Why KU is #1
By Steve Weiberg, USA TODAY 1996
The banner counters at UCLA won't like this.
Nor will the legions in the commonwealth of Kentucky who've sworn by Adolph "Baron'' Rupp, and Rick Pitino, too.
Complainers in Carolina blue, line up here. In royal Duke blue, over there. Right next to those Hoosiers in the crimson sweaters.
We're here to identify college basketball's premier program-- not just for this season, but for all time.
We're taking everything from sustained excellence and impact to game-day ambience to decorum into account; and we're not stopping at Westwood, Lexington or anywhere along Tobacco Road or Bloomington.
The call is: Kansas.
"Right in that building,'' Kansas coach Roy Williams says, pointing from his office to adjoining Allen Fieldhouse," is the best place to play and coach in college basketball. I truly believe that.''
Of course, you'd expect him to. His name's on the door. He'd like every hotshot recruit in the nation to buy into the belief Kansas (KU) is hoops heaven on earth.
Williams, however, also might be expected to hedge. He was born in Asheville, N.C., and graduated from North Carolina, where he played a season of basketball and later sat for 10 years at the right hand of Tar Heels coach Dean Smith. As Smith approaches retirement, it's Williams who's almost universally speculated as his successor.
But he emphasizes: "I said best. I didn't say second-best.''
This is the program founded by James Naismith in 1898, seven years after he tacked a couple of peach baskets to the walls and invented the game of basket ball in Springfield, Mass.
This is where F.C. "Phog'' Allen, who succeeded Naismith as coach, helped build the game, selling it as an Olympic sport and helping get the NCAA tournament off the ground.
This is the school with 13 Hall of Famers; a nation-high 12 Olympians; 10 Final Four teams; two NCAA tournament champions; and two more teams recognized as national champions.
It's where the No. 1 ranking in the USA TODAY/CNN Top 25 Coaches' Poll rests at the start of this season, where the winningest program of the 1990s (record: 194-44) is expected to launch another run at a title Nov. 22 against Santa Clara at San Jose, Calif. It's where Jacque Vaughn, the star point guard, is a devotee of poet Maya Angelou and quotes Robert Frost at news conferences.
"To me,'' says Vaughn, one of six current players who migrated from California to play in the Land of Oz, "it's the perfect place to be.''
Says a less biased observer, CBS' Billy Packer, "If you're talking about the total history of the intercollegiate game, 100 years of basketball . . . the premise is pretty well taken.''
Contenders' credentials fall short
UCLA has more national championships than anybody, 11. But that addresses just one of
the many factors in determining the nation's pre-eminent program. The Bruins are too
schizophrenic now, with as many coaches (seven) since John Wooden's retirement in 1975 as
Kansas has had in its 99-year history.
Keep in mind, too, that UCLA was a losing program (256-263) in its first 27 seasons, not pulling above .500 until 1946-47. Wooden got there two years later.
Kentucky? There's simply too much uncomfortable history, from the racism of Rupp to the
point-shaving scandal that brought a one-season suspension of competition in the early
'50s to the more recent infractions case that barred the Wildcats from the NCAA tournament
in 1990 and '91.
Duke? Its history is backloaded, with 11 Final Four appearances and two national championships since 1963 but nothing before that.
Indiana? The Hoosiers have ebbed. They last won a national championship in 1987, a year before Kansas' last title, but have been back to the Final Four once. And they've lost in the NCAA tournament's first round the last two years. Their 33 losses the past three seasons are the most in that length of time in Bob Knight's tenure as coach.
North Carolina? Michael Jordan's alma mater comes closest to Kansas in all pertinent categories. But by the time the school discovered the sport in 1910, KU had played 12 seasons and won three conference championships.
Moreover, where did Dean Smith come from?
Uh-huh. Kansas. Class of '53.
Building Jayhawks' case
Tradition. There's Naismith, who's buried in Lawrence. (Ironically, he's the only
KU coach to post a losing record.) There's Allen, who in 1927 successfully led opposition
to a pending rule change that might have altered the course of the game, limiting
dribbling to a single bounce. There are three graduates among the six winningest college
coaches of all time: Rupp, North Carolina's Smith and Allen, and Ralph Miller ranks 16th.
Has any program left a more lasting imprint on the game?
"I've never been able to sell a recruit on tradition,'' Williams says. "But if you can get him here, either for a visit or you get him to come here (to play), it's a feeling you have that you're playing in an awful special place.''
The setting. Allen Fieldhouse is 41 years old and "isn't shiny, pretty and new like some places we've been to and played in,'' Vaughn says.
But therein lies a charm that doesn't exist at North Carolina's beautiful-but-too-pristine Smith Center, among other newer arenas. The game-time noise level and electricity match that of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium without the how-do-we-top-ourselves choreography.
Listen to the unique "Rock, Chalk'' chant. Note the faded banner draped on the upper north wall, cautioning, "Pay Heed, All Who Enter: BEWARE OF 'THE PHOG.' ''
As long as it meets fire standards and security standards,'' Vaughn says, "I wouldn't change it for the world.''
We rest our case.
USA Today 1996
Why Allen Fieldhouse is the Best!
"Saturday night was another reminder that Phog Allen, not Cameron, is the best, loudest and most intimidating basketball arena in the country. The alma mater sound, the Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant, the swaying of the crowd, and the deafening noise at times, make The Phog a true treasure in the sport."
—Andy Katz, ESPN reporter
"I never played in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. That is my favorite arena in the country (not counting Cameron Indoor Stadium). That place is incredible. It is the St. Andrews of college basketball."
—Jay Bilas, ESPN announcer
"I thought the atmosphere was unbelievable. I've been here before, but it's just such an unbelievable place. It has such character. I can't say I've ever been in a better arena."
—Jay Bilas, ESPN announcer
"I tell everybody there's not a place around—I know Chapel Hill, Pauley Pavilion, Cameron, you name it. They are pretty special, but there's nothing like this. All the guys who scout, I always tell them, 'You'll never have an experience like Allen Fieldhouse.' This is how a college fieldhouse is supposed to be."
—Larry Brown, former KU, UNC, UCLA, and NBA coach and Hall of Famer
"Best arena: Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas. Do you really have to ask? Few sports venues anywhere can match the tradition of Allen Fieldhouse."
—Jim Caple, ESPN, Journey to the Heart of Hoop
"Best Arena: Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas. A simply awesome basketball barn that never fails to inspire a bit of awe, especially when the sun is shining in through the end zone windows."
—Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
"Allen Fieldhouse, with its windows up on the walls and cozy size, is my favorite venue in college basketball. It has all the great atmosphere of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, with none of the pretentiousness."
—J.A. Adande, LA Times
It is early February on the grounds of the University of Kansas, where barren trees, swaths of dormant, beige grass and the pale, limestone buildings have created a monochromatic tableau that looks like a picture in an old, yellowed newspaper.
Indeed, arriving for a game at Allen Fieldhouse can feel like preparing to rummage through the dusty archives of college basketball. But after a 2005 renovation there's nothing musty about this old barn. And with the defending NCAA champions holding court inside, Allen Fieldhouse is about today as much as yesterday.
Take one step inside the steeply sloped seating bowl that rises off the prairie and ashen Kansas turns to Technicolor faster than it did when that twister swept Dorothy Gale off the family farm and into the Land of Oz.
Dead of winter might aptly describe of other parts of the Heartland, but the term does not apply inside KU's storied basketball cathedral, where the heart of college basketball beats alongside the court named for the man who invented the game.
Here fans fill red-and-blue bleachers from the floor to window-lined ceiling, creating an ambiance that is so retro-perfect it feels staged. The place couldn't look much more like the set of a Disney movie.
Allen Fieldhouse is named for Phog Allen, who coached Kansas for 39 years. Capacity, which originally was 17,000 when the facility opened in March 1955, was reduced to 15,200 when Ted Owens coached here (1964 to 1983). Since 1993, the facility has held 16,300.
The salt-of-the-earth Kansans who fill the place are not prone to braggadocio, but they are not above dropping a name or two, either.
After inventing the game, James Naismith launched the program at KU, coaching the Jayhawks from 1898 to 1907, and his name is on the floor. Wilt Chamberlain played two seasons for the Jayhawks, averaging 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds. His name tops a banner recognizing All-Americans and his No. 13 hangs from the rafters. Another banner recognizes the school's academic All-Americans, including Bud Stallworth, Darnell Valentine and Jacque Vaughn. Folks here are proud of the fact that legendary coaches Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith are both KU alums and protégés of the building's namesake.
The smell of popcorn wafts through the building's concourse, enhancing the high school gym feel of the place. Replace the Dippin' Dot concession with a Good Humor man and this place would be utterly timeless. Presumably, Kansas coach Bill Self takes a tape measure with him on the road to convince his team the dimensions really are the same in every building they visit.
Not much else is.
Allen Fieldhouse defies logic. It holds almost twice as many fans as Cameron Indoor Stadium, yet somehow feels just as intimate. And its five championship banners are six fewer than hang in Pauley Pavilion, but it has at least as much historical gravitas.
Conversely, things that once seemed incomprehensible suddenly become crystal clear amid the phog of Allen Fieldhouse. Like why Roy Williams stonewalled North Carolina the first time his alma mater tried to lure him home to Chapel Hill in 2000. Or why KU students camp out -- sometimes for days -- to get tickets. Or why peripatetic Larry Brown spent five of his prime, vagabond years firmly anchored in Lawrence.
"Kansas," Brown often said, "is special."
Allen Fieldhouse is so special it cannot contain all its own history. Outside, a statue depicting Allen -- "the Father of Basketball Coaching" -- welcomes visitors to the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, a 26,000-square-foot celebration of all things Kansas. The museum, which was dedicated in 2006 and came with a price tag of $8 million, is divided into six terrific exhibit areas and is highlighted by the building's original center court floor. When it was in use, the ref threw up a jump ball after every basket, as per Naismith's original rules.
Inside, the banners that commemorate NCAA championships from 1922, 1923, 1952, 1988 and 2008 are as stark as the prairie landscape that envelopes Lawrence. Blue, block lettering on white. Just the words "National Champions" and the year the title was won. No mention of Kansas is necessary. Is there anyplace else? Not to these people.
The KU band adds to the nostalgic feel, playing 1980s hits like "Africa," "Come On Eileen" and "Living on a Prayer" as the Jayhawks warm up. History is in the air. A Russell Stover Candies ad adorns the overhead scoreboard and outsiders get the feeling that slow-paced Lawrence is the kind of place where chocolates and Hallmark greetings are still preferred to Starbucks gift cards and text messages.
More than two-dozen banners dangle from the girders and catwalks inside the building, but one stands out above all others: "Pay Heed All Who Enter: Beware of the Phog." Set in a gothic font, the greeting reads like a sign on an amusement park ride, the kind that warns visitors they are about to embark on a harrowing thrill-a-minute ride.
Which, of course, they are.
You don't watch a game at The Phog as much as you go along for the ride, the 4,000-person-strong KU student body at the controls much of the time. Celebrated KU miler Jim Ryun, who won the NCAA indoor mile championship in 1967, 1968 and 1969, ran at Allen Fieldhouse and, coincidence or not, the students here all go the extra mile.
The pregame fun begins with fans, arm-in-arm, singing the school's alma mater, "Crimson and Blue." Then comes the "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" chant, which is slow, methodical and chilling. "Rock chalk … Jayhawk … KU," is chanted five times -- twice slowly, then three times fast.
In a rare concession to modernity, the field house has a terrific scoreboard, upon which a stirring pregame video is presented. When Mario Chalmers hits "Mario's Miracle" from last spring's NCAA title game against Memphis, the crowd erupts the instant the game-tying shot goes through the hoop, as if they are watching it happen in real time.
No pain, no gain.
You do not come to Allen Fieldhouse for comfort. To grumble that you're going to be stuck on a flat bleacher seat for two or three hours watching the Kansas Jayhawks play basketball would be like complaining about having to hang upside down to kiss the Blarney Stone. Some things are worth not only the cost but also the price you must pay. Allen hasn't enjoyed the same sort of P.R. as Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, but there is no more delightful place to watch a college basketball game than KU's home court.
Allen Fieldhouse is a gym. It is not an arena. It is not a palace of 21st century excess. There are no luxury boxes. Luxury at Allen is one of the few chair-back seats that belong mostly to the big donors. If you purchase general admission tickets to a game through KUathletics.com, you will be warned: "Fans in general admission may have to stand to be able to see the court." That's just how it is.
You come to Allen for basketball.
Sporting News Mike DeCourcy
SI "Top 10 College Sport Venues"
Allen Fieldhouse is as special as advertised. I know because I went to a game there the other night for the first time. From the intimate feel to the "Beware of the Phog" banners to "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk" to the Jayhawk logo that consumes half of the playing court, the place is unique. From the time you walk inside, it just feels different.
...But what makes the place special is not so much the setting, which certainly lives up to DeCourcy's story. What makes a game at Allen so different are the fans, who were as into a game as much as any I've ever seen -- and believe me, I'm old and have been to a ton of games.
What I'll remember is not the final score (the Jayhawks won by a bunch) or individual performances, but the atmosphere created at the soldout gym:
• I do not take Mike's advice and arrive hours early to stake a place in line for a decent seat in one of the four GA sections. Instead, we arrive at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. (central time) Big Monday tipoff. The GA sections already are packed and ushers already are asking those seated to squeeze together to make way for more. But it's not happening. Standing outside an upper-level entry there are at least a dozen of us holding GA tickets who appear to be out of luck. But the ushers assure us, "We'll take care of you." About 10 minutes before tipoff, one of them does just that. We show him our GA tickets and he trades us a set of tickets that apparently weren't going to be used. We make our way to the other side of the building where another usher leads us to section 9, row 11. I am smiling. We are at the top of the first level behind the basket. This is going to work out fine.
• Early in the game, Mario Chalmers is leading a fast break, speeding toward the basket on the left side. Brandon Rush has set up behind the 3-point line beyond the right elbow. Every fan on our end of the court seems to anticipate the same thing: Chalmers is going to leave his feet like he's going in for a layup, but instead he's going to pass to an open Rush. As Chalmers leaves his feet, so do the fans. By the time Rush releases, the crowd already is ready to erupt. The shot goes in. The crowd goes nuts. It's almost as if we are part of the play.
• About halfway into the first half, Kansas is applying some serious pressure to Oklahoma in the half-court defense. The shot clock is ticking down. Oklahoma can't find a passing lane. A Sooner trapped with the ball at the hash mark near half court has to pass away from the basket. The crowd goes crazy, showing its appreciation for a defensive stand that does not result in a blocked shot or a turnover, but "just" a bad shot.
• A couple of grandmotherly types are sitting in front of me, and from the way they are talking and watching, you know they are serious. Now it's halftime and the Jayhawks are up 40-20, partly because Sooners star big man Blake Griffin played only a few minutes before leaving with what apparently is a knee injury. Both grandmoms are texting away. I'm thinking, if they're texting at a basketball game, they can't be that devoted. When I turn my head just so, I have a clear view of one of their cell phones so I decide to sneak a peak and see just how into this game they are. The message, obviously being sent to someone at home watching on TV: "What happened to the big guy?"
Now that's a fan, the kind that makes a trip to Allen Fieldhouse an experience to remember.
Minutes before game time, when the student section led the crowd in the famous Rock Chalk Chant, I could have sworn we were in a place not of this Earth. It was unlike anything I have ever seen or heard, almost angelic, a 16,300-member choir chanting a deep tone in perfect harmony. ￼ Listen
Indeed, the first obstacle for visitors to Allen Fieldhouse is overcoming the intimidation factor.
When freshman phenom Blake Griffin won the opening tip, however, the 25-or-so of us Sooner fans tucked away just beneath the rafters in Section 13A saw a glimmer of hope. But before the raucous crowd even had time to catch their breath, KU's Darnell Jackson retrieved the ball in the backcourt and proceeded to drive in for a two-handed dunk. Score: Kansas 2, Oklahoma 0, approximately four seconds into the game.
...While it was a difficult game to watch as a Sooner fan anyway, this only added to the experience of one of the most intimate atmospheres in college basketball. Even my accomplice, a North Carolina grad who has witnessed numerous games at UNC, said none of his experiences at the "Dean Dome" could compare to this.
With all due respect to fans at Duke, UCLA, New Mexico and other programs with hallowed basketball arenas, my favorite venue is Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks since its doors opened in 1955.
Allen Fieldhouse isn’t much to look at from outside, but the inside turns magical on game day, perhaps with a ghost or two (“Beware of the Phog”) hovering overhead to guide errant KU jump shots into the basket.
Our trip began early Saturday morning.
At around 6:30 am, we pulled out of Stillwater, a city and university known for its rich history in basketball and Gallagher-Iba Arena, "The rowdiest arena in the country."
As we pulled away from the town recently nicknamed "Lob Stilly", we headed for north for Oklahoma State's matchup with the KansasJayhawks.
Their arena, known as Phog Allen Fieldhouse or "The Phog", is very similar to the Cowboys' home court of the past.
But there's only one difference between the past deafening GIA crowds and the ruthless Fieldhouse— Only one seems to still consistently exist.
I had heard stories of the legendary court growing up, and my mind raced with anticipation and eagerness as I prepared myself for the experience I was about to have.
After a four-hour drive that seemed to last forty years, we arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, located in the heart of the Sunflower State
We took a quick tour of the campus, but our minds were elsewhere. Eventually we headed into the arena to find something that seemed less like a 57 year old basketball gym and more like a scene from a movie.
We saw red stairs that seemed to stretch up from the court into forever, almost as if former Jayhawks Phog Allen, Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning and many others had literally climbed the worn, wooden steps until they reached the college basketball heavens.
Blue benches shaped the grandstands that would eventually hold a standing room only crowd, a crowd that showed up more than two hours early.
All of the old-timey pieces of the arena were complimented by new touches. A few plasma screen's above the exits here, a four sided LCD scoreboard there, and eventually the 16,300 fans that had packed Allen Fieldhouse to the rafters rose to their feet to welcome their Jayhawks onto the floor.
Every member of press row cast a nervous glance at each other as we felt our eardrums vibrate at a nervous pace.
"This is the kind of atmosphere you want to play in," senior Keiton Page said. "It's the type of games you dream of as a little kid, coming into Lawrence to a packed gym as rowdy as it was."
For forty minutes, Allen Fieldhouse unleashed hell on the ears of everyone in the arena, living and dying by every call made on the floor.
They acted as if nothing else in the world mattered. Not one fan seemed worried about upcoming elections or blizzards barreling their way towards the middle of the United States.
All that mattered was basketball.
"Allen Fieldhouse is one of the most energetic places on earth," said Vince Gerstner, a mechanical engineering student at Kansas. "Even the older people who sit in the expensive seats are standing and screaming for most of the game. There's nothing like it."
Instead of going hoarse as the game carried on, the crowd's voices grew stronger.
Their Jayhawks scored, rebounded and blocked shots, and each time they did so the crowd exploded into a louder than the previous, crazed celebration of a small victory.
"We've talked about this place," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "You try to embrace it as much as you can, but it always gets to you a little bit. This is obviously one of the best arenas in the country."
Just as I began expecting blood to start dripping down my earlobes, the clock read 1:00. The Pokes were trailing 79-62, and the fans knew what to do.
Page, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash tried to desperately to somehow fill the 17 point void, but it didn't matter.
The fans, as if they had practice for hours the night before, began singing.
"Rock Chalk… Jay-hawk… K-U…"
Over and over again the chant rang out as if the masses were singing out to every former player who sat on their throne in college basketball heaven.
But it didn't just serve as a reminder of the crowd's overwhelming school spirit. It also served another purpose.
The hymn was a eulogy, escorting the Cowboys to the grave as they quietly accepted the day's defeat.
The final buzzer rang as fans celebrated and alumni hugged. The Jayhawks had recorded another chapter in the friendly rivalry between the two schools.
Blue and red filed out of the exits, sticking around for over an hour after the game for autographs and pictures by their team's locker room.
While this went on, I found a corner in the work room to go over what I had just experienced.
As I frantically tried to figure out how I was going to explain it, a memory popped into my head.
High above the five national championship banners displayed at the top of the arena was a sign, nestled among the rafters as if it were hiding from the chilling wind on the other side of the walls.
The sign, though small, perfectly explained the exposure I had just had to this phenomenon of a basketball game.
It read "Pay heed, all who enter. Beware of The Phog."
Well said, Allen Fieldhouse. I now understand.
Phog Allen Fieldhouse is an absolute must for any sports fan who loves to travel to different venues around the country. I witnessed a complete blowout and still walked away with one of the best sports experiences in my life. I can hardly imagine what this building would be like during a close game that goes down to the wire. In short, go soon to Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas fans have long claimed Allen Fieldhouse is the best college basketball arena in the country. At the very least, KU faithful can lay claim to having the loudest arena. ESPN The Magazine listed the top ten loudest arenas in the country in their upcoming issue. Allen Fieldhouse took the top spot.
The magazine polled ESPN analysts for their thoughts. They also had a team from Penn State University's acoustic program research construction data to estimate the loudest possible arenas for college basketball. The team took in to consideration factors such as the size of the crowd, the amount of students and the acoustic qualities of the building.
ESPN The Magazine's Loudest Arenas
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
Allen is not a dome, nor a glittering jewel, nor some megaplex named for an investment banker who gave $10 million so he could be remembered in perpetuity. It is a "fieldhouse" in every sense of the word, named for a man who played under Naismith, then coached himself at Kansas for 39 years, sending others such as Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith into the coaching world. The coaches have their offices right in Allen. One morning when he was still coaching at KU, Roy Williams opened his desk drawer and showed me a large collection of chocolate candy he keeps there during the season but never eats. It's one of the ways he keeps himself disciplined and focused.
Oh, the things that have happened at "the Phog" as it's called, though I prefer Allen Fieldhouse. In Phog's final game against Oklahoma State's Hank Iba, another highly influential figure in the development of the game, the Jayhawks won a 56-55 thriller on Jan. 31, 1956. In December of that same year, Chamberlain, who had come all the way to Lawrence from the streets of Philadelphia as the most-recruited athlete of his time, announced himself to the college world by scoring 52 points in his debut, an 87-69 win over Northwestern. Forty-one Februarys ago, Ryun set a world record in the 880 in Allen a time of 1:48.3 in a dual meet against Oklahoma State.
A lot of good stuff that doesn't have cobwebs on it happened in Allen, also -- Manning played some pretty good games there -- but, to me, what Allen Fieldhouse is about is preserving the past. Let's hope that some future Board of Trustees or college president doesn't get the bright idea to start "modernizing" and "expanding" and turning it into some place that would have ol' Phog turning over in his grave. Whatever's wrong with Kansas, it's not Allen Fieldhouse.
Our panel of writers and contributors have been fortunate enough over the years to watch college basketball in the nation's finest, most historical arenas. Which provided the coolest experience for them?
Stephen Bardo: I love the history and tradition of Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas. The seats near the court are so close, you can see players changing their minds! The up-tempo style of play that Jayhawks coach Bill Self uses, coupled with an extremely knowledgeable and loud fan base, usually spells doom for the visitors. Many schools have coordinated cheers, but when you hear "Rock Chalk Jayhawk," it's lights-out. Oh, and how many other venues are located on Naismith Drive?
Jay Bilas: I was really lucky to play, coach and broadcast games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that venue always will be the most special place to see a game. But taking Cameron out of the equation, it is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and I'm not sure it is even a close call. One of my favorite parts of The Phog is the feel. I have sat there before practice when the place is empty, and it really seems to speak to you. That building just oozes history and tradition. There are no bells and whistles. It is about Kansas basketball, and everyone there is all-in. I have called it the St. Andrews of college basketball, and I believe that. Plus, the cherry limeade I usually get at halftime is pretty strong.
Hubert Davis: The coolest place I've ever seen and announced a game is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks. I've been to a number of arenas to play and announce, and nothing comes close! KU's atmosphere is the perfect storm -- it has great history, fanatical fans, legendary players and coaches and championship pedigree. I do not like announcing a game there, however, because I have to focus on the game. I'd rather be taking in the entire experience!
Five Stars Yelp
"I’ve been to Duke and I’ve been to New Mexico and played in The Pit. And I’ve been to Ohio State. I’m from North Carolina...and this place is unbelievable"
-Luke Boythe, UNC Greensboro Senior center
"All of our players on the plane ride back home talked about how loud Allen Fieldhouse was. The crowd simply overwhelmed us. It's the loudest building I've ever been in."
-UCLA coach Steve Lavin
"I think we were intimidated by the crowd in this building. It’s a special place."
- Holy Cross Coach Ralph Willard
Kansas Jayhawks vs Kentucky Wildcats 2016
In fact, over the past seven years (including 2015-16), Kentucky leads all teams with 205 wins and Kansas is No. 3 with 199 victories. The only other team with more than 191 is Duke (200), and the Blue Devils needed two national championships just to keep pace with the Wildcats and Jayhawks.
And yet, they'll both enter the Phog on Saturday in dire need of a win to keep their respective fanbases from hitting DEFCON 1 on the panic meter.
…The Jayhawks shot worse than 30 percent from downtown in three of the last four games, making a combined 26-of-84 (31.0 percent) during that stretch while allowing opponents to hit 33-of-75 (44.0 percent). And Kentucky has one of the stingiest three-point defenses in the country, allowing opponent to shoot 31.9 percent on just 5.3 made triples per game.
In other words, expect this game to quickly devolve into trench warfare, which should be good news for Kentucky, given Kansas' well-documented struggle to figure out who to put in the post with Perry Ellis.
…Kentucky's six leaders in minutes played all received a 5-star rating from 247 Sports, but the fate of the Wildcats—not just in this game, but for the rest of the season, really—might rest in the hands of a 3-star stretch 4. That's pretty much the perfect microcosm of how outrageously unpredictable this season has been.
As far as pointless predictions go, give me Kansas by a deuce with Ellis leading both teams in scoring, but not a bone in my body would be surprised if Kentucky pulls off the upset in the best nonconference game of the 2015-16 season.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” Calipari said on Wednesday night after his team had trounced poor visiting Missouri 88-54 at Rupp Arena, “a big part of it has been putting Derek Willis in the role that he’s in. It’s changed us. It’s just changed our team.”
After that disappointing loss at Auburn, when Calipari decided to stick Willis into the starting lineup, for whatever reason, this Kentucky team started to jell. It beat Arkansas by 14 in Fayetteville. It beat Vanderbilt by 19 at home. It manhandled Missouri.
Wednesday night, Willis scored 18 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked two shots. He made four of five three-point shots, three of those in the first five minutes of the game when the Cats were reeling off 20 straight points on the way to a 20-2 lead.
“I thought tonight Willis was the X-factor,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said.
Following Wednesday’s game, Calipari did not focus on Labissiere’s 6-for-8 performance (12 points) and five blocks. He mentioned his problems on the boards. Labissiere didn’t record a rebound.
“If he doesn’t rebound and defend,” Calipari said in his postgame interview, “I’m not playing him to take jump shots.”
That’s the constant knock against Labissiere. Skilled. Promising. But, right now, limited, inconsistent and ineffective.
…Forget the NBA talk. Labissiere still is not a formidable college player.
But the guy who showed up Wednesday against Missouri, last week against Arkansas and on a smattering of nights earlier this season has something.
He’s just charged with unveiling it -- now.
PODCAST: Andy Katz talks with Mario Chalmers, Kansas & Kentucky politicos re game
To be clear, it's still January, and anybody counting out a Self-coached team in January is silly bordering on stupid. So don't get it twisted. That's not the point of this column. The point of this column is simply to highlight that Self has never been this deep in the Big 12 loss column at this point in the season, and he's never had a less-talented starting lineup at Kansas, either. And those two things are probably related, don't you think?
Either way, this incredible run of Big 12 titles is very much in jeopardy.
The Jayhawks are 5-3 in the Big 12 for the first time ever under Bill Self.
They could turn it around and finish on top, I suppose.
But, according to the projections, that isn't the likely scenario.
Kentucky made Missouri wish the Tigers were shoved back into the Big 12 Conference Wednesday night. The final score in Rupp Arena was UK 88, Mizzou 54.
Tyler Ulis dazzled with 20 points and eight assists. Derek Willis took five three-point shots and made four. Willis had 18 points and, write this down in bold type, a dozen rebounds.
"it wasn't by default, he went and grabbed them," UK coach John Calipari said. "And I just said after the game, I said, Derek (Willis), you've taken minutes from people in this room, do you want to give anybody back minutes?'
"And he's even being honest. He said, 'Coach, I just want to win.' He's playing desperate. He's rebounding with two hands. He was a double-double.
"And basically, he's put a couple guys on bench. And they're good players, but this is about performance. Now, it's good though because now they got to fight to get minutes back, which means our practices will be better or they will give up. They got a choice. You can give up or fight."
…Next question: Can Kentucky stretch its winning streak to four at Kansas Saturday night?
The computer numbers say, “No.”
The eyeball test says, “Yes.”
The Wildcats have won their last three by an average of more than 22 points per game. John Calipari’s team should be energized and at ease while performing in a game that few will expect them to win. The ugly loss to Auburn? Maybe it was a wake-up call.
"You know, refuse to lose," Briscoe said. "That’s the motto we go by now and every time we go to the locker room coach always says just refuse to lose.”
Kansas has not lost in Allen Fieldhouse this season. They’re 10-0. Kansas did not lose in Allen Fieldhouse last season. They were 15-0. The Jayhawks’ home winning streak is 34.
…Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor computer formula is usually close to the point spread. His numbers like Kansas by 6.81.
Ken Pomeroy also likes the Jayhawks by 6. He puts UK's win probability at 31 percent, two points better than it was before the Missouri blowout.
Here is the list:
UCLA: Kansas beat the Bruins by 19 in Maui. UK lost to UCLA by 10 in Los Angeles.
Vanderbilt: Kansas beat the Commodores by seven in Maui. UK dusted Vandy by 19 in Rupp Arena last weekend.
But Kansas hasn’t been playing like Kansas over the last 2 ½ weeks. The Jayhawks have been beaten three times in their last five games – and all three losses were double figures.
Losing by 11 at West Virginia can happen. Bob Huggins has a top 10 club. Losing at Iowa State by 13 was shaky, but the Cyclones have also beaten Oklahoma and Iowa this season.
But Kansas showed legit vulnerability while losing by 19 to struggling Oklahoma State. That loss was worse than Kentucky’s loss at Auburn.
Kansas is questionable where Kentucky is questionable – around the glass.
According to ShotAnalytics.com, Kansas is the best team in the country shooting three-pointers from the top of the key. They’re 52 percent from that spot.
At the rim?
There’s nothing special about the Jayhawks there. They rank 53rd in that category, 28 spots behind Kentucky.
The Jayhawks have a pair of McDonald’s all-Americans who have played like 2-star recruits.
One is Carlton Bragg. He’s the guy who said “Kentucky,” even though he was supposed to say, “Kansas,” during the press conference when Bragg announced his college choice.
Maybe Bragg should have said, “Irrelevant,” because he’s playing less than 11 minutes per game for the Jayhawks and averaging 4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds.
The other is Cheick Diallo, a 6-foot-9 forward. He missed KU’s first five games because the NCAA had questions about his eligibility. Today there are questions about why the recruiting services were so gaga about Diallo.
He’s played four minutes in the last two games and has not scored double figures since Dec. 9 against Holy Cross. Diallo has averaged 4.4 points and 2.7 rebounds in 9.4 minutes per game.
No, the Kansas players Kentucky must are Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. Ellis is the only guy in the group who hangs out near the rim.
Kansas will be favored. Few outside the Bluegrass will pick Kentucky to win. That’s a rare moment for Calipari’s program.
Jerry Waugh remembers well the moments leading up to the first basketball game between traditional college basketball powers Kansas and Kentucky on Dec. 16, 1950, in Lexington.
Phog Allen coached Kansas; his former player, Adolph Rupp, coached Kentucky. Three of KU’s starters from that game, Bill Hougland, Bill Lienhard and Waugh, live in Lawrence.
“We came in after warmups, and Doc had a training table set up in the middle of the dressing room under a couple of lights,” Waugh said of Allen. “The rest of the room was dark. He always wrote the names of the five starters on the chalkboard and what our defensive responsibilities were.”
Superstar center Clyde Lovellette and Claude Houchin were the other two Kansas starters.
“Doc said, ‘You five men can represent the great tradition of Kansas against another great tradition, Kentucky. And you five are the only ones who can carry the flag.’ He was very inspirational in setting the scene,” Waugh said. “And we went out there and got our tails kicked.”
Bill Spivey (22 points), Frank Ramsey (19) and Walter Hirsch (10) led the Wildcats to a 68-39 victory witnessed by 13,000 in Memorial Coliseum. Lovellette scored 10 points and was the only Kansas player in double figures.
“Kentucky was ready to play, and we were ready for Christmas,” Waugh said. “That put a scar on my soul that will never heal.”
…A former assistant coach at KU, Waugh watches his alma mater religiously on TV.
“They’re veterans, and they should be taking better care of the ball,” Waugh said. “That’s the exasperating part. When they do throw it away, most of the time it’s because it’s someone doing something on his own rather than doing it within the movement of the offense.”
Lienhard, whom Waugh called a “great shooter,” predicts a victory for his school, but has concerns.
“The problem with our team is we live or die with the three,” Lienhard said. “If we’re not making the three, we get beat. Our offense is out of whack.”
Hougland came away from Wednesday’s practice impressed with the effort of the players.
“He’s working the heck out of them,” Hougland said of coach Bill Self. “The thing that I was really impressed with was that after practice, the kids came over and said hello to us. That’s Self’s influence on them. It was obvious that was something he thought they should do, and that was really nice.”
Rock Chalk Weekly feature on Wayne Selden
Andrew Wiggins named to NBA Rising Star World Team
Good read on KU WBB from ESPN
Donations to the Kansas State and Kansas athletic departments were among the top 10 in NCAA Division I for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to a survey conducted by the Council for Aid to Education.
While K-State reported $22,291,858 in contributions for 2014-2015 in its annual NCAA membership report, the council’s survey showed more than $34.3 million in private donations for the Wildcats, which included deferred gifts. That ranked sixth in the country, behind Texas A&M ($66.99 million), Oregon ($53.70 million), Michigan ($51.72 million), Texas ($42.23 million) and TCU ($38.32 million).
The survey showed KU brought in nearly $29 million in athletic donations for 2014-2015, which ranked 10th. The Jayhawks reported $24,592,546 million in contributions to the NCAA for the last fiscal year.
Despite the donations, KU’s athletic department operated at a deficit in 2014-2015. The Jayhawks reported $91,860,673 in operating revenues to the NCAA and expenses of $92,207,877, a deficit of nearly $350,000. KU posted a record $97.68 million in revenue for 2013-2014 and about $90 million in expenses.
…Cranes have been visible around Allen Fieldhouse for two years, with McCarthy Hall, the $11.2 million apartment building that’s home to the men’s basketball team plus 21 nonathlete students, completed in October.
Also the DeBruce Center, a glass building adjacent to the fieldhouse, is set to open in a matter of weeks. The $18 million, 32,000-square-foot structure will be home to James Naismith’s original “Rules of Basket Ball,” along with a restaurant, coffee shop and gift shop.
Pledges for the projects can be counted in one year, even if the payments are spread over several years. Also part of donation figures are contributions made to schools’ athletic scholarship funds.
“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
The Cowboys were powerless to stop the 6-foot-8, 275-pound wrecking ball.
Gathers scored 14 of his 16 points after the break and led No. 17 Baylor to a 69-65 victory on Wednesday night.
Baylor trailed by five at halftime, but Gathers made three baskets in the first two minutes of the second half to trim Oklahoma State's lead to 34-33. The Bears pulled ahead with just under 14 minutes remaining and positioned themselves for the win late.
"We just knew we had to come out strong, and that was the first thing we did — just getting the ball inside," Gathers said. "I think I scored three buckets back-to-back, and we just went to work from there."
Following a 70-55 victory at home over Kansas State, coach Bob Huggins expressed his feelings towards the Mountaineer fanbase and students. Huggins was displeased with the lack of attendance during the game and spoke about his frustrations with attendance.
“We’re ninth in the country. We were sixth in the country, and we want to act like we are a big time program. I told our guys before the game. We practice every day with nobody in here and if people don’t want to come see us, that’s their loss,” said Huggins.
He even went a step further to criticize the WVU students as well.
Huggins said, “All this stuff about we have the best student section. No we don’t. The truth is, we don’t.”
The Big 12/SEC Challenge is like found money for the SEC
We all heard rumblings over the summer about the SEC's resurgence in college basketball, but the truth of the matter is that this league has been a notch below the other power-five conferences during the first few months of the season.
That can be slightly altered this weekend.
The Big 12/SEC Challenge is an opportunity for the SEC to elevate its overall profile as several of its teams will play games against some of the top programs in the country.
The Big 12 currently has five teams -- Oklahoma, Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Baylor -- ranked in the top 17 of the AP Top 25 poll and all five of those teams will be on display during the event.
For schools like LSU and Florida, who could use quality wins to boost their potential NCAA resume, this weekend is beyond huge.
The Tigers will host top-ranked Oklahoma in Baton Rouge while the Gators will entertain West Virginia in Gainesville.
Red-hot Iowa State meanwhile travels to Texas A&M while Kentucky heads to Kansas in a battle between two of the sport's premier programs.
Mike Krzyzewski wasn't even upset. Miami had just handed Duke its fourth loss in the last five games, a defeat that officially put the Blue Devils off to their worst start in ACC play since 1995-96. But as Coach K met the media after the game, there was no hint of dejection in his voice. There was only resignation.
"We lost, but our kids weren't out-competed," Krzyzewski said. "I always tell my guys, you play your butts off, compete, and I'm good. So I'm good. I'm good."
In other words: Duke's effort was there, it just didn't have the talent.
This isn't a scenario Coach K is accustomed to, especially during a time when Duke is challenging Kentucky as the sport's preeminent one-and-done factory.
…Yet, here's Duke, 4-4 in the ACC and on the verge of dropping out of the top 25 for the first time since 2007. All this in a year when Coach K brought in either the No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class in the country, depending on who you ask.
Yes, Amile Jefferson's injury is the elephant in the room. Duke is 7-5 since Jefferson went out with a fractured foot on Dec. 14. With Jefferson, Duke was a respectable No. 40 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Today, Duke's defense sits at No. 150.
That raises just one question: shouldn't Duke be past the point where an injury to a senior role player is making or breaking the season? Perhaps that's part of the problem. Duke may still go on a deep NCAA Tournament run this year, but at the moment the Blue Devils are learning a hard lesson about the unpredictability of depending on five-star, possible one-and-done recruits.
1. Not all one-and-dones are created equal
Brandon Ingram might end up being the first pick in June's NBA Draft ahead of Ben Simmons. At this point, it would register as a outright shock if he slips below No. 2. Ingram has been on a tear lately, blossoming into Coach K's newest devastating freshman forward, but his current shortcomings are also a reason Duke is struggling.
2. Not every five-star recruit can help right away
Duke has major depth issues right now, often playing a paper-thin six-man rotation since Jefferson's injury. Part of that is because Coach K just doesn't trust big man Chase Jeter right now, one of the three McDonald's All-Americans he brought in this season.
KU today hopes to secure an oral commitment from Udoka Azubuike, a 6-foot-11, 260-pound senior center from Potter’s House Christian in Jacksonville, Fla., who will announce his college choice on ESPNU’s Recruiting Nation Show (5 p.m. Central time).
Azubuike — he is ranked No. 27 nationally by Rivals.com — has a final list of KU, North Carolina and Florida State, though some analysts believe FSU is now out of the picture. Azubuike, who played last summer for the Georgia Stars and in the past for Nike Team Florida, is originally from Lagos, Nigeria, but was raised in Delta State, Nigeria.
…Azubuike’s summer dominance led to his peers voting him “Toughest Defensive Assignment” in the USA Today High School Sports AAU Awards and Superlatives.
Here is ESPN.com’s current assessment of Azubuike: “Azubuike has great size, length, athletic ability, mobility and coordination. He runs the floor extremely well. He is an above the rim finisher with power when he receives drop off passes created by dribble penetration. He also can get to the basket with one or two dribble clear paths. He area rebounds at rim level, blocks shots and simply makes opponents think twice about challenging him in the lane.
“Azubuike must continue to learn the game and skill-wise work on his hands, foot work and develop a move and counter move with his back to the basket.”
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