“Those guys are going to get the last laugh on everybody. It’s just going to take a little time,” Self said Thursday. “People forget that the reason that the Morris twins started (2008-09 as freshmen) is because we didn’t have anybody else. Marcus had to and Markieff was our first guy off the bench.
“People forget that Thomas Robinson averaged eight minutes a game as a freshman. But he had three lottery picks playing in front of him. And then Thomas finished second (for) national Player of the Year,” Self added. “People forget Jeff Withey was the sixth best big man we had when he got here and he’s second in all-time blocked shots in the NCAA Tournament. People develop at different stages, but for people to say that we don’t play freshmen, that’s the most ridiculous (thing). Other than Kentucky, who started more freshmen than we have?”
The only thing that’s held Bragg and Diallo back, Self said, is the fact seniors Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, junior Landen Lucas and when healthy, senior Hunter Mickelson, have been effective players, too.
“On this particular team and this particular case, it’s been better to have experience out there because even though there’s great talent, the inexperience probably would affect us winning games right now,” Self said. “They are working hard. They have great attitudes. I hate it when people make something more out of it than what it is. It’s just how your team has evolved as the year has gone on. Every team does that.”
…“Our attitudes have been great. And that’s hard to be when you have highly-recruited kids. You can’t keep everybody happy,” Self said. “ You recruit guys and sometimes it doesn’t go exactly as scripted because if it went exactly as scripted, then all 13 guys would be lottery picks and play in the league. So much of it is timing. But I’m real pleased and proud of how our guys have hung in there and been really, really, really together and unselfish for the most part and been there when their number is called.”
Critics have asserted the Jayhawks’ handling of their star freshmen — Diallo and Bragg this season, and, before his NCAA troubles, Cliff Alexander last year — could hurt the program’s reputation among recruits in the future.
It’s an assertion Self flat-out rejects.
“What about a kid that’s a four-star kid? Will that hurt you later, because you’re never going to play a kid that earns it because a freshman is going to come in behind him?” Self said. “You could have a flipped opinion based on the perspective you’re coming from, and the perspective that we have is try to give everybody an opportunity but play the guys that give you the best chance to win.
“It’s not the guys that look the best. It’s not the guys that have the prettiest jump hook or whatever. That’s all it is. It’s nothing more than that.”
…Lucas said he admires the “great attitude” Diallo and Bragg have displayed, particularly in practice, where they continue to push the veterans when they get complacent. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound junior forward has been discouraged by decreased roles in the past but said what the freshmen are going through has to be at another level.
“I know it’s even bigger for them because of the expectations that they came in with, so I can imagine it being hard,” Lucas said. “But we’re part of something that’s so big, so just trying to keep them focused so that even if they come in, make one small play, if it’s to help a team that’s doing some big things, that’s huge and they should really enjoy that.
“We’re going to need them in a game,” Lucas added, “so they’re just going to have to stay positive.”
Every Kansas men’s basketball practice reinforces the message, players gathering in a huddle before breaking with three words said in unison:
“Big 12 champs.”
The expectation is built into KU’s players from their earliest days in the program.
“There’s just an understanding,” KU forward Landen Lucas said, “that there’s something really greater than us that we’ve got to keep alive.”
…Lucas believes a home game against Kentucky — a rare non-conference game in the middle of the Big 12 grind — helped the Jayhawks reboot their season. That 90-84 overtime victory was the start of an eight-game winning streak for KU.
“They care,” Self said of his players. “We can talk about whatever, but hey, these kids care and they try real hard and they are competitive.”
…No, it’s not official yet, but the numbers sure appear to be in KU’s favor.
The team has won 38 straight home games. It has gone 15-0 all-time against Texas Tech in Allen Fieldhouse.
And it’s also in position to claim a 12th straight conference championship ring — a goal that’s brought up specifically in each of the Jayhawks’ practices.
“It’s just something that we work hard for and we prepare for,” KU guard Devonte’ Graham said. “We’re definitely where we want to be.”
I vote for the Associated Press All-Big 12 team and this is the time of year that I make my selections in pencil and then wait to see if results from the remaining three games force changes.
At this point, my selections:
Coach of the Year: Tubby Smith, Texas Tech. Remember when I predicted several weeks ago that with three games remaining Tech and Iowa State would be tied with 8-7 records? You don’t remember? Neither do I. The Red Raiders carry a five-game winning streak into Allen Fieldhouse for a Saturday morning clash. Nobody could have predicted that. Self and Tubby, the two Big 12 coaches who have won national championships, are the two leading candidates for the honor.
First team: Hield, Ellis, Niang, Frank Mason, Monte Morris (Iowa State).
Once again, I have gone behind enemy lines to get the straight dope on the top teams from three of the best conferences in the nation. For this exercise, I spoke with three coaches (head coaches and assistants) from the Big 12 and Big East, plus two from the Pac 12. Last week, I presented similar offerings on the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. In both cases, I granted the coaches anonymity so they would give it to us straight. Then I pried, provoked and prompted them to divulge the potential weak points and tendencies of these teams.
If these assessments seem unduly harsh, that is my fault, not theirs. We know these teams are good; that's why they're on this list. Therefore, it is more instructive to focus on their areas of vulnerability as we crest into the postseason.
…Kansas (23–4, 12–3): "They have two small guards playing together, which can be good and bad. You can get them in mismatches. Sometimes I think they overpenetrate too much. They're going to high-low you to death. They don't even try to hide it. [Senior forward] Perry Ellis can be up and down, but when he's playing well they're unstoppable. I think [junior guard Wayne] Selden disappears sometimes. He has one of the best bodies you'll see on a two-guard, but he's not a physical guy. He's a jump shooter with a great body. I don't think he has that dog in him. Their weakness is low-post scoring at times. So they're even more dependent on making threes and scoring in transition than usual. Their high-low offense has always been dictated by playing inside-out. Now they're playing outside-in. [Junior forward Landen] Lucas has really been a difference-maker for them defensively. You've got to try to make Ellis go left. He loves to drive left and then spin back to his right. He can take too many jump shots at times. When Ellis goes out, you can score at will on them inside. Ellis is very valuable defensively because he's so smart. When we run our stuff, he's there before our guys get there. [Junior guard Frank] Mason is a warrior and [sophomore guard Devonte'] Graham just loves to play. He plays happy, he plays with energy. Selden is a weak point defensively. If Selden has to chase somebody, he can't do it. If you can get someone who can move without the ball, he has trouble."
SI Seth Davis (More Big 12 and others at link)
IT'S 20 MINUTES before game time, and Kansas sophomore Brayden Carroll is fidgeting with a mask, adjusting the straps before wrapping them around his head. He broke his nose for the second time in a rec game recently and just last week had it surgically repaired.
A sane person wouldn't risk a nose job on a manager game. Of course, a sane person wouldn't be a basketball manager.
The demands of the job are high, the pay nonexistent and the tasks menial. Essentially, these are college students who willingly spend their entire days catering to the whims of other college students, while simultaneously trying not to interrupt the rhythms of a maniacal head coach.
Need a water bottle? Got it. A towel? On it.
Timeout? OH MY GOD, SOMEONE FIND COACH'S DRY-ERASE BOARD.
Managers spend four years as water boys, just to be around the game. So given the chance to actually play the game, you really think a broken nose will be a hindrance?
No. Carroll was so desperate he asked Carlton Bragg, Kansas' 6-foot-9 freshman, if he still had the mask he wore last summer when he broke his nose in South Korea. He did, so here's Carroll making like Hannibal Lecter.
"It's totally worth it,'' he says. "I've got to play.''
Big 12/College News
Groundwork for what Iowa State basketball players hope is a deep postseason run starts Saturday.
“K-State, Oklahoma State and then Kansas,” Monte Morris said before practice Thursday.
“It’s time to turn it up a notch. This is it. It's time to go."
…“Last year we were a three (seed),” Prohm said. “Right now, they have us a four. We’re right there.
“If we finish strong, we probably could move up, just because we have a lot of quality wins.”
Prohm admitted that he’s a bracketology guy. He looks at all the predictions he can find. He analyzes what the Joe Lunardis and Jerry Palms of the world are saying.
“It just gives you an idea of where you’re at,” Prohm said. “I do it because I’m a junkie.”
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2011-12 Final Border War
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