Monday, February 23, 2009

Tuesday Morning Shootaround: Kansas hangs on to beat Oklahoma 87-78

Despite Blake Griffin sitting out the game with a concussion, Oklahoma went on a 20-2 run early in the first half to open up a 22-8 lead over Kansas. Willie Warren, who finished with 23 points on the game, had 10 in the opening run. Kansas would respond with a run powered by their own freshman guard, scoring 16 straight points, 11 of which came from Tyshawn Taylor. It didn't stop there, as Kansas would eventually go on to out score Oklahoma 50-16 over a 20 minute stretch spanning the first and second halves.

That run opened up a 58-38 lead, but the Sooners would come back. Using a tough press while knocking down a number of three's, OU was able to get the lead down to three on two different occasions. But everytime the Sooners got close, Sherron Collins knocked down a big three. He hit three big three's in the second off, two of which came in a very exciting stretch: OU hit a three to cut the lead to three; Collins responded by knocking down a triple; on the next possession Warren hit a pull-up three from about 26 feet only to see Collins hit one from just as deep when Kansas had the ball.

Sherron Collins knocked down a number of big shots Monday.
(photo credit: Jack Dempsey/AP)

Collins did hit some big shots in this game, but I still have a bit of an issue with his decision making. He had a couple turnovers late against the Oklahoma pressure when he got out of control attacking the press. What you can't question is his heart. I don't think the three's he hit down the stretch were necessarily the shots Bill Self was looking for (all three were when Collins was isolated at the top of the key at the end of the shot clock, pulling up from well beyond the college arc off the dribble), but what matters is that Collins stepped up when his team needed it (and make no mistake, this is his team to lead). The fact that he was able to knock down a tough shot(s) in a clutch situation should say a lot to you about this kid as a leader.

I am really taking a liking to this Kansas squad. Collins is a leader and a playmaker. Cole Aldrich is as tough as anyone in the country on the block (he had 15 points, 20 boards, and 4 blocks in this one). Tyshawn Taylor provides a spark along side Collins, as he is more of a playmaker and distributor than Collins (although neither is a pure point, both are "combo" guards). The Morris twins provide some great size, athleticism, and hustle. Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar are both good defenders that can hit big shots and don't make mistakes offensively. But the biggest reason I like them is that the freshman are really starting to mature.

The question with this team in the preseason was how quickly can a team with one returner (two if you consider Aldrich's eight minutes of fame in the Final Four) develop the toughness and maturity that it takes to perform at this level. The answer has been, well, not too long. As long as Kansas relies on the leadership of Collins and the strength of Aldrich inside, the newcomers have enough talent to make the Jayhawks a threat come March.

One more thing about Kansas. This is the second game I have watched them play where they collapsed against pressure down the stretch. Remember Mizzou? While they were able to hang on in this one, they did lose to the Tigers. If I'm Bill Self, I'm figuring out a way to beat that pressure when Mizzou heads to Lawrence on March 4th.

As far as Oklahoma is concerned, I would not be too worried. For starters, they made a valiant comeback against a talented team without their best player (and the best player in the country). But I think in the long run this is going to be good for OU. It is a good possibility that Blake Griffin will have a game in the tournament where he gets in foul trouble. But now the Sooners know that they can hang with just about anyone in the country even if Blake Griffin is on the bench. Cade Davis and Juan Patillo played great, while Willie Warren picked up where he left off against Texas.

Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker both had subpar games. But more than anything, it is because those guys feed off of the ball going to Blake Griffin. Everyone marvels at Griffin's rebounding numbers and his soaring dunks, but no one realizes is how good of a passer he is. Oklahoma is able to run their offense through him because he is willing to kick to ball out to guys like Crocker and Johnson. In turn, those two either knock down jumpers or put the ball on the floor and blow past defenders closing out. But since neither is a phenomenal 1-on-1 player, they are much less successful when forced to square some one up and beat them off the dribble.

Georgetown's tournament chances are all but done after they lost to Louisville 76-58. The difference in this game was pretty obvious - Louisville hit open shots while Georgetown didn't. There is a lot that goes into this - the Hoyas stopped going inside-out with the ball, they couldn't stay in front of T-Will or Earl Clark on the perimeter, Louisville's outstanding ball pressure forced G'Town into difficult possessions - but the bottom line is that the Hoyas just didn't make shots when they had open looks and Louisville did (especially from deep, where they were 6-6 in the first half and 8-12 for the game).

Once again, Terrence Williams stuffed the stat sheet.
(photo credit: Nick Wass/AP)

Terrence Williams once again turned in a good all-around performance. It is weird watching him play. It didn't seem like he was into the game at all tonight, but when you look at the box score, he finished with 10 points, 12 boards, 7 assists, 2 steals, and a block. I think the reason is that he doesn't play a position where it is usual to be able to have a big effect on a game without scoring a point. PG's can do it, managing a game, doling out assists, and not turning the ball over. Big guys can do it, controlling the glass and changing shots. It isn't often you see a player doing both at the same time, but that is kind of what T-Will does.

Earl Clark also had a great game for the Cardinals, finishing with 22 points, 8 boards, 4 steals, and 3 assists. When the two forwards for the 'Ville are playing like they did tonight, it is going to be so difficult to beat them.

Louisville's pressure was a treat to watch in person. They are just so good in it. The four-headed combo of Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa, and Preston Knowles is going to wreak havoc on everyone come March. Combine that with a front line that is as big and rangy as Louisville's, and you have yourself a potent defensive team.

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