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December 1, 2010

Room to improve

After a successful weekend in Las Vegas, Nev., No. 4 Kansas (6-0; 0-0) returns home to take on UCLA (3-2; 0-0) in a match up of two of the top winning programs of all time. Marcus Morris took home MVP honors in Sin City, leading the Jayhawks to wins over Ohio and Arizona, and continues to show why he is one of the top players in all of college basketball. Head Coach Bill Self spoke with the media earlier this week.

A 57-point win over Ohio and a championship game victory over a tough Arizona team would make any team excited, and while Kansas coach Bill Self is proud of what his team was able to accomplish away from Allen Fieldhouse, his team still has plenty to work on heading forward.

KU is back home to take on the UCLA Bruins, who have lost two in a row against Villanova and VCU and looking to get back to the UCLA of the recent past.



"They're a lot better. They have their main players back from last year, plus they have added some nice pieces to the puzzle," said Bill Self early this week. "Reeves Nelson and (Tyler) Honeycutt are off to a great start. If I'm not mistaken, I think that may have been Honeycutt's last game back when we played them last year. He is going to be a really good player, and certainly they are getting better guard play. They are much better, and (UCLA head coach Ben Howland) will coach them up. They will certainly guard well. It will be a game where there are very few easy baskets. I'm excited and our guys will be excited about playing arguably as storied of a basketball program as there is in the country."

Kansas traveled to Los Angeles, Calif., last season to take on the Bruins, walking away with the win, but not their best performance of the season. Self reflected on the last meeting with UCLA with another installment looming on Thursday.

"I think Markieff was our best player in the game. We didn't play great and they didn't play great, but it was a good win for us. Any time you go on the road and win, it's good. It was a good win, but certainly one in which we certainly didn't play our best. They were going through some stuff last year at that particular time and I think they're a lot better team this year."

Even with a 3-2 record, the Bruins have plenty of talent as coach Self mentioned during his press conference. Kansas can't take anyone for granted as the target his squarely on the Jayhawks as they vaulted into the top four nationally on Monday.

In terms of their performance in Vegas, the Jayhawks were very good for stretches, according to Self, however, they certainly have room for improvement heading forward.

"Well I thought we played a lot better against Arizona than we did against Ohio - we didn't play well at all against Ohio, we just couldn't shoot the ball into the ocean. We moved the ball pretty well against Arizona and we played out of foul trouble. We made some plays when it got tight and we played smart down the stretch. I think we showed that we can play at a very high level for a period of time, and we also showed that we were very normal at times."

Marcus Morris was the best player on the court throughout the weekend, earning him MVP, as well as a spot on the All-Tournament Team along with fellow teammate Travis Releford.

Morris has played exceptionally well all season, at least offensively. Both he and his brother, Markieff Morris, need improvement with their defense in the low post, but without a doubt, Marcus has put himself in a position to be considered for national honors. His performance also brought home the award for Big 12 Player of the Week as well.

"He deserves that. He's shooting 70 percent. Marcus has been great offensively," Self said. "He scored facing the basket. He scored from deep. He scored mid-range. He scored on post moves. He really has demonstrated his versatility. I doubt there has been anybody in our league that has had a better week or start to the season than he has."

Junior guard Tyshawn Taylor spoke about the performance of his teammate so far this season, knowing full well how important the play of not only Marcus, but both of the twins is to the team's success this season.

"He's been knocking them down," Taylor said. "Marcus is good. He gets in his comfort zone. His turn around jump shot, the step in three-point line from the top of the key, we practice those shots. Those are shots that we practice everyday. When our confidence is (high) like that (from practice), especially when we make a couple, and Marcus will make a couple, he'll definitely put them up. Marcus can score, he's a shooter. Even Markieff (Morris) has made some big shots. Guys have been knocking them down."

If one thing was proven in Vegas, it's how important the Morris twins are for Kansas. The two are combining for 31.3 points per game and 15.8 rebounds per game. They are the top two scorers for a balanced Jayhawk team, hitting from every spot in the court.

It's hard to find a complaint about how the two have played, but defensively, they can improve fairly significantly. Moving their feet and getting into better position is one area of improvement, and will also help keep the two out of foul trouble, something that hurt Kansas against Arizona.

"You can't put your hands on people when they drive it, Self said. "You have to play your man before he catches it. They'll get better at that. Our guys are going to foul. You just can't commit the silly ones that give you three to start the second half. Big guys are going to foul. You just have to eliminate the ones that are avoidable and you have to play your man before he catches it."

In their place, forwards Travis Releford, Thomas Robinson, and Mario Little played significant minutes and played very well. Robinson has been a pleasant surprise this season with his constant effort and incredible athleticism, throwing down a monster one-handed dunk late in the game against Arizona, possibly the play that swung the momentum back to KU for good.

Offensively, the Jayhawks have maybe surprised some teams with the ability to get outside jumpers from its big men. In the past, the Morris twins have shown they can knock down the perimeter shot, but Robinson has jumped into the mix as a player who can step back and hit a mid-range to three-point jumper. The ability to add that to their offensive repertoire gives Kansas a huge advantage, especially against less athletic forwards.

When asked whether those three need to play with their back to the baskets more and facing up less, Self spoke about his philosophy when it comes to the play of his big men on the offensive end.

"Our whole offense is predicated on paint touches, either off the pass or off the bounce. We do a good job of that a lot of times. Thomas got us two points late in the game by doing that to (Arizona). When their big guy fouled him, he got two free throws. I'm OK with them shooting the ball, but they're going to be a lot more open when (the opponent) respects the drive. You have to give their big guys a chance to get in foul trouble. I think those three could be so good driving the ball because they're so good with the ball in their hands."

Both Robinson and Markieff Morris weighed in with their thoughts on taking perimeter shots as well as using their low post moves to score.

"He (Coach Self) never wants us to settle," said Robinson. "If we attack the basket and get easy buckets that get us in a rhythm, then he will allow us to step out and shoot."

"It depends on if it's a bad shot or not. If it's a good shot, it's a good shot. If it's a bad shot then we should attack the basket, that's what we hear," added Markieff Morris.

Kansas is playing very well so far in the early portion of the 2010-11 season. UCLA won't be a pushover and the Jayhawks won't take them lightly, but after six games, KU appears to be a legitimate title contender. How his team progresses before the all-important winter break will be key to their chances at the end of the season.

KU is now just three weeks away from adding freshman Josh Selby to the mix. With his ability to change a game along with the play of the Morris twins and the rest of the Jayhawks, Kansas appears to be a team who, when playing its best, can play with anyone in the country.

Before they look ahead, the Bruins await their chance to gain back momentum by knocking off a top five team on the road.


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