By the way, there is a new block on the sidebar and if you look to your left (<------) you will see our "Road to a National Championship". We need to look at it one game at a time, starting tomorrow against Do-Rant and Co.
This game was a lot like last Saturday's home fiesta against Do-Rant and Company except Huggins doesn't have as much talent. They were making everything from behind the 3 point line in the first half and jumping out to an 16-9 lead early in the game. However, once Lance Harris and Cartier Martin stopped their barrage of 3 pointers, we quickly jumped back into the game on a 7-0 run to tie it up at 16 and we never relinqueshed the lead after taking control 22-19 with 8:26 left in the first half. Our defense, especially if you take away the first 8 minutes, was pretty good holding the Wildcats to 40% from the field and 35% from behind the arc.
OK, enough stats let's get to some player-by-player commentary.
Super is really emerging as the leader of this team or at least the vocal leader, something that Brandon has never become. The fact that he has stepped foward and taken that role is huge in our 9 game run to a National Title because all NC (National Championship) teams have vocal leaders. Take last year's Florida team for example. Joakim Noah, while not necessarily the best player on his team is without a doubt the vocal leader, always running around and screaming with his hair in a ponytail. Super doesn't have to go to the extent that Noah went last year, but when we need a spark we go to one player and one player alone. Super.
While Super is emerging as the leader of this basketball team Julian is making it very clear that he is the most important player to our run for a NC. He is the key part of our offense, hanging out around the free throw line and either dishing out to the 3 point shooters, passing down low in the High-Low offense, shooting from there (the worst of the options by far) and my personal favorite, dodging his way through defenders and finding himself under the basket for an easy two. I know he only scored 12 points in today's game, but he led our team yet again in rebounds with 8 and did all of this despite being in foul trouble for the second straight game. He needs to stay out of foul trouble tomorrow against Do-Rant and especially in the NCAA Tournament. I'm not so sure we can beat real quality opponents without him.
After I dogged him following the Oklahoma game, he has stepped up against Texas and now in Oklahoma City. He still isn't the player I had hoped we had coming into the season and isn't making as many shots (3-10 today) as I would like him to. Still, his performance seemed much better today than in the past and his defense is still improving. Brandon Rush is our most vital player to have out on the floor because we have no one that can play the same way he does. Super, Russell and SC can all give eachother breaks. Same with DA, DJack and Sasha. The only guy with the same bodytype as Brandon is Rodrick, which is probably the reason he has been making cameos recently during Brandon's cold streak, and that is a HUGE drop off.
Russell is a hard to player to judge if you watch the game and is near impossible to judge if you just look at the boxscore. Today wasn't an especially good day for Russell but the good did outweigh the bad (4 assists 1 turnover) which is the most important thing for him to do for us. The key to Russell's game in regards to our offense is his ability to make open shots. A good example of this is the game against Texas, he was knocking down all of the open shots he got and we put up 90 on Bevo. Today he wasn't as consistent, but he also didn't have near the open shots he had against Texas. Good day from Russell, but nothing special.
The thing that I remember about Sasha in this game is how he picked up 3 fouls in like 20 seconds of gameplay. After those 3 fouls (and correct me if I'm wrong) I don't think he got back in the game and I can't say I blame Self. The first of the 3 was when he basically punched a guy in the back of the head, don't remember the other two exactly but I do remember that he got 3. He missed a couple of easy shots down low that he should make and all in all it was a disappointing day for Sasha. What hurt his playing time is often their tallest player on the court was David Hoskins who is only 6'5" and very quick. Well, Sasha had to guard somebody and he wasn't as effective on the defensive end because they had him running around in circles.
SC finally broke through from his mini-slump, scoring a combined 8 points (all in Friday night's game) the last 3 games. He didn't take a single shot inside the 3 point arc, shooting 2-5 on generally open looks from outside and going a perfect 4-4 from the line. The thing that makes SC so special though is his driving ability, his ability to get into the lane with a little sliver of a hole much like Barry Sanders could through the Detroit Lions offensive line. He didn't do that often enough tonight and it is something he needs to work on heading into Tournament time.
Solid game by Arthur, who was having a mini-slump of his own along with SC. I still think he needs to make a more physical impact on the boards and call for the ball more in the post, but he only played 17 minutes today and we were a perimeter oriented team today. He has plenty of room to grow and the more and more I watch him play I realize he isn't ready for the NBA Draft. Back before the season I said that him, Rush and Julian were all leaving for the brighter lights of the NBA but Julian has already announced he is returning for his junior season and DA isn't ready. He still might leave if he gets bad information from some agents, but hopefully he stays in school and grows as a player in a Jayhawk uniform.
DJack, while it shows very little in the box score, had a great game today and was a real physical prescence inside. He was the perfect big man against a team like Kansas State, physical enough to get the tough rebounds (4 boards in only 22 minutes) but not too physical to pile up fouls (3 fouls with one being SC's fault on the charge). Also, Fran had one of his few bright moments when he talked about how good of a rebounder DJack is, saying he is one of the best in the country in rebounds per minute. I wonder if KP has that state, let's go check it out. (.........................) Sorry, it's a no go.
That's all who played, Self is sticking to his 8 man rotation for the NCAA Tournament. I personally like the 8 man rotation better than, say, Roy William's 12 man rotation over in North Carolina because in the Tournament, with the expanded TV timeouts and a full season of conditioning under their belts players can play for a long time. Last year in the Elite Eight, George Mason left the same 5 in there for the last ~9 minutes + OT and they went on to win. I'm not suggesting a 5 man rotation, but an 8 man one seems to fit perfectly for the Tournament. It doesn't take nearly as long to find out the best lineup you have that night and you can get the most production from those 8 players.
The thing I love most about this team is our ability to play ANY style of game. Self said it perfectly after the game:
We can get in an offensive scorefest (Ex: Texas), can slow it down and play a grind-it-out style (Ex: @ Oklahoma, @ Iowa State) and anything in-between. What usually kills high seeded teams is their inability to play a certain kind of basketbal, and then they draw a team that plays that style. The majority of upsets in the NCAA Tournament happen when the lower seed forces the higher seed to player their game, but no matter what their game is we can play it. That is what would scare me most if I drew Kansas in the Tournament.
Look for a "Trip Around Jayhawk Nation" sometime soon as well as a quickie game preview for tomorrow's rematch with Do-Rant and Co.
2 DOWN, 7 TO GO!!!!