Wednesday night the Kansas Jayhawks opened the conference season with a trip to Ames for a game against the Iowa State Cyclones. On any given night Kansas tends to take every teams best punch, it's part of being the hunted. Throw in the fact that the Cyclones have some dangerous offensive weapons and the fact that it was a night in which they honored Iowa State coaching great Johnny Orr and you have a recipe for an early season upset. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, Marcus Morris once again elevated his game to start conference play.
Just a year ago Morris was an improved sophomore headed into the conference season as the fourth option for Kansas. Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins were viewed as the corps of the team and Morris one of the complimentary pieces. What happened next was a conference season where Morris would emerge as arguably the most improved player in the conference.
Fast forward to this season; the expectations are already there for Morris, this teams identity is focused around the Morris twins and the two are expected to be the leaders. No question through the non conference schedule both delivered, but last night in the conference opener Marcus up'd the ante and showed the versatility and explosiveness of a Big 12 player of the year candidate.
The funny thing about the game is that Marcus Morris didn't really step outside the normal Kansas rotation or rhythm. The 6'9" forward averages 25 minutes per game a contest and played just 27 on Wednesday night. In those 27 minutes however, he was as efficient and effective as ever.
Morris finished with 33 points on 11 of 15 shooting from the field. The junior forward also found his way to the charity stripe where he converted on 11 of 14 attempts. That's better than 70% in any shooting situation on the night and when you have that from a single player; the team is getting quality shots and production on the offensive end.
A place where Morris took another step forward is in his work on the glass. Yes Iowa State is viewed as a lower third team in the conference and their interior play is a big reason for that, but 13 rebounds and 5 on the offensive end provided Morris his second double-double on the year and arguably the best Big 12 stat line of the season.
Through two games the Big 12 has had some pretty amazing performances. Those include Alec Burks going for 36 against Missouri, Marcus Denmon dropping 27 on the Huskers, Perry Jones scoring 25 in his second conference game and now Morris scoring 33 while grabbing 13 rebounds in the Jayhawk opener.
The Big 12 is alive and well. The conference is deep, the conference is balanced and just when you think all the star power has jumped to the NBA it seems to reload. Tonight Marcus Morris made a statement about himself and a statement to his own team that it's time to take things to another level, because there are no gimme's in the Big 12.