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

David Purdy/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.