Basketball Reality Has Set in the State of Kansas
Just three weeks before, Kansas City International Airport was ablaze with University of Kansas students leaving for Spring Break.
The terminals were littered with Jayhawk-attired fans waiting to board a plane destined for a week-long drinking binge, only staying sober enough to understand the “Selection Show” and the Tournament games in which Kansas played.
Who wouldn’t want to show support of their 30-2 school that just won its sixth straight Big 12 Championship?
However, there was something not quite right with this KU team all year, and I seemed to be the only one to take notice.
The last time I had this gut wrenching feeling was the 2004-2005 Kansas team. That team featured talented seniors Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, and Michael Lee, mixed with volatile sophomore JR Giddens, and a freshman class of Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson, and Sasha Kaun.
To be fair to Coach Bill Self, he was mixing his recruits with the leftovers from Roy Williams’ tenure at Kansas. The Simien-led team got off to a 20-1 record by having a weak non-conference schedule and an easy slate in the first half of the Big 12 season.
I even wrote how I believed the Jayhawks to be vulnerable on KUSports.com, only to receive a ban on my account a short time later (apparently a freshman from Indianapolis was not allowed to make comments that “belittled” this sacred team).
Sure enough, I was right. Kansas lost five of their next eight games heading into the NCAA Tournament.
When the brackets came out, I picked them to lose in the second round. Of course, I was heckled by the guys in my fraternity, but apparently I was giving the Jayhawks too much credit with that pick. They fell in the first round to Bucknell.
Intuition? Maybe. I would like to think of it more as my “Hoosier” blood and the understanding of how basketball SHOULD be played, which transcends the average fan’s thought process.
The Kansas Jayhawks made a lot of noise this offseason. Not because of the No. 1 ranking they were destined to begin the season with, but by the off-the-court issues that were embellished by the media and downplayed by the University.
Ironically, the turmoil started with the departure of John Calipari from Memphis and the re-opened recruitment of a “slasher” from Oklahoma City, Xavier Henry.
Kansas was the favorite to hold the No. 1 ranking even without Henry, but once he committed to Self, everyone assumed he was the piece that would make the Jayhawks overwhelmingly better than every team in the 2009-2001 season.
Even after Henry and his brother CJ verbally committed to KU (originally signed letter of intent to Memphis when Calipari was coach and players are not allowed to sign two letters of intent), his father Carl, who played basketball at KU, began making statements that they might reconsider following Calipari to Kentucky.
However, as these statements turned out to be false, it still left questions on whether the Henry’s were fully invested in the University.
These sentiments were not put to rest this summer either. While most of the other Kansas players were in Lawrence working out, taking classes, and building team chemistry for a 2010 run to Indianapolis, the Henry’s elected to stay in Oklahoma City in order to work out on their “own program.” Henry to skip summer school and workouts at KU
The University of Kansas entered the 2009-2010 Academic Year with high hopes for its football and basketball teams. Coach Mark Mangino returned a talented senior class that featured key players from the 2007-2008 (12-1) Orange Bowl Championship team.
The football team began the season 5-0 and appeared to have the talent to win the much weaker Big 12 North. However, Sept. 22 marked the beginning of a swift downfall after two Campus fights. KU sports teams apparent feud spurs two campus brawls . The Jayhawk football team went on to lose their last seven games, ultimately causing Mangino to “resign.”
The negative effects from this Mixed Martial Arts, within viewing distance of Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium, were not just reserved for the football team.
KU guard Tyshawn Taylor was sent to the hospital after injuring his hand, and continued to post “thuggish” statements on his Facebook after the incident.
James Naismith, Phog Allen, and Gale Sayers would not approve.
Newly appointed Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Athletic Director Lew Perkins called out the teams for the embarrassment it caused the University and took the matters to closed-door meetings to ensure this would not happen again.
A week later, veteran guard Brady Morningstar was arrested for suspicion of DUI and was suspended by Coach Self for the first semester.
Little did anyone know, the full effects would not be felt until the 69-67 loss to Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
All was quiet on the Kansas front. Bill Self stopped “Tweeting” and the bookstores were selling Big 12 Championship shirts at 50 percent off.
Fans began backtracking with statements, saying they knew this team had flaws all along. Others saw the likes of Syracuse and Ohio State go down, and assumed that Kansas blew an easy run to the Final Four, in which they would meet up against Kansas State for a fourth time.
After the loss, the foolish fans began calling Motel 6’s around Indianapolis trying to get their money back, placing tickets to Lucas Oil on E-Bay, or ripping up the travel brochure to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.
The truth is, Kansas was not much better this year than they were last year losing in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State and in some ways that team was more equipped to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
There were too many times this season that Kansas did not exploit the low post talents of Cole Aldrich. For as many times as KU went on huge offensive runs, they had an equal number of scoring lapses. These droughts coincided with the guards taking bad shots or making bad passes.
Last year, Aldrich attempted 333 shots. This year, playing in one more game, he had 265 attempts. The roster was more talented this year, but they should have continued running the offense through the 6-11 center.
After a solid freshman year and experience on the U-19 team, Tyshawn Taylor was expected to come in as one of the best sophomores in the country. Well, he ended up having an up and mostly down year, as well as off-the-court issues in which he wrote about on Facebook.
Xavier Henry started the season well, but once the Big 12 started, he never looked the same and lost his confidence. X did not drive to the basket enough and settled on contested jump shots.
In my opinion, Sherron Collins had a very disappointing senior season. Many KU fans claimed him to be one of the greatest guards in the history of the program.
I thought he was much more effective coming off the bench as a sophomore on the 2008 Championship team.
As the season wore on, Collins became less explosive and it looked as if he put on weight. How does a guy who plays basketball every day put on weight?
Marcus Morris was the one player that improved the most from the previous year. Danny Manning once again showed that he is one of the best assistant coaches in the country at developing big men (Darnell Jackson, Darrel Arthur, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich).
He must want to stay in Lawrence because if I were hiring, someone with that kind of background would be my ideal candidate.
The Jayhawks did not play to its strengths against lesser talented teams. With the athleticism and depth on the roster, Coach Self should have pressured teams full court to wear them down.
This was none more evident than the Northern Iowa game, which Kansas waited until it was too late to begin pressuring the length of the floor.
In the NCAA Tournament, coaches must change their style of coaching. Self’s team could run up and down with other athletic teams (Kansas St.), but struggled with teams who played at a slower pace (Tennessee, Cornell, and Northern Iowa).
The 2008 team had its most difficult game (until Memphis) against Davidson. And my car will probably get egged by disgruntled KU fans for bringing up Bucknell and Bradley.
Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the country at adapting his coaching style in the NCAA Tournament. This year he was even more impressive at leading the Spartans to the Final 4, after losing star point guard Kalin Lucas to a season ending injury.
Coach Self take note. You can’t play prepare for a Butler or Northern Iowa the same way you prep for a Kansas State or Baylor.
Speaking of Butler, coach Self could also learn a few things from coach Brad Stevens. Too many times Self gets agitated at referee calls, whereas Stevens concentrates on things within his control: his team.
In Kansas State’s defense, they looked out of gas against Butler, after a thrilling double overtime win against Xavier just two nights before. Frank Martin looks like a solid coach (as long as he keeps his temper in check) in Manhattan and they will soon forget about Bob Huggins.
The University of Kansas deserved everything it got this year. (this topic will be a column in itself)
College basketball is entering a new era. Actually, more like reverting to its roots, where fundamentals and team play are more important than “Future NBA Lottery Picks.”
Just ask Kansas and Kentucky.
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