Lost in all of the Big East and ACC hoopla, there’s another battle for a National No. 1 seed going on tonight in the Big 12.
What’s that Mr. Jayhawk fan?
No. Don’t worry. The Wildcats aren’t playing for YOUR No. 1 seed.
Relax, pull up a chair, and hear me out. You’re in. You’ve got a one seed all wrapped up. It’s as certain as the Missouri Tiger urinal cakes in your bathroom. The Jayhawks, the Orangemen, and the Kentucky Wildcats have sewn up three of the four national No. 1 seeds.
But with the hubub created by the three powerhouses listed above and a resurgent Duke Blue Devil squad, flying under the radar are Frank Martin’s monsters from Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas that is.
One of the reasons for the Wildcat success is that Frank Martin’s players fit his coaching style like a comfortable pair of Z-Cavaricci’s and a pinkie ring. They play hard, they’re tough, and they have one of the top three or four backcourts in all of America. This unbelievably successful marriage between players and coach has KSU playing for a one seed if Duke spits the bit tonight in their game at Maryland.
As for the game in Lawrence between the number two ranked Jayhawks and the number five ranked Wildcats, it should be an epic battle between bitter rivals. I hope the national audience takes the time and tunes in to watch two really good basketball teams. I’m talking to you ACC and Big East fans. They also play basketball in the flyover states.
If you’re hesitant, here’s a guide to what to look for when you’re punching buttons on your remote during Duke/Maryland commercials.
The Wildcat Personnel.
Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente comprise one of the truly elite backcourt tandems in the country. Pullen can flat out stroke it when he’s on, averaging 18 points a game on 40 percent shooting from deep. He also has the ability to put it on the deck and collect dimes averaging four assists per game.
Denis Clemente average 16 points per game and he’s even more streaky than Pullen, when he’s on he’s a handful. When he’s off, hide the women and children. Still the 6'1" guard from Puerto Rico, and descendant of Roberto Clemente, is willing to defer as well averaging nearly five assists per game.
These two can flat out score and yet they’re willing to find their frontcourt mates who happen to be superb finishers. Athletic forwards Samuels, Kelley, and Sutton all shoot well over 50 percent from the field while center Luis Colon and wing Rodney Macgruder give the Wildcats solid depth off the bench.
The one thing all of these guys have in common is that they straight up guard you. They compete and give effort on the defensive end which is exactly what Frank Martin demands.
The Kansas Jayhawks
The talent on this Kansas Jayhawk club is well chronicled so I won’t bore you with talk of Cole Aldrich’s interior dominance or how well Sherron Collins runs the show as an elite point guard. What I will tell you is that the emergence of KU’s athletic wing Xavier Henry should worry teams that have an eye on a National Championship prize.
Xavier Henry takes the Jayhawks from being really good, to being dominant and downright dynamic. It’s rare for teams to have an elite point guard, an elite post, and an elite swingman with the skillset that Xavier has. Syracuse has Rautins, Jackson, and Johnson. Kentucky has Wall, Cousins, and Bledsoe. But only Kansas has an elite one, three, and five if Henry continues to trend toward being a special player. His improvement is huge, and should be a factor in tonight’s game.
Some Keys to the Game
For KSU, they need to keep point guard Sherron Collins out of the lane at all costs. When he gets in the lane, Aldrich and Morris feast off of dimes and offensive rebounds against collapsed defenses. Shooters like Morningstar, Henry, and Reed get easy catch and shoot three-ball looks. Make Collins beat you over the top, and if he does you were going to lose anyway.
For KU, establish Aldrich early and then work inside/out to take pressure off of Sherron Collins from having to do it all in terms of running the show. Run offense through Aldrich unless shot clocks are running down and then adjust after KSU starts sending help.
For KSU, they must be patient in their shot selection. So much of KU’s offense is generated off of Aldrich cleaning the defensive glass allowing the other four Jayhawks to leak out in transition early. If KSU bails out the KU defense with bad shots, it could get ugly because Jayhawk runout and break points are sure to follow. Good shots ensure that KU has to devote more resources to the glass, which keeps the transition game in check.
For KU, match KSU’s intensity. KSU has more to play for so they’re going to come out sky high. Plus, Kansas views Kansas State as its little brother in basketball. Bill Self might have to manufacture some intensity for his troops in this game, so look for some full court pressure early on designed to get the Kansas kids into the game from the tip.
It should be a great game, even though it’s not getting a lot of national publicity.
Remember, if KSU wins they could have the inside track to the final one seed.
Yes, KU fans, you get to keep yours even with a loss. Relax.
This article was written by Kevin Berger of March To March.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @MarchToMarch.