Jayhawks Size Up Huskies

KU coach Bill Self tells matters as they are. He doesn't sugarcoat. So when No. 1 seed Kansas blitzed No. 16 Portland State (85-61) last March 20 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Self was pretty candid in discussing KU's tougher second-round matchup against either UNLV or Kent State.

“The tournament is starting right now,” Self said.

Now, after KU (2-0) opened the 2008-09 season by whipping UMKC and Florida Gulf Coast, Self is fully aware that the competition will heat up in the semifinal round of the CBE Classic on Monday against Washington (2-1) at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Tipoff is 9 p.m on ESPN/ESPNU with Dick Vitale and Dan Shulman calling the action. KU will then play either Florida or Syracuse in the finals or consolation game on Tuesday night.

“We are learning, growing and getting better and we just need to keep going after it,” Bill Self said after KU’s 85-45 victory over Florida Gulf Coast last Tuesday.

“But the season officially begins on Monday.”

Indeed, it does. KU will face a strong and athletic Washington team led by head coach Lorenzo Romar, now in his seventh season with the Huskies. After losing its season opener at Portland (80-74), Washington brings a two-game winning streak into Kansas City with victories over Cleveland State (78-63) and Florida International (74-51) on Nov. 20.

Washington is led by 6-7 star senior forward Jon Brockman, the Pac-10 Conference preseason Player of the Year and nation’s returning rebounding leader. He leads the team in scoring at 20.3 points and rebounding at 11.3 boards per game.

Senior guard Justin Dentmon is next in scoring at 15 points per game and tops the team with four three-pointers and four steals. Freshman guard Isiah Thomas averages 12.3 points and has a team-high 10 assists through three games.

The Huskies’ last two starters are junior forward Quincy Pondexter (7.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and freshman forward Darnell Gant, who averages 3.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

Washington is averaging 75.3 points per game and allowing just 64.7 ppg. The Huskies are strong on the boards, outrebounding foes 50 to 32.

Self knows Washington poses many challenges.

"They are fast, real fast,” Self said. “(Romar’s) always had athletic teams, but this is one of the better teams that he's had since he's been there. They had that great team that was a No. 1 seed back when they had Brandon Roy (now a star guard with the Portland Trail Blazers) and they've been knocking on the door for quite some time. They won the league in 2005, and winning that league (Pac-10) is a great task.

“They will mix up their defenses some, but it should be a fun, fast-paced game. They want to play fast and we want to play fast, so I think the ball will move up and down the floor pretty quickly."

Self calls the powerful Brockman “a stud.”

“Limiting Jon’s good touches will be vital for us to have any success,” Self said. “I think he's an All-America candidate. He plays big like (Blake) Griffin plays big at Oklahoma. He's a guy that definitely creates space and creates touches for himself. Looking at the stats, he already has 15 offensive rebounds in two games, so he's a fabulous rebounder.

“He's a terrific player, and he'll play at the next level without question. We won't play against many of his equal this year at all. He's one of the better players out there."

The Jayhawks have some good players themselves. And now that KU is facing stiffer competition, Self will have to shorten his rotation.

"I think I have a better feel,” Self said. “I can't go into Kansas City playing against these caliber teams thinking I have to get everybody in the game. Our rotation may vary week to week, at least early on, but I can't go into these games thinking we have to look at different combinations.

“We need to find something that we feel most comfortable with and go with that. We may end up playing 10 or so, but we can't just try to get everybody minutes to see what's working. I think the competition is way too stiff to be doing that."

For Self’s Jayhawks, the season indeed begins now. KU will certainly get a better barometer of how it ranks among the better teams in the land.

"I think this is perfect for us,” Self said. “It's a good way to find out where you're at. I think that we're going to have a good team, and I think all the other three teams in the field are going to be very good.

“But I don't really know where we're at right now. I don't think we will really know that until we have other people guard us and us guard other people to kind of magnify a few things that we do well and also expose our weaknesses.”

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