Kansas basketball coach Bill Self can see why senior point guard Devonté Graham referred to sophomore Malik Newman as “Mr. March” after the Jayhawks’ 85-81 Elite Eight victory over Duke on Sunday in Omaha, Neb.
“Here of late, Devonté has got a sidekick or you could even say Malik has got a sidekick in Devonté because he has been our best player without question this past month,” Self said on Monday’s Final Four coaches teleconference.
Newman, a 6-3 sophomore combo guard from Jackson, Miss., was voted as the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional — Graham also made the all-tourney team — after scoring a career-high 32 points against Duke, including all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in overtime.
Newman had 17 points in an 80-76 Sweet 16 victory over Clemson, 28 points in an 83-79 second-round victory over Seton Hall and 10 points and six boards in the tourney opener versus Penn. Newman also was chosen MOP of the Big 12 Tournament after scoring 72 points in KU’s three wins.
“In the last three weeks or a month, it's just incredible how he has performed in all areas,” Self said. “Everybody talked about his 32 points yesterday, but the job he did on Grayson Allen was tremendous.”
Guarded by Newman, Duke senior guard Allen scored 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting (2 of 9 from three). Allen’s last-second jumper in regulation, which was closely guarded by Newman, kissed softly on the rim before falling away. The two teams headed to OT with the score tied, 72-72.
“He was one of the most highly recruited guards in the country coming out of high school and we missed out on him and he went to Mississippi State, obviously,” Self said of the transfer. “He was nicked up that year (2015-16) and probably didn't have the freshman year that everyone thought he would, and he went through the (NBA) combine, and certainly at the combine the feedback was that he needed to certainly improve in some areas.”
So Newman transferred to KU, where he practiced but did not play in games in 2016-17 in accordance with NCAA rules.
“I thought last year he did a great job of doing things that the NBA people said he needed to improve on,” Self said. “But when you're coaching a redshirt, when they're on the scout team and they take a bad shot or don't guard one day as well as they should, it's usually not the same emphasis if you're eligible and playing ample minutes. He probably — although he looked great last year to us — he probably got by with some stuff. Then this year, I felt like he's always been a good offensive player, but I was on his butt pretty hard for not doing some other things, and that probably limited his offense, as well.”
Self added that Newman has “always been a good defensive rebounder for us, but I didn't feel like he did anything to take any pressure off of Devonté. He didn't drive the ball to ever get him a shot off the catch. Devonté had to do everything off the bounce. I just felt like he was forcing Devonté to do too much. And we made that very clear to him.”
Newman said after the Duke game that his outstanding play of late offensively can be credited to “me learning how to play with Devonté, Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Lagerald (Vick), learning how to play off those guys and learning how to play with those guys.”
Nova compared to KU
Villanova coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats, who will meet Kansas in a national semifinal on Saturday in San Antonio (40 minutes after the conclusion of the Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan semifinal, which is set for a 5:09 p.m. start on TBS), are familiar with the Big 12.
Villanova beat Texas Tech 71-59 in the Elite Eight and West Virginia 90-78 in the Sweet 16.
“It's interesting to me that I heard (West Virginia coach) Bob Huggins say that we remind them of Kansas. I heard (Tech coach) Chris Beard say we remind them of Kansas. When I heard that, I always took that as a compliment, and now we've got to play against them, so now I'm not so excited about it,” Wright said on the teleconference.
“It’s funny. I think both of us really like to shoot the three-ball, but both of us really try to be good defensive teams and good rebounding teams. It's going to be interesting who can stop each other. You know, I think we both think that way. But it's hard to do against these teams. But it's hard to do against us, and it's very hard to do against Kansas.”
Wright added of KU: “They are as explosive an offensive team, I think, as we've played all year in terms of always having the ability to be a great team and using their big men. And now they've probably got, in addition to their bigs, the best perimeter team they've ever had. Still maintaining their defensive toughness and rebounding is pretty amazing. We always watched Bill Self's teams to learn how to use big guys and now he's still got those big guys that are really effective, but the guards are amazing. So it's going to be a very difficult defensive matchup for us.”
Moser respects KU’s Self
Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser on Self: “The thing I love about Bill Self was Bill seemed to be the same guy he was when he was at Oral Roberts. I remember I was an assistant coach at Texas A&M, a young guy, and I remember seeing Bill, it might have been Hutchinson, Kansas, and we were talking. And then you see him at Illinois, you see him at Kansas, and he still walks up to you, ‘Hey, Porter.’
“I've known Bill for many, many years and that's one thing I've always like and admired about him, he's been the same guy as he was to me and other guys in this profession as he was when he was at Oral Roberts, and I truly respect that.”
Self says he’s known Moser at least 25 years.
“Right now, I know (who) everybody in the country is, but we're all in awe about how hard his kids play, how tough they play, and how well they play together. It's a remarkable story and certainly deserves all the attention it's getting. He deserves so much of that credit,” Self said of Loyola’s success.
Peers respect Beilein
Michigan coach John Beilein on being designated the “cleanest coach in college basketball” in a poll of more than 100 coaches conducted by CBSSports.com: “Well, I think I represent hundreds of Division I coaches that are doing things the right way … there's 360 coaches, there's hundreds of us doing it exactly the same way. Probably much too much made of that, but I'm very proud to be one of those many coaches,” he said.
Early scout on Villanova
“They've got six guys averaging double figures,” Self said. “We’re a good three-point shooting team, really good, and we're averaging 10 (threes) a game and they're averaging 11 and a half. All six of their primary scorers can all make threes, and their seventh man can also make them. They can stretch you from all spots. We know we're going to have to be great on both ends, but certainly we're going to have to really defend and rebound.”