KU Men's Basketball 2010--The March to 2000 Victories
The Jayhawks Hit 2000!
They did it! KU's victory against the Texas Tech Red Raiders gave the Jayhawks 2000 all-time victories. There were several major storylines contributing to the drama surrounding this 33-3, top-ranked team in the country. They won the Big 12 conference with their 77-56 win over Missouri and a 15-1 record, securing their sixth consecutive conference title. Most recently, they beat Kansas State for the third time this season to win the conference post-season tournament. The team still had concerns, however. There was evidence of team dissension, passive play and a lack of killer instinct. Bill Self adjusted his lineup several times to find consistent effort and sound judgment, but still couldn't dig deep enough to beat a Northern Iowa team they should have dominated. Let’s examine the issues as KU reaches a milestone only the Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels have reached—the 2000 victory plateau.
Note: KU's 2001 all-time win against Texas A&M on March 12, 2010 moved the Jayhawks into second place on the all-time victories list, supplanting North Carolina. TheTar Heels are invited to play in the NIT, but KU currently holds a one-victory lead over UNC. They are currently 17 victories behind Kentucky for first place.
The Journey to 2000 Victories!
Team and Player Analysis
1. THE PLAYERS. This year’s deep, talented Jayhawks roster remains an enigma. This great team with high expectations hasn’t yet found its identity. They are capable shooters and defend exceptionally well. Their rebounding is good but still could improve, and many players have yet to live up to their lofty preseason accolades. The contributions of the freshmen (excluding Xavier Henry) have dwindled since the New Year, and the Hawks still wait for Sherron Collins to win games for them instead of destroying competition they should defeat handily. Are teams elevating their game against the highly touted Jayhawks, or is KU playing down to the level of their opponents?
The players that should be contributing more include:
Cole Aldrich. I’ve crowned Cole Aldrich as the best center to play for KU since Wilt Chamberlain, but the 6’11” preseason All-American has been a minor disappointment. His rebounding and shot blocking remain good (particularly since he is averaging 4 minutes less per game than a year ago), but Aldrich is barely reaching 10 points, compared with 14.9 in 2009. He is sometimes hesitant with the ball, although admittedly he’s often double- and triple-teamed in the post. When he has the ball near the rim, he needs to attack and score or draw fouls. It was reported in December that Aldrich was battling bronchitis, but March is here and he still frequently appears slow, tired and winded. (Does he need to lose weight?)
Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor once complained to the press that he didn’t know his role on KU’s team, much to the chagrin of Coach Bill Self. The problem is that Taylor doesn’t have enough of a game to clearly define his role. He is not sufficiently careful with the ball, either dribbling or passing, to trust him with running the offense. He is a mediocre shooter as well, relying on athleticism to get to the rim for points. Taylor's play has improved since his return to the starting lineup, and his quickness and athletic ability make the Jayhawks much harder to defend.
The players that have exceeded expectations include:
Sherron Collins. Despite a prolonged shooting slump, no one contributes more to winning than this guy. Fast and powerful, he has kept his weight under control and molded himself into the definitive point guard. He is the ultimate team leader—he runs the offense, takes clutch shots, inspires his teammates and keeps everyone focused. This preseason All-American is the best point guard in the country (with apologies to John Wall), and might be the best point guard in KU’s illustrious history. The return of Collins' shot is the missing ingredient in KU's march toward a Final Four.
Marcus Morris. Morris is beginning to realize the ability he demonstrated in flashes as a freshman. He is becoming a gifted scorer in the paint while also showing a soft outside shot. His ability to score inside has taken pressure off Cole Aldrich to produce points, and he has contributed with several high scoring games. His defense has improved as well, evinced by fewer minutes languishing on the bench in foul trouble. If Morris can improve his rebounding and play with consistent effort, he could become an elite player.
X-Factor Players (a play on words…):
Xavier Henry. Henry is touted as a one-and-done player bound for the NBA at the conclusion of the season. He certainly has the physical tools and the shot, but he does not yet have the game. Henry rarely posts up smaller defenders or drives to the basket on taller opponents. He mostly contents himself with jump shots, making his impact only slightly greater than Brady Morningstar’s in 2009. Henry is the prolific scorer Morningstar could never be, but he doesn’t impact the game in a larger way. For KU to become a champion this season, Henry needs to consistently utilize all his skills.
Brady Morningstar. Morningstar sat out the first semester games as penance for off-season transgressions, and it was obvious how much the Jayhawks missed him. This “manufactured” player with limited skills maximizes his talents and makes teammates better. He is called the glue guy for his willingness to do the dirty work: move the ball quickly on offense and defend the other team’s top scorer on defense. He is a reliable jump shooter and rarely takes a bad shot. Morningstar may well be the key to KU’s success, and likely deserves to start in place of Tyshawn Taylor (or receive the bulk of his minutes).
Although KU’s statistics suggest defensive dominance, the Jayhawks could be better on defense. Their athleticism should contribute to more steals and blocked shots, and frequently KU struggles to stay in front of their man. Their athleticism would suggest the ability to trap and press (as KU did in 2007 and 2008), but perhaps the overall quickness to accomplish this is missing.
Do the Jayhawks lack team chemistry? I don’t wish to single out Tyshawn Taylor, but he seemed to turn a corner as a leader with his FIBA Under-19 World Championship squad. Those leadership qualities are currently unseen. Did he believe he would return as KU’s leader? It is improbable that he saw himself usurping Collins in that role, but who knows? Collins still dribbles the ball too much and takes ill-advised shot, and Aldrich doesn't yet get the ball in the pivot often enough.
Prevailing wisdom is to shorten player rotations when conference play arrives, but it would seem helpful if at least a few minutes per game were provided for Elijah Johnson, C.J. Henry and Jeff Withey. If Cole Aldrich had been crowded out of the rotation in 2008, his breakout game against North Carolina in the Final Four might not have been possible. If Collins' and Brady Morningstar's shooting funk continues, Coach Self might need Johnson or C.J. Henry to produce in close games. It would be nice for KU’s freshmen to see more court time.
Statistics and the March Toward 2000 Wins
2. STATISTICS: KU is near the top in several team statistics for 2010. They are fourth in the NCAA in scoring at 85 points per game; 5th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.8%; 6th in defensive rebounds with 28.3 rebounds per game (conference rivals Texas and Baylor are 2nd and 3rd, respectively); and, 4th in assists with 18.5 per game.
KU has won 20 games or more in a season for 21 consecutive years, the longest streak in NCAA Division I. (With one more victory in the 19-12 1989 season, they would have a 27 year streak.) KU currently holds a 59 game home winning streak, longest in the nation. KU’s home streak is tied for the second longest in its history. KU is the first school in the Big 12 to win 200 games in the conference. KU has 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the longest current streak in Division I basketball. KU has 53 conference championships, the most of any NCAA school. Until Baylor hit 52% against the Hawks, KU held 91 consecutive opponents to under-50% shooting from the field. Oklahoma State's 60+ percent from the field on February 27th was the highest field goal percentage against a Hawks team in 20 years.
3. THE MARCH TO 2000 WINS: KU joined the Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels with their victory over Texas Tech on March 11th, 2010. Duke is the only college program with more than 1900 victories, and they are at least three years away from joining the Jayhawks in the 2000 win club.
It is remarkable for UK, UNC and KU to achieve this milestone in the same season. These three storied programs have consistently demonstrated basketball excellence for over a century. They have compared their success to each other for decades and, at least in this regard, have separated themselves from the rest of college basketball.
And Then There Were Three
Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina will remain alone in the 2,000 win club for a season or two. Duke should be next to join them perhaps as early as the 2012-2013 season (27 wins will get the Blue Devils to 2000), but Syracuse is next and needs more than 100 more victories to join the club.
This accomplishment is a tribute to excellence over time. Many coaches, players and support staff toiled for years to help KU to reach this goal. From James Naismith to Bill Self, from Phog Allen to Roy Williams, from Clyde Lovellette to Wilt Chamberlain to Danny Manning to Brandon Rush--it was always a team effort. The names have changed but the commitment to excellence has always remained. Hopefully the players, coaches and staff in years to come will never waiver in maintaining that sense of pride and commitment.
Kansas has a basketball tradition second to none. They are behind only the Kentucky Wildcats in all-time victories, and the Jayhawks have contributed to the game of basketball in ways that far transcend wins and losses. Many of the best players and coaches in the game learned their craft on Mt. Oread. Anyone involved with the basketball team must live up to an ongoing tradition of excellence. Duke, Syracuse and other teams will eventually join Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina in the 2000 win club, but there will still be nothing that quite compares to being a Kansas Jayhawk.
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