Jayhawks favored, Sooners giving chase as Big 12 play tips

By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer

LAWRENCE, Kan/December 27, 2017 (AP)(STL.NEWS)— When the Big 12 coaches made their annual preseason pilgrimage to Kansas City a few months ago, every one of them except Kansas coach Bill Self predicted the Jayhawks would win another conference title.

And that was only because Self couldn’t vote for his own team.

Yet things have changed over the course of the nonconference season, and what looked like a certainty that the Jayhawks would win an unprecedented 14th straight Big 12 title is suddenly up in the air.

West Virginia has lived up to expectations. Oklahoma is on the rise behind the Pete Maravich-like scoring of Trae Young, the sensational freshman that picked his hometown school over the Jayhawks. TCU is unbeaten, Baylor and Texas Tech are firmly ensconced in the Top 25, Kansas State took unbeaten Arizona State to the wire, and Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State have been hot lately.

In fact, every Big 12 team is rolling into the league’s opening games Friday night.

“We feel good about where we’re at, and yet we know we’ve got to keep working at it,” said Sooners coach Lon Kruger, whose team puts its eight-game win streak on the line against TCU on Saturday.

“A lot of good teams in the Big 12 and we know how tough every night is going to be.”

The fact that the gap has narrowed between Kansas and its rivals has every bit as much to do with the Jayhawks, though. They raised eyebrows with an early win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic, but also stubbed their toes in back-to-back losses to Washington and Arizona State that revealed many warts.

Their reliance on outside shooting. Their ability to get to the foul line. Their perilous lack of depth, which has been somewhat alleviated now that Sun Devils transfer Sam Cunliffe is eligible and five-star prospect Silvio De Sousa has arrived on campus for the second semester.

If they can get their other five-star recruit, Billy Preston, on the court after spending the entire fall investigating an off-the-court financial issue, the Jayhawks could still be the team to beat.

“We’ve played consistently well this year except for back-to-back games, a four-day stretch where we weren’t very good,” Self said, taking a rare optimistic outlook on his team heading into conference play. “Other than that, we played consistently well.”

As the league schedule begins, here are some of the keys to watch:

ROUND ROBIN: Horned Frogs coach Jamie Dixon said the biggest adjustment he had to make after taking over last season was the difference in a nine-team league compared to the Big East and ACC, where he had spent most of his career. “Just playing everybody twice, smaller league with nine teams, there was more familiarity,” he said. “You know you’re going to play them again home and home.”

TRAE-MENDOUS: Young is the early favorite for Player of the Year — never mind Freshman of the Year — as the Sooners’ star heads into league play averaging 28.7 and 10.4 assists in just 30.8 minutes. “When you’re winning, that’s the main thing,” Young said. “You can just tell that this is the best time to be a Sooner. When you’re winning it’s fun, so we’re going to try to continue doing that.”

MORE FABULOUS FRESHMEN: Texas big man Mohamad Bamba is considered a lottery pick in the NBA draft thanks to his defense, but he’s also averaging 10.9 points. Lindell Wigginton is averaging a team-leading 15.5 points for Iowa State, while teammate Cameron Lard’s career is also off to a fast start.

SUPER SENIORS: Six of the Big 12’s top eight scorers are seniors, including the starting Kansas backcourt of Lagerald Vick, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Baylor’s Manu Lecomte is averaging 18.4 points while Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans and Iowa State’s Donovan Jackson are averaging better than 16 per game. Throw in Baylor big man Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., who is averaging 15.1 points and a league-leading 10 boards, and there is plenty of experience in the league this year.

GAMES TO WATCH: Is it cheating to say all of them? OK, then start with TCU visiting Oklahoma on Jan. 13. Throw in the Jayhawks’ trip to Norman just 10 days later. Oklahoma visits Texas Tech on Feb. 13, then visits Kansas six days later. West Virginia heads to Baylor on Feb. 20, and a lot could be at stake the final weekend when Iowa State visits Oklahoma, Kansas heads to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers travel to Texas, Baylor visits Kansas State and TCU wraps things up at Texas Tech.

Obama to Prince Harry: Leaders must use care on social media

LONDON/December 27, 2017 (AP)(STL.NEWS— Former President Barack Obama told Prince Harry in an interview broadcast Wednesday that people in leadership roles must be careful in their use of social media and warned against spending too much time immersed in the internet at the expense of the world outside.

Obama did not, however, directly mention his successor, President Donald Trump, who has made the use of Twitter a centerpiece of his presidency.

“All of us in leadership have to find ways to recreate a common space on the internet,” he said. “One of the dangers of the internet is people can have entirely different realities. They can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”

He spoke with Harry in the prince’s capacity as guest editor of the BBC Radio 4 news program. Both men said the interview, recorded in Canada in September, was Obama’s first since leaving the presidency in January.

Obama said he felt serene the day he left the White House at the end of his second four-year term despite the vast amount of work that remained unfinished. He said it was “hugely liberating” to be able to set his own agenda in the morning to have the time to talk with his wife, Michelle, now that he is no longer president.

“I miss the work itself because it was fascinating,” Obama said of his eight years in the Oval Office, citing his health care reforms as one of his proudest achievements.

In a brief live segment at the end of the show, Harry said he did not know if Obama would be on the guest list for his wedding in May to American actress Meghan Markle.

“I don’t know about that, we haven’t even put the invite or the guest list together, who knows if he’s going to be invited or not,” Harry said. “I wouldn’t want to ruin that surprise.”

The Sun newspaper, a popular tabloid, has suggested that the British government is concerned that Harry and Markle may invite the Obamas but not Trump, possibly straining ties between the two governments.

Harry did say his fiancee enjoyed her first Christmas with the royal family.

“The family loved having her there,” Harry said.

The prince used his position to ask Obama a “lightning round” of questions of the type normally asked of entertainers, not politicians.

The former president declined to say whether he wears boxers or briefs, preserving a bit of post-presidential dignity, but was willing to say he prefers Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner — “Aretha is the best,” he said of the Queen of Soul — and favors retired basketball star Michael Jordan over current phenom, LeBron James.

Obama rejected gloomy prognostications about the state of the world, saying that in many ways the world is healthier and wealthier than it has ever been, making it perhaps the best time in human history to be born.

He cited improved treatment of African-Americans and greatly expanded opportunities for young women as achievements of the past few generations that give him hope for the future.

Harry also interviewed his father, Prince Charles, who offered a more downbeat assessment. He said the root causes of climate change are not being addressed even as it caused “untold horrors” in different parts of the world.

 

By GREGORY KATZ, by Associated Press, published on STL.NEWS by St. Louis Media, LLC (ZS)