How Much Blame Should Bill Self Get in Last Night’s Kansas Loss?

Photo via 247Sports

In the week leading up to Kansas and Oklahoma’s Super Tuesday match up on ESPN, each team had different storylines. For Kansas, they took over sole possession of first place, something no one expected at the start of Big 12 play. For Oklahoma, they dropped two games, and the narrative was ‘Is Trae Young forcing too much?’ Both storylines changed Tuesday, when the Sooners topped the Jayhawks 85-80 in Norman.

Kansas held a 10 point lead with under 10 minutes to play in the second half. After a Svi Mykhailiuk made three pointer, KU looked to be in control. But then, Matt Freeman checked in. Freeman, a sophomore, plays 12 minutes for the Sooners, but he changed the game when he came on the floor. How does a player change the course of a game while finishing with zero points, zero assists and zero rebounds? He fouls. A lot.

Freeman fouled out in just two minutes of play, as Lon Kruger and Oklahoma resorted to the “Hack-A-Shaq” game plan on KU’s Udoka Azubuike. Seemingly unable to stop the Jayhawk offense, Kruger decided to make Azubuike, a 38% free throw shooter, beat them down the stretch. Azubuike went 1-7 from the line. That left the door for Christian James and Brady Manek to drain huge three pointers, and push Oklahoma to a win.

The loss gives the Sooners a much needed sigh of relief, but for Kansas, they are left with a sour taste in their mouths. Did Bill Self make the right decision to leave in his center during such a crucial situation? After the game, Self said it was not the right decision, but said it was a confidence move for his player. While a win would have set the Jayhawks up nicely for a 14th straight Big 12 title, I think Self made the right move in this scenario.

Defending the Head Coach’s Move

Kansas has a collection of experienced guards, and inexperienced post players. Azubuike, albeit a sophomore, only played in 11 games last season due to a hand injury. As a result, Self needs to know what he can get out of, basically his only legitimate post player, in crunch time. Azubuike leads the team in rebounding, and has has one of the highest field goal percentages in the country. He’s a guy you want on the court in end of game scenarios for a number of reasons. While winning the conference is great, coaches are judged, fair or not, by how they do in March. In order for Self to succeed in March, he needs to know how he can handle end of game situations with this KU team. It would be better to learn this lesson now than in March, right?

Aside from that, Self’s options were thin. Last night may have been an exception, as backup center Mitch Lightfoot had a strong game. But in general, Lightfoot is wildly inconsistent when he’s on the court. He can sometimes be soft down low, and doesn’t rebound as well as Azubuike. For a Kansas team that already struggles to rebound the basketball, you want your leading rebounder in there. With a lead and thing bench options, you want to leave in your leading rebounder and hope you can close it out on the defensive end. You would hope Azubuike would be able to at least split his free throws.

Lastly, as a coach, you want to show support in your players. I know at the end of the day, the goal is to win. It’s how coaches keep their jobs. But Bill Self isn’t going anywhere unless he chooses to. It benefits Kansas in the long run for Azubuike to know his coach and team have faith in him. You put faith in your player to keep his focus and confidence knowing his team is behind him. I know the results are not what Rock Chalk faithful wanted, but I believe it will help down the road.

Kansas still controls their own destiny in the Big 12. It would be great to be two games up over everyone in the conference, but they still rest at the top alone. They have that big win at West Virginia, something most teams will not get. This will be a game that stings KU and their fans right now, but it will be forgotten. It doesn’t compare to how badly those losses in March sting. And that’s what Self was playing for. Self’s decision last night, while playing a big hand in the loss, will help this Kansas team in a big game when the season is on the line.

ESPN Needs to Bring Back 24 Hours of College Basketball

Gone are the days of Utah Valley vs Wyoming at midnight

Tuesday night was the Champions Classic. It’s been said a hundred times, but the hype leading up to the Champions Classic is unrivaled to any other early season tournament or game. It’s four college basketball blue bloods and four Hall of Fame coaches. That said, one of the things that made the Champions Classic so great was that it was the culmination of 24 straight hours of college basketball on ESPN. The 24 Hours of College Basketball on ESPN was the true sign that college basketball was back. It was a college basketball junkie’s dream. To be able to turn on ESPN for a legitimate 24 hours and find college basketball on.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, or at least ESPN felt. In October they announced the marathon would not see its tenth year. The reasoning does make sense on their part. It is a tall task to broadcast 24 hours of college basketball, and the viewership of a 3 AM game is probably pretty low. Regardless, for some smaller programs, it was their lone chance to play on a national stage all season. And for a basketball lifer, it was a dream come true.

Can’t sleep? Check out Hawaii and Long Beach State. At work? Sneak a peek at Iona taking on Quinnipiac. Just don’t let your boss see. College basketball may have officially tipped off four days prior, but that Tuesday, when 24 Hours of College Basketball started, it was official. College basketball was upon us.

ESPN didn’t pull the plug on us cold turkey. They did come up with the PK80 tournament. This four-day, 16-team tournament in honor of Nike founder Phil Knight features ranked teams like Duke, Michigan State, UNC, Gonzaga and Florida. The potential semifinal and final match ups in each bracket will undoubtedly be a joy to watch over Thanksgiving break. But it’s not 24 hours. It’s not teams looking to make a statement in their only nationally televised game. These teams will be on TV all year.

ESPN said they will look into ways to broadcast 24 consecutive hours of basketball more easily and efficiently. The door is not closed, but it doesn’t look very open. With so many early season tournaments, it’s hard to imagine a return actually happening. That is sad to think about. 24 Hours of College Basketball was a staple for the past 9 years, and I hope ESPN finds a way to bring it back in a big way.

Noah Locke- HG Insider Player Spotlight

noah locke

McDonogh School’s Noah Locke is currently the 80th ranked player in the class of 2018. His recruitment has been on the steady incline ever since his freshman season. Like most to-be seniors, this summer is a giant one for Locke.

Locke showed what all of the buzz around his name is about at the Oladipo Skills Academy. On Wednesday night Locke found a way to score the ball consistently against some of the top players in the nation. Locke’s jumper was definitely on display, but he was able to do a lot of damage off the bounce as well. The rising senior spoke on his experience at camp.

“I have to play to the hype with me having a lot of schools contacting and offering me,” said Locke. “There’s a target on my back so I need to work even harder now.”

He has established himself as one of the best shooters in his class. Locke is an exciting player to watch with his ability to score in bunches. He helped lead Team Melo to a Peach Jam berth in their first year on the 17u circuit. He added a blue-blood offer in Kansas recently and is garnering more attention with his recruitment. Michigan, Providence and others are also making Locke a priority. For the next level, Locke will need to find a place with the right system and he then he should be able to succeed on a big stage. He was one of the leading scorers on the Nike EYBL circuit with 18.2 points per game. Locke also put these big numbers efficiently as he shot 51 percent from the field. Locke is definitely a fun player to watch and has a good head on his shoulders. He will look to finish his high school career at the McDonogh School with a bang, which he is more than capable of doing. Locke is someone to track on the grassroots scene as he is progressing at a rapid pace and his recruitment continues to blossom.

NJ Tip-Off Game 4 Preview

Game 4 7:00: Roselle Catholic vs Pope John

A big time Top 20 matchup between #2 (NJ Hoops) team in New Jersey, Roselle Catholic, against #19 ranked Pope John.  Roselle Catholic will feature some of the best players this state has to offer, starting with ESPN #10 2018 Naz Reid. The 6’10 forward is as talented as anyone in the country. If you haven’t seen him play live, you will not want to miss this game. Roselle has more than just Reid, including Temple Commit Nate Pierre-Louis, and do-it-all forwards Alanzo Frink and Khalil Whitney both of whom have a host of major scholarship offers. With all this talk about Roselle Catholic, I should warn you not to sleep on Pope John. Starting with 6’7 forward Samba Diallo, who is as impactful as any player in the state! Aiding him will be ’18 Aaron Clark and ’19 Jack Cavanaugh, both of which are hoping to make a statement in the state. Coach Vincent Johnson will have his team ready to go as they look to make a splash in their first game of the year!

Chris Lykes commits to Miami Hurricanes

Chris Lykes committed to Jim Larranaga and Miami Sunday, choosing the Hurricanes over Villanova. 

Reggie Rankin, of ESPN’s Recruiting Nation, said Chris Lykes is “one of the fastest rising prospects in the class of 2017,” and as an alum of the Hoop Group, we couldn’t agree more.

Lykes is a 5-foot-6 point guard for Gonzaga College High School, hailing from Bowie, Md. Starting out unranked in his 2017 class, has shot up to No. 46 spot.

Chris Lykes

Chris Lykes

Larranaga made his selling point pretty clear from the start. On top of a successful resume working with small guards, Lykes was sold on the immediate opportunity to contribute for the Canes in the competitive ACC.

“He is a leader and has the basketball IQ of a coach. Lykes has three point range and can get into the lane at will where he is an excellent finisher and finder,” Rankin said about the future Cane.

The four-star recruit will join D.J. Russell, a three-star forward out of Jacksonville, Fla., that has been committed to Miami for four years.