Jayhawk Big Men Must Catch Up

KU's current platoon of post men has performed well enough to beat above-average competition (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Cal) but imploded when faced with a seriously talented big man (Aldridge). Bill Self was quick to note that the team's youth and lack of muscle inside was big factor in the Austin wax job. I find myself wondering whether the 'Hawks will fare any better against similarly talented frontcourts in the tournament. The transformation of this team has been fueled largely by a backcourt that acquired confidence, tenacity, and learned when to gamble on defense. The inside beef, on the other hand, has remained inconsistent throughout most of the season.

Julian Wright is coming into his own, but it will take more than ball fakes and finesse to advance. The play of KU's more 'traditional' post trio (Kaun, Giles, Jackson) will determine how long the Jayhawks play in March.

KU Love in KC

Jason Whitlock is falling all over himself in his attempts to clamber back on the Jayhawk bandwagon. He deserves a little credit because 1) his efforts to suck up are fittingly repentant, and 2) he wrote this article before the Texas game. He also makes the good point that Jeremy Creswell, the Moon Bar fiasco, and Giddens' departure, paved the way for this season's success.

Re: tomorrow's game, the two big stats I'll be tracking are turnovers by the Jayhawks' backcourt and the number of Tucker-stops (similar in desirability to Stinson-stops). If KU keeps their turnovers below 15 and keep Tucker from leading his team by example, I'm calling for a double-digit win.

RPI Watch

Ken Pomeroy's latest RPI projection has KU at 38th, which is important since we've now passed that mythical 40th parallel. We're up to 9th overall in his season-long ratings and nestled comfortably at 5th in his last 5 games rating (oddly enough, UNC is number 1 in that rating - good job Roy). By the way, KP's now predicting 13-3 in conference, with a lone loss at UT.

Dunkel has us at 4th in the country in his latest index, behind Duke, UT and UConn (before last night's game).

We're up to 19th overall and 6th in the pure points rating over at Jeff Sagarin's place (the pure points is more important to Vegas).

Dolphin hasn't updated yet, but I'll try to remember to update that later.

You might be interested to know that the composite of bracket projections has us at a #6 seed. Most of the latter day brackets have us as a #5, but some of the less frequently updated brackets have us as an #8 or #9, so we're averaged up a little. I think if we win out while losing impressively at UT, we have a very good shot at a #4. If we beat UT, I think a #2 is still *possible, but very very unlikely. A 4-6 is most likely at this point. I would almost prefer a #6 at this point to avoid a possible run-in with UConn, Duke or Villanova.

Thoughts?

Whitlock Gushes About the Jayhawks

The KC Star's much-maligned Jason Whitlock may have finally gotten over his love affair with Roy Williams. It appears that the baby Jayhawks have warmed his icy heart, and he couldn't help but give 'em some love. In his recent editorial, Jayhawks Will Elevate the Big 12, he gushes:

"Yes, I called the six-loss Jayhawks national-title contenders. And I'm not overreacting to Monday's thumping of the awful Texas Tech Red Raiders. Kansas has played one bad game - a home loss to Kansas State - since losing to St. Joseph's on Dec. 6."

Whitlock also prognosticates that KU may raise the Big 12 to the level of 'power conference,' rivaling the Big 10 - and do it this season.

Welcome home, Jason.

KU vs. Colorado: Preview

There is no doubt that this is a better-than-usual Colorado team. Richard Roby looks like the best Colorado player since Chauncey Billups spent two years in Boulder. Senior starters Chris Copeland, Jayson Obazuaye, and Andy Osborn are all decent, experienced players. Perhaps the most important factor in the improvement is that Antoine McGee hardly plays any more (just 80 minutes in 12 games). That being said, and their strong power ratings be damned, Colorado's best win this year is either 1) UNC-Wilmington, 2) vs. St. Mary's (CA) in Denver, or 3) at Penn. All three of those victories came prior to December 1 as did their best loss, a 1-point defeat at Colorado State. They're better, but I'm not convinced they're good.

Furthermore, don't be fooled by Colorado's gaudy 85.7 scoring average. Home games against Cal-Poly, UC-Irvine, Mercer, Savannah State, and Dartmouth inflate that number. Their season high against a respectable opponent is 82 in that loss to Colorado State. Colorado doesn't shoot well enough to score in the 80s against decent teams. They've won by attacking the offensive glass and limiting their turnovers. On the year, they've attempted 99 more shots than their opposition. On the year, they've attempted 99 more shots than their opposition.

Colorado's defense improves slightly against better competition (though it's been aided by some miserable free throw shooting by Penn and St. Mary's). They've been able to force turnovers on 25% of their opponents' possessions consistently. Their field-goal defense has been more variable. Colorado State shot 65-percent in their win against the Buffs. After holding St. Mary's to 39- and Penn to 41-percent shooting, Colorado allowed both Cal-Poly and UC-Irvine to shoot over 60-percent from the floor in their trips to Boulder. Back on the road at TCU, the Buffs held the Horned Frogs to 37-percent from the floor. I have no idea how those performances indicate what will happen tonight.

Moving on then...to win tonight Colorado will have to either force a lot of turnovers and create easy chances for themselves or rebound enough of their own misses to limit the value of Kansas' excellent field goal defense.

Speaking of which, I present the following table to dispel the notion that the Jayhawks' defensive performances should be diminished because of their opposition.

Opponent eFG% vs. KU PPP vs. KU %Change
Idaho St 50.0 40.4 1.04 0.80 -23.8
Arizona 47.5 31.7 1.05 0.89 -15.5
Arkansas 51.2 49.1 1.08 1.00 -7.5
Nevada 49.4 44.0 1.05 1.08 +2.9
W. Illinois 49.7 36.9 1.04 0.73 -29.7
St. Joseph's 53.6 57.1 1.13 1.17 +3.8
Cal 53.9 39.3 1.12 0.84 -24.5
Pepperdine 43.7 31.9 0.93 0.64 -31.6
N. Colorado 47.6 43.4 0.90 0.94 +4.5
New Orleans 47.2 41.8 0.96 0.80 -16.7
Yale 47.8 39.1 0.95 0.64 -33.1
Kentucky 50.5 26.6 1.06 0.74 -30.0

Pepperdine, New Orleans, and Yale are bad offensive teams. Kansas didn't just hold them to their established level of ineptitude, they made them look worse. Kentucky's a mess right now, but nobody else is holding them to 46 points on 26% shooting.

Nevada and Northern Colorado were able to score enough at the free throw line to make up for the extra missed shots. Colorado probably won't do that. They're only making 19 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts on the season (they're even less productive at the line than are the Jayhawks). I expect a faster-paced version of the Cal game. The Jayhawks will turn the ball over too much and they'll give up too many offensive rebounds, but they'll force a lot of missed shots and take advantage of their opponent's indifferent defending to win fairly handily.

Prediction: Kansas 72 Colorado 64

Speed Speculation

With the marquee UK matchup tomorrow, and the Big 12 season around the corner, I can't keep myself from wondering how much the Christmas break has really benefitted the Jayhawks. There's no doubt the last couple games have been eye-opening. We've seen that:

    Chalmers is ready to start Coming off the bench, Hawkins could be a legit offensive threat Robinson is the team's true PG Wright will steal more and more minutes from the "true" post players...

But the big question remains:

    Can this team run?

Bill Self keeps dropping the R-word. And against undermatched opponents, KU was able to cruise up and down the court at high speeds. But even the Northern Colorado game had its share of overthrown passes and wild dribbling.

Headed into the Kentucky game, the Jayhawks have proven that they have the raw athleticism and desire to play fast-paced ball, especially when Robinson handles the rock. The question is whether they have the composure to execute the high-speed attack against legitimate opponents.

Tomorrow will provide an answer to that question.

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