KU Men's Basketball 2010--Keys to a Championship Season
Kansas Jayhawks--best of the best in 2010?
What has to happen to win it all?
The 2010 NCAA college basketball season is in the stretch run. The Kansas Jayhawks were picked as Preseason #1 by the AP, ESPN/USA Today, the Sporting News, and every other significant polling service. They have disappointed no one as they ended the regular season with a 32-2 record and in the same spot they began it with. They are deep and talented with two preseason All-Americans, nine returning players that logged significant minutes (including all five starters), and an outstanding recruiting class featuring Xavier Henry. Optimists likened them to North Carolina a year ago and, with Kentucky, the Jayhawks have separated themselves from the rest of the nation; skeptics feel the Hawks have demonstrated weakness at Colorado and Texas A&M, and must still improve significantly to compete for the NCAA championship in 2010.
What are the keys for KU in the upcoming season? What must the Hawks do to cut down the nets in April?
The stars must improve their efficiency. This is not a knock on Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, who are among the best to ever play their respective positions for KU. For Aldrich, it means maintaining his statistics while playing fewer minutes. KU must be able to give their big man more rest so he can remain fresh down the stretch, and Cole should be capable of matching last years’ numbers with less court time if teams can’t focus their defense on him (i.e., if the players around him are improved). Collins needs to rest more also. With fewer minutes he might not score as much as he did last year, but if he can improve his field goal percentage (37.9% of three pointers, 43.4% overall) and assist-to-turnover ratio, he will be far more dangerous.
As indicated, for these two stars to improve, the rest of the team must still get better. Quality play from newcomers and improved performance by returning role players will prevent opposing defenses from focusing on them. If all five starters are a threat to score, double teams become a dangerous option for opponents, and the “big two” will produce more efficiently.
Other returning players must contribute more. No one could predict who would step up and help Collins and Aldrich offensively last season. Brady Morningstar was reliable but sometimes overmatched, and too often Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins looked like the freshmen they were. This resulted in an overreliance on Collins and Aldrich to carry the load offensively. This problem is solved--the freshmen stepped forward. Despite inconsistent play that resulted in his benching in mid-season, he has still contributed with his athleticism. The Morris twins dedicated themselves to improving their physical condition in the off-season, and Marcus Morris has been as good as anyone in conference play. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed will always see court time as long as they continue to hit the open shot, play good defense and minimize mistakes. Their time has not diminished with the arrival of talented newcomers, but their efficiency has increased.
The newcomers must contribute. KU brought in five new players for 2010 that could actually play together on the court with a center, power forward, small forward, point guard and shooting guard. Each has contributed at times and is an important cog in the Jayhawk machine, but at least two of them must help regularly for KU to be significantly improved this season. Xavier Henry started immediately and supplied scoring with his outside shooting. Thomas Robinson is considered a rebounding machine that hustles relentlessly, and will earn more minutes with fewer on-court errors and increased free-throw accuracy. His development gives Coach Bill Self flexibility and options. With Robinson at power forward, Markieff Morris is utilized more at backup center without foul worries; Marcus Morris has also played small forward and allowed the Hawks to go big. 7’0” Jeff Withey has offered reliable minutes occasionally as a backup center, and if he can continue to develop, it should be nearly impossible to get KU’s front court in foul trouble. Withey’s high school credentials indicate he could become a good player, and a seven-footer on the bench is always an asset.
C.J. Henry and Elijah Johnson complete an already crowded backcourt populated by Collins, Taylor, Morningstar and Reed, and minutes have been hard to come by for newcomers. C.J. Henry has great potential but his season has been plagued by injuries, and Johnson is a highly-touted combo guard. So far they have not been reliable enough to offer more rest for Collins, Taylor, Reed and Morningstar.
KU must win their “marquee” games. It sounds simplistic to say KU must win games to capture a national championship, but KU played a terrific non-conference schedule with games against Memphis, Michigan, and California and did not disappoint. They played on the road at Temple, UCLA, and Tennessee and lost only to the Volunteers, who also beat Kentucky. These are the games Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, and Clark Kellogg watch, and are the matchups that influence NCAA seeds in March Madness. The more high profile games KU wins, the better they will look to the NCAA selection committee. A loss to any of them will be mentioned on Selection Sunday. It may seem that if KU is #1 they should be favored to win every game, but Tennessee showed what can happen if the Jayhawks face a motivated opponent.
KU won their conference with a 15-1 record and their conference tournament, beating #9th ranked Kansas State for the third time in the process. K-State is much improved this year and should earn a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. These are quality wins which can only help KU.
End the off-court meltdowns. Carl Henry talking to the press about what KU must do to benefit his kids and asserting they are already better than KU’s best players; sons Xavier and C.J. wondering where to best showcase their talents before landing in the NBA; Tyshawn Taylor battling the football team and publicly complaining about his role on the team; or, Brady Morningstar being pulled over by the police for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol (while violating a team curfew)—all must become ancient history. For this team to achieve greatness, they must devote themselves to greatness at all times. Nothing must diminish their focus and preparation. In 21st century college basketball, what happens between March and November is just as important as what goes on during the season. Nothing has dimished their focus since Tyshawn Taylor deleted his Facebook page, but immediately following the Big Twelve Tournament, Carl Henry started talking about where his sons might be next year. Henry needs to maintain his silence for another three weeks--then he can talk all he wants.
The fans must stay loyal to KU. There is a satisfaction to watching an underdog play basketball that can never be experienced while following a great team. Fans of an average squad feel euphoria when their team upsets a superior talent, and the losses aren’t as bad. If a team is expected to win big every night, the fan feels cheated when they lose and nothing when they win. Tops stakes basketball greatly diminishes the “thrill of victory” and magnifies the “agony of defeat”. (Last year’s team was both glorious and painful to watch because they were good enough to dream of great things, but not quite good enough to attain them.)
KU lost a game to Oklahoma State they should have won easily, but fortunately the fans stayed positive. Fan support in the stands, the newspapers, and on blog and Facebook sites really does matter. The temptation to assume the team has imploded if they lose a game must be overcome. It is equally important not to succumb to “David Padgett disease”. During Padgett’s freshman year, fans rode him mercilessly despite his solid play, and at year’s end he departed. Did the fans contribute to Padgett’s search for greener pastures in the bluegrass state? We’ll never know for sure, but they did nothing to make him want to play for KU.
If KU can accomplish their goals and win two NCAA titles in three years, it will put Coach Bill Self in elite status as the only KU coach to win twice (excluding the Helms National Championships awarded KU and Coach Phog Allen in 1922 and 1923). It will do the same thing for Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, making them the only two KU players to win two NCAA championships. Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Connor Teahan will be able to say they were there, but they didn’t play in the championship game in 2008 and can’t claim the same contributions made by Collins and Aldrich. A fourth NCAA championship would rarify the air Jayhawks fly in even further.
I hope it happens.
Post-season footnote: Well, guess what? It didn't happen! The Jayhawks lost to unheralded Northern Iowa, 69-97, ending their quest for their second NCAA title in three years. The stellar career of Sherron Collins is over, with Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry likely departures to the NBA. It was a good season that ended on a sour note, but Jayhawks everywhere can look forward to the 2011 season and expect more great moments in KU Basketball.
Rock Chalk, Jayhawk KU!
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