Kansas Basketball Season in Review: Defending Champs Exceed Expectations

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Kansas Basketball Season in Review: Defending Champs Exceed Expectations
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Despite falling short of the Final Four, the Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team far exceeded the expectations given to them before the season.

Although the Jayhawks lost all five starters from their 2007-2008 National Championship team, they rode point guard Sherron Collins, the only returning contributer from last season's title run, and center Cole Aldrich all the way to a 27-8 record, a Sweet 16 appearance, and a fifth consecutive Big 12 Regular Season Championship.

Before the 2008-09 season, the Jayhawks were picked by many experts, both around the conference and nationally, to finish third or fourth in the Big 12, following Oklahoma, Texas, and in some cases Baylor.

The following is a report card on the players who played a factor in Kansas' surprisingly successful season.

Guards:

Sherron Collins (Jr.)

Collins had to endure all the pressure of carrying this young team as far as he could, and for the most part, he came through.  After averaging 9.3 points and 3.1 assists per game last year, Collins was told by everyone, including the Jayhawk faithful and Kansas' Head Coach Bill Self, that he was to undoubtedly be the leader of this team.  Collins embraced the challenged and carried this team to another regular season conference championship and a sweet sixteen appearance. 

The Jayhawks went as Collins went, as their 27 wins were highlighted by his 26 point effort in Kansas' road victory against Oklahoma, his 25 point showing in a 90-65 rout of Missouri, and a 32 point, 8 assist effort in Kansas NCAA Tournament victory over North Dakota State. 

The Jayhawks' eight losses were mainly on days that Collins did not play well, as their three worst losses were on Collins' three worst shooting nights. Collins was 6-for-21 from the field against Massachusetts, 3-for-19 at Texas Tech and 6-for-20 in the Big 12 Tournament against Baylor.

Statistics: 18.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 43.4 FG%, 37.6 3PT FG% 

Grade: A-

Tyshawn Taylor (Fr.)

Just a freshman, Taylor showed many signs throughout the year of possibly becoming a star at Kansas, but also had many games where he committed mistakes. His year was highlighted with a 26 point effort against Oklahoma, but he was unable to come through when the Jayhawks needed him most in the NCAA Tournament, as he averaged just 6.3 points and 2.0 assists per game in the three game span, while also turning it over 3.7 times per game. 

Although he was often inconsistent, Taylor produced well in many games for the Jayhawks, and the fact that he is only a freshman gives hope to all Jayhawk fans.

Statistics: 9.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 50.4 FG%, 36.4 3PT FG%

Grade: B

Brady Morningstar (So.)

Morningstar was the surprise player for the Jayhawks this season, as the redshirt sophomore led the Big 12 in three-point percentage. Morningstar was told that he would be the starter at the beginning of the year until someone stepped up and took it from him. 

As it turned out, Morningstar was the player who stepped up and contributed greatly to the Jayhawks' success, forcing the coaching staff to give him many minutes.  Much like Taylor, Morningstar's numbers dropped in the Big Dance, but his success during the regular season was crucial to Kansas' success.

Statistics: 6.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 42.0 3PT FG%

Grade: B

Tyrel Reed (So.)

Although Reed's end of season numbers do not jump off the page, the thing that he contributed greatly to the Jayhawks was his ability to hit big shots when the team needed it the most.  He often lacked defensively, which caused him some playing time.  But nonetheless, Reed hit drained some big shots, often times given the Jayhawks much needed momentum.

Statistics: 6.5 PPG, 38.9 3PTFG%

Grade: B-

Mario Little (Jr.)

The junior college tranfer Little opted to play his junior year at Kansas despite missing much of the first half of the season with an injury.  Little was very inconsistent, as he was likely bothered by the injury. Whatever the problem was, it caused him playing minutes down the stretch. He showed good signs in a few games throughout the year, but he is probably already looking forward to next season to prove to everyone, himself included, that he can play at a high level at Kansas.

Statistics: 4.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG

Grade: C+

Forwards/Center:

Cole Aldrich (So.)

Aldrich was named to the Honorable Mention All-American team for his efforts in the 2008-09 season, as he went from averaging 8.3 minutes a game in 2007-08 to averaging a double-double in his first year of legitimate playing time. Aldrich had only four games in which he did not achieve double digits in scoring, and only two that he had double digits in neither points nor rebounds. 

Aldrich was the most consistent player for the Jayhawks this year, and provided as a safety net for Collins. He dominated opponents defensively, recording 94 blocks.  His year was highlighted by the first triple-double in the NCAA Tournament that included blocks since Shaquille O'Neal achieved that feat in 1992.

Statistics: 14.9 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 59.8 FG%

Grade: A

Marcus Morris (Fr.)

Marcus Morris progressed throughout the year quicker than his brother Markieff, but they both need improvement entering next year. Marcus' best performances throughout the year were double-doubles against Kent State and Syracuse, and the game in Manhattan against Kansas State in which he scored 15 points, and had seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals. 

He showed improving footwork on the blocks due to the help of assistant coach Danny Manning, but needs to show improvement both defensively and with having the ability to use his skill set wisely on the offensive end. Cutting down his turnovers would also be a plus.

Statistics: 7.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1 SPG

Grade: B-

Markieff Morris (Fr.)

The one area where Markieff excelled more than his brother was in low-post defense.  Although Marcus recorded more steals than Markieff, Markieff had over twice as many blocks as Marcus, providing as a nice complement to Aldrich if defenses chose to go away from him. 

Markieff needs to find his niche on the offensive end, and, similarly to his brother, learn how to use his own specific skill set.  Also similar to Marcus, Markieff must cut down on the turnovers and be more comfortable with the ball in his hands. The potential is there, it's just a matter of how long it takes for him to reach it.

Statistics: 4.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG

Grade: C+

Best moment of the year: Collins taking over against Oklahoma. 

When the Jayhawks were leading by a few on the road against the Number 3 team in the country, Collins took it upon himself to not let Oklahoma come back.  The Sooners started nailing three after three, with Willie Warren, Omar Leary and Cade Davis all chipping in from long range. Collins matched them though, draining 24-footers to ensure the Jayhawks of the victory. Kansas rode Collins' hot shooting to the 87-78 upset.

Kansas Jayhawks Season Statistics:

Record: 27-8 (14-2)

Big 12 Regular Season Conference Championships

Sweet 16 appearance

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