Last year Thomas Robinson was probably the best player in the country. He led the nation in double doubles and was also the best defensive rebounder in the country. He was KU's go to guy in the post and he allowed Jeff Withey to go for blocks on defense while he assumed the rebounding load.
But while his talent has been tough to replace, his production has, so far at least, been replaced admirably. The Jayhawks are scoring (adjusted) about one point fewer per 100 possessions this year vs. last year, and so far are ranked better offensively than they finished last season. It is tough to make a true comparison here because this year's team has not played their toughest non conference opponent, nor have they made it through the Big 12 season, but they are shooting the ball better from two and turning it over less. Part of that is perhaps the lack of a go to guy isn't allowing defenses to key in on one guy: Thomas Robinson took 30% of the available shots while on the floor and had a 29.7% usage rate last year, whereas other than Andrew White, who lets it fly whenever he gets it (and rightfully so), no Jayhawk is at 26% in terms of shots taken and Ben McLemore has the highest usage rate at 24.3%.
The Jayhawks have been spreading it around and as a result are getting much higher percentage shots: Jeff Withey is taking 73% of his shots at the rim this year compared to 66% last year, Kevin Young is taking 85% of his shots at the rim compared to just 61% last year, etc. The offense has looked helter skelter at times, but it has resulted in a lot of good looks and, as a result, some good shooting numbers.
Defensively is a bit more straightforward of a proposition. I never loved Robinson's one on one defense, and he was never a shot blocker. And even though I liked Tyshawn Taylor's perimeter defense, McLemore has the tools to be better than he was, and the Jayhawks still have maybe the best perimeter defender in the country in Releford and the best defender in the country in Jeff Withey. Withey's block percentage will go down this year, as he led the country at around 15% last year and is at 21% so far this year, but he's already forcing teams to take a ton more jumpshots than they otherwise would.
The area in which I figured Kansas would struggle the most was rebounding. Thomas Robinson's 30.5% defensive rebounding rate led the country last year, and with Withey going for so many blocks this year I figured that would take him off the defensive glass and the rest of the back line wouldn't be big enough to handle the rebounding load.
Instead, Withey has been rebounding fairly well (21.4%) and Kevin Young (24.4%) has gone from just an excellent offensive rebounder to a good rebounder period. With small contributions from the rest of the team, Kansas has allowed opponents to grab just 28% of their misses, fewer than last year's team allowed.
Again, this number will go up (or down, however you want to look at it) once Kansas plays tougher opponents, and teams that do more than shoot a ton of threes. But there's no doubt that, while Kansas lost perhaps the best player in the country off last year's team, Bill Self has done it again, proving that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and put a group of guys in position to compete for a national title once again.