When the 2008-2009 NCAA Men's Basketball season began, few would have guessed that a team which lost five players to the NBA, and a total of seven players all together, would be gearing up for the Sweet 16 in the Big Dance. That is just what the Kansas Jayhawks are doing, in spite of their relative inexperience.
Although the Jayhawks did return 6'11" center Cole Aldrich, and a dynamic point guard in Sherron Collins, much has been made about the remaining players on this youthful roster.
To the suprise of many, the young KU squad has shown the toughness of a veteran team at times, which has landed them the regular season Big XII Conference Title, and a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16. The other surprise surrounding this team is that when they show their age, they have enough veteran leadership to squeak out wins.
The Jayhawks seemed to struggle at times during their first round match-up with North Dakota State, surrendering 37 points to Bison guard Ben Woodside. Woodside seemed to part the Jayhawks defense at will, knifing through the lane and drawing defenders.
The Bison torched the Jayhawks from three, connecting on a sizzling 42% from behind the arc. KU had only five turnovers for the game, which is a marked improvement over season averages in that category. Collins poured in 32 points along with eight assists, while Aldrich added 23 points and 13 boards.
During their second round contest against Dayton, the Jayhawks most talented players again led the way. Cole Aldrich posted a rare triple-double, contributing 13 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Collins paced KU in scoring again, dumping in 25 points.
The contest against the Flyers exposed youthful flaws in the 'Hawks game, as KU committed 17 turnovers and were largely inconsistent offensively. Poor shooting from the outside, particularly three point range (18.8%), did not doom the Jayhawks, but did give the KU faithful a scare.
The glaring weaknesses of this years team have shown themselves in both rounds of the tournament for the Jayhawks. Unforced turnovers and poor offensive execution from anyone other than Aldrich and Collins. KU seems to have a knack for going on stretches of not scoring a basket for several minutes each game.
The strengths of this Jayhawks squad appears to be overall depth. Although the team is inexperienced, they have a tough, hard-nosed attitude that KU Coach Bill Self has to love. KU has proved that they can wear hard hats and fight it out with the best of them.
Next up, KU will take on Michigan State, who thrashed the Jayhawks back in January by 13. KU will have to be clicking on all cylinders if they have hopes of getting by the Spartans. MSU is deep, big, athletic, and physical—not to mention a veteran team.
Reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney is a great accomplishment for any team. For this KU squad, it is miraculous. Still, the Jayhawks, both players and fans alike, are accustomed to beating the odds, and their opponents, no matter how young the roster is.