Ben McLemore

Sweet Sixteen Preview: Kansas vs. Michigan

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Tonight is home to possibly the best Sweet 16 matchup of the tournament.  The Kansas Jayhawks will tip off against the Michigan Wolverines at 6:37 central time.  The game, being played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is a rare meeting between two of the top programs in the country.

Look for the matchup between Kansas guard Travis Releford and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr.  Releford’s strong defensive play could determine the outcome of the game.  Hardaway Jr. has been averaging 17.5 points per game in the Wolverine’s two tournament games, but Travis Releford has the defensive ability to significantly decrease Burke’s scoring.

Also keep an eye on the Trey Burke matchup with Elijah Johnson.  Johnson has had a disappointing season, but has proved to come up in tight situations.  Burke, a sophmore, is arguably the player of the year, though.  I think Johnson will come up big once again and hold Trey Burke to a sub-par night.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

If Jeff Withey can have the same type of game against Michigan as he did against North Carolina, the Jayhawks have no reason to lose.  Withey’s paint communication with Kevin Young is superb, and they are arguably the best big man duo in the NCAA this season.  Watch for Young to draw double teams and then dish the ball to Withey for easy scores.

The X-factor in this game is Ben McLemore.  Lately, McLemore has been playing at a level he has never seen, nor has the nation.  In Kansas’ previous game versus North Carolina, McLemore went 0-9 from the field, 0-6 from three point range.  If he can regain his shot, Kansas could cruise to a victory.  Plus, I want to see him have a highlight-dunk.  During the regular season, Ben McLemore soared for some spectacular dunks.  If he can go on a one man breakaway, McLemore should put something special on a dunk to give Kansas the momentum.

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Getty Images/Ed Zurga

I belive Kansas will come out on top.  The Jayhawks have showed up for big games against some of the best teams and I do not see that changing today. Also, this is Michigan’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Fab Five the early 1990’s. Kansas’ experience in the Sweet 16, eight appearances in the last ten years , will be beneficial to tonight’s game. Tipoff is at 6:37 p.m. on TBS, and the winner of this game will advance to play the winner of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.

Oh, and how about Florida Gulf Coast?

Drew Agnello

What Went Wrong?

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Kansas’ 62-55 loss to TCU last night was one of the biggest upsets in Jayhawk history.  After easy wins, such as their 74 to 66 win over Ohio State, Kansas’ performance was not the way it has been since the start of the season.  For the first time since 2006, the Kansas Jayhawks have lost back-to-back games. The big question is, “What is going on with KU?”

KU can not score 13 points in the first half and shoot 13.6% from the field, both stats at their lowest since 1988, and expect to win.  Wide open jump shots and seemingly easy lay-ups were missed, which is inexcusable for coach Bill Self’s team.  The fundamentals were not there for the Jayhawks.

AP Photo / Sharon Ellman
AP Photo / Sharon Ellman

In the game as a whole, the Jayhawks shot 29.6% from the field on 61 attempted shots, along with 13.6% from three point range.  Although KU was able to beat TCU on the glass, winning the rebound battle 44-34, the second-chance points would not fall.

Ben McLemore played decently, although below his average in scoring 15 points, but grabbed nine rebounds for the Hawks.  Elijah Johnson’s play was horribly ineffective.  Although he scored eight points, they all came off desperation shots in the final three minutes.  His leadership was nonexistent, a major role in Kansas’ loss.

Defensively, Kansas played very well in the first half.  TCU was held to 22 first half points, proving great defensive play by Kansas.  However, the Kansas defensive effort vanished late in the game.  KU had multiple opportunities to cut the lead on defensive stops, but TCU kept scoring.  It was as if Kansas was only giving effort on the offensive side down the stretch.

The most disappointing aspect in Kansas’ loss was knowing how easily they could have won.  TCU missed a hefty amount of free throws in the final minutes, giving Kansas multiple opportunities to score and tie, or even win, the game.

For those Jayhawks’ fans who believe this year’s team is better than last year, Bill Self begs to differ.  “It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there,” coach Bill Self said after Monday night’s loss, “I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years.  But for the first half, there hasn’t been team play worse than that offensively.”

This Kansas team has a long way to go.  They have the potential to be a championship-caliber team, but changes have to be made.  KU has been not utilizing their big men, which has left them vulnerable when not shooting well from the field. Kansas travels to Oklahoma for a tough road game on Saturday, looking to rebound from an embarrassing game that gave TCU its first Big XII win.

Drew Agnello

McLemore > Pressey

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Trevor Weinrich had an article yesterday praising Phil Pressey for all of the abilities he has.  In the end, Trevor believed Pressey was better than Ben McLemore, the Kansas standout.  Trevor ended the article saying, “Which side do you choose?”  I choose the McLemore side, for all of the right reasons.

I believe a player’s importance to a team is much more important than his stats.  Is Phil Pressey important to his team? Definitely.  His point guard play is unreal, and I believe he is one of the best in the NCAA.  When I look at Ben McLemore, though, I see an on-court leader whose talents are able to control the tempo of the game and the tone of the crowd. Whenever McLemore dunks the ball, or drains a three, it is more than likely astonishing and his teammates become motivated to make the next big play.  Along with teammate motivation comes the way a crowd reacts.  If the game is in Lawrence, the crowd will reach a high number on the decibel scale and the opponents will go cold from the field.  If the game is on the road, the crowd will go dead silent and momentum will be in favor of Kansas.  With that being said, my point is Ben McLemore is a better leader than Phil Pressey is.  Sure Pressey makes awesome passes that make you say, “Wow,” but I think that because McLemore is a redshirt freshman, yet a great leader, he gives his team more of a boost.  I may be going deeper than I should, but the momentum of a team is maybe the most important part to winning a basketball game.

Kansas v Ohio State
Then there are the stats.  McLemore puts up almost 17 points per game compared to Phil Pressey’s near 14.  Assists wise, Pressey obviously has the edge since he is a point guard, dishing 7.5 a game next McLemore who only has a mere 2.1.  Every other stat, McLemore absolutely owns Pressey.  Ben grabs 5.2 boards a game and Pressey snatches just 3.4.  McLemore has a free throw percentage and a three point percentage that absolutely demolishes Phil Pressey’s.  Stats wise, the edge goes to McLemore as well as the momentum factor.  Here is a graph comparing McLemore and Pressey.

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Ben McLemore’s X-Factor and stats mean so much more to Kansas than Pressey does to Mizzou.  Missouri fans would say differently, of course, but on a national level, I would bet a majority would say McLemore.  Trevor says hands down Phil Pressey is the better player.  For me, I say without question Ben McLemore is better than Phil Pressey.  Unfortunately, there is no chance of the two going head-to-head this season.  However, we will have to wait and see what the Madness of March may have to give.

Drew Agnello

Pressey or McLemore

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As conference play is starting for the Big 12 and SEC, I am asked which player is better Phil Pressey or Ben McLemore. At first thought I would say Pressey is more important because of how efficient he has made Missouri’s offense. Pressey appears to be painting a new mosaic everyday with his beautiful passes and effective layups. Without Pressey, Missouri’s offense looks like a chicken with its head cut off. There is no smooth flow to the offense. Pressey’s second best trait behind his vision and passing ability is his quickness. Everyone knows about these skills but people often forget about him as a threat from beyond the arc.

Ben McLemore

With Ben McLemore,  Bill Self and the Jayhawks are getting a true scorer. He shoots the way Bradly Beal was predicted to shoot at Florida last year. Both players were Saint Louis natives. When coming out of high school Beal was the pick by everyone but Bill Self saw something special in McLemore. After redshirting his freshman year, McLemore has been able to showcase his talents every game. If I had my choice today I (KC’s biggest Gators fan) would take Ben McLemore over Bradley Beal. McLemore shoots the three ball with such poise and consistency. His stroke is as smooth as a babies bottom. McLemore is much better on perimeter defense then most expected.

It is hard to choose between these two stars but because he is younger I would lean towards Ben McLemore. If it were for one season and I could build my team around a player, I would choose Phil Pressey. You let me know who is the best player.

Phil Pressey

Spencer Montgomery

Rock Chalk Success

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At the beginning of the season, the Kansas Jayhawks were a team not a lot of people thought could have as much success as they have had.  After a loss in the third game of the season to Michigan State, this season seemed like it would be a drag.  The team seems to have turned it around, though of late.  Stats are on the rise, as are the Jayhawks.  With a new poll coming out tomorrow, Kansas is expected to be the sixth best team in the country after winning in their first true away game at Ohio State.  Yesterday’s game in Columbus showed a lot about Coach Bill Self’s team, and the team played like they could go to Atlanta in April for the Final 4.

Going into Columbus, almost every scout and analyst projected an easy win for the Ohio State Buckeyes.  At home versus a young team in a revenge game?  There was no way the Buckeyes would fall once again to the Jayhawks.  Unfortunately for Ohio State, that was not the case.  Ben McLemore led the team to a solid 74 to 66 win in Ohio.  However, the score does not describe the beat down the Jayhawks put on Ohio State.  Kansas shot 51 percent from the field, and held Ohio State to just over 30 percent.  Once again, the Jayhawks shot lights out from three point range, dropping 46 percent of their threes compared to the Buckeyes 26 percent on 31 attempted three pointers.  Kansas out-rebounded Ohio State 41 to 37.  The only low point for KU yesterday was turnovers.  19 turnovers is way too many for this team.  On the bright side, giving up 19 turnovers but still winning on the road proves that Kansas does not have a hard time overcoming the negatives. The turnover ratio will have to change if they want to be a lock for the Final 4.

Bill Self

Who is to thank for the success of Kansas?  Jeff Withey is second in the country in blocks, averaging 5 a game.  His size and inside presence in the post makes him a nightmare to any team the Jayhawks face.  He is an experienced senior who knows how to play the game at a level that few people in college do.  There is also Ben McLemore.  This is a freshman whose play has made him a potential All-American.  The guy is on crash course to success.  He averages almost 17 points a game.  He grabs almost seven boards a game and dishes out over two assists per game.  Some people are probably saying, “Yeah.  So what?  Those aren’t outstanding.”  First of all, he is a redshirt freshman.  No other freshman has figures like those.  Shabazz Muhammad was hyped to be the best player in the country, but now he plays on a struggling team and he is struggling as well.  Nerlens Noel of Kentucky is not putting up stats like McLemore is, and he was the top ranked freshman coming in to this year.  Ben’s dynamic dunks and clutch threes make him both the leader and X-Factor of this Jayhawk team.  However, no credit should go to just one player.  The Kansas Jayhawks’ reason for success this year is because of Bill Self.  The man is simply a winner.  He did it last year with a Jayhawk team that was dubbed as “The Least Talented Team to Come Through Kansas in However Many Years.”  Jayhawk fans should never feel discouraged because as long as Bill Self is there, Kansas will be a winning program.

After the Ohio State game, this season could be a great year for the Jayhawks.  With an easy schedule the rest of the way, and virtually no one in the Big XII who can beat them, KU has absolutely no reason to not be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  This year would be a failure if they were not a three seed or better.  Between now and April, anything can happen, and only Kansas can control their own destiny.  After 11 games, Kansas has established themselves as a dynamic team who can win ball games at ease.

Drew Agnello

The Freshman B.M.O.C. Part II

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If it was unknown before, I’ll say it now- I am a big fan of the Kansas freshman sensation Ben McLemore.  I believe he is a player with special talents that no other freshman in the NCAA has.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on Ben being “The Freshman B.M.O.C.”.  I admire McLemore for what he has accomplished this season.  Despite only playing in eleven games, Ben has been raising eyebrows across the country with his play, especially after a big win at Ohio State.  As I was doing my daily routine of reading blogs about the Kansas guard, one caught my eye.  It was an article from rockchalktalk.com comparing Ben McLemore to Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade. Right now, one is an NBA All Star and the other is a redshirt freshman in college.  However, as freshmen, their stats nearly mirror one another’s.  Ben could very well be a player like Dwayne Wade was at Marquette, and here is why.

Ben McLemore...
I compared McLemore and Wade in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, their floor percentage, and three point field goal percentage.  In 32 games played as a freshman, Dwayne Wade scored 17.8 points per game.  Through 11 games, McLemore is averaging 16.5 points per game.  In rebounds, Wade edges out McLemore with 6.6 boards compared to Ben’s 5.7.  Dwayne is also beating Ben in assists with 3.4 compared to 2.3.  Ben has a barely better field goal percentage with 48.8 and Wade with 48.7.  However, Ben’s three point percentage is much better than Dwayne Wade’s.  McLemore has hit 40.8 percent of his threes this year, but Wade only knocked down 34.6 percent.  Currently, Ben’s floor percentage is 54.1.  Wade’s was 54.4 as a freshman.  Floor percentage is the chances of a team scoring when the ball is in a certain player’s hands.  It is a very important stat that often goes unnoticed.  In other stats, Ben McLemore is much better right now than Dwayne Wade was.  McLemore shoots 85 percent at the free throw line, but Wade only shot 69 percent.  Overall, Ben’s offensive rating is 119.1.  Wade’s was 108.3.  If none of these numbers make sense, here is a graph comparing the two.

The blog I read acknowledged the odds of Ben McLemore becoming the next Dwayne Wade— a two-time NBA Championship winner, Gold Medal winner, etc.  Those are some big accomplishments that McLemore is being called “destined to be”.  The odds of any player having this sort of status are slim to none.  But would it be unfair to say McLemore has better chances than others?  His stats would say differently.

Drew Agnello

The Freshman B.M.O.C.

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For Jayhawk fans, it is hard to find positives after losing in the National Championship.  Kansas had a remarkable run to the NCAA Championship last April, somewhere no one thought they would be.  The team prevailed in tight games throughout the tournament, but their run ended against Kentucky.  The heart of the Kansas basketball team, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left for the NBA.  Gloom seemed to rein over Lawrence, but a freshman sensation emerged.  Ben McLemore was suspended all of last season for eligibility reasons and was forced to watch his team from the bench.  But now, McLemore is leading the Kansas Jayhawks to a hot start on the season.  Ben’s absence last year has helped him mature as a basketball player and has made him a dangerous threat this season.

McLemore has taken the reins of this team.  At the beginning of the season, it was unknown who would be the leader of this Kansas team.  Jeff Withey is the threshold as the only true center, and he has tacked on 40 blocks already this season.  However, Ben is making the most noise.  He is not running his mouth with arrogance, but Ben is performing at a level like no other freshman.  UCLA freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad was the talk of the freshmen coming into the season.  His team has three losses in just eight games.  Kentucky’s star freshman Nerlens Noel and the Wildcats are already unranked.  Ben McLemore’s play has made the Kansas Jayhawks the ninth ranked team in the country.

Ben McLemore

Although he could not play in games, McLemore was still able to practice with the team last season.  He learned the offense and defense, which gave him a serious advantage over other freshmen.  Ben became comfortable with the team which has turned out to be key for the Jayhawks.  The biggest factor McLemore brings is the fact that teams are familiar with his style of play.  Teams throughout the country did not see him play last year, making him a  well-kept secret.  The high-power skillset McLemore brings to the table makes him an elite all-around player.

Ben McLemore’s contribution on both sides of the floor has made him the leader of this team.  On the offensive side, McLemore averages almost 15 points a game and dishes over two assists.  Defensively, he averages close to six rebounds per game.  Ben McLemore is not huge, though.  Most people would expect a 6’5” freshman with a 195 pound frame to not be nearly as active as McLemore has been.  However, he has a leaping ability like no other.  His awareness and timing for put-back dunks is simply jaw-dropping.  When McLemore is running full speed at the rim, the only thing that can stop him is the path of the ball.  Ben’s posterizing dunks have made him a fan favorite.  Here is an example of what Ben McLemore is able to do.

Not only is his jersey number 23, but Ben McLemore flies through the air very similarly to Michael Jordan.  His skills are not nearly there, but he is certainly on course to be a remembered player.  Ben’s humbleness shapes his already great character.  After games he will give high fives, sign autographs and pose for pictures.  All Jayhawks need to be appreciative of Ben McLemore.  Coach Bill Self has taught a numerous amount of great freshman.  From Deron Williams to Mario Chalmers, Bill Self has coached some of the most talented players in the NBA today.  Out of all those freshman, Self says Ben McLemore is the most talented freshman he has ever coached.  Although it is evident that a player with talent like his would leave early for the NBA Draft, the decision still lies in his hands.  In the meantime, everyone can sit back and watch the freshman lead Kansas this season.

Drew Agnello