Now is the Time

Kansas took care of Lehigh on Thursday but faces a much more difficult road from here on out and it starts with Northern Iowa Saturday.

No disrespect to Lehigh but if Kansas sleepwalks on defense and fails to hit shots during a large portion of Saturday's game, Northern Iowa will capitalize.

Lehigh played with great effort and poise but let's face it we are still a ways away from a 16 seed being able to sustain enough firepower to take out a 1 seed. It may happen someday but until then 1 seeds are a perfect 102-0.

But the 90-74 win by the Jayhawks was enough to bring to light some causes for concern for KU.

This is a Jayhawk squad built on defense and giving up that many points (especially the 45 points in the second half) to Lehigh isn't Kansas basketball. If this team is going to win a title it is going to be because it defends better than anybody on any given night.

"I thought our defense was not very good at all, and I thought offensively the first half we were pretty stale and didn't shoot it very good," said KU head coach Bill Self after the game. "The second half offense's efficiently was very good. But we gave up 45 points. I never felt in the second half after we started playing that we were in jeopardy of losing the game, but I did feel like we just didn't put them away. And I think that give them credit on that as much as anything else. They kept making some plays."

KU's interior defense specifically at times was lacking. It was somewhat shocking to see Zahir Carrington, who is 6-7, score with such ease. Carrington finished with 15 points and really didn't become ineffective until KU started trapping the post.

On the perimeter, don't let the baby face fool you - C.J. McCollum can really stroke it. Kansas knew that going in but the talented frosh was still able to net 26 points on 7-21 shooting. It has been a problem for KU all season but they need to defend the three-point line better. In most of the upsets that occurred Thursday, and there were a lot, three-pointers were at the heart of most of them. The Panthers are 17th in the nation from behind the arc and proved on Thursday they've got plenty of perimeter marksmen to do damage (9-19 from three). 47 percent is about what they hit on average for the season and Northern Iowa shot that number on Thursday but none bigger than the game-winner from Ali Farokhmanesh (5-9 from three for the game).

"I'm not leaving out of here totally fired up right now, because I know that if we defend like that, then it will be very difficult, very, very difficult anyway, to beat Northern Iowa, and that would certainly make it a real tough challenge, because we've got to be better than that defensively," said Self.

The good news for Kansas wasn't totally absent. Collins (18 pts) led the team again and scored like he needs to for KU to win this thing. Cole Aldrich was a dominating presence on the defensive end (11pts, 5 blocks), though I still think KU needs more an offensive presence from the big fella. Marcus Morris (26 points, 10 rebounds) continues to be huge and his versatility still provides a nightmare matchup for any team.

"His game has grown a lot, to be honest with you," said Carrington who played high school ball against Marcus. "Playing him in high school, they were, first of all, they weren't as bulky. They put on some size and weight. His game has expanded as far as being able to shoot the ball. Before he was a decent shooter, but now I think with that and his game at his height, that allows him to stretch the floor and stuff."

Another bright spot on the perimeter for the second straight game was Tyrel Reed. The KU junior came off the bench and hit critical shots with 12 points on 4-7 shooting from three.  

"He was a significant factor in this game tonight, without a doubt," admitted Lehigh head coach Brett Reed. "We were trying to patrol the interior and provide as much help as we could because we were outsized in our front-court positions. It was a constant battle. And when you require other people to come over for help or change some of your defensive schemes, occasionally you let somebody loose on the perimeter. Reed was really able to capitalize on each of those shots in that type of situation."

"Tyrel was probably the most efficient player we had in the game offensively because his shots came at big times, which really kind of kept the game, the distance great enough where we never really felt threatened," Self added.

Be sure of this. Northern Iowa is a legitimate threat. The Panthers will undoubtedly be up for the challenge KU presents. They have weapons in the starting five and on the bench, the Panthers have size in the post (7-0 Jordan Eglseder), and threats on the perimeter. The headlines read "KU crushes Lehigh", "Kansas Rolls" but KU fans and the coaching staff know differently. There was plenty to raise an eyebrow over and know that if parts of the Lehigh game rear their ugly head again KU could go home way earlier then planned.

But keep this in mind Marcus and Markieff worked hard over the summer so that an early exit wouldn't happen again, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich returned to win a national title, Xavier Henry came to KU to win a championship, and this staff has been here before. Now is not the time for KU to doubt itself, now is the time to bring an "A" game it will need from here on out.

With a remarkable 33-2 record I still don't think we've seen the best for 40 minutes from this KU team. Don't get me wrong, there have been impressive stretches and KU is a spurt team. But now would be a good time to put together an iron clad 40-minute game against a tough opponent.

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