basketball kansas basketball

Basketball / Jayhawks, predictions, bracketometry

Man, this year is going to be good, not only because the teams are good, but because there are good sto­ries out there. I tell myself that I don't care about sto­ry­lines, but at some point, I absorb them. I repeat them. They become part of my con­ver­sa­tions. All the extra­ne­ous detail from those play­er mini-pro­files being pro­duced by CBS will become cement itself in my mem­o­ry; like Mateen Cleaves' from 2000 tour­na­ment: his sto­ried high school career in Michi­gan, his drunk­en dri­ving, the tough love of father-fig­ure/­coach Tom Izzo. Why do I remem­ber this? Why do I care? Who knows? As Dick Vitale would say: It's March Mad­ness, baby!

Let's start at the top

Mem­phis is the rarely defeat­ed team with killer ath­letes and a dick­head for a coach; North Car­oli­na has play­er of the year Tyler Hans­bor­ough and the elec­tri­fy­ing "Car­oli­na break" (for­mer­ly known as the Kansas break), but it's also got some glar­ing incon­sis­ten­cies; UCLA has good bal­ance, a great coach, good defense, and a stone killer in fresh­man Kevin Love; Kansas has expe­ri­ence, Dar­nell Jack­son, and a recent his­to­ry of flame­outs [cf. Buck­nell, Bradley] to overcome. 

Mid-major blah blah blah

As usu­al, there are also a host of mid-major teams with chips on their shoul­ders. But­ler had Flori­da on the ropes last year; this year, they have to trav­el to Birm­ing­ham as a #7 seed to play South Alaba­ma (a #10 seed); if they win, they earn the right to play anoth­er fired-up south­east­ern team, Ten­nessee. And Gon­za­ga (#7) has to trav­el three time zones to play a team that's dri­ving three hours with­in its home state, David­son (#10). It appears that the tour­na­ment com­mit­tee is no longer amused by fun­da­men­tal­ly sound, deeply expe­ri­enced, sin­gu­lar­ly focused mid-major teams tak­ing down high seeds in the ear­ly rounds. An inter­est­ing development.

Mid-major dis disclaimer

By diss­ing mid-majors, you think I'm play­ing with fire, but I'm not. Oh, no. I've already been burned. Twice. There's noth­ing left to burn. I'm a black­ened husk. It began in 2006; I wrote a long email about "the myth of mid-majors" to my friends. Then, I trav­eled to Austin, where I watched the the Jay­hawks mail in a first-round game against Buck­nell. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some­one for­got to tell Buck­nell that they were sup­posed to climb inside the enve­lope and dis­ap­pear. To the delight of the entire bar from which I watched, they held off the Jay­hawks and advanced. The next year, it was Bradley. I was in a hotel in Albu­querque. Alone. Ago­niz­ing.

Kansas & UNC earn a right to stay close to home

Both teams get to stay local, but each gets test­ed by an inter­est­ing foe. UNC doesn't leave the state until they trav­el to San Anto­nio for the Final Four, but they need to beat Ten­nessee — a team that beat Mem­phis, a team with a legit­i­mate claim to a #1 seed — before they get to San Anto­nio. Kansas tours the Mid­west, head­ing to Oma­ha, then Detroit, but they need to beat George­town — a con­sis­tent, grit­ty team that is well-suit­ed to stick it to the incon­sis­tent Jay­hawks — before cut­ting down the region­al nets. Seems fair, mostly.But does this obsess­ing over geog­ra­phy real­ly mat­ter? I don't know. On a pure­ly philo­soph­i­cal lev­el, the cham­pi­on has to win six games, peri­od. Geor­gia won four games in three days to take the SEC tour­na­ment; they'd won a total of four games in two-plus months of con­fer­ence play. The Fab 5 advanced to the Final Four through Atlanta and Lex­ing­ton in 1992, Phoenix and Seat­tle in 1993.

On a historical note

Last year, Kansas got shipped two time zones west­ward and played what amount­ed to an away game against UCLA. I was there, sur­round­ed by cologne-wear­ing, hair-gelled, Steve-Lavin-look-alike douchebags who roared with every impos­si­ble fade­away prayer hit by Arron Affla­lo (not mis­spelled), and every brass-balled pull-up j by Dar­ren Col­li­son. It has tak­en me some time to admit that UCLA may have been the bet­ter team, a fact that wasn't made any more com­fort­ing by Bill Walton's pod-rhap­sody about the beau­ty of UCLA's win [mp3]. The tour­na­ment committee's cal­cu­lus: Kansas wasn't a clear #1 seed, so they need­ed to trav­el across the coun­try to beat UCLA in their back yard in order to prove they belong in the Final Four. Which brings me to this year's Mem­phis team.

This year, Memphis gets sent through the fire

Don't you get the feel­ing that the tour­na­ment com­mit­tee smells blood with Mem­phis? The Tigers were ranked #1 for a lot of the year, and they lost just ONE game all year. Except. Except they have the mis­for­tune of play­ing in a weak con­fer­ence, and their one loss hap­pened to come at home against a team that got its ass hand­ed to them by Texas. For this, they get sent to Hous­ton for the South region­al final, where they may in fact meet up with Texas. (Is there any way that the crowd won't be heav­i­ly pro-Horn?) The tour­na­ment com­mit­tee is clear­ly say­ing: Show us what you've got, Der­rick Rose and Joey Dorsey. Show up what you got, John Cali­pari! [Here it is again. John Cheney threat­ens to kill John Cali­pari. Thank you, YouTube]. Who knows? Maybe it's a sort of karmic pay­back for Dorsey refer­ring to him­self as Goliath, with Greg Oden as David dur­ing last year's tour­na­ment. Dude, if you're Goliath, then sur­vive this rock-sling­ing gauntlet.

Rick Barnes can recruit, but can the dude coach?

Two things I noticed about Barnes dur­ing the Big 12 final: (1) The guy either can't con­sis­tent­ly set up a decent play off a dead ball, or his play­ers just can't exe­cute one. I find it hard to believe that DJ Augustin, one of the most tal­ent­ed play­ers I've seen in a long time, can't exe­cute a play. So I'm left with the impres­sion that Barnes is just a bad game-plan­ner. Too many times, his team came out of a time­out with some crap play that result­ed in a bad shot or turnover. Augustin can often bail Barnes out by hit­ting lots of bad shots, but how far can this take them, real­ly? (2) Even worse, Barnes rides his stars, and they suf­fer against deep­er teams. Augustin played all 40 min­utes in the Big 12 tour­na­ment final and he aver­aged 39+ for the sea­son. He fin­ished with 20 points, scor­ing only 2 in the sec­ond half and miss­ing all nine shots that he took. AJ Abrams is no help; he can spot up and drain threes, but he's my size and needs to run off a bunch of screens to get an open shot, and there­fore he does lit­tle to ease the bur­den on Augustin. 

Ol Roy on the horizon for the Jayhawks

While I love all of this, I'm also focused on the prospects of my team. To para­phrase a once-great Kansan, I could (most­ly) give a shit about sto­ry­lines. As a Kansas fan, I'm pri­mar­i­ly wor­ried about Port­land State break­ing new ground as a #16 seed. Let's take care of that one. Then I'm wor­ried about UNLV; then Clem­son; then George­town. Then: Ol Roy?In the Final Four, there's the poten­tial for some great, great match-ups, which I'll detail in anoth­er post. Too much needs to hap­pen between now and then.

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Kansas basketball / Post-Julian thoughts

Julian at the SIU game

Julian Wright is tak­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a life­time, and who can blame him? He brought enthu­si­asm and ener­gy to every game, con­tributed huge­ly in many of the big wins in the last cou­ple of years (cf. these dunks dur­ing the Flori­da game and this epic 33-point per­for­mance at MU), and showed enough skill and poten­tial to be very high­ly regard­ed by NBA scouts. Who wouldn't seize a chance to be finan­cial­ly secure, and to play in the NBA? The future is rarely cer­tain in these sit­u­a­tions, as these guys can attest. Best of luck to you, JuJu.The KU-sports-relat­ed Inter­net is (pre­dictably) thrash­ing around with the news, and the emo­tions range from hurt to hap­py, fatal­is­tic to opti­mistic. And who can blame them, real­ly? The last four years have been tough on Kansas bas­ket­ball, so tough that the men­tion of cer­tain names — Roy, Mic­ah, Pad­gett, Galin­do, Gid­dens, CJ, etc — can pro­voke pangs and spasms of hurt and guilt. I guess Julian gets added to the list now, though per­son­al­ly I think he's ready and I'm hap­py for him. Most of the com­menters at the end of this sto­ry feel oth­er­wise. Julian's depar­ture is com­pli­cat­ed, of course, by the fact that he pledged to stay fol­low­ing the loss to UCLA. This CBS reporter was real­ly peev­ed that Julian recon­sid­ered his prospects after the sea­son end­ed, which seems kin­da sil­ly to me. Did it real­ly take Julian's change of heart to com­mu­ni­cate to him that big-time col­lege sports are bit­ter­sweet, unpre­dictable, and per­pet­u­al­ly com­pro­mised by the twin prospects of major, life-chang­ing injuries and major, life-chang­ing paydays?Whatever hap­pens, I think that Julian will even­tu­al­ly have a good NBA career. Ryan Greene of com­pares Julian to Shawn Mar­i­on, and I see the resem­blance as well. That said, he would be way bet­ter off with estab­lished, vet­er­an-heavy teams like Phoenix (who wouldn't?) or Chica­go, where he'd be able to learn and adjust out of the spot­light. Career-endan­ger­ing teams like Mem­phis, Atlanta or (once again) Sacra­men­to will give him too much respon­si­bil­i­ty too soon, though he may be able to sur­vive that either way. Long term, he's a West­ern Con­fer­ence play­er who will come off the bench, get his 12 and 8, con­tin­ue do all the lit­tle stuff that makes him great (deflect­ing pass­es, set­ting oth­er guys up, keep­ing offen­sive rebounds alive), and be a good team guy to boot.

The bright sides

Look­ing for­ward to next Novem­ber, here are three sce­nar­ios that reflect my think­ing on the remain­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for ear­ly entries and (yikes, not again!) transfers.

  • With­out Wright: Actu­al­ly may be bet­ter. Like Drew Gooden's ear­ly exit, I actu­al­ly think there's quite a sig­nif­i­cant bright side here. Julian's ath­let­ic abil­i­ty and tal­ent require that he play a major role in the offense, which results in few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for the tal­ents of oth­er play­ers — Mario's dri­ves and shots, Sherron's shot and dri­ve, Rush's entire offen­sive arse­nal, Shady's sweet moves inside 12 feet. When Good­en left, Collison's McHale-like low-post pres­ence and Hinrich's Stock­ton-like abil­i­ty to make the right deci­sion on every fast break end­ed up pro­vid­ing a sys­tem more sta­ble than the one focused on Gooden's always ath­let­ic, some­times errat­ic pres­ence. With­out Julian at the 4, Shady starts and gets more time. This means that the line-up gets bulki­er with­out los­ing that much in the way of speed. They'll miss Julian's explo­sive­ness and shot-block­ing, but they gain Shady's sweet touch and bet­ter abil­i­ty to (more depend­ably) make plays while post­ing up. If Rush is still around (not like­ly, so see the bul­let point below), I tend to think that this line-up may even be more dan­ger­ous than if Wright had stuck around.
  • With­out Wright and Rush: Lots of re-jig­ger­ing, lots of uncer­tain­ty. Los­ing Rush is a much big­ger deal than los­ing Wright, obvi­ous­ly. He's the team's best on-the-ball defend­er; he became the go-to scor­er dur­ing the games in San Jose, and he can stroke it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for him, he's not the explo­sive ath­lete that Julian is, and scouts are not eval­u­at­ing his drafta­bil­i­ty in the crys­tal-ball­ish terms of upside and poten­tial. His capac­i­ty is known, appar­ent­ly, and there­fore it has lim­its in the eyes of scouts. Does this mean he can't become, say, a Bruce Bowen type of play­er? Heck no. In fact, I think he'd fit in real­ly well with the type of team who would draft him in the 20's or so. And this is prob­a­bly what will hap­pen, so it all works out for the best, for him. If mon­ey and aca­d­e­mics (which are a major has­sle for him) were not issues, he's in a great posi­tion to thrive next sea­son. He fits into Self's sys­tem real­ly well; he real­ly began to shine at the end of the sea­son; anoth­er sea­son would real­ly give him a chance to refine his drib­ble-dri­ve and his out­side shot. But this is not an ide­al world, and bar­ring the entry of the entire UNC team or an injury that pre­vents him from com­pet­ing in the pre-draft camps, I sus­pect he's gone. Good luck to him.
    So. How do the Hawks replace Bran­don? Who becomes the stop­per? Who takes over the offense at the end of games? Who attracts the oth­er team's defend­ers when­ev­er he's on the floor? I'm not real­ly sure about any of this. A cou­ple of things are cer­tain, though: This will be a sea­soned, capa­ble team. They've been through a lot, beat­en Kevin Durant twice, won two Big 12 tour­na­ments, etc. More­over, they'll be with­out a super­star like Bran­don and Julian, and this — weird­ly — might make them much more like Self's Illi­nois teams — grit­ty, hun­gry, scrap­py and dan­ger­ous in the tournament.
  • With­out Wright, Rush, and Collins: !@$#%$#@*&. Almost too painful to con­sid­er. How many times did I text the words "Thank God for Sher­ron" dur­ing the Big 12 sea­son? How many times did he sin­gle-hand­ed­ly change the pace and momen­tum of a game with a vicious dri­ve to the bas­ket? He's not ready to jump to the League, but rumor has it that he wants to be clos­er to home. But would he real­ly want to sit out a year, play for a school in a mid-major con­fer­ence, give up a chance to play in a Final Four, give up a chance to play on nation­al tele­vi­sion for 15–20 or 20–25 games next year? I real­ly hope not. Man, that would hurt.
basketball kansas basketball

Pre-post-season thoughts / Containing Kevin Durant

In a pre­vi­ous post, I sug­gest­ed that the Kansas defense must "con­tain" Kevin Durant, there­by imply­ing that Kevin Durant could, in fact, be con­tained. I said: "he's going to get 10–15 points no mat­ter what you do," and any­thing in excess of that was a mat­ter of the oppos­ing team's defense shut­ting him down. Against Kansas on Sat­ur­day, he rat­tled off 12 points in a row between the 17:41 and the 14:14 marks in the first half, and had 20 points just five min­utes lat­er. (Thanks to ESPN's play-by-play for this). And it wasn't like the Texas offense was get­ting him a lot of open looks: He was bury­ing every shot, no mat­ter who was guard­ing him and no mat­ter where he was on the court. 22 feet away, Julian Wright's hand in his face: Rat­tled in. Pulling up from 27 feet at the tail end of a fast break: Swish. Texas didn't even need to run an offense, they just need­ed to get him the ball and then wor­ry about get­ting back and play­ing defense. In the first half, this worked. In the sec­ond half, dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Two things changed (at least): Bran­don Rush was on Durant, rather than Julian Wright. It was hard to say whether Durant just cooled off, or whether Rush cooled him off, but the fact was that he missed 4 of 5 shots before going down with a twist­ed ankle. Sec­ond thing: Anoth­er play­er imme­di­ate­ly dou­ble-teamed Durant on the perime­ter when­ev­er he got the ball, and Texas failed to exploit this for easy low-post bas­kets. (Nice call by Coach Self. Not sure why he didn't go to this ear­li­er, but I'm just glad that it worked). At the same time, I can't believe Texas couldn't exploit this. I mean, teams must be doing this all the time. Why weren't they able to find Dami­an James for easy bas­kets under­neath, or Augustin on cuts to the bas­ket? (I share Bill Simmons's assess­ment of Texas coach Rick Barnes, by the way: "How can you not run more plays for Kevin Durant? Post him up and he has 27 dif­fer­ent ways to score. Curl him off picks and he makes 15-foot­ers like they're layups.") Speak­ing of bad coach­ing, I was mys­ti­fied that Texas didn't start foul­ing soon­er. Kansas wasn't even in the bonus until the 2:20 mark, and Texas didn't start foul­ing until the 1:18 mark when they were down by 8. Russ­Rob missed the front-end of a one-and-one, and Texas cut the lead to 6. Then, on con­sec­u­tive pos­ses­sions, Mario makes one of two; Russ­Rob makes one of two; Julian makes one of two. HEART ATTACK TIME. Instead of a 6‑point lead, it's a 3‑point lead, and Texas has a chance to tie. This is a huge, huge issue going into the post-sea­son, both for the Hawks chances and my own phys­i­cal and men­tal health.Incidentally, with this in mind, I deeply enjoyed a recent piece by Gene Wein­garten about FT shoot­ing: "If I took a year off and prac­ticed all day, every day, I could then defeat the NBA's best free-throw shoot­er in head-to-head com­pe­ti­tion" (via kot­tke).

basketball kansas basketball

Big Saturday / KU-UT thoughts and predictions

Watch­ing the Long­horns repeat­ed­ly (and ulti­mate­ly suc­cess­ful­ly) dri­ve a stake into the heart of Acie Law IV last night, I got to think­ing about Saturday's show­down between the Long­horns and the Hawks. (I also pen­ciled in A&M for the Final Four. Is there any team in the nation — oth­er than UCLA, I guess — that has such a per­fect blend of March-ready qual­i­ties — go-to guy, great defense, grit, gump­tion? Total­ly g'ed up). Any­way, here's the big stuff that KU has to address:Con­tain Kevin Durant. I know, I know. Obvi­ous. Duh. Every­one tries to do this. But I think Kansas has a chance to suc­ceed. Yes, he's going to get 10–15 points no mat­ter what you do. He'll be every­where — around the bas­ket, out on the perime­ter, get­ting put-backs, rolling off picks and tak­ing jumpers. The chal­lenge for the Hawks is to make sure he doesn't get 30–35, to lim­it the num­ber of open looks he gets on the perime­ter, and to make sure that he doesn't get any­where near a rhythm like he had against Texas Tech (37 points, 23 rebounds). Durant thrives when teams don't have some­one who can get in his face when he's away from the bas­ket. At 6'9", he's going to shoot over the kind of guy who will take away the dri­ve, but he's also fast and agile enough to go around most guys his size. All of that said, I think he's going to have prob­lems with KU's long, fast, and high­ly dis­rup­tive defend­ers — Julian Wright and Bran­don Rush. I think it's total­ly pos­si­ble for them to con­tain him, as long as they stay out of foul trou­ble. Dis­rupt the sup­ply chain. DJ Augustin kept them in the game last night when Durant went into a funk. In many games this year, I've seen him slice through defens­es, get to the bas­ket, and gen­er­al­ly cre­ate the kind of chaos that leads to easy put-backs for Durant. Mario Chalmers, Rus­sell Robin­son, and Sher­ron Collins have to keep him from dri­ving, and com­pli­cate his dis­tri­b­u­tion of the ball. Run them ragged, and don't get beat by AJ Abrams. Or any­one like him. Last year, the rel­a­tive­ly qui­et Abrams explod­ed for four three-point­ers dur­ing a first half run, sin­gle­hand­ed­ly demor­al­iz­ing the Hawks. The good news is that, this year, the Long­horn weapon­ry is far from secret. Abrams, Augustin and Durant play pret­ty much all game, every game. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the rel­a­tive­ly deep Hawks to be relent­less in their defense — Maybe even press a lit­tle? C'mon, Coach. Gim­mick defens­es have stunned KU twice recent­ly (A&M, OU). Why not break one out once in a while? Mak­ing free throws. The mere thought that this game will come down to free throws makes my stom­ach hurt. The last five min­utes of the Okla­homa game was excru­ci­at­ing in that it almost turned into A&M, Part II. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it's no secret that Kansas can't shoot free throws. They're going to get fouled late in the game; with any luck, Chalmers and Robin­son will con­trol the ball and hit their freebies.Lastly, Collins and Arthur must con­tribute, and Rush has to get his shots. It's pret­ty amaz­ing that the Hawks could get by OU with­out con­tri­bu­tions from any of these guys, but there's no way that a win ver­sus Texas is pos­si­ble with­out them.

kansas city the ancient past

Kansas City / Home for the holidays

Flickr photo

I love Flickr, but the good times are killing me. It's got too many amaz­ing high-def and beau­ti­ful­ly com­posed pho­tos. How do they do it? After doing some research, I decid­ed to step up my game and picked up a fan­cy­pants cam­era. Above is one of the first pic­tures I took with it, a panora­ma of down­town Kansas City from the Lib­er­ty Memo­r­i­al. The bent hori­zon is the result of a cheap‑o fish-eye attach­ment that I bought on Ama­zon. I used the 30D/­fish-eye set­up through­out the hol­i­days, as you'll see in this set, and while I had fun, I also had the inevitable real­iza­tion that an equip­ment upgrade doesn't auto­mat­i­cal­ly result in glo­ri­ous, high-def pho­tos. Back to the draw­ing board. Or the dark room. Or the Inter­net forums. While I was in KC, I sam­pled some of its finest. I vis­it­ed some home­grown let­ter­press print­ers (Ham­mer­press), ate some leg­endary BBQ (Fiorella's Jack Stack in Mar­tin City and Gates on Main), and made a pil­grim­age to a bas­ket­ball tem­ple (Allen Field­house, to wit­ness KU's run-and-gun thump­ing of Boston Col­lege). All in all, a mer­ry and bright time.

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Kansas basketball / Jitters, a jinx, and a stinging loss

Ques­tion: What hap­pens when a young col­lege bas­ket­ball team with­out a proven low-post pres­ence some­how man­ages to secure a high nation­al rank­ing then faces a real­ly hun­gry, expe­ri­enced team? The Hawks found out two nights ago, get­ting their rear-ends tanned by an unher­ald­ed and obvi­ous­ly hun­gry Oral Roberts team.Where does this rank among the hard­est-to-swal­low loss­es in recent mem­o­ry? I don't want to go over­board here; it's not as crush­ing as the two NCAA Tour­na­ment ear­ly exits. It also wasn't as demor­al­iz­ing as los­ing to K‑State (at home) and Mis­souri (after lead­ing by 7 with a lit­tle over a minute left) last year. It's most reminscent of the 2004 home loss to Rich­mond, when the entire sport­ing nation could turn on ESPN to see the Hawks implode on their home floor to a team that wasn't even play­ing that well. ESPN didn't car­ry the ORU game on Wednes­day night, THANK GOD, but the loss rip­pled through the sports press in a way that always seemed to empha­size the Hawks sim­ply failed to look, umm, good. SI said sim­ply: "Oral Roberts out­played No. 3 Kansas the whole way."Question: How in the world does SI rank KU above a team like Flori­da, the defend­ing nation­al cham­pi­ons who returned every starter from last year? Did they want to avoid jinx­ing Flori­da for some rea­son? (SI added KU to its list of cov­er jinx­es). Maybe they set­tled on this arrange­ment before Sasha Kaun got hurt, and before CJ Giles pulled a Lawrence Phillips and got him­self kicked off the team?[1] Even so, how does any front line arrange­ment com­pete with Gator paint-dom­i­na­tors Al Hor­ford and Joakim Noah? We'll find out soon enough, I guess, since the teams will meet a week from tomor­row in Vegas. Gulp.[1] Wikipedia's abstract on Lawrence Phillips: "Lawrence Phillips (b. May 12, 1975 in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas), is a for­mer pro­fes­sion­al Amer­i­can foot­ball and Cana­di­an foot­ball run­ning back who has had numer­ous con­flicts with law enforce­ment." Sor­ta says it all.