Texas Tech v Kansas

Elijah Johnson becoming the point guard Bill Self wanted

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After a loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2, Kansas coach Bill Self famously said that the Jayhawks didn’t possess a point guard on their roster.

It was shot at the less-than-stellar play of Elijah Johnson.

“We don’t have a point guard,” Self told the Topeka Capital-Journal after the game. “It’s sad. […] We were definitely a better team with (Johnson) sitting down next to us and putting somebody else in the game.”

That was building up all season for Self and Johnson. The senior had had decent games, but seemed to lack the basketball IQ to play the point for the Jayhawks. It didn’t get any better for a few games after that. In fact, it got worse. Johnson registered no more than four assists in the next six games and at least four fouls or three turnovers in at least five of those games.

But then came the Iowa State game and the monster 39-point, seven-assist effort that almost single-handedly pulled Kansas up and out with a win in Hilton Coliseum. Although Johnson’s game-finishing slam dunk was frowned upon (and booed upon) by fans and some media members alike, it almost seemed cathartic for Johnson, who had struggled to live up to Self’s expectations.

Without much publicity, he’s only become more of a point guard over the last two games for Self and Kansas.

In the Jayhawks’ 79-42 blowout home win over Texas Tech on Monday night, Johnson went for just seven points, but dished out 12 assists with only two turnovers and no fouls. The game comes after a 10-assist night in the team’s 91-65 rout of West Virginia on Saturday.

It’s Johnson’s first back-to-back assist games of the season and third overall this year.

The senior’s reputation has never been as a facilitator. Partly because he hasn’t had to be and partly because that’s not his game. But recently, albeit against two far inferior teams, Johnson has evolved into that role. He’s averaging 4.7 assists per game this year.

But even with that in perspective, it’s progress. With Jeff Withey proving to be one of the better low-post finishers in the nation and Ben McLemore cementing himself more and more as an NBA Draft Lottery pick in June, there’s room for Johnson to play the floor general role and defer the points to his teammates.

Looking back, Johnson is at his best in some big games when passing more this season. He had nine assists in wins over potential NCAA Tournament teams St. Louis, Temple and Belmont, along with a 10-assist game in a home overtime win over Iowa State.

So maybe he’s not Michael Carter-Williams, but Johnson doesn’t have to be. But heading into the Big Dance with Kansas as a prime candidate for a no. 1 seed, Johnson becoming somewhat of a distributor might be the role he best fits to keep the Jayhawks in line with their own expectations: A deep run into March and possibly April.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim makes TV appearance to talk Carmelo Anthony

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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has drawn attention for some recent comments about former Orange star Carmelo Anthony.

After Anthony captured his record third gold medal with USA Basketball, his former college coach told Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard that Anthony didn’t have a great chance at winning an NBA title.

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

Boeheim maintains that he was speaking of Melo’s legacy being about more than an NBA title and that he’s one of the game’s greats thanks to other accomplishments like the Syracuse title and gold medals. On SportsCenter, Boeheim made sure to stress where those comments were coming from, while also making sure his kids would stop being mad at him.

It’s much easier to understand where Boeheim is coming from in this instance and it clears up something that will probably go away now.

Big Ten releases conference schedule

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Big Ten released its 2016-17 conference schedule on Thursday as the conference season begins on Dec. 27 with a four-game set.

Conference play will conclude on March 5th before the 20th annual Big Ten Tournament is played at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. from March 8-12.

Some notable games include Penn State hosting Michigan State at the Palestra on Jan. 7.

You can view the full Big Ten schedule here.

Arizona’s Talbott Denny injures knee, out for season

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona senior forward Talbott Denny will miss the season after tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee.

The school said Wednesday that the 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Lipscomb will have surgery.

Denny, from Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School, missed all of last season at Lipscomb because of a shoulder injury.

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.