Rob Dauster

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Josh Jackson, No. 3 Kansas outlasts No. 2 Baylor

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Josh Jackson finished with a career-high 23 points and 11 boards and Frank Mason added 17 points and five assists in an off-night as No. 3 Kansas protected their home floor and gave themselves the inside track to winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular season with a 73-68 win over No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday.

Landen Lucas was terrific for the Jayhawks, finishing with 11 boards and two huge baskets over Baylor’s massive front line late in the second half.

Johnathan Motley had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, but Kansas did an excellent job of taking him away down the stretch. Manu Lecomte added 16 points for the Bears, who turned the ball over with 1.3 seconds left in a game that they trailed 71-68.

Here are five things we can take away from this game:

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Manu Lecomte #20 of the Baylor Bearspasses as Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks defends during the game at Allen Fieldhouse on February 1, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

1. Josh Jackson is officially the best player on Kansas: I’m not sure it’s much of an argument anymore, either. He had 23 points, 11 boards and two blocks on Wednesday. He shot 8-for-13 from the floor and hit a pair of threes. He spent much of the game defensively dealing with the much larger Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil, a pair of seven-footers that wanted nothing more than to bully Jackson as much as they could, and he more than held his own. Acuil had just 10 points and eight boards while Motley was totally ineffective in the second half.

What’s more is that the Jayhawks just finished the toughest three-game stretch of their season, and possibly of anyone’s season. They played at West Virginia, at Kentucky and at home to Baylor, going 2-1 in three games against top ten KenPom teams. Jackson, in those three games, averaged 21.7 points, 8.0 boards and 2.7 assists while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and 61.6 percent from three. The difference on Wednesday was that Jackson was totally locked-in on both ends of the floor. Against West Virginia, he just wasn’t good defensively. That was not the case against Baylor.

At this point, he’s absolutely played himself into the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and is almost certainly going to end up being a top five pick.

Frank Mason III is still the Kansas MVP. He’s the emotional leader of that group. He’s the guy who makes the important decisions and will get shots on the most important possessions. He’s our leader for National Player of the Year for a reason.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s no longer the best player on Kansas.

2. If anyone still doubts Baylor, you should stop: If going into Phog Allen and putting together this kind of a performance doesn’t sell you on the idea that the Bears can get to a Final Four and are the only threat to the Jayhawks in the race for the Big 12 title, nothing well.

You don’t win in Phog Allen. You just don’t. And Baylor had the ball with a chance to tie on their final possession in a game where they were outshot from the free throw line by 21 foul shots. And yes, Kansas has been challenged in that building before. No, it’s not always by a good team. (See: State, Kansas.) But when you combine the fact that A) Baylor has arguably the best résumé in the sport, B) is considered by just about every metric to be one of the nation’s elite teams and C) they put together this kind of a performance in that building, even the most diabolical hater west of the Mississippi will struggle to nitpick them.

So I ask you, in all seriousness, if you don’t believe in this Baylor team by now: What else do you need to see?

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. #0 and Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears watch a loose ball during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 1, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

3. The zone is here to stay: For the second straight games against a fellow Final Four contender, Bill Self’s zone defense changed the game in the second half. The Jayhawks didn’t play strictly zone – there were possessions of man-to-man thrown in there as well – but I’m not sure there’s a way to justify not playing it. We’ve been over the reasons why it works for Kansas numerous times by now, but to recap: It protects Landen Lucas, who is essentially the only big man on the roster; it saves the legs of the Jayhawk guards, who are being asked to play crazy amounts of minutes; and, with the length, athleticism and mobility of their wings, it’s actually pretty effective defense, especially if Josh Jackson is going to get double-digit rebounds.

4. Landen Lucas was awesome: He finished with 11 boards, four offensive, and five points, but his numbers don’t do his impact on this game justice. After a first half where Motley gave the Jayhawks 14 points and six boards, Lucas turned in a stalwart performance in the paint. He changed shots at the rim. He cleaned the defensive glass. He got his hands on passes in the lane. What Kansas needs out of him more than anything else is for him to be big, tough and physical in the paint without fouling, and he played that role to perfection Wednesday.

And that wasn’t it. Lucas had two huge baskets down the stretch and, on the final possession, played terrific defense on not one, but two ball-screens, helping to force the game-clinching turnover.

5a. Baylor is still winless in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in program history: They’re 0-14 in the building since joining the then-Big Eight in 1996, but that’s not uncommon. The Jayhawks don’t lose at home, not under Bill Self. He is now 9-0 at home in games against top five teams. Hell, Self has lost nine games in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in his 14-year career as the head coach at Kansas. To put that into perspective, Baylor head coach Scott Drew has now lost 10 games at Phog Allen.

5b. Maybe there’s a reason for that: Kansas shot 27 free throws. Baylor shot six. I guess the Jayhawks just play harder …

VIDEO: Indiana’s Josh Newkirk forces OT with controversial buzzer-beater

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Indiana, a team that owns wins over No. 3 Kansas and No. 12 North Carolina, needed three overtimes and a career-high 31 points and 11 boards from Thomas Bryant to get past Penn State at home on Wednesday night.

Penn State is 12-11 on the season.

A loss would have been all kinds of disastrous for Indiana, even if it came without O.G. Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. It would have put them in a situation where getting into the NCAA tournament would be a real question mark – it still may be – and the flame under Tom Crean’s seat would have only gotten hotter.

And while the Hoosiers survived, did they deserve it?

At the end of the first overtime, Josh Newkirk scored on a buzzer-beating layup that tied the game and forced a second overtime. The shot was as close to coming after the buzzer as humanly possible.

Here’s the video:

And here’s a screengrab of the moment when the ball finally left his fingertips:

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-10-23-19-pm

You make the call. Should this basket have counted?

Bubble Banter: All of tonight’s bubble action in one spot

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To see the latest NBC Sports bracket projection, click here. The seedings listed below are from this bracket. 

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 90, KenPom: 55, bubble): Wins over Wake Forest and Florida State last week put Syracuse back into the conversation. Adding a win over another bubble team in N.C. State on the road helps, too. It’s the first true road win for the Orange. They still have a lot of work to do to make up for the losses to UConn, St. John’s and Boston College, but if this team has figured it out – and if John Gillon keeps doing what he did on Wednesday – Syracuse has the horses to make a run at this. They play four games against Virginia, Duke and Louisville the rest of the year and three of them come at home.

Indiana (RPI: 79, KenPom: 40, No. 7 seed): The Hoosiers avoided what would have been a disastrous loss at home against Penn State, taking home a thrilling, triple-overtime win despite playing without James Blackmon Jr., who is dealing with a “lower leg injury”. Indiana is in a weird spot. They have two phenomenal wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but both of those wins came with O.G. Anunoby in the lineup; he’s out for the year with a knee injury. Without Anunoby, they haven’t been overly impressive, and they still have to play a monster schedule down the stretch: five of their remaining eight – and four of their final five – games are on the road, and they play Purdue twice and at Wisconsin.

TCU (RPI: 49, KenPom: 42, play-in game): The Horned Frogs picked up a critical road win on Wednesday, going into Manhattan and knocking off Kansas State in overtime. It’s their first road win over a team not named Texas and just their fourth top 100 win of the season. The biggest obstacle for TCU right now is a lack of quality wins. If they can simply protect their home court the rest of Big 12 play, they should be in a good spot on Selection Sunday.

VCU (RPI: 31, KenPom: 45, play-in game): VCU is in a tougher spot than they are used to being in. After beating just one top 50 opponent in the non-conference – Middle Tennessee State – the Rams are playing out a conference slate in a league that isn’t exactly loaded with marquee wins. With losses to Davison and Fordham already, it would behoove VCU to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.

Clemson (RPI: 41, KenPom: 31, first four out): Clemson had a rough start to ACC play, but the computers love them. After beating Georgia Tech – a better win than you may realize – on Wednesday, they now have eight top 65 wins to go with three top 35 wins, two of which came on the road.

Arkansas (RPI: 29, KenPom: 52, No. 8 seed): The Razorbacks are in a pretty good spot right now. They have a pair of top 50 road wins and, sitting at 17-5 on the season, have just one bad loss, at home to Mississippi State. Beating Alabama at home, another top 100 win, certainly helps their cause.

Wichita State (RPI: 78, KenPom: 20, first four out): The Shockers avoided what would have been an awful loss to Drake, coming back from eight points down in the second half to win. I don’t think Wichita State can afford another loss in league play and still be able to get an at-large bid.

Illinois State (RPI: 37, KenPom: 38, No. 10 seed): The Redhawks are in a slightly better position than Wichita State, but the fact remains that the Missouri Valley has the look of a one-bid league this season. It would behoove ISU to lose to no one other that the Shockers.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23: Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives in for a dunk as time expires during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

LOSERS

N.C. State (RPI: 61, KenPom: 81, No. 11 seed): The Wolfpack landed a massive win at Duke last Monday that thrust them back into the discussion for an at-large bid. They backed that up by getting dropped by 25 points at Louisville and blowing a 17-point second half lead and losing to Syracuse at home. The loss to Louisville is one thing. Dropping a winnable game against an underperforming Syracuse team? That one is going to hurt.

Kansas State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wildcats looked like a safe bet to dance two weeks ago, and they looked like one of the nation’s most underrated team when they were 15-4 on the season with a pair of losses due to tough-luck calls in the final seconds. Since then, they’ve lost three in a row to bubble teams and now sit here in early February with just two wins over the RPI top 125.

Texas Tech (RPI: 71, KenPom: 41, No. 11 seed): The quickest way for a Big 12 team to kill their standing on the bubble is to lose to Texas. Texas Tech … lost to Texas. That’s not a good look for a team with just three top 50 wins.

Marquette (RPI: 53, KenPom: 32, No. 9 seed): Marquette beat Creighton on the road and Villanova at home in back-to-back games to put themselves in a position were comfortably on the right side of the bubble. They followed that up with a home loss to Providence and, on Wednesday, a 14-point loss at St. John’s. Back to the bubble it is.

Miami (RPI: 62, KenPom: 33, bubble): Miami fell at home to No. 15 Florida State tonight. It wasn’t the most flattering performance – they lost by 18 – and it will help folks to forget that they’re just four days removed from dominating North Carolina at home. But a loss to a top 15 team anywhere is never going to be a big deal, but missing out on an opportunity to get a win like that at home does make their margin for error in a conference as tough as the ACC just that much more difficult.

Seton Hall (RPI: 42, KenPom: 58, No. 11 seed): The Pirates had a chance to land a really nice road win over Xavier, who was playing their first game without Edmond Sumner. Seton Hall has just two top 100 wins. Later this month, they play three straight home games against Villanova, Creighton and Xavier. Winning two of those would be ideal.

Georgia Tech (RPI: 60, KenPom: 71, No. 11 seed): The Yellow Jackets missed out on a chance to bolster their résumé on Wednesday, losing at Clemson, but a road loss to a top 50 team isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Virginia Tech (RPI: 39, KenPom: 51, No. 8 seed): It’s hard to be too critical of anyone for losing at No. 9 Virginia.

 

VIDEO: 2018 prospect Zion Williamson can fly

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Zion Williamson, the No. 2 ranked player in the Class of 2018, is one of the best athletes you’ll see at the high school level.

Don’t believe me?

Watch this:

@zionlw10 Simply amazing.

A post shared by JBG Motion (@jbgmotion) on

Report: Carlton Bragg reaches diversion agreement over drug paraphernalia charge

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Carlton Bragg Jr.’s latest legal saga appears to be coming to a conclusion.

According to the Kansas City Star, Bragg has entered into a diversion agreement over a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. A diversion agreement is, essentially, a set of terms that a defendant must comply to for a certain amount of time to get the charge against him dismissed. The details of Bragg’s agreement were not available.

Bragg was charged after University of Kansas police discovered two glass smoking devices with residue during an investigation into the alleged rape of a 16-year old girl in McCarthy Hall, the building where the Kansas basketball players live. He was suspended indefinitely from the team last Thursday, two days before Kansas visited Baylor.

The No. 3 Jayhawks host No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday night.

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Report: NCAA upholds ruling against Donnie Tyndall

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Donnie Tyndall’s efforts to appeal his 10-year show-cause penalty have been denied, according to a report from USA Today.

The penalty is the result the NCAA finding that Tyndall, while the head coach at Southern Miss, had directed staff members to commit academic fraud while trying to get incoming recruits eligible to play and that he made payments to academic non-qualifiers who were not on scholarship.

Tyndall filed an appeal with the NCAA Infractions Committee stating, essentially, that his penalty, one of the most severe ever given out by the NCAA, was the result of one witness that had lied to them after the NCAA had granted him immunity.

Tyndall is currently coaching in the D-League.