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After two easy victories, the Kansas Jayhawks (2-0) are set to take on the Washington Huskies (2-1) in Kansas City, MO at 8:30 p.m. in game two of the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE semifinals. The Jayhawks have received stellar performances from junior Sherron Collins and sophomore Cole Aldrich, but will face a different challenge against stiff competition from the Pac-10 conference in Washington. The Huskies have an All-American caliber player in Jon Brockman, who will give the KU big men a tough test Monday night. Bill Self has had nearly a week to prepare for the showdown with UW and should have his team ready to go in Kansas City's Sprint Center, a home away from home for the Jayhawks.
After cruising in its first two games, Kansas is faced with an extremely tough test in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
Lorenzo Romar is one of the nation's top coaches and typically has a team that is able to beat anyone at any time.
Kansas, which has looked decent through two games, lacks the experience of playing against quality competition, as its roster is loaded with fresh faces. So far, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich have led the Jayhawks to a 2-0 record, but against the likes of UMKC and Florida Gulf Coast.
Both schools were overmatched and never really stood a chance.
Collins is averaging 20.5 points per game while Aldrich has averaged 12. The center from Minnesota has had to sit most of the first half in both games of the regular season due to foul trouble, but has come back in the second half and played extremely well.
Against Washington, a team that features formidable post play, Kansas cannot afford to have their top post player on the bench with fouls.
Collins, on the other hand, has been the definition of consistency. Not only has he avoided silly turnovers in his first season as starting point guard, but has done an excellent job of communicating with his teammates and embracing the role of team leader.
The 5-foot-11 guard from Chicago is a natural leader and isn't afraid to put the pressure on his shoulders in an attempt to carry his team when needed. Collins is second on the team in assists behind sophomore Brady Morningstar and has stepped up his defensive intensity, which is reminiscent of former KU guards Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, who were two of the best defensive players the KU program has ever seen.
Bill Self has altered the starting lineup in an attempt to figure out which of his players need to see the court most often. Tyshawn Taylor and Markieff Morris, two ballyhooed freshman, started against Florida Gulf Coast, playing well in their upgraded roles.
KU's head man stated that he would like to narrow down his rotation to eight or nine guys for Monday's game, which would be a significant change from the 11-man rotation Self has used to this point.
Although rough at times, the Morris twins have played well, especially considering their late clearance from the NCAA that allowed them to suit up for Kansas.
The taller of the two, Markieff, has been a force on the backboards. Through the first two games, the 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 10 rebounds per game, something that might be a little unexpected considering he is known more for his perimeter offense.
Brother Marcus Morris struggled in exhibition play and against UMKC, but was clearly a more calm and collected player against FGCU, scoring five points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
With any freshman, effort goes along way in the eyes of a head coach, and the Morris twins have been tremendous in their effort, even if their shots haven't been falling.
The MVP so far easily goes to Collins, but possibly the unsung hero has been sophomore Tyrel Reed, who looks worthy of a starting spot for the Jayhawks with his outstanding play. Reed was considered to be one of the typical practice dummies for those who see the majority of court-time, but his consistency so far this year, along with an offensive game that only few thought was possible from the Burlington, Kan., native, has been a pleasant surprise for a team that is searching for several players other than Collins and Aldrich to produce.
Coming off a 40-point blowout, Kansas is scoring just under 80 points per game while only giving up 50, something that the Jayhawks have been known for since Self's arrival in Lawrence.
The Huskies will come with a considerably better offense than what Kansas has seen thus far, but a strong defensive performance from KU, and limiting silly turnovers should help propel them to a 3-0 start, which would also land them in the finals of the CBE against either Syracuse or Florida.
Without question, the Huskies will have something to say in Kansas City before the 2008 CBE Classic wraps up.
Jon Brockman, who leads his team at 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, will bring a toughness to the court that the Kansas Jayhawks have yet to see.
The senior forward may only be 6-foot-7, but he is a solid 255-pounds and is a smart player who knows how to position himself for easy buckets and rebounds.
KU's star center, Cole Aldrich, is still young and has shown a tendency to get into early foul trouble, something Washington will try to exploit early.
UW also has outstanding players on the perimeter with freshman Isaiah Thomas, and junior Quincy Pondexter, a one-time Kansas recruit. Thomas has averaged 12 points and 3 assists per game in UW's 2-1 start, while Pondexter has chipped in with 7 points and 7 rebounds per contest from the small forward position.
Alongside Brockman, senior guard Justin Dentmon has started off the season well. His 15 points per game is good for second, and his experience and senior leadership is a big reason for UW's back-to-back wins.
The Huskies' only loss of the season was by way of Portland, who was KU's first victim in the 2008 NCAA tournament on their way to a national championship.
Comparatively, Kansas has more size and athleticism than Washington. The Huskies have two senior starters, but the Jayhawks can throw bigger bodies at nearly every position on the court. Romar will need to hope that KU's Aldrich can pick up early fouls so his start forward can go to work on inexperienced post players, while also hoping Kansas doesn't get hot from the perimeter.
Outside of two players, the Jayhawks rely heavily on five freshman, and are without one of their top newcomers, JUCO transfer Mario Little.
Scoring at almost the same clip at Kansas, Washington gives up more than 14 more points per game than the Jayhawks, which means the pressure will be on UW's defense to try and limit the offensive possessions for Bill Self's team.
The Huskies have also been somewhat turnover-prone, averaging almost 20 per game. What compounds that problem even more is that KU, known for their defense under Self, average 10 steals per game.
There is no question the emphasis will be on ball control and execution for UW.
Both teams have nine players that play the majority of the time, but have 11 that play a minimum of 6. Self has said he would like to trim his rotation to eight or nine, while Washington would likely look to do the same as the season progresses.
On paper, both KU and Washington are strikingly similar offensively. Three-point shooting is a major area of concern for each team, while the Jayhawks shoot just a shade better than UW from the field.
Kansas will have had two extra days of preparation since their last game, as the Huskies played just four days ago. Romar and his squad will rely on Brockman to lead the way, while also hoping they can keep from getting into a track meet with the more athletically gifted Jayhawks.
Isaiah Thomas (Freshman, 5-foot-8, 170 pounds) – Guard
Justin Dentmon (Senior, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds) – Guard
Quincy Pondexter (Junior, 6-foot-6, 220 pounds) – Forward
Darnell Gant (Freshman, 6-foot-8, 210 pounds) – Forward
Jon Brockman (Senior, 6-foot-7, 255 pounds) – Forward
Key Reserves: Venoy Overton , Justin Holiday, Joe Wolfinger
Sherron Collins (Junior, 5-foot-11, 200 pounds) – Guard
Tyshawn Taylor (Freshman, 6-foot-3, 170 pounds) – Guard
Tyrel Reed (Sophomore, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds) - Guard
Markieff Morris (Freshman, 6-foot-9, 220 pounds) – Forward
Cole Aldrich (Sophomore, 6-foot-11, 245 pounds) – Center
Key Reserves: Marcus Morris, Quintrell Thomas, Brady Morningstar, Travis Releford, Tyrone Appleton
The Edge: Kansas
If they can get into an early offensive groove and keep their star center on the court and out of foul trouble, the Kansas Jayhawks should control this game early.
Washington has a very solid player in Brockman, who is considered an All-American candidate by man, but their overall lack of a proven scorer and experience will be tough to overcome against KU, who is younger and even less experienced, but much deeper and loaded with capable scorers.
Self has the old welcome problem of having almost too much talent. Albeit inconsistent, his younger players are dynamic and can show up on any given night.
Washington doesn't have a player that will be able to lock down Collins, and as stated above, if Aldrich can stay out of early foul trouble, he will give Brockman a tough time.
Kansas is looking for at least two more players who can show some consistency. Reed has been fantastic, and Self would love to see the same from guys like Taylor and the Morris twins.
Self, who claims he would rather his players not go as fast as they want, will likely let his team get out and run because Washington doesn't have the scorers to keep up, at least not against a team like KU who uses its defense to create the majority of their scoring opportunities.
In the end, the Jayhawks will have too much firepower for the Huskies, and should find themselves playing either Syracuse or Florida for the CBE Classic Championship.
KU - 70
Wash - 56