* As a defender, Elijah Johnson is on another planet right now.
Discussing this with another reporter after the game last night, EJ used to be so incredibly foul-prone that Head Coach Bill Self simply couldn't play him many minutes. Not that there weren't other factors contributing to his lack of playing time, but it seemed every time he stepped onto the floor there was a foul called like clockwork 30 seconds later.
Now, he's absolutely relentless. He fights through screens, uses his athleticism to shadow opposing PGs step-for-step, and most importantly he's playing with intensity and fire on that end of the floor. You can tell he makes it his mission to crush the will of the opposing PG, and for three games in a row he's done a fantastic job of it.
* The last 10 minutes of basketball last night were the most encouraging 10 minutes the team played all year for their tourney hopes.
All year long Self has been harping on the team to get stops when it mattered. Sure, he'd say, the defensive statistics look fine. But nobody feared this team defensively.
Last night, during the final quarter of play the Aggies scored 10 points. Elijah Johnson's pressure allowed Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar to apply more pressure of their own. It allowed the Jayhawks to emerge from a slugfest – the type of game they're sure to play in the NCAA's at some point – and widen the lead without relying solely on their offensive prowess.
There is going to be a night, at some point going forward, where the Twins aren't hitting their shots. When the rim feels like it's got a lid on it. And at that time, it will be defense that carries this team. I'd begun to question whether or not this group had the potential to play that type of basketball, but last night they did it against a quality opponent. They got stops when they needed to.
* I have no idea what is going on with the backcourt rotation going forward.
I'm not sure anyone does outside of the head honcho himself. Will he play Tyshawn most of the first half and Elijah most of the second? Will he ever play them on the court together? Who is going to get the bulk of the minutes. We know Elijah will continue to start, but as Self says that doesn't matter as much. it's about who's on the court during crunch time and who is playing the most minutes. Maybe it will be a match-up thing.
I've given up trying to figure it out, but it's hard to argue the results. 28-2.
* Last night was a great example of why Allen is the best homecourt advantage in the country.
The fans bring that level of intensity – with very few exceptions – whether it's Kansas State, Alcorn State or Texas A&M. It's unbelievable how loud that building got at times last night. I mean, ear-shattering loud. The video team does a great job of stoking the flames before the game begins (The dB meter reached 118 just before tipoff), but Allen is always like a powder keg. All it takes is one dunk, one big three, one hustle play...whatever to set the place on fire.
It helps that KU players understand how lucky they are to play here game in and game out, and that they don't take it for granted. They've said as much many times throughout the season. It truly is an unbelievably special place.
* This team is going to feel weird without Brady and Tyrel next year. Not really so much with Mario, just because he hasn't been here as long. It gets joked about a lot, but Brady in particular just feels as if he's been here forever. He's really made himself a part of this program, and I find myself hoping both of them choose to stick around as grad assistant coaches a la Brett Ballard and Brennan Bechard.
* KU's streak of conference titles won't get the play nationally it should.
So I did some digging last night, and looked into three other conferences – the ACC, The Big 10 and the Big East.
KU's streak started in 2004-2005, and looking at those other three conferences from then until last season, 2009-2010, here's what I came up with. (I excluded this year because I was unsure of their situations currently).
ACC: Four different teams won or shared the title in that six year stretch.
Big 10: Five different teams won or shared the title in that six year stretch.
Big East: Six different teams won or shared the title in that six year stretch.
Big 12: Three different teams won or shared the title in that six year stretch.
And even more remarkable? The longest streak anyone in those conferences mustered was three years, when North Carolina did it – if I remember correctly – from 2007-2009. Three years. KU has now won or shared the title for seven years in a row.
* Mizzou Arena. You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
I expect a hell of a game Saturday. The Tigers have been an entirely different team at home this season, and you know the place will be juiced to the max to knock of KU. But it's so apparent the Jayhawk players want this one. They're greedy, and they don't want to risk having to share the Big 12 title with Texas.
Plus, it's Missouri, and there's no sweeter feeling during the regular season than knocking the Tigers down a peg or six at home.