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Old 10-26-2012, 11:05 AM   #68
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Five From the Fieldhouse, Oct 26

Oct 26, 2012 -- 11:36amBy Nate Bukaty

-The college basketball season is just days away. The Jayhawks’ exhibition season starts on Tuesday, and with that in mind, here are my top 5 storylines to watch for this upcoming Kansas basketball season.

1) Who, if anyone, replaces Mizzou? It’s no secret that Kansas has dominated the Big 12 during the Bill Self era, as evidenced by their 8-year streak of conference championships. But for most of those 8 seasons, there’s been a team that has stepped up and pushed Kansas all the way to the finish line, and in some cases even tied the Jayhawks for the League Crown. What made last season so special was the fact that Missouri stepped up as that team in the last year of the rivalry. Nobody will soon forget the two epic showdowns between Kansas and Missouri last year. And in year’s past, there have been some titanic tilts between Kansas and Texas with the league on the line. This year, the Jayhawks were the unanimous pick to win the Big 12. The only coach who didn’t vote for KU was Bill Self, because he couldn’t. So it’s possible that there is simply not another team that will push KU for the title this year. But, if a team does emerge, who will it be? My bet is Baylor, with the talent that Scott Drew has been able to consistently assemble. It seems like a nice little rivalry is brewing between the Jayhawks and Bears.

2) Does Elijah make the Tyshawn Taylor jump? You might recall that Kansas was actually not the favorite to win the Big 12 going into last season, despite having won 7 straight titles. It’s easy to forget that now, especially after KU’s run all the way to the National Championship game a year ago. One of the biggest reasons that the Jayhawks so greatly exceeded expectations was the quantum leap that Tyshawn Taylor made in his final year at Kansas. Going into his senior season, the enigmatic Taylor was considered to be an inconsistent, if not altogether unreliable, player. But Taylor grabbed hold of the leadership role in his senior season, and never let go. He went from scoring 9 points a game his Junior year to almost 17 a game as a senior, and was named to several All American teams (as a third teamer or honorable mention.) Now the point guard responsibilities fall to another Senior, Elijah Johnson. As a Junior, Johnson battled some inconsistencies of his own, before closing out the season on a high note with some great play in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 10 points per game on the year, but he suffered long stretches where he couldn’t find the mark from three point range, yet he seemed to settle for outside jumpers rather than trying to take the ball to the basket. Bill Self says that Johnson has the ability to get his shoulders past defenders, so he should have no problem taking the ball to the basket. If Johnson takes that step this season, it could be another special one for the Jayhawks.

3) Can Withey become a scorer? We already know that Jeff Withey will likely be the best defensive presence in the Big 12 this season. The 7-footer blocked 140 shots a year ago, and there’s no reason to suspect he won’t pick up right where he left off last year. While Withey did mix in some offense last year (9 points per game,) most of his scoring came because opposing defenses were completely focused on Thomas Robinson. Even if Perry Ellis emerges as a big low-post scoring threat, it’s hard to imagine that anyone will command the respect that Robinson did last year. That means Withey will have to earn more of his points this year.

4) Who wants the ball? Self has gone on record this preseason that he’s got some freshman who have that God-given ability to score the basketball, but some of them seem more comfortable deferring to their older teammates. You get the sense that Self is talking most specifically about Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis. Fran Fraschilla told us at Big 12 Media Day that he saw more upside potential out of McLemore than he did from Brandon Rush and Xavier Henry. That’s some pretty high praise. I’ve talked to some coaches who watched a lot of Ellis in high school, and they describe a guy who is a sure bucket anytime he touches the ball inside of 9 feet. Watching Ellis at “Late Night,” I could see what they were talking about. Ellis seems to have a particularly advanced variety of post moves for such a young player, and an impressive amount of patience. But Self says that he practically has to beg these kids to shoot the ball in practice. If Kansas is going to successfully replace the scoring of Robinson and Taylor, they’ll need some of these freshmen to emerge.

5) How do the Jayhawks Navigate the Non-Con? Much like last year, Kansas has to get ready for a big matchup right out of the shoot, as their 2nd game of the season is against Michigan State in the Champions Classic in Atlanta. Less than a week later, they’ll face a couple of tough challenges in the CBE Classic at Sprint Center. And don’t forget a visit to Ohio State right before Christmas. Unlike last year’s team, this year’s squad will count on a lot of newcomers to play big roles this year. New players in the Bill Self system tend not to blossom before conference play comes around. We know that Self places a much bigger emphasis on getting ready for League play than he does on nonconference, but those November and December games can have an impact on tournament seeding down the road. It will be interesting to see if the Jayhawks’ Seniors can carry the mail in the season’s first two months while the newcomers find their identities.
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