Kansas Comes Up Short

Kansas fell to 11-4 on the season after going down in East Lansing. Michigan State made life tough for Bill Self's Jayhawks. Phog.net examines the positives and negatives from Saturday's game.

I would bet that KU head coach Bill Self would love to take a portion of his Jayhawks game against Arizona and a portion of the game against Michigan State to equal the perfect road game. Unfortunately for KU it hasn’t put together 40 solid minutes on the road just yet.

But there are some positives to take from this one.

1. Sherron Collins Second Half

Sherron Collins exemplified what it means to be tough. After taking a physical beating that included a nose bleed and a jammed finger Collins fought off a poor first half (4 points, 6 TO’s) and nearly led the way for an incredible comeback. Three minutes into the second half Collins had helped the Jayhawks trim a 19-point deficit to 12 and KU had life. Collins nearly topped a career-high he posted last Saturday at home against Tennessee and finished the game with 25 hard-earned points. Collins was truly a leader fighting tooth and nail until the end.

2. Travis Releford

For most of the game Tryel Reed and Brady Morningstar were non-existent but Reed was an integral part of KU’s comeback scoring ten points in the final ten minutes. No disrespect to Brady and Tryel but this type of game shows why players such as Releford and Mario Little are important. Reed and Morningstar were unable to use dribble penetration to beat Michigan State defenders. KU needs another player that is athletic and can put the ball on the deck. The 6-5 Releford took positive steps playing 21 minutes. If Releford can put it on the deck and continue to hold his own on the defensive end he will continue to give Self more lineup options. Travis still has a ways to go but certainly earned the chance to play more minutes in upcoming games.

3. The comeback

Kansas looked like it was down for the count down as much as 21, but the fight wasn’t called. Michigan State relaxed a bit and KU nearly achieved a Rocky Balboa-like comeback. For nearly one half of total basketball Kansas outplayed Michigan State and is not as far away from a decent road win as you might think.

There is no quit in these Jayhawks and that is something any head coach would be proud of especially one such as Self who believes that no team should ever take a possession off.  

Yes, there were positives but there is a reason Kansas was down 19 in the first place. The other side of the coin wasn’t quite as pretty. Kansas has plenty to work on and emphasize before its next road game.

1. Rebounding

Kansas hasn’t been particularly great on the boards this season and this game was a must in the rebounding category. Michigan State didn’t miss much for most of the first half but when they did, KU gave up 13 offensive rebounds. You can’t give a team like Michigan State second chances at home. The Jayhawks did a better job rebounding in the second half but got outrebounded 42-31 for the game. Cole Aldrich posted 11 rebounds and no one else on Kansas had more than three. On the offensive end KU managed just seven offensive rebounds for the game.

2. Shot selection, turnovers, making the most of opportunities

During part of the Spartan’s big first half run Kansas either took a poor shot, missed a point blank chance or turned it over. Self put it quite bluntly, “we stunk”. Kansas went multiple possessions without getting stops and watching the Spartans turn mistakes into points at the other end. On the road that equals a huge deficit – see the 2nd half of Arizona game and 1st half of this one.

Mistakes are magnified on the road and Michigan State is a top 10 team for a reason and Tom Izzo’s squad smelled blood.
After flawless execution during the first five minutes of the game KU went south on both ends of the floor and dug itself too big of a hole to comeback from.

“We missed shots and then we got tentative,” said Self recalling the first half. “In that stretch when we went on a run we had two dunks and a missed layup that was pretty much uncontested that immediately became points for them on the other end. You just can’t do that on the road.”

The Hawks didn’t do themselves any favors from the free throw line going 17-28 and were outscored by nine from the charity strip by the Spartans.

3. Collins and Cole need help

Self has a young team and his two most experienced players aren’t getting much help. Kansas needs to find a consistent third scoring option. But it isn’t just in the scoring column – Self needs some solid rebounders and defensive presence. The lack of production has left the coach scratching his head and searching for viable combinations.

Tyshawn Taylor, who looked so good early, appears to have hit a wall. Taylor was impacting the game on both ends of the floor but lately he’s not doing much for Self on either end of the floor. Markieff Morris is giving Self decent minutes but is not consistent. His twin brother Marcus is racking up more fouls than points. Releford is not quite ready to contribute in the scoring column. Morningstar and Reed are solid but failed to contribute much until Tyrel’s flurry at the end of the game. Self was looking down the bench for help in the first half and couldn’t find an answer to stemming the tide.

“I was looking for anything. Kieff (Markieff Morris) got two fouls. Mario got two quick fouls. I wanted to give Marcus a chance and he wasn’t as effective as I had hoped. When you’re playing that poorly why don’t you try something?” Self asked rhetorically.

Right now there are only two players Self knows he can count on night in and night out and if Collins and Aldrich have an off night, KU is in trouble. When the team struggles to score it’s Collins that places the burden on his shoulders and sometimes presses to hard.

“Sherron was put in a bad way today because when we can’t score he tries to take it upon himself to score and turned it over too much especially the first half,” said Self.

Aldrich put up another double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) but also was forced to log 36 minutes.

“36 minutes is a lot of minutes for a big fella to play and he’s a really good player but we’re not doing enough to help him out,” said Self of his sophomore big man. “I don’t think the guards are doing enough to help Sherron and I don’t think the bigs are doing enough to help Cole.”

The good news is Kansas can still have a terrific season, can still win a Big 12 title, and can still make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Once Tuesday rolls around the slate is clean – it’s the beauty of non-conference play.

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