Rock shock Jayhawks:
KU earns outright Big 12 title:
Kansas season in review
By J. BRADY
McCOLLOUGH | THE KANSAS CITY STAR, Mar. 28, 2009
The greatest accomplishment for the
2008-09 Kansas Jayhawks was that they put themselves in a
position to make their biggest dreams come true. KU returned no
starters from last year’s national championship team, and it
would have shocked no one for them to have finished third or
fourth in the Big 12 and bow out early in the NCAA Tournament.
Heck, when the Jayhawks were 11-4
entering league play, there were probably some who wondered if
they would even make the tournament. But KU won its fifth
straight Big 12 regular-season title and ended its season in a
somber locker room in Lucas Oil Stadium, thinking about what
might have been. And that bitter feeling was a testament to how
far this team had come in just a couple of months.
Coming off a big road win over No. 3 Oklahoma, the Jayhawks
returned home to face the upstart Missouri Tigers, who had
already beaten them 62-60 in Columbia. The Jayhawks pounded
Missouri from start to finish in a 90-65 victory that catapulted
KU into a No. 9 ranking in the polls.
There are a few options — the loss to Massachusetts in the
Sprint Center and the loss at Texas Tech are hard to overlook —
but KU’s 71-64 defeat against Baylor in the Big 12 tournament
quarterfinals takes the cake. The Jayhawks lost their first game
in the league tournament for the first time and left Oklahoma
City with a whimper. As Mario Little said, it was like they
weren’t even there.
Sherron Collins. He surpassed even his own expectations as a
leader, taking KU’s entire team under his wing as the season
went on. Collins averaged 18.9 points and five assists per game.
Frustrated Kansas fans can talk all they want about his negative
impact in many of KU’s losses, but there’s no way the Jayhawks
win the games they did without him.
Brady Morningstar. Entering this season, nobody was talking
about Morningstar, the Lawrence native and son of former KU
player Roger Morningstar. It was always assumed that Brady’s
legacy status helped him earn a scholarship. Turns out, the kid
can play. Morningstar averaged 30 minutes a game, was a
defensive stopper and became a guy that KU coach Bill Self
couldn’t afford to remove from the game.
Mario Little — not because of how he played, but because of the
circumstances he played under. Little was voted the preseason
Big 12 newcomer of the year coming out of junior college, but he
sustained a stress fracture in his lower left leg that kept him
out of the first 12 games. He elected to play instead of taking
a medical hardship year but never got his quickness back. He
showed flashes of his potential, but Little wanted to be a
consistent help to the Jayhawks. He wasn’t.
•REASON TO HOPE FOR
If Collins and center Cole Aldrich return, the Jayhawks are a
strong candidate to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason. Tyshawn
Taylor and the Morris twins should improve dramatically in year
two, and Little will be able to show what he can do at full
strength. Throw in a talented recruiting class that could get
even better if heralded New York shooting guard Lance Stephenson
commits to Kansas this week, and the Jayhawks should be
•REASON TO MOPE FOR
If Collins declares for the NBA draft, it would leave the
Jayhawks counting on Taylor or recruit Elijah Johnson to run the
point. If Aldrich goes, KU would be looking to Markieff Morris
or Arizona transfer Jeff Withey to play center. If Collins and
Aldrich go, the Jayhawks will need all of their returnees to
make great strides.
If there’s one thing Collins has proved, it’s that he doesn’t
like being told he can’t do something. Well, Sherron, you can’t
get an A on this report card. So you better come back to school
and try again. Collins’ turnover troubles bit the Jayhawks again
on Friday night against Michigan State when he had a team-high
six. Grade: A-
Aldrich turned himself into one of the top true centers in the
nation in just his second season. His progression from a
freshman year that saw him play eight minutes per game was
startling. Still, Aldrich would be the first to tell you that he
has many things to improve upon. His low-post offensive game
needs some refining.
The Jayhawks ended up with Taylor thanks to the departure of Tom
Crean from Marquette. Taylor’s signing ended up being a major
blessing for KU. Like most freshmen, he had great moments and
bad moments. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, some of the bad
ones and none of the good ones came in the NCAA Tournament.
At the beginning of the season, if someone would have said that
Morningstar would lock down Arizona’s Chase Budinger, Temple’s
Dionte Christmas and Texas’ A.J. Abrams, laughs would have rung
out throughout Lawrence. Morningstar belongs. Period. But he
needs to become a more aggressive offensive player.
Marcus was an enigma for most of the season. He immediately
showed what he was capable of with 11 points and 11 rebounds
against Syracuse. But he wouldn’t have another game like that
one until scoring 15 points and grabbing seven boards at Kansas
State. Marcus was too inconsistent but showed he can be a
Like his twin brother, Markieff was also hard to figure out.
When he was in the game, he showed an ability to rebound and
block shots, but his offensive game was spotty. He settled for
jumpers too often instead of using his athleticism to get to the
basket. Defensively, he fouled too often. He needs to get
stronger and meaner in the offseason.
Countless times, Reed swished three-pointers when the Jayhawks
needed them most. Reed knew his limited role and excelled at it
often. But like Morningstar, he needs to be more aggressive
offensively. Reed’s defense could use some work, too.
It’s not a question of whether Little can make the grade. He
showed several times this season that he has the ability to be a
great scorer. But too often — maybe it was the injury, maybe it
was just adapting to big-time college basketball — he was a
non-factor. His disappointment in himself and his situation
became obvious. He’ll have another shot next year.
In his first season, Releford could have probably used a
redshirt year. The talented wingman from Kansas City couldn’t
get his game to translate in Bill Self’s system, so he played
behind Morningstar to the tune of seven minutes per game.
Releford is an aggressive offensive player, but he has to learn
how to score within the framework of the offense. Still, he
didn’t get much of a chance to do anything.
Bill Self has brought home a couple national coach of the year
awards for a reason. Self coached his butt off to begin the
season, trying to get the Jayhawks to play like national
champions within a few months. Once he realized that wasn’t
going to happen, he enjoyed the process and turned KU into a
contender. Grade: A