At the beginning of the season, hardly anybody had the Kansas Jayhawks making a Final Four run.
Now that March Madness has finally arrived, here they are in the Sweet Sixteen, with a very good chance at making the run.
We know they have the leadership of junior guard Sherron Collins and sophomore center Cole Aldrich, but for Kansas to have made it this far, they had other people step up to fill the voids left by Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Darrell Arthur.
Who would fill those gaps a season removed from a National Championship?
The freshmen Morris twins?
The outstanding JUCO transfer Mario Little?
How about defensive standouts and three-point sharpshooters Tyrell Reed, and Brady Morningstar?
All are possibilities, but let's dive into some stats and see just what makes this new-look Kansas team click.
Let's just say that, when the Kansas Jayhawks lose, Cole Aldrich is a complete non-factor in the offensive game. For a player that averages 15 points per game to have a total of 16 points in your last two losses is unacceptable.
Aldrich had a mere eight points in the loss at Texas Tech, and went for another eight points in the loss to Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Point being, you have to go to Aldrich big time if you want a chance to win these next two games. Treat him like the Shaq of your team because he has the size and potential to have a similar impact.
In five wins over five NCAA tournament teams (Tennessee, Mizzou, Oklahoma, Siena, and Texas) Tyrell Reed had a huge impact. In those five wins he shot 9-15 from downtown.
You could make an argument between Collins, Morningstar or Reed as the best three-point shooter on the team, but Reed's clutch shooting in those wins proves to be vital for team success.
Arguably the best player on the team behind Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor has come up big this year, too.
In the big win against Oklahoma, it wouldn't have happened without Taylor, who was a straight-up baller in the game. He poured in a season-high 26 points, going 3-for-5 from three-point land.
In order for Kansas to get those big wins, they need those same type of X-factor performances from any player.
Whether it's Collins going off for 30-plus points, or Taylor with a surprise 10 points above his average, or even Morningstar or Reed knocking in three or four three-pointers.
I would also put a Cole Aldrich triple-double (points, rebounds, and blocks) in the "X-factor" category as well.
An "X-factor" performance to me is anything that: 1. Gives the team something it doesn't get on an average night; 2. Boosts the confidence of every other player on your team, or 3. Gives your team the extra boost to escape with the win.
Taylor going out and getting you 26 points does all three of those things.
Bottom Line: What does KU need to do to get past Mich. St and then Louisville/Arizona?
An expected performance
I feel like it needs to come from Markieeff Morris. I think a solid double-double (say 12 points and 10 boards) would compliment whatever Aldrich does in a great way, which will give them an edge over the State big men (aka Goran Sutan).
Then again, another 26-point game from Taylor wouldn't be too bad either.
Consistent star play from star players
Collins can't have an off-game, and neither can Aldrich. They both need to be at their average, at the very least, preferably above average in order for the unexpected performance to mean something.
Avoid the one-man show
Collins must, I repeat must, not try to take the game over by himself. I want to see him with at least five assists.
That's the only way for the unexpected performance to happen.
I firmly believe that another KU Final Four run is possible. If all three of the things in the recipe go right, I don't see how Bill Self's defending National Champs miss out.