KU Hits Bump in the Road

After dropping its second straight game in Kansas City, KU was again dealt another blow on Tuesday. Phog.net discusses how the Jayhawks are battling some adversity and it is not about to get any easier.

The hits just keep on coming for KU.

Just days after dropping a tight one-point contest to UMASS at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, the Jayhawks were dealt another blow.

JUCO transfer Mario Little was struggling with a stress fracture in his left leg and chomping at the bit to get on the court and help his teammates. He was inching closer to a return, Saturday vs. Temple in fact, until the injury bug took another bite out of the 2008’s top-ranked JUCO player.

After a freak play at Tuesday morning’s practice it was discovered that Little broke the fourth metacarpal bone in his non-shooting hand.

The 6-5 Little out of Chipola (Fla.) College came to Lawrence with a high pedigree and was expected to provide immediate help, but he has yet to lace them up in a game for KU.

“It'll be two weeks before he could do anything realistically," Self said. "His hand caught and pulled his fingers apart and broke it. As of now we'll splint it and hopefully he'll be back full speed real soon."
Little will likely have to wait until the soreness subsides before he can even try getting his wind back and running full speed. But the stress fracture is still a concern for Mario. It is likely his left leg will be what holds him back, not the broken bone.

So far there are missing parts with this Kansas team and Little could’ve plugged some holes particularly at the three and four positions. Redshirting is not out of the question especially if this latest setback lingers, or in an even more likely scenario, the stress fracture does not allow him to play pain free. It will be a tough decision because the Jayhawks are likely to need Little in a big way before the season is over. He must come back healthy enough to contribute or redshirting will be the only option.

The injury to Little was just another punch in the stomach for Kansas who is still trying to figure out an identity and sift through the fogginess of youth. Call it growing pains, call it a learning curve – it was bound to happen with seven newcomers. Kansas has hit a rough patch in the season and now we will see how the young Hawks respond to this recent adversity. These are the times that shape teams for the future.

“They are going to be a team by the end of the year that has a chance to do something special,” said UMASS head coach Derek Kellogg after his team defeated KU, 61-60 on Saturday.  “Right now they are going through some growing pains with young kids that are going to continue to get better.”  

Looking at the schedule there aren’t too many breathers in the near future. There is a tough non-conference lineup including the likes of Temple, Tennessee, Siena, and Michigan State looming. Also on the horizon a rigorous Big 12 tilt.

But remember, when things seem to look bleak the silver lining is this team is really two possessions away from being undefeated. Yes, losing to Massachusetts was a step back but KU can get back to the same team that impressively beat Kent State and Washington but it starts with a couple of areas of concern. In order to keep forward momentum the Jayhawks will have to improve in two main areas.

1. Practice better.
If we were to list three things Kansas needs to improve to be successful, this one would’ve probably been listed twice.

Practice makes perfect but right now Self will settle for practice makes us better.

Like Coach Kellogg said – “continue to get better”, those are the key words for KU and it starts behind closed doors with practice.

Self has not shied away from voicing his displeasure over how this team has recently practiced and the players haven’t minced words admitting they could be more focused. There is no better time to practice and practice well then the next month while the team is on winter break and enduring double sessions. There will be nothing to focus on besides hoop. Have to have focus. That will be the mantra in the coming weeks with a ton of practice time ahead. It is time for the team to respond.

Last year there was a crop of reserves knocking at the door ready to take a player’s spot. This year the competition within is not as fierce. Maybe that is part of the reason practices haven’t been great. Fans won’t get to see the internal tests that go on in the after hours confines of Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but a test Saturday against Temple and then next week vs. an rejuvenated Arizona team that just took down Gonzaga, will go a long way to showing just how far this team has to go.

Bottom line is that most coaches believe increased energy and better practices will translate to better performances on the court, and Self is no different.

2. Help for Cole
It seems like Cole Aldrich is out there on an island right now. KU needs someone to compliment the sophomore big man. Right now Cole’s rebounding total equals 94 for the season. The next closest Jayhawk is Marcus Morris with 57. The overall numbers don’t show a rebounding disadvantage for Kansas vs. its opponents but it seems like Aldrich is the only player to rise above the rim and rip down a board right now, especially when the team needs it the most.

Will a player like Travis Releford step up? Will Mario Little get healthy in time? The scenario that seems more realistic is that the Morris twins Marcus and Markieff, start understanding what’s being asked of them and hopefully the twin towers will show just a bit more toughness. Both have shown they are adept passers and have a nice touch but will they be able to take the banging and the physical nature of some of the upcoming contests?

Right now Kansas needs another Brandon Rush. That doesn’t mean a sure-fire NBA first round draft pick as smooth as Brandon will emerge. But KU needs production from the wing position and the small forward. Right now players like Conner Teahan and Brady Morningstar have to play a bit out of position. If Releford or Little can step up in time it will only make the Tyrel Reeds and Morningstars of the world more successful and give Self the option of playing small. At this point, at times, playing small has been the only option.

Defenses will continue to sag and game plan to stop Aldrich. Kansas is looking for someone to step up, play solid D, and grab some offensive and defensive rebounds.

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