We are 23-2, a still-stellar 8-2 in conference play. We are in prime position to earn a #1 seed, and still have our Big 12 Championship-destiny mostly in our hands. And here we still sit, as a fan base, desperate for changes to be made after a stretch of mostly poor play, a stretch that has been bookended by our only two losses on the season. So, always trying to adhere to to the fan base and their wishes, here are the most obvious ways for the Jayhawks to improve from here until March.
But before we get to them, I have to take the time to give the qualifiers. First, there will be no "Player X must play better". Everyone on our team needs to step up if we want to make a deep run into the month of March, and while some need to more than others, there is no use in pointing that out as an improvement. These are mostly things involving strategery, things that are perfectly in Bill Self's control to change.
Now, I know that Sasha has been playing better basketball of late, and Cole Aldrich has looked, at times, lost at oun the court. Of course, I also have seen Cole Aldrich plays that Sasha Kaun simply can't make, and Big Cole at least knows how to, you know, catch the basketball on rebounds and passes and such.
But most importantly, Aldrich plays, statistically, better. Instead of using "per-game" metrics, which unfairly award more credit to the player receiving more minutes, we will use "per 40 minutes" metrics. And here are the results, using Cole Aldrich's and Sasha Kaun's pages on StatSheet.com, a wonderfully informative and statistically-filled site.
And while Sasha holds a slight advantage in the scoring department (17 opposed to 14), Cole has the elder-statesmen of the two beat everywhere else, most notably in the rebounds department (16 per game, 5 offensive for Cole; 9 and 4 for Sasha) and in blocks (5 for Cole, 3 for Sasha). Bottom line, as good of a defender Sasha is, I think Cole can be just as good. Maybe I am allowing my freshman fetish to infringe upon the true well-being of the team, but I honestly think that, given the development time the rest of the regular season, Cole Aldrich is a better option come March.
This idea is a partially plagiarized idea, stemming from KGRTC's idea to play three bigs at once. Of course, me being the push-it kind of guy that I am, I flipped the idea on its head and am, instead, proposing a four guard, Villanova-like strain to our offense. For 40 minutes a game, we run a pretty vanilla scheme, predicated on ball movement (and boy, does Fran Fraschilla love that ball movement: "This team is so unselfish, the most unselfish team in America...") and solid all-around play from everyone. Of course, when our shots don't drop as planned, we often struggle to move beyond anything representing a middle-of-the-pack offensive attack, not including the Baylor game. And the reason that, despite not making a single three, we were still able to put up a conference season-high 100 points? That would be the fast break and quick tempo, two facets of our offensive plethora that are often neutralized by the opposing defense. So, in order to combat these attempts, at all costs, to limit our fast break offense, how about we fight fire with fire? Put SC, Russell, Mario and Brandon all on the court at once, and run the hell outta the opposition. And if it doesn't work, if they continue to stop the quick game by completely giving up any hope at offensive rebounds, set up open perimeter shots. Because, as good as our offense is, there needs to be some variation at some point forcing defenses to adjust. For serious. And while fatigue would certainly be an issue in this formula, as they would have to rest more often, I would be fine with three-bigs lineups from time-to-time, or even with playing Tyrell Reed or Rodrick Stewart or Connor Teahan or Jeremy Case for small stretches, in an effort to rest the four key perimeter guys.
And just to clarify, I'm certainly not advocating a complete change in our offensive scheme. It is obviously working, and working very well. But I think that it would behoove us to add another element to the already-working offense, just to change things up.
Now, the more often we go to my previously mentioned "strain", this would become more of a moot point. However, as a four-guard lineup isn't exactly how Bill Self came to know basketball, that idea isn't coming to fruition any time soon. So, I will compromise with Self and simply take, if only for a few games, a change in the starting lineup.
Listen, I love Russell to death. He has been vital to our success all three years he has been in Lawrence, and is a key cog in our offensive machine yet again this season. But Sherron Collins is a better all-around basketball player and is a better fit for our offense, plus his insertion into the starting five would allow Russell's veteran leadership to start off on the bench. And for those who aren't a big fan of "messing with success", I have only two things to say to you:
1) We aren't exactly in a streak of "success" at the present time, instead mired in a 5-game struggle period, where we have (possibly) played our five worst games of the season. In a row. So, boom goes the Rockefeller.
2) And, does anybody remember the improvement this team saw when Sasha Kaun was replaced with Darnell Jackson? There are quite a few similarities, most notably the multi-year starter who is struggling over the better player sitting and waiting on the bench. And while Darnell has improved since being inserted into the starting lineup, as has Sasha coming off the bench, the mere change of things had to have had a positive effect on the team as well. We badly need a change somewhere, about something, to get us out of this "slump". Which leads me to my next point...
No matter what X's-and-O's change, something big has to change for there to be an impact. Whatever we are doing in practice, switch it up. I understand that this "forumla" led us to a 20-0 start to the season, and I trust that it is the best for this team. But it certainly isn't what this team needs right now, this team needs a changeup thrown out them. Whether that means lightening up in practice or taking a firmer stance, the pendulum has to sway one way or another.
Ever since the loss in Manhattan, I have waited for a fluff piece by the KC Star talking about a "change by Self". And I would have initially disapproved of such a change, five games and two weeks is more than enough evidence to actually make a change.
So, in order for us to truly break out of this "slump" (a 3-2 stretch where our two losses were on the road to Top 25 teams) something at the core of this team needs to change, if only temporarily.
We have Colorado coming to Allen Field House Saturday, a perfect time to show off a "change" to this week's schedule, the worst team in the Big 12 coming to our house. We already missed one chance to bounce back against the Buffs, struggling to break free from the Buffs' aggressive in-your-face defense, hopefully we won't pass up the same opportunity this go-around.