Kansas takes on in state rival Washburn in their second and final exhibition game tonight and while it certainly should not be close, there are some improvements the Jayhawks will show in order to put me (and I imagine a lot of fans) more at ease going into the regular season opener on Friday.
1. How the big men play
The Ichabods (seriously, how cool is that?) have only two players 6'8" or taller, so they won't offer much resistance to Jeff Withey and company and as a result it will be a lot tougher to know just how well the big men are performing, but nonetheless there are things that need to be improved upon regardless of the opponent. First, I want to know that Withey's hands are good enough to at least catch fast moving passes for open layups and dunks. It sure seemed like they were (most of the time) last year, but there is no doubt that he dropped a couple easy ones last week against Emporia State and while I don't foresee him being a focal point of the offense, those easy baskets (not to mention trips to the free throw line) would help big time.
Beyond simply looking at how well they play, we can see some clues in who plays and how much. Kevin Young won't be playing because of his broken hand, but his role on the team is safe. But while I don't think Bill Self will make too many redshirt or playing time decisions based on 80 minutes of exhibition basketball, there is quite a logjam at the forward position. With Withey, Young, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Zach Peters, Justin Wesley and Landen Lucas all there there seems to be no way that Self won't redshirt one of them, and perhaps more than one.
Zach Peters is still bothered by a rotator cuff, and with him likely to be out at least another month I think there is a better than average chance he gets redshirted. That means good news for Landen Lucas, who I thought was in danger of that before the season started. He was a late addition to the class after Kansas missed on a couple guys, and he looked pretty lost on offense when he was out there against Emporia State. However, leading the game in rebounds with 9 despite only playing 12 minutes speaks volumes. Kansas lost the best defensive rebounder in the country off last year's team, and while I think the defense has a good chance to be the best in the country, if there is an area they are going to struggle, it's going to be defensive rebounding.
2. How much they attack the rim
Kansas had 40 points in the paint against Emporia State, but also took 21 threes. They also took 17 jumpers that weren't in the paint, which is way too many to be taking against anyone, much less a D2 team in an exhibition. I understand that Andrew White is an awesome jumpshooter and Travis Releford shot almost 50% on two point jumpers last year, but they should be getting to the basket or taking threes as much as possible. For as much as commentators love to talk about people having a mid range game those shots are usually the worst ones in basketball. I can live with good, open jumpers that are a result of moving the ball well, but the ones in their first exhibition were more of the stand around, one on one variety.
3. The guard rotation
Unlike the big men situation, the guards all have different enough skills, and more importantly there aren't as many of them, to where a redshirt won't be necessary. Still, with Self liking to play around 8 guys once the season gets in full swing I am interested to see if anyone will grab playing time.
Anrio Adams certainly did his best to grab some playing time against Emporia State, hounding the opposing point guard, but I don't think we will get an accurate picture of how good he is defensively until we see him against someone with a little more athleticism.
Naadir Tharpe played really well against Emporia State as well, making both of his threes and had 4 assists while turning it over just once. I am not a fan of his on ball defense, but with the rest of the team being so good defensively I don't think it will be a gigantic deal to hide Tharpe.
Kansas should win comfortably tonight, but don't worry about the final score. More importantly, the way Kansas plays in the win will give us far more clues as to how this year will go, especially offensively.