KSAL Staff - December 15, 2014 8:00 am
MAC STEVENSON LIVES IN SALINA, AND WRITES A WEEKLY COLUMN FOR OVER TEN NEWSPAPERS IN KANSAS
Kansas University moved their W-L record to 8-1 by defeating Utah 63-60 last Saturday; that statistic is impressive considering the schedule.
Coach Bill Self said, “The hardest part of the schedule, not from a competitive standpoint, but number of games, preparation—it ends with Utah. You go Rhode Island, Tennessee, Michigan State, Florida, Georgetown, and Utah . . . that’s a rough schedule in a short amount of time (17 days). So at least now we can catch our breath over finals week before playing Lafayette Dec. 20 and Temple Dec. 22. I kind of broke our nonconference, the first half ending Saturday and the second half beginning next week.”
It’s not only possible that KU will be 12-1 going into Big 12 play, it’s likely. Besides Lafayette and Temple, the Jayhawks play Kent State and UNLV. Temple is the only road game left on the nonconference schedule.
Reserve point guard Devonte Graham has been lost for three to four weeks with a turf toe injury, which might plague him throughout the season. That hurts the ball club because Graham will miss precious practice time during the semester break.
Frank Mason has come a long way at point guard; he’s been playing winning basketball for KU. And Wayne Selden is making progress at shooting guard, with outstanding defense and ball handling. Selden’s offense has been inconsistent, but it’s coming on.
Self needs improvement from centers Cliff Alexander and Landon Lucas; both have had some productive minutes, but they’ve been plagued by inconsistent play. Alexander can make huge strides if he listens to the coaching he’s getting and Lucas doesn’t have to be great, just effective.
Perry Ellis—as well as he has played—should take more shots facing the basket. Ellis is ineffective close to the basket against seven footers and big teams. But he has a great shooting touch and can hit a high percentage of his shots from 15-20 feet. Jamari Traylor is a solid sub at either forward spot.
Kelly Oubre has been slow developing, but all of a sudden he’s coming with a rush. Oubre can play on the perimeter or—in certain situations—at the power forward spot and he’s an up-and-coming defender.
Svi Mykhailiuk will become a scorer and his defense has already improved. Mykhailiuk has a superb shooting touch and just needs to gain confidence; he recently turned 17, which is the same age as most high school juniors. Facing the best in college basketball after coming from a foreign country (Ukraine) at age 17 is an adjustment that few youngsters could make.
It’s still early in the season and Coach Self already has his young team playing better basketball. KU needs to tighten up their ball handling, but the competitiveness has been all that could be expected to this point. This team is beginning to play with cohesion and they ask no quarter and give none.
Wichita State recorded a comeback win on the road against Detroit (77-68) and raised their record to 7-1. The Shockers have one of the best guard corps in the nation; however, they are short on size in the pivot. Darius Carter (6-7, 220) has been exceptional with his offense and rebounding, but he has insufficient help. Guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton are talented scorers and tenacious defenders.
If Coach Gregg Marshall can develop either Rashard Kelly or Shaquille Morris to help Carter in the pivot, Wichita State will be a formidable foe for all opponents in the Missouri Valley.
Kansas State’s basketball team hasn’t played up to their expectations so far, but the same could be said of last season. The Wildcats are 5-4 in their first nine games and have been inconsistent in all phases of their play.
Bruce Weber has proved he can coach young teams and this K-State team has talent. The lack of size in the pivot is, once again, a major problem. Senior Thomas Gipson (6-7, 245) has played well overall; the problem has been the slow progress of JUCO transfer Stephen Hurt (6-11, 265). Hurt has the tools. He has a soft shooting touch and moves well on the court; however, so far his rebounding and defense have lacked the necessary aggressiveness.
If K-State is going to become the team they’re capable of being, Hurt is going to have to be more competitive and assertive at the center position. If Hurt becomes a player, that will make Gipson more effective at the power forward position and K-State’s rebounding will improve dramatically.
Don’t count the Wildcats out yet. Much depends on whether or not Coach Weber and the experienced players can get through to Hurt that he’s a key to their team and has to perform at a big-time level.