Monthly Archives: January 2014

Looking back at Ben McLemore’s banked three-pointer against Iowa State last year

By RUSTIN DODD
The Wichita Eagle

LAWRENCE There were 8.4 seconds on the clock, and Bill Self called for the play called “Chop.”

In the end, when the situation is most dire, when the wreckage is nearly unsalvageable, Self always calls Chop.

This was no different. It was last year January, a Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas trailed Iowa State by three points in the final moments of regulation. Kansas was 8.4 seconds away from losing its first Big 12 opener in more than two decades. And so the Jayhawks went to the familiar script of Chop, the same play Mario Chalmers had once made famous against Memphis.

A dribble handoff. A ball screen. A fade screen on the other side of the court. If you ask Kansas players why “Chop” almost always seems to deliver in the final seconds, they’ll usually say the same thing: Options.

“There’s nothing magical about that action,” said Brett Ballard, a former Jayhawks player who worked on the KU staff before taking an assistant coaching job under Danny Manning at Tulsa. “I think it’s good action, but that dribble handoff kind of catches people off guard a little bit, and then if you don’t switch it, you can get hung up on that screen. And that allows that shooter to get free.”

In the final seconds against Iowa State, Naadir Tharpe pushed the ball down the floor, flipping the ball to Elijah Johnson, who used a ball screen from Jeff Withey. On the other side of the court, Travis Releford was carefully setting up to spring Ben McLemore on a fade screen.

In the Memphis game, of course, you might remember that the play never made it to this point. Chalmers took the handoff from Sherron Collins, unspooling a high, arcing shot over the outstretched arms of Derrick Rose.

Last year thought, the Jayhawks were looking for McLemore, who was just a little bit rushed. The shot came out of his hand quickly — a little too strong — before banking in with one second left.

The Jayhawks would hold on, winning 97-89 in overtime. You know, sometimes you need a little luck to go with all those options.

“When it left my hand,” McLemore would say. “I actually kind of called bank.”

On Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of Iowa State’s first return to Allen Fieldhouse since that night, the Jayhawks took a little time to reflect on McLemore’s game-tying shot.

“I knew it had a chance, because it was plenty hard enough,” Self said. “There was not way it was going to be short.”

“I didn’t know if we were going to come back and win,” forward Landen Lucas said. “And then when he hit that shot, I knew we were going to win in overtime. There was too much momentum. That was a big-time shot.”

“That’s Ben McLemore,” Naadir Tharpe said.

The “Chop” play is an end-game set that Self installed during the 2006-07 season, when the Jayhawks were having trouble finding a reliable option at the end of games. On one of the first days that Kansas worked on the play at practice, the story goes like this: The Jayhawks must have run through it 10 times, but Self wanted to run it more. So they ran it another 10 times. Over and over, they kept running it. Maybe 30 times.

A few months later, in the Big 12 tournament championship game, this happened:

“When you hear ‘Chop,’” former KU guard Conner Teahan said, “I just right away start to picture Mario, the ball releasing from his hands, with him knocking it down.”

Later on Tuesday night, a few hours after Self was done thinking about McLemore’s shot, I turned on the television and found myself watching the final seconds of the Creighton-St. John’s game.

The score was tied 60-60 in the final seconds, and the play looked eerily familiar. A point guard racing down the court. A dribble handoff. A ball screen. And Creighton’s Jahenns Manigat setting a quick fade screen for Doug McDermott.

It was, quite clearly, the old Chop play. This time, McDermott didn’t need a bank.

KU’s road to a 10th straight Big 12 title

In simple terms, Kansas’ magic number is 10.

That, of course, is the number of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles KU will own if the Jayhawks can hold onto a two-game conference lead over the season’s final 12 games.

But if we’re thinking about the Big 12 season in terms of a baseball pennant race, that’s also the Jayhawks’ “Magic number” — the combination of KU wins and losses by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas that the Jayhawks (6-0) would need to clinch the title.

For example: If KU finishes 10-2 over its last 12 games, it would clinch at least a share of the title; Texas (5-2), Oklahoma (5-2) and Oklahoma State (4-2) could still earn a share by doing the near impossible and winning out. If the Jayhawks finish 9-3, they would just need all three of those teams to lose one more game to clinch a 10th straight title.

The standings will look even different after Monday night. No. 11 Oklahoma State travels to No. 25 Oklahoma for the first round of Bedlam, and one of those teams will have three Big 12 losses.

It’s still early in the Big 12 race. Sticking with the baseball analogy, Kansas coach Bill Self has said the Jayhawks’ two-game lead is a little like being ahead in the third inning. It doesn’t matter.

But if you look a little deeper, you can see the impact of Kansas’ 6-0 start. While Kansas will no doubt suffer some setbacks in conference play, it would take one of two things to keep the Jayhawks from earning at least a share of the title: A KU collapse … or an unbelievable run from one of the other teams in the Big 12’s top six.

Let’s look at the contenders and their remaining schedules, with a little help from the projections at KenPom.com.

Kansas, 6-0

Five toughest games:

Iowa State, Wednesday

At Texas, Saturday

At Baylor, Feb. 4

At Kansas State, Feb. 10

At Oklahoma State, March 1

Breakdown: You could argue that Kansas’ home game against Oklahoma on Feb. 24 will be tougher than a trip to Baylor, which is currently 1-5 in the conference. But KenPom does not agree. He gives KU an 84 percent chance to beat Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse, while just a 67 percent chance to win at Baylor. The Jayhawks need to hold serve at home and take care of business on the road against Texas Tech and West Virginia. But if the Jayhawks manage that, they could go 2-3 against their five toughest games and still win the title with plenty of breathing room.

KenPom projection: 15-3

Texas, 5-2

Five toughest games:

Kansas, Saturday

At Kansas State, Feb. 8

At Kansas, Feb. 22

At Iowa State, Feb. 18

At Oklahoma, March 1

Breakdown: The Longhorns are one of the few teams in the Big 12 that can attempt to match up with Kansas in the paint. But after a surprisingly good start, their schedule is a little back-loaded. They still have to travel to Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum and Hilton Coliseum.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Oklahoma State, 4-2

Five toughest games:

At Oklahoma, Monday

Iowa State, Feb. 3

At Texas, Feb. 11

Kansas, March 1

At Iowa State, March 8

Breakdown: Oklahoma State is still in the best position to challenge KU, but the early-season loss at Kansas State hurts. To be a serious contender, the Cowboys need to beat Oklahoma on the road tonight, beat Kansas in Stillwater, and pick up at least one win in remaining trips to Texas and Iowa State.

KenPom projection: 12-6

Oklahoma, 5-2

Five toughest games:

Oklahoma State, Monday

At Iowa State, Saturday

At Oklahoma State, Feb. 15

At Kansas, Feb. 24

Texas, March 1

Breakdown: Bad news for Oklahoma: The Sooners still have road games at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas. You have to think that means at least two losses. That illustrates how crucial tonight’s home game against Oklahoma State will be for the Sooners.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Iowa State, 3-3

Five toughest games:

At Kansas, Wednesday

At Oklahoma State, Feb. 3

At Kansas State, March 1

At Baylor, March 4

Oklahoma State, March 8

Breakdown: The Cyclones face road games at KU and Oklahoma State in two of their next three games. But then the schedule softens: From Feb. 8 to Feb. 26, Iowa State has a six-game stretch that includes two games apiece against TCU and West Virginia and a home game against Texas Tech.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Kansas State, 4-3

Five toughest games:

Kansas, Feb. 10

At Baylor, Feb. 15

At Oklahoma, Feb. 22

Iowa State, March 1

At Oklahoma State, March 3

Breakdown: K-State has already played three of its toughest games, suffering losses at KU, Texas and Iowa State. To stay near the top of the standings, the Wildcats need to find a way to beat Kansas at Bramlage and pick off some road victories when they travel to Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

KenPom projection: 10-8

Bill Self from Thursday’s news conference

By Rustin Dodd

One year later, the Ghost of the Topeka YMCA still lingers.

On Saturday evening, No. 8 Kansas will return to TCU, the site of the Jayhawks’ most shocking loss last season. On Feb. 6, 2012, No. 5 KU shot just 29.5 percent and suffered a 62-55 loss to a TCU squad that was 0-8 in the Big 12.

In the moments after the Jayhawks’ setback, Kansas coach Bill Self famously said that no Kansas team had been that bad since James Naismith’s squads had taken on the Topeka YMCA in the late 1890s.

It was a classic line — only adding to one of the more bizarre nights in recent KU history.

“Bizarro,” Self said on Thursday during his weekly news conference. “That was one of the strangest games we’ve been a part of, because I was reminded today, by one of our coaches, saying, ‘Bill, I don’t know if you remember, that’s the most ready to play (we were) all year. Best practices, most intense warm-up, everybody focused, all that stuff, and we came out and laid an egg.

“I don’t know if there’s really a correlation — over time it’s how you practice will be how you play, but sometimes it can jump up and shock you, and that was one of those times that shocked us.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned heading into Saturday, it’s this: You can’t take anything for granted in the Big 12, even as KU prepares to face a TCU squad that is 9-9 and dropped to 0-6 in the Big 12 after a loss at Oklahoma on Wednesday.

“They beat us,” Self said of last year’s game. “We had two teams whip us last year: TCU and Baylor. Everybody else was a one-possession game, of our other four losses. They handled us, so there was nothing taken away from them.”

Recruiting miss was a gift

College basketball recruiting can be a crapshoot, and Self on Thursday offered an example of how luck and timing can affect a recruiting class. In 2012, Kansas was recruiting big man Karviar Shepherd, a Texas native, rather hard out of high school, offering him a scholarship. If Shepherd would have accepted, Self said, KU probably would have backed off recruiting current freshman Joel Embiid.

But Shepherd chose to play closer to home at TCU, and the rest was history.

“It’s weird how things work out,” Self said. “We offered Karviar a scholarship, and we only had one to give, and if he’s have taken it, then we would have been out on (Joel).

“But he committed to TCU, and Karviar Shepard is going to be a good player. There’s no question he’s going to be a good player, and he’s getting better all the time.”

Shepherd is currently averaging 8.4 points and 7.6 rebounds while starting all 18 games for TCU.

“That’s how recruiting works sometimes,” Self said. “You recruit a couple of guys, and the timing needs to be right. But I’m really high on him. I think he’s got a chance to be very, very good.”

More from Wiggins?

After Kansas’ victory over Baylor on Monday, Self conceded that KU freshman Andrew Wiggins — as good as he’s been this season — can often leave him wanting more on the court. It was meant, Self says, as a compliment.

Wiggins is averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and yet it can feel like he is capable of much more.

On Thursday, Self added to those comments, saying he believed Wiggins was just a few plays per game from averaging closer to 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“I talked to him about it with his dad afterwards,” Self said, mentioning a conversation he had with Andrew and his father, Mitchell. “He had 17 points the other night. If he’s strong with the ball after he rebounds it, he scores 20 or 21 because they strip him or whatever, and that would be a foul if you are more aware and if you’re stronger.

“It’s not that I want him shooting it more. I just want him to have more of a presence because there’s not too many guys out there that you look at and you say, ‘Ok, yeah, he got 20 but it could have been 28, or he got 16 but it could have been 22, or he had eight rebounds but it could have been 14. And that’s what I talk about by — I think his numbers should be in the vicinity of 20 and 10 every game.

“But that’s not going to happen like that, and I know that, and sometimes you don’t make shots. But I think just like the other day, he didn’t put his head down and drive it at all the first half. The second half he drove it every time and got fouled like on three or four straight possessions. Well, to me those are free points, and he’s got to be more aggressive doing things like that. But he’s done well.”

The Embiid watch is on

By Rustin Dodd

On Monday night in Ames, Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks (and seven turnovers) in 28 minutes. He dominated for stretches, altering shots and using his mix of size and finesse to finish nearly everything around the basket.

So let’s take a look:

In Kansas’ last seven games — against seven teams ranked in KenPom.com’s top 75 — Embiid is averaging 13.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes per game. He’s shooting 72 percent. He’s getting high percentage shots, too. For the season, more than 76 percent of his field-goal attempts have come at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. And when he catches inside, he’s nearly automatic — he’s finishing 78.9 percent of his shots at the rim.

So it wasn’t all that surprising to see Embiid move to No. 1 on ESPN Draft analyst Chad Ford’s latest Big Board, surpassing teammate Andrew Wiggins, who is now No. 2.

“Embiid is one of the few big-man prospects who passes both the eye test and the production test,” Ford noted. “There isn’t a player in this draft with a higher ceiling.”

Earlier this year, we compared Embiid’s freshman numbers (per 40 minutes) to some other recent college big men who have gone No. 1 in the draft. Here’s an updated look at those numbers:

Joel Embiid, Kansas, 2013-14

19.9 points / 13.8 rebounds / 4.7 blocks / 10.7 FGA / 67.7 FG%

Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2011-12

17.7 points / 13.0 rebounds / 5.8 blocks / 10.5 FGA / 62.3 FG%

Greg Oden, Ohio State, 2006-07

21.7 points / 13.2 rebounds / 4.5 blocks / 13.3 FGA / 61.6 FG%

Andrew Bogut, Utah, 2003-04

16.4 points / 13 rebounds / 1.8 blocks / 11.6 FGA / 57.7 FG%

Tim Duncan, Wake Forest, 1993-97

13.1 points / 13.7 rebounds / 5.0 blocks / 8.8 FGA / 54.3 FG%

Shaquille O’Neal, LSU, 1989-90

19.8 points / 17.1 rebounds / 5.1 blocks / 13.9 FGA / 57.3 FG%

2. How rare was Kansas’ 77-70 victory at Iowa State on Monday? Well, the Jayhawks have now won nine of 10 at Hilton Coliseum, so not that rare. But the formula probably shouldn’t be repeated that often. KU finished with a season-high 24 turnovers, the most since the beginning of last season. The Jayhawks made up for the turnovers by outrebounding Iowa State 53-36 — and of course it helped that Iowa State shot 22 of 70 (31 percent) from the field.

But strangely, Kansas is now 2-1 when committing 20-plus turnovers since the beginning of last season. The Jayhawks had 23 turnovers in the loss at Florida earlier this year. But the victory over Iowa State most clearly resembled Kansas’ win against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Remember? In the third NCAA tournament meeting between Bill Self and Roy Williams, KU turned the ball over 22 times in a 70-58 victory. One reason: North Carolina’s line was eerily similar to Iowa State. The Tar Heels were outrebounded 50-36 and shot just 22 of 73 (30 percent) from the floor.

3. Comparing freshmen: Here’s a little statistical evidence on why Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins’ offensive numbers are a little behind Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kentucky forward Julius Randle.

Wiggins is averaging 15.8 points after scoring 17 against Iowa State on Monday; that trails both Parker (18.8) and Randle (16.9). But according to an ESPN study that looked at isolation plays, post-ups and pick-and-rolls, it could be because Kansas isn’t running its offense through Wiggins as much as Duke is utilizing Parker or Kentucky is using Randle.

According to the study, both Parker and Randle average more than six isos, post-ups and pick-and-rolls per game, while Wiggins averages around 4 ½. Wiggins has had his struggles on offense — as have Parker and Randle — but his overall production could be more about usage than talent.

Self: Too early to know if Embiid will return for sophomore season

By Rustin Dodd

Kansas coach Bill Self has always left NBA Draft decisions up to his players, and that is not changing with freshman center Joel Embiid, who has zoomed up draft projections during his first season of college basketball.

“Joel could go anywhere this year from (No. 1 to No. 5) probably, I would say,” Self said Thursday night when the subject came up on his weekly radio show. “It would be hard for a staff member or myself to say, ‘Hey it’s best for you to come back.’ It’s really probably best for us if he comes back.”

As you might expect, Self says it’s too early to know if Embiid will be a one-and-done player, but he expects Embiid, a native of Cameroon, to make the right decision for he and his family. As with any player, Self will wait until after the season to provide any consultation or information on his players’ draft prospects. In addition to Embiid, KU freshman wing Andrew Wiggins has said he’ll likely enter the NBA Draft after one season at Kansas, while freshman guard Wayne Selden has appeared in first-round draft projections as well.

Embiid’s situation is a little different. After moving to the United State before his junior year of high school, he has played organized basketball for just parts of three seasons.

“He is a young man who is very, very young, not just in basketball… he is trying to figure it all out,” Self said. “I talked to him the other day. He said, ‘Well, shouldn’t I learn how to drive a car first?’ He can get a nice car, but he probably can get somebody to drive him so he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

Self added: “I’d say everybody on the outside would say he’s probably definitely going to go because everybody who could go that high goes,” Self said. “But the reality of it is, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel he should do what is best for he and his life.”