Kansas talks big, backs it up — promising sign for Big Dance

0 Comments

This time, Kansas backed up its big talk. That’s a promising sign entering the NCAA tournament.

The No. 2 Jayhawks dismantled No. 10 Texas 85-73 in the Big 12 tournament championship Saturday, avenging one of their only losses on the season and doing it against a team pundits thought was bigger and more physical. They took issue with those claims, and told the ‘Horns as much beforehand.

“It means, ‘Be quiet,’ “junior forward Marcus Morris told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Last night I heard (TV) commentators say Texas’ bigs dominated our bigs last time. We wanted to let our play do our talking for us so I did this … be quiet.”

Marcus and his twin brother, Markieff, set the tone by combing for 31 points and 15 rebounds, doing pretty much whatever they pleased vs. Texas. Markieff was particularly pleased. He was the one doing most of the pre-game talking.

“Of course I feel good I backed up my words,” Markieff told the paper. “I just said, ‘You are all next, and we’re ready for you.’ That’s all I said.”

The last time Kansas (32-2) amped up the hype before a game was three weeks ago when it rose to the No. 1 spot in the polls. A few hours later, in-state rival Kansas State thumped them. This time, there was no such let down. The defense held the Longhorns to 40.9 percent shooting, hit 57 percent of their shots and won the rebounding battle.

Now, the question is, what awaits Kansas in the Big Dance?

It enters the tournament with the exact same record as last year’s No. 1 overall seed. That team staged a memorable early exit by losing to 8th-seeded Northern Iowa in the second round. Some might have thought the Jayhawks were fat and happy, ready to breeze into the Final Four on reputation alone. Will this team be different?

All signs point to yes. They’re not as reliant on one player(Sherron Collins) to set up the offense and take the crunch-time shots. They’re deeper, better at the guard spots – especially if Tyshawn Taylor keeps this up – and the Morrii are far, far better than they were last season.

The team may not have a defensive stopper in the middle like it did with Cole Aldrich, but maybe that’s a good thing. It forces everyone in the frontcourt to focus on defense, which has improved since coasting for much of Big 12 play.

Most importantly for Kansas is that they won’t be the favorites entering the NCAAs. Ohio State gets that nod, even if Kansas might be better right now. Many a talented team has ridden that “no respect” angle to championships, which might suit the Jayhawks perfectly.

It’ll give them a chance to talk themselves up, then fulfill those boasts.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.