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Does Bill Self need to go with Naadir Tharpe at the point and bring Elijah Johnson off the bench?
The Jayhawks finally broke out of their slump and they did it in a big way completing the SWEEP of in state rival Kansas State. After three games running a sub par offensive game Kansas broke out, attacked and scored over 80 points for the first time in over a month. Kansas hit 80 in a loss to Oklahoma State, but the 97 points against Iowa State on January 9th was the last time Kansas had eclipsed that mark. Not only was it good to see Kansas do it against Kansas State because of the implications, it was also good to do it against Kansas State because they are a solid defensive team.
Obviously Ben McLemore was a catalyst, Jeff Withey brought his game to the offensive end again and Kevin Young also did his fair share of creating or at least capitalizing offensively. Generally speaking the Jayhawks were much more aggressive, they were attacking and rather than sitting back and waiting for something to happen they forced the issue. The results speak for themselves.
Now the challenge in front of this team is replicating that against teams that don't raise the energy level to the same extent as the team that was in first place in the league. Given the continued struggles of Elijah Johnson, and the aggressive, attacking, creative nature of Naadir Tharpe, is it time for Tharpe to start?
Last night Tharpe basically split the minutes at the point. Part of that was due to foul trouble, but one Tharpe was in the game he earned and deserved every minute of playing time from that point on. Tharpe finished with 7 points and 8 assists with just one turnover on the game. Johnson continued to struggle through a pretty substantial slump notching just 5 points, 3 assists and 4 turnovers.
It shouldn't be suggested that Johnson simply fade to oblivion because he is important to this team, he's a senior, he's done well in this program and he can breakout. But for the time being and in order to give this team the best chance come March, is Naadir Tharpe the player that should be running the point for the majority of the game?
It's a tricky scenario because last night Kansas saw both Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson in foul trouble. That opened up a lot of minutes for Tharpe that might not normally be there. If Tharpe starts and plays more, somebody has to play less. Those minutes are coming from either Johnson, Releford or Kevin Young with a small Kansas lineup.
Right now the only easy decision is Johnson but even that isn't that easy. Statistically speaking it is, Johnson's current run is pretty atrocious. At the same time, who wouldn't want Johnson to find his way out of this slump and help Kansas down the stretch? Then do you take it from Releford the Jayhawks best defender? Or Kevin Young who consistently brings high energy and somehow redeems himself every time the fanbase starts to sour just a smidge.
The last 14 days Kansas has looked like a team that desperately needed a point guard. Someone who could initiate the offense, create shots for teammates and force the issue. Naadir Tharpe isn't in the same mold of the last two players who have run the point at Kansas, but right now he's the point guard that was able to help Kansas break out of a pretty epic slide.
Nobody is suggesting that it wouldn't be great to see Elijah Johnson snap out of this funk and give Kansas another lift late in the season, it just might need to come from a different place. Last night Johnson was the Jayhawks biggest fan during his time on the bench, he's supportive, positive and something this team needs.
With that in mind it's not a decision that will come easy, and it's a decision that may never come, but right now Tharpe starting at the point might be the best move for Kansas going forward. It isn't really in Bill Self's style to move a senior to the bench and bring him in as a sixth man so it may never happen, but right now that might be the tough decision that needs to be made.