Coming into the 2010-2011 season, the Kansas Jayhawks were considered one of the most talented and deepest teams in the country. While the talent's been evident all year long in compiling a 23-1 record, KU faithful has seen mediocre play from coach Bill Self's stable of reserves.
Aside from reliable senior guard Brady Morningstar and energetic sophomore big Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks haven't received much production from their ballyhooed bench performers. Until last night, that is.
In Kansas' 103-86 win over Missouri last night, there were no Jayhawks more influential than the reserve triumvirate of forward Mario Little, guard Travis Releford and Robinson. Coming off the pine, the trio combined for 36 points and 15 rebounds and shot a scorching 14-17 from the field and connected on all five of their three-point attempts.
When KU gets what's become typical production of 38 points and 15 rebounds from brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris, coupled with such dominant play from their bench, there isn't a team in basketball better than the Jayhawks. After last night's performance, even the most staunch Buckeyes, Longhorns and Blue Devils fans would have difficulty disagreeing.
In a scintillating 16 minutes, Little, a sparingly-used combo forward, was 7-9 from the floor and hit all three of his attempts from deep. Always known for his scoring exploits, the senior from Chicago finally put them on display in a dominant performance against the Tigers.
Releford, slowly working his way back into form after an ankle injury, was instrumental in leading his team to a 13-point second-half advantage over MU. Having played just two minutes in the game's opening stanza, it was a surprise to see the sophomore enter the game with 17 minutes remaining on the clock. After tallying eight points and three rebounds to go along with his usual stifling defense in the second half, it's obvious coach Self made the right call.
With Little and Releford playing inspired basketball, Kansas was firing on all cylinders against Missouri's frenetic defense. What's scariest for the rest of the college basketball world is that the Jayhawks were able to perform so well even without star freshman Josh Selby, who sat out the contest with a minor foot injury.
As Kansas is rounding into form after a hectic January, its become clear that there may not be a better team in the country. The Jayhawks still have some holes, but the play of their bench is no longer a question mark. In fact, finally, as anticipated all offseason, its become a great strength.