WEEKEND RECAP In the pre-season REAL Standings, I opined that UT was the best team in the Big 12, notwithstanding their loss to commone opponent USC and their loss at Home to UConn. I felt this way because they had contributors at every position. They had three players—Corey Joseph, J’Covan Brown, and Jordan Hamilton—who could create their own shots; and a point guard, freshman though he be, who could create for his teammates. Plus, they played tough D.
The Jayhawks, on the other hand, while having an abundance of talented athletes, were too reliant on the Marcus Twins (as one TV commentator recently dubbed them), and had one consistent perimeter threat in Tyrell Reed, who was not a threat to create his own shot off the dribble.
So I was not surprised when UT happened to be the team to break the Jayhawks’ Home court win streak. They were simply a better team.
But that was then. This is now. Although UT has the inside track to the Big 12 championship, they are not, at this point in time, clearly the best team in the conference. In fact, in my opinion, they are not the best team at all, notwithstanding their 10-0 record and W in Lawrence.
Times have changed. Whereas UT is every bit as good as they were that Saturday in Lawrence, the Hawks are an entirely different team. They have gone from a team that would stagnate for long periods of time, resulting in the loss of numerous double digit leads, to a team with superb ball movement at every position. It seems that everyone who starts or enters the game is a threat to score or find someone in position to do so.
In short, this team has better ball movement than any KU team I can recall. Not that the ’97, ’02, or ’08 teams were slouches. But it reminds me most of the ’88 Jayhawks once that National Championship to be team hit its stride.
What this type of movement does, along with the patience that comes from having three seniors and three juniors among your top eight players, is ensure that you will not go long stretches without scoring an easy basket or two. You will not be on the receiving of 10-0 or 13-2 runs. Fifteen point leads will not disappear quickly. They will have to be whittled away, at the same time that you are a threat to score on numerous consecutive possessions yourself. Such is the beauty of getting a high percentage shot virtually every trip down court, as opposed to making unforced turnovers or settling for a guarded three pointer in the final seconds of the shot clock.
Not to mention that it frustrates the hell out of the defense. And no defense can keep a team with the kind of ball movement the Hawks have displayed recently from getting high percentage shots in 35 seconds. All they can do is prolong the inevitable—a hollow victory, which, ultimately, is frustrating and draining, both physically and emotionally.
Nor are the Jayhawks likely to go backward in this respect. The type of team cohesiveness and ball movement they are now demonstrating is harder to master than riding a bicycle (if it weren’t, everyone would do it), but, like bike riding, it is not something you forget. Especially when doing it right is so rewarding and so much fun.
The question, then, is what about the Jayhawks’ D? It is still a work in progress, and will need to improve to make a serious run at winning it all in April. But, while not a lock-down D by any means, it, too, is headed in the right direction. In the meantime, it is good enough to keep its offense from being outscored. If it progresses the way the offense has in the next few weeks. . .
As for Saturday’s games, KU alumnus Tad Boyle was a tenth of a second from being dubbed Tad Bozo, as he deliberately took a situation in which the worst case scenario was overtime and turned it into an apparent loss in regulation.
With a three point lead and 3.9 seconds on the clock, he called for a foul on Jacob Pullen, which was effected 30 feet from the basket, while Pullen, his back to the basket, was dribbling toward the sideline. His chances of getting off anything resembling a decent shot attempt before the buzzer was somewhere between slim and none. And even if he had somehow contorted his body into position where he could convert a miracle last second three point heave while being heavily guarded, the Buffs would still have been vertical, having five additional minutes in which to claim victory against a team that had spent 39 minutes, 56.1 seconds floundering around like—well, like they did for 39:56 in their most recent game at Iowa St.
Instead? Pullen is bailed out. He is allowed to score with the clock stopped. He hits his first free throw to cut the lead to two. He misses the second, and a scramble results in the ball going out of bounds and back to K-State with 1.1 seconds on the clock. Suddenly, playing an additional five minutes is not the worst that can happen to the Buffs. Suddenly, the worst that can happen is a three point basket at the buzzer sending Colorado off the court with an immediate loss.
And guess what? The ball gets thrown in, and K-State hits a three pointer. Game over. Colorado loses in regulation.
Except for the beauty that is instant replay.
Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
Not to say that there is never a time for the strategy of fouling while up three. There is. It is when the team with the lead cannot afford going into OT. Where a tie is essentially the same thing as a loss. As in when the other team is clearly superior, your guys have given everything they have, and they don’t have another five minutes left in them. Or when your key player—think Danny Manning—has just fouled out.
But if you have a fighting chance in OT—or, in this case, you are a comparable team AT HOME—you play straight up D and say, “Catch us if you can. If you’re good enough to make the shot—and we will have five players zealously protecting the three point line--we’ll take our chances in overtime.”
You don’t say, “How would you like a chance to beat us in regulation?”
In other games, the only meaningful outcome Saturday, as measured by the REAL Standings, was Texas A&M picking up its second Road W of the week, following its overtime win at Colorado, with a hard fought victory in Lubbock, as Tech failed to connect on its attempt at a last second game tying three pointer.
The other four games all went as projected with Home court victories by KU over ISU, UT squeaking past Baylor, Nebraska controlling the game against Okie St from start to finish, and Mizzou having no trouble with Oklahoma.
REAL STANDINGS: 2-13-11 Tier One (Contenders): KU, UT Tier Two (Competitors): Baylor, Mizzou, Texas A&M Tier Three (Also rans): Colorado, Iowa St, K-State, Nebraska, Okie St, Oklahoma, Tech
UT (10-0) Projected L’s: None Losable games: at Baylor
KU (9-1) Projected L’s: None Losable games: at Mizzou
3. 9.5-6.5 A&M (6-4) Projected L’s: at Baylor, at KU Losable games: at Okie St
Mizzou (5-5) Projected L’s: None Losable games: at ISU, at K-State, at NU, vs. KU
Baylor (6-5) Projected L’s: at Mizzou Losable games: at Okie St, vs. UT
K-State (4-6) Projected L’s: vs. KU, at Nebraska, at UT Losable games: vs. Mizzou
Colorado (5-6) Projected L’s: at KU, at Tech, vs. UT, at ISU Losable games: vs. A&M
Oklahoma (4-6) Projected L’s: at K-State, at A&M, vs. KU, at Tech Losable games: None
Okie St (4-6) Projected L’s: at UT, at KU, at OU Losable games: vs. A&M, vs. Baylor
Texas Tech (3-7) Projected L’s: at Mizzou, at Baylor, at OSU, at A&M Losable games: None
Nebraska (4-6) Projected L’s: at OU, vs. UT, at ISU, at CU Losable games: vs. Mizzou
Iowa St (1-9) Projected L’s: at A&M, at UT, at K-State Losable games: vs. Mizzou
WHAT TO WATCH (or not)
1. KU at K-State (8:00)*** (Projected W: KU) Once upon a time, there was a rivalry. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .
2. Tech at Mizzou (6:00)* (Projected W: Mizzou) Snooze city, . .
3. Wayland Baptist at Baylor (7:00)-1* (Projected W: Baylor) Why? Just why?
4. Iowa St at A&M (7:00)*1/2 (Projected W: A&M) As they say in Paris (France, not Texas), “Pathetique.”
5. Okie St at UT (8:00)*1/2 (Projected W: UT) If this were a movie, it would be The Roommate.
6. Nebraska at OU (8:00)*1/2 (Projected W: OU) Can’t these two schools give us one more football game before NU joins the Big 10, instead of this aberration?