Instead of battling Jeff Withey, Ben McLemore and the 2nd-ranked Jayhawks, Marcus Smart almost joined them.
“Oh, no doubt,” Smart admitted on Thursday afternoon. “Kansas is a great school, incredible tradition. They were definitely in my top five, top three…I thought about going there at one point in time.”
Now that’s a scary thought for the rest of the country.
Throw the talented and easy-going Smart (widely considered an amazing chemistry guy) into the mix with two other lottery picks and a batch of great role players. Kansas suddenly turns from serious title contender to heavy NCAA favorite.
And make no mistake, Bill Self wanted Smart. Pushed for him. Even got him to take a couple unofficial visits.
“With his resume, with the things he’s done with his teams in the past, he’s definitely built himself into such a credible (coach),” Smart said of Self. “Any player that goes there, you’re definitely getting a great coach.”
The gameday atmosphere’s not bad either.
“It’s crazy man, it’s exactly how they publicize it,” Smart said. “Their fans get really into it and it’s such a big deal there. They take pride in it.”
And he was close to becoming a part of it.
“North Carolina was my number two, but they were definitely my third choice, if I didn’t come (to OSU),” Smart said. “They were very strong on me in the recruitment process and they definitely had an effect on me.”
If the Jayhawks win their next four games — Oklahoma State, at TCU, at Oklahoma, Kansas State — the confluence of KU history would be almost too much to handle. The Jayhawks would be trying to equal the longest winning streak in school history in a primetime game against Texas on Feb. 16, the same night Self would go for his 500th career victory and Mario Chalmers’ jersey would go in the rafters.
That much history could get pretty heavy, so the Jayhawks are doing their best to tune it out.
“I really don’t hear about it,” Self said. “I don’t listen to you (media) guys or read you guys’ stuff that often. I hope that we can keep learning lessons through winning, but that doesn’t always happen.”
KU will lose again, but the question is whether it will happen against a team from the Big 12. The Jayhawks are almost a year removed from their last regular-season conference defeat, but they paid due respect to Oklahoma State as a team capable of making things interesting at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I picked them second in the league, and from a talent standpoint, they may have as good a roster as there is in our league,” Self said. “They’re the most athletic team in our league. That’ll be the thing about it — we have to guard their athletic ability and their skill players, because they can score in a lot of different ways.”
Before the season, Oklahoma State was considered to be one of KU’s main challengers. But after seven games, the Cowboys already trail by three games. And the story is the same for much of the Big 12’s clustered second tier.
No, the Jayhawks aren’t exactly thinking title yet. But it does feel a little different to have a two-game lead after not even a month of conference play.
“It definitely helps,” KU senior Jeff Withey said. “If we can get these next couple wins, we have a chance to win the conference kind of early.”
For Kansas, though, the next step begins with the little things, like taking care of the ball and executing on offense. All year, the Jayhawks have won with defense, and that won’t change. But Self believes his team still has room to grow in the backcourt.
“You look at the makeup of our team,” Self said, “and we don’t have the same ball handlers … and passers as what we’ve had in past years, too. We’ve got to do a much better job of relieving pressure with our bigs and getting everybody to be a little bit less careless moving forward.”
BOTTOM LINE: The Jayhawks are due for an offensive breakout, but senior guard Elijah Johnson will have a tough matchup against freshman Marcus Smart and the Cowboys’ scoring defense ranks fourth in the Big 12. KU may have to win with defense again.
7. Oklahoma State at no. 2 Kansas, Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN3, YES Network
Can we talk for a moment about the golden age of televised college hoops? How amazing is it that stations like the YES Network, ROOT TV, the new Time Warner Sports Network, a billion regional Fox Sports affiliates, the ESPNs, the CBS and NBC Sports Networks, the Big Ten Network, and CBS all carry games and are available to any cable customer who doesn't mind paying five extra dollars for a sports package? Not to mention the excellent online packages offered by ESPN and the BTN. (Speaking of which, what's with no live or delayed Internet coverage, CBS? Yes, I'm being greedy.) A resourceful fan can dig deep and find just about any game he wants. These truly are the days of plenty.
Moving on. I'm being stubborn about Oklahoma State this year, because I really love Marcus Smart as a point guard and think he and Le'Bryan Nash should be a scary offensive core. But while the Cowboys play great defense, things haven't quite clicked on the other end. My hope is that the Iowa State win on Wednesday was the start of a transformation, and that they'll give Kansas a game. Unfortunately, the fact remains that OKSU hasn't won a true road game all season, and the Phog Allen Fieldhouse probably isn't the likeliest place to start. Also, Ben McLemore is a golden god who will reliably rescue the Jayhawks from any and every jam. So there's always that.
Player trying to keep rolling: Ben McLemore is a candidate to be the top pick of June's NBA Draft, and for good reason. He's special. But Jeff Withey isn't bad, either. The 7-foot center has made 12 of 19 field goal attempts in Kansas's past two games while averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Another effort like that Saturday against Oklahoma State, and the second-ranked Jayhawks could become the top-ranked Jayhawks in both polls -- depending on what happens at Assembly Hall, of course.
Withey, who is listed 7-foot, 235 pounds, needs seven blocks during today’s 3 p.m. home game against Oklahoma State (14-5, 4-3) to tie, eight to pass, Greg Ostertag as KU’s all-time blocks leader.
The Withey who starts at center for the Jayhawks (19-1, 7-0) today is a lot stronger and sturdier than the player who arrived as a transfer from the University of Arizona in January of 2009.
“He was thin. He was lean. He needed more muscle mass, obviously,” said Andrea Hudy, KU associate athletic director for sports performance, who is head of KU basketball’s strength program. “We fine-tuned the type of athlete Jeff has become. All the credit goes to Jeff because of all the hard work he’s put in, for sure.”
Withey has had three games with seven or more rejections his senior season — and seven games of seven or more blocks his junior campaign. He acknowledges it has taken a lot of sweat to be on the verge of setting the all-time school blocks record.
“It’s a ton of work after you get here,” said Withey, who has put on 20 pounds since arriving as a 215-pounder. “It (work) is the difference between somebody who will struggle in our program and someone who will excel. Once you get here, it starts. We emphasize to the young guys, it doesn’t just happen. It takes time and work to get to be the best and win championships.”
Withey still drinks the protein shakes he guzzled with regularity as a freshman.
“My body ... I’ve been here so long, my metabolism is probably slowing down a little bit,” Withey said. “Coach Hudy does a great job in getting us strong. Finally, all the years are starting to pay off.”
Hudy acknowledged it has been a long, satisfying process.
“Jeff has become a good worker. I don’t think he worked when he got here from high school, but he learned. With the technology we have now, the (strength) numbers are there (for him),” Hudy said. “I think as coaches and athletes, your life is about reps. If you come to Kansas, you will get reps on the basketball court and reps in the weight room. It’s consistent reps.”
K-State lost two players to injuries — forwards Ashlynn Knoll to a torn ACL and Ashia Woods to a torn Achilles ligament — during a practice before the Wildcats’ upset of Oklahoma State last week.
The injuries cut K-State’s roster to seven available players with junior Chantay Caron the tallest player at 5-foot-11.
“I think that is probably the biggest factor in our losses,” Patterson said on Big12sports.com’s podcast. “It’s just going to require a whole lot of toughness as we continue to compete through this league.”
K-State (12-8, 3-5) will reach the halfway mark of the Big 12 schedule Saturday when the Wildcats play in-state rival Kansas to wrap up the season series. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum.
The second time around the Big 12, the No. 1-rated conference in the RPI, will undoubtedly be much tougher for the Wildcats considering the recent injuries.
Kansas guard Natalie Knight tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during Wednesday's victory against Iowa State, the school announced Friday.
Knight, a sophomore from Olathe, started KU's first 19 games and ranked fourth on the team in scoring at 8.3 points. She was injured with 1:46 remaining in regulation of a 78-75 comeback victory in which Knight scored a career-high 21 points.
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Big 12/College News
Louisville? The Cardinals just absorbed a three-game losing streak.
Indiana? The Hoosiers are 47th in scoring defense and 152nd in turnovers.
Michigan? The Wolverines are 117th in free-throw shooting. How many NCAA Tournament games have you seen that were determined by foul shooting?
Kansas? The Jayhawks are 213th in turnover margin and 217th in 3-pointers made per game.
Back to our question: Who’s your Final Four?
How about Butler (17-4), Gonzaga (20-2), Syracuse (18-2) and, oh, Duke-beater Miami (16-3). Miami? Didn’t the Hurricanes lose to Florida Gulf Coast? Yes, they did.
Isn’t that great?
There is a beauty to this season — a season in which the tournament will be ridiculously wide open.
There are four Atlantic 10 teams — Butler, VCU, Xavier and St Louis — which could easily get to a regional final.
There are two Missouri Valley Conference teams — Creighton and Wichita State — which are Sweet 16 teams at the least.
Akron, which has every key player back from last year’s team which almost went to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season, has won 12 straight.
Detroit has a player, guard Ray McCallum, who can take over a game.
South Dakota State has wins over Alabama and Minnesota.
Belmont joined the highly respectable Ohio Valley Conference, is 9-0 in league play, 18-4 overall and has the best backcourt you’ll want to remember on Selection Sunday.
St. John’s could make the tournament. Oh, yes, today at Georgetown the Red Storm (14-7, 6-3 Big East) begin a brutal four-game stretch that could make or break them. They can beat the Hoyas, who waxed them earlier this season. They certainly can beat Connecticut on Wednesday night at the Garden, which will be rocking.
If college basketball has a problem it’s this: The regular season is a second thought to most sports fans.
But March Madness remains the single best sporting event in the world, save, perhaps, the World Cup.
We’re agreed, on Feb. 2, college basketball is down.
Let’s see how we feel on March 18, the day after Selection Sunday, when the junior associate in mergers and acquisitions chooses teams based on uniform colors — then goes on to win your office pool.
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The Tift County Blue Devils are good. They are real good.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 8-1 in Region 1-AAAAAA, flexed their muscle Friday night, routing the Lowndes Vikings 80-51 at the Charles Cooper Memorial Gymnasium in Valdosta.
…Leading by nine points early in the third quarter, Tift County used a commanding 18-0 run to pull away and never look back. The Blue Devils’ run was led by Kansas signee Brannen Greene, a tall 6-foot-7 senior transfer, who scored nine of the 18 points during the run.
“They never looked back after that (run),” Clark said. “We just couldn't get it together tonight.”
Greene finished with a team-high 19 points, despite sitting the closing minutes of the third quarter and the majority of the fourth quarter.
Early in Friday’s game, North found itself in a deep hole, scoring just two points in the first 6½ minutes of Friday’s game against Heights.
But the Redskins, who trailed 15-2 after that dismal stretch, kept chipping away and caught the Falcons, 59-59, on senior Conner Frankamp’s three-pointer from the top of the key with two minutes left.
In overtime, Frankamp and Zach Beard provided the offense, helping North (12-2, 9-1) escape with a 69-66 victory.
“It was a dogfight out there,” said Frankamp, who finished with 37 points. “In the second half, I felt we picked it up a little bit more.”
One minute left in OT and @CFrankamp_23 tells the home heights crowd that "it's over!" #iceintheveins
Rivals Bossi: Top 10 Juniors Who Are Getting Noticed
At the end of a "workout combine" in Sacramento, Calif., last May, John Murry had landed a spot at prep school that he believed would unlock the path to a bright future that hopefully included a Division I basketball scholarship.
The scholarship is still attainable. But a nightmarish experience at a California prep academy left him scared, embarrassed and scrambling to find a new school. If he had to do it all over again, Murry would be preparing for a state tournament run with his former North Central High School teammates.
"I was sold some false advertising," Murry said by telephone this week. "In a way, it's kind of embarrassing."
Just eight months after that initial workout in Sacramento, the man who lured Murry to the coast with promises of college exposure and a national schedule has been charged with suspicion of child abuse and triggered an NCAA inquiry.
…The video clips on the school's web site are slick packages, but offer little substance about CCSE Prep. Many of the photos -- including a 2009 Indianapolis Star photo of former Pike star Marquis Teague -- appear to be taken from other sites. In one two-minute, 45-second clip narrated by Ngissah, he uses the word "brand" 14 times in his vision for CCSE Prep. The video also includes photos or video of Michigan State, Indiana, North Carolina and a national all-star team, among others.
At best, the use of images from teams and players with no connection to the prep academy seems to be a misleading portrayal.
"That's the way (Ngissah) works," Garcia said. "He's an incredible con man. He keeps everybody in the dark about what he's doing. I'd ask him questions I already knew the answers to just to see how quickly he'd come up with a lie. It's really incredible."
Ngissah's plan -- to recruit a basketball team nationally, or internationally in this case, house the team and outsource academics to another school -- falls in line with what other prep academies have done, some successfully, in recent years.
Jeremy McCool, the assistant director of high school review for the NCAA, told ESPN.com in August that the outsourcing model is the No. 1 trend and problem in eligibility cases.
"We've coined it a parasitic relationship," McCool told ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil. "A coach finds a host -- usually an existing K-8 environment -- creates a secondary component that is unsustainable, and is able to profit off of it for a limited time. Then we come in and fold it and they move on, find another host and do it all over again."
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