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Archive for Thursday, November 17, 2005

20 Q with Tom

J-W sports editor Tom Keegan asks and answers those toughies burning in the minds of KU fans

November 17, 2005

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This afternoon is the final dress rehearsal, and starting Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse, the Kansas University men's basketball team, so young and inexperienced, so talented and explosive, will begin answering the looming questions. Just how good can KU be?

If 65 percent of the following 20 questions can be answered affirmatively, give the Jayhawks a passing grade all the way to the Sweet 16.

1. With the influx of high school All-Americans accustomed to leading their teams in scoring and only one basketball on the floor at a time, will there be enough shots to go around?

Yes. All of the new players are gifted passers and unselfish with the basketball.

"I love that nobody cares who scores," KU coach Bill Self said. That not being an issue, he's more concerned with getting them to make the pass that keeps the play going, rather than holding the ball with the idea of making the pass that finishes the play.

2. Will the players remain loyal to their coach, only their coach, and no other coach?

Yes. The Roy Williams loyalty faction is gone, though some of his recruits remain.

3. Can C.J. Giles stay out of foul trouble often enough to average a minimum of 25 minutes a game?

Yes, but it won't be easy. Self said much of the responsibility here lay with the guards who must play sound defense and not gamble so much, because when they gamble and lose, a helping Giles is in danger of committing a foul.

4. Can Micah Downs improve enough defensively to warrant 25 minutes a game?

Not likely this season, which is too bad, because it's easy to imagine the defense collapsing on the slashing Brandon Rush, who could set up Downs for numerous three-pointers.

5. Can the Jayhawks develop into one of the top three-point shooting teams in the Big 12 Conference?

No. Not unless Downs can become a good enough defender to get those 25 minutes a game. Mario Chalmers is a three-point threat, and so was Jeff Hawkins last season. Jeremy Case won't play enough to make a difference and still needs to prove he can come off the bench cold and shooting hot.

6. Will KU play as well against zone defenses as man-to-man?

No. Players such as Rush and Russell Robinson will fare better against man-to-man defenses.

7. Can Self, given the depth of talent, maintain good team chemistry as he narrows his rotation and leaves some players feeling as if they are getting shafted?

Yes, especially now that Darnell Jackson has been suspended for nine games. The season-opening nine-man rotation should shape up with Giles, Sasha Kaun, Christian Moody and Julian Wright sharing the minutes down low and Robinson, Rush, Hawkins, Chalmers and Downs getting the perimeter minutes.

The issue becomes who gets slighted minutes (Moody or Wright) when Jackson returns and whose minutes Rodrick Stewart will take if he can crack the rotation once he becomes eligible.

8. Is Robinson as good at making shots as creating them?

No. As a rule, Robinson's shots look better at the start than the finish. He defends well, is in great shape and has improved his ballhandling, but the burden of proof rests with him on the issue of shooting efficiency.

9. Will Stewart force his way into the rotation once eligible by playing such disruptive pressure defense that Self can't keep him grounded to the bench?

Yes, or else he won't play a lick. He wasn't recruited for his shooting touch, having made three of 30 three-pointers as a freshman at USC. Becoming a disruptive defender is Stewart's only chance of playing since he has the worst shooting touch of the KU perimeter players. His size, strength, quickness and hunger for playing time add up to a potentially terrific defender.

10. Can such a young team play nearly as well on the road as at home in the deep Big 12 Conference?

No. Veterans tend to be far better road players than rookies, and the Jayhawks are so inexperienced Moody is the leading returning scorer and rebounder.

11. Can the Jayhawks extend their winning streak over Kansas State to 33 games by sweeping the regular-season series?

Yes.

12. When all else breaks down, will the Jayhawks have a go-to scorer?

Yes. Everything about Rush screams clutch player. He'll miss big shots at times because he's not a great shooter, but here's guessing he does his best shooting with the shot clock and game clock dwindling.

13. Can Kaun make 60 percent of his free throws?

No. It's not realistic to think Kaun can make more than half of his free throws when he made one-third of them a year ago.

14. Will Wright relax and not try so hard to prove he's ready for the big-time already?

Yes, but it's not going to happen overnight. He did a better job of calming down in the second exhibition than the first.

15. In the past, visiting teams complained about the poor lighting. Will the Jayhawks be able to maintain as big a home-court advantage with the brighter lights?

Yes. It's the bodies that fill the place that fuel the players on the home team and force fatigue to set in quicker for the opposition. The lighting shouldn't make much of a difference.

16. Will all the sold student tickets be used, despite a new ticket-exchange policy that apparently so frustrated some students there were empty seats at the exhibition games?

Yes. They'll figure it out and make sure the tickets are used.

17. As it gets late in the season and becomes apparent some of KU's players are being looked at by NBA scouts who wonder if they are ready to make the jump to the NBA, will those players avoid the temptation to play for the scouts instead for teammates?

Yes. They should be smart enough to know that the best way to impress a scout is to do everything possible to win the game that scout is watching. Besides, there isn't anybody on this team that wouldn't improve his chances of a having a long, lucrative career by staying at least one more year playing for Self.

18. Will Chalmers be good enough to start by the opener of the Big 12 season?

Yes. He won't have to wait that long. He's smart, a great ballhandler who can create shots for himself and teammates and a gifted passer. Once gets more sound and intense defensively, he'll be running the show.

19. Can Jackson, suspended for nine games, pick his game back up to the level it was at before the suspension?

Yes. And that's a good thing. He's in great shape and should be able to maintain his conditioning because he's allowed to practice with the Jayhawks.

He can't travel with the team, however, but it's not as if he'll be spending all his time eating donuts at Joe's Bakery while the team is on the road.

Jackson's presence makes it easier to swallow Kaun and Giles getting into foul trouble.

20. Would overzealous booster Don Davis have been as interested in advising Jackson's spirit if Jackson did not have the height, build, agility and work ethic to potentially become a basketball player for Davis' alma mater?

Only Davis can answer that question. But something tells me the answer starts with the letter "n" and has one more letter, a vowel, oh I wish I could remember which vowel.

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