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Who is KU's biggest surprise this season? Plus, predictions for KU-Howard

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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.

Kansas forward Kevin Young grabs the ball off the back of Davidson's JP Kuhlman (5) in the first half Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas forward Kevin Young grabs the ball off the back of Davidson's JP Kuhlman (5) in the first half Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Kevin Anderson

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.

Kansas guard Conner Teahan loses his footing going for a loose ball with USC guard Alexis Moore during the first half Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Kansas guard Conner Teahan loses his footing going for a loose ball with USC guard Alexis Moore during the first half Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Calif. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas University guard Conner Teahan, a fifth-year senior, says he has enjoyed playing almost 22 minutes a game for the Jayhawks this year after starting his KU career as a walk-on.

Kansas University guard Conner Teahan, a fifth-year senior, says he has enjoyed playing almost 22 minutes a game for the Jayhawks this year after starting his KU career as a walk-on. by Richard Gwin

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?

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at Naadir Tharpe after a turnover during the first half against UCLA on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at Naadir Tharpe after a turnover during the first half against UCLA on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 at the Lahaina Civic Center. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe puts up a jumper over Towson guard Kris Walden during the second half on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe puts up a jumper over Towson guard Kris Walden during the second half on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas guard Travis Releford pressures USC guard Maurice Jones as KU center Jeff Withey and USC center James Blasczyk hit the floor during the second half on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center.

Kansas guard Travis Releford pressures USC guard Maurice Jones as KU center Jeff Withey and USC center James Blasczyk hit the floor during the second half on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center.

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.

Kansas head coach Bill Self has some excited words for the Jayhawks during a timeout in the second half on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center.

Kansas head coach Bill Self has some excited words for the Jayhawks during a timeout in the second half on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas forward Kevin Young flashes a smile after taking a charge against an Ohio State player during the first half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Kevin Young flashes a smile after taking a charge against an Ohio State player during the first half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

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.

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor pulls up for a jumper over USC guard Maurice Jones during the first half on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center.

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor pulls up for a jumper over USC guard Maurice Jones during the first half on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 at the Galen Center.

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

Tom Keegan
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

Jesse Newell
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

Comments

Nick Cole 9 years, 11 months ago

Tehan? Really? If his shot isn't falling, which about half the time it isn't, he is a complete liability on the floor. By far the worst defender in a KU uniform I've seen in a long time.

JHawk74 9 years, 11 months ago

IF he is the worst defender you've seen why would Bill Self let him play 35 minutes in the game against Long Beach State? Bill Self only allows players to play if they are sound on defensive. This is why Kevin Young struggles to get playing time because he hasn't shown much defensive skills this year. Kevin Young is a very good offensive player. Do you even watch the games? Conner is probably the 5th best defender on the team. I would put him ahead of Taylor on the defensive end for sure.

Nick Cole 9 years, 11 months ago

Really? We must not be watching the same game? Are you sure you aren't watching UK basketball instead of KU basketball?

He may not be the worst defender on the team, but he is the worst defender I've seen play significant minutes in a long long time. He only plays b/c he's a senior (experience, been at KU longer than anyone else on the team) and has the chance to make a bunch of 3's. I wish there was a stat line for allowing a blow-by as a defender, b/c Teahan (I spelled his name wrong above, woops!) would lead this team in that stat. Also, he always loses his man and gets caught in a screen allowing open 3's for the other team. Teahan not making 3's = complete liability. I would rather see Young come in, make mistakes, and learn from them vs. Teahan giving his man open looks all game and still getting 30+ min of PT. I've talked to a whole lot of people who agree with me on this and you are the first to disagree.

Better than Tyshawn? You know he just had knee surgery, right?

I love HCBS, but get this kid down to 10 min per game and we will be much better off come March. I know he only plays players who are solid on D, but his options are somewhat limited this season. In a close game, he tends to go with experience more than anything else.

Marcia Parsons 9 years, 11 months ago

Tyshawn is a good defender, but has a terrible habit of going under screens instead of over, continually leaving the shooter open for a 3-pointer. I've never seen Teahan do that, but will admit he doesn't have the speed he needs.

Nick Cole 9 years, 11 months ago

Teahan will go over the screen around the edges of the 3 line, but is usually late in doing so, leaving his man open. He almost always gets lost in screens in the paint trying to follow his man around on defense, or commits too much to helping on someone else who drives the lane by leaving his man open for a kick-out 3. Happens all the time and it drives me freaking nuts. I've seen Taylor start to go through screens more recently, but he does need to get better at that. Like you said, he has the speed to not lose his man; Teahan does not.

KGphoto 9 years, 11 months ago

Howard's has one big man who gets any real minutes. Alphonso Leary is 6'10" 200. Withey is gonna feel like Shaq tonight. Mr. Zero is gonna feel like Godzilla.

The Bison come into Mr. Robinson's neighborhood and get trampled for 20 minutes before a merciful halftime where they cry hard and wonder aloud why they ever wanted to play basketball. Luckily Self has seen enough and cools his warhorse for the second half, so Howard wipes their eyes and takes the court.

TT11 and The Prophet conduct a less than perfect second half with apprentice players and close the door on another cupcake.

Half a game is probably enough for Thomas to get the nod, but again, in sport I'll take a Hawk to Achieve.

Jeff Withey should have a block party. He also shoots well from the line, and it sounds like he'll get there plenty. He might even flirt with that elusive triple double that spurned him against The Beach. One little board can be hurtful, and Jeff can probably just taste it.

I don't usually pick scores because I'm superstitious. However, I'm not too worried about these Bison.

Kansas 90 Howard 55

KGphoto 9 years, 11 months ago

Oh yeah. Biggest surprise.

I think Wesley has played a lot tougher than I expected. He isn't putting up numbers or collecting any awards, but he's stuck his chest out there and maintained against some pretty tough competition. I didn't expect him to be much of a factor at all.

It's not pretty but he's out there fouling hard (absorbing some team fouls away from Robinson) and getting some blocks and rebounds along the way. I think his ability to hold down the paint physically, while spelling Mr. Zero, has been a big help this year.

His performance against Kentucky stands as the most surprising individual effort of the season.

jaybate 9 years, 11 months ago

Justin Wesley is critical to the team.

The team began to sag a little when he plateaued the last 3-4 games, got too self-conscious about fouling and seemed to lose a bit of his tenacity and focus.

He has to get back on a defensive edge again, quit worrying so much about fouls, get a few garbage baskets, and become the team's garbage man again.

At 6'9" and 220, we need him guarding his man big time and helping with his length on penetrations.

When he is confident he has the unique ability to sub for Withey and complement TRob and alternatively to sub for TRob and complement Withey. This is not easy to do, because both guys play so differently and have such different levels of strength.

Until Kevin Young can get over blow by syndrome, Justin is the difference between winning and losing quite a few games for the team.

rockchalk80 9 years, 11 months ago

Surprised no one mentioned Withey - I guess I didn't expect much. He has disappeared at times - but other than Young's big game... Withey has shown much more overall.

no disrespect to Young - I would like to see some repeats of his big performance.

dylans 9 years, 11 months ago

I agree. Withey may not be the biggest surprise, due to high expectations, but I'm still a little shocked by his play.

rwhawk 9 years, 11 months ago

For me it has to be Withey, I was sure he'd suck this year and be average next. I was completely wrong. He's not All American, but he's above average and essential to the team.

Wesley has to be high, but more so because nobody had a starting point to measure him before the season.

I'm most disappointed with Releford. Not that he's bad, I just may have been expecting too much.

And for the first conversation about Teahan. He has slow feet, but he's smart and generally doesn't make dumb plays, so he's the best we've got at this point coming off the bench.

hawkinNE 9 years, 11 months ago

I agree with alot of things in this article. The two i dont is tharpes minutes and the foul shots. I see tharpe getting double digit minutes in both games combined. I just dont see him getting in more than 6-7 mins per. I also see the same thing happening that has in prior games where KU shoots nonstop from 3. Thats why i see less free throws. I hope im wrong on both but we will see.

hawkinNE 9 years, 11 months ago

Have i been asleep or did i miss Garret? Is he the new walk-on?

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