We just lost our second game of the season, and it is February 12th. The Louisville Cardinals were ranked 6th in the country preseason. They lost their second game on December 8th, both of them home losses to BYU and Dayton, two good-but-not-great programs in non-BCS conferences. I don't care what else goes on around us in the world of college basketball, if we only lose two games all year long, we will be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Parity, the most overused word in all of sports, is in full force in college basketball, as it has been for awhile now, and 2 losses is fine, more than fine actually. But, still, there is plenty of space to improve for this basketball team, space that must be covered if we are to make it down to San Antonio.
First off, let's get some positives out of the way. I am in a good mood, and unlike The Streak-buster, we actually played a good game last night. Just, the Longhorns played better. But as far as Kansas is concerned, no one approached the level that Darrell Arthur reached Monday night. He single-handedly forced the Longhorns out of the 2-3 zone in the first half, knocking down two consecutive jumpers from the elbow, and was a force on the offensive side of the ball all night long. Without an awesome performance from DA, we don't have a chance to tie the game at the end of the game. He still was in foul trouble, something he will have to move past in March, but at least he was awesome while on the court.
The other three bigs, on the other hand, played simply "average", a level that has been good enough almost all season. Rarely, at least against high-quality competition, has our entire front line played well. Tonight was no exception, with only DA playing up to his capabilities. And while that has been good enough to win almost all season long, it wasn't last night against what was, probably, the best team we have yet to play. And so, while Darnell Jackson played halfway decent and Sasha Kaun played passable, and Big Cole had a nice putback in his 2 minutes of play, but it wasn't as good as the depleted Texas front line. Despite Damion James' virtual absence in the first half due to foul trouble and Gary Johnson's broken nose (in two, separate places), our front line was still outplayed by the Longhorns. Of course, it would have helped if Connor Atchley didn't go bazonks from the three-point line.
Russell needs a break, or something. After struggling for a decent streak of games, he seemed to have broken free with his really good performance against Baylor Saturday night. Then, he goes out and plays like crap (again) Monday night in Austin. I understand that he is Mr. Jayhawk two years running and all that, and that he is the senior leader of this team and all that stuff. But he has really struggled of late, as previously mentioned, and this is occurring at the same time that Sherron Collins is finally moving on from his foot and ankle problems. So, how about trying something new Billy? How about let's start Sherron Collins for a couple of games or so, let's see what he can bring to the table. Nothing too exotic or anything, just something to try out while Russell is being substantially outplayed by Sherron Collins.
Of course, while I bring up Sherron Collins starting, he struggled last night as well. Teams are, more and more, keying on our fast break and not allowing him to use his best asset: speed. So, SC is going to have to do something about his game, most notably his outside shot, to continue to be successful and earn his minutes. But while he is still not at his peak, he is playing much better than Russell, with more potential, and thus should be out on the court for the opening tip.
Stemming off the last two bullet point-thingies, our guards are really, really struggling as a unit. While they were our greatest strength for almost all of the season, since (and including) the game in Manhattan they have all struggled, being the main culprit for both of our losses and the other three poor performances, two of them (vs. Missouri and vs. Baylor) exclusively defensive. Bottom line: Mario needs to improve, Brandon needs to improve, Sherron needs to improve and Russell needs to improve. If they don't, we won't make it past the Sweet 16.
Moving on the the Longhorns, they are an awesome team. One of the best 10 teams in the country, for sure, especially when they make their shots from the outside, as they did both in Pauley and last night. They won last night with a bad night, especially first half, from D.J. Augustin, their All-America candidate and leader of the team. But to make up for his struggle-of-a-game, Connor Atchley played out of his shorts and Damion James had a downright outstanding second half after a foul-riddled first. Seriously, this Texas team has gone under-the-radar all year long, well at least since their two-losses-in-two-weeks run through the Big 10/11, after their loss of Kevin Durant, but they have a boatload of talent. Namely Damion James, whose 14 points and 13 rebounds was, by far, the best performance of the night by either team, especially considering that he compiled almost all of those in the second half alone.
More on the longterm ramifications of the loss tomorrow, like our chances at the Big 12 title and #1 seed, along with some possible solutions for the future (read: Sherron over Russell in the starting lineup) and (hopefully) a comparison between this year's Darrell Arthur and Julian Wright circa 2007 coming up later on in the week. I think there are a bunch of similarities there.