What a day. What a night. What a ride. All day there was a nasty knot in the pit of my stomach that wouldn't go away. All day and all evening leading up to the game there was just an uneasy feeling and thought of dread in mind that something could go wrong. And, that just couldn't happen. Not on this night. Not on Sherron Collins' senior night. Those worries and fears turned out to be very unwarranted. The Jayhawks went on to win their sixth straight Big 12 regular season title - this one in outright, top-of-the-mountain alone fashion. It was only fitting that clinching a share and clinching outright were done inside Allen Fieldhouse; let alone the latter on Sherron's senior night.
Was it a story book grand finale? Not quite. 1-10 is what he started the game. Math isn't exactly my thing, admittedly, but I know that's not good. Heck, that's not even bad. That's terrible. And, any other game, any other player, I, along with most of Jayhawk Nation, would be down the throat of a player shooting that poorly, yet continuing to jack up shots from outside. But, that's the thing about Sherron Collins. He's different than any other player from any other team. His numbers don't quantify the player that he is. He isn't the leading scorer, (actually he is, but not by design or out of necessity) he isn't the leading shooter, (he's actually not even close - second to last among regulars) and he's not the most careful with ball. (leads the team in turnovers - 2.3 per game) What he is, though, is the heart and soul of the best team in America. That was evident on Wednesday night. For everything Kansas State did, there was an equally emphatic answer from the Jayhawks.
Doing it his way. Outside of Mario Chalmers' miraculous game-tying three in the national championship game in 2008, every cluth shot in a key moment or team-carrying performance seems to have come courtesy of number four.
- Missouri his freshman year at Allen Fieldhouse - 23 points, the dagger three with a minute and a half to go and the layup with half a minute to seal it.
- Who could ever forget The Sherron Show in Norman, Ok. last year against the Sooners?
- Cornell this year - 33 points in a game in which no one else wanted to step up and take over, hitting big basket after big basket.
- Baylor this year - dagger three with 1:10 remaining to extend the lead to five.
- Kansas State this year - a poor shooting performance in regulation, cramps and a game-winning layup with nine seconds left.
You can have your "three point specialist" or "sharp shooter" with five seconds to go in a game. I'll take Sherron Collins and celebrate after the game.
Now, on to the regular postgame thoughts...
What Went Right
That was Bill Self defense. When Kansas lost on Saturday, it could really not be attributed to more than one thing - Oklahoma State shot 60 percent from the field and and 53 percent from three. Not many teams, let alone one with Big 12-caliber talent, will lose that game. When Kansas won on Wednesday night, it could really not be attributed to more than one thing - Kansas State shot 40 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. Not to over-simplify things too much, but when the Jayhawks hold a team to such a low mark, they win more often than not. A lot more often. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente were lights out from three in the first half, but as always tends to happen, the laws of averages worked themselves out and they reverted back to the mean. Just remember that the next time you're worried at halftime.
Markieff Morris with the save-our-tail performance of the night. Marcus Morris and Xavier Henry got into foul trouble early and often. In stepped Markieff at both the four, and the three for a brief period, and production slipped not even in the slightest. In fact, Markieff was far and away the leading rebound for Kansas. Xavier Henry had five, Cole Aldrich four and Marcus three. (As an aside, is anyone else bothered by the sudden lack of rebounding being done by Cole? Not "let's say coach Self is blind to playing Cole" worried, but a bit unsettled. More on this later.) At one point, Markieff went up for a rebound extra strong in the midst of a Kansas State offensive rebound barrage and quickly put and end to that, preventing the Wildcats from cutting into the lead any further. For all of the talk that Marcus has gotten this year, and 100 percent deservedly so, Markieff has improved just as much; he just started out a bit lower than Marcus. His steady game-in-and game-out performances of eight points, eight rebounds are possibly the most reliable and comforting thing on this team right now.
Free throw conversion. Folks, this is a 69.7 percent free throw shooting team. And, that's with Wednesday night's 81.5 percent performance factored in. When you play a team like Kansas State, that fouls as often as they do, you're going to have lots of opportunities for free points at the line. Hence the name 'free throws.' 22-of-27 is a remarkable conversion rate, especially for this team. Compare that to Kansas State's two less made free throws on four more attempts, and that's a possible six point swing somewhere within the game. That could have made a difference when it was a tie game. The main culprits for terrible foul shooting much of the year, the Morris twins? a combined seven-of-nine. Well done, you look-alike brothers and the rest of you fellas.
Pullen and Clemente combined for 41 points. That may sound like a bad thing for Kansas, but when you think that Kansas State only scored 65 total, you go back to my other favorite basketball commandment: one guy can get all the points he wants, two guys can give you hell, but they won't beat you; you need a third threat to score. (Actually, I just modified what I usually say to include two guys having big games.) And, that third option was what Kansas State lacked and was ultimately the deciding factor. Oh, and a slight gap in talent.
Also, I'd be remissed if I failed to mention the official Bensa Stat of the Game. Kansas - 16 assists, Kansas State - 4. When it came down to it, as mentioned already, Kansas State played above their heads in the first half and were still down seven. Reverting back to the mean was lethal in the second half.
What Could Have Gone Better
Hedging on ball screens more than 25 or 30 feet from the basket. First of all, if this is the lead off for gripes after a game, you had a pretty good game. That said, is there anything more frustrating than watching a Morris twin or Cole come 30 feet or more form the basket and either let a guard get into their body for a blocking foul, or just not get out of the way of the guard for a blocking foul? Clemente did it multiple times Wednesday, and while it was angering and seemed cheap at the time, why the hell would you not do it if you're an opponent? The early foul trouble for Marcus could have been avoided if he were less eager to hedge on Pullen in the opening minutes. It seems like Cole would never get in foul trouble if he didn't do it, given his gift of shot blocking timing in the paint and body control. Maybe coach Self wants them to do this to send a message of toughness? Maybe there's a point to it. It's sure lost on me, but whatever it is, stopping it would bring down my profanity counter while watching the game.
I don't mean to nitpick, (actually I do, because I've nothing else bad to say) but Cole should be rebounding more. He's had five and four rebounds in back to back games now. It's just two games, yes, but now's not the time to get awkward and let the other team grab boards that are usually yours. Maybe it's just two teams shooting lots of threes resulting in long rebounds keeping him from tallying the boards.
I'll say it once more...
What a day. What a night. What a ride.