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Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Key for Kansas: depth

Jayhawks also amazingly balanced

March 20, 2008

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2008 NCAA Tournament

Kansas Jayhawks

Stat Stuffer: Pick one. How about F Darrell Arthur (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg)

Why they could win it: So much depth, so much balance. A cold night by one impact player won't doom this team.

What could cost them: Is there one guy ready to take that last shot if it's needed?

Most impressive six-game roll: Kansas State 88-74; Texas Tech 109-51; @Texas A&M 72-55; Nebraska 64-54 (at Big 12 tournament); Texas A&M 77-71 (at Big 12 tournament); Texas 84-74 (at Big 12)

Russell Robinson was wrapping up his Senior Night speech on March 3 after Kansas University's 109-51 basketball beatdown of Texas Tech, when he made the crowd's eyes light up.

Public speaking is no fun for many. But Robinson said he would be all for doing it again, given the ideal circumstances.

"Hopefully, if everything goes according to plan," said Robinson, KU's point guard, "we can be back here in a couple more weeks having another great speech."

Robinson, of course, was envisioning a pep rally at Allen Fieldhouse to celebrate the 2008 national champions.

Obviously, a lot of tedious work is in the way. But the Jayhawks are one of a handful of teams with the manpower to make such a run and come out with a championship to celebrate.

If one needs a reason to consider KU a national-title contender, look at the starting five - and then glance further down at the fresh bodies on the bench ready to give them a break.

Few teams boast the depth of the Jayhawks, who finished the regular season 28-3. Perhaps none have the balance, an immunity against an off night by one or two solid players.

Case in point: In one seven-game stretch earlier this season, six different players led the team in scoring. That run didn't even include guard Sherron Collins, who led KU in scoring twice this season and has emerged as perhaps the team's brightest spark.

Who can teams key on? Who can opponents expect the last shot to go to?

Who knows?

"Darrell Arthur is our leading scorer," KU coach Bill Self said. "Mario Chalmers was our best performer the first half of the season. Darnell Jackson is our most improved. Brandon Rush has been our best performer the second half of the season.

"If you ask me who our best player is, I'd say, 'Wait until the game tonight.' I don't even know."

Arthur was the leading scorer in the regular season at 13.4 points per game. But he was just a nose ahead of Rush (12.3), Chalmers (12.1) and Jackson (11.8).

If Self can't even pick one, how can a scouting report?

Such balance has its faults, of course. No go-to guy means no automatic scorer in crunch time, which cost Kansas in losses to Texas and Oklahoma State.

Arthur is the most aggressive shooter, but foul trouble often plagues him. Rush might be the most talented scorer, but save the occasional outburst he is just as likely to defer as anyone else.

Unselfish basketball is great - until it's time for someone to be selfish.

But really, it's just a small downside for what could prove to be a great team makeup. The nine players in the Jayhawks' rotation have all found a niche, and it's worked. KU went 20-0 at Allen Fieldhouse, including that amazing 58-point rout of Texas Tech on Senior Night.

That game took the lingering doubts surrounding a slumping team and put them in the trash can for good. It also showed that a Kansas squad feeling good about itself can go as far as it needs to when it matters most.

And it matters most right now.

"We're hoping to come back for some more speeches," Jackson said. "Making history. It's about making history.

"We're trying to bring another banner to this place."

Survive the six-game maze, and the Jayhawks will do just that.

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