Kansas Jayhawks

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.

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

National Signing Day

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The most stressful day in recruiting is clearly National Signing Day. Decisions made by 18 year old “men” can determine a program’s future. There can only be one team that is happy with a decision. That means three or four schools have their heart ripped out and thrown away. National Signing Day is a war. Coaches have been on the recruiting trail for years building relationships with these recruits and their families. This year is filled on the defensive side of the ball with players like Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Hargreaves, Chris Jones, and Jaylon Smith. This year is exceptionally filled with NFL caliber cornerbacks. This select group is led by Florida commit Vernon Hargreaves and Tre’Davious White. According to Rivals.com this class features four 5-star corners.

There are always winners and losers from NSD and it is clear that the biggest winner is Ole Miss. While the commitment from Nkemdiche was expected, closing and executing was crucial for    Hugh Freeze and the rest of his staff. Along with getting Nkemdiche to sign his name on the dotted line, they were able to sign three more 5-star recruits according to 247sports.com. The most important player besides the 6’4” 285 beast on DE was signing a playmaker with the athleticism as Laquon Treadwell. The Ole Miss offense will rely on Treadwell immediately for explosiveness just as Clemson did with Sammy Watkins his freshman year. Also on the offensive side of the ball is OT Laremy Tunsil.

The ultimate recruiter. Picture from Washington Post
The ultimate recruiter. Picture from Washington Post

The best overall class is hands down Alabama. No surprise here. Nick Saban and his staff were able to continue the momentum from the beating the laid upon Notre Dame. Bama was able to build upon another great defense with 5-star defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster. Foster will follow in the footsteps that have been laid forth by Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley. The one thing these three linebackers all have in common is the ability to follow the ball and attack at the point of contact. Foster recorded 80 tackles and 6 sacks in his senior year. The 6’2” 242 linebacker looks to be in the rotation for the 2013 season.

The team that underperformer for the 2013 class would be Stanford. While they were limited in their number of scholarships, I still expected a team that has had so much success in recent years to build a better class. The bright spot of their 2013 class is the quarterback out of Virginia Ryan Burns. Burns stands in at 6’5”218 pounds so size is a major plus when analysts have graded him. 247sports.com graded Burns all the way to a 92/100. The major let down for Stanford and David Shaw is only signing two players in the trench for offense. Center Thomas Oser and OT Tyler Bright both earned three stars. Shaw has instilled bullying the Pac 10 as a trademark.It will be hard in the future to dominate the line of scrimmage with only 2 lineman signed. This was a major whole in the class that brought their rankings into the 60’s.

A couple of teams that also came up short this year according to the rankings would be Oklahoma and Oregon. While Oregon can slightly blame this on Coach Kelly jetting to the NFL so late in the recruiting process, Oklahoma just whiffed on there top recruits. Oklahoma, usually a dominating team on the recruiting pitch was unable to sign a single 5-star according to rivals.com. This is astounding because of the dominance they have had on the Midwest stars. One team that made a huge jump in the rankings is Kansas. Usually it is rival Kansas State that runs the Junior College crew but Coach Weis was able to snag 20 JUCO players DT Marquel Combs. Combs comes in as a 4-star and the highest rated JUCO player for this years class.

Gator Chomp! Picture by Gamedayr.com
Gator Chomp! Picture by Gamedayr.com

Did you really think I would go this far and not tell you about the most important teams recruiting class? That’s right the Gators had one of the best classes because of how they filled their class. Will Muschamp has a liking to sign one quarterback a class and he achieved that with the record setting Max Staver. Hargreaves should lineup as a starter next year at cornerback and early enrollee Kelvin Taylor should split carries with sophomore Matt Jones. The most impressive feature of this dominant class is having signed 12 lineman. Muschamp has been extremely successful with signing highly regarded linemen such as D.J. Humphries from the 2012 class. Also, Florida’s staff was able to sway Alex Anzalone from Notre Dame and get him to early enrollee.
My final thought is that the NCAA needs to move back the National Signing Day around 2 months so coaches have more time to get to evaluate recruits. Also, this should be able to cut so many early commitments. While yes this would cut down on some of the recruitment circuses we have this year. Players will be able to take more visits and evaluate his options with a more informed belief.

Spencer Montgomery

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.

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 4.14.06 PM

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

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

KU’s First Loss

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The Kansas Jayhawks fell short of a win Tuesday night in Atlanta against the Michigan State Spartans.  The Jayhawks came into this game expecting an easy win, but that was not the case.  The game was anything but a win for the Jayhawks.  Play was very sloppy for Kansas on both sides of the floor.  The youth of the team was exposed, but Coach Bill Self believes that is no excuse.  It is not an excuse.  It is something Kansas is going to need to take care of if they want to go back to Atlanta for the Final Four.

Tuesday night’s loss was an ugly one for KU.  The team statistically looked good, but the little things proved to hurt Kansas.  For example, center Jeff Withey failed to attack the rim strong while posting up throughout the game.  Instead of going towards the basket, he would consistently fall away trying to draw a foul.  Another concern for the Jayhawks was their defense.  The shots KU gave up were practically pre-game warm up shots for Michigan State.  Kansas even had a major advantage in the fact that Michigan State had returned from Germany two days earlier.  A tired team beat the Jayhawks.  That is not acceptable for KU basketball.  Another thing the Jayhawks showed was their lack of execution.  KU had a five point lead with five minutes left in the game.  Michigan State ended the game on a 13-5 run, handing Kansas an early first loss on the season.

The main concern for the Kansas Jayhawks is the fact that there is no true leader on this squad.  Is it Jeff Withey? Elijah Johnson?  Johnson had the ball for the last shot, but dished it to Travis Releford.  If KU wants to win, a leader needs to step out from behind the curtains.  Kansas is not a potential threat to anyone if there is not a forerunner.  However, Elijah Johnson seems to be wanting the control.  He is a senior this year, and it may be his time to lead one of the most historic programs.  Johnson later blamed himself on the loss.

At the beginning of the season, many thought Kansas could go very deep into the season before recording their first loss.  This is not the case for Kansas, so certain questions need to be answered.  How will the big men down low play better?  That starts with Jeff Withey.  He is the heart of this team and if he is not producing, neither is the team.  What about the defense? What needs to be done to fix their game plan?  The only solution is Coach Self.  He has proven to have the wits to turn struggling teams into winners.  Jayhawk fans should feel confident because Bill Self is the best at what he does.  He does not get recruits like John Calipari does, but he can mesh any sort of talent and make them winners.  Hopefully Self can do this, and KU is confident he can.  However, the biggest question remains unanswered: Who is this team’s leader?  That is up to the players.  Jeff Withey may control the game down low, but Elijah Johnson is a threat from all over the floor.  It is up to those two to choose who is going to step up when it is needed.  Maybe both could end up as leaders like Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson last year.

This should still be a good season for the Jayhawks.  They will benefit from an easy schedule, and the youth on this team will mature as the season goes on.  Kansas just needs to stick to the fundamentals, and focus on what is next for them.  Ultimately, Bill Self will be able to coach this team to where they need to be, and that is an opportunity to win Kansas their sixth championship in school history.

Drew Agnello

Kansas Jayhawk’s Season in Review

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Going into the 2011-2012 basketball season the expectations were not as high in past years. This year’s team had 4 new starters and all of them were essentially role players at best on last year’s team.  With the expectations not as high people wondered how good KU would be this year.  Everyone had heard that Thomas Robinson was going to be a great player for KU this year, but how good was he really going to be.  Tyshawn Taylor was going to assume a leadership role with the team this year, but after uneven play and suspension the previous three year many wondered whether he was going to become the leader Bill Self wanted him to be. Lastly, many people wondered about Jeff Withey and how good he would be with KU.  Last season in limited action Jeff Withey looked average at best and often looked lost on the court.  In the end many people thought KU would compete for a Big 12 regular season title, but fall short and end up being a 3 or 4 seed at best in the NCAA Tournament.

To begin the season KU had a hard non-conference schedule with games against Georgetown, Kentucky, Duke, and Ohio State.  KU played Kentucky first and looked outmatched for most of the game, but stayed in it do to experience which Kentucky’s freshman laden team did not have.  KU eventually lost 75-65.  In the semifinals of the Maui Invitational KU played an underrated Georgetown team and squeaked out a victory 65-63.  In the finals KU played a high ranked Duke squad and hung with them the whole game, but in the end lost 68-61.  Late in their non-conference schedule they played an Ohio State team without their best player Jared Sullinger.  During that game KU found a new role player in Kevin Young who scored a fourteen points in the win against Ohio State 78-67.   Immediately following their impressive win against Ohio State they lost to Davidson, which is their worst loss of the season.  With their non-conference schedule over many still wondered how good KU had actually be this year.  The team need to play with more consistency, by this time everyone knew that Thomas Robinson was the best player on KU; yet Tyshawn and Jeff Withey were needed to score with more consistency.  Connor Teahen the KU sharp shooter had been shooting very poorly from the 3 point line and for KU to get better he would have to make the 3 point shot with more consistency during the Big 12 conference season.
In KU’s first conference game against in-state rival Kansas State, KU played its best game thus far beating Kansas State 67-49.  KU started conference play 7-0 and KU was starting to play its best basketball.  Tyshawn Taylor seemed to be scoring at will against teams often scoring 20 or more points. Tyshawn was also not turning the ball over as much as he used and finally looked like leader Bill Self had wanted him to be.  Jeff Withey picked his play up to in conference play.  Jeff Withey was scoring the ball more consistently often putting up ten points, but playing superb defense.  KU hit a rough patch losing two of three games to Iowa State and to rivals Missouri. After this rough patch KU went on to win the rest of its conference games and went on to win its eighth conference championship in a row.  At the end KU finished with a record of 25-6 and is a favorite to be a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament which will be there third straight year of being a number 1 seed.
For KU to be down the nets in New Orleans on April seecond it will need role players such as Kevin Young and Conner Teahan to give them solid minutes off the bench.  Also, KU will need Jeff Withey and Tyshawn Taylor to be at there best to take pressure off Thomas Robinson.  Finally, I predict KU will not make a final four because I don’t feel it has the depth to play well if Thomas Robinson or Tyshawn Taylor get in foul trouble.
Connor Wilsey