Through 13 non-conference basketball games, the Jayhawks are 10-3. With the exception of the Davidson loss, I think most would say this team has lived up to expectations. It has two statement wins against top 15 teams in Ohio State and Georgetown. It lost two games to potential #1 tourney seeds in Kentucky and Duke. And for the most part, there are reasons to be optimistic entering Big XII play.
Reasons for optimism
For starters, our power forward might be early favorite to win the 2012 Naismith Award. Robinson has been playing like a star. Not since Wayne Simien has Kansas had a big man that meant more to his team.
While KU’s point guard play has been inconsistent at best, there have been signs of late that Tyshawn Taylor is turning the corner. His overall season numbers have been good — 15 points and 5 assists per game — and he’s played great defense. But from mid-November to mid-December, he was averaging over 6 turnovers a game. The good news is that since the beginning of Christmas break, he has averaged 6 assists and only 2 turnovers. Hopefully this trend can continue.
T-Rob, Taylor, and…
One thing this team has been missing is a consistent third option. For the most part, the “third option” has been somewhat of a group effort. The three guys that have a chance to be a more consistent #3 are Elijah, Conner, and Travis.
Elijah Johnson is averaging 10 points per game, but he has really struggled from 3-point range. Despite shooting 82 three pointers on the season (an average of over 6 a game), he has only made 30% of them.
Conner, on the other hand, is shooting over 40% from 3. While he has shot the ball fairly well from behind the arc, he has been a liability on defense. That said, Self has had to play him with starter’s minutes thus far (4th on the team in minutes) because he has really had no other 3-point threat.
Travis has been phenomenal on defense, but has also struggled to score the basketball at times. He has a great mid-range game, and I’d like to see him use it more. If he starts to get those 10-12 foot jumpers open, I think it will help the entire offense.
From a talent perspective, Elijah makes the most sense as a guy that should be making a bigger impact on the game for this team. He is incredibly athletic, but sometimes I think he forgets it. While Taylor uses his speed and athleticism seemingly every time he touches the ball, Elijah has turned too much into a spot shooter. I’d really like to see him attack the rim more. If he makes a couple easy baskets, perhaps it will help open up better looks from 3-point range as well.
How opponents are going to play us
As a team, I’d like to see fewer 3-pointers taken. It is becoming more and more apparent that teams are willing to give us open shots from beyond the arc. They are crowding the paint to try to minimize Robinson’s impact, leaving our guards with a lot of room to operate. Unfortunately, we just have not made a team pay for this yet. As a team, KU is shooting .355 from deep, which ranks in the 120s in the NCAA. If some of those shots start going down, it will sure help free up some space for Robinson as opponents will have to respect the outside shot. Right now, they just don’t.
Improve the offense
This team struggles to score at times. I am sure Self is installing a lot of new plays over winter break to help jumpstart the team from an offensive perspective. Here are a couple of things I would focus on if I were coach:
Instead of settling for every open 3, it would be nice to design some set plays within the confines of the offense that are focused on ball screens and dribble penetration. Taylor is already so good at taking the ball off the dribble, I think the offense needs to start and end with him doing what he does best. I also like the idea of getting both Travis and Elijah a ball screen to let them get to the basket or pull up for that mid-range jumper.
Also, when Withey is playing strong and with a lot of energy, he can be a big part of the offense. He is actually one of the best passers on the team, and when the ball is moving on offense, he can be very useful dropping it to the post or kicking to the wing. He also gives you a few points from the offensive rebound position, which has been a struggle this year.
I would also like to see Kevin Young play a few more minutes per game. His biggest asset to this team is energy, and sometimes it can be contagious. He has shot the ball really well (currently .613 from the field), and what’s more, he’s taken good shots. It would be nice to see his average of 10 minutes per game get closer to 15.
Get that title
The team’s play has not deterred me from maintaining my position that KU will win the Big XII again this year. Likewise, I am not concerned with the hot starts from Baylor and Missouri. Both are very talented teams. But neither have been tested the way KU has so far. I also like our coaching advantage and home court advantage.
Speaking of home court advantage, while many have said KU has had it easy playing in the north division for so long, people fail to mention that those south teams have only had to come to Allen Fieldhouse once every few years. Now they will be forced to play in Allen every year, which should help even out the difficulty of schedule.
I still contend that KU will be a single-digit loss team this year. Barring injury, I think 14 Big XII victories is the worst this team will do.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pumped for Big XII play to begin. Bring on those wildcats and let’s get this party started.#kubball, Allen Fieldhouse, Basketball, Big XII, Kansas, Robinson, Taylor