Here we go again.
Despite not being picked to win the conference back in October, confidence is high in Lawrence — and deservedly so, since the Kansas Jayhawks are 13-0, are ranked No. 3 and appear to be cruising toward their seventh consecutive Big 12 championship.
Or so ESPN would have you believe.
I won't deny that KU is very talented and very well coached, but the media infatuation with Josh Selby is obscuring some flaws that, while apparent, have not yet been exploited by the average competition the Jayhawks have faced in their non-conference season.
The preview that follows beyond the jump is fair, but hardly fawning. I mean, who do you think I am, Sheahon Zenger?
For that, you better head over to Rock Chalk Talk.
The Story So Far
I'll say this — Bill Self is a master of the RPI formula, and his skill usually results in No. 1 seeds in the Big Dance.
When you glance down the lists of KU's non-conference opponents, none of them jump at you as particularly imposing foes.
Only one of them has been ranked at all this year. Only two of them played at home. Four more played on a neutral court (although one was at the not-so-neutral Sprint Center). Not one of them has fewer than two losses.
So what's the secret (besides winning all of them, obviously)?
It's a two-part formula: (1) Lots and lots of quality, if not signature, wins; and (2) only three games against teams with an RPI lower than 200, with only one of those against a sub-300 team. Avoiding epically bad teams and settling for just mediocre to marginal ones is the magic bullet to RPI success, it seems.
Anyhow, as they currently stand, KU's quality wins are against Arizona, Cal, Colorado State, Memphis, North Texas (already RPI No. 98 and falling, however), UCLA, USC and Valparaiso.
Current Kansas RPI: 2
Current Kansas SOS: 40
Note: All stats for current players are updated through the most recent game this season, unless otherwise noted.
215-43 (93-19) at Kansas
- Cole Aldrich (26.8 minutes per game | 11.3 points per game | 9.8 rebounds per game)
- Sherron Collins (33.0 minutes per game | 15.5 points per game | 4.5 assists per game)
- Xavier Henry (27.5 minutes per game | 13.4 points per game | 4.4 rebounds per game)
- Chase Buford (2.3 minutes per game | 0.5 point per game | 0.5 rebound per game)
- C.J. Henry (5.6 minutes per game | 3.1 points per game | 0.7 rebound per game)
#15 Elijah Johnson
15.7 minutes per game | 4.8 points per game | 2.7 assists per game
#40 Jordan Juenemann
2.5 minutes per game | 1.4 points per game | 0.6 rebound per game
#12 Brady Morningstar
22.6 minutes per game | 4.7 points per game | 2.2 assists per game
#22 Marcus Morris
24.2 minutes per game | 15.5 points per game | 6.0 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: K. Scott Bailey
#21 Markieff Morris
22.5 minutes per game | 13.6 points per game | 8.8 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: BracketCat
#14 Tyrel Reed
26.8 minutes per game | 9.1 points per game | 2.8 rebounds per game
#0 Thomas Robinson
17.0 minutes per game | 9.8 points per game | 6.9 rebounds per game
#10 Tyshawn Taylor
26.6 minutes per game | 9.2 points per game | 5.4 assists per game
FANTASY OWNER: K. Scott Bailey
#2 Conner Teahan
3.8* minutes per game | 1.1* points per game | 1.0* rebound per game
#5 Jeff Withey
7.4 minutes per game | 2.7 points per game | 2.5 rebounds per game
#23 Mario Little
16.3 minutes per game | 6.2 points per game | 3.7 rebounds per game
#24 Travis Releford
15.1 minutes per game | 5.6 points per game | 2.2 rebounds per game
#20 Niko Roberts
2.1 minutes per game | 0.3 point per game | 0.1 rebound per game
#32 Josh Selby
28.0 minutes per game | 14.8 points per game | 4.0 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: BracketCat
#4 Justin Wesley
9.9* minutes per game | 1.2* points per game | 1.3* rebounds per game
*at Lamar in 2009-10
#11 Royce Woolridge
3.9 minutes per game | 1.0 point per game | 1.0 assist per game
My thanks to the Kansas sports information department for the photos.
It will come as no surprise that KU is once again loaded with NBA talent. The key to KU's season lies in likely one-and-done player Josh Selby and his new cohorts in the paint, the Morris twins.
Marcus Morris also is likely to leave for the NBA after this season, while Markieff Morris could jump if he wants to be a second-rounder, but would have to resign himself to life without his twin should he return to KU next season.
But right now, they're all here, and they're averaging 14.8, 15.5 and 13.6 points per game, respectively. Not to mention the twins combining for 14.8 rebounds per game.
Right now, Self is playing mind games with the twins regarding their starting spots, but that will settle down quickly once they start playing real contests. And Selby isn't yet the starting point guard, but that outcome is an inevitability.
Even though Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks' fourth double-digit scorer, is averaging a stellar 5.4 assists per game, he best is suited to being a college shooting guard. He's a lot like Mario Chalmers in that sense (both destined to be NBA point guards).
Self obviously is easing Selby into his point role and responsibilities, but for KU to be a championship contender, it needs to happen soon.
Completing the primary lineup is sharpshooter Tyrel Reed — one of three additional players averaging more than nine points per game — because no KU starting five is complete with a white guy with a sneer who punishes you from long range every time you leave him open or lose him in traffic. I call it the Kirk Hinrich Principle.
Elijah Johnson is the nominal third point guard, but he's proving to be more effective as a shooting guard as the season wears on (and as long as he isn't being arrested for unpaid parking tickets or what have you).
Brady Morningstar is the utility hustle player that every Bill Self and Frank Martin team needs, even though he doesn't score very much, sometimes goes brain dead while shooting free throws and has been known to commit fouls that would make his mother blush with shame — but given his dad's side business, the latter hardly is a knock.
Travis Releford was supposed to be part of a one-two punch combo at the 3 position with Mario Little, but ol' Mario ... nah, a punch joke would be too easy and too obvious here. I'll take the high road, which is more than Mario could say when he caught his old lady with... damn, so hard to resist temptation. Anyhow, Releford's decent, but that's all.
Jeff Withey has been a virtual non-factor this season, even though Self said he's his best defensive post player.
Might be because he's too skinny. Who knows? What is known is that Self's having to make do with a three-man rotation of slightly undersized, but inordinately talented, bigs in Thomas Robinson and the Morris twins. Robinson perhaps is the biggest surprise of the season, averaging almost 10 points and seven rebounds a game.
Little-used reserves who only see mop-up time in blowouts include walk-ons Jordan Juenemann, Niko Roberts, and Connor Teahan, and scholarship freshman Royce Woolridge. Lamar transfer Justin Wesley will redshirt according to NCAA rules.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Josh Selby||Tyshawn Taylor||Tyrel Reed||Marcus Morris||Markieff Morris|
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
|Elijah Johnson||Brady Morningstar||Travis Releford||Thomas Robinson||Jeff Withey|
The Final Verdict
OK, just like last year, let's make this as quick and painless as possible.
Forget who KU has played or how they've won. None of it matters. The Jayhawks bring it when they need to. The only chance you have to beat them is either to play your "A" game when they don't (e.g. Oklahoma State 2010, Texas Tech 2009) or have a couple of NBA guys go off so it doesn't matter what they do (e.g. Kansas State 2008).
Unfortunately for K-State, the Wildcats will not be perceived by the Jayhawks as a team that cannot beat them. We haven't struggled that much. We're not going to get their "C" game, and that's just facts. And even if we do, Selby just might be good enough to overcome it single-handedly.
Kevin Kietzman is fond of saying that KU plays a six-game conference season, and he's not far off:
The Hawks get all their tough South foes at home, have gimme road games at Oklahoma and Texas Tech, haven't lost to Colorado and Nebraska since long before they decided they were too good for the conference, and have won 17 of their last 18 in Bramlage Coliseum.
The combination of a favorable schedule, multiple NBA draft picks, a Hall of Fame coach, and a sizable mental edge over K-State and Missouri, the two conference foes closest in talent and proximity to KU, probably will be too potent for those teams to overcome. KU's eying a seventh straight trophy and I don't think it can be stopped.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 2nd
My predicted finish: 1st
Best-case scenario: National champion
Against K-State?: Toss-up in Manhattan, win in Lawrence