First off, before I begin my first "official" post as a contributing author here at RCT, I would just like to say how genuinely excited I am about this opportunity. Kansas Athletics is a true passion of mine and being able to write and talk about it is nothing short of an honor. I don't claim to be the best writer, the smartest person or a professional, but I will always have fun being a part of The Growing Age of RCT.
52 in a row. No matter how bad the Jayhawks may look at times when going on the road, (see: @Tennessee, @Nebrakska - for a half) their game is unquestioned and in many instances, unmatched at home. From the very first possession of Saturday's game vs. the Texas Tech Red Raiders, there was little doubt who the better team was. Shooting was not as hot as Wednesday night against Nebraska (58 percent), but still enough (43 percent) to score 89 points. The streak of games holding their opponent under 50 percent shooting lives on. (33 percent for the Red Raiders) Baskets are always tougher to come by for opponents in The Phog.
Player of the Game: Marcus Morris - 20 points, 8 rebounds, 7-10 FG, 6-6 FT
What Went Right
Players 6'8" and above combine for 45 points. This should really be the formula for the entire season. It was apparent from the very beginning that the gameplan was to work the ball inside to the bigs. Better late than never, I suppose. Cole Aldrich scored fourteen - his highest output in eight games - but eight points came from the free throw line, with Aldrich still only taking six shots. For those keeping track, that's five, four and six shot attempts in the last three games. The three-headed monster of Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson at the four spot combined for 31 points. After Marcus's brief hiatus, (six points in two games) he brought it for the second straight game and was the game's leading scoring with 20. You can never have too many big men to rotate in come tournament time.
Recurring theme. For the second straight game, the "rest of the team" played well with Sherron Collins and Aldrich on the bench. Remember, the Nebraska game's deciding run occurred with the two sitting. Today, for about a four minute stretch in the first half, the lineup of Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Marcus and Markieff Morris played about as well as we have seen any lineup play all year. The lead went from single digits to nearly 20. Enough cannot be said of Reed and Morningstar's ability to stretch defenders all the way to the three point line and open up driving lanes for Taylor and Collins. Luckily, both will be back next year when Collins, and likely Aldrich, are both gone to help alleviate some pressure from Taylor.
Second team shows why we wondered if they could win the Big 12. A considerable gripe after the Cornell and Tennessee games was head coach Bill Self's usage of what should be a deep bench, by going only three deep into said bench. But, arguably, the second and third best performances of the game came from bench players. Morningstar showed yet again just why Self continues to turn to him game in and game out - even when there are more "talented" players riding pine and losing out on minutes. He gets it. He knows where he should be, he gets there and does all the right things. Throw in his unbelievable effort in Saturday's game on defense and loose ball situations and he's the ultimate "glue guy." But, if you focus too much on the little things that he does, you'll miss the fact that he had eight points, six rebounds and four assists. In limited minutes, (eleven) Robinson gave us another glimpse of what is to come the next couple of years (hopefully) and threw himself for a loose ball Superman-style when needed and took off like a spaceship when needed, as well. The turnovers are still high (four), but you can't help but love the way he plays the game. He is going to be good.
First half knockout punch. For all intents and purposes, the game was over at half. The final twenty minutes were merely a formality. Holding Texas Tech to 18 points in the first half has to please coach Self. Especially after allowing 44 to Nebraska just three days earlier.
88.9% free throw shooting. Not much to say about that. We all know what happened when you can't make your free throws. This has been a troublesome area of late.
What Could Have Gone Better
Xavier Henry continues to struggle. Despite the fourteen points in the boxscore, Henry looked out of sync with the rest of the offense at times. For the fourth straight game, his shot was off and he struggled to get any rhythm going. As many as three or four shots resulted in airballs. Simply spotting up from the three point line and not using his size, speed and strength to get the basket could see him lose more and more minutes with the way Brady has been playing. There's no doubt that Xavier has an endless ceiling, but he is a freshmen. Freshmen often struggle, especially in Self's system where you must play tough, hard-nosed defense on every possession. It's not that Henry can't do that. He just hasn't done so yet. I hate to make comparisons, especially to the 2008 championship team, but he is so much like Brandon Rush it is quite scary. It took Brandon a bit to buy in on the defensive end, but once he did, he took pride in playing defense and became one of the premier perimeter defenders in the country. It sounds like wishful thinking, but Xavier could really use one more year. Please, Brandon, give him a call.
Just for the Record
Tyshawn Taylor is going to be just fine. I have thought about it ever since this comment on Thursday afternoon. It cannot be said any better than that. It only makes Tyshawn's comments from earlier this week make more sense. Come this time next year when Taylor is looking like an all-conference point guard, people will be saying, "he finally gets it." But, I will be telling them, "he got it all along; he just needed his chance to shine." And, shine he will.