College Basketball Nation: Marcus Morris

Morris twins' mom honored for an assist

September, 13, 2011
Thomasine "Angel" Morris, the mother of former Kansas twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, will receive an award from a local crisis center for helping teammate Thomas Robinson, according to the University Daily Kansan.
According to a press release, Headquarters is honoring Morris for her "sacrifice and selfless actions" in the wake of the sudden death last January of Lisa Robinson, mother of junior forward Thomas Robinson.

Morris originally moved to Lawrence from Philadelphia when her sons started playing for Kansas in 2008. Although Morris' sons left Kansas last spring to enter the NBA draft, she decided to continue living in Lawrence to support Robinson for the rest of his college career.
The Kansas City Star reported on Mother's Day that Robinson, a fellow single mother, had a fear of flying from Washington and asked Angel Morris to look after her son, so when Robinson passed away it was Morris who stepped forward to help.
She was part of a group that consoled Thomas that night, and she traveled with him and KU director of basketball operations Barry Hinson to Washington to help with the funeral arrangements. In March, on Thomas' 20th birthday, she brought a cake to his hotel room in Tulsa, Okla., where the Jayhawks were playing in the NCAA Tournament.

When the season was over, the Morris twins and Robinson had decisions to make about the NBA draft. It was likely the twins would leave, and Robinson wanted to know what that meant for Angel. He told her that he would like for her to stay around Lawrence as long as he was at KU.

"I think his own mother would want for me to do that,” Angel says, "because before she passed away she asked me to do it, to make sure he does well in school and stays focused as a young man. That’s what I'm gonna do."

So as Robinson gears up for what is expected to be a breakout junior year, he'll have Angel Morris right there with him. She watched over him during his time of need, and now she'll be recognized for it.
Letters From Camp are my dispatches from weekend's Nike Skills Camps in Chicago, with more to come today and tomorrow.

CHICAGO -- What does the name Thomas Robinson mean to you?

To the casual sports fan -- like the helpful videographer sitting next to me at the Nike Elite Skills Camps at Attack Athletics this weekend -- Robinson's name immediately conjures the devastating image of him consoling his young sister at the funeral of his mother, who suffered a heart attack at the age of 43 in January. Lisa Robinson was the third member of Robinson's family, along with his grandfather and grandmother, to pass away in a three-week span in January, leaving Robinson and his 7-year-old sister without any family they had ever been close to.

"Oh, that's the kid from Kansas," the videographer said. "Lost his mom this season, right? Awful story."

It's safe to say Thomas Robinson wants to be known for more than heartache. Who wouldn't?

The good news: If Robinson plays his junior season at Kansas the way he played at the Amar'e Stoudamire Skills Academy on Saturday, that increased recognition -- and a cherished lottery spot in the jam-packed 2012 NBA draft -- is sure to follow.

It's hard to learn much from these camps, which are largely designed with NBA scouts in mind. But on Saturday, as some of the nation's best collegiate forwards (with Jared Sullinger, Alex Oriakhi and Mouphtaou Yarou among them) ran two hours of five-on-five scrimmages with some of the nation's best guards, it was impossible to ignore Robinson's play. The Jayhawk flew down the court, challenged shots at the rim, finished inside rebounds and low-post moves with strength and athleticism, and threw down the indisputable dunk of the day -- a cocked one-handed fast break alley-oop that caused plenty of stone-faced NBA scouts in attendance to cast each other knowingly excited glances.

Those scouts had no doubt seen Robinson before. After all, the forward was a rebounding force as a sophomore. Robinson grabbed 18.8 percent of available boards on the offensive end in 2011, which is nearly as impressive as his 31.1 percent rebounding rate on the defensive end. Robinson didn't play the minimum number of minutes to qualify for Ken Pomeroy's individual player rankings in those statistics. If he did (assuming his rates would have stayed as high in a larger sample size), Robinson would have ranked No. 3 in the nation in OR% and No. 2 in DR%.

The reason -- or reasons -- Robinson didn't get those minutes begins with an "M" and ends with "Orii." Marcus and Markieff Morris lorded over the Kansas frontcourt in 2011, much like Cole Aldrich dominated the Jayhawks' interior in 2010. As Robinson said Saturday (as you can see in the above clip), he had only limited opportunities to showcase his skills.

Now, after the Morris twins' back-to-back selections in last Thursday's NBA draft -- and with no obvious incoming freshmen ready to step in just yet -- Robinson will move into a much larger role in the Kansas frontcourt. He's likely to be joined by 7-foot center junior Jeff Withey, the only other returning forward on the roster.

Whether Robinson will be able to maintain his gaudy efficiency numbers is yet to be seen. Withey won't quite attract the attention of defenses the way the Morris twins did. Robinson also needs to prove he can harness a true post game; in 2011, Robinson was a rim-runner, an athletic forward who saw a shot go up and attacked it with gusto, but not one who frequently initiated his own offense with his back to the basket. Those are among the changes Robinson said he was working on this weekend, in addition to his outside jumper and his passing. He's already anticipating the double-teams.

Still, it's not easy to step into a gym with Sullinger, Yarou, Oriakhi, Mason and Miles Plumlee and even touted Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis and look like the best player on the floor. That's what Robinson did Saturday. If all goes as planned, we'll remember that performance as a mere preview of what Kansas fans have to look forward to in 2011-12. By then, everyone will know Thomas Robinson's name. Only this time, it'll be on his terms.
It's the day after the draft. For me, that means sitting at my desk, staring at my computer screen, and wondering if what I saw last night unfold last night is really how things went down. In other words, I'm still processing all this.

You know what else the Draft Day Plus 1 means? Listicles. Lots and lots of listicles.

You know what I always say: If you can't beat them -- if you can't think of a similarly efficient content delivery format that doesn't rely so heavily on lists, basically -- join them. Without further ado, here's one of a few college hoops-inclined looks at last night's action. Last but not least: The biggest feel-good picks of the 2011 NBA Draft.

1. Jimmy Butler comes full circle: By now, you've almost certainly heard the story of Jimmy Butler. Still, no matter how many times you read Chad Ford's excellent profile of the newest Chicago Bull -- it's like "The Blind Side" of basketball -- the story doesn't get any less affecting. Still, even before anyone knew his backstory, most college hoops fans respected Butler as an unselfish, versatile worker, a guy who agreed to sublimate his own scoring talent and play out of position in order to help his team win. If you felt some strange twinge of second-hand pride at seeing Butler land a guaranteed contract, well, you weren't the only one.

2. Kenneth Faried's contagious spirit: Watch five minutes of Kenneth Faried playing basketball, and you'll immediately develop an appreciation; Faried competes with the kind of drive few players ever possess, let alone harness. When our own Dana O'Neil spent time with Faried and his family in February, she learned the source of that drive. Faried had a challenging upbringing in rundown Newark and Jersey City. His mother, Waudda, fights an off-and-on battle with lupus that has hospitalized her for months at a time. His transition to college was marked by his effect on others, including a professor who cried when O'Neil asked her about Faried, and who easily recalled an essay he wrote as a freshman on his dream of playing in the NBA. On Thursday night, Faried achieved that dream, doing so in his hometown, surrounded by his family, with his young daughter in his arms. It doesn't get much better than that.

3. Isaiah Thomas proves there's no such thing as Mr. Irrelevant: Year after year, the brash, undersized Washington point guard has listened to people tell him why he wouldn't succeed. Year after year, he's only proved them wrong. Chalk Thursday night up as another chapter in Thomas's saga: Derided by many as too small for the NBA, and criticized by some for leaving school after his junior year, Thomas was indeed drafted anyway. The twist? He had to sweat it out, waiting all the way until the very last pick of the draft to hear his name called. Thomas's next step? Proving he belongs. Would you bet against him?

4. The Morris family's big, bittersweet night: The Morii haven't always been the most sympathetic characters in college hoops, and they certainly weren't shy about their confidence in the weeks before Thursday night's draft. But perhaps only the staunchest Missouri fans could have viewed the twins' back-to-back selections with an acid eye. Surprisingly, Markieff Morris was the first of the two to be selected at No. 13 by the Phoenix Suns. Markieff and his brother hugged, did their patented handshake, and just as Markieff took the stage to shake hands with NBA commissioner David Stern, the camera panned to Marcus, sitting in his chair, crying his eyes out. It was a bittersweet moment. For the first time, the twins -- who have always played, lived, and gotten tattoos together -- will separate. As happy as he must have been, Marcus, who was public in his discomfort with the separation, seemed to be processing that fact for the first time.

Then, with the very next pick, the Houston Rockets selected the other Morris. In that way, the NBA draft was just like the rest of the Morii's lives: They did it together.

5. The Purdue duo reunites: Both Purdue players in the draft, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, were selected by the Boston Celtics Thursday night. Why is this so cool? It's not just because the two close friends get to keep being teammates. It's also because now, Moore and Johnson -- both of whom are high-character, mild-mannered workers -- will have the chance to chase a title together in the NBA, something Robbie Hummel's cruel ACL tears robbed them of in two straight collegiate seasons at Purdue. Thus far, the Celtics seem intent on keeping both players around, at least for the immediate future. If so, the two could be key role players in Boston's last-ditch attempt at an NBA title run in 2012. How cool is that?

Bill Self looks on the bright side

June, 24, 2011
Kansas has retooled its roster following the departures of the Morris twins along with Josh Selby, and coach Bill Self has said he doesn't expect the program to take a step backward. His optimism carried over to draft night, as he was in New Jersey watching more of his Jayhawks go pro.

Though Self has now lost four lottery picks over the past two offseasons, he said he was glad to see the players go, especially after Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris were drafted back-to-back last night as he was alongside them in the green room.

"It doesn't feel great knowing what our team could potentially be if these guys returned, but it was time for all four of them to go," Self said. "I'm happy for all of them.

"I'm ecstatic and to me it sends a strong message, even though they weren't the first pick in the draft, but still getting picked in the lottery. I think that does speak volumes of the program and how you do things."

Self was happy also for Selby, who slipped in the draft and wasn't selected until the second round at 49th overall by Memphis. But Self thinks the Grizzlies might have gotten a steal there after a roller coaster freshman season.

"So much of being picked in the second round is just ending up at the right place, and there's some thinking on their part that they got a first-round talent, which he is," Self said. "He's a first-round talent that fell to the second round because he was hurt and suspended and all those things were out of his control. Memphis may have been one of the winners of the draft because they got a first-round pick."
A quick disclaimer: This is barely a college hoops story -- we're just a few hours away from waving a newsy farewell to a wide swath of college hoopsters we've come to know and love -- but it is draft day, and it is interesting. So let's go with it.

It's one of those stories you casually think about but don't really process: For 20 years, the Morii have been together. They attended the same schools, played for the same teams, bunked in the same dorm room. In March, Marcus told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the two pretty much did everything together:
"We enjoy being around each other," Marcus said. "We're roommates, we have all the same classes, same schedules, we have all the same tattoos."

Some twins strive to carve out their own identities. Others stick to each other like glue. The Morii are the latter.

But when the duo is selected in Thursday night's NBA draft -- unless something totally unexpected happens -- the two will be officially separated for the first time in their lives. In Chad Ford's latest mock draft, Marcus Morris is projected to be drafted by the Phoenix Suns. Markieff is supposed to be selected a few picks later by the Indianapolis Pacers. Not only will the two not be playing together for the first time in their lives, but there's a real chance they'll be separated by thousands of miles for eight or nine months at a time. They'll have different teammates, different friends, different neighbors. Everything will be ... different. How do they expect to handle that?

The twins talked to the Lawrence Journal-World about this very topic, and while they seem excited to achieve their NBA goals (and who wouldn't be?), there's definitely some reservation there, too:
Because of that, Markieff said he was thankful for the past few weeks and the trial separation that, no doubt, will make the real deal easier to digest. “It’s been hard, but I’m comfortable with it,” said Markieff on Wednesday. [...]

“It’s definitely been real positive for both of us,” Markieff said of following separate paths. “Being away from each other has made it more real. We’re realistic, we understand that the time is probably coming for us to be apart, and we’re good with it.”

Marcus wasn’t quite as diplomatic.

“At the end of the day, I want to be with him,” he said. “But (splitting up is) just something that has to happen. We don’t have any control over it.”

Throughout the 2011 season, I joked that an NBA team should seek to pull a Little League-style "brother option" move in this year's draft. You have to wonder: Would the Morris twins be better off if they were playing for the same team? Will the separation harm their development? Or, conversely -- as Bill Self has said more than once -- will getting away from each other be good for the twins' individual growth?

Anyone who watched the Morii play college hoops knows how similar the two are, and how well they work together on the basketball court. It will be fascinating to see how the separation affects them.

The only downside? We'll never get to see NBA version of the Sedin twins. Then again, maybe that's a good thing. The Sedin twins are pretty creepy.
As college stars at Kansas, Marcus and Markieff Morris were never known for their reserved demeanors. It's not exactly like they needed to come out of a shell. But they were never so overtly cocky -- with the possible exception of the pregame VCU taunt that turned into an all-time backfire -- as they've been in the run up to next week's NBA draft.

[+] EnlargeMarcus and Markieff Morris
Bob Donnan/US PresswireFormer Kansas forwards Markieff, left and Marcus Morris won't enter the NBA lacking confidence.
Let's start with Marcus, who took to the airwaves in Milwaukee recently, where he was asked about a potential NBA comparison to Denver Nuggets forward Al Harrington, a slightly undersized, multi-faceted stretch four that seems like a pretty fair comparison to the Moriis' skill sets. How did Marcus feel about that comparison? He'd like to shoot a little -- OK, a lot -- higher.
“I think the Al Harrington comparison is a little accurate, but I think maybe Carmelo (Anthony) I would say because I’m a mid-range king,” Marcus told the radio station.

Marcus might have been joking there, but he seems far more serious when asked to describe the differences between the Morii and the Lopez twins, one of whom, Brook, is considered a rising young center for the New Jersey Nets.
“Is that a trick question? Not to take anything away from those guys, I think they are great players, I just think me and Markieff have been through a little bit more,” Marcus said. “I mean I think we have different aspects of our game that are just a little bit more than those guys.”

Then there's Markieff, who wasn't just content to handle comparisons to current NBA players. He also wanted to express his displeasure with the notion that he and his brother are considered mid-first round picks while Arizona forward Derrick Williams was seen as a lock to go within the top two picks of the draft. From the Washington Post's Michael Lee:
“I didn’t think he was as good as advertised,” Morris said. “He got the benefit of the calls from the ref and we had to guard him different. He definitely had a good game against us, because we couldn’t guard him how we wanted to guard him, and that’s what happened.”

So when he hears that Williams is a lock to go in the top two, Morris said, “It’s still surprises me. What he did to Duke, he wouldn’t do that to me or my brother [Marcus]. I’m dead serious. He wouldn’t. At all. He’s good. But if we was to work out, I would go at him and I would be able to stop him more than people would expect, you know what I mean?”

The only problem with that? The Morii did face Williams last season, and all Williams did was post 27 points on 9-of-15 from the field and grab eight rebounds. As was the case for most of the season, Williams did that without much frontcourt help from his teammates. As an added bonus, he had that type of comprehensively impressive game against not one but both Morii, who combined to play 45 minutes in the Kansas win and had the benefit of another future NBA prospect, forward Thomas Robinson, contributing efficient defense and rebounding in 19 minutes off the bench.

In other words, the Morii were very good college basketball players, but Williams was better. Arguably much better. There's a reason he's the likely No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, and there's a reason some think he should be drafted ahead of Kyrie Irving at No. 1. A few brash statements to the contrary aren't going to change that perception, especially when the player you're dissing torched you head-to-head all the way back in November. What, exactly, is inconclusive about that?

There's no reason for outrage here. The Morii are trying to convince NBA general managers not only that they belong in the league, but that they're better than most people have given them credit for. Maybe they have a point.

But digging on Derrick Williams? Comparing yourself to Carmelo Anthony? Come on, fellas. If this is a strategy, try a different one. Or just put your head down and do your talking after your surprising rookie season. Until then, this stuff just sounds silly.

Josh Selby a no-show at team banquet

April, 12, 2011
The start of the Kansas season began with top freshman Josh Selby serving a nine-game suspension for accepting impermissible benefits.

Selby averaged 7.9 points and 2.2 assists in 26 games, and he seemed to lose confidence after missing three games with a foot injury and then being relegated to a bench player.

Now at the end of a 35-3 season that ended with an Elite Eight appearance, Selby hasn't yet declared for the draft but has been training in Las Vegas. That's where he remained Monday during the Kansas team banquet, leaving coach Bill Self to answer questions on his whereabouts, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
"Josh is getting information through workout people in Las Vegas, trying to get some good feedback. We'll have an answer the next day or two," KU coach Bill Self said, indicating he was not upset at Selby for missing the proceedings.

"I talked to Maeshon (mom) today. That decision is coming real soon," Self added. "He has done the work he needs to academically to pass his classes, but he’s been gone six days. If he's going to come back, he'll be coming back real soon. If not, he won't. Certainly he will salvage this semester academically and pass his classes, which is good."

Andy Katz doesn't think working out in Vegas for the short amount of time would change much, and his absence from the banquet leads to questions about whether Selby is a team player. Marcus and Markieff Morris, even after they hired an agent and declared for the NBA draft, attended the banquet.

At the event in Lawrence, Self said, "In my opinion, we had the best team in America."

After a year in which Self stood behind Selby, the freshman probably should have at least had the event in his datebook.

VCU laughs all the way to Houston

March, 28, 2011
SAN ANTONIO -- When players from both teams shook hands before the game that broke the bracket once and for all, Kansas big man Marcus Morris went to the intimidation playbook once too often.

"You guys have had a good run," he told Virginia Commonwealth guards Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozzell. "But now it's over."

Morris and the Jayhawks had barked, shoved and bullied their way past Richmond here Friday night. Rodriguez warned Saturday that similar tactics in the regional final Sunday wouldn't work with the 11th-seeded Rams.

"We're a different set of guys," Rodriguez said.

Yeah, you could say that. A set of guys unlike any we've seen in NCAA tournament history.

The fearless senior point guard, who is a foot shorter than the glowering, hulking Morris, didn't cower. He laughed at the 6-foot-9 Morris. And after shocking the world and shutting the Jayhawks' pie holes 71-61, he and the Rams are still laughing.

All the way to Houston.

Click here for the full story.
For two weeks, the refrain has been the same: “VCU is hot and the Rams have a chance to win, but this is going to be a really tough game for them. I’m not sure they can keep it up.”

For the fifth straight time, VCU has made the pregame prognostications obsolete. As a result, the Rams are going to the Final Four.

The lessons, as always: (1) Approach your bracket with the utmost, sincere humility. (2) Never doubt this Virginia Commonwealth team.

[+] EnlargeVCU
AP Photo/Michael ThomasVirginia Commonwealth players celebrate their stunning 71-61 upset of Kansas in San Antonio.
Facing a No. 1 seed and an overwhelming pro-Kansas crowd in San Antonio on Sunday, the Rams started hot, built a double-digit halftime lead and held off the bigger, stronger Jayhawks 71-61 after Kansas made its inevitable second-half run to cut the lead to two. Kansas was done in by bad defense in the first half and ugly shooting throughout, and with nothing falling down -- free throws included -- Bill Self’s team could never truly climb out of the hole dug by VCU’s hot shooting in the first half.

You don’t have to be a college basketball expert to realize how much of an upset this was. But, wow, what an upset. It practically defies description. Three weeks ago, the Rams -- losers of their final four regular-season conference games -- weren’t sure they were going to make the tournament. Now they have a legitimate chance to win the national title.

In other words: The Rams are everything we love about college basketball. VCU is the NCAA tournament. And so the magical run rolls on.

Turning point: KU's second-half run was inevitable. VCU was bound to slow down from 3-point range eventually, and the Jayhawks were able to create plenty of opportunities by owning the offensive boards throughout the game. As Kansas made that run -- cutting the lead to seven points with 15:43 remaining -- VCU coach Shaka Smart was assessed a technical foul by the referee, and all of a sudden, it looked like the Rams were in the midst of a second-half meltdown.

A couple of minutes later, Kansas shrank the gap to two points, and the Jayhawks looked like they were going to storm the Rams for the rest of the second half. Instead, after KU forward Marcus Morris made two free throws, the Jayhawks went unusually cold, and -- thanks to a pair of key baskets by Toby Veal and Darius Theus, and a pair of huge plays from forward Jamie Skeen -- VCU rebuilt its lead to double digits and never looked back. The Rams had stared No. 1 in the face and held tall. Meanwhile, Kansas cut the lead to two and proceeded to shoot 6-of-24 afterward, 0-of-10 from 3-point range. That's not standing tall.

Star of the game: Skeen is the obvious choice here. He had the box score’s best line -- 26 points, 10 rebounds, 4-of-7 from 3-point range -- and he made huge plays at the most important times for VCU down the stretch. (These plays ranged from huge shots to heady timeouts, as when Skeen stripped Marcus Morris under the rim and called a timeout to keep a late push by the Jayhawks at bay.) As always, though, VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez deserves a nod here, too. His line isn’t eye-popping, but his intelligent, poised play at the point is one of the main reasons VCU has been able to maintain its leads against favorites throughout this tournament. Sunday was no different.

Key stat: Without taking credit away from the Rams -- someone had to make all those first-half 3s, after all -- it’s fair to ask whether or not KU’s loss deserves the dreaded “choke” label. Whatever you want to call it, Kansas picked a really, really bad time to have its worst shooting game of the season.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the usually hot-shooting Jayhawks posted season lows in field goal percentage (35.5) and 3-point field goal percentage (9.1), which is about as bad as any team, let alone one that usually drains its open jumpers, can possibly shoot. Nor did it help that Kansas made only 53.6 percent of its free throws. The Jayhawks have always thrived on their ability to drain open shots this season. Needless to say, going 2-of-21 from 3-point range and 15-of-28 from the free throw line is not “thriving” on anything. If the Hawks hadn’t dominated the offensive glass so thoroughly, this game would have been another VCU blowout.

Another fun stat: When VCU hit 12 3s in its second-round win against Georgetown, it was a season high for the Rams. So all they've done since is hit 12 more against Florida State and another 12 today against Kansas. VCU shot just 32.1 percent from 2-point range (9-28), but 48 percent from 3-point range (12-25). Go figure.

History: Virginia Commonwealth is now one of three teams seeded 11th or lower to make the Final Four (LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2006 were both 11s). ... The Rams are one of just four double-digit seeds to win a game by double digits in the Sweet 16 or later. ... Shaka Smart is 33. Butler coach Brad Stevens is 34. Both of them combined are younger than UConn coach Jim Calhoun (68).

What’s next: If it feels unfair to call this Kansas season “disappointing” -- the Jayhawks had a great year, won the Big 12 regular-season and conference tournament titles, and finished among the best eight teams in the country -- that’s only because this team and its fans had reason to expect so much more. Instead, Kansas ended another season with a loss to a bottom-half seed in the NCAA tournament, with shock and surprise and dismay and disgust.

VCU, meanwhile, will make a historic trip to the Final Four. The Rams will face Butler in the matchup of the two highest combined seed numbers (No. 8, No. 11) to ever meet in a national semifinal (second-highest is 14), and their win ensures that no No. 1 seed will attend the Final Four festivities for the third time since seeding began in 1979.

More than anything, though, VCU’s unlikely run to the Final Four merely proves what we always say about the NCAA tournament, and proves it more thoroughly than ever: You never know. That’s why we love this tournament, and that’s why people will always remember this team.

Even better? VCU's not done yet.

Elite Eight preview: VCU vs. Kansas

March, 27, 2011

SAN ANTONIO -- A quick preview of the Southwest Regional final: Virginia Commonwealth vs. Kansas:

No. 11 seed VCU Rams vs. No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks, 2:20 p.m. ET (CBS)

What to watch: The glass. Kansas is a brutally effective rebounding team, with a plus-7.9 advantage on the backboard this season. VCU is a minus-3.6. Friday night might have portended what Sunday has in store. In the blowout of Richmond, the Jayhawks were a plus-eight. The same night, VCU was crushed on the glass by Florida State, 47-32.

VCU fully understands how important that area of the game will be. Point guard Joey Rodriguez said that at a Saturday team meeting, some of the Rams’ big men were called out by their teammates for a lack of production on the glass against the Seminoles.

The Jayhawks also were able to intimidate the Spiders, starting with trash talk the day before the game and escalating it to a pregame shoving match in the tunnel leading to the court. Richmond acted unnerved when the game began and promptly fell behind by 22 points. VCU might be a bit outmanned, but it probably won’t be unnerved.

“They kind of bullied [Richmond],” Rodriguez said. “We can’t let that happen to us. I don’t think we will. We’ve got a different set of guys, a lot of tough guys.”

Who to watch: For Virginia Commonwealth, wing Bradford Burgess. He failed to make any of the three CAA all-conference teams, and was insulted by that. Since then, he’s played like a guy who should have been a first-teamer. He’s averaged 17.5 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the NCAA tourney, and he’s made 9 of his past 11 3-pointers. If VCU is going to have a shot in this game, it will probably need another hot shooting hand from Burgess. Continued aggressiveness would be welcome, too; coach Shaka Smart said he believes Burgess doesn’t shoot enough.

For Kansas, the play of the power triumvirate of Marcus and Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson off the bench will be central to the outcome. Nobody feeds the post more resolutely than the Jayhawks, usually with great results -- that’s why the Morris twins are combining to average 30.7 points, with Robinson contributing 7.8 off the bench. Friday night the three produced a total of 30 points and 27 rebounds. They will present a major challenge for the vulnerable VCU interior.

VCU wins if: If the Rams maintain their preternatural confidence and poise, both of which flow freely from their coach. And if Rodriguez is able to get the Rams into some productive half-court action -- the VCU senior has a tourney-leading 33 assists and six turnovers this tourney. And if they’re able to score enough from 3-point range to offset whatever they give up in the paint. And if they’re able to produce some turnovers and transition baskets before Kansas can set up its defense. And, if all that fails, if they can find a little leftover pixie dust, the likes of which it used to sneak past Florida State by a point Friday.

Kansas wins if: Once again, the Jayhawks should be in great shape if they merely play up to their capabilities. They slapped 11 minutes of dazzling basketball on Richmond on Friday, and it led to a blowout victory. Through three games, KU has not been seriously challenged, winning each by at least 14 points. If the Jayhawks shoot a solid percentage and don’t give up a boatload of 3s, this one should be similar. The interesting question will be how they respond if VCU hangs around until late.

What they’re saying: “We don’t want to bully nobody. But that’s good if that’s what they think we’re going to do.” -- KU’s Markieff Morris, on whether VCU is preparing for intimidation tactics from Kansas.

“We’ve been watching them our whole lives on TV. They’re a great program, but they wake up and put their shorts on the same way we do.” -- Rodriguez on the Jayhawks.

“We’re at Kansas. Kansas is never an underdog. We have always been Goliath, all the time. We just have to embrace that role.” -- Marcus Morris on being the heavy favorite.

“I probably would say something slick like, ‘Nice prediction.’ But I wouldn’t say anything rude.” -- VCU’s Jamie Skeen, if he had the chance to discuss the Rams’ tournament success with those who said they shouldn’t have been included in the field.

Noteworthy: VCU players were tickled early Saturday morning to receive pictures from home in Richmond, Va., where students had flooded into Broad Street and closed it down to through traffic. “We have the whole city on our back now,” Rodriguez said. … Kansas has trailed for a total of 3 minutes and 29 seconds in 120 minutes of NCAA tourney play. It has led for every second of its 60 minutes of second-half play. ... With Butler's victory Saturday, KU has a chance to reach the national title without having played a team seeded seventh or better.

Motivated Jayhawks charge by Spiders

March, 25, 2011

SAN ANTONIO -- The Kansas Jayhawks are not in this tournament to win the sportsmanship trophy. They’re not here to go along and get along. They’re not terribly interested in playing nice.

They made that perfectly clear before and during their Sweet 16 stomping of Richmond on Friday night, a 77-57 beating that was Kansas at its best. And cockiest. And most intimidating.

The Jayhawks shoved their way inside the Spiders’ heads more than 24 hours before the game and never left, not until the final horn sounded. When Kansas star forward Marcus Morris encountered a couple of Richmond players in the hallway between media interviews Thursday, he issued a verbal warning: “You better be ready.”

[+] EnlargeBrady Morningstar
AP Photo/Eric GayBrady Morningstar scored a team-high 18 points and notched 4 assists and 2 steals.
Then, while the Spiders were huddling in the tunnel before coming out onto the court for tipoff, the Jayhawks barged through. A shoving match ensued between the teams.

“We were trying to run out,” Kansas guard Josh Selby said. “They stood right there, and we just tried to run through it.”

“It got a little chippity,” Morris said. “We had a little battle to get out the tunnel first.”

Said Richmond’s Kevin Smith: “They tried to run through there, and they ran into some walls. It’s a man thing. Would you let a man walk through you? They thought they were playing with some boys with that one.”

No offense to Mr. Smith and the Spiders, but this was a men-against-boys game. Top-seeded Kansas had its way with the No. 12 seed, bursting out to a 31-9 lead and never giving any upset hopes a chance to grow in the Kansas-dominated Alamodome.

Given the way both teams started the game, it’s fair to wonder whether the pregame fracas had a motivational effect on Kansas and an unsettling effect on Richmond. The Spiders say it did not, but the Jayhawks generally disagreed.

Richmond point guard Kevin Anderson said the altercation was not an issue after tipoff but that “I never got my team settled down.”

If Richmond was unsettled, Kansas was unbridled.

“I think it might have been a little bit [of a motivator],” Kansas guard Brady Morningstar said.

The more you mix it up with the Jayhawks, the better they seem to do. Whatever chance there was that they wouldn’t start the game dialed in probably disappeared in that tunnel exchange.

“Maybe they didn’t think we were ready to go,” Morris surmised. “But the first 11 minutes were probably the best we’ve played all year.”

Kansas was indeed brilliant early. The Jayhawks moved the ball precisely and hit their perimeter shots. They extended their defense to disrupt Richmond’s rhythm and force it away from the basket. They predictably hammered the smaller Spiders on the glass. They were good in transition, good in the half court, good everywhere and in every way.

“They are truly a great team,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “They were kind of able to dictate the game, unfortunately, in every way.”

Nobody played better early than Morningstar, who had 12 first-half points and finished with a team-high 18. The senior has a reputation as something of a provocateur. Marcus and twin brother Markieff Morris have been known to keep their elbows cocked and ready, whereas Morningstar is more apt to annoy opponents with his mouth.

He got under the skin of Texas’ Jordan Hamilton in Lawrence earlier this season, prompting Hamilton to cuss at him and draw a technical foul. This time, Morningstar and Smith got into it during one dead ball, and the officials brought both together for a lecture. Not long thereafter, Morningstar buried his fourth 3-pointer of the game and woofed at Smith. He was quickly hit with a T.

“Some kind of noise,” Smith said of whatever came out of Morningstar’s mouth. “He said it running away. ... You can put that in there if you want to.”

Said Morningstar: “I got ahead of myself, and I’m not good enough to run my mouth after I make a shot.”

Morningstar said something else funny postgame. Namely, that he couldn’t understand why Richmond might have been intimidated by the Jayhawks.

Take a look at the thick bodies and unsmiling faces in your own locker room, Brady. If the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson (12 points and 14 rebounds Friday) aren’t a bit scary to look at, nobody is in college basketball.

Richmond was going to be up against it in this game no matter what. But after all the pregame posturing, the Spiders were really in trouble. It didn’t take long for Kansas to exert its dominance and make Louisville coach-turned-temporary ESPN analyst Rick Pitino’s upset pick turn on its head.

“No disrespect to Pitino,” Markieff Morris said, “but we still playing.”

And still talking.

Sweet 16 preview: Richmond vs. Kansas

March, 25, 2011

SAN ANTONIO – Previewing the Kansas-Richmond Southwest Regional semifinal:

No. 12 seed Richmond (29-7) vs. No. 1 seed Kansas (34-2), 7:27 p.m. ET (TBS)

What to watch: How do the Spiders handle the big stage? Richmond’s average home attendance this season was 5,959. Its average road attendance was 5,110. Neutral floor: 6,143. Now they move into a domed stadium that will be set up for around 30,000 fans -- most of them rooting for Kansas. This is, by every measure, a significant step up in class for the Spiders -- but this also is a team with four senior starters. If any group of collegians from a mid-major program is going to handle the inevitable butterflies and sweaty palms that accompany this assignment, you’ve got to like Richmond’s chances.

Conversely, how do the Jayhawks handle the pressure? They’re such prohibitive favorites -- in this game, and in this entire broken-bracket regional -- that domination will be the expectation. Anything less than that -- particularly a slow start against milk-the-clock Richmond -- will only feed the hope of the underdog and the anxiety of the Kansas legions in attendance. The Jayhawks believe they rid themselves of a significant upset demon by getting past the round of 32 (where they lost last year to Northern Iowa as the overall No. 1 seed), but now there are more massive underdogs ahead. They can afford to play pressure-free, while Kansas cannot.

Who to watch: For Richmond, the key players are forward Justin Harper and guard Kevin Anderson. Harper has transformed himself from a late bloomer who was more adept at playing the saxophone in the high school band than basketball. The 6-foot-10 senior is averaged 17.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and is shooting a deadly 45 percent from 3-point range. Anderson has been the program's heartbeat for four seasons. The school's No. 2 all-time scorer is averaging 16.7 points and leads the team in assists, steals and minutes.

For Kansas, the key players are the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff. The brotherly bruisers are combining to average 31.2 points and 15.7 rebounds -- and those numbers swelled to 36 points and 20.5 rebounds in two NCAA tournament games in Tulsa. Everyone knows they have to stop the Morrises, and nobody has been able to do it.

Richmond wins if... : It can avoid being slaughtered on the glass and hit a lot of 3-pointers. The Spiders have been outrebounded on the season, and they’re going up against a Kansas team that has dominated the boards. The Jayhawks are sixth nationally in rebound margin at plus-7.9 per game. Richmond has done a better job on the boards lately, and that will have to continue Friday. To counteract what seems like an inevitable rebounding deficit, UR must shoot well from the outside. The Spiders are a 40 percent 3-point shooting team and have made 104 more 3s than their opposition -- whatever open looks they get Friday night, they need to make. Last year, Northern Iowa withstood KU's eight-rebound advantage by outscoring the Jayhawks by nine from the 3-point arc.

Kansas wins if... : It plays up to its capabilities. It’s really that simple for the Jayhawks -- they’re the better team. If they play inside-out with the Morris twins, hit a few timely 3s to keep the defense honest, take care of the ball and play with their customary defensive intensity, this outcome shouldn’t be in doubt in the final 10 minutes. If Kansas struggles to start and doesn’t cover Richmond outside the arc, it could get tense.

What they’re saying: Richmond guard Kevin Anderson, dreaming big: “Our focus is to get a national championship and Kansas is in the way right now, so we have to go out there and handle our business. … You don’t get to the Sweet 16 and decide that’s good enough. That’s not really a goal. I don’t want to sell our hard work short. Everyone’s saying we’re lucky to be in the Sweet 16, we’re lucky Morehead State beat Louisville. We want to prove those people wrong. What better way to do that than by beating Kansas?”

Bill Self, cautioning against seed-based overconfidence: “The field here is strong. It may not appear from a seeding standpoint to be as strong as 1, 2, 3 and 4 that are left, but I guarantee that there will be nobody that will be looking forward to playing anybody in this field right now. Once you get to the Sweet 16, you expect to play a great team. And we certainly have an opportunity to play a great one [Friday].”

Notable: Kansas certainly has fond memories of playing in the Alamodome. It won the 2008 national title here, courtesy of Mario Chalmers’ last-second 3-pointer that capped a miraculous rally against Memphis to send the game into overtime. “We were all walking together last night on the RiverWalk and just remembering the good times we had,” said senior guard Tyrel Reed, one of three Jayhawks who were on the ’08 team. … Richmond is 5-1 against teams from big-six conferences this season, beating Purdue, Arizona State, Seton Hall, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia Tech.

Kansas happy to finally move on

March, 21, 2011

TULSA, Okla. -- Bruce Weber had the famous mock funeral for Bill Self eight years ago at Illinois.

Sunday night, Self and the Kansas Jayhawks got to perform a two-for-one burial. First they did away with No. 9 seed Illinois 73-59. Then they interred the year-old demon named Northern Iowa.

Ever since being shocked by the Panthers last March in the round of 32 as the overall No. 1 seed, Kansas has carried the burden of that underachievement. The Jayhawks had been reminded of it by fans, media and even their own coaching staff, which put copies of the Sports Illustrated cover celebrating Northern Iowa’s upset in every player’s locker last week.

Now, after this victory over stubborn Illinois on Sunday night, this group of players has broken through. The Northern Iowa loss is 6 feet under at last.

“It definitely takes a lot of pressure off our shoulders [to] know we’ve gotten past the first weekend now,” said Marcus Morris, whose 17 points and 12 rebounds made him only the second-most-productive Morris on the night.

“I just feel like now that we’ve gotten past this weekend, we got over the hump,” said twin brother Markieff Morris, who went off for 24 points and 12 rebounds. “We’re ready for next weekend.”

Next weekend, the No. 1 seed Jayhawks walk into a shattered bracket in San Antonio. Their Friday Sweet 16 opponent will be No. 12 seed Richmond. If they win that, their Sunday opponent will be either No. 10 seed Florida State or No. 11 seed VCU.

By seeding, Kansas is set up to play zero teams in the top half of the tournament until it reaches Houston and the Final Four. That is what’s called a free pass.

Then again, you can find plenty of grandparents and bracketologists ready to caution that there’s really no such thing as a free pass.

“Any seed this time of year, they’ve got to be playing good to advance this far in the tournament,” said guard Tyrel Reed. “You can’t take anyone lightly and have to respect your opponent every time out.”

That, actually, is one lasting lesson Kansas can take with it from the Northern Iowa loss. But at least now the Jayhawks don’t have to hear about it constantly. That’s dead and buried.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas 73, Illinois 59

March, 20, 2011
TULSA, Okla. -- Thoughts on Kansas' 73-59 win over Illinois:

Overview: The Northern Iowa loss is now dead. Top-seeded Kansas got past the ghost of its shocking round-of-32 upset loss last year by beating stubborn Illinois at the same point in this tournament. The No. 9 seed Illini hung in the game most of the way but could not handle the inside strength of the Jayhawks.

Turning point: Illinois was down just five, 56-51, with less than six minutes remaining. That's when Kansas reeled off 10 straight points to get the game under control.

Key player: Let's go with two -- the usual two for Kansas. Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris combined for 41 points and 25 rebounds, punishing the slender Illini in the paint.

Key stat: Illinois coach Bruce Weber said his team needed another stellar game from point guard Demetri McCamey, and he could not deliver. Although the senior did have seven assists -- the Illini had been 15-0 this season when he reached that number -- he couldn't score against the Kansas guards. The Illini's leading scorer had just six points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Miscellaneous: Illinois did not play Jereme Richmond, who missed his second game for a violation of athletic department rules. ... KU coach Bill Self got the victory over his successor, Weber, who famously had a mock funeral for Self to help everyone at Illinois get over his departure to Kansas eight years ago.

What's next: Kansas' primrose path toward Houston next encounters 12th-seeded Richmond in San Antonio. It's possible that the Jayhawks will not face a team seeded better than ninth until the Final Four, if they keep winning.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas 72, Boston 53

March, 18, 2011

TULSA, Okla. -- Thoughts from Kansas' 72-53 win over Boston U.:

Overview: Kansas had the toughest opening-game struggle of any No. 1 seed, beating game Boston U. by 19 points. Duke won its opener by 42, Ohio State won its by 29 and Pittsburgh won its by 23. The Jayhawks led by just four at halftime before pulling away in the second half.

Turning point: The Jayhawks hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions midway through the second half, pushing their lead to 15 with less than eight minutes remaining to put the game out of reach.

Key player: Marcus Morris had team highs of 16 points and nine rebounds.

Key stat: The Jayhawks mauled the Terriers on the glass, outrebounding them 37-24.

Miscellaneous: Kansas got a nice floor game from the occasionally erratic Tyshawn Taylor, who had 10 points, seven assists and two turnovers. Boston U. was led by John Holland with 19 points. He finished his career with more than 2,000 points and got a long hug and heartfelt words from Terriers coach Pat Chambers when he was taken out of the game in the final minute.

What's next: Kansas advances to play the winner of UNLV-Illinois. Boston U. is off until Midnight Madness 2011.