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Film Room: What’s Wrong With Kansas, and The Marcus Garrett Conundrum

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It’s been 15 years since someone other than the Kansas Jayhawks could call themselves the outright Big 12 regular season champion, a streak that is almost as impressive as the half-decade of consecutive seasons where we found ourselves asking at some point if this is finally going to be the year.

Is this when the title streak comes to an end? Or will, inevitably, the trophy end up back in Lawrence as it always does?

I do not know have that answer, but I do know this: As of today, January 30th, Bill Self’s team is as bad as I can remember seeing them be. But whether or not they are truly in danger of seeing their decade and a half of dominance come to an end is more complicated than that.

Kansas lost on Tuesday night at Texas, the fifth time in six games this season that they have lost on the road, to fall a game behind Kansas State and Baylor for first place in the league standings. Baylor is the one team Kansas has actually beaten on the road, and while Kansas State has been better in the last three weeks, this is still a team that is capable of getting smoked by the dumpster fire that is Texas A&M

Hell, at this very moment, nearly 50 percent through conference play, the team that KenPom is projecting to win the Big 12 — Iowa State — currently sits in fifth place. If Bill Self can get this team to 12-6 in the league, that might be enough to win a share of the conference title.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the Jayhawks have some major issues right now, and there does not appear to be an easy fix.

What is wrong with Kansas?

Let’s break it all down.

1. THE MARCUS GARRETT CONUNDRUM

The crux of the issue for Kansas is Marcus Garrett.

A 6-foot-5, 195 pound sophomore, Garrett is legitimately one of the best and most versatile defenders in college basketball, the perfect piece defensively as Kansas has been forced to revert back to the small-ball movement that has taken over the program the last three seasons. He can defend any position on the perimeter, and he’s tough enough that he shouldn’t get totally overrun by bigger defenders.

The rest of the KU perimeter rotation consists of freshmen and a senior that has the consistency of a freshman. Self needs Garrett out there.

The problem is that Garrett can be a non-entity on the offensive end of the floor. He had a three-game stretch where he averaged 17 points prior to Saturday’s loss at Kentucky, but those three games were the three highest-scoring games of his career. Self’s ability to scheme Garrett into dribble-handoffs that allowed him to turn a corner and get downhill was not going to last forever. In losses to Kentucky and Texas, Garrett was a combined 2-for-13 from the field.

The reason this is such a problem for Kansas is that it allows opponents to play two bigs against them without getting burned by more talented guards on the other end of the floor. Think about it like this: In 2016-17, Kansas’ perimeter attack consisted of Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Josh Jackson, with Jackson playing the four. All four of those guys are now playing in the NBA. Last season, Graham and Mykhailiuk were flanked by Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick for much of the year.

If you tried to hide a big body on any of those guys, you’d be getting burned.

That forced bigger teams to matchup with them.

That’s not the case this season.

Neither Kentucky nor Texas even pretended to be worried about Garrett on the perimeter:

This leads us to the second part of the problem.

2. QUENTIN GRIMES AND LAGERALD VICK HAVE NOT BEEN GOOD ENOUGH

I’m not exactly breaking news here, but this is becoming as big of a problem as Garrett’s offense for Bill Self.

The secret is out on Vick, and while he has a reputation for being a player that is, shall we say, moody, I do think that part of the issue he’s facing right now is that he is the only guy that opposing defenses are worried about on the perimeter. As good as he was early in the season, the truth is that he is essentially a tough-shot maker, a lob-catcher and a floor-spacer. Relying on him to go and get 30 to save Kansas on a night where the rest of the offense gets bogged down was never going to last. The only reason that we didn’t have to have this conversation about Kansas back in November was because Vick went for 33 against Vermont, 32 against Louisiana, 29 in an overtime win against Stanford and 27 against Villanova. The Jayhawks trailed in the second half in three of those four games and dug themselves a 12 point first half hole in the fourth.

Think about it like this: Last season, Kansas shot 40.1 percent from three — which was tenth nationally — which is what allowed Udoka Azubuike so much freedom in the paint. You couldn’t help off anyone.

That is decidedly not the case this year:

Dedric Lawson is the Kansas all-american this season.

And because their perimeter has been so ineffective, the result is that it is becoming easier and easier for teams to scheme Dedric Lawson right out of the game.

Which leads to the obvious question: What if Kansas just plays Ochai Agbaji in place of Marcus Garrett?

Eventually, that may be the answer, particularly if Agbaji’s performance on Tuesday night is who he will be the rest of the season.

But it’s important to remember that he disappeared for two weeks after he exploded on the scene in his first two games. Agbaji, as talented as he is, is still a freshman that has played a grand total of 147 minutes in seven games as a collegian. Grimes, another freshman, has not exactly been a modicum of consistency himself. Neither has Vick, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that we don’t know whether or not any of those three are A) Tough enough defensively to be able to guard up, or B) Going to win the matchup at the four more often than Garrett.

And that leads me to the single biggest problem facing this Kansas team.

3. IT IS HARD TO WIN WHEN YOUR ROSTER ISN’T LOADED WITH NBA TALENT

Who on this Kansas roster is going to play in the NBA, let alone be a first round pick or a potential star at the next level?

Seriously.

Let’s talk through it:

  • Grimes probably will. At the very least, he’ll get drafted. But he’s been such a mess this season that he’s gone from being a guy thought of as a potential top ten pick to a player that might end up returning to school for his sophomore season.
  • Lawson is going to get a shot at the next level because of his size and skill level, but he’s a slow-footed, below-the-rim forward that is shooting 28.2 percent from three this season after shooting 27 percent from three his last season in Memphis. That’s pretty much the opposite of pace and space.
  • Vick was run out of the Kansas program during the offseason, but he had to beg his way back onto the roster because his pro prospects were so limited.
  • Dotson has been a pest defensively and has shown all the toughness in the world, but at this point in his development, he’s a defender and a player that can do some damage when he gets going down hill. He’s not yet a point guard that makes the players around him better.
  • Should we even bother mentioning the other KU big men? The reason that Self has been forced to play small this year is because David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot can’t replicate the interior presence of Azubuike, who himself is a relic of the NBA’s past.
  • Frankly, Agbaji is probably the best longterm prospect on the roster, and he has a long way to go to get to where he needs to be to seriously consider the NBA.

At the end of the day, talent is going to win, and Kansas just doesn’t have enough of it.

That’s why they are in a bad spot, but the saving grace for this group is that no one else in the Big 12 looks like they are much better.

Texas Tech can guard but they can’t score. Kansas State is basically a poor-man’s version of Texas Tech. Baylor lost Tristan Clark, who was their best player this season, and Jake Lindsay. I’m not sure Texas has the goods to get it done.

Iowa State is the team that would scare me, but they’ve already played Kansas twice, they’re heavily reliant on youth and trusting them means trusting that Cam Lard and Lindell Wigginton figure things out. There’s not guarantee that happens.

For my money, this Kansas team is as bad as any in recent memory. The only year that contends was the 2015, better known as the Cliff Alexander Experience, but even then, the Jayhawks had Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre playing alongside breakout star Frank Mason.

Then again, Kansas seems to find a way to win the Big 12 even when they aren’t the best team. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans hadn’t broken his toe last February.

But he did.

And here we are.

Once again wondering what rabbit Bill Self is going to pull out of his hat to save the streak this time.

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.

Monday’s Overreactions: Naji Marshall owns Cincinnati, Ohio State is No. 1, Joel Ayayi

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Naji Marshall, Xavier

Marshall has lived up to the hype through the first month of the season, but the biggest and best game that he has played in 2019 happened on Saturday. Squaring off with archrival Cincinnati, Marshall went off for 31 points, eight boards, five steals and three assists, hitting four threes and totally outplaying his Bearcat counterpart, Jarron Cumberland.

As a team, Xavier has been a little bit up and down this season. Their issues shooting the ball have been prevalent all season long, and as good as the likes of Tyrique Jones, Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs – hell, and Marshall himself – can be, there has been some inconsistency to date.

There was not any on Saturday.

Marshall took over and led Xavier to their biggest win of the season.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

Can we even consider anyone else?

On Wednesday, the Buckeyes went into Chapel Hill and ran North Carolina out of their own gym, leaving with a 74-49 win. On Saturday, Chris Holtmann’s club hosted Penn State, and that did not go well for the Nittany Lions, who lost by 32 points while giving up 106.

This team is starting to look scary, and there’s a valid argument to make that they should be sitting at No. 1 in the AP poll this morning.

Speaking of which …

OVERREACTIONS

1. OHIO STATE HAS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE RESUME IN THE COUNTRY

If we ranked teams solely based on resume at this point in the season, I don’t think there is any way to leave the Buckeyes out of the top spot.

They are undefeated. They have beaten Villanova by 25 at home. They have beaten North Carolina by 25 on the road. They have beaten Penn State by 32 at home. Those are three of the top 24 teams in the country, according to KenPom. No one else can match that. Hell, the Buckeyes are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings.

To put those wins into context, consider this, via Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision: There have been six instances this season of a top 50 KenPom team losing by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for three of them.

To be honest, I’m not ready to actually call Ohio State the best team in college basketball – I explain why in the podcast below at the 11:20 mark – but they are certainly playing like it.

2. WE FINALLY SAW THE ANTHONY COWAN WE NEED TO SEE FOR MARYLAND TO REACH THEIR POTENTIAL

Look, I know how ridiculous this is going to sound.

Coming off of a performance where Anthony Cowan shot 6-for-14 from the floor in a game where Maryland needed something bordering on a miracle to erase a 15 point second half deficit at home against unranked Illinois, I’m finally convinced?

Well, kinda?

Here’s my logic: I am not sold on Mark Turgeon being the best coach in college basketball, and I am hardly alone in that sentiment. But he does have a roster with some talent, and it is always a good sign when a team’s talent takes over and wins a game where, frankly, they played like crap. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday. In the past, Cowan would not have taken over. In the past, he would not have put the team on his back, scored 20 points in the final 23 minutes and finished with seven boards, six assists and the game-tying and winning points in the final 20 seconds.

All-Americans bail their team out in games they are not supposed to win. Final Four teams win games where they don’t show up until they are getting thoroughly embarrassed. The Terps did both of those things.

Now, would I like to see them finally figure out how to win without sleepwalking through the first half of games?

Absolutely!

But it’s hardly a bad sign to be sitting at 10-0 as you’re still figuring things out.

3. BUTLER IS THE MOST UNDERRATED TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

After taking down Florida in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon, Butler has a surprisingly impressive crop of wins this season. They beat Minnesota at home. They beat Missouri in Kansas City. They beat Stanford on a neutral. They won at Ole Miss. And now they have that win over the Gators, who we just can’t quite seem to quit.

Either way, the Bulldogs play at Baylor on Tuesday night and then take on Purdue in the Crossroads Classic next Saturday.

We’ll know more about them then, but for now, this is a team that we have to talk about.

That said …

4. … NO ONE HAS MADE US A BELIEVER IN MORE TEAMS THAN FLORIDA

Florida State beat Florida in Gainesville?

The Seminoles must be awesome!

UConn beat Florida in Storrs?

The Huskies are back, baby!

Butler knocks off the Gators in Hinkle?

The Bulldogs are the most underrated team in the country?

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5. JOEL AYAYI IS THE X-FACTOR THAT WILL MAKE GONZAGA A TITLE CONTENDER

Listen, I’m not saying that Ayayi is the best player on this Gonzaga roster.

I think that he’s probably their third-best player, and even that might be generous.

What he is, however, is a guy that fills a role that the Zags didn’t have anyone to fill. The issue with this Gonzaga team heading into the season was in their backcourt. We wondered if they had enough point guard play, perimeter shooting and playmaking to be able to compete with the best teams in the country. It’s one thing to have a great frontline with guards that can get them the rock where they need it. It’s another thing to have a great frontline and no one that an initiate offense or keep defenses honest.

Ayayi has done those things to date this season. He’s averaging 10.1 points, 6.6 boards and 3.8 assists, which is second on the team to Ryan Woolridge, who is quietly having a solid start to the season as well. He provides length, athleticism, floor-spacing, a second ball-handler and creator. He takes the pressure off of Woolridge to carry the lead guard load.

He is more or less everything that Gonzaga fans were hoping Admon Gilder would turn into.

We’ll see if this lasts, but his performance against Washington on Saturday was really promising. Ayayi didn’t play or shoot particularly well, but he stepped up with 20 seconds left and buried the biggest shot of the game, a three to give the Zags a 82-76 lead and bury U-Dub.

Mamukelashvili breaks wrist as No. 16 Seton Hall loses to Iowa State

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AMES, Iowa — No. 16 Seton Hall lost much more than a game in Ames, as starter Sandro Mamukelashvili broke his right wrist in the first half of a loss at Iowa State.

Tyrese Haliburton scored 17 points, George Conditt had a season-high 17 off the bench and the Cyclones knocked off Seton Hall 76-66 on Sunday for its second straight victory.

Rasir Bolton scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to help the Cyclones avenge an 84-76 loss on Nov. 29 to the Pirates (6-3) in the Bahamas. The rematch was part of the Big East/Big 12 Alliance series.

Mamukelashvili, a 6-foot-11 forward and a facilitator who averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game entering play, went down hard with 15:14 to go in the first half and didn’t return.

Coach Kevin Willard said after the game that it was too soon to know how long Mamukelashvili might be out.

“I don’t know for sure. It’s definitely broken. But we … have to go get an MRI tomorrow and let our doctors and radiologists read it,” Willard said. “There’s definitely a break in there, it’s just that we don’t know where it is.”

Conditt’s free throws pushed Iowa State’s lead to 59-53 with 2:56 left. Haliburton then drew an offensive foul and freed himself for a wide-open 3 at the top of the key. Haliburton drilled it, making it a nine-point game at the 2:23 mark.

Seton Hall fouled Prentiss Nixon from beyond the arc with 1:27 left. Nixon hit all three from the line to push Iowa State back up by nine, and Conditt’s transition dunk sealed the win.

Iowa State won despite shooting just 4 of 19 on 3s.

“Every good team needs a signature win and this was the first one for us,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “It felt really good beat a ranked team, but also a team that beat us before.”

Myles Powell scored 19 points with eight rebounds for Seton Hall. But Powell was 7 of 20 shooting, had five turnovers and fouled out with 54.4 seconds to go on an offensive foul. The Pirates’ previous defeats came against Michigan State and Oregon by just five combined points.

Seton Hall committed 20 turnovers and was outrebounded 43-40 despite having a major size advantage. The Pirates also gave Iowa State 33 tries from the line, and Cyclones made 26 of them.

“We turned the ball over too much and we fouled,” Willard said. “You can’t go on the road against a good team and turn the basketball over and foul.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: On losing Mamukelashvili, Willard said that “it changes things a lot. But the good thing is, we have some guys that need to get comfortable in that role and step up in that role…we’re going to need everyone to step up.”

Iowa State: The Cyclones have been strangely awful at times this season shooting jump shots — even though they supposedly have enough shooters. It’s a problem that Iowa State will need to get sorted out before it threatens to sink their season. On the plus side, the Cyclones were active with their hands in forcing Seton Hall’s bigs to turn it over, and Haliburton delivered yet another signature performance.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Losing on the road to a Big 12 team that had the opportunity to play them 10 days ago shouldn’t cost the Pirates too much. Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum can be a brutal place for opponents — especially one that didn’t necessarily know what it was walking into.

HE SAID IT

“It’s a hell of a win for us.” —- Prohm said.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: At Rutgers on Saturday.

Iowa State: Hosts Iowa on Thursday night.

Monday Overreactions Podcast: Ohio State’s the best, Travis Steele’s the GOAT, is Anthony Cowan good?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to walk through everything that happened in college basketball this weekend. Is Ohio State the best team in college basketball? Is it actually Maryland? Just how good is Anthony Cowan? Just how bad is Florida? And did Travis Steele do the greatest thing in the history of coaching on Saturday night? He might have.