The last thing in the world some coaches want is a pre-season No. 1 ranking. After all, when you’re ranked first, you really have nowhere to go but down.
However, North Carolina was No. 1 at the start of last season and followed through with a national championship. Kansas coach Bill Self feels the Jayhawks, who open their season Friday night by hosting Hofstra, can follow the same path this season to their second national title in three years.
“Without any hesitation, I like it,” Self said of being atop the rankings. “I do think the advantage far outweighs the negative. The thing I like about it is obviously you are not going to be ranked high unless you have good guys.
“Now, whether or not we play to that ranking remains to be seen but I do think the target is good. I think what it does is forces you to be more battle-tested. I think we could be an opponent that is circled for everybody. We are going to get everybody's best shot because in March all it takes is one stubbed toe and you're done. So just to be forced to play under duress, so to speak, is really healthy for a ballclub if you have aspirations to play for the highest stakes.”
Kansas returns all five starters from a team that went 27-8 last season and lost to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen despite losing their entire starting lineup from the 2007-08 championship squad. The Jayhawks are so talented that they placed two players on The Associated Press’ five-man Preseason All-America team--senior guard Sherron Collins and junior center Cole Aldrich.
Collins will be the leader as the lone senior in the starting lineup. Collins played 87.5 percent of the Jayhawks’ minutes last season to rank 75th nationally and his 30.1 percentage of shots was 98th as he averaged 18.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 35.1 minutes.
Though Collins was Kansas’ leading scorer a year ago, Self would prefer to see him become more of a passer in his final collegiate season.
“If Sherron scores as many points as he scored last year then I don't see him being as near as effective of a guard as I had hoped,” Self said. “At the next level for him, he is not going be judged on whether he can get his own shots as much as if he can make the other guys on the court better. He has some guys this year that hopefully he can distribute to and have confidence in and who are maybe a little bit more proven from a scoring standpoint.
“Now, I still want him to look to shoot. I want to, at the end of the (shot) clock, get the ball in his hands and let him go. We will give him a ton of freedom but I do not think he will feel the pressure that he needs to make the shots for us to have good possessions, which I think will make our whole team better.”
Aldrich had a spectacular 2008-09 season in which he had a 14.9/11.0/1.0/35.1 line while ranking in the top 100 in the nation in six Pomeroy statistical categories: seventh in defensive rebounding percentage (28.5), 23rd in block percentage (9.6), 27th in offensive rating (123.9), 36th in true shooting percentage (64.0), 63rd in effective field goal percentage (59.8) and 93rd in offensive rebounding percentage (12.5).
“The key to our team is Cole and Sherron being as good as or better than they were last year,” Self said. “Cole's lower-body strength has gotten a lot better. Hopefully, with (Arizona transfer Jeff) Withey back there and a few other guys, he won't be forced to guard the other team's best big guy at all times, especially when he has a foul situation.
“I do think Cole could be improved but he amazed me at the level he played last year and he continues to get better each and every week. If he continues to do that, he could go down as one of the better big men to play here, ever, not just in recent memory.”
Another reason why this Kansas team could go down as one of the best in the school’s storied basketball history is the other starters who return: sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor (9.7/2.2/3.0/26.5), junior guard Brady Morningstar (6.5/3.0/2.6/30.4) and sophomore forward Markieff Morris (4.6/4.4/0.9/15.3). Morningstar is suspended for the first semester after he was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, but that isn’t a big problem because the Jayhawks can plug C.J. Henry, one of the nation’s most highly touted freshmen, into the lineup.
Thus, it is little wonder why Kansas isn’t scared to talk about winning it all this season.
“It has been mentioned,” Self said. “We have talked about it with Cole and Sherron. They have a chance to leave their mark on this place in a way that few have. I guess you go back to the 1922-1923 years when guys were able to string together back-to-back titles. Of course, these guys can't do that, but to think you may be in the game to put two or three up there, that is pretty special.”
Macon Tries to Rebuild at Binghamton
Perhaps no coach is in the country is in a tougher spot to begin the season than Binghamton’s Mark Macon.
The former Temple All-America guard and Bearcats assistant coach was thrust into the role of interim head coach when Kevin Broadus was placed on paid leave last month after it was announced the Binghamton athletic department would be investigated by the State University of New York. That came following the dismissal of six players from the team in September, including Emmanuel “Tiki” Maybin, who was arrested in his hometown of Troy, N.Y. on charges of sale and possession of crack cocaine.
Just three players remain from the team that went 23-9 last season, won the America East Conference, and made the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Junior guard Chretien Lukusa (4.4/3.4/0.8/24.7), junior forward Moussa Camara (3.4/1.0/0.2/13.6) and sophomore forward Kyrie Sutton (1.6/2.6/0.2/11.7) combined to average 9.4 points a game last season.
Yet Macon, who spent six seasons playing in the NBA from 1991-99, is keeping an upbeat attitude in his first shot as a head coach after also serving stints as an assistant at Temple and Georgia State. He makes his debut Saturday when Binghamton hosts Division II Bloomsburg.
“I’m always in attack mode and learning mode,” Macon told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin’s Mike Mangan. “I have to attack my opponent but I’m also learning my team and how to be a better coach and how to make my players better.”
Binghamton interim athletic director Jim Norris believes the 40-year-old Macon is the right person to lead the program through turbulent times.
“Mark is a very confident young man,” Norris said. “He’s got a great pedigree. He played at the professional level. He was an All-American at Temple and played for one of the top college coaches ever (John Chaney). He has a good handle on what’s going on. He’s going to do a good job.”
Norris would not speculate if Macon might get the job on a permanent basis if Broaddus, as many expect, winds up being fired following the investigation. One name to keep in mind as a potential replacement is Vanderbilt assistant coach King Rice, a former North Carolina point guard and Binghamton native.
Boeheim Reaches Milestone with Family Ties
When Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim became just the eighth coach in Division I history to win 800 games with a victory over Albany on Monday, two of the Orange players could truly appreciate the moment.
Senior guard Andy Rautins’ father, Leo, was a star player for Syracuse in the early 1980s. Freshman forward Brandon Triche is a Syracuse native and his uncle, Howard Triche, was on the 1987 team that lost to Indiana in the national championship game.
“It’s unbelievable,” Andy Rautins told the Syracuse Post-Standard’s Mike Waters. “My dad was there to see it. My family was there. For me to be on the floor and get Coach’s 800th win is something I’ll have forever.”
Said Brandon Triche: “Growing up in Syracuse, I came to Syracuse games and watched Syracuse games on TV all the time. Actually being a part of it? I still don’t know what it means but it’s an honor to be part of No. 800.”
Boeheim is one of three active coaches with 800 victories along with Duke’s Mike Kryzewski and Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun. Next on the list is West Virginia’s Bob Huggins with 639. Boeheim is just the fourth coach to win at least 800 games at one school, joining a list that includes North Carolina’s Dean Smith, Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and Mount St. Mary’s Jim Phelan.
“Obviously, it’s a very big milestone for any coach to get,” Boeheim said. “The coaches and players that have been here have been consistently good for a long time. The fans have been a tremendous part of this. You have to have a good fan base to have a good basketball program. You have to. You have to have people coming. We’ve always had that. But it still goes back to the players that have played here over the years.”
Three-Second Violations a Point of Emphasis
This season’s point of emphasis among officials is trying to put an end to the increasingly rough play of recent years. One way they plan on doing that is by more strictly enforcing the seemingly forgotten three-second rule.
“While it may not seem important, we think it will go a long way towards cleaning up rough play in the post,” said John Adams, the NCAA’s coordinator of officiating. “We examined the 2009 NCAA tournament videos and found a significant number of three second violations that went uncalled. When they go uncalled, they tend to lead to wrestling matches between the players involved.”
Also looks for more flagrant and intentional fouls to be called this season as Adams feels that would also be a deterrent to physical play.
“We’ve asked our officials to up the ante,” Adams said. “When flagrant and intentional fouls occur, call them and don’t automatically downgrade them to just common fouls.”
Adams has also put into place what he calls “the freedom of movement initiative.”
“We’re going to use this as a measuring stick, a litmus test of what is and isn’t a foul,” he said. “We keep telling our officials if the rhythm, speed, balance or quickness of a player is affected, that’s a foul. That’s what our measuring stick should be rather just advantage or disadvantage.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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