Kansas State v Kansas

Kansas proves losing streak was a result of confidence issues

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Kansas was never “not good enough”.

The three game losing streak they battled through? That embarrassing loss to TCU? Their first three game losing streak since 2005? Their first losing streak — period — since 2006?

That was never a result of Kansas being bad or Kansas being anything other than the Big 12 favorite and a Final Four contender. We knew Kansas was flawed at the beginning of the season. We knew they would be forced to use an out-of-position Elijah Johnson or an overmatched Naadir Tharpe at the point, and we knew that Ben McLemore would take time to embrace the role of go-to scorer.

If anything, the 18 game winning streak that the Jayhawks were able to put together is a testament to how well Bill Self can coach and just how good this team can be defensively.

On Monday night, Kansas proved that as they jumped out to a 36-16 first half lead en route to an 83-62 pasting of Kansas State, an in-state rival that just so happened to enter Phog Allen with sole possession of first place in the Big 12.

It was, quite frankly, a sensational performance from the Jayhawks, and precisely the kind of offensive explosion that they needed to give them the confidence that they aren’t nearly as bad as they have played over the past ten days. Ben McLemore had 30 points on 9-13 shooting from the floor. Jeff Withey finished with 17 points, 10 boards and five blocks. Kevin Young had 13 points and nine boards doing prototypical Kevin Young things. Naadir Tharpe played the best basketball of his Kansas career in the first half, where he finished with seven points, six assists and not a single turnover. And as a team, the Jayhawks made Kansas State look downright inept offensively for the first 15 minutes.

That was a glimpse of just how good this group can be when it call comes together.

But there are also plenty of red flags that should keep Jayhawk fans from getting too high after this win.

For starters, Johnson is still playing poorly. He was 1-6 from the field with three assists and four turnovers in 28 minutes despite playing the majority of his time on the floor at the off-guard spot. The 27 minutes that Tharpe played were the most he’s logged since the season-opener. And after a terrific start to the game, Tharpe looked fairly normal in the second half. He missed his last five shots and had just two assists and a turnover in the final 20 minutes.

Ben McLemore scored those 30 points on 13 shots, the majority of which were in transition or on catch-and-shoot threes. He’s still an uber-efficiency piece within a system, go a true go-to player that can create his own shots in isolation. The Jayhawks still have some serious depth issues, as Tharpe is really the only non-starter ready to contribute major minutes.

All those inherent issues that Kansas had at the start of the season? All the problems that were magnified as the Jayhawks played three consecutive games without confidence and with the toughness of a lily pad?

They are still there.

Kansas is still the same team they were in November and the same team they were in January and the same team they were against TCU.

Kansas State caught the Jayhawks at the wrong time. They won’t be this good every night.

But this should be enough to prove to anyone thinking that Kansas was somehow no longer the best team in the Big 12 that this is Bill Self’s conference to lose.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.

VIDEO: UNCW maintains two-game lead atop CAA standings

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Early in Colonial Athletic Association play, multiple teams made cases for themselves as contenders for the regular season title. But in recent weeks a clear favorite has emerged: UNCW. Kevin Keatts’s team won its 20th game of the season Saturday afternoon, moving to 12-2 in CAA play, with a 78-68 win over James Madison on NBC Sports Network.

The Seahawks, who have now won 11 straight games, were led offensively by Craig Ponder, who scored a team-high 19 points with Chris Flemmings adding 17 and 11 rebounds and Jordon Talley’s 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. UNCW shot just over 39 percent from the field, but they outscored James Madison 30-12 from beyond the arc and forced 17 JMU turnovers.

James Madison played without a key cog in leading scorer Ron Curry, who suffered a knee injury in the Dukes’ win at Charleston Thursday night. Tom Vodanovich scored 17 points and Winston Grays 15 for the Dukes, who are now 19-8 overall and 9-5 in CAA play.