Some believe this might be Bill Self's best coaching job since he arrived at Kansas nine years ago.
This was the season the Jayhawks' string of seven consecutive conference titles supposedly was in jeopardy, but KU sits atop the Big 12 men's basketball standings heading into Wednesday night's game against Oklahoma.
“When all eyes were on unbeaten Baylor and Missouri, that they might be the Big 12's two best teams, I still felt it would be Kansas at the end,” said Steve Wieberg of USA Today. “That's not about talent. It's not remotely about tradition. It's about coaching.
“We've seen Tyshawn Taylor go from enigma to All-America caliber and Thomas Robinson from sixth man to (national) Player of the Year contender and KU to the top of the Big 12 after a roster makeover. That's coaching.”
…“Bill doesn't have anything to prove with the resume he's put together,” said Jim O'Connell, AP's national college basketball writer. “But if he can put together another Big 12 title and a deep NCAA run with lower expectations it would be very impressive.”
“Losses are okay as long as you learn from them,” said coach Bill Self Tuesday before practice. “I thought our Davidson loss probably helped us for at least a month.”
Self said his team had a long film session on Monday, and the problems the Jayhawks faced in the loss to Iowa State — mainly rebounding — are all correctable. The team just needs more energy against Oklahoma tonight, he said.
Junior forward Thomas Robinson had a quiet game against the Cyclones. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five turnovers. Nothing to worry about, Self said. It just wasn’t one of Robinson’s best games. The team will work on getting its National-Player-of-the-Year candidate more touches in the next few games — starting tonight with Oklahoma— to get him back on track.
“We’re going to force-feed it to him over the next week or two to get him where he knows that that’s where his bread is buttered,” Self said.
KU, which was outrebounded by ISU, 36-23, vows to do a better job on the boards.
“When you say, ‘the way we rebounded Saturday,’ that would be inaccurate,” Self said, “because we didn’t rebound a lick on Saturday.”
Individually? Self has said only Tyshawn Taylor (16 points, 10 assists) had a decent stat line versus ISU.
…“We can’t worry about Missouri because if we do, then Oklahoma is going to walk right in here and steal a win,” Releford said.
Releford sprained his left wrist about two weeks ago. “It’s been sore throughout the season. I’ve been fine,” Releford said.
…The Big 12 supervisor of officials, Curtis Shaw, commented on Self’s assisting ref Darron George after George was trampled in the court-storming incident Saturday at ISU. George cut his hand and chipped a bone in his knuckle.
“We have conference policies on security, but at times they are difficult to enforce,” Shaw told the Journal-World. “The enthusiasm of students is understandable and we appreciate that. I want to thank coach Self for making sure that Darron was OK. This was the losing coach, but says a lot about coach Self and who he is. He and the University of Kansas have been very instrumental and supportive of our officiating program, and I appreciate their overall support and coach Self’s personal care and professionalism.”
KU AD Sheahon Zenger on Monday received an e-mail from the Big 12 office lauding Self.
“Bill is not only a great coach. We know he’s a great person,” Zenger said. “He’s so likeable and easy to be around, but some people don’t know deep down inside how caring he really is. He cares about people.”
Conner Teahan can’t pinpoint an exact reason for his ongoing shooting slump.
Film studies have shown that he’s leaning away on some of his shots, creating a flatter trajectory. But that’s just one thing, and it hasn’t persisted on all attempts. His confidence hasn’t cracked from earlier in the season, either.
And the Kansas senior guard even found quality looks throughout his shooting drought now stretching roughly nine games.
“I’ll tell you, I feel like I’ve been getting more open looks in my slump than I was when I was shooting the ball well,” Teahan said. “Hopefully that keeps happening when I start knocking them down.”
Teahan and the Jayhawks hope that turnaround starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday when KU (17-4) plays Oklahoma (13-7) in Lawrence.
Teahan’s role, of course, is the 3-point specialist. Just like the lefty reliever in baseball designed to handle tough left-handed hitters, Teahan’s purpose is defined and specialized.
That also means he doesn’t have much room for error. While Kansas coach Bill Self thinks Teahan can help KU in other ways, the reality is that if his shots aren’t falling, he becomes far less valuable off the bench.
He may only get three or four chances a game, sometimes less, to make an impact.
“That’s what I signed up to do,” Teahan said. “That’s the player I signed up to be when I came here. I knew there were going to be games where I didn’t get as many shot opportunities, and you’ve got to be ready for that.”
Teahan, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on from Rockhurst who is a regular for the first time in his career, is in good company. Several Big 12 sharpshooters need a sight adjustment as of late. Kansas State’s Will Spradling, who has hit 36.4 percent from beyond the arc for the season, is hitting 24.3 percent in league games.
Missouri’s Marcus Denmon is 37.7 percent for the season but 27.1 percent in the Big 12.
Coaches around the Big 12 believe the rising level of intensity along with the familiarity of the competitors accounts for lower numbers.
“When you get into league play, scouting comes into it,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “People just aren’t going to let you shoot the ball. The shots are more contested.”
True, Teahan said. But what troubles him are the misses when he does have time.
“I feel like I’ve been getting more open looks in the slump,” Teahan said. “Maybe it gets in your head a little bit when you have more time to shoot it.”
Teahan thought he had plenty of time to knock down shots late in the second half of the Jayhawks’ loss at Iowa State on Saturday. But he missed a corner three with the game tied 53-53 and clanked another corner attempt moments later after the Cyclones had taken a three-point lead.
But it wasn’t just the shooting that had Teahan down after Saturday’s game. In 14 minutes, he added one assist and no rebounds to his stat line.
“It was a just a bad game overall,” Teahan said.
One that should reinforce the idea that when shots aren’t falling, there are plenty of other ways to contribute.
“He doesn’t have to make shots to be a good player,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s got to find other ways to help the team, and he can. He’s more than a shooter. He’s a basketball player.”
That’s what Denmon and Spradling have done for their teams. In Missouri’s victory at Texas on Monday, Denmon grabbed five rebounds. Even with his shots not falling, Spradling leads Kansas State in assists in league games.
Still, the players know the ability to go deep consistently is their calling card. Kansas hasn’t been happy with several aspects of its game lately, chiefly allowing teams to score late in the shot block and lack of rebounding energy.
But nothing seems to generate the groans like a missed deep ball by a shooter, followed by another.
Rewind to last year, and step far away from the basketball court. Recall that Robinson lost both his maternal grandparents within a few weeks' time, then lost his mother to a heart attack five days after his grandfather had passed.
Robinson's 9-year-old sister called to tell him.
"Me, Reggie Moore who's up at Washington State now, and a lot of guys that played on that Brewster team, we'd always text him or call to make sure he was OK," Fitzgerald said. "I would talk to him and try to make him feel better. We're just a big family. He's someone I consider a brother."
It has been this way since the fall of 2008, when Fitzgerald and Robinson entered the Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. They had crossed paths on the East Coast AAU circuit - Fitzgerald is from Baltimore, Robinson from Washington, D.C. - and now they would solidify a bond over a year's worth of playing ball, prepping for college and being teenagers.
"He was a cool guy from the first time we met," Fitzgerald said. "We did a lot together."
…"The two of them developed a pretty close relationship here just working out together every day," Brewster coach Jason Smith said. "They complemented each other very well. Andrew had a veteran's game. He had much more advanced post moves. He wasn't the physical specimen Thomas was, but he knew how to score.
"Thomas was a world-class athlete, but he needed to work with Andrew to understand the different nuances of playing the post. Things like setting your man up or utilizing the rim to help you score."
If Robinson gleaned some trade tricks from Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald marveled at his friend's natural feats.
"I remember one game he had 30 points and 20 rebounds," Fitzgerald said. "I wasn't that kind of player. I'd always give them 20 and 10. (He averaged 22 points and 8.5 rebounds, in fact, compared to Robinson's 16 and 13.)
"One time he dunked on a 7-footer. Watching him play, it was exciting. I enjoy watching him play to this day."
That feeling is mutual.
"Drew's a prime-time player," Robinson said. "I still think to this day he's not getting the recognition he deserves. I go to ESPN and look at his stats, what he did for a game. He's been putting numbers on everybody for a couple years."
Wednesday marks the second trip in four days for Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger back to his US-24 roots.
A KU connection tags along. Teddy Owens, the son of the Jayhawks’ former coach, is a graduate assistant for the Sooners.
Junior combo-guard Carl Blair and the Sooners will have to bring a defensive stalwart’s mentality with them when they play at 7 tonight at Allen Fieldhouse against No. 8 Kansas.
“It’s an attitude,” Blair said. “My mental state when I’m guarding somebody is my man can’t score on me. If he does, it kills me.”
Blair leads Oklahoma in one hustle stat — steals. He’s successfully stolen the rock from opponents 30 times in 20 games.
“They look at my eyes, and they just know they’re not getting by me,” Blair said. “It’s almost like an intimidation factor. You just gotta let a guy know that it’s not going to be easy tonight.”
ABOUT OKLAHOMA (13-7, 3-5 Big 12): The Sooners are coming off a three-point victory at Kansas State. Steven Pledger had 30 points in that game. He scored 14 in the Sooners’ loss to Kansas at Norman on Jan. 7. Pledger has made all 24 of his free throws in Big 12 play and OU is shooting 76.3 percent from the line. … Lon Kruger won two games at Allen Fieldhouse in his four seasons as Kansas State’s coach (1987-90) and the last time he coached in Lawrence was in 1994, when his Florida team, coming off a Final Four appearance, lost.
ABOUT KANSAS (17-4, 7-1 Big 12 ): The earlier matchup between the teams was Travis Releford’s big offensive game. He scored a career-best 28. The Jayhawks trailed at halftime in that 72-61 victory but ran away in the first 10 minutes of the second half. … KU is coming off an eight-point loss at Iowa State and seek to avoid the program’ s first losing streak since 2006. … The Jayhawks were outrebounded by 13 at Ames, and you know that didn’t sit well with coach Bill Self.
BOTTOM LINE: The Jayhawks ended a 10-game winning streak at Iowa State and they weren’t sharp in their previous game against Texas A&M. Oklahoma comes in confident, and although the quest for a Sunflower State sweep will fall short the Sooners will keep it close.
Writing an update for ESPN.com (ESPN Insider access only), draft guru Chad Ford said Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is in competition with four other players — North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Connecticut’s Andre Drummond, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Baylor’s Perry Jones — for the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft.
Whether it's Missouri fans printing t-shirts championing a Civil War raid as "scoreboard" or Kansas declaring victory by forfeit in the rivalry after Missouri announced it was SEC-bound, the Border War has produced some memorable pranks.
Rarely, however, has there been a more decisive victory for one fan base than the viral video battle in advance of Saturday's matchup in Columbia.
On Friday, three Missouri students released a song titled "We Are Mizzou," a lighthearted pro-Tigers, anti-Jayhawks rap anthem replete with trite lyrics, awkward dancing and lots and lots of Auto-Tune. Nearly 200,000 people viewed the video on YouTube by Tuesday afternoon, prompting a clever satiric rebuttal from three Kansas students entitled "We Are KU."
UDK: Show spirit at games, not on YouTube
Suns rookie Markieff Morris would like to be a starter someday. He knows the time is not now. Morris asked Gentry to return to the bench after struggling as a starter.
In five starts, Morris shot 29 percent and averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. As a reserve, he has shot 46 percent and averaged 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds.
“I was kind of deferring to (Marcin) Gortat and Steve when I was playing with them,” Morris said. “I was used to the second unit. I was more useful coming off the bench. I had to be aggressive, because I was one of the go-to guys coming off the bench.
“I felt like I wasn’t doing anything (as a starter).”
Morris came off the bench for two seasons at Kansas before starting his final season.
His bench work has made him one of the top rookie big men, along with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Philadelphia’s Nikola Vucevic.
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This was Kansas’ game to win or lose. Heading into overtime, the Jayhawks had the momentum after junior guard Monica Engelman ended regulation with a three-point shot at the buzzer. Junior forward Carolyn Davis scored the first points in overtime, but the Jayhawks slowed down.
Kansas dropped a 74-68 overtime loss to Oklahoma. This is the latest loss in a series of 14-straight — nine of which came under coach Bonnie Henrickson — against the Sooners. Kansas falls to 16-5 overall and 5-4 in conference play with the loss.
The Jayhawks were outscored 10-4 in overtime and were forced to foul when they found themselves down four with under a minute left.
After the loss, the Jayhawks utilized varying degrees of descriptions to describe their struggles at home.
“Look at all three of them, it’s been gut-wrenching,” said Henrickson of recent home losses to Kansas State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. “In this league, you gotta protect your home court.”
Added junior guard Monica Engelman: “I’d just say it sucks.”
Despite both teams playing with incredible energy and defensive intensity, the Jayhawks led for much of the game. Junior point guard Angel Goodrich made sure her team took the lead into halftime, when she buried a buzzer-beating three-pointer from a few steps inside of halfcourt to give Kansas a 27-25 lead and a huge lift.
“It got us some momentum, and I didn’t know what to do,” Engelman said. “I didn’t know if I should run at her or just stand there screaming.”
…The Jayhawks and Sooners reached overtime thanks to a clutch shot by Engelman with five seconds remaining in regulation. After Sharane Campbell hit two free throws to give OU a 64-61 lead with 12.8 seconds to play, Goodrich raced the ball up the floor and feathered a pass to Engelman on the far wing. Despite making just 4-of-15 shots on the night, Engelman stepped into it and buried it.
“It’s a play we have,” said Henrickson, who watched her team run things perfectly without the luxury of being able to call timeout to set the play up. “It’s a great screen by Carolyn, a great pass by Angel and a great, in-rhythm shot by (Engelman).”
With momentum again on its side, KU jumped out to a 66-64 lead in OT on a quick bucket by Davis. As was the case in regulation, however, KU simply could not pull away.
The Jayhawks next will travel to Texas A&M on Saturday. The Jayhawks and Aggies are slated to tip off at 7 p.m.
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It’s been quite a start to Big 12 play for Iowa State forward Royce White.
He’s recorded a triple-double. He carried the Cyclones to an upset win over No. 8 Kansas.
But he’d never hit a game winner — until Tuesday.
White made his first ever game-winning basket when he hit a five-foot baseline jumper to cap off an unlikely ISU second-half comeback that ended in a 72-70 win over Kansas State.
“The ball is in his hands and we have faith in him,” guard Chris Allen said.
His teammates trust White’s abilities more than he does.
White told the team he wanted Scott Christopherson to take the final shot during a timeout. But coach Fred Hoiberg drew up a play for White instead.
And as White, a 50.3 percent free throw shooter, stepped on the court, all he could think about was the Wildcats hacking him.
“I was praying they wouldn’t foul me,” White said.
…Everyone acts like it's a foregone conclusion that KU's Thomas Robinson will win national player of the year. Is that the case?
Gosh, no. Robinson may still be the favorite -- but only slightly. He had only 13 points and seven rebounds in Saturday's loss at Iowa State. And he was lambasted by Bill Self on national television following a poor first-half performance against Texas A&M on Jan. 23. Meanwhile, players such as West Virginia's Kevin Jones, Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Creighton's Doug McDermott continue to put up gaudy numbers. Right now I'd list them in this order: Robinson, Jones, Davis, McDermott and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.
Jason King: Bubble talk begins. K-State, Texas, A&M mentioned
Multiple sources have told CBSSports.com if/when the Big 12 decides to expand to 11 schools, Louisville will be the choice. "They are clearly the best fit," a college football industry source said. Not only are the Cardinals the overwhelming favorite as the Big 12's 11th team, but sources told CBSSports.com that the Cardinals are aggressively pursuing a Big 12 invitation.
However, after Navy announced last week it would join the Big East, the Cardinals' exit fee to leave the Big East increased to $10 million. "The cost of poker just doubled," a source said. Even so, it's doubtful the additional $5 million is enough to keep the Cardinals from jumping to the Big 12 if they get the chance.
When the Big 12 extended an invitation to West Virginia last year it was a two-horse race between WVU and Louisville. The Mountaineers ultimately got the bid in a photo finish, but there remains a large sentiment for Louisville. Even though having 11 schools is an odd number, the Big Ten, which added Penn State in 1990, showed that a league can function -- and succeed -- with 11 schools.
Go to 12? If Louisville is No. 11, what school would be No. 12? BYU continually gets mentioned as a Big 12 target, but everything I hear -- and I mean everything -- from sources is "look east, not west" for the Big 12's 12th school.
If that's the case, Cincinnati would appear the most likely candidate as the 12th team, but the league hasn't seriously discussed a 12th member and the Bearcats have nowhere near the support of Louisville, making the move to 12 even more tricky.
Even though there is no clear-cut 12th team, there still would be advantages to the Big 12 actually having, yes, 12 members: a conference title game would be worth a substantial amount. However, a bigger advantage would be with 12 schools the league would be in a much stronger position to ward off any future expansion worries if/when there is another wave of expansion from the other power leagues. With 12 teams, the Big 12 would be in a position of strength.
One downside to 12 teams -- besides a smaller piece of the pie for each team -- is the league would have to be divided into leagues and it would want to avoid a lopsided split between the Big 12 North and South (or East and West).
So what's the Big 12 ultimately to do? The new commissioner will obviously play a role in that decision. We do know West Virginia is joining one of these days/weeks. After that, I think the Big 12 has some serious discussions on the benefits of adding Louisville and somewhere in the future, the Cardinals receive -- and accept -- an invitation.
While I may be biased toward the Big Ten, it is the other misnumbered conference that has impressed me the most this season. While many are expecting a large number of Big Ten and Big East schools to make the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 shows that you do not need a ton of tournament-capable teams to compete for a national championship. In fact, that conference does not need eight to nine good teams to be considered a top conference.
Instead, the Big 12 is top-heavy, with three teams ranked in the top 10, the most of any conference. The teams that should represent the Big 12 in the tournament will definitely be legitimate contenders and not simply one-and-dones. While the Big East and the ACC have had more recent NCAA champions, this year’s champ may come from the Big 12.
Baylor plays Texas A&M for the final scheduled time in men's basketball starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Reed Arena. If Aggies first-year coach Billy Kennedy has his way, however, Southeastern Conference-bound A&M will still count the likes of the Bears and Texas among its annual rivals.
"I hope to play Baylor or Texas sometime soon, in Dallas or Houston, a one-game deal (annually)," Kennedy said.
"I'd love to continue playing other Texas schools with the success and tradition those programs have and with the relationships we've had over the years.
"It's good for basketball, good for the (state) and good for the programs."
The Big 12 board of directors will meet on Thursday to discuss forming a search committee to replace acting commissioner Chuck Neinas, the The Dallas Morning News has learned.
Neinas stepped in and replaced Dan Beebe, who was fired as the league sat on the verge of collapse. At that time, Neinas, the former Big 8 commissioner, said explicitly that he had no interest in making the position permanent.
…On Thursday, the board is also expected to be briefed on the status of West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12, one that includes a court battle. The parties are currently in mediation. The two sides will meet with a third-party mediator on Feb. 9 and give a status report.
If they are unable to reach an agreement, the Big East’s motion for an injunction to keep West Virginia in the Big East will be heard on April 11. West Virginia plans to officially join the Big 12 beginning July 1.
Big 12 midseason report
Perry Ellis went for 32 points tonight and now sits just 37 points behind the all-time City League record as his Falcons cruised to an 82-52 win over Southeast. This win also extended Heights’ winning streak to 57 games overall.
Wichita North got 29 points from Conner Frankamp to win 56-52 over West. East’s Larry Dennis and Kimron Burris each scored 15 points for the Blue Aces in their 57-41 win over Bishop Carroll. Jordan Bieberle had 15 points for Carroll in the loss.
Video highlights at the link.
Mary Persons standout Brannen Greene brought the Bulldogs back from the brink of defeat in the final 1:22, helping Mary Persons overcome a five-point deficit to win 61-60 when Greene drilled a 3-pointer with five seconds to go.
Westside’s Ronnie Mays nearly pulled off the win for region-leading Westside, but his shot from halfcourt at the final buzzer bounced off the rim.
…It’s a much-needed win for a Mary Persons team, which entered Tuesday seventh in the region standings with only a few games left before the region tournament.
“We call it a statement game. It’s a yardstick, is a measurement to where we are and what we can be,” Mary Persons head coach Virgil Amey said. “We think they are the best team right now in the region. But we showed them, ourselves and everybody else that if we play together, grinding defensive basketball, we can beat any team in the top five (of the region) any day.”
Greene, who scored 19 points with a trio of 3-pointers, got Mary Persons within two points with a minute to go when his 3-pointer cut the Westside lead to 58-56.
Following a missed shot by Westside, a Charles Sealey layup tied the score at 58 with 35 seconds to go before Mays drained a pair of free throws with 21 seconds to go, putting the Seminoles back in front 60-58 before Greene’s big shot.
“Once he got the ball, that’s what, ‘BG. big game Greene’ is supposed to do,” Amey said.
On February 2-5, Cox Sports will present the National Prep School Invitational, a basketball showcase featuring 30 of the top prep schools in the country. Games will be available to watch free at coxsportsonline.com.
The 14th annual tournament, which will take place at Rhode Island College, features All-American level talent. Since the inaugural event, more than 600 future Division I athletes have showcased their skills, 25 of whom have gone on to NBA careers.
This year's event features class of 2012 standouts Mitch McGary (signed with Michigan), Ricky Ledo (Providence), T.J. Warren (North Carolina State), and Georges Niang (Iowa State). Notable underclassmen include Nerlens Noel, Dominic Woodson, Noah Vonleh, and Wayne Selden.
A full schedule of live streaming coverage and replays can be found at coxsportsonline.com.
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