Last year I put together a preview of the KU-OSU tournament game since I am a huge KU fan and follow both teams pretty close. It’s a bit early for a full-fledged preview since I don’t have enough time to watch all the games, but I figured I would give some thoughts on the Kansas team this year.
I see both teams as being fairly similar this year. They are both replacing a big man who carried their teams and provided most of the offense. They are both figuring out who can be their second scorer, with coaches trying to iron out a rotation that works best.
Elijah Johnson: He has taken over the full time PG role from Tyshawn Taylor this year. He isn’t nearly as fast, but is a bit more consistent and doesn’t turn the ball over as often making better decisions with the ball. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure that Craft and Scott can put on him. While he isn’t quite as quick as Tyshawn, he is still extremely athletic and can jump out of the gym so they will have to keep their eye on him, especially in the open court because Kansas loves to run.
Ben McLemore: He will be the best player on the court for either team. He is a shorter, but much more athletic Deshaun Thomas. He is a scorer, he can shoot and he can drive to the basket. Lenzelle will likely be guarding him and will have his hands full, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to disrupt him with Craft or Scott at times (especially since they seem to be on the court at the same time). Stopping him will be the key to disrupting KU’s offense because they lack the High-Low threat from previous years. He was a partial qualifier last year so he was able to practice but not play, and that time in the system is evident because he hasn’t missed a beat as a first year starter (also having him on the scout team last year had to help KU’s game prep).
Travis Releford: Bill Self has stockpiled tall, athletic wing players during his time at KU and Releford is another in a long line. Releford has always been a great defender, but finally, in his senior year, he has become a score shooting 57% despite taking more than two more shots per game and is the third leading scorer. His emergence has bolstered KU this year, helping fill the scoring void left by Taylor and Robinson. I assume Sam Thompson will start on him, but Deshaun may have to guard him some too if KU goes to a smaller lineup.
Kevin Young: If you need any evidence that this KU team is not the same one that lost to MSU in the second game of the season it is the fact that Kevin Young went from playing only 3 minutes in that game to starting the last 7 games. Because of his relentless motor but awkward basketball skills he reminds me of a shorter (less ugly) version of Joakim Noah. He will harass OSU on the offensive glass and annoy Thomas on the other end of the court. He still averages under 20 minutes per game, because Self rotates in freshmen Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor quite a bit. I expect a lot of rotation at this spot to keep up with Thomas and to better match up with OSU’s one big lineup.
Jeff Withey: While Withey is a couple inches taller, he is what all Buckeye fans can hope that Amir turns into someday. Withey averages nearly half a block per game more than anyone else in the country this year. He might be a speed bump in Ravenel’s offensive emergence because he is good at providing stronger players some room and then going up and getting the block when they put up the shot. He has been a much better scorer this year, but if Ravenel is physical enough with him I think he will struggle on the offensive end.
Perry Ellis: By far the most talented bench player on KU’s team and if he can improve over the course of the season he will probably be starting again and KU will be a tough team to beat. He just hasn’t transitioned well and seems a bit lost at times. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays a lot because I think he matches up better against the Buckeyes 4 guard/wing line up.
Naadir Tharpe: Another talented player that just doesn’t seem quite ready for high level college ball, even as a sophomore. He should be a more pure PG than Elijah and will be the first guard off the bench, but I think OSU’s PGs will disrupt him a lot with their defensive pressure so I don’t anticipate a lot of minutes from him. But this could also be a chance for him to break out against a better team, so we’ll see how he handles the spotlight.
Jamari Traylor: He is in the same boat as McLemore as a redshirt freshman, but is not nearly as talented. He reminds me a bit of Ravenel, a strong big man who plays hard. His offense is still very raw, but provides good energy off the bench if Withey or another big has foul trouble.
Andrew White III: I almost didn’t include him because he doesn’t play much. However he is probably the best pure shooter on the team, so if he comes in and gets hot, he could provide a huge spark off the bench. Also if KU needs a 3 down the stretch it wouldn’t surprise me if he finds himself in at crunch time.
I usually pick against my teams so that I am not as disappointed if they lose, but this time I have two teams in the fight so I have to choose a side. Clearly if OSU plays like they did against Winthrop they will lose and might get blown out. They’ll get up for this one though and the crowd will be as good as it gets at OSU. I just have a hard time believing that OSU has enough proven offensive weapons to keep up with KU for 40 minutes. They both play strong defense, but KU seems to have filled their offensive void more quickly than OSU has, so although I hate picking against the home team in college basketball I just don’t think OSU can score enough points to win this one. Regardless, I am excited to see this one in person, my first OSU basketball game in a very long time.