Ever since Bill Self took over as the Head Coach here at KU, he has always made sure of one thing; there would be plenty of bigs to come off the bench. Being such a large proponent of defense as he is, he is essentially forced to have a large bounty of tall, atletic solid defenders to call on. It is what let us have so much success last year, particularly in the NCAA Tournament; we had more bigs than everyone else, so they were fresher, and could play at a higher intensity level when they are in.
Self's first recruiting class consisted of three bigs in Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson and C.J. Giles. None of them were pressed into any more early action than they proved they deserved on the court, as there was All-American Wayne Simien and experienced, veteran-y Chistian Moody in front of them. All of the freshmen were afforded the opportunity to sit and learn, going up against the more-established players each day in practice, garnering play time at the levels that most benefitted their development. C.J. got the majority of the playing time early, because he proved he was the most ready for big-time college basketball. Sasha and Darnell, on the other hand, were allowed to develop at their own pace and work their way up to seeing significant minutes in sigificant games.
Self's next batch of recruits was more perimeter-oriented, with Julian Wright being the only 4 or 5 of the bunch. Julian, of course, is different than your average 4, and is such a unique player that there was little he could learn. So, he received more playing time as a freshmen. But when Darrell Arthur came in, same thing. Now, it was two players who had previously spent time on the bench soaking up knowledge (Julian Wright and Sasha Kaun) who deserved the starting role, letting DA learn from the bench. Darrell learned plenty, and then when Julian bolted early for the riches of the League, he took over the starting role. This allowed last year's prized recruit, 6'11" Cole Aldrich, to learn in a low-pressure environment; practice and garbage time. Cole wasn't pressed onto the floor in high-pressure situations until, ironically enough, the Final Four, quite possibly the highest form of pressure that exists in all of college basketball. Of course, by then, it was the end of the year, and he had learned so much in practice, he handled it wonderfully (outhustling America's Sweetheart and "hardest working player in America" Tyler Hansborough, I might add).
The cycle was set. It was to run like clockwork; the incoming freshmen were allowed to simply sit on the bench and learn through practice and garbage minutes, while more experienced bigs, who had already gone through the initiation to big-time college basketball, took the lion's share of the playing time.
But it didn't work out so well this year. Julian, who by eligibility standards should be a senior right now, and Darell, who should be a junior, were slated to be the starters, while Cole, as a sophomore, would be in line to receive an increase in minutes. And hey, no one probably expected Julian to last until this year. But, Darrell is supposed to still be around, allowing the young crop of freshmen a year to learn, process and get better.
Instead, the Morris twins are being pressed into action. With only Cole as an experienced vet to look up to, both Markieff and Marcus must play an inordinate amount of minutes for Bill Self freshmen. I mean, Marcus is averaging 20.1 minutes a game (6th on the team) and Markieff is averaging 18.3 per game (7th on the team). Compare that to the bounty of freshmen I just named in their first year at Kansas:
- Sasha Kaun -- 10.0 minutes/game -- t8th on team
- C.J. Giles -- 8.3 minutes/game -- t10th on team
- Darnell Jackson -- 7.0 minutes/game -- 12th on team
- Darrell Arthur -- 19.0 minutes/game -- 5th on team
- Cole Aldrich -- 8.3 minutes/game -- 9th on team
Now, beyond Julian, Darrell appears to be another outlier, but even then he technically came off the bench. And even then, Marcus is averaging more minutes a game than he did. In fact, even Julian's MPG average his freshman year (20.1) is identical to Marcus' average.
So, here's my point. These kids are being depended on more than any other freshman big in Bill Self's career at Kansas. They are expected to be two of the three cogs on the interior, and while they continue to show flashes, they simply are not there in the developmental process to excel. So, sure, if you expected them to step in and play like Darrell Arthur his freshman year, then I suppose their play thus far has been disappointing. Yeah. But, when saying that they aren't living up to expectations, consider the depth Darrell had in front of him. Julian. Sasha. Darnell. Darrell was merely supposed to be an incredibly athletic, fadeaway-shooting role player. The Morris twins, on the other hand, are essentially serving as crutches, holding this team up just barely. Without Markieff and Marcus, our team is mind-numbingly worse. We are giving Quintrell Thomas starts, and Conner Teahan is playing 10 minutes a night at 4. Hell, Matt Kleinmann is seeing regular playing time. The two Morris twins are life-savers, keeping the season afloat. If they were afforded the opportunity to sit back and learn like just about every other big in Bill Self's coaching career has had, we would all be thrilled with the progress they've made. I'm sure of it. But, instead, they are having to rotate a starting slot between the two, with whoever isn't starting almost always the first body off the bench.
And, when two young kids are put in a situation like that, the most you can hope for is improvement. You can't possibly expect results from Day One, you can only hope that they get better every day, so by Day Hundred there is some noticeable progress and they are approaching the stage where they can consistently show up and give you 14 and 8, or whatever you want. Both players have plenty of deficiencies, sure. Markieff can't make a free throw, picks up almost as many stupid fouls as Darrell Arthur and isn't the best boxer-outer in the world. Marcus isn't too hot from the stripe either, isn't a big fan of boxing out and gets overmatched by more physical opposition, almost always by taller people. Hey, what a surprise. Some freshmen have weaknesses. And there's more, too. Neither one of them have a great mid-range jumper and they both make their fair share of stupid passes.
But they are quite the talented duo, as well. They both hustle up-and-down the floor without fail, they both have the knack for the nifty pass (kind of Julian Wright-like, although neither are as good as the master of the highlight reel pass; of course, Wright committed a bazillion turnovers too, so maybe that's a good thing), they both have developed some nice low post moves (especially Marcus) and they both are athletic enough to cover most opposing bigs. They are both, in a word, developing. And hell, isn't that what you should expect from two freshmen in a rebuilding year.
Basically, I just don't get all the negativity around Markieff and Marcus Morris. They both are playing fine, in my opinion, and we have much bigger problems outside of them. Sure, our low-post game isn't all that hot, but it's hard to blame two freshmen who are visibly improving each time out there. If you want to play the blame game, blame Bill; he was the one who effectively shaped this roster. And yeah, everyone obviously realizes we need some help down low; that's why Withey is transferring over. But the Morris twins are fine basketball players, and they are improving.
That is a lot of words for such a simple point, but hey, whatever. I have a slight bias on this issue, as Marcus Morris is probably my favorite player on the team (no rational reason, I just started liking him for some reason) and I love Markieff as well. I think they are both going to be quite good when all is said-and-done, a day that might be coming earlier than most are expecting.
Just because they play a bigger role in our team doesn't mean more should be expected from them. It isn't like they get a bigger role because they outplayed established, proven players who had been at school for a couple of years. They beat out a career walk-on in Matt Kleinmann and, well, I suppose a fellow freshman in Quintrell Thomas. Conner Teahan too, if you ever considered him a legitimate player at the 4. And if you did, I don't know what to say.
Plenty more tomorrow, mostly football content though...