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THE TRUE NCAA tournament contenders are chameleons. Heavy roster turnover in the one-and-done era has made college basketball coaching a high-stakes game of adjustments, in which the winners find ways to match their modus operandi with their current personnel, and the losers fail to settle on their team's optimal scheme. Clinging to the lower rungs of the 2011 bracket are squads who struggled to find solutions, such as ninth-seeded Villanova (in the East region) and 10th-seeded Michigan State (in the Southeast), who appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's preseason top 10 but never truly coalesced. The highest seeds in the field of 68 were reserved for the evolved elite, including Kansas, Kentucky, Texas and Notre Dame. In the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, SI paid visits to those four teams, all of which were succeeding with offenses that bore limited resemblance to what they ran a season ago. Exclusive film sessions with coaches and conversations with their players provided a window into how their teams have changed—and how they might make their way to Houston. Their goals over the next three weekends will be to survive and advance, but to get this far, they first had to adapt.
"Getting your picks"
Marcus Morris, one of the fraternal-twin junior forwards who make No. 1--seeded Kansas a favorite to win the national championship, is seated in an office at Allen Fieldhouse, explaining how he deals with defenders in the post: back down the shorter guys and shoot turnaround jumpers; step out and face up against the slower, bigger guys, then read the angle of their feet and drive; mix in hitches and fakes against the few that match his athleticism, such as Arizona's Derrick Williams, who scored 27 points (to Morris's 16) in an 87--79 Jayhawks win in November. He is asked if anyone in the nation possesses a post game as good as his.
"Guys as good as me in the post," Morris says, pondering briefly. "I don't think there are any. My brother [Markieff] and I, and the other guys we have here, we're the most skilled frontcourt in the country." In the Big 12, he dismisses Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe ("I'd kill him any day") and Texas's Gary Johnson ("Not really a banger"), but will admit that Longhorns freshman Tristan Thompson is "going" to be good. Morris wants to face JaJuan Johnson of Purdue, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and, oh, the Plumlee brothers, Miles and Mason, of Duke. Especially the Plumlees.
You really worry that the Plumlees get more hype than you and Markieff?
"No, but just because they're brothers, I don't like them," says the 6'9" Morris, who like 6'10" Markieff has TWIN TOWERS tattooed on his right arm. "We want to be known as the best brothers."
Most of what Morris, the Big 12 player of the year, says is brash. But none of it is wrong. He (with averages of 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds) and Markieff (13.6 and 8.2) are the superior set of siblings. And Marcus is the nation's best scorer among players with 100 or more post opportunities, averaging 1.220 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology, a video-indexing stat engine used for basketball scouting. When informed of this figure during a film session in his office, Jayhawks coach Bill Self finds it a compliment too meager for a hybrid forward of Marcus's caliber. "He might also be the best low-post passer, and maybe he's the best pick-and-pop guy too," Self says. "He's the best all-around player I've ever coached."
Self's high-low motion offense was backcourt-dominated last season; its top two shot takers were point guard Sherron Collins (25.1% of Kansas's field goal attempts when he was on the floor) and wing Xavier Henry (24.6%), who both left for the NBA. The 2010--11 version of the Jayhawks' attack now uses role players on the perimeter and runs nearly every possession through the twins from Philadelphia, who are often referred to collectively as the Morrii.
When Self is asked to show, on film, all the ways the Morrii operate, it requires only the first 10 possessions of a Jan. 12 win at Iowa State to see Marcus catch the ball at the top of the key (where he's an excellent passer), on the block, in his face-up area just outside the lane and in a pick-and-pop situation (chart). By midway through the second half he has scored over both shoulders in the paint, whipped pinpoint passes out of post double teams, set ball screens and led a fast break. "A lot of guys," Self says, "don't do that many things in the course of a season." Meanwhile, the only slightly less talented Markieff has alternated between doing the two things he's better at than his brother: power moves on the low block and burying threes as the trailer on the secondary break.