Given the chance to head into a season with three All-American candidates, one a senior, one a junior and one a freshman, what positions would a college basketball coach ideally want those players playing?
Point guard is the most important position in college basketball and the one at which experience is most important, so any coach would want that senior All-American candidate to play the point.
Center is the next most important position and since big men’s bodies develop more each year, a coach would want his junior star playing the post.
That leaves the freshman. With All-American candidates at point guard and center, a coach ideally would want the next superstar playing on the wing.
Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry alone make Kansas a contender to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis, but to what extent the sophomores improve on their promising yet inconsistent seasons could go as far in determining the fate of Bill Self’s seventh at Kansas.
Signs are encouraging on that front.
KU coach Self said he received terrific reports from strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy on the zest with which the players approached spring workouts. It seems as if the three freshmen already have become sophomores in the mental approach to the game and they all needed to make strides there. At various times, Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor didn’t exhibit the mental toughness Self requires of his players.
When asked what it was like playing against Washington’s Jon “Flying Elbows” Brockman, Marcus Morris indicated he learned a lot and what he learned was that when playing against such a physical player, it pays to be less aggressive. Late in the season, he said playing more aggressively was the best way to combat physical players. He meant what he said both times and the fact that he said what he said initially showed how much his approach had to be altered. Physically, his lack of explosive leaping ability tends to lead to him being underrated. He stands to make a big leap in non-vertical areas in his second season. If not, super-athletic Thomas Robinson will play most of the minutes at power forward.
Taylor, the best pure talent in the sophomore class, averaged 9.7 points, shot .506 and had a .364 three-point shooting rate. It’s reasonable to expect he can improve at the rate Kirk Hinrich did from his freshman to sophomore season. Hinrich, who arrived at Kansas as a more polished defender than the similarly athletic Taylor, improved from 5.5 points a game to 11.5 from his freshman to sophomore season and improved his three-point shooting from .313 to .505.
Markieff wasn’t as physical as he needed to be as a freshman, but not many programs can boast a reserve center who is 6-foot-10, runs the floor so well and has a reliable pair of hands and a decent knack for blocking shots. Once he learns to pull off the difficult balancing act of playing more physically while fouling less frequently, he’ll improve production.
While most of the preseason hype will center on the three superstars and an athletic incoming class, look for major strides from a stealth sophomore class.