65 not a given…

In one of the most anticipated games of the year, Kansas looks to extend its’ home winning streak to 65.  While an unranked visiting opponent wouldn’t normally generate much interest, this game is different.  The tension is palpable.  This will be the debut of Josh Selby, one of the most written about college freshmen to never take the floor.  This will also be the first game that the team chemistry changes significantly.

Coach Self had wanted to ease Selby into the mix, mostly because of chemistry issues, but that luxury seems to have taken a wrong turn on the way to the Douglas County Jail early this morning when Mario Little was booked on criminal trespass and assault charges.  Granted, the Jayhawks have enough depth at the guard position to have navigated this detour without Selby.  Starting guards Tyshawn Taylor and  Tyrel Reed are both averaging over 27 minutes per game. Brady Morningstar, at the third guard position, is averaging just under 25 minutes through the first nine games of the season.  Little, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson have each been playing 15-16 minutes,

With Little out of the lineup, there is instantly a 16.3 minute role for Selby to start with, and his actual game play will determine whether that number increases or decreases throughout the season.  In many ways, this is a blessing for the Jayhawks, who despite being undefeated, have seemed a bit listless at times, and really needed a shakeup.  

The Bleacher Report has written extensively about the Jayhawks this year, praising Mario Little’s veteran leadership off the bench, and specifically touting his clutch-time plays in the waning minutes of the UCLA game.  But even they are seeing the lack of energy and focus displayed thus far this season:

The Kansas Jayhawks are flawed.

Yes, they are undefeated and ranked fourth in the polls.  True, KU is considered a consensus national title contender.  Agreed, the Jayhawks offense has looked like the best in the country this season.

But none of that changes what this team has exhibited over the last few games of the young season.  In underwhelming, closer-than-the-score-indicated wins over Arizona, UCLA, Memphis and Colorado State, KU has been—in the words of coach Bill Self—”soft.”

Guards make careless turnovers under ball pressure, bigs play matador post defense, and an overwhelming stench of entitlement has emanated from the Jayhawks over the last two weeks.

Quite simply, the 2010-11 Kansas Jayhawks aren’t as good as their record says they are or their stellar statistics suggest, and it’s all due to a lack of toughness, hunger and willpower.

The article goes on to say how good an early season loss for the Jayhawks would be in the long run, just to shake the team up.  I’m really hoping that Little’s departure combined with the emergence of Selby will do the trick, since I really can’t disagree with all the points made.

Despite USC (6-4) being unranked this season, they dominated #19 Texas in the second half of the December 5 game with energy and an outstanding second-half defense, posting a 73-56 win over the Longhorns.  The Trojans then followed up with a less impressive outing against Northern Arizona, eking out a 60-52 win.  Possibly the good news about USC for the Jayhawks is that 5 of their 6 wins have come at home, with the sole exception being a neutral site victory over New Mexico State (3-7).

USC’s fortunes seem to rest on the play of 6’10 Serbian center, Nikola Vucevic (16.5 ppg), who scored a season high 24 points against Texas, although he has been known to play selfishly to the detriment of his team. Marcus will most likely be matched up against Vucevic for most of the game, as the Trojans only go about 7 deep.  Markieff and TRob will be defending USC’s other 6’10 forward, Alex Stephenson (8.6 ppg), who is occasionally spelled by 6’6 Garret Jackson, who is only averaging 4.6 ppg in 12.5 minutes.  This is maybe the first time all season that the Jayhawks haven’t ceded backcourt depth to an opponent.

With all the distractions surrounding this game, number 65 isn’t going to come easy.  Let’s just hope that this week has been enough of a shake-up for the ‘Hawks to get their heads on straight, and come to play some basketball.  It will be exciting to see what all of the Selby-hype has been about, and if he can play at this level as well as he did in high school.  With Mario (and his girlfriend) opening the way for additional playing time, we should get an extended look at the frosh on Saturday.

Topics: Bill Self, Elijah Johnson, Josh Selby, Kansas, Kansas Jayhawks, Tyshawn Taylor, University Of California Los Angeles, USC Trojans

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