With the Kansas men’s basketball team set to take on Colorado at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in Boulder, Colo., I had some leftover items that didn’t make it into my Colorado feature story on senior Cory Higgins and coach Tad Boyle.
Time to empty out the notebook.
• I spoke to Boyle on the phone on Monday. I continue to be impressed with this hire. The Buffaloes lured Boyle away from Northern Colorado, where he spent the last four years turning around the Bears program. Boyle, a former KU guard in the 1980s, reminds me of KU coach Bill Self. Both are very smart, engaging speakers who don't always speak in boring cliches.
Boyle’s Buffaloes, who enter Tuesday night at 14-6 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12, aren’t nearly as talented as No. 6 Kansas (18-1, 3-1). Boyle was honest when I asked him about the challenge of contending in a loaded Big 12 that may send six or seven teams to the NCAA Tournament this season. The most the conference ever sent was seven last season.
“We may not be the biggest team, because we're not,” Boyle said. “We may not be the deepest team, because we’re not. But we have some pieces that give us an opportunity to compete. What we don't have is any margin for error. We can't have one or two guys not play well and be able to overcome that. Some teams in the league, one or two of their guys don't play well, they can go to maybe one or two guys some place else and get that production. We don't have that luxury. But we do have a good nucleus.”
That nucleus starts with CU guards Higgins and Alec Burks. If Colorado wants to spring an upset, the two guards must score consistently. I’m thinking 45-50 combined points.
In Colorado’s two conference losses against Nebraska and Oklahoma this season, Higgins has struggled with his shot (combined 7-for-22) and Burks has tried to occasionally do too much (12 turnovers).
Last season, CU nearly beat KU in Boulder but fell, 72-66 in overtime. Burks did not play that game. The Buffs need him to score in bunches Tuesday.
Inside the paint is where the Jayhawks should have a noticeable advantage.
Colorado typically starts four guards: 6-foot-5 Higgins, 6-6 Burks, 6-3 Nate Tomlinson and 6-7 Marcus Relphorde. Austin Dufault, 6-9, is the Buffs’ only starting forward.
Should CU stick with this lineup, the most important matchup will be how well Relphorde guards Marcus Morris, arguably the Big 12’s best player.
Kansas seems to play its most dominating basketball when the Morris twins lead the charge (see Baylor). If the Buffs don’t limit the twins in the paint, it will be a long night for the home crowd.
• Kansas is a clear favorite (7.5 points), and much of that has to do with better talent. History also swings the advantage heavily toward the Jayhawks. Colorado and Kansas have played 29 games in the Big 12 era. Kansas has won 28 of them.
• Higgins, on how the CU pair of he (16.1 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game) and Burks (19.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg) compares to others around the country: “I think we have as good a duo as anyone in the country,” Higgins said. “You can’t key to one of us.”
This Bleacher Report blog post ranked Burks and Higgins the No. 18 college duo in the country this season. KU's Markieff and Marcus Morris are No. 4, Texas' Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson are No. 3, Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are No. 2, and Duke's Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are No. 1. Thoughts on this topic?
• In practice, Boyle typically places Burks and Higgins on different teams. So who typically wins?
“Oh, we’ve both gotten each other on certain days,” Higgins said. “It’s hard to stop him. But I think it’s hard to stop me, too (laughs). Really, though, it makes us better defenders.”
What’s the hardest part of Burks’ game to stop?
“Just how many moves he has,” Higgins said. “If you stop one move, he’s right into his second move like that. His instincts are unbelievable.”
Burks, at 6-6, presents a similar matchup situation for KU at the 3-spot to Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton. A combination of Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar, Mario Little and maybe Travis Releford, if he’s healthy enough to play, could draw defensive assignments on Burks.
• Boyle took over as coach of Northern Colorado in 2006-2007. In that first season, the Bears went 4-24. They improved in each consecutive season, going 13-16 in 2007-08, 14-18 in 2008-09 and 25-8 last season. It appears the Bears have continued to ride the momentum from when Boyle was there. Northern Colorado is currently 7-0 in the Big Sky Conference (11-7 overall ... kind of an odd split) and in first place.
• Over/under guess on the amount of combined points and rebounds from the Morris twins Tuesday night? I'll set the line at their combined averages: 30 points and 15.5 rebounds. Let's get some guesses going.
That should be all for now, friends. Enjoy the game. And as always, discuss.