Bill Self expects some opening night jitters from Kansas’ basketball newcomers Tuesday night.
“I think they’ll be nervous regardless of how cool they think they are and how worldly they are,” Self said with a smile, speaking of freshmen Udoka Azubuike, Josh Jackson and Mitch Lightfoot. They and Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby will make their KU debuts in a 7 p.m. exhibition contest against Washburn in Allen Fieldhouse.
…“I’m as excited about this particular team as any team we’ve had since we’ve been here. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I could be more challenged or we could be more challenged and yet have the potential to be very good.”
…Sophomore guard Lagerald Vick, who did not make the rotation a year ago, indicated he just might have some butterflies Tuesday. Asked what he wanted to get out of the contest, he said: “Probably get the nervousness out of the freshmen, and me, too. This time last year I was so nervous. I’m not as nervous as I was last year. I’ve been practicing over the summer getting comfortable. I just feel more comfortable.”
…The Jayhawks were ranked third in AP’s preseason poll, which was released Monday. Duke was No. 1 and Kentucky No. 2.
“We don’t really buy into preseason rankings,” Mason said. “I’m not even sure what we are ranked right now.”
Noted Vick: “I feel that’s about right. We still have some steps to get better.”
Self’s reaction: “I’d rather be ranked high than not ranked high. It doesn’t bother me at all. Guys have got to learn to play with expectations. High rankings put them in position where other people think they should be good. I don’t have a preference one way or another. If we weren’t ranked we’d use it as motivation. If we are ranked we’d use it as motivation. It doesn’t really matter.”
“In the past years, we’ve taken every exhibition game serious, but with those two (Indiana and Duke) being the first two games, we want to play (our exhibitions) like we would play against them,” Mason said. “And I think the younger guys and the older guys know that and they’ve figured out everything coach wants us to do. We just have to attack the game plan now.”
At least part of tonight’s game plan figures to incorporate Self’s new desire to run with a four-guard lineup. The reason for Self’s plan to install such a system is the depth and strength of KU’s perimeter players. However, just because the Jayhawks have designs on playing four guards more than ever this season does not mean that’s the way it will play out against the Ichabods.
“We won’t be too good at it (Tuesday),” Self said of the small lineup. “We’ve worked on a few things, but for two or three days is all. We’ve primarily been practicing with two bigs in there the majority of the time.”
Asked if they were ready to see the smaller lineup in action, KU guards Frank Mason and Lagerald Vick both sounded eager to see how it worked.
“We practiced that a few times,” Mason said. “I really like it. We have good guards that can get in the lane and drive the ball downhill and create good shots for each other.”
Added Vick: “We (practiced it) this past week. Looked pretty good. It should be a huge factor.”
…Even though the Jayhawks’ starting lineup of Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson, Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas has been set for months, Self said he still wanted to see how those five perform together when it counts and added that a big emphasis of KU’s two exhibition contests — Tuesday and 7 p.m. Sunday vs. Emporia State — would be identifying which Jayhawks operate well together and what units can be counted on in various situations.
“We basically have five guys that we think will start,” Self said. “But we don’t know what our best lineup will be yet because I still think playing small might be our best lineup.”
Self said he plans on deploying the four-guard lineup in the team’s 7 p.m. Tuesday exhibition against WU at Allen Fieldhouse, though he doesn’t expect the look to be immediately effective. In the long term, he envisions any two of Bragg, Lucas and Azubuike playing together for 25-30 minutes, while the four-guard look also featuring either junior Svi Mykhailiuk or sophomore Lagerald Vick takes the remaining 10-15 minutes.
Self said the small lineup’s productivity “remains to be seen.” He said he has a natural preference to play big, but this team’s personnel dictates he alter his style — at least slightly.
“I’ve always been a guy that plays inside-out, you guys know that,” Self said. “But you know, I’ve become more and more open to playing outside-in because we’ve had to the last couple of years. I think this will be a team that needs to have balance, but I see us being a perimeter-oriented team more so than an interior-oriented team.”
With the rise of small ball NBA lineups, it’s no surprise that college basketball often moves away from traditional lineup structure. What's surprising is that it’s happening at Kansas with such great success.
To coach Bill Self’s credit, he hasn’t shied away from experimenting with lineups in the past. In 2014, Self debated playing former players Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden Jr. as power forwards.
However, that makes more sense given Kansas’ history of developing forwards like Perry Ellis, Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson, for example. History hasn’t stopped Self from running a successful offense that features two point guards playing at once.
“I think the game is getting smaller,” Self said at Kansas media day. “If you've got a three man playing the four spot, that puts a big guy guarding him, and if he can shoot, it's a hard matchup. We've always been a conventional three-out, two-in team, but I think this year we're going to get away from that a little bit.”
Wings Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick also appear to be solidifying themselves as trustworthy rotation candidates who will likely be the first players off the bench.
What does it all mean? While KU played “inside-out” last year by bringing forward Perry Ellis away from the basket (while still keeping two big men in the game), this year’s offense should, at times, take the next step beyond that.
The Jayhawks likely will play more four-guard looks this season — “small ball” — starting with Tuesday’s exhibition against Washburn.
“I’m becoming more and more comfortable with it,” Self said. “I want to give our guards freedom.”
So what might it look like?
We have that answer … in the tiniest of samples.
In 1,540 minutes last year, KU ran its four-guard lineup … on four possessions. They all came in the second half of a victory against Oklahoma, as Self talked with Fred Hoiberg earlier in the week, with the Chicago Bulls coach suggesting the offense might have potential for the Jayhawks.
One can see some of the advantages quickly. With two players stationed in the corners, KU went to a two-man game with Mason dribbling, the big (Ellis in this case) setting a high ball screen around the elbow and another shooter stationed on the opposite wing.
The key comes on the drive. If a defender helps, Mason can kick out for an open three. If no one helps, he should have a one-on-one opportunity to attack the basket.
KU’s first possession went like this: Mason drove. Oklahoma didn’t help. Mason was fouled on a layup attempt. Two free throws KU.
kuhoops.com (videos at the link)
A year ago, there was no overwhelming favorite, no powerhouse that tore through everyone. Duke was mediocre, at least by recent Duke standards. Ditto for Kentucky. Villanova wound up cutting down the nets without a surefire NBA player on its roster.
This season the blue bloods are back -- and loaded. Look for Duke, Kansas and Kentucky to soak up the wins -- and the majority of the headlines.
The day Josh Hart decided to return to school, Villanova became a legit contender to repeat. But no, not the favorite. That honor belongs to the Blue Devils, who are deep and ultra-talented this season after Mike Krzyzewski found a way to land arguably the top two players in the country in Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum. Oh yeah, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson are also back.
The gap from Duke to the next tier isn't significant, especially with Giles' history of knee issues.
Kentucky brings in a similar level of young talent, but the Wildcats don't have a player of Allen's caliber returning. Instead, John Calipari has Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis, a couple of nice players. Kansas has an experienced backcourt and added maybe the toughest frosh in the nation in wing Josh Jackson.
Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova. The prohibitive favorites entering the season. On paper. We'll see what happens on the court.
...Best case: Big 12 Champs, Final Four, National Championship. This will not be a traditional Jayhawks team, one that beats you in the post. Kansas lost quite a bit up front but returns a stellar backcourt -- arguably the best in the country -- and some experience up front. Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham are both very good point guards, and freshman Josh Jackson brings a skill set that few have had in Lawrence under Bill Self. Kansas will win its 13th straight Big 12 title, an unimaginable achievement in today's game, and Kansas has proven to be an Elite Eight regular. This team can bust through.
Worst case: Second-weekend casualty. What can hold Kansas back is lack of production and consistency from its big guys. Landen Lucas is really solid but not a scorer. Carlton Bragg is capable but hasn't done it yet. How the Jayhawks' big guys play is key, as is the playmaking of Jackson. If Jackson is prepared to take the spotlight, Kansas' "worst case" is better than most teams' "best case."
ESPN Goodman (KU #2 Power Rankings) and Jay Bilas (team breakdown)
MEN’S BASKETBALL POLL STREAK
The current streak of consecutive polls for teams ranked in The Associated Press’ poll. The record is 221 consecutive polls by UCLA from 1966-80. Through 2016-17 preseason poll.
Kansas 143 (began Feb. 3, 2009)
Iowa State 57
North Carolina 43
Michigan State 21
AP TOP 25-MOST WEEKS NO. 1
THROUGH 2016-17 PRESEASON POLL
UCLA, 134 (1964-2007)
Duke, 128 (1966-2017)
Kentucky, 115 (1949-2016)
North Carolina, 113 (1957-2016)
Kansas, 62 (1952-2016)
Indiana, 54 (1953-2013)
He learned English and the basics of life in the U.S. in New York, then headed to Kansas, where he missed the first five games of the season because of eligibility concerns. Diallo heard the doubts about his academic standing, or his ability to play at the collegiate level, and decided the best way to prove himself was to head straight to the pros. He chose to leave Lawrence, Kansas, after a year of playing sparingly.
“I just had to take a chance,” he said. “I believe in myself, that I could do it, and so I left Kansas.”
Early in October, manager Dell Demps said he expected Diallo to stay on the roster at the start of the regular season to help assuage the absence of missing starters but would not rule out seeing Diallo spend some time in the D-League this year.
“He’s got a ways to go, but he’s got a great spirit and he plays hard,” coach Alvin Gentry said after Diallo’s appearance against the Spurs. “I think he’s going to be a good player in this league. It’s going to take a little while, but i like his competitiveness and the energy that he plays with.
"And he can run, he runs like crazy.”
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BIG 12/COLLEGE NEWS
Texas sophomores Kerwin Roach and Tevin Mack will be suspended for Wednesday's exhibition game due to a violation of team rules that occurred "months ago," UT men's basketball coach Shaka Smart said Monday.
Tulsa is among cities hosting first- and second-round NCAA Tournament basketball games in 2017. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday and will be available online at www.bokcenter.com, at the Arby’s box office at the BOK Center or by calling 1-866-7-BOKCTR.
The BOK Center will be the site of first-round games March 17 and second-round games March 19.
…As has become tradition, four preliminary 2017 NCAA Tournament games will take place in Dayton, Ohio. Joining Tulsa as a host of first- and second-round games will be Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Sacramento and Greenville, South Carolina.
Regional sites are Kansas City, San Jose, Memphis and New York. The Final Four will take place in Phoenix.
If you sift through the gazillion or so tweets published Sunday afternoon about the National Football League, and the slightly fewer about the College Football Playoff race, and nearly as many about the World Series, and just a few about the MLS Cup playoffs, you will find a precious few nuggets of second-hand whispers about teams and players that performed well in college basketball scrimmages Saturday afternoon.
Why exactly one needs a subpoena to gather information about these scrimmages is one of the enduring mysteries about the sport.
And it’s not only puzzling, it’s ridiculous.
There is no logical reason a sport so starved for media attention should have a rule in place that mandates across-the-board secrecy regarding a practice competition between two Division I teams. Some of the nation’s most prominent sports media figures eagerly stuff college basketball into the “one-month sport” box, in part for their own convenience but also as a reflection of a changing market. Attendance has declined by a smidge, regular-season TV ratings aren’t great and even some coaches complain that football commands too much of the public’s attention.
Then why aren’t they fighting for it? Why are the folks in charge of the game responding by hiding their product like it’s some sort of controlled substance?
Sporting News DeCourcy
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Four-star combo guard Shai Alexander received a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky during his visit with Coach John Calipari on Monday.
…Alexander averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in limited play on the Nike circuit over the summer before playing for the Team Canada U18 squad in Chile and then being chosen for the Canadian senior national team that competed in the Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines in July. The latter squad featured several NBA players, and Alexander was the youngest player on the team by four years.
He’s not as highly ranked as Calipari’s other recruiting targets in the 2017 class, but Alexander would be an important addition for UK, which is expected to lose Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk to the NBA after this season. Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder are both seniors, so if the three underclassmen all jump to the pros, that would leave the Cats with zero returning, scholarship backcourt players for the 2017-18 season. Alexander also projects as a multi-year player in college.
…Alexander is also considering Florida, Kansas, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Texas and UNLV. He committed to the Gators last November but reopened his recruitment a couple of weeks ago. There is no timetable for his final college decision.
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