Posts Tagged Elijah Johnson

For KU, confidence is key

Posted on: March 3rd, 2013 by jayhawktalk No Comments

By Taylor Erickson

Exactly one month ago today I confessed my jealousy of Oklahoma State.  Markel Brown and Marcus Smart were flexing, taunting, and back flipping all over Allen Fieldhouse.  For that seven day stretch, beginning with Oklahoma State and ending with Oklahoma, with a TCU debacle sandwiched in between, we were broken mentally.

If our performance on the court the last few weeks hasn’t been convincing enough, there was only one image needed from Saturday’s game to signify we had fully regained our swagger.

Elijah Johnson elevated in a fashion that left any doubt as to the health of his knee, and threw down a “SportsCenter  Top 10″ type alley oop…  Foul…  And one…

And then it happened.


Yes, Elijah went TOO STRONG.  And he knew it.  After the game when asked about the flex, Elijah said it happened spontaneously when he realized the dunk was in fact, “Too Strong”.

Confidence can have an amazing impact on anyone, in any situation, but most especially in sports.  A confident Elijah Johnson gets to the rim at will, regularly knocks down 21 footers, and flexes after posterizing a Mountaineer.  The Elijah Johnson lacking confidence a month ago couldn’t execute the Bill Self “weave” without dribbling the ball off his foot.  I think I speak for everyone when I say I’ll gladly take the former.  The most telling sign of the change in Elijah’s attitude is the way in which he impacted the game.  It wasn’t by dropping 39, but instead by dishing out 10 assists and facilitating the offense through the best talent in the NCAA, Ben McLemore.

Ben McLemore, yeah the same guy who scored seven points at Iowa State on Monday night.  He was simply unbelievable on Saturday, and you could see it coming.  There was a difference about his game, an increased sense of agressiveness early.  It almost felt like after his story was told in the USA Today article earlier in the week, there was a weight lifted off his shoulders.  A feeling as if Ben was just out there playing ball, without a care in the world.  Monday night will be without a doubt Ben McLemore’s last game in Allen Fieldhouse, and it needs to be.  In his words, it’s time for a big house for his mom, where they can eat all day.

The interesting part to McLemore’s game is whether he can build on that performance away from the comforts of Allen Fieldhouse.  I think that he will.  I think Elijah’s confidence is going to radiate throughout the rest of this team, as it should, and it will benefit Ben as much as anyone.

Finally, during our three game skid when it felt like the sky in Lawrence was falling, the trump card KU nation had in our back pocket was Bill Self.  I said it, and I heard it from different people everywhere.  “It’s alright, we’ll be fine… we have the best coach in college basketball.”  I believed it, or at least I thought I did, but there was always that sliver of doubt.  Like what if this year is different, and we don’t live up to expectations?  We’ve been on an roll for nearly a decade, winning at a clip without a down year… that just isn’t supposed to happen.  What if this year is our hiccup?

My confession:  Sorry Bill, it won’t happen again.

Not only has Coach Self coaxed KU fans off the ledge, but he has our team peaking at the perfect time.  We’re five wins away from all but guaranteeing a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, and a date the first weekend of the tournament in Kansas City.

Confidence is the key, and this team appears to be flexing it’s muscle right at ideal moment.

Rock Chalk.


The butterfly effect: A story of the KU, ISU basketball game

Posted on: February 26th, 2013 by jayhawktalk 54 Comments

A butterfly flaps its wings … and the Jayhawks win a ninth straight Big 12 title.

Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

I’m sure most of you have heard of the “butterfly effect,” a fun little phenomenon derived from chaos theory. It is generally used to describe how one single event – e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings – could have a far-reaching ripple effect. The idea is that the flapping of one butterfly’s wings, a tiny change in one specific place, can set off a chain of events leading to, in the most famous example, the formation of a “cyclone.” (See where I’m going with this?)

In Ames, IA, inside Hilton Coliseum, with the score of the KU-ISU game at 55-53, Jeff Withey committed an offensive charging foul. It was a terrible call to anyone in the world not wearing red and yellow. It was also a pivotal call in the game, giving Withey his third foul, which would limit his minutes and aggressiveness the rest of the game.

This single foul call nearly cost Kansas the game.

Iowa State Senior, Korie Lucious, stood outside the three-point line in the second half of the same game. A Kansas defender was defending him closely, not willing to let the Cyclones get another wide open 3-pointer up. Lucious sees a streaking teammate and tosses an alley-oop. The pass accidentally goes into the basket for a made three pointer.

This single play nearly cost Kansas the game.

At the same exact game, an Iowa State fan directly in front of me (we’ll call him Jack) took a bite of his pretzel and dripped cheese on his lap. He stood up quickly and attempted to clean himself off. Right about that time, Elijah Johnson was bringing the ball up the court toward the basket in front of me. I stood up so I could see the play. The person behind me stood up so he could see. It set off a chain reaction of people standing all throughout Section 142. Suddenly, Elijah pulled up for a three point shot, his sight line to the basket aiming straight toward Jack, Section 142, and the pretzel cheese. Swish.

Jack and his pretzel cheese cost Iowa State the game.

By now, you probably catch my drift. One play does not a basketball game make. Neither does one whistle, one fluke three-point basket, or one pretzel.

The charge/block call at the end of the game did not decide the game. Elijah is not a butterfly. And Jack is not to blame.

It was one possession of about a billion possessions in an amazing college basketball game. A game where Iowa State scored more three-point baskets than the Cyclones have ever scored in a game.

The Jayhawks were called for more fouls than the Cyclones. The Jayhawks turned the ball over 15 of those billion possessions (Cyclones had 7) and the Jayhawks shot 7 fewer free throws.

I am not here to say the call at the end of the game was a good one. It probably wasn’t. What I’m here to say is that it is unfair to Elijah Johnson, to the Jayhawks, and, frankly, to the Cyclones, to use officiating as a crutch to attempt to explain (or demean) what was easily one of the best college basketball games of the year.

Moreover, it is even more ridiculous that the Big 12 office succumbed to unfounded national media pressure to “review the tape” of that one single possession and then issue a statement on it. If you are going to review a tape, review the entire tape. If you’re going to reprimand a referee, do so with the full story.

Publicly reprimanding the referee did not make any Iowa State fan feel better today. If anything, it probably made them even more upset.

In the end, that play at the end of regulation was not the play that decided the game.

If you subscribe to that line of thinking, then Jack is just as much to blame.


Self’s point guard conundrum

Posted on: February 15th, 2013 by jayhawktalk 1 Comment

By: Taylor Erickson (follow on Twitter at @tc_erickson)

Fresh off an absolute beat down of K-State, Coach Self is now faced with a pretty interesting question.

What do you do with the point guard position?

There are two particular plays from the drubbing Monday night that vividly stick out in my head that perfectly encapsulate our current situation at point guard.

Midway through the first half right before we really blew the game open, Naadir caught the ball on the right wing, just outside of the three point line.  If you’ve watched our first 23 games of the season, you probably knew what was coming next.  Naadir would shoot a deep three off one foot, the other team would get the rebound and be off to the other end.  A perfect opportunity to extend a lead would be wasted on a three point attempt by someone not named Ben McLemore.

Except that didn’t happen.

Instead, Naadir pump faked, drove into the lane, and kicked the ball out to a WIDE open Ben McLemore.  If you’ve watched our first 23 games of the season, you probably know what happened next.  McLemore fired that picture-perfect jump shot, and the result was nothing but net.  Naadir finished with 6 assists in the first half in what was without question exactly what we need from the point guard spot to legitimately contend for a National Title.

Fast forward about 30 minutes of game action to late in the second half, when the rout was on.

KU had the ball on offense, working some clock and looking for a good shot.  I can’t recall exactly how the ball ended up in his hands, but Elijah caught it right in front of the KU bench for a wide open three.  There wasn’t a K-State defender within 10 feet- probably the most open Elijah’s been for a three yet this season.

Except he didn’t shoot it.  Instead he passed up the wide open three, and kicked it to a different guard to continue the possession.

I couldn’t help but think about those two plays, and how similar they were yet so completely different.  Naadir Tharpe is beaming with confidence, and his play on Monday night reflected it.  He was constantly looking to attack and break down the defense, and proved getting a good shot at the end of the half is actually possible.  Elijah, on the other hand, is not even close to the player he was last March, and continues his search for a missing jump shot.

So if you’re Coach Self, what do you do?

Do you bench Elijah, and push the chips all in on Naadir Tharpe as this team’s starting point guard and risk losing any confidence Elijah had left?  Do you continue to start Elijah, and bring Naadir off the bench several minutes into the game and risk giving up an early lead rather than jumping out to a great start?

I’ve heard some people say perhaps we should play smaller, even possibly start four guards moving Releford to the four spot.  While that sounds like the best way to put our best players on the floor, I think the impact on the defensive end is much greater.  You move our best perimeter defender down low, and lose considerable size outside.

In my opinion, at some point the light is going to come on for Elijah, he’ll find his jump shot, and he’ll make big plays down the stretch like he did for us last year in March.  I think the risk of moving him to the bench outweighs the reward of moving Naadir into the starting lineup.  If Elijah continues to struggle the next several weeks and Naadir builds off an impressive performance Monday, this conundrum continues to grow.

Naadir’s performance on Monday represents a new found hope for a fan base that had none just four days ago.  I think it will be extremely interesting to see how Coach Self handles this position moving forward.


Withey is a big distraction – in a good way

Posted on: January 19th, 2012 by jayhawktalk No Comments

Courtesy of Nick Krug -

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.

Kansas, Baylor by the numbers

Posted on: January 19th, 2012 by jayhawktalk 1 Comment

Robinson rises for the alley-oop. This eventually goes into the basket for 2 of his 27 points.

By @HailToOldKU

First things first, sorry I’ve gone missing over the last couple games. Kansas wrecked some fools, I have a real job, things got a little hectic. Is what it is. But when Kansas wrecks some highly ranked fools? Time to come back out of the woodwork. No more slacking.

I’m going to break this up a little bit differently than I have been, because putting stats on there for the bench guys would be completely irrelevant. So I’m going to ignore those guys – because Kansas is essentially a 5-man team anyways – and do numbers for the starters, and then some game stats that I thought were the key. Without further ado:

Thomas Robinson: 1 foul
Baylor can run out five guys with the size and ability to frustrate most posts. All of them, except maybe Quincy Acy, are stretch-fours who can get a traditional post into trouble by dragging him out to the perimeter and either drawing fouls or getting by them for a bucket. Robinson did an incredible job of staying out of foul trouble. With the Jayhawks’ lack of depth, he needed to stay on the floor for 30-plus minutes. He played 35. Oh, and he had 27 and 14. Which doesn’t suck.

Tyshawn Taylor: 10 points
I know Taylor finished with 28. The 10 I mention are the 10 that came during KU’s 13-0 run to end the first half. Taylor’s run entering the break gave the Jays all the momentum entering the second half and put his team up a dime at half. He came out and played a brilliant second half, hitting 10 of 14 shots in his most efficient night of the season.

Jeff Withey: 9 offensive boards
This number just makes me laugh. Seriously? NINE? That’s insane! Here’s the best part, though. The Bears, with all their ridiculous length, combined to get eight offensive rebounds as a team. Man, if it weren’t for the fact that Thomas Robinson is the Greek God of Thunderdunking, we’d all be going nuts about how much Withey has improved. As it stands, I’m going nuts about it anyways. He’s the most improved player on the Jayhawks roster by far.

Elijah Johnson:  1 three-pointer attempted
We’re getting dangerously close to having Good Elijah and Bad Elijah nights just like we do with Tyshawn. The bad Elijah isn’t out of control or turnover prone or anything like that, he just jacks up an insane amount of threes with little regard for Bill Self’s offense.  Self’s offense usually works. Let’s just stick with it. Elijah was great Monday because he played within himself, didn’t do too much and let the two best players on the team be the two best players on the team. Johnson has the talent to be the star, but so did Thomas Robinson last year. Sometimes you have to know your spot, and EJ’s is as the third option, at best.  Great night all-around from him, though, as he embraced the role. 11 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, 4-of-7 shooting. Did it all well.

Travis Releford: 36 minutes
Releford had the biggest challenge of any Kansas defender last night. Not because he was guarding the Bears’ best player (that honor went to Withstar who D’d up on PJ3), but because he was outmatched by five inches and didn’t have much, if any, advantage in quickness against freshman Quincy Miller. Miller went for 17 points, but needed 12 shots to do it and only pulled down a couple boards. Releford played the most minutes on the team because he’s as good as it gets defensively for the Jayhawks right now, and he should be an all-conference defender by the time the season ends. Startling how similar Releford’s numbers (11 points, 3 boards, 4 assists, 5-of-7 shooting) were to Johnson’s.

Key Team Numbers

48-34, 39-24, 17-8: The Jayhawks worked Baylor in the paint, outscoring the Bears 48-34 in the lane and outrebounding them 39-24. Withey and Robinson deserve much of the credit. Also, the Jayhawks won 17-8 on second chance points, courtesy of Withey’s nine (seriously! NINE!) offensive boards. Love that number. Baylor has one of the best frontcourts in the country (I’d put them behind Kentucky and North Carolina only), and the Jayhawks shredded them.

114+: I wasn’t in the building, so I don’t know the exact number, but the highest I saw was somewhere over 114 decibels in the Fieldhouse Monday night. I’m going to toot our own horn here for just a minute: The best fans in college sports live in Lawrence, Kansas.