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When Cole Aldrich Plays, Kansas is Better and Mid-Term Grades

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It's really as simple as that first statement.  Yes, I'm aware that that may, in fact, be the most obvious, biggest understatement of the college basketball season.  Earlier in the year, when he was struggling - bronchitis and the loss of his grandmother - it was nearly as if he wasn't playing, really.  Sure, opponents had to game plan for him, but he wasn't the Cole Aldrich that we all expected to see coming into the season.

In Saturday's game against Nebraska, he was literally not there for 75 percent of the first half; he had two fould within the first five minutes and was relegated to the bench for the remainder.  Jeff Withey came in and played a very valiant nine minutes in Cole's absence.  It was nice to see Jeff and oft-struggling freshman Thomas Robinson log some consecutive, relevant minutes with Aldrich on the bench.  Those two, particularly Robinson, are going to be very good; probably sooner rather than later, too.  That's great for the future.  But, let's just be honest with ourselves right now - we came into this season with National Title hopes, once again, and Withey And Robinson playing more minutes in a half than Cole isn't going to get us there.

The first half score with Kansas playing fifteen minutes sans Cole: 37-33 Kansas.  Second half score with Cole playing sixteen minutes: 38-32 Kansas, with a maximum lead of eighteen.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  I won't go into the X's and O's breakdown of why Cole has such an impact and what his abilities and size force opponents to do to try and "contain" him.  Having a borderline 7-footer in the college game is a huge advantage.  We all know that.  So, we'll simply leave it at "Kansas is better when Cole Aldrich plays/plays well."

Now, as far as a postgame recap goes, this was an extremely frustrating game.  But, I find myself having the same gripes and complaints from game to game.  i.e. Xavier Henry is struggling so bad; he can't shoot or dribble, Cole needs to get the ball more, turnovers are going to hurt this team, we need to make our free throws, stop doubling down on post players and leaving shooters open, etc.  So, I'm going to refrain from copy-pasting any postgame recap from the last ten games or so and do something different tonight.

Hit the jump to find out what....

State of the 'Hawks

(where the Jayhawks are now, where they need to be by season's end and how they can get there.)

Since we are at exactly the halfway point of conference play, now is the obvious time to take a look and hand out mid-term grades, in relevance of what they are capable of doing; not just how well they have done.

Sherron Collins - When things get tough, Collins is the one who is not only looked to to stabilize the bunch, but he is also the one that asserts himself as that guy.  He may get a bit out of control at times and try to do too much, but it's only because his teammates expect him to do so.  He sometimes disappears and just acts as floor general at times, which is from time to time, exactly what the team needs.  He knows his place and job.  He does it.  Assuming that everbody has a ceiling of potential for their career and season, we'll call the ceiling "10."  Where Sherron is: 9.5.

Brady Morningstar - When Brady came back from his first semester suspension, he was immediately inserted into the floor rotation and given valuable minutes each game.  His presence on the floor and the things he does can often not be measured in the boxscore or even in postgame reports.  He just does what the team needs him to do.  Where Brady is: 8.5.

Xavier Henry - Ugh.  He's so frustrating.  He is still playing defense at a very high effort level.  You have to give him that.  While most other freshman phenoms would just disappear down the bench, he continues to earn minutes, thanks to effort and his defense.  Prediction:  He'll be back next year. (cue explosion during the NCAA tournament, in whice he scores 25 points per game.)  Where Xavier is: 3.0.

Marcus Morris - Nobody has improved more form last year.  His current form is off the charts. (17.6 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game in conference play)  He has long become the third offensive option behind Sherron and Cole.  He scores more than Cole, but the offense still runs through Cole, so he's still the number two.  Marcus' only real downfall of late is occasional foul trouble.  Where Marcus is: 8.5. (could go down at any moment)

Cole Aldrich - "Kansas is better when Cole Aldrich plays/plays well."  Right now, he has been good of late, with the exception of early foul trouble tonight.  He can still get better, though.  Where Cole is: 7.5.

Tyshawn Taylor - Frustrating Guard 2.0.  Moments of brilliance followed by moments of utter frustration.  It's nearly half and half.  Where Tyshawn is: 5.0.

Markieff Morris - He's not nearly as improved as twin Marcus, but he shoots a high percentage and when he decides to stay under the five foul limit, he gives good minutes.  Three blocks against Nebraska were a nice surprise and came at key moments.  Where Markieff is: 6.5

Tyrel Reed - He shoots threes.  He does so well.  That's what he does.  Nearly 75 percent of his field goal attempts are from three.  He plays acceptable defense and and doesn't turn the ball over.  Also, he brings the ball up court well in spell of Sherron or Tyshawn.  Where Tyrel is: 7.0.

Thomas Robinson - You can see the potential there.  He's so exuberant when on the floor and just wants to do right by his coach.  He gets overly excited, though, at times and makes silly mistakes.  That will get worked out.  Having him as a reliable ten minutes per game kind of backup for the tournament run would be a huge asset if head coach Bill Self wanted to slide a Morris to the three and play big for a few minutes.  Where Thomas is: 4.5.

Jeff Withey - 95 percent of college coaches would give an arm to have one 7-footer.  What would they give to have two?  It was very refreshing to see him receive more minutes against Nebraska and play well.  As the (incredibly awesome) announcers stated, he is more athletic than I had ever hoped.  Not much was expected of him this year, so really, anything he gives is icing on top.  Where Jeff is: 6.5.

Elijah Johnson - Is anybody 100 percent sure he is still alive?  It seems forever since he's seen multiple minutes back to back.  It would be nice to see him more often, but I do suppose coach Self knows better than I/us, right?  Where Elijah is: 3.0.