First, I'd like to give a public "thank you" to the wonderful Mrs. Penhawk, who made tickets to some select KU basketball games this year my Christmas present. As a result, I was able to attend last night's season-opening victory over Towson. After attending so many football games the last two years, I'd almost forgotten what it was like to a part of an Allen Fieldhouse crowd. I'm not exactly well-traveled, but for my money there is no experience in sports quite like the pregame video and introductions at Allen. Even against a team like Towson, the crowd was at near-riot level. We truly have a special program in Kansas basketball, and it's important not to forget that.Moving on to the game, it's hard to draw too many conclusions from a game against a team that is outmatched both in size and athleticism. The most obvious negative from last night was the fouls. A few of them were cheap, but for the most part, Kansas was playing overly-physical (and somewhat sloppy) defense. Initially I thought maybe Self had instructed them to try and intimidate Towson from the get-go with some extra physical play, but I listened to Self's postgame interview in the car, and he was very critical of the excess fouling. This may be something to keep an eye on moving forward, as we all know that depth is a bit of an issue for Kansas this year.
Perhaps the most intriguing player on this team right now is Jeff Withey. No one really knows what he's going to be this year. Is he the skinny guy who barely played last year? Or is he the beast who had the triple-double against Pittsburg State? Ultimately it's somewhere in between, but at this point I'm leaning toward the former. Withey used his length to snag four blocks and a couple of put-backs, but in general he was simply out-muscled inside and represented very little presence in the paint for us. He didn't make up for it with smart play, either. At one point in the first half, he got confused on defense and ran toward a man who was already covered on the wing, leaving his man wide open. His man got the ball, and Withey's teammate (I think it was Wesley) picked up a foul trying to run over and contest the shot. If there was any type of team where you'd expect Withey to look his best, it would be Towson, and yet his fouls were equal to his rebounds (four) in his just 18 minutes of play. At this point, I am not expecting Jeff Withey to go on Danny Manning's list of success stories. To go out on a positive though, he did make some very nice passes.
As unimpressed as I was with Jeff Withey, Kevin Young easily made up for it. He seems to be a bit of a spark-plug off the bench. He played tenacious defense, grabbing two steals and deflecting passes to generate at least two more. He runs well for a big guy and seems to relish bringing the crowd to their feet. He won't put up the same kind of stat lines (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) against more athletic talent, but he looks like a nice player to have coming off the bench. Justin Wesley actually played more minutes, but he looked more like just a body to have in the game out there, and I'd be surprised if he continues to play more than young.
As for the rest of the team, T2, Elijah and T-Rob were about what you'd expect. They all did some nice things, but you could tell they knew they were playing Towson. Elijah got a little trigger happy from beyond the line, and Robinson missed a few bunnies. I don't see any reason for concern from these guys, though. Teahan did about what you'd expect him to. He passed well, didn't make mistakes and capitalized on a few open looks. Naadir Tharpe continues to look like a fine point guard of the future, making a couple nice shots and dishing out 4 assists in less than 20 minutes.
Overall, it was just about everything you'd want to see out of Kansas playing this level of opponent. We were outrebounded, but I'm not particularly concerned. Towson was crashing the boards with both forwards and their center after every shot, and while it resulted in an offensive rebounding advantage, it also resulted in some quick score opportunities for Kansas on the other side of the court, and was a big reason for the startling number of points KU amassed in the first ten minutes. It's hard to take a performance against a team like Towson and extrapolate it to a prediction for a game against our next opponent, but I feel just fine going into Tuesday.