KU basketball team displays shades of ’08 national champions?
Lincoln, Neb. ? Balance. Efficiency. Unselfishness. Versatility. Depth. They all described Kansas University’s 2008 national-championship team, and they all fit this year’s squad, which illustrated that in convincing fashion Saturday during a two-hour clinic on how to turn ball movement into points.
No Kansas player took more than eight shots from the field, and the Jayhawks defeated Nebraska, 86-66, in the first sellout at the Devaney Center since the ’08 team visited in January.
That team did some things better than this one, such as defend the post and the perimeter, and score more efficiently in transition. Then again, the country, and certainly the Big 12, isn’t stocked with as much experienced talent now as three years ago.
As was the case with the ’08 team, this one has seven starters. Sasha Kaun and Sherron Collins technically didn’t start, but they often finished games and looked like starters when they played. The same goes for Brady Morningstar and Thomas Robinson on this 22-1 team.
Josh Selby (stress reaction, right foot) sat this one out, so naturally Morningstar, his replacement in the starting lineup, was the star of the game.
Morningstar consistently fed the post and would have finished with far more than six assists had hard fouls not denied KU’s big men field goals. The ball moves when he’s on the court, and when the ball moves a post player gets a one-on-one matchup or a perimeter player gets an open shot.
Nebraska made one of Morningstar’s beneficiaries earn his points at the line, and Thomas Robinson made the Huskers pay for their Hack-a-T-Rob — that really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? — strategy. He hit his first six free-throw attempts, before missing his final two.
Marcus and Markieff Morris totaled just five fouls between them, so Robinson was needed for just 16 minutes in this one, and he certainly made the most of them with eight points, six rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
One of his first-half free throws went in off the backboard to keep alive a streak of made free throws that reached 11.
“I was on a real hot streak,” Robinson said with the grin that dominates his face. “I don’t have anything I’m doing different. I’m just getting more consistent with it.”
A .395 free-throw shooter during his freshman season, Robinson is shooting .528 from the line this season. It’s still not a strength and is just one of many areas where he has improved, so much so that he’s averaging 15.4 minutes per game backing up Marcus and Markieff Morris, compared to 7.2 minutes as a freshman.
He and Morningstar are the main reasons that either foul trouble or an injury to a starter doesn’t erode the team’s considerable confidence.
“It’d be hard to lose Marcus or Markieff … ” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The way Thomas is playing now gives you more confidence that if one of those guys were to get in foul trouble or whatever, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
Playing so well without Selby against the Cornhuskers proved the quality of the back-court depth.
“Certainly on the perimeter, I feel pretty confident we have enough guys that we can throw somebody out there, and they’ll deliver,” Self said. “The thing about it is when you recruit a good player, they are supposed to play. These guys were highly recruited guys. Some of them don’t get their opportunities as often, but when they do get that opportunity, you have to make the most of it. I really don’t expect much of a drop-off, even though I know our best players have to play. I think we have a bunch of best players.”
And Saturday, not one of those “best players” attempted more than eight field goals for a team that scored 86 points. Think that happens very often at any level?