”Just got back from Kansas-Okla. This KU team fascinates me. I cannot tell yet if they’re good, great or legendary.”
That Tweet from Joe Posnanski on Monday night perfectly sums up how I feel about this year’s Jayhawks.
The only team in the nation in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, yet most observers believe they’re capable of playing better than they have. Is that fair? Isn’t it enough just to win, and often?
I think part of this view is a hangover from the 2008 team. That team was also fantastic on both sides of the ball. But they were more explosive offensively. They ran their half court offense to perfection, throwing lobs from all over the court, using the NBA-style slipped pick-and-rolls, and often having three deadly three point threats on the court at once. Each night someone else picked up the scoring slack, so shooting slumps by individuals were never worries.
This year the offense is not as fluid. The parts fit together differently. The lobs and pick-and-rolls have been replaced by isolation plays for Sherron and Marcus Morris’ turnaround jumpers. The shooters, aside from Sherron, are role players. Each of the first four options on offense – Sherron, Cole, Xavier, and Marcus – have experienced prolonged bouts with inconsistency.
The ’08 team was great on defense, with nearly every starter having lock-down defender skills. Chalmers and Robinson kept other teams from ever getting into their offense.
This year’s defense is built around Cole Aldrich blocking or altering any shot in the paint. The guards aren’t nearly as good. Xavier Henry is turning into a heck of a defender, but he’s not at Brandon Rush’s level yet.
So we’re dealing with a difficult, if not unrealistic, measuring stick. The ’08 team returned all but one player from an Elite Eight team. They were primed from day one for redeeming themselves for their performance against UCLA.
This year’s team has had to work new players into starting roles, integrate developing players into the system, and deal with one knucklehead.* While they were the preseason favorite, you can argue they have had a lot more in-season work to do to develop an identity than the ’08 team did.
(Who finally seems to be coming around.)
But, again, the bottom line is they’re winning. I don’t think we’re going to see the well-oiled machine that we saw in ’08. But you can argue that this team is mentally tougher than that team. They don’t sweat it when a game gets ugly. They just muddle through and win. I think they’re more susceptible to an early upset than the ’08 team was, but they’re just as capable of winning 4-6 games in the tournament and making it another truly special year.
They may never reach their ceiling, but they’re pretty damn good. I’ll take 27-1 teams that can still improve every year.