Where did things turn sour? In 2008-2009 Kansas was fresh off a National Championship and expected to be in full blown rebuild mode. At the start of the year some even envisioned Kansas pulling a Carolina and perhaps missing the tourney. Instead what happened was a team gradually grew, leaders led and a 27-8 season with a conference title and Sweet 16 appearance was the result.
Things appeared on the up and up in Lawrence and they were. The 2009-2010 Kansas team just wrapped up a solid 33-3 season with a conference title, a conference tournament title but came up a little short of the goal to play in Indy. Record aside though, it almost felt like last years team was always playing above their ceiling while this years team struggled to ever reach theirs. Did a few tweaks to the roster, off the court drama and a new dynamic player throw a wrench into a team that seemed to be building a season before?
In 2008-2009 the knock on Kansas was that they only had two options. Cole and Sherron were the players the Jayhawks would lean on, with a cast of supporters filling in the roles around them. The eight man rotation from a year ago breaks down to Sherron, Tyshawn, Brady, Tyrel and Mario Little at the guard spots. Cole, Marcus and Markieff on the interior. Anybody willing to take a shot at a number one overall and a national championship with this group had they continued to progress as they did last year?
The roles seemed defined and the offense worked. Sherron averaged close to 19 a game as the man with the ball when something needed to happen. He doesn't rely on anyone else getting it to him or making it happen, Sherron just goes. At the same time he averaged 5 assists and a 1.5/1 turnover to assist ratio.
Cole averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks on the interior. The offense was a smidge slower a little more deliberate and Cole seemed to find a way to make an impact. The prevailing wisdom was that all he needed was another post move to be great and take his game to the next level.
Tyshawn averaged 10 points, 3 assists. The Morri averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds. Tyrady Morningreed added 13 points and 3 assists. Last man off the bench Mario Little averaged right around 5 points and 3 boards.
Jump forward to '09-'10. Sherron drops to 15 points and under 5 assists while playing TWO less minutes per game. Cole drops to 11 points and 10 boards, but increases his blocks to nearly 3.5. Tyshawn scored less but did a better job of taking care of the ball.
The Morri made the biggest improvement jumping to 20 points and nearly 12 boards and lastly Tyrady Morningreed drops to nine points and three assists.
Obviously Henry replaces Little and averages a much better 13 points and 4 assists. Still if you factor the decrease in offense from the other guards you end up with a net loss of minus three points. The biggest improvement on the team was at the four spot on the interior.
Now by no means is this designed to start a Henry bashing session. Xavier was a big time recruit, you take the gamble and for the most part he produced above what any freshman should be expected to do. Was the expectation TOO high though? Xavier was expected to do more. Would you take the 8 man rotation from last year with more progression from Tyshawn and maybe Mario Little to go along with the leap forward the Morri were able to take? Does Cole trend upward and look less awkward on the offensive end where he didn't seem to fit as well this season compared to last?
To even contemplate the argument you have to assume several things obviously. First Xavier doesn't come to Kansas and neither does CJ.
If that's the case, Mario Little isn't redshirting and he's at 100% this season which we never saw last year. We might also see more Travis Releford who by all accounts has improved temendously. Are Little and Releford able to keep the team moving in a similar direction instead of having to relearn with a new albeit incredibly talented peg?
We assume that Tyshawn makes the strides we all expected and avoids the very obvious off the court distractions and drama that seemed to follow him all season long. Do we get the Tyshawn that blew away the competition for team USA over the summer?
Those three things in mind and you are looking at a Kansas team that OVERachieved a year ago, returning everyone to the lineup. The Jayhawks are a highly thought of team, but likely don't find themselves the talk of the college basketball world starting in May and running through March. Do they work harder, buy in more and improve across the board the way the Morris twins did? It's unlikely everyone does obviously, but does Kansas get enough to be in the same position they were this past Saturday as a #1 seed? I'd say yes.
Again, there isn't a thing that many can truly say they would have done differently and I'm not here to say mistakes were made. I drooled over the Henry brothers as much as the next guy. I talked the what if's and believed the small addition and lineup changes were going to lead to and unstoppable force. Like everyone else did I continued to brush off the distractions with Tyshawn and believed he would be fine. What we'll never know is how well a team on the upswing from a year ago, could have performed with the opportunity to continue to grow while avoiding these two chemistry changers.
Team chemistry is huge in college basketball. It took Darnell, Sasha, Brandon, Russell and Mario three years of playing together to be able to add Darrell and Sherron for a title. For all intents and purposes the '08-'09 Jayhawks had NEVER played together, this would have been year two. Personally I kind of wonder where they would have finished and how the perception would have changed?