|Thursday, January 23
Depth the difference in Lawrence
By Jay Bilas
Special to ESPN.com
These two teams started the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason polls. Arizona, who returned to the top spot this week, has the depth to field two quality college basketball teams. Its roster is loaded with great athletes, size and skilled players. Kansas, meanwhile, has the best starting five in the country when healthy -- which the Jayhawks aren't heading into Saturday's non-conference game.
While no team in the country can match Arizona's depth, what separates these two teams are the players who come off the bench. Kansas can be vulnerable when it get into its bench. Look for Arizona to try to get Kansas in foul trouble to really exploit its lack of depth.
Ironically, Roy Williams has always had pretty good depth at Kansas, which was one of the first programs to use the "fist". When a Jayhawk was tired, he would give Williams a "fist" sign to indicate that he wanted to come out of the game and get a rest. The deal was, Williams would sub for the player, and put him back in again after a short rest. That arrangement was designed to give players the incentive to go as hard as they could without pacing themselves. If a player got winded, Williams could just bring another player with nearly equal talent off the bench.
Well, that's not the case this season. And, with so few players available off the bench, Williams is probably wondering if he should look the other way when he sees the fist from one of his regulars.
Don't misunderstand, Kansas isn't void of talent after its starting five. After losing three of its first six games, the Jayhawks reeled off 10 straight wins -- six without starting power forward Wayne Simeon, who separated a shoulder on Jan. 4. And, despite seeing its streak snapped in Colorado on Wednesday, the Jayhawks remain among the top handful of teams in the country 1 through 5.
Arizona, meanwhile, has lost only once at LSU, but leads the nation in sprained ankles. Luke Walton, Salim Stoudamire and Jason Gardner all have been hampered at one time or another with sprains. Walton and Stoudamire lost significant time and preparation, Gardner has been slowed, and even Hasaan Adams sprained one against USC last week.
But I doubt Williams will feel sorry for Arizona.
Kansas Breakdown: The Jayhawks are an excellent transition team, and really push the ball up court quickly to score. Kansas runs an excellent primary break, getting quick outlets and pushing the ball up the sideline with the dribble or by passing ahead.
Williams essentially plays two point guards in Aaron Miles and Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich is as fast with the ball as anyone in the country and really attacks defenders in transition. He may look slight, but Hinrich is one of the toughest players in the country. He can get to the basket in transition, or pull up and hit mid-range jumpers. Miles, meanwhile, is a great passer who developed into a much bigger offensive threat during the winning streak, which ironically started after Kansas lost to Oregon.
Every Jayhawk runs the floor, and runs it hard. The big men are no exception, as Nick Collison puts a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing big men because he runs the floor and looks for early post-ups opportunities. Kansas scores more than half of its points off of its secondary break, and it can break down opponents because the secondary break is run so efficiently that there is little time to prepare for it after a team scrambles back to stop KU's initial break.
Kansas' real strength, however. lies with its senior leaders. There is not a better duo of seniors than Hinrich and Collison, and both are great competitors and leaders that are at the top of the list at their respective positions. Hinrich is the best shooting guard in the nation, and there is no more efficient big man in the country than Collison. Look at how well Collison is able to seal off his defender and how efficiently he scores down low. Both will enjoy NBA careers of at least a decade.
Kansas has been a very good rebounding team, but with Simien out, the Jayhawks are not as powerful on the glass. Keith Langford will be a key performer against Arizona on the backboards. Langford must use his athleticism to be a third rebounder for Kansas, to aid both Collison and Graves, who has improved greatly with his increased court time in place of Simien.
Arizona Breakdown: The Wildcats feed off of two things: turnovers and offensive rebounds. Arizona is so quick and athletic, and has so much depth, that the Wildcats can press for 40 minutes without having a significant drop off when Lute Olson goes to the bench.
Arizona runs a hard and aggressive 1-2-2 press, and will throw a man "run and jump" press at opponents that will trap and scramble. The Wildcats may give up a few easy baskets as a result of the press, but the effect of the fullcourt pressure is to speed up an opponent, force quick shots out of the flow of the offense, and to wear the opponent down.
With so many great athletes with great size, it's no surprise that Arizona is an excellent offensive rebounding team. If Arizona misses a shot, they send four to the offensive board and clean it up. Hasaan Adams and Ricky Anderson are two of Arizona's best on the offensive glass, and the threat of offensive rebounding can sometimes diminish an opponent's ability to get out and run on Arizona.
Arizona is a good shooting team, but not a great shooting team. Sometimes the Wildcats score so easily off of turnovers and offensive rebounds that Arizona isn't as efficient in the halfcourt as it could be. When the Wildcats are efficient, and not loose with halfcourt possessions, they are extremely difficult to beat. Arizona runs several multiple option sets into its motion offense, and does a great job of screening the weakside and throwing skip passes.
Jason Gardner is an outstanding scorer who does not have to put up the same numbers he did last year, and he has really tightened up his jump shot. He has a great stroke, but has not seen his percentages jump as a result of it. Salim Stoudamire is a great shooter who adds a new dimension to this team now that he is healthy -- stretching defenses. Stoudamire is also a terrific defender.
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