Although it is not a quality that observers
usually want to spend much time addressing, defense is a key reason why
Kansas obtained the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks held opponents to 63.8 points, the
best average in the Big 12 -- a league it dominated with a 15-1 record
before claiming the conference tournament championship for the seventh
time. With the No. 1 seed, Kansas opens against Lehigh (22-10)
Sure, Kansas is potent offensively and loaded with
a variety of weapons. Opponents must play the Jayhawks honest, even
though help is often needed to prevent penetration by senior point
guard Sherron Collins or extra muscle to keep center Cole Aldrich from
dominating the glass.
Other threats can hurt opponents just as easily,
including forward Marcus Morris along the baseline, guard Xavier Henry
from 3-point range and guard Tyshawn Taylor with his quickness off the
dribble. Backups Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar can also shoot
daggers from 3-point range.
But credit goes to Kansas coach Bill Self for
getting his team to buy into the toughness needed on the defensive end.
As much as their offensive versatility, defense influences the 18-point
scoring margin the Jayhawks averaged while going 32-2.
"That's what makes Bill Self as good as anyone in
this country," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin, "because he takes
big-time talented players and he gets them to play unselfishly and as
hard as anyone in the country defensively."
Martin knows best. Of the seven defeats his team
suffered, three were against Kansas. The last came in the finals of the
Big 12 Tournament when the Jayhawks answered every comeback bid the
Wildcats mounted before winning a 72-64 standoff. Kansas triumphed by
allowing just 35 percent shooting, and did so cleanly, permitting
Kansas State just 14 free throws even though the Wildcats came in
leading the nation in attempts from the line.
Although Aldrich has had a so-so year offensively,
the All-Big 12 center is a big key on defense because he rejects and
redirects shots. He averages 9.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. In last
year's NCAA Tournament he posted a triple-double in the second round.
As frustrating as the Kansas attack has been at
times, waiting for brief spurts to step on the gas and put teams away,
solid defense is a constant in most games. The only Big 12 defeat came
at Oklahoma State, when the hot-shooting Cowboys made 60 percent of
their shot attempts.
--The 32-win season is the seventh for Kansas,
though the Jayhawks reached that total three of the past four seasons.
It won 15 league games for the fourth time since the inception of the
Big 12 in 1996-97, claimed its 10th Big 12 title and seventh Big 12
--With its 3-0 run through the Big 12 Tournament,
Kansas became just the third program in the country to net 2,000 wins
in its history. The others are Kentucky and North Carolina. The
achievement was celebrated with special shirts that were made for the
Jayhawks following their first-round win against Texas Tech.
COACH: Bill Self, seven years at Kansas,
seven at NCAA Tournament.
KEYS TO VICTORY: Kansas experiences inexplicable
fits offensively when it seems to play to the level of its opponents.
Turnovers, bad shots and lapses in execution are common. The key is to
remain patient and then capitalize on decisive runs. Defense not only
helps the Jayhawks withstand offensive funks, but also influences
breakaways. The leadership of the team's lone senior, G Sherron
Collins, is huge, not only because he can carry the team on his back
but because he demands the full attention of his teammates. Do not
underestimate the ability of Bill Self and his staff at scouting
opponents and preparing for all tendencies. It's a reason why Kansas is
so good defensively.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just need to keep doing what
we're doing and just continue to get a little bit better and stay away
from distractions and have fun, and be confident. If we do those
things, I'm confident that we'll play well." -- Kansas coach Bill Self.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: Attempting to concentrate on a
specific Kansas threat is a foolish game plan. The Jayhawks' balanced
scoring reflects the offensive value of everyone in their primary
rotation. Limiting G Sherron Collins is a nice start, though the senior
is content distributing the ball and allowing others to contribute as
much as he wants to influence games with his scoring. Along the
interior, C Cole Aldrich has not looked for his shot as much as he
needs to, but remains an incredible force on defense and the boards. Do
not overlook the 3-point arc, where Collins, G Xavier Henry and G Tyrel
Reed all help the Jayhawks gain quick momentum.
Kansas 80, Texas Tech 68 (Big 12 Tournament
Kansas 79, Texas A&M 66 (Big 12 Tournament
Kansas 72, Kansas State 64 (Big 12 Tournament
vs. Lehigh, Thursday, March 18, NCAA Tournament,
--G Tyrel Reed connected on two crucial 3-pointers
and contributed a career-high 15 points in the Big 12 Tournament
championship win against Kansas State.
--F Marcus Morris led the Jayhawks in scoring and
rebounding for the fifth time with 18 points and eight rebounds against
--G Sherron Collins distributed a game-high seven
assists against Kansas State. He averages 4.4 assists and also leads
the 15.6-point average.
It's the Defense, Stupid
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