KUAD: Kansas host K-State pre game notes
It's @Humb1e_Hungry23 birthday y'all!!!
On my way up to cover a very important Kansas-Kansas State game. No better place to cover a game, in my view. Are Jayhawks fans confident?
Last year's BB game vs Missouri, I witnessed the best crowd support I've ever seen. Well, time to one up that tonight! Do your job!
“I don’t know where we are,” Self said, “but it seems like to me, we’re missing a lot of shots that other teams aren’t missing.”
The answers will come quick. A statement victory in front of a packed Fieldhouse could do plenty to resuscitate KU’s title hopes — and stabilize the Jayhawks’ fleeting confidence. But if Self expected a dogfight, KU still has to prove it can emerge from the fray.
“Anything can happen,” Self said. “But we’re gonna have to play our best ball of the conference season to have a chance to win it.”
Not to dismiss a good seed. Everybody wants one. But schools don’t cut nets, hang banners or print commemorative T-shirts championing seeds. And even with a program headed to its fifth NCAA Tournament in six years, K-State has had scant opportunity to think of its basketball goals in other terms.
Few in the Big 12 have because they share space with the nation’s most dominant program in conference competition.
But the world turned at the top of the Big 12 in an eight-day stretch, and that’s why Monday night’s Sunflower Showdown drips with intrigue.
The Wildcats bring to Allen Fieldhouse first-place confidence. Saturday’s home victory over Iowa State pushed K-State’s league record to 8-2, one game ahead of the Jayhawks and Oklahoma State. Both Kansas teams stand 19-4 overall.
Until about noon Monday, KU will remain the nation’s No. 5-ranked team — a week after being top-ranked in the coaches’ poll — and the Wildcats are No. 13. By the tipoff, around 8 p.m., the ratings will have changed as dramatically as the Jayhawks’ season.
Three straight losses have Kansas reeling, and the Wildcats breeze along on a four-game winning streak. During Feb. 2-9, the Jayhawks’ two-game league lead melted to a one-game deficit.
The KU plunge makes the Big 12 a different place today, one in which the program that has won eight straight Big 12 titles has been brought back to the pack. Teams talk about what it takes to win a title, and that’s not unusual — in October. In February, it sounds odd coming from somebody not suiting up for Kansas.
“Does it feel good? Yeah,” Wildcats guard Angel Rodriguez said about first place. “But you can’t settle. It’s a long season.”
…With its 59-55 victory in Manhattan last month, the Jayhawks moved to 45-3 against K-State since 1994.
In all of those years, Kansas finished as the higher-ranked team. But the Jayhawks win the lion’s share of league titles, finish as the highest-ranked conference team in most seasons, and historically have had more trouble with league rivals like Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
The Jayhawks’ firm grip on the series may have been best illustrated in 2010. K-State, led by Pullen, set a school record with 29 victories and pushed the Cats all the way to the NCAA regional title game.
The Jayhawks and Wildcats met three times that year, and K-State wasn’t ranked below 11th nationally in any of the meetings.
Kansas won all three, captured the Big 12 by four games and had everybody else playing only for bracketology once again.
But in one week, the Jayhawks have given more than half of the Big 12 championship dreams. If K-State finds a way to win Monday night, Kansas will find itself closer to a place it hasn’t known for years — one where it falls back in the conference race and can only wonder about its postseason seed.
KC Star Kerkhoff: KState poised for title
Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder have all played well since Kansas beat K-State 59-55 last month at Bramlage Coliseum. Spradling was held scoreless in that game, but he has shot the ball better since. Iowa State focused its defense on slowing him down, and McGruder and Rodriguez took advantage of the extra space that created, combining to score 42 points. McGruder has been solid throughout Big 12 play, but Rodriguez is starting to make more positive plays than negative plays. Combined, they are playing better than the Jayhawks’ backcourt. Elijah Johnson hasn’t been himself during their losing streak, and Ben McLemore and Travis Releford aren’t matching their early production, either. Releford’s defense on McGruder was a major factor in the first meeting between these teams. How K-State responds could decide the outcome in the rematch.
• Edge: K-State
Kansas senior Jeff Withey is still a defensive force in the middle, capable of protecting the rim and disrupting an opposing team’s offense. His block totals have decreased lately — he’s averaging 3.75 in his last five games — but that’s partially because teams have stopped coming inside. He needs just one block to break Greg Ostertag’s all-time KU record for blocked shots (258). On the other hand, the Jayhawks’ power-forward spot has become a genuine liability. Senior Kevin Young (6.7 rebounds per game) provides energy and athleticism, but freshmen Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor have struggled to make progress during conference play. K-State, meanwhile, relies on its guards for offensive production and starts wing Shane Southwell at power forward in a small lineup. Southwell had a season-high 19 points — including five threes — against Kansas in Manhattan. (He also took a disparaging jab at Young after the game before walking back on his statement). Lastly, K-State sophomore Thomas Gipson is the type of banger that can give Withey problems.
• Edge: Push
When Bruce Weber says “we have eight starters,” he means it. Martavious Irving and Thomas Gipson have played vital roles in K-State’s current winning streak, while Nino Williams and Omari Lawrence remain capable of having big nights. Irving has scored 10 points in three straight games and Gipson is coming off, perhaps, his finest game in a K-State uniform. He scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Iowa State. If they continue to play that way against Kansas, the Wildcats will benefit. For Kansas, Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis have had their moments but have been inconsistent lately. While Weber says he would like to start more than five players, Bill Self said after a loss to TCU that he would start only three if he could.
• Edge: K-State
Something’s gotta give. The Jayhawks are mired in their first three-game losing streak in eight years, but they’ve also won 45 of their last 48 meetings against the Wildcats. That record includes a 17-1 mark at Allen Fieldhouse. Further, Kansas has won its last five against K-State at Allen by an average of 20 points. Kansas is still a heavy favorite in Vegas, but Kansas State enters as the Big 12’s first-place team and is likely to be ranked ahead of KU when the polls come out today. The Jayhawks may be ripe for the picking, but the Wildcats will have to deal with a jacked-up and frustrated crowd inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• EDGE: Kansas
"We have to treat it like any other game," K-State guard Rodney McGruder said. "You can't say ‘oh, man, we've got Kansas’ and get wrapped up in the rivalry and things like that. We have to treat it just like it's Iowa State or Oklahoma State.
"People always try to amp that Kansas game up more than any other game. It's just any other game, and I feel like we're prepared. We were prepared (Saturday), and we're going to be prepared on Monday."
…Weber expects to face a motivated Jayhawk team set on breaking the slump, rather than one tormented by a three-game slide against Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma.
"They're good," he said. "When they came here, their coaches talked to our coaches and said, 'We're not sure how good we are, but we believe we can win.' Once they got the one loss, it kind of knocked them off their pedestal.
"They're going to be back. They are good, and Bill (Self) is a great coach. We can't worry about how they're playing, we have to worry about what we're doing and come ready to play."
This will be Weber's first visit to Allen Fieldhouse.
"I've never been there, but I've watched it on TV," he said. "They're going to be fired up. They're hurting, and they're going to play at a high level. We just have to go play basketball the way we've played. We're going to have to play a really good ballgame to win there.
"We have to focus on defense. That's the thing that's kept us in games. I would like to say we can't be intimidated but that's going to be a key thing, blocking out the crowd. We've won on the road so we'll just go after it and see what happens."
Austin Meek’s pick: KU hasn’t lost consecutive games at Allen Fieldhouse since 1988-89. As much as the Jayhawks are struggling, seeing a rival on Big Monday might be the best way to snap out of a funk. Prediction: KU 67, K-State 61
Ken Corbitt’s pick: The Wildcats are taking a low-key approach to the game, attempting to downplay the rivalry aspect. Internally, they surely have a burning desire to prove their legitimacy as a team capable of winning the Big 12 title. Prediction: K-State 62, KU 60.
Kevin Haskin’s pick: Does history matter? Yes, when you’re dealing with all the sunflowers in hoops. The slumping Jayhawks get well with a visit from the Wildcats. Prediction: KU 65, K-State 60.
In Big 12 play, the Cats rank second in field goal percentage and first in 3-point field goal percentage.
“To be honest,’’ said Weber, “that shocks me. I guess that shows you how far we’ve come since the beginning of the year, when our first shot was usually a good chance for a rebound. That’s what it usually came down to.’’
Now it comes down to a league title chase. That was a point Weber stressed after a see-saw first half found the Cats leading the Cyclones by one. At the end, K-State was better in just about every statistical category, getting a pair of 20-point scorers (McGruder and Rodriguez) for the first time since 2011.
“We kept talking, ‘How bad do you really want it? Do you really want to play for the title?’’’ Weber said.
Usually, teams must go through Allen Fieldhouse to get Big 12 titles. Few ever escape victorious. Yet all those qualities the K-State players possess, KU is searching to regain.
“This time of year, when you start playing people twice, the players win the games,’’ Weber said.
“It’s pretty unbelievable, isn’t it?” Kansas State’s Jim Wooldridge said. “I know you can’t believe it. How could you? How could you even guess that this was going to happen?”
Jan. 14, 2006. That was the last time Kansas State won a game in Allen Fieldhouse, rallying from a 12-point deficit for a 59-55 victory that snapped a 31-game skid against rival Kansas.
You think that’s going to change Monday? You might. I might, too.
But in the eyes of some — perhaps many — K-State’s chances this season don’t seem much better than they were on that stunning Saturday afternoon seven years ago. The Wildcats may lead the Big 12 at 19-4 overall and 8-2 in the league, but to most they always will rank below the Jayhawks.
Especially in Lawrence. Despite losing three straight games to unranked teams — including a setback at TCU that was much more unimaginable than that K-State win Wooldridge described — KU enters the Big Monday clash as a nine-point favorite.
…While KU is in complete disarray — the Jayhawks’ offensive woes have been well-documented, but Saturday against Oklahoma their defensive inefficiencies compounded their issues — first-year coach Bruce Weber has K-State playing as well as it has in years, perhaps even decades (and yes, I do remember that Elite Eight run).
The Wildcats are off to the sixth-best start in school history and the best in the last 50 seasons after 23 games, thanks in part to a 5-1 record in road games. They rank 15th nationally in field goal percentage defense (28.7 percent) and 16th in scoring defense (57.8 points).
Rodney McGruder remains one of the most potent scorers in the Big 12, Angel Rodriguez leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (think Elijah Johnson is jealous?) and K-State can go 10 deep without much drop-off.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Wildcats are confident. The Jayhawks, well, aren’t.
What does it all mean? Who knows? Allen Fieldhouse once again could be the great difference-maker. History could be, too.
But this much is certain: This isn’t 2006.
Are these Wildcats good enough to see their way through the Phog? You’d better believe it.
During their three-game losing streak, they're averaging fewer than seven points per game and shooting 32 percent in transition.
This could be trouble for the Jayhawks on Monday night.
Kansas State allows the second-fewest transition points per game (8.2) in the Big 12. The other three Big 12 teams in the top four in transition points per game allowed each recently beat Kansas (TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma).
Kansas has also taken a big step backward on defense in its last three games. It is having trouble stopping its opponents second-chance opportunities.
Kansas State ranks third in the Big 12 in second-chance points per game (13.5) and scored 20 second-chance points in its most recent game, a win over Iowa State on Saturday.
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.
During the last half of the 2008-09 season and the first half of the 2009-10 season — when he sat out because of transfer rules — Withey wasn’t able to travel with the team, and because of that, he drifted apart from teammates.
“I felt really alone,” Withey said later. “I just didn’t know if I wanted to keep on playing basketball or go back home.”
Self had texted Withey to set up the year-end meeting, and Withey had been nervous about it all day.
At a crossroads in his life — stick it out or go? — Withey was unsure how Self would respond when he told him he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“If you were to stay here, I’m going to ride you. I’m going to make you work,” Self said. “Either you’re going to fall in love with the game again, or you’re going to quit and be a failure.”
The words stung Withey.
“Well,” he said, looking at his coach, “I’m not going to be a failure.”
…After his postseason meeting in Self’s office, though, something shifted. He rededicated himself to the game, working harder in the weight room and gym than he had before. His parents also moved to Kansas, which cured most of his homesickness.
Though he was still behind Marcus and Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson in the rotation the following year, Withey was determined to prove to Self — and to himself — that he belonged at KU and was good enough to play.
“Those words stuck with me. Even now — today — I still think about that,” Withey said. “... He just challenged me, and he made me want to keep working at this.”
…Bill Self remembers talking to all sorts of big-man recruits before Withey’s junior season.
His pitch went something like this: You have a great chance to start at KU as a freshman. Really, the only center you would have to beat out is Withey.
Self missed out on every one of those players.
“Looking back, some kids probably made some wise decisions to go somewhere else,” Self said with a smile, “because Withey would be very difficult to beat out.”
But how does Withey measure up with Kentucky Wildcats freshman Nerlens Noel, who leads Division I players in blocks per game (4.5) and had a six game stretch in SEC play earlier this season where he averaged 7.7 blocks?
Noel may lead Division I in blocks per game, but Withey is right behind him, and he's done a better job of turning his blocked shots into positive production for his team.
Of Withey's 93 blocks, all but 10 have been kept inbounds (89 percent), a higher rate than Noel, who has kept 84 of his 103 blocks inbounds (82 percent).
However, the bigger difference is in how many blocks have ended up in the hands of a teammate. Noel is more of a “swatter,” liking to block the ball as hard as he can, while Withey controls the direction of the basketball much better.
Withey has had 71 blocks that resulted in defensive rebounds (76 percent) and the Jayhawks have turned those into 66 points. Only 56 of Noel’s 103 resulted in Kentucky rebounds (54 percent), and they've resulted in 56 points.
With Cole Aldrich moving in as the backup center, he said the next step will be to develop chemistry and timing moving off the ball while playing with different players, especially with starters late in the first quarter.
“It’s always different when you go from not playing many minutes to start playing,” Aldrich said. “You get used to playing with guys. James (Anderson), Pat (Beverley), D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) and I have been playing two-on-two for a while now. We’re starting to get familiar with each other. It’s always different to get that familiarity with everybody.
“The biggest thing is to continue to work, come out here and get wins. It’s hard to get wins in this league.”
Kansas University’s Student Union Activities will host KU basketball super-fan Josh Swade for a movie screening and discussion at 2 p.m. Feb. 17 in Room 130 of Budig Hall on the KU campus.
Swade directed “There’s No Place Like Home,” the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary that chronicles his quest to bring James Naismith’s original rules of basketball to Lawrence. The upcoming event will feature a screening of “There’s No Place Like Home,” with live commentary by Swade. The event is free and open to the public.
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The argument for who is No. 1 is a fun debate and certainly gets fans going on social media. I wrestled with Miami or Indiana and went with the Hurricanes. Both are playing championship level right now but the ‘Canes didn’t lose this past week while the Hoosiers did. I would have no issues with either choice. The one thing though that is certain: Miami can be No. 1 in the polls but the Hurricanes are a much longer shot than Indiana to be a No. 1 seed unless there are more losses from the teams ahead of the ‘Canes. You could have a scenario where Miami is No. 1 in the polls but not a No. 1 seed. Polls are not used by the selection committee so the polls are simply just for organizing teams.
With less than five weeks until Selection Sunday, the scramble for top seeds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament and the nation's No. 1 ranking remains wild and wide open.
Despite a loss at Illinois, will Indiana — coming off Sunday's win at No. 10 Ohio State — remain No. 1 Monday in the new USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll? Or will the top spot go back to Duke, which barely avoided defeat Sunday at Boston College?
"There aren't one or two teams that are head and shoulders above everybody else," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose second-ranked Gators lost at unranked Arkansas last week. "You can go and take everybody's best game they've played and say, 'Boy, that team's unbeatable.' Not everybody sustains that level night in and night out. There's a dropoff. … There are a lot of teams that have displayed the potential to really, really, really play at a high level. Can they consistently?"
Gonzaga could move into the top five for the first time since December 2008. There hasn't been a team from outside the six power conferences ranked in the top five of the coaches poll at this point in the season (Week 15) since Memphis was No. 1 under then-coach John Calipari five years ago.
…Projecting the top seed lines has proved nearly futile, as upsets have jumbled the college basketball landscape all season and made it difficult to evaluate the season's elite teams.
Donovan said he thinks 30 teams have a legitimate chance to make the Final Four. Butler coach Brad Stevens said he thinks it's more.
"40? 50? 68? Whoever gets in has a shot, that's true," Stevens said. "Obviously, there are a lot of factors that play into it but to say right now, this time of year, 'This is a Final Four team.' 'That's a Sweet 16 team.' Nobody knows. You haven't seen a bracket yet, and you don't know how they'll be playing at that time. Or that night."
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