Wizards

No. 6 Kansas begins chase for Big 12 championship

201301061644602432311-p2.jpeg

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.''

---

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

Quick Links

7 stats that define John Wall's history-making career (so far)

wall-offseason.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

7 stats that define John Wall's history-making career (so far)

This week is Wall Week at NBC Sports Washington. We are rolling out content each day centering around the Wizards' five-time All-Star point guard. Today, we take a deep dive into the numbers to illustrate Wall's career in Washington so far...

**Wall's career averages of 19.0 points and 9.2 assists put him in elite company. Only three other players in league history have averaged at least 19 and nine with at least 500 games played; Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas. Only Johnson and Robertson have also averaged at least four rebounds in addition, like Wall has.

**Wall is already well-represented on the Wizards/Bullets franchise's all-time leaderboards. He is first in career assists (5,282) and steals (976), second in free throws (2,456), third in points (10,879) and minutes played (20,545) and fourth in threes made (539). He is already third all-time in VORP (value over replacement player), a cumulative stat similar to WAR (wins above replacement) in baseball. Only Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes accrued more while in Washington.

**Wall has also put up some of the best individual seasons in franchise history. He has the No. 1, 3, 4 and 7 highest assist totals with his best year the 2016-17 season when he dished out 831. 

**Wall's 2016-17 campaign was also the only season in franchise history where a player averaged 20-plus points and 10-plus assists. He has 111 20-point, 10-assist games in his career which is by far the most in franchise history. Second on the list is Rod Strickland with 43. Gilbert Arenas is third with 24.

**Wall has 396 career blocks. Only six guards in NBA history have recorded more. Those six are Dwayne Wade (885), Clyde Drexler (719), Dennis Johnson (675), Jason Kidd (450), Kendall Gill (432) and Latrell Sprewell (399). Only Johnson and Kidd played most of their time at point guard, so Wall is third all-time at his position.

**Wall's 5,282 career assists are fifth among active players. Only Chris Paul (9,181), LeBron James (8,662), Rajon Rondo (6,975) and Russell Westbrook (5,701) have more.

**Unfortunately, injuries have significantly affected Wall's last two seasons. He has played a combined 73 regular season games the past two years. For context, he has played the same amount of games as Gordon Hayward, who appeared in just one game in 2017-18. And DeMarcus Cousins, despite going through a full rehab from a torn Achilles during that time, played in more games (78) than Wall.

NBA.com and Basketball Reference were used in this research

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Washington Nationals Roundup: Joe Ross exits game with leg injury

Washington Nationals Roundup: Joe Ross exits game with leg injury

A massive hot streak has the Nationals trending in the right direction with a month left in the regular season. They scored another 13 runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday in an all-around impressive offensive showing for the Nats. 

Player Notes:

SP Joe Ross exited Monday's game early in the fourth after being struck by a grounder on his right leg. Before the injury, he continued his incredible stretch of starts as he was through 3.1 innings with three hits and no runs. His last four starts have resulted in four wins for the Nationals and in the process, he's only yielded one run. His performance was so strong that he was making the case to be the team's fifth starter when Max Scherzer comes back later this week.

OF Juan Soto had a perfect night at the plate against the Pirates. Finishing 4-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and four runs scored he's continued his incredible sophomore campaign. In this outing, his OBP went up a whole six points to .404.

3B Asdrubal Cabrera had himself a career day with the Nationals in their 13-0 win over Pittsburgh. A two-run home run, a double and a sac fly supplied five of the Nats 13 runs. Those five RBIs were a new personal best for Cabrera, according to MASN. He's been a great add for the Nationals with an 11-for-29 plate performance in his nine games. 

INF Adrian Sanchez was recalled from Double-A Harrisburg to give some infield depth with the temporary absence of Brian Dozier. In 24 MLB games this year he is 6-for-27.

2B Brian Dozier placed on the paternity list and is expected to miss part of the Nats' series in Pittsburgh. He and his wife are expecting their first child.

Injuries:

2B Brian Dozier: Healthy, Paternity leave, day-to-day

SP Max Scherzer: Back, 10-Day IL, maybe back August 22

RP Roenis Elias: Hamstring, 10-Day IL, maybe back in mid-August

1B Ryan Zimmerman: Foot, 10-Day IL, maybe back in late-August

SP Austin Voth: Shoulder, 10-Day IL, maybe back in late-August

RP Sean Doolittle: Knee, 10-Day-IL, out indefinitely 

RP Jonny Venters: Shoulder, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, 10-Day IL, out indefinitely

Coming Up:

Tuesday 8/20: Nationals @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park
Wednesday 8/21: Nationals @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park 
Thursday 8/22: Nationals @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park

via Rotoworld

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: