Kansas City, Mo. Late great Marquette basketball coach and color commentator Al McGuire was noted for his descriptive quotes, delivered with a thick New York accent. Based on one of his most famous lines and on the defense-first philosophy he brought to the bench, McGuire would have loved Kansas University's senior point guard Russell Robinson.
"Cut off the head, and the body dies," McGuire was fond of saying.
Robinson specializes in two things for the unbeaten and third-ranked Jayhawks. He cuts off the head of the opposing team by shutting down its point guard, and he makes sure KU keeps its head on its shoulders.
Kansas plays in-your-face defense, and it all starts with Robinson hounding the opposing ballhandler all the way up the court. He keeps him in front of him and picks his spots to stab at the ball. As a result, he puts the other team's offense in a defensive posture. The goal shifts from scoring to not turning the ball over, from thriving to surviving.
Robinson forces the point guard to pick up the ball prematurely. Mario Chalmers snipes in the passing lanes. Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur trap ball screens on the perimeter and block shots down low. It all adds up to a defense so relentlessly focused, and it all starts with Robinson.
KU coach Bill Self often talks about how he doesn't care about Robinson's statistics, least of all his shooting. He only cares that his point guard puts his team in a position to win.
Robinson's an unselfish player, yet he still cares about his numbers. You know why? Because he's human. Who wouldn't care?
"My thing is, as long as you look at the stat sheet and can say I did something, whether it's six or seven steals, I just want to be able to say when the game's over I contributed to the team in some form," he said. "I'm probably the most unselfish I've been in my career. It's all about winning now."
The stat sheet reflected well on Robinson in Saturday's 88-51 beheading of Ohio University. He scored six points on three field-goal attempts. He was the only starter not in double figures, an indication he kept teammates happy by getting them shots. He had a career-high 11 assists, numerical proof he did so. Robinson also had three steals. The past two games, Robinson has 20 assists and three turnovers, Chalmers 12 assists and 11 steals.
"Russell's better on the ball, and Mario's the best off the ball of anyone I've ever coached," Self said after the DePaul game.
Mix in Sherron Collins, coming off of foot surgery and not yet playing with his normal explosiveness, and Kansas has a guard rotation that can play with any in the nation. It's not a stretch to project this as Self's best team, and he has been to the Elite Eight four times at three schools.
"I think we're a little more mature than the teams (he has played on) in the past, and we've got a lot of guys," Robinson said. "I think we're 10-deep this year, more so than in the past, and we've got a lot of tools inside."
The depth allows KU to maintain intensity.
"We can get out there and pressure, get in the passing lanes, get up and running," Robinson said. "We get tired and know we have subs who can control the game."
Nobody controls it better for KU than Robinson.