KUAD: Kansas vs Villanova Pregame Notes
Pregame Party and Pep Rally Info
Join Kansas Athletics, the Williams Education Fund and the KU Alumni Association for a pregame party and pep rally on game day. Visit this page or follow @KUHoops and @WilliamsFund on twitter for updated information.
Kentucky International Convention Center
Room: Cascade ABC
221 S 4th St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Saturday, March 26
5:00 p.m.- 8:00 p.m. - Pregame Party
6:30 p.m. - Pep Rally
LJW Photos from Louisville
The season is almost over. The past hardly matters, and percentages mean even less.
In the NCAA Tournament, Villanova has been “Steph Curry,” according to senior Daniel Ochefu, hitting just about every shot, regardless of range or location. In reality, the Wildcats’ shooting would put the superstar sharpshooter to shame.
Over the past three games, No. 2 Villanova has shot better than 60 percent from the field and more than 53 percent on 3-pointers — despite taking more than 20 attempts per game — hitting 10-of-15 3-pointers in a blowout win over No. 3 Miami to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in seven years.
“That’s the beauty of the Tournament … it’s not about being the best team, a lot of times it’s about who is hot,” junior guard Josh Hart said. “We’re hot right now. I think we can continue that.”
…But Villanova still understands it is the underdog, it understands an upset requires the confidence held by teams that have produced some of the best moments in school — and Tournament — history.
It was what allowed the Wildcats to reach the Final Four in 2009 for the first time in 24 years, beating top-seeded Pittsburgh on Scottie Reynolds’ game-winning drive with 0.5 seconds remaining.
It was what enabled Villanova to play the “perfect game” to beat defending champion Georgetown and Patrick Ewing in the 1985 national title game in Kentucky, shooting nearly 79 percent from the field and 90 percent in the second half.
“You want to play your best at the end of the year, and we’re doing that now,” Ochefu said. “We know they’re a great team and they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason, [but] we go into every game thinking if we play Villanova basketball, we’re going to win the game.”
Though the Wildcats’ defense was consistently among the nation’s best this season, their shooting uncharacteristically struggled. Still, even after the team’s 3-point percentage sunk nearly five percentage points this season (34.3), Villanova coach Jay Wright kept repeating the team mantra — “Shoot ’em up, sleep in the streets.”
Basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy ranks Kansas and Villanova as the nation’s top two teams. They rank first and fourth in the RPI. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index ranks Villanova (third) slightly ahead of Kansas (fifth).
Both teams were ranked No. 1 at times in the national polls.
It’s a regional final that feels impossible to overhype.
“It is a heavyweight battle of two teams playing really well,” Wright said. “I think both teams are really balanced. They are very, very talented at every spot. They’re very disciplined, very well-coached. I hope we are. It’s 1 seed, 2 seed and teams that I think feel very good about how they’re playing.”
…Kansas is a slim favorite, according to oddsmakers, but the game feels like a pick’em.
When Villanova was announced as the No. 2 seed in the South bracket, some called it unfair to Kansas. The Wildcats, some said, were the best team below the No. 1 line in the bracket.
Both teams have lived up to their billings throughout March. Now, they meet with a spot in the Final Four at stake.
It may take a fighter’s mentality to win.
“We have got to understand it is going to be a great game,” Kansas forward Landen Lucas said. “But we also know we have to go through the best in order to be the best. They are one of the best teams in the country. We know it is going to be a hard game to get past, but that’s what it takes to win it all.”
The meetings take place before the team assembles as a whole, the guards gathering in Wayne Selden’s and Jamari Traylor’s hotel room.
Remember in school when you got friends together to study for a big test? Turns out Kansas’ basketball players have found benefits from doing the same.
Devonte’ Graham, with the team’s scouting report in hand, will quiz Frank Mason about what the opposing point guard likes to do. A few minutes later, Graham will get similar questions from teammates to test his knowledge.
The organic 20-minute meetings — players made up the name “Guard Talk” for them — are just the latest example of the team rededicating itself to defense during an impressive late-season run.
…“We don’t want to have ‘what if’ moments, like, ‘What if I would have looked at the scouting report a little bit longer? What if I would have did this?’ ” Graham said. “You don’t want to have any doubts after the game.”
And that’s where “Guard Talk” comes in, an idea from Mason, who began the sessions before KU’s NCAA Tournament opener last week against Austin Peay. Mason believed that as a leader, it was his responsibility to do whatever he could to help his team succeed.
“It’s really been working for us,” Mason said.
Graham says the extra sessions have helped crystallize how important scouting can be. He says there have been moments the last two weeks where test answers have played out in front of him, his man showing the exact tendencies KU’s coaching staff outlined.
“It makes it a lot easier to guard them,” Graham said.
Selden's ability to lead has manifested itself in different ways throughout the year. He's a vocal presence in the recently-started guard meetings, which began shortly before the NCAA tournament.
Sophomore guard Devonte' Graham also said he has played a role in helping him come out of his shell.
"He tells me, 'Just lead. Do what you do. Always smile,'" Graham said.
Graham said that Selden was actually his host when he visited the University, adding it was one thing he noticed out of Selden that made a difference on the visit.
"He was really genuine," Graham said. "He was one of the reasons why I came to Kansas."
And that's all part of what makes Selden's leadership unique. He'll talk with the veterans and lead scouting meetings, all at the same time trying to prepare the younger players for the college game.
Senior guard Evan Manning noted that Selden tries to dunk on all of the freshmen in practice when he gets the chance, noting he never takes it easy on them.
For some, that tough love may be frustrating. There are already more than enough challenges in coming to a new place in a new situation. But there's also the flip side — the payoff.
Freshman guard Lagerald Vick said he appreciated how Selden got him acclimated when he started at Kansas, even if it wasn't necessarily an easy transition.
Looking back from the end of his freshman year, he said he understood why Selden acted the way he did, adding he was definitely better for it.
"He was kind of hard on me when I first got in," Vick said. "He heard good things about me. He didn't want [me] to be just a waste of time."
The consensus among the freshmen was that Vick's words rang true. Selden can absolutely be tough on them, but he's tough for a reason.
The team has lacked a harsh voice for the past few years; the result has been early exits from the NCAA tournament.
But this year, with the team in the Elite Eight, the leadership has been different.
"We hold each other a lot more accountable," Selden said.
He doesn’t inherently disdain the three: He just really prefers the logically easier interior and transition baskets available with the angles and geometry and flow of the game.
He doesn’t think that just any three is lazy or soft or fool’s gold: Only the ones that reflect settling or impatience or winging it out of rhythm.
And this season he’s adjusted nimbly to his personnel.
Kansas does not have a traditional low-post offensive presence, but it does have five players (Perry Ellis, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Wayne Selden and the injured Brannen Greene) making better than 40 percent of their threes. Another, Frank Mason, is hitting 39.3 percent.
This is a special and underappreciated aspect of this team.
Somewhat unnoticed is that with its fifth three-point try against Villanova this KU team will set a school record for attempts in a season even as it is third in the nation (42.3 percent) in three-point percentage.
And its 298 makes already are 27 more than KU’s previous best, 271 in the Jayhawks’ 2007-08 national-title season and the 2010-11 Elite Eight run.
“I’ve always been a guy that played inside-out. This year, we probably play less inside-out than we have,” Self said. “But the reality of it is we’ve got (in) my opinion, really, really good shooters on the perimeter, and I think every coach plays to his strengths.
“So certainly people say … we don’t shoot as many threes. I guess statistically that could be accurate, but that’s not something that we want to shoot a certain percentage or anything like that.”
…With 909 three-point attempts this season, Villanova has attempted 203 more than KU.
But ’Nova is 147th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (35.6 percent), and its 324 makes are just 26 more than KU has made — meaning Villanova averages 8.8 three-pointers a game to KU’s 8.1.
The Wildcats have been playing on another tier in the tournament, of course, but not against defenses as salty as KU’s.
Still, the onus is on Kansas to show that’s not sustainable and force a regression to the mean.
As for on the other end, Self clarified his thinking … softly.
“Taking jump shots all the time and not playing through the post some or driving the ball can be fool’s gold; making threes is not at all,” Self said. “But that can’t be the way we play, all you rely on.”
“We’re shooting the ball well,” senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “People are sharing the ball and we’re taking the right shots. That’s what has given us the ability to shoot a hot percentage from the 2-point range (57 percent on the season) because people fear our 3-point shots and get up on us. So, once we drive by and get those 2s, they start backing off and that leaves us open for 3s.”
Jenkins made 5 of 6 treys and Arcidiacono was 4 of 7 against Miami, scoring 21 points each to lead the No. 2 seed Wildcats to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
Jenkins doesn’t look the part of a 3-point threat. The 6-foot-6 junior forward checks in at 240 pounds — slimmed down from 280 — but his improved marksmanship has been dramatic. In the first 16 games of the season he connected on 29 percent of his 3-balls (29 of 99) but in the past 21 games he’s hitting 45 percent (64 of 142).
“I just try to stay aggressive and make the right play,” Jenkins said. “Recently the right play is just for me to catch-and-shoot. My teammates do a great job of finding me in open spots. A lot of credit goes to them.
“My confidence never gets too high and never gets too low whether I shoot bad or whether I have a great shooting game. I always believe the next one is going in.”
Most early Villanova-flavored memories remain etched in Arcidiacono’s mind, the bulk of which took place in front of a TV screen. “I always watched the Elite Eight teams, the Sweet 16—the Final Four [in 2009], of course,” Arcidiacono said. In January 2005, a 10-year-old Arcidiacono even braved a massive snowstorm to watch his Wildcats take on an undefeated and No. 2-ranked Kansas in person in Philadelphia. The risk was worth it: Unranked Villanova stunned the Jayhawks, 83–62.
…Arcidiacono, playing in his final NCAA tournament, wants to keep that run alive for as long as possible. “I’ve always dreamed of something like this,” he said.
Villanova’s well-documented futility in March weighed heavily on Arcidiacono’s mind as his team entered March. The Wildcats had not advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament in any of his first three seasons. The program’s last two tourney losses probably stung the worst: In 2014, No. 7 Connecticut (the eventual national champion) upset No. 2 Villanova in the Round of 32. A year later, a top-ranked Wildcats squad suffered an unceremonious defeat at the hands of No. 8 NC State in the second round. Fair or not, postseason failure has come to define the most recent years of Wright’s lengthy tenure at Villanova, which had failed to capitalize on high-seeded opportunities.
Arcidiacono has evolved into Mr. Villanova. The senior has now appeared in 141 career games for the Wildcats, more than any other player in program history. But even amid the pomp and circumstance of Villanova’s first Sweet 16 victory in seven seasons, Arcidiacono couldn’t help but inject reality into the moment.
“This isn’t our ultimate goal, getting to the Elite Eight,” Arcidiacono said. “We’re trying to win it all.”
Villanova had a shot to take down second-ranked Kansas, and coach Jay Wright designed the play for the kid who hadn’t made a bucket all game because Ryan Arcidiacono was fearless. Not about taking the shot, but about not making it.
“If Arch misses and we lose this game to Kansas, it will not affect Arch at all,” Wright said. “Some of these other young guys, if they miss it, it could crush them for the season.”
Arcidiacono broke free from then-freshman guard Frank Mason and didn’t miss. The shot with 10 seconds to play proved to be the game-winner in a 63-59 victory in 2013 in the Bahamas.
Arcidiacono, now a senior guard, gets another opportunity to defeat the Jayhawks for higher stakes.
“Coach left me in as a freshman. We had a rule where you can’t show out of bounds — no help out of bounds. But I helped on another teammate with his guy and kind of lost Archie and he went off a double screen and knocked the shot down. So as a freshman I made a mistake and let him hit a 3, and that’s where they won the game.’’
Arcidiacono, who fired the game-winner as Perry Ellis lunged to help after Mason’s misplay, was 0 for 5 before launching the go-ahead shot with 10 seconds remaining. Nova went on to beat the 5-0 Jayhawks, 63-59.
After Villanova coach Jay Wright designed the play, Arcidiacono blurted, “Really?’’
…Two factors played into Wright’s decision. One, KU was not expecting Arcidiacono to be called in the clutch. Two, Wright expressed confidence in a guard, who, as a senior this season, became the first Villanova player to score 1,500 points and distribute 500 assists in a career.
“That was a grind-it-out, street-fight type of game,’’ Arcidiacono said. “I don’t think either team had any rhythm offensively. It was a defensive battle, guys all over the floor and just all over the place rebounding and taking charge, everything like that.’’
If the Wildcats are fortunate enough to play to the end of the NCAA road, which is becoming a real possibility, it might be that Saturday's game is the competitive equivalent of their national championship test. Looking at the other schools that remain, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, looking at the matchups, Villanova could certainly have a tougher game sometime in the next 10 days, but it won't have a tougher opponent.
Predictions - just like rankings, seedings and RPI ratings - are pointless this late in the tournament, but here's a prediction you can trust: Neither team is scoring 90 points in this one.
"We've always marveled at Kansas' defense for years under Bill Self. They are physical, disciplined and they're very committed," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "They've got the package. Their record is 12 straight Big 12 [regular-season championships]? I mean, that's absurd. You can only do that with great defense. Not good. Great."
Villanova, which led the Big East Conference in scoring defense, can play that game, too, and hasn't given up 70 points in any of its eight games in March. Of course, Kansas has averaged more than 82 points per game this month. So, something has to give.
…Where the most interesting give and take of this big game will take place is a matchup between forwards Perry Ellis of Kansas and Kris Jenkins of Villanova. Ellis, the Jayhawks' leading scorer, is 6-foot-8 and has a two-inch height advantage over Jenkins, but he will have a tough time chasing Jenkins around the perimeter to defend his deadly three-point shots.
…Jenkins, a junior whose range is "gym," can definitely do that. He has averaged nearly 18 points per game since the start of the postseason in the Big East tournament and has made 20 of 41 three-point shots during that span.
…So, to sum up, the two hottest scorers on the two teams playing to go to the Final Four are going to be covering each other for a good portion of Saturday's game. Both can shoot. Both can pass. Both are good off the dribble. Seasons can come down to matchups like this, and this one just might.
Villanova junior forward Kris Jenkins has been rolling during the postseason, averaging 16 points in the NCAA tournament.
"I always believe the next one’s going in," said Jenkins, who made 5 of 6 from long range and finished with 21 points and nine rebounds against Miami. "I always keep that mentality."
Asked if tonight’s matchup feels any different, Jayhawks forward Landen Lucas said, "It does, but we’ve experienced so many pressure moments in games and situations like this this season. We know what it’s like to come out and compete at a high level, and we’ll get that done."
Lucas is averaging a double-double through three NCAA games, 12 points and 10.3 rebounds.
He had season highs of 14 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland, reinforcing his growing status as the Jayhawks’ glue guy.
Stars guarding each other isn’t that common in college basketball, but both teams have so many scorers that it makes sense just to match up based on position and size.
“One of the challenges for us would be Perry getting to shooters,” Self said. “Even though he can guard a perimeter player, he’s not used to guarding somebody that has the freedom and the ability to make hard, distant threes.”
Ellis has scored at least 20 points in seven of eight games. No other remaining player in the tournament can say the same. So far, opposing coaches haven’t used junk defenses to try to slow him down, and Wright did a nice job of explaining why.
“Perry Ellis, for his position, one on one, is an outstanding player,” Wright said. “But it’s not like there’s a large amount of distance between him and his teammates for their positions. So you just can’t do it. You’ve got to try to play him straight up.
“And if you give him too much attention, they have a way of getting (Wayne) Selden going. (Devonté) Graham gets going. I mean, Graham was the MVP of the Big 12 tournament, right? So if you give (Ellis) too much attention, these guys, every one of these guys can kill you.”
The same can be said of the other four Wildcats should KU attempt to pay special attention to Jenkins. The better two-way power forward tonight has a very good shot at playing in his first Final Four.
Villanova ranks second in offensive efficiency nationally and it registers as the best offensive team Wright has had since Ken Pomeroy began his ratings in 2002. And yes, that includes the 2009 Final Four team.
That’s all because none of those previous teams had a legitimate big man -- not a 6-foot-8 forward disguised as one -- as polished as Ochefu. The senior averages 10.1 points per game, shoots 62 percent from the field and leads the team with 7.1 rebounds. He keeps the defense honest.
Ochefu is part of the reason why, if Villanova can get past Kansas in the Elite Eight, another banner is possible again. Opponents have to respect him in the post. If he’s left guarded by only one defender, he can end up with stat lines like the Miami game: 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. When opponents bring double teams, as Iowa and UNC Asheville tried, he ended up with four assists in each game.
“When you have a five-man like Daniel Ochefu, who is as skilled as any of the guards, great decision-maker, ball handler, passer for his position, extremely skilled, usually the other guys are skilled,” Wright said. “But when you have a guy like that at the five spot, you know you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
“Landen and I, truth be known, we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye,” coach Bill Self told Sporting News. “I think he viewed what his role should be a little differently than I had.”
So Kentucky was coming to Allen Fieldhouse for a game that would be among the most prominent of the 2015-16 regular season, and in the dress rehearsal for that big show, the Jayhawks got down to 5-on-5 work after some of the customary practice preliminaries. Lucas took four shots in the first 10 minutes. Three of them were blocked. One was airballed from directly beneath the basket.
It was so very clear that day: Lucas was sure he was a starter, but wasn’t convinced he was a player. Self was certain he was both – and wasn’t giving up on the idea until Lucas bought in.
With decorated freshmen Cheick Diallo and C.J. Bragg available on the bench, and with Lucas still blowing layups four years into his career, the easiest thing for Self to do would have been to let the freshmen make their mistakes until they grew comfortable enough to not. Self took the more challenging road. That is why he is one of the college game’s best coaches.
And that is how you go from there to here, from 16-4 to 33-4, from a cool, cloudy January afternoon to the blazing heat of an NCAA Tournament in which KU has won three games on the way to the Elite Eight by a combined 54 points, from Lucas firing blanks from point-blank range to averaging 12 points and 10.3 rebounds in the tournament. No. 1 seed Kansas will play No. 2 seed Villanova at KFC Yum! Center on Saturday evening for a spot in the 2016 Final Four. Lucas will be in the middle of that.
“Since I’ve been here, in my career, I was kind of looking over my shoulder, always worried about making mistakes,” Lucas told SN. “(Self) just let me play free and know that if I work on rebounding and defending that I would be all right.
“He definitely always has believed in me, and I appreciate it. But my teammates had the belief, too, and that was huge for me. They talked to me and just let me know they like playing with me, they want me out there. They trust me.”
"I feel that any connection I get to Harry Litwack, Jim Lynam, Paul Westhead, Rollie Massimino, Chuck Daly, all those guys that I grew up idolizing, is great," he said. "When you grew up in Philly, you didn't follow John Wooden. It was those guys. So if you get mentioned with those guys, it's really humbling. It makes you proud."
For the Wildcats to help Wright make history, they must deal with one of the deepest, most talented and hottest teams remaining in the NCAA tournament.
…Reaching the Final Four has other implications for Wright. It would be a first for a team in the revamped Big East, which would help the conference's respect level.
But it also means that seniors Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu would be rewarded for bringing the program back from a 13-19 season in 2011-12 to this point.
"My first responsibility is to these guys," Wright said. "I really would love to see these guys play in the Final Four. I'm enjoying watching them play and just being along for the ride with them, watching them really enjoy challenges. They really are fired up, focused.
"The players have taken over all the responsibility and that's really fun to be part of as a coach. You don't get that a lot."
Ranked third in the country and playing for a No. 1 seed, Villanova bowed out of the Big East Tournament with a 69-67 loss to tournament-bound Seton Hall in the Big East title game.
The loss bumped ’Nova off the 1 line and landed it a No. 2 seed in the South Regional.
“These guys are smart guys,” he said. “After the Seton Hall game, we went home, and we just looked at the first five, six minutes of (the) game. Let’s just look at us. Look at our stances, our eyes, our aggressiveness. I showed them maybe three or four clips, and I said, ‘Do I have to show you any more?’ They all just said, ‘Nope.’ I said, ‘That can’t happen to us again. If it happens again, we’re going home.’ It was that simple.”
All five losses suffered by Villanova this season came to teams seeded ninth or better in the NCAA Tournament — Virginia (1), Oklahoma (2), Xavier (2), Seton Hall (6) and Providence (9).
The Jayhawks do this as well as anyone. Townsend mentions the 2014 team as one that could’ve done better with more of this in them.
This kind of thing has been part of sports longer than the national anthem. Everyone does this, on every level, and in every sport. Sometimes, if sufficient doubt is hard to find, adults will go to bizarre lengths — an OU football coach once wrote and printed out a story made to look like it appeared in The Star, filled with make-believe and disrespectful quotes from Missouri players.
This KU basketball team isn’t at that level, but it’s still fun to see guys in one of the most tradition-rich programs in college sports remake themselves into the 1954 Milan High Indians. The President of the United States picked Kansas in the world’s most famous bracket, but you get the feeling these guys will most remember that Obama joked about how Bill Self “owes me” after past years when the President’s pick lost early.
Kansas is the top overall seed, No. 1 in the polls, the betting favorite and No. 1 in many advanced metrics. If you’re not one to think much about a politician’s bracket, maybe you’d be interested to know that Jay Bilas — arguably the highest-profile and most-respected college basketball mind out there — also picked KU. If you’re not one for the pundits, maybe you’d be interested to know that the most popular pick in both the CBS and ESPN bracket challenges is Kansas.
Then again, none of that does much good for the greater mission, so bring on the hate. And now that we think about it, there have been an awful lot of people talking about how well Villanova is shooting. Spread that message.
“You have to block out the good stuff,” Kansas senior Evan Manning said, chuckling. “You don’t want to let that get to your head.”
…On that point, Kansas is going to have to search a little harder for disrespect this time. Villanova has no projected first-round picks, and just as importantly, is not giving the Jayhawks much material to work with. The closest thing might be senior forward Daniel Ochefu saying, “If any team is shooting the way we’re shooting right now, they’ll easily be the most dangerous team in the country.”
That kind of trash talk — if we shoot really well you will have a hard time defeating us in today’s athletic contest! — would get you laughed off a playground court. Ochefu’s line is also tempered by this exchange between a reporter and guard Jalen Brunson.
Reporter: Are you worried about them?
Brunson: Yeah, a little bit, yeah.
That, obviously, will not be shared with KU’s players.
There was a telling moment with Kansas guard Frank Mason on Friday afternoon. He was talking about the need to shut off outside noise, to focus only on the people who matter. But that clearly doesn’t always happen, because in the literal sense people on TV do not matter. So Mason was explaining how he hears about negativity. Some of it comes directly through social media, and more of it comes from friends or family who mention what they saw on social media.
That’s when I asked Mason if those people ever share the nice things said about him or his team, and I swear he smiled a little bit.
“Never,” he said.
Fear not. Even on the off-chance that Mason does not hear about criticism on social media, Self has promised to remind him that Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono hit the go-ahead jumper over Mason with 10 seconds left in a game two years ago.
KC Star Mellinger
Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham said he was taking in extra carbohydrates and calories Friday after cramping up in the Jayhawks’ victory over Maryland the night before.
Graham’s legs and back cramped about two minutes into the second half. He said not eating enough Thursday may have contributed to the cramps, but he added he didn’t have an illness.
“I kinda didn’t have an appetite,” Graham said, “just wasn’t eating as much as I usually do.”
Graham played 19 minutes in the first half and 18 in the second even after having to come out to receive treatment. He finished with just two points on 0 for 2 shooting and made only three assists against five turnovers.
Kansas guard Brannen Greene is unlikely to play Saturday against Villanova because of a back injury, Bill Self confirmed. Greene didn’t play in the Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 triumph over Maryland.
“I’ve suspected that he wouldn’t be very effective for a while,” Self said Friday.
Self recalled a play in the second-round victory over Connecticut when a rebound came to the player Greene was assigned to guard and Greene just grabbed him.
“He said, ‘Coach, I had to, I can’t move,’” Self said. “We’ll check him out again but I don’t think that he’ll be available to us.”
Frank Mason III tossed in a meaningless shot before the buzzer sounded in KU’s 79-63 win over the Terps.
Game officials conferred and checked the monitor to make sure the shot counted.
Mason said he didn’t mean to commit an unsportsmanlike act.
“I thought the game was over. I just threw it up there,” Mason said. Some thought Mason actually could have been called for traveling before flipping up the final shot with his left hand.
“It’s the most fun time of year is my approach,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just want to be aggressive, stay how I am in practice and help the team win. If (Greene) is out again, I will probably be on the court a little more. But I’m just worried about being me and not worrying about playing time. Just play good defense and be me.”
Spend any amount of time around any number of KU basketball players and one is likely to hear the same phrase several times.
“Pleasure over pressure.”
During Friday’s news conference in preparation for Saturday’s Elite Eight contest against second-seeded Villanova at KFC Yum! Center, KU coach Bill Self revealed the slogan’s meaning.
“I saw an expression that said never let the pressure exceed the pleasure,” Self said. “I thought it was pretty accurate with our guys.”
…Self said overall team health is as big of a reason why the team’s confidence is so high. He isn’t sure whether the oft-repeated phrase has had anything to do with his team’s success of late — KU had won 17 straight and eight consecutive since the victory over the Red Raiders — but he does feel he made it clear that he felt his players should enjoy these moments rather than be consumed by them.
“You’ve earned the right to enjoy this moment,” Self said. “You put yourself in a favorable position. Enjoy it, have fun. So that’s kind of been our message.”
Players in their down time -- and Saturday they'll essentially have a full day with nothing to do while waiting for their 8:49 p.m. ET tip -- try to stay off their feet, so much of their entertainment comes from television, their smartphones or one another.
Freshman guard Legerald Vick is established as the player who is best at impersonations, his specialty is comedian Bernie Mac. Freshman forward Carlton Bragg Jr., is the one they sometimes have to rein in for being a little too overzealous. That happened in Friday's open locker room when his willingness to contort his 6-foot-9 frame into a pretzel nearly ended with him falling on Jamari Traylor's legs.
It's easy to be a bit loose playing on the No. 1-ranked team that enters Saturday night's game with the nation's longest win streak at 17 games. There's a confidence born from accomplishment.
…"I feel like the last couple of years we didn't know how to respond some of the times and that's when the pressure took a hold of us," Traylor said. "We just would be thinking about, 'Aw man, we're the higher seed and we're in a bad position,' and stuff just didn't work out for us well. But this year we're just going out there playing, we know what's expected of us and are having fun while we're doing it."
Jamari Traylor has been here before, on the cusp of the Final Four. He is the only player on the Kansas basketball team who can make that claim.
Thing is, back then, life was a lot different for the 6-foot-8, 220-pound senior forward out of Chicago.
His road to the Final Four was a literal one.
Traylor, who sat out his first season at KU as a partial qualifier, witnessed as his teammates marched through the 2012 NCAA Tournament all the way to the Final Four in New Orleans. Unable to travel with the team, Traylor watched most of the action that season from afar alongside fellow first-year player Ben McLemore, also a partial qualifier.
Determined to make it to The Big Easy, Traylor and McLemore resolved to make the 873-mile, 13-hour road trip — by any means necessary.
As Traylor puts it now, the two “hitchhiked a ride” with a pair of friends, the four men cramming into an intermediate-sized four-passenger vehicle. Traylor opted for the back seat because he wanted to stretch his legs out, but that didn’t work out too well.
One shining moment, this trip was not.
“I probably tried to sleep,” Traylor recalled. “I know Ben had gas on the trip, so that was terrible.”
…“These guys gave a lot to this program,” KU freshman Carlton Bragg said, “and I don’t want to be the one to mess it up.”
The pressure Bragg is feeling comes from the deep respect and admiration he has for Traylor, a teammate he calls a mentor. Bragg said he enters every game wanting to outdo Traylor off the bench from an energy standpoint, and said he has been a big influence on his development.
Following Thursday night’s 79-63 victory over fifth-seeded Maryland, Traylor said he was “proud” of the forward Bragg’s rebounding. One of only three players to record time off the KU bench, Bragg hauled in eight boards in 10 minutes.
“As a young guy, it’s pretty hard on you being in this position with the spotlight and this attention,” Traylor said. “When these lights are on, it’s a different feeling.”
The bright lights might have gotten to Bragg earlier in the contest, when junior guard Wayne Selden gave him a verbal lashing while both were on the bench. The upperclassman Selden wasn’t happy with Bragg’s efforts going after the ball, and he let him know it.
“I chewed him out at first,” Selden said. “But then I went over and explained to him what he needed to do, and he did it. He did pretty well with it.”
Selden called the teachable moment an example of a KU team that has proven its ability to hold each other accountable without creating rifts.
In all of the years Bill Self has been recruiting basketball players — and for much of that time, especially at Kansas, he’s been recruiting the best of the best — he couldn’t recall going to the first high school game of a recruit.
Until Perry Ellis.
On Dec. 5, 2008, Self showed up at Koch Arena for the opening game of the high school season, Heights vs. East.
Ellis already knew he wanted to go to Kansas, so it’s not as if Self had to put on a full-court press.
“He was an easy guy to recruit because he wasn’t seeking attention,” Self said Friday, on the eve of Kansas’ Elite Eight game against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. “Just like he is now, he’s not seeking attention. So he was a fun guy to recruit because it wasn’t like you had to talk to him every day, to be honest with you, in order to let him know that you love him a lot. Which is something you have to do with a lot of recruits.
“If you told him maybe on Monday, then by Friday he would still believe that there was probably still some love involved.”
The Kansas trio of Perry Ellis, Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. have been named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) 2015-16 NABC Division I All-District 8 team, the NABC announced Friday.
Ellis is a first-team selection for the second-straight year while Mason and Selden are second-team honorees. Mason was also a second-team selection last season.
District 8 consists of the Big 12 Conference current membership. Selected and voted on by member coaches of the NABC, these student-athletes and coaches represent the finest basketball players and coaches across America.
“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
Nothing is as it seems in the NCAA Tournament and, as those who picked Michigan State can attest, you might as well spin a roulette wheel to to pick your title teams. But an objective look at the 56 games played in the tournament (yes, only seven are left — so depressing) brings us to one incontrovertible fact: Kansas and Virginia are playing the best basketball right now, the only time it matters; and given that they're on opposite sides of the bracket, they look like they're Mad Maxing their way to a meeting in Houston on the night of April 4.
Can they be stopped? Of course. This is the NCAA Tournament, where a team that lost to Georgia State, Marshall, Louisiana Tech and UAB can work over a tournament favorite in the first round. It's a tournament where a No. 7 and No. 8 seed can meet in a final, or an undefeated team can get to the national semifinals and lose to a lesser team. Favorites lose daily. Forget stone; nothing is written in pencil.
So the better question for KU and UVA is: Will they be stopped?
Krzyzewski was asked about Brooks' answer in his press conference. Krzyzewski, clearly perturbed by the question, answered with denial.
"I didn't say that," Krzyzewski said in the postgame presser. "You can say whatever you want. Dillon Brooks is a hell of a player. I said, 'You're a terrific player.' And you can take whatever he said and then go with it, all right?"
Except, Krzyzewski clearly did say something beyond that. We now have proof. The production crew at CBS pulled the audio of what was said in the moment that Brooks and Krzyzewski shook hands.
Here's what it is.
…Krzyzewski says, "You're too good of a player to do that. You're too good of a player," while Brooks apologizes immediately and says it was his bad.
So, basically, exactly what Brooks said Coach K said and exactly what Krzyzewski denied happened in the post-game press conference.
Look, this is but a blip on the radar of Krzyzewski's magnificant career. But man, it's really not a great look. Not only is it not necessarily Coach K's place to lecture a kid on the opposing team about showing up his team after a loss, but it's also unbecoming from Coach K to lie about it in the post-game presser. Simply put, even just from a public relations perspective, this was the exact opposite way to handle things post-game.
By late Friday, the NCAA tournament field had dwindled to eight teams in a way that few seemed to expect at the outset. It wasn’t the upsets that were unanticipated, though. It was the lack of them.
This was supposed to be the most wide-open Big Dance in recent memory. Kansas was the top seed but only ranked among the favorites. All the other contenders supposedly had flaws. Oregon didn’t deserve a No. 1 seed, or so the thinking went. This would be the maddest March of all the maddest Marches.
Until it wasn’t. By the time the regional semifinals finished, all four No. 1 seeds had advanced, Oregon included. Kansas had won each of its games by double digits. Oregon had overpowered Duke.
The Ducks and Jayhawks were joined on Friday by Virginia and North Carolina, a pair of top seeds who overwhelmed their foes. The Cavaliers are perhaps the most complete team in this tournament, and they refused to let Iowa State even sniff an upset. North Carolina downed Indiana, 101–86, in a dominant victory of its own.
As the clock neared midnight ET on Friday, the only question left was whether Syracuse, the 10th seed in the Midwest region, could topple Gonzaga, the No. 11 seed. An Orange victory would have given the ACC four wins on the day and half of the slots in the Elite Eight. (The answer, after the final seconds ended, was yes.)
By that point, the takeaways from the first three rounds (and the First Four) were clear:
1. The ACC can claim the title of best conference in college basketball this season, although those who asked Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to compare the ACC now to the Big East in its heyday need to slow their roll.
2. For all the Pac-12’s struggles as a conference, with five of seven teams losing their first game and only one, Oregon, advancing to the second week, the Ducks still proved deserving of the top seed for which most had pegged Michigan State.
And 3. That whole parity thing? This tournament made a parody of that.
On Thursday, the National Association of Basketball Coaches announced Texas Tech head basketball coach, Tubby Smith, as the NABC District 8 Coach of the Year, according to a news release from Tech Athletics.
The award gave Smith three coach of the year awards. Earlier this month, he was named Sporting News Coach of the Year and the Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year.
According to the release, Smith is now eligible for the NABC National Coach of the Year award, which will be announced next week during the NCAA Final Four weekend.
KUAD: Postseason Information Hub for Fans
Find out the tournament history for specific seeds, teams, coaches or conferences.
NCAA Tournament Brackets and History interactive tool
CBS Interactive Tool: Pick two teams to compare record, RPI and SOS details head to head. By default, the top two teams in RPI are shown.
Big 12 Composite Schedule & Results
Everything seems to be magnified in the recruiting world, especially when it comes to a high-profile recruit, and even moreso when a decision is near.
All those things are true in the case of Josh Jackson, the No. 1-ranked recruit in the class of 2016 by some analysts. The Detroiter and senior at Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., is down to Michigan State, Kansas and Arizona, with a decision possible around the McDonald’s All-America game next week in Chicago.
And various recruiting services have been suggesting since Thursday that MSU may not be in a position of strength with Jackson. That’s all hearsay until he decides, but MSU 2016 signee Cassius Winston was asked about Jackson today after leading U-D Jesuit to a Class A semifinals win over Macomb Dakota.
“I really don’t know,” Winston said of Jackson’s decision. “Wherever he goes, best of luck for him. We’ve talked a couple times, but I couldn’t tell you where he’s going.”
Was Winston suggesting MSU has lost ground with Jackson? Is he just focused on winning a state title and not into answering questions about Jackson?
It’s worth noting what Jackson told the Free Press in December about Winston and MSU signee Miles Bridges and their efforts to persuade him to join them.
“It’s pretty much every time I see him,” Jackson said of Bridges. “Him, Cassius, Nick Ward, Josh Langford — I’m pretty much friends with all those guys and they pretty much attack me all the time trying to get me to commit.”
Bridges and Langford will be with Jackson in Chicago as McDonald’s All-Americans. The game is at 9 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN) at United Center.
Detroit Free Press
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