Heading into last night the big question surrounding Kansas revolved around the production from the team without Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson. How would Kansas respond? What would the rotation look like?
All in all it was a fairly predictable evening with Bill Self experimenting less than he has in years past, but that was probably to be expected given the circumstances. The starters were set a day prior to the contest with Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Connor Teahan, Naadir Tharpe and Justin Wesley. How deep the bench would go and where the production would come from beyond those starters helped to provide a few clues as to what our rotation might look like this season.
The starters are likely set with Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford expected to round out those five slots barring injury or someone else rising to the top.
If you had to pick one player that might have been a question mark in that group it would have to be Withey. Bill Self has never really shown a lot of confidence in the big man and he is a bit of a question mark headed into the season. But after last night I think a lot of those concerns have been answered. Yes Pittsburg State is undersized and a division II opponent, but Withey stepped up and put together a solid game. Kansas can go small with Kevin Young or Justin Welsey in the rotation if need be, but for the moment Withey looks to be a good choice.
In terms of minutes for the starting five, again you can look to last night for some indication of what that might look like. Last night Bill Self rode four of his five starters for 30+ minutes in the game. It's probably a safe bet to think that Taylor, Johnson and Robinson could be playing 30+ per game once things get rolling. Releford could very easily fall into that category as well due to his versatility and effort on the defensive end.
Front Court Rotation
That brings us to the remaining minutes in the front court. Withey hit 31 minutes last night but that might not be the norm for him throughout the year. It was interesting when discussing Withey after the game that Bill Self described him as a four along with Wesley and Young. The indication was that Robinson is the five for the Jayhawks and that the heavier rotation will exist at the four spot with Robinson expected to shoulder quite a bit of the load inside. Obviously minutes will fluctuate based on potential foul trouble but it's an early hint at the thinking of Self in terms of his inside rotation.
So underneath the basket you have a rotation that will primarily include Wesley and Young off the bench with Young also filling in at the three if Kansas goes big. Welsey can score from outside as well as rebound so at 6'8" he provides some flexibility at multiple spots just like Travis Releford.
Moving to the backcourt you have two players who provided a large chunk of minutes as starters last night, but both will likely come off the bench when we move to the regular season. Naadir Tharpe and Connor Teahan. Both showed some very positive things while playing 34 minutes a piece in the exhibition opener.
Tharpe was a little careless with the ball at times but it's early and he's adjusting. He also provided eight assists and twelve points which is very solid for a collegiate opener. Bill Self certainly prefers experience and someone he can trust, but Tharpe is coming into the program at a time where Self has no choice but to allow him to learn on the court and honestly that might not be a bad philosophy for Self to adopt going forward considering some of the struggles on the recruiting trail. Good players want to play and to some extent you have to allow them to learn while doing.
For Teahan's part he was the leader of the team in a lot of ways last night. He's the counter argument to my argument above stating that Self should let young players make mistakes. Teahan is following in the footsteps of the Christian Moody's and Brady Morningstar's of the world and providing a very efficient and productive experienced presence on the court. It's only an exhibition game so expectations need to stay in line with reality but Teahan certainly looks like a player who will be coming off the bench for meaningful minutes in what appears to be a five guard rotation early on.
Rotations Change, But For Now.....
Taylor, Johnson, Releford are your starters. Teahan and Tharpe are your first two off the bench with Young having the capability to move in if your going big.
In the frontcourt you've got Robinson and Withey with Welsey off the bench and Young able to shift in and provide some versatility. Let's also not rule out the possibility of Releford sliding down if Kansas goes small.
That's five in the backcourt and four in the front court. That actually seems a bit deep for BIll Self considering he's had teams with far more talent and his bench often shortens down to seven or eight by season's end. My hunch would be we'll see a healthy dose of these nine for now with the more experienced and consistent players commanding a larger chunk of those ever precious minutes as the Jayhawks enter conference play and the most important part of the season.