LAWRENCE — Another week, another question for the coach of the No. 1 team in college basketball that begins "What's wrong with...."
During the beginning of the season, the topic was Cole Aldrich. He wasn't scoring points the way he had last season. In the middle, it was Xavier Henry. He wasn't scoring points the way he had earlier in the season. This week, it was Sherron Collins. He hasn't been scoring points with the same ease he has for most of his illustrious career.
KU coach Bill Self is used to the dissection of his 25-1 team by now, and this time, he wanted to remind the Jayhawks' critics of something.
"I remember being in this room many times," Self said, "and you'd ask me what's wrong with (Brandon) Rush, and why isn't (Mario) Chalmers doing more, (Darrell) Arthur's in a slump, that kind of stuff. They weren't really in funks as much as maybe other guys were just playing better that particular game or that particular time. This is one thing that makes this team have a chance to be really good and hard to guard as we go forward. I still don't think we've really seen us all be on the same page yet offensively."
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And with that, Self had deftly spun out of trouble once again. By drawing comparisons to the 2008 national championship team, Self put his questioners in the position of having to nod their heads and figure the guy knows what he's doing. Because when you think back to this exact point two years ago, there wasn't much reason to believe the Jayhawks were going to win the national championship.
They were clearly one of the top two teams in the Big 12, and you figured they had seven or eight future pros. But they lost at Kansas State, at Texas and then at Oklahoma State in a seven-game span and looked lost offensively at times. Rush wasn't aggressive enough, Chalmers was too unselfish, Arthur fouled too much and couldn't stay on the floor, and Collins wasn't his explosive self because of injuries.
These Jayhawks won at K-State and Texas and Texas A&M, but it's the way they've looked in recent wins over Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa State that has caused some alarm. Self made the point that this team hasn't blown out many league teams as the 2008 team did. KU hasn't looked dominant very often in victory. And maybe it is as simple as the Jayhawks' best offensive scorers not being in sync on the same night.
Only four times in 26 games have Collins, Aldrich, Henry and Marcus Morris been in double figures on the same night: Memphis, California, Temple and Baylor.
It's pretty easy to explain. Aldrich began the year with bronchitis and playing through the pain of knowing he would lose his grandmother, who was terminally ill. He also had Marcus Morris showing signs of emerging as an offensive force, which ended up happening in Big 12 play. Morris averages 16.6 points in 11 league games to Aldrich's 12.1. Henry, a freshman, scored easily in nonconference play but struggled to adjust to Big 12 play. Collins has not shot the ball well since the K-State game, when he battled through physical pain. He said it was cramps.
And now it is Collins, like his 2008 predecessors, who is talking in mid-February about having to be more aggressive (even though he has taken 64 shots in five games).
As this conference season winds down and there is less to play for - the Jayhawks can clinch at least a share of their sixth straight Big 12 regular-season title on Monday night against Oklahoma if they beat Colorado today — KU's players can still look forward to putting it all together during the same stretch. Of course, they can only hope it happens during the NCAA Tournament.
"Definitely," Morris said. "I feel like the whole team really hasn't played our best ball, and we're still winning and we're still competing. Just imagine when we all play good how good we can be."