As usual Following last nights win over Oklahoma State coach Self and the players met with the media. Some of the issues addressed included what's different since Kansas State? How will Tyshawn's departure affect Jayhawk chemistry and what does Thomas Robinson's return really mean for the Jayhawks?
How about some all too simplistic reaction as to what it means, where we're going and if this team is headed in the right direction to get there.
First and foremost there is the issue of chemistry. Traditionally speaking Bill Self has taken his team into conference play, shortened his bench and found the 7-8-9 man rotation that will play together down the stretch. That luxury has never existed this year and it isn't entirely a negative. Yes there is the aspect of time missed, Josh Selby didn't play until December and from that point the team has battled injuries (Releford, Robinson, Selby) and suspension (Little, Taylor). But on a positive note this is generally one of the deepest teams in the country.
So we'll just have to throw aside the prospect of having a well oiled consistent eight man rotation and live with the fact that the situation exists where coach Self is tasked with finding the right mix on any given night. That's a challenge, but I think it's also a challenge that any fan of any team can certainly learn to live with when it results in wins. Take last night for example, Bill Self certainly felt that Kansas received a big boost from a temporary starter and another solid night from those off the bench, while those sleepy-eyed Kansans took a bit of a backseat in an off outing.
Brady (Morningstar) was not a factor offensively; it wasn't his night. From a shooting standpoint, it also wasn't really Tyrel's (Reed).
Look at how Elijah Johnson stepped up. You talk about making the most of an opportunity. I'm hoping he can bottle that. He's not always going to make shots, but that was the best defense without gambling that anybody has played on the other team's point guard in a long time. He did a lot of good things. I thought Rio (Mario Little) affected the game without scoring. He got 10 rebounds and did some good things.
Prime example of the challenge at hand. Most likely Morningstar and Reed provide the most consistency and have earned the chance to start, but when things aren't going well Kansas had two other players that turned in solid games. Doing that against a good team and not Oklahoma State will be the next step.
So how good was Elijah Johnson? Depends if you're on team Tyshawn or not, but coach Self seemed to feel pretty good about the effort.
"He was by far the best perimeter player in that game. I thought he did a pretty good job this past Saturday and he was obviously good tonight. Making shots covers up a lot of ills, but I thought he was good, even if the ball didn't go in the hole tonight."
As for his thoughts on the game and his first opportunity to start, Johnson remained humble but perhaps this could be the beginning of a player starting to come into his own from a confidence perspective. When I say that I'm not declaring Elijah the savior of this season, but there's a good chance Kansas will need Johnson to be a player a year from now depending on how the NBA draft situation works out.
"It was a challenge and I was ready for it. I tried not to think about starting, I just wanted to be ready when my number was called. I knew it would probably get called more often because we needed somebody to fill Tyshawn's (Taylor) spot."
"I think I did well. There are still some things that I need to improve on. I went 3-3 on turnovers and assists but I think it definitely could have been better than that. I threw the ball away two times on force. I felt like that could have been four more points right there."
"no matter how many minutes I play - from two to 35 - I'm just ready to play."
And how about those twins? Marcus and Markieff have put together an impressive two game stretch since taking a lot of criticism following Kansas State. Granted the competition has been pretty minimal on the interior, but in case you didn't notice, Oklahoma State was doing everything they could to get a rise out of the Morrii and to their credit they largely avoided the conflict and put together a big night.
"I didn't ignore him. In the beginning of the game, he just gave me a little bump to show me that he was there and I gave him 27 shoulder knobs back."
Not exactly avoidance but hopefully Marcus can learn to play smarter in these situations. One thing is clear, the Cowboy tactic of drawing the twins into a chippy contest hurt their cause more than it helped.
As to the question of what's been different in two games? I'd tend to lean toward the fact that the level of competition has dipped and the games have been at home, but nonetheless this team has looked very good. Coach Self said after the loss that he felt it could eventually turn into a positive, according to Marcus that might be the case.
"We just started practicing harder. Honestly, you have to give a lot of credit to Markieff because I think that he is really starting to step up and becoming a leader of this team. He's been pushing everybody these past couple of weeks since the K-State loss. You can tell after that game that he's a different player, and I think that is motivating everybody to do extra."
The last change of course was the return of Thomas Robinson to the court. While he was limited to around 10 minutes, his impact is noticeable and with two weeks until the tournament the twins know full well what he can mean to the team.
"It's just his presence. His presence is always felt when he's out there and I think he brings a lot of the focus of other teams on offensive and defensive rebounding, so it opens up spots for other guys. There are going to be times when him, Markieff (Morris) and I are out there and that is a very big team. I think we are very effective when all three of us are on the court."
If you're curious where Thomas stands, he was asked if he there was any rust and his response is a pretty good indication of how he's feeling.
"Was I rusty? Did I look rusty?"
It's been an odd year for Kansas basketball. Suspensions, injuries, rotation shuffling etc. But at the end of the day this is a pretty damn good team and it's been pretty fun to watch most of the time. They do look like a group that is moving beyond the point of playing down to their competition, but they are certainly going to run into teams that will challenge them at their level and make them uncomfortable on a given night. With the parity in college hoops it's hard to ever expect March to validate your season, but I'll take my chances with this group down the stretch.
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