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November 15, 2010

KU looking to improve

It's a quick turnaround for No. 7 Kansas after demolishing Longwood on Friday. This time around, a much more talented team awaits when Valparaiso travels to Lawrence, Kan., for a Monday tip against the Jayhawks. Although KU did put up 113 points in the opener, the defense allowed 75 from Longwood, something that cannot happen against Valpo. The game is scheduled for a 7:00 pm tip.

Anytime a team puts up as many points as Kansas did in their home opening, excitement would certainly be the first reaction, but looking at Longwood's 75 points scored, many of which coming from wide open three point attempts, it has become clear this KU team isn't fully committed to defense.

Bill Self spoke of this after his teams' win, calling his players lazy defenders. When you can score so easily, especially in transition, it's easy to forget about the defense, but if Kansas is going to continue its winning ways, Self's players will need to focus their energy into playing like a typical Kansas team does; win with defense first.

Valparaiso scored 111 points in its first game against Indiana-Northwest, while only allowing 64. The Crusaders are a very capable offensive team that will come in ready to put some points on the board.

KU is 2-0 all time versus Valpo, the last win coming in 2002 when Drew Gooden and Nick Collison combined for 44 points.

The Jayhawks are hoping to continue their nation-long home winning streak, but Valpo will have upset on its mind when they arrive at Allen Fieldhouse, Monday night.


Kansas

So far the season has kicked off just as most would have expected; Marcus Morris, twin brother Markieff Morris, and junior guard Tyshawn Taylor are leading the way for Kansas.

Without Josh Selby, things will have to remain as such until the Jayhawks can get their star freshman on the court.

For the majority of the game, KU received very little from its bench, but sophomore center Jeff Withey and fellow big man Thomas Robinson ended the game with impressive stat lines and gave coach Self a needed boost from the bench.

Marcus Morris led the way with 18 points, while his brother finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

KU has the potential to be extremely good, but the defense still remains an issue.

Slow rotation on the perimeter and too much fouling underneath the basket has Self and his staff challenging their players through the media and in practice by calling them out on their biggest flaw.

The speed and athleticism is there, but the commitment has yet to follow. Selby will help, as he is known to be a very solid and aggressive defender, but he will need help.

KU was caught several times looking to overplay for a steal in order to leak out for an easy dunk. Unfortunately it left wide-open shooters for Longwood who, thankfully for KU, didn't hit as many as they would have liked.

Valparaiso had four players score at least 17 points in the opener, which means Kansas will need to be very aware of the fact that the Crusaders can score in bunches.

Offensively, KU still needs to focus on working the ball inside to the Morris twins and the other big men. Against the Lancers, had KU wanted to, the Morris twins could have both had 20-plus points. The high-low pass was open nearly every play.

Valpo has much bigger players on its roster than Longwood, but the Jayhawks will be more skilled in the low post.

Three-point shooter, although improving, still needs to increase for Kansas. Tyrel Reed is the best marksman the Jayhawks have and will need to make his mark from behind the arc this season.

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)

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


Valparaiso Crusaders

The Crusaders are no slouch, there is no denying that. With four starters back, along with 10 total lettermen from last season's 15-17 team, Valparaiso has played its fair share of big games. While they will certainly be the underdog against Kansas, fear will not be an issue and a program that has had success over the years will not fall to intimidation, even in front of 16,300 fans.

The leading scorer from a year ago at both Valparaiso and in the Horizon League, Brandon Wood, is back, and continued where he left off, scoring 20 points against IU Northwest.

He averaged 17.7 points per game a year ago and can fill up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. At 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, Wood will present a tough match up for the Kansas guards on Monday night.

A more perimeter-oriented team, Valpo has several very talented guards, including Ryan Broekhoff, who can also be used as more of a small forward, and 6-foot-3 Howard Little, a Chicago-native who is a highly efficient scorer from inside the three-point line.

His three-point percentage was down nearly 20 points from his sophomore year, but Little has proven in the past that he can knock down the long ball.

In terms of their starters, the only true big man is senior Cory Johnson, a senior who averaged just under 16 points per game a season ago and was voted to the second-team all conference list.

In their first game, Valpo received 37 points from its bench, hit 58-percent of its field goals as a team, and collected 41 rebounds. The Crusaders also scored 22 points off turnovers against IU Northwest.

They are very well coached and will try to force their tempo on Kansas as opposed to playing the pace the Jayhawks would like them to play.

Projected Starters

G - Brandon Wood (Junior, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds)

G - Erik Buggs (Sophomore, 5-foot-10, 155 pounds)

G - Howard Little (Senior, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds)

G - Ryan Broekhoff (Sophomore, 6-foot-6, 185 pounds)

F - Cory Johnson (Senior, 6-foot-7, 225 pounds)

Key Reserves: Michael Rogers, Jay Harris, Hrvoje Vucic

Key Matchup

Brandon Wood vs. Tyshawn Taylor: Taylor has been a pleasant surprise for Kansas so far this season. The expectation has always been there for the junior guard, but over his career, various off-court issues have prevented him from exploding on to the scene like he is capable of.

He will have a tough match up on Monday against a very productive and experienced player in Valpo's Brandon Wood. The two have plenty of athleticism and both can score at a high rate, but keeping the other in check will be an important factor in Monday's meeting.

Without Josh Selby, and should Bill Self choose to sit Elijah Johnson for a second straight game, Taylor will need to continue to step up and help lead his team on both ends of the floor.

On the other side, Wood may be the key to Valparaiso hanging in with Kansas. If he can get his looks and score at a high clip, the Crusaders will have a chance to hang with KU.


The Edge: Kansas

Kansas is the better team, but still has question marks of its own. Valpo has played in tough venues and will not be afraid to come in and impose their will against KU. Self and his staff know this could be a tough match up if the Jayhawks don't commit to defense, which means the emphasis is on exactly that, defense.

KU absolutely must make life on the offensive end a nightmare for Valparaiso. If they can do that and control the pace of the game, it should be another easy win, however, if the Crusaders can take the first blow and continue to battle, the Jayhawks may have a game on their hands.

Final Score
KU - 89
Valpo - 71



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