The Kansas Jayhawks (33-3, 15-1 Big 12) won the National Championship in 2008 and in 2009 they made it to the Sweet 16. So last season after winning the Big 12 regular season title and the tournament championship, the Hawks were extremely surprised and disappointed to be knocked out of March Madness in the second round by Northern Iowa 69-67. The last time Kansas missed the NCAA Tournament was in 1989. Most of their present players weren’t even born then. And despite the fact that since last season they lost center Cole Aldrich (11.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.5 bpg), guard Sherron Collins (15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) and guard Xavier Henry (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg. 1.5 apg), this team looks poised to win its seventh straight Big 12 crown and go deep into the Big Dance. They are loaded.
With Aldrich, who was the 11thoverall pick in the NBA Draft, gone, the Jayhawks will have to make adjustments. The good news is it looks like they can with ease. Forwards Marcus Morris (6-8, 225 lbs., JR, #22, 12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.0. apg, 24.7 mpg, .570 FG, .375 3PT, .660 FT) and Markieff Morris (6-9, 232 lbs., JR, #21, 6.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 17.6 mpg, .566 FG, .526 3PT, .622 FT), twin brothers from the City of Brotherly Love, will help make up the difference.
As a starter last season, Marcus put up fine numbers, showing an ability to hit from inside and outside. The 2009-2010 season was a breakthrough year for him. He’s expected to continue to improve. Last season his numbers were especially impressive because his average playing time was under 25 MPG. With an expanded role and time on the floor, his numbers should also expand.
Markieff is a tad bigger and is a likely candidate for the center position. Although he saw even less playing time last season than his brother, his production was impressive. Like his brother, he can dominate inside, hit from mid-range or knock them in from downtown. Together, the twins should be able to muscle out opponents underneath and stretch the floor or connect from beyond the arc. They will be tough to guard and to stop.
The small forward spot will most likely be occupied by redshirted senior Mario Little. Little, who was the 2008 National Junior College Play of the Year, is quick and athletic. Two years ago, he revealed some brilliant flashes on the court as the team made its way to the Sweet 16.
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Okay, it’s time to make way for rookie Josh Selby at guard. Selby is considered to be one of the nation’s top prospects. Most agree that as a player he will quickly cast a shadow on the prolific Collins. Shelby is quick, athletic and extremely talented. His outside shot is smooth and connects readily. Shelby, who has good size at 6-2, can also drive to the basket. One thing the team can also use from Shelby is leadership. That was something at which Collins was an expert. That part of the equation is an unknown at this point. The fact is that Shelby will be green and that makes taking a leadership role difficult.
There’s certainly experience at the other guard spot as Tyshawn Taylor (6-3, 185 lbs., JR, #10, 7.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 23.1 mpg, .438 FG, .339 3PT, .716 FT) returns for his third season as a starter. Taylor has amazing speed and can connect readily with the basket, although last season was not his best. One major problem was he became occupied with his role on the club, complaining about how he was being used, rather than focusing on excelling. He is a gifted perimeter player and a solid defender. Last year he was ranked 200th in the nation in steal percentage.
Off the bench, you can expect to see sophomore Travis Releford in the small forward spot. Releford, who was redshirted last season, did play in 2009 and proved to be a solid force as a sub. Look for sophomore center Jeff Withey (7-0, 225 lbs., SO, #5, 1.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.3 apg, 3.0 mpg, .538 FG, .000 3PT, .556 FT) to come off the bench when the team needs some extra defense. Withey brings solid shot blocking skills to the floor.
In the backcourt, it’s expected that slashing rookie guard Royce Woolridge will see a decent amount of action. Woolridge, who is the son of former NBA star Orlando Woolridge, knows how to put the ball in the basket. However, there are some good players with experience ahead of him and that means Woolridge could sit out the season with a redshirt.
It will be interesting to see if the Jayhawks can dominate the conference and the nation in the manner that they did last season. In the Big 12, they were first in scoring offense (81.6), scoring defense (64.2), field goal percentage (489) , three-point percentage (.404) and rebound margin (+6.8). The one area in which they were lackluster was foul shooting, as they placed seventh in the Big 12 (.699).
On the national level, the Hawks were second in offensive efficiency with a grade of 121.5 and eighth in defensive efficiency with a mark of 87.1. Their effective field goal percentage was also eighth (55.1%) and offensive rebounding was strong, as they placed 27th (37.7). From downtown they were massive hitting 40.4% (7th).
On defense, it was difficult for teams to score against Kansas. Opponent effective field goal percentage was just 43.2 (4th) and they hit just 40.1% (1st) of their shots. The club was also tough on shooters in terms of blocks as they earned a block percentage of 16.0 (11th). Their 11.9 steal percentage ranked them 36th in the nation.
Is head coach Bill Self (441-150 in 17 years, 234-45 in seven years at Kansas) worried about having to replace three of the best players in the nation? He doesn’t seem to be. That’s probably because he has experienced and skilled players returning, depth upfront and in back and an amazingly strong incoming class and redshirted players. In seven years, his Jayhawks have won the Big 12 regular season title six times and the tournament championship four. With one national title in his pocket, Self is focused on getting another. He’s done wonders before after losing a large amount of talent.
Fans might be worried after seeing three of their top players go out into the professional world. After all, the Big 12 is a very tough conference and the Hawks, due to the fact that they have dominated the league for the past six years, are constant targets. But this team has a lot going for it. Selby could be a team unto himself and the Morris brothers look to be a dynamic tandem in the frontcourt.
Although some people see Kansas as being a top 20 and not a top 10 team, most feel that the club has enough going for it to be in the top five. Where will they see competition within the conference? Kansas State will fight them with a very talented although relatively young squad. If they don’t take first once again the Big 12, they will be very close. This will be an exciting team to watch. They have a national ranking of 10th as the 2010-2011 season tips off.
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