Who is KU's biggest surprise this season? Plus, predictions for KU-Howard
Jesse Newell: Welcome back to the GameDay Cram Session, as Kansas is taking on Howard on Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse. With Tom Keegan on vacation, Matt Tait has stepped in as a pinch-hitter.
Matt, for you, which KU player has been the biggest surprise so far this season?
Matt Tait: If you're talking in spurts, I'd probably have to say Kevin Young. When the guy wants to play and has his head in the game, he's a real difference maker.
If you're talking in terms of the regulars, I'd have to say Conner Teahan. I didn't know what to expect from Teahan this year and I wasn't sure if he'd be able to be a rotation guy. Not only has he become that, he's done a pretty good job. We all knew he could shoot the ball and for the most part he's done that very well this season. If he can continue to shoot 39 percent from three-point land, that's going to help KU a lot.
He's averaging 22 minutes per game, which is pretty incredible for a guy who had hardly played a meaningful minute prior to this season and he has played fewer than 15 minutes just one time. For goodness sake, he played 35 minutes in KU's win over Long Beach State. The guy's a shooter and that's what he's out there for, but, so far, he's proven to be more than that, as evidenced by his playing time.
JN: I'd have to go with Teahan as the most surprising player on this year's team as well.
Even when KU coach Bill Self said at Big 12 media days that Teahan was the Jayhawks' sixth man, I think most fans believed that was just lip service. The senior has ended up playing more than half the Jayhawks' minutes this season and already has gotten in more this year (241 minutes) than he did in his previous three years combined (218 minutes).
The Leawood native has certainly made the most of his chance to earn playing time.
Matt, as president of the Naadir Tharpe Fan Club, what would you like to see from the freshman guard if he's able to get extended minutes against Howard?
MT: I love Tharpe and I think he's going to be outstanding before his career is finished — probably sooner than later. The reason I jumped all-in with the #TharpeFanClub stuff was not his points or his jump shot or any of that. I just like his demeanor. The guy's tough. He's a natural leader. And he wants to be great. If he can just rein it in a little bit and start playing the role that he needs to play, I think he can still contribute this year.
The biggest thing he needs to remember right now is that he's on the floor to distribute and defend. If he can do that against Howard and North Dakota (Saturday) — and by do that, I mean keep the ball moving and steal extra possessions for his team — I think he could be in line for an increase in minutes (and confidence) come conference play.
JN: KU certainly would benefit if he's able to provide a few extra minutes off the bench.
I came into the season thinking KU's biggest depth issues were in the frontcourt, but it's turned out to be the opposite. The Jayhawks are the most thin at guard, and we've seen occasions where senior Tyshawn Taylor wear out late in games because of that (with the most notable instance coming against Duke).
Though Tharpe has played just nine total minutes in KU's last four games, he's likely to get double-digit minutes against both Howard and North Dakota in KU's two easiest games left on the schedule.
Now's as good a time as any for the freshman to show that he's ready to step up and provide depth at a thin position for KU.
OK, Matt, what's your prediction for this game?
MT: KU should roll in this one, 89-57.
Howard is young, inexperienced and hasn't played well away from home. KU's defense should be able to take the Bison out of anything they want to do offensively and the Jayhawks' offense will be way more explosive and up-tempo than anything Howard has seen this season. KU's transition game should take over early.
JN: I'll go with KU by 40.
One way to get out of an offensive funk is to get to the free throw line, and the Jayhawks should have plenty of opportunities there against the Bison.
Howard's opponents average 29.9 free throws per game this year, and I'd expect KU to put up an even higher number of attempts on Thursday.
It's not always fair to compare scores from earlier games, but Indiana did lead Howard, 52-15, at halftime before taking a 107-50 victory just 10 days ago.
I don't think predicting a 90-50 win is expecting too much for this year's Jayhawks.
All right, Matt, who's your Hawk to Rock?
MT: Kevin Young.
I'm guessing this is the kind of game that Self has been waiting for in terms of giving some of his key bench guys lots of playing time. Give Young more minutes and a track meet and watch him soar.
JN: I'll go with Tyshawn Taylor.
The senior should have lots of opportunities for points at the free throw line and also plenty of chances for assists.
Though his minutes might be limited, he should still be in line for about a 20-point, seven-assist effort.
Predictions tally (through 11 games)
Tom: 8-3 record, 107 points off (9.7 points off/game)
Jesse: 10-1 record, 87 points off (7.9 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
Towson: Tyshawn Taylor (4th in Keegan ratings)
Kentucky: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
Georgetown: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
UCLA: Tyshawn Taylor (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Duke: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
FAU: Jeff Withey (4th in Keegan ratings)
South Florida: Tyshawn Taylor (1st in Keegan ratings)
Long Beach State: Elijah Johnson (7th in Keegan ratings)
Ohio State: Thomas Robinson (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Davidson: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
USC: Jeff Withey (4th in Keegan ratings)
Average: 3.1st in Keegan ratings
Towson: Conner Teahan (6th in Keegan ratings)
Kentucky: Elijah Johnson (4th in Keegan ratings)
Georgetown: Kevin Young (9th in Keegan ratings)
UCLA: Elijah Johnson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Duke: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
FAU: Tyshawn Taylor (7th in Keegan ratings)
South Florida: Elijah Johnson (6th in Keegan ratings)
Long Beach State: Thomas Robinson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Ohio State: Travis Releford (5th in Keegan ratings)
Davidson: Jeff Withey (5th in Keegan ratings)
USC: Elijah Johnson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Average: 4.2nd in Keegan ratings