Kansas Looks Ahead to Dance

Phog.net knows there are plenty of positives to accentuate involving the Kansas Jayhawks this season but there are several things KU must do to be successful and make it to the latter weeks of March.

Kansas accomplished a great deal during a 25-7 season with plenty of positives to focus on along the way to a fifth straight Big 12 title. But this time of the year there is little room for error and there are a few areas KU needs to shore up if they're going to succeed in the Big Dance.

1. Double-digit deficits.

You know how the old saying goes – the first time it happens, it's a mistake – if it keeps happening, it's a trend. Lately a disturbing trend has developed for KU.  

In five of their last seven games KU has found itself down by double-digits.

There has been a lid on the rim for KU early in recent contests while opponents have struck early and often putting KU in sizeable early holes - Down 16 at K-State, down 14 at Oklahoma, down 18 at Texas Tech, down 14 to Texas, and down 17 to Baylor.

"It's something we've been battling the last few games. We have to make sure if we're down, we're not down 20 points," said sophomore center Cole Aldrich.

The good news is that the Jayhawks have come back in each of these contests winning three of the five, and surely you'd rather lead at the end and not the beginning. But this pattern sends up a red flag heading to March. Climbing out of holes like this puts a huge amount of pressure on both ends of the floor and takes a tremendous amount of energy.

Wednesday, after the loss to Baylor KU head coach Bill Self was asked if these double-digit deficits do come back to bite you, and he answered, "I would say probably, yes." And it has in two of the last three for KU.

This KU team for whatever reason has not particularly been a fast starting group, and again that was the case in Oklahoma City against the Bears.

"Obviously we missed some easy shots and the further we got behind, the basket started shrinking a little bit and felt like we were shooting at the fair," said Self. "I thought we looked like a really tired team today. There was no energy at all."

"We just didn't do a good job today. We were definitely a half step slow or a full step, and they beat us to the majority of the loose balls. We let them get comfortable. You can't let good shooters get comfortable,"

2. Cool them down

"You can't let good shooters get comfortable," a quote by Self which leads us to our next point.  Lately KU has let opposing players operate in a comfort zone early and then had a hard time putting the brakes on a hot scoring stretch. A vaunted Kansas defense has definitely taken its share of hits lately.

Texas Tech's Alan Voskuil torched KU for 35, Texas' Damion James netted 20 in the first half and scored 26 in the game, LaceDarius Dunn scored 24 in Baylor's upset. That's just in the last three games.

"I thought Damion James kicked us Saturday and Voskuil obviously in Lubbock. But today we know how to guard Dunn and we did not guard him the way he should be defended," concluded Self. "He is a good shooter, and good player. We let him get comfortable. It is very, very discouraging. It is something you tried to hang your hat on and something we did a very poor job of."

Opponents average about 39 percent shooting against Kansas but in the last three contests, Baylor shot lights out in the first half (54 percent), Texas shot 56 percent in the first 20 minutes, and Texas Tech shot 45 percent for the game in Lubbock.

Without their patented end of first half runs KU would've been staring at insurmountable deficits heading to the second half. The habit of falling behind early and trying to comeback will have the Jayhawks out of the NCAA Tournament well before they want to be.

3. The leaders

Kansas has two first team all-Big 12 performers on its roster and they need to perform well for Kansas to have success. It is no secret the leaders of this team are Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, and for the most part they have been outstanding this season. Collins is the emotional leader and the leading scorer (18.3 ppg), and Aldrich is a pillar of strength inside averaging over 14 a game and nearly 11 rebounds.

In 28 of KU's 32 games this season one or the other, or both have led the team in scoring. The pressure is on this duo because when you crunch the numbers lately, it is quite simple, if they don't perform, KU doesn't win.

Collins, who is a Wooden award candidate, struggled early against Baylor and with the game on the line had a critical turnover and air-balled the three-point attempt that would've tied the game at 67.

"I take most of it (blame)," Collins said. "I didn't lead the team like I should have."

There is a correlation with the number of shot attempts from Aldrich in recent losses too. In the last two losses Aldrich put up just five shots. Baylor's 2-3 zone was partially responsible, so was Aldrich, but so were his teammates who failed to get him the ball.
"We've still got to find a way to get the ball to our big guy just because that opens up the perimeter and we can hit shots," said Cole.

"I think it is a tribute to their zone," Self responded when asked about Cole taking just five shots. "I think it is a tribute to our perimeter not doing a great job. Cole has to take responsibility for it, too. Guys have to find a way to get the ball. You saw what I saw. This was a game in which he labored probably as much as he has at any point in time this year."

Self admits the team is built around Cole and Sherron. In the last three loses Aldrich and Collins combined for 60 points and shot just 20-70.  

"Here's a couple of guys that made first-team all-league and you want to come to our showcase of our league, which this is, the tournament, and perform your best and kind of validate what everybody else has been saying about you the whole year. We obviously didn't do that."

Moving forward KU turns its attention to selection Sunday wondering about seeding and if it will get to play in Kansas City. But the biggest concern might be to not follow in the footsteps of that 2001 Iowa State team anymore. Kansas was the first number one seed to lose in the first round of the Big 12 tournament since the Cyclones in 2001. That Iowa State team went on to get upset in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament by Hampton.

If Kansas can reverse the above trends, that shouldn't be a problem.

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