Reserves good, but Morris twins key for KU basketball — again

Thomas Robinson and Brady Morningstar, the sixth and seventh men when the team is at full strength, were a big part of the story Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., when Kansas University looked so smooth in hammering Nebraska. Most of the talk centered on Mario Little and Travis Releford, the eighth and ninth men on the team in Monday night’s impressive 103-86 victory against Missouri in Allen Fieldhouse, and rightly so.

Still, no matter which supporting players stand out on any given night, nothing ever really changes. It’s Marcus and Markieff Morris, the junior twin brothers from Philadelphia, who make Kansas such a nightmare to face.

They not only give KU the huge advantage going into nearly every game, each post player has an advantage on his man in nearly every offensive skill the game demands.

Most obviously, they pass the ball far better than most post players. Trap them, as Missouri did Markieff, and watch him fire the ball to the opposite corner that resulted in three points. Double Marcus and watch Markieff sprint to the basket for an easy bucket on a pass from his brother.

“This team is not a great passing team individually, but because Marcus and Markieff are so advanced skill-set-wise, we really give the appearance of being a team that can really pass it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We can play through our bigs in our half-court offense with people not really thinking we’re playing through our bigs because they’re so good when they catch the ball in certain situations.”

They make their teammates look better, just as Todd Reesing did during his remarkable career as KU’s quarterback. They do the things for Kansas that point guards usually do for teams.

Former NBA star Paul Pressey, a teammate of Missouri coach Mike Anderson at Tulsa, played in such a way as to inspire the invention of a new position: point forward. The Morris twins, playing in a game that featured two of Pressey’s sons playing on the perimeter for the opposition, played like point posts. Their passing radar is just one of the ways they set themselves apart.

Never do the Morris twins play a game in which the other post players have better hands than they have. They catch everything thrown to them and don’t bobble rebounds.

Rare is the college basketball post player who can blow by his man on the dribble as easily as Marcus does. On most nights, they have a big advantage on their men as inside scorers, because of their strength and quickness, and on the perimeter, because of their shooting touches.

Most big men have trouble keeping up with them running the floor, which is a big reason Kansas doesn’t get burned by three-pointers in defensive transition, and a factor in the twins doing so well at establishing inside position on offense.

Their superb body control and clever footwork make them better than most at drawing fouls.

Too often, big men look as if they play the game because they’re tall and somebody told them they needed to put that height to use. The Morris twins look as if they play the game because they were born thinking it, so why not play it? Smart players.

Missouri held Marcus scoreless the first 10 minutes of the game, and he finished with a game-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds (five offensive) and three assists. Markieff, showing a hook shot that’s looking better all the time and a desire to make himself feared at the defensive end, pitched in with 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. Combined, they made 13 of 17 field goals.

The 19th-ranked Tigers (18-6 overall, 4-5 in the Big 12) shot the ball well (51.7 percent), took good care of the basketball (eight turnovers). Their guards showed they are quicker with the ball than the KU guards are defending it. They did a lot of things that winning teams usually do, but like most teams, Mizzou had no answer for the twins.

Once Marcus established himself in the paint, Kansas steadily pulled away.

“I felt like in the first half I was very ineffective, and coach told me at halftime, ‘Play like an All-American, play like people expect you to play.’ So I just tried to play hard and these guys backed me up,” said Marcus, who had 17 points in KU’s 57-point second half.

Kansas shot .667 in the second 20 minutes.

“Coach said, ‘Get it down low, get it down low, get it down low,’ in the second half,” Marcus said. “That’s what he was saying because he just felt like we weren’t doing that in the first half. We weren’t getting their bigs in foul trouble. I felt like we did that real well in the second half.”

So well, in fact, that Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers, Missouri’s starting post players, combined for seven personal fouls. Marcus went to the line 12 times in the second half. He only made seven of them, keeping KU from topping the 60 mark in a second half in which the team he leads looked frighteningly good.