March Madness: Teams Built to Beat the Kansas Jayhawks
Superman had kryptonite.
Michael Jordan had John Starks, Dean Smith, and gambling.
Bob Knight had Puerto Rican police officers and ill-fitting trash cans.
The gods held John Calipari by his ethics as they dipped him in the River Styx.
You get the point.
Everyone has a weakness or a nemesis, a vulnerability, if you will. For the Kansas Jayhawks, it may be a case of what do you give the guy, or the team, that already has everything. It’s tough to find a weakness on the this balanced Jayhawk team, but we can certainly try.
Strengths. Kansas’ main strength is their balance. The Jayhawks are disgusting in their solidness. They’re the Andy Griffin of college basketball. What’s not to like?
They may not have explosive, elite players up and down their roster, but every player who takes the floor for the Jayhawks is a good player in his own right.
Sherron Collins is a really good lead guard. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed can really shoot it. Cole Aldrich is a good back-to-the-basket scorer and one of the game's elite interior defenders.
Marcus Morris may be the best garbage man in college basketball. Just balance everywhere you look. Xavier Henry is an athletic wing who can shoot and rebound. It’s a roster full of players who do one or two things well, each elite in their specialization.
Weaknesses. When talking about a 27-2 club that has played as well as Kansas has this year, you have to look for a weakness with a microscope. In fact, I’m not sure you can find a bona fide weakness on this team. Perhaps we’ll call it the weakest strength instead.
For Kansas, the weakness is found in Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, not because these players aren’t great players, quite the opposite. I’d argue that Kansas is over-reliant on these two players for different reasons: Collins on offense and Aldrich on defense.
So, the team that ends up knocking off Kansas is going to need to have specific types of players to neutralize KU’s two-headed monster and upset the most balanced team in America.
Sherron Collins is the engine that makes it go for the Jayhawks. When he’s able to get into the lane, the Jayhawks are unstoppable because his penetration wreaks so much havoc that all five players on the floor suddenly become scoring threats. I’m not sure the other top teams have that luxury.
First off, Collins is so physical and savvy that he can absorb contact from the opposing bigs, draw fouls, and finish once he gets into the paint. If your helping bigs have enough body control to avoid fouling, then Collins’ teammates get involved.
Cole Aldrich's and Marcus Morris’ ability to finish Sherron Collins’ dimes goes without saying, but they also suddenly become Charles Oakley-type offensive rebounders once Collins takes his dribble into the lane and help collapses.
Remember, there aren’t many small forwards who can drop down and body Marcus Morris off the glass and this is matchup you likely get when Collins penetrates.
If your team is good enough to defend the paint, then you’ve probably sacrificed your perimeter integrity and left an absolute sniper alone at the three point line.
Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar will kill you from deep, and they thrive off of kickouts from Collins. Teams leave this pair alone at their own peril.
The last piece to the puzzle is all-world wing Xavier Henry. When he catches the ball on a Collins kickout with a defender running at him, he’ll slash to the goal and posterize your center. Close out on him slowly and Xavier will calmly drain a rhythm jumper.
Teams have but one choice in the matter. Keep Collins out of the lane, which is much easier said than done. You have to have one or two solid on-ball defenders. It also helps if you have the kind of guards who can make Collins work on defense and expend valuable energy guarding.
Tired players usually consciously or subconsciously settle for jumpers. They’re more willing to put up a bailout 20-footer than turn the corner on the ballscreen when they’re tired.
Offensively, a team looking to upset Kansas has to neutralizeAldrich as a defender and rebounder. So much of KU’s defense and, by extension, transition game relies on Aldrich owning the paint.
The 6-11 post erases dribble penetration with his shot blocking which usually leads to runouts. If there’s a defensive rebound to be had, Aldrich dominates the defensive glass.
Since he’s the best outlet passer in college basketball, a lot of KU’s points are a result of Aldrich pulling a defensive board.
To neutralize Aldrich, you have to get him out of the paint area on defense. It helps to have a credible ballscreen game using your five as a screener, but it really helps if your five can face up or pick and pop from deep.
It allows your team to run screen games away from the ball with your face up center, which means Aldrich has to pay more attention to his cover and less attention to acting as a fly swatter on your penetrating guards.
Lower Seeded Teams that Fit the Bill
The Warriors, err, Golden Eagles, have the personnel to really bother the two cornerstones of the Jayhawk attack. Marquette is a guard-heavy club that can throw bodies in waves at Sherron Collins on both ends of the floor.
They’re so deep, in fact, that Coach Self won’t be able to “rest” Collins on defense when offensive threats like Maurice Acker, David Cubillion, and Darius Johnson Odom are roaming the perimeter.
All three are explosive or quick penetrators, and their ability to threaten the arc as credible jumpshooters really spreads the floor and the defense.
Acker and Odom shoot the 3-ball at nearly 50 percent clips. Cubillion shoots about 38 percent.
Defensively, these guys should be able to stay in front of Collins, but if not, defensive guard specialist Dwight Buycks is quick and physical enough to bother the KU lead guard.
Forwards Lazar Hayard and Jimmy Butler may be undersized but their face up games would put tremendous pressure on the KU frontcourt, especially Aldrich. Butler can face up and hit perimeter jumpers, but he’s also a tremendously quick athlete that can blow by post defenders and rock the rim.
Hayward has taken 155 threes on the year so he’s quite comfortable facing up. These two could pull the Kansas bigs away from the goal and make the Jayhawks play defense in a manner they’re unaccustomed to, while opening up the floor for cutters and penetrators.
The noise you just heard was a double face palm from Kansas fans. There’s history here, and yes, I had to go there.
In the early 1992, an upstart Miner squad with similar personnel upset the higher-seeded Kansas Jayhawks with superior guard play and using posts to pull Jayhawk bigs away from the bucket.
This season’s Miner backcourt of Randy Culpepper and Christian Polk is better than the ‘92 backcourt of Prince Stewart and Eddie Rivera. Randy Culpepper is the best guard to come out of El Paso since Tim Hardaway and a surefire NBA player.
That considered, Self would almost assuredly put Sherron Collins on Polk, but Polk is more than capable of making Collins work on defense.
When on defense, both Polk and Culpeppeer are quick enough to keep Collins in front, but are they strong enough to not be bodied off the ball by KU’s physical guard?
In the frontcourt, the UTEP Miners have a couple talented players with the skillset to pull Aldrich away from the goal. Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter is a big body, but he also has a credible face up game from 15 feet out.
The other post, Arnette Moultrie is a long forward that is a threat at the arc. This pair setting ballscreens for electric guards like Polk and future NBA-er Culpepper are going to give teams nightmares a lot of teams nightmares, not just the Jayhawks because they’re so dynamic in how they can attack offensively.
The Miners are certainly a team to keep your eye on come tournament time.So that’s the blueprint teams need to employ if they want to knock off the Kansas Jayhawks.
Again, I’m not saying these two teams would beat Kansas, they’re just a couple of teams off-the-radar that have the type of personnel to execute the gameplan in a second round matchup.
After all, how do you kill a Jayhawk? UTEP on it.
Next up, the Kentucky Wildcats.
This article originally appeared on March To March
Follow Kevin Berger on Twitter: @MarchToMarch
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