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No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

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No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson squeezed behind a table just off the Allen Fieldhouse court and started taking questions after wrapping up non-conference play with a win over Temple.

The pair of seniors for sixth-ranked Kansas was asked whether they were looking forward to the start of the Big 12 grind, an 18-game odyssey that will include match-ups with two newcomers and all the usual pressure, intensity and nerves that come with late-season basketball.

``We're really excited,'' Young said. ``Get to see the new places we get to go to, TCU and West Virginia. I think it'll be fun this year.''

Johnson quickly chimed in: ``It's fun every year'' - probably because they win every year.

They Jayhawks will begin pursuit of a record ninth straight Big 12 title when they welcome Iowa State to the Phog on Wednesday night. The late time they failed to finish first was 2005, when Oklahoma won the title. Otherwise, they've won six outright championships and twice shared the title with Texas, in 2006 and '08 - the year the Jayhawks won the national title.

``It is pretty good, and we're proud of it,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``We haven't got nine. We've got eight. Nine would be as difficult to win as any other.''

That may not be entirely true.

The conference is considered down this season with No. 18 Kansas State the only other team in the Top 25. The Horned Frogs and Mountaineers have both struggled, while recent departure Missouri is flying high at No. 10 as it begins its first season in the SEC.

So while a handful of schools, including Oklahoma State, Texas and the Cyclones, are capable of beating the Jayhawks (12-1) on any given night, they'll need to prove they can better Kansas over the course of a double-round-robin schedule that doesn't offer much chance of a reprieve.

The Jayhawks' remarkable run is approaching rarified status.

UCLA under John Wooden won 13 consecutive conference championships, a feat sometimes lost amid the Bruins' seven straight national titles. Gonzaga won 11 straight league titles before last season, when St. Mary's edged the `Zags by a game in the West Coast Conference standings.

The trick for Self is to spin the pressure that comes with constantly winning championships into a positive, rather than a negative. He'd prefer his players to think of winning a ninth title as an opportunity, rather than a responsibility.

``We have a chance to do something special. I think we all want to do that,'' Self said. ``But there's also a responsibility that we don't want to get our butts beat, and be the team that doesn't do it. So I think we're motivated both ways, to be quite candid.''

The Jayhawks are once again built for success. They have the nation's top shot-blocker in Jeff Withey, one of the game's dynamic freshman guards in Ben McLemore, and four senior starters - a rarity in the era of early NBA entrants - who played roles in taking the Jayhawks to the national title game last season.

They're starting to click, too. After losing to Michigan State on a neutral floor in early November, the Jayhawks have rattled off 11 consecutive wins, along the way beating Ohio State on the road, routing Pac-12 contender Colorado and fending off a game challenge from Temple.

``I didn't sleep much after watching the Colorado game,'' said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, referring to the 90-54 throttling on Dec. 8. ``They just absolutely - from the jump ball, it was like there was eight guys on the court.''

Hoiberg should know something about Kansas' dominance. When he played for the Cyclones from 1991-95, the Jayhawks won the regular-season Big Eight title three out of four years.

``They're scary good,'' Hoiberg said. ``They do such a good job of making team uncomfortable, especially early on in games with the way they pressure, with the way they force turnovers, with the way they execute, with the way they get out in transition. It's a difficult team to play.''

Especially at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have won 30 in a row.

Self understands the value in winning conference titles, but he also knows that Kansas is a place where legacies are defined by national championships. He won his first in 2008 and nearly a second last season, and he'd be more jazzed doing that than winning another eight league crowns.

Or even three in four years, which Alabama just accomplished in football.

``If we're not the best in our league, we don't deserve to be mentioned with the best in the country, is how I look at it,'' Self said. ``I don't think our players in any way, shape or form are ever satisfied, or confident or relaxed, based on the Big 12, because that's just part of the stepping-stone to get where you want to go.''

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AP Sports Writer Luke Meredith in Ames, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Survey of NBA general managers reportedly shows divide in how teams want to proceed with season

Survey of NBA general managers reportedly shows divide in how teams want to proceed with season

A conference call between NBA general managers and commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday revealed a divide as to how the GMs think the league should proceed if able to finish the 2019-20 season, according to a report by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.

GMs were given a survey, the results of which were revealed on the call, and according to the report, they were split on several things:

  • Half the general managers voted to skip the rest of the regular season and go straight to the playoffs

  • More than half voted to reseed the playoffs 1 to 16, regardless of conference

  • About 75 percent voted in favor of a play-in tournament for bubble teams to determine the final playoff seeds; the other 25 percent voted in favor of a World Cup-style group stage

The play-in tournament was reported as a potential option by ESPN on Wednesday. Labeled as a “playoffs plus” format, it would allow teams just outside of the playoff picture like the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings -- all separated by just 1.5 games -- a way to play themselves into the playoffs if the regular season is in fact canceled. 

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The Wizards, currently the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference and 5.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, weren’t mentioned in the report, but it did say 20-24 teams would be included. This would likely include Washington.

According to O’Connor, teams with top seeds like the East-leading Bucks and West-leading Lakers favor the play-in option over a group stage, likely because they get an easier matchup against lower-seeded teams and a less difficult path to a title. And because teams will always vote in their own best interest, the survey isn’t an indication of what will ultimately happen.

“There was zero commitment to any one plan,” one of the GMs told O’Connor. “But it was a call to gather more information.”

On Friday, Silver will talk with the league’s board of governors to discuss formats to resume the season, a potential timeline for return, and more. But nothing is expected to be determined on that call either.

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NFL, EA Sports agree to six year extension of Madden video game franchise

NFL, EA Sports agree to six year extension of Madden video game franchise

The Madden franchise will continue to be a part of the gaming universe for at least the next six years.

NFL owners on Thursday approved an extension of their deal with Electronic Arts, continuing a relationship that has existed for 30 years. It was also recently approved by the NFL Players Association.

The current contract was set to expire after the 2021 season. The extension means that EA Sports will continue to be the league's exclusive publisher of football simulation games through 2026.

EA Sports Executive Vice President Cam Weber said both sides had been talking for months. Many wondered what the future of the relationship might be after 2K Sports signed an agreement with the NFL in March to produce non-simulation games.

The current edition of Madden has seen a 30% increase in unique players. According to Electronic Arts, more than 330 million hours of the game have been played since it was released last August. The company has also seen large increases in gameplay during the past couple of months as people have been confined to their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, with many tournaments taking place among friends and on television.

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Rachel Hoagland, the league's vice president and head of gaming and esports, said keeping the Madden franchise at the core of their video gaming strategy was important, especially with the emergence of new platforms and gaming systems. Sony and Microsoft have announced new generations of gaming consoles that are expected to debut by the end of the year.

"EA has done a nice job of ensuring the game matches the experience during a game week. The new technology will allow richer content and add more realism," she said.

Madden NFL 21 will come out in early August with the first looks at the game coming next week. 

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was last year's cover athlete. Baltimore quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson said in April that he would be on the cover this year, but EA Sports has not made an announcement.

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