've both managed to stay not only relevant but dangerous. Georgetown waved farewell to brilliant passer Henry Sims and fellow senior Jason Clark; Marquette bid adieu to not one but two Big East player of the year candidates in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Both teams were expected to fall off, at least slightly. Instead, both are in the Top 25, and both are playing the type of high-quality basketball that should provide for a fascinating game tonight.

That's because that basketball poses a battle of strengths. Marquette is an offensive team. The Golden Eagles aren't as fast as they were a year ago, but they're playing the most efficient offense in the Big East to date, making 52 percent of their 2s and scoring 1.09 points per trip. Center Davante Gardner in particular has been a revelation. The spread-perimeter offense of a year ago has been rebuilt around the big fella. Georgetown, meanwhile, has frequently played some of the ugliest offense you'll ever see, but they back it up with the type of stifling athletic D that keeps them in games all the season. Forward Otto Porter might be the ideal Georgetown player under John Thompson III; he does everything well.

Whatever the outcome, it is important to recognize that these teams, along with a still-underrated Pitt and a steady Cincinnati have formed a really nice second-tier group in the putatively "down" Big East. It's not all about Louisville and Syracuse anymore.

No. 13 Kansas State at No. 5 Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

I am not a grizzled veteran of this college hoops writing game. I am actually still kind of young, to the point where there has never been a point in my career wherein I didn't, at least on some level, take Bill Self's Kansas teams for granted.

Last year was the real wake-up call: That's when Self coached his eighth straight KU team to at least a share of the Big 12 title, a streak unmatched not only in other "power six" conferences but in every other college hoops league full stop. The Big 12 is a good league! It has had a lot of pros -- Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Acie Law, Tristan Thompson, James Anderson, Tony Allen, D.J Augustin -- stop by during Self's tenure. And every year Self has won.

That's why it has been so baffling to see these current Jayhawks struggle so mightily. Let's keep it in perspective. In this case, struggling mightily means losing three games in a row, one of which came to a good team at home, one of which came to a good team on the road, while the one in the middle, the loss at TCU, was the product of the worst offensive performance in the history of Kansas basketball. (With the possible exception of Dr. James Naismith's early games against the Topeka YMCA, according to Self's hilarious postgame news conference). Most coaches at most programs see three losses as the occasional unfortunate cost of doing business. At Kansas under Self, three straight losses is cause for a full-fledged existential meltdown.

Is it really that bad? I actually don't think so. Yes, the Jayhawks have had their struggles on the offensive end, and senior guard Elijah Johnson is in a major shooting slump, one that seems to have caused a crisis of confidence. But as SI's Luke Winn pointed out last week, Johnson always slumps this time of year before turning it on in the spring. He'll probably be fine. The offense was atrocious when it played against Kansas State in January, but that felt like more of an aberration than anything else.

If anything, the biggest cause for concern is on the defensive end. The Jayhawks scored 1.11 PPP against Oklahoma State and 1.0 against Oklahoma; they allowed 1.18 to the Cowboys and 1.09 to the Sooners. That's the bigger problem. The Kansas defense is always been its biggest strength this season, and if it suddenly becomes porous for any reason, the Jayhawks suddenly become -- gasp -- vulnerable.

That's why you can't consider a win at Allen Fieldhouse automatic against Kansas State. The Wildcats defend and rebound and grind with the best of them, but in Big 12 play they've actually been the league's best offense, scoring 1.09 points per trip. Bruce Weber goes deep into his bench and spreads minutes around, and all the pieces -- Angel Rodriguez's perimeter ballhandling, Rodney McGruder's scoring, Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez's interior strength -- fit together. You watch K-State play long enough and you start to think of them as a strictly defensive team, but they can really score. And if Kansas wants to avoid a fourth straight loss, and a real statewide freakout, it will have to stop that offense Monday night.

It's going to be a good one.

Elsewhere: I wonder if TCU and Oklahoma are going to get together before the game and swap stories about beating Kansas. Maybe they can make a burn book or something. … The CAA and MAAC are in action, but the real team to keep an eye on is Weber State. Even with former point guard Damian Lillard tearing it up for the Portland Trail Blazers, Weber State is actually better. Does the Ewing Theory apply to the NBA draft?

Observations from Saturday afternoon

February, 9, 2013
2/09/13
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Kansas coach Bill Self was in the postgame handshake line after his team’s 72-66 loss to Oklahoma when he looked up and saw hundreds of students rushing the Lloyd Noble Center court.

His lips didn’t move, but as he tilted back his head and rolled his eyes, it was obvious what Self must’ve been thinking.

“Are you serious?”

A victory over Kansas hardly seems like a big deal these days -- or at least not monumental enough for a court-storming. Saturday’s setback against the Sooners marked the third consecutive loss for the Jayhawks. And it came just three days after a defeat against last-place TCU that some are calling one of the biggest upsets in decades.

KU certainly played better Saturday than it did against the Horned Frogs, but this is still a team that looks mentally frazzled and out of sorts, which is almost unthinkable for a Self-coached team. Point guard Elijah Johnson missed a pair of easy layups in the waning minutes, and small forward Travis Releford shot a 3-pointer that barely nicked the front of the rim.

Even worse was that a KU squad known for its defense allowed a good-but-not-great Oklahoma team to shoot 45 percent from the field. Because of it the Jayhawks -- who have won eight straight Big 12 titles -- are now toting three losses in a row for the first time since 2005.

[+] EnlargeGeron Johnson
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsGeron Johnson's 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists led Memphis to its 14th win in a row.
Things won’t get any easier for Kansas on Monday, when No. 13 Kansas State visits Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats 59-55 in Manhattan on Jan. 22, but the two programs have gone in opposite directions since then.

Here are a few other observations from Saturday’s afternoon games:

1. It might be time to consider putting Memphis back in the top 25. Josh Pastner’s squad picked up a huge victory Saturday by defeating Southern Miss on the road 89-76. The Golden Eagles are considered the second-best team in Conference USA behind Memphis, which hasn’t lost since falling to Louisville on Dec. 15.

The Tigers are 20-3 overall and 9-0 in Conference USA. I realize Memphis doesn’t have a ton of quality wins. But Pastner can’t control what league his team is in -- and at least the Tigers haven’t lost games they’re not supposed to lose, like seemingly every other team in the country. There’s something to be said for avoiding upsets, especially when everyone is gunning for you as the top team in your conference. Memphis’ only three losses are to Minnesota, VCU and Louisville. The Tigers host the conference’s other top team (UCF) on Wednesday.

2. The teams that pulled the two biggest upsets in the country this week didn’t exactly capitalize on the momentum. Arkansas, which whipped No. 2 Florida 80-69 on Tuesday, got embarrassed at Vanderbilt, 67-49. Three days after toppling Kansas, TCU was back to its old ways in a 63-50 home loss to West Virginia.

3. Georgetown coach John Thompson III doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The Hoyas’ 69-63 victory over Rutgers marked their seventh win in their past eight games. Included in that stretch are wins against Notre Dame and Louisville and two victories over a red-hot St. John’s squad.

Each year, Georgetown seems to lose stars to the NBA draft or seasoned veterans to graduation. But Thompson always responds. He always has guys ready to step in. Heck, this Georgetown team lost its second-leading scorer and rebounder (Greg Whittington) to academics midway through the season -- and the Hoyas got better. The man is an excellent coach, plain and simple.

4. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan needs to send Ben Brust a thank-you card -- or, at the very least, he could ease up on him during the next round of conditioning drills.

Brust’s desperation 3-pointer from just past half court forced overtime against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, and the Badgers capitalized with a 65-62 win. Brust also saved Ryan from what would’ve been a slew of criticism for not fouling on the previous possession with the score tied. Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. made the Badgers pay with a 3-pointer that made it 60-57 with less than three ticks remaining. Wisconsin had fouls to give. If the Badgers would’ve lost that game, Ryan would’ve been crucified.

But Brust saved his coach moments later with the heave that gave his team new life. Wisconsin has now won four of its past five games. Its past two victories have come in overtime. Another great stat: Wisconsin has won six of its past seven home games against top-five opponents. Amazing.

5. Texas point guard Myck Kabongo will take the court for the first time Wednesday after a 23-game suspension for illicit dealings with an agent. At this point I’m not sure Kabongo will make much of a difference for a Longhorns squad mired in its worst season in recent memory.

Rick Barnes’ team shot just 39 percent from the field in its 72-59 home loss to Oklahoma State and missed 17 of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc. Texas also went 12 of 21 from the foul stripe. Barnes has been questioning the Longhorns’ effort all season, and it will likely take more than the return of Kabongo -- who was mediocre as a freshman -- to get things right.

At 10-13 overall and 2-8 in the Big 12, Texas is almost certain to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 15 seasons.

6. Less than 48 hours after losing at Texas A&M, Missouri turned in its best performance of the season in a 98-79 victory over Ole Miss.

My initial reaction is, so what?

The Tigers have been winning home games all season. But they’ve looked like a completely different team on the road, where their lack of toughness and poor decision-making (particularly by point guard Phil Pressey) have been alarming. Losses at LSU and Texas A&M are flat out inexcusable considering the talent gap between Missouri and those two teams.

Still, I saw things Saturday that made me think the Tigers’ victory over Ole Miss was more than just another home win. Three players (Pressey, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell) scored 20 or more points, and Oriakhi had 18 rebounds against a Rebels squad that spanked Missouri less than a month ago in Oxford. Missouri had only nine turnovers and shot 47 percent from the field.

If Bell becomes a bigger contributor and if Pressey (only one turnover Saturday) turns the corner, we may look back on Saturday’s Ole Miss win as a pivotal moment in Missouri’s season. Frank Haith’s squad should be high on confidence after this one.

7. During his time at Kansas and North Carolina, Roy Williams has rarely had teams that built their reputation on defense. But the 2012-13 Tar Heels have been particularly bad on that end of the floor.

Miami shot 54.4 percent from the field in Saturday’s 87-61 victory and went 15 of 26 from 3-point range.

North Carolina has allowed an average of 79.6 points per game in its seven losses. In five of those games, the opponent scored more than 80 points. The Tar Heels need to get tougher.


It left Kansas fans disgusted, TCU fans dumbstruck, and Horned Frogs coach Trent Johnson wandering among court-storming students, offering high-fives and twirling around and looking like a man who had no idea what to do next.

It was the biggest upset of the season. It was also the weirdest.

Wipe your eyes as many times as you like. It happened. The previously 9-12 TCU Horned Frogs, losers of their previous eight games, owners of the 330th-ranked efficiency offense in the country prior to Wednesday night, really did upset the No. 5-ranked Kansas Jayhawks 62-55 in Fort Worth -- the first win over a top-five team in program history.

The obvious question is: How? How does a team so good, so routinely effective both at home and on the road, lose to such a dismal outfit like TCU? How does it trail the entire game behind a Horned Frogs team that was not only 0-8 in the Big 12, but one that had not played to within eight points of any league opponent and was coming off three straight blowout losses to decidedly mediocre teams (21 to WVU, 26 to Baylor, 17 to Texas)?

Here's where the weirdness comes in: Kansas shot just 29.5 percent from the field -- 18-of-61 -- and just 3-of-22 from beyond the arc. Ben McLemore, the man who saved Kansas from a home upset to Iowa State with a 33-point, 10-for-12 night Jan. 9, went just 6-of-16 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3. Jeff Withey was effective but rarely touched the ball. Reserve guard Naadir Tharpe attempted a borderline-shocking 15 field goals -- Tharpe should never shoot the ball 15 times -- and made just two of them. And then there was Elijah Johnson, who, already firmly ensconced in Bill Self's doghouse, continued not only his shooting slump but his streak of poor decision-making and ill-timed turnovers.

[+] EnlargeGarlon Green
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsGarlon Green gets the hero treatment after his game-high 20 points in the upset of Kansas.
It would be unfair to place all the blame for the loss at the Jayhawks' feet, to ignore what TCU did well in its own right. So: The Horned Frogs drew 29 fouls and shot 38 free throws, not all of which were the product of the Jayhawks' last-ditch attempts at a comeback. Johnson's team -- who you don't know, but which includes guys with awesome names like Nate Butler Lind, Connell Crossland, Adrick McKinney, Garlon Green and Kyan Anderson, and that's just the starters -- made enough of those free throws down the stretch to maintain a lead. It also took care of the ball when it needed to, grabbed timely rebounds, and got stops. Kansas doesn't shoot 30 percent in an empty gym.

Even so, you couldn't watch this game and not come away more willing to indict Kansas than praise TCU. I mean, good for the Horned Frogs -- this is a rare moment in the sun for a program with almost no historical relevance whatsoever, and it should be enjoyed as such. But it was Kansas that failed to pressure the Horned Frogs well enough to generate easy points; it was Kansas that squandered mini-run after mini-run, and flung brick after increasingly forlorn brick into the unforgiving iron.

All the while, TCU fans -- who were possibly out-attended by Kansas fans -- had no idea what to do. At one point, the ESPNU cameras showed the Horned Frogs cheerleaders jumping around and cheering seemingly at random, and while cheer groups do that all the time, I joked that it was probably because they hadn't drilled for the possibility of actually, you know, cheering. It felt that way: TCU fans mustered a "T-C-U, T-C-U" midway through the second half, but mostly they just seemed to sit there and do their best to process the weirdness happening in front of them.

Then they stormed the court.

That's when Johnson, in a move reminiscent of the classic clip of NC State coach Jim Valvano, started to walk off the court, then thought better of it, then offered a few high-fives to onrushing fans -- he, like the rest of the arena, looked like he had no idea what to make of anything happened around him.

Understandably so. It was that big -- and that weird -- of an upset.


MANHATTAN, Kan. -- With the game still in question and a sellout crowd of 12,528 fans cursing and hissing at him from all angles, Elijah Johnson stepped to the free throw line with 5 seconds remaining at Bramlage Coliseum, looked at the Kansas State student section to his left … and smirked.

"Watch this," the Kansas guard mouthed.

Moments later, with one flick of the wrist, Johnson swished a foul shot that provided the final scoring in KU's 59-55 victory. The Wildcats' quest to upset the No. 3 Jayhawks had failed.

Again.

Johnson winked toward his hecklers after making the free throw and then blew kisses at the crowd as he trotted off the court. For the 23rd time in 25 years, K-State fans left Bramlage Coliseum enraged about another loss to their in-state rival.

Only they shouldn't have been.

Not this time. Not this year.

Frustrating as it may have been, Tuesday's setback should be more encouraging than disheartening to Wildcats supporters. Ten months after the departure of popular coach Frank Martin to South Carolina, Kansas State's program hasn't lost a beat.

In some ways, it may be even better.

For that the Wildcats can thank Bruce Weber -- or at the very least John Currie, the athletic director who drew criticism for hiring Weber just weeks after he was fired by Illinois last March.

To read Jason King's full story, click here.

McLemore carries Kansas past Cyclones

January, 10, 2013
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Ben McLemore has played just 14 college games, yet the people who follow Kansas’ basketball team closely -- including this writer -- have already concluded two things:

  1. McLemore is the best player to wear a KU uniform since Paul Pierce.
  2. There’s no way the redshirt freshman will be in college after this season.

“He’s unbelievable,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.”

Hoiberg would know -- and not just because he’s a former NBA player and front-office executive. It was Hoiberg’s Cyclones who watched helplessly as McLemore almost single-handedly dug the Jayhawks out of a six-point deficit before burying a 3-pointer with 1 second remaining to force overtime Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas rode the momentum to a 97-89 victory in the Big 12 opener for both schools. But after that game, all anyone wanted to talk about was McLemore, who scored 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He made all six of his 3-point attempts and was 7-of-7 from the foul stripe.

“We had a lot of guys do some great things tonight,” said Jayhawks coach Bill Self, whose sixth-ranked squad improved to 13-1. “But Ben was the star.”

Coaches throw around that word loosely, but even Self will admit that he hasn’t had a talent of this caliber during his nine-year tenure in Lawrence.

Players such as Thomas Robinson, Marcus Morris and Wayne Simien were first-team All-Americans. Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers led the 2007-08 squad to the NCAA title and, overall, Self has had 15 players drafted.

Still, no one ever predicted that any of them would be special at the next level.

No KU player under Self -- and, heck, none since Pierce in the late 1990s -- has ever been pegged as a “star.”

Until now.

“I don’t see any reason why (McLemore) can’t be the top guy, the No. 1 guy,” an NBA scout told me Wednesday night. “The upper part of (this summer’s) draft is weak, but that’s not the only reason.

“He’s a freak athlete, he’s got a smooth stroke and he handles (the ball) pretty well. And I love his temperament. He’s the best player I’ve seen at Kansas in a long, long time.”

[+] EnlargeBen McLemore, Jeff Withey
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsBen McLemore gets a high-five from Kansas big man Jeff Withey during the second half.
It was easy to sing McLemore’s praises after Wednesday’s game. Pierce scored 31 points in his final appearance at Allen Fieldhouse in 1998. And Nick Collison had 24 points and 23 rebounds as a senior in 2003.

But McLemore’s effort Wednesday rivaled both of those performances.

A 6-foot-5 wing, McLemore scored 15 points in the last 7 minutes, 55 seconds of regulation to help force overtime. Kansas trailed 79-76 after Iowa State guard Korie Lucious swished a pair of foul shots with 8 seconds remaining. But KU raced down the court and ran the same play it used in the 2008 NCAA title game, when Chalmers hit a last-second 3 to force overtime against Memphis.

This time the play featured an extra handoff, but the result was the same after McLemore broke free thanks to a screen from Travis Releford. He then caught a perfect pass from Elijah Johnson and buried a 3-pointer off the backboard.

“I knew Ben had the hot hand and his man fell asleep,” Johnson said. “Who better to go to? I think that was the best person in that situation. If I would’ve made that shot it wouldn’t have been the same as Ben making it. He deserved that shot.”

McLemore said his teammates gave him a hard time about making the shot off the backboard.

“I actually kind of called ‘bank,’” McLemore said. “The way it left my hand, I knew it was going to hit the backboard. It was a good release. It went in. I’m so glad.”

McLemore then opened overtime with a 3-pointer on KU’s first possession, and the rout was on from there. Hoiberg -- whose team connected on 14 shots from beyond the arc Wednesday -- couldn’t say enough nice things about McLemore in his postgame news conference.

“He’s great right now,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s got a great upside just because of his athleticism. He’s got a great stroke, he’s got great elevation on his shot and he seems like a wonderful kid.”

A St. Louis native, McLemore redshirted last season after the NCAA questioned his transcripts following a prep career in which he attended three high schools in four years. He was deemed a partial qualifier, meaning he could practice with the Jayhawks but not compete in games.

McLemore’s teammates said he used his redshirt year to his advantage.

“He’s been willing to learn his whole life,” Johnson said. “He never thinks he knows too much. Even when he knows something, he doesn’t come off with that kind of attitude. When you look at him, you feel like he’s trying his hardest to do everything right.”

McLemore’s college career might not last very long, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to do everything he can to enjoy his KU experience. Wearing flip-flops, he spent nearly an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with fans after Wednesday’s game. Talk to him long enough, and it’s clear his thoughts are focused not on the NBA, but on helping the Jayhawks win their ninth consecutive Big 12 title.

“I didn’t start this road,” he said, “but I’d like to continue it.”

McLemore and the Jayhawks certainly took a big step in that quest Monday against an underrated Iowa State squad that always plays well at Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas has won 100 of its past 101 games. A loss would’ve been the first for KU in its conference opener since 1991.

Instead, the Jayhawks headed back to their apartments celebrating a victory thanks to the school’s most talented player in two decades.

“He’s a little kid at heart,” Johnson said of McLemore. “At the same time, he’s the coolest person in the world. He’s one of those people you could never get mad at. And if he gets mad at you, it hurts you.

“Anything he’s getting right now, I really, truly, deep down in my heart feel like he deserves.”

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

January, 4, 2013
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As conference play begins this week, it has become pretty obvious that Kansas is best team in the Big 12. Again.

But who comes next?

Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State all have solid squads with somewhat similar resumes. Ranking those four schools -- and the rest of the league -- isn’t easy, but here’s how I see things as we near the season’s midway point.

1. Kansas. While most other schools open Big 12 play this week, the Jayhawks will host a Temple squad on Sunday that defeated previously unbeaten Syracuse last month. Point guards Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe combine to average 8.1 assists.

2. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys appeared to have Gonzaga beaten on New Year’s Eve in Stillwater before the Zags battled back for a 69-68 victory. Still, the Cowboys -- who got 23 points from Marcus Smart -- should be encouraged by their gutsy performance.

3. Baylor. The Bears have looked much better their past two outings, drubbing BYU at home before falling by seven points against a very strong Gonzaga squad in Spokane, Wash. They can’t afford to lose home games against lesser foes. That includes Texas, which visits Waco on Saturday still without point guard Myck Kabongo.

4. Iowa State. The Cyclones are off until their Big 12 opener at Kansas on Jan. 9. Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee are averaging a combined 27.5 points. Melvin Ejim leads the team with 9.2 rebounds. It’s not absurd to say that Iowa State could finish as high as second in this league.

5. Kansas State. The Wildcats are playing hard for their new coach, Bruce Weber. But it’s not always pretty. K-State has looked mediocre since it defeated Florida Dec. 22 in Kansas City. Weber’s squad is good defensively while ranking 21st in the country in rebounds per game. But K-State has trouble scoring.

6. Texas. Freshman point guard Javan Felix hasn’t been all that bad in replacement of suspended sophomore Kabongo. Felix averages 6.5 assists. The Longhorns (8-5) have some serious work to do in conference play if they hope to keep their streak of 14 consecutive NCAA appearances alive.

7. Oklahoma. The Sooners are good enough to sneak up and beat anyone in this conference. But to contend for a postseason berth, Oklahoma needs to win some games on the road. It all starts Saturday with a tilt against West Virginia in Morgantown.

8. West Virginia. The Big 12’s most disappointing team can’t afford to lose Saturday’s home game against Oklahoma. Transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray combine to average only 21.8 points.

9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will hit the road for the first time this season for Saturday’s game against TCU in Fort Worth. Texas Tech (7-4) is getting 15.2 points per game from Jaye Crockett.

10. TCU. Saturday’s home game against Texas Tech may be the best chance TCU will have at a conference win all season. Sophomore guard Kyan Anderson has been the Horned Frogs’ steadiest player, with 13 points per game.

Kansas squeaks by Oregon State

December, 1, 2012
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Late in the first half of Friday’s 84-78 loss to No. 10 Kansas, Oregon State’s Ahmad Starks noticed something strange about the guards who were attempting to defend him at the Sprint Center.

“They were bringing guys in,” Starks said, “that we’d barley even scouted.”

Indeed, walk-on Evan Manning, seldom-used freshman Rio Adams and backup point guard Naadir Tharpe all took their turns replacing starter Elijah Johnson in Kansas’ bumbling backcourt.

All of them failed as Oregon State uncorked a 13-0 run that forced a 37-37 tie.

“I was just trying to find anybody that could go out there and give us some positive contributions,” KU coach Bill Self said. “To be honest with you, we didn’t find anyone.”

Kansas (6-1) might have won the game, but Self was far from giddy as the team bus left Kansas City and headed back to Lawrence. Three weeks into the 2012-13 season, the Jayhawks are clearly lacking chemistry and cohesion on the perimeter following the departure of four-year starting point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who’s now with the New Jersey Nets.

To be fair, Johnson -- Taylor’s replacement -- was the Jayhawks’ starting shooting guard last season, so he’s playing a bit out of position. Still, Self expects more out of the senior. On Friday, Starks torched Johnson for 25 points. He was 7-of-13 from 3-point range.

“He got whipped,” Self said of Johnson. “I hate to say that, but the point guard on their team gets 25 and ours gets 6. It’s not all on him, but that’s the thing that’s a little frustrating, because I don’t know where we go from here -- yet.

“I”m trying to figure out a way to put us in a situation where maybe the other team doesn’t feel so comfortable.”

What happened Friday wasn’t an isolated incident. Opposing guards have been having monster games against Kansas all season.

Michigan State’s Keith Appling had his way with Johnson and KU’s backcourt in a 19-point effort back on Nov. 13. Chattanooga threw a scare into Self’s squad and even led at halftime two days later thanks to Farad Cobb, who went 7-of-9 from 3-point land.

San Jose State’s James Kinney went off for 30 points against Kansas on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, and Starks was darn near unstoppable Friday.

“(Oregon State) didn’t run any offense,” Self said. “All they did was set a high ball screen for 18 minutes in the second half, and we couldn’t guard it.

“We could not stop No. 3 (Starks). Period. That’s something that’s got to improve or we’ll have to change how we play. We’ll have to play some zone or whatnot.”

[+] EnlargeElijah Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesElijah Johnson, moved from shooting guard to the point, has been a defensive liability for KU.
That’s not to say that Kansas didn’t do some positive things against Oregon State (4-2) on Friday. Ben McLemore scored 21 points and Travis Releford added 20 for a Jayhawks squad that shot 60 percent from the field. KU scored 54 points in the paint, where it benefitted from a slew of easy layups after blowing past Beavers defenders.

Kansas only attempted nine 3-pointers Friday. There was simply little need to shoot from the outside.

“We got the ball where we wanted it to go,” Self said. “We did some good things.”

Perhaps, but squeaking past mid-tier Pac-12 teams isn’t commonplace in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks have averaged 33.3 wins the past three seasons. To be a truly elite team, Self knows Kansas needs to coax more inspired play out of Johnson, who was one of KU’s top players at the end of last season.

Self said Johnson “nicked up” his knee in practice last week and hasn’t been 100 percent. He had 6 points, 9 assists and 4 turnovers Friday and has failed to score in double digits in three of his last four games.

On the season, Johnson is averaging 10.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers. Defensively, he’s been a liability.

“He’s getting assists and doing some nice things,” Self said, “but he’s not making plays on either end. That’s what’s frustrating, because we’re used to having guys back there who can make some plays.”

Kansas’ string of point guards under Self -- Aaron Miles, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins and Taylor -- has indeed been impressive. The Jayhawks are confident Johnson will be remembered the same way.

And the last thing they’re going to do is panic just because they’ve been pushed by teams they’d have usually blown out in the past.

“It’s early,” Releford said. “We’re only seven games in. It’s a lot of work. We’ve got a break coming up soon. Hopefully we come together a lot better than what we have recently.

“You’re always happy to get a win, but we know as a team that we should be playing a lot better than we are right now.”

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