Monday, December 22, 2008

The Aldrich Effect

Sherron Collins is the leader of this Kansas team. He is the best individual player and this team will only go as far as he takes them. Quite simply, we need to him to score and to get everyone else involved. Obviously this is no easy task. It's also not a secret. Every coach and player on every team we play knows that as Sherron goes, so goes Kansas. What many are finding out though is that Cole may be just as big of a key.

We all knew of Sherron's importance heading into the year. And to an extent, we knew that we'd be counting on Cole for a dramatic increase in production. But as the year has gone along, it's become apparent that he is as much a key as Sherron. On both ends, this team is night and day depending on whether or not he is on the court. He absolutely controls the game defensively, despite being vulnerable to quicker, driving big men. And offensively, he is at the fulcrum of everything we do.

Mostly due to our balance and talent at every position on the floor, we haven't seen a player be able to control so much without even touching the ball since Wayne Simien. Offensively, Cole has shown the ability to hit shots from the top of the key, from the elbow, from the baseline and off the block. While he's shown all that, he's also proven that he's by no means just a spot shooter and when he gets proper position, he has some great post moves. And it's blatantly obvious that he's the only big man on this team that will finish strong in traffic. Quite simply, the only way to guard him is to clog space and deny the ball. Aside from that, teams just have to hope he misses because he can get off any shot he wants.

Because of this, he alters everything we do offensively. For one thing, Bill likes to run a high-low offense and to do so; you have to have someone capable of catching and finishing on the inside. Cole provides that better than anyone on the roster. On account of this, opposing defenses must focus on denying him the ball, which frees up space for the other four guys on the floor; a one-on-one for the other big and plenty of room for open looks on the outside. We're capable of running an offense without him, but the positive effect he has on our spacing and ball movement has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Though more expected, his presence defensively completely changes the team as well. He's quicker than he looks and with better feet than I'd expect, but he clearly struggles against post players that like to drive rather than post up. This shortcoming aside, he simply dominates the paint. He's averaging nearly 3 blocks a game and has had less then 2 only twice. At times, this skill leads to him collecting a foul or two he otherwise shouldn't, but it also establishes the paint as his area and either deters driving guards or at the very least alters the shot they want to put up around him. This team is still nowhere near what it needs to be on this end of the court, but again, the difference when Cole is on the floor is blatantly apparent.

Right now, Cole Aldrich is our difference maker. Not because he's better than Sherron or even more important. Because he's neither. Yet. Fair or unfair, the biggest reason he makes such a difference is his presence. And while you can't coach or replicate size, they in effect have because he plays even bigger than he is. I completely stand behind what I said above about Sherron and probably the most important stat of the game Saturday was him and Taylor combining for 14 assists to 3 turnovers, but for this team to succeed against quality competition we need 30 good minutes out of Cole (right now he's at 27 and we're getting 14/11/3 out of him). Twenty-six minutes might have been good enough against Temple at home, but it won't beat Jordan Hill and Arizona in Tucson. Sherron has to do certain things in order for this team to play well. Cole simply has to be on the court and a lot of things will take care of themselves. That's a huge asset to have and one that we shouldn't take lightly.

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