It’s legitimate to wonder what kind of basketball team Kansas will have this season.
Normally, that’s not the case. Normally, everybody knows the Jayhawks will be a Top 20 team, minimum, and one that likely will be knocking on the door of the Elite Eight and even the Final Four.
These aren’t normal times.
Because of some recruiting blunders – and when players recruited by Kansas are no eligible for a season there’s nothing else to call them – the Jayhawks go into the 2011-12 season with 10 players on scholarship. Three or four of them are totally unproven and another couple haven’t produced much at the big-time college level.
Outside of junior forward Thomas Robinson and senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the bone. That’s not to say, of course, that Bill Self, a masterful coach, won’t figure out a way to win another Big 12 championship with these Jayhawks or make things happen in the NCAA Tournament. It just means it’s not a fait accompli the way it normally is.
And isn’t this kind of fun? Isn’t it interesting to know that Kansas might not be a slam dunk to win the Big 12 title? Might not be good enough to get to an NCAA Tournament?
I’m guessing KU fans don’t share in my joy, but it’s a nice change-up to see what Kansas can do with lower expectations. How will Self get the maximum out of this group of players?
It’s not as if the cupboard is bare. Robinson could be one of the nation’s best players and is primed, I think, for a huge break-out season. Let’s not forget, though, that Robinson played only 14.6 minutes per game last season and averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds while playing as a back-up to the Morris twins. I believe Robinson will flourish in his expanded role, but it’s not a slam dunk.
Taylor used to be an exciting, mistake-prone guard who last season eliminated a lot of the mistakes. Now he’s just exciting and the unquestioned leader of this basketball team. Taylor as a leader was difficult to imagine a couple of seasons ago.
If things go as expected, the 1-2 punch of Robinson and Taylor will be on par with any other in the country.
If Kansas is going to be Kansas-like in 2011-12, junior guard Elijah Johnson has to be a real player. He showed flashes last season, but now he has to be someone who can average 10-12 points per game and team with Taylor as a backcourt leader. Johnson is a huge key for the Jayhawks.
Travis Releford will be asked to do much more than he’s ever done during his KU career. As a red-shirt junior, can he step up?
Seven-footer Jeff Withey will be a key. Before, he’s just been “that tall guy” on the Kansas bench. Now he has to be more.
If you forgot that Conner Teahan was even on the KU basketball team last season, you’re forgiven. That’s how rarely he was used. Now, though, Teahan is going to get a real chance to contribute.
Transfers Kevin Young and Justin Wesley better help out on the front line, too.
Freshmen Naadir Tharpe and Merv Lindsay will get more playing time than they expected to get as first-year players.
Kansas shouldn’t be in this position. But because so many players have been ruled ineligible, it is? And it’s going to be fascinating to see where the Jayhawks go from here.