Time to Tip

Mario Chalmers (Steve Puppe photo)

It seems like just yesterday KU cut down the nets at the Sprint Center after a victory in the Big 12 Tournament. Nonetheless the Jayhawks will be back on the hardwood for an 11:35am tip Thursday as tourney play begins.

At Wednesday’s NCAA news conferences in Omaha, Nebraska, KU junior guard Mario Chalmers insisted that Kansas is flying under the radar. Well Mario I guess it depends on who you talk to. A sizable number of people have the Jayhawks going deep into the NCAA tournament, and then there are others who think that the ghosts of years past will rear their ugly heads and send KU home earlier than expected.

But it is not KU’s job to prognosticate, right now the only thing Bill Self’s Jayhawks are worried about is Portland State, and this is no time to take a 16 seed lightly. The Jayhawks will take nothing for granted Thursday at 11:35am when they take on the Big Sky Conference’s regular season and tournament champion. KU has spent the last couple of days resting and getting to know their latest opponent.

“After watching tape, I told these guys, how are these guys a 16 seed? Because they do a lot of the same things we do,” Self added. “They play fast. They share the ball, all of them can pass. All of them can stretch the defense from the perimeter.”  

“We know they are a very good team,” Chalmers told the media Wednesday. “They have a lot of shooters on the team. They have a good point guard in (Jeremiah) Dominguez and good scorers from the one through three spot. We have to focus in and be ready to play with them.”

Shooting is a constant when you watch the 23-9 Vikings play as a majority of the scoring comes from the guard position on this team. The 5-6 junior Dominguez, who averages over 14 points a game, shoots it often and accurately from behind the arc (43.9 percent) and will be a focal point for KU. Dominguez won the league’s Player of the Year and the Newcomer of the Year, and is a deft ball-handler and pinpoint passer that can shred a press.

Make no mistake about it – this team can light it up.

Dominguez is not the only long range threat on this roster. Portland State’s percentage from behind the arc is over 39 percent and head coach Ken Bone has six guys on his roster who have attempted 60 or more threes on the season.

Conversely the Vikings best rebounder and fiercest interior player just happens to be 6-4 Deonte Huff (6.1 rpg) who also averages a shade under 14 points per game. Huff took home the Big Sky Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

“Just watching Huff and Dominquez play, those guys are great with the ball,” commented senior Darnell Jackson. “And all their post players who shoot the ball from outside the three-point line, they can stretch the defense or get it inside. So there are a lot of things we have to be ready for.”

Bone will also throw some pressure defense at teams and his squad forces over 15 turnovers a game.

“If you watch them play on defense it’s like they pressure you so hard where you can’t get into your offense,” said Jackson. “But are main focus is to try to compete with them and keep the intensity at the same level that they’re playing at.”

To compete with Kansas, the Vikings will need a huge game from their favorite little guy (Dominguez), at least a double-double from Huff, and likely a large contribution on the glass and inside from 6-11 senior Scott Morrison. On paper it appears Portland State just doesn’t have the bodies to bang with KU and compete on the glass.

“The rebounding is nothing like we see in the Big Sky. Let's just put it that way,” Bone admitted.

If you’re looking for a common thread in eight of nine losses incurred by the Vikings this season - PSU has failed to shoot 50 percent. It’s a stat that bodes well for KU who has held 33 of its last 34 opponents under the 50 percent mark.

From KU’s perspective it will be interesting to see if there is a Big 12 hangover. It’s not easy playing the last game late on Sunday and taking the court first on Thursday. We will soon find out how much a grueling three days in Kansas City took out of KU. On the other side of the coin, if the Jayhawks have their legs under them, momentum could be on their side after winning their last seven games.

“We’ve had momentum coming into the tournament before and haven’t played great. We’ve had momentum when we have played great. But certainly I think out team needed to go through some adversity,” said Self referring to when KU lost two of three games in February.

“It’s been a three-week momentum swing for us. And I do think that we’re playing our best ball and it’s been gradually over that time so I would hope that helps prepare us for this weekend.”

“As long as we stay focused and no distractions and don’t walk around here all cocky, because the next thing you know you lose and we’re going to be disappointed.” Jackson said.

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