Cole Aldrich was a McDonald's All-American, a 4 star recruit coming out of High School according to Rivals, the 6th best center in the entire Class of 2007 and the 30th best prospect of his class.
And here he sits, closer to the end of the bench than the front of it, picking up mostly garbage minutes, whether they come because of foul trouble to the normal rotation of bigs or a lopsided score at the end of the game. While the tallest player on the roster, he and Sasha Kaun are both 6'11" but he is definitely the taller of the two, he sees the court only 8.7 minutes a game, on average, a number that has decreased to only 7.5 during conference play. Put simply, Kansas and its Final Four run has little time for freshman mistakes, missed assignments and a lack of conditioning.
The freshman mistakes are to be expected, and the missed assignments are a result of his lack of practice with the "seven starters" we hear so often about, instead having been relegated to the reserves in practice. And his conditioning has improved over the course of the season, as he continues to burn off the baby fat of old and add on muscle. Back in High School, way up in Bloomington, Minnesota, he could simple "out-height" his opponents, using his close-to-the-basket arsenal and height to get his points, rebounds and blocks. He wasn't forced to out-condition his opponents, his physical talents shone through any amount of baby fat. But once you become a basketball player in the Big 12 Conference, as we all learned from the TV program Knight School (BTW, did Bobby Knight's retirement come out-of-the-blue or what? For more info on his impromptu departure for the game check out the stupendous blog Double T Nation), much is demanded of you. Unless your name is Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant, both outstanding workers in case you were wondering, you simply can't come into this league and dominate it. That isn't how life in the Big 12 works.
So, all of this slow-learning is supposed to be expected. Cole will make some incredible plays, then turn around and on the opposite end turn the wrong away, or pass it to the wrong spot, or miss a bunny, or miss an assignment. Last night's Missouri game was a perfect example of this, as his 9 rebounds (4 of them on the offensive end) were diminished by his 2 turnovers and countless times of being in the wrong spot. As seamless as our offense runs with the "veterans" in there, an unknown variable is introduced when Big Cole steps on the floor. He will make the right move the majority of the time, but as is expected for a freshman, he will occasionally slip up.
Despite never being the game for 15 minutes, and never scoring more than 7 points in a game, he has been a contributor this year. A major one. And he will be a factor in March, receiving substantial playing time either by earning it or foul trouble at least once in the NCAA Tournament. Of his games against "good" competition, he has not received as much playing time, as would be expected. Closer games mean no scraps to clean up, where Cole Aldrich has appeared the most along with other freshmen Tyrel Reed and Connor Teahan. But last night, despite the game being relatively close from start to finish, Cole found himself in the game for a substantial 13 minutes.
And in those 13 minutes he played fine on defense and, while missing a pass here-and-there, decent on offense. But his work on the boards was simply remarkable, picking up 9 of them in only 13 minutes, 4 of them on the offensive end. And one of our few weakness has been the offensive glass, for whatever reason. We are averaging only 11.9 offensive rebounds a game, only good enough for a paltry 148th in the country. 148! Even despite all of Cole's deficiencies, his offensive rebounding alone should earn him more than the garbage minutes he is currently getting.
Ken Pomeroy, among the countless things he has contributed to college basketball and their statistics, has created something called offensive rebounding percentage. OR% is basically what percentage of offensive rebounds . If Cole Aldrich qualified, which he doesn't and not by a long-shot, he would rank as the best on the team, and it wouldn't be particularily close. And while none of the qualifying Jayhawks sneak their way into the Top 100, Cole would comfortably fit in, again if he could only maintain that production over more playing time.
So, all of these words basically come down to this. Cole Aldrich deserves more playing time. Of our three key post players, one of them is almost always having an off night of some sort. Whoever is struggling, cut their minutes by just a few, maybe 5 or so, and give them to Big Cole. Come March, with a trip to the next round on the line, we we will depend on the broad shoulders of the 6'11" Cole Aldrich. And I want them to be experienced, too.
Oh, then there's this...