We all remember Mario Chalmers’ game-tying three-pointer in the national championship last year that eventually helped crown the Jayhawks as the 2008 national champions, right?
Well, that team is basically gone.
Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson, and Sasha Kaun all bolted for the NBA, leaving Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich—the only two players who actually played in the Final Four last year—to run a team by themselves.
So how, you may ask, have the Jayhawks had another successful season? The answer lies in recruiting.
Kansas brought in five terrific freshman, headlined by Tyshawn Taylor and Marcus Morris, who both combine for over 20 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game. And then there were the significant playing time boosts of sophomore guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar to make this team one of the most balanced and efficient in the country.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Jayhawks and instead they turned it into yet another shot at a Final Four. And despite Blake Griffin’s absence in last night’s game, they took everything they could get in a hostile road environment, and came away with a big win. To no one’s surprise, Sherron Collins came up huge in the second half, scoring 26 points on 5-8 shooting from downtown. It was his smooth stroke that matched the three-point barrage from Willie Warren, Cade Davis, and Omar Leary.
Sophomore center Cole Aldrich has also had a breakout year now that he is longer overshadowed by Kaun, Jackson, and Arthur. The 6'11'', 245 lb. big man is currently contributing 15 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and had a huge 20 rebound game against Oklahoma. Aldrich has been the key to this team’s success, providing them with a scoring option in the low post, and a huge defensive presence capable of altering opponent’s shots.
The most surprisingly thing though is the lack of a weakness in Kansas’ overall game. The 15th ranked Jayhawks shoot over 48 percent from the floor and 38.4 percent from three while ranking 9th in the country in defensive efficiency. They have it all—good shooters, a post presence, an excellent coach, leadership, and a point guard who simply knows how to play the game.
So while Kansas sits alone atop the Big 12 standings at 12-1 with a 16-0 home record, everybody else will be trying to play catch up.
They have done more than enough to secure a tournament bid by now and their success will be dependent on seeding and matchups. Upcoming home games against Missouri (23-4) and Texas (18-8) will certainly be tough tests, but if Kansas is able to pull off wins in both games, they could be looking at a three seed this March.
The scary part about this team? Every single player, with the exception of two walk-ons, is returning for next season along with the addition of two highly ranked recruits.
This article is also featured on www.thebracketbusters.com.