At A Glance:
Kansas: 10-0. AP: 1 ESPN:1 BP: 1 RPI: 24 BPI: 14
California: 6-3. AP: NR ESPN: NR BP: 23 RPI: 9 BPI: 98
Sherron Collins rebounded from a nightmarish shooting night against LaSalle to go seven for ten against Michigan but also had his worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the year (two assists, six turnovers). He still has twice as many dishes as baked goods this season and has only scored less than nine points once this year even though he’s averaging five points a game less than his junior campaign (though that can be attributed to the depth the Jayhawks).
If there’s a guy you absolutely, positively have to have with the ball in his hands at crunch time that guy is Jerome Randle. In addition to his gaudy free-throw percentage (94 percent) he puts up nearly twenty a game and distributes the pill with equal efficiency (five assists a game). However, he’s not a terrific defender.
Advantage: Kansas. Collins should have a fairly good shooting night and be able to slow Randle down just enough.
Had Xavier Henry decided to go to Kentucky instead of Kansas the Wildcats might be fifth in the NBA’s Eastern Conference but it’s not like he made the wrong decision. He has put up double figures every game and has also played solid defense (nearly two steals a game). At six-six and lightning-quick he’s a nightmare to guard. He should be a top-five pick in the spring.
Patrick Christopher has elevated his game in his last two outings, averaging twenty and ten in points and rebounds, but in the Bears three losses he has shot only 33 percent from the field. He has also gotten in foul trouble in three of the last four outings.
Advantage: Kansas. Henry can match up well with Christopher on the defensive end and can be counted on to get his numbers with more efficiency from the field.
Tyshawn Taylor doesn’t shoot the ball well but handles it well and is another solid defender (which is a recurring theme in Lawrence). Don’t expect to see him on the floor for most of the game (about 22 minutes) as the Jayhawks’ bench is loaded for bear.
A lot of preseason publications predicted all-conference status for Jorge Gutierrez – next season. He’s become an incredibly efficient three-point artist (almost sixty percent from radar love) and also gives them great ballhandling. However, he doesn’t shoot well inside the arc and can be beaten defensively.
Advantage: Even. These guys are pretty much the same player.
Marcus Morris comes off a career-best effort against Michigan (23 points, 10 rebounds) and he’s been crashing the boards with more enthusiasm the past five outings (35 total rebounds). Since fusing him with twin Markieff is illegal and should only be reserved for SyFy movies Marcus will have to continue his production.
Theo Robertson came off the bench against Pacific after returning from injury but is too talented to keep him out of the starting lineup. He should force Morris to come outside and guard him thanks to his outside shooting skills but isn’t much of a rebounder.
Advantage: Kansas. Robertson is still working himself back into game condition and Morris has been on a tear.
Cole Aldrich has heeded the advice of one-time wrestler The Rock and knows his role. Even though he didn’t have a basket against Michigan he had the best defensive effort of the team with eleven boards and three rejections. He’s still averaging close to a double-double and his assist-to-turnover ratio is about even.
Either Jamal Boykin or Max Zhang will get the nod against Aldrich. Boykin has been very solid in all of the Bears defeats and is a better candidate to start. Zhang has improved from project status and can match up height wise but has never gathered more than six rebounds in a game this season.
Advantage: Kansas. Aldrich is one of the best defensive centers in college hoops.
The aforementioned second half of the rejected science experiment is fifth on the team in scoring and forms a solid front-line reserve duo with Thomas Robinson (five points and rebounds a game). Beyond that the Jayhawks are stacked at guard with three-point specialist Tyrel Reed and backup points Elijah Johnson and Brady Morningstar. Also, one-time Arizona recruit Jeff Withey is now eligible to give Aldrich a spell.
Omondi Amoke and Markhuri Sanders-Frison are not only fun names to say but will work together with either Boykin or Zhang to form a solid second front-line unit off the pine. Nikola Knezevic and D.J. Seeley are there to give Randle and Co. breathers in the backcourt but don’t offer much production.
Advantage: Kansas. Their second unit could start for a lot of Power Six conference teams.
Bill Self was a prohibitive favorite to get his second NCAA title this season but due to the rise of Kentucky and Syracuse that is no longer the case. Even though his charges can fill the basket like an overeager grandmother fills a stocking he preaches defense and the ‘Hawks collectively shout “Amen!”
Mike Montgomery has Cal fans excited again (and Stanford fans cursing his name). He has had to overcome injuries to key players (Harper Kamp was a likely candidate to start at center) and his team should compete for top honors in the watered-down Pac-10.
Advantage: Even. Self has the title but Montgomery has worked well with this group.
This is easily the toughest test Kansas has had to face this year. Cal has been game but hasn’t done well against likely NCAA Tournament teams (Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico were all losses). Even though the Golden Bears will give everything they have it won’t be enough.
Kansas 82, California 69.