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Kelly Oubre ‘solidified’ starting spot for Kansas

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Kelly Oubre has finally broken through for No. 13 Kansas.

The uber-talented small forward went for 20 points, scoring 16 in the first half, as the Jayhawks knocked off Kent State on Tuesday night. That came 10 days after he had 23 points and 10 boards in a win over Lafayette.

Oubre has done enough, according to head coach Bill Self, that he has “solidified” his role as the starting small forward for the Jayhawks. That’s a big deal. Oubre is the most talented wing on the Kansas roster, and getting him on the floor for 30 minutes a night would go a long way towards curing some of the Jayhawk ills this season.

Now to focus turns to Cliff Alexander, another supremely talented freshman that has gone through massive scoring and effort droughts this season. Alexander scored eight points in the second half, sparking a run that put the game away on Tuesday. But before that he had been more or less irrelevant for the last three games. Self provided some insight why after the game. From the Kansas City Star:

On Tuesday, Self opted to start junior forward Jamari Traylor instead of Alexander, and in the first minute after his freshman power forward entered the game, Self called for his team to run a simple play off a free throw.

“He just gets back and doesn’t even run it,” Self said. “He’s only been in there for one minute — why wouldn’t he have effort to go make that play? I think that’s just kind of the stuff. It’s just consistency to go do it.”

If you don’t run what coach wants you to run, that’s an easy way to find yourself buried on the bench.

New Year’s Resolutions: Kansas Jayhawks

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Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

KANSAS PROMISES TO: Play their best players the majority of the minutes.

  • It will happen because: Bill Self isn’t stupid. He hasn’t won a decade’s worth of consecutive Big 12 titles by accident. He’s as good of a coach as there is in the country, and he understands what he needs to get out of his guys if the Jayhawks are going to be real Final Four contenders. If that means that he has to limit minutes early on for guys like Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre while he drives home the importance of things like offensive execution and attention to detail defensively, than that’s what he’ll do. Remember, Kansas has not yet played their best, and they’ve beaten Utah, Michigan State, Florida and Georgetown in D.C.
  • But it might not because: There’s no guarantee that those guys ever get to a place where they’re as good as they’re expected to be. These are college freshmen, 19-year olds that have a long, long way to go in their basketball careers. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Wayne Selden’s left-hand, Alexander’s awareness or Oubre’s knowledge of defensive rotations. This is a by-product of recruiting guys that will only be on campus for a year or two.

KANSAS ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Continue to get beaten up in the paint.

  • It will happen because: Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but one of the biggest issues that Kansas has had this season has been the play of their big men around the rim. Some stats: They’re 310th nationally in how often their two-points attempts get blocked (13.5 percent), they’re 287th in the country in two-point field goal percentage and they’re allowing opponents to grab 30.5 percent of the available offensive rebounds. With the number of title contenders with powerful front lines, that’s a concern, one Self will no doubt make a point of emphasis. Alexander’s growth should help in that regard.
  • But it might not because: As good as Perry Ellis and Alexander are, they’re never going to be as bigas opposing front lines. At some point, it is what it is, which is why Self has publicly discussed playing someone like Oubre, Brannen Greene or Svi Mykhailiuk at the four. If you’re going to get beat up inside, you might as well tryto create mismatches at the other end of the floor while you’re at it.

Self says No. 10 Kansas is ‘not good right now’, and that should scare you

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bill Self is not happy with where his Kansas team is a month into the season.

Not even close.

And to understand that, you really don’t have to look much farther than who is currently starting for the Jayhawks. Svi Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 wing from Ukraine with a ton of potential, might be the best NBA prospect in the Kansas program, but he’s also a 17-year old living in the United States for the first time. As head coach Bill Self likes to say, “he’s pretty good for a high school junior.” At center, Landen Lucas has been starting of late, and as one longtime scout told me recently of Lucas, “I’m not convinced he’s more than a low-major player.”

While those two get major minutes for the Jayhawks, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, two top 10 recruits and projected lottery picks, come off the bench. Alexander has been a major part of the rotation, but Oubre? He played 16 minutes on Wednesday night, which was his season-high. He had logged 23 total minutes the previous four games.

“We’re not good right now,” Self said. “I think we have the potential to be good because we’re so young. We’re just trying to figure it out. We don’t know where our shots are coming from consistently. We don’t know who to play through at times. Sometimes Frank [Mason] is the best player on our team. Sometimes Wayne [Selden] is. Sometimes Perry [Ellis] is. We haven’t quite figured it out yet.”

And that should terrify you.

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MOREGeorgetown made a poignant political statement Wednesday

Because while you’re still hung up on that 32-point shellacking that No. 10 Kansas took at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky during the Champions Classic, what you may not have noticed is that over the course of the last five days, the Jayhawks have landed a pair of wins that you rarely see young, still-learning teams earn.

On Wednesday night, Kansas went into the Verizon Center and knocked off Georgetown, 75-70, in a game that the Jayhawks seemed primed to lose. Kansas was up by as much as 12 in the first half, and while they kept making runs during the final 20 minutes, they were never really able to get separation from the Hoyas. Georgetown always had an answer, whether it was in the form of an L.J. Peak three, a pair of low-post buckets from Josh Smith or an easy transition layup created by the defensive play-making of Mikael Hopkins.

This had Georgetown-steals-a-win-at-home written all over it, but Kansas, when they needed to make a play, made it.

“It was a toughness win,” said Brannen Greene, who finished with a career-high 19 points, hitting 5-for-5 from three. That included a trio of massive threes in the second half, the last of which pushed the Kansas lead to 68-63 with less than three minutes left. “We grinded it out.”

“We didn’t play great, but I thought we competed pretty hard. We won some important possessions,” Self said. “When we had to have a good possession, we got a good possession.”

Georgetown’s record may not show it, but that’s a very good basketball team. By the end of the season, don’t be surprised to see them sitting in the top 20 of the national polls and slotted right behind Villanova in the Big East standings.

Now let’s rewind to last Friday, when the Jayhawks hosted an underwhelming and undermanned Florida team and proceeded to get absolutely run out of the gym for the first 24 minutes. At one point early in the second half, Kansas was down 45-27. It was ugly. Everyone in Phog Allen Fieldhouse was getting ready to write off any chance of winning an 11th straight Big 12 title, and every writer on press row was prepping to write their ‘Will Kansas ever turn this around?’ column.

And then, all of a sudden, the Jayhawks woke up, attacking the rim, hitting open threes and pounding the glass as they completed a massive comeback, winning 71-65.

“It was just like Jekyll-and-Hyde the first half and second,” Self said.

Bad teams don’t do that.

They don’t erase 18-point second half deficits against NCAA tournament teams coached by a Hall of Famer, regardless of how banged up they are. They don’t hold on to beat quality opponents on the road when they commit 17 turnovers. They don’t do things like win the Orlando Classic, which Kansas did last month, and beat Michigan State in the process.

Right now, at this very moment in time, Kansas is a good basketball team. Good enough to win the Big 12? Probably not. Good enough to make the Final Four? Doubtful. But they’re good enough to play less than their best and do the things that good teams do.

So what happens when they do play their best?

What happens when Alexander and Oubre fully get the hang of what Self is looking for out of his star freshmen? What happens when Oubre gets the hang of where he’s supposed to be defensively? What happens when Selden irons out his inconsistencies? What happens when all-Big 12 forward Ellis goes back to being the guy you always forget about because there’s just so much talent around him?

They’re starting to get there. You can see it with the touches Cliff gets and the confidence that Selden is starting to build back up. You can see it with Oubre, who attacked the basket off of ball-screens quite a bit on Wednesday. Perhaps more telling is that after blowing a defensive rotation — he was late on help-side and allowed Smith to catch an over-the-top pass in the post for a dunk — Oubre was yanked, yelled at on the bench … and put right back into the game a minute later.

The future is bright for Kansas, and the future will be here sooner than you realize.

If Kansas keeps moving in the direction they’re currently moving, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

Brannen Greene, Kelly Oubre show up in No. 10 Kansas’ win at Georgetown

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WASHINGTON — Brannen Greene led the way with a career-high 19 points off the bench, and Frank Mason chipped in with 14 points and three assists as No. 10 Kansas survived every punch that Georgetown had to throw on Wednesday night. The Jayhawks went on a 7-0 run in the final minute to take home a 75-70 win.

The Hoyas dug themselves a hole early in the game, trailing by as much as 12 points, but a 15-2 run late in the half got Georgetown the lead. The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with Georgetown answering every run that Kansas had in them, but a turnover from Josh Smith, who finished with 20 points, and a contested three from D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who finished 3-for-15 from the floor, ended up costing Georgetown.

The story of the game for Kansas had to do with two wings who, to this point in the season, had been less than impressive. Kelly Oubre played the most minutes of his collegiate career, and while he was just 1-for-5 from the floor, he finished with seven points and actually looked like he was starting to figure out what he’s doing. He put in more effort on the defensive end of the floor and was involved offensively, getting involved in some screen and roll actions and making a difference with his ability off the dribble.

Greene was the hero, however, hitting a trio of wide-open threes late in the game. The 19 points he scored were a career high, and he hit all five of his three-point attempts.

There has always been talent on the Kansas roster. The slow start to the season had everything to do with finding a way to get that talent involved and bought in, and Wednesday’s win over a better-than-you-think Georgetown team on the road is a very good win.

Kansas’ highly regarded freshman guard ‘trying to figure it out’

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One question that’s been asked on multiple occasions thus far has been what’s going on with Kansas freshman guard Kelly Oubre. A McDonald’s All-American who finished his high school career at Findlay Prep, Oubre was expected to hit the ground running immediately upon his arrival in Lawrence. Unfortunately for Oubre that hasn’t been the case, as he’s averaging 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in 7.8 minutes of action per game.

With those paltry numbers many have wondered if Oubre is headed towards a freshman campaign that fails to meet expectations, but Kansas head coach Bill Self isn’t among those people. Thursday in his press conference ahead of the Jayhawks’ game against Florida, Oubre’s start to the season was one of the topics the head coach discussed according to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.

In six games, Oubre is averaging just 2.2 points per game while committing seven turnovers. In limited action, his play has been marked by a state of awkward hesitancy.

“He’s been better in practice than he has been in the games, but he’s still not comfortable yet,” Self said. “He’s a thinker and not a reactor yet. He hasn’t played to his athletic ability in practice like he will. He’s just trying to figure it out.”

Different players progress at different rates, which is something that tends to be forgotten in this current “one and done” era. Elite freshmen are expected to show up on campus ready to roll from the start, going on a one-man tour de force through their team’s schedule before walking up to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand in late-June.

And when that doesn’t happen, the questions and backlash (as if the player placed himself atop the ratings and pre-draft boards) roll in.

Oubre’s a very talented player whose college career hasn’t gotten off to the start envisioned. But he just needs to stay the course and heed the words of his head coach; there’s still plenty of basketball to be played this season.

After getting embarrassed by No. 1 Kentucky, where does No. 5 Kansas go from here?

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INDIANAPOLIS — To get an idea of just how bad things were for No. 5 Kansas on Tuesday night, you don’t have to look at the box score.

Ignore the fact that the Jayhawks shot 19.6% from the floor, and the 3-for-23 that they shot in the second half. Look past the 72-40 beat down that was put on them at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky. Ignore the fact that the two point guards on the Kansas roster combined to shoot 1-for-12 with zero assists or that the Jayhawks had as many shots blocked — 11 — as they did field goals made.

All you need to do is look at Bill Self’s opening statement at his postgame press conference, as he took a swig from the water bottle left at the podium for him by the Champions Classic staff.

“I was hoping that was vodka,” Self said.

It was one of those nights.

MORE: If Michigan State can’t land elite talent, can they still be ‘elite’?

The video of the start of Bill Self’s press conference has since gone viral, and while it’s fun to laugh at and make jokes about — everyone knows bourbon is a much better way to shake off a horrid loss on national television than vodka — it’s important to note that Bill Self’s frustration with this team is rooted in the fact that they have a long, long way to go if they’re going to win their 11th straight Big 12 title.

Where do we start?

How about on the offensive end of the floor, where the numbers don’t necessarily tell you the whole story. The problem wasn’t that Kansas couldn’t hit a shot to save their life, it’s that they weren’t even getting clean looks at the rim. Outside of one gorgeous set play that got Svi Mykhailiuk a wide-open three midway through the first half, I cannot remember one instance where Kansas got a good shot in the flow of their offense.

The problem with that is that Kansas just isn’t good enough right now to be able to win games when their offense gets bogged down. Kelly Oubre has yet to find his footing at the college level,Wayne Selden’s confidence seems to be in the gutter and Cliff Alexander is still at a point where he’s all effort and athleticism with minimal skill.

For all the hype and promise that Alexander had coming into the season, what was glossed over repeatedly was the fact that Alexander’s success at the high school level was largely the result of being able to overpower defenders that weren’t as big or as strong or as powerful as him. Kentucky’s front line is. The Texas front line is. The best of the best at this level can match Alexander’s physical gifts, and they can do so while standing an inch or two taller.

Alexander is still learning how to be a scorer, not just a dunker.

RELATED: The only team keeping Kentucky from 40-0 is … Kentucky?

The issues currently plaguing Oubre and Selden are a bit different. Oubre had some moments on the offensive end of Tuesday, starting after he played just four minutes in the opener, but he also picked up two fouls in the first 2:33 of the game and spent the majority of his time on the floor looking lost on the defensive end. Selden is a bull-in-a-china shop, a physical off-guard that can overpower defenders, but as of now, he seems to heavily favor going to his right hand and still isn’t playing with that next-level explosiveness that made him so highly-regarded.

And then there is the issue of leadership on this roster. No one stepped up to stop the bleeding. You could see it in their body language, with the exception of that little spurt at the end of the first half — after Self had already used three timeouts to try and wake his guys up — the Jayhawks folded instead of pushing back. They looked defeated 15 minutes into their first game on national television. At one point during the first half, after Kentucky had gobbled up a handful of offensive rebounds, you could hear Self scream at Alexander, “Fight!!”

Self can only do so much. Someone on Kansas has to step up and be the guy that lets his teammates know their performance was unacceptable, I just don’t know who that will be. Toughness — not just physically but mentally — is not something that is easily taught.

Regardless of why they’re struggling, the fact remains that, for all those future first rounders on the Kansas roster, not a single player on Kansas reached double figures.

“When you hang 40 points, someone’s going to have to get hot to get to 10,” Self said before offering up a quote that was as revealing as anything he has said during this young season. He was asked why this Kansas team has looked so lost on the offensive end, and, after taking a few seconds to pick out his words, said, “It’s been a struggle figuring out what we can do where our guys can retain it.”

In other words, he can’t put in too complex of an offense if his guys can’t remember the plays.

That’s a bigger issue than anything else Kansas has going on right now, and it confirms some of the things that people around the Jayhawk program were saying off the record during the preseason. There’s potential, but there will also be a fairly steep learning curve.

So yes, Kansas has a long way to go if they are going to reach their potential this year, but it’s also important to note that this was a horrid matchup for a Jayhawk team that’s still figuring itself out.

Kentucky has the size to exploit the biggest weakness in the Jayhawk attack: their front line. Jamari Traylor is tough, but just 6-foot-7. Perry Ellis is a 6-foot-8 finesse player that looked soft on Tuesday. Alexander was mostly held in check by foul trouble and Kentucky’s size. Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson have the size and strength to matchup with the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns, but the fact of the matter is that they just aren’t good enough to play in a game at that level.

“They were terrific,” Self said. “They stay turned up for 40 minutes, and we didn’t do a thing.”

That doesn’t change the fact that Kansas has all that talent on their roster. There’s a reason they were ranked in the preseason top five, and one abysmal performance doesn’t change that fact.

Sometimes getting punched in the mouth is the wake-up call that a team needs.

“It’s too early in the season to get discouraged,” Self said.