This probably needs more editing, but it’s almost 10 pm Monday night and I should probably get it posted. And I have a cold, so I might do more damage than help to it if I start hacking.
This is the least angsty, upset, depressed I’ve ever been after a season-ending loss. You know most of the reasons; I’ve been repeating them all season. But I think actually being at the game helped, too. It’s hard to be pissed off, pout, or just go into a shell when you’re with friends and have to navigate through tens of thousands of people to get home.
That game was right there for the taking, despite KU only playing well for perhaps 10 minutes all night. Offensively, I should say. I thought we were fantastic most of the night on defense, even when Michigan State made their runs. The keys to the game were:
1 – No offensive flow from KU. Once MSU took away the run-outs on our defensive rebounds, we struggled to score.
2 – Better offensive options for MSU. The Spartans have insanely balanced scoring, lacking a true stud but instead featuring a roster full of guys who can easily put 10-12 points up. You could see that their players had confidence taking shots.
3 – The deer in the headlights of our young guys. Brady Morningstar had a couple nice dunks (ever think you’d hear that?), but totally lost confidence in his shot two weeks ago. It’s nice that he didn’t go Jerod Haase on his teammates and decide to shoot them out of the game with a 2-20 performance, but refusing to take a shot may have hurt just as much. Tyshawn Taylor hit four huge free throws, and had a nice runner that dropped. Otherwise, I thought he was awful. Dribbling right into defenders. Throwing passes that Cole Aldrich either couldn’t catch, or that put him in a position where he couldn’t make a scoring move. It was the old Third Scoring Threat bugaboo.
Still, it all came down to two rebounds. First was the triple offensive rebound possession, when Michigan State had three chances to score and finally got a three point play on their final shot. Watching the replay, Cole Aldrich was in perfect position for rebound #3, but he shifted toward the center of the lane as the shot went up…and the rebound went to the spot he had been standing, right into Goran Suton’s hands. Then, on the only free throw MSU missed all night, they corralled the long rebound and scored. Two six point possessions that were back-breakers. Both could have been avoided with a defensive rebound.
There were far too many empty possessions on offense, though. My friend who was sitting with me, who is an IU alum, kept saying he thought KU was going to win. Even when we went +5 with three minutes left, I didn’t feel comfortable because we were having so much trouble getting the ball to and into the hoop.
In the end, it was a stinging loss. I say stinging because it should bother all the players over the summer. They should be obsessed with the plays they didn’t make, their poor decisions, their lack of poise, and those should be the building blocks for their summer workouts and preparations for next season. It’s the kind of loss that can be perfect for a young team, if they learn from it.
While the final margin and flow of the game was different, it reminds me of KU’s loss to Illinois in the 2001 Sweet 16. Illinois pushed the young Jayhawks around all night and at the end, it was the older, tougher, more experienced team that got the win. (It helped that Illinois’ coach ran strategic circles around KU’s that night. What ever happened to that guy?) Hinrich, Gooden, and Collison used that loss as the springboard to two straight Final Fours (One for Gooden).
Lucas Oil Stadium is a beautiful building. Our seats were pretty spectacular. We were even with the baseline, opposite the KU bench, 18 rows off the floor. Now it is a football stadium, of course, so the view wasn’t ideal since we were in temporary seats. But I can’t complain at all. It was nice that each corner of the stadium features large video boards, so if your view is suddenly blocked, you look up and there’s the action. I’m hoping my guy that got me the seats can hook me up again next year should KU be fortunate enough to play an NCAA game in Indianapolis.
We did run into the age-old issue of standing up and sitting down every 30 seconds. The people in front couldn’t decide what they wanted to do, and it filtered up and down from their choices.
No beer at NCAA games is a shitty thing. Especially in a game that close. Then again, if a piece of pizza was $8, I might have emptied out my bank account had there been beer to purchase.
There was an insane number of Louisville fans there. They got to be pretty annoying with their stupid spelling cheers and waving fingers in the shape of L’s and dancing in the aisles.* It didn’t help that Pitino was screaming at his guys to press when they were up by 30 and the people two rows in front of us were celebrating every single steal and shot at that point like they had just gone Scottie Reynolds on Arizona.
(Rule of college fandom #17: all chants, cheers, and songs of other schools are stupid while yours kick ass.)
I think we’ll know about Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins’ plans for next year soon. Or at least part of those plans. I expect both to declare for the draft. Now whether they both stay in the draft is another issue. I discount all statements made immediately after a season-ending loss, so nothing I’ve been reading about their wishes to come back has weight with me. We’ll see in a couple more weeks.
Cole has the more interesting decision. His name is rocketing up the mock draft charts, and it’s becoming less clear what his move should be. The lottery is generally the threshold I use: if you’re a lottery pick, go. If it’s uncertain, stay. He’s getting in that range where some people now have him in the lottery, others just outside. If he’s a lock to go in the mid to late teens, I say come back and expect to be one of the top five picks next year. If he can sneak into the top ten this year, I think you take that money and run.
Sherron, on the other hand, is battling different issues. I think pride is the biggest factor in his decision making process. He was a highly touted high school prospect who most expected to be on campus for only a couple of years. Now he’s in danger of actually spending four years in college. Can he deal with that? The knock on him is he’s short, not a great playmaker, and has injury issues but is a proven scorer and a warrior on the court. When he hears that, and looks at how few 5’11” guards there are in the NBA, what will he do? I don’t think his stock goes up that much next year, even if he has a huge year and leads KU deeper into the tournament. So, then does he go play in Europe next year? Or go ahead and do the fourth year and see what happens?
So let’s assume for a minute both come back. KU currently has two high school players and a transfer coming in next season. Rampant internet rumor is that an extremely talented high school player will be committing to KU in the next few days. If he indeed does commit, that puts KU two over the scholarship limit for next season. Expect Brady Morningstar to return to walk-on status to clear one. That means someone else needs to leave if both Sherron and Cole return. Final assumption, it will be someone who played limited minutes this year that departs.
That leaves a rotation that includes Sherron, Tyshawn Taylor, unnamed high school Blue Chipper, a Morris to be named later, and Aldrich as the starters, with Morningstar, Mario Little, freshman Elijah Johnson, Tyrel Reed, another Morris, freshman Thomas Robinson, and transfer Jeff Withey. Assuming a normal rate of improvement for this year’s freshmen and merely a nominal contribution from the newcomers, that’s a pretty solid lineup. Certainly the favorite in the Big 12, with both OU and MU losing a lot (OU could get wiped out if both Griffin and Warren leave). Good enough to come back in Indy next April.
If Sherron and/or Cole leave, though, it’s suddenly another rebuilding year again. Lots of talent, but no established star to lead the team.
I told my friend who sat with me that I just wanted KU to play well, win or lose. It’s easy to dwell on how your team stunk it up when they go out of the tournament, but it does seem like KU has generally flamed out instead of played hard and just come up short. There are things you can look at Friday and drive yourself crazy with “What Ifs?” So sure they missed a rebound here and there, had some empty possessions on offense, and missed a key free throw that could have changed the outcome. But it wasn’t one of those miss 13 free throws and lose by three (2003), miss 19 shots within five feet of the basket (2007), or have your shooting guard literally shoot you out of the game (1995, 1996) type of losses. It was a toss-up game where the other team got the breaks when it mattered most. Michigan State won the game as much as KU lost it. And it’s hard to be too upset about that after all else this team accomplished this season.
And I kind of love Tom Izzo, which makes it a little easier than losing to a Pitino or Kyrzyzswzyszwski.
The near future is uncertain. Next year could become an unplanned rebuilding year if both Sherron and Cole leave. But as we learned this year, at KU we don’t rebuild. We just play.
Rock Chalk, bitches.