The season is early and tonight’s game is a pretty big one, but we know a few things about this team so far.
First, we know that we can play 8-9 guys, but that our success is directly tied to our top 3. If Robinson, Johnson and Taylor play well, we can stay with just about anyone. If any one of the three struggles, we are in for a long night. Against elite (top 10) level competition, we are going to rely on these three and they absolutely have to respond.
Second, we know about what we are going to get from our interior players not named Thomas Robinson. The trio of Withey, Wesley and Young will give us some solid minutes. They will rebound a little bit. Withey will block some shots. Ultimately, we are going to be hoping for about 55 mpg, 55% shooting, 12-15 rebounds, 2 blocks and 10-12 points. Anything more will be gravy. If one of these three emerges, we could have a deep tournament run, but that remains to be seen. Still, they will be at least solid night in and night out.
Third, we know that when we need a bucket, we will be looking at Taylor or Johnson to create. In the three tough games so far this year (not counting Towson), when we have needed to score the ball has gone out top to either Taylor or Johnson and they have been looking to create off the dribble. Other than Sherron’s junior year, that hasn’t been the preferred Bill Self method, but that looks to be our best option. T-Rob is really better as a scorer when he can turn, face up and use his quickness, particularly because he isn’t as natural a jump shooter as someone like Marcus Morris, and he isn’t as big as a guy like Cole Aldrich. He’s got an array of moves, but T-Rob has never been a #1 scorer, and I’m not sure he’s comfortable in that role. That’s okay, because he will still average a double double and be an All-American, but when we need to stop a run, or get a big hoop down the stretch, we are probably going to see Johnson or Taylor creating off the bounce.
Fourth, we know that we will need Releford AND Teahan to hit open perimeter shots. This kind of goes without saying. Some thought that Teahan alone could be our designated shooter, and to some degree, he still is because Travis is a natural slasher. However, Travis has worked on his shot, and it shows. We will need him to continue to knock down his open opportunities. In addition, we need Conner to start using his pump fake to get one dribble and knock down the 17 footer. Everybody knows that he’s a terrific three point marksman, and they are going to do everything they can to run him off that shot. The counter is the Bobby Knight approved pump fake, one hard dribble and the jump shot. Conner’s such a pure shooter that if he can slow down the challenge even a little because they have to consider the shot fake as a weapon, he can still get up 2-3 threes per game (which is where he will be most dangerous).
Finally, this team needs Travis Releford to be the “fill-in-the-blanks” guy. Some nights, that will be upping his scoring from 8 or so into the 12-15 range. Other nights it will be locking down the opponent’s best wing scorer. Other nights, we will need him to grab 8-10 boards. Travis’ role this year is going to be doing whatever the big 3 aren’t doing that night (scoring, rebounding, passing, defending, saving possessions, getting floorburns, etc.). It’s a tough role to have, because the expectation will change without warning.
Right now, my prediction for KU is 26 wins, Big XII regular season champs, loss in the conference semis, Sweet Sixteen. I don’t know that we have enough Elite Level talent to beat a 1 or 2 seed right now, but I am willing to revise after I see what happens tonight against Duke, and on Dec. 10 (Ohio State).