Elijah Johnson

No. 3 Kansas wins at No. 11 Kansas State, their 16th straight victory


With Missouri out of the picture and (struggling to beat South Carolina) in the SEC, Kansas is looking for a new rival in the Big 12.

Enter Kansas State, who has had as much success as any other program in the conference over the past five or six years. Tonight’s matchup, which featured two of the top 11 teams in the country, was billed as the Sunflower Showdown by most parties heading into the game.

Only, it’s tough to have a game be considered a rivalry when one team is clearly little brother. Kansas has now won 45 of their last 48 games against the Wildcats, including 23 of their last 25 in Bramlage Coliseum, after a 59-55 win on Tuesday night.

Travis Releford led the way for the Jayhawks with 12 points, while Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey both chipped in with 11. Both McLemore and Withey battled foul trouble.

No. 3 Kansas has now won 16 straight games since losing to Michigan State in the Champions Classic in the second game of the season. They are not necessarily doing it in the prettiest manner — the Jayhawks needed a last-second, banked-in three from McLemore to force overtime at home against Iowa State and then had to dig themselves out of an 11 point second half hole at Texas on Saturday — but they just keep winning.

And that’s not to say that there aren’t concerns with this group. Elijah Johnson is talented, but he’s playing out of position at the point guard spot. The problem? He’s still a better option that Naadir Tharpe, who’s not yet ready to take over the point guard spot full-time. Kansas is also looking to find a secondary scorer alongside McLemore. Releford does the majority of his work spotting up on the perimeter and getting out and scoring in transition. Jeff Withey’s improved offensively, but it’s still a bit of an adventure when he gets the ball on the block. Even McLemore, as talented as he is, has a tendency to let the game come to him.

The result?

Too many possessions that end up with the ball in Johnson’s hands as he looks to create, which, again, is not exactly his forte.

But Kansas just keeps winning.

And I have a theory why.

There may not be a team in the country that is better at executing the sets that their head coach calls than Kansas. While there are some issues with the talent level and there is a lack of creators offensively on the roster, the bottom-line is that, when Kansas does what Bill Self asks them to, they can get shots within the flow of their offense.

With a defense that is as good as ever, the Jayhawks don’t necessarily need to have a roster full of lottery picks. They don’t need to score 100 point on a nightly basis to win.

They do enough to get by.

So far, it’s working.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.