Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Josh Jackson, Frank Mason III lead No. 2 Kansas past No. 4 Kentucky

Leave a comment

Josh Jackson finished 20 points, 10 boards, three assists and two steals – including a layup after an offensive rebound with a minute left to put the Jayhawks up 73-66 – and Frank Mason III added 21 points and four assists as No. 2 Kansas shook off a blowout loss at West Virginia by going into Rupp Arena and knocking off No. 4 Kentucky, 79-73.

The Jayhawks were beaten up for much of the first half, trailing 29-19 at one point and finishing the first 20 minutes without hitting a three-pointer, but Josh Jackson sparked a run early in the second half that gave Kansas the lead.

Derek Willis was Kentucky’s leading scorer, finishing with 18 points, five boards and two blocks and hitting 5-of-6 from three. Malik Monk hit his first five shots of the game, scoring 12 points in the first nine minutes as it looked like he was getting ready to have another monster game, but he would miss his next six shots and didn’t score against until there were three minutes left. Combined, Fox and Monk finished with just 28 points and four assists – the average better than 37 per game – while turning the ball over seven times.

The loss is Kentucky’s second this week, as they fell at Tennessee on Tuesday night.

Here are four things we learned on Saturday afternoon:

1. The Kansas back court gets the attention, but Josh Jackson might be their best player: Look, I love Frank Mason more than just about anyone. I’m on the chairman of the ‘#BIFM for Player of the Year’ committee, but after seeing the way that Jackson played this week, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Jackson isn’t the best player on Kansas.

He was certainly the best player on the floor for the Jayhawks on Saturday. He kept them close in the first half, as Kansas struggled to find any kind of consistency on the offensive end. He hit a pair of threes – both of which, it should be noted, came off of assists from Mason – early in the second half that put Kansas in the lead. He was the matchup nightmare at the four that he needs to be for this Kansas team to be great, and when the Jayhawks went to a zone in the middle of the first half, he was active and meddlesome there as well. And, perhaps most importantly, he grabbed a critical offensive rebound and scored a second-chance bucket with 1:05 left that put Kansas ahead 71-66. That was the back-breaker.

You won’t find a better leader or a better point guard anywhere in the country than Mason, which is why, when Jackson plays like he did tonight, Kansas is so scary.

2. Kansas won this game by playing zone: It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. And it might end up being their best defense this season. Bill Self went to a zone early in the second half as his team was struggling with fouls and with their one-on-one matchups, and it changed the course of the game. Kentucky struggled to break down the defense, whether it was failing to hit their open threes or making poor passes against the zone.

It leads me into my next point …

3. … Landen Lucas outplayed Bam Adebayo: The key matchup in this game was Landen Lucas vs. Bam Adebayo, and, in an upset, Lucas won that battle. Adebayo had ten points and eight boards, but he was just 3-for-7 from the floor (and 4-for-10 from the line) and turned the ball over four times; Lucas had 11 of his 13 points in the second half and, more importantly, played 27 minutes before fouling out with 38.7 seconds left.

Lucas provided a major boost offensively, which was not exactly expected, but it was far from a one-man job on the defensive end of the floor, as the Kansas zone took away Adebayo’s presence in the paint. Kentucky struggled to find ways to get him the ball in places where he could be effective, and when they did, the Jayhawks would swarm him. Adebayo is all power, but that power can be negated by a defense that sends two or three guys at him.

Oddly enough, I think that 2-3 zone may end up being the best defense that the Jayhawks will play this season. Think about it: when they play four guards, they have two terrific at the top in Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and the wins in that zone will be two of Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick and Jackson. Those three and more than enough length and athleticism to contest three-point shooters and compete on the glass. Not only that, but the zone should help save some of the wear-and-tear on the legs of their guards and protect Lucas from getting into foul trouble when he’s isolated on the block.

I don’t, in any way, expect Self to go to it as his primary defense.

But as a change of pace? As something to throw a team like Kentucky off-balance? It’s a great weapon to have in his arsenal.

4. This is why we’ve been talking about the lack of half-court offense for the Wildcats: Kentucky looked like they were ready to blow the doors off of Kansas in the first 10 minutes of this game. They were getting out and running in transition. Monk was hitting everything. They were clicking.

And then Kansas was able to force them into a possession by possession game. With five minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats were up 29-19. They were outscored 56-37 over the next 25 minutes of gametime, and it’s not a coincidence the Kansas run came at a time when Fox and Monk struggled to find ways to score.

Granted, this is Kansas. There’s a reason they entered this game ranked No. 2 in the country. That said, all we’ve done for the last four days is trash the Jayhawk defense. They were 39th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, entering Saturday while Kentucky had the nation’s second-best offense. If the Jayhawks couldn’t win that battle, how are they going to do it against the rest of the nation’s elite teams?

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
1 Comment

Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
2 Comments

Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
3 Comments

Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Leave a comment

South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.