Lawrence Hit By Snow, Jayhawks Hit By PanthersMarch 21st, 2010 by Lee Eldridge
Not a great way to start the spring. Lawrence gets hit by six inches of snow. And the Jayhawks get hit by the Panthers of Northern Iowa. Making the Final Four is tough. It never surprises me for a team to lose in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. But losing in the second round yesterday was a bit of a shock. I’m still proud of the Jayhawks. It’s been a great year.
The Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular season championship, and the Big 12 tournament championship. They compiled a sterling record of 33-3. They Jayhawks swept K-State and Missouri, and were ranked as the number one team in the country most of the season. None of this was a fluke. This was an awfully good team.
These are college kids, so I won’t spend a lot of time beating them up over how the season ended. The frustrating thing to watch this season has been their inconsistency. They start slow, especially against weaker opponents. They never developed that killer instinct that you come to expect from great teams. And on Saturday, it came back to bite them. A pesky team from Northern Iowa with nothing to lose played carefree basketball and never looked back. If they played ten times, the Jayhawks would win eight or nine of them. But that’s what makes the NCAA basketball tournament such a great event.
Sherron Collins has played his last game as a Jayhawk. It’s been enjoyable watching Collins develop into the undisputed leader of the Jayhawks. I’m not sure I’ve seen a player step up and embrace the mantle of leader like Collins. But Collins fought his own demons this year with inconsistency. And typically if Collins was off, so was the team.
Jayhawk fans will be waiting with baited breath to hear the decisions of Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry. Let me put this one to rest — unless something unforeseen happens (like an injury during the off-season) Aldrich and Henry will enter the NBA draft. Both are projected to be lottery picks.
So where does that leave Jayhawk basketball next year? KU will lose it’s star power without Collins, Aldrich and Henry. But the team may find some more consistency underneath it all.
The Bigs: Bill Self prefers a three man rotation for his big men, and was able to achieve that most of the year with Aldrich and the twins. Cole has done a great job of staying out of foul trouble most of his career. The Morris twins have not. The Jayhawks will likely have to play a four man rotation next year with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey combining to replace Aldrich.
Small Forward: Xavier Henry showed flashes of brilliance this year. He has one of the sweetest strokes I’ve watched at KU. But he would seemingly disappear for large portions of a game. Mario Little may not have the upside of Henry, but don’t be surprised if he isn’t more consistent than Henry, and better slashing to the basket. My prediction is that Little is really going to surprise the Jayhawk faithful next year. Travis Releford is likely inline to backup Little at the three.
The Guards: Nobody was more inconsistent this year than Tyshawn Taylor. It will be interesting to see what Self does with him next year. Down the stretch it was Tyrel Reed who played well and was on the floor at crunch time over Taylor and Brady Morningstar. Reed is one of my favorite Jayhawks. Plays hard. Plays smart. And knocks down the three. Elijah Johnson will be a sophomore, and figures to get a long look at the point. And then there’s C.J. Henry who continued to battle through injuries this year. Will he be back? I hope so, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he left Lawrence and never returned. I’d really like to see him get a shot at some quality minutes. He handles the ball well, he seems to have a really nice outside shot, and he can create his own shot.
The Starting Five: I think the Morris twins and Little are locks at starting spots next year. It’s harder to predict what’s up with the guards. Personally I’d like the see C.J. Henry and Reed get shots at starting. But it won’t surprise me if Self ends up with Taylor and Morningstar.
The Rotation: Self prefers an eight man rotation. Nine if he’s forced into it. Like it or not, he may end up with a ten man rotation next year. But with less star power to worry about, Self can go with the hot hand.