Sunday, January 27, 2013

No. 1?

YHD and I were texting back and forth about whether we'll take the #1 spot this week -- seems likely we'll be 1 in ESPN and 2 in AP behind Michigan. You can make a case either way: The Wolverines did lose at Columbus, where we won, but the Big 10 is such a gauntlet this year that it's quite an accomplishment for them to have only the one loss.

Next up is our first in-conference visit to W. Virginia -- yet another possible trap road game. This is a down year for them, but it's a good program, an unfamiliar arena for us, and no doubt will be a great crowd. Despite the regional incongruity, it could be beneficial to have them in the conference -- they still have Huggy Bear, and are only a couple of years removed from the Final Four. That makes them the only non-KU Big 12 team to have made the F. Four in about 8 years.

We haven't talked about Saturday's OU game, but I found it quite entertaining. Those of you watching on TV tragically missed out on the greatest/most ridiculous JumboTron video ever.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hanging in against the Power Kitties!

Another gutty inspired performance against a team that was eager to knock us off. I thought K State really gave max effort against us. I overheard Doug Gottlieb and Miles Simon both agreed that Bill Self was the best coach right now in college basketball. I'm not sure I'm there, but i sure as heck wouldn't trade back for Benedict Roy.

As for the game, I thought most of our guys played well in the hostile environment. Withey shook off the couple of fouls he drew and didn't let it bother him. His switch from the back lob to fronting the post late in the game put a lot of pressure on the opposition goon squad. Mclemore was, as usual, Mclemore, and even swatted away a couple of shots in the middle while Withey was out. Per Yancy, I'm going to amend my "garbage guy" statement on Relaford (though I meant it as a compliment). He's also our "glue guy" on this team. Beyond that, however, I thought he did a superb job hanging all over Macgruder all night. Relaford clearly bothered him quite a bit.

The surprise of the game, to me, was how well Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe came in off the bench. Without the efforts of those two guys, I don't think we win that game. I had really almost given up hope on Ellis and was ready to write him off as overhyped and a bust. At times he just seems to play too small for his skill set. But in this game, he got very aggressive and took it to KSt in a way I don't think I had seen yet.

Self seems to trust Tharpe more and more as games get tight. He's not making as many stupid shots and is playing better D, which were his two biggest liabilities. He's making MUCH better decisions with the ball than Ellijah right now, and seems to direct the offense a bit better. Ellijah's athleticism is just not enough in games where the other side has bigger guards too.

So, we won our biggest game on the road in a down year for the Big XII. Not to jinx it, but does that mean we go unbeaten? Somehow i don't think so. Ames and Stillwater have always been places where we don't play well. The Sooners maybe are better than both OSU and ISU, but we always play pretty well in Norman (or at least we have since the Taj Gray/Hollis Price era).

I didn't post for the Texas win, but that was of course an extremely gutty performance also. We're starting to look like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers who just put it on cruise control for a half and then say "ok it's time to play now". Still, I was sweating that one.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Isolating the Clutch Gene

Kansas has been great in crunch time this season. Since losing to Michigan State, the Jayhawks have outscored opponents 48-24 in the final 5 minutes of games within 5 points, including a 15-6 margin in the final 5 minutes against Texas today.  -- ESPN

I never think [we're going to lose] until zeroes are on the clock, and even then I still won’t believe it. --Elijah Johnson

After another nail-biting win, over the young Longhorns at Austin -- yet another game in which we looked terrible on offense for long stretches before roaring back to life just in the nick of time -- I'm thinking a lot about that mythical "clutch gene."

We've taken shots at Elijah this year, but I do love the kid. I love his game, I love his unselfishness, I love his devotion to KU, I love Yogi Berra-type comments like the one above, and I love all the clutch plays he's made for us.

If there is such a thing as a "clutch gene," he has it. No matter how badly he plays throughout a game, he always shows up in the endgame. Against the 'Horns, he gives us nothing but goose eggs and turnovers for 35 minutes yet there he is in crunch time, making a key layup, converting a high-pressure 1-and-1, and feeding BMac for the backbreaking slam.

Still, I can't help but side with the skeptics when it comes to the "clutch gene." And even if it does exist,  so to speak, it's not always going to be enough to make up for sloppy play the rest of the time. We thought we were "clutch" in 2010 as well -- until we came up against a disciplined Northern Iowa team that made us pay for our early-game sloppiness and didn't fold when we mounted a comeback. I mean, just think how great EJ would be -- and Kansas would be -- if he played the whole game.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baylor Falls -- And So Does Ben

Ay, dios mio. OK, latest word is that BMac has a manageable sprain and may be back for Saturday in Austin. I wasn't on hand for this one, but the gasps in the crowd were audible on ESPN when he went down writhing in pain.

This was only a minute after his beautiful, fluid alley-oop finish off a dish from EJ. (Highlights here.)

Our half-court offense is still looking a little wan at times -- we only shot like 37 percent. But the defense seems to have recovered with a vengeance, as we held the hapless Bears to a near-historic 23 percent. Needless to say, Self loved, loved, loved it.

EJ still can't seem to get his assist-TO ratio right-side-up, but he had a good game this time, esp. considering he had maybe the toughest defensive assignment KU will have in the regular season -- Pierre Jackson, who was rendered a non-factor. Elijah had some nice passes that should have been assists but guys didn't finish.

Everyone had some good moments, including Traylor and Ellis, who got themselves involved on both ends.

All in all, I'd say we looked like #4 in the nation, which we are, whereas two weeks ago we were #6 but looked like #1.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

BMac Attack

I could go negative about why we almost lost to the 'Clones last night (as Jesse Newell wrote, "It's time to start getting concerned" about Elijah's turnovers), but it's time we directed our attention to the best player in college basketball. This blog has slept on McLemore a bit even amid a lot of hyperbolic praise from others. A month ago, Keegan called him the best KU player in decades -- plural -- which was kind of a headscratcher (better than Pierce?). But it's difficult to overhype what he did last night.

The above .gif was from after the Ohio State game, but I think it's most apt today. BMac was the maestro last night; he was the one guy who never looked rattled down the stretch. He was graceful, calm, and composed when it appeared that all was lost, and he was graceful, calm, and composed a few minutes later after he had almost singlehandedly crushed ISU's hopes in overtime and the roof was flying off the Fieldhouse. 

We haven't seen anything like this at the Phog since Durant, but Durant wasn't this clutch. 

In fact, this was an all-time performance at any level of basketball: 10-12 from the field, 6-6 from deep, 7-7 from the line, for 33 points. Most importantly -- I can't emphasize this enough -- half of it came in crunch time. It's beyond belief. I'm only glad I was there to witness it.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Temple of Doom -- Almost

The Owls gave us all we wanted in our last, and biggest, noncon home game. They played hard-ass physical defense and gave us no daylight in the halfcourt. On offense, they played to the scouting report, missing their 3s but not turning the ball over, and Wyatt was as good as advertised.

They got away with manhandling Withey, and we didn't get the same breaks on the other end. As Self politely put it, "I’m not saying we got a bad whistle, but it probably wasn’t a typical home whistle, so to speak.” So I forgive Jeff's 3-for-10 shooting performance because he should have gone to the line on a lot of those "misses." If the game had been properly called, he gets a triple double.

The main problem was Elijah reverting a bit -- turning it over, unable to stop his man, and visibly frustrated. He did make plays down the stretch, and finished with 9 dimes. I just wish he would get it together as Ty did last year, and consistently live up to his NBA potential.

Shout-outs are due to Kevin for going 6 for 6 at the stripe in the final minutes, including a couple of high-pressure 1-and-1s, and to BMac for stepping up to stymie Wyatt when EJ and Travis could not; if this guy is going to become a defensive stopper in addition to everything else he does -- well, wow.

The quick sequence in the final minute when Releford's three was followed by Withey's ninth block drew maybe the loudest crowd response I've heard in this year. Good times.

Highlights here. Also today, for you KU history buffs, Danny's team beat Larry's team.