Today, Kansas University’s basketball team can take a huge step toward claiming a 10th-straight Big 12 Conference championship.
The first-place Jayhawks, who possess an 11-2 record in league play, take on second-place Texas, which at 9-4 is a full two games back with five remaining.
“To me, it’s not even about the league race Saturday,” KU coach Bill Self said in previewing the 6:30 p.m. KU-UT battle in Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s about playing Texas and playing a team that’s already handled us once. One of the residual effects is that it’s big for the league race, but it’s also just an opportunity for us to try to play better against a team that smacked us around pretty good.”
KU’s motivation today may simply be trying to atone for an 81-69 defeat to the Longhorns on Feb. 1 in Austin. The Longhorns, who like KU enter today’s game with a 20-6 record, led by 15 points at halftime and 20 in the second half.
In other words, it never really was close.
“Our big guys should look forward to the challenge of going against their front line. They kicked our butt on the glass,” Self said. “We never put any game pressure on them. They controlled that game pretty well.”
…If KU does win today, it could wrap up at least a share of its 10th consecutive league title Monday vs. Oklahoma (8 p.m., Allen). The NCAA Div. I record is held by UCLA, which won 13 straight league titles. Gonzaga had a streak of 11 league crowns snapped in 2012.
…KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger at Friday’s athletic advisory committee meeting was asked about the status of plans to build a $17.5 million apartment building for KU basketball players and other students. On Tuesday, the university dropped its legislative request for bonding authority to build the apartments. The House Education Budget Committee last week rejected the bonding proposal.
“We’ve regrouped and will pursue other strategies (to raise the funds),” Zenger said. “That project is alive and well.”
It is believed the apartment complex will be built by money raised from KU donors.
LJW Smithology: Getting reacquainted with the Longhorns
Looking back, Self says, he probably overestimated his team’s defensive potential. Last season, Kansas finished No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense, riding a tough group of veterans to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Jayhawks rank just 67th nationally in field-goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 41.2 percent.
The advanced defensive numbers tell a similar story. For the last seven years, Kansas has ranked in the top 11 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. Self’s defenses were so good, for so long, it almost seemed like a birthright. If Self is the coach, his team will feature a top-10 defense.
This year, they rank 35th in defensive efficiency.
Maybe some of this should have been expected. The Jayhawks lost the best shot-blocker in the country (Jeff Withey) and a lock-down perimeter defender (Travis Releford). New foul guidelines have opened up the game, increasing scoring and offensive numbers.
But back in October, Self still believed in his team’s defensive promise. He envisioned Andrew Wiggins blowing up the passing lane, and Wayne Selden Jr. slaloming past opponents in transition.
…It is, of course, in Self’s nature to worry about every microscopic detail on the defensive end. Defense travels, he says. If you want to establish success in the long-term, it starts with stops.
But the Jayhawks are still just a few victories away from lapping the field in the Big 12 race. They still rank among the best defenses in the conference, and they rank in the top 40 nationally in most defensive categories. Most programs would probably take those numbers. But for Self, it’s just not up to standards.
In the end, there’s no secret sauce for March success. But four months into the season, Self says his players are not resigned to just being good on defense. They can still get better. He’s trying, at least.
“I’m a big believer that you can teach kids to do anything,” Self says. “If we’re not good defensively, that’s on me because I haven’t done a good-enough job of getting them to play that way. There’s no excuse for not being good on that end.”
Self says Tharpe faces a big challenge on that end because he’s not as big as some of KU’s previous point guards like Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers and Tyshawn Taylor.
“He’s the one to me, and (freshman) Frank (Mason), that can do a better job of maybe making other teams play poorly because their point guard isn’t comfortable, and we haven’t done a good job of that lately,” Self said. “I’m not just picking on them. It’s kind of the way we’re playing, but it’s also basically body type and physical ability and things like that. They’re just not very big.”
As mentioned before, this game will have a huge impact on the Big 12 standings.
With a victory, KU will take a three-game lead over Texas with four games remaining, meaning the Jayhawks could clinch a tie of the league title in their following home game Monday against Oklahoma.
With a loss, though, KU would maintain just a one-game lead over Texas with a pair of tough road games left at Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
The contest also will be a renewal of a rivalry that featured some great games in the early-to-mid-2000s.
Self was reminded of that Wednesday, as during a ball signing, he looked up to the TV and saw a KU-Texas game from 2002 playing on ESPN Classic.
The stakes — and emotions — should be just as high in Saturday’s game at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Hopefully,” Self said, “it’ll be a classic as well.”
ABOUT TEXAS (20-6, 9-4 Big 12):When Texas handled Kansas 81-69 in Austin on Feb. 2, the Longhorns became just the second team since 1997 to beat top 25 teams in four straight games. The other team: Kansas, which had accomplished the feat just a few weeks earlier. So now Texas makes the return trip to Allen Fieldhouse for Round 2. … The Longhorns are coming off an 85-76 loss at Iowa State, falling two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 race. But they do feature the goods to test Kansas — even inside the Phog. … Texas is tied for 13th nationally with 6.1 blocks per game, and the Longhorns ferociously protected the rim in the first game against Kansas. Texas had a season-high 12 blocks while the Jayhawks kept attacking the basket. Sophomore post players Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh can both alter shots, and junior forward Jonathan Holmes is another athletic presence in the frontcourt. … Texas entered the weekend ranked in the top 30 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
…BOTTOM LINE: KU must stop dribble penetration, and freshman center Joel Embiid must find a way to score against Texas’ rim protectors. But playing at home, the Jayhawks should be properly motivated to score a payback victory.
Offensive rebounding: Texas ranks 15th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and in Big 12 play, the Longhorns also are best in the conference at grabbing their misses. Though KU has struggled with defensive rebounding in a few games (including at Texas), the Jayhawks overall have done a good job at cleaning the glass, ranking 81st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
• Rim protection: Texas ranks sixth nationally in defensive block percentage and features a pair of top-200 shot-blockers in Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes. According to Hoop-Math.com, Texas' defense has limited opposing teams' close shots, as only 28.8 percent of opponents' field goals have been at the rim (28th nationally). KU struggled against UT in the teams' last meeting, as the Jayhawks made just 19 of 51 2-pointers (37 percent).
• Defensive rebounding: Texas ranks 31st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, and again, most of this advantage comes because from the combination of Holmes and Ridley. Quietly, KU has been the Big 12's third-best offensive rebounding team in conference play, but it'll be tougher to have success in that area against a tall and talented UT front line.
…I'll be honest: I expected a much more impressive statistical profile from 6-foot-1 guard Isaiah Taylor (No. 1) following his 23-point effort against KU three weeks ago. Truth is, Taylor isn't that efficient of an offensive option, mostly because of poor shooting and an inability to make 3-pointers. One of the freshman's biggest struggles has come at the rim, where he's made just 48 percent of his shots. He's an above-average 2-point jump-shooter that features a lightning-quick floater, but again, that's a lower-probability shot that isn't usually going to help a player's overall line. The one place Taylor does bring elite value is with free throws; he draws 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes (159th nationally), ranks 134th in free-throw rate and also has made 75 percent of his freebies. Keep him off the line, though, and Taylor shouldn't repeat the standout performance he had in Austin.
TCJ Newell 5 minute scout
Ben Kastner, the 12-year-old Michigan boy who last September completed his goal of proving his unwavering Jayhawk loyalty by wearing KU gear every day for a year, on Friday began the final steps toward his ultimate goal: attending a men’s basketball game in Allen Field House.
Joined by his mother, Gina Defeo Kastner, n’89, and his brother, Ian, Ben arrived on campus early Friday afternoon after a long drive from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Vote for Wiggs for the Wooden Award
“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
@Hugeshow says to Tom Izzo, "I think Wichita State would be the 6th-best team in the Big Ten."
Izzo: "I think that's fair."
The University of North Carolina has brought on a former U.S. attorney to conduct an independent investigation of academic irregularities at the Chapel Hill campus.
Kenneth L. Wainstein, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, will have access to "new information that may become available," UNC system President Tom Ross and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt said in a joint announcement Friday.
The appointment of Wainstein by the university system comes amid increased national scrutiny on the matter.
The institution has been under the microscope for two years, ever since the revelation that students -- mostly athletes -- were taking classes where little or no work was required.
…The UNC statement said Wainstein's finding will be made public.
"Based on information that the district attorney is able to offer, Wainstein will take any further steps necessary to address any questions left unanswered during previous reviews commissioned by the university," the UNC press release said. "While there is no set timetable for completing the inquiry, the university will cooperate fully with Wainstein and ensure he has the full access he needs to complete his work. ...."
UNC has done several other internal investigations since The News & Observer newspaper first broke the story about the fake classes. Each time, the findings have raised more questions.
Among them, the question of who came up with the idea for the fake classes, and how so many athletes were directed toward them. Initially, the university denied that athletics was tied to the scandal, and the NCAA declined to take any action against the university, saying it was an academic scandal, not an athletic one.
Officials now appear to be backing away from that claim and leaving open the possibility that there was a stronger athletic tie.
"We have directed Mr. Wainstein to ask the tough questions," Folt said. "Follow the facts wherever they lead, and get the job done."
ESPN's "College Basketball GameDay" show makes its first visit to the University of Colorado campus Saturday. And two of the show's regulars, host Rece Davis and analyst Digger Phelps, said Friday they expect Colorado (20-7, 9-5 Pac-12) to earn one of the 36 at-large bids to the men's NCAA Tournament.
"To me, it's Arizona, UCLA and Colorado (right now), and the Pac-12 is going to get four or five teams in the tournament," said Phelps, a legendary coach at Notre Dame decades ago. "If Colorado beats Arizona (on Saturday night), that seals the deal."
Said Davis of the Buffaloes: "Right now, they're in. I think it would have to be a situation that they play their way out of the tournament than have to play their way in."
Marcus Smart returns.
Oklahoma State resets.
That's the plan anyway. Starting Saturday afternoon against Texas Tech, the Cowboys have two weeks to save their basketball season. Break this losing streak that started long before Smart got suspended, win at least four of five games, and they have a great chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament.
And if they get there, who knows? Anything can happen.
But the Cowboys aren't the only ones hitting the reset button. The incident at Texas Tech that started with a fan making an unseemly comment and ended with the shove seen round the world has given everyone reason to pause, look in the mirror and reflect on their behavior.
Good has come from the bad.
Because what happened that night in Lubbock was bad. What Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr said to Smart. What Smart did to Orr. All of it turned your stomach.
Orr has said that he called Smart a “piece of crap”. Whether that's what Orr actually said, I have no idea. I've watched the videos that are floating around the Internet, and I can't make out anything. But even if that was the totality of what he said, that's still ugly.
A 52-year-old man telling a 19-year-old college student that he's a piece of crap?
Orr is an air traffic controller who presumably holds thousands of lives in his hands every time he goes to work. He doesn't have to act at basketball games like he acts in the control tower, but surely he now understands why it's unseemly for him to have said what he did.
Maybe others are realizing the same thing about the way that they act at games.
Fan behavior is being emphasized. Schools are being proactive. We've seen it around the Big 12 and even in other parts of the country.
The Wednesday after the Smart incident, officials calling Memphis-Central Florida ejected a fan sitting in some nice seats but saying some not-so-nice things. Romeo Khazen is a Memphis megabooster, a casino bigwig, and apparently, he didn't like the way UCF was clogging the lane and let the officials know about it.
Big XII composite schedule (includes results, highlights, stats)
ESPN College GameDay Schedule
2013-14 TV Schedule