Kansas Basketball: Why Jeff Withey Is the Jayhawks' Most Indispensable Player

Andrew DoughtyCorrespondent IIJanuary 9, 2013

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 08:  Spencer Dinwiddie #25 of the Colorado Buffaloes and Jeff Withey #5 of the Kansas Jayhawks compete for a rebound during the game at Allen Fieldhouse on December 8, 2012 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Kansas head coach Bill Self is known for his blunt criticism and even keel approach toward his nationally glorified basketball teams, with his 2012-13 squad being no different, as he continues to publicly question the Jayhawks' defense.

“I’ve watched us play (on film). People are saying too much about our defense. It’s not that good. It’s not," Self said last week prior to completing the team's non-conference schedule with the No. 2 ranked defense.

That "bad" defense, currently limiting opponents to 34.7 percent shooting, is averaging 8.6 blocked shots per game, also second in the nation.  Those two numbers have been heavily influenced by the nation's best low-post defender, All-American candidate Jeff Withey.

As the Jayhawks' most indispensable player, Withey leads the country in blocked shots per game at 5.2. The 7'0" center has continued to develop his offensive game, improving his field goal percentage to nearly 59 percent this season, while becoming a fixture in Self's high-low offense.

Is the Kansas defense that bad?

No, not really—largely thanks to the Arizona transfer.

On a team filled with elite athleticism, dynamic scorers, and some of the best role players in the country, Bill Self certainly is blessed with an adequate supporting cast for his game-changing center.

That supporting cast, combined with Withey, averages 77.7 points per game, greatly helped by the big man's imposing frame inside the paint.  The team also averages an outstanding 17.4 assists, and while Withey notches less than one dime per outing, the team's ball movement rolls when he rolls.

If Self had his way, Withey and the other KU big men would touch the ball at least once on every possession, forcing the undersized opposing forwards to rotate inside, and thus allowing the play-making Kansas guards to move freely along the perimeter.

Furthermore, on the defensive end, Withey is the nation's best at altering and blocking shots, contributing to an astounding success rate at defending dunks.  Yes, dunks.

As Hoop-Math.com points out, Kansas has the third best percentage in the nation in defending dunks, tip-ins, and lay-ups at 47 percent. 

That 53 percent of missed shots are heavily due to Withey's inside dominance, with 70.2 percent of his 5.2 blocks per game being retrieved by KU.

The one game in which the Jayhawks were outperformed at the rim, they lost to Michigan State in the Champions Classic.  Withey played only 28 minutes that night, recording a mild stat line of 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while being saddled with foul trouble throughout.

Kevin Young often plays above his 6'8" frame, but when facing the Spartans, he struggled mightily in a mere three minutes against the Michigan State frontcourt duo of Derrick Nix and Adrien Payne.

While Young and forwards Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis have provided occasionally adequate sparks down low against inferior frontcourts, Kansas goes how Jeff Withey goes.

Ultimately, Withey is the Jayhawks' most indispensable player, on both ends of the court.