Stillwater, Okla. The long arm of the law comes in multiple forms in Lawrence.
The cop who hides in the Dollar General Store parking lot must get a kick out of east-bound drivers who come tearing around the bend, heading downhill, only to spot the squad car. The foot immediately comes off the gas pedal, the whole body tenses up, the goal becomes surviving without a ticket, not reaching the destination as quickly as possible.
Big 12 basketball players can relate to such drivers. They head into the lane, spot the long arm of Cole Aldrich, slam on the brakes, try to survive.
Aldrich’s disruptive defense is as much responsible for Kansas University’s 27-1 record as any single factor. He averages 5.6 blocks per 40 minutes of action and threatens shots in such a large area in all directions he influences games to an even greater extent than that number suggests.
Aldrich is not alone in contesting shots. Jeff Withey has blocked five shots in 40 minutes. Thomas Robinson averages 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes, Markieff Morris 2.1. Kansas, which ranks No. 1 nationally in defending two-point shots (38.5 percent compared to a national average of 47.7 percent), ranks eighth nationally with 6.6 blocked shots per game.
Against KU, the closer foes advance to the basket, the more panicky they become in hurrying up shots. Consider this statistical oddity: In Big 12 play, Kansas opponents shoot a slightly higher percentage (39) from three-point range than from inside the arc (38.7).
The abundance of shot-blockers helps more than the defense, according to one of the team’s non-shot-blockers.
“Going against Withey and Cole and Thomas and ’Kieff every day in practice, I’ve become good at avoiding great shot blockers,” Marcus Morris said. “Although, Dexter Pittman did block my shot at Texas. He threw it out of bounds. I just looked up, and it was out of bounds.”
That’s the thing about blocked shots. The shooters tend to remember them.
“In practice, Cole’s not as aggressive at blocking shots as in games,” Marcus said. “You watch the games, he’s almost a shot-blocking machine. Almost every time the ball goes up, he’s trying to block it. In practice, I think he just lays low a little bit and saves his blocks for the game.”
Nobody disputes Aldrich is the best shot-blocker in games. The numbers support that, as does the tendency for opposing drivers to retreat.
“Withey might be the best shot-blocker in practice,” Marcus said. “Every time you go up, you have to throw it a little bit higher against Withey.”
Adjusting shots against Oklahoma State won’t be a high priority. The Cowboys, neither as tall nor as deep down low as Kansas, average just 2.2 blocks in Big 12 action.
Oklahoma State has a lot going for it today. It has a charged crowd in a building that is among the toughest in the conference to visit. It’s armed with the urgency of an NCAA Tournament bubble team. It has James Anderson.
The Cowboys don’t have shot-blockers, and Kansas does, which means if one coach laments after the game, “We missed too many layups,” it’s going to be Travis Ford.