Marcus Morris might not have garnered as many accolades as a pair of teammates or received the hype of freshman Xavier Henry, but he’s helped Kansas get off to another strong start in Big 12 play.
The second-ranked Jayhawks look to add to that with their 54th straight home win and 11th in a row there over rival Missouri on Monday night.
The Jayhawks entered this season with high expectations as consensus preseason All-Americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich returned. They also brought in another heralded freshman class, highlighted by the signing of Henry.
Kansas (18-1, 4-0) has lived up to that billing in topping opponents by 23.4 points per game this season. Since a 76-68 defeat Jan. 10 at Tennessee, the Jayhawks have also won by an average of 16.7 points in their four conference games, including Saturday’s 84-61 blowout at Iowa State.
Morris has led the way during that stretch with 19.3 points per game on 66.7 percent shooting, and he scored 16 in the victory over the Cyclones.
“They’re a very, very good basketball team,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “If you talk about keying in on one guy, then another guy will step up.”
Kansas, attempting to win five straight to open Big 12 play for the third consecutive season, could be even more dangerous if Aldrich continues to bounce back from a midseason slump. The junior center, whose grandmother passed away in Minnesota last week, led the Jayhawks with a season high-tying 19 points and 11 rebounds - his first double-double since Jan. 2.
“It just feels good to be back,” Aldrich said. “I’ve been through a lot of stuff. It’s tough and it weighs on me, but I’m just going out and giving it my heart.”
Kansas won its first eight Big 12 games in 2008-09 before a 62-60 loss at Missouri on Feb. 9, but the Jayhawks blew out the Tigers 90-65 at Allen Fieldhouse on March 11.
Collins scored 25, and Aldrich added 19 points and 14 rebounds in that victory, which helped the Jayhawks earn their fifth straight regular-season conference title.
Missouri bounced back from that defeat for its first Big 12 tournament championship and a run to the NCAA regional finals.
The Tigers (15-4, 3-1) are off to a solid start this season despite losing their top two scorers from that squad - DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. They’re averaging 81.6 points per game with seven players contributing at least 7.8 per game, led by sophomore guard Kim English (14.8).
They also have a frenetic defense that forces 20.9 turnovers per contest - tops in the nation.
Sophomore guard Miguel Paul, who had 62 points in his previous 17 games, scored a career-best 15 off the bench in Saturday’s 70-53 home victory over Nebraska with 10 during a pivotal 15-1 run.
While they’ve won 31 straight at home, the Tigers are 1-3 on the road this season, earning that lone win in overtime over Texas Tech on Jan. 13. It’s been a little more than 11 years since their previous win in Lawrence - 71-63 on Jan. 24, 1999 - and they’ve lost those 10 games by an average of 15.6 points.
Anderson knows his team has a more difficult task in snapping that losing streak this season.
“(Kansas is) more experienced, and they’re playing better this year,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a big challenge.”
The Jayhawks lead the series 167-94 and are searching for their seventh win in eight meetings.