|No miracles: Kansas relies on balance instead of star to get by|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 01 April 2008 14:31|
Danny Manning is back and the Jayhawks are two wins away from another title, though there's a completely different feel than the improbable run that happened 20 years ago this week.
For one, Manning is on the bench in a suit, offering words of encouragement as an assistant coach instead of willing a group of bit players to a national championship.
There's also a completely different team dynamic. Kansas doesn't have one star. It has a starting lineup full of players who can take over any game at any time and players coming off the bench who could start at just about any other school.
These Jayhawks are like a swarm of bees: swat one and three others will sting you.
``You never know who it is,'' said forward Darnell Jackson, one of four Kansas players to average double-figure scoring this season. ``We've got a lot of guys who bring a lot to the table and we don't worry about who's getting the credit or who's not getting the credit. As long as we play as a team, we're going to win.''
North Carolina has player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. Memphis relies on All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts and freshman sensation Derrick Rose. UCLA has a trio of potential first-round NBA picks in All-American Kevin Love and guards Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook.
Kansas? The Jayhawks couldn't even get one player on the All-Big 12 first team. Kansas was an afterthought on the All-American team as well, with Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur making it as honorable mentions from a team that went 35-3.
But the thing about the Jayhawks is that there's no one way to stop them.
Load up inside and the likes of Rush, Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins will light it up from the perimeter, each shooting 33 percent or better from beyond the arc. Stretch the defense and the rotation of Arthur, Jackson, Sasha Kaun and even freshman Cole Aldrich will bang around for points.
Kansas has had seven different leading scorers in games this season, and six players score at least 20 points. Rush is the leading scorer, averaging 13.1 points per game, but Arthur (12.7) and Chalmers (12.5) aren't far behind.
At times, it's almost if the Jayhawks are taking turns being the man.
Against Texas in the Big 12 tournament title game, it was Chalmers, hitting a record eight 3-pointers on his way to 30 points.
Rush was the top scorer against Portland State and Villanova in the NCAA tournament, then it was Kaun, the senior center, who did the most damage in the regional final against Davidson, scoring a hard-fought 13 points to match Chalmers in a tight, 2-point win.
``Our balance has been part of our success this year, most of our success this year,'' Robinson said. ``Having different guys step up each game has helped us win a lot of games, including the Davidson game.''
It's the same thing on defense.
Robinson and Chalmers are relentless ballhawks. Rush is an underrated defender, his long arms reaching into passing lanes and to contest shots, and Collins' muscular frame allows him to knock opposing point guards off the ball.
Arthur is the most athletic of Kansas' inside players, swooping in for rebounds and blocked shots. Though just 6-foot-8, Jackson has the bulk and explosiveness to battle bigger players, and Kaun is a bundle of energy off the bench. Aldrich, though raw offensively, has already shown a knack for blocking shots and snaring rebounds.
And whether offense or defense, the Jayhawks do it with an anthill mentality: no one player gets too much credit, no one gets too much blame (though there hasn't been much of that to pass around this season).
``They're so good defensively - I think that's the strength of their team,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. ``Their second strength is their athleticism. Their third strength is their unselfishness. Their fourth strength is they have no weakness.''
An argument can be made that Kansas' balance is it's weakness.
When North Carolina needs a big shot, the Tar Heels know Hansbrough will be there to take it, just as he did against Louisville in the regional final. When UCLA finds itself in a tough spot, Love puts the Bruins on his broad shoulders.
The perception is that Kansas doesn't have a go-to guy.
It's a bit of a misconception, though.
For one, the Jayhawks rarely play close games. They led the nation in scoring margin, winning by an average of 19.4 points per game.
And it's not like Self holds some kind of random drawing when things get tight.
If he needs someone to take over a game or hit a big shot, he's going to turn to Chalmers, Rush or Arthur; in all but one of Kansas' nine games decided by six points or less this season, one of those three players led the Jayhawks in scoring.
``I probably have a better idea than you guys think of who we want to take the last shot,'' Self said. ``It doesn't always play out that way. The strength of our team is balance and if you're going to make a negative of our team it's balance. It comes down to a last possession and we want to get the ball into certain guys' hands, I think we can certainly do that.''