East Lansing, Mich. Marcus Morris, the Kansas University basketball player who has the most untapped potential, has identified the problem. Finding the cure presents a greater challenge.
The problem: The sixth man can’t seem to duplicate his first-half performance over the final 20 minutes. In KU’s past five games, Morris has averaged 5.8 points in the first half, 2.8 points in the second. Shooting 60 percent in the first half of those games, he’s hitting 37.5 percent in the second half.
“Yeah, that’s basically what I’m focusing on now, trying to play a better all-around game instead of just the first half,” Morris said.
He and his twin, Markieff, have come a long way in terms of conditioning. Whereas they used to jog up the court, now they’re sprinting. Still, might stamina factor in the second-half fades?
“No, I think I’m conditioned well,” Marcus said. “I think I’m running well at practice. I think I’m a lot more aggressive the first half than the second half.”
The fades, Morris said, sometimes appear more than just in games.
“At practice ... I go hard at the beginning, and sometimes toward the end I start to slack down some,” he said.
Fixing that disparity can’t hurt since, as Morris’ coach is fond of saying, you play how you practice. But recognizing it and fixing it aren’t equal challenges. Some of us have brains that have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time. Training the brain to concentrate for longer stretches can be the key to improving study habits in the library. Why should it be any different on the hardwood? Marcus said he could relate to the library analogy.
Marcus putting together two halves becomes particularly important today because Michigan State has so much size. Raymar Morgan, Michigan State’s small forward and best player, is listed at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds. Playing Marcus Morris at the small forward some could enable Kansas to match up better. Of course, that would require both twins staying out of trouble and playing well enough for coach Bill Self to want them to be on the floor for long stretches.
No. 8 Michigan State not only has three big bodies in the starting lineup, those players know how to use those big bodies to gain position. But it’s not as if the Spartans are the first physical players Kansas has confronted. Marcus Morris listed Washington, led by muscle-bound senior Jon Brockman, as the most physical opponent he has faced.
“Brockman busted my lip two times,” Marcus said.
Asked if he learned anything from that experience, Morris said, “Yeah, move your head back when you jump up in the air because in the first half he busted my lip. Second half, he busted it again, and I had to get stitches the second time. Just not play so aggressive against guys with sharp elbows.”
Or learn how to use your own elbows without getting caught, confront the bully, become the bully. That’s down the road. For now, giving Kansas two good halves, staying out of foul trouble and consistently flashing that mid-range game we heard so much about and saw so little of until recently, would help the cause.