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December 2, 2010

Preview: KU vs. UCLA

Jumping to No. 4 in the country, Kansas (6-0; 0-0) is back home in Lawrence, Kan., to face UCLA (3-2; 0-0), a team reeling after two straight losses. Marcus Morris and brother Markieff Morris have played exceptionally well so far this season. KU now focuses its attention to the Bruins in what should be another good test for the Jayhawks in the non-conference. Thursday's match up between the two historic programs is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

After a 57-point win over Ohio and a much closer game in which Kansas overcame foul trouble versus Arizona, one would think it would be all smiles for the Jayhawks.

They are certainly happy with the undefeated record, but Bill Self and his staff would be the first to tell you the performance of his players has been far from perfect.



Self called the blowout against the Bobcats, "the weakest performance in a big blowout win that I've seen." A statement like that after a nearly 60-point victory says the Jayhawks have a ways to go before reaching their full potential.

Still, the weekend in Las Vegas was a success and KU looks to one of the many title contenders through the early part of the season.

UCLA is next up for Kansas. The Bruins have struggled the past two seasons and look to be headed down a similar path this year. Ben Howland is one of the better coaches in college basketball and will have his team ready to play when they take on KU, while Self will look for his players to step up their effort level on both ends of the court as they aim for their seventh win of the year.

Kansas

All in all, there is little to complain about when looking at the Kansas Jayhawks. They are currently fourth in the nation in points per game. Ranked first in points allowed, as well as first in rebounds, margin of victory, and assists.

Defensively, KU can improve greatly in the low post. The Morris twins found themselves in serious foul trouble against Arizona while Wildcat forward Derrick Williams put up 27 points before fouling out in the second half.

Center Jeff Withey is considered the best post defender of the group, but has yet to get to the point where he can log significant minutes.

The biggest surprise of the season has been sophomore forward Thomas Robinson, who he third leading scorer for KU with 10.7 points per game, and tied for second in rebounds per game with Marcus Morris.

The Jayhawks want to pound the ball inside and control the game with their inside scoring, and they have done just that through six games, with their top three scorers and rebounders all big men.

The Morris twins and Robinson have NBA scouts drooling, which may be a bad thing for Kansas fans hoping to see them play for at least one more year (Morris twins are juniors). Robinson is the least likely to leave early because he has so much room for growth, and it may take a lottery spot for the one or both of the twins to leave.

At this point, that's neither here nor there. Right now the three are focused on the ultimate prize; another Big 12 championship, and a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA tournament where they shockingly fell to Northern Iowa last season.

What some may have forgotten in that loss, either because it was last season, or because they don't want to re-live the nightmare, is that the Morris twins are the reason why the Jayhawks were even in a position to win the game down the stretch.

Added to the production from its big three, Kansas is getting production from junior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who appears to have finally reached his maturity level, at least enough to be the leader in the backcourt.

While they await Josh Selby, who will be as close to a lock for a starting spot as one can get, Taylor and fellow guards Elijah Johnson, Tyrel Reed, and Brady Morningstar are playing well.

Reed has hit a slump from a shooting standpoint, but has proven time and time again he can knock down the big shot, and not just from three-point range. Against Arizona, Reed made two key baskets late in the second half when working inside the lane.

Off the bench, KU is getting significant minutes and production from guard/forward Travis Releford and senior Mario Little, both of which were instrumental in taking down 'Zona after trailing in the second half and the Morris twins on the bench.

Releford needs to avoid falling in love with the outside shot, but has added range to his jumper and is proving to be a viable scoring threat at the collegiate level.

Little is a quiet worker who doesn't mind doing the dirty work in the low post, but isn't afraid to show off his best impression of idol Michael Jordan and the infamous turnaround jumper from the baseline.

Against UCLA, it should be business as usual for Kansas; work the ball inside and let open shooters knock down shots should the defense collapse, which it's sure to do.


Projected Starters

G - Tyshawn Taylor (Junior, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds)
G - Tyrel Reed (Senior, 6-foot-3, 193 pounds)
G - Brady Morningstar (Senior, 6-foot-4, 185 pounds)
F - Marcus Morris (Junior, 6-foot-9, 235 pounds)
C - Markieff Morris (Junior, 6-foot-10, 245 pounds)

Key Reserves: Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson, Mario Little, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey

UCLA Bruins

It wasn't long ago when coach Howland's Bruins were a Final Four mainstay.

Unfortunately, college sports is all about what have you done for me lately, meaning those trips to the national semifinals are remembered by UCLA fans, and quickly forgotten by the general public.

Now, the Bruins are again unranked and lack the respect once given by opponents. After two straight losses, one of which to a very talented Villanova team, UCLA is once again at the point of trying to find themselves as a team.

They still carry the same personality of their coach; hard-nosed, defensive, and scrappy, but the talent just isn't quite there. UCLA will rebound with anyone in the country, but sloppy turnovers and a lack of scoring punch from more than one or two players on a consistent level is what keeps the Bruins from getting back to the top of the national stage.

Reeves Nelson, who played well for the Bruins a season ago against Kansas, is one of the better forwards in the Pac 10. He can knock down the mid-range jumper, but his tenacity in the low post on both ends of the court allows him to collect plenty of rebounds and clean up missed baskets.

If there is one area where UCLA is still the same from those talented teams three years ago, it's the ability to get second chance points and not giving up on the play.

Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt is a lanky-athletic wing who presents a mismatch for most defenders on the offensive end.

He is somewhat inconsistent on offense and turns the ball over frequently. He currently has a 2.6-4.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, something he needs to improve on greatly in order to help his team to more wins than losses.

As a whole, the Bruins average 17 assists per game and 16 turnovers a game. Compare that to KU's 22 assists per game to just 11 turnovers and it's easy to see why UCLA has its work cut out for it against a good defensive team in Kansas who is working to get better.

Through just five games, UCLA sits at No. 103 in points per game, 97 in rebounds, and are hitting less than 50-percent of its shots from the field.

At the end of the day, you still have to go play the game. Kansas has a propensity to look past its opponents, and while UCLA is always going to be UCLA, the Bruins have some solid pieces in place to go into Allen Fieldhouse and catch KU off guard with a great performance.

Center Joshua Smith presents a great challenge for the Jayhawks, weighing in at 305-pounds, something the Morris twins have yet to play against.


Projected Starters

G - Lazeric Jones (Junior, 6-foot-0, 187 pounds)
G - Malcolm Lee (Junior, 6-foot-4, 195 pounds)
F - Tyler Honeycutt (Sophomore, 6-foot-8, 183 pounds)
F - Reeves Nelson (Sophomore, 6-foot-8, 235 pounds)
F - Joshua Smith (Freshman, 6-foot-10, 305 pounds)

Key Reserves: Anthony Stover, Tyler Lamb, Brendan Lane


Key Match up

Joshua Smith vs. Markieff Morris: Markieff Morris is playing as well as he ever has in a Kansas uniform, but through the endless experience he has already notched in his belt, a 305-pound center is something he has yet to deal with.


Joshua Smith has the potential to be a beast in the low post, but as it stands, he is overweight and lacking the speed and athleticism to compete at a high level. He averages 7.4 points per game, but just 3.4 rebounds despite his size in weight, and height (6-foot-10).

The Morris twins, as well as Thomas Robinson will prove to be too quick for Smith, who plays just 16 minutes per game, but you can't teach size, meaning Smith may, at the very least, be able to get the twins into foul trouble for the second straight game, giving the Bruins a chance to stay with the Jayhawks.


The Edge: Kansas

The game is a marquee match-up because of the names on the jerseys, but on paper, Kansas is a superior team.

The Bruins will rely on their usually tough defense in order to slow the game down and make it a physical, grind-it-out contest, only problem is Kansas is able to play at any speed and still be effective.

KU will try to force tempo, but if UCLA can make it sloppy and get the Jayhawks out of sync offensively, they can control the pace and make KU play the style they want them to play. The issue for UCLA is scoring. If they can't put up points while also keeping Kansas from scoring, it will all become moot point.

In the end, KU has too much fire power and will be amped up because of who the opponent is.

Final Score

KU - 85
UCLA - 68


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