Kansas junior guard Devonté Graham has followed the performance of rival Big 12 teams during the 2016-17 nonconference season.
“I’ve got the ESPN app. They all come to my phone when they play. I try to watch when I can,” Graham said Wednesday. “I know TCU has been playing great.”
The Horned Frogs and No. 3-ranked Jayhawks will take identical 11-1 records into Friday’s 8 p.m. tipoff at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
TCU, which KU coach Bill Self calls “certainly one of the most improved teams in America” under first-year coach Jamie Dixon, is receiving votes in the USA Today coaches poll and has an RPI of 25 compared to KU’s RPI of 8.
The Frogs, who have beaten Washington twice and won at UNLV, obviously would love to saddle the Jayhawks with an 0-1 conference record as they embark on their quest for a 13th consecutive Big 12 crown.
“What we’ve been talking about lately,” Graham said, “is conference play is here.
“It’s time to take another step. Every game will be a close, tough game. Everybody is aiming for us. We have a big target on our chest. Everybody wants to see Kansas lose the Big 12. Every game means something, even more now than nonconference. Everybody is coming for us.”
The Jayhawks can tie UCLA for the most consecutive regular-season league crowns in history this season. The Bruins won 13 straight Pac-10 titles from 1967 to ’79.
Self — he said he last addressed the streak with the team in early September — was asked Wednesday if trying to catch UCLA provided him “personal motivation.”
“I don’t think whether UCLA won 20 or nine or whatever, I don’t think it would be any more personal motivation,” Self said. “I just want this team to be as good as it can be.
“It would be nice to tie that record because that is a pretty good record. That right there … I don’t lay up at night thinking about, ‘Oh gosh, if we could just match UCLA.’ Now if we had (Bill) Walton or (Lew) Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and those guys, maybe we could talk like that. That’s not anything I think about,” he added, smiling.
Coach not feeling well
Self had a low-key 54th birthday celebration on Tuesday.
“We practiced in the morning, had a clinic (for youths). I actually wasn’t available for that. I didn’t feel very well,” Self said. “I spent half my birthday just resting.”
Asked if he had the flu, Self said: “I didn’t go to the doctor and ask exactly what it was. I don’t know what all the symptoms are for that. I probably have one or two of them.”
The Jayhawks returned from their three-day holiday break on Monday.
“We’ve had a good three practices since we’ve been back,” Self said. “Guys seem to be in good spirits. They know intensity and everything will go up a notch or two beginning Friday. I don’t know if you are ever as prepared as you want to be. I feel like the guys will be ready to play.”
Azubuike back on campus
KU freshman center Udoka Azubuike, who is out for the season after tearing ligaments in his left wrist at practice on Dec. 20, was to return to campus Wednesday.
“They are consulting and trying to find a time. It should be in the next couple weeks,” Self said of Azubuike’s surgery, which will keep him out of action several months. He’s expected to be full speed “sometime this summer,” Self said.
Self said Landen Lucas and Svi Mykhailiuk would start against TCU along with Josh Jackson, Frank Mason and Graham.
Talking about bigs
Self said 6-8 freshman Mitch Lightfoot was currently the third big behind Lucas and Carlton Bragg.
“He needs reps, game time, needs to be able to play through mistakes which we haven’t given him a lot of opportunities to do that,” Self said of Lightfoot. “I hate to say this, it sounds like you are taking away a guy’s game (but) just don’t screw up. Defend, run, jump, rebound, play hard, make easy plays. Those are things I think he can do. When he does those things he’ll get more freedom to expand his game offensively.”
Of 6-9 Dwight Coleby, Self said: “Right now Dwight would be our fourth big and it could change. Certainly the opportunity he’ll have to play more is for him to be ready when his number is called. I don’t talk to him about, ‘Stay out of foul trouble’ or anything like that. You can talk about playing smarter, not fouling 90 feet from the basket, but just be ready when your number is called.”
Of Coleby’s foul woes, Self said: “The thing about it, when you are a reserve you get no break from officials. When you are a starter and have a reputation you get all the breaks. Trust me, (Chris) Piper fouled half as much as Danny (Manning) did when Danny played here. Piper got called for twice as many fouls. Piper would be the first to tell you that. That’s the way it works. I remember when ‘Pipe’ was here as a seventh man (in 1985-86) he’d get three fouls in the first five minutes. He’s in there all the time and doing the same thing everybody else is doing. It’s that he didn’t have a reputation. I think that happens a lot not intentionally but subconsciously. I do think Barry Bonds got the benefit of having a good eye where a pinch hitter might not have that same benefit. I think that’s pretty natural.”