Kansas Basketball: Why Elijah Johnson Is the Key to KU's Success

Thad NovakCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 02:  Elijah Johnson #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives on Marquis Teague #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half in the National Championship Game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on April 2, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

One of the biggest concerns facing Kansas for 2012-13 is the loss of graduated four-year starter Tyshawn Taylor at the point. It’s fitting, then, that Taylor’s replacement is poised to be the keystone of this year’s Jayhawks team.

Elijah Johnson doesn’t have a lot of obvious star credentials. He takes over at the point after one season starting alongside Taylor, in which he posted respectable but forgettable averages of 10.2 points and 3.5 assists per game.

Even so, Johnson will be forced into a starring role by virtue of his place in Bill Self’s lineup. He doesn’t have to put up All-American numbers as Taylor did, but Johnson must grow into a legitimate starting point guard to give Kansas its best shot at another Final Four trip.

Johnson’s role as floor leader will be vital in replacing the enormous offensive firepower that Kansas lost with the departures of Taylor and Thomas Robinson. New scoring options—highlighted by freshman Perry Ellis and redshirt frosh Ben McLemore—are ready to step into the spotlight, but they won’t play up to their potential without a healthy dose of veteran leadership from their senior PG.

In contrast, Kansas’ defense will be much closer to last year’s strength, thanks primarily to the return of shot-blocking ace Jeff Withey in the middle. There’s little doubt about KU’s potential on defense after they held last year’s opponents to 38 percent shooting, but the offense is in a far more fragile position—and no one is better suited to nurse it along than Johnson.

The 6’4” Johnson is also a solid defender in his own right, and that raises another point about his importance to the Jayhawks. The 2012-13 edition of the Big 12 is loaded with talented point guards, and it will be Johnson’s responsibility to slow them down as well as to create his own offense against them.

Having a veteran like Johnson to match up with talents such as Myck Kabongo of Texas, Pierre Jackson of Baylor or Juwan Staten of West Virginia will be a huge safety net for Kansas. The fact that Johnson averaged 1.4 steals a game a season ago (tops on the roster) doesn’t exactly hurt matters, either.

It’s entirely possible that Johnson won’t put up impressive individual numbers in any category, especially given the competition for assist totals in this conference. As long as he runs Kansas’ offense with a steady hand and provides a physical presence at the top of the defense, though, he'll give the Jayhawks what they need to challenge for yet another Big 12 title this season.