Kansas is “really just a name,” said Tshilidzi Nephawe, a chiseled 6-10, 270-pound center from South Africa. “Just somebody else we’re playing.”
…“I think I’m bigger and stronger than everybody,” he said, “so I think I will have an advantage over them.”
…“We’re not going to let them shoot threes for sure, and when they drive inside we will be able to change their shots and stuff like that,” he said. “They’re big, too, but they struggle around the rim with size and stuff like that, so we should be good if we don’t give them any threes.”
“I think we match up real well with Kansas, their physicality, their length and their athleticism,” said Aggies guard Matt Taylor. “They’re much bigger bodies than we’re used to playing against in the WAC. They’re not really tall, but they’re pretty strong.”
“When we first saw Kansas, we were kind of shocked,” said Tanveer Bhullar, a 7-3 reserve center. “But when we started watching film, they look like a real beatable team.”
History, of course, sides with Kansas. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 15 seeds are just 7-113 against No. 2 seeds.
“That’s an interesting stat,” New Mexico State guard Matt Taylor said. “Well, I guess we’re about to be No. 8.”
KUAD: Day 1 in Omaha
Bill Self made up the term years ago and he can’t help but smile any time he repeats it. Kansas math is the idea that a team loses more than it adds but should still somehow be better.
It is nonsense, of course, the annual demand that a team be better now than before, and again be better when now becomes before. But this is Kansas basketball, the monster with 11 straight Big 12 championships, so logic has very little to do with it.
All of which has to be in place for this absurd grouping of words to be true — KU is at the point where winning another league title outright and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament is not nearly enough.
Expectations are so high that this team is looked at by many fans as uninteresting, and this tournament as unworthy of investment, because the Jayhawks are such underdogs to make the Final Four.
“That’s true — of course it’s true,” says Self, the KU coach. “I also think getting our (backsides) waxed by Kentucky to start the year screwed everything up from an expectations standpoint.”
…KU got better, because KU always gets better, and what might be Self’s least-talented team in 12 years won its 11th straight Big 12 title. There is a good case to be made that this is Self’s best coaching job, but that case is mostly drowned out by Cliff Alexander drama and Kentucky hype and highlights on KU’s flaws.
It wasn’t always like this, you know. There was a time when the expectations were more reasonable, when KU could have a year where the Final Four felt like a long shot.
Ryan Robertson remembers those days. He’s been on both sides of this, actually. He was a guard for Kansas in the late 1990s, and helped win 98 games his first three years. The Jayhawks finished fourth, first and second in the final AP poll those seasons.
His senior year, they lost 10 games and did not win the regular-season conference championship for the first time in five years. KU was a No. 6 seed in the NCAAs, and here’s where the story gets really weird: Robertson doesn’t remember the fall being that big of a deal.
He thinks it’s because the year before, Raef LaFrentz graduated and Paul Pierce went into the NBA Draft.
“This is never a good way to look at it at Kansas, but I kind of felt like that team was playing with house money,” Robertson says now. “No matter what we accomplished, people were going to look at it like, ‘Hey, pretty good. This team lost two lottery picks, wow, what a great year.’
The connection is obvious. This Kansas team also lost two lottery picks from the year before — one of whom was a surprise, unlike LaFrentz and Pierce — but still won another league title and planted a flag in the top 10 of the national polls.
And now there is a general feeling among fans of, yeah, so what?
“I don’t want to be critical of our fan base, because I’m not,” Robertson says. “I don’t mean this to be critical at all, but unfortunately the ‘given’ that we will win a conference championship isn’t good enough anymore.”
…Self embraces all of those pressures with a bear hug and a smooch on the cheek.
He has figured out a way to make it all work for him, instead of against him. The demands of KU are part of his recruiting pitch, presenting it like a challenge, with the inference being that if you’re not up for people expecting you to be great, then this might not be the place for you.
It’s also part of how he coaches, a constant push fueled by verbal reminders of what’s been done in the past and expected for the future.
Self has found an unlikely comfort in the midst of the chaos, in other words, and here it’s worth mentioning that sometime after coming up with Kansas math, Self coined another phrase that defines his life running one of college basketball’s giants:
Faces change, expectations don’t.
“That’s a little bit about what has happened with this team,” Self says. “Even though maybe we don’t look as visually pleasing as what some of the teams have in the past, I don’t think you can tell our guys that.”
The Jayhawks were picked by the Big 12 coaches to win the league in the preseason, but blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple have made it easier for them to hear doubts.
They have been occasionally spectacular this season. The game that KU played at Texas was good enough to beat anybody, Kentucky included. They’ve also been terrific for halves against Oklahoma, Utah, Florida and West Virginia. Twenty-six wins against the country’s toughest schedule don’t count for nothing.
But we are long past the point where bright flashes like those are appreciated more than dull moments like Kentucky, Temple, at K-State and at TCU. The drama with Cliff Alexander, and the knee injury to Perry Ellis, have only inflamed the concerns.
So this is a strange place the Jayhawks find themselves in. They are flawed enough to worry and good enough to dream, all of it in a program that’s grown used to many more dreams than worries.
KC Star Mellinger
“It’s been an up-and-down season, but I feel like right now is when it really matters,” KU sophomore Wayne Selden Jr. said. “Like playing right now is when it really matters… That’s what I’m trying to do, just trying to do whatever it takes for us to advance.”
Freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. reminded reporters that Kansas earned three wins over another lengthy zone-oriented team in Big 12 league mate Baylor. If the Jayhawks attack the rim from the beginning and don’t settle for deep attempts, they like their chances of staying in Omaha another two days.
“Don’t take anybody for granted and pretty much just play with a free mind,” Oubre said. “Try to take care of business for the name across your chest.”
"I think this team has an edge to us right now, because a lot of people are doubting us," Graham, the Jayhawks' freshman guard, told FOXSportsKansasCity.com Thursday before the team's workout at CenturyLink Center in Omaha. "And just saying things that I don't think (any) of us had said."
"Like, 'We're scared to play such and such,' stuff like that. Like we're running from people and things like that. I just think we have an edge to us, just to like come out and prove people wrong."
Running from whom?
"I heard media say that we were running (from), I think it was Wichita State, or something like that," Graham replied. Then he shrugged. "It is what it is."
…Confidence is a fickle mistress this month, especially when your roster spends the early part of the afternoon huddled together in a tiny locker room watching "name" schools, schools that give you trouble -- the aforementioned Cyclones, Baylor, Texas -- circle down the Bracketville toilet at the hands of names your kids have never heard of before.
Holy Poohsticks, are WE next on the abattoir?
"I mean, I don't know about that," center Hunter Mickelson countered.
"It's not that we're disappointed (to be in the Midwest Region); we're going to end up having to play teams like (Kentucky) anyhow. Might as well get ready for it. We're tuned in. We're ready. We've gone through practice well. I think we're mentally ready."
Fox Sports Keeler
• Offensive rebounding: NMSU's greatest strength is inside, where it ranks ninth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. The Aggies actually should have the height advantage inside, boasting four rotation players at 6-foot-8 or taller.
• 3-point defense: One of NMSU's main focuses is guarding the line, as only 23.5 percent of opponents' shots have come from 3-point range (second-lowest mark nationally). Those rare outside shots normally don't go in either, as foes have made just 29.5 percent of their 3s against the Aggies (sixth nationally).
• Getting to the line: NMSU ranks 26th in the advanced stat free throw rate, which measures how often a team makes it to the free throw line per 100 field goal attempts. The Aggies also have been accurate from the stripe, making 71 percent of their freebies this season and 75 percent of them in WAC play.
• Turnovers: The Aggies are one of the most careless teams in the nation, ranking 325th out of 351 Division I teams in offensive turnover percentage. Kansas hasn't thrived at creating giveaways this year, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Jayhawks throw out some full-court pressure to speed up the pace and try to take advantage of this weakness.
• Defensive rebounding: NMSU has only been average on the defensive boards, ranking 153rd nationally while facing a subpar schedule. This could open up opportunities for KU players like Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor on the offensive glass if they're aggressive enough.
• Schedule strength: This isn't NMSU's fault, but the WAC ranked 31st out of 33 conferences in KenPom's league rankings. In the Aggies' last 17 games, the top KenPom-ranked team they played was No. 252 Cal State Bakersfield — meaning they haven't played a Big 12-caliber team in more than two months.
…The good part of the matchup for KU is that 3-pointers likely won't decide the game — something the Jayhawks should be happy to sign up for considering their recent struggles behind the arc. New Mexico State does a great job of preventing 3-point shots while not shooting many themselves, meaning this should be a game won inside and with free throws. That's advantage KU.
The bad part of the matchup for KU is that this New Mexico State team is talented — much more so than the other 15 seeds. At No. 85 in KenPom, the Aggies are about the same quality team as Kansas State (81st)
…I think the Jayhawks' interior defense and free-throw shooting will be enough to get them to the Round of 32.
Kansas 66, New Mexico State 62
ABOUT NEW MEXICO STATE (23-10): The Aggies feature a lineup of experienced players, including three senior starters, but forward Pascal Siakam might be the team’s most productive weapon on offense and defense. Siakam, a redshirt freshman from Doula, Cameroon, leads the team with 5.9 win shares, a metric that attempts to measure a player’s total value. Siakam scores in double figures, is a weapon on the offensive glass, and can help protect the trim. Remi Barry, a senior small forward with size, is second on the team with 4.5 win shares. As a team, the Aggies shoot a more than respectable 36.3 percent from three-point range. That ranks 83rd nationally. But they don’t shoot many of them. Just 25 percent of their field-goal attempts come from behind the three-point line. And just 20 percent of their points come on threes. The good news for KU: The Aggies don’t profile as a team that will spring an upset with three-point shooting.
The Aggies play a unique zone defense that sometimes stretches past half court.
“They like getting after people, just trying to force turnovers and stuff like that,” KU forward Hunter Mickelson said. “We’ve been working on that in practice, going up and down, doing our press offense.”
NMSU’s half-court zone also is something unlike KU has seen. Though most zone defenses have a weakness of allowing opponents to shoot 3-pointers, the Aggies place a high emphasis on preventing opponents’ shots from deep.
“It is different. It almost looks like a 4-1 zone sometimes,” Self said. “Baylor’s looks like a 1-1-3; theirs looks like a 4-1, but it has some of the similar rules to how Baylor does it.
“So hopefully the guys playing against Baylor will make us a little bit more comfortable attacking theirs.”
…KU forward Perry Ellis was singled out by President Barack Obama during his NCAA bracket picks in a video released by ESPN earlier this week.
“A lot of pressure on Kansas. A little worried about Ellis and his knee problems — obviously their best player, but I think Kansas gets through up to here,” Obama said, indicating he had KU advancing to the Sweet 16.
Ellis watched the clip earlier this week.
“That was pretty cool. I had some people tell me about that,” Ellis said. “That’s pretty awesome. Just real humbling for me, really just wanting me to work harder.”
Ellis and his KU teammates met Obama before he spoke on Jan. 22 at Anschutz Pavilion in Lawrence.
A Kansas player comes off the practice court after a 40-min workout. "They lying, right? Iowa State didn't lose, did they?"
Congrats to Jerod Haase and @UABathletics ! Hate seeing a big 12 team out the hunt but always love seeing my fellow Jayhawks succeed! #RCJH
Ten of UAB's 13 players are freshmen and sophs. Per Kenpom they're the 6th youngest team in all of DIvision I. March happens.
Many of Iowa State's players walk off without shaking hands...classless ending to a classess effort..something wrong in that locker room
It’s a game more than 20 years in the making — KU and WSU haven’t met since Jan. 6, 1993 — a game many on both sides have wanted, and many others have not.
“It’s one I’ve been waiting on,” said David Dotson, a Shockers fan raised in Wichita.
“As a KU fan I’m glad it’s going to happen,” added Ryan Martin, a native of Emporia who now lives in Nebraska. “It’s probably the only time that we will play with them.”
The game is far from guaranteed, of course, but fans can be excused for getting ahead of themselves — especially when it all looked so real in the moment Thursday. A crowd of Kansas blue with gold-and-black sprinkles surrounded the CenturyLink Center court.
The teams weren’t even on the floor at the same time and that hardly mattered. The KU contingent vastly outnumbered the WSU crowd, but Shockers fans noted that would even out by game time Friday — and Sunday, for future matters.
23-year-old Wesley, who graduated from KU last spring, has moved from rebounds to runways: He’s a fashion designer.
I did a double-take when I saw his name on an early lineup for Kansas City Fashion Week, taking place Thursday through Saturday at Union Station. Back to that in a while.
The Fort Worth, Texas, native — brother of former KU basketball star Keith Langford — is in the process of moving from Lawrence to Kansas City to work on his business, which he calls JUSTINKC.
…He’s designing “classic American wear” for guys ages 23 to 40 — not the collegiate beer-and-pizza crowd but hip professionals in the city. Guys like, well, himself. There will be outerwear, one of his own personal style obsessions — Rock Chalk Carhartt! He’ll also offer classic button-down shirts and a few denim pieces.
“In the grand scheme of things, I’m designing for Kansas City,” Wesley says. “I’m trying to introduce and share the style of the Midwest. So many fashion influences are from overseas, East Coast and West Coast. Someday I want people of the fashion industry to feed off of us. We have great style, and our culture speaks volumes, in my opinion.”
“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
Since 2008 B12 has second-worst overall tournament winning pct among power conferences.
3/19/15, 8:45 PM
It should be pointed out that #SMU ran “Chop” to perfection. Good look. Good coaching, just missed a shot
3/19/15, 10:27 PM
We now have a new NCAA tournament record. Five 1-point games in one day.
You put the Cyclones in your Final Four? No disagreement here. Iowa State's penchant for late heroics would be just what the NCAA tournament required. Or: Baylor's immense offensive rebounding would keep it mostly immune from upset. The Big 12 would thrive in the NCAA tournament, just as it did in the months that preceded it.
Yeah. Never mind.
If you needed a reminder of why the NCAA tournament is the greatest competition on earth -- and why literally nothing about its early rounds can be taken for granted -- well, first of all, no, you didn't. But you got one anyway. And it took less than five hours for the message to be delivered.
On Thursday afternoon, No. 3 seed Iowa State was dropped by No. 14 UAB. An hour later, No. 3 Baylor fell to No. 14 Georgia State. It was the first time since 1995 that two No. 14 seeds had won in the same tournament. That those two historic upsets came in such quick succession, and victimized two of the Big 12's best, made it all the more dizzying.
Barnes needs to go.
And I write that with much angst because Barnes is one of the best people I know and maybe the most likeable. But it’s time for a change because the 60-year-old Texas coach is no longer getting it done. His program has gotten stale. There’s no reason it should wither away like this when competent replacements like Shaka Smart or Tony Bennett or Gregg Marshall are waiting in the wings. Heck, Patterson, shoot for the moon and go after Bill Self or Sean Miller.
The 56-48 loss to sixth-seeded Butler ended as painful a season as I can remember, although most of Texas’ recent seasons have followed this same humiliating script of pitiful shooting and inexplicable turnovers.
The hope here is Barnes will willingly step down and take his $1.75 million severance package into retirement. He could go kicking and screaming like Mack Brown before him, or he could stay in Austin and be celebrated during his golden years as the coach who re-energized and stabilized the program, who brought T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant to Austin, who kept Texas nationally relevant. But there’s been too much backsliding the last seven years.
When Barnes was asked point-blank if he expected to return, he said, “I have no reason not to think that. I’ve had no conversations about it.”
When I asked #Texas AD Steve Patterson if Rick Barnes would be back next season, he said, "I'm not talking."
Round of 64
Friday Afternoon Window
12:15, CBS: No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 New Mexico State (Marv Albert, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Craig Sager)
12:40, truTV: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Georgia (Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson)
1:40, TBS: No. 5 Northern Iowa vs. No. 12 Wyoming (Spero Dedes, Mike Gminski, Jaime Maggio)
2:10, TNT: No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Buffalo (Eagle/Gottlieb/Washburn)
Approx. 2:45, CBS: No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Indiana (Albert/Webber/Elmore/Sager)
Approx. 3:10, truTV: No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Belmont (Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson)
Approx. 4:10, TBS: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 UC Irvine (Dedes/Gminski/Maggio)
Approx. 4:40, TNT: No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Valparaiso (Eagle/Gottlieb/Washburn)
Friday Evening Window
6:50, TBS: No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (Albert/Webber/Elmore/Sager)
7:10, CBS: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson)
7:20, TNT: No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Davidson (Dedes/Gminski/Maggio)
7:27, truTV: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Albany (Eagle/Gottlieb/Washburn)
Approx. 9:20, TBS: No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina(Albert/Webber/Elmore/Sager)
Approx. 9:40, CBS: No. 8 San Diego State vs. No. 9 St. John's (Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson)
Approx. 9:50, TNT: No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 North Dakota St. (Dedes/Gminski/Maggio)
Approx. 9:57, truTV: No. 6 Providence vs. No. 11 Dayton (Eagle/Gottlieb/Washburn)
Round of 32
12:10, CBS: No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 14 UAB (Lundquist/Spanarkel/LaForce)
Approx. 2:40, CBS: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 8 Cincinnati (Lundquist/Spanarkel/LaForce)
5:15, CBS: No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 10 Ohio State (Harlan/Miller/Bonner/Nichols)
6:10, TNT: No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 14 Georgia State (Catalon/Lappas/Erdahl)
7:10, TBS: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 N.C. State (Anderson/Smith/Johnson)
Approx. 7:45, CBS: No. 4 Georgetown/EWU vs. No. 5 Utah (Harlan/Miller/Bonner/Nichols)
Approx. 8:40, TNT: No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Arkansas (Catalon/Lappas/Erdahl)
Approx. 9:40, TBS: No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Butler (Anderson/Smith/Johnson)
ESPN Experts Final Four and National Champs picks
CBS Tournament Predictions
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament History: A Searchable Database of March Madness
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