Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

No. 3 Kansas upends No. 4 Baylor

Leave a comment

Landen Lucas hit two free throws with 11.5 seconds left to cap a game-ending, 8-0 run as No. 3 Kansas all-but clinched the outright Big 12 regular season title in Waco on Saturday, winning 67-65.

Frank Mason III played one of his best games of the season, finishing with 23 points and eight assists, consistently getting to the foul line on an afternoon where the rest of the Jayhawks roster wasn’t scoring the ball all that effectively. He was 7-for-12 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.

Johnathan Motley had 19 points, nine boards and four assists for the Bears, but he finished just 8-for-21 from the floor with six turnovers. Lucas, who had eight points, eight boards (seven offensive) and three blocks on the afternoon while playing 31 minutes with four fouls, did an excellent job of keeping the Baylor all-american in check.

With the win, Kansas moved three full games in front of Baylor for first place in the Big 12 with four games remaining, meaning that the Jayhawks have all-but locked up their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.

Here are

1. If Baylor can’t beat Kansas at home, just how worried should we be about the Jayhawk front line?: I’m not sure there is a title contender that relies on more heavily on pounding the rock into the big boys on their front line more than Baylor does. Wisconsin might. Maybe Purdue, as well. Ethan Happ and Caleb Swanigan are Player of the Year candidates and they are decidedly low-post threats, but Baylor is right there in that conversation.

There’s a reason that Motley is Baylor’s all-american candidate. That’s who Scott wants to get the ball to, and we saw it on Saturday. He took 21 shots, he had four assists and he had six turnovers. Factoring in offensive rebounds and free throws, that’s roughly 30 of Baylor’s 65 possessions, or 46.2 percent, that Motley had a hand in.

In theory, that would be a bad sign for Kansas, right? We all know the issue with this team: Lucas is the only big man on the roster that is ready for the level of basketball that we saw on Saturday. Carlton Bragg Jr. may be, but playing him at the five, totally out of position, has hurt his confidence enough as it is. Dwight Coleby may or may not actually be healthy. Mitch Lightfoot is young. Udoka Azubuike’s season is over. And yet, it was Lucas who was the most impressive big man on the floor. His ability to wall up and defend without fouling while also getting to the offensive glass – again, without fouling – is the difference between Kansas being good and Kansas being disappointing.

Which brings me back to the initial point: If Kansas isn’t affected by their lack on interior depth playing on the road against a top five team, when are they going to be affected by their lack of interior depth?

Yes, I know, Kansas is one sprained ankle or a couple of bad whistles away from being without Lucas, but it’s not like you can plan for that. They’re probably screwed if Mason or Josh Jackson sprains an ankle in the tournament just like UCLA is screwed if Lonzo Ball twists an ankle and Kentucky is screwed if Malik Monk fouls out of a game with 10 minutes left.

As far as the things that you can plan for, Kansas looks better than fine.

2. Kansas is the most battle-tested team in America: The Jayhawks have won 12 games in the Big 12. Nine of them are by seven points or less. Seven are by five points or less. They came from 14 points down in the final three minutes to beat West Virginia. They won at Baylor in a game they trailed by 12. They beat Kentucky on the road by six points. They beat Duke by two. They lost to Indiana in overtime.

Some of that is luck – Svi’s travel against Kansas State, the legal illegal screen at Texas Tech – but a lot of it is some combination of talent, mental toughness and Bill Self. The bottom-line is this: No one will be more prepared to handle a close game in March than Kansas because no one has been through more this season than the Jayhawks.

3. Turnovers, transition defense killed Baylor: That’s where this game was lost. The Bears were up by 12 late in the first half and had control of the game early in the second half, but six turnovers in the first ten minutes of the second half helped turn things around. At one point, Kansas went on an 11-0 run to turn a six-point deficit into a five-point lead, and that run was almost entirely a result of the Kansas transition game.

Turnovers have been an issue for this team all season long, which is what happens when your starting point guard is a converted shooting guard. On the season, Baylor ranks 287th nationally in turnover percentage, and on Saturday, they turned the ball over on 16 of their 65 possessions, just under 25 percent.

4. Scott Drew probably got the last play wrong, which is why people make ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes: I don’t know what was drawn up on the final possession by Baylor. I wasn’t in the huddle. What I do know, however, is that after Drew called a timeout with 8.5 seconds left to draw up a play, the ball ended up in Manu Lecomte’s hands.

Lecomte has been one of the more clutch players in the country this season, but today was different because Lecomte had hurt his leg earlier in the game and did not have much burst. He was limping around on defense and sent two jumpers careening off the back board earlier in the half. The final possession of the game ended up with Lecomte taking an off-balance 18-footer between two Kansas defenders, a shot that never really had a chance.

It’s plays like that that get people making jokes about Drew and his ability to coach, which isn’t entirely fair. Everyone gets it wrong from time to time, especially when Bill Self is the man on the other sideline, and it doesn’t take into account the fact that the Jayhawk defense took Baylor out of what they wanted to do. He’s a favorite for National Coach of the Year, but people still make those same, played out, can’t coach jokes. If you’re wondering why, there you go.

5. 13 straight Big 12 titles: It’s not officially official yet, but it’s done.

13 straight.

There are going to be kids heading to high school next year that have never known a world where Kansas hasn’t won the Big 12 regular season title.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

Leave a comment

Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
3 Comments

Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

YouTube
Leave a comment

Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.