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_

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.