KU Men's Basketball 2010-2011: A Look Ahead with Zach Peters and Nino Jackson Update
KU Basketball 2010: The end of an era
KU’s 2010 basketball season ended unceremoniously in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, as they fell to Northern Iowa 69-67. Their loss took the luster off a brilliant 33-3 campaign that captured the imagination of Jayhawk fans everywhere, hoping for a repeat of Kansas’ miracle run to the championship in 2008. Senior guard Sherron Collins ended his career with more wins than any other KU basketball player ever, but fell short of his ultimate goal. On March 29th Cole Aldrich announced his intention of going to the NBA, and on April 7th, Xavier Henry followed suit and declared for the draft. It is possible that even C.J. Henry will not be back (although he has stated he is returning), leaving the task of winning an NCAA championship to others.
KU’s 2009-2010 squad was beset by internal problems from the outset, and the Jayhawks never seemed to find their identity—glossy won/loss records notwithstanding. Most disturbing from a fan’s perspective were the indications that Bill Self was coaching hustle and effort as much as he was offensive and defensive strategy. When this happens, any team will eventually be beaten, regardless of its talent level.
Jayhawk fans have more to look forward to in the future than they might realize, however. Even with the graduation of Sherron Collins and the departure of Aldrich and Henry, there is a wealth of talent returning to KU next year—enough for the Kansas Jayhawks to make a run for the NCAA championship that seemed theirs for the taking in 2010.
A proud tradition
A new era begins
C.J. Henry decided to seek another venue for the 2010-2011 season, and both Henry brothers joined Aldrich in leaving KU after only one season. Henry initially announced he was returning, but his father Carl suggested from the beginning he might not be back. With four players lost, KU will still return:
Centers: Jeff Withey, Markieff Morris.
Power Forward: Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson.
Small Forward: Mario Little and Brady Morningstar.
Point Guard: Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson.
Shooting Guard: Travis Releford, Tyrel Reed and Royce Woolridge.
The beauty of this team is its versatility. Every returning player except Jeff Withey is able to play multiple positions, which gives this deep roster many possible combinations for lineups. Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson can play either center or power forward, and Marcus is capable at either forward spot. Mario Little can swing to power forward while Brady Morningstar can play guard. In the backcourt, Taylor has experience as a shooting guard while Elijah Johnson has a reliable outside shot. Tyrel Reed is a superb three-point shooter and competent ball handler, and Travis Releford can switch between shooting guard and small forward. There are so many possibilities; Bill Self has to be optimistic.
KU received a commitment from highly touted freshmen guard Josh Selby, the top ranked player in the country according to Rivals.com. Selby is a good shooter, quality ball handler and a fierce competitor. Selby's decision pushed KU back into the national rankings as a Top Ten calibre team, despite Dick Vitale's assertion that KU would place only fifth in the Big Twelve Conference. (Vitale has since changed his tune and boldly asserts that the Big Twelve Champion must go through Lawrence, Kansas to win the title.)
The Front Court
The returning big men must refine their games to compete for an NCAA championship. They have a wealth of talent, and in the offseason they should seek to add to their skills and abilities—particularly the ability to finish strong at the basket. If Jeff Withey and the Morris twins can gain strength without losing speed or quickness, they will comprise one of the most skilled, athletic frontcourts in the country. Although his minutes remain limited, Withey could still surprise everyone with his skills while Marcus and Markieff Morris have the ability to hit from outside and pass the ball down low—two main ingredients of Bill Self’s high-low offense. Thomas Robinson has become a monster inside with his formidable strength and speed. When he learns to play under control, he will be a tough matchup for opposing big men. Any of the four could end up starting, and competition for playing time at the center and power forward positions should be strong.
Mario Little is a jump shot away from being a better college forward than Xavier Henry. During his junior season, he showed the ability to post up and overpower smaller defenders, drive on taller players, and hit the mid-range shot—all qualities we hoped Xavier Henry would exhibit while he contented himself with three-point shots. Little is already a versatile player that can create mismatches for opposing teams, and a perimeter shot is the only missing ingredient to becoming a very good player. It is uncertain when and if he will rejoin the team, however. In the meantime, Brady Morningstar returns for a final season at small forward with his shooting, passing and defense.
Josh Selby is one of the most highly rated players ever to attend KU, and should step in and help immediately. If Selby lives up to his top-player billing, he could be better than Sherron Collins from the very beginning. Tyshawn Taylor must improve his shooting and passing skills to expand his game and eliminate an over-reliance on driving to the basket. If he progresses in these two areas, he will impact the game as significantly as Mario Chalmers once did. Elijah Johnson has shown promise as a shooter and distributor—he lacks only experience, and KU fans should be excited to see him take the court as a sophomore. A backcourt of Taylor and Johnson would give KU tremendous speed and allow them to press more often and effectively if they choose. Tyrel Reed provides strong shooting and better-than-advertised defense and ball-handling as a third guard.
The X-factor in KU’s backcourt will be Travis Releford. Releford has the size to match up against taller guards, and if his game has improved during his red-shirt season, he has a chance to make a major contribution at guard and small forward. A more reliable jump shot hopefully will be a by-product of his year on the sidelines. Expect Royce Woolridge to settle for mop-up duties while he learns the game.
KU Season Update
After 69 comes 0....
After Texas ended Kansas' 69 game winning streak in Allen Field House, the Jayhawks have won four straight in impressive fashion. Perhaps the loss took some pressure off KU--they had been letting leads slip away and hanging on to win before the loss--now they are routing opponents. KU is still a game behind Texas in the conference standings at the halfway point, and it is starting to look as if the Longhorns could run the table.
Kansas has been nursing injuries during conference play, with Josh Selby sitting out against Nebraska as a precautionary measure. It is believed Selby could develop a stress fracture in his foot, which would effectively end his season. He does not yet have a fracture, and hopefully resting for a few games will help the situation. Tyrel Reed is also playing on a bad foot, although it has visibly affected his play in only one game. Meanwhile, Travis Releford has been slow getting back into shape following an ankle sprain several weeks ago.
Despite the bumps and bruises, the Jayhawks appear to be rounding into post-season form. Marcus and Markieff Morris are starting to dominate inside, Brady Morningstar has shaken a shooting slump and is playing the best basketball of his career, and Tyshawn Taylor is playing within his means and limiting turnovers. Thomas Robinson appears to have been motivated by recent tragedies in his family--he is playing his best basketball, as well. KU still needs to defend inside better, but they are improving and seem worthy of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas' 69-game winning streak in Allen Field House was ended by the Texas Longhorns. It was almost four years since their last loss to at home, and stunned Jayhawk fans witnessed the end of something special.
And Then There Was One
Ohio State is the lone unbeaten team in college basketball, fueling questions about whether they can finish the season undefeated. The Buckeyes are good but not that good, and it seems only a matter of time before they will be upset by a Big 10 rival. KU dropped to 5th in the polls after losing to Texas, but the teams ranked #2-5 all subsequently lost, and the next week found KU back in their familiar spot at #2.
KU's 22-1 start to the season has allowed them to supplant North Carolina as the team with the second-most victories all-time in college basketball. The Tar Heels have struggled at the start of the season, and KU currently has four more victories all-time. Kentucky still has 18 wins more than KU, but the Jayhawks are having a better season than the Wildcats and are slowly gaining ground.
KU is starting to show flashes of greatness unsuspected at the beginning of the season. There is much to be excited about; the Morris twins continue to excel with their size, speed and athleticism. Even Bill Self admitted the twins were better than he believed they would be when he recruited them. When both Markieff and Marcus play well, they are very difficult to defend. Thomas Robinson has also played well after a poor exhibition season, and hopefully Robinson can continue to make a contribution. Nearly everyone Bill Self has sent into the game has made a contribution. A reliable bench is a huge advantage in any game. KU will have the ability to wear down opponents with their depth.
KU leads the nation in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and assists. They are very efficient on offense. With both Morris twins capable of shooting from long range and passing well, Bill Self's beloved high-low offense is back in full force. Steady outside shooting from the perimeter players keeps defenses from collapsing in the paint, and KU's frontcourt players have scored many easy baskets inside.
While not as good as their offense yet, KU's defense has been very good so far and is steadily improving. They are a different team defensively than last year's squad, relying on steals from pressure defense. While they are more active on defense, they do not defend the basket as well as they have in years past. It no longer seems likely that Jeff Withey will provide meaningful minutes at center, which means KU will need to speed up the game to protect the basket. The Jayhawks have met every challenge so far, and are about to become improved. There should be some enjoyable moments ahead for KU fans.
There's work to be done, but the future looks bright
Off-court problems must vanish. Fights with the football team, DUIs, Facebook venting, accusations of lewd behavior in elevators and parents with agendas distracted the Jayhawks in 2010, and there was a feeling of deja vu when Mario Little was arrested for battery just before the Christmas break. It is uncertain how the many distractions KU’s team faced last season affected their chemistry or performance, but a commitment to excellence must be ongoing--not just after the ball is tipped.
The Jayhawks lose the most physically imposing players on their team with the departures of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry. They will no longer intimidate opponents with size and strength alone. As a result, the Jayhawks must emphasize speed, quickness and efficiency. They will win games with a scrapping, hustling style that emphasizes movement. Improved strength and conditioning without sacrificing speed and quickness will be vital to their success.
Bill Self can’t be coaching effort if KU is to be successful in 2011. Everyone on the team must perform to their capabilities every night, and the days of surrendering big leads in the second half and holding on for a narrow victory need to end. With so many returning players, the opportunity exists to expand their offensive and defensive options, making KU harder to prepare for. All the strategies in the world are wasted if the team continues to demonstrate the listless play that so often characterized their 2010 efforts, however.
KU needs new leadership, on and off the court. Aldrich and Collins might have had limitations as players, but they were outstanding leaders and possessed a will to win. No one on the roster has the presence of Collins, who infused the Jayhawks with toughness. Who will step up and lead in 2011? Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor are likely choices because they are returning starters, but Josh Selby will become the Jayhawks’ leader by the end of the season. Taylor's play has inexplicably suffered from Selby's arrival, and unless he can regain his confidence and display the judgment he demonstrated in KU's first nine games, the team will soon belong to Selby.
The future is bright on Mt. Oread. KU’s nucleus is talented enough to play with anyone in the upcoming season. A 33-3 record might not be a practical goal, but the Kansas team will remain a strong presence on the basketball landscape. They will be strong, and with a little luck—very strong.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU!
KU has always had a strong walk-on program of players invited to join the team on a non-scholarship basis. Christian Moody, Matt Kleinmann, C.J. Henry and Connor Teahan are four recent players who have helped the University of Kansas with their desire, their strong work ethic and their talent. Moody actually started for KU during portions of his career, and Billy Packer dubbed him the greatest walk-on "in the history of NCAA basketball."
Two players with ties to the Jayhawks will join the team in the 2010-2011 season as invited walk-ons: Justin Wesley, a 6'8" 205 lb. sophomore transfer from Lamar University who is the brother of KU player Keith Langford; and Niko Roberts, a 5'10" freshman guard from St. Anthony's High School in Long Island, New York. Roberts is the son of former KU assistant coach Norm Roberts. The addition of these players gives KU four walk-ons for the upcoming season, joining Teahan and Jordan Juenemann. C.J. Henry and Chase Buford opted not to return for the 2010-2011 season.
Zach Peters update and more recruiting information
Zach Peters, a 6'9" 235 lb. sophomore forward from Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas verbally committed to join the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team. He has been compared to former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, and had also been heavily recruited by Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas. Peters averaged 15.3 points and 9 rebounds a game as a sophomore and is said to possess the skills to play either forward position. He is considered to be one of the top prospects in the class of 2012.
A second member of the class of 2012 is hoping to suit up for the Jayhawks: 6'2" 175 lb. point guard Nino Jackson from Ardmore (Oklahoma) High School. He is said to be very quick and possesses a good jump shot. Jackson is considered to be one of the best junior-to-be point guards in the country with a chance to jump into elite status, and told the local newspapers he would like to play for KU. Jackson has now been offered a scholarship to play for the Jayhawks and is expected to eventually sign with KU.
KU signed point guard Naadir Tharpe from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire to play for the Jayhawks in the 2011-2012 season. Rivals.com's No. 91 rated player chose KU over Oklahoma, Minnesota, UCLA and others. Tharpe averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 assists per game last year for 35-5 national prep champion Brewster. He has been compared to former KU point guard Aaron Miles.
KU is believed to a heavy favorite to sign DeAndre Daniels, Rivals.com's No. 9-rated recruit in the class of 2011. It is believed that Daniels is waiting to learn how much financial aid he can receive to sign with the Jayhawks before the spring semester. His plans are to practice with the team but not play in games until the 2011-2012 season, when a scholarship would become available. Kentucky rescinded a scholarship offer to Daniels, leaving KU and Texas in the hunt.
Other recruiting rumors: KU is also said to be in the running for Perry Ellis, a 6'8" sophomore forward from Wichita Heights (Kansas), and 6'5" Ben McLemore, a 6'5" forward from Eskridge High in Saint Louis. Both players have done well on the AAU circuit and would certainly help the Jayhawks down the road.
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