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All of this tuning up has Kansas somewhere close to perfect pitch.
The No. 9 Jayhawks thumped Richmond 87-59 Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse, which makes three straight games the Jayhawks have dominated at home. They had Jeff Withey intercepting passes, Perry Ellis slamming alley oops and Naadir Tharpe burying 3-pointers, which doesn’t leave much to polish before the Jayhawks head to Ohio State on Saturday.
Maybe the ball reversals could be a little crisper or something, but realistically, it’s time for the Jayhawks to bump up the difficulty level.
“We’ve done a good job holding serve at home and playing with energy,” coach Bill Self said. “Now we’ll find out how good we are.”
Colorado, Belmont and Richmond don’t necessarily represent a murderer’s row, but they aren’t a bunch of pushovers, either. All three conceivably could end up in the NCAA Tournament, and the Jayhawks (9-1) led each by at least 37 points en route to big blowouts at Allen Fieldhouse.
…“My teammates have been encouraging me in practice to just keep on shooting,” Tharpe said. “I knew I’m going to miss shots, because that’s basketball. When my teammates are encouraging me as well as my coach and they want me to keep on shooting, I know there’s a time when they’re going to fall.”
Self wants Tharpe to shoot 3-pointers, which might seem counterintuitive for a guy who was shooting 29 percent from behind the arc. Still, Self would rather see him shoot an open jumper than attempt to drive for a tougher shot.
“He gets confused,” Self said. “He wants to dribble in there amongst the giants and shoot over them as opposed to shooting an open 3. The highest-percentage shot for him is to shoot open jump shots, because he can shoot the basketball.”
…After three straight games like this, the Jayhawks are ready for another challenge.
“Let’s be serious,” Self said. “The season starts Saturday.”
Elijah Johnson is not the type of player to look ahead. He’s a senior, and there’s practice tomorrow, and that means Kansas coach Bill Self will get after his team about defending and rebounding being tough. Yes, Self will probably say something about toughness.
So late Tuesday night, just about 30 minutes after Kansas had ripped through some more mid-major chum, Johnson said he wasn’t looking too far ahead. The Jayhawks still needed to arrive at practice and work today. There were issues to be sorted out, areas to improve.
No matter what lies ahead on Saturday afternoon: a heavyweight showdown with No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus; a rematch of last year’s Final Four clash; a chance for KU to finally go out and claim a signature victory.
“We got a couple more days,” Johnson said.
Then again, Johnson is also the type of player that understands what this Ohio State game means. This is Kansas, after all, and that’s why you come here, Johnson says, to going on the road and trade shots with another contender.”
“I think that’s what we do at Kansas,” Johnson said. “I feel like that’s the only thing we haven’t done. We played on a neutral floor, we’ve played at home. We’ve played great shooting teams, we’ve played good driving teams. I feel like the only thing we haven’t done is go to somebody else’s house and try to bring the pain.”
…On Tuesday, for the third straight game, Kansas outclassed an overmatched opponent, drilling Richmond 87-59 in a game that didn’t feel that close. Senior center Jeff Withey finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks as KU’s defense dismantled the Spiders for 40 minutes.
Johnson has a phrase for these games (“Just showing them what the Fieldhouse feel like,” he says.) But if Kansas gained something on Tuesday — other than more confidence — it came from the shooting stroke of sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe, who finished with 11 points off the bench and made three of his four three-pointers. Self says he’d like to cut down on Johnson’s minutes — maybe slice off three or four in the first half — but that largely depends on the development of Tharpe.
On Tuesday, for once, Self said Tharpe defended with the right amount of intensity.
“He guarded the ball harder,” Self said. “He got over ball screens; he was just more aggressive.”
Tharpe has always had the ability to shoot from deep. Mostly, though, he’s just lacked playing time and confidence. He entered Tuesday shooting just 28.6 percent (six of 21) from three-point range.
Senior center Jeff Withey blocked four shots during Tuesday’s victory, surpassing former KU center Scot Pollard for fifth on Kansas’ all-time list. Withey entered the night with 215 career blocks, three behind Pollard, who sat on the baseline Tuesday while doing color commentary for a local Lawrence broadcast.
Withey now trails only Greg Ostertag (258), Cole Aldrich (253), Nick Collison (243) and Eric Chenowith (242), Nick Collison (243), Cole Aldrich (253) and the school leader Greg Ostertag (258).
“I think Jeff is a great player,” Pollard said. “He’s really come into his own, and doing what we’ve all wanted Jeff to do for years. And I wish him success. And I think he’s got a chance at (the record).”
Withey added 17 points and 13 rebounds to go along with his four blocks. Pollard, who had a lengthy NBA career after leaving Kansas, said he thinks Withey can carve out a long pro career as well.
“The one thing he can do,” Pollard said, “is be 7-foot-tall. And as we know, in the last few years, Jayhawks have been getting drafted and not playing a whole lot because their height has been exposed. Well, Jeff’s height cannot be exposed.”
While Withey is not the dominant low presence that Thomas Robinson was last season, he has emerged as a key offensive cog for the Jayhawks, scoring in double-digits in five of the Jayhawks last six games.
Self said Withey is still getting easy baskets, but that his low post game is improving.
“He’s not a natural scorer yet, but he’s scoring the ball more naturally than he ever has since he’s been here,” Self said.
But while his offense is improving, he also added a new defensive element to the Jayhawks game by grabbing two steals.
At halftime, Self told Withey that he could take away the elbow from the Spiders.
Fourteen seconds into the half, Withey did just that, popping out and stealing the ball.
“A lot of times I let it go through because I’m worried about the pass game or not getting a foul. I just was being aggressive but coach told me to run through it. The first time I didn’t think they expected it at all, but then they did it again.”
Each time after getting the ball, Withey found an open Travis Releford racing down the court for the easy layup.
The steals quickly put to bed any thought the Spiders had of starting the half with a run to put them back in the game.
Kansas University sophomore Naadir Tharpe has some epic 1-on-1 battles with senior point guard Elijah Johnson at Jayhawk basketball practices.
“We get after each other way more than we get after other people,” Johnson said after watching Tharpe score a career-high 11 points while dishing three assists against no turnovers in KU’s 87-59 rout of Richmond on Tuesday in Allen Fieldhouse. “I don’t understand why we are doing that. We talked about it. It’s something we are fixing right now.”
Backup point guard Tharpe, who hit four of five shots including three of four from three, said he likes challenging himself while playing on the Red Team (second team) and going against the Blue Team starters.
“I’m trying to not put myself on the Blue Team as much. I need to go against these guys (like Johnson) and get ready for the game,” Tharpe said.
…Coach Bill Self said Tharpe had the “yellow light” not the green light as far as shooting the trey.
“I thought they were every bit as good as advertised,” Mooney said. “And we weren’t able to compete as well as we would’ve liked. ... I’m most impressed with how they share the ball. This level of player and recruit and things like that, and to share the ball so well and so easily is really impressive.”
Although they acknowledged how talented and tough a team KU fielded, the Spiders (9-3) said they most regretted how they let the game get out of hand so quickly, a fate suffered by the Jayhawks’ last three opponents.
“Just to come out with more energy,” said Richmond guard Darien Brothers, asked what he would change if he could do it all again. “We let them get on a couple of runs in the beginning, and we let that get to us.”
It’s not often 235-pounders like Withey can shuffle their feet quick enough to get in position for steals that lead to layups.
“Early in Jeff’s career, people wanted him to be a different type of player,” said Pollard, who joked that he is still “the best San Diegoan in KU history.” Both Withey and Pollard are from S.D.
“They wanted him to be a banger and mess people up inside. That’s never been Jeff’s game. He’s always played this way, he just didn’t know how to display it. Last year and this year he’s finally been able to play Jeff Withey-style basketball. As Jayhawk fans are seeing now, it’s a pretty effective way of playing basketball.”
KU coach Bill Self was impressed, noting: “There’s no question who the best player of the game was ... Withey was terrific, denying elbow passes and leading the break.”
Withey scored 11 points off 5-of-7 shooting and had eight boards the first half as KU stormed to a 39-18 lead and never felt threatened the second half.
“They played a weird defense, so a lot of times I got matched up with a guard on the post. That made it a lot easier,” Withey said.
McLemore is scoring 16 points a night while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also good for at least one highlight-reel worthy dunk a game. He’s a standout athlete even by NBA standards.
Known mostly for his offense at this point, with his foot speed and length McLemore has all the tools to be just as good on the defensive end as well.
Referring to him as a freshman is a little bit deceiving because he is going to be 21 years old by the time of the 2013 NBA Draft. Oklahoma State freshman guard Marcus Smart, who is also a top-ranked guard from an NBA Draft perspective, will only be 19 by comparison.
That’s about the only negative you’ll hear about McLemore, though. The fact that he is as old as most juniors isn’t going to hold him back much. He’s improved since the beginning of the year and there are areas where he can definitely get better at, like with his ball handling and defense.
In fact, it’s not too early to rule McLemore out of the discussion for the top overall pick. With three months left before the tournament, there’s no reason why his ascent up the mock draft boards can’t continue.
CBS Freshman of the Year: McLemore in 3rd
In Columbus, a main event that features No. 9 Kansas against a No. 7 Buckeyes squad seeking to avenge losses from a season ago in Allen Fieldhouse and in the Final Four in New Orleans, where giant rats ran around the press room like they owned the place.
Senior point guard Elijah Johnson, who left 16,300 tongues hanging with a wicked cross-over dribble that resulted in him setting up freshman Perry Ellis for an easy bucket, knows Kansas can’t prove itself without getting the job done away from the nation’s most significant homecourt advantage.
…How Withey’s defense and the team’s terrific ball movement at the other end withstand the hostility brought by the 19,200 spectators who will pack the Schottenstein Center will be revealed Saturday.
Regardless of the outcome, there is a great deal to like about the latest Kansas top 10 basketball team. For one, it seems drama-free. No bad body language. Nobody seeming to play favorites. No glory hogs. No ballhogs. Nobody comes off as if he is forcing the right words out of his mouth when saying nice things about a teammate.
When the team’s best player has an ego unaltered by the constant worship thrown the way of college basketball stars, that doesn’t hurt in developing strong team chemistry. When the best player so rapidly and constantly improves during his senior season, that challenges teammates to keep pace. Withey’s confidence is soaring and that of opponents withers at the sight of him.
Self sounds confident about his team, but not all of his curiosity about it has been satisfied.
“Now we can go up there and hopefully take a real enthusiastic team up there, hunker down, see how tough we are and find out a lot about ourselves,” Self said. “... We need to have a good three days of preparation and go up there feeling good about ourselves, but understanding that this is going to be a true test of where we are right now. Right now, even though we played better, I still don’t know. This will clear some things up for us.”
Kansas 2012-13 MBB Schedule
Kansas 2012-13 WBB Schedule
Big 12/College News
When they needed it during the second half Tuesday night, Ohio State leaned on what the Buckeyes think will always be there: Deshaun Thomas' scoring and the defense of guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott.
After missing nine straight shots at one point, Thomas scored 10 points in less than three minutes. And the Buckeyes stopped Winthrop on 10 straight possessions thanks to their backcourt, with Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey calling Craft a “piranha” on defense. Eventually those two parts of the game paved the way for the No. 7 Buckeyes (9-1) to hold off the Eagles 65-55.
But with Ohio State getting ready to host No. 9 Kansas on Saturday, the first half and parts of the second half showed the Buckeyes at their worst, slacking on both ends of the floor and unable to generate any offense outside of Thomas, who was still desperate, and desperately needed by his team, to shoot despite going 2-for-9 in the first half.
Kelsey said the underdog Eagles (4-5) had to “muddy” the game and limit possessions, and they did.
“It's certainly not a work of art,” Kelsey said. “It looks like a tractor pull sometimes.”
After scoring 90 points and running and pushing the tempo almost at will in Saturday's win over UNC Asheville, the Buckeyes on Tuesday didn't know how to get out of the muck.
For more than two decades now, John Lucas' Houston-based treatment program has gained national acclaim for helping athletes and coaches who have steered off path.
A former NBA star whose career was nearly derailed by substance abuse, Lucas has gained most of his fame for his attempts to rehabilitate sports figures struggling with drugs and alcohol.
Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu sought help from Lucas last fall following his dismissal from LSU's football team for repeated marijuana use. Lucas also has counseled college basketball coaches such as Strickland, Larry Eustachy and Billy Gillispie about issues relating to alcohol.
Lucas' program, however, isn't limited to people with chemical addictions.
After he was cut by the Washington Wizards last summer because of poor conditioning and work ethic, Andray Blatche spent three months in Houston, where Lucas helped him lose 20 pounds and regain focus. Former San Diego guard Brandon Johnson, one of the key figures in a point-shaving case at his alma mater, is working out at Lucas' gym this month along with ex-LSU point guard Tack Minor, who is having trouble catching on with a team overseas because he's also 20 pounds overweight.
While the program may seem like a haven for wayward souls, even athletes with no apparent off-court issues make pilgrimages each year to work out with Lucas, who also runs camps across the country for the nation's top high school prospects and prepares college stars each year for the NBA draft.
2012-13 Early Season Events List
Big 12 Composite Schedule
Tift County (5-1), which got a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds from Kansas-bound forward Brannen Greene, trimmed the deficit under 10 points opening the fourth quarter but couldn’t overcome 26 personal fouls and 20 turnovers. Tadric Jackson added 20 points and five steals for Tift County.
“I thought we got some calls and missed some calls. It’s all part of the game,” said Tift County coach Eric Holland. “But overall we wouldn’t listen a lot of times. That’s been our main problem all year. So it’s good to get a loss when you don’t listen. Go back and regroup and maybe they’ll listen next time.”
Poly (62): Roschon Prince 6-13 4-7 17, Jordan Bell 5-12 9-10 19, Chris Sullivan 2-5 3-3 7, Ke’Jhan Feagin 0-1 0-0 0, Brandon Staton 3-8 6-8 12, Artis Parris 0-0 0-0 0, Kamari Hunter 0-0 0-0 0, Kameron Murrell 2-5 3-6 7, Josh Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-44 25-34 62.
Tift County (55): Ladarius Stewart 1-4 1-2 3, Tadric Jackson 7-18 6-8 20, Brannen Greene 8-14 3-5 21, Rashawn Canady 3-4 1-1 7, Donell Tuff 2-4 0-1 4, Tyrek Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Gerald Pledger 0-0 0-0 0, Ali Vaughn 0-0 0-0 0, D.J. Bryant 0-1 0-0 0, Steven Waters 0-0 0-0 0, Montez Galmer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-45 10-14 55
LBP 14 16 17 15 — 62
Tift 16 8 11 20 — 55
They all came to see Tyus — including me.
The Apple Valley High School gym was filled to the rafters Tuesday night. Days before the game, a sellout was expected. Nearly everyone wanted to see what the boy wonder, Apple Valley junior point guard Tyus Jones, could do against another one of the state's best teams.
Yet while we all came to see Tyus Jones, the nation's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2014, we got to see him for all of six minutes. During that time he turned the ball over twice and failed to score a point before back spasms forced him to leave the game.
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