Anyone that watched Kansas get dismantled by an upstart Texas Tech team on the road had to scratch their head and say, "Well, Kansas is beatable." Hell, the defending National Champs had just been blown out by a team with two conference wins and horrifying losses like a 55 point drubbing by Stanford and a loss to Lamar. For Pete's weiner the Red Raiders gave up 115 points to East Central. Yes. East Central. A school that not only can't make up its directional mind, apparently, but isn't even good enough for a state to claim it. Memo to East Centralites, make your logo a dollar sign, and there's a fighting chance that California will mistake you for a bail out and swoop you up. But I digress.
Yes, the Tech debacle should give Texas fans hope that the Horns can somehow go into Phog Allen Field House and steal a win, but I'm guessing that's about as hopeful as the FDIC insuring your 401K and I'll tell you why later in the article. But first, let's go to the Kansas personnel.
The blender that stirs Scipio's protein drink is Sherron Collins. The junior point guard who very well could play tailback in the Big 12 runs the show for the Jayhawks. At 5-11 200 pounds, with a strong, confident dribble, Sherron can usually get anywhere on the floor off the bounce to create for himself or others. Think Byron Eaton with guard skills. Collins has been through the wars, and he's the unquestioned leader of the ballclub. He's also a legit threat to hit from "distance" (royalty to Steve Lavin).
The good news for Texas is they have Dogus Balbay, the best on-ball defender in the conference to limit Sherron and what he likes to do. Dogus can simply pull out his Eaton scouting report, sharpie out "go under all ball screens", and have a solid blue print on how to defend Collins.
The other two guards are uber-athletic Tyshawn Taylor and pure shooter Brady Morningstar. Taylor tweaked his big toe vs. Texas Tech, which, metaphorically speaking, is a solid sportscasting cliche that describes KU's loss to the Red Raiders. If Tyshawn isn't 100% athletically, I'm skeptical on him playing significant minutes because Tyrel Reed gives them about the same skillset with a bit more shooting especially if Taylor is dinged. Either two of these guys will be Justin Mason's cover anyway.
Morningstar gives KU a pure deep shooter that must be defended on the catch. He's also as likeable as the coaching version of KU's Mark Turgeon, and he uses his underlying asshattedness to get under the opponent's skin. I don't see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind Christian Laetner style. Not that I'm Bryan Davis or anything. If being an indignant trash talking prick helps take your man out of his game, I'm cool with that. Hell, I've done it. And the chicks love it.
I like Collins but I think Cole Aldrich is kinda money.
If Sherron Collins stirs the Myoplex drink, Cole Aldrich is the deca-durabol, because without his improvement, KU would be no better than a top 20 team. Aldrich's strides to becoming an elite pivot player have meant everything to KU's meteroic rise into the top 10. He's averaging a double double with terrific quickness, size, and touch around the rim for such a big man. Cole's at his best running the floor for easy post looks in the secondary break, because he simply outruns his cover and usually sprints to mismatched small forwards and guards that try to handle him in the post. Fully expect him to beat big Dex down the floor, unless Cole's slowed by his ankle tweak or Willie Warren's sniper rears his ugly deer rifle. If Texas can somehow slow Aldrich's secondary break opportunities, Pittman is just the tonic to move the lanky postman out of his comfort zone.
The other forward is athletic garbage man Marcus Morris who thrives on the weakside glass as a result of Aldrich's prowess on the low block. With most teams having to double Cole, Morris takes distinct pleasure in pummeling the small forward or third guard trying to block him out.
Marcus' twin brother Markieff Morris is the first forward off the bench. It's a statistical fact that teams that have faced either the Griffin brothers or Lopez twins have had 12.37% more success defending this pair than other teams.
Tyrell Reed, as mentioned above, is the first guard off the bench. He's a better shooter than Taylor but not the same kind of threat to get to the hole.
Mario Little gives the Jayhawks a pseudo-small forward option.
Keys to the Game
Defend the Break
It's going to sound funny, but if Texas can get KU into a halfcourt game offensively, they have a chance. Texas has 1 on 1 defensive answers for KU's studs. I'm not sure you can say that about any other team in the Big 12. Balbay can handle Collins and Pittman should be able to keep Aldrich off his sweet spot. Where the Horns are likely to get pummeled is when Kansas runs its sideline break leading to secondary entry looks for Aldrich who can outrun Pittman to the block.
Texas can counter KU by doing a couple things. First, they must punish KU on the offensive boards. If KU has to rebound with three or four instead of just Aldrich and Morris, that can make breaking problematic for KU. Just like breaking was problematic for HenryJames picking up girls. Parachute pants were dope but the white glove and breaker's mat were over the top. The key here is Justin Mason making Reed or Taylor a defensive rebounder. And the only way that can become a key is if Texas takes good shots. Deep looks that allow KU to maintain a rebounding shell won't work. Similarly, Dex making Aldrich stay at home to rebound will be big.
KU's Break is Turbo Charged
Defend the break II, Electric Boogaloo
Jam. Oh, jam. Jam the break. If you're a big and you can't get an offensive rebound then defend the outlet. Make it tough for KU to advance the ball to the guard by having active hands that make it tough on the rebounder. If you're a guard, make sure you have basket coverage and look to jump the outlet passes.
Go at Collins
Balbay needs to attack Collins as much as possible in an effort to get KU's all everything in foul trouble. If I'm Self, I play Collins on Mason to give my star some rest and relief. If you're Barnes, you then instruct Mason to take it right at Collins within the confines of the offense. Additonally, you instruct Mason to punish KU on the boards if Collins wants to leak out early in search of an outlet.
Curl AJ Curl
For the love of God, AJ, when you curl off of a down screen or staggered screen you are given the middle of a defense. There is not a team in the nation that is going to come under a screen so use it to your advantage. Defenses continue to trail every screen and AJ simply refuses to make them pay by curling to go towards the basket. A curl practically guarantees Texas has numbers if AJ is simply willing to make the appropriate cut and deliver a pass to an interior player or kickout to a shooter. Oh wait. We need shooters.
Get Out of Your Head
Texas is not supposed to win this game. Everyone knows it. Texas should use that and play basketball free and easy. Play the ball game like you're playing with house money. And that goes for Coach Barnes as well. Coach like you're at the Maui invitational. Overlook the fact that you're not. Because, you're in Kansas. Wear a Hawaiin shirt if it helps. Order a burger from Big Kahuna Burger. Then hope
Jewels Jules and Morningstar miss. Shooting you that is.
Can I have some of your Sprite to wash this down?
Should be an exciting game. I'm interested to see how Self attacks Texas defensively. I was hoping he'd be stubborn enough to guard Texas head up, but his 2-3 zone against Tech shot that all to hell. I'm resigned to the fact that we'll see a whole lot of 1 man zone and maybe some box and 1. Self might have to take an hour long shower because of it, but Bill did coach in Tulsa, so he's probably used to long, contemplative showers. And near beer.
Check out Oread Boom Kings for their take.