It is often said that the biggest improvement in a college basketball player's career takes place between the end of his freshman year and the beginning of his sophomore season. Kansas forward Marcus Morris did as little as humanly possible to dispell that conception during the 2009-10 season. A player who once was a turnover liability and was a suspect shooter last year as a freshman transformed into a heady, consistent and the most reliable player all year long as a sophomore.
Reports from the fall were that each of the Morris twins had put on 20 pounds of muscle and were in better shape heading into this season. That much was evident. That physical readiness combined with a full year and another offseason under the tutelage of Danny Manning had the Morris twins ready to step up big for the Jayhawks. Both were far superior to last season, but Marcus' improvement and play were easily the biggest (welcomed) surprise of the season.
Perhaps it was even more of a surprise after Marcus started the season coming off the bench while brother Markieff started the first two games. Early on in the season, and probably in practice which was noticed by head coach Bill Self, there was a definite lack of effort to rebound for Marcus. Actually, the change in Marcus' game that we all saw and loved didn't quite come from last year right into this year. It took him a few games to get going. But once he did, the ball was rolling down hill and picking up steam in a hurry.
When it comes to post players in basketball, they are judged on two things more so than anything else - rebounding and field goal percentage. Each of those numbers were below where you would prefer during Marcus' freshman season, but were still respectable - 4.7 rebounds per game and 49.5 percent. Not terrible for someone playing somewhat a new position out of high school. But, through his offseason workouts and the rededication of his time and everything to improving his game, those numbers made astronomical jumps this year to 6.1 rebounds per game and 57 percent shooting.
It's always been my opinion that Marcus isn't a great rebounder, but after seeing him go all out, full effort, 100 percent on multiple occasions this year to get offensive rebound after offensive rebound, he won me over a bit. I still think Markieff is a better rebounder, (He is. 6.75 rebounds per game in 17.6 minutes while Marcus picked up his 6.1 boards per game in 24.7 minutes.) which is weird because Markieff is very adept at playing along the perimeter while Marcus mans the low post. Better positioning or nose for the ball, I suppose.
The performance of the season from Marcus happened to come in the Jayhawks' most importantly win of the season - their very last one against Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In that game Marcus went for a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds (6 of the offensive variety) on 12-15 shooting and 1-1 from three. That's good for 80 percent from the field. It probably goes without saying that he was the game's highing scoring and leading rebounder. 23 and 10 on 7-10 shooting against Michigan can't go unnoticed. After all, it was the game that got him in tip-top form and set him off for the rest of the season. The high point of Marcus' season was a month long stretch where he was in double figures in 11 straight games and 13 of 14. From mid-January to late February, no one dared cross Marcus.
Heading into the 2010-11 season, there are opporunities abound for Marcus. With Cole Aldrich gone, he'll be the focal point of the inside game on offense and given far greater responsibility on the defensive end, too. I worry more about him on defense than I do offensively. He still picks up those silly fouls 24 feet from the basket and that is something he absolutely can't do next year. However, you have to feel good about someone that put in the kind of work last year to get better and feel like he's going to do it again this year.
Final 2010 Grade: A
No one had a better season for the Jayhawks than Marcus. Never mind that it was a complete shock. It was the best, period. Now that he's shown he can be a dominant low post player as the second option there, he gets to show whether or not he can shoulder the load in the lead role next year. Another improvement from now until then will be necessary.