KU on Wednesday ranked first in Big 12 Conference games only in scoring defense (55.3 ppg), field-goal percentage defense (32.7) and rebounding margin (plus 6). The Jayhawks also ranked second in blocked shots and steals in league games only.
…Despite a 14-2 record, KU has no players included on the 2014-15 John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list. Big 12 players on the list: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma; Georges Niang, Iowa State and Juwan Staten, West Virginia. Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre Jr., Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr., were on the preseason Top 50 list.
…KU on Wednesday was listed No. 1 in ESPN’s RPI Index. Yes, the Jayhawks, thanks in part to a No. 1 strength of schedule, had an index of .7217, a bit better than Kentucky’s .7205. Virginia was third at .7153. The second Big 12 school listed was West Virginia at No. 14.
The low point for Perry Ellis came before the first TV timeout Tuesday night against No. 24 Oklahoma State.
Trying to make a move in the paint, Ellis tripped over himself, losing the ball to OSU’s Le’Bryan Nash. After hustling down the court to grab Nash’s rebound on the ensuing shot, Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte stole the ball from Ellis again and knocked down his only 3-pointer of the night.
It was the fourth turnover in fewer than four minutes for the Kansas forward. It tied the most turnovers Ellis had committed in a single game (Dec. 13, 2014 against Utah) — a record Ellis would break with five giveaways Tuesday night as No. 9 Kansas defeated the Cowboys 67-57.
It also forced Kansas coach Bill Self to sit his leading scorer and continued a nervous trend for the junior. In the prime of his college career, Ellis is going through one of his worst stretches as a Jayhawk.
…Ellis was asked after Saturday’s Texas Tech game about his recent offensive struggles.
“It’s something that I don’t let get to me,” Ellis said. “I just kind of come the next day to practice and keep shooting and you get past it.”
To Self, this drop in production is where aggressiveness makes a difference. Ellis has attempted five or more free throws in a single contest just twice since the Georgetown game. Before that game, Ellis was averaging nearly seven free throws per game.
KU's rim defense, to this point, actually has been better than it was a year ago. The Jayhawks are allowing fewer close shots and a lower percentage while getting a higher percentage of blocks.
So how are they doing it?
One big help has been that 6-foot-8 freshman Cliff Alexander is a better shot-blocker than advertised.
It's also gone a bit unnoticed, but several KU returners have improved their ability to block shots this year.
Selden, who had two blocks in Tuesday's 67-57 victory over Oklahoma State, has had the most stark improvement. After recording 11 blocks all of last season, the sophomore has 10 swats this year while playing 538 fewer minutes.
Add it all up, and KU's defense has become stingier at the rim than it was a year ago — a feat I didn't see coming with the loss of the No. 3 pick inside.
It's a long way of saying I was wrong about this KU defense in the preseason. The Jayhawks, with the emergence of Alexander and improvement from others, have simply found a different way to be their normal selves at the rim.
Draft Express Top 100 Prospects (Oubre 10, Alexander 17)
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Paul Pierce hits 1,989th career 3-pointer in win, moving past Jason Kidd for 4th on NBA’s all-time leaderboard.
Paul Pierce had 22 points, and the Washington Wizards beat the Chicago Bulls 105-99 on Wednesday night, despite Derrick Rose's season-high 32.
“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
In other words: When you rebound your own misses this well, you can get away with a lot.
The Bears got away with plenty Wednesday night. They gave up 10 of 19 from 3 to the Cyclones, which normally would be more than enough for Iowa State's offense to chew on. In the second half, as Fred Hoiberg's team mounted its charge, the interior defense that held ISU's offense in check for most of the evening gave way. Baylor entered Wednesday night with the Big 12's third-worst per-possession defense, and all of those issues showed up again, all the way through Bryce Dejean-Jones' go-ahead 3 with 14 seconds to play. It's not often you see a shooter given a wide-open look at a corner 3 in the closing seconds of a high-level Division I college basketball game, but Baylor's squishy defensive rotations made it happen. When you can't get stops, no lead is safe.
…The Big 12 schedule won't let up anytime soon. That's what happens when a 10-team league is so pound-for-pound good. And it's why Baylor can't afford to let close games against good opponents at home -- the kind of games you have to bank to build a reasonable NCAA tournament resume -- get away.
Niang, a junior, is the centerpiece of one of the best (and most innovative) offenses in college basketball. The 11th-ranked Cyclones are a legitimate Big 12 title contender behind an offense that ranks 14th in adjusted efficiency this year, according to kenpom.com, and has finished sixth each of the last two seasons.
…He was high school teammates with Nerlens Noel—a one-and-done lottery pick—and current Kansas guard Wayne Selden. Both were McDonald's All-Americans, and a who's who of college coaches visited Tilton School in New Hampshire.
"You've got [John] Calipari, you've got Bill Self, you've got Roy Williams, you've got all these coaches, and they're looking at Nerlens and they're looking at Wayne Selden," Hoiberg said. "And he was just kind of an afterthought on that team."
Some saw Niang as a lemon.
"What I saw when I went out there is the guy that was the most productive player," Hoiberg said. "I'm telling you, when I went out there, he absolutely abused Nerlens Noel. He was shooting over him. He was up and under. And Nerlens was barely missing blocking his shot. And if you can get your shot up over Nerlens Noel, you can get your shot up over anybody in the country."
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber called a 58-51 victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday night a "maturity game," the kind of performance that proves just how far a team has come.
The Wildcats didn't play all that well - they were outrebounded, frequently out-hustled, and struggled with their shots. They allowed the Red Raiders to hang around until the closing minutes, squandering more than one opportunity to put the game away.
It was the kind of game that Kansas State might have lost earlier this season.
"Trying to come back after a really good win against Oklahoma on the road, and then we had to earn the victory," Weber said, "and I thought we did it, we went and fought and earned it."
A mere eight days ago, OU looked like a contender for the Big 12 basketball championship. The Sooners routed then-10th-ranked Texas 70-49 on Jan. 5, in Austin no less, and it wasn’t crazy to envision OU ending Kansas’ reign of terror atop the Big 12. The Jayhawks have won 10 straight conference titles.
But if some team is going to knock off KU, it seems fairly clear now that it won’t be the Sooners. Since that Big Monday in Austin, OU has lost at home to Kansas State and was drubbed 86-65 at West Virginia.
Now, the question no longer is whether the Sooners are better than Kansas. The question is, are the Sooners better than OSU?
The upstart Cowboys are playing well under Travis Ford. Former Cowboy Doug Gottlieb said this is Ford’s best coaching job in Stillwater, and I’d agree. Despite losing two NBA players off an underachieving team that was bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March, OSU has played tough.
In Big 12 play, OSU is 2-2 with two impressive defeats. The Cowboys lost 63-61 at Iowa State, which might be the only team capable of challenging Kansas, and lost 67-57 at Kansas on Tuesday night, in a game that was closer than the score indicated and a game in which the Cowboys suffered massive foul trouble.
Since Kenpom.com began collecting data in 2001-02, pace of play has dropped nearly every season. The data also show teams tend to play faster early in the season, then settle into more of a half-court grind by the tourney. So now consider this: Through Jan. 12 of this season, teams are generating just 65.7 possessions per game. If that dips as expected, 2014-15 could be the first time teams average fewer than 65 possessions. Last year's rule changes, encouraging more freedom of movement and fewer charging fouls, led to a brief tempo uptick, but refs are back to calling games the old way, and teams are back to crawling up the court.
It's not just the dregs of college hoops taking it slow. Only three top-10 teams rank among the 100 fastest squads (Duke, 62nd; Arizona, 67th; Louisville, 71st). Coaches point to a host of theories: Defensive systems have grown more advanced; coaches eschew offensive rebounds to prevent fast breaks; shooting is scarce. No wonder so many teams seem to be stuck in the mud.
…In last year's tournament, below-average teams dominated, beating faster teams and earning upsets.
ESPN Slow Ball is Winning Strategy
The UNC scandal, aside from all the obvious fallout, simply never goes away.
There's nothing new to report, no big revelations from the N&O or anything, but there is this: there's a new book out by Jay Smith, a UNC professor, and Mary Willingham, the whistleblower who was fired and who has filed suit against UNC.
We're curious to read it for all the obvious reasons, but also because, as the N&O suggests, it hits on something we've suspected but not known enough to state well.
From the N&O: "Smith and Willingham give an insider’s view of the university’s early reaction to the scandal and its failure to unearth the truth. It also outlines a racial history at UNC-CH that created an environment for benign neglect in the department of African and Afro-American Studies, where the academic fraud was centered."
The University of Kentucky has reportedly ended negotiations to play a 2016 game against UTEP, which Miners coach Tim Floyd had intended to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the national championship matchup between UK and the school formerly known as Texas Western.
Floyd, who originally announced the meeting as a possibility in October 2013, told NBC affiliate KTSM on Wednesday that UK "just backed out."
Floyd told KTSM.com that UK "said that there were a lot of people up there that didn't want the game to be played, for whatever reason, so I don't want to throw them completely under the bus, but that's OK.
"We'll just stay with a 1-0 record against the Kentucky Wildcats in college basketball. If they never want to play again and act like the game never happened, for the reasons why it occurred are significant, then we'll never play again."
Changes in the airline industry – particularly the declining availability of charter flights – will affect NCAA championships travel in 2015 and beyond.
From company mergers to new Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the combination of factors is expected to decrease the availability of chartered flights and increase the logistical challenges of moving thousands of student-athletes, coaches and administrators to and from championships sites.
To prepare NCAA member colleges and universities for the changes, NCAA championships and travel staff briefed the Division I Championships Cabinet in September about how the changes in air travel are expected to impact championships. Conversations with conference commissioners and others in the NCAA membership continued throughout Fall 2014 to inform them about the challenges.
Complete ESPN Networks schedule
Big 12 Composite Schedule & Results
The Tar Heel coaching staff also addressed the ongoing NCAA investigation with Brown.
“They said basketball wasn't involved but that they don't know what's going to happen,” Brown said. “They don't think basketball will get on probation and that they would let me know when they knew more.”
Jaylen Brown visits UNC via Scout ($)
Nationally, 823 players from 47 states and the District of Columbia were nominated for the 2015 McDonald’s All American Games. California topped the list of states with the most nominated players with 99, followed by Florida (67), Texas (63) and Georgia (36). Players were nominated by high school coaches, athletic directors, principals and members of the McDonald’s All American Games Selection Committee. The complete list of nominees is available at mcdaag.com.
McDonald’s announces player nominations, ticket sales for 2015 All-American game
Complete list here
This year’s Bass Pro Tournament of Champions features eight of the elite teams from coast to coast, including USA Today Super 25 Expert No. 6 Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, and No. 8 Wesleyan Christian Academy of High Point, North Carolina.
Add in two of California’s best squads, the reigning state champions from Virginia, and some local favorites, and you have the makings for what Springfield Public Schools Director of Athletics Mark Fisher believes will be a crowd-pleaser.
…CBS Sports plans to televise the championship semifinals and Saturday’s final.