CBE Classic Tips Off Tonight

Kansas basketball ended last season winning the NCAA Championship. Seven months later, the Jayhawks begin a new year aiming to win another tournament: the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.

After two exhibition games, the defending national champions will play for keeps when they meet UMKC tonight at 7:30 in a regional round game at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas next plays Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 18 before heading to Kansas City and the Sprint Center for the championship rounds on Nov. 24 (Washington) and the 25th (either Syracuse or Florida).

KU coach Bill Self is excited about opening the season with a tournament.

“They are good revenue-makers for the school because we get to host two games,” Self said. “We also have a chance to play at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, which is always good. It’s a good tournament with a great field. Hopefully we’ll perform at a very high level, because we’re going to have to.”

Self is only focused on KU’s opening game with UMKC. The Kangaroos, who lost their season opener to North Dakota at home Friday night, 61-56, return two starters and just four letterwinners from last year’s 11-21 team (6-12 in the Summit League). The Roos are an extremely young team; all of the seven eligible newcomers are either freshmen or sophomores.

UMKC is led by senior forward Dane Brumagin and sophomore guard Reggie Hamilton. Brumagin, a preseason first-team All-Summit League selection, averaged 17.1 points last season and ranked eighth in the country in three-point field goal percentage (.451). He also shot a sizzling 86.7 percent from the free-throw line (No. 13 in nation).

Hamilton, who was selected to the conference All-Newcomer team. averaged 11.7 points and 3.3 assists per game in 2007-08. Sophomore forwards James Humphrey (4.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Spencer Johnson (1.8 ppg) also return for UMKC.

The Roos certainly won’t be bashful about shooting from three-point land. They set a school record last season with 283 three-point field goals and 739 three-point attempts. The Roos kept it flying against North Dakota with shooting 26 threes, yet connecting on just six.

Hamilton led all scorers with 22 points, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. Johnson scored a career-high 15 points, while Brumagin added 11. UMKC shot just 27.9 percent in the loss.

KU leads the all-time series with UMKC 4-0, including last season’s 85-62 victory on Nov. 11, 2007. Hamilton paced the Roos that night with 16 points and seven assists.

On paper, KU shouldn’t have much trouble on the glass against UMKC. The Kangaroos’ tallest player is just 6-7 (sophomore junior college transfer Daniel Brady and Humphrey, who started nine games last season).

With limited size, second-year coach Matt Brown needs his team to connect from three to have any chance of staying with Kansas. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, will look to pound it inside to sophomore Cole Aldrich and freshmen Quintrell Thomas and Marcus and Markieff Morris.

“We should, with the size advantage, play through our bigs more,” Self said on Thursday. “They’re going to play some zone I would think. ... The way they play, we have to attack the different defenses, whether it be a 1-3-1 or whatever type of zone they play. And they’ll play man as well. Then obviously we have to get to the three-point shooters, and not give up layups because they run so many back cuts. If you’re going to evaluate us on how we play, we have to take those two things away, which is easier said than done.”

Self commented after KU’s 103-58 victory over Emporia State on Tuesday that the Jayhawks have made improvements, but weren’t yet ready to play a real game.

“I don’t know if any team in the country (is ready),” Self said, “but I certainly feel like I know my team better because I’ve seem them play under the lights twice.”

Self said KU will play this season through its two standouts — Aldrich and sophomore point guard Sherron Collins — “and basically we’ll do it by committee with everybody else. Brady (sophomore guard Morningstar and Tyrel (sophomore guard Reed) the last two weeks have done a really great job that there is no way we’ll go into the season without them being a big part of our rotation.”

Reed scored 16 points (5-7 FG, including 4 of 5 beyond the arc) in KU’s opening exhibition game against Washburn (KU won, 98-79, on Nov. 4) and dished out a game-high six assists versus Emporia State last Tuesday. Morningstar, meanwhile, averaged 14 points in the two exhibition games, while shooting a sizzling 65 percent from the field.

“They’ve been solid,” Self said. “They understand better where the ball needs to go and where the shots are coming from. Defensively they have a concept of what we’re trying to do. They’ve both improved a lot as well. These guys had to guard Mario (Chalmers), Brandon (Rush), Sherron and Russell (Robinson) every day, too (last year). They had to guard great athletes. They’ve gotten a lot better.

“Everything looks good when you make shots, and those guys have been good shot-makers for us so far during the preseason practices and exhibition games.”

Freshmen Tyshawn Taylor and Travis Releford will  battle for playing time at the guard spots along with sophomore walk-on Conner Teahan. Junior college transfer Tyrone Appleton is also trying to fight into the rotation.

Up front, Self will rely on Aldrich and a combination of freshman big men Thomas and the Morris twins. Markieff can also play center. Self knows he’s going to get eight to 12 boards per night from Aldrich; he just needs the other three post players to step up.

“Collectively, they need to average 12-14 rebounds a game,” Self said. “If they can do that, I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start. Maybe 15, but we have to have them come through to do that. We need those three to rebound the ball.”

Self said practices have stepped up since the Washburn game. He’s noticed a “sense of urgency” since then, and hopes the Jayhawks will carry that over into the UMKC game.

The KU coach is trying to be patient with his young team, which features seven newcomers and just four returning scholarship players.

“This is probably the youngest team I’ve ever had,” Self said. “It can test your patience, but at the same time it’s exciting and new. I really believe I’m going to enjoy coaching these guys. It’s fun to see how much better certain guys have gotten in the time they’ve been here. We’ve really had some guys improve a lot.”

Those guys include leaders Aldrich and Collins. Aldrich was brilliant last game against Emporia State with 17 points (7-10 FG), 10 rebounds and three blocks in just 18 minutes, while Collins scored a game-high 22 points (7-9 FG) in 20 minutes.

Collins ended last season dribbling out the final seconds in KU’s national championship victory over Memphis last April. Seven months later, he’s ready to start a new year and new tournament with a bang.

“I’m real excited,” Collins said. “It’s nice to get the two exhibition games out of the way. We took some nice learning pointers from it and took some positive steps, but now everything is for real and serious. I’m just ready to start and get it rolling.”

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