No college basketball fan, "expert," player, coach or team has a better grasp on the top teams of the 2010-2011 season than the RedHawks of Miami (OH).
Having already faced four of the top seven teams in the country in their amazingly ambitious non-conference slate, some of Miami's players have picked a favorite.
After a 27-point, worse-than-the-score-indicated drubbing at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks, F Antonio Ballard said, "In my opinion, Kansas is on top."
That's right. To those who would know best, the Jayhawks are better than seventh-ranked San Diego State, second-ranked Ohio State and even consensus title favorite Duke. My, how things can change in a short few days.
After Saturday's disheartening home win over UT Arlington, Kansas coach Bill Self was as fed up as the Jayhawk faithful. His talented team was sleepwalking through the non-conference season, and Self knew it. "We didn't play very well at all," he said. "Didn't play very tough. Didn't guard.... It was not a good game for us tonight."
Perhaps most troubling, Kansas' head man opined that his team lacked individual consistency and continuity. "The thing that really concerns me is who are our best players?" Self asked. "I have no idea. It's different night to night."
Depth is certainly a good thing to have, but a basketball team—no matter how talented its roster is top to bottom—can't win in March without an established pecking order. Different role players can step up from game to game, but stars must shine on a nightly basis. That's why Sunday's performance by the Jayhawks was so encouraging.
Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Josh Selby are clearly KU's best players, and they played like it against the RedHawks. Even better, the entire team seemed to know it.
KU's big three combined for 56 points and 22 rebounds while taking 34 of the team's 61 shots. The rest of the Jayhawks played to their strengths but never forced the issue, instead utilizing their wealth of speed and athleticism to overwhelm Miami (OH) on both ends.
Tyshawn Taylor picked his spots on offense and was steady as a distributor. Tyrel Reed was a pest on defense, took open jumpers and chipped in on the glass. Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson played with fantastic energy in limited minutes, combined for nine assists and electrified the crowd with an off-the-glass alley-oop. Young big men Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey were strong in the paint on defense and finished with authority.
"I think the first half was probably the best we've looked all year," Self gushed. After 20 minutes that featured numerous highlight-reel dunks, tenacious pressure defense, dominant rebounding, unselfish, efficient offense and a 26-point halftime lead, that much was clear.
Kansas had shown flashes of the dominance displayed in their victory over the RedHawks all season, but never was it sustained for as long as it was on Sunday. Take Ballard and the rest of his team's word for it: If the Jayhawks play like this when it matters most, they won't be beaten—a reality not on the horizon as 2010 came to a close.
Not a bad start to the new year.
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