It’s conference season again in college basketball, which means a few things. People will debate whether Kansas can win the Big 12 again. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg will continue to build his case as the most interesting man in Iowa. The proliferation of ridiculously entertaining television games will continue over the next three months.
It’s good times, yes. But before we turn the page to Kansas’ Big 12 opener at Baylor on Wednesday night, The Chalkboard has decided to hand out some awards for the non-conference season. Mostly, of course, this is a ploy to fully appreciate Wayne Selden’s diving save against UNLV, which Bill Self has christened as Kansas’ play of the year (so far) — even if it required Jamari Traylor inexplicably flipping the ball toward an empty patch of hardwood.
First, here is the play. It begins with Frank Mason forcing a turnover and Traylor hitting the deck for a loose ball. Traylor, apparently thinking Kelly Oubre was not going to sprint full speed down the court, throws the ball to the sideline, where it appears it will go out of bounds. This is where Selden comes in.
Never miss a local story.
The diving save, which led to a layup on the other end, was reminiscent of Selden’s ridiculous dive into the stands against Baylor last season. Both plays resulted in points for Kansas. On both plays — especially in person — it felt like there was no earthly way Selden was going to save the ball.
Here’s another angle:
It has not been a perfect season for Selden, of course. He’s shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor and 36.7 from three-point range. Before his 16-point performance against UNLV, Selden had scored in double figures just once in Kansas’ last five games. When Selden announced he was returning for his sophomore season — which quite frankly, that was pretty much expected — it seemed as if he was poised for a breakout sophomore year. After a year in the shadow of two lottery picks, Selden would be able to use his size and athleticism and grow into one of the better guards in the Big 12. So far, the process of going from supporting player to leader has been a bit choppy.
But then Selden offers these moments — the one against Baylor, the diving save against UNLV — and this much is clear: Selden is not a great offensive player, at least not yet. His defensive is improving, but perhaps not elite. But he can still make plays that will make anybody believe in him.
Onto the awards …
The Most Valuable Jayhawk
Frank Mason. Yes, it has to be Mason. His offensive rating (118.3) is now the best on the team — outside of part-time gunner Brannen Greene, who has played limited minutes. His assist rate has improved. He grabs defensive rebounds. He is the only healthy point guard on the roster until Devonte’ Graham returns. And for the moment, he is playing a ton of minutes. Here is the list of players that have played more than 33 minutes per game under Bill Self. Keep in mind, these numbers are for the full season, and minutes tend to go up during conference play and the NCAA Tournament. Without being able to look at minutes just in the non-conference season, we suspect few Jayhawks have played more minutes than Mason has during November and December (and early January).
Minutes per game
*Just the nonconference season
Yes, Frank Mason is Kansas’ most valuable player — and he likely will be for the rest of the season.
The Most Over The Top Bench Celebration For A Two-Handed Jam In Transition
We went over this in the last Chalkboard post, but it’s worth one more look. This is Svi Mykhailiuk dunking in transition against Kent State, and that’s the Kansas bench losing it. To be fair: It was Mykhailiuk’s first career dunk. But then again, he’s also 6 feet 8 with pretty solid athleticism. C’mon, guys.
The Best Gift of December
On the day before Kansas faced Lafayette on December 20, Bill Self stood inside Allen Fieldhouse and unveiled his starting lineup for the next day. He planned on starting sophomore Brannen Greene and Cliff Alexander alongside usual starters Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. Then a few hours later, Greene was 30 minutes late to a weights session. Self started freshman Kelly Oubre instead. Oubre responded with 23 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes. In Kansas’ last four games, Oubre has averaged 16 points and seven rebounds. And he hasn’t relinquished the starting spot since.
“He wasn’t going to start today,” Self said after the game. “That was a gift from Brannen Greene.”
The Best Moment From Jamari Traylor
No, the nonconference season was not particularly fun for Jamari Traylor. He was suspended one game after being arrested in Lawrence. His field-goal percentage has taken a precipitous dive, from 67.4 percent last year in spot duty to 41.5 percent this season. He has also been turnover-prone.
But in recent weeks, Self has given Traylor and Perry Ellis the freedom to push the ball in transition in the right moments. The gambit, Self hopes, will allow Kansas to play faster. It also resulted in this play.
The Best Quote
“We call them GAMs — grown-(up) men.” — Emporia State coach Shaun Vandiver on Kansas’ big men
The Best Quote II
“I was hoping this was vodka.” — Bill Self, after taking a sip of water following Kansas’ 72-40 loss to Kentucky at the Champions Classic
The Best Quote III
“‘When the popcorn poppin’, it’s not the same as practice.” — Brannen Greene on basketball and life