Archive for Saturday, January 13, 2007

Keegan: Pieces in place for KU

January 13, 2007

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— The bank clock says 5 degrees. The schedule says it's time for Kansas University to play Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. It's another trap game for the Jayhawks, as in trap the opponent into a state of retreat, even panic.

Oklahoma State didn't have a reliable point guard, lacked depth and had the misfortune to be playing in front of a crowd stoked for the beginning of Big 12 Conference play. It all combined for a lopsided loss Wednesday night for the Cowboys in Allen Fieldhouse.

KU won't have the crowd on its side this time, and road teams tend to get whistled for more fouls. And the Jayhawks, who made five of nine three-point shots against Oklahoma State, are always a threat to go stale in the half-court offense, misfiring from long distance.

Still, it's difficult to imagine Iowa State ending KU's eight-game winning streak, or even keeping the final margin in single digits.

Given the way Kansas was able to defeat Florida in overtime in November and the way the Jayhawks have defended the post and perimeter of late, it's easier to picture Bill Self's fourth Kansas team giving the coach his first trip to a Final Four after he took three different schools to the Elite Eight.

Freshman guard Sherron Collins' words didn't sound unrealistic when he was asked to name his goal for the season.

"To get as good as we can get and finish up in Atlanta," Collins said.

A half dozen reasons why the Jayhawks can't be counted out of contention for a Final Four run:

1. In Mario Chalmers, Kansas has a go-to scorer who is difficult to shut down. Play up on him to keep him from tossing in three-point darts, and he'll blow by his man. Drop off your man to pick him up, and he'll quickly feed the open man. He's an excellent finisher going hard to the hoop, or can pull up for teardrops that are tougher shots than he makes them appear.

2. With Sasha Kaun back to full strength, Julian Wright challenging more shots and Darrell Arthur's length being a big factor, Kansas is defending the post much better.

3. Collins will continue to improve in the area of playing under control and already is good enough to give Self an attractive option alongside Chalmers. If Kansas needs defense, Self can go with Russell Robinson. If the Jayhawks need to pick up the pace in transition and in the half-court offense, or need a zone-busting shooter, Collins is the way to go.

4. Brandon Rush's versatility has been on display all season. Rush has frustrated everyone from Florida's 6-foot-11 finesse power forward Joakim Noah to Oklahoma State's 6-foot-3 scorer JamesOn Curry.

5. Self made it his New Year's resolution to be more patient and positive with his players, which if he sticks to it, should result in them shooting better because positive reinforcement generally results in better shooting.

6. Wright, though still not a consistently poised offensive player, has improved enough to see more and more minutes at the small-forward position, which gives Self so many more options at both ends of the floor.

Kansas isn't playing like a Final Four team yet, but Atlanta doesn't feel as far away as it did a month ago.

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