After suffering their first loss of the season to a talented and, frankly, underrated Villanova squad last night, KU looks to bounce back against UTEP in the consolation game. Here are a few things to watch for tonight.
1. Attitude. KU is used to competing for championships, not consolation prizes. It will be interesting to see what kind of effort they bring to the game with the overmatched Miners. UTEP was just trounced by a talented Iowa team and the ‘Hawks are coming off of a very disappointing game that came down the final possession. This is the type of game a young team might try to sleepwalk through. And, although I don’t think UTEP serves as any real threat tonight, I also don’t think KU will overlook them. They were shown last night what happens when you don’t bring it on every possession. For the better part of the game Villanova out-toughed KU. Self can’t have been happy with that, and I am sure he let the team know it. Let’s see if they come out ready to make it up to their coach.
2. Who starts at PG? I posed the following question to my twitter followers (@bewareoftheblog) last night: “So does Mason get the start tomorrow? My head says yes but my gut says no way at all.” I still feel the same way about Mason’s chances to start, but statistically speaking KU has been a much better team with Mason on the floor. I think the dark little secret about the Mason and Tharpe combo being so successful is simply that KU is better with Mason out there and the pair playing together has little to do with it. Tharpe may have more assists per game than Mason but he also has twice the amount of turnovers per game. On this team, with all of the talent at every position, the point guard needs to simply run the offense without giving the ball away. Mason seems to do that better than Tharpe can. Add to it that he is clearly the more talented defender and can also get to the rim at any time and you have a pretty alluring package. I don’t know if he will ever start on this year’s team, but he certainly deserves the shot.
3. 50-50 balls. Self said that in the first half Villanova probably came up with 70% of the 50-50 opportunities (loose balls, scrambles, etc). Gathering loose balls almost always comes down to toughness. You have to want it more than your opponent. Think of guys like Reed, Morningstar, Collins and Robinson. It seemed like those guys NEVER lost a loose ball battle. It’s all about the desire to take something from the guy standing opposite you. Self commented that this team tries hard, but they don’t compete to win yet. That is the same idea. It takes more than running through the plays on offense and moving your feet on defense. You have to have to have the will to take the victory on every possession. This young team doesn’t have that yet, but they do have guys that seem to play with the right kind of nasty. 50-50 balls are just a convenient way to evaluate that desire to compete, so I am interested to see if more of our guys are ready to get their hands dirty.