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After dominating Michigan State, Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji won’t be considered the second-best Jayhawk for long

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NEW YORK — Nearly a month ago, on Oct. 13, the Big 12 announced its preseason award winners. To the surprise of many, Kansas grad transfer Remy Martin Jr. won the honor of Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. 

It took exactly one game for that prognostication to look … let’s say … misguided. 

Martin could well win a game or three or five this season with his entertaining and raw scoring prowess, but it’s hard to see how he’ll be Kansas’ best player. Because on Tuesday night, KU senior Ochai Agbaji made a compelling argument that he’ll not only be Kansas’ best player — but also a potential All-American. The third-ranked Jayhawks made casual work of Michigan State, winning 87-74 at Madison Square Garden and sending notice that this team could be deeper, stronger and more physically adroit than the Jayhawks group that went 21-9 and failed to get out of the first weekend of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

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“I’m surprised,” Self told CBS Sports. “We controlled it. I would have thought first to 65 would win.”

At the center of this convincing season-opening victory was Agbaji, a senior, who finished with a game-high 29 points (9-of-17 from the field) and zero turnovers. He also drew seven fouls — by far the most he’s ever induced. As a result, Agbaji was perfect from the charity stripe (8 for 8) and helped pace Kansas to one of its best wins in the 11-year history of the Champions Classic. 

“That’s what you should write,” Kansas coach Bill Self told me as we walked back to the victorious Kansas locker room. He was raving about the immediate evidence of Agbaji’s growth. This kind of performance wasn’t something he could have provided seven months ago. There’s clearly an increased aggressiveness — which is the attribute that has been most missing from Agbaji’s game. 

It’s understandable to a degree, though. As Self reminded reporters after Tuesday’s win, Agbaji was a three-star recruit rated deep into the 300s when Kansas offered him. He eventually climbed to be No. 132 in his 2018 class, but this was not a player expected to do much in his first or second season with the program. Self loved Agbaji’s long-term potential. Now that foresight is what has Kansas legitimately ranked as a top-three team to start the season.

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Agbaji — who found his way through the creases and cracks of Michigan State’s defense often — is a model of what comes with patience, discipline, humility and years worth of quality minutes. Tuesday night sure looked like a star-turn performance. Agbaji averaged 14.1 points and 3.7 rebounds last season when Kansas had, statistically, one of its poorest campaigns of the past 20 years. So he wasn’t exactly a beaming light at the center of the college hoops universe. 

But he was good enough that he heavily debated leaving Kansas and going pro. He came close. How close?

“Really close,” he said. “I made the right decision.”

One game in, that rings true. Truth is, Agbaji was told what he needed to hear from NBA evaluators. Not only was he extremely unlikely to be drafted, he still had time and opportunity to improve his game in a couple of areas that still needed significant improvement. Against the Spartans, he showed how seriously he took the constructive criticism.

Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels had big-time college debuts at MSG, and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe was a monster. But no player had a more important performance than Agbaji.

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“I also think when the NBA basically tells you you’re not good enough — I hate to say that,” said Self, “I didn’t ever tell him he’s not good enough. I told him he’s not going to be good enough unless he gets a killer instinct. But when they confirmed it, I think he and Jalen (Wilson) both have really benefited by the process.” 

It’s not like Agbaji’s been put in the position of needing to be The Guy because he’s the lone returning key veteran. Not at all. Kansas has four starters back (along with Christian Braun, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson). Braun and McCormack combined for 16 points vs. Sparty, while Wilson served the first of his three-game suspension for a DUI charge.

“There’s still another step that he has to take in order to be an elite player in that he’s got to become an assassin, from a confidence level and everything, and he certainly did that tonight,” Self said. “He looked great.”

Truth is, Self knows Agbaji’s knocking on the door of becoming an elite defender. If he gets there, Tuesday’s game probably won’t even register as one of his five or six best games this season. For a guy who can “be a little too sweet” on the court with his style, there’s no denying Agbaji worked a toughness groove into his mentality. That’s big for a Kansas team that lacked a certain something last season and will need an alpha to compete in a very good Big 12. 

Seniors always deserve a bit more shine and respect than they get these days in college basketball. 

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We have a habit of giving a lot of attention to the new faces on opening night, too. 

In the undercard at the Champions Classic, the latest example of why seniors will always be special, valuable and irreplaceable. Agbaji can be an inspiring story for many. A guy who barely even started for his grassroots team now might — might — become an All-American this season. If Tuesday’s Agbaji is the player we’re going to get for the next four months, we’ll probably also see him on an NBA roster a year from now. But let’s not rush that. 

There’s still all that potential to fulfill from now until April.

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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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