College Basketball Nation: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas team manager Chris Huey, a 6-foot-7 senior playfully called “Scarecrow” by teammates and coaches, ditched his duties on Saturday to suit up for the No. 8 Jayhawks in their home matchup against TCU.

Huey sported a No. 23 jersey for the occasion and even earned a mention in the official game notes.

According to the Kansas City Star, Huey was a solid basketball player who began his career at Saint Mary, an NAIA school in Leavenworth, Kansas. But he suffered a collapsed lung three times -- the first was reportedly the result of a vicious collision in high school -- and ultimately chose to stop playing and attend Kansas, where he's stayed close to the game while serving as a team manager.

Prior to the TCU game, coach Bill Self told Huey, a Kansas City-area native, that he wanted to reward him for his contributions to the team.

Per the KC Star:
“He’s unbelievably bright,” Self will say. “You can tell him anything, and he’ll remember it. He’s been a big asset for us.”

So much so, in fact, that Self approached Huey in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s game against TCU. After a season on the scout team, Self wanted to offer a reward: Huey would suit up against TCU, don a Kansas uniform and take his place on the bench -- just like the rest of the players. In the days before the game, Self kept the gesture quiet. But around the KU basketball office, staffers were busy putting him on the official roster, finding proper gear and adding his head shot to the pregame notes.

Would he get in the game, though? For most of the day, Kansas had a comfortable lead, but not quite comfortable enough to insert a student manager into the action.

But with 35 seconds to go, KU extended its lead to 11 and Self made the call. Get in there, Scarecrow.

The crowd went nuts.

How did he do? Check it out.

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For most of the 2014-15 season, Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander has only occasionally flashed hints of the towering, terrifying physicality that made him the nation's second-highest-ranked prospect in the Class of 2014 -- behind only Jahlil Okafor, Alexander's Chicago Public League rival.

On Tuesday night against Oklahoma State, he offered so much more than a hint:

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In the immortal words of Stefon, this dunk has everything:
  • A 6-foot-10 man Marshawn Lynch-ing his shoulder through a (probably flopping) Le'Bryan Nash.
  • A slight stagger as said man reorients his feet under his legs, like some sort of imposing baby deer.
  • An unthinkably high leap and arm extension over a defender doing everything he can to not get embarrassed, ending with that defender getting embarrassed anyway, and ...
  • The unrepentant, maybe unconscious flex-taunt that earned the freshman a technical foul.

Totally worth it! Besides, a technical was the least of the officials' worries. They're lucky KU fans didn't shut the gym down right then and there.
What we're reading while we get pumped for a trip to the Verizon Center tonight. Submit links via Twitter.
  • Yesterday, we discussed the ongoing travails of referee Karl Hess, who was accused by a Mit Shah, an Atlanta-area CEO and former member of the Wake Forest board of trustees, of using a racial remark in a sideline exchange during Sunday's Louisville-Wake Forest game. Today, the ACC fired Hess, the result of an "accumulation of events," a source told ESPN. Soon thereafter, Hess withdrew himself from his American Athletic Conference assignments, and is considering doing so in the Big 12, Big East, and SEC. The Big East says it is conducting its own independent investigation into Hess's work. Hess told ESPN that Friday was "a sad day and is devastating. But I'm responsible. I wasn't trying to deliberately hurt anyone. That's not my character. I goof around a lot, and there was no intent to hurt anyone." We have conflicting feelings here. Hess does seem remorseful, and the suddden sport-wide dogpile does feel a little unseemly. On the other hand, joke or not, Hess's remark was ridiculous and inexcusable and, yes, racist. (Shah is of Indian descent, not Egyptian, as Hess quipped. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Winston-Salem. None of those places are remotely close to Egypt.) So, yes, the punishment should be severe. If this was Hess's first run-in with the ACC league office, perhaps he would deserved a quiet reprimand, a brief suspension, and instructions to apologize. But it wasn't, and so here we are.
  • The time of the Three Wolf T-Shirt has long since passed. (Was it really five years ago already?) But that doesn't mean Georgetown's version -- featuring three howling likenesses of Jack the Bulldog -- isn't awesome. Let's be clear: That shirt is very, very awesome.
  • If you're looking for reasons to feel good about Kansas' ability to close out tight games late -- like, for example, Wednesday's "Bloodsport" match of a win Baylor -- having an inbound target who has yet to miss a free throw this season is a pretty good place to start.
  • Gonzaga has just begun its expected roll through the West Coast Conference, and the difficulties they face in earning a potential No. 1 seed -- even with one nonconference loss at Arizona -- are already becoming clear. Then again, given what happened in 2012-13, maybe it's better to eschew the top-seed bullseye.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, native Carlton Bragg is a five-star prospect in the class of 2015 with the college hoops world at his feet. Bragg's final five schools were Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, UCLA, and Arizona, with the Jayhawks, Wildcats, and Fighting Illini in the top three. On Thursday, the 6-foot-10 Villa Angela-St. Joseph product walked to a podium at his high school and dramatically announced his choice: Kentucky. Er, wait. Kansas! Yes, Bragg accidentally said Kentucky even as he was putting on a Kansas hat, in spite of his intentions to join Bill Self's program. Poor kid. Nerves are a fickle mistress.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone.
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On Wednesday night, Kansas opened its Big 12 season against a Top 25 team that features one of the nation's best and physical rebounders on said Top 25 team's hostile home court. A pugilistic mess ensued. The No. 12 Jayhawks traded 52 possessions with Baylor and, somehow, just 20 fouls. Baylor made eight 3s but just 10 2s. Kansas made five 3s and shot six free throws. The 21st-ranked Bears should have taken the lead with 13 seconds left, but Rico Gathers missed an open putback at the rim. Baylor had a chance to win the game on the final possession but didn't muster a shot. The final score was 56-55.

The Jayhawks won in the same way the man with less arterial leakage won the knife fight. Great win ... but hey, man, you don't look so good.

This is the defining dilemma of the 2014-15 Kansas Jayhawks, and it's the same one that has existed since our first glimpse in November: Is this team actually good?

[+] EnlargeJamari Traylor
Ray Carlin/USA TODAY SportsJamari Traylor gave Kansas' struggling offense a boost on Wednesday night.
There are points and counterpoints. In the "yes" column, you can add the fact that Wednesday's win moved Kansas to 12-2 on the season. They've achieved that mark against one of the nation's toughest -- maybe the toughest -- nonconference schedules. The Jayhawks beat Georgetown in a true road game. They held off a very good Utah team in Kansas City, Missouri. They scrapped to a neutral-court win over Michigan State.

Kansas does that -- it scraps. More than any other, a vague sense of toughness might be the Jayhawks' most impressive quality. Maybe it's the only obvious one.

Either way, you have to be tough to win games like Wednesday night's. Perry Ellis, KU's ostensible leading man, was held to just four points on 2-of-8 shooting. Baylor's shifty lane-packing zone made Ellis' night miserable; he rarely got a clean catch. Kelly Oubre, a newly minted starter and would-be freshman star coming off a 12-point, 10-rebound performance in a win Sunday over UNLV, made just one shot (a 3-pointer) and missed his only two free throws of the night. Kansas scored just 18 first-half points. But the Jayhawks got big contributions from elsewhere. Frank Mason was steady. Brannen Greene had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Cliff Alexander did just enough as a dump-off target on the low block.

Most important were Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor. Traylor came first. Midway through the second half, as Kansas made the closest thing either team would have to a spurt, Traylor suddenly morphed into a zone-breaking high-post monster. He collapsed the defense and found Alexander for two unguarded buckets. Traylor drove the zone and finished at the basket. And then, with five minutes left, Traylor fouled out -- at which point Selden made three straight buckets from three different spots (one 3, one tough leaner, and one finish at the rim) to push Kansas narrowly through the finish.

There's toughness in that. The Jayhawks have enough pieces that someone is always likely to step up. After all, how many teams in the country can afford to see their best player struggle as Ellis did and still come away with a road win? This is yes-column evidence.

But there are plenty of nos, too. The Jayhawks' two losses have been utter blowouts -- the first to Kentucky in November, the second at Temple in December -- doubling the number of 25-point losses in Self's previous 11 years. Kansas is questionable defensively: To date, the Jayhawks rank 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. That's hardly terrible, but it's on pace to be the worst of Self's KU career. (The 2013-14 Jayhawks were his first to rank outside the top 25, at No. 31. From 2005-06 to 2012-13, KU's average defensive rank was 5.25.) The Jayhawks don't force many turnovers, and they can be physically overwhelmed. Baylor grabbed almost half of its misses, with the 6-foot-8 Gathers bludgeoning his way to eight offensive boards.

Oubre is still struggling with his role. Alexander looks only slightly less raw than when he arrived. Ellis is inconsistent, which is not the best trait for a quietly productive scorer. Selden has moments like Wednesday, but he's shooting 35 percent from inside the arc, and sometimes he just disappears completely.

Kansas' offense can be effective, but it's rarely fluid. This is not a vintage passing attack. Self's trademark high-low sets haven't quite materialized. When you watch the Jayhawks, you can't help but feel like something's missing, some intuitive sense of tactical cohesion. Seven weeks in, KU is still less than the sum of its parts.

And despite all that, the Jayhawks are 12-2, winners of every close game they've played, the latest and closest of which came in Wednesday night's Big 12 opener. It was a simultaneously promising and disconcerting start to the conference campaign, and it came just after a promising and disconcerting nonconference run. There are positives and negatives, pros and cons, but no definitive answer to the overriding question of whether Kansas is actually good.

Give the Jayhawks this much -- they're tough. Whether that's enough is a question only the 2014-15 Big 12 schedule will be able to answer.

Afternoon Links: Hypothetical history

December, 30, 2014
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What we're reading while we try to avoid being subsumed by an encroaching obsession with Dragon Age: Inquisition. Submit links via Twitter.
  • The "Should Tyler Ulis Take Andrew Harrison's Minutes?!" discussion is the wrong one to have about this Kentucky team, because, to summarize Monday's rant, Kentucky is much better than everyone else and its exact lineup choices don't even matter. That said, there's no doubt Ulis is a hugely important player for the Wildcats, in that he is an excellent pressure defender and pass-first point guard with clear leadership skills. Which brings us to the counter-factual Gary Parrish highlighted after Saturday's win against Louisville: If Emmanuel Mudiay hadn't chosen SMU over Kentucky (before eventually leaving for China under NCAA scrutiny) Ulis wouldn't have been a Wildcat: "And even if [John] Calipari would've still theoretically offered Ulis with Mudiay committed, is it reasonable to think Ulis would've pledged to the Wildcats had Mudiay been set to enroll in the same class? 'No,' answered Evan Daniels, Scout.com's director of basketball recruiting. 'Ulis would not be at Kentucky if Mudiay had committed to Kentucky instead of SMU.' In other words, what looked like a recruiting-loss then is a recruiting-win now. Rather than secure a commitment from a five-star prospect who would ultimately face eligibility concerns and skip college in favor of a professional career in China, UK missed on Mudiay and instead got a commitment from Ulis just 20 days later."
  • Welcome to the Big Ten, Maryland. With a trip to Michigan State, the Terps officially touch down in their new conference Tuesday night, and the introduction should be a fun one. Testudo Times has a preview of the game itself, while The Only Colors distracts itself with some Big Ten projections.
  • Eight days after a thrashing at the hands of Temple, Kansas has two games to get right before jumping in the grindhouse that is the 2014-15 Big 12. The first comes Tuesday night, against Kent State. After a week, Bill Self emerged from the film room with some conclusions about his team, namely that the Jayhawks have to play with far greater energy: “What are we, No. 2 in the RPI? And we've played a great schedule,” Self said Monday. “So it's not like it's totally busted, but the last game was broke, without question, and I think that it isn't as much what we do as having the passion and the energy. I don't know if you know this … Jim Harbaugh, his name has been in the press the last couple days, but he spoke to our team last year, and he gave a great statement: ‘Energy always finds the ball.' Energy finds a way to cover up mistakes, and that's what we didn't do against Temple. Now, we are talking about one game. You can go back to Florida, Michigan State, Utah, Georgetown (KU victories), you don't play well, but energy can make up for some things, and that's what I think that we didn't have the other day. We played like a bunch of duds, and then they were really good.”
  • Michael Porter Jr. won't be gracing your college-oriented TV set for a couple of years; he's merely a high school sophomore. But he's already drawing plenty of attention, and not because he's a top-five player in the class of 2015. It's because he dunked on a dude from a foot inside the free throw line. Yeesh.
  • Over at Insider, ESPN hoops broadcast mage Dan Dakich made his second foray into the written word last week. We missed it at the time (we may or may not have spent all of Friday's break closing fade rifts in the Hinterlands) but Dakich is just as good in print as he is on the telly Insider. His detailed, concise analysis of Virginia's incredible defense is the real gem on offer here.

Kansas' loss meant nothing (for Kansas)

December, 23, 2014
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A decade of hegemony is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe, when Jayhawks families sit down for Christmas dinner Thursday, Kansas's past 10 years -- when they've reigned over 10 successive Big 12 regular-season conference championships -- can keep the conversation from turning grim.

If those fans chose to politely focus on the not-so-distant past, well, who could blame them? Because here's how the present stands up: In Self's first 11 seasons, his teams lost by more than 25 points exactly one time. In the first five weeks of the 2014-15 season, they've already done it twice.

The second of those blowouts came Monday night, a putrid 77-52 thrashing at Temple. Kansas never led, never got close, and never looked competent against a team that began the night ranked outside the top 100 in adjusted efficiency. The second half played out like a routine blowout, one team so unable to score or get a stop that the lead began to spiral inward on itself. Rushed shots led to bad defense, which led to more rushed shots. In a vacuum, you would have assumed Temple was the top-10 team mopping up some lowly cupcake opponent at home, and have been puzzled over the fans rushing the court at the final buzzer. What's all the fuss?

"They were so much better than us," Self said afterward.

[+] EnlargeKansas
AP Photo/Matt SlocumIt was a frustrating night from all angles for Kansas, but it shouldn't have any long-term, lingering after-effects.
And he was right.

The good news is that it probably doesn't matter.

Before the Kansas panic-o-meter switches from "mild" to "full-blown" - and judging by KU basketball's Facebook comments, we might already be too late -- it's worth noting just what an abberation Monday night really was. After all, it's not like Kansas hasn't played well in the nonconference thus far. The Jayhawks arrived in Philadelphia on the back of an eight-game winning streak pocked by solid wins over difficult opponents, including an impressive win over a Utah team with one of the nation's best guards in Delon Wright. And it's not like Kansas hasn't traveled to a major metropolitan area in the northeastern corridor to play in a hostile NBA arena, as it won at Georgetown on Dec. 10.

What the Jayhawks did Monday night was a mixture of unusually cold shooting, atypically lights-out offense by its opponents (more on that in a second) and some good old-fashioned lethargy.

Perry Ellis, the team's lone reliable go-to scorer -- the one guy Kansas clears out for when it really needs a bucket -- finished a frustrated 1-for-10. The Jayhawks shot 32.1 percent from the field as a group. When Temple opened an early lead, you kept waiting for the Jayhawks to knock down a few perimeter shots and tighten things back up. Frank Mason was the only player who delivered, making four of Kansas's seven 3-pointers. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Brannen Greene (the key player in the Georgetown win) and Wayne Selden combined to go 3-of-11.

Defensively, Kansas might have been worse, or at least -- to use a technical term -- more obviously bad. Throughout the past month, Self has consistently praised his team on two fronts: first-shot defense and toughness. Kansas had neither Monday night. It was tired and slow, as Self put it after the game: "Like we were a half step slow or even a full step slow." Maybe that's the promise of an impending Christmas break. Maybe it's the post-final exam malaise. Whatever it was, it looked nothing like Kansas's typical performance.

Is lethargy a bad sign? Maybe. Is playing at 70 percent of your ability on Dec. 22 a portent of doom? Probably not.

None of which should minimize Temple's role in the blowout. The Owls might not have faced Kansas in top form, but they still had to make the shots. Did they ever: Temple went 21-of-28 from inside the arc. Will Cummings was a force on the perimeter, driving on KU's guards at will, finishing with ease, and expertly controlling the pace as the lead widened in the second half. When Temple boarded the Philadelphia Subway en route to the arena Monday night, it ranked 340th in the country in field-goal percentage. Cummings & Co. showed none of those woes against the Jayhawks.

"I think we played about as well as we possibly could have," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "It was our night."

The "& Co." bit is especially important. Monday night was just the second game of the season for transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman. Morgan finished with 17 points on 10 shots; Coleman contributed 14 mistake-free minutes off the bench. But the duo, Morgan especially, added more than that: They provided the room and the support to make Cummings a truly lethal one-on-one player.

In other words, if Temple 77, Kansas 52 matters, it matters for Temple. And not just the win (though that is a nice bonus for a team that had yet to snag anything resembling a NCAA tournament-worthy victory). This performance hinted at the promise of Dunphy's team -- a good defensive group that might not be so awful with the ball after all.

As for Kansas, look at it this way: Whatever issues Self's team had before the game -- the stop-start emergence of Kelly Oubre, the stalled contributions of Cliff Alexander, shaky perimeter shooting, lack of fluidity in its half-court offense -- exist now. Whatever strengths the Jayhawks previously displayed will likely emerge again in the next week, when Kent State and UNLV come to Allen Fieldhouse.

And if the Jayhawks fail to maintain that fabled Big 12 title streak in a few months, it will probably have as much to do with the butcher shop that is the 2014-15 Big 12 as with anything Kansas did or didn't do in Philadelphia. It was, in every sense of the word, just one of those nights. The only sweeping conclusion to be drawn here is a resounding: Meh.

Can Kansas close the gap?

December, 13, 2014
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There's always an invisible line. In every team's season, there comes a time when the optimism must fall away. The time is different every season, and for every team, which makes it hard to precisely pinpoint. But every team has the threshold across which the hopeful "ifs" of the preseason -- if we shoot it better, if Player X guards on the wing, if Player Y gets healthy -- no longer apply. The line says that if those things haven't happened yet, they won't ever happen. Past the line, you are who you are.

On Wednesday night, after an ugly performance that was nonetheless good enough to survive Georgetown on the road, Bill Self indirectly referenced this invisible line. His Jayhawks weren't very good yet, he said, but he was hopeful for the future -- his team is young and figuring it out and still winning these ugly games anyway. In other words, there is a gap between how good his team is right now and how good it might conceivably become.

Three days later, in a 63-60 win over No. 13 Utah, the 10th-ranked Jayhawks displayed how wide that gap really is.

Saturday's first half against Utah was probably Kansas' best half of the season. The Jayhawks were 12-of-20 from the field and 5-of-8 from 3, and it wasn't as simple as making shots -- Kansas was running good offense and creating good, makeable shots in the first place. Defensively, the Jayhawks were as taut as ever, forcing Utah into tough looks, few free throws, and just 21 first-half points.

The second half, or the first 17 or 18 minutes of it, was a reversion to everything the Jayhawks don't do well. Kansas made just six of its 23 field goals and committed seven turnovers, several of which were more or less unforced. Wayne Selden struggled anew. Cliff Alexander was nonexistent. And the Jayhawks' defense was shredded by Utah guard Delon Wright -- who ended the game with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, plus four steals and four assists -- as Utah erased a 21-point second-half deficit.

In the end, the Jayhawks made a series of key plays -- a Perry Ellis bucket here, a steal there -- to salvage the win. But the difference between the halves was the real takeaway. In the first, Kansas was everything its deep crop of talent hints at: fluid and versatile offense, ferocious man-to-man defense. In the second, all of the struggles were back on display.

The best news is that Kansas has a long time before it reaches the line -- the point at which it can no longer expect to transform. It's nowhere close to that line yet. Even as the Jayhawks keep winning, there remains a huge gap between what they are and what they might become. Their project over the next month is to erase that gap.
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Kansas winning ugly, but it's a start

December, 11, 2014
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One might be inclined to think that after five straight wins -- including three in a row over Michigan State, Florida and Georgetown -- the Kansas Jayhawks are a pretty good basketball team. Not great, necessarily. Not vintage. But pretty good, right?

Bill Self would be the first to disabuse you of that notion.

"We're not very good yet," Self said.

He is happy to list the reasons.

"We're not a good passing team at all," Self said. "We don't make the game easier for our teammates. ... We don't know where our shots are coming from consistently. We don't know who to play through at times. Sometimes Frank [Mason] is the best player on our team. Sometimes Wayne [Selden] is. Sometimes Perry [Ellis] is. We haven't quite figured it out yet. But that's OK. The key to having great seasons is winning when you don't play great."

Judged by that standard, Wednesday night's win was Kansas' most impressive yet.

[+] EnlargeKansas' Perry Ellis
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesIt may not have been pretty, but Perry Ellis and the Jayhawks got a quality win on the road against Georgetown.
On the road against a Georgetown team with a massive front line and a visible hunger for a marquee, nonconference breakthrough, the Jayhawks scrapped and clawed and shot their way to a mostly ugly 75-70 win. Kansas made just 10 of its 36 attempts inside the arc, a parade of contested tries taken in the teeth of the Hoyas' physical defense. The Jayhawks committed 17 turnovers to just 11 assists. They scored 1.01 points per possession.

All the while, Self continued to tinker with his lineup. He gave forward Landen Lucas the nod in the starting lineup. He gave Kelly Oubre -- a star freshman prospect who has largely disappointed to date -- his biggest and most impactful minutes of the season. And he rode the hot hand of Brannen Greene, whom Self said has "gotten in his own way with us on the court by not doing what we think he's capable of doing," to 19 points on 5-of-5 from 3 and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.

"It was a toughness win," Greene said. "Coach kept saying the toughest team was going to win. That's what I felt like we did. We grinded it out."

Greene's shooting made him the lone Jayhawk to hit better than 50 percent Wednesday night. Perry Ellis finished 4-of-15 for 13 points but contributed 10 rebounds to the cause. Wayne Selden shot 2-of-7. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk started the game but managed just one attempt before being relegated to the bench for the rest of the evening. Mason was probably the Jayhawks' second-best player, and even he finished just 4-of-8 with four turnovers, though several of his buckets came at crucial junctures in the game.

A good portion of the credit should go to Georgetown. After the game, John Thompson II said he was struggling to identify positives from the outing. The Hoyas truly, desperately wanted a win.

But even if the wins haven't come, Georgetown has been undeniably more impressive this season than during 2013-14's lackluster 18-15 campaign. They're more efficient on offense, thanks to the emergence of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera as the team's lead guard and (finally!) the arrival of long-awaited UCLA transfer Josh Smith. Smith in particular has been impressive, with a usage rate of 29.7 percent and an offensive rebounding rate of 15.5 percent. Georgetown is far better on defense, too, holding opponents to well under a point per trip this season. The uptick on both ends hasn't translated into wins -- the Hoyas played Wisconsin close in the Bahamas and fell to Butler two days after topping Florida in overtime -- but the odds this team will miss the tournament are minimal.

All of which makes Kansas's performance praiseworthy. With a lineup in flux and an offense prone to sputters, Self's team emerged from a true, nonconference road test with a win. An unsightly win, sure. But a win all the same.

"I think we're learning how to win ugly," Self said. "Which is still winning."
What we're reading while we plot the most scenic route between D.C. and Iowa. Submit links via Twitter.
  • LaDontae Henton is not exactly coming out of nowhere: After all, he played big, efficient minutes for a very solid Providence team -- one that gave North Carolina a serious go in the NCAA tournament before its elimination -- in 2013-14. But last season's Friars were so dominated, literally and cognitively, by point guard Bryce Cotton that Henton remained under the radar nationally. After Sunday night, that will no longer be possible. Henton scored 38 points on 14-of-19 shooting in Providence's 75-74 Hall of Fame Tip-Off win over Notre Dame, prompting Irish coach Mike Brey to pull Henton aside after the game and tell him: "You've become a hell of a college player. Go win the Big East now." NBC's Rob Dauster has some background reading on Ed Cooley's latest senior star.
  • Speaking of the Big East, Sunday's Puerto Rico Tip-Off finale felt a bit like an old mid-aughts Big East tumble. UConn guard Ryan Boatright squared off with West Virginia's Juwan Staten, a matchup of the two fastest -- and maybe the two most confident -- guards in the country. For 40 minutes, as Boatright and Staten went at each other, West Virginia never surrendered a lead. Part of that has to do with suspensions UConn announced before the game Sunday: Omar Calhoun, Rakim Lubin, and walk-ons Dan Guest and Marcel Lewis were all forced to miss the game for undisclosed violations of team rules. But just as much had to do with West Virginia's obvious improvement on the defensive end. The Mountaineers pressed Connecticut for nearly 40 minutes, something no team could conceive of doing to the Huskies in last season's title run. In its five wins to date, West Virginia has forced opponents into turnovers on 30.8 percent of their possessions, sixth best in the country. And the Mountaineers' average defensive possession length is just 14.4 seconds, fourth lowest in the country. When you play Staten and Co., expect harassment -- both physical and verbal. West Virginia looks great so far.
  • On Monday night, Kansas is back in action for the first time since last Tuesday's Kentucky-inflicted 72-40 Champions Classic drubbing that left Bill Self in immediate need of postgame liquid therapy. So what will the Jayhawks do differently? The good news is they're playing Rider and not an insanely tall team with nine McDonald's All-Americans and two interchangable squads. The bad news is that even as late as Sunday, Self wasn't certain what his lineup would look like. But he was sure that freshman forward Kelly Oubre needs to play better, and soon.
  • How did Clemson lose to Gardner-Webb Friday? Calling a timeout it didn't have didn't help.
  • Dana O'Neil's latest edition of Four Corners -- her Monday morning column spanning the landscape of college hoops -- deserves a place on your weekly must-read list. It's that good. Today's edition, on the stubborn old coaching guard still going strong in their late 60s and beyond, is a lot of fun.

Bill Self has friends in high places

September, 8, 2014
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Here are a few new pieces of information I've learned on this fine Monday morning:
  • Country music star Garth Brooks has launched a new world tour. His first show was at the AllState Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, on Friday night.
  • Brooks is not, in fact, retired from making music, but has been performing on the weekends in Las Vegas for several years. On Sept. 3, in advance of his new tour and impending double album, he released a new single: "People Loving People."
  • Self
  • Kansas coach Bill Self attended Brooks' first shows -- Brooks played two in one night -- in Rosemont Friday.
  • Self is not merely an admirer of Brooks' music, but a longtime friend. The two former Oklahoma State student-athletes -- Brooks was on a partial track scholarship -- lived in the Iba Hall athletic dorm in the early 1980s. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Self used to "encourage" Brooks' musical ambitions around the dorm and would attend his early shows at clubs in the Stillwater area.
  • The two "played together on the same softball team for seven years," Self told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
  • Brooks frequently hosts charity basketball events for local kids in the areas where he's touring. On Saturday, Self worked with 150 youths from the Boys and Girls Club and Salvation Army at the charity basketball camp.
  • Self's wife, Cindy, graduated from the same high school -- Yukon (Oklahoma) High -- as the country music star, who starred at quarterback.
  • Other than the Beatles, Brooks has sold more albums than every other musical act in history -- more than 130 million worldwide.
  • In 1999, after a decade of diamond-album dominance, at the height of his popularity and power, Brooks released an experimental concept album by "Chris Gaines," a gothy alter-ego character with bangs and a soul patch. It did not go well.
  • "People Loving People" is not better than you'd think. It's actually probably worse.

But still, Bill Self goes way back with Garth Brooks. Who knew?

Class of 2014's best defenders 

May, 7, 2014
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In high school basketball, the best players usually concentrate on their offense because that’s how their teams win games. But there are several prospects who have the potential to be elite defenders. Let’s examine the five best defenders among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.

Keys to victory: Stanford 60, Kansas 57

March, 23, 2014
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Another basketball power with a star freshman was upset, with Kansas falling to Stanford in the Round of 32.

This was one of those games in which the pictures tell the story.
Wiggins couldn't close
Andrew Wiggins was basically a non factor in this game for Kansas, making only 1 of 6 shots from the field. He had averaged 28 points on 51 percent shooting in his previous four games.

Wiggins averaged 10 paint points in the six games in which Joel Embiid didn't play prior to Sunday, but did not have any points in the paint against Stanford.

Andrew Wiggins didn't get many chances to score on Sunday.

Andrew Wiggins' point total dropped in each game after his 41-point game agianst West Virginia.


The zone worked
Kansas shot 28 percent (8 for 29) when Stanford played zone, including 19 percent (3 for 16) in the first half. The Jayhawks entered the game shooting 48 percent against zone defenses, best in the Big 12 and 21st in the nation.

Wiggins and Perry Ellis were a combined 1 for 8 against the Cardinal’s zone.

Jayhawks couldn't score from inside
Kansas went 10 for 31 in the paint (32 percent). Entering the game, the Jayhawks were shooting 62 percent in the paint for the season.

Kansas averaged 13.7 dunks and layups per game entering the day. It had only six on Sunday.

57 points tie Kansas' fewest in a game this season (61-57 loss to San Diego State on Jan. 5).


Did You Know?
Stanford survived going 0 for 9 from 3-point range to pull out the win. They're only the second team to go 0 for 9 from 3 in an NCAA Tournament win, joining Connecticut, which did so in a win over Gonzaga in 1999. No team has fared worse and won an NCAA Tournament game.

Top stats to know for Sunday's games

March, 22, 2014
3/22/14
8:24
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Sunday's NCAA Tournament slate features eight compelling Round of 32 games, and we've got you covered with a look at the key matchups in each contest.

KANSAS vs STANFORD
Stanford is the third-most efficient team in the country on pick-and-roll, ball handler plays, averaging more than a point per play on those plays.

Kansas ranks 221st in points per play allowed while defending pick-and-roll, ball handler plays.

That could be a big factor with Joel Embiid not there to protect the rim on pick-and-roll plays.

WICHITA STATE vs KENTUCKY
Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebound percentage (42.1%) and scores 9.4 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, fifth-most in the country.

Wichita State ranks fifth in the country in defensive rebound percentage (74.2%) and only allows 4.3 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, 17th-fewest in the country.

IOWA STATE vs NORTH CAROLINA
Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Cyclones rank in the top 25 in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made per game.

North Carolina is holding teams to 30 percent 3-point shooting in its last 14 games. The Tar Heels have held 13 of their last 14 opponents below 40 percent on 3-point shooting. They're only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game in their last 14 games.

TENNESSEE vs MERCER
Mercer's opponents are attempting 23.1 3-pointers per game in its last 10 games. Mercer is 9-0 when its opponents attempt at least 24 3-pointers (12-1 when they attempt at least 23), including a win over Duke (37 attempts).

Tennessee hasn't had more than 24 3-point attempts all season. They average 17.1 3-point attempts per game.

UCLA vs STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
UCLA ranks in the bottom 20 of the country in turnover percentage. The Bruins only turn it over on 14.9 percent of their possessions.

Stephen F. Austin forces 16.2 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the country. However, SFA is only forcing 11.6 turnovers per game in its last five games.

CREIGHTON vs BAYLOR
Creighton is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (4-6 when shooting less than 35 percent). Creighton is 15-1 when making at least 11 3-pointers (12-6 when making 10 or fewer).

Baylor's opponents are shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers in its last 10 games. Baylor has allowed higher than 40 percent 3-point shooting in five of its last 10 games and at least eight 3-pointers in six of its last 10 games.

VIRGINIA vs MEMPHIS
Memphis ranks second in the country in transition offense with 21.2 points per game. The Tigers rank 21st in transition field goal percentage (59.3%).

Virginia excels in transition defense. The Cavaliers allow seven transition points per game, second-fewest in the country. Virginia also ranks in the top 25 in field goal percentage defense in transition.

Pace will be a factor, as well. Virginia has the third-slowest pace (60.7 possessions per game), while Memphis ranks 34th in pace (71.2 possessions per game).

ARIZONA vs GONZAGA
Gonzaga is very efficient on offense, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Arizona ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats are 15-0 this season when allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions.

Gonzaga hasn't faced a single team all season that ranks in the top 30 in offensive efficiency.

Why UL & MSU should be No. 1 seeds

March, 16, 2014
3/16/14
9:15
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It seems clear that Arizona, Florida and Wichita State will receive No. 1 seeds. But which team should be the 4th No. 1 seed?

LOUISVILLE
Are choosing No. 1 seeds about who the best four teams are? Or are they about selecting the best 4 resumes using RPI data?

Using RPI data, Louisville doesn't have the best resume based solely on quality wins.

But there's certainly an argument that Louisville is one of the best four teams in college basketball, maybe even the best team.

Louisville has the best net efficiency in the country. Net efficiency is the difference in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).

The Cardinals are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Louisville ranks No. 4 in BPI, which takes into account scoring margin, opponent strength, pace, location and key players missing.

The Cardinals also rank No. 2 in KenPom rating. They rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, which take into account opponent strength.

Louisville has 19 wins by at least 20 points this season. No other team has more than 15 such wins.

The Cardinals have no bad losses, something that can't be said for Duke, Michigan and Villanova. Each of Louisville's five losses are by single digits against teams ranked in the top 50 in both BPI and RPI.

MICHIGAN STATE
It's often mentioned that the NCAA selection committee evaluates how a team performs at full strength -- if that team is entering the NCAA Tournament at full strength.

If that's true, then Michigan State should be a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan State is 13-3 with all of its key players (defined as top five players in minutes per game among players who have played at least half of their team's games): Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.

Michigan State has the fifth-best BPI of any team with all of its key players.

The Spartans are 20-3 with Branden Dawson in the lineup (5-5 without him). Their only three losses with Dawson in the lineup are North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio State.

With all of their key players, the Spartans are 6-2 against the BPI top 50 and 8-3 against the BPI top 100.

KANSAS
Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the only teams that rank in the top five in RPI, BPI and KenPom.

Kansas has the No. 1 overall strength of schedule, the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule, the most RPI top-50 wins of any team (12) and the most RPI top-100 wins (18).

The Jayhawks have no losses outside the RPI top 100.

MICHIGAN
Michigan has 10 wins against the RPI top 50. Only Kansas (12) and Arizona (11) have more.

If Virginia and Florida don't win their conference tournaments, Michigan could be the only "major conference" team to win its regular-season conference title outright and its conference tournament.

DUKE
Duke has five wins against the RPI top 25, the most of any team. The Blue Devils have a head-to-head win against Michigan, another team competing for a No. 1 seed. They also have wins against Virginia and Syracuse.

VILLANOVA
Villanova has 16 wins against the RPI top 100. Only Kansas (18), Arizona (17) and Wisconsin (17) have more. The Wildcats have a head-to-head win against Kansas, another team that could potentially receive a No. 1 seed.

BPI Talk: Projecting championship week

March, 11, 2014
3/11/14
1:00
PM ET
Championship Week can be unpredictable as teams try to improve their NCAA tournament résumés, whether it’s to vie for a No. 1 seed or just to get into the field.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) measures how well each team performs based on game result, margin, pace of game, location, opponent strength and the absence of any key players.


Using BPI, we are able to project the chances for each team to win its major conference tournament. The probabilities take into account the matchups in each bracket based on each team’s BPI. The team with the best BPI isn’t necessarily always the favorite if that team has much tougher matchups than other teams in the tournament.

According to BPI, the Arizona Wildcats have the best chance of any team in one of the seven major conferences (American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) to win its tournament. They have a 63 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament.

Pac-12
Arizona has more than a six times better chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament than any other team. The UCLA Bruins have the second-best chance at 10 percent.

Pac-12 best chances: Arizona 63 percent, UCLA 10 percent, Oregon 10 percent, Arizona State 5 percent, Stanford 4 percent

SEC
The Florida Gators are the prohibitive favorites in the SEC tournament with a 57 percent chance to win it. The Kentucky Wildcats (25 percent) are the only other SEC team with better than a 7 percent chance. The No. 9 seed Missouri Tigers have a slightly better chance to win the SEC tournament than the No. 3 seed Georgia Bulldogs.

SEC best chances: Florida 57 percent, Kentucky 25 percent, Tennessee 7 percent, Arkansas 3 percent, Missouri 2 percent

American & Big East
The Louisville Cardinals (American) and Villanova Wildcats (Big East) are both close to 50 percent in terms of their chances of winning their respective conference tournaments.

The Memphis Tigers have an edge playing on their home court in the American Tournament, but they still have a significantly worse chance than Louisville and Cincinnati. Memphis does, however, have a greater probability of winning the tournament than higher-seeded teams Southern Methodist and Connecticut. With its home-court advantage, Memphis would be a favorite against any team in the tournament other than Louisville.

American best chances: Louisville 49 percent, Cincinnati 18 percent, Memphis 14 percent, SMU 12 percent, Connecticut 8 percent

No team other than Villanova or Creighton has better than a 6 percent chance to win the Big East tournament. There’s a 44 percent chance that Villanova and Creighton meet in the Big East championship game.

Big East best chances: Villanova 48 percent, Creighton 31 percent, Xavier 6 percent, St. John’s 6 percent, Providence 4 percent

ACC
Perhaps the most interesting conference tournament is the ACC, where the No. 3 seed Duke Blue Devils are the favorites at 27 percent. The No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers (25 percent) and No. 2 Syracuse Orange (23 percent) are close behind.

ACC best chances: Duke 27 percent, Virginia 25 percent, Syracuse 23 percent, Pittsburgh 12 percent, North Carolina 7 percent

Big Ten
Another interesting conference tournament is the Big Ten, where four teams have between a 17 percent and a 26 percent chance of winning the tournament. The No. 2 seed Wisconsin Badgers are the favorites at 26 percent, while the No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines are only the third favorites.

Big Ten best chances: Wisconsin 26 percent, Ohio State 19 percent, Michigan 19 percent, Michigan State 17 percent, Iowa 11 percent

Big 12
The Kansas Jayhawks have a 37 percent chance to win the Big 12 tournament, but their path isn’t easy. They could face the teams with the fourth- and second-best chances of winning the tournament in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

The No. 8 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys, with a 10 percent chance of winning it, could face Kansas in the quarterfinals. The No. 4 seed Iowa State Cyclones, with an 18 percent chance, could face Kansas in the semifinals. Both teams have a 35 percent chance of beating Kansas, according to BPI.

Big 12 best chances: Kansas 37 percent, Iowa State 18 percent, Oklahoma 16 percent, Oklahoma State 10 percent, Baylor 6 percent

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