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
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.
KU Hits Bump in the Road
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