Number Three With A Bullet

By David Scott - January 05, 2008


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The coast-to-coast introductory tour is complete. From the West Coast (59-55 at USC) to the South (71-66 at Georgia Tech) to the Northeast (Saturday's 85-60 pounding of Boston College), third-ranked Kansas has let all on-lookers see what it has under its Crimson and Blue hood.

Now the Jayhawks will hunker down in the Midwest for two months and the next time we see Bill Self on the road and out of conference play, it will likely be against some hapless 16-seed on March 20 or 21st. After one more home tune-up with Loyola (Md.) on Tuesday, KU will be a perfect 15-0 and well on its way to a second-straight 30-win season.

This edition of the program Naismith made is not just good. They're great.

"We can be great, I've always said that," said senior Darnell Jackson. "Down the road we can be a great team. Like today I told [sophomore teammate] Darrell [Arthur] if we all can play like this, keep the energy up, stay focused and play hard -- there's no way we can be stopped."

Or, as Jayhawk junior Brandon Rush said, "I don't know where we're at right now but I think we can be great and we will be great."

Where the Jayhawks are is a bit of mystery, in fact. Ranked No. 4 in both major polls to start the season, Kansas has been stuck at No. 3 for a month, consistently lagging behind fellow unbeatens, UNC and Memphis. Yet the Jayhawks are more road-tested than either of the other Top 2 and when it's all said and done, they may be the most-talented and deepest team in the country as well.

"We're not worried about the recognition, we're out there playing," said Jackson who had a career-high 25 points against BC [15 in the first half]. "That's our job is to play, we're not worried about anything else. Recognition or no recognition we have to do our job."

"We're the underdogs a little bit," said Arthur. "But I think it's good, I think we're playing pretty good as a team and I don't think everybody's giving us credit. But it's cool. We're doing a good job still and not even worried about it."

Clearly. Against ACC-middle-of-the-packer BC, KU dominated in the paint, 54-26, and went plus-15 over the Eagles in rebounds (39-24). They ran when they wanted, dunked when they wanted and forced BC into 10 first half turnovers that led to an insurmountable 18-point deficit for the host. It was such an all-around impressive performance that coach Bill Self had to resort to the old coach's tactic of criticizing his team's defense in order to find something wrong.

"We weren't good from start to finish," said Self, in his fifth year at Kansas where he's averaged 26 wins a season. "From the ten minute mark of the first half and except for four minutes of the second half, we were pretty good [on Saturday]. It's probably about as complete as we've played.

"But you look at it, Brandon [Rush] didn't have a great game [12 points, five rebounds], Russell [Robinson, four points] didn't have a great game and (foot stress fracture recoveree) Sherron [Collins, two points] didn't make shots," Self said. "Mario [Chalmers] only had eight [points]. We weren't as balanced as we normally are. Usually we're really a guard-led team from a production standpoint, [on Saturday] our bigs led us. I think we can get better. I certainly think we can guard better over 40 minutes."

Right. And Britney Spears can avoid the tabloids for a week.

"I do think this," admitted Self. "You've got to have four big guys [which we have]. And you've got to have multiple point guards, and we have that. And guys that can stretch it [a bench]. I think there's some talented pieces in place and then it comes down to intangibles. How much you like each other?How tough you are. How unselfish you are. That remains to be seen."

"That's just God-given talent for them," BC coach Al Skinner said. "When someone is faster than you, they're just faster than you. That's the reality you have to accept. Athletics is like that some times."

Athletics is also like what happened to Self's 33-5 team last year' that ultimately fell short of the goal of a national championship.

"In the game that counted most last year [against UCLA in the Elite Eight], we played young," Self said. "Hopefully we've grown from that and will handle that better when we're in that position [again]."

His team seems to know as much.

"We determine how the game is going to be," said Jackson. "If we let teams get comfortable then it's going to be a long, slow hard game. But if we jump on teams early, we can make games go our way."

Not to mention seasons, tournaments and year-end trophy presentations.

Posted by David Scott at 07:54 PM on January 05, 2008
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