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Bill Self’s ‘softest’ Kansas team found a way to win tough at the right time

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SAN ANTONIO — Kansas had just been embarrassed at home for the third time in a season that wasn’t even three months old.

In front of 200 former Kansas players, coaches and staffers and in a game that was broadcast at noon on a Saturday on national television, the Jayhawks were totally and utterly manhandled by an Oklahoma State team that couldn’t even get into the NCAA tournament picture despite sweeping KU during the regular season. They trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half of an 84-79 loss, and Bill Self had had enough.

He had already ripped his team publicly. In December, after the Jayhawks lost 95-85 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the first of three home losses — the most home losses that they Jayhawks have suffered in a season since 1998-99 — Self told reporters that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here.”

Self knew that the Jayhawks, playing the way that they were playing, didn’t have a chance in hell of getting to the Final Four or winning a national title.

But he wanted to know if the rest of the guys in the locker room felt the same way that he did.

“Do you think you can win a national championship?” Self asked his team. “Raise your hand if you do,” and the way that Devonte’ Graham tells it, every hand in that room went up.

“He was like, ‘Really? You think you can outbound a team six games in a row? Play tough six games in a row? And you haven’t done it two games in a row in the regular season?'” Graham said. “You just had to look at it like that.”

“Coach Self is always going to be 100 with you,” Graham went on to say. “He doesn’t ever try to cover up something. He’s going to tell you how he feels. At the end of the day, you have to be like, ‘yeah, you’re right.'”

Graham, however, never wavered in his belief that this team could get to San Antonio. He knew this team had the pieces to make the run that they’ve made in this tournament, and he knew that they had the ability to be better on the glass and on the defensive end of the floor. The fact that they weren’t doing it didn’t mean that they weren’t capable of doing it.

And Graham was proven right last Sunday.

That’s when the Jayhawks, who were forced to go full small-ball for the second consecutive season after star freshman big man Billy Preston was never cleared to play, went up against the biggest front line in the sport and came away with a win, on the scoreline and in the box score.

With Svi Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 shooting guard that has never been considered the kind of player that would thrive in that small-ball four role, guarding a soon-to-be top five pick and consensus first-team all-american in Marvin Bagley III, this matchup, on paper, was everything that Duke could have asked for in an Elite Eight game.

And Kansas won. They outrebounded Duke 47-32, but that doesn’t even tell the whole story. The Jayhawks kept Duke, the nation’s best offensive-rebounding team, to just 10 offensive boards and allowed them to grab just 25 percent of the available offensive rebounds — on the season, Duke’s offensive rebounding rate was 39 percent — while getting 17 offensive boards of their own was the difference-maker.

“To do it in a way that we haven’t done it all year long,” Self said after the game. “We haven’t beat anybody on the glass all year long. So I couldn’t be happier or more proud.”

Kansas is going to have their work cut out for them again on Saturday night when they take on top-seeded Villanova, who is currently the heavy-favorite to win their second national title in three seasons. The Wildcats had their own toughness renaissance during the regional. Having spent the entirety of the season to date dealing with questions about what would happen if they have an off-shooting night cruised to a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight by beating the Red Raiders at their own game, winning a rock fight with defense and effort on the glass. Villanova grabbed a season-high 18 offensive boards in that game, winning by 12 while shooting 4-for-24 from three.

That win came just two days after Villanova survived the physicality and pressure of a West Virginia team that prides themselves on their ability to play press defensively and make their opponents uncomfortable.

So that whole toughness and rebounding thing?

It can’t be a one night show, and the Jayhawks, to their credit, don’t think that it will be.

“This has been an inconsistent and somewhat frustrating team up until about probably three-quarters of the season,” Self said, adding that “verbally I was harder” on this team that just about any other team that he has had in the past. “I told them, you know, if at least when I say what I want to say at least I’ll go home feeling better.”

“Even though they may not.”

“We always are complaining,” Graham said, a wry smile emerging from his Carolinian drawl. “When you don’t want to get yelled and screamed at a little bit, you’re going to complain a little bit. But we rallied around each other.”

“It definitely worked. We wouldn’t be here without it.”

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”