Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Kansas Preview

To get a feel for the biggest game in the history of college basketball (no hyperbole on this blog), I did the whole Q&A thing with Cory Brenneman of Rock Chalk Talk. Check out their site here if you wanted to see what a real blog's supposed to look like as opposed to this shady operation. It's kind of embarrassing really. I asked questions that I thought might make me sound either funny or smart, and Cory was gracious enough to humor me with answers. If you want to find out that Tyrel Reed is the name of a white guy, how a kid from Kansas with a dream could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong, and how many pancakes Mark Mangino eats in one sitting, read on my friends. Read on.

Peanut Butter and a Blanket: So we all know KU won it all last year. Then the team lost its top three players to the NBA. How much of a rebuilding year did you expect this to be? And how pleased are KU fans to have won the Big 12 and earned a 3 seed in this tournament?

Cory Brenneman: Actually, we lost more than just the top three. We lost all 5 starters, and the second guy off of our bench. Really, in what was a 7-man rotation we basically had, we are returning one player (Sherron Collins), plus the 8th member who saw, at most, 4 minutes a game (Cole Aldrich). So, yes, this was definitely a planned rebuilding year. Despite the notorious Final Four-or-bust expectations at the basketball bluebloods, like Kansas, we all are very impressed. I did a post at the beginning of conference play, trying to convince some people that, if everything broke right, we could maybe tie Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. So, we've come quite far. However, now that we're here, we aren't just willing to settle. This season is already a success, in my mind, but that doesn't mean that we don't want more. Realistically, once we saw the brackets the goal became the Sweet 16. It won't be easy, but it's feasible.

PBB: What were the reasonable expectations for this year's Kansas squad? I think there is a chance (not sure how large) that UD will be content or complacent just to have gone this far. I take it KU fans don't have that same concern?

CB: The goals for most Kansas fans, me included, saw a Top 4 finish in the Big 12 and a single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe, if we improved a bunch, we could win a game in the Tournament. If you were a big dreamer back in November, you thought the Sweet 16 was the ultimate goal. This season has, obviously, already passed those expectations, and is already, in my mind, a success. But this is still Kansas, and they won't be willing to settle with a single victory. Even in such a rebuilding year, a 2nd round upset wouldn't look good in the history books of Kansas, where, in 10 years, would forget this was a senior-less team. With Sherron Collins leading the way, I doubt we'll be truly satisfied until we are cutting down the nets for the second year in a row. Obviously, there is an infentesimal chance of this actually occurring, but that's the mindset of this team.

PBB: What kind of defense does Bill Self like to play? Dayton is a pretty poor outside shooting team. Do you expect we'll see any zone tomorrow?

CB: Bill Self is a disciple, of sorts, of Larry Brown. And just like Brown, Self is extremely stubborn in his M2M defense. Now, we play it just about as well as anyone in the country (maybe not this year, but we had the best Adj. Defense in the country the two years prior to this one), so there isn't too much to complain about. But it took a 14-point deficit before we switched defenses against Texas a couple of weeks ago, and that's a team with all of one good outside shooter. So, bet your bank account we start out the game in M2M, and we likely won't switch out of it unless it gets ugly. Then, Self will be willing to switch it up, with his favorites being the Triangle-and-2 and the Box-and-1. Rarely, if ever, do we go to a pure 2-3 zone.

PBB: Does Sherron Collins have to be KU's primary ball handler, or can any other players help him out at the point and at least help him get the ball over half court? Dayton will press and try to wear Collins down over the course of 40 minutes. He already plays 35 minutes per, so do you see this strategy being effective?

CB: Sherron Collins is definitely our point guard, but he actually rarely brings the ball up the floor. Tyshawn Taylor or Tyrel Reed almost always are tasked with dribbling the ball up, then (usually) handing it off to Sherron at the top of the key to get our offense into action. This is all, as you said, an effort to limit the pressure Sherron faces, so he can play more minutes. If you press, I imagine he will bring it up more, because we trust him more than our other ballhandlers, but it still won't be a whole lot. We have fared terribly, by-and-large, against the press all year, so yes, I think a press would be a brilliant strategy for Gregory. We just can't handle it, for whatever reason.

PBB: The Flyers have some sick athletes. After the WVU win, Bob Huggins made a comment that he didn't think his players realized just how athletic Dayton is from watching them on film. No way we have better athletes than KU, right? And no way KU is surprised by Dayton's athleticism, right? Right?!?

CB: This year, we will probably be out-athleted by you guys. We've been out-athleted a couple of times already this season, which is definitely a new thing for us Kansas fans. We primarily go with a 8-man rotation, and two of those are white kids from smalltowns in Kansas (Brady Morningstar is from Lawrence, which isn't that small, while Tyrel Reed is from a 2,000-person town) that aren't all that good of athletes. We still have some athletic freaks (Tyshawn Taylor, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins), but not nearly as many as you're used to seeing, and it pales in comparison to last year's team. But, to answer your other question, I doubt we'll be surprised. Self isn't the best coach (well, at least we think so) in the country for nothing, and he's getting them prepared as we speak, I'm sure, for Chris Wright and Company. Particularly with the pair of embarrassing end-of-season losses to Texas Tech and Baylor, this team is incredibly focused. There will be no overlooking.

PBB: Say Kansas center Cole Aldrich gets his 15 and 10, but the Flyers hold Collins below his scoring average, who is the next most likely Jayhawk to step up and make me hate him and his family for the rest of his life?

CBB: There are two answers. All year long, the third scorer has been the key to any success we have, but it's never been one person. However, there are two main culprits: Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor. Morris is a 6'7" freshman who plays the 4. He struggled a bunch at the beginning of the year, and still isn't a solid lowpost offensive threat, but he will kill you on the offensive glass. Taylor (guard) is much more likely to explode, though. He reminds me a lot of a freshman Sherron Collins: will make plenty of stupid plays, including his mandatory once-a-game travel when he slips on the floor, and isn't a consistent shooter, but can get to the bucket with ease and makes enough threes to make you respect the shot.

PBB: Dayton goes really deep. You will see at least 10 guys play tomorrow, if not 11. How deep do the Jayhawks go, and is UD's depth a concern at all?

CB: Our rotation is very nebulous. We have a core rotation of 8 players, all of which will see plenty of action. However, two others have seen some PT as a part of the rotation at times, particularly Travis Releford. So, if I had to guess, I'd say that we'll play 9 players tomorrow. Dayton's depth shouldn't cause us any problems, but it just takes away the advantage we've had over most teams, including North Dakota State on Friday morning. We're used to being able to throw out more bodies than the opponent, and while I think we can handle the other team having more options to go to, we will lose our advantage.

PBB: Got anybody who matches up well with Chris Wright? Which Kansas defender will be the given the task of stopping him from getting to the rack and dunking in your grill all game long?

CB: No. I'm angry about it, too. It will have to be the Morrises (Marcus has a twin brother, Markieff) and Mario Little, I suppose. All are newcomers this year, though, and none of them are all-that-good defensively. There should be plenty of doubling when Wright takes the ball down low, but I imagine that they will often be left on an island. If they can perform admirably out there, then we should be in good shape. If not, as I'm expecting, then it should be a close game throughout.

PBB: How is KU overall as a defensive team, especially regarding stopping dribble penetration?

CB: We're good. Not as good as usual, but still 14th in the country. As of late, though, we've struggled a bunch with dribble penetration, and that could give us some trouble. Ben Woodside of NDSU had no trouble getting into the lane time-after-time, which was very disconcerting. If I were Self, I'd back off your guards (particularly London Warren), since they are poor three-point shooters. We'll see how we defend, though, and if we play tight M2M, you all shouldn't have too much trouble getting into the lane.

PBB: You run a Kansas blog and, I'm assuming here, live somewhere in that state. Yet you are going to Xavier next year. Why? Do you hate me? Hate yourself? Love ugly, white chicks? Explain your reasoning if you'd be so kind.

CB: I grew up in Kansas, yes, but have since moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and now currently live in California. I wanted to head back towards the midwest for college, and didn't want to go to Kansas. I came up with a list of requirements for my college: small, less than 10,000, D-1 basketball program (preferrably a good one) and a Sports Management Major, because that's what I want to do after college. Xavier showed up on the list, and I liked the research I did. So no, no hate is involved.

PBB: You have the misfortune of being entered in a pancake-eating contest with Mark Mangino. He sees you and immediately spots you 30 pancakes just to make things "fair." You have 15 minutes to eat as many as possible (butter, maple syrup, washing them down with your drink of choice are all legal). What's the final tally?

CB: I would lose. That's all you need to know.

PBB: KU wins if:

CB: If the Morrises play well and we hit our threes. Those are the two keys, to me, of any potential game, particularly in games against teams like Dayton. With how tough your defense is, we will have to hit our open perimeter shots or we won't score that often. And the Morris twins absolutely must at least handle Chris Wright, or we could be toast. Plus, we need their extra offensive rebounds and second-chance points to round out our offensive attack.

PBB: Dayton shocks the world if:

CB: The above doesn't happen? I'll also say that we'll lose if Sherron Collins wants to win it all by himself. He is incredible, and we wouldn't have made the Tournament without him, but sometimes he takes too much of the load on his own shoulders and tries and single-handedly shoot his way to a victory. It rarely ends well for us.

PBB: Give us a prediction on the final score and the player of the game.

CB: My favorite player will come up huge, Marcus Morris, and he will do a fine job on Chris Wright. He will also provide plenty of offensive rebounds and things, and he'll come out of nowhere. Still, Cole Aldrich is the Player of the Game because Dayton has no answer for his massive frame. Plus, dude's playing 10 minutes from his house. Gotta represent in front of the fam.

Kansas wins, 72-61, in a defensive struggle. Dayton can't shoot well enough to hang with Kansas, though.


Stonemill said...

Most informative post in the history of PB&aB.

Uncreative Commuter said...

By far.

Secaur said...

Too bad an 18 year old high school kid from Kansas (or Lexington or California) wrote it...

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