CN Kansas Preview

When Kansas comes to town, the atmosphere is rocking no matter the circumstances. I think this is the most important ISU-Kansas game in Ames since 2001. Whoever wins Saturday gives themselves a leg up in the race for second or third in the conference and a large leap toward the NCAA dance floor.

With a weak conference RPI, finishing in the top 3 this year is as vital as ever in the 10 years of the Big 12. Kansas (12-6, 3-2) is a team full of youthful exuberance and inexperience. After experiencing a difficult start to the season, the Jayhawks are 9-2 in their last 11 games, including an impressive 83-73 win at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The strength of this Kansas team is defense, as they lead the nation in FG percentage defense; holding teams to under 36 percent shooting.


The main threat on the Jayhawks is freshman slasher Brandon Rush (6'6, 210). Rush, who is Kareem (Mizzou) and Jaron's (UCLA) younger brother, played at the same prep school with Tasheed Carr and Shawn Taggart. The pre-ordained freshman of the year is averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Although Rush has highlight reel ability, it has been his outside shot that has revitalized the Jayhawks this season, as he is knocking down 50 percent of his shots from distance (25-50).


Even though freshman guard Micah Downs left the program last week (rumor is he is heading to Gonzaga) Kansas still has 10 guys that average over 10 minutes and four points a game, meaning any number of other guys can beat you. They have used numerous starting line-ups.


Sophomore Sasha Kaun (6'11) is Kansas' main threat on the inside. Kaun was a highly-touted recruit a year ago out of Russia, with a short stay at a high school in Florida. This season Kaun is finally living up to potential, putting up nine points and six rebounds. He has a good variety of low-post moves and is a skilled shot-blocker on defense.        


Fellow Sophomore tower C.J. Giles (6'10) is also a defensive force on the inside. Giles is an incredible athlete for his size, very similar to Texas' LaMarcus Aldridge, but not as skilled on offense. He is averaging 7 points and 6 boards. Another Sophomore Darnell Jackson (6'8 240) is the definition of the word "banger." Jackson has only played in nine games due to injury, but he is gaining more minutes each game. He had 12 points and 9 rebounds on Wednesday. He is averaging 7.5 points 6 rebounds. He won't wow you with his offensive repertoire, but will out-hustle everyone and get some junkyard buckets.


Just when you think they run out of big men, Christian Moody can surprise you. Moody (6'8) is finally a senior and earned a scholarship this season for his hard work. (I swear he played with LaFrentz.) He contributes five points and four rebounds. He has a nice mid-range game and can guard a number of postitions. He missed two huge game-winning free-throws at Missouri to send the game into OT, in which Mizzou eventually won. After a nice showing at Kentucky last season, CBS' Billy Packer called him the best walk-on in College Basketball history. I think Jeff Hornacek might have a beef.


Freshman Julian Wright (6'8 215, McDonald's AA) provides some versatility for Bill Self's squad. He can play every position on the floor and has tremendous athleticism. He is putting up 7 points and 4 boards, but continues to vastly improve.


In the back-court the Jayhawks are paced by Sophomore point-guard Russell Robinson (6'1). He has the second most minutes on the team and puts in 8.5 points and 3.5 assists. But, he had his best output of the year against the Aggies: 29 minutes, 24 points, including 12-13 from the line. Despite his size, he attacks the rim and has supreme quickness. He is also a ball-hawk on defense, providing great pressure on opposing guards. Freshman guard Mario Chalmers (6'1 185, McDonald's AA) is now living up to his potential. Continuing on the theme of young great potential, Chalmers has been inserted in the starting line-up. On the season he is averaging 9 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.5 steals. He is another great on-the-ball defender. On Wednesday he had 15 points, 8 assists and 3 steals. It should be fun to watch him and Blalock square-off.


Like Moody on the inside, senior guard Jeff Hawkins (5'11) provides some stability in the back-court. Hawkins has already graduated and his focus is on helping the youngsters and the team improve with every game. He only averages 5 points and 3 assists, but his leadership is his best asset on this team dominated with freshman and sophomores. He also is a threat to knock down the open shot (40 percent from deep.)


It is obvious to see, Kansas has nowhere to go but up. They play two seniors, 3 freshman and 4 sophomores. It is quite remarkable to see the "upside" of this team. Although they may be young, this group has shown toughness on the road winning two of three conference road games (@Colorado, @A&M.) They have more assists than turnovers on the year, and out-rebound opponents by 7 per game. And their defense has been stellar. However, in games they have lost it has been because of offensive stagnation. In their losses, they have averaged only 61 points a game and shot well under 40 percent.


Kansas is comfortable playing all styles of basketball and Bill Self is renowned for his man-to-man defense. This could play into Iowa State's hands. Curtis Stinson has absolutely owned Kansas in his four games against KU. He has averaged over 23 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and four steals in games with the Jayhawks. After last year's win in Lawrence, in which Stinson went for 29, Bill Self said, "We had no answer for Curtis Stinson." With Curtis playing his best ball of the year in the past two weeks, ISU will need another great performance. As recent history as shown, these teams play defensive struggles that come down to the wire. In Wayne Morgan and Bill Self's meetings the average margin of victory has been 3 points and two games have needed extra-time.


Get the coffee and eggs ready for a late morning showdown with major conference ramifications. I can't wait.

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