Marcus Morris joined the Kansas Jayhawks last year along with his twin Markieff. At the time the two were difficult to distinguish, very raw, error prone and Markieff, not Marcus actually started more consistently for the Jayhawks.
As it went the two were contributors but far from a driving force behind the Jayhawks, which was certainly expected being true freshman on a team that had just won a national title. The Morris twins would combine to average just over 11 points and 12 rebounds on the season which isn't too bad for what amounts to playing a true freshman at the four spot. Regardless, it was Sherron and Cole's team and the group would go as far as those two could carry. Down the stretch what would ultimately do Kansas in, was a lack of a third option. It didn't exist, there was too much youth and no one aggressive enough to step up.
Jump ahead to the beginning of the 2009 season. Xavier Henry joins the squad and the expectation was that he would provide that third option. Cole and Sherron continue down their path and Henry would provide that much needed third option to relieve the pressure.
Funny how quickly things change. Marcus Morris it turns out is the one who is actually making a strong case for himself as the third option, maybe even the second or first on a team where he was once considered merely a supporter. No longer can the uptick in production be viewed as a blip in the radar. After a night in Lincoln Nebraska where he found himself demoted from his starting role, Marcus Morris has certainly been more than just another Morris.
Thomas Robinson a highly recruited true freshman took the court with the starting lineup three nights after Kansas dropped their first and only game of the season to Tennessee. As the story goes, Coach Self wasn't seeing the effort or production he felt he should be getting from Marcus Morris. Two minutes in and a Robinson turnover later, Marcus found his way back into the game. Since that time Marcus Morris has been one of if not the most productive player in the league and on the Kansas team. Is this still the Sherron and Cole show? Opinions might just begin to differ as Marcus is emerging as one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. Game in and game out through nine contests in conference play Morris has impressed.
The per game stats breakdown to 17.8 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game and a shooting percentage of 60% from the field. No question this has been invaluable in the Jayhawks 9-0 start to conference play, but what does it really mean?
Take Marcus Morris and his 17.8 points per game. That's positions him at 6th overall in the conference since conference play. Morris is the top underclassman in the league with the top five made up entirely of juniors and seniors. Who's in the top five? Not a single Jayhawk. Not Sherron Collins, not Cole Aldrich. James Anderson, LaceDarius Dunn, Donald Sloan, Damion James and Denis Clemente actually make up the top 5. Not a bad group to find yourself in the conversation with if you're Marcus Morris. As far as the next closest Jayhawk, Sherron Collins checks in at 14th with 15.6 per game.
Moving on to the 8.4 boards, once again Marcus Morris checks in at 6th overall in the conference. Once again Morris is the first underclassman listed and one of only two in the top 10 that are not juniors or seniors. Damion James leads the league followed by Marquis Gilstrap, Cole Aldrich, Marshall Moses and Ekpe Udoh. While Morris isn't the first Jayhawk on the list, he is in pretty elite company and the first player to have a teammate listed above him. What that means is that despite Cole Aldrich, one of the top rebounders in the conference on the interior, Marcus Morris is still competing as one of the best rebounders in the conference. That point is emphasized even further when you consider that Morris leads the league in offensive rebounds per game at 4.56 offensive boards per contest. Morris is the only player in the league averaging over 4 in this category and overtakes every other rebounder on the overall list. Plain and simple it boils down to effort and better awareness on this one.
Which brings us to our last stat. Field goal percentage. How efficient are you as a shooter? Do you take good shots or does your point contribution benefit from quantity over quality? Here again Marcus Morris is plugging along at the top of the conference. Morris ranks first in the entire conference in terms of field goal percentage shooting at a very impressive 60%. He is in fact the only player in the conference shooting OVER 50% from the field. Once again, not another Jayhawk on the list of the top 14 in this stat column. How does this measure up against those he's battling for tops in the points per game column? Well, Damion James is the closest at 49%, LaceDarius Dunn is shooting 48%, James Anderson 46%, Donald Sloan 43% and Denis Clemente 39%. Obviously most of the others are a different type of player but Marcus isn't feasting on bunnies, he's stepping out and knocking down the 12-15 footer as a big man as well. What this does show is that Marcus Morris has been extremely efficient on the offensive end, he's taking good shots, playing smart and on a team that has a multitude of offensive weapons he's going toe to toe with the best in terms of offensive efficiency.
So is Marcus Morris the third option for the Jayhawks? Or could you go as far to say he's the second or even first? Come crunch time there's little doubt that the Jayhawks want the ball in Sherron's hands and there is no substitute for Cole's presence underneath. It could be argued however that Marcus Morris is the most important and key piece to why the Jayhawks are 9-0 to start conference play, the reason the Jayhawks are well on their way to their sixth consecutive conference title. One could even go as far as to say Marcus Morris deserves serious consideration for Big 12 player of the year and at the very least an all conference nod. In the last nine games since conference play began Marcus is more than just another Morris, he's Marcus Morris and on this Jayhawk squad he's as key a component to the success on the court as you'll find.