Kansas Jayhawks: Lack of Fire and Focus Limiting Team's Ceiling

Jack WinterCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2010

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 02:  Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks looks on from the bench during the game against the UCLA Bruins on December 2, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.  The Jayhawks defeated the Bruins with a final score of 77-76.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Kansas Jayhawks are flawed.

Yes, they are undefeated and ranked fourth in the polls.  True, KU is considered a consensus national title contender.  Agreed, the Jayhawks offense has looked like the best in the country this season.

But none of that changes what this team has exhibited over the last few games of the young season.  In underwhelming, closer-than-the-score-indicated wins over Arizona, UCLA, Memphis and Colorado State, KU has been—in the words of coach Bill Self—"soft."

Guards make careless turnovers under ball pressure, bigs play matador post defense, and an overwhelming stench of entitlement has emanated from the Jayhawks over the last two weeks.

Quite simply, the 2010-11 Kansas Jayhawks aren't as good as their record says they are or their stellar statistics suggest, and its all due to a lack of toughness, hunger and willpower.  

In juniors Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas possesses veteran talents that are known as much for skill as they are their hardened on-court demeanors.  They push, they talk, they dive for loose balls, they don't back down and they win.  

As Marcus, Markieff and Taylor took the reins of Kansas basketball from departed stars Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, national pundits and gurus anointed them stars of a team poised for a Final Four appearance, and perhaps a second NCAA championship in four years for KU hoops.

Problem is, the passion and fire of KU's leaders has dwindled as the accolades and attention pile up.  Youngsters Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford look to the junior trio for guidance, and seniors Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Mario Little rely on them to make their games go.

Despite a weak college basketball field this season, the recent play of KU makes one believe another early March exit in the NCAA Tournament is on the horizon.  As much as it pains to say, what may be best for this team in the long run is adversity in the form of a loss.  There's recent precedent in Kansas lore for such a thing.

The 2008 Jayhawks, fueled by a humbling loss to underdog Oklahoma State and a subsequent team meeting, played some of the best basketball in program history en route to the program's first national championship in 20 years.

While the sting of winter defeat would hurt players and fans alike, it would pale in comparison to the pain inflicted by another unnecessarily short tournament run in the spring.  

Kansas needs to lose.  Soon.  Don't panic when they do.  See the light at the end of the tunnel.

If the Morrises, Taylor and the rest glean a change in attitude from the distress of a loss, the Jayhawks will be a far different team as the season progresses than they would have without it.  A squad that relies on spirit and intensity as much as depth and talent, a group that will deserve its rightful place in the discussion of basketball's best.  

And, just maybe, a team that will bring the University of Kansas its fourth NCAA championship.