Time to get WAY ahead of ourselves and take a look at what we're looking at with this team right now. It's been covered ad nauseum that this was a Kansas team with lower expectations, but things have certainly changed as the season has progressed.
First we had the emergence of Thomas Robinson as a National Player of the year candidate. Then Tyshawn Taylor went from a highly criticized Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde type player to a 'can't live without him' type of leader at the point. Yes bad Tyshawn still shows up from time to time but without him this team isn't in the same ballpark as where they currently sit in the conversation.
The latest addition to the growing list of pleasant surprises is the sudden aggressiveness and leadership from junior center Jeff Withey. In all that makes three players that averaged just over 40 minutes a game combined last year, now making huge contributions and finding their time on the bench dwindle to a minimum due to the lack of a consistent bench.
In all that means Kansas currently has one player in the running for National Player of the Year, they probably have two in the running for Big 12 player of the year and while it's probably too little, too late, Jeff Withey could make a strong argument for most improved given his recent surge.
That's a pretty astounding thing to sit back and think about. Last year Kansas had a pretty clearly defined leader in Marcus Morris and he really only received serious consideration and eventually won the Big 12 POY honor. Kansas now sits starting at a very really possibility of having one player win the Big 12 POY award while another wins the National POY award. That's quite a testament to the starting talent and I'd be curious if that is something that has ever happened before.
On the season Robinson averages 17.8 points and 12 rebounds per game. Those numbers have dipped EVER so slightly in league play as Robinson now sits at 17.8 and 11.8 but the difference is negligible. Those numbers put Robinson 3rd in scoring and 1st in rebounding in the league. Lately Robinson has fallen slightly out of favor as Kentucky's Anthony Davis is surging, but Robinson still has a very strong argument and he's doing it while drawing double and triple teams on a nightly basis.
That has of course led to Tyshawn's emergence. Since league play started Tyshawn has really stepped up his play. On the season he has a 16.9 points, 5.1 assist average. In league play that jumps up to 18.5 points per contest and hovers right around that 5 assist per game mark. That places Taylor in second among league scorers and first on the league leading Jayhawks. Taylor also ranks top five in steals and has drastically improved his three point shooting as a senior. If Kansas wins the league you can make a very strong argument that Taylor was the most important piece to that puzzle for Kansas and that he is deserving of Big 12 POY honors.
Moving to the third peg of late, Kansas has been fortunate with the emergence of Jeff Withey. Withey leads the league in blocks, and he is top five in offensive boards and top five in overall rebounding. In the last week Withey has surged and is consistently approaching triple double performances while carrying Kansas with the growing focus on Robinson and Taylor. He's a third option and it makes Kansas very difficult to defend. While his numbers have been more of a recent flash in the pan, Withey's improvement has earned him National player of the week honors and you wonder if he might be the most improved player in the Big 12 conference overall. That isn't an official award, but if it was Withey would fit in somewhere based on his recent performance.
Three players, three major contributions and all three have turned into key players for Kansas in a year where the Jayhawks are exceeding expectations and once again in the conversation for a one seed despite having lost four of five starters from a year ago. Just another day at the office for Bill Self and the Jayhawks, but an EXTREMELY impressive one when you really step back and think that Kansas has a NPOY candidate and he might not be the leading candidate on his own team for Big 12 POY and yet another player has elevated his game above both of them in the last two weeks.