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"Don't Freak Out" -- Kansas 91 Siena 84

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Upon initial reaction, glancing at a box score and seeing it read 'Kansas 91 Siena 84' doesn't give you the most positive feeling in the world. Your thoughts are immediately transferred to a place where reputation is all that matters, and when you hear Siena, you're expecting some thirty-point blowout in which the scrubs get in with about five minutes left.

Or, if you are an educated fan who understands that good programs exist outsisde of the conferences discussed on ESPN, maybe you're just a little startled. I mean, Siena is returning every contributing member from last year's team; a team that won the MAAC, a solid conference in its own right, going away and destroyed a 4 seed, Vanderbilt, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They have a couple of ballers in [insert name here] and [here], and only lost to current #1 and National Title contender Pittsburgh, in the Steel City, by 13. So, yeah, if you knew all of that, you would be more impressed with the Saints than simply by going off a name test.

But even with knowing that, you would still be mildly surprised. It's just natural to expect wins over no-name programs when you're Kansas or North Carolina or Duke or UCLA, no matter how good their resume is. And going into last night, even with all of our youth and the incredible traptitude of last night's game, I fully expected a 15-20 point win. And while it started out better than that, with a 25-1 run and all of that jazz, it ended up way closer than that. Without that huge, dominating run, we lose this game going away. Well, without that or Cole Aldrich. And if we lose this game, all of the happiness and momentum and all of that fun stuff from the Tennessee game are swiftly wiped away, leaving us approximately where we were following our embarrassing loss to Arizona.

Why was it so close? In a word, defense. It wasn't as bad as most are saying it was, but it certainly wasn't pretty. It was our worst performance of the year, and I guess we're allowed a game or two when our defense doesn't show up. As long as we win, I can live with it. Even with the bad D, though, just about everything in this game was both good-and-bad. There were two exceptions; Cole Aldrich and Tyshawn Taylor. You can probably guess why each was an exception.

That, and plenty more of pretty-good, player-by-player content after the break...

  • Cole Aldrich, of course, is an exception because he was good. Delicious, game-saving good. Everything he did was good, just about, from his 24 points to his 13 rebounds to his 4 blocks. Well, maybe not everything; he only went 6-9 from the free throw line. Seriously, though, he was the primary reason we actually won the game; without such a monstrous game from the big guy, I bet we lose the game. A scary thought, that we're depending on such a dominating performance from everyone's favorite seven-foot Minnesotan to win a game, but that was where we were yesterday. If he plays like last night, we have a legitimate chance against Michigan State. If not, well, yikes.
  • The other exception, Tyshawn Taylor, is different for opposite reasons. Now, I want to be careful. He did have some positive elements, I don't want to get anyone thinking that everything he did yesterday was terrible. But he was the last guy I wanted touching the ball for plenty of the second half yesterday. Not the worst thing to say about a freshman starter, to be sure, but a significant decline from where he was in late November. He made some of the laziest passes in basketball history last night, at least some of the laziest that weren't actually intercepted, and his pull-up three with :30 left on the shot clock was probably the stupidest shot of the season. Whatever Dave Armstrong says, that wasn't a good shot. It got a Bill Self time-out, which is when you know it's bad. Looking at the box score, his stat line looks better than the objective view of his play from watching the game. A lot different. Only 2 turnovers? Shoulda been like six. Seriously, though, the kid is still a stud. He's just hitting a freshman wall, and is being depended on a bunch. Hopefully, with Mario Little coming in to the rotation, we can sit Tyshawn more. I think he would be more fresh, then.
  • And now, after the MVP and LVP of the game, let's move on to the middle-ground. Which is everyone else. Still though, there clearly were some players who played better than others. Travis Releford played the best game of his short career in Lawrence, as he was one of the most active players on both sides of the ball. He is getting better on defense each time out, and is still a fantastic loose-ball situation guy. He also drained a three, which was nice to see. Honestly, I think he should be getting more than 8 minutes a night. I understand that Mario Little coming back cuts into his time, but I think he was a better player than Tyshawn last night. I would be in favor of cutting TyTay's numbers by 4-6 minutes and giving them to Travis, at least as long as Travis keeps on playing like he did last night.
  • Another very positive performance was Marcus Morris; that might have been his best game as a Jayhawk as well. He fell in love with the perimeter J, which needs to stop, but he at least hit it a couple of times, which is more than usual. He is incredibly active on the offensive boards (picked up 4 of them) and his passing and post-moves are always improving. I am biased (he is my favorite player, after all) but I think he is going to be incredibly important the rest of the year. Kieff gets in too much foul trouble (although he only got 2 last night, compared to Marcus' 3) and isn't developed enough offensively, IMO, so Marcus will often have to step up for his brother.
  • And lastly, in our trip around potential career performances, we get to Tyrel Reed. Damn. That was the Tyrel Reed advertised to us coming into the year; 2-4 on threes, a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line (including nailing all 4 late in the game) and active D. He didn't pick up an assist and only had one board and one steal, which isn't great, but he looked much better on D. Of course, better last night was relative, given the suckiness of the group as a unit, but he didn't seem too bad last night. He is getting better in the area, and while after the Arizona game I thought he was going to be officially banished from the rotation upon Mario Little's return, he clearly still has a role in the rotation.
  • OK, now on to more of the mediocre performances. Sherron's line, and performance, are the definition for mediocre for me, at least considering how good he was against the Vols. Not to penalize the guy for being absolutely incredible on Saturday, but he didn't seem to have the same spark he had on Saturday. A lot of it, I'm sure, had to do with it merely being Siena on the Jayhawk Sports Network as opposed to the bright lights of the WorldWide Leader against a ranked opponent, but still. He had the quietest 18 points on the year, and didn't pick up a single steal or really have too many fast-break opportunities. Of course, his three that he drained with 6 minutes left with us only up 5 was the biggest shot of the game (it got everybody standing up, after all) and he did score 18. And, most importantly, he continued to trust his teammates, even when the going got tough, not hesitating to drive in and kick out to an open Tyrel or Brady or even Tyshawn. That is a huge step, the biggest of the season, and one he is getting better at with each game.
  • Brady did not have a good game. After like a five-game stretch where he was fantastic, he did not look nearly as good last night, being out of position on defense just as often as everyone else, and had one of his worst offensive nights in recent memory. He knocked down his first three, IIRC, but couldn't find his stroke the rest of the night, although he had a couple of long-balls go in-and-out. Still, not an impressive performance by Brady. He has to play better on Saturday, when he is likely matched up with Kaelin Lucas, for us to have a shot.
  • And, lastly, we get to Mario Little. Hard to say too much about this guy, considering he isn't playing all that often and when he is in, he isn't at full strength. Still, good to see him get his first points as a Jayhawk. Now all we're waiting on is his first field goal.
  • I lied. This is the last bullet point, although this one is directed at Bill Self. Hey, Bill, how about we try to develop some way to get the ball in bounds, eh? I mean, it's one thing to struggle against Tennessee in that area, with Wayne Chism and his billion-feet-long arms and 6'9" body guarding little 6'2" Brady Morningstar, but Siena? Really? I don't even think they are a good turnover-forcing team. And yet, we struggled throughout the entire game to get the ball in bounds. Definitely something we need to work on.
  • If you are an intelligent person, and if you actually had the patience to read through all of that stuff (my posts tend to be quite lengthy, I know), you'll notice I didn't talk about the defense too much. Why? Well, for two reasons. For one, no one played good defense, besides Cole, so I didn't want to have to harp on it person-after-person. And for two, I don't think it was as bad as most people are making it out to be. It wasn't good, that is for sure, and probably wasn't even average, especially for a Bill Self-coached team. But a lot of their scoring simply came from them making absolutely ridiculous shots, and no matter how good of defense you play, you can't control that. Just can't be done. Giving up 84 points is inexcusable, but I would wager that no matter how well we play on D, they score at least 75. They were just on fire last night, sometimes that happens.

    Oh, and one final note. I just want to say thanks to everyone who participated in last night's Open Game Thread. 434 (or whatever it was) is an incredible accomplishment, especially considering this little blog consistently got 10-or-so comments a game last year, with almost all of them coming from your's truly. Most of this growth can be attributed to Denver, who is a much more active poster than I am (admittedly) and incredibly adept at getting particpation. Almost all of the recent growth has been post-Denver, so he deserves most of the credit. However, everyone who participated in last night's thread (plus other regular contributors hiphop and KennyGregory) deserves credit as well. This is definitely a more fun place to hang out, now, because of all the discussion and community; it's what makes SB Nation blogs so awesome. Thanks to all of you for making this blog so much more enjoyable, and making writing up posts like this that much easier to do.

    So, thanks goes to Warden11, 2.1 seconds left, labbadabba, hiphop, KGRTC, hunter s. royal, giants, wrigleyrocker, Esteban and whoever else I forgot. All of you make this a much better place to hang out. OK, that's like the 3rd time I've said that, so I'm going to stop. Plenty of Spartan content this week, as this game is quite important for our Baby Hawks. Also, hopefully I can get some football postseason content up this week. However, if you are just yearning for it, make sure and check out the second first best Kansas blog out there, KJ-IBT. Tremendous stuff up there recently by RCT commenter hiphop, including a discussion of this year's burned redshirts and a brilliant post detailing how we will replace all of the departing contributors.

    ROCK CHALK!

    Editor's note: Tags upcoming. My internet is freaking out, so I'll have to wait for it to stop freaking out (smart strategy, I know) before I can put tags in...