Being definitvely the best is fun, isn't it? And, to do so with such regularity is even better.
It's tough to win if you can't get a good shot, let alont score. All throughout his tenure as head coach at Kansas, Bill Self's M.O. has been defense. His teams have reached a 55 game streak of holding opponents under 50 percent shooting, been in the top ten in defensive efficiency five of the last six year (shoutout to KU Grad 08) and on and on. To this point this year, the Jayhawks have played good, but not great defense for much of the season. Well, on Monday night, they took that next step and played "Bill Self defense." Your opponent must shoot poorly to go scoreless for eleven minutes, yes, but it also takes a great deal of tremendous defense. Texas isn't a particularly good shooting team, nor are they organized enough in their offensive sets to withstand the kind of defense displayed Monday night.
Also, enough cannot be said of the job coach Self did to get his boys ready for a monumental road game just 48 hours after playing at home. Those Saturday-Monday turnarounds are the absolute worst. Especially when the second leg is on the road. Luckily, we get to do it all over again this coming week - Iowa State on Saturday, at Texas A&M on Monday.
Player of the Game - Xavier Henry - 15 points, 5 rebound, 3 assists, 0 turnovers. Nobody has been tougher on Xavier than myself during his recent extended slump, shall we call it? More on him after the jump, though.
What Went Right
This good version of Marcus Morris ain't going anywhere, folks. All he does is continue to lead the team in scoring game after game, yet no one can really tell you how he does it. It's a little bit of this, a little bit of that. At what point does a candidacy for Big 12 Player of the Year start with his name attached? Even after missing about four minutes, he still had eight points and four rebounds in the first half. As was stated in the Open Game Thread, the offense seemed to run smoother and much better when it went through Marcus. Also, the play of Markieff Morris seems to be elevated when he is on the floor with his brother. So, that's good. Note to head coach Bill Self: only play Markieff when Marcus is on the floor.
Xavier Henry has realized certain basketball acts that once made him good. On multiple occasions, Xavier could be found streaking to the basket as an open cutter, or even bouncing that orange ball on that brown-ish wood floor in the general direction of the orange circle hoop thing with a white fence hanging from it. Seriously, though, he was great tonight. "Great" meaning exactly what we need him to be, and even a tad more. He played well within the offense all night and and refrained from turning the ball once all game. His confidence and assertiveness to take it to the basket inside of three minutes was completely refreshing, as well. Along with getting fouled and making both free throws - a novel concept these days in the Big 12, apparently. If he can provide fifteen points, five rebounds and three assists a game, (as he did Monday) or even slightly less, this team will go far.
Ten turnovers. After repeatedly frustrating by turning the ball over fifteen-plus, (and twenty-plus a couple of times) it was nice to see a victory in the turnover battle, and the Jayhawks barely even creeping into double digits, with ten. The best part is that the majority of those came in the first half, when I do believe Kansas had seven at the break.
75.9 percent from the free throw line. 22-29 is a rate that coach Self will take every night. Sherron was eight-for-eight, so it is apparent who the most reliable free throw shooter is. The Morris twins also combined to go seven-for-ten. So, why can't the team make them at home, but can on the road?
What Could Have Gone Better
It's not becoming of one to nitpick, but this team does need a "killer instinct." They did a good job of keeping Texas at arm's length for much of the second half, but wouldn't it be nice to just take a game and extend and grow a ten to twelve point lead to say, 20 or more? That was extremely frustrating watching them get it back to ten and the crowd becoming excited again. A Markieff Morris basket and foul (with rare made free throw) was the fire extinguisher to those flames until Cole fouled out and there were some rather "questionable" calls by the refs down the stretch. Now, I'm not one to fuss and yell about the refs, but that got a bit ridiculous, no?
As much as I, and everyone else, love him, Cole Aldrich looked awful and awkward technique-wise on offense. He's getting his looks, which he wasn't earlier in the year, and taking his shots. The thing is that they just don't look good, and his offensive moves are lacking crisp fundamentals right now. Sometimes he looks like he doesn't know where he is in relation to the basket and either moves the wrong way or goes up too strong or too soft. I know it's super unlikely to happen, but couldn't he use another year under Danny Manning's tutilege to refine his offensive game?
Coach Self continues to ignore half of his capable to perform bench. Only Markieff, Tyrel Reed and Tyshawn Taylor saw minutes off the bench. What happens if Cole gets big foul trouble and Marcus is struggling in the same game come tournament time? What happens if one of them get hurt? Will Thomas Robinson or Jeff Withey have any confidence in themselves at that point? All just questions to keep in mind.
Random Stat Musings from the Boxscore
- Shooting percentages were nearly the same - 40.0 to 37.3, advantage Kansas. The difference? Shot selection. The Jayhawks got the ball inside to their bigs with regularity and weren't forced to rely solely on one player for scoring during stretches.
- Texas outblocked the Jayhawks, 12-10.
- Dogus Balbay played sixteen minutes and took one shot. Why is he on a big-time Division 1 roster?
- Dexter Pittman - 21 minutes, three points and three rebounds. Were there really arguments about who the premier big man in the Big 12 was before the season?
So, basically we are playing for seeding now. The number one overall seed, in particular. Getting that would be great, allowing our regional to be in St. Louis, rather than Houston or Salt Lake City. Let's just not slip up next Monday at Texas A&M and take care of our little brothers the last two games of the regular season, please.