Editor’s Note: Following is the first post by new Jayhawk-Talk contributing writer, Nico Roesler. Nico is a former UDK Sports Editor and current sports reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican. We’re very excited he’s joining the team. Follow him on twitter at @NicoRoesler.
Jeff Withey is more than the bloodied face staring back at you from your computer desktop or Twitter avatar.
Withey is a seven-foot distraction – in the best sense of the term. Without Withey, Thomas Robinson isn’t the double-double machine we all know him as. Without Withey, Kansas doesn’t defeat the tall, athletic Baylor Bears in Allen Fieldhouse. It’s hard, undoubtedly, to ignore a seven footer when game planning against the Jayhawks. It must be even harder, to think of him as an after-thought with the likes of Robinson standing next to him.
Withey is averaging 7.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. Defensively, Withey’s length cannot be overstated or underappreciated (56 blocks). On offense, however, his real strength is not in his numbers, it’s in his presence as it pertains to Robinson.
Robinson has proven he can take any defender in the country in a one-on-one situation. His jump shot has become reliable and his first step off the dribble is ludicrous. It’s no wonder we see Robinson in the repeated position to take advantage of both abilities.
Robinson receives the ball night after night at the top of the key and surveys the floor. Although he has proven that he can hit the long jumper, Bill Self puts him in that position to become the architect of one of the hardest plays to defend in basketball – the high-low pass. When Robinson has the ball at the top of the key, he reads what his defender is going to do. The defender has two options: a) get in Robinson’s face to take away the jumper or b) slow play it and protect the paint and the other threat simultaneously posting up – Jeff Withey.
Defenders in this scenario will almost always let Robinson have his shot, likely, because Robinson will miss the virtual three-pointer more often than Withey will miss a shot three feet from the basket. Withey is making 54 percent of his shots from the field. Give him a chance to play with his back to the basket, and there are few people in the country that can challenge his shot.
Without Withey’s presence in the post, Kansas’ offense could look a whole lot different. There is a reason Bill Self has called him the most improved player on the team. He has improved his game from his physicality to his touch, but the biggest thing Withey has done is improve the Kansas offense as a whole.
After the Baylor game, Elijah Johnson vocalized the importance of Withey. “When we get Jeff going, it really gets a lot of us going, and a lot of people don’t know that,” Johnson said. “Jeff is a key player to our team, especially with getting us started. When he is on track, it can be a long night for some teams.”
Baylor now knows that. Withey’s double-double distracted the Bears’ defense enough to allow Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to have career-high nights.
With Withey on the floor, defenses cannot double-team Robinson on every possession. With Withey, defenses cannot solely focus on Kansas’ deep threats while they buckle down on Robinson. And when they do, Withey is open. Open for a lob dunk or a simple entry pass to the post.
So you may love the lanky big man who proudly bleeds from his nose and whose feet need barely to lift off the ground for a jam. But remember that these moments not only distract the fan from the game with funny posters and fake Twitter accounts.
They distract defenses from the weapons that truly make Kansas the dangerous team it is.