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Self makes mark early as Kansas tops Spartans

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Nov. 26
Kansas' Allen Field House was rocking and rolling Tuesday night with chants of "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk" as two top-five teams squared off. It was obvious in Kansas' 81-74 win over Michigan State that new Jayhawks coach Bill Self has a great team, baby! Former coach Roy Williams (now at North Carolina) did not leave the cupboard bare.

Wayne Simien
Kansas big man Wayne Simien scored a 28 points against the Spartans.
I really like the makeup of this Kansas squad. The Jayhawks have size, quickness, depth. They are clearly a legitimate top-five team capable of making a serious run at a third straight Final Four berth.

I like the job Self is doing. Yes, there is an adjustment period by the players and by the coach himself. It's never easy to walk in and replace a guy like Williams, who is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.

Self is not afraid of the challenge of replacing Williams. He's confident in his own ability and has attacked this head on. Self should be confident; just look at his track record at Tulsa and Illinois!

Kansas' players showed Tuesday night that they understand how to get the ball in the hands of the right people on offense.

Junior guard Aaron Miles scored 17 points and had a team-high six assists. Miles is one of my All-Underrated players -- he can flat-out handle the rock and run the show. He has great speed and displays it on the fast break.

I really believe the combination of juniors Wayne Simien and Keith Langford is as good a 1-2 scoring punch as there is in America. I can hear people at UConn screaming, what about Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor? At North Carolina, they're yelling about Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants!

Simien dominates in the low box, utilizing his great strength and ability to gain great position against the opposition. He also has a terrific personality. Imagine if he had played for the Jayhawks in last year's championship game against Syracuse? Instead, he was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

I also like the fact that Simien can run the court in transition. He's also capable of hitting the 15-foot jumper. What a total package -- he's so tough to stop physically inside. He will have a monster year! Tuesday night, he grabbed eight rebounds and scored a game-high 28 points on 9-for-12 from the field (and 9-of-9 on free throws).

As for Langford (13 points), there is not a better driver from the wing in America. He's a dynamite scorer who put on a show in the second half against the Spartans. If you play off of him, he can still beat you to the basket.

Langford is so explosive to the basket. He's also a go-to guy when you need a big basket. I made a major mistake not including him on any of my preseason All-Rolls Royce teams. That's why I say it's more important to make those postseason All-America teams!

Michigan State is playing the toughest nonconference schedule in America.
In the end, Kansas got the W on Tuesday night, but coach Tom Izzo's Spartans got a valuable lesson. Izzo has Michigan State playing the toughest nonconference schedule in America. Besides the Jayhawks, the Spartans face Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Syracuse.

Michigan State is still searching for its identity, trying to figure out a playing rotation. This will be a dynamite basketball team with loads of talent. Most clubs would have folded after trailing by 17 points in Lawrence. Instead, Michigan State fought back strong and made it a dogfight down the stretch. Games like this help you find your identity.

Then again, the Spartans play off the passion of Izzo. He coached like this was March Madness, not his second regular-season game.

The bottom line is, we will be hearing plenty from Kansas and Michigan State this season. They will both be forces in their respective conferences.

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