To preview the Texas - Kansas game on Saturday, we've brought in "Hiphopopotamus", part of a deep team of writers covering Kansas basketball on Rock Chalk Talk, for a Q&A.
1. Did anyone in Kansas realistically expect the Jayhawks to win yet another Big 12 title before the season began?
I think most (myself included) did expect them to win the league, but more by default than anything. I didn't expect Missouri to be nearly this good. I thought the A&M love was pretty misguided and Baylor is coached by Scott Drew. Now, if you had told me that the Big 12 would be this good, and it would take 15-3 to win it outright ... I would have been much more skeptical. Going 7-2 on the road in this league is awfully impressive.
2. How is an experienced PG like Tyshawn Taylor averaging 3.5 turnovers a game and are you worried this will haunt Kansas in the Tourney?
You know, I said going into the year that this team wold go as far as Tyshawn Taylor takes them. That's proven to be exceedingly accurate and given where we are, I have no complaints. Obviously we would all love him to take care of the ball better, for with how much he handles it and what we ask him to do, it comes with the territory. LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world and I think he averages something in that vicinity too. It's not ideal, but when you ask a guy to create as much offense as we ask of Taylor, turnovers are going to happen. As far as haunting them in the tourney, I would say no. The only game it has cost us in this year was Duke in Maui, and I don't expect a repeat.
3. What's been the key to the Jayhawks ability to reliably churn out NBA-caliber big men? Withey's development as the season has progressed has been stunning.
Two things. One, Self is great at getting his guys to buy in. His ability to get their attention mentality far exceeds his on court coaching. It's not like he's turning players without ability into lottery picks. He's taking guys that have inherent talent and getting them to learn the nuances, play hard and maximize what they are. Secondly, we have arguably the best big-man coach in the country in Danny Manning. Self handles the mental aspect and the defensive side of the court, but it's Manning who works on their post game.
4. Bill Self's teams have been the victim of more than their fair share of upsets (Bucknell, Northern Iowa, VCU) in March. Is that just chance or is there a common theme?
Probably a little of both. As we all know, upsets happen. I believe only one time has the #1 overall seed actually won the tournament. When you look at Self's upsets, I honestly believe he's often a victim of his own success. He's the best in the business at getting his guys to focus game in and game out during the season. They may get sloppy on occasion, but they always play hard and so even when they don't have their 'A' game, they're able to grind out some wins. In the tournament, everyone will give their all, so we lose that "upper-hand," so to speak. And secondly, in a one-and-done, it's tough being the team with all the pressure. In almost every game during his tenure, it's been the other team that's playing with house money. Those are tough odds to beat.
Having said that, I do think he gets nervous and some of his players can feel that anxiety. His record in the Elite 8 isn't pretty and even the win over Davidson wasn't exactly a walk through. Perhaps even more daunting is the quick turnaround. Self and his staff are about as good as they come in getting their team prepared for what they'll see. All year, teams will bemoan the shots they missed against Kansas, but it's by design. He gives them the shots he wants them to take. In a tournament setting, it's tougher to nail down that scouting report, and again we've lost a small "upper-hand" that's probably bought us an extra win or two throughout the year.
5. There doesn't seem to be as much depth on this Kansas teamas in years past. Is next year finally the season Self gets knocked off or will Elijah Johnson and Withey be able to take the next stepand keep this program running at the top of the Big 12?
That's an understatement. They're bad foul trouble or a turned ankle away from being a pretty average team. As for the next year, I wouldn't bet against them. I do expect Johnson and Withey to take a leap. Releford is solid as a rock. Tharpe will take a big step. McLemore (a future pro) and Traylor will be eligible. And the recruiting class looks pretty good. The streak will end sometime and it very well could be next year, but there's enough in the cupboard that I wouldn't bet against him this time.