East Lansing, Mich. Timing is everything in life, and on the topic of the Kansas University basketball team’s frontcourt, the timing shapes up as less than perfect.
Ideally, a big man making the transition from the high school game to faster, more physical college basketball need not worry about playing major minutes until his sophomore season. Coach Bill Self had such an experienced stable of big men last season he had the luxury of easing Cole Aldrich into a college game so different from the high school league he left behind in Minnesota.
His roster thinned by the NBA Draft after the national championship, Self faces a far different situation this year. He needs a couple of his freshman big men to contribute right away. Training wheels aren’t an option.
So far, the new big men aren’t up to the challenge. That never was more evident than Saturday afternoon in the Breslin Center, where Michigan State’s student-cheering section known as the Izzone aimed much of its clever, relentless sarcasm at KU’s struggling twin freshman tandem of Markieff and Marcus Morris.
Before examining the statistical performance of the twins and everyone else Self used to try to give Aldrich some support, consider the most revealing number of all: Aldrich played 36 minutes, “a lot of minutes for a big fella to play,” Self said.
“He’s a really good player, but we’re not doing enough to help him out,” Self said. “I don’t think the guards are doing enough to help Sherron, and I don’t think the bigs are doing enough to help Cole.”
True, but it’s easier to see that changing in the backcourt than the frontcourt. Freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor played his poorest game, but he has shown enough in other games — 17 points against Syracuse, 23 against New Mexico State — that there’s no reason to believe anything but that he’ll have a terrific Kansas career. He’s so eager to please.
In contrast, the jury remains out on whether the three first-year post players — the twins and freshman Quintrell Thomas — will be able to play to the standard of excellence required.
Jeff Withey, the 7-footer who originally signed with Arizona, is supposed to begin practicing with Kansas on Saturday and will be eligible to play in games after first semester next year. If Withey and power forward recruit Thomas Robinson prove ready to contribute as freshmen, it’s possible KU will need the twins and Thomas more this season than next, by which time Aldrich will have added strength that will make him an even bigger force.
Self attributed the lackluster performances of the Morris twins (combined six points, three rebounds, seven personal fouls in 22 minutes) to youth.
“I don’t think they’ve found their niche at all yet,” Self said. “I think Markieff is closer than Marcus because he kind of figures out who he is — of course he thinks he’s a championship wrestler the way he fouls everybody, mauls everybody. I think it will happen, but there are certain things you have to understand enough to help the team win.”
Self said he thinks it will happen. He didn’t sound convinced. How could he be?