Sitting a few rows behind the Kansas bench in Allen Fieldhouse is a great place to get a unique perspective of the Missouri/Kansas basketball rivalry. Here are my notes from number-two-ranked Kansas’ 103-86 win over the game-but-overmatched Tigers on Big Monday.
· Bill Self has a little Frank Martin in him. He’s just a whole lot better at hiding it than the volatile K-State coach. Inside KU’s team huddles, Self goes off on his players with much of the same ferocity as Martin – minus the Goodfellas stare. Self spent a good portion of the Mizzou game pissed, especially at his two point guards, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. I almost felt sorry for these two the way Self would yank them in and out of the game depending on their latest bad pass or poor defensive play. Somehow Self makes all this work. No coach I know of can juggle as much talent as KU annually attracts and keep everyone happy with their minutes and stats. Self’s greatest asset as a coach – aside from his ability to recruit studs – may be his ability to manage egos better than anybody in the college game.
· Self never yelled at three players; Thomas Robinson, Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed.
· Coolest thing of the night for the KU fan next to me happened after Mario Little hit that huge three-pointer as the shot clock expired, both teams headed to their bench for a time out. Marcus Morris looked into the crowd and caught the eye of a Kansas fan sitting next to me and gave him a huge smile. These Kansas players love their fans and the feeling is mutual.
· Everyone who has a problem with Scott Drew taking his Baylor team out of Allen Fieldhouse to avoid them witnessing the pregame video on the scoreboard cannot understand how intimidating that 60-90 seconds of film, sound and fury must be to the opposition. It is simply one of the most thrilling things in college basketball. Hell, maybe all sports. I have witnessed this video a dozen times over the past few years and it never fails to raise goose bumps on my epidermis the size of Joe Buck’s forehead. It is crazy loud, it is crazy cool and it is worth the price of admission all by itself. If you are a sports fan – heck, if you’re human! – you need to add viewing the KU pregame video in a packed Allen Fieldhouse to your bucket list. By the way, Mizzou stood right there in front of their bench and did their best to ignore it. Not many of the Tigers were successful.
· I sat right next to two Mizzou fans, one who was decked out in full gold and black MU Tigers gear. The guy could not have been nicer. He assumed I was a KU season ticket holder and showed surprise that I knew his Tigers’ lineup as well as he. He caught some heat during the game from one jackmunch Kansas fan who sat directly behind him but only one. The rest of the KU-garbed fans around him could not have been more pleasant.
· Mizzou is small. I mean they look like a high school team when Matt and Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon are on the court. Ratliffe is a nice inside player but he rarely gets to touch the ball. But it is difficult to knock Mizzou helter-skelter offense. They live and die with the three and they did a lot more living than dying Monday night.
· The quickness of Mizzou’s guards is impressive. Phil Pressey is going to be one fun player to watch over the next three seasons. His no-look lob pass inside was one of the prettiest plays of the night. The tiny MU guards hounded KU all night but Kansas has some talent too. A lot of talent.
· As Travis Releford languished on the Kansas bench the first half I started to wonder how he was handling being one of the forgotten players on KU’s deep bench. I even wondered if the Bishop Miege grad would consider transferring at the end of the season. Then Self inserts him into the lineup late in the first half and all those thoughts disappeared. Releford had another breakout game off the bench, making Kansas an even more dangerous team to their March foes.
· Add Mario Little to that list of comeback players. His off-court trials and tribulations have been well documented this season but none of that mattered to the Allen Fieldhouse crowd. Little had his best game as a Jayhawk against Mizzou and the fans loved him for it. All the more reason guys like Little need to think before they do something stupid to cost them their time as local heroes.
· Mizzou’s back-up center, Steve Moore, is a very, very large human. He is offensive-tackle big. And as little as he contributes to Mike Anderson’s basketball team, Gary Pinkel might want to think about recruiting him to the football program. I never saw Moore utter a word on the court. If that kid ever got an ego to match his brawn he would be all-world.
· Brady Morningstar isn’t back; he is in a place he’s never been. Morningstar is playing with more confidence than anyone on the Kansas team. In one month he has gone from the guy no one wants to shoot to the guy everyone thinks is going to make every shot he takes. You can see it in the way he walks, talks and stares. Every athlete should get a chance to be in the zone Brady is feeling right now. Morningstar has had some off-court issues as well but what a great way to go out his senior year in his hometown.
· I watched Josh Selby walk around the team huddles with his injured foot. It was evident to me this freshman really wants to be a contributing part of this team. Unlike Xavier Henry, Selby is as much a part of this team as Tyrell Reed or Brady Morningstar. Xavier wasn’t a bad kid he just seemed distant. Selby wants to play and it’s killing him to have to sit. It will be interesting to see if he fits better into the offense when he returns. He has his hands full in trying to replace Morningstar. Who thought that sentence could be written a month ago?
· Mario Little is trying to do everything he can to please Bill Self. He works as hard as anyone on defense but he’s just not as skilled at moving his feet or fighting through picks. But damn that kid tries hard. I can see why Self didn’t want to toss him aside after he was arrested – even if he deserved to be dumped.
· Having the Morris twins on one team is simply unfair. Can you imagine being the opposing coach and having to game plan for one of these guys let alone two? Remember when Markieff was the one you didn’t have to worry about? You can hardly tell the two apart now not only in the face but also in their games.
· KU’s assistant coach Joe Dooley’s hair might be the eighth wonder of Allen Fieldhouse. He has it greased down to Alfalfa-like standards with it all meeting in a three-inch ducktail flip at his neckline. It is truly a look you would not expect to see on an adult who wasn’t performing in a stage production of Grease or one who was not blind.
· Mike Anderson is one of the most respected coaches in the conference. Even inside Allen Fieldhouse the Mizzou coach has few vocal enemies. It is so different from the days when Norm Stewart refused to sit down, much to the delight of the Kansas crowd. I wonder if Anderson is too nice for Mizzou. The Tigers were the Oakland Raiders of the Big 8 under Norm – and they relished that black-hat role. Under Anderson they are quick but classy, but not really a threat to unseat Kansas or Texas. Does Mizzou need to get their Al Davis mojo back to be champions again?
ESPN’s sideline reporter Holly Rowe’s outfit is waaay too tight for her girth. She had on a pair of unforgiving pants that could be heard petitioning Twitter for a #freeholeyrowesrolls hashtag. All this poundage is squeezed into a torso-layered look that sits atop precarious stiletto-like heels. She looked about as uncomfortable tiptoeing and teetering around the Fieldhouse as Brent and Bob sound on Big Monday’s broadcasts.
· The Mizzou fans I sat next to love Ricky Kreklow, the MU freshman out of Columbia Rockbridge. I watched Kreklow play in high school and I thought he was all wrong for Anderson’s style of play. He looks like a freshman on the court and plays like a kid who should be at William Jewell rather than in the Big 12. His body might fill out and he may become a decent outside threat, but he is a long way from deserving the minutes he is currently getting.
· The dunk Thomas Robinson made in front of the Kansas bench was one of the most powerful slams I’ve ever witnessed. TRob may just pull one or two backboards down before he’s done at Kansas. BTW, this team seems to have gotten more focused and more together since Robinson’s mother’s funeral. Again, very glad I was wrong and Self was right about this one. Kansas hasn’t played this well in years. And quite a bit of that may have to do with how much they love each other.
· Allen Fieldhouse always makes the court seem too small for the ten players it has to house. Intimate is an overused word for old barns like this but even that term might not accurately describe how close everyone is to the action on the court at Kansas. What a great place to watch a college basketball game.
· Please forgive me if this notes column has a bit of a jumbled feel to it. I was more than a bit distracted – even at my advanced age – by one of the more stunning coeds I have had the pleasure of seeing who happened to sit directly in front of me. The left knee and crossed hands in this photo taken off the ESPN telecast belong to me. All the other good stuff belongs to her.
Greghall24@yahoo.com and Twitter / greghall24