basketball kansas basketball

March Madness / Zapruder analysis of Mario's shot

A cou­ple of days ago, I was watch­ing Mario's three-point­er for like the 150th time, and I decid­ed to do it JFK/Zaprud­er style. Click. Sher­ron blows by Der­rick Rose. Click. Click. Click. Sher­ron begins to fall. Click. The ball emerges in Mario's hands, he takes a big jump-step toward the top of the key, jumps, fades. Der­rick Rose leaps. Ball leaves Mario's hand. Arc-ing, arc-ing. Swish. (Rewind). Swish. (Rewind). Swish. I felt like Kevin Cost­ner in JFK: Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left.

An obscured leaping figure

As I stepped through the swish mul­ti­ple times, I saw some­thing I hadn't seen before, a sort of puff of smoke on the grassy knoll. There's a leap­ing fig­ure behind the back­board, at the very far end of the Kansas bench. Just after Mario's shot goes through, the play­ers on the bench appear to be in dis­be­lief, but a black clad fig­ure at the end of the bench sud­den­ly springs up, spin­ning, arms flail­ing. I think that this was pret­ty close to my reac­tion as well.

Ballard celebratesThis is clos­est I could come to a shot of the bench at that moment Mario's shot goes through the net. It's unclear who it is from this pho­to, but it's almost cer­tain­ly the same guy you can see onscreen, jump­ing and celebrating.

You can kin­da see a black blur behind the back­board in this YouTube clip, but it's much more clear­ly viewed in high-def­i­n­i­tion about two feet from your TV screen.Fast-forward to the post-game cel­e­bra­tion, and it becomes clear that the fig­ure is none oth­er than for­mer Kansas back­up point guard and cur­rent video assis­tant, Brett Bal­lard. Awe­some. I was always a Bal­lard fan because he's a Kansas kid, from Hutchi­son. [Here's a nice Kansan pro­file of Bal­lard.] Now he'll always be the visu­al record of my own reac­tion to Mario's shot.

basketball kansas basketball

Basketball / Tale of two teams

Baron!The Bay Area: Where Baron hap­pens. Pho­to: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Liv­ing in the Bay Area, I've watched Baron Davis and Don Nel­son breathe life into the corpse of the Gold­en State War­riors by play­ing fast, loose, undis­ci­plined, unpre­dictable bas­ket­ball. When they're click­ing, the War­riors are invig­o­rat­ing and life-affirm­ing. Nel­lie doesn't bur­den the team with struc­ture — they don't real­ly run an "offense" or play "defense" in the tra­di­tion­al sens­es — instead, they rely on the play­ers' abil­i­ties to impro­vise, pull their oppo­nents out of their own struc­tures, and wear them down with run­ning and gunning. 

Playground electicity

When the War­riors are good, they're like the best play­ground bas­ket­ball team you could ever imag­ine. What makes them all the more excit­ing is that their ros­ter lacks key tra­di­tion­al dimen­sions asso­ci­at­ed with suc­cess­ful teams. They com­pete with­out the tra­di­tion­al man-moun­tain in the low-post to take on Shaq, Yao, Dun­can, or Pau; instead, Andris Biedrins, who has very lit­tle in the way of a J and doesn't ever try to play fac­ing the bas­ket, uses his quick­ness and hops to rebound, fol­low, and gen­er­al­ly sur­prise oppo­nents with his abil­i­ty to keep War­rior pos­ses­sions alive. (Check out where The Wages of Wins ranked Biedrins for the 2006–2007 sea­son) Spoil­er: He's #1 on the team, with 11.7 to Baron's 9.7. On the guard front, Baron and Stephen Jack­son and Mon­ta Ellis don't real­ly run an offense as much as they weave through defens­es in per­pet­u­al one-on-fives, dri­ving to the rim, dish­ing to team­mates. Baron has a (admit­ted­ly deserved) rep­u­ta­tion as a shoot-first point guard, but he defers to oth­ers when they're hot and his team­mates seem to feed off his ener­gy. Mon­ta, more of a two-guard than a point, some­how can't shoot the three, but he can blow by just about any­one and he's one of the bet­ter fin­ish­ers in the league right now. 6'9" Al Har­ring­ton is more reli­able from behind the arc than he is with his back to the bas­ket; Wages of Wins doesn't think much of him, but it's hard to deny the prob­lems that he cre­ates for defens­es when he's in the game. Stephen Jack­son — Stack Jack, as Baron calls him — is the glue; when he's in the game, every­one is bet­ter. Seri­ous­ly, who wouldn't want to play with him? He's got everyone's back.

DarnellDar­nell can't do it alone. Pho­to: Nick Krug, Lawrence Journal-World.

Con­trast the War­riors with the oth­er team that I fol­low, the Kansas Jay­hawks. Where the War­riors are dan­ger­ous, inscrutable, fierce com­peti­tors who save their best for big games, the Jay­hawks have been the oppo­site: soft, pre­dictable, vul­ner­a­ble when the game is on the line. Where the War­riors have at least three guys who thrive in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions — Baron, Stack Jack, and Har­ring­ton — the Jay­hawks have eight guys who could start on any team in Amer­i­ca, but not one who wants to take over a game. Last week, I trekked to Ora­cle with Justin, Mara, and Lynne (Lynne? Blog?), and we watched the War­riors wear down the Celtics and, in the final moments, dri­ve a dag­ger into their hearts. Three days lat­er, I watched the Jay­hawks wilt in the final moments against a very, very fired up Okla­homa State team. Part of the prob­lem is that Kansas sim­ply doesn't have reli­able offen­sive weapons; anoth­er part is that teams love beat­ing the Hawks, and each Jay­hawk oppo­nent is play­ing its biggest game of the sea­son. Col­lege bas­ket­ball is dif­fer­ent in that regard. Mes­sage boards don't rejoice each time the Lak­ers lose a game, but oh how peo­ple love to see teams like Kansas (Google: "kansas" + "choke"), Duke (Google: "duke" + "choke"), and Ken­tucky (Google: "ken­tucky" + "choke") lose. Which is fine. If peo­ple didn't real­ly react this way, the wins wouldn't be as much fun.The root of the Hawks' prob­lem is offen­sive, though. The War­riors are stocked with guys who can cre­ate their own shot, but Kansas has to rely on Mario Chalmers and Sher­ron Collins (and, to some extent, Rus­sell Robin­son) to break down defens­es and spring Bran­don Rush on the perime­ter or Dar­rell Arthur inside. Like the War­riors, the Hawks don't run a struc­tured offense with inter­change­able parts; they rely on ath­leti­cism. This lack of dimen­sion is eas­i­ly exploit­ed by teams who effec­tive­ly pres­sure the Hawks' guards, and who run big guys out to trap the ball at the three-point line. Add to this mix the fact that Kansas guards can­not seem to defend oppos­ing guards, and there's no ques­tion that they've got some big prob­lems to solve before mid-March.

kansas basketball

Kansas basketball / Jitters, a jinx, and a stinging loss

Ques­tion: What hap­pens when a young col­lege bas­ket­ball team with­out a proven low-post pres­ence some­how man­ages to secure a high nation­al rank­ing then faces a real­ly hun­gry, expe­ri­enced team? The Hawks found out two nights ago, get­ting their rear-ends tanned by an unher­ald­ed and obvi­ous­ly hun­gry Oral Roberts team.Where does this rank among the hard­est-to-swal­low loss­es in recent mem­o­ry? I don't want to go over­board here; it's not as crush­ing as the two NCAA Tour­na­ment ear­ly exits. It also wasn't as demor­al­iz­ing as los­ing to K‑State (at home) and Mis­souri (after lead­ing by 7 with a lit­tle over a minute left) last year. It's most reminscent of the 2004 home loss to Rich­mond, when the entire sport­ing nation could turn on ESPN to see the Hawks implode on their home floor to a team that wasn't even play­ing that well. ESPN didn't car­ry the ORU game on Wednes­day night, THANK GOD, but the loss rip­pled through the sports press in a way that always seemed to empha­size the Hawks sim­ply failed to look, umm, good. SI said sim­ply: "Oral Roberts out­played No. 3 Kansas the whole way."Question: How in the world does SI rank KU above a team like Flori­da, the defend­ing nation­al cham­pi­ons who returned every starter from last year? Did they want to avoid jinx­ing Flori­da for some rea­son? (SI added KU to its list of cov­er jinx­es). Maybe they set­tled on this arrange­ment before Sasha Kaun got hurt, and before CJ Giles pulled a Lawrence Phillips and got him­self kicked off the team?[1] Even so, how does any front line arrange­ment com­pete with Gator paint-dom­i­na­tors Al Hor­ford and Joakim Noah? We'll find out soon enough, I guess, since the teams will meet a week from tomor­row in Vegas. Gulp.[1] Wikipedia's abstract on Lawrence Phillips: "Lawrence Phillips (b. May 12, 1975 in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas), is a for­mer pro­fes­sion­al Amer­i­can foot­ball and Cana­di­an foot­ball run­ning back who has had numer­ous con­flicts with law enforce­ment." Sor­ta says it all.