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Why KU’s Justin Wesley couldn’t talk about his role in ‘Jayhawkers’

By RUSTIN DODD
The Wichita Eagle

LAWRENCE — The NCAA has a lot of rules. Here are a couple more.

Kansas senior forward Justin Wesley was able to be cast in a lead role of the movie “Jayhawkers”, which premiered on Friday in Lawrence. He could be paid and everything. But at the official premiere, Wesley could not say a word about his performance or the film in general.

Why?

During the playing season, the NCAA does not allow athletes to “make any endorsement, expressed or implied, of any commercial product or service.”

Upon request, the KU compliance office supplied the specific bylaws and rules that barred Wesley from talking about his first starring film role.

Here’s the explanation:

Based on bylaw 12.4.1, Wesley could be paid for his role in the movie. As long as it was “(a) Only for work actually performed; and (b) At a rate commensurate with the going rate in that locality
for similar services.”

But based on bylaw 12.5.3, which deals with “media services”, Wesley couldn’t talk about the film on Friday. He’d be, based on one interpretation, endorsing a commercial product. They sold tickets
last night, and the makers of the film are presumably trying to make some money on the film.

As far as NCAA policies and bylaws go, this one probably isn’t worth a grand protest. But it is interesting. Most KU basketball players do dozens of media interviews each season, essentially
promoting and implicitly endorsing the product of Kansas basketball and college hoops. They sell tickets to KU basketball games, too, you know, so those media interviews certainly help the school
and program.

In some ways, Wesley’s role in “Jayhawkers” wasn’t all that different. He was working with a KU film professor — director Kevin Wilmott — doing something educational and constructive with his time,
and exploring another potential career path. (Wesley has previously expressed interest in pursuing other acting roles after his college basketball career is over.)

But he couldn’t do interviews that might help his (potential) acting career. Not during the season at least.

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.

Five observations from KU basketball scrimmage

LAWRENCE It’s now nine days until Kansas opens its exhibition schedule with a game against Pittsburg State on Oct. 29 at Allen Fieldhouse. After watching Kansas practice on Fridayafternoon and again on Saturday during a public scrimmage, here are five thoughts on Naadir Tharpe, Andrew Wiggins and the young Jayhawks — and five bits of video highlights if you missed Saturday’s early morning scrimmage:

1. Andrew White III is making a case for reserve minutes in the backcourt. The question of whether White, a sophomore guard, is a candidate to redshirt should be put to rest for now. White ran with KU’s blue team — the top seven or eight players — during Friday’s practice and at the beginning of Saturday’s scrimmage.

White played sparingly last season, but he is a natural marksman with good size at 6 feet 6. Self likes his ability to rebound and get the ball to the right spot on offense. And while White still appears to lack some lateral quickness on defense, his straight-line speed has improved, Self says.

It appears that a core group of six or seven players has emerged during the first month of practice: Junior guard Naadir Tharpe, freshmen wings Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins, sophomore forward Perry Ellis, sophomore forward Jamari Traylor and freshman center Joel Embiid.

For now, it seems White is right on the cusp of that core. After Saturday’s scrimmage, Self said he expects freshmen guards Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene to all make strides over the next few weeks. So the final spots in the rotation are still in flux. But if White continues to play well, the final guard spot could belong to whoever can best serve as a back-up point guard for Tharpe.

Disclaimer: With six freshman, the rotation could look a lot different in January than it’s looking right now.

Some action from Saturday’s scrimmage:

2. Naadir Tharpe has established himself as KU’s starting point guard. It’s not all that surprising, of course. Tharpe and senior Tarik Black have emerged as the team’s primary leaders, and KU will definitely need some stability and leadership during a tough non-conference slate.

3. Andrew Wiggins can wreak havoc on defense, but it may take some time. It’s easy to focus on Wiggins’ offensive skill-set, but while visiting practice on Friday, former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was impressed with Wiggins’ defensive potential. Wiggins’ length and quickness is a scary combination, and KU will need a lockdown perimeter defender to emerge after losing senior guard Travis Releford.

4. Could we see any four-guard sets? While speaking at Self’s annual coaches clinic on Friday, Van Gundy told a story about how Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to play small with the Miami Heat. The short version of the story: Spoelstra saw that playing three guards with LeBron James — and spreading the floor with shooters — allowed James the space to maximize his potential.

For a 6-foot-8 swingman, Wiggins has the potential to be a solid rebounder. He can also get to the basket and set up for others. It’ll be interesting to see if Self experiments playing Wiggins alongside a group that features Selden, Tharpe, another shooter, and either Joel Embiid or Tarik Black.

KU, of course, will need sophomore power forward Perry Ellis on the floor. But an occasional small-ball lineup could cause matchup nightmares.

5. Sophomore Jamari Traylor appears to have polished certain aspects of his game — passing, defensive spacing, court awareness — after his freshman season. Last season, Self liked to remind people that Traylor had only played competitive basketball for two season before arriving at KU. His shooting and offensive skills still need some work, but he could slot in as a quality fourth big man for KU.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.

Breaking down the Jayhawks’ 2013-14 schedule

LAWRENCE — It could be the most daunting non-conference schedule that KU coach Bill Self has ever encountered. Duke. Florida. Georgetown. And a month-long span without a game at Allen Fieldhouse in November and December.

Did we mention Kansas will have five new starters next season?

Self, of course, is optimistic that the challenging schedule will accelerate the learning curve of a young team. But for now, here’s a breakdown of the Jayhawks’ non-conference schedule in 2013-14:

Date (Day) – Opponent, Site

Nov. 8 (Friday) – LOUISIANA-MONROE, Lawrence, Kan.

Louisiana-Monroe finished 4-23 overall and 3-17 in the Sun Belt Conference last season. Kansas won the only all-time meeting with ULM, topping the Redhawks 107-78 on Nov. 9, 2007, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Nov. 12 (Tuesday) – Duke, Chicago, Ill. (Champions Classic, United Center)

Duke loses seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, but there should be plenty of future pros on the floor at the United Center this November. In the third Champions Classic, Kentucky will take on Michigan State in a matchup of likely top-five teams. And then there’s Duke and Kansas. Junior point guard Quinn Cook and sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon return, while incoming freshman (and former SI cover boy) Jabari Parker will return to his hometown.

Nov. 19 (Tuesday) – IONA, Lawrence, Kan.

The first of some difficult mid-major tests. Iona won the MAAC tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, losing to Ohio State in the opening round. The Gaels have won 20 games the last four seasons.

Nov. 22 (Friday) – TOWSON, Lawrence, Kan.

Towson had the largest turnaround in NCAA history last season, finishing 18-13 in 2012-13 after skidding to a 1-31 record in 2011-12. Fun fact: Incoming KU guard Frank Mason nearly chose Towson out of high school before spending a year at a prep school and committing to KU.

Nov. 28-30, Battle 4 Atlantis (Three games), Paradise Island, Bahamas

The field: Villanova, Tennessee, Iowa, UTEP, Xavier, USC and Wake Forest. Tennessee, Villanova and Iowa would all be tough draws, while UTEP continues to build under former Iowa State coach Tim Floyd.

Dec. 7 (Saturday) – at Colorado, Boulder, Colo.

The Buffaloes suffered a major blow when leading rebounder Andre Roberson, a junior forward, left early for the NBA Draft. Still, leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie is back for his junior season under CU coach Tad Boyle, a former KU guard. The Jayhawks have won 21 straight against Colorado, a former Big 12 foe, including a 90-54 win in Allen Fieldhouse last season.

Dec. 10 (Tuesday) – at Florida, Gainesville, Fla.

If there’s a game that wasn’t anticipated, it’s this one. The new Big 12-SEC challenge came together in the last year or so, and the Jayhawks were matched up with a Florida squad coming off an appearance in the Elite Eight. The Gators lost their three leading scorers — Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy — but Billy Donovan adds five-star freshman forward Chris Walker to go along with senior Patric Young.

Dec. 14 (Saturday) – NEW MEXICO, Kansas City, Mo. (Sprint Center)

Here’s what the Lobos lost: Head coach Steve Alford to UCLA, and junior guard Tony Snell (12.5 ppg) to the NBA Draft. Here’s what they have: Leading scorer Kendall Williams (13.3 points), 7-footer Alex Kirk and assistant-turned-head coach Craig Neal. Add it up, and New Mexico will likely be favored to defend its Mountain West title.

Dec. 21 (Saturday) – GEORGETOWN, Lawrence, Kan.

Another team that lost an early entry to the NBA, the Hoyas will explore life without forward Otto Porter Jr. Georgetown will likely begin the season outside the top 25, but they won’t be too far away.

Dec. 30 (Monday) – TOLEDO, Lawrence, Kan.

The Rockets posted a 15-13 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the Mid-America Conference last season. KU owned its only meeting with Toledo, a 68-58 victory on Dec. 9, 2006, at Kemper Arena.

Jan. 5 (Sunday) – SAN DIEGO STATE, Lawrence, Kan.

This is a San Diego State program that finished 23-11 and handled Oklahoma in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last season. By this point, with conference season right around the corner, the young Jayhawks will certainly be tested.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/05/03/4215611/breaking-down-kansas-non-conference.html#storylink=cpy

The KU Chalkboard: Kansas or Michigan?

Every Monday, The Eagle delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here’s the latest installment of the weekly feature.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The new polls won’t come out until this afternoon, but this much seems obvious: Michigan, Kansas and Florida will likely be the new top three in the latest Associated Press poll — maybe in that order.

Florida, 16-2, has been leaving a trail of dust in the SEC, posting eight straight victories after falling to Kansas State at the Sprint Center in December. Michigan, 19-1, meanwhile, suffered its only loss at rival Ohio State on Jan. 13. And Kansas, winners of 17 straight, will attempt to move to 7-0 in the Big 12 tonight at West Virginia.  [UPDATE: Michigan and Kansas split the No. 1 spots in the AP and coaches polls.]

All three schools have played like top-three teams at times, but who deserves to be No. 1? Here’s the tempo-free computer profile for all three teams, via KenPom.com.

Michigan

Offense efficiency: 1st (124.8 points per 100 possessions)

Defensive efficiency: 39th (90.0)

Kansas

Offense efficiency: 18th (112.6)

Defensive efficiency: 3rd (83.5)

Florida

Offense efficiency: 2nd (123.5)

Defensive efficiency: 1st (81.0)

Bottom line: Michigan’s defensive issues could cost them a loss or two in a loaded Big Ten, while Florida may struggle to find consistent challenges in a watered-down SEC. And, of course, Kansas’ offensive struggles are well-documented. Then again, given the fickle nature of this season, it’s likely that the top of the polls will have shifted again by next Monday.

Scouting West Virginia

Since Bob Huggins arrived in Morgantown, the Mountaineers have generally profiled as a rugged, defensive-minded program. But even with that in mind, West Virginia has been offensively-challenged this season, connecting on just 39.5 percent of its shots from the field, the 315th best mark in the nation.

One key: Freshman guard Eron Harris is averaging 15.8 points in his last four games and provides the best option from deep; he’s made 42.6 percent (23 for 53) of his three-point attempts.

It’s likely that Kansas will be the highest-ranked team to play in the WVU Coliseum since No. 2 UCLA — with Russell Westbrook and Aaron Afflalo — arrived on February 10, 2007, according to The Dominion Post. The Bruins left with a 70-65 defeat.

Monday morning links

The Internet loves Jeff Withey. This “Withey Block Party” video, produced by Kansas’ in-house video crew, played during a timeout at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday and has since found a home on YouTube. (Kudos to the KU official who convinced Withey to don that shirt.) Maybe it doesn’t quite measure up to this, but it’s certainly better than the growing list of Withey-inspired songs.

Alternate jerseys

Kansas is breaking out some alternate, nearly all-blue road jerseys for tonight’s Big Monday matchup in Morgantown. If you want a sneak peek, click on this link.

 

The KU Chalkboard: Self wants Jayhawks to run

LAWRENCE — Every Monday, The Star delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here’s the third installment of the new series.

Before his team began practice on Sunday afternoon, Kansas coach Bill Self offered a few post-Thanksgiving thoughts on his team. High on his list of priorities: Speed.

The Jayhawks need to play faster, need to attack more, need to create more opportunities to score.

“It’s amazing to me,” Self said. “I tell these guys this all the time. Everybody wants to go to a place where they play fast, and they get there, and they don’t want to commit to playing fast. It takes energy to play fast.”

So how fast can Kansas play? Before we find the optimal speed, let’s look at how fast they’re playing through five games.

According to kenpom.com’s tempo statistics, Kansas is averaging 67.7 possessions per 40 minutes, a number that ranks 128th nationally, but is still tied for third among the Jayhawks’ Big 12 brethren. (Disclaimer: The sample size is still small.)

Team / adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes)

1 Iowa State / 70.1

2 Oklahoma / 68.0

3t Kansas / 67.7

3t K-State / 67.7

5 Baylor / 67.5

6 Texas Tech / 66.5

7 TCU / 66.4

8 Oklahoma St. / 66.2

9 Texas / 65.9

10 West Virginia / 65.3

For comparison: Kansas’ adjusted tempo was 67.0 last season, while the 2011 Jayhawks (69.2) struck a nice blend of speed and efficiency. In addition, KU is just off the pace (or slightly ahead) of the nation’s three most efficient offensive teams thus far: Indiana (68.3 possessions per 40 minutes); Duke (68.5) and Kentucky (67.2). So, no, Kansas isn’t exactly running Wisconsin’s snails-pace swing offense.

Still, KU’s offense has been a work in progress during the opening weeks — although the 50-point first half against Washington State was certainly a statement. The Jayhawks are averaging 71.6 points per game, down a shade from last season (73.5), and it’s mostly been an efficiency issue. KU is shooting 44 percent from the field (47.2 in 2011-12) and 31 percent from three-point range (34.5 percent in ’11-12).

For Self, some of the Jayhawks’ offensive issues fall on the defense. If KU gets more stops, they’ll be more opportunities to run. Before the CBE Classic, KU’s secondary break — its transition game off made baskets — wasn’t creating many opportunity. And some of this, Self says, falls on the Jayhawks’ guard play. Senior Elijah Johnson is still feeling his way around the point-guard spot, and as he becomes more comfortable running the offense, the pace may rise naturally.

“If you take it hard 10 possessions,” Self said, “you may get two free points that you didn’t have to earn. And we’re not taking it hard for 10 possessions. So it’s not that (Johnson isn’t) playing hard; his mindset is, I think, to get us into offense rather than go make a play.”

Tharpe’s turnover drought

Bill Self has made it pretty simple. For sophomore Naadir Tharpe to lock down reserve minutes in the guard rotation, he’ll need to make strides on the defensive end.

“It’s where he’s got to get better,” Self said on Sunday. “He can create havoc, he can do some things. But if you’re a little guard, and you don’t create havoc, people will pick on you eventually. He has to have that mindset…

“If I’m the littlest guy out there, I got make sure I’m the toughest guy out there.”

Tharpe’s size — he’s listed at 5-11 and 170 pounds — can be a liability on defense. But the sophomore guard has appeared to take a step in one area: turnovers. Tharpe has just three in 98 minutes this season — and his last turnover came against Michigan State on Nov. 13. It’s a stark contrast to last season, when Tharpe committed 22 turnovers and 21 assists while playing limited minutes as a freshman.

Withey watch

Here’s a prediction: Jeff Withey will set a new KU record with 11 blocks in a game, eclipsing the 10 blocks he recorded against NC State in the NCAA tourney last season.

The soft-spoken Withey appeared a tad disappointed last week when the box score showed he only had seven blocks against Saint Louis in the CBE title game. (“It’s not 10,” he said.) He’s also recorded at least five blocks in four of KU’s first five games.

He’s up to 190 blocks in his career after swatting 12 shots in two days last week in Kansas City. That leaves him 68 blocks short of Greg Ostertag’s KU career record of 258.

Atlantis shuffle

If next year’s Battle for Atlantis tournament is anything like this year’s, KU will likely find itself in perhaps the best early-season tournament next November.

This year’s event, which takes place at a resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas, included top-five teams Duke and Louisville, along with Missouri, VCU, Stanford and Minnesota. Next year’s field will include Villanova, Wake Forest, Tennessee, Southern California, UTEP and Xavier and a final team to be announced later. ESPN previously reported that Michigan State is a possibility for the event.

The buzz among some scribes and industry people is that Atlantis may have the combination of location and financial backing to overtake Maui as the most high-profile early-season tournament — at least, among those in exotic locales.

The Jayhawks are not eligible to return to Hawaii until 2015. But we’re guessing that will be just fine with Kansas’ players when they head to the Bahamas next season.

The KU Chalkboard: How will the defense develop?

Every Monday, The Eagle delves into Kansas basketball — and the week ahead. Here’s the first installment of the new series.

ATLANTA — Is it safe to expect a November grinder? Probably.

Kansas coach Bill Self and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo have made careers — and fortunes — on the defensive end, both coaches indoctrinating their players with the sort of toughness that shows up in March. Izzo has led the Spartans to six Final Fours and one NCAA title (2000) in the last 14 years. The Jayhawks are fresh off their second Final Four appearance in Self’s nine seasons in Lawrence.

On Tuesday night, the two head coaches will lead their power programs into an early-season clash in the Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome, the first bout in a doubleheader that also includes a a heavyweight matchup between Duke and Kentucky.

So what to make of the latest showdown between Sparty and Self?

Well… No. 7 Kansas is coming off a blotchy, 74-55 season-opening victory over Southeast Missouri State on Friday, while No. 14 Michigan State was nicked by UConn 66-62 on Friday night in a choppy game in a beautiful setting — Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Self may have joked last week that Michigan State practices in football pads, while his young team wants to practice with pillows. But if early trends hold, it seems likely that this game could feature the offensive execution of an SEC football game.

For Kansas, a squad with seven scholarship freshmen, it’s not a bad formula. Defenses are generally a few paces ahead of offenses in the opening weeks, and the Jayhawks have the pieces to play some of the most suffocating defense since Self arrived in Lawrence. That’s saying something, of course.

In the last seven years, dating back to the time Self’s own recruits began making up the majority of the roster in Lawrence, the Jayhawks have been in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency every season. The advanced metric, tabulated by college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy, rates defenses by how many points they allow per 100 possessions.

In the last seven years, here are KU’s adjusted efficiency rankings, according to kenpom.com:

2006: 2

2007: 1

2008: 1

2009: 7

2010: 8

2011: 9

2012: 4

So can this year’s Kansas defense match up to those lofty expectations? Based upon readers’ emails and the early reactions from two exhibition games and the season opener, that seems to be a pretty good question. So, let’s start here, by looking at two of Self’s best defensive teams.

To most, the gold standard is still the 2008 squad, which rode the No. 1 ranked defense to a national title. That team, of course, had three strong perimeter defenders — Mario Chalmers*, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush — and center Sasha Kaun, a plus post defender in the paint.

*If you need more proof of Chalmers’ defensive abilities, a recent Sports Illustrated feature cited a Synergy Sports study that showed Chalmers was the best pick-and-roll defender in the NBA last season.

But, according to kenpom.com, the most efficient defensive squad during Self’s tenure was actually the 2007 team — by a hair, anyway — which fell to UCLA in the Elite Eight. One reason for the loss: the 2007 Kansas team ranked 17th in offensive efficiency, while the 2008 squad, a year older and sans Julian Wright, was the second-best offensive team in the nation. In fact, that 2007 KU team is the highest rated defensive team since 2003-04, the year Self took over in Lawrence.

Team; Points allowed per 100 possessions; How they finished

1. 2007 Kansas, 82.2 (Elite Eight)

2. 2009 Memphis, 82.5 (Sweet 16)

3. 2008 Kansas, 82.8 (NCAA title)

4t. 2004 Louisville, 83.9 (First round loss)

4t. 2008 UCLA, 83.9 (Final Four)

4t. 2008 Memphis 83.9 (NCAA title game)

Self has been hopeful about his team’s potential, particularly on the defensive end; last season, center Jeff Withey led the country in block percentage, rejecting 15.3 percent of opponents’ shots when he was on the floor. And the Jayhawks’ backcourt features three guards — Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore and Travis Releford —with the rare mix of length and above-average lateral quickness.

It will be interesting to see how KU matches up with smallish playmakers — think Baylor’s Pierre Jackson or K-State’s Angel Rodriguez — but Withey’s presence in the middle gives Kansas’ guards a 7-foot firewall in the paint. It’s still November, still too early for hard-and-fast projections. But with its offense still finding its way, Kansas will likely need to grind out a victory against Michigan State on the defensive end. In other words, they’ll need more pads… and fewer pillows.

Scouting Michigan State

While Bill Self was gritting his teeth through the Jayhawks’ victory over Southeast Missouri State on Friday, Tom Izzo was playing Clark W. Griswold as the Spartans lumbered through their season-opening European Vacation.

The result was a 66-62 loss to UConn in Germany. But here’s the bigger question: Will the transatlantic travel schedule have any residual effects when the Spartans take the floor at the Georgia Dome on Tuesday night?

The Spartans left Frankfurt, Germany, on Saturday morning. And the crash course on Kansas began.

“Plenty of film coming back,” MSU coach Tom Izzo told the Detroit Free Press. “(With) an eight- or nine-hour flight coming back we’ll have a lot of ability to watch film. We’ll have exhibition games, some games from last year, but going into it, (UConn was) just too big of a game.”

Michigan State lost All-America forward Draymond Green off last year’s squad, a team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Spartans return three starters, including point guard Keith Appling, swingman Branden Dawson and 6-foot-10 center Adreian Payne.

Appling finished with a team-high 17 points on seven-of-17 shooting against UConn, while freshman guard Gary Harris, a McDonald’s All-American, had 11 points in his debut.

Senior Derrick Nix, a 6-foot-9 forward, could also be a load for Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor or whichever KU power forward winds up with the matchup.

It appears likely, though, that Michigan State will play without reserve guard Travis Trice, who took a shot to the nose against UConn. On Monday, Izzo told the Detroit Free Press that Trice was a “triple question mark” for the KU game.

Manning, Brown win

Danny Manning picked up a victory in his first season-opener at Tulsa on Sunday, a 110-54 win over Louisiana Shreveport in Tulsa. Manning, who won titles at KU as a player and assistant coach, is embarking on his first season as a head coach.

Shaquille Harrison, a freshman from Lee’s Summit West, had nine points and seven steals in his Tulsa debut. Playing with an inexperienced squad, Manning faces a challenging schedule in his first season: During a seven-game stretch in November and December, Tulsa will play Wichita State, Missouri State, Creighton and Florida State.

Larry Brown, Manning’s former coach at Kansas, also scored a victory on Sunday as Southern Methodist topped Loyola Marymount 73-58 in Dallas. It was Brown’s first win as a collegiate head coach since the 1988 NCAA title game at Kemper Arena.

KU vs. No. 16 TCU: Three more things to watch

LAWRENCE — Early kickoff on Saturday morning as Kansas opens conference play at 11 a.m. against Big 12 newcomer TCU. So we’re getting a jump on “Three more things” this week.

It’s been a rough few days for the KU players, who spent most of the week trying to stay positive after last week’s non-conference disaster against Rice. The setback took a little luster off first-year coach Charlie Weis’ debut run — and it left some on campus wondering how many more games KU can win. Still, the Jayhawks can regain a measure of momentum with a better performance on Saturday.

1 Kicker questions. It’s tough being a football kicker. It’s tougher, still, being a college kicker, when forgettable performances are followed by days on campus among a few thousand of your peers.

That’s what junior kicker Ron Doherty faced after a few early struggles during the first two weeks of the season. Doherty has made just two of five field goals so far, including two key misses against Rice from 40 and 53 yards. They weren’t gimmes, but Doherty believes his range extends beyond 50 yards most days.

“I just didn’t make the kick,” Doherty said.

It’s still a small sample size, and Weis said he hasn’t lost confidence in his kicker. Still, Weis is a guy that likes to gamble. And it will be interesting to see if KU takes more chances on fourth down when they’re on the edge of field-goal range.

2 Running back rotation. For the first three weeks of the regular season, we’ve barely heard the name of junior running back James Sims. It’s common Weis policy to not mention the name of players that aren’t eligible to play, and with Sims serving the last game of his three-game suspension on Saturday, he’s been the invisible tailback for the last couple weeks.

But Sims will be back next week against Northern Illinois. And that makes junior Taylor Cox an intruing player to watch on Saturday. Cox has been a pleasant surprise so far, rushing for 200 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry in his first two games. But can Cox continue the production against a Big 12-caliber defense? He gets his first chance to prove it against TCU.

3 Old friend sighting. If you didn’t know that former Miami coach Randy Shannon is now the linebackers coach at TCU, you’re not alone. KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who coached Shannon at Miami in the 1980s and later with the Cowboys, was surprised when Shannon’s name came up in a media scrum earlier this week.

“Randy Shannon?” Campo said.

Shannon helped Campo (then a secondary coach under Jimmy Johnson) and the Hurricanes win a national title in 1987, and Campo quickly recalled a story from early in that year.

“My very first game* against the University of Florida… and Florida was a good football team,” Campo said. “And we didn’t know what we had at Miami at the time. And one of the first passes they threw out in the flat, he intercepted and ran back for a touchdown.”

*Note: This game ended with Miami winning by the very rare score of 31-4.

First look at Rice: KU defense faces an early spread test

LAWRENCE — If the Kansas defense is seeking a dress rehearsal for what it might see during Big 12 play, the Jayhawks might get something close on Saturday afternoon against Rice.

“This is our first look at what I would call a true spread offense,” KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo said on Wednesday.

So what exactly will the Owls’ offense look like? Well, it starts with junior quarterback Taylor McHargue, who dominated the ball against UCLA in Rice’s season opener, completing 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards and rushing 22 times for 95 yards.

(McHarque’s most effective target was former Michigan receiver/running back Sam McGuffie, a player that KU coach Charlie Weis once recruited to Notre Dame. But McHargue, a junior with 14 career starts, will draw much of the attention.)

“I think he’s one of the keys to their offense,” Campo said. “McHargue is a good player. He’s tough. He’s a good runner. Not only in the run game, but also in scrambling. He’s really a good player.

McHarque’s performance against UCLA was mostly lost amidst the Owls’ defensive disaster. Rice surrendered 646 total yards — including 343 on the ground — in a 49-24 home loss to the Bruins. But the Owls’ offense could pose some problems for Kansas. (And at the very least, it should be good prep for what Kansas will face in the Big 12.)

The KU coaching staff expects Rice to spread it out — three and four receiver sets — and a fair share of zone-read option looks from McHarque. Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan, a former KU assistant who spent five years under Mark Mangino, will engineer the offense. And the Owls have made a habit of playing Big 12 competition in the recent future.

Last season, the Owls lost to Baylor 56-31 in a shootout and were bottled up in a 34-9 loss to Texas in September. (Rice also beat Purdue 24-22.)

“They do a lot of different things,” Campo said. “They run a lot of trick plays. They run a lot of different spread-type attacks.”

On Wednesday, Campo was generally pleased with his team’s defensive performance in the opener against South Dakota State. There, of course, was the 99-yard touchdown run that KU surrendered in the first quarter. So, that was hard to ignore. But overall, Campo said, the defense made strides.

“I thought we played pretty good,” Campo said. “If they wouldn’t have popped that run, I would have felt really good about it.”

In its first game action, the revamped KU defense forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and a bolstered defensive line looked much improved — albeit against Division I-AA South Dakota State.

“You still don’t know how good we are going to play,” KU coach Charlie Weis said of the defensive line, “but you can say we have more quality depth.”

Now the Jayhawks’ defense will continue its week-by-week step up the food chain. Big 12 newcomer TCU awaits next week, and perhaps Rice presents a nice bridge to that competition.

“This is a good test for us,” Campo said.

Three more Rice players to watch

1 Luke Wilson, senior, receiver

Rice lists Wilson at receiver, but at 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, he certainly is the de facto tight end in the Owls’ spread offense. He had 29 catches last season while averaging more than 10 yards per reception.

2 Corey Frazier, senior, free safety

Frazier, a veteran defensive back, is the son of Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.

3 Jeremy Eddington, junior, running back

Junior running back Charles Ross is listed as the starter on the Owls’ depth chart, but Eddington was the most productive against UCLA, finishing with 38 yards in nine carries.

Sunday rewind: KU 31, South Dakota St. 17

LAWRENCE — A brief look back at some of the more interesting bits of news and notes from KU’s 31-17 victory over South Dakota State on Saturday night.

If you followed the KU program during fall camp, you probably heard KU coach Charlie Weis state his desire to protect sophomore running back Tony Pierson from a heavy pounding. Pierson, of course, is 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds — stronger than he was last year as a true freshman but still with the lithe body of a cornerback.

So what was the deal with Pierson’s load on Saturday night? He finished with 20 carries while rushing for a team-high 124 yards. According to Weis, the extra touches came out of necessity.

“Well, the game was close,” Weis said. “But it wasn’t like (backup) Taylor (Cox) only had 10 touches there. When you run the ball 48 times … sometimes you’re going to go a little bit over.”

To be fair, it’s not like there’s a huge difference between 15 and 20 carries on any one night. (Although the numbers can add up over the course of a year.) Sometimes things happen during the course of a game, and sometimes game plans change. But judging by how they used Pierson early in the game — he had more than 10 carries in the first quarter — it perhaps suggests that Weis didn’t expect to be in a close game late in the second half.

“I looked at the stat sheet,” Pierson said after the game, “and I had … 20 carries and I didn’t know.”

Weis also added that running backs coach Reggie Mitchell tracks Pierson’s touches during games.

“We were on a pitch count,” Weis said. “So I knew where we were.”

About that 99-yard run

Here’s a good question: How does that happen? When South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner bursted through the line of scrimmage and sprinted 99 yards for a touchdown, the Twitter Snark Alert System went from yellow to orange. (I believe someone even suggested that KU fire Turner Gill. Or maybe it was “hire Turner Gill, and then fire Turner Gill again.”)

Anyway, here’s how Weis explained the breakdown after the game. Spoiler alert: He didn’t really see it; he was busy sorting through the last offensive drive.

“We had two guys both flow to the outside, and one of them was supposed to be inside,” Weis said. “I asked the same question… to be honest with you. Because usually at the start of drives I’ll miss the beginning of drives because I wanna make sure I correct the quarterback, and make sure the offense know what we’re gonna do to start the next drive.

“So I see ‘em pinned back, I’m expecting we’re gonna get good field position. So I’m already laying out the plan as if we’re gonna get the ball in plus-territory. And next thing you know, I hear a roar, and I turn around, and I see that guy right in front of my face.”

Opurum plays it cool

We learned something about senior captain Toben Opurum on Saturday night. And it wasn’t just that he’s continuing to grow as a rush end in Dave Campo’s defense. We also learned that Opurum can be a cool customer when he needs to be a little sly.

In late July, at Big 12 media days, Weis told reporters to not be “surprised” if we saw Opurum, an ex-running back, back in on offense in short-yardage situations.

So for most of August, Opurum was continually asked if Weis had talked to him about playing running back. Each time, Opurum would quietly shrug his shoulders — as if to say, “Nah, not really.”

Well, there was Opurum on offense on Saturday night, serving as the lead blocker on Pierson’s 3-yard touchdown run. Future employers of America, your secrets are safe with Toben Opurum.

Fun stat of the day

KU has now outscored South Dakota State 117-23 in their two meetings. Of course, it doesn’t help that KU once beat SDSU 86-6 in 1947.

Fun stat of the day II

Receivers Chris Omigie and Josh Ford both recorded blocked punts on specials teams on Saturday. According to KU officials, it was the first time KU blocked two kicks in the same game since doing it against Oklahoma in 2004.

Memorial atmosphere

Weis said he was generally pleased with the atmosphere in his first home game at Memorial Stadium. The student section was full — during the first half, at least — Weis got his first chance to start a new tradition by taking his team over to the students to sing the alma mater after the game.

“The only time that it got quiet was deservedly so,” Weis said, “because I thought there were periods of the game where we were flat.

“… I said to the players on the sideline, ‘Hey fellas, you’ve got to create the juice now,’ because there were times it was really loud and the fans were going nuts, and there were times it was really quiet. Usually those quiet times were directly related to how we were playing.”

The Gill Watch

Former KU coach Turner Gill was also making a debut last night, coaching his first game at Liberty. Well, hey, it looks like Gill is getting his new team to believe. The vaunted Flames nearly pulled an upset of Wake Forest, falling 20-17 after leading by a touchdown in the second half.

One more quote

“I’m very disappointed in how I played. I left a ton of throws out on the field. But more than anything, I’m just happy that we got a win.” — KU QB Dayne Crist