Center is a bit of a dated term. Not many teams have a true center in this day and age, but last year the Jayhawks certainly had one of the better ones in all of college basketball with Cole Aldrich. Aldrich was a presence in the paint defensively and while his contributions were invaluable, there is some belief that his style of play may have forced Kansas to play at a slightly slower pace than they may have been capable.
Entering 2010 the buzz word for Kansas is speed. This team is by all accounts the fastest and most athletic since that 2007-2008 National Title group, so with that comes the obvious question as to whether or not a the center position will continue to exist the way it did a year ago, or if it becomes a part of a greater rotation of bigs.
My hunch says it's the latter, but for the sake of previewing the team we'll bundle our bigs into two groups and start with those that might be closer to your back to the basket bigs in Markieff Morris and Jeff Withey.
Markieff Morris has become a bit of what you might consider the "forgotten Morris". After coming in and starting right away he has slowly taken a back seat to his brother Marcus who exploded during a Sophomore campaign that has elevated his stock to a level many never would have expected.
In a lot of ways however, Markieff might be as much a key to the Jayhawk success in 2010 as his more celebrated twin. With the departure of Cole Aldrich the expectation is that Markieff will eat up a good deal of those minutes in his junior season. The other affect of Aldrich's departure might be a further focus by teams on Marcus Morris down low. The result? Opportunity for Markieff.
A year ago Markieff averaged 17.1 minutes per game and contributed 6.8 points and 5.8 boards per contest. The interesting part about this is that as celebrated as Marcus Morris was for his productivity and efficiency in 2010, Markieff was just as good. Again, the difference boils down to minutes. Marcus Morris, an impressive 59% eFG%, Markieff an equally impressive 59.8%. In terms of players logging significant minutes only Tyrel Reed competes with either.
Furthermore from a rebounding percentage standpoint, a Markieff Morris proved more efficient on the offensive glass and almost even with both Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris when you accommodate for the minutes played. In short, with more minutes we Markieff could be just as productive.
Bill Self rode a trio of solid interior players in '07-'08 with Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun and headed into '09-'10 Markieff Morris has the ability to be a similar piece if he can carry over his efficiency and improvements off the bench last year to a starting role alongside his twin this year.
Jeff Withey is a bit of a mystery. On paper one would be tempted to view him as the next Cole Aldrich type, but he doesn't necessarily fit that role. Physically the focus has been on building his frame and helping him take full advantage of it, but injury and a deep bench have kept him fairly limited in his role.
Withey's limited minutes a season ago would certainly appear to have the opportunity to increase. If you look at a four man rotation including Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Withey, there are plenty of minutes to be earned.
The biggest disadvantage going in is going to be the injury. Withey suffered a stress fracture and doesn't figure to return until the season has already started. Bill Self will start with a deep bench but has always seemed more comfortable narrowing that group down as the season goes on. Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris almost certainly will be in the mix so the biggest competition in the rotation for the bigs is going to be with Thomas Robinson.
The second factor that will play a role is the depth and speed in the backcourt. There are seven players that could very easily see time in the backcourt and Self rarely goes 11 deep. If Withey can't break in early or perhaps get his conditioning to a level where he can keep up, he may end up on the outside looking in.
There is certainly always a place and a role for a seven footer, but how prominent that role is for Withey in '10-'11 is up for debate.