How many conference games would you say Kansas has played their A game? I know I'm picking nits here as they are 6-1 and have won 4 of them by 21+ points, but by my count, it's no higher than 3. Both Nebraska games have been clinics and the Big Monday humiliation of Oklahoma was extremely solid as well. Aside from that, they have been less than impressive despite going 3-1. By my estimation (and I would venture anyone who watches basketball believes the same) is that talent aside, Kansas has two big differentiators; pressure defense and balance. In conference play the balance has generally been there, though it went missing in Mancrappenin as I discussed ad nauseum. The pressure defense though, has not.
Trust me, I didn't expect the whole 20+ turnovers on 12 steals a game thing to continue. But I certainly didn't expect the drop-off that has ultimately occurred. Here's a look at the amount of turnovers and steals they have forced in conference games…
@ Nebraska: 12 turnovers on 7 steals
Oklahoma: 11 turnovers on 9 steals
@ Methzouri: 10 turnovers on 6 steals
Iowa State: 11 turnovers on 7 steals
Nebraska: 16 turnovers on 14 steals
@ KSU: 13 turnovers on 3 steals
@ Colorado: 11 turnovers on 3 steals (all Mario)
Aside from the Oklahoma and Nebraska games in Allen, that is not exactly pressuring the basketball. The optimistic side is that despite not pressuring like they want to, only Methzou and KSU have exceeded 59 points, with MU getting 70 and KSU an embarrassing 84. As Coach Self often says, Russell is the pulse of the team as he sets the tone and they all feed off of his ability to pressure the ball from the top of the key. Now, I don't want to be overly critical of the two time Mr. Jayhawk, but as of late I just don't think we've seen the Russell we know and love.
I still maintain (especially after watching Methzou do it to them) that Kansas defended the Purple all wrong, concentrating too much on the Bease and letting their guards off the hook. Regardless, Russell did next to nothing in that game defensively as he was decidedly outplayed by Jacob Pullen. And worse than that, I saw the same thing on Saturday, this time with no Beasley excuse. (Though they were literally in his shorts...) Needless to say, I don't love the Jayhawks chances against UCLA with Russell playing the way he is now. Darren Collison would eat his lunch.Aside from Mr. Robinson though, I think everyone else got back on track in the last 10 minutes in Boulder.
Guards…Chalmers again emerged as both the energy and go-to guy willing the rest of the team to wake up. Prior to his solid second half showing, I was really starting to worry about Collins. Hopefully that second stanza will be just what he needs to get back to the old Sherron. Brandon had a nice bounce back after forgetting to come out of the locker room after halftime at KSU. Mark this down now: if Kansas cuts nets in San Antonio, Rod Stewart will have played a major role in at least one tournament game.
Whenever he's in the game, Arthur has looked good. For such an incredible athlete and shooter, I still don't understand (read: slow down!) how he misses some of the layups he does. Jackson had a great bounce back game (18 & 4) from possibly his only poor performance of the season at KSU. The best thing to ever happen to Sasha Kaun was Jackson emerging to take some pressure off him and let him come off the bench. He remains by far the best post defender and both his hands and touch look better nearly every time out. As for Aldrich, I really would like to see him get some more minutes. He goes after rebounds better than anyone and he's more than serviceable on offense, but still a little slow moving his feet. If the top 3 are playing as they should I can understand why he's limited, but I truly believe he's ready for more minutes.
I think one of the things Coach Self does best is getting his team to buy into the "greater good" philosophy. I also think he does a good job instilling the 3 seasons (non-con, league, March) attitude. But one area where I think he struggles is getting his team to calm down. I'm walking a fine line here as the last thing you want is a team that's too calm and also because I think they generally have good poise in close games. However, they have looked really out of sync against Methzou, Colorado and obviously KSU. Again I don't want to be too critical here, but it seems painfully obvious to me that for whatever reason you can make them really uncomfortable. Obviously this is easier said that done, but it just seems to me like this team is experienced enough that he should be able to: pull them aside, kick them in the ass, explain to them that they're better than what they're showing and to just calm down, move the ball and play their game. It seems pretty obvious to me that Kansas has the most complete team in the nation…they can't be beat when they're playing their game and they're damn good even when they're not but both UCLA and Memphis could make them uncomfortable and they need to learn how to respond.
As for tonight, I'm optimistic that they'll return to form. I'd like to thank Methzou for knocking the Wildcats back to reality; your timing could not have been better. I can honestly say that was the first time I've happily watched Methzou win, but in addition to being happy I was impressed. Mike Anderson made a great adjustment going to that zone and letting his guards go to work on the Wildcat guards. For at least the last 3 minutes J.T. Tiller was sucking more wind than Rocky after he beat Dolph and he still kept chugging along to lead the team with 20 points in place of Stephon Hannah.
Call me naïve, but I just don't see the same grit coming out tonight. They'll obviously be coming in confident and motivated, but even if it's close, I don't see how Kansas doesn't eventually wear them down. I'll never be surprised by anything that happens in a Border War game, but I'd say there are two likely outcomes tonight, hinging on the aforementioned Russell Robinson. If he returns to form, I think it could be a rout. If he remains sluggish, I'll say Kansas by 4-9. Since it's a Big Monday game in beautiful Allen Fieldhouse, I'll be optimistic and go with…
Kansas 83 Methzouri 64
I'd love to throw out some links today, but the only thing too interesting lately was the Super Bowl and I've been unable to find anything about it. I'll be sure to let you know if I do though. (That said, what a game. Best Super Bowl in quite a while. And there were a few decent commercials as well. None that in any way warranted paying $2.7 mil for 30 seconds, but that's another story.)
In case you missed this amongst all of the hullabaloo yesterday, early on Tywon Lawson left UNC's overtime win over Florida State with a high ankle sprain. We'll find out exactly how severe sometime tomorrow, but Roy isn't counting on him Wednesday against Duke.