By Paul Gotham
Tough week for the Jayhawks
Seven days ago Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks looked like an unstoppable force. One week later, the Jayhawks’ staff might want to spend some time reading the tea leaves.
Without a doubt, the Jayhawks will have some say in who wins this year’s national title. The degree to which they have that say will depend upon how Self’s crew reacts to their games against Cornell and Tennessee.
The Jayhawks can not ignore how their shot frequency and shot selection were dictated to them by the Big Red and the Vols.
Kansas beat Cornell 71-66 – a game where the Jayhawks trailed at home with 4:00 remaining. Cornell’s strategy was simple: limit the number of shots by Kansas. The Jayhawks took 49 shots against Cornell. In comparison, Kansas took 63 shots versus UCLA, 60 against Cal, and 61 vs. LaSalle. It sounds simple because it is. Limit your opponents shots and you will limit their chances to score.
Cornell played patiently on the offensive end. Kansas was unaccustomed to the change in speed and they struggled to get any rhythm in their offense.
Tennessee dictated WHERE Kansas would take their shots. The undermanned Vols put on a defensive transition clinic. The Vols demonstrated an understanding of priority in defensive transition – ball, block, and first pass. That is, Tennessee got back in the paint and organized themselves quickly. From there, Tennessee played zone and made the Jayhawks shoot over them. The Kansas starting front court of Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris attempted a combined 10 shots all night. That was shot attempts. Kansas took 61 shots. Tennessee dictated where they would take those shots.
The Jayhawks can expect to see these strategies in the future.
Ivy League thinking at large
Cornell’s performance at the Phog Allen Fieldhouse was no fluke. The Big Red has already beaten Alabama and St. John’s.
Cornell had another close call with Seton Hall. They have earned an RPI ranking of 34. For the last two years the Big Red have represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament. The Big Red packs plenty of experience.
Cornell is not the only Ivy team making noise. Harvard has an RPI of 49.
The Crimson have wins over Boston College and George Washington to go with a close loss to Georgetown.
Xavier playing truth or consequences
The Atlantic 10 has worked their way into the top five of conference RPI. With the likes of Temple, Dayton, Richmond, Charlotte, and Rhode Island either earning spots or votes in the Top 25, the A10 has vaulted ahead of the SEC and Pac 10.
What’s missing is the Xavier Musketeers who have made two Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last decade. The next four games could go a long way in proving whether the X-Men will earn an NCAA bid this year. Xavier hosts Charlotte tonight and Dayton Saturday before visiting Temple next Wednesday and hosting Rhode Island a week from Saturday.
Keep Michigan State on the radar
The Spartans returned three starters from last year’s national final team which created high expectations. With three losses it is easy to overlook the Spartans.
But don’t forget Tom Izzo still roams the sidelines for the Spartans. So while everyone talks about the undefeated teams, John Wall, and the daily hype, Izzo coaches. The three losses can be deceiving. Izzo has used nine different starting lineups. One can only imagine how many finishing lineups he has used – and the lineup at the end of the game is the one that matters.
Part of that shuffling included taking Kalin Lucas out of the starting five. Many coaches give in to their stars. Not Izzo. Actually, Izzo does not coach stars. Examine that lineup closely; you won’t find any McDonald’s All-Americans. Izzo teaches team play, and that takes time. The results speak for themselves: 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, 5 Final Fours, and one National Title.
First team All-Casey
PG Sherron Collins – Kansas
SG Jeremy Hazell – Seton Hall
SF Wesley Johnson – Syracuse
PF Al-Farouq Aminu – Wake Forest
C Dexter Pittman – Texas
2nd Team All Casey
PG – Jon Scheyer – Duke
SG Matt Bouldin – Gonzaga
SF Robbie Hummel – Purdue
PF Patrick Patterson – Kentucky
C Jason Love – Xavier
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