Tuesday, December 7, 2010
No Selby, no problem: Jayhawks roll on
By Dana O'Neil
NEW YORK -- It’s like a parlor game when Kansas plays these days. One of the Jayhawks makes a mistake during a game or the team struggles even a little bit and inevitably someone will say it.
"Yeah, but when they have Josh …"
Josh Selby might as well surrender his Kansas jersey in favor of a Superman S. He is the savior, the second coming, the player who will rescue the Jayhawks from ...
Well that’s just it.
From what exactly?
From an 8-0 start and a No. 4 ranking? From a team so offensively skilled that it leads the nation in field-goal percentage and averages 88.8 points per game? From a squad so unselfish it dishes out assists like candy on Halloween?
When Selby dresses for the first time against USC on Dec. 18, his NCAA-forced stay in basketball purgatory finally over, he will no doubt make the Jayhawks better.
Markieff Morris scored 16 points and had seven rebounds in Kansas' 81-68 win over Memphis.
Here’s the thing, though: Kansas is already pretty good.
Against arguably the stiffest competition they’ve faced this season, the Jayhawks cruised by 14th-ranked Memphis 81-68 in the Jimmy V Classic.
In a game of more spurts than rhythm, Kansas was just as guilty for messing up the tune as the Tigers. Even without a smooth offense, the Jayhawks were able to shoot well, score easily and cradle the ball as the final seconds ticked off and a New York rendition of "Rock Chalk" began at Madison Square Garden.
Kansas has now beaten eight teams by an average of 28.3 points. So really the question isn’t how can Selby save the Jayhawks, but how can Selby fit in?
"Josh has to be part of it," KU head coach Bill Self said. "He’s not going to be the guy. We don’t need him to be the guy."
Watching how Self makes that happen, how he blends a scoring superstar into a team already clicking on at least 75 percent of his cylinders, will be almost as fascinating as watching Selby finally play.
This team plays its games through the Morris twins, and it will after Selby is added. Markieff and Marcus serve as both the literal and figurative anchors of the Jayhawks, twins who double the misery for opponents. Their numbers against Memphis were nearly as identical as their looks, with Markieff scoring 16 with seven rebounds and Marcus adding 14 and eight.
But it’s more than their scoring, it’s their presence. This Kansas team isn’t nearly as far along defensively as a typical Self team is, but the Morris twins make up for whatever the Jayhawks may be lacking.
Memphis shot 37 percent from the floor and missed most of its shots from 4 feet in or less, leaving chip shot after chip shot short.
That’s what happens when you go into the paint and come out with a swatted ball or a body on you.
"We missed these bunnies, as I like to call them, and it affected our defense," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "We’d miss an easy shot and then not get back on defense and they’re getting a layup."
Self loves this team, loves how they play together. And it’s hard to disagree with him.
The Jayhawks' ball movement can be flat-out dizzying, with quick swing passes to the open man on virtually every possession. Against Memphis, Kansas dished out 19 assists on 32 made baskets, following an unselfish recipe they’ve been living by since the start of the season. The Jayhawks average 20.9 assists per game.
It’s a selflessness that should serve them well. Someone is going to lose minutes when Selby joins the team. Someone is going to take fewer shots.
Self contends that will work in KU's favor, that some guys such as Tyrel Reed are playing too many minutes and it’s affecting their game.
Which may, in fact, be the case. But there’s also no denying that everyone has an ego, that finding a delicate balance will be Self’s biggest chore starting next week.
"We’re not worried, not at all," Taylor said. "We’re going to be the same, just adding another piece."
There are, of course, places where Selby will provide an immediate impact. His ranking as a consensus top-five player, after all, isn’t based on his ability to blend in.
Where the Jayhawks need Selby was on display in full force against Memphis. KU committed 22 turnovers, all but handing Memphis 29 points and allowing the Tigers to keep what could have been a walkover a close game.
The Jayhawks sometimes looked flat-out perplexed by Memphis’ press, flummoxing and fumbling their way up court -- sometimes even putting the ball intentionally in Markieff Morris’ hands.
"We’re a fun team but we’re wild," Self said. "We’ve got to find a way to harness some of that. Now Josh is wild, too, so he’ll fit right in. But he’s also the kind of guy that if you run really bad offense, you can come away with two or three points. We need that. Every team needs a guy like that."
Yes, it would be flat-out silly to think that Kansas doesn’t need Josh Selby. There isn’t a team in the country that would say, "No, thank you," to this particular freshman.
But sometimes Superman doesn’t need to save people.
“We’re already pretty good,’’ Self said.
Sometimes, he just has to make sure everything stays the same.