I thought it would be fun to rank the Kansas players in order of how much each player has improved from last year to this year. Freshmen, players who are redshirting and walk-ons are not included for obvious reasons (although I am sure that Travis Releford would be near the top of this list).
7. Tyshawn Taylor: After being a key component of last year’s team and a Team USA squad that won Gold this summer, big things were expected of Taylor. I think that Taylor believed he was destined for a big year and may have put too much pressure on himself to be a star this year for a loaded KU team. As this year has progressed, he has fallen out of the starting lineup because of his struggle to find his place on this team. The key for Taylor the rest of the way will be to focus on being a lockdown defender and creating for his teammates. I would guess if he does those things the points will come.
6. Cole Aldrich: The big guy was great last year, making first-team All-Big 12 on his way to becoming a preseason first-team All-American this season. His slow start has been well-chronicled, and even though he appears to be coming out of his funk, I don’t see anything in his game that tells me he has gotten much better since last season. Of course, as he regains his energy after getting over his bronchitis, he will be able to show more of whatever he has worked on with Danny Manning.
5. Sherron Collins: Sherron has improved some, although he was already one of the best guards in the country. Places I notice improvement are his ability to control his emotions on the floor and trust his teammates. Collins has realized that it’s not as much the Sherron Show this season, deferring to teammates like Xavier Henry and Marcus Morris at times, but has shown the ability to take games over when necessary.
4. Brady Morningstar: Morningstar’s minutes are going up into the 30 range again, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I think Brady has been better this season than last year because he hasn’t had to play as many minutes. The fresher he is, the better he is. He’s an energy guy, a glue guy, and for now, KU could come unhinged without him. But if Taylor can get things figured out, split time between those two would make Morningstar a better defender and facilitator than he already has shown.
3. Tyrel Reed: The book on Reed last season was that he was still a bit of a defensive liability. The Jayhawks had to play him last year because of a lack of depth and his ability to shoot the ball from deep. This year, KU does not have to play Reed at all, but he has maintained his spot in the rotation because he has improved defensively and impacts the game even when he’s not swishing threes. Plus, just the threat of his shooting has to be in the back of the opposing team’s mind when he is on the floor.
2. Markieff Morris: KU coach Bill Self has said all along that Markieff is the most-improved player from last season, and Markieff has backed up that assertion. He led KU with 19 points at UCLA and has been a consistent force when he isn’t in foul trouble. Markieff is much stronger with the ball finishing near the rim than he was last season. And, basically, he’s just not as lazy anymore.
1. Marcus Morris: Wow. This guy is confident in his game and has the ability to back it up. Last season, Morris’ midrange game failed him. He air-balled numerous shots from the baseline, but now his favorite shot is the face-up jumper when given space by the defender. Marcus gets the ball in that area and forces a defender to make a decision every time. And no matter what the defender decides, whether to back off Marcus or come out on him, Marcus can beat him. That said, the biggest improvement is in his motor. The fact that motor is a term that Marcus is using about himself shows how far he has come from last season.