New Mexico AD
KUAD: Coach Self weekly presser
If you are a movie buff, the word, the state, might make you think of Dorothy and Oz. If you are a farmer, Kansas might symbolize wheat. A music buff might flash on the band “Kansas.”
If you are a sports person, Kansas means basketball.
In fact, it is fair to say that the Jayhawks are among the blue bloods of collegiate basketball as much as Kentucky, Indiana, Duke or Louisville. Kansas has won more league titles than any other school. They are the second winningest program in NCAA D-I basketball.
The Jayhawks' first coach was the inventor of the game, James Naismith. Kansas basketball is Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Dean Smith, Larry Brown, Roy Williams. The Jayhawks have been to 24 Sweet 16s and 14 Final Fours.
There is a mystique about Kansas basketball and the University of New Mexico Lobos will take a crack at that mystique Saturday in the Kansas City Shootout.
“I’m sure my guys are as excited as I am for the game,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “We have a big challenge, but we’re excited about the opportunity. It’s going to be a barometer to see where my team is.”
Neal knows his 2013-14 Lobos are in the “very good” category. They have one of the nation’s top one-two combinations inside in 7-foot Alex Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow. They might have the nation’s best all-around senior guard in Kendall Williams.
...If this wasn’t a ranked Kansas team playing about 40 miles Northeast of its campus, the Lobos, on a four-game win streak, probably would be favored. UNM has more experience and gets more statistical production inside off high-percentage shots.
But, in a word, there is a reason this young 6-3 team is ranked No. 13 in the nation and a big challenge for the Lobos:
New Mexico AD
“You will see (one of) two game plans,” first-year New Mexico coach Craig “Noodles” Neal said of the Jayhawks, who take a 6-3 record into today’s contest against his 7-1 Lobos, set for a 6 p.m. tipoff in Sprint Center.
“You will see a team that will be really, really solid and get back to trying to be cohesive, or find a team really, really (ticked) off and they will come out and try to knock us out in the first round. We’ve got to be ready for both and be ready to withstand that. I mean, you are playing in a venue of 19,000 people, and it’s 30 miles from (KU’s) campus,” Neal added. “It will be like a road game for us.”
...Neal’s squad, which has explosive scorers in 6-9 senior forward Cameron Bairstow (19.8 ppg), 6-4 senior guard Kendall Williams (19.1 ppg) and 7-0 junior center Alex Kirk (18.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg), figures to test KU with a zone defense (2-3) as well as man-to-man. The Jayhawks have struggled against zones lately.
“I’m not going to pull a 1-3-1 zone, like Florida, did out of my hat,” Neal said of the defense the Gators used in Tuesday’s 67-61 win over KU in Gainesville, Fla. “We’re going to play Lobo basketball, the way we play. Hopefully we go in and guard them and don’t have to play a lot of zone, but I’m sure we’ll change some things up on them.”
Self has great respect for the Mountain West Conference school.
“New Mexico ... you can make a case they may be as good as anybody we’ve played,” Self said. “We are not going to play another team where three guys average 19 a game. They’ve got a 7-footer. They’ve got a 6-9 guy who may be as good a player as we’ll go against. He made the Australian national team,” Self said of Bairstow.
…Self told the Journal-World that junior point guard Naadir Tharpe would return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench the past two games. Freshman Frank Mason will return to his role as a key reserve. Other starters will be sophomore Perry Ellis, plus freshmen Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
In the last five weeks, Kansas has covered approximately 7,140 miles, playing six of its first nine games away from Lawrence.
It’s the kind of schedule that would wear down any young outfit, a nonconference slate that, to this point, is rated as the nation’s toughest among major-conference schools by analyst Ken Pomeroy’s strength-of-schedule metric.
Compare that to this time last year, and the Jayhawks had traveled just 1,760 miles and played just one game outside of Lawrence and Kansas City. Maybe that makes it a little clearer why Self pins some of his team’s growing pains on factors such as logistics and competition.
“Over time,” Self says, “playing a hard schedule will be good for us.”
This is not to suggest that Kansas doesn’t have its problems to correct. The Jayhawks rank 250th in the country in turnover percentage, giving the ball up nearly 20 times for every 100 possessions. They rank 238th in three-point shooting at 31.7 percent. And for long stretches, KU’s young lineup has looked like a team still grasping the general premise of a zone defense.
Kansas looks like a team that lost all five starters, including four experienced seniors.
“Last year, we kind of took those seniors for granted probably a little bit,” Self says. “And I (could) look at them and say, ‘We’re not as quick, and we’re not as fast, and maybe we’re not as strong.’
“But the ball moved, we knew who was supposed to get shots and we didn’t break down. So you always put yourself in position to win.”
As a whole, Self would like to see his team improve on its poor communication. An example came in the final minute against Florida, when freshman Andrew Wiggins went to inbound the ball only to have no one on his side of half-court.
When Self asked Tharpe about it a few seconds later, the guard indicated he had told freshman Brannen Greene the team was running “Chop” play, which meant Greene was supposed to take the inbounds pass.
Evidently, Greene didn’t hear the message … or Tharpe’s voice wasn’t loud enough.
“That’s the kind of stuff that’s frustrating,” Self said, “because there’s an effort to do what’s right, but it’s just not being executed. We’ve got to do a much better job of that.”
The Jayhawks — they play New Mexico at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. — have even left Self feeling helpless at times. When the ball has been on the other side of the court where players can’t hear him, Self says he’s felt like he’s completely lost control of the game as a coach. That would be fine if his players were talking more with each other.
Right now, they’re not.
“The thing about it is … I would hope, at least in my thinking, that the point guard would be the extension of the coaching staff or the head coach,” Self said. “So no matter what happens, when it breaks down, you can still run stuff and execute stuff, because they’re telling everybody what to do. We’re not quite there yet.”
The matchup that most catches Fraschilla’s eye for Saturday’s game is in the post, where UNM 7-foot junior center Alex Kirk and 6-9 senior power forward Cameron Bairstow will go head to head with 7-0 freshman Joel Embiid and 6-8 sophomore Perry Ellis.
Fraschilla: “You have two very experienced guys (Kirk and Bairstow) – guys who have been in college four years versus a couple of young guys who are very talented. I think that’s where the matchup between these two teams starts.
“Cam and Alex are playing as well as any tandem in the country right now. There are very few power forward/center tandems that are putting up the numbers and have the experiences these guys have. Both are physical, rugged guys, and they’re going to be a handful really for any team they play all season long. I don’t care if it’s Kansas, Duke or anybody in the Mountain West. Those two guys can play with anybody.”
What about Wiggins?
Kansas has one of three freshmen nationwide presumed to be one of the top three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft in 6-8 forward Andrew Wiggins, who is averaging 16.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. What might the Lobos do to try to stop him?
Fraschilla: “That’s a good question. Maybe it’s (Cleveland) Thomas; he’s a defensive type guy. He certainly will get a piece of him. Maybe it’s a Nick Banyard or one of the juco kids (Arthur Edwards and Deshawn Delaney) as well. But I think Craig (Neal’s) going into this game saying we have to slow down Andrew Wiggins, but we really have to play great team defense. Maybe it’s playing a little more zone than normal, making Kansas shoot more from outside. … Kansas has not yet figured out a way to exploit anybody who has played zone against them.”
Kansas has lost its past two games and three of its past four after receiving first-place votes in the national polls two weeks ago.
Fraschilla: “I don’t think there’s any panic on the part of the coaching staff, but it’s certainly uncharted territory for Kansas fans recently. They, very much like Lobo fans, when a team is down, despite the typical grumblings that might go on. Once the ball is in the air, they will do everything in their power to will their team to play better.”
Fraschilla on Kansas: “If you ask me, one Achilles’ heel for Kansas right now, and they have a few of them, I’ve been surprised at the level of point guard play. The biggest question for Kansas right now is are they going to stop turning the ball over? They’re turning the ball over at a 20 percent clip. That’s once every five times down the floor. That’s unusual for a Kansas team.”
Fraschilla on New Mexico: “Foul trouble. Although Kansas is struggling, they do have 13 bodies they can stick in a game, whereas I think as I watch New Mexico, their first five or first six are very good, good enough obviously to win the Mountain West this year. But depth I think will be a key factor in this game, particularly if Cam or Alex get in foul trouble.”
Fraschilla: “It’s going to be a very fun game because you have a very experienced New Mexico team that is used to winning against a very talented Kansas team that is trying to find itself.”
Neal isn't overconfident with the Jayhawks stumbling into the sold-out game in Kansas City Saturday. Nope, this is much more about New Mexico than Kansas for Neal. The Lobos have one blemish on their record, a loss to undefeated UMass in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic. That game came a day after a brutal overtime affair with UAB (proving to be a quality win after the Blazers' victory against North Carolina).
Since then, the Lobos have won at New Mexico State and took out a solid Cincinnati. They will follow up this Kansas game with a home game against New Mexico State and a neutral-site game against Marquette next Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"If you told me when we were in Australia (for a summer trip in August) that we'd be 7-1 going into the Kansas game with this schedule I would have taken it," Neal said. "This is a tough stretch for us."
Neal said the freshmen haven't progressed to the point he thought they would, but that's fine. Australian senior forward Cameron Bairstow has been better. He's averaging 19.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. Alex Kirk was the headline name inside and Kendall Williams the marquee name on the perimeter, so getting the unexpected high level of production from Bairstow has elevated the Lobos.
Kansas poses plenty of matchup problems with defending Andrew Wiggins or hanging with Joel Embiid. But the Jayhawks will have to worry about Bairstow. And after losing on a last-second 3-pointer at Colorado and being unable to catch Florida in the second half, the Jayhawks have no room for error.
"He's doing everything," said Neal of Bairstow. "He can shoot it, drive it and is a helluva rebounder. He's physical and he can stay in front of people. He's guarding, too."
Neal said he's not thinking about the KU talent -- on the court. Rather, he holds Kansas coach Bill Self in such high regard that he fully expects the Jayhawks to be even stronger than they were in Gainesville on Tuesday because of Self alone.
An intense summer of international play on Australia’s National team and a rigid workout routine are two reasons for Bairstow’s emergence this year.
When asked about his post player’s dedication, UNM head coach Craig Neal was quick to share praise about Bairstow’s work ethic:
“I always tease him because four years ago he was a scrawny 6’ 8” kid coming to play and now he’s a man. The thing about Cam, he’s supposed to come down here and do a press conference, but he’s up in the weight room lifting right now. He just does everything to get better. If I told him to go get better by eating dog food, he would eat dog food.”
It will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks match up against Bairstow and his front court mate Alex Kirk, who together make up one of the most dominant big-men tandems in the nation.
With seven-foot center Embliid and a collection of four long power forwards that includes starter Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks have the size and depth to match up against Bairstow and Kirk. However, where Kansas has the advantage in depth inside, one could argue that UNM’s post players are more skilled offensively and will present a difficult matchup for Self’s young team.
Look for the Jayhawks to use their front court depth to their advantage by trying to get Kirk and Bairstow in foul trouble. UNM proved in it’s one loss of the season against the UMass Minutemen that when Kirk and Bairstow are forced to the bench with early foul trouble, the Lobos lack any real offensive threat in reserve.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Jayhawks will likely push the ball in hopes of using their athleticism as an advantage. Wiggins is special talent who will be difficult to contain and the Lobos will not want to get into a running match with the Jayhawks.
If Kirk and Bairstow can stay on the court and force Kansas to play a slow style of game similar to what UNM did to Cincinnati last week, the Lobos have a decent shot at giving Kansas a third-straight loss and a statement win for Neal in this first year at the helm of the UNM program.
These are not the Jayhawks you’re probably used to.
When The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team takes to the floor in Kansas City’s Sprint Center on Saturday night, the team wearing the white uniforms opposite the Lobos will look every bit as scary as the Kansas program that has won three national championships and produced 2,106 victories in its storied history.
These Jayhawks, however, have been anything but scary the past two-plus weeks.
…The thought that the Lobos might actually be favored in what amounts to a neutral site road game is laughable to Neal. This is, after all, still Kansas.
…“My guys aren’t going to be shutting [Wiggins] down as much as they are going to be challenged shutting Kansas down,” Neal said. “I’m sure my guys are as excited as I am for the game and hopefully we have a good showing.”
…Whether the supporting cast around that big three can contribute is anyone’s guess. As the season progressess, the Lobos’ bench keeps getting thinner and less productive.
Same goes for the remainder of the starting lineup as junior guard Hugh Greenwood and sophomore shooting guard Cleveland Thomas continue to struggle to produce points.
Greenwood is nursing an injury to his shooting hand, an ailment that has clearly affected his shot. After the Lobos’ win over New Mexico State he said he has felt good in practice but hasn’t been able to carry that momentum into games. He is averaging just 5.1 points with 5.4 rebounds, third most on the team.
Santa Fe New Mexican
Gov. Susana Martinez will be supporting the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team in hostile territory tonight.
On Friday, the Republican governor traveled to Kansas, where she held a fundraiser for her gubernatorial re-election committee and spoke at a meeting of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican, also attended the chamber event.
This evening, Martinez and her husband, first gentleman Chuck Franco, will be in the crowd when the Lobos take on the nationally ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks in a highly anticipated showdown.
Just two days after undergoing foot surgery, Travis Releford plans to attend today’s nonconference basketball contest between his alma mater, Kansas University, and New Mexico, set for a 6 p.m. tipoff in his hometown’s Sprint Center.
The 6-foot-6 first-year pro, who plays for Okapi Aalstar in Belgium, is looking forward to assessing KU’s (6-3) team up close and personal.
“I haven’t gotten to see them much. When I saw them play against Duke, I thought they had a lot of good young players,” Releford said. “They are really young. There will be a lot of ups and downs. Coach (Bill) Self is a great coach. He’ll get those guys to play on the level he wants them to play on by conference and tournament time.
“It’s tough when you are young,” Releford added. “At Kansas, you are a target on everybody’s schedule. They are going to learn that real fast. By conference you will see a different team. Winning hard-fought games comes with experience, to be able to dig deep and know how to be tough enough to do it. They’ve never been in this situation. They’ll be great.”
…A first-time author, he said he’s looking forward to some upcoming signings of his new book, “Relentless: From Redshirt to the Rock of the Jayhawks.”
Releford will sign from 9:30 to 11 a.m., Dec. 21 in Allen Fieldhouse before the KU-Georgetown game. He’ll sign 6 to 8 p.m., Dec. 20 at Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Kan., and 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 23 at Kansas Sampler in Lenexa.
“It was good to tell some of the things that went on in my life, who I am,” said Releford, who nearly transferred rather than endure a red-shirt season at KU. “People get to see my personality and how I grew up.”
Utah's nonconference basketball schedule in 2014-15 got a lot more difficult with an announcement on Wednesday. The Utes will take on Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 13, 2014.
“We’re excited about it,” Utah athletics director Chris Hill said of the neutral site game. “It’s something that I think our program is ready to do as we continue to make progress.”
Utah and Kansas have played only once before. The No. 2 Jayhawks defeated the No. 8 Utes 79-68 in the 1995-96 season opener at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena. Keith Van Horn led the Utes with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Next year’s meeting was met with enthusiasm by the players.
“It just shows that our program is building,” said sophomore Jordan Loveridge. “We can play teams like that now. So it’s just good for the program.”