NEW YORK --
The surprise was that he did it against Michigan State, a team whose identity under coach Tom Izzo has always been blue-collar. The Spartans were embarrassingly soft on Tuesday. They gave up 42 points in the paint (and scored just 24). Their starting front line of Delvon Roe, Austin Thornton and Garrick Sherman combined for five (five!) rebounds in 42 minutes, and backup bigs Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix combined for one rebound in 17 minutes. "[Jackson] manhandled us," said Spartans point forward Draymond Green, the only post player who put up some semblance of a fight, grabbing 11 rebounds of his own. Green said his team played like "girls."
"We haven't played tough as a team, and that's killing us," he said. "That's what our identity used to be, but that's not it anymore, and that's what won us games."
Izzo's assessment was actually harsher; he called it "gut-check time," and one of the most "disappointing" performances his team has ever had at MSU. He walked out of press conference inviting reporters to rip his team -- but not before he said, "It's been a long time since we've been totally manhandled like this. We're a pretty-boy team right now. We're not a smashmouth team."
Lucas finished with six turnovers and just eight points. Five of his nine shots were threes. He earned just one trip to the free-throw line, and had a lone driving highlight, pulling off a nice misdirection-step move around Fab Melo with 5:16 left in the first half.
"[The Achilles] is starting to get better, but it's going to take some time," Lucas said. "The doctors told me that when the Big Ten season starts, I should be feeling pretty good. But as far as my speed, and me trying to explode to the basket, it's still not there yet."
Izzo took the blame for his senior star's struggles, saying, "You can't not practice and be good, and that's what I'm asking Kalin to do. It's not his fault."
Things have been different in '10-11. In Tuesday's win against Memphis -- the first team that's pressured 8-0 KU all season -- Taylor kept the Jayhawks from losing their cool. While he did commit four turnovers (and the team had 22), he was the strongest guard on the floor, didn't force much on offense, and played at a steady pace. He was 4-for-8 from the field (and 5-for-8 from the free-throw line) for 13 points. He's shooting 58.3 percent from the field on the season, nearly a 15 percent jump from '09-10. On Dec. 18, KU will add to its starting lineup super-frosh Josh Selby, an amazingly talented offensive player who's bound to be even more careless with the ball than Taylor is. It'll be Taylor's job to make sure the offense doesn't get
"I've got quick twitches, you know? Once the ball goes up, I just find out where it's coming off. Most of the time, I don't even block out. Because I've got a knack for just going and getting it. Most of the time I just outsmart them -- go around them, fight around them, things like that."
So there you have it: It's not the fundamentals, it's the quick twitches.
Yet when I finished talking with freshman point guard Joe Jackson, who was slumped in his locker-room chair, sulking after a one-point, two-assist, four-turnover game, I overheard Dorsey counseling the rookie. "Man, don't even think about holding your head down after that," Dorsey said, and then began to try to build back some of Jackson's lost confidence.
The Memphis-born phenom just had his worst game as a collegian, looking at times tentative, at times flustered, and nothing like the kid who'd helped lead them to a 7-0 record heading into New York. I asked him what coach Josh Pastner said to him afterwards. "Nothing," Jackson said. "He's probably pissed off at me. But there's a lot I have to learn. ... I need to come prepared to play, because I didn't even play to one eighth of my ability."
Dorsey said he compared this Memphis team to the one he joined in 2004-05, which had Darius Washington at point guard. "We were just really young then, and we had to start spending a lot of time with each other, holding each other accountable, before we got good," Dorsey said. "Once these guys do that, then they have a chance to be
(That '04-05 team, incidentally, went to the NIT. The Tigers struggled in New York, but there's little chance this team will be gunning to get back to the Garden -- for the NIT Final Four. They'll make the NCAAs, and Jackson and fellow star Will Barton's maturity levels will determine whether they flame out in the first weekend ... or reach their ceiling of the Sweet 16.)