KU Falters Against Michigan State

After controlling the first 30 minutes of the game against Michigan State, Tuesday, No. 4 Kansas faltered down the stretch on both ends of the court, surrendering an 11 point lead and the game to the Spartans at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., in the night cap of the 2015 Champions Classic.

KU now falls to 1-4 all-time in the tournament, which consists of Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan State.

The Jayhawks, which on paper appear to the be the better team, and throughout the majority of the game proved to be the better team, couldn’t make shots down the stretch, while also failing to stop MSU from scoring, particularly Denzel Valentine, who ended the night with a triple double.

The loss itself isn’t a big deal for the Jayhawks, as it’s only the second regular season game of the season, but the way in which KU gave the game away is an unfortunate trend which has been on-going for the last 3-4 seasons.

Any Kansas fan which has watched the group of players knows what that means; A lack of toughness down the stretch, the inability to close teams out, and losing games in which they were in full control of for nearly the entire 40 minutes.

Another concerning aspect to the loss is the continued frustration of Self seemingly struggling to find a consistent rotation with this group, as well as taking advantage of the depth everyone claims Kansas has, but when you look at the box score, only 7, maybe 8 players are seeing significant playing time.

The biggest beef fans have had following the loss is the lack of playing time for Kansas’ two best outside shooters–Brannen Greene and Svi Mykhailiuk–when the Jayhawks’ offense slumped and shots weren’t falling. On top of that, freshman power forward Cartlon Bragg, Jr., who has made an instant impact for Kansas, as well as Hunter Mickelson, a player which Self has said has been the most improved since the end of the last season, sat on the bench behind the likes of Landen Lucas.

The best way to describe the decision to sit those players in favor of a mediocre Lucas, and Wayne Selden, Jr., (who is overall one of KU’s better players, but an average to below average jump-shooter) is at best, perplexing.

Self obviously knows his team better than any fan or media member, but with the talk of so much depth, and a guy like Greene, who is coming off an 18-point performance against Northern Colorado in which he went 5-for-5 from three point range, sitting on the bench down the stretch when KU needs points simply doesn’t make sense.

It’s almost as if Self has his favorites, but if one thing has been proven, his favorites aren’t always the players which can go win you a game, and ultimately that’s the goal each time KU takes the court.

Prior to the game against Michigan State, Self said his team is probably a month ahead of where they normally would be, thanks to their trip to South Korea for the World University Games, but if that’s the case, a loss like Tuesday’s should have never happened.

Still, it’s the second game of the season, which means there is plenty of time to improve upon things, but if you are a KU fan watching this group which, for the most part has been together for three seasons, continue to slip up in big games that they have no business losing, you have to be somewhat concerned.

Next up for the Jayhawks is a chance to get back on track against Chaminade, the host team of the 2015 Maui Jim Maui Invitational, located at the Lahaina Civic Center.

KU has played in the Maui multiple times, its last coming in 2012 when it lost to Duke in the championship game. Kansas would eventually go on to make a National Championship game appearance in which it lost to Anthony Davis and the Kentucky Wildcats. The game is scheduled for an 8:00 tip on ESPNU.

Kansas handles N. Colorado

The regular season has finally started and No. 4 Kansas opened things up by dominating Northern Colorado in Allen Fieldhouse, 109-72.

Off the bench, Brannen Greene led all Kansas scorers with 18 points, hitting all 5 of his three-point attempts.

As a team, the Jayhawks hit 15 three’s and put on an offensive display not seen in quite some time. While Northern Colorado wasn’t the best competition the Jayhawks will face this season, to come out game 1 and put up 109 on 55% shooting is a major plus for a team expecting to reach the Final Four.

Four of the five starters for Kansas reached double-digits in scoring (Jamari Traylor had 8 points), and Frank Mason III was one assist shy of a double-double, scoring 11 points and recording 9 assists to just 2 turnovers.

As Bill Self said after the game, this may potentially be the deepest team he’s had at Kansas, and because of the World University Games over the summer, his Jayhawks are probably a month ahead of where his teams usually are to start the season.

Winning the gold and going undefeated in South Korea was rewarding, but having freshman learn plays and grasp Self’s system early on to gain readiness for the 2015-16 season may have been the ultimate reward.

In most cases, Self’s teams usually begin to clock following Christmas break when they’ve played a dozen games and have unlimited practice time over the holidays.

Now, the Jayhawks have the benefit of being prepared for the season at the outset, much like Kentucky was last season after playing in Puerto Rico over the summer.

For Greene, a streaky player that has had an up and down career at Kansas, exploding for 18 points off the bench and post-hip surgery which kept him from playing following the end of last season is a bonus for Kansas in terms of its offense.

Greene has proven to be Kansas’ best three-point marksman, but disciplinary issues and frequent visits to Self’s doghouse have kept him from fully blossoming in Lawrence.

Defensively, Kansas held the Bears to 39% shooting from the floor, and just 33% from behind the arc.

With new rules in place, making it tougher for players on the defensive side of the ball to be physical with on-ball defense, coaches have been worried about foul trouble, particularly early on in the season while everyone adjusts.

KU recorded just 24 personal fouls for the game, and with its depth, only saw one player–Landen Lucas–have more than 3 fouls on the night.

On the flip side, the Bears ended up with 35 personal fouls and had three players foul out of the game, including two starters.

Next up is a date with Michigan State as apart of the Champions Classic, this time in Chicago. The tournament, which enters its fourth year, features Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State. This year is a reboot from the first edition, with Kentucky taking on Duke in the first sessions, followed by the night capper between the Jayhawks and Spartans.

Kansas’ next home game at Allen Fieldhouse will be December 1 against Loyola (MD).

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No. 4 Kansas Wins Exhibition Opener

Wednesday night marked the beginning of a new season of Kansas Basketball, as the No. 4 Jayhawks opened their 2-game exhibition play against Pittsburg State with an 89-66 win.

Bill Self, for the first time in many years, has a team loaded with experienced players. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Jr., Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason III, and Landen Lucas, have all been in the program for multiple seasons.

When speaking to the media earlier this week, Self spoke about his team potentially practicing poorly of late due to boredom and needing to face someone other than themselves on the hardwood.

Whether it was starting off a little too amped and fired up, or just the rust of having not played in an actual game, the Jayhawks struggled in the early going against a Gorillas team which always comes to Allen Fieldhouse with a nothing-to-lose mentality.

Shooting, in particular, was atrocious for both team throughout the first half. Despite the poor shooting, however, Kansas’ defense wasn’t where it needed to be in terms of intensity, and with 8 minutes to go before the break, KU was clinging to a meager 19-16 lead.

Self, after calling several timeouts and letting his players know about their lackluster play, watched his team go on a spurt over the course of the final three minutes, turning a once close game into a laugher.

Perry Ellis led Kansas with 22 points, and looked to be in great form with his play. While it was a good sign to see KU’s top player performing at a high level, the surprise of the night went to freshman forward Carlton Bragg, who scored 14 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 21 minutes of action.

Bragg played so well that Self gave him the nod to start the second half in place of Landen Lucas.

Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson also displayed his improvement over the summer by providing Kansas with great energy on both ends of the floor and showing that he knows how to get himself around the ball.

Mickelson, who Self said would likely be considered the obvious most improved player in the eyes of the fans, put in a highlight-reel dunk after a Bragg miss, jumping over the top of a defender and flushing the ball home with one hand.

If one thing is certain, it’s that Bill Self has plenty of depth at his disposal. Prior to halftime, Self had played 11 players in total. While he would like to see his rotation stay around 8-9, knowing you have additional depth beyond that will create plenty of competitiveness in practice and will keep players hungry to earn playing time, particularly on the perimeter where Mason, Devonte Graham, and Wayne Selden, Jr., are likely to the majority of the minutes.

Two players Kansas needs to see major improvement from in order to have the type of success expected this season, are Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.

Greene is a deadly outside shooter and can change the course of a game quickly with his ability to knock down shots, and Mykhailiuk, also a sharp-shooter, is projected to eventually be a top 10 draft pick.

If Self can get production out of those two, both of which posses plenty of size and athleticism on the perimeter, Kansas will remain one of the title favorites throughout the year.

Next up for Kansas is a Nov. 10 (Tuesday) exhibition game against Fort Hays State before opening up the regular season versus Northern Colorado on Friday, Nov. 13.

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