Monday, January 14, 2008

Kansas is my No. 1


Sure, I'm located down here on Tobacco Road, where North Carolina and Duke — Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski — dominate the headlines.

And, sure, the Tar Heels began this week No. 1 in the national polls. But after watching Kansas decimate Oklahoma Monday night, 85-55, I like Kansas as the best team in college basketball.

In case you're curious, I've got UNC No. 2, Memphis No. 3, UCLA fourth and Duke fifth.

But the Jayhawks are the best team in the land — by a slight margin.

Why is that? Well, they have no weaknesses. The other contenders have a few.

Last season, UCLA battered the Jayhawks in a regional final, which left Kansas demoralized after an otherwise sterling season that included Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles.

The Jayhawks, simply, had no answer for the Bruins down low.

That is not the case this season. A big reason — both literally and figuratively — for Kansas' 17-0 start has been the play of 6-foot-9 forward Darrell Arthur. On Monday, the sophomore used an array of inside moves to score 14 points to go with eight rebounds.

Arthur has given the Jayhawks a low-post presence that they lacked last season. He's more mature and skilled, and if he continues to play this well, Kansas will be hard to beat.

That's because he is surrounded by loads of talent. Frontcourt mate Darnell Jackson (17 points, eight boards Monday) is having a huge senior year, averaging double figures for the first time in his career and providing plenty of muscle in the paint with his 6-8, 250-pound frame.

But the majority of Kansas' talent is where it was a year ago: in the backcourt. Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush (a 6-6 guard with a forward's body), Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins make up a quartet of guards who are experienced, fast, good shooters and good passers.

They love to get out and run and finish in transition, but the Jayhawks no longer struggle in the half-court offense. The biggest reason for this is the development of the big guys. Being able to post up Arthur makes Kansas' offense much more dangerous, because he can score one-on-one or kick the ball out to Kansas' deadly outside shooter when the defense collapses.

Bottom line — this team can score in a variety of ways.

But how is it different from Memphis, which has just as many scorers? Well, the main reason is free-throw shooting. When the games get tight come March, Kansas' late-game free shots — it made 17-of-18 against the Sooners — will make it the better team.

While the Jayhawks aren't a great free-throw shooting team, making 64 percent of their attempts, none of their key contributors are terrible from the stripe like Memphis' Joey Dorsey, who entered the week making a putrid 36 percent of his attempts. Dorsey plays nearly 25 minutes per game and is a big part of the Tigers' success on both ends of the court. But any smart team will go to a "Hack-a-Dorsey" strategy in certain late-game situations.

Free-throw shooting — the small edge Kansas has on Memphis.

The Jayhawks are better than the Tar Heels because of their depth. As good as UNC's Tyler Hansbrough has been this season, can you imagine the Heels without Hansbrough? No, didn't think so. If Hansbrough gets into foul trouble in a tournament game, the Heels would be in big trouble.

Kansas, meanwhile, doesn't have an indispensable player. The Jayhawks have seven players who average between 7.1 and 13.4 points per game. If they lost Arthur for a do-or-die game, they would still have a great chance at winning. The same can't be said for a Heels squad without Hansbrough or starting point guard Ty Lawson now that backup Bobby Frasor is out for the year.

Again, a small advantage, but it makes the Jayhawks No. 1 in my eyes.

Of course, a lot can — and probably will — change between now and March. But if the Jayhawks stay healthy and in form, I'll more than likely pick them as my national champion when completing my bracket.

No one can say there's a clear weakness on this team. Except, maybe, that they haven't been there — that no member of the Jayhawks has made it to the Final Four.

And that's an issue the Jayhawks are addressing right now, playing the best basketball of any team from Westwood to Chapel Hill.


Sportsattitude said...

Jake, I agree with you Kansas certainly should be the #1 for now...and that is saying a lot of you being on Tobacco Road and seeing NC and Duke pound people right and left. All the teams you mention will be battle-tested except for - as usual - Memphis. I know John Calipari likes to think he can continually sneak his way into a Final Four playing in such a weak conference and putting up ridiculous winning totals, but their affiliation in such a poor league doesn't improve the skills of his team one bit and I really feel you have to play in one of the power conferences to get "steeled" for what March Madness will bring. Memphis sometimes gets deep into the tourney but will never win a national championship. You get better playing the best.

Jake Lloyd said...

Yeah, Calipari, to his credit, plays a very difficult non-conference schedule — including that February game against Tennessee — but you're right that too many of the games down the stretch are snoozers. Plus, I still don't think Memphis has enough pure shooters. There's always that tournament game against a good defensive team where it goes stone cold.

J-bo said...

No arguments here, Kansas is scary-good. For now they are the undisputed top team in my book, with Memphis, UNC, and UCLA close behind.

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