“It’s Kansas,” Iowa State point guard Monte Morris said. “It’s going to be electrifying.”
Des Moines Register
Who will be the star of stars?
Iowa State’s Georges Niang (providing he doesn’t get in foul trouble) and Perry Ellis.
No-brainer. The stars will come out on this night. They usually do.
Keep an eye on Monte Morris and Frank Mason, too. They’re going to have the ball a lot.
A key stat
Fast-break points. Both teams like to get out and run — the faster the better.
They’ll dunk in transition. They’ll make 3-pointers. Matt Thomas will shoot that mid-range jumper that he sometimes falls in love with.
The Burton Factor
Iowa State’s rugged 6-foot-4, 250-pound Deonte Burton has transformed his game seemingly overnight.
Once a guy who settled maybe too much for 3-point shots, Burton now fakes from long range, and then drives right to the hoop.
He gets to the free-throw line more often that way, and that’s important against an opponent like Kansas.
Foul trouble could be significant — for both teams.
The eventual pro visited Iowa State a bunch of times before committing to Kansas.
The 6-foot-9 freshman forward averages 4.8 points during an average of 9.8 minutes. He even started once, but he didn’t play in Saturday’s 76-67 victory against Texas.
I’ve never been a big believer in this saying; I prefer to give talented players more credit than the supernatural.
But I can be persuaded — especially if the Cyclones win on a half-court, buzzer-beating bank-shot 3-pointer by Jameel McKay.
Des Moines Register
I've talked a lot this season about the KU veterans and how, after three or four years of playing for Bill Self, they should know exactly what is expected, play with a sense of urgency and be the type of players who benefit from the seasoning they've experienced during their previous years of college basketball. On Saturday, after a couple of inexplicable outings at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, the KU upperclassmen did just that. They were poised, they were tough and they didn't blink even on a day when Texas got off to a white hot start. That experience and the result that came from it should only toughen up this team, which figures to make them an even tougher out down the stretch.
…As if the slightly struggling Mason needed any more reasons to be off of his game, he took a tough fall late in the win over the Longhorns and stayed down on the floor for a couple of minutes before getting up. In general, all of the abuse Mason takes during a game, during a season and probably even during practice, is no reason to smile. But the fact that this guy continues to prove he can take it and play through it is great news. Mason wasn't great shooting the ball on Saturday. He finished just 3-of-14 from the floor, including 1-of-5 from three-point range. But he chipped in eight rebounds, made 6 of 7 free throws and finished with 13 points in 39 minutes. You hate to see Mason take the punishment, but you have to love seeing your team led by such a physically tough player.
Lucas executed the plan to perfection. The 6-foot-10 Portland native crashed the glass, hauling in a team high 10 rebounds. Excluding Lucas, only junior guard Frank Mason III had more than five rebounds for Kansas. The Jayhawks as a team out-rebounded the Longhorns 39-31.
Of his game-high 10 rebounds, six came on the offensive end to keep possessions alive. No other player on the Longhorn or Jayhawk rosters had more than three offensive rebounds that afternoon.
…Lucas was tasked with limiting one of the Longhorns’ most effective interior presences. Senior center Prince Ibeh towers over most at 6-foot-11. He is not only known for his ability to protect the rim but also to dominate the glass.
On Saturday, Ibeh was involved, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he could have been. Ibeh scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. His inability to dominate the interior was a result of Lucas’ relentless effort.
“[Lucas] played great, we told him that in the locker room,” sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham said. “He kept Ibeh off the glass and got offensive boards to help us get the extra possessions. He definitely helped us get the win.”
“I can say it now that he’s gone. Joel Embiid was the toughest one (Jayhawk) to guard — 110 percent for sure,” Niang said, asked to reflect upon players in the KU-ISU series.
…Niang, who averages 19.3 points and 6.4 boards his senior season for the Cyclones (15-4, 4-3), was a high school teammate of KU junior Wayne Selden Jr. at Tilton School in New Hampshire.
“Yeah, that’s my guy. That’s my brother. I’ll always be close with him,” Niang said, speaking to the Journal-World at Big 12 Media Day. “He’s a great guy. When I talk to him, it’s beyond basketball. I try to stay away from talking basketball. I try to just ask him how he’s doing, how his family is doing and what’s going on with him.”
Selden respects prolific scorer Niang, who has hit 52.8 percent of his shots, 39.5 percent of his treys (32 of 81) in 2015-16.
“He can stretch the defense and has great touch inside,” Selden said. “He can put it on the floor. Inside and out, he has a real feel for the game.”
KU coach Bill Self likes to seek out Niang and joke with him at events such as Media Day.
“I told him I was a little bummed out I didn’t get invited to Late Night at the Phog. He told me I’d never get invited to that, so I guess that’s that,” Niang said. “He’s a good guy, a good sport. He’s a lot of fun to be around off the court.
“He definitely has a respect for me. I respect that because I have a ton of respect for him in what he’s done. He’s a great human being and a great coach. I appreciate all the respect he’s shown me.”
Of Niang, Self said: “He’s terrific, one of my favorite players in the league, without question. He’s probably as tough a matchup as there is.”
Self doesn't trust Diallo, and he has his reasons. A big one is Diallo's struggles with comprehending the KU playbook, but that's not all. The decision on which guys to play also had a lot to do with the feedback Self received from his four captains.
You could spin it like this: For the Jayhawks to have their best shot at getting to a Final Four or winning a national title, they need Diallo. His abilities, mainly his shot-blocking, would help. But this team's success rides on those four captains, who scored 72 of the squad's 76 points and played a combined 148 minutes Saturday.
When Kansas climbed to No. 1 in the nation earlier this season, it did so on the backs of its captains' playmaking, three-point shooting and team defense.
When the Jayhawks are off their game—and they hadn't been right since the triple-overtime win against Oklahoma on Jan. 4—they aren't cohesive on either end. You can see a lack of trust when KU's guards hesitate to make an extra pass.
…Defensively, the Jayhawks also found the answers. The wide-open driving lanes started to close, they figured out how to guard a pick-and-roll—something they got abused on during their slump—and most importantly, the Jayhawks rotated on D and trusted their teammates to have their backs.
When it all comes together like that, the Jayhawks look like one of the best teams in the nation in what's a down year as far as the country's elites go.
BR CJ Moore
Entering Monday’s home game with Kansas, Iowa State ranks sixth in the country in offensive efficiency and 74th on defense, a split nearly identical to last season. After starting the season in the top-10, the Cyclones have lost four of their last seven, including a non-conference loss to Northern Iowa and three setbacks in the Big 12. After suffering a home loss to Baylor and road defeat at Texas, Iowa State likely needs a victory on Monday to stay relevant in the Big 12 race. The Cyclones’ starting lineup is one of the best in the Big 12, but a season-ending injury to guard Naz Long has left the roster lacking depth. Reserve guard Matt Thomas, a 42-percent three-point shooter, has joined the starting lineup, but Iowa State is mostly dependent on All-American candidate Georges Niang and junior point guard Monte Morris. The good news: The Cyclones have won three straight, including road victories at K-State and TCU and a home victory over Oklahoma.
The truth of the matter is that these are likely two fairly equal teams playing on Iowa State's home court.
KenPom has ISU by 3, the line is down at 2, and the final outcome will have a lot to do with shot execution and also shot selection.
ISU's dirty defensive secret is this: Opponents have actually made a higher percentage of 3-pointers (36 percent) than mid-range jumpers (33 percent) against the Cyclones. If ISU coaxes KU to shoot 2-point jumpers all night, it will have won based on a strategy started under Hoiberg.
So the question is, will KU fire away from 3? The Jayhawks are still sixth nationally in long-range accuracy and seemed to get back on track with a 10-for-25 effort against Texas on Saturday.
Against ISU, the recipe for success is layups and 3s. And based on this season's numbers, the Jayhawks should realize their outside game is probably more reliable than the inside game they're displayed so far.
ISU still has home-court advantage. And at his core, I think Self despises getting into "shooting contests" with the Cyclones even if that might be his team's best option offensively.
Add it all up, and I'll take the Cyclones to win by a couple possessions.
Iowa State 81, Kansas 75
There are many different kinds of leaders in sports. There are vocal leaders, there are lead-by-example guys, and there are quiet leaders. The Kansas basketball team has all three types, and coach Bill Self understands the importance of each one.
During Saturday’s 76-67 victory over Texas at Allen Fieldhouse, all three of those leadership styles were in effect, but sophomore Devonte’ Graham took on the most visible role.
This, the coach said, is exactly the way it needs to be.
“Frank (Mason), Perry (Ellis) and Wayne (Selden) should demand that Devonte’ be the vocal leader,” Self said. “Their personalities won’t let them do it.”
Graham said that he recognizes the different personalities KU has on its team and that not everyone is like him. He knows his role, and he tries to perform it to the best of his ability.
His passion comes through on the court, whether he is clapping in front of the man he is guarding or celebrating a clutch 3.
With 9:50 to play in the second half Saturday and KU up by three, Graham ran to the corner and waited for his chance. Fellow guard Frank Mason shoveled the pass to his left to hit an open Graham by the KU bench. He put up the shot and converted, giving KU a six-point advantage. Graham looked to his teammates on the bench, a look of accomplishment on his face, and then waved his arms to encourage the student section to get even more hyped.
“Devonte’ I thought showed a lot of poise,” Self said. “Those shots he made were maybe the most timely shots of the game.”
There have been years in the past when Bill Self felt a bit of invincibility with his teams.
The way he saw it, if his team played well on the road, it was going to win. And the chances were about 4 out of 5 that his team was going to play well.
“I don’t have that feeling with this team,” Self said. “I don’t know yet.”
The coach’s brutal honesty can be traced to a few factors.
For one, the Big 12 competition is tougher this year than any other. According to advanced numbers compiled by Ken Pomeroy, the league is trending to be the second-best conference in the last 15 seasons of college basketball.
One of the great misconceptions of Bill Self’s time at Kansas is that the vaunted streak of 11 straight Big 12 titles has been built on success at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have been dominating at home, of course — their latest home-court winning streak stands at 34 games. But for so many years, what separated Kansas from the rest of the Big 12 was its overwhelming success on the road.
From 2007 to 2013 — a seven-year stretch that produced seven conference titles and the 2008 NCAA championship — the Jayhawks went 45-13 on the road in conference play. The run included three seasons in which Kansas lost just one conference road game. The numbers, in retrospect, are staggering.
Self's victory on Saturday means he joins Ted Owens and Roy Williams as the only Kansas coaches to win that many games in the house named after Kansas' most renowned coach of all, Phog Allen. The Jayhawks' rally over UT also moved Kansas to a 56-9 record under Self after a loss. KU is now 17-3 and is tied atop the Big 12 standings with Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor.
And this is why Self has ownership over 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. Kansas now had 34 consecutive home wins, making this the fourth-longest undefeated streak in program history. And Kansas has won four straight against UT.
It's a huge victory, considering it keeps Kansas in contention -- way down the way -- for a No. 1 seed. KU had dropped two of its past three. And now comes two more huge games. On Monday, a roadie against Iowa State. Then next Saturday, a home game against Kentucky, one of the premier nonconference tilts this season in college hoops.
Ellis is coming on strong. He had a game-high 26 points. Kansas doesn't truly have a strong nominee for national player of the year, but Ellis will join that conversation very soon if he keeps going the way he has been. He's averaging better than 24 points in his last three games.
Paige Hoiberg did indeed choose to attend KU over Iowa State and currently is a Jayhawk freshman who works in the KU basketball office part-time doing a variety of support-staff type jobs.
“We welcome Paige. She’s very bright. She’s been a nice addition to our office. It is unique but not near as unique as if Fred was still coaching at Iowa State,” Self said.
Fred Hoiberg, who starred as a high-scoring guard at both Ames High and Iowa State, left ISU after a handful of seasons as head coach last June to become coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. His successor, Steve Prohm, is the man who will lead the 2015-16 Cyclones against KU at 8 tonight in Hilton Coliseum in Ames.
“My dad is actually the one who suggested I visit here. He thought I would like everything here. He always respected Allen Fieldhouse. He thinks it’s the craziest arena he played in,” Paige Hoiberg said, seated on a sofa in a lounge in the KU basketball office.
“They (her parents) could tell I really liked it, because I visited other colleges. Here felt right,” Paige Hoiberg added. “Everyone here is so nice. I love everyone here. I’d just been there for so long. I kind of wanted a different view of everything.”
Paige, who averaged a team-leading 13.6 points a game her senior year at Gilbert (located seven miles from Ames), considered trying out for KU’s women’s team as a nonscholarship walk-on.
“My dad told me he wanted me to, but I decided I’d rather just be a student,” Paige said.
So she accepted coach Self’s offer to have her work in the hoops office. She’s enjoying her first school year here immensely.
“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
There really is no argument about the best conference in college basketball this season, regardless of how it's measured.
The Big 12 has eight teams inside the RPI top 50, seven projected NCAA tournament teams, and at least five of them have the potential to reach the Final Four.
No. 1 Oklahoma has asserted itself as the best team in the country thus far. And yet, it's far from certain that the Sooners will win the league. They're in a four-way tie for first place with the league's 10-time defending regular-season champ Kansas, West Virginia and the team they beat on Saturday, Baylor. As much as that victory proved Oklahoma's worthiness as No. 1, it also signaled the tremendous parity atop the league. But with parity comes strength.
Iowa State, which took down Oklahoma early last week, is close behind the top four and hasn't lost its luster as a Final Four contender. Texas lost to KU on Saturday but has wins against WVU and Iowa State. And even Oklahoma State, second to last place in the league, can be a tough out, beating the Jayhawks early last week.
USA TODAY Sports' bracketology features at least one of the seven tourney-worthy Big 12 teams on all four sides of the bracket. Only the West Region, with No. 11 seed Texas Tech, seems to lack a Big 12 team capable of a Final Four run. And that could surely change come March.
The hypothetical argument — that four Big 12 teams could reach the Final Four — is a lofty one because it's never happened before. But it might be more possible this year than it ever has been, including the dominant years of Big East, ACC and Big Ten basketball in the last several decades. At this point, based on the rest of the NCAA crop, it would actually be surprising if at least two Big 12 teams didn't reach the Final Four.
So back to this question on great teams and the quality of college basketball this season.
Any thoughts on this, Chris Mack?
"People are basing this perceived chaos on two programs: Kentucky and Duke," the Xavier coach said via text. "They're usually top five every week of the season. Not so far this year. But, you're telling me this year's Oklahoma, Kansas, UNC couldn't make the Final Four a year ago? I'm not buying the no-great-teams narrative. Garbage!"
…On Sunday morning, former Chicago Bulls standout Bill Cartwright walked into O'Hare International Airport. He found a seat in his terminal and munched on a muffin.
Then the three-time NBA champion and former three-time West Coast Conference player of the year talked to an ESPN.com reporter, who was also waiting for a flight, about the current state of college basketball.
"I just don't think it's good basketball," said Cartwright, who was an assistant in the league for nearly 20 years. "But it makes good viewing for the fans. You're never gonna see more dunks or more 3-point shots than you are right now. Is that good? Is it great basketball? I don't think so. But it's very entertaining."
He added: "In my time ... it was more of a system of play where you actually passed the ball to the post and cut. Now they wave the post out to set a screen. Not too appealing for me. But it is what it is."
Cartwright described the dichotomy that exists. Exciting basketball versus good basketball? The two can coexist. Perhaps they do this year even without the talent level we've enjoyed in past years. And there's still time for some of the "really good" teams Izzo describes to evolve and mature by the time March Madness arrives.
No clear verdict. But all agree we're watching a captivating season of college basketball.
There hasn't been a lot to cheer about lately around Lexington thanks to UK's 3-2 start in SEC play while nearly falling out of the top 25. Even the Cats' most recent win in Rupp was an uninspiring 80-74 win over 8-10 Mississippi State.
But against a Vanderbilt team that appeared to have the firepower to hang with the Cats, UK had one of its best games of the season in what was maybe the most fun game they've had so far.
This simply was domination by a Kentucky team that's struggled to dominate anyone this year over a Vandy team that had won three straight by an average margin of 13.3 ppg, but looked vastly inferior to the Cats on this day. This was a good example of what many in the BBN envisioned of this year's UK team, and maybe, just maybe, they're finally reaching their potential.
UK Fan Blog
Watching UK freshman Skal Labissiere’s productive play at Arkansas gave Terry Tippett a feeling of history repeating.
On the high school level, Tippett tried for several years to make Labissiere an effective low-post player. Finally, he moved the player to the high post area where he could face the basket.
That seemed to be the exact same scenario that’s played out at Kentucky this season. UK Coach John Calipari tried and tried to make Labissiere a low-post player. Then at Arkansas, Labissiere faced the basket.
“Exactly,” Tippett said.
The sheer size of a 6-11 player compels coaches to try to fashion a low-post dominator.
“But,” Tippett said, “if he can’t do it, he can’t do it.”
An even greater truth moved coaches like Tippett and Calipari to accept Labissiere as a face-the-basket player.
“Coaches want to win,” Tippett said.
Labissiere’s jump shot is “a thing of beauty,” he said.
Better still, the move away from the low post seemed to have a freeing effect on Labissiere.
“That’s the most energetic and aggressive I’ve seen him,” Tippett said.
"They've been coming to me very seriously," Azubuike said of North Carolina on Friday at practice. "Right now they don't have any other big man they are recruiting as much. Roy [Williams] has said I'm the one they are looking for. He emphasizes 'trust' a lot. It's difficult right now deciding a school. Kansas, they have good big man tradition. North Carolina and FSU, the same thing. They are all trying to get a big man who can finish in the paint. So it's difficult choosing between these three. "
Williams and assistant Steve Robinson sat courtside on Sunday when Azubuike and Potters House Christian fell to Westtown (Pa.) at the Hoophall Classic. Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard was also on hand.
"It's still down to those same three," said Potters House coach Steve McLaughlin. "As far as who is moving the most aggressively right now, just to be honest is North Carolina. North Carolina, they're really coming hard at him. They're really putting the emphasis on how much they want him.
"Florida State has still been there the longest. 'Ham [FSU coach Leonard Hamilton] is still putting in work. He still calls all the time. He's still making sure that he comes in to see him. Kansas is the same way. Just right now, lately, North Carolina has been trying to see him the most and reach him the most. But you know, it's still that three-way battle."
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