Thirty-three years ago Wednesday, top-ranked North Carolina played second-ranked Virginia in UNC's famed Carmichael Auditorium.
There were giants in the land in those days. Michael Jordan was back for his second year as a Tar Heel. Sam Perkins was back for his third. Carolina also had 6-foot-11 Brad Daugherty, a future overall No. 1 NBA Draft pick. And that was a good thing. Virginia had Ralph Sampson.
That night in Chapel Hill, Virginia led by 16 points with 8:43 left in the game. Then the defending NCAA champion rallied. Cut the lead to seven with four minutes left, when the experimental shot clock was turned off.
Jordan tipped in a shot with 1:04 left to cut Virginia's lead to one, then Jordan stole the ball from Carlisle for a breakaway dunk that gave the Tar Heels the lead. When Carlisle missed a jumper with four seconds left, North Carolina had the wild victory.
Greatest game Dick Vitale ever called.
Until the fourth day of 2016.
Thirty-eight days ago, top-ranked Oklahoma and top-ranked Kansas (yes, each was atop one of the two major polls) played a basketball game for the ages. In KU's Phog Allen Fieldhouse, one of the few venues that can trump old Carmichael, the Jayhawks beat the Sooners 109-106 in three overtimes.
And North Carolina-Virginia, Michael Jordan vs. Ralph Sampson, has been knocked from its perch.
…“I've done a lot of great, great games in my 37 years. But if I had to rank ‘em right now in the regular season (Vitale doesn't call the NCAA Tournament), of my 37 years, it would be the best of the best.”
Vitale's mind went back 33 years. He recalled details of that Carolina-Virginia game. The stakes. The superstars. The Tar Heel comeback. That game has not faded from Vitale's memory.
“That has always stood out in my mind as much as any game I ever did,” Vitale said, “but this one exceeded it.”
For one magical night in the Phog, the Sooners and Jayhawks entered the land of the giants.
The Jayhawks are on pace to finish a Big 12 season ranked outside the top two in either offensive or defensive efficiency (where they're currently fourth and third, respectively) for the first time since 2005. Kansas isn't far off the efficiency margin lead, and its win against West Virginia on Tuesday brought it back into a three-way first-place standings tie. Yet after Wayne Selden Jr.'s slump, Bill Self's criticism of his guards, and at least one players-only meeting, KU still seems more of a work in progress than it did 38 days ago. A work in progress with Final Four ambitions, sure. But a work in progress all the same.
Oklahoma's stock hasn't fallen much, if any, since it nearly upended KU in Lawrence, Kansas. Then again, the Sooners suffered their own third conference loss on the road at K-State last week. Then, on Monday, they barely snuck past a surging Texas team at home, thanks, of course, to Hield. The runaway Wooden Award favorite has kept on scoring (and shooting) at an obscene and otherworldly efficient rate. Since the first meeting with KU, he has added more marquee moments -- 32 points in a comeback win at LSU, the final 12 (and 27 total, plus the winning 3) in Monday's win against Texas -- building on the reputation he established in January.
…Indeed, if there is any hope of Saturday's game living up to its predecessor, it may be summarized as such: Because Buddy Hield is involved.
Even the venue lacks the gravitas of the original. With all due respect to the Lloyd Noble Center, which is a very loud and boisterous building in its own right, it's no Allen Fieldhouse. Under Self, the Jayhawks have turned the already difficult process of winning at the Phog into an almost mythological undertaking. There is no such aura in Norman, Oklahoma; winning at Lloyd Noble hardly makes you Siegfried.
Don't get us wrong: These are still two of the few national title contenders of the 2015-16 season, if not the top two they might have seemed in January. Kansas' Big 12 title streak -- 11 years and running -- is still very much on the line. The tactics and types of basketball on display, the punches and counters between Lon Kruger's uptempo perimeter attack and Self's defense will undoubtedly be Saturday's most fascinating. It's going to be a great game.
Yet even a great game must, inevitably, pale in the wake of one of the greatest ever, staged in the sport's preeminent temple.
Contain Perry Ellis
The distinguished senior has been the face of the Jayhawks for what seems like centuries, and his experience has been instrumental in KU’s success over the last four seasons. Ellis scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds the first time these two teams met, and is averaging 16.9 ppg on the season.
It’ll be up to Khadeem Lattin to protect the paint for OU and had done a pretty good job of doing just that for the Sooners. Lattin had six blocks when they played in Lawrence and is averaging 2.4 on the season, but hasn’t recorded a block in either of OU’s last two games (KSU, UT).
Lattin will need to emerge from his slump, but Ellis also likes to play away from the basket, therefore Lattin will need some help from Ryan Spangler on the defensive end to help slow down the Kansas post players. Spangler did a tremendous job defending Ben Simmons when OU took on LSU in Baton Rouge, so look for him to have a bit more confidence on that end of the floor this time around.
Wayne vs. Buddy
One of the more interesting matchups to watch will be the battle between Buddy Hield and Wayne Selden Jr. Both players have had their fair share of big games, and the NBA microscope will likely be on this personal matchup between two of the best wing players in the country.
Selden torched OU in the second half on Jan. 4, and finished with 21 points in the game. If Saturday’s game turns into a shootout—and it likely will—look for both veterans to be leading the way for their respective teams.
Sooners need to protect home court
Early on in the season it felt as if every big OU matchup went down on the road, well that won’t be the case on Saturday. After using a ruckus Lloyd Noble Center to help propel them to victory on Monday night against Texas, the Sooners will need to take advantage of a sold out arena filled with rowdy OU fans.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see some nerves early on in the game due to the hype surrounding it, but both teams have been on the national stage plenty of times this season, and OU in particular needs to take advantage of the exposure Saturday’s contest brings to the program.
No. 6 Kansas (20–4) at No. 3 Oklahoma (20–3)Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Looking for flaws on Oklahoma is truly picking at nits, but watching the Sooners stub their toe lately (losing by 11 at Kansas State, needing a late Buddy Hield jumper to edge Texas at home), I wonder if they would be able to win an important game with their defense if they needed to. The Sooners are ranked eighth nationally in offensive efficiency, but they are 25th in defensive efficiency. That’s not bad by any means, but it’s probably not enough to overcome a really bad shooting night. Still, we’ve been waiting for this rematch for a while, and it’s a safe bet that Buddy Love and the Lovers will be snapping the twine aplenty.
Oklahoma 80, Kansas 75
SI Seth Davis
Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard – Cousins went through a shooting slump that lasted through several games earlier in the Big 12 portion of the schedule, but he has turned it around and has been a key contributor in the Sooners’ offensive attack. In his last six games, Cousins has averaged 16 points a game, including the game-winning shot against LSU that secured a two-point OU victory in a game in which the Sooners led for a total of just under three minutes the entire game. Woodard has been going through a similar offensive slump to what Cousins experienced earlier in the conference campaign. The junior OU point guard had just three points in the win over Texas on Monday, and in the game before that, at Kansas State, he went 0 for 6 from the floor, failing to score in what was his worst offensive game of the season. Look for the Sooners’ second leading scorer for most of the season (Woodard had been averaging over 15 points a game and for much of the season was the country best three-point scorer by percentage, to break out of his slump against Kansas – the team he scored 27 against the last time out, including 6 of 9 with the three-ball. With Hield being Hield, and if Cousins and Woodard perform even close to their capability vs. Kansas, that is just two many offensive weapons to contain in one ball game away from home if you are the visiting team.
Battle of the boards and at the rim – Oklahoma is one of the best offensive teams in the country, but much of the Sooners’ success on the offensive end is created on the defensive end. OU leads the Big 12 in rebounding. In the triple-overtime game between Oklahoma and Kansas, however, the Sooners were outrebounded by Kansas 60 to 55. Ryan Spangler, the 6-8 senior Oklahoma forward, has been a beast on the defensive glass this season, leading the Big 12 in that category with over seven defensive rebounds per game. Spangler needs to have a big game against the Jayhawks. Oklahoma blocked 12 shots in the first game between these two teams, half of them contributed by OU’s Khadeem Lattin. Oklahoma’s ability to keep Kansas off of the offensive boards and create disruption at the rim by Lattin, and even 7-foot Akolda Manyang will go a long way toward delivering a Sooner victory.
OU Fan Blog
Originally from Freeport, Bahamas, Hield moved to the United States in 2010 and began playing high school basketball at Sunrise Christian Academy, a small school in the competitive basketball town of Wichita.
That was where Ellis, a star at Wichita Heights, first remembered hearing about Hield and Ellis said the two first met during their sophomore year. The next summer, Ellis and Hield teamed up on the same AAU team, Kansas Pray and Play, and it was then that Ellis began to see the types of performances Hield was capable of putting together.
At the adidas Invitational in 2011, Hield scored 35 points in a victory over Dream Vision, a team ranked in the Top 5 nationally, and delivered many of the same types of shots and plays he hit Kansas with back in January.
Throughout the years, Hield’s game, like his friendship with Ellis, has continued to evolve, and now that the two former teammates are playing for rival schools that are tied at the top of the Big 12 standings, that friendship has grown even stronger.
“Every time we go back home, we’re always working out and things of that sort,” Ellis said after Hield’s 46-point outburst on Jan. 4. “He goes back there quite often in the summer time.”
Asked where Hield’s big night ranked on the list of opposing performances, Ellis did not hesitate to answer.
“Definitely the top,” he said. “From what I’ve seen and what I’ve played against.... I don’t know what to say. It was just a great effort by him. He did a tremendous job.”
“We’ve got our competitive juices flowing,” Lucas added. “We’re ready to bring it to them. We’ll be ready to play. We have a new hunger about us that I think we’ll bring down there. They are a great team. It’s going to be a competitive environment, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Oklahoma edged Texas, 63-60, on Monday in Norman, as an early-week tuneup to the KU game. Texas is just a game back in the standings at 7-4.
“We watched it. That was a great game, too,” Self said of the OU-Texas contest. “I certainly hope it’s another classic (Saturday). I’d like it to be a different type game. I’d like for it to be a grind-it-out game. I think that would probably benefit our chances some instead of making it a H-O-R-S-E contest like it was last time. We’re going to try real hard and compete, but we’re going against a team that’s as good as anyone in the country, obviously.”
…KU’s Selden was coughing a bit during his postgame interview on the Jayhawk Radio Network on Tuesday.
“I’m feeling better. I’m still getting my wind back. (It’s) not all the way there,” Selden said. “I’m trying to get better. I’ll be fine by Saturday. I’ll do whatever it takes. We’re excited. They are a terrific team. We’re ready to go down there and compete.”
Last summer, KU coach Bill Self told Ellis to practice shooting threes from past the NBA three-point line, which is 23 feet, 9 inches, compared to college basketball’s 20-9.
“It helped me just stretch my range, I think,” Ellis said. “At first it wasn’t real comfortable shooting those (NBA) shots. Gradually it started getting better and better. It worked out.”
When Ellis returned to shooting college threes this season, the distance appeared much, much shorter, in effect an easier shot than last year.
“Definitely,” Ellis said. “When I first started at the NBA line it seemed so far back I couldn’t even shoot them well until I got used to it. Now it’s really helping,” he added.
After KU’s round of 32 loss to Wichita State, Graham studied himself on film and discovered a harsh reality: Opponents were going under screens and also backing off when he had the ball on the perimeter.
It’s not like Graham was a poor shooter then. He made 43 percent of his 3s as a freshman, but he also was hesitant, attempting only 40 outside shots in 29 games.
This year he has kept up his accuracy (43 percent) despite already attempting 94 3s.
An offseason injury might have benefited his shooting, though it seemed like an unlucky break at the time.
Graham suffered a partially torn quad in the summer, which meant that for a few weeks he had to immobilize his knee. Because he couldn't run or do many other activities, Graham spent hours in the gym working on his jumpshot, positioning KU’s shooting gun where it would continually feed him basketballs so he wouldn’t have to change location.
Graham also has thrived this season after getting encouragement from KU’s bench.
“When I pass up open shots in practice and stuff like that … Coach gets on all of us for passing up open shots. If you’re open, he wants you to shoot the ball,” Graham said. “He just instills that confidence in all of us, so we all play with a free mind, not worrying about being hesitant on shots.”
If you're not excited for this game on Saturday, then you're essentially admitting that you hate fun.
The Jayhawks and Sooners engaged in the best game we've seen this season on Jan. 4 when Kansas outlasted Oklahoma in triple overtime at Phog Allen Fieldhouse and the rematch on Saturday in Norman has even more at stake.
These two teams are currently tied with West Virginia for first place in the Big 12 and the Sooners may present the most viable challenger we've seen in sometime to the Jayhawks' streak of 11 consecutive conference regular season titles.
If Kansas wins on Saturday, it will have a major leg up on Oklahoma since it will technically be two games ahead of the Sooners because of its regular season sweep.
Every hoops head who came of age during Bryant's heyday has tried to mimic the Mamba's moves. But few have the genetic gifts to actually duplicate them. Even fewer get to try them against—and be graded by—the legend himself.
Before Bryant takes the stage for his final All-Star Game on Valentine's Day, Wiggins will get to pay homage to his hero during Friday's Rising Stars Challenge, when he'll be competing with and against the league's best rookies and sophomores in his hometown of Toronto. Among that exclusive group, Wiggins may be the only one with the wherewithal to someday see eye-to-eye with Bryant in the NBA's pantheon.
"Kobe has mastered everything," Wiggins told Bleacher Report. "That's why he's the greatest of my generation. He's mastered everything, so I'm just trying to perfect stuff, too."
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”
Big 12/College News
The Sooners are No. 1. At least for now.
That was the result of the first day of the NCAA Tournament’s mock selections being staged Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis. I’m one of about 20 media going through the process of how the NCAA basketball committee selects and brackets the 68-team field that transfixes America each March.
We started about 2 p.m. Thursday and dismissed around 9 p.m., with a 45-minute break for dinner. We’ll finish up Friday, and here’s how far we got. We seeded the top four lines. We’ve picked 26 at-large teams, knowing some of them would enter as automatic qualifiers.
First off, the news you most want to hear. Here are our seeds, in order within each seed:
No. 1: Oklahoma, Villanova, Iowa, Kansas.
No. 2: Oregon, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina.
No. 3: West Virginia, Xavier, Miami, Michigan State.
No. 4: Iowa State, Dayton, Utah, Texas.
And here are the other teams we voted into the field: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Providence, Purdue, South Carolina, Southern Cal and Texas A&M.
Vaccaro was once the most notorious man in college basketball — the “sneaker pimp,” people called him. A Nike consultant in the late 1970s, he devised one of the greatest marketing ploys ever: paying coaches to put their players in Nike sneakers. He persuaded the company to sign Michael Jordan and make him the company’s signature athlete before he had played a single game for the Chicago Bulls. (Phil Knight, Nike’s founder, now plays down Vaccaro’s role: “Sonny helped, but he wasn’t the M.V.P. in that process,” he told USA Today last year.)
With Adidas in the mid-1990s, he signed Kobe Bryant to a major shoe contract straight out of high school. He was a key figure in the Nike-Adidas sneaker wars of the 1990s, in which the shoe companies did unsavory things to steer the best high school players to one of “their” basketball programs. And all the while, Vaccaro ran a basketball camp and an all-star game for the best high school players, which routinely aroused the suspicion of the N.C.A.A.
“We created the commercialization” of college sports, Vaccaro says of his former employer, Nike. “We were the first corporate entity to be involved with a coach or a university.”
It may seem hard to believe the same person would spark the most important case against the N.C.A.A. in a quarter-century. But if the O’Bannon case winds up going before the Supreme Court, and if O’Bannon wins — two big ifs, to be sure — the former sneaker pimp would rank with the greatest reformers in sports history.
…Vaccaro’s legion of critics would accuse him of hypocrisy. After all, he made his living for years off the unpaid players. But Vaccaro bristles at the characterization. “The hypocrisy wasn’t me coming up with the idea,” he says of the scheme to pay coaches to have their players wear Nikes. “It was the N.C.A.A. letting us do it. At least I was putting shoes on the kids.”
NY Times (book excerpt from “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA”
Big 12 Composite Schedule & Results
Future KU forward Udoka Azubuike and several other KU prospects, including Josh Jackson, Thon Maker, DeAndre Ayton, Billy Preston, Deshawn Corprew and Trevon Duval will be competing at the Tanager National Championships on March 24-27 at Free State High School, the organizer of the event tells Matt Scott of 247sports.com. Game schedules and specifics will be released in coming weeks.
Marvin Bagley III, who a year ago was getting ready to lead Tempe Corona del Sol to its fourth consecutive state basketball championship, won't have a sophomore season after the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section on Thursday night upheld a decision to deny eligibility .
Bagley, a 6-foot-11 sophomore who is rated by ESPN as the No. 1 2018 prospect in the country, had been ruled ineligible to play at Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon because it was considered athletically motivated.
Bagley's father hired an attorney to appeal the ruling, citing that they had come to Sierra Canyon for academic reasons. Sierra Canyon gave Corona del Sol its only loss last season in the Hoophall West.
In a statement, attorney Kevin Boyle said: "The CIF relied solely on public statements made by Marvin's dad, and disregarded the decision the family ultimately ended up making, which was to put its three children in a strong academic school. It is beyond unfair that Marvin III can't play the sport he loves because of the CIF."
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2016)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube