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Friday, November 6, 2009
Morningstar will have trouble cracking KU's rotation


Brady Morningstar may have lost more than his minutes when he was suspended for the fall semester after his DUI arrest on Oct. 3.

He also may have lost his chance to crack a Kansas lineup that is shaping up to be as deep as that of the Jayhawks' Big 12 rival, Texas.

Arizona transfer Jeff Withey isn't eligible until mid-December, so he was always going to have a difficult time breaking into the Kansas rotation. But the chances of both Morningstar -- who started 34 of KU's 35 games last season -- and Withey's cracking the lineup are becoming fleeting.

"They've put themselves behind the eight ball. Well, Jeff didn't do anything, and he will be a good player, but it's going to take time," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "Brady understands. He has experience and is a good perimeter defender but it won't be a situation where he's going to play the minutes he played last year because we have other guys progressing quite nicely during the season."

The reason lies with the development of a freshmen class that is already exceeding expectations.

Xavier Henry was always expected to have a major impact once he found his footing. Henry scored 14 points in 20 minutes, making 6 of 8 free throws and 3 of 7 shots (but just one board before fouling out) in Kansas' exhibition opener against Fort Hays State Tuesday.

"He can do more than shoot the basketball, he can use his body to make plays," Self said of Henry. "I'm pleased with how he can score from different spots on the floor unlike other people since we've been here. Brandon [Rush] couldn't post and couldn't do other things."

Henry's production is not a surprise. He was supposed to slide in next to Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor (who came off the bench in lieu of Tyrel Reed), Cole Aldrich and Markieff Morris in the Jayhawks' starting lineup. But the unknown was how quickly Henry's fellow freshmen, forward Thomas Robinson and guard Elijah Johnson, would make an impact.

"They've both been terrific," Self said. "Elijah is one of the premier athletes out there, the best athlete on our team and Thomas goes after the ball. He's got a motor. He has made the twins [Markieff and Marcus Morris] better by how active he is. But of course Xavier is our premier guy, without question."

Self said the first scoring options are Collins and Aldrich. Henry is next with Taylor next in line. But the improved play of Markieff has helped, too. The bench of Marcus Morris, Reed, Johnson and Robinson gives the Jayhawks a deep nine that may not leave much room for Morningstar or Withey.

The Jayhawks play Pittsburg State in an exhibition Tuesday and then open the season on Friday against Hofstra before playing Memphis in St. Louis on Nov. 17.

• The NCAA tournament selection committee met for three days this week in Houston, site of the 2011 Final Four. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, the current committee chair, is expected to hold a teleconference Tuesday to discuss the meeting. The major issue facing the committee in the coming months is whether to opt out of the current CBS tournament television contract after this season. The contract ends in 2013. The issue of expanding the tournament field could be in play too. Another point of discussion is the postseason NIT, as that television contract is nearing its conclusion.

It wouldn't make sense for the NCAA to re-up the NIT and also expand the NCAA tournament to 96 teams. There are two different bodies making these decisions under the NCAA umbrella but they would have to be in concert. If the NIT stays for the long term, expanding the NCAA field of 65 is unlikely, though the NIT could still go away without expansion. The logistics of going to 96 and still keeping conference tournaments is another matter, too. I can't see conference tournaments disappearing, which would mean the season would have to start a week earlier in November or go a week longer into April.

I have heard arguments on both sides of whether to expand. I'd like to see a compromise. Create four opening-round games, matching bubble teams for the 12th seed. Play those games on a Tuesday night and have them feed into Friday's 12-5 matchups. That way you're keeping the lower-seeded teams from 13-16 alone, thus giving the top seeds an advantage in their first-round games. This would allow for eight bubble teams to play into the field for four spots. Usually, that's the number of teams that are on the fence. Beyond that, the four extra teams that don't get into the Big Dance are really the ones that should be in the NIT or CBI or CIT. There aren't 27 other teams that were snubbed that should be in the field.