Going in, all rational Kansas fans were in general agreement that no one knew what was going to happen. None of the fans, none of the players, none of the coaches, none of the Bill Selfs. No one. We all, collectively, took a wait-and-see approach, eagerly anticipating just how the batch of young players would react to playing in a hostile environment against an incredibly talented team.
For the first 20 minutes, they performed pretty well. They didn't play perfect, but no one really expected them to. And while there were some freshmen mistakes, to be sure, during the first half, they were almost always followed by positive plays. Hustling down the floor for a freebie, or a defensive board, or knocking down a mid-range jumper, or even altering a shot. It was the give-and-take you would expect from a young-but-talented team, if there were any expectations to have at all. If you were to assign a + for each positive play and a - for each negative one, the first half would end up with a positive number. Not a terribly positive number, of course, as it was only a three-point lead. But still, there were more positives than negatives in the first half. And considering this was a batch of young'uns playing in their first game away from hoards of Kansas fans cheering their every move, I was impressed. Not terribly blown away, but overall impressed.
And then, to open the second half, we started out hot. It was awesome to see our freshmen-laden come out and punch Arizona in the mouth. A three-point halftime lead quickly became a 9-point advantage, and the pull-away was just beginning. Or so I thought.
But then Arizona knocked down some shots, we made some stupid freshmen mistakes, they started to get on a mini-run. And once that run began, there was no one who was stopping them. While the Wildcats are talented, sure, I'm pretty sure that their run of near-domination had more to do with our collective look of 'Deer in Headlights' than anything Zona did. Not to say they weren't impressive; Jordan Hill ate Cole Aldrich for lunch and Jamel Horne outhustled us on about eighteen hundred plays.
It wasn't all negative, though. LIke I said, the first half was generally positive, and even in the second half, there were some highlights that a young team can build off of.
Other, less-general thoughts on the game are after the jump...
- Sherron Collins didn't force too many shots. And while it might have produced more points on Tuesday night were he too dribble down and fire twenty-two footers, it certainly is more important to develop habits that will lead to future success. That is what these games are all about with young teams; developing habits and building on aspects of t heir game that can all come together in March. And, nine times out of ten, we are a better team when Sherron is continuing to run the offense and pass the ball around, only taking shots when the opportunity arises within the flow of the offense. All things considered, 17 shots isn't terrible, and while he did force some shots up, none were too ridiculous, and they all were late enough to were it didn't matter much. Overall, Sherron played OK, but here is one of the differences between this year and, well, just about any other year in the past 15 years of Kansas basketball: Sherron can't play OK if we want to beat good teams. There is so much youth on the team, the two veteran leaders have to show up and perform every game, at least against competent teams. Sherron's performance is borderline; it was probably good enough for us to win if enough of the newbies showed up and performed, but it wasn't a surefire victory performance, naturally.
- I tell you what, though, at least Sherron decided to show up to McKale Center. Unlike Cole Aldrich, who probably played the worst game of his entire life. Not only was he a complete non-factor on the offensive side of the ball, but he got consistently destroyed on the defensive end by Jordan Hill. Sure, Jordan Hill has some NBA potential, but he represents the least of talents that Cole will face one day in the NBA, and Cole looked ridiculously slow and lost. Hill consistently drove right around him like Cole was a statue. And while his utter lack of offensive output can patly be attributed to our complete inability to feed the post (seriously, who knew it was so hard to toss it in to a big man?), his deensive performance (or lack thereof) is all on him. If were ever want to think about being a serious competitor for anything beyond simply making it to the NCAAs, Cole can't have too many more games like this, if any. Plus, what's up with him shooting like crap from the free throw line? I mean, it was awesome that a freaking 7-foot center led the Big 12 in free throw percentage; don't think he will ever be able to reclaim that honor.
- Moving beyond the big two, there were some glimmers of hope. Namely, Brady Morningstar. The kid, despite giving up four-or-five inches, pretty much shut down all-everything Chase Budinger from start-to-finish. I mean, Chase finished with 5 points (he was averaging 19.1 going in) and those 5 were on a fast-break dunk and three free throws. Seriously. And while Brady wasn't as perfect on the offensive end, particularly in the second half, his defensive performance is enough to earn him MVP honors for the game. Of course, that has more to say about how poorly just about everyone played, the kid still only scored 8 points, but whatever. The key for Brady is finding his shot and, when it is there, making it. It sounds simple enough, and in basic forms it is essentially the role of everyone on the team, but I think you know what I mean. In the first half, he was popping into the hole in the zone (the free throw line) and shooting some mid-range jumpers when they went zone, and sticking to his usual shtick of simply knocking down the open threes off ball movement. In the second half the shots just didn't fall, but overall, I'd say he played pretty well.
- Moving on, Tyshawn Taylor did not have too good of a game. His fantastic start has given away to a couple of poor performances in a row, and while he played great against Temple, that was merely sandwiched around three-or-four less-than-stellar ones. I mean, he didn't play terrible or anything, it's just he isn't showing off the same magical spark that reared itself over-and-over the first handful of games. Not a terrible negative, by any stretch, just saying that he might need to start picking up some slack for other guys again, like at the beginning of the year, as I trust him more than any other of the freshmen. Or, really, anyone not named Sherron, Cole or I guess Brady.
- The Morris twins, while different entities, tend to either both play well or both play poorly. Against, Arizona, they represented the good-and-bad more than any other player, as they mixed in some nice boards and made free throws with failing to box out and missed wide-open twelve footers. More of the same, I suppose, when it comes to the Morris twins. That's all I'll say for now, as I plan on doing a post specifically on the two Philly twins sometime Sunday or Monday. Their development is definitely a point of contention, and it is a crucial aspect to any success we may or may not attain this year.
- And, finally, we move to the incredibly awful. In a name, Tyrel Reed. Coming into the year, I expected Tyrel to claim the starting slot next to Sherron and Tyshawn (after it became clear that TyTay was going to start from Day One), to be the three-point shooter we so desperately needed and, once improving his D, effectively serve as this year's rough equivalent to J.R. Giddens. Uh, yeah, about that. He looks lost out there on D, and when his shot isn't falling on offense he doesn't provide much contribution there, either. So, yeah, more like a homeless man's J.R. Giddens. That isn't good enough, especially in Self's defensive-minded world. I still love the kid, and think he could be a good player in the future, but he needs to play a helluva lot more defense if he wants to see his playing time increase.
- When Reed's PT decreases, because I think it is more when than if at this point, it will probably go to Travis Releford. Releford is no great shakes on the defensive end either, but he at least seems to be working on that side of the ball. And while he certainly doesn't possess Tyrel's shot (although, Tyrel never really has had a hot streak, and isn't even shooting that well), he is a much better slasher than Tyrel, and is probably the best broken-play player on the team. Honestly, the kid plays the best when it is either a) a fast break or b) a broken play. In simple, half-court offense he is average, at best, which is why (at least I would guess) he continues to be at the end of the rotation. Hopefully this is simply due to the fact that he is overthinking in the sets, and as he gets more experience he'll simply be able to play. Cause the kid has serious talent, and if Mario LIttle can never get on the court, we need him to step up so My Boy, Tyrel, can see the bench some more.
Introducing a new feature here at RCT, I want to start ranking the key performers in terms of performance. Pretty much how Keegan does it, except these won't be followed by three-sentence explanations, and I like to think I'm more intelligent than good ol' Tom. Feel free to leave your own list in the comments...
- Brady Morningstar
- Sherron Collins
- Marcus Morris
- Markieff Morris
- Tyshawn Taylor
- Travis Releford
- Cole Aldrich
- Tyrel Reed
Note: The Morris twins are entirely interchangeable, their play stend to blend together in my head, and by today, I don't have too much of a memory as to which one performed better. So, basically consider it a tie. And yes, as bad as Cole was, Tyrel was worse. Sad, I know. I love the kid, too.
Like I said, I want to do a Morris-exclusive thing sometime tomorrow, and we need to provide at least some semblance of football content for the Insight Bowl. Tomorrow and Monday should find RCT littered with stories, primarily football-and-Insight Bowl related, but with some basketball content mixed in, as Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will largely be travel days. For obvious reasons.