With win over A&M, Kansas controls its own Big 12 destiny

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Word has been getting around that there are now not only two, but three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the newest addition, Kansas winning the Big 12 title.

Fate took a step in that direction on Wednesday night, as the No. 4 Jayhawks avoided a loss in an important trap game, outlasting Texas A&M on the road, 66-58, in College Station, Texas.

Guard Elijah Johnson, who has been streaky for Bill Self’s team so far this year, had 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the first half and finished with 21, picking up for a less-than-stellar offensive night from star Thomas Robinson.

After trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half, Texas A&M clawed to within four points with under a minute to play, helped along by a Jayhawk scoring drought of nearly seven minutes down the stretch.

But the key is that Kansas won. On the road and with a Saturday matchup against No. 3 Missouri looming on the horizon, the Jayhawks did what the Tigers were unable to do on Tuesday night: get a victory.

And the manner in which they did it has some lasting implications.

Looking at the box score, it seems A&M was able to limit Thomas Robinson, the heart of the Kansas attack. In part, they were successful, but the defensive holes left by the focus on Robinson made the difference.

Billy Kennedy dared someone else to beat his Aggies, and they did.

Robinson still finished with a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds, but the double- and triple-teams that welcomed him on the block freed up opportunities on the perimeter.

That is what makes Kansas so dangerous in the Big 12 and heading into March.

If Elijah Johnson has hit his stride, Tyshawn Taylor can limit his turnovers, and Big 12 blocks leader Jeff Withey keeps playing like a legitimate second option in the paint, Kansas could be headed for its eighth-straight conference title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

One night after Kansas State showed how size can disrupt Missouri’s offensive flow, Kansas outrebounded A&M by 11, had a balanced attack with four scorers in double figures, and was able to win without an All-American-type game from Robinson.

Now the spotlight shifts to Saturday’s matchup, which should decide the Big 12 regular season title.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Kansas was in control, up eight with just over two minutes left, before four costly turnovers and nine huge points from Missouri guard Marcus Denmon allowed the Tigers to escape at home.

Two key things have changed since that game.

Tyshawn Taylor has controlled the ball better since that six-turnover outing against Mizzou, averaging a modest three turnovers per game in his last five.

Jeff Withey has emerged in a big way, including a three-game stretch where he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds. That has pushed his zero-point, four-rebound performance against Missouri far out of mind.

And one more thing: Saturday’s matchup will be in Lawrence, Kan., in an arena that gives legitimate life to the notion of homecourt advantage.

Not to say Missouri doesn’t have a shot.

The Tigers shoot an impressive percentage from the field, work well in transition, and have one of the best Sixth Men in the country coming off their bench in Michael Dixon.

But, man, isn’t Kansas coming together nicely? Someone may have to pry the Big 12 title from their hands.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Sun Belt approves new scheduling format

Sun Belt Conference
Sun Belt Conference
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With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.

And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.

Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.

Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.

Former Wichita State assistant returns as a consultant

Chris Jans, Gregg Marshall
Associated Press
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Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.

Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.

“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”

While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.