The Jayhawks face Miami of Ohio from the Mid-American Conference on Saturday in a high-noon showdown in Allen Fieldhouse. Miami, which is 6-4 after an upset overtime victory at Illinois (61-58) in raucous Assembly Hall Thursday night, poses a tough challenge with its disciplined ball-control offense.
The RedHawks were the only Division I team not to allow 70 points or more last season, and this year, Miami has given up a high of just 63 points to Dayton.
This Saturday matchup marks just the first time the two schools have ever met in men's hoops. Kansas is 7-1 all time against current members of the Mid-American Conference, including the ‘Hawks most recent 88-51 victory over Ohio at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Dec. 15.
"I'm concerned about whether or not we are patient enough to defend the entire shot clock because they don't play fast," said KU coach Bill Self. "They're very well coached (by Charlie Coles, the second winningest coach in Miami history) and sound. Nobody has hung 70 (points) on them in 47 consecutive games or something like that. You would think at home we would try to create some pace in some way shape or form, but that would be a concern to not let them totally control the tempo."
Miami is led in scoring by junior swingman Michael Bramos, who averages 19 points (22 three-point field goals) and 5.7 rebounds per game. Senior forward Tim Pollitz paces the team in rebounding (6.4 rpg) and assists (4.4 apg), while scoring 17.8 points per game. Junior guard Kenny Hayes (9.0 ppg), sophomore guard Alex Moosman (5.0 ppg) and junior center Tyler Dierkers (4.8 ppg) also contribute nicely in the starting lineup.
"They have two great players," Self said of Bramos and Pollitz. "Not good — great players. Their four-man (Pollitz) is as skilled as anybody that we'll play this year. How many four-men lead (their team) in assists. He had 26 points (career high) and nine assists (against Chicago State on Tuesday night). They play through him and he's not even their leading scorer."
Kansas, meanwhile, has featured a balanced scoring attack all season. The Jayhawks have five players averaging in double figures, and their seventh-leading scorer Russell Robinson averages 7.9 points per game (team-high 17 points in KU's victory over Georgia Tech on Tuesday). Seven different players have led KU in scoring in seven of 11 games.
"I think that is the strength of the team," Self said. "The guys have accepted that (different players stepping up each night) and they aren't hung up on shooting the ball or getting off so many attempts or scoring so many points. In all honesty, whoever is playing the best that night, we have enough balance that they can be the go-to-guy. A lot (of teams) would like to have that problem. ... I think that we're hard to guard having balance than we would be if we had just one or two guys take all the important shots."
Rush is one guy who could step up more as a go-to player once he becomes 100 percent from his off-season ACL surgery. And that time could come quite soon.
"I think he is probably being as close to aggressive as he was last year at this stage," Self said. "I said all along that he will become a better basketball player through this (injury) than he would if it hadn't occurred. I don't think he's quite there yet because I don't think that he has the total pop back that he will. He's smarter and he understands better. ...The injury will not be a detriment to him at all, if anything, it'll be a blessing. He won't want to hear that and people won't want to hear that, but he'll be a better basketball player because of it."
Rush and company get their chance to get better and celebrate Christmas early on Saturday. A KU victory would mark the 10th time in school history the Jayhawks started the season 12-0 and the first time since 2004-05. That team lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
These 2007-08 Jayhawks hope to win it all.