The Kansas Jayhawks possess all the ingredients of a championship team.
They feature the best player in the country in Ben McLemore, who’s an incredible shooter and can either drive to the basket or find the open man. McLemore also has elite athleticism, and can often be seen rising above the rim to throw down an alley-oop. On the defensive side of the ball, McLemore currently leads the team in steals and is second in blocks behind Jeff Withey.
The Jayhawks also have senior leadership with final four experience in Withey, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson. Withey, Releford and Johnson were all major cogs of last year’s team that came up just short in the championship game, while Young was a complementary piece off the bench.
Withey is the nation’s third leading shot-blocker, giving Kansas a devastating rim defender in the middle. He’s also developed into an offensive threat down low, able to finish over smaller opponents in the post. His improvement over the years has been something to watch, and now he's on his way to the NBA. Who would have thought that was possible after watching him during his early years?
Elijah Johnson is clearly not a true point guard, but he’s done a great job transitioning into that role in his senior season. Johnson had to sacrifice his own game for the good of the team, and that’s a lot to ask from a guy that was the best player on the team at times last season.
Naadir Tharpe gives the Jayhawks another reliable ball-handler, a luxury that will come in handy late in big-pressure tournament games.
Kansas has one of the best coaches in college basketball in Bill Self. Self gets the most out of his team year in and year out, and he develops talent as well as anyone. He’s also had great success in the NCAA tournament, and always stays competitive despite losing players to the NBA.
Self has dominated the Big 12 since he got to Lawrence, and the Jayhawks are working on their ninth straight league championship. Kansas has won at least one game in the NCAA tournament for six straight years, and they’ve averaged more than three during that time. You can bet on them making another deep run in the big dance this season.
It seems like the recent three-game losing streak woke the Jayhawks up. I’m not exactly sure what happened there, but I think it will end up being a positive in the end. That stretch will ultimately give Kansas a killer instinct, and let them know they can lose if they don’t bring it every night.
The Jayhawks answered the bell in the last week against Kansas State and Texas with blowout wins. Both games were over almost immediately, with Kansas jumping out to big leads from the opening tip and never looking back.
Kansas travels to Oklahoma State tonight in a game with monster implications. The Big 12 conference is on the line, and the winner will have the upper hand down the stretch. The Jayhawks lost to the Cowboys at home and will be thirsty for revenge. Even if Kansas loses the game, they are still my favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
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