Audio: TRob on the Gottlieb show
With a month left before the NCAA tournament begins, there is a legitimate race for the National Player of the Year.
Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, the leader in the first two ESPN.com National POY straw polls, is getting a major challenge from Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.
And in the Year of the Versatile Forward, it makes sense. College basketball hasn’t seen a year of top big men like this since 2009, when the top three finishers for the Wooden Award and the top four for the Naismith Award were all forwards and centers.
In that year, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin ran away with both awards, blowing by Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet and the 2008 Wooden Award winner, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. The top college guard that season, Davidson’s Stephen Curry, had a standout season but his team ended up in the NIT.
That season did have a lot of talented, well-known guards, led by Curry, UNC’s Ty Lawson, Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and Arizona State’s James Harden. All were in the final ballot of that season's straw poll.
As for this season, the top six vote-getters in this week’s poll were forwards, and 12 of 17 players mentioned by the 54 pollsters who responded were forwards or centers. Players like Michigan State’s Draymond Green and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, now among the best players in the nation, were freshmen during that 2009 season and are now in this straw poll as seniors.
Withey didn't need to have much of a presence as a sophomore last season, when the Morris twins patrolled the interior and a bunch of veterans were holding the reins during a 35-3 season.
Markieff and Marcus both headed off to the NBA early, though. So did Josh Selby, and much of the leadership from that team graduated. Even the imposing Robinson was a role player last season, and he's taken on an expanded role as Kansas pursues its eighth straight Big 12 title.
Self knew that he'd need someone else to step up, especially after two high-profile recruits were deemed partial academic qualifiers. He never expected Withey to become that guy.
"I don't think there's a big guy in the country who plays like he does," Martin said.
There may be some truth to that, too.
The back-to-the-basket post player is a dying breed in college basketball. Teams are relying on athletic big men who can run the floor, get to the basket and extend defenses to the perimeter, rather than 7-footers who act as a pivot on offense, post up on the block and use an assortment of George Mikan-like baby hooks to get the ball in the basket.
"I've been telling Jeff for a while, `When you get the ball in the post, unless they come trap you, just go one-on-one,"' Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "He's been a really good shooter. It's hard to stop him. He's 7 foot. He can shoot right over guys."
Withey averaged 2.3 points and 1.8 rebounds last season. He's averaging 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds this season, but 20.3 points and 12 boards over the past three games.
It's not like opposing defenses can simply foul him, either. Withey is shooting better than 85 percent from the free-throw line, fourth-best in the Big 12, and has been Self's choice when Kansas is awarded foul shots after a technical is whistled on opposing teams.
"He's got great timing. He's very skilled. He's not the most mobile guy, but I think he understands that and he makes up for it," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "He has a very good understanding of what makes him good player, and what his strengths and weaknesses are."
Withey said it seems like games have been played in "slow motion" the past couple weeks, like he's the only on the floor who has the ability to move at normal speed.
If that doesn't change, the Jayhawks may be primed for another March run.
JEFF WITHEY, KANSAS
THE SKINNY: A year ago, Withey was a little used reserve that barely played. Now? He might be the biggest key for the Jayhawks to have a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. With both Marcus and Markieff Morris bolting for the NBA after last season, there was an immediate void to fill in the Kansas front court and Withey has seized it to the max. Sporting a nastiness on the glass and an adept ability to block shots, the 7-footer has anchored Bill Self’s baseline next to superstar power forward Thomas Robinson.
CBS Rothstein: !0 Most Improved Players in College BBall
Q. Jay, I have always been a fan of yours. There is hardly a time that your statements have disagreed with my own. However, I want to ask you a question that seems to be floating around here at the University of Kansas. It is no secret that Coach Self's bench production is abysmal at best, which always seems to haunt teams come tournament (both conference and national) time. With that in mind, how far can Taylor, Robinson, and even Withey now carry Kansas into the tournament? Is the Elite Eight too far of a stretch? Thanks for your thoughts!
A. Kansas can win the whole thing. The Jayhawks are really good, and play the game the right way. Tyshawn Taylor has been tremendous, and doesn't get near the credit he deserves. Bill Self has done a great job coaching this team, and should be right at the top of the list for National Coach of the Year. But, he is not getting production out of his bench for a simple reason: those players have not been productive. He wants to play more people, but they are not producing. If he had Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor (and he should....they were both qualified and the NCAA should not be telling any school who to educate or play) then KU would be a lot better than they are now, and they are top five good right now. This team can get to the Elite Eight or the Final Four. But, the margin of error is not great. This team can also lose to a mid-major early if they do not play well. That is true of a number of top teams this year.
ESPN Chat with Jay Bilas
Even if you don’t win the Wooden Award, it’s still pretty cool to get invited to the ceremony. A trip to Los Angeles, recognition on national television, face time with some of college basketball’s current and all-time greats ... the memories are the kind that last forever. So while Kansas’Thomas Robinson and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis appear to have an insurmountable lead on the rest of the field, those third, fourth and fifth spots are important, too -- and the battle for them is fierce and ever-changing. Here’s how my ballot would look if the season ended today.
1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky - The freshman forward and likely No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft continues to dominate on both ends of the floor. He’s averaging 17.8 points and 7.5 blocks in his last two games. He’ll face his toughest test of the season in Starkville Tuesday against Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney.
2. Thomas Robinson, Kansas - The 6-foot-9 junior had his lowest scoring output in six weeks when he finished with just 10 points in Monday’s victory at Kansas State. Two days earlier, though, he had 24 points and 14 boards in a home win against Oklahoma State. He ranks second in the nation with 12 rebounds per game.
If you haven't already guessed, Player A is Robinson, Player B Jones. The numbers reflect what's become increasingly evident: With March Madness around the corner, Robinson is playing better, and more inspired, basketball than Jones.
As mentioned above, however, production isn't the only factor in teams' decision-making. Despite Robinson's burgeoning Player of the Year candidacy and upstaging of Jones in both head-to-head meetings (Robinson outscored him a combined 42-23 in two Kansas blowouts), Jones' coveted 6-11 frame and All-Star acrobatics could prove more attractive in June.
"With Thomas Robinson, you kind of know what you're gonna get," said one of the scouts. "But with Perry Jones, his ceiling is so high. He'll make a three and then he'll dunk it in traffic. He's the sexier player, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's gonna be the better player three, six or eight years from now."
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," echoed the other scout. "Can you afford to take a risk on a guy like Perry Jones, or do you need somebody you know can step in right away?"
SI: Inside the NBA
Thomas Robinson rocks.
Thomas Robinson dominates.
Thomas Robinson is driven to greatness.
Thomas Robinson is The Man!
Those are the mantras I recite into my bathroom mirror every morning.
Eh, not really, although, you know, they probably ought to be. Besides, only the DMV and credit-card companies - and my column picture today - know me as Thomas, so the mirror would sense something was up anyway.
Rather, the declarations describe the brilliant college basketball season the Kansas junior forward from Washington, D.C., by that cool name has produced in the wake of family tragedy a little more than a year ago.
Knowing what I know of him through national media reports - and given how I've always been half on the lookout for a star namesake athlete just for conversation's sake - I'm proud to enlist in the Thomas Robinson fan club.
Come on along, why don't you?
…In his first year as a starter, Robinson averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds, which is a rare combination of excellence in college hoops. It's Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin territory.
It is superb, the product of especially powerful motivation now to take basketball as far as he can take it. When they planted a tree at Kansas to honor his mother, Thomas wrote a note to her and buried it with the roots, according to a profile on ESPN.com.
The note said: "Mom, I guarantee you have no worries about Jayla. I will make sure everything is okay. I won't blink. My promise."
Yeah, you go, T-Rob.
Sadly, the Kansas people wouldn't let me talk to my man for a couple minutes on the phone, seeing as how his plate is already full of requests and all that. If I got him, I was going to tell him how proud I was of him for, among everything else, playing up to the exacting standards of his name.
And I was going to mention what great work he was doing restoring pride to a surname that's a little down on its luck throughout sports right now.
Virginia Pilot: Here's to you Mr Robinson
VOTE for the Kansas Jayhawks student section (KU leads headed into the semifinal round)
VOTE for Coach Self's Assists Foundation (C'mon people, he's losing to Sean Miller and Dave Rose!) Voting ends 2/27 Rose 33%, Miller 15% Self 8%
Coaches vs Cancer: Help Coach Self raise $ for ACA with his 3-point Attack
Nick Collison Blog: How to survive in the NBA when you're not a superstar
The NBA announced Wednesday that one more Jayhawk will join Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) and Markieff Morris (Phoenix Suns) in Orlando for 2012 All-Star Weekend festivities.
It could have been two more.
Mario Chalmers (Miami Heat) was selected as one of the six players in the All-Star Three-Point Contest. Brandon Rush (Golden State Warriors) was not.
Chalmers’ honor is well-deserved. He’s had the best shooting season of his four-year career and has hit 57 of 123 triples for a more-than-solid 46.3 percent average. In fact, Chalmers is ranked sixth in the NBA in shooting percentage, and he has the best average of players with 120 attempts or more.
Rush’s snub is bizarre for the same reasons. Rush, with his insane 54.8 percent average (40 of 73 treys), is the most efficient shooter in the NBA this season. But percentages didn’t seem to factor into the selection criteria, as Chalmers is the only top-20 shooter to make the contest. The other four honorees (not counting reigning champion James Jones, also of the Miami Heat) rank 1, 3, 13 and 28 in total three-point makes. Chalmers is tied for 7th in the NBA using that metric. Again, not counting Jones, just two of the other four contestants have a top-50 (!) three-point average.
LJW: Jayhawks in the NBA
Big 12/College News
Big 12 Schedule & Results
Bramlage Coliseum is where Kansas State plays and Huggins says the student section there is one of the top student sections, if not the top, in the entire conference. He is also very high on the University of Kansas’s student section. Huggins says the Jayhawks fans always turnout for the games.
“Allen Field House in Lawrence is unbelievable,” said Huggins. “19,000 [fans] if they play the little sisters of the poor and an unbelievable student section. The thing that I think separates the Big 12 from the Big East is they have an incredible student involvement, absolutely incredible student involvement.”
Mountaineer fans have been know to be very loud and passionate, but Huggins has been disappointed at the student’s attendance recently when WVU plays some of the smaller schools. During his radio show he sent a challenge out the student body to show up for all of the Big 12 games.
According to Huggins, when WVU joins the Big 12 next season they will have one of the smallest student sections, attendance wise, in the conference. Also, when WVU joins the Big 12 Conference they will be the only school to let their students attend basketball games by showing their student ID, all of the other schools have to pay for their tickets. Huggins is hoping this will give the students a reason to step up and fill in the seats for all of the games.
“I hope something helps,” said Huggins. “We will be, other than Texas, if it continues the way it’s going, and I don’t mean this discouragingly because it’s a fact, probably other than Texas we will have the worst student crowd in the Big 12 numbers wise.”
WV Metro News
Q. Missouri can only recruit in the Midwest? Kim English. Heard of him? Baltimore. Missouri doesn't need Kansas. The Missouri/Illinois game played every Christmas in St. Louis is a bigger draw. I fully expect that Missouri vs. Arkansas vs. Tennessee vs. Kentucky will ultimately more than make up for the KU game. Kansas is a second-tier academic institution that thinks it invented basketball. Good riddance.
--Don Patton, St. Louis
A. You go, girlfriend! Hey, I've got nothing against Missouri. This team is one of the great stories of this college basketball season.
One question, though: If Missouri doesn't need Kansas, why are Frank Haith and Mike Alden publicly lobbying to keep the series alive? Yes, the Pressey brothers are from Texas and English hails from Baltimore, but three of the team's seven scholarship players come from Kansas City. Don't you think the move to the SEC will make recruiting in the Midwest just a little more challenging? As for Kansas acting like it invented the game, that dig might have more resonance if the guy who did invent the game wasn't the school's first coach.
While I disagree with the substance of Don's e-mail, I must say I do enjoy the bile he has for Kansas. It's a shame that conference expansion is costing us one of the real special rivalries in all of sports. But I repeat: It's Missouri, not Kansas, that deserves the blame. As the great basketball philosopher Hyman Roth once said: "This is the business we've chosen."
SI Seth Davis
Compounding Oklahoma State’s first-half troubles was the inability of freshman guard Le’Bryan Nash to get anything going. He had lit up the Tigers for 27 points the first time around but drew his second foul only a few minutes into Wednesday’s game and was a nonfactor until the second half. He finished the game with 11 points and six rebounds and was largely neutralized by English, who was determined to contain him.
“I studied their sets, and I really was focused on getting him off the block where he’s comfortable,” English said. “With young, prolific scorers, if they make some baskets early, their jump shots get better and they get a little more moxie, as he did in Stillwater.”
But with the way Missouri was playing, it’s arguable how much Nash could have helped his team even if he brought his “A” game, as the Tigers used the same efficient offense, suffocating defense and hard work on the boards to stretch their lead to as many as 35 in the second half.
So yes, the rematch was sweet for Missouri, which improved to 24-2 and 11-2 in Big 12 play with the win while Oklahoma State dropped to 12-14 and 5-8 in a game that was the exact opposite of the one in Stillwater.
“It wasn’t something that I was proud of,” Denmon said of the loss.
“We wanted to make sure Oklahoma State understood that in this game.”
Illinois coach Bruce Weber broke out a tacky orange blazer Wednesday night in a potential must-win game at Assembly Hall with the season dwindling away.
He walked into the postgame news conference sans jacket over his white button-down shirt, noting he didn't have much to say but going on to unload years of frustrations and regrets following the 67-62 loss toPurdue.
"Instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose this year," Weber said. "That's really sad."
…He said maybe he should have benched sophomore center Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul weeks ago. He wishes he had spent more time delivering tough love — or just toughness.
"The last three years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and a toughness," he said. "We're always mollycoddling them."
…They trailed just 65-62 when Paul took an ill-advised 3-pointer after a timeout with nine seconds to go that basically doomed them.
Asked what the final shot was supposed to be, Weber replied, "Not that."
LaQuinton Ross deleted the Tweet and apologized pretty quickly.
But by then, as is almost always the case in this fast-paced world, the damage was done.
"Don't know how much longer I can take this BULL----!!!!!" Ross Tweeted, and I think it's reasonable to assume "this BULL----" was in reference to the fact that Ohio State coach Thad Matta didn't play Ross Tuesday night for the fifth straight game. Elite recruits don't like sitting the bench, you know? But Ross' comments are also interesting in a larger scope, because they come just a few days after Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin Tweeted his displeasure with Mark Turgeon's decision to bench him in crucial minutes.
I don't care whether Matta and Turgeon are right or wrong.
That's not the point.
The point is that athletes must learn, sooner or later, that Tweeting something in the year 2012 is no different than saying something into a microphone held by Clark Kellogg. It's all for public consumption. I hear your thoughts when you say them live on CBS. I read your thoughts when you Tweet them to your followers -- if only because your followers RT them and those thoughts find me somehow, in this case via an email from our Ohio State Rapid Reporter.
Bottom line, don't be stupid.
If you're an athlete at a high-profile school -- you know, like Ohio State, which just so happens to be ranked sixth nationally -- you need to ask yourself one question before Tweeting anything: Would I say these words into a microphone with a television camera in my face? If the answer is a negative, don't hit "send." Because if you do, you'll look silly. And then you're just gonna end up deleting the Tweet and subsequently apologizing, at which point you'll look even sillier than you did before.
“I think it’s great,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “Kentucky has a tremendous following. The fact that he’s doing it and TV’s taking him up on it, I applaud it. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a look at what a practice is like.”
Calipari staged this peek into his program — and the circus that comes with it — right in the middle of what he hopes will be a national championship run for a team that has won 17 straight games.
“The whole idea — and it kind of mushrooms like everything else we do around here — was only supposed to be an open practice. I want to get the students into it,” Calipari said. “Then it turns into … ‘Why don’t we call ESPN?’ Then it was like, ‘I bet it rates higher than games.’ It’s Kentucky. That’s the Kentucky Effect.”
ESPN didn’t send anyone to Lexington for the broadcast, instead picking up the feed from WKYT, the Lexington station that supplied the commentators and video coverage. But ESPNU did bump two hours of programming, mostly reruns and “Big 12 This Week,” to show the entire practice.
The NCAA, for the first time this season, is giving the public the same information the men's basketball committee uses to select teams for the NCAA tournament.
Even with all those numbers available, there's sure to be plenty of scrutiny when the final 68 teams are selected next month.
"There are frankly a lot of good basketball teams out there that are playing very good basketball and that adds to the challenge for the 10 committee members here in the selection room," NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee chairman Jeff Hathaway said Wednesday during a teleconference.
Selecting the teams for the NCAA tournament is one of the most dissected behind-the-scenes processes in all of sports. When the tournament added three teams to the bracket last season, the microscope seemed to zoom in even more.
This season, the NCAA added a link to its website that ranks teams by RPI, including an expanded comparison of overall and conference records, strength of schedule and records against teams within various categories of RPIs.
There's also a link for the team sheets of all 344 Division I teams, which break down the raw RPI numbers for every game on a team's schedule - the same sheets the selection committee looks at when deciding which teams to include in the bracket.
The idea was to give the teams, fans and media a look at what the committee is basing its decisions on, though the numbers aren't the only indicators they use.
"Certainly, you need to watch teams play and I think the majority of us see teams play on multiple occasions," said Hathaway, who retired as Connecticut's athletic director last year and is now an adviser for the Big East Conference. "That gives you some further insight. How a team looks is crucial and we get out and see games throughout the season. We need to go beyond the numbers."
Last year proved that.
Virginia Commonwealth was considered a bubble team last season, one many thought more deserving of the NIT than a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Rams not only got in, they proved nearly everyone wrong with an improbable run to the Final Four, where they joined fellow mid-major Butler in Houston.
VCU's unexpected finish and the strong class of mid-majors this season give the tournament selection committee another thing to factor in during what is already shaping up to be a tough process to fill the bracket.
"The bottom line for us as a committee is that there is more quality spread throughout college basketball than we've seen in the past couple years," Hathaway said.
Alabama-Birmingham held SMU to the lowest scoring output ever in a Conference USA game, defeating the Mustangs 47-28 Wednesday night.
The 28 points was fewer than the 36 points scored by UAB against Southern Miss on Jan. 12, 2002, in conference play. Overall, it was the lowest ever scored by SMU in the shot-clock era and its second-lowest since 1950 — barely surpassing the 26-point total against TCU on Feb. 15, 1956. The Mustangs' 12 first-half points Wednesday also set a record for futility in Conference USA play — their previous low for a half was 14 against Memphis on Feb. 18, 2009.
SMU (11-15, 2-9 Conference USA) made just 8 of 46 shots (17 percent) against the Blazers, including 3 of 29 3-point attempts. Robert Nyakundi led the Mustangs with nine points.
Landen Lucas held to 10 points in league title game loss
Veterans (15-11) held off a second-half charge from the Bulldogs on Wednesday to come away with a 73-68 win in the quarterfinals of the GHSA Region 2-AAA tournament at Howard. The victory gives the Warhawks their first-ever state playoff berth. Mary Persons’ season is over one year after the Bulldogs won the region championship with largely the same group of players.
Jonathan Robertson scored 15 points and Jabari Leggette added 14 for the Warhawks. Mary Persons junior Brannen Greene led all scorers with 31 points.
North junior guard Conner Frankamp has made 139 of 151 free-throw attempts this season, just a touch over 92 percent. The most impressive thing is his free-throw percentage, obviously. The second most impressive thing is the number of times Frankamp has gotten to the free throw line in North’s 16 games.
* Frankamp scored 41 points Tuesday night against Southeast and made all 14 of his free throws. I wasn’t at the game, but I read that he had a technical foul late in the first quarter. Not knowing the particulars, I would advise Frankamp to be careful with his court demeanor. I think this kid a terrific player and I wouldn’t even try to put a ceiling on what he can accomplish in basketball. But it’s important for Frankamp, I believe, to stay on an emotional even keel as a player, even though opposing teams are going to try to throw him off. That might have been what happened at Southeast last night. If you are aware of the details, please share them with me. I just know that Frankamp’s reputation as a player is sterling. That reputation is a prize and I don’t want anything to happen that would threaten it.
* Congratulations to the Heights boys team for winning its 60th consecutive game, a state record, Tuesday night against Bishop Carroll. I saw the first half of the Falcons’ blowout win over Northwest last Friday and was blown away by the physical development in Perry Ellis just since the beginning of the season. Ellis has become a specimen and the Grizzlies’ players who attempted to defend him were rag dolls by comparison. I don’t intend that as a slap at Northwest. It’s just that Ellis is transforming before our eyes.
Bishop Gorman High’s Ben Carter nearly had a triple-double Wednesday, posting 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to lead the host Gaels to an 81-41 victory against Cimarron-Memorial in the Sunset Regional quarterfinals.
Gorman, the perennial Nevada power and No. 1 seed from the Southwest Division, received a game-high 22 points from Shabazz Muhammad in advancing to Thursday’s semifinals. The Gaels at 4:40 p.m. will play Legacy at Desert Oasis.
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